2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21, 2004
Volume 23, Number 10
|Introductions by Members||10273|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||10273|
|Mineral Tenure Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 29)|
|Hon. R. Neufeld|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||10274|
|Preparation by B.C. athletes for 2010 Olympic Winter Games|
|Volunteerism in Burnaby|
|Lillooet land and resource management plan|
|B.C. Rail agreement with CN Rail and first nations consultation|
|Hon. G. Plant|
|Hon. K. Falcon|
|Disciplinary action against Bob Virk and David Basi|
|Hon. K. Falcon|
|B.C. Rail agreement with CN Rail and first nations consultation|
|Hon. K. Falcon|
|Tugboat and barge operators labour dispute|
|Hon. G. Campbell|
|Independence of Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform|
|Hon. G. Campbell|
|Employment transition services for sex trade workers|
|Hon. S. Hagen|
|Labour Relations Board, annual report, 2002|
|Committee of the Whole House||10278|
|Land Survey Statutes Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 17)|
|Hon. G. Abbott|
|Reporting of Bills||10279|
|Land Survey Statutes Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 17)|
|Third Reading of Bills||10279|
|Land Survey Statutes Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 17)|
|Second Reading of Bills||10279|
|B.J. Field Service Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr401)|
|Committee of the Whole House||10279|
|B.J. Field Service Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr401)|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||10280|
|B.J. Field Service Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr401)|
|Second Reading of Bills||10280|
|Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 19)|
|Hon. G. Bruce|
|Committee of the Whole House||10285|
|Wildfire Act (Bill 25)|
|Hon. M. de Jong|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||10287|
|Wildfire Act (Bill 25)|
|Committee of Supply||10287|
|Estimates: Ministry of Forests (continued)|
|Hon. M. de Jong|
|Second Reading of Bills||10298|
|Pheidias Project Management (1979) Corp. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr403)|
|Committee of the Whole House||10298|
|Pheidias Project Management (1979) Corp. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr403)|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||10298|
|Pheidias Project Management (1979) Corp. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr403)|
|Second Reading of Bills||10299|
|Kidd Resources Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr402)|
|Committee of the Whole House||10299|
|Kidd Resources Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr402)|
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||10299|
|Kidd Resources Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004 (Bill Pr402)|
|Committee of Supply||10299|
|Estimates: Ministry of Forests (continued)|
|Hon. M. de Jong|
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
|Committee of Supply||10312|
|Estimates: Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development (continued)|
|Hon. J. Les|
|Estimates: Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services (continued)|
|Hon. M. Coell|
|Estimates: Ministry of Management Services|
|Hon. J. Murray|
[ Page 10273 ]
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21, 2004
The House met at 2:04 p.m.
Introductions by Members
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, in the House today I am pleased to welcome 15 teachers from across British Columbia who are participating in the Legislative Assembly's inaugural B.C. Teachers' Institute on Parliamentary Democracy. The teachers will be with us for the remainder of this week, expanding their knowledge of both parliamentary and political systems. They are joined by five of their peers who are acting as facilitators.
I trust many of you will have the opportunity to meet with the Teachers' Institute participants this evening in the Ned DeBeck Lounge. They are seated in the east gallery, and I would ask everyone to please make them welcome.
Hon. M. Coell: Visiting us in the gallery today are prominent Victoria lawyer Gerry Sauder and Victoria businessman Ed Kisling. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. S. Bond: Today we are delighted to have in the gallery with us a number of eminent scientists. They are all here today as part of an interactive science fair at the Royal British Columbia Museum, which is being hosted by Genome B.C. and their research partners. Our guests today include Dr. Victor Ling from the B.C. Cancer Agency; Dr. Ben Koop and Dr. Harold Coward from the University of Victoria; Dr. Bob Sindelar; Dr. Jorge Bowen and Dr. Steven Lund from UBC; and Tanya Bennett from Science World. I know the House will join me in making them feel very welcome today.
J. Bray: It's with great pleasure that I rise today to inform the House of the arrival of a new constituent in my riding, as well as another addition to the Legislative Assembly family here in Victoria. Wynne MacAlpine, who is a researcher at the office of the Clerk of Committees, gave birth to a baby girl, Gabriella Christine Campbell, on Wednesday, March 31. I would ask that we send congratulations to Wynne and her husband, Steve, on this very happy occasion and wish them the best of luck.
K. Krueger: Today in the members gallery I'd like to acknowledge 23 third- and fourth-year students from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. A unique feature of the school is the Center for Canadian-American Studies, one of the oldest and most established programs of its kind in the United States and one of the few that offers a major and minor in Canadian studies.
The students are here with their professor, the director of the centre, Don Alper. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet with them this morning as they further their study on British Columbia's political system. Would the House please make them very welcome.
R. Stewart: It's my pleasure to welcome the region 1 pastors conference of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They're having a conference across the street, and I had a chance to meet with many of them this morning. Several are here today in the House. We have Rev. Sandra Kries from Washington, and we have Rev. Carol Kyllingstad, Rev. Vicki Maly, Ethel May Nelson, Rev. John O'Neal and Mrs. Debbie M. O'Neal. The association represents the states of Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and Oregon. Would the House please join me in welcoming this conference to Victoria and these representatives to this assembly.
As well, this morning I met a delegation of Rotarians from Mexico on a group study exchange at the meeting of the Victoria-Harbourside Rotary Club. With us are Octavio Hernandez, Jorge David Ibarria, Monica Tiznado, Luz Elena Perez Preciado and Jacinto G. Olivera Orozco. Would the House please welcome them to our city and our country.
L. Mayencourt: It's my pleasure to introduce a couple of young gentlemen who are very much involved in provincial and federal politics. Sameer Ismail and David Burnie from Vancouver are here. I hope the House will make them welcome.
Hon. K. Falcon: Today in the gallery we have some visiting Rotarians from South Africa who are here on an exchange program. Joining them from the host Rotary Club in Aldergrove are Brian Thomison and Angie MacDougall. They are joined by our friends from South Africa Rotary. Team leader is Brian "Bugs" Wilmont. Brian is the director of the South African National Festival of Science, Engineering and Technology. Brian is joined by Robert Dorrington, a farmer and mineral water plant owner; Mauritz Bester, the police superintendent in the South African police service; Anthony Mpisi, a deputy school principal and Anglican church lay minister; and finally, Bettina Wyngaard. Bettina is a lawyer and teacher at the local justice institute. I would ask the House to please make them all welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. members, we have two special guests from Reynolds Secondary School in Victoria as well. This is the school that provides us with our wonderful Pages for the chamber and the precincts. I'd like you to welcome principal John Harrison and a teacher, Mr. Harry Lewis.
First Reading of Bills
MINERAL TENURE AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. R. Neufeld presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Mineral Tenure Amendment Act, 2004.
Hon. R. Neufeld: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
[ Page 10274 ]
Hon. R. Neufeld: I am pleased to introduce Bill 29, the Mineral Tenure Amendment Act, 2004. The Mineral Tenure Act is a legislative authority for mineral title acquisition and title maintenance. The amendments introduced in this bill represent a significant change to the province's system for mineral subsurface title acquisition and management since it was first established in the mid-1800s.
The changes I am announcing today will establish a new Internet-based map selection system for claim acquisition in B.C. and will authorize an electronic mineral tenure administration system called Mineral Titles Online. Implementation of the new acquisition and tenure administration system is tentatively scheduled for January 2005.
Establishing a new Internet-based map selection system will increase efficiency and certainty of mineral claim acquisition in this province. Map selection is currently used in Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Alberta. The move to on-line title acquisition and maintenance through mineral titles on line will help to increase B.C.'s mineral exploration through convenient and up-to-date access to the land resource data. It will use the government e-portal and e-payment process and is fully compatible with the integrated land and resource registry being developed by the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management. All clients will be able to access the new system via personal computer and computer terminals in public libraries and other public facilities at 58 government agent's offices located throughout B.C. and at two provincial title offices.
These legislative amendments will also streamline regulations while ensuring certainty of mineral claims acquired in British Columbia. Amendments to the act also eliminate 56 regulatory requirements, resulting in a more streamlined regulatory environment to support the growing mining industry. A more efficient and streamlined regulatory environment will support growth in the B.C. mining industry. I look forward to passing this legislation and demonstrating our government's firm commitment to continued regulatory streamlining and deregulation and to building a strong and prosperous economy for all British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker, 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 29 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)
PREPARATION BY B.C. ATHLETES
FOR 2010 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES
W. McMahon: We're six years away from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Excitement for all British Columbians continues to grow as the time gets closer, especially for our young athletes. Their dreams of standing on an Olympic podium and hearing our national anthem playing in their honour became more vivid when, last July, they realized it could happen in their home province.
Training for the Olympics takes years and is filled with incredible wins and bittersweet losses. It takes a toll on the body and the mind. Three young people from my constituency are experiencing that now, setting their sights on the 2010 Olympics. One of our local Olympic hopefuls is 19-year-old Christina Lustenberger. She is an accomplished alpine skier from Invermere and is one of five Olympic-level athletes from across the province to take part in a ceremony in Vancouver to mark the six-year countdown to the 2010 Olympics.
Winning the super G gold medal at the Canadian junior championships and two top ten finishes at the 2003 Pontiac GMC Cup Canadian championships are among the honours that Christina has received so far in her young career. She has faced the ups and downs of her sport. As we speak, she's getting herself back in shape after an injury that ended her season abruptly in December. But Christina certainly has the ambition to succeed, and she's aiming to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino.
Brendan Hopman and Aaron Christiansen from Kimberley are ranked first and second in their sport — luge. Competing in the 16-and-under age group, these two are among only 30 active athletes of their kind in Canada. In February they took part in the Canadian national development team trip to Lake Placid for training. The experience on this trip has encouraged Brendan and Aaron to pursue their dream of becoming members of the Canadian junior national team next season.
There are other stories of young athletes across the province. I have always said the 2010 story is theirs. Commitment, focus and determination will help them accomplish their goals. Join me in wishing these three athletes and all young British Columbians the best of luck as they move forward in achieving their dreams. I am looking forward to celebrating with them.
VOLUNTEERISM IN BURNABY
R. Lee: Yesterday my colleague from Burnaby-Edmonds made an excellent introduction to the House of the Burnaby Festival of Volunteers. Today I would like to provide more information about the festival.
Over 40 non-profit organizations will participate in this festival, including Volunteer Burnaby, Volunteer Grandparents, Race Event Volunteers of Vancouver, Burnaby Meals on Wheels, Burnaby Information and Community Services Society, Burnaby Family Life Institute, Adoptive Families Association of B.C., Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, Elizabeth Fry Society, Sunshine Dreams for Kids, Girl Guides of Canada, Burnaby Hospital auxiliary, Burnaby Coalition to Prevent Falls, Canadian Blood Services, Canadian Red Cross RespectED, Down Syndrome Research Founda-
[ Page 10275 ]
tion, Neil Squire Foundation, Western Society for Children with Birth Disorders, Seniors Well Aware Program, Airspace Action on Smoking and Health, YouthCo AIDS Society, Burnaby Optimist Club, Burnaby North Lions Club, Royal Air Cadets, Scouts Canada, SUCCESS, Chinese Culture Centre of greater Vancouver, Burnaby Chinese Parents Association, South Burnaby Neighbourhood House, Community of Artists Helping Artists Cooperative, Burnaby Mountain Mantas Swim Club, Greater Vancouver Table Tennis Association, Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and the B.C. Special Olympic Society.
All these organizations depend on the generosity of volunteers to continue their extraordinary work in our community. The Light Up Your Life Burnaby festival volunteers will give the public a firsthand look at the vast array of services available close to home, and it will allow these organizations the opportunity to attract and recruit new volunteers.
My colleague in Burnaby and I are extremely delighted to be part of the organizing committee to bring together the first Burnaby Festival of Volunteers. I must also acknowledge the contribution of the member for New Westminster, whose experience in starting a similar volunteer fair last year in her constituency is invaluable to us.
I encourage everyone to come to the Burnaby Brentwood Town Centre this Saturday. I encourage everyone to enjoy the exciting and colourful entertainment, as well as to promote volunteerism at the conclusion of the National Volunteer Week.
LILLOOET LAND AND RESOURCE
D. Chutter: The Wilderness Committee is hosting an event tonight in Vancouver to raise awareness about the South Chilcotin Mountains protected area, which is in my riding of Yale-Lillooet.
The committee likes to claim this part of my riding is being threatened by the mining industry, but that is not true. It is very important that the people of British Columbia understand how this protected area came to be under the previous government and also how my constituents have asked me to ensure there is real consensus that balances environmental stewardship with opportunities for working families.
After years of negotiations, the LRMP table presented two land use management recommendations to the previous government and asked them to choose one. The Premier of the day ignored both options and arbitrarily created a protected area — not a park, as the Wilderness Committee claims — just before calling an election. There was no consensus. In fact, people in the region felt betrayed that their input had not been considered. Even the MLA for Yale-Lillooet at the time, a cabinet member in the previous government, condemned this decision, admitting there was no consensus.
The current Premier and I were asked right after the election to review the plan, and that is exactly what we're doing now. We're taking the time to do it right, consulting with all stakeholders, and I am hopeful we will see a decision on the LRMP very soon.
The challenge is to find a balance. It is extremely important that we protect wildlife and our pristine wilderness. However, it is also important that we keep options open for resource industries such as mining, forestry and tourism. The people of the Lillooet region want opportunities, and they want jobs. Those opportunities can only come from utilizing the land base and our natural resources. Urban environmentalists often forget this.
Opposition leader Carole James has falsely suggested that a consensus on the LRMP has been reached and wants this House to endorse her plan. That is not what the people of my region want, and in light of tonight's event, the rest of British Columbia should know the full facts about the LRMP, where it stands and what the desired outcome is for the people in my region.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes members' statements.
B.C. RAIL AGREEMENT WITH CN RAIL
AND FIRST NATIONS CONSULTATION
J. Kwan: On Monday of this week the Minister of Transportation told first nations that there's absolutely no threat whatsoever to aboriginal rights and title as a result of the sale of B.C. Rail to CN, but we now know from a leaked contract that publicly owned land can be converted to private land owned for CN for only $1. As we know, a first principle of land claims negotiations is that private property is not on the table.
To the Attorney General: how can first nations in this province have faith in treaty negotiations when the B.C. Rail deal explicitly contemplates the conversion of public land to private land?
Hon. G. Plant: Well, I am very proud of the fact that in the referendum campaign two years ago, the people of British Columbia said they wanted the province at the table negotiating on a basis that private property would not be expropriated, and we have kept to that principle. We will keep to that principle. We will have treaty success in British Columbia consistent with that principle. We will build certainty. We will create economic opportunities for British Columbians, because we're doing what the people of British Columbia want us to achieve at the treaty tables.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: The Attorney General completely misses the point. That is exactly what this government is doing — converting public land to private land through the B.C. Rail deal by selling B.C. Rail for $1. The Attorney General said on the radio this morning that there is no need for the government to consult with first na-
[ Page 10276 ]
tions about B.C. Rail and its deal because it is, according to the government, a lease and not a sale. But according to a legal opinion provided to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the proposed transfers of land from the Crown to a private company could cause serious problems for treaty negotiations.
Will the Attorney General now admit that the government does have a legal responsibility to conduct meaningful consultations with first nations prior to the conclusion of the B.C. Rail deal?
Hon. G. Plant: Well, I always appreciate the contributions of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to the discussion about the treaty process — except they're not part of the B.C. treaty process. If they would actually become part of the B.C. treaty process, we could sit down and have the successes at the tables in those parts of the province that we're having in other parts of the province.
Let me be clear. Let me be clear that B.C. Rail and the government will discharge the obligations that arise, if such obligations exist, in respect of this transaction. We know that we have the obligation to respect aboriginal rights and title and not to infringe on them, and as we move forward with this transaction, we will comply with those obligations.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a further question.
J. Kwan: Court cases after court cases have established that the province has a legal obligation to consult with the first nations community. Clearly, this government has not done its homework on this deal. The Minister of Transportation is running around…
Mr. Speaker: Please, hon. members. Let us hear the question.
J. Kwan: …telling people that he's got buy-in in the deal from first nations based on their participation in the $15 million trust. We now know that that just isn't true. Not only does participation in the trust not translate into endorsement for the B.C. Rail deal, but the deal itself throws into doubt…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. Kwan: …basic questions of aboriginal title. Will the Minister of Transportation now admit that the participation of first nations in the trust in no way indicates their support for the sale of B.C. Rail to CN?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm happy again to…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The Minister of Transportation has the floor.
Hon. K. Falcon: …provide some facts to the member opposite. Yes, I can confirm that. That's never been the case. We've never asked for that. That's never been part of the arrangement with the first nations. All we are doing is providing a $15 million first nations benefits trust — a benefits trust that first nations can use to create cultural awareness and educational opportunities, to create economic opportunities. It's perfectly consistent with the tremendous track record that the Attorney General has demonstrated with economic measure funds that are creating opportunities for first nations right across the province of British Columbia. This continues in that great tradition.
DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST
BOB VIRK AND DAVID BASI
J. MacPhail: When asked yesterday by a reporter to explain why Bob Virk continues to be on the government payroll, this is what the Minister of Transportation said: "He, Mr. Virk, is innocent of anything in the eyes of everyone." The minister has correctly summed up the first principle of our justice system. But if Mr. Virk is innocent, why is he still suspended — if he is still suspended — while Dave Basi, who had the same presumption of innocence — of innocence — has been fired?
Hon. K. Falcon: I've said to this member before and I'll say to this member again: I'm not discussing personnel issues in this House, and she knows that.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplementary question.
J. MacPhail: Just a few weeks ago the Minister of Transportation had to retract a statement suggesting that the reason Bob Virk was suspended and Dave Basi fired for his role in the police raids on the Legislature was because Martyn Brown had evidence to suggest their behaviour was different. When asked about it later, he insisted — like he's just doing now — that he won't discuss personnel matters. That wasn't the case yesterday in the hallway. He declared him innocent.
The minister now says Mr. Virk is innocent. If that's the case, will the Premier put Mr. Virk back to work…?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
J. MacPhail: Will the Premier, whose chief of staff is the employer — the boss — of Mr. Virk, put Mr. Virk back to work so that taxpayers can get something for the $63,000 a year they're spending to keep him on payroll? And will he investigate the tens of thousands of dollars of severance pay paid to Mr. Basi, now that we know that Mr. Basi doesn't have the same declaration of innocence that Mr. Virk does?
[ Page 10277 ]
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
B.C. RAIL AGREEMENT WITH CN RAIL
AND FIRST NATIONS CONSULTATION
P. Nettleton: Further to my question from earlier this week regarding the giveaway sale of B.C. Rail and the concerns raised by the CSTC chief, Harry Pierre…. In his letter I quoted, he goes on to say: "You should be aware that despite the recent amendments to the British Columbia Railway (Revitalization) Amendment Act, 2003, or Bill 89, a change in control or a transfer of rail tenures in the absence of the adequate consultation and accommodation with CSTC members is not only vulnerable to a legal challenge but will certainly pass a defective title which would become a liability to the acquiring company."
My question is: in this government's desperation to push this deal through, no matter what, has the minister considered the consequences of defective title being passed to CN Rail and the implications not only for CN but also for the provincial government, and its cumulative effect on the people of B.C.? Let's face it: the government's B.C. Rail deal stinks. From every angle it was a bad deal when the Premier first suggested it, and it's an even worse deal now.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
P. Nettleton: Will the minister now do the right thing and scrap the deal while he has a chance?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm thinking about what he just said, but I will say this. This member should understand that the benefits of this deal are particularly enormous for northern British Columbia. You know, that member only needs to think about the $135 million northern development initiative that will be controlled by northerners and that will be invested in northerners' future. He has only to think about the $17.2 million for the containerization of the port of Prince Rupert and what enormous benefits that's going to bring. He has only to think about the new Hythe-to-Peace River grain transfer that's going to make enormous opportunities. He should be thinking about the regional head office in Prince George, which is going to create enormous opportunities in Prince George.
It's time, I think, that members like that start looking at the $5 billion being invested over the next 90 years and think about where they would come up with the money if they're not going to support the CN investment.
TUGBOAT AND BARGE OPERATORS
M. Hunter: The economic consequences of the current tugboat and barge operators' strike are affecting British Columbia. They're getting worse by the day. They're particularly acute on islands, including this one. I know that this is a federal jurisdiction and that Ottawa has appointed a mediator, but my question is to the Premier. Can the Premier tell this House what the province is doing to try and make sure this situation is resolved as quickly as possible?
Hon. G. Campbell: The strike by 800 tug and barge operators, the Canadian Merchant Service Guild, is already having a substantial impact on about 80 percent of the tug and barge services along the B.C. coast. Certainly, it has an impact immediately. People can see that in the cruise industry, in the tourism industry and in our ports. It has been critical that we've had the Minister of Transportation in touch with the federal minister. We have encouraged him to do everything they can to bring the parties together to have this resolved.
Put in context for you, Mr. Speaker, it is not just the literally tens of millions of dollars a day that we lose economically. But in the coastal communities, the forest community is finally up and running again. We finally have people back at work again in the forest communities of British Columbia. In fact, there are 100,000 jobs that are at risk if we don't solve this problem right away — in forestry, in mining, in cruises. We will continue to urge the federal government to act on behalf of British Columbia and, indeed, on behalf of all Canadians.
INDEPENDENCE OF CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY
ON ELECTORAL REFORM
E. Brenzinger: On April 7, at a meeting of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, the government Whip, the member for Kamloops–North Thompson, and the member for Vancouver-Kingsway both took very aggressive positions against the work being conducted by the independent citizens' assembly. Can the Premier tell us if the views of these two members are reflective of the government's position on this issue? And, more importantly, will the Premier guarantee that the citizens' assembly will be left to do its work in the independent fashion promised by this Premier in the first place?
Hon. G. Campbell: This government and all the members of this Legislature should be proud that we have appointed a citizens' assembly to determine how British Columbians are going to elect their legislators.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that we remain committed to the principles of the citizens' assembly. We remain committed to the leadership of Jack Blaney. We remain committed to the hundreds of people that are, in fact, at work today, who are spending hours and hours of their time to make sure that British Columbia is leading the way in parliamentary and legislative reform.
[ Page 10278 ]
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
EMPLOYMENT TRANSITION SERVICES
FOR SEX TRADE WORKERS
P. Wong: My question is to the Minister of Human Resources. Many prostitutes face tough challenges when they decide to leave the streets and seek safe employment. However, there are many issues involved — physical health, addictions, security and training. All these make the transition from the sex trade to employment very difficult.
Can the minister tell the House what services are available to help this group of former sex trade workers to reintegrate into society?
Hon. S. Hagen: This government certainly does recognize that women who have suffered abuse or have been involved in the sex trade may have a number of barriers to employment and to retraining. That's precisely why this government has created…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The minister has the floor.
Hon. S. Hagen: …the bridging employment program. That program is delivered to former workers from the sex trade by two groups called PEERS Victoria and PEERS Vancouver. PEERS stands for Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society, and they provide these specialized services.
The bridging employment program is an important first step to assist these former sex trade workers to develop the life skills that they will need to move forward towards employment, self-reliance and a brighter future. The bridging employment program is part of a $300 million investment that this government has made, which provides a continuum….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order, please. Will the Leader of the Opposition and the Government House Leader please save their debate for later.
Hon. S. Hagen: The bridging employment program is part of a $300 million investment that this government has made to provide a continuum of employment training programs throughout the province.
[End of question period.]
Hon. G. Bruce: I have the pleasure to table the annual report of the Labour Relations Board for the year 2002.
Mr. Speaker: Government House Leader.
Hon. G. Collins: Thank you….
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Government House Leader has the floor.
Hon. G. Collins: You wouldn't know it, though, Mr. Speaker.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: In this House, I call Committee of the Whole for consideration of Bill 17. In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply. For the information of members, we'll be continuing the estimates of the Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development.
Committee of the Whole House
LAND SURVEY STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 17; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:41 p.m.
Sections 1 and 2 approved.
On section 3.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the amendment to section 3 standing in my name on the orders of the day.
[SECTION 3, by deleting the proposed section 3 and substituting the following:3 Section 73 of the Land Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 245 , is amended
(a) by repealing subsection (1) and substituting the following:(1) The Corporation of Land Surveyors of the Province of British Columbia may make rules under section 75 of the Land Surveyors Act for surveys under this Part. , and
(b) in subsection (2) by striking out "Without limiting subsection (1), the" and substituting "The".]
On the amendment.
Hon. G. Abbott: For the information of members, the original section 3 of the bill amended section 73 of the Land Act to enable the Corporation of Land Surveyors of the Province of British Columbia to make rules for surveys under the Land Act. Currently, it is the surveyor general who is responsible for making regulations for surveys under part 7. The new section 3 retains this transition in subsection 73(1) and amends subsection 73(2) to clarify that the surveyor general will continue to have the authority to make regulations for surveys conducted for the purposes of the Nisga'a final agreement.
[ Page 10279 ]
Section 3 as amended approved.
Sections 4 to 64 inclusive approved.
On section 65.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the amendment to section 65 standing in my name on the orders of the day.
[SECTION 65, by deleting the proposed section 65 and substituting the following:65 Section 373.73 is amended
(a) by adding "and" at the end of subsection (1) (a) and by repealing subsection (1) (b), and
(b) in subsection (2) by striking out "and (b)".]
On the amendment.
Hon. G. Abbott: Section 373.73 of the Land Title Act relates to applications for first registration of Nisga'a lands. The original amendment deleted a requirement for a plan accompanying an application for first registration to comply with the general survey instruction regulation, which is being repealed, and substituted a requirement that an application be accompanied by a plan that complied with standards set by the surveyor general.
Subsequent to discussions with representatives of the Nisga'a, we are altering the amendment to remove this requirement. The effect of the change is to simplify the requirements of that section by requiring that a survey for first registration of Nisga'a lands will have to be accompanied by a plan done by a practising B.C. land surveyor and signed by the surveyor general.
The requirement in subsection 1(a) that the survey must be by a practising B.C. land surveyor will mean that the survey must be done in accordance with the rules of the Corporation of Land Surveyors. The surveyor general will continue to have authority to make any necessary regulations respecting surveys done for the purposes of the Nisga'a final agreement under the amendments to section 73 of the Land Act discussed earlier. The amendment to subsection (2) simply deletes references to subsection 1(b), which is being repealed.
Section 65 as amended approved.
Sections 66 to 76 inclusive approved.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendments.
The committee rose at 2:44 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
Bill 17, Land Survey Statutes Amendment Act, 2004, reported complete with amendments.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as read?
Hon. G. Abbott: Now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill 17, Land Survey Statutes Amendment Act, 2004, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Bruce: I call second reading of Bill Pr401.
Second Reading of Bills
B.J. FIELD SERVICE LTD.
(CORPORATE RESTORATION) ACT, 2004
B. Suffredine: I move that the bill now be read a second time.
This bill is to restore the company B.J. Field Service Ltd., which was struck from the registry November 10, 1989, and cannot carry on business unless restored to the registry, where it's been struck for more than ten years.
B. Suffredine: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered forthwith.
Bill Pr401, B.J. Field Service Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Committee of the Whole House
B.J. FIELD SERVICE LTD.
(CORPORATE RESTORATION) ACT, 2004
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill Pr401; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 2:46 p.m.
Sections 1 to 4 inclusive approved.
[ Page 10280 ]
B. Suffredine: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 2:47 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as read?
B. Suffredine: By leave, now.
Bill Pr401, B.J. Field Service Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Bruce: I call second reading of Bill 19.
Second Reading of Bills
EDUCATION SERVICES COLLECTIVE
AGREEMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. G. Bruce: The Education Flexibility and Choice Act put in place an arbitration process to identify which provisions of the collective agreements were no longer applicable. Eric Rice was appointed to lead that process and, if necessary, rule on any outstanding items. Unfortunately, soon after Mr. Rice began the hearings, the British Columbia Teachers Federation withdrew from the process and refused to participate further. Because of that, the process went ahead without them.
At the end of it all, the arbitrator developed a list of all the sentences and paragraphs in those 60 collective bargaining agreements that were in conflict with the amended School Act. The arbitration was challenged in court. However, the court upheld the validity of the legislation that removed class size from collective agreements, of course, which is now in the School Act, and the arbitrator's authority to make changes to collective agreements. That was never in question.
The court disagreed with the arbitrator, Mr. Rice, who is now a Supreme Court judge, over his interpretation of the legislation in amending the collective agreements. It said the arbitrator should have worked with the parties to try to rewrite sections that were only partly in conflict with the School Act. It was entirely on this basis that the court ordered the arbitration set aside.
The court decision left the government with a limited number of options. Government could appeal the decision, probably at significant time and cost to the taxpayers. However, it is unlikely that an appeal would have been heard and decided before 2005. In the meantime, it would not be possible to negotiate renewals of collective agreements set to expire June 30 of this year. Another option would have been restarting the arbitration process, would require the appointment of a new arbitrator and would also be unlikely to bear fruit before June 30.
As you'll recall, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Rice was the fourth arbitrator appointed to deal with this process. Given that one party has simply refused to participate, it's questionable how productive the exercise of going through another arbitrator to deal with these issues would have been. In the meantime, teacher grievances would continue to create uncertainty in the school system for parents, administrators, teachers and students.
The Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act represents the best alternative available to government. It removes those contract provisions identified by Eric Rice as being in conflict with the School Act. At the same time, this bill finalizes contracts so that the parties can begin working on negotiating new agreements in 2004, if they choose to do so.
In all these discussions, it's easy enough to lose sight of the fact that what we are here for is to ensure that we have a stable, responsive and, above all, accountable public educational system. Finalizing terms of collective agreements between teachers and public school employers is one step, but a very necessary step, toward bringing the stability that our children very much need in order to excel in our schools.
I would move second reading.
J. MacPhail: Bill 19, Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act, 2004, will be voted against in strong opposition by my colleague the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and me.
It was interesting that in question period today, one of the members of the Liberal government caucus stood up and asked a very soft question of the Premier: "What are you going to do about…? Can you update us on the tugboat operators dispute?" Of course, it was easy for the Premier to get up and express hope for a settlement, because it's a federal matter and something he himself hasn't the ability to have any influence over.
It's true that it's very harmful to our economy, the tugboat operators strike, but isn't it interesting how the Premier hopes that other jurisdictions will reach a negotiated solution? Yet this government uses every opportunity to say to working people, "Your rights are going to be overridden, trampled upon with our massive legislative majority," and that's exactly what Bill 19, the Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act, does.
It is just another in a continuing line of examples of the heavy hand of this Liberal government coming down hard and furious on hard-working British Columbians through their use — the inappropriate, heavy-handed, draconian use — of this Legislature. This bill was introduced yesterday, barely 24 hours ago, and here we are debating it at second reading. I
[ Page 10281 ]
expect they'll ram it through committee stage tomorrow. Not one single person has had the opportunity to properly examine this legislation. Certainly, educators didn't know this piece of legislation was coming. It is just shameful.
I expect the Minister of Labour in his usual facile manner will stand up and say: "Relax. It's only two pages. What's to absorb?" Yes, the bill is only two pages. It's only a few sections in length, but the consequences of this legislation are to delete, eradicate, wipe out over 400 articles and clauses in collective agreements for teachers across this province, to eradicate with the stroke of a pen over 400 negotiated clauses from a collective agreement.
Why are this government and this minister in such a rush? I'm sure it's because they're embarrassed, and so they should be. They don't want this piece of legislation to sit out there too long. Bill 19 is just another example of this government's conflict-and-confrontation style of dealing with B.C.'s teachers. It makes a mockery out of the Premier's answer this afternoon in question period about the tugboat operators' dispute. It makes a mockery out of it.
You know, Mr. Speaker, I thought to myself after the cabinet shuffle, well, maybe now with a new Minister of Education, the government is going to get over its arrogant approach to teachers. My thoughts were reflected in all sorts of letters to the editor expressing relief that there was a new Minister of Education. People said in their letters to the editor that maybe now real discussions and cooperation could break out, could occur in the interests of students.
However, we see with this piece of legislation, Bill 19, that the new Minister of Education can't really do anything even if he wanted to. The arrogant approach wasn't limited to the former Minister of Education, who is now the Minister of Children and Family Development. This entire government, including the new Minister of Education, shares that arrogant approach, and Bill 19 proves it.
In fact, the new Minister of Education should be ashamed of the heavy-handedness of this legislation. What does Bill 19 do? Well, it reaches a new high of arrogance by this Liberal government. It erases a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court. There's a whole list of people who have had wrath brought down upon their heads by this government through their legislative hammer because the government didn't like the way things were going. But this is a new level of arrogance. They're wiping out our judiciary system. They're saying: "Oh, gosh. We don't want to bother with judicial procedures when we've got 74 people inside the Legislature that can just raise their hands and do the government's bidding." That's what we have — Bill 19, a new height of arrogance, giving the old heave-ho to judicial process.
Bill 19 says the government doesn't agree with the B.C. Supreme Court, so we're going to legislate the effect of that decision out of existence. Instead of doing what every other group in society in this province has to do, who doesn't have 74 sheep to follow and raise their hands to support a draconian measure of government, and instead of doing what every other group has to do and go to the Court of Appeal when they disagree with a B.C. Supreme Court decision, the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Education and all this government caucus decided they'd just legislate the B.C. Supreme Court ruling as irrelevant. How's that for arrogance?
Bill 19 removes from teacher collective agreements critical negotiated protections for students and teachers related to class size, services for special needs students and specialty services of counsellors, librarians and ESL teachers. Those deletions will be retroactive to January 2002. Thank God the retroactivity can't take away the benefit that students have had from all of those educator services of smaller class sizes, of services for special needs students. Thank God this government doesn't have the ability to eradicate the success that our students have benefited and achieved under those clauses in the collective agreement.
I just want to look at a little bit of history here. This contract-stripping exercise began when the government appointed arbitrator Eric Rice, and Mr. Rice made several deletions from the collective agreement of teachers in August 2002. The B.C. Teachers Federation then took the ruling for judicial review and asked the court to rule on several points. The Minister of Labour in his opening remarks said that one party refused to participate. The court took that into account when the Supreme Court looked at Mr. Eric Rice's arbitration decision.
The B.C. Supreme Court did rule against the B.C. Teachers Federation on some points, but the court ultimately quashed arbitrator Rice's decision. Justice Shaw ruled that Mr. Rice should have used the principle of harmonization to try and reconcile the differences between what the government wanted and what the collective agreements said. Mr. Justice Shaw took into account the procedure that occurred during Mr. Rice's arbitration hearings and still ruled on that very important principle, the principle of harmonization.
Because of that failed application of the principle of harmonization, Justice Shaw stated that Mr. Rice's work was fundamentally flawed. He stated that there were fundamental errors on "points of law that are of importance to the education system of British Columbia, including the teachers, the school boards and the students." However, fundamental errors in law don't seem to matter to this government so long as they can get what they want — so long as they can count on 74 votes from their government caucus Liberal MLAs, who just march in lockstep to this draconian measure.
Bill 19 will implement in its entirety the arbitrator's fundamentally flawed work. It's right there in section 5 of this legislation: "(1) Despite any decision of a court to the contrary made before or after the coming into force of this section, (a) the deletion under section 1…is deemed to have taken effect on July 1, 2002." Wow. How's that?
[ Page 10282 ]
You know, Mr. Speaker, in a democracy, the judicial system is a cornerstone. Now this government, by fiat, is wiping out a cornerstone of democracy by saying not only that the judiciary will be taken into account in previous decisions but that if someone has the arrogance to take this government to court after this legislation, that ruling won't apply either. So much for judicial review.
I wonder if this government is willing to give British Columbians that right — to disallow this government the opportunity for judicial review. I wonder what the families of autistic children would say. Would they like the right to take away the opportunity of judicial review from this government? Is this government going to allow the families of autistic children that right so that the court decision upholding their right to services and benefits stands? No. This government isn't going to do that, because maybe that would take away their protection to ignore the promises they made to the families of autistic children. Maybe then they'd actually have to deliver the services that they promised to autistic children during the last election, if this government's right to judicial review were wiped out through legislation.
Oh no, I don't expect this government's going to do that. I don't think they're going to say: "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." No, no. They're going to use their heavy hand to take away rights from tens of thousands of teachers so that they can get on with having their way in undermining the education system.
Maybe the Minister of Education can take this bill to all social studies 11 classes in the province and explain to them how the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government in Canada work. Maybe the Minister of Labour would like to do that. Maybe the Premier would like to do that. I dare him to go to a social studies 11 course and explain, with this legislation, how those three branches of government now work under this B.C. Liberal regime.
The Minister of Education surely should do that, because with the help of the Minister of Labour, he has just said that the B.C. Liberal government does not care for or respect decisions of the court or the judicial process. It's very interesting that on a day we have teachers here promoting parliamentary democracy — the very day they are here — this government is undermining a basic tenet of democracy like we've never seen before.
I know what the Liberals will do. They'll just rewrite the social studies 11 curriculum, bring it into legislation and pass it according to the Liberal view of the tenets of democracy in this province. "Arrogance over good governance." That's the motto of this B.C. Liberal government.
Bill 19 ensures that there can be no contractual guarantees of class size limits, no contractual guarantees of services to students with special needs. There can be no support from specialist teachers in B.C. schools. Isn't that a nice contribution to education? They're legislating what can't happen to support our children. Teachers will no longer have the right to bargain for such issues. The government will merely dictate. How's that for a halcyon day in education in this province?
These contractual guarantees were put in place to protect learning conditions for children. It's not just about class sizes. Here are some examples of contractual provisions that will be stripped, made illegal, under Bill 19. From the Kamloops-Thompson collective agreement: "Clear administrative procedures shall be established for the carrying out of fire and earthquake drills that expedite the evacuation and care of students with special needs." That's gone. That's illegal now. I can hardly wait to have the government explain why that's illegal. No provisions are now allowed for students with special needs who may have to do a fire drill. Gee, I can hardly wait for the member for Kamloops–North Thompson to stand up and explain why these provisions aren't important.
Fire drills. This from the member whose community was hit so hard by forest fires last year, where I saw forest fire devastation come right up to the doors of schools…. I was there. I saw it — right up to the doors of schools. Thank God the schools weren't in session. Thank God. We don't have that guarantee this year.
Here's one from the Cariboo-Chilcotin collective agreement: "The placement of a student with special needs shall be determined by the student's intellectual, emotional and physical needs." That's gone. That's illegal now — illegal. I can't wait for the member for Cariboo South to stand up and explain why students with special needs should have special consideration for placement.
Here's a good one from the Qualicum collective agreement. This is now illegal: "Where safety is a factor, the number of students in a laboratory, shop or other specialized class shall not exceed the number for which the facility is designed." That's illegal now. I'm not even sure if the member for Alberni-Qualicum could explain why that is not important, even if she tried. Safety standards are now illegal.
I bet you the Liberal caucus is just bursting with pride over this legislation, just bursting with pride — not.
Teachers have worked hard at the bargaining table to ensure services for students are available and adequate. However, this government is determined to make it illegal for teachers to include provisions that protect the education and safety of our students in the bargaining process.
It does not make any sense for a government that claims students are their number one priority. There is not one aspect of this legislation that makes sense or gives any sustenance to that claim by this government. Not only is this government increasing class sizes, but they are making it harder for teachers to offer an adequate, let alone improved, learning environment in our schools.
Let's just see what a few teachers have to say. Let's start with a teacher from Surrey. This is directly from a teacher in Surrey:
"As a resource teacher I had a caseload of ten learning-disabled students. Without caseload limits that
[ Page 10283 ]
number ballooned to 60 students last year, without recognition of differing learning styles and needs.
"Learning-disabled, MID, English as a second language, behaviour- and learning-assistance students were 'lumped together' in groups for support instruction. The groups were so big, instruction had little more individual focus than the classroom. The variety of needs and learning styles in each group also impacted heavily on the delivery of service to my students.
"Stripping the contract really messed up instruction for the students I work with."
From a teacher in Vancouver:
"Five of my seven classes currently have over 30 students. I have severely learning-disabled students mixed into these large classes with only one special education assistant and a district resource teacher in a school of over 2,000 students. That's one half-time teacher providing support to over 50 identified designated students.
"That means each student can expect approximately 15 minutes a week of individualized attention from a qualified special education teacher. I still provide an adequate education to the students who are average students, but any exceptional student is not getting the level of education they have a right to as set out by the Charter of Rights."
Another one from a teacher in Nanaimo. The teacher is addressing the issue of larger class size. He says that he has 31 children in a room built for a maximum of 30.
Mr. Speaker, I met with some teachers at a school in my riding last week, and the grade 7 teacher said that his classroom is so full he gave up his desk. He had to move his desk out. He wasn't complaining about that. There is no teacher desk anymore because there was no room for it, but the space he had taken over to lay out his materials on a ledge also now had to be taken over by a student, because of his class size.
The next quote comes from a teacher in Chilliwack: "Quality teaching has been replaced with quantity teaching. There is less time to focus on the needs of children."
Finally, from a teacher on the Sunshine Coast: "There has been a decimation of services to special education students. Our teacher assistance time has been halved. More than half of the academic classes in my school are now over 31 students, with some as high as 35."
Not only is the government bypassing the judicial process and ignoring a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, but they are making it more difficult for teachers to negotiate better and safer learning conditions in our schools. This government does not respect the courts, and it does not respect what the teachers do in our province. One can only come to the conclusion, then, that this government does not respect or care for students.
Mr. Speaker: On second reading of Bill 19, the minister closes debate.
Hon. G. Bruce: Several things, as I listen to the Leader of the Opposition, in respect to tugboat strike issues and labour relations in this province.
It really shouldn't go unnoticed that during the past few years, we've actually had a fair modicum of labour peace. In the year 2000 there were 88 strikes in British Columbia. In 2002 there were 18, and in 2003 there were eight. You can go to the other side of that, and you can take a look at what has been negotiated. There have been 35 negotiated public sector collective agreements in this province. Actually, when you go through the whole aspect of things, you find that historically speaking, these past three years have probably been some of the quietest, most peaceful in respect to labour relations.
However, there are times when things occur that you have to deal with. This piece of legislation deals with a situation where you had an appointment of an arbitrator that stemmed from the initial piece of legislation in 2002 to take a look at what was in the legislation that was passed, and then the 60 other collective agreements through the province — I think it was 62, specifically — and to make sure there was consistency in the language.
At any rate, the first arbitrator I appointed was one who was actually on the list that the parties in the past had agreed to. As they started, it became fairly obvious that the British Columbia Teachers Federation was not going to accept the first arbitrator. But they did accept his suggestion of the second arbitrator. So I accepted the resignation of the first arbitrator and then appointed the second individual, who both parties had agreed to.
Shortly thereafter, the British Columbia Teachers Federation objected to that individual. Being a man of patience, I said: "That's fine." I appointed a third arbitrator. It was found that the third arbitrator actually…. There was a concern expressed of conflict because his wife had been a teacher. The British Columbia Teachers Federation objected to that individual to be the arbitrator. So over time, I finally found a fourth individual who would accept the job, and that was Mr. Rice. Now, Mr. Rice isn't just any come-by gentleman along the street. He actually now is on the bench; he is a B.C. Supreme Court justice.
In working the process through, I thought that I'd demonstrated a fair amount of patience in a process which really was, from the perspective of the B.C. Teachers Federation, being quite obstructive. But at any rate, we then had a gentleman that was there to hear the case, and the B.C. Teachers Federation refused to take part in the process. I think they attended the first meeting and then left.
The other thing that I think is important to note at this time in the pieces of legislation that were brought in 2002 is that this minister was given the responsibility to try and work with the parties to develop a new structure for negotiating in this province between teachers and the province. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, even with her time in the House in government, they, too, had difficulty reaching settlements with the teachers.
It actually crosses all governments — the difficulty of reaching negotiated settlements with teachers. In fact, you can see it across Canada. You can see it as a
[ Page 10284 ]
worldwide trend. Regardless of political consideration of the government of the day, there has been a challenge to find a way to reach negotiated settlements.
I embarked upon a course with the BCTF, the school trustees and the Principals and Vice-Principals Association to see whether there was an appetite to develop a new negotiating structure. The parties told me there was, so I embarked on finding an individual who would best be able to bring the parties together and try and develop a new process. He was a former Deputy Minister of Education the parties agreed to, Mr. Don Wright, and he is doing his work.
At that time and in subsequent meetings, the British Columbia Teachers Federation said to me that they hoped my instituting this process of developing a new negotiating structure wouldn't delay or restrict them from being able to move ahead with negotiating for their new contract, which normally starts about this period of time in the year, because their contract expires on June 30, 2004. The Teachers Federation, as the Leader of the Opposition has stated and as I have mentioned earlier on, took this particular section — this legislation — to court and challenged it.
What you are actually talking about is the interpretation between the justice of the day that heard this case, Justice Shaw, and the arbitrator, Mr. Rice, who is now a Supreme Court justice but wasn't then, in how one ought to go about hearings and the harmonization process. It was Mr. Rice's interpretation that he had to delete everything that had anything to do with those issues that were in contravention of or not consistent with the legislation. Justice Shaw said that no, he should have spent more time and found ways to harmonize, because as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, there are certain words and things in there that would be deleted and that didn't reflect on the actual legislation.
I would point out, though, since the Leader of the Opposition said it was illegal to do so in those situations, that it's not illegal to do so. The schools can still conduct those types of exercises that are necessary for safety and protection. It hardly needs to be construed or spun out or spelled out in a contract. At the same time, it also can be renegotiated into a contract. It was the determination of this government that class size, as important as it is, ought to be in the School Act as opposed to being an item that was negotiated each and every time at the negotiating table. When we brought in the legislation of Bills 27 and 28, we put the class size in the School Act, so there is protection in that respect.
The options that government and I as minister in charge had to deal with the situation as it is today, I mentioned earlier on. I would just like to repeat. I could have gone to appeal. I could have recommended to government that we go to an appeal of the judge's decision. That would have been costly and timely. Fair enough. It would then also have put us in a situation where, when I had the specific request by the BCTF to be able to embark upon negotiations in this upcoming year, they would not have been able to do that because the past contract was not in place. So I took that….
J. MacPhail: Why didn't you tell them that?
Hon. G. Bruce: I did. I took that into consideration. I even….
Hon. G. Bruce: Yes. I even wrote the people at the bargaining table, all of them — the British Columbia Teachers Federation, BCPC and the B.C. School Trustees Association — to make them aware that they could go ahead and start negotiations if they chose to. In respect to the upcoming end of the collective agreement on June 30 of this year, I took that into consideration. The other thing I could have done was appoint a fifth arbitrator. I don't….
Hon. G. Bruce: That's right.
Hon. G. Bruce: No, we do. In fact….
Hon. G. Bruce: You have to make choices. You have to make difficult choices. I think this is an important point. The difference between the Leader of the Opposition's time in government and our time in government is that you never made any difficult choices. You actually just gave away the farm. You took this province and actually drove it into the ground. In fact, what this government is doing is making difficult choices. This is a difficult choice. I'm not….
J. MacPhail: You're not making a choice.
Hon. G. Bruce: It's absolutely making a choice. We could have done one, two or three different things, and we chose, at the end of the day, because of the fact that we would have then had to go through an appointment process of a fifth arbitrator. I have no confidence that I would have had any greater success in appointing the fifth arbitrator in respect to a relationship with the BCTF…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. G. Bruce: …than I did in getting to the fourth arbitrator. That would have taken time to go through that whole process one more time — of working through all 60 contracts when I know of the eagerness of the B.C. Teachers Federation to get on with negotiating this next contract. Or I could have made the decision, as I did, to bring in a piece of legislation, which is really past history, to put into effect that which the
[ Page 10285 ]
arbitrator, through his deliberations, had come to undertake. He had gone through the contracts and eliminated what he found to have been inconsistent with the legislation and, by doing that, brought some resolution to this — not allowing for extended grievances to take place on past legislation but being able to now deal with the legislation that's in effect today.
That is all this bill does. It's not an attack on democracy. It's not disrespectful to the courts. It is, in effect, actually dealing with reality where you finally get to a point when you have to look at a situation where there really hasn't been the spirit to come through the processes that were made available through this legislation — through an arbitrator, through Bill 28, through this arbitrator — to be able to have the parties come together and deal with the issue in a responsible manner.
I took a look at what was done here and have accepted the arbitrator's rulings on these things. In having read the decision by Justice Shaw, I understand very clearly the effect and what, in respect, he was saying. With that, we brought in this particular piece of legislation so that we can move ahead and get on with the parties being able to negotiate a new contract.
With that, I move second reading of Bill 19.
Second reading of Bill 19 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 41
NAYS — 4
Hon. G. Bruce: Mr. Speaker, I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House at the next sitting after today.
Bill 19, Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Bruce: I call committee stage on Bill 25.
Committee of the Whole House
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 25; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 3:39 p.m.
K. Johnston: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
K. Johnston: Joining us behind and just leaving now in the gallery are 75 grade 10 students from Killarney Secondary School in the riding of Vancouver-Fraserview. I'm delighted to welcome them here today. They're being accompanied by Ms. Janet Nichol, Mr. Glyn Howell, Mr. Cox and Mr. Truman. Would the House please make them very welcome.
On section 1.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, thank you for allowing me the opportunity on this debate. We have actually examined the legislation, and as I said in my opening remarks, we support it.
I have operational questions resulting from budget that the minister and I are dealing with in estimates, not the legislation stuff. The debate around the operational requirements will take place in estimates, and therefore I support this legislation.
Hon. M. de Jong: I think there are questions from the member for Cariboo North that might best be dealt with under section 6, so I wonder if we might go there.
Sections 1 to 4 inclusive approved.
On section 5.
J. Wilson: On section 5, the non-industrial use of fires. I'm wondering if the minister would maybe expound on this a little bit. The non-industrial use of fire, I assume, would include campfires. In here it says that unless in prescribed circumstances, you cannot have a fire within one kilometre of combustible material. Could the minister enlighten me on that?
Hon. M. de Jong: The member has seized on a pretty fundamentally important component of this
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legislation. Whereas under the previous statutory provisions governing fire and fire-related matters under the Forest Practices Code…. Those provisions essentially covered industrial forest activity, licensees. This act has a far broader application to anyone in the forest.
The first issue that arises from the member's question is the fact that it does relate to campfires. It does relate to people involved in recreational use of our back country, of our forest resource. That's a key distinction, and it's not just forest companies that need to be aware of these provisions and whose behaviour is governed by this act. It's all of us who are in the forest.
J. Wilson: Okay, we have the definition sorted out. How will this affect people who go out, say, to recreate for a weekend, and they go into a campsite and wish to have a campfire in the evening? How will this legislation impact those recreational users?
Hon. M. de Jong: This is also an important point. At a practical operational level, there should be no difference whatsoever. People will still go out into the woods. They need to familiarize themselves with any burning restrictions that are in place. They need to conduct themselves responsibly, not be stupid about…. They need to be aware that if they are careless insofar as putting their campfire out, there are rules that will be prescribed in the regulations. There are potential liability issues.
All of those are largely commonsense issues that exist now. What this act does is bring them all together under one roof, as it were. The idea is still to provide people with every opportunity to go out, sit around the campfire and have a cup of cocoa, as I know the member does occasionally — and nothing stronger than that. All of those enjoyable opportunities will remain.
Section 5 approved.
The Chair: Member, do you have any further questions to any part of the bill? What section, member?
J. Wilson: Section 6.
On section 6.
J. Wilson: In section 6 it says "except in prescribed circumstances" and goes on to define where you can light a fire for industrial activity, which includes slash burning, I believe, and agricultural burning. It says: "…within 1 km of forest land or grass land." Now, in the Cariboo it's very difficult to be in an area where you are more than one kilometre away from forested land. Could the minister maybe enlighten me as to what is meant by "prescribed circumstances"?
Hon. M. de Jong: The first thing I will emphasize is that the capability to engage in the activity contemplated by section 6 still remains, so there's no difference there. What it says, however, and confirms is that in order to engage in that slash-burn type of activity, you'll have to abide by the regulations that will be in place. They will, by and large, be similar to what they have been, although in a couple of cases we have tried to simplify those regulations. They will be available for review. You'll need to get a permit, similar to what you must do today.
There will be an ability to get an exemption in unique circumstances where there might be a burning ban in effect. There are exceptional circumstances. You'll be able to get an exemption. The section creates the authority by which the regulations associated with this activity will be created, but the regulations won't be appreciably different, albeit marginally less complicated to read.
J. Wilson: At another point in my life I spent the better part of a year working with the agricultural industry, streamlining the burning process. We had some measurable results there. We went from having to have an on-site inspection to…. Actually, over the last four or five years, it has come down now to where there is a set of regulations in place that describe what you need on hand and how far away you should be from combustible material — this kind of thing. In order to enact this, you simply pick up the phone and dial a number. Now, I am wondering…. The minister has indicated that we maybe have simplified it a little more.
In February and the better part of March in my riding, there has been an ad on the radio every day or two stating that anyone burning agricultural debris, wood material or even slash must submit a burning plan for what they want to do, effective in March. As well, when the burning is to take place, they must phone the number they were required to before. These burning plans include all slash burning for small business sales or the timber sale program, and I assume the majors do the same thing. Anyone doing agricultural burning must also now submit a burning plan to get it approved.
Is this part of Bill 25? Is it part of the regulations that the bill has brought in, or is it something different that is being brought into that forest district and not other forest districts out there? Can the minister help me there?
Hon. M. de Jong: I appreciate the member's question because it does suggest that there is a changed procedure. What I took from the member's question is that something is being required this spring, this year, that wasn't required in the past. He is nodding to indicate that is so. That is of interest to me because it is certainly not a result of this act or the regulation, neither of which has actually been proclaimed into effect yet. So if that is taking place, it is taking place pursuant to the existing legislative regime. It sounds to me as if it is something unique to that district, and if that is the case, then I hope the member will indulge me in trying to ascertain what the specific nature of the change is, the rationale for it and the authority for it.
Sections 6 to 104 inclusive approved.
[ Page 10287 ]
Hon. M. de Jong: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 3:55 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Committee of Supply, the estimates for the Ministry of Forests, in this House.
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply B; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 3:56 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF FORESTS
On vote 24: ministry operations $393,292,000 (continued).
J. MacPhail: Why is the deputy minister paid as much as he or she is? Just kidding.
I just want to outline for the minister where I'm going to go in my estimates. We're talking about the fires now. I'm next going to go to bark beetles and defoliators, then sustainability, first nations, recreation, and then some letters from various people around the province that are sort of like a bit of casework.
My question was on fires. We'd had a good discussion about the money, the announcement that the Premier made on the weekend. I'm wondering whether the minister is aware whether any other level of government has made a commitment with regard to funding for fire season preparation or combatting it.
Hon. M. de Jong: This will be anecdotal. While I'm answering this, perhaps the officials will investigate whether there has been anything more formal.
I know that I have met with communities who have invested in planning around interface preparation. An example I would use is Logan Lake, who have developed a plan. They are in need of some funding assistance to help execute that plan. They have indicated a willingness to invest themselves in the implementation of the plan. They are modest dollars — modest dollars for the overall cost of the plan, but also modest dollars that Logan Lake would invest, obviously, if there were some assistance. They will now, pursuant to what has taken place in the last week, interact with the UBCM to try to access some of the $3 million that has been made available.
That's but one example. I know other communities have done similar things. That's an example of another level of government that has invested. I think perhaps, as I begin to answer this question, the member might have also been referring to federal involvement in this matter. If that's the case, I'll carry on and talk about that.
It's a timely question, because there are a number of things taking place. In fact, officials are meeting in Edmonton this day as part of the Council of Forest Ministers and the national forest protection service administered out of the federal Department of Natural Resources. NRCan is, I think, the abbreviation they now use.
The provinces have been working, or endeavouring to work, with the federal government to look at a number of features related to our national preparedness, and the proposals have taken various titles. Almost the most recent one was something called the five-point plan. It is a plan designed to address everything from air fleet renewal to meteorological services to information exchanges, data exchanges and scientific exchanges. It is a whole package. It has been the subject of discussion for the three years I have attended meetings with the other provinces and the federal government at the ministerial level. I'll say to the member that part of the frustration at this point is that it hasn't amounted to much.
The sums of money are pretty significant — in its original manifestation, beyond a billion dollars over a ten-year period. The biggest component of that relates to air fleet renewal, and that is admittedly a very costly project — I think upwards of $800 million or $900 million.
We're continuing to pursue it. There's a new federal minister. We met with him. I believe it was February. There have been subsequent meetings. Officials within the British Columbia Forest Service are chairing a committee aimed at trying to coordinate our efforts with the other provinces. We're working particularly with Alberta and Ontario and Saskatchewan, and we're having another go to try to get the kind of support we need across the provinces and with the federal government.
Anyway, that's a start. We may want to probe further into the specifics of the proposal.
J. MacPhail: Could the minister direct me to whom I should be asking questions about compensation for the victims of the fires of 2003?
J. MacPhail: From the federal government.
Hon. M. de Jong: Through the magic of technology, rather than guess, I'll try and ascertain who the correct
[ Page 10288 ]
official is coordinating from the federal side. Different components of it are dealt with differently. For example, as it relates to military involvement, there's the Canadian Forces. I think the member is talking about compensation to property owners or compensation to business owners within…. There's a clear line of authority provincially. While we're having this exchange, I'll endeavour to find out who quarterbacks that — even which department quarterbacks that — at the federal level.
J. MacPhail: The corollary to that question is: who does that federal person liaise with on the provincial side?
Now, a brief discussion. We left off yesterday at the end of estimates talking about the Convair air tankers. I just want to clarify this again. The minister has acknowledged that it's your standard lease. We're not purchasing them. Actually, I've always thought it was better to lease. We will lease two more Convair air tankers. Could the minister explain to me and the public: how does the protocol work? If we have air tankers that have been leased to British Columbia, and forest fires break out in both British Columbia and areas where we have a protocol arrangement of reciprocal rights to equipment, how does that then unfold in terms of access to those air tankers?
[H. Long in the chair.]
Hon. M. de Jong: Let me start here. In the scenario the member has described, which is a common scenario — that's precisely why the protocol exists — where we are the leaseholder of the aircraft, we have the first option. It's not even an option. They are our aircraft, and if we need them, we use them. If we find in that scenario that we are still short of aircraft — and that was the case last year — we make a request pursuant to the protocol to the Canadian interagency forest protection service in Winnipeg, which essentially does a search for us — what's available, what's out there and what we can draw on. The rates are set. The cost is known.
The opposite is also true. If we're sitting here and it's pouring rain for three weeks, and all hell is breaking loose in Quebec, and we've got aircraft on the ground doing nothing, Quebec officials would make a similar request and then have the option of utilizing the aircraft that we don't require. If, however, we get to a situation where the situation changes, we have the right to bring those aircraft back for the use that we need to make of them.
J. MacPhail: Who makes that judgment? Who makes that call in the protocol about recalling?
Hon. M. de Jong: That call would be made by the senior fire officer within the protection branch, and there is a 24-hour notification. In the scenario we've described, the province of Quebec would get 24-hour notice from B.C. that we're needing to recall our aircraft.
J. MacPhail: The Filmon report states: "The provincial government should lead the development of a strategic plan in cooperation with local government to improve fire prevention in the interface through fuel management." That's a recommendation.
The minister talked about the UBCM having received $3 million from the provincial government for various activities. How does that money get used in a way that the Filmon report recommendation is achieved — the one I've just read out?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think it's a combination of things. Part of it is the planning exercise. That is not just a function of going out there and burning fuel. It is a function of coming up with a long-term plan as it relates to the interface area for a particular community. That is one mechanism available. I was going to talk about another one, and it escapes my mind just now. Let me stop there.
What I very clumsily tried to do was distinguish between the strategic planning element to this…. I want to emphasize that that's something that the province is, by necessity, going to have to have a continued role in, certainly through involvement by officials, because that's where a lot of the expertise rests right now. One of the challenges here is to try and spread that expertise around or develop it elsewhere and at the local level.
The other component, broadly speaking, would be the fuel treatment pilot projects, and some of those have been undertaken. We do tend — and I'm as guilty of this as anyone — to focus on this issue around the question of burning. It's not the only way you deal with the fuel issue. There are other mechanisms — thinning, cleaning and brushing. There are all kinds of things that can be done, and it doesn't all relate to prescribed burning. Sometimes, by virtue of how much attention we give to that one facet of it, I and others create the impression — incorrectly — that that is the be-all and end-all, and there are obviously risks associated with it.
The last thing I want to say to the member and members is that this problem doesn't go away in a year, and it doesn't go away because of a $3 million allotment. There is a big challenge out there. This has accumulated over the better part of four or five decades. What we need to do is ensure that we're planning on that basis. As I think this member said yesterday or the day before, the real test for governments today and governments in the future is their willingness to remind themselves of what took place in 2003 and, as that memory recedes, maintain the commitment to dealing with these issues.
J. MacPhail: Another recommendation from the Filmon report that I wanted to explore…. I'm not going to explore all 42. These are ones that I am particularly
[ Page 10289 ]
interested in. It recommends that the office of the fire commissioner should implement a searchable database to maintain a current and accurate provincewide inventory of private and public sector equipment available for fire response. That's the recommendation. What's the progress on that? How's the database being set up, and what's the estimate of cost?
Hon. M. de Jong: I can only help a little bit. That actually is a feature of the report and the subsequent action that relates to the Solicitor General's ministry. To give the member some notion of what I think it speaks to, when fire on the scale we saw in 2003 occurs, there is a huge draw on resources. A lot of people volunteer resources — everything from the D9 cat to a sprinkler system. Odd as it might sound, one of the things we learned and the professionals within the protection branch told me they learned was how effective, in that kind of a firestorm, something as simple as a portable sprinkler system can be to increase the moisture level and wet down a fire guard or a surrounding area.
Having some sense as to where that equipment is, where the hoses are, where the transportation gear is, where the heavy equipment is, and having done that work in advance is, I think, what Mr. Filmon was referring to. There wasn't too much of this, but occasionally I certainly heard expressions of frustration from people in communities who would say: "I have equipment that is being brought in from 200 kilometres away. They only had to ask, and I would have gladly made it available." Some of them would have gladly made it available voluntarily or gratuitously — and others, because they saw a business opportunity there. There were different circumstances.
I think part of the objective here is to ensure that that database, that inventory, is created. My guess is that creating the inventory is probably the easy part. Keeping it up to date is generally the more difficult challenge.
J. MacPhail: I'll ask further questions on that of the Solicitor General. We have finished his estimates, but I'll write questions to him, Mr. Chair.
This is one for the Ministry of Forests. The Filmon report recommends that the Ministry of Forests should "implement a modern records management system to maintain a current and accurate provincewide inventory of certified forest fire fighters" and "should consider some mechanism, other than retaking the S100, that allows past experience in the forest industry or firefighting to be recognized…." How does the minister plan on implementing these recommendations, which I think lead to improved access at the local level to quick and early firefighting expertise?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm actually glad this question was asked by the member, as well, because amongst those issues that garnered public attention during and immediately after 2003, this was one of them. The frustration that I heard expressed tended to go something like this. People want to help, and they all want to help in the best way they can.
The anecdotal story I recall was from a number of IWA individuals who had received training, both first-aid training and training as it related to wildfire in the woods, which is obvious, given what their profession was — as harvesters — and there were obstacles to drawing on those individuals as a resource. That would have been frustrating for those individuals at the best of times, made worse by the fact that at the time this was happening, they were out of work. That compounded the issue.
The recommendation recognized that, I think, and that's but one example. It also recognized the fact that there is a training requirement. For the people on the front line within the protection branch, it was difficult at times to say to people: "Look, we're not just sending you out into the woods. It's too dangerous." When the military came, they were great, but they went on a specific training course for three days in Vernon — both units that came through — so they were trained as well.
Now, at the local fire centres that exist around the province, that training is taking place. In the same way, we're trying to create an inventory of equipment and an inventory of individuals who can be drawn upon in the event of a drastic emergency. Again, my suspicion is that this year and next year, and probably the year after, that will go very well. The challenge will be, beyond that, keeping those individuals current in their training and keeping the list current as to where those individuals are located.
J. MacPhail: How does it operate right now? Who is the keeper of the list? Who has access to the database, and how does one register?
Hon. M. de Jong: The mechanism today would be to go into the base, the fire centre, and register. Then there would be a collection of information — the level of training, level of training required — and those lists presently are kept at the local centre. One of the things that is now changing and taking place is the collation of that list centrally. Ultimately, the objective would be to have that list web-based in a way that those who are on it can access it and provide change-of-address and contact information.
J. MacPhail: Does this involve any information exchange with other provinces? Do we ever access crews from other provinces?
Hon. M. de Jong: Yes, indeed we do. Last year we were very much the recipient. That's less problematic, because the kind of exchange that takes place is at the level of unit 1 crews that we have talked about formerly in these debates. In B.C.'s case, last year we had people from Quebec, Ontario and, I think, the Yukon.
[ Page 10290 ]
Hon. M. de Jong: Every agency in Canada, I am advised. But that operates pursuant to the cross-jurisdictional protocol. The request goes in, and the trained crew would arrive. They are highly trained and can go to work immediately on the front line.
J. MacPhail: The next recommendation from the Filmon report that I'm interested in is the one that states that the provincial government, in partnership with local governments, should examine watershed restoration as soon as possible. It doesn't say whose responsibility that is. What has the government decided — in the minister responsible for that task?
Hon. M. de Jong: The issue here — and the member is right; it's identified by Mr. Filmon in his report — relates to the threat around degradation to a watershed that can occur when the timber surrounding a lake or reservoir has been burned off. What has been taking place — and this actually started in the immediate aftermath of the fire, so last fall — is between the Ministries of Forests; Water, Land and Air Protection; Agriculture, Food and Fisheries; and Sustainable Resource Management. Those are priority areas, or we have attempted to identify them as priority areas so that officials can get in and do some aerial reseeding of grasslands, some immediate replanting in the forests.
The other part to this that I think the recommendation refers to is that a lot of fences were burnt down. You'll get a lot of cattle when the cattle are out gaining access that they didn't have and shouldn't have to watersheds — so the restoration of that fencing also.
I used to have a figure in my mind about the amount of money that's already been spent. It's a sizeable amount. A lot of that work got done fairly immediately. Fireguards were another feature to that. That's a rough inventory of the kind of work that has been done and that I think Mr. Filmon was referring to in his report.
J. MacPhail: Am I to assume that it is the Ministry of Forests that would take the lead on this?
Hon. M. de Jong: Various parts of it — some of the aerial reseeding certainly, the replanting. Some of the other work involves WLAP and Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. The Ministry of Forests has a pretty significant role, certainly, in a lot of the restoration work, reseeding work.
J. MacPhail: I want to spend a little bit of time now on the budget for forest health. It is part of the forest protection budget.
First of all, could the minister just explain…? I'll read into the record what the government documents say about forest health. "Forest health provides for forest health activities in parks and protected areas, some viewscapes, urban areas and other special sites." I would imagine, just to take an example of the Kelowna area fire…. The Okanagan park, which comes right up against the urban areas, is an interface area, and there was a substantial loss — not loss…. That's not true. A substantial burning took place inside the park. Where does the money for controlled burns come from in the minister's budget? Does it come out of forest health?
Hon. M. de Jong: Within parks?
J. MacPhail: No, I'm sorry. Well, yes, controlled burns…. Where does the money come from for controlled burns generally, and then particularly in parks or areas that are interface areas?
Hon. M. de Jong: Insofar as prescribed burning generally, leaving the park issue aside, that would be funded from the protection branch budget — the preparedness side of that budget. I think that's the word that appears somewhere in the line. That would be the area of the budget that one draws on for that work. Insofar as prescribed burning within a park is concerned, that would be funded through the Water, Land and Air Protection budget as a result of their responsibility for the management of the parks.
J. MacPhail: Okay, because here…. I mean, until this fire season… Let me start again, Mr. Chair. I understand that controlled burns are taking place now. Can the minister describe the increase in controlled burns or the restarting of controlled burns? How much money was spent out of last year's budget on controlled burns out of fire preparedness, and how much is anticipated to be spent this year? I understand that while you can't predict a wildfire, you can predict controlled burns.
Hon. M. de Jong: Recently there has been virtually no money spent on prescribed burning. The one qualifier — and I say it because it was just brought to my attention…. I assume that the member, in posing these questions, is talking about prescribed burning relating to fuel management as opposed to harvesting activity in an industrial forest sense.
I actually have figures that show the reduction in that over the past ten or 12 years, but for the period I think the member is referring to through last year, it was virtually nil. We're looking to spend between $1 million and $2 million next year. Given the challenge ahead, that is at best a modest sum, but it is a start.
J. MacPhail: Yes, I recall from my days, I think, that the last great period of controlled burning or prescribed burning was around '94-95. Yes, I well acknowledge the huge decline and almost stop of that.
Well, how does it work? The fire preparedness budget, then — the minister can explain this to me — goes from $37 million, approximately, to $35 million. Fire preparedness — I'm sure I'm right on that. Yeah, for
[ Page 10291 ]
this year. How does that work in terms of allocation of funds for fire preparedness? You've got a new expenditure of up to $2 million, but an overall reduction of about $2 million from the fire preparedness budget of last year.
Hon. M. de Jong: It is a valid question. The amount being spent is, at the end of the day…. Let's just deal with the numbers as they appear in the budget book, and then we'll come to the additional moneys that were the subject of the announcement on the weekend. The moneys actually spent, I am told, are the same. I'm not sure "revenue" is even the correct term, but there is a recovery taking place from utilities and other agencies. That recovery flows back into and is registered against the vote and is being estimated at $2 million. So it replicates the reduction. What it doesn't do, however…. At the end of the day, there's not a spending reduction, but there is a recovery of funds that wasn't there in the previous year's budget.
J. MacPhail: Well, I'll be curious to see how that works, looking at the numbers, because the numbers actually for '03-04 have recoveries in them. The total operating expenses were $37 million, and even with the recoveries added to the budget for '04-05, the operating expenses declined to $35 million. The minister is quite correct to say that there are external recoveries. There are external recoveries in both years, and there is still a net decline of $2 million in the overall budget.
Mr. Chair, I just want to make clear that we're actually talking about a $4 million pressure — a $2 million decline in the real budget and then a new expending pressure of up to $2 million for the prescribed burns. That's why I'm curious to know how we're going to manage all of this under the fire preparedness budget. The minister should probably get some assistance from staff on that, and I'm going to move on to questions.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
I actually do think it's a $4 million pressure now, and I'll be very interested to see…. It's a $4 million pressure that we can predict and that we can address. It's not like it's the statutory requirement that we have under the direct firefighting.
Now, under forest health, which is also part of forest protection. Forest protection funding is divided into three parts: direct fire, and that's the statutory expenditure that last year skyrocketed up to around $340 million or $375 million. Then we have fire preparedness, which we have just been discussing, and now I want to talk about forest health.
Perhaps the minister could explain how forest health, which does deal with activities in parks and protected areas, viewscapes, urban areas and other special sites…. The forest health budget went from $7.7 million last year to $995,000 this year. That's a reduction of almost $7 million on the books. So what's up?
Hon. M. de Jong: I apologize for the delay. Let me begin by providing some indication of what the funding relates to, and it is, as the member pointed out, forest health. Treatments as they relate to beetle infestations, surveys, single tree treatments, fall and burn operations, aerial surveys and the bark beetle coordinator would be captured by that. All of those activities are still taking place. The funding, which will flow through the licensees in many instances, now derives from the forest investment account. That's the shift, and it is reflected, as the member had pointed out, in the decrease that exists within the Forests ministry budget which is set out in the blue book she just referred to.
J. MacPhail: I've actually been trying to find the accounting of the forest investment account. Can the minister point out to me where I find it in the supplement to the estimates? I can't find it anywhere.
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm in the Estimates proper at page 88, if that helps the member.
J. MacPhail: What vote is it? Can the minister just tell me how it's entitled?
Hon. M. de Jong: It appears in the Ministry of Forests section under the separate heading "Forest Investment."
J. MacPhail: I'm sure I'll get a look at that soon, if I could, or if they're listening, my staff could send it in to me.
That's a shift. The forest investment account was the Forest Renewal B.C. fund, the FRBC fund, and they had very specific purposes. The government then took part of the FRBC funding when it wound down and put it into the forest investment account. Now we're using that fund to do what used to be done under direct public services — forest health.
Let's see what changes we're also making in terms of shifting to other responsibilities, separate and apart from the government. As I understand it, last summer 8,300 hectares of forest that burned were classified as restocked. The area that had been burned was classified as restocked. "Restocked" means that it's been replanted, that the area of land has been logged and replanted. That's what's called restocked. But I also understand that it's still the government's responsibility to restock areas destroyed by fire.
Now, I'm sure that the cost of planting restocked forests will be substantial. What is the budget for that, which the minister has set aside?
Hon. M. de Jong: While we get the specific numbers that the member is looking for, I thought I would provide this information, which I think is relevant be-
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cause we are at a stage now — certainly over the last few months, starting just before Christmas and through the spring — where we are issuing licences for access to burnt timber. Once those licences and cutting permits are issued, the licensee assumes a responsibility, as well, as it relates to replanting and silviculture work. We could, by extension — and I'm sure in a moment we're going to talk about the beetles….
It is the economics associated with the cost for replanting that accrues to the licensees that can make those harvesting activities very, very complicated or challenging in terms of the ability for the operators or the licensees to make a few dollars. In the case, for example, of the North Thompson Valley where the Shuswap first nation are a licensee now to the tune of a million cubic metres, one of the things they have to factor in is stumpage associated with what they harvest and also silviculture costs and obligations. That accrues to the licensees at the salvage or harvesting stage. What I need to get for the member, then, is the amount of money — I think this was her question — the Crown will be spending ancillary to that.
J. MacPhail: Yes. While the minister's getting that information, let me ask another question, then, about the issuing of licences to log burnt-out forest. What procedure does the ministry go through to determine that logging should occur, and are there any avenues of appeal to determine whether a forest licence should be issued? For instance, where no licence had been granted before and now a burnt-out area is becoming part of the cut, who determines whether the burn is significant enough to demand logging?
I heard, when I was up in the Barriere area on one of my visits up there, that over the course of several years Ministry of Forests officials have actually more closely examined the matter of whether a burnt area should be logged or not and, on second thought, have come to the conclusion that, no, there is no need for logging. What procedure does the minister go through in that, and is there a stumpage differential for burnt-out areas versus non-burnt-out areas?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think the first part of the question was who…. That would begin with the district manager who does a survey and does an assessment. Part of that relates to the fact that there is generally salvageable timber, but in the epicentre of some of these fires, there are such marginal stands left that there may be no point or no ability to get in there, nothing recoverable to get in there. They start with that, assess the degree of damage, ascertain whether or not there is salvageable timber there and make that determination. There is specific provision in the Interior Appraisal Manual that provides guidance to the assignment of the stumpage rates. It's complicated because there are varying qualities of timber — everything from junk to marginally affected timber that's pretty valuable stuff.
The complicating feature that I have discovered over the last year is that they have to move quickly, because unlike the beetle timber — which tends to hold its value for anywhere from ten to 15 years, I'm told — the timber in the burnt forest, burnt wood, retains value for a year to two max. Then — the terminology, as I recall — it "checks." Basically, what I take that to mean is that it cracks, and it's almost impossible to run it through a sawmill without it basically exploding, and it has no value. That is, roughly speaking, the process that is followed for putting that timber on the market.
J. MacPhail: So is it the district manager that determines the level of stumpage that gets applied to the various quality of timber?
Hon. M. de Jong: It is the district manager, and what he or she does is apply the rules that are specified in the Interior Appraisal Manual. When those rules are applied at the end of the exercise, that results in a rate being set.
J. MacPhail: Okay. I'm awaiting the answer of how much the ministry contributes to replanting, separate and apart from the licences, but now I understand that as the minister gives licences to log burnt timber, he also demands that they replant as part of the licence. Is the province under an obligation to replant any stands that may have no commercial value for logging?
Hon. M. de Jong: The figure I have — and I'm going to cross-check it for the member, relevant to her first question — is $1 million on the replanting side. We're still doing the inventories around the non-commercial-value areas. But I can say this with, probably, relative certainty. In the year ahead they won't be a priority area, and that is largely driven by the lack of funding in that area. The attention will focus elsewhere. When that inventory is complete, I don't expect that I will be able to report to the member that there will be significant sums of money spent in the non-commercial-value areas.
J. MacPhail: So how many hectares does $1 million plant?
Hon. M. de Jong: I was just trying to do the math around the average costs associated with the silviculture work and replanting. The best math we can do is that it works out to something in the neighbourhood of 1,500 to 2,000 hectares. That places into perspective the magnitude of the challenge, when you consider what did burn, and is a further incentive to us getting these licences out, because part and parcel of the licence is the creation or transfer of the obligation around replanting. It's going to be, and is, a priority to get quick involvement and recoup the value we can of the timber
[ Page 10293 ]
that burned, to involve the licensees and therefore complete the circle by garnering their involvement in the replanting work.
J. MacPhail: I want to explore two more areas about budget before we move on to…. What did I say the next topic was — bark beetles?
Hon. M. de Jong: Beetles, I think.
J. MacPhail: Beetles. Yeah, bark beetles and defoliators.
I just wanted to explore two more areas. One was information provided by the Ministry of Forests, which I very much appreciated, I must say, in response to questions I had of the Minister of Finance around supplementary estimates for the '03-04 budget. I again will say that I understood the information. It was very clear, and I very much appreciate that.
I note there may be a possibility that a $25 million payment to the federal government, which provided military personnel and equipment for firefighting, may not be collected by the federal government. Do we have an update on that?
Hon. M. de Jong: I don't, and I'm not the point person, so I'm as interested as the member. If those watching these proceedings in my office can send that information in…. I'm not aware that there has been a final determination, and I'm not sure if it's something we are pursuing or hoping — that inaction on the part of the federal government signals that they have made a decision not to pursue payment.
J. MacPhail: The other area that I thought was helpful — to me, anyway, looking at it from outside as a layperson — was table 5 that the Ministry of Forests provided in my questions about how expenditures unfolded month by month. I asked for it in as small periods of time as possible, and the ministry provided it month by month. I found it very, very useful.
I'm looking at the operating costs line from table 5. It says that expenditures under operating costs skyrocketed in August, and of course that makes sense. What lessons has the ministry learned in terms of how…?
Let me start again. The announcement that the minister and the Premier made last weekend in terms of expenditures — how far will that go to alleviating a huge spike in costs at the height of the firestorm? In July the ministry spent $22 million on operating costs, and that skyrocketed to $201 million in August. Is there any way to alleviate overtime costs, etc., which of course was a huge part? A huge part of the expenditures was for professional services, which includes the contracts for fire crews and fire camp operations.
Hon. M. de Jong: The short answer is that I'm not sure you can make that guarantee, or I'm certainly not going to make the guarantee that in an absolute worst-case scenario, where all hell breaks loose in an interface area or two, we wouldn't see something similar. I think the objective — by virtue of what took place and the response to the Filmon report — is that in a scenario where things start to turn ugly and we're not in a position to draw on resources from elsewhere in the country the way we were last year, we will have the capacity. One could make the argument that if even one fire…. Of course, the member, I know, knows this. The vast majority of the thousands of fires that break out are contained. If one of the few that fall into the category of non-containment is actually contained, that has a huge saving. Ensuring that the resources are there to assist in achieving that end would presumably alleviate some of those costs.
I appreciate the spirit of the question. You take these actions. It's an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure, an ounce of protection worth a pound of cure. I'm a little leery today in this chamber to suggest that in a worst-case scenario, we might not see a rate of increase like that reflected between June, July and August. One hopes, of course, that the magnitude of the numbers is far less than what is reflected in the table the member is referring to.
J. MacPhail: Yes, and I take that as one very probable scenario. There is a huge portion of equipment lease, I would assume. Operating of equipment and of vehicles cost $205 million. I see that from table 4 in the Ministry of Forests response to my supplementary estimates questions.
I'm just curious, given the fact that we have two more planes now, whether there is any ability to predict fewer costs there. Is there any look at whether fire retardant was overused or improperly used or whether heavy equipment rental was allocated properly, geographically?
Hon. M. de Jong: With respect to the first part…. I have actually spent some time, because it is fascinating to watch, on the aerial side. They are in a position, given the very impressive software and tracking technique, to assess in a very careful way the costs associated with the deployment of resources from the air. That's something that has been tracked.
The people that sit in the ready room have a tough job, because they actually have to make the decision around the issue that the member just alluded to. Do we deploy the aircraft? Do we deploy the initial attack or rapattack helicopter crew right now? What is the cost effectiveness? Where is the fire located? They actually assess that through the winter, fire by fire, to see whether that was done properly. They have brought the cost way down from where it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
When I think more about the question the member has posed, it goes back to other questions she was posing about the collection of inventories. As I think about this, there were cases where, because of the immediacy of the crisis and the need to draw equipment in, you
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didn't have time in many instances to think about the price or talk about what's being paid. In many instances there may have been equipment that people would have volunteered. In some cases — and I'm now relying on memory from things the Solicitor General has alluded to in the past — because of protocols that were or weren't in place, people were paid who didn't even want to be paid. They wanted to volunteer.
So if you can do that planning work, if you know where your people are, if you've got that inventory, if you know where your equipment is, and you've got that inventory and you can draw on it in as organized a manner as you can in the eye of the storm, as it were, then I think there probably are some potential cost savings. I'm reluctant to overstate anything, given the dynamics of an emergency situation, but to that extent I think a proper measure for what we are trying to initiate now would be to see how some of those costs are managed better.
J. MacPhail: Is the minister aware of whether there is any work by Treasury Board in this area?
Hon. M. de Jong: Insofar as there was Treasury Board involvement in the request for additional funding for the aircraft, there would have been analysis. I don't want to overstate that there was an intensive cover-to-cover review of the entire proceedings, although that does take place on a yearly basis within the protection branch.
There is, as we speak, a different kind of analysis relating to the aerial component of this. It comes back to the pursuit that we and other provinces are making of the federal government for involvement around the renewal of the air fleet — that $800 million or $900 million project. As the member can appreciate, everyone wants to examine in detail the value for money that derives.
It's as detailed as this. We, or at least I, historically think an air tanker is an air tanker, whether it's a Tracker or a Convair or DC-6. The reason they upgrade these aircraft is that it makes all the difference in the world from an efficiency point of view how much retardant they're carrying, how many times they have to go reload and what communications equipment they're carrying, because if they have to get up high above a mountain to communicate, that costs time and money. They actually measure all of that. With the computer equipment they have, they actually review each pass that an aircraft makes over a fire. That level of analysis is certainly taking place and will continue to take place right across the country as it relates to this much larger project that we've been talking about.
J. MacPhail: It's gratuitous advice, but I thought the analysis provided by the Ministry of Forests was very interesting, very thorough in answer to my questions on the supplementary estimates of '03-04. It is gratuitous advice, but I think it would be very helpful for Treasury Board to examine those expenditures to see whether, given a similar situation, there are any ways of allocating resources that would lead to some reduced costs.
I want to examine one last area in terms of the actual budget of the Ministry of Forests before moving on to bark beetle and defoliators. It's the forest investment account. What is the status of the account? The account had $110 million in it in '03-04. Now there's $85 million in it. Where did that $25 million get spent?
Hon. M. de Jong: I might as well cut to the chase. It didn't get spent; it got reduced.
J. MacPhail: Thank you for the honesty. It's troubling; it means it went to the Minister of Finance. I mean, this was the Forest Renewal B.C. money, Mr. Chair. This was the money that this government, when in opposition, objected greatly was being misspent, misused. Well, it's not even being misspent and misused. It's being taken — absconded with — by the Minister of Forests and put into general revenue.
Now, let's just remember the history of this money. It was what people in the old days used to call superstumpage. It was an extra stumpage put in place by agreement, at the time, between the forest companies and the government of the day — my government — where the stumpage would be put into a Crown corporation called Forest Renewal B.C.
Then this government wound down Forest Renewal B.C. — I guess it must have been two years ago — and only put a portion of the money left in the Forest Renewal B.C. account into the forest investment account. Now we see that the Minister of Finance has taken 25 percent of that and put it into general revenue. I think that's shameful. I think it's absolutely shameful that this government did that, that the Minister of Finance did that.
Also, we just found out that a portion of the Minister of Forests budget for forest health is now going to be expended to the forest investment account. What other expenditures are planned for the forest investment account this fiscal year?
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, look, I'm not going to stand here and profess to be excited about the fact that the forest investment account has been reduced. What I can say, however, is state — as I have stated the obvious and candidly — what has taken place. I would also say that one needs to take account of the revenues that are forecast to be received from the forest sector. They are down significantly from years ago when things like superstumpage were collected — $400 million or $500 million less — and that has visited upon the government. It has certainly visited upon the forest sector. I think any discussion that we have needs to take that into account as well.
Before I go to the second part of the member's question, though, I think I should clarify. She mentioned the example of the forest health. Was her question: what in addition to that has been transferred to FIA?
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J. MacPhail: Yes. I would like to know what previous expenditures that were made under the Ministry of Forests budgets are now taken out of the forest investment account and also what expenditures are planned generally for the forest investment account.
Hon. M. de Jong: Firstly, just to go back a few moments. The note I've just received relates to the $25 million from the military. At this point the news appears to be positive. I'm a bit reluctant, as the member might appreciate, to say any more on the record about that, but we'll endeavour to keep her informed.
I will go through the inventory of areas where spending continues within the forest investment account. They are Crown land use planning enhancement, forest science, tree…. I should actually give some figures with that: Crown land use planning enhancement, $2.5 million; forest science, just over $10 million; tree improvement, $4.3 million; land-based investment, almost $37 million; small tenures, almost $900,000; international marketing, $12 million; product development, $6.7 million; forest health, biocontrol and other miscellaneous items, $3.2 million; ministry support, $8.1 million.
J. MacPhail: FRBC, which was the father of this forest investment account, used to produce annual reports. Is there an annual report for the forest investment account? And who controls it?
Hon. M. de Jong: The report is contained within the Ministry of Forests report. The funding is contained within the vote.
J. MacPhail: Can the minister point me to, in his service plan, just the pages that refer to the forest investment account?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm at page 12 of the service plan, No. 4, forest investment.
J. MacPhail: So the forest investment subvote is the forest investment account. Okay. The figures that the minister just gave me for expenditure — are they budgeted expenditures that will take place in '04-05? Is that what he was listing off?
Hon. M. de Jong: That's correct.
J. MacPhail: Well, just to conclude, I fully understand that the forest industry is contributing less revenue to the province. But nevertheless, that money that they originally paid, which this government then in opposition objected to greatly, was their money. It was supposed to be used on them, for them, by them and the communities in which they did business, and on the people that did the business in the forest sector.
Not only is it not being spent on that at all, but the Finance minister has taken it and has put it into God knows what to balance his budget, which was never the intent. In fact, it is a double whammy for the forest industry in that the money that they did pay has been absconded with by the Forests minister at the time that they could use transitional assistance. Hence, the discussion we had yesterday from the logging contractors about whether the transition fund would be enough for them. I'm sure if they had the additional money out of the forest investment account that the Minister of Finance has taken, they'd be much better off.
I'm going to move to bark beetles and defoliators. The ministry service plan noted in its '03-04 service plan that 77 percent of high-priority bark beetle infestation sites would be treated by the Ministry of Forests. That figure is projected to climb marginally to 80 percent this year. How are high-priority sites determined, and when will we get to 100 percent?
Hon. M. de Jong: Here are some of the factors that go into the determination of the consideration: where the infestation has been located — is it in a green-attack area? — the size of the infestation, the value of the timber, the accessibility of the timber. Ultimately, the largest question would be: if it's on the leading edge of the spread, to what extent will getting at this area help reduce the rate of spread? Notice I'm not talking now about stopping the spread; I'm talking about reducing the rate of spread. In terms of identifying the priority areas, those are the considerations, broadly speaking.
The chief forester does a survey. He takes information, obviously, from on the ground, from the districts and from Mr. Bob Clark, the provincial bark beetle coordinator — the beetle boss, as we have come to call him. It's really a question of maximizing the impact of getting into an area to slow down the spread of the infestation.
J. MacPhail: I assume that means, then, that the percentage of sites that could be treated remains a relatively high portion because the number of sites that can be treated is shrinking. Nothing turns on my statement. I just took from the minister that he is saying that it is harder to find sites that actually can be treated in order to stop the spread. I assume that means there are fewer sites that would demand an investment in stopping the spread.
How much funding is the government investing in innovative research that could prevent the further spread of beetle infestations? Is there any money being invested? Is it an increase? A decrease?
Hon. M. de Jong: My recollection is that through some of the research dollars that have flown, getting back to FIA…. For some reason my memory tells me that UNBC was doing some work in that area, but on balance the bulk of the research work has been performed by the Canadian Forest Service and the federal government.
The member may recall — I think it was almost two years ago now — an announcement by the federal government where they pledged some dollars. I think they
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could have pledged more dollars, but I don't want the member to garner the impression that we are spending vast sums on research. The money that we are spending has been focused on the ground in terms of harvesting activities and directed harvesting activities.
J. MacPhail: Yes, that was going to be the next area of my questioning. I think it was in the fall of 2002 that the federal government set aside a five-year, $20 million fund for fighting the mountain pine beetle, mainly to do research into fighting the mountain pine beetle. I was just reading recently that the forest industry is calling on the government to funnel some of that research money into determining the rate of lodgepole pine decay. They would actually like to have those tools available by June of this year so they can determine what already-killed timber to harvest first. What is the progress being made in that area?
Hon. M. de Jong: This is the shelf-life question. Not just industry but the Forest Service and I and the government think that is valuable work. It goes to the heart of a lot of questions. First of all, I'll take this opportunity to flog an old hobbyhorse of mine, and that is to remind everyone that with all this timber coming on line through the AAC uplifts that the chief forester has made, it is a very temporary phenomenon. The research that the member has alluded to that industry is interested in helps in a number of different ways. It helps from a planning perspective in terms of affording us some sense of how long we have to harvest it and how long we can stretch out the resource. That is a very important feature of this.
I'm told that some of the preliminary results from the research that has been undertaken are beginning to become available, and I heard the month of June mentioned a moment or two ago. Oh, I'm sorry; that was the member's…. That means it must be correct.
The work is taking place. Industry is interested in it, and there is a good reason they're interested in it. We are as well, because as we try to plan this out and look at the strategy for use of the fibre, rate of harvest for the fibre, it is important that we have that kind of scientific data.
J. MacPhail: In the service plan of this ministry it notes that in '03-04, 99 percent of high-priority areas were treated to manage defoliator outbreaks other than those attributed to the gypsy moth. This figure decreases to 50 percent — i.e., they're predicting just 50 percent treatment of high-priority areas — for '04-05, '06-07. Why does the figure decrease?
Hon. M. de Jong: First of all, the member will observe that for obvious reasons I'm uncomfortable talking about defoliators.
The short answer to the question is: first of all, the order of magnitude here is minuscule compared to the priority, which is the mountain pine beetle. I am advised that the budworms, the hemlock loopers, tend to be far, far more localized with much less prospect of spread. In terms of devoting resources and targeting the resources, there is a marked preference being shown, as the member has identified, to both the gypsy moth and even more so to the mountain pine beetle.
J. MacPhail: In order to measure "sustainable timber productivity," the minister's service plan lists: "Ratio of area reforested to area harvested or lost to fire and pest…." That's the key outcome indicator. The figure listed for that ratio for '03-04 through '06-07 is 0.85, which seems to me to indicate a trend toward increased not satisfactorily restocked areas — NSRs. It means that there is less area being reforested than denuded. Am I getting that right? Why is the figure so low?
Hon. M. de Jong: It's a valid question. It's a lower rate, and it's a function of the order of magnitude of the damage and the speed with which that damage is taking place, particularly as it relates to the pine beetle. In fact, the question of fire here is far less significant. It is a function of the speed — the rapidity — with which the pine beetle has spread, the increased harvest rates and a realistic assessment of the government's ability to address that. It is, however, at the end of the day, a reduced rate, as the member has pointed out.
J. MacPhail: So who is responsible for getting that ratio more positive? Is it the ministry? I mean, what the minister is saying is that the areas of forest that have been denuded are expanding at a more rapid rate than the restocking. So who is responsible? Who takes that on to change that ratio?
Hon. M. de Jong: It's the Forest Service, and it's why we are making a case to the federal government — we continue to make a case to the federal government — that this epidemic infestation is occurring on a scale that is unprecedented. That has implications across the fold — certainly, economic implications for communities, but implications for things like Kyoto accords and greenhouse sequestering of carbon. The federal government likes to talk about "our forests, the national treasure." Well, in a large part of British Columbia the national treasure is under attack, and that is reflected. Our ability to address that attack and meet that attack is being impacted by the magnitude. But again, at the end of the day, responsibility for addressing that important issue rests squarely, pursuant to the Forest Act, within the Forest Service.
J. MacPhail: Okay. I assume, then, that's why the strategy…. The minister is suggesting in his service plan that that ratio of area forested to area harvested or lost will approach 1.0 over the next five or ten years. So fair enough. I wish the minister well in that area.
Now, the service plan also notes: "Treatments for forest health, including bark beetle infestations on Crown forest land other than parks and protected areas
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treated by the Ministry of Forests, are planned to be the responsibility of licensees starting in 2005-06." Is that just a straight "Over to you, licensees" in terms of the bark beetle infestation management? What happens to small operators? Will they get any assistance to ensure that they have the capacity to do this?
J. MacPhail: You can't find that? Oh. Sorry, it's under…. I'll try and find it under bark beetle infestation.
Hon. M. de Jong: I know the section the member is referring to in the plan. I just haven't been able to find it.
J. MacPhail: It's page 20.
Hon. M. de Jong: Page 20. Thank you.
I am relatively certain what we are referring to is the shift to what is referred to as DFAM, or defined forest area management. I think the terminology shows up in the plan. It is based conceptually around the notion that these are forest health issues that relate, obviously, to health but also rate of growth and forest growth cycles. The argument has been advanced by practitioners, licensees that say collectively as stakeholders, as forest licence licensees: "We can do this better. We can and we want to be in a position to reap the benefits of enhanced silviculture, intensive silviculture work, and take advantage of that."
Now, I should say this, because the member, I'm sure, gets submissions and information. There are others within the community of licensees who are concerned about what this looks like on the ground. I'm not certain of this, but I think if we took past service plans, the member would be able — if she had the time — to see that we have actually pushed this back a bit, because there is still work to be done.
It is not such a big deal in areas where there are exclusive licensees, but in a timber supply area where there are a number of different licensees, large and small, there is a logistical issue around getting everyone on the same page working together, because of the way those licences work. That's the challenge that remains. I would say this candidly to the member. There have been a lot of balls in the air in this ministry, and that was one I thought we might be able to deal with later in the process.
J. MacPhail: My cautionary note on this is that small operators may not have the resources or the capacity to take this task on, even by '05-06. Of course, the beetle doesn't recognize the geographic areas of a forest licence, so it's key that the plan be in place to make sure that if the responsibility is transferred to the licensees, it's transferred in a way that there is at least as good effectiveness and perhaps even better.
The government released their Mountain Pine Beetle Action Plan Update at the last open cabinet meeting on April 2, and I was interested to see that it was focused on finding innovative ways to use pine beetle–damaged wood. I had a person send in to me, from the public, this very interesting concept of a possible use for the Denim Pine. It talks about biodegradable monitor cases for computers. You know, the monitor cases are now plastic, and there is a company — it's a Swedish company, unfortunately, but perhaps we can look at it — where the monitors of computers are made out of wood.
The Swedish company is SWEDX. Anyway, I'm going to send this over to the minister. It is very interesting. When I looked at it, I thought that's ridiculous. All computers have to be plastic. But why? So I'll just send this over to the….
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, I can't build my coffee table when I buy it at Ikea, so I'm sure…. [Laughter.]
J. MacPhail: No, no, there would be no requirement of assembly in this, Mr. Chair. I think the company actually produces the monitor already built. But it is a very interesting concept.
Now I would like to go through a few of the details of the plan, the Mountain Pine Beetle Action Plan Update. Has a meeting schedule been determined for the community advisory group? I think that advisory group includes first nations, municipalities, industry and environmentalists.
Hon. M. de Jong: All of the appointments have been made, so we know who is on the committee. If there is a schedule, I will endeavour to find it and share it with the member when we return after the dinner break.
J. MacPhail: The action plan also refers to an economic diversification director. Has that person been appointed, and what are the activities of that person?
Hon. M. de Jong: Jim Sproul is the individual who fills that post; he has been appointed. He is working with the beetle coordinator, the beetle boss, Bob Clark. Amongst his roles, first of all, is to immediately familiarize himself with the specifics of the challenge we face on the ground in the forest. This ties in, in part, to another part of the initiative that I'm sure the member will want to canvass — the issuance of the request for proposals around the alternate use of the fibre — and that is to provide some coordinating assistance for those who have ideas. The member just finished presenting to the House one such idea. The challenge is always, for a value-added operator like this: how do I gain access to the fibre? That's a classic example. There are others on an order of magnitude, everything from the monitor frame to the OSB facility.
The member knows that part of the motivation and part of the concern is that we are beginning to see a trend as it relates to the AAC uplifts. The amount of timber we're able to harvest is being increased to try
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and recapture the value from these infested stands, but the market can't absorb all of that fibre as 2-by-4s or 2-by-6s. While people were actually collectively doing a pretty good job getting licensees into pine beetle–infested timber, what we're beginning to find is all that is doing is replacing healthy timber. It is not augmenting it. As the AAC goes up, we're not seeing harvest levels increase appreciably.
Our thought is that if we're going to do that, we have to find something else — other products, other destinations for the wood. Mr. Sproul is to play a role in that and very quickly start to tap into people's creative energies, to say: what can we do? There is an example, and how can we…? His is not necessarily a marketing role externally, but internally, to say to people — whether it is co-gen and if there are hurdles they have to meet, either with the provincial government or with local government: how do we smooth out those hurdles as quickly as possible? That's a broad description of (a) the challenge and (b) how we think Mr. Sproul, in his capacity, can help people and us address that challenge.
J. MacPhail: The action plan notes that the government will continue to redirect harvest from green timber to beetle-damaged wood — I think the minister has just addressed that — and extend cutting permits to redirect harvest to beetle-damaged wood. Where those permits are being granted, as the minister has just described, have all the trees been killed by beetles, or is it mixed?
Hon. M. de Jong: It tends to be mixed, mostly because the species themselves are mixed and it's a pine beetle. If you go into an area that is not all pine, and even where it is substantially pine….
I know the member has seen the infested site from the air. I'm not a forester, and the first time I went actually on the ground into the forest…. It's a remarkable thing, and it's indiscriminate in the extreme. You'll have two trees infested and a third one in the middle that is left alive. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason, although I am told that heretofore the beetle has avoided trees under the age of about 50. Even that is changing now. They tend to be attacking younger trees, and that has implications for the timber supply down the road.
J. MacPhail: Noting the hour, Mr. Chair, I move that we recess.
The Chair: The committee stands recessed until 6:45 p.m.
The committee recessed from 5:56 p.m. to 6:48 p.m.
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
Hon. M. de Jong: I move the committee rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:48 p.m.
The House resumed; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
Committee of Supply B, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call second reading of Bill Pr403.
Second Reading of Bills
PHEIDIAS PROJECT MANAGEMENT
(1979) CORP. (CORPORATE
RESTORATION) ACT, 2004
V. Anderson: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
V. Anderson: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered forthwith.
Bill Pr403, Pheidias Project Management (1979) Corp. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Committee of the Whole House
PHEIDIAS PROJECT MANAGEMENT
(1979) CORP. (CORPORATE
RESTORATION) ACT, 2004
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill Pr403; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 6:50 p.m.
Sections 1 to 4 inclusive approved.
V. Anderson: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 6:51 p.m.
The House resumed; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Deputy Speaker: When shall the bill be read a third time?
[ Page 10299 ]
Hon. M. de Jong: Now, Mr. Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: By leave? Shall leave be granted?
Bill Pr403, Pheidias Project Management (1979) Corp. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Bill Pr402.
Second Reading of Bills
KIDD RESOURCES LTD.
(CORPORATE RESTORATION) ACT, 2004
M. Hunter: I move that Bill Pr402 be now read a second time.
M. Hunter: By leave, I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered forthwith.
Bill Pr402, Kidd Resources Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Committee of the Whole House
KIDD RESOURCES LTD.
(CORPORATE RESTORATION) ACT, 2004
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill Pr402; G. Trumper in the chair.
The committee met at 6:53 p.m.
Sections 1 to 4 inclusive approved.
M. Hunter: Madam Chair, I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 6:54 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. M. de Jong: With leave, now, Mr. Speaker.
Bill Pr402, Kidd Resources Ltd. (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2004, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Committee of Supply for consideration of the estimates of the Ministry of Forests.
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply B; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 6:55 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF FORESTS
On vote 24: ministry operations, $393,292,000 (continued).
J. MacPhail: I just have a couple more questions on bark beetle and defoliators.
My last question before we recessed was about when a licensee gets a permit to log pine infected with the pine beetle. I asked whether all of the trees had been killed by beetles, and the minister answered no, and that makes sense.
What happens in the licence? Does the licensee have the right to harvest everything within that area or just the infected wood?
Hon. M. de Jong: It varies, but the short answer is…. We'll see how short the answer is.
First of all, it is via the cutting permits that the licensees are being directed into the most heavily infested areas. We try to get them on the leading edge of the infestation. Then, within the bounds of the cutting permit, generally the licensee won't be restricted to just beetle-infested wood. They will also have an option as per the terms of the cutting permit. If there is uninfested harvestable wood, they would not necessarily be precluded from taking that wood.
I was just, over the dinner hour, looking at some of the numbers to give the member a sense of what is actually taking place on the ground. In 2001, 16 percent of the interior harvest was beetle wood; in '03 that had risen to 54 percent. It would still vary depending on where you are, but it has gone up appreciably. In addition, I am advised that increasingly and, again, on the leading edge, there is an attempt to embark on what they call "snip and skid," which, in the forestry context at least, means locating a small patch infestation, getting in, getting those trees — green attack, as it's called — and trying to get them out before they spread beyond where they are. There are pheromone traps that will be set to try and attract the beetles into a particular
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spot. It varies, and hopefully that gives the member an indication of how it varies.
J. MacPhail: I noted before the break that the minister said that the age of the trees used to be a factor in terms of whether the pine beetle was successful in infecting it, so I was thinking about this. The minister indicated that ever-younger trees are being infected. Does that then give the minister any direction in terms of how areas should be replanted? Do we need to replant with different ages of seedlings? Is that an approach that the minister has considered?
Hon. M. de Jong: That's not much of an option, for no other reason than the physical handling of the trees. A seedling is a year or two in age, and by the time it gets beyond that, it's just too large to be planted. What is done, however — and I think the member partially was addressing this — is the species mix. The prescribing forester will be influenced, I presume, by what has taken place and will look at the species mix for the area as a way of combatting a returning infestation.
J. MacPhail: My last question on the bark beetle infestation is about something that I heard someone express. I don't know whether this is actually accurate scientifically or not, Mr. Chair, but some people have expressed concerns that the transport of beetle-damaged wood can spread the epidemic. Is that rooted in any scientific evidence? If so, is the Ministry of Forests doing something to avoid its occurrence?
Hon. M. de Jong: It's an excellent question, because periodically I hear concerns about that. What I would like to say to the member and, through her and the Chair, to others is that it's a valid concern if the transport isn't done properly. The biggest issue there is timing. If transport is done at a time when the larvae have matured to the point where the beetles are taking flight, then it's possible. If the fibre hasn't been debarked and otherwise had the beetles removed from it, then it could be a problem.
But there are strict protocols in place. I think it was about a year ago that there was a minor bit of noise from some processors in Alberta, but we dealt quickly with that and made it clear to all concerned and to the satisfaction of the Alberta government that proper protocols are in place and are being followed so that amongst the natural spread of the infestation, we don't add to it unnaturally by virtue of how we transport the timber.
J. MacPhail: I'm going to move to sustainability now, and I have questions in three areas: service plan commitments, certification and spotted owl. To begin with, I'm going to start with the service plan commitments.
In the service plan the key outcome indicator of healthy forests — "soil quality, water quality and ecosystem diversity" — is measured by three factors. I'm just reading from the service plan: (1) "percent of annual harvest area with soil loss due to establishment of permanent access roads," (2) "percent of community watersheds with active logging for which watershed assessments have been completed" and (3) "area of forests older than 140 years of age within the province in millions of hectares." So those are the key indicators of healthy forests.
What scientific factors led the ministry to choose these three indicators as the best way to measure the health of our forests?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm not sure this is anything approaching a complete answer, but what we see in the service plan is reference to what many consider the building blocks or the foundation upon which one measures overall health. Obviously, water quality is key not just from a human consumption point of view but from the point of view of the habitat and species, plant or animal, that rely on it in the forest. Similarly, the soil itself is the forest floor from which everything emanates, including from habitat to food. The diversity is a function of an ecosystem itself as represented by a forest that is older than 140 years.
Combined, they are indicators that have been relied upon for some time as presenting evidence — not independently, not necessarily conclusive evidence…. What I should say, as well, to the member — and I'm recalling this from meetings we had with the federal ministers and national Forest Service — is that there have actually been national forest criteria established. I can get the publication for the member. It was released in concert with the World Forestry Congress that took place under the auspices of the UN in Quebec City last September. The criteria listed here are consistent with some of the criteria — it's not exhaustive — included in the national forest criterion indicators that have been published by the national Forest Service.
J. MacPhail: I assume that these key outcome indicators will remain constant and that the ministry is planning on reporting out on those outcome indicators, both in their performance reports and as an update in their next service plan. Is that how it works?
Hon. M. de Jong: That's true. I suppose it is conceivable that one might add something. I suppose it is equally conceivable you might delete something, but if that happened, I presume that would engage interest from people that would ask why it was deleted. I don't contemplate that happening. I'm not aware that we are on the verge of adding anything, so the member is correct. One would maintain those and then report out on a consistent basis and try to reveal any trends.
J. MacPhail: B.C. timber sales is meant to…. In the service plan it says it will be the organization that will provide a reference point for costs and pricing of timber harvested from public land. I thought that was in-
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teresting. A reference point for costs and pricing — two factors.
Does BCTS take into account in its analysis ecological costs or social costs when it determines its reference points? What goes into costs?
Hon. M. de Jong: When I now think of the B.C. timber sales program…. I should advise the member how I tend now to think of that agency. They are, in fact, a licensee, albeit a large licensee. Unlike most licensees that are in the business to harvest timber — and some to harvest and process it — they are a licensee in the business of selling timber. Having said that, they develop sales. They actually contract for the building of roads, the development of cutblocks. In so doing, they are obliged to abide by all of the environmental criteria and requirements as set out in the Forest and Range Practices Act of any other licensee. That becomes a function of their cost.
They're also, as the member may know, on the verge — or we are on the verge — of looking at requiring anyone who does business with the B.C. timber sales program to abide by certain third-party certification requirements. We haven't selected which one, and I think the member is coming to those questions.
It becomes a function of their cost, and therefore, from that perspective, I think the practice of utilizing them as a reference point is a valid one.
J. MacPhail: Okay. Well, that leads nicely into certification. I'll just note for the record that there was quite an interesting debate in the small House, in Committee A, between the Minister of Small Business and Economic Development and the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, where the Minister of Small Business and Economic Development graciously referred all questions regarding the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design to the Minister of Forests.
Hon. M. de Jong: I don't believe you, because he's never done anything gracious.
J. MacPhail: I actually have the Blues of the debate right here.
J. MacPhail: Oh, I see. Right.
So, good. Let's move into certification, then, on this. I first became aware of this question…. The most recent time was because the issue arose around the clause in the 2010 Olympics agreement that stipulates that all Olympic venues must be constructed to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, or LEED as we call them now.
The LEED B.C. standard requires that wood products be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in order to gain points for certified wood in the materials and resource category. I think in this debate that sometimes gets sort of off on another tangent, LEED…. In a whole building environmental rating system, LEED standards apply, and projects are not prevented from gaining LEED certification simply because they don't use certified wood. I found a letter to the editor by the head of the LEED council very helpful in that regard. It was explained that buildings can also gain credit for using local wood. Nevertheless, this issue does illustrate the importance of relying on legitimate certification processes.
I referred to the letter from Alex Zimmerman published in the Vancouver Sun on March 23. He is the president of the Canada Green Building Council, and they're responsible for implementing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design across Canada. He said in there that no one had talked to him about it and that he thought it would be healthy if the Minister of Forests could meet with him to discuss how the LEED can be implemented.
Has the minister met with Mr. Zimmerman or anyone from the council to discuss the merits of the certification process?
Hon. M. de Jong: I haven't yet, and I would welcome the opportunity to do so. Others, particularly within the market outreach network, which is that part of FII that is dedicated to product promotion and product sale, have been involved in this. I'm not sure they have met with Mr. Zimmerman. I think it's important that that happen, and if I can maybe take the opportunity…. One of the reasons that meeting and that exchange are important is to address what I think, if my memory serves me correctly, Mr. Zimmerman addressed, in part, in his letter and the member has just repeated. The LEED standard does not preclude the use of wood; it doesn't preclude the use, certainly, of British Columbia wood. Insofar as the Olympic project is concerned, I think everyone in this chamber wants to utilize that as an opportunity to profile B.C. wood.
Where the issue exists is around the link between the LEED standard and the FSC certification model exclusively. There is, admittedly, work taking place, meetings taking place not just with the local officials but with the LEED administrative centre in the United States and elsewhere in Canada, to ascertain whether or not there would be a willingness to look at some of the other certification models that exist and achieve recognition within the LEED certification system for those additional or alternate certification models.
If Mr. Zimmerman is watching, then it is worthwhile to have that meeting. The fault is mine, I'm sure, for not having initiated it thus far. There is certainly work taking place to address the issue.
J. MacPhail: That was a helpful explanation, because my next question that I was going to ask was that the minister at the time said he thought he could convince…. I'm paraphrasing, or actually the report paraphrased the minister, saying to accept other less stringent certification systems in lieu of the Forest Stewardship Council certification.
What I understand the minister to now be saying is that there are alternate certification systems, but the
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minister isn't asking for less stringent certification systems. That's how he is going to approach LEED.
Hon. M. de Jong: Thank you for the question. The argument that is trying to be advanced for the work that is ongoing — I shouldn't use the word argument — with the officials that represent the LEED certification system is to seek within that certification system some recognition for other certification models like CSA. There are others. At the moment LEED focuses in on one model. There are others, and my unsophisticated view of this is that the LEED system is one that could accommodate others. Admittedly, there is work to be done, and that work is ongoing.
J. MacPhail: Yes, and that was going to be my next point, because the Ministry of Forests service plan projects more than a 10 percent increase in forest land certified by major forest certification processes. Those certification processes in his service plan are listed as the Canadian Standards Association, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council.
I don't claim to be an expert on this, but the reading that I have done has said that it's the Forest Stewardship Council certification that has the most broad-based public support, particularly amongst environmental groups but I think also amongst scientific groups as well. Can the minister assure us, the public, that — by his continuing focus on not only the Forest Stewardship Council standards but also the CSA and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative — he's not using alternatives to LEED or the Forest Stewardship Council to lessen standards beyond what is scientifically legitimate?
Hon. M. de Jong: The short answer is no, absolutely not. I and I think others — and, I'm sure, the member herself — take some pride in the fact that within Canada, British Columbia leads the nation in terms of the amount of certified forests and certified forestry that takes place. That's a good thing, and other provinces are seeking to work to catch up.
What we have not done, and purposely — the previous administration didn't do it, and we're not doing it — is select a certification model and say that's the one for B.C. I suppose government could do that with respect to licences. I don't think that's the way to do this. Within the world of certification there are, of course, different models. For example, ISO, I am advised, is much more of a management structure certification, a management system, as opposed to some of the other models that look more closely at operations on the ground.
It's one of those phenomena that have arisen in response to developing and evolving public attitudes and market forces. At this stage of the game, at least, I think it makes sense to provide practitioners with the opportunity to adjust and adopt those various models as they see fit.
I spoke at the certification conference that was held in Vancouver two weeks ago, and all of the certification agencies were there. They recognize the work that's taking place in B.C. and the fact that we do lead the country. That's a good thing for us in terms of marketing our product. It will be interesting to see how it evolves. It will be interesting to see whether there is more takeup within British Columbia of the FSC model. I think that's beginning to grow from where it was, but there are no plans at this point, on my part or the government's part, to stipulate or proscribe a preference for any of the models.
J. MacPhail: At this conference, did the various certification-bearers fight amongst each other?
Hon. M. de Jong: Not while I was there, but I left early in the evening. Things may have gotten more interesting. I only saw evidence of a cooperative spirit.
Actually, all kidding aside, the point the member raises has been a problem, I'm told, in the past. There has been a very competitive attitude amongst them, to the extent where they have found themselves at cross-purposes. As I cast my memory back, at least a couple of the officials at that conference made a point of saying to me — it's been three years, but I'm still a relative newcomer to the whole business — and commenting favourably on how the spirit of cooperation amongst what were competing certification agencies seems to be evolving into a greater sense of cooperation. Time will tell whether those were gratuitous statements or not, but that was the observation offered to me by those who were participating.
J. MacPhail: The minister referred earlier to the market outreach network, and he's referring to the B.C. market outreach network his government created in 2002. It notes that 10.1 million hectares of B.C. forest land are certified under the Canadian Standards Association, 11.8 million hectares of B.C. forest land are certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and 1,291 hectares of B.C. forest are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Are those mutually exclusive certifications, or are they overlapping? Is there a stand that's been certified by all three, for instance, or two out of the three, and therefore gets double-counted?
Hon. M. de Jong: As the member was asking the question, my initial reaction was that amongst those three, licensees would generally opt for one of them. Although when I made that comment to the officials here, their reply was that they are beginning to see some evidence of licensees who are seeking to have the benefit of putting on the stamp for all three of them or two of them. So it is conceivable that there is some overlap, and as time goes by, there may be more overlap. At the moment, in general it would be one of the three. The ISO stamp…. My guess is there's probably more overlap between the three that the member mentioned and ISO than between the three that she referred to.
J. MacPhail: Would it be the minister's goal, though, to eventually have very specific, exclusive des-
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ignations so there's not double-counting? I mean, I think it's great that licensees want to have double and triple certification, but there shouldn't be double- and triple-counting.
Hon. M. de Jong: No, in response to the question of how much B.C. forest is certified, the accurate…. If the question is if it's certified by one of the three or other models the member referred to, the only way to provide an accurate response to that question is to avoid double-counting that would accrue if someone was double-certified. Good for the company, but if you're trying to provide accurate information, you can't legitimately double-count the forest.
J. MacPhail: Good. I agree.
Now I'm moving on to the spotted owl. I asked some of these questions of the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection, too, but was left to ask this minister the questions. The northern spotted owl is the most endangered bird in Canada. There are about 25 pairs left. The government's own information says that logging of old-growth habitat is the principal cause of the spotted owl's decline. I got that off a ministry website.
What is the Ministry of Forests' stance regarding protection of spotted owl habitat?
Hon. M. de Jong: I can't recall what, if any, information the member got from my colleagues, but in response to her first question on this topic, it's a very troubling circumstance. The numbers the member has referred to — whether it is those or five pairs up or five pairs on the downside, we have seen over the last 50 years a perilous decline. There are steps, specific steps, that have been taken in terms of the establishment of spotted owl management zones, where forestry activity is either precluded or significantly curtailed or otherwise directed in a way that is designed to minimize impacts.
I read the same material the member has and, in fairness to her, maybe read a little bit more of it. The vexing thing about what is taking place here, of course, is that much of what I read relates to habitat. South of the border they have taken some pretty extraordinary steps around spotted owl habitat, and yet I am told the numbers continue to decline. I am also told that B.C., along the Washington State border, is…. The areas we're concerned with — the Manning Park area, Lillooet area — are what would historically have been the northern fringe of the spotted owl habitat. That has influenced…. Oh, look, this just in. I wonder what I've said wrong now. We're located on the northern fringe, and there are those who argue that that in and of itself — through the cycles and climate change and what not — is influencing matters.
Numbers are down. Numbers are down to the point where licensees, including government, have taken steps. Some people don't think the steps go far enough, and they point to the count as evidence of that. I'm not even sure how you count owls with an absolute degree of certainty, but there are people whose profession is dedicated to that, and all of us have to rely on the data they bring forward.
The recovery team is there, but their work is only partly done. We have only partly…. We haven't achieved the results, to be blunt. We haven't received the results that were sought when the recovery team was put in place. Though there are spotted owl management zones, the evidence we have thus far is that in this area where spotted owls have been, their numbers are declining. So it's a serious situation, and thus far, over the last five or six years, it has gotten worse instead of better.
J. MacPhail: Well, it is interesting. The minister acknowledges the difficulty of this, the complexity of it — with which I totally agree — but it seems to me there could be an accusation levelled against the government that they are further behind even the privately held lands of forest companies in terms of not logging spotted owl habitat areas. Yes, the minister says we probably read some of the same information. The Sierra report does say that there are at least three to six areas of the ten areas of spotted owl habitat that the government has approved for logging.
Does the government have any information on what logging goes on in areas that have been designated as habitat for the spotted owl? Then my other concern here is that it does appear, at least to the outside observer, that companies — Interfor being the latest and greatest example — are stopping logging in areas that have been labelled "designated as habitat for the spotted owl." Yet the government itself seems to be continuing as the largest logger of spotted owl habitat.
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, first of all, there is no point again in trying to underestimate the challenge. I would say that through the B.C. timber sales program, some pretty specific efforts have been undertaken to try and identify with certainty where those primary habitat areas are. There has been work taking place in concert with the…. Well, the recovery team has done tagging to try and better track where some of the owl pairs are located.
I should also say and acknowledge that what we are trying to do here is perform a bit of a balancing act — on the one hand, aware and cognizant of the difficulties facing this species and undertake planning and approval processes in a way that reflects that and attempts to address it; and at the same time, doing so in a way that minimizes the dislocation to the workers who are impacted by those decisions. It's not a process that the member is unfamiliar with in terms of…. It's land use planning on a pretty specific scale with some very specific consequences for alternatively the species and/or the workers involved in the area.
So I'm not sure I am…. Actually, I am sure. I'm not in a position to offer a conclusive response that says: "Here's what we are doing or what we're going to do that is going to solve this problem." The information that came in spoke to the issue of numbers and talked
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about 30 pairs — or 20 to 25 pairs, which is the number the member alluded to. It then talks about 6,000 owls in the U.S. That number has dropped perilously of late.
Licensees have made some decisions about specific areas. We have tried to identify nesting areas and habitat areas. The Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection does have, obviously, a significant involvement in that. Then those within the Forest Service who approve harvesting plans and the like are trying to factor that in to minimize impacts.
Some will argue that more needs to be done. Those that argue that, I simply appeal to, to recognize that there is an impact on the other side of that coin which relates to the people who earn a living from that activity. We have to try and find a balance between the two that respects the right of the species to continue to exist and the right of that other species to continue to work.
J. MacPhail: Does the minister know how many areas that are protected now have logging operations in them?
Hon. M. de Jong: I don't have the information at my fingertips, but I have seen it. The reality is that we're talking about a sufficiently low number of sites now that it should be possible, and I think it is possible, to obtain that information. We're not talking about hundreds here. We're talking about tens.
I think I can get for the member the latest information I have about those identifiable sites and where they are located — whether they're within the licensee area or within a timber sale area or a timber supply area — and what the state of affairs is in the immediate adjacent area.
J. MacPhail: I'm trying to maintain a pace here so that we'll finish this evening. I was just looking through my questions that I had for first nations, but I think, actually, the majority of them were canvassed yesterday. I'm going to proceed with recreation and then sort of constituency-based questions. Then I'm going to conclude, and I'm sure we will finish on time, with a couple of questions about timber supply, mills — the Doman situation, for instance — but then just a summary from the minister around the federal-provincial relations on the softwood lumber dispute. There's been speculation around that.
I'm going to turn now to recreation. So it will be recreation, constituent sort of casework, and then timber supply, softwood lumber and federal-provincial relations. On February 23 in question period the Minister of Forests stated — and this was a question not from us…. The minister said:
"…there will be in excess of a million new dollars devoted to maintaining those forestry rec sites in the year ahead. That means there will be better servicing, so even the opposition leader can leave her toilet paper at home. There will be more of them serviced, and there will be more partnership agreements in place so British Columbians can get out to our wilderness areas and use that most valuable resource that we now have."
I was pleased with that answer, but then I noted in the Ministry of Forests service plan it states: "The total number of recreation sites and trails is projected to decline over time. This reflects the need to decommission sites and trails where high risks to public health or safety cannot be effectively managed within the budget available."
Can the minister reconcile those two statements?
Hon. M. de Jong: I wanted to make sure I was dealing with the same set of numbers from the service plan that the member was. The short answer as it relates to the additional moneys isn't one that I expect the member to applaud. I will provide it to her because it is a fact that without the additional influx of money — if we look at past service plans or if we look at the direction this was headed in — that number would have decreased significantly.
The reason is this. We set out on a strategy built around the notion that we would seek out partners to help manage these rec sites. There is a fiscal component to that; there is no doubt about it. With hindsight, I can say, based on some of the experiences I have seen, that it was also a good thing to do for other reasons. I'm thinking about situations like Clearwater and Burns Lake. Burns Lake, where we worked with the Community Forests Society…. There was a logical fit there and a good fit, and they have become a very effective partner. In Clearwater there was an arrangement reached with a group of developmentally disabled adults. Those are good fits.
I will tell the member this. We didn't come up with as many partnerships as we needed to, to keep the rec sites open to the extent that everyone wanted to keep them open. That posed some challenges. I think one of the challenges was that we didn't go to the table with a lot, in seeking these partnerships. "We want your help, we need your help, and we are looking for it." By virtue of the additional moneys that were reallocated within government for this purpose, we have been able to both go to existing partners and provide some additional support where it wasn't there in those partnership agreements and seek out others who said to us in the past: "Yeah, we'd love to step in. We think it's something that we can provide assistance with, but we need a little bit of help from government." Those additional moneys provide us with that ability, in terms of both the existing partners and new partners for whom some government assistance was a prerequisite to getting involved in the exercise.
J. MacPhail: I was at the UBCM convention in the fall of 2003, where the Premier made a major announcement about keeping forest rec sites open and that he was going to ensure that. He got a huge round of applause. So how's it going? I mean, given the fact that $1 million doesn't keep the forest rec sites open, where are we at in terms of the promise that the Premier made at the UBCM and this minister's budget today?
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Hon. M. de Jong: What I was canvassing with senior staff here is to quickly ascertain, even in the last couple of months since the budget, what progress has been made in terms of attracting those additional partners. I am advised that first nations, recreational groups, licensees and even some private individuals have stepped forward and made it clear that on the basis of government offering up additional incentives and resources, they are prepared to take on the role of ensuring that this recreational infrastructure is there.
The member has focused on the rec sites, but I have interpreted her questions as including some of the trails as well, because it is part of the same infrastructure. Beyond that, there is a road component to this. The costs associated with that are significant as well. A well-maintained rec site isn't much good if no one can get to it. What we find is that in some areas of the province, these forestry roads that heretofore were well used by licensees, and therefore well maintained, are no longer required — for the moment at least — for forestry activity. That has added a burden of costs that we are trying to manage and prioritize on the basis of the use people want to make and the access they want to have to these rec sites.
I'll say this to the member. She'll say it was no surprise to her, and it probably wasn't, but in parts of this province — the Kootenays, the Cariboo and other areas, but those are two areas that come to mind — the maintenance of this recreational infrastructure is a top priority. It is what, for a year, I heard about when I went into those towns. It gave rise to additional resources being allocated to the project.
We're making progress. My hope is that by the conclusion of June or July, we're able to report out on a whole series of additional partnership agreements. Again I say there were other benefits to doing those agreements, but the challenge posed by approaching people without some resources to devote to the partnership proved at times to be insurmountable.
J. MacPhail: I find it interesting that the $1 million is sort of seed money to get others to contribute. That is off-loading. These sites were maintained by the provincial government up until this government came into power. Now the Premier's commitment seems to be: "Well, we'll go a bit of ways, and you guys have to come a bit of ways." I didn't hear that at the UBCM announcement. I remember him receiving a huge round of applause — maybe even a standing ovation — with his firm commitment that forest rec sites will be funded by the provincial government.
Given what the minister has just said, given the Premier's commitment at the UBCM convention in the fall of 2003, is the statement out of the Ministry of Forests plan still true that the total number of recreation sites and trails is projected to decline over time?
Hon. M. de Jong: Yes, the numbers are there, and they show a decline. It's a reflection of two things: trying to be forthright about the nature of the partnerships we think we can negotiate, the coverage we can get, and what we think the overall budget — which is closer to $2 million for rec sites; the $1 million being additional moneys — provides us with the capacity to do.
I will say this. I am reluctant to speculate in a self-serving way. If the signs of rejuvenation that we are beginning to see in the forest sector hold true and the revenue numbers increase appreciably, I think whoever the Forests minister is will look to this area and say, "That is a part of my budget that I would like to see addressed — and to put some of those additional revenues back into that part of what the Forest Service does. I'm not going to suggest in any way that that wouldn't be a priority of mine. It's a pretty self-serving statement. People will say, "I'll believe it when I see it," and I'm not going to make any pledge until we actually see some additional revenues.
J. MacPhail: The minister referred to roads. Yes, the issue of roads is a separate issue from trails and sites and recreation sites. Now, in the throne speech of this year the government pledged to "reinstate funding to maintain forest recreation roads and recreation sites in the heartlands." But I also note that the Ministry of Forests service plan predicts a 5 percent decrease in Forest Service roads in '05-06 and then again in '06-07.
How does the minister justify his service plan saying there will be a decrease in Forest Service roads at the same time that his government said he was going to reinstate funding to maintain forest recreation roads? Is the minister somehow distinguishing between Forest Service roads and forest recreation roads?
Hon. M. de Jong: No, except to this extent. We are spending less on the maintenance of roads. There is a new standard for a forestry road called a wilderness road. As I said to someone, they best not take their Cadillac down the wilderness road, because it won't be maintained to the standards of a Forest Service road. It'll be a road that a four-wheel-drive vehicle will be able to navigate, but the amount of grading it receives and the amount of maintenance attention it receives will be reduced from what a standard Forest Service road would receive. That largely accounts for the reduction the member sees. Some of the roads that aren't standard Forest Service roads are being and have been redesignated, and they aren't having the same amount of maintenance spent on them as in the past.
J. MacPhail: In order to ensure that forest and range resources are managed and improved on a sustainable basis, to quote from your service plan, the plan notes that it will focus recreation management on viable partnerships that will maintain recreation sites and trails for public use. The minister has already talked about those. It also says that the ministry will manage sites and trails without partnership arrangements as user maintained. I just don't see anywhere where the plan is adding up here. At the same time
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that the minister is saying we've got this one million bucks for seed money and that there will be partnerships, he is predicting a decline in the recreation sites. Yet in another area of his plan he is committing to maintain those sites and trails if there aren't partnership agreements.
Is there somewhere we can go and look and see what the evolution has been of a rec site? Does the minister have an inventory of recreational sites for the last three years and what their status is?
Hon. M. de Jong: I am advised that you can go to the website, and it will reveal, for any of the in-excess-of-a-thousand rec sites, what the status is and how the management of it has evolved over time.
The user-maintain category that the member referred to is self-explanatory, but even there, there can be a role, and we would like to provide a role in providing at least some supervisory support in that respect.
People wanting to make use of the rec sites…. They are rustic. The member knows that. I was kidding her in question period. She's been to them. They are rustic. Some of them are particularly isolated. They can go to the website and ascertain in advance of their trip what they are likely to be met with. With many of these rec sites, of course, their heaviest use is from local people. Local might be 200 kilometres, but people get out to their favourite fishing hole or favourite spot. There is access to that type of information on the website.
J. MacPhail: It just occurred to me to ask about the partnerships. Are there any private corporations who are in partnership around the rec sites?
Hon. M. de Jong: Yes, I am told that there are, and I'll break it down. There are two types of corporate involvements. I'm told there are a couple of examples where licensees…. By that I mean a more major licensee has taken on a role or responsibility in managing or maintaining a rec site, presumably in an operational area that they're involved in. There are a couple of examples where private individuals have signed agreements, but the vehicle they have used is their corporate entity. They're more like individual or single proprietorships that have a corporate presence.
Yes, there are some private companies who are involved, large and small, and I can try to provide for the member the number of sites that would be covered in that way.
J. MacPhail: Thank you. Yes, I'd appreciate that.
I'm now going to move to a couple of issues, perhaps three, of sort of constituency-based concerns. They are related to logging. One is the proposal for heli-logging on Echo Island. I'm getting quite a few copies of letters that have been sent to the Premier and the minister around this. I understand that the Ministry of Forests is proposing to heli-log Echo Island, which is really the island — I've spent a lot of time out at Harrison — right in front of the whole town front, as I understand it, of Harrison Hot Springs, the Harrison beach.
What's the status of that, and what's the logic behind allowing for heli-logging on Echo Island?
Hon. M. de Jong: No decisions. That's the first thing. Nothing has been decided conclusively. The process, of course, is this. The Chehalis first nation, by virtue of a corporate vehicle they have an interest in…. The name of that licensee escapes me. However, it is the Chehalis first nation that is at the forefront in terms of involvement. It has made application to harvest a volume, a significant enough volume, I think, for us to be discussing the matter here. The member is right. It's on Echo Island, out in the middle of Harrison Lake.
They are in the midst of preparing and filing plans and, in fact, have filed plans, I think, with the local district manager who, by virtue of the Forest Act, is charged statutorily with the responsibility for deciding whether or not to grant a cutting permit. That application has elicited a reaction from some people in and around Harrison Hot Springs. It's obviously a location renowned for its natural beauty, and there is concern that this activity not be detrimental to the other activity that supports a lot of people there, which is the tourism activity.
I won't pass the buck. The decision rests statutorily with the district manager. Nonetheless, the point I have tried to make…. I have spoken with Mayor Allen, and I will speak with him again.
The member may have seen this in the past as well. The technology is such now that if you go to a place like UBC or BCIT…. The viewscape is what is primarily of concern to people on Echo Island, but we can look ahead and see what the proposed plan, if it were accepted, would result in from a viewscape perspective. We don't have to speculate about that anymore. The software technology and visual reproduction technology is such that you can take a picture of Echo Island today and, based on what is being proposed, know exactly what that viewscape is going to look like at the conclusion of the harvesting activity. I haven't seen that, but for the life of me, I don't know why we wouldn't — I'm going to propose this and have proposed this — get everyone in the room. Let's see what the licensee is proposing. Let's see what that translates into in terms of the viewscape. If there are particular concerns, let's see if we can address this.
It's proposed activity in an interface area, a tourism interface area. There are no absolutes here. The person who says, "There's no way this should ever happen," is no more correct, in my view, than the person on the other side of the argument who says: "I don't give a damn. I'm going to log this island. That's my right, and I'm going to do it." The challenge here is to find a way to work together in a way that minimizes the impact and addresses people's concerns along the way, recognizing that people don't want to see tourism adversely impacted. Those who work in forestry and are in-
[ Page 10307 ]
volved with the Chehalis first nation want to have the option of generating some economic activity and realizing on some of the fibre that could be available there. So no decision.
I'm hopeful that some of these discussions can take place over the next month. I'm not sure what the time line for a final decision is. As I say, I'd like to see the parties come together and take advantage of some of the pretty impressive technology that is out there to eliminate the doubt and uncertainty that historically has plagued these kinds of planning processes.
J. MacPhail: What will be the input allowed from the public?
Hon. M. de Jong: There is a statutory requirement and provision for input. Mr. Grozier, the district manager, has already embarked upon that exercise. I think much will depend on the nature of the decision he makes. My suspicion is that he has some pretty wide discretionary authority that ranges from approving what has been proposed to rejecting it or to calling for amendments and additional consultations, so the range of options is open. It's sensitive enough, in my view, that we should at least be endeavouring to bring people together and find a solution that everyone can live with. When I spoke with Mayor Allen several weeks ago, he indicated a willingness to do that. I intend to take him up on his offer.
J. MacPhail: I will continue to monitor that as well because we're receiving a lot of correspondence about it.
The other area is the…. This was correspondence sent directly to the minister. It's from January, but I don't expect him to have it ready at his hand now. It's about the McLennan River Demonstration Forest. The reason why I bring it to the minister's attention is because it kind of brings together several issues: cutbacks, changes in policy, how one gets a logging permit now. It's from a woman named Reesa Meersman. She's the secretary of the Valemount Saddle and Wagon Club, which is a historical organization. She goes to great lengths, at first, to say she's not a tree-hugger. She wants us all to know that and that her husband actually works in the mill at Valemount. She doesn't want to be written off in any fashion.
She's talking about the McLennan River Demonstration Forest, and she says…. Here's what's happening to it. "When the McBride forestry office was shut down, a bunch of the ex-forestry boys" — I'm reading from her letter now — "formed a logging company and bought a mill. The Clearwater forestry allowed these ex-forestry boys to do their own timber cruising and mark logging blocks with mountain pine beetle."
She says: "It's kind of like sending a wolf out into the forest to count the sheep, don't you think? They marked the McLennan River Demo Forest as a logging block. Unfortunately, the policy of the McBride Forest Industries Ltd. is to clearcut and take everything."
She's sort of saying that the office was shut down. It was left to freelance, for their old forestry staff to go in there and determine where they were going to log and how they were going to log. Of course, her protest against this is that they're logging in areas that the Valemount Saddle and Wagon Club have spent years using. The demonstration forest is also a demonstration of the historical aspect of logging in that area.
She's at a loss to know who to go to. There are no forestry staff in her area. She really wrote to us after trying to find out how to have this stopped before a proper plan was put in place.
Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the member and to Ms. Reesa Meersman as well.
A couple of things. First of all, in response to the final part of the question, Ms. Meersman has this choice. I'm suggesting that she — and she may have already done this, so if she has, I hope she won't take offence…. The district manager in the Clearwater office would be a logical stop for her. If she is closer to McBride, there are four individuals in a field location there, but my suggestion would be that she go directly to the district office in Clearwater.
My suspicion is that the activity we're talking about here — and I could be wrong, but the reason I point it out is because it was something new that we've done, and we should be tracking what is resulting from the new things we try — relates to the delivery of the salvage program and the fact that we have created a new type of licence, a small-scale salvage licence. They call them SNRFLs.
That volume was divided up between the community group in McBride — I think that's the case — and another group, a private group in the Valemount area. To the extent that there is activity taking place, my suspicion is that it relates to that licence, which is a new type of licence. The fact that the member has taken this opportunity to remind me of the letter that was delivered to my office will provide me with the occasion to contact this individual.
I know the member will relay these exchanges to her. If she can either go to and notify or renotify the district office in Clearwater, then I will be doing the same from this end, and we will at least be clear that the concerns she is expressing are before the district manager when the decisions are made around any subsequent approvals that are necessary going forward.
J. MacPhail: I'm sure she'll appreciate that.
I'd like to move now to timber supply, just on the basis of problem areas about fibre supply. Of course, this has been a topic in the news as it relates to Doman Industries in Port Alice. I do want the minister to update us on that but to use that also as an example of how the changes in forest policy exacerbate — no, I won't even use that; I won't make a judgment — or have influenced allocation of timber supply.
I do want the minister to update us on Doman Industries' Port Alice mill and their access to timber supply.
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Hon. M. de Jong: Again, I appreciate the spirit with which the question is asked. I do, first of all, confess to an obvious bias. My bias and view is that what we are beginning to see through some of these changes — particularly those that relate to the removal of some of the restrictions around the transfer of fibre — is the development and actual execution of new opportunities for fibre. I'm thinking of the purchase by the Teal Jones Group of the TFL to feed a new small log facility on the coast, a new mill that can only function with a supply of fibre that would not have been available. There are other examples of how fibre and licences are beginning to move around.
The member may have a different view, but we see transactions involving wholly B.C.–owned companies like Riverside and Lignum, which speak to an issue of the strength of those two companies coming together and facilitating the generation of some real opportunities. We've talked about first nations, so I won't go on at length about that. That is my view. We are probably that much into the exercise where I can offer my opinion and point to some examples, and perhaps when we're back here in the fall or next spring, we'll be in a better position to assess the overall outcome.
The member, though, asks specifically about the Port Alice situation, and I'll offer the update that I can. I will preface my remarks with two comments. First of all, it's a longstanding issue, and it is an issue that dates back to 1994. I will also preface my remarks by reminding us that the matter is before the courts. As a result of discussions or exchanges that took place in 1994 between then Premier Harcourt and the company, that has given rise to litigation and allegations of certain promises going unfulfilled.
The Crown's position today has not changed from what it was when the member sat on this side of the House — that there was no enforceable agreement. There was no agreement. I don't want to get into the details of that litigation, because I think the member's question is what's happening now.
The people in Port Alice are concerned. They're more than concerned. They're, in some cases, terrified for the future of their town. The pulp mill over the past number of years has run sporadically at best. There's a whole host of reasons for that. People talk about fibre supply. I will say to the member that based on all of the analysis that I have seen, it is overly simplistic to suggest that this is a fibre supply issue. I mean, any operator, I suppose, could say to the government — and I'm not suggesting that the owners of this mill have done this: "Give us free fibre and all will be well," but there is a problem with doing that, not the least of which is a competitiveness problem or a fairness issue.
Is there a fibre supply issue? I think there is to this extent now. We are all aware of the court proceedings, the restructuring proceedings, that are taking place and the proposals that have been made to sever off the Port Alice facility. I don't think there's any doubt that the attractiveness of that facility for a prospective purchaser increases or diminishes depending on how much fibre goes with it. So to that extent, one can say that there is a fibre issue.
Now, I think there are some options there. We have recently signed agreements with three or four first nations in the immediate vicinity for upwards of, I think, 300,000 or 400,000 cubic metres of timber. They, again, are looking for a customer for that fibre. In the meeting that was held with Mayor Pepper yesterday…. I want to say to Mayor Pepper, his council and the people of Port Alice that they were represented passionately and ably but also very constructively by their mayor, who is saying: "Look, we're prepared to try and find some solutions here."
One of the things we talked about was the establishment of a community licence, a community tenure. I have to say that when I look at the numbers that are bandied about for the volume that is required to operate that facility, given the volumes that I am told are presently available, they were in the neighbourhood of 10 or 15 percent. But if you can cobble something together…. Beyond that, with a community tenure we may see people in the community say only a portion of that volume is suitable for the mill. What can we do to diversify and create some other opportunities? Admittedly, it's probably smaller opportunities — but diversify our economy a little bit.
What we said to Mayor Pepper was that there's a long history here. There's litigation here. The issue today is: what can we do? Can we get a fresh set of eyes on this thing with perhaps a little different imagination? I have seen proposals that suggest bringing beetle-infested wood over the mountain, out of the Ootsa reservoir and floating it down to the pulp mill. I don't know if that can be done economically, but if there's a chance it could be done economically, then we should investigate that. That's what we're going to do over the next period of weeks. In the meantime, the restructuring litigation proceeds.
The Premier said something in our meeting, and I hope Mayor Pepper and the Premier won't be offended if I repeat it here. The objective here is the welfare of the community. I think the welfare of the community is enhanced with a healthy pulp operation. But the primary concern is the overall health of the community. How do we utilize our resources, including our timber resources, to make that happen? We won't know next week, but we will continue to work with the mayor. Again, I say to him: bravo for coming here with not just an open mind but a constructive mind and being prepared to look at all and any options.
J. MacPhail: I'm just curious as to how B.C. timber sales expansion helps or hinders this situation. When the minister says that they're moving toward a market-based system, what is it about this particular situation that doesn't allow the market-based system to solve the problem?
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, I think B.C. timber sales have a role here insofar as they are in the business of
[ Page 10309 ]
marketing timber that would be available for purchase by a licensee. I think licensees, by their very nature, like to have as secure a fibre supply as possible.
I'll back up. There are suggestions, for example, that the reallocation should be reduced. I am certainly prepared to look at doing what we can but, at the same time, am not in a position…. Nor would I favour separating out this company and saying: "You're going to be dealt with differently."
Similarly, if there is fibre that is available — and I'm going to be careful about qualifying my words, because I'm not suggesting I'm an expert or that I have intimate knowledge of the situation — and the difficulty or the challenge is that the particular licensee isn't in a position to purchase that fibre, that's a different issue. I mean, that's what we need to get to the bottom of, and that's what we hope to do over the next period of weeks.
It's complicated, admittedly, by the fact that the licensee in this case is going through some very difficult legal proceedings and restructuring. It's as good a chance as any for me to repeat something I said when I met with the board of directors several months ago. Vancouver Island, the coast, the communities, the province are all better off with a healthy and vibrant western Doman. Certainly, Port Alice would be. The question is getting there, and we'll do what we can in the meantime to work with the folks in Port Alice.
J. MacPhail: The Pearse report suggested that several dozens of mills would be closed down in a restructuring exercise. Does the Ministry of Forests have a current prediction of how many mills will be shut down in restructuring?
Hon. M. de Jong: Referring, then, back to the Pearse report…. In fact, Dr. Pearse in his report did speculate about the continuing trend in closure. I think his reference to several dozen closed mills was reference to what had happened over the past period of years, but he also pointed out that it was a trend that was likely to continue unless some action was taken. He also, in the same section of his report, pointed out that there was a need for significant reinvestment and replacement of some aging facilities. That's all part of the renewal, revitalization exercise. The essence of the member's question, however, is: is there a list or a specific "who's on watch" list? There isn't. Right now, however, I will tell the member candidly that I've got a bad feeling about the mill in Port Alice.
J. MacPhail: Okay. The minister and I have had this discussion before about who's keeping track of the shifts in policy as they affect employment and communities. A year later I still can't get an answer from the minister. I mean, surely someone must be having a discussion about restructuring in the industry and how that will affect employment, either positively or negatively, or community resources. I mean, that information was available in the 1990s. We used to discuss it at the cabinet table.
I don't know what's happened that that isn't being kept track of. Is it just literally laissez-faire now — free enterprise and come what may — and no planning for it or no discussions with the licensees or the large forest companies about potential closures or expansions? Well, expansions, I guess, are only on the upside. But is there no discussion like that occurring?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm just thinking, trying to do an inventory in my mind of the sorts of indicators the member is referring to. I mean, there are the general B.C. Stats and StatsCan indicators that come in. They are trending upwards.
I will say this. I have, especially over the last five or six months, been reluctant to take initial modest positive signs and begin to trumpet them as somehow indicating victory is at hand. From the perspective, however, of closing facilities, well, the member knows that the owner of the facility in Louis Creek made a decision last year. They notified the government of that decision. We talked about that last session. I wasn't thrilled about it. Nor, however, did the government step in and demand that they rebuild.
We're trying to look at some other options via, again, community tenures and the member for Kamloops–North Thompson working with prospective licensees who could bring in portable milling facilities. I obviously wasn't there during the period of time which the member is referring to, but I suspect that the nature of the discourse is quite different — for better or for worse, I suppose, but quite different — than it once was.
I recall, for example, in my role as an opposition member — that critical role — having almost weekly discussions about employment numbers. I can say to the member now that that was generated partly by what, from an opposition member's point of view, presented as a fixation. I'm not here to rehash declarations by Premiers past about how many jobs, but when the political discourse became focused in on that and then the trends went in the opposite direction, the opposition became preoccupied with that as well.
While we see the numbers going forward…. We haven't talked about bumps in the road. We will talk about one in a moment. There is another one right now on the coast as it relates to the marine workers' labour dispute. We have tried to work with licensees and communities as issues have arisen. When I got this job, Tahsis was very much a lingering issue. Today the focus of that attention is Port Alice, and in other parts of the Island we are seeing employment numbers and activity that we haven't seen in a long, long time.
My hope, of course, is that we're spared the need to engage in the kind of discussion the member has alluded to because the mill facility replacement that Dr. Pearse spoke about will occur contemporaneously to any facility shutdown. I think that's the objective an
[ Page 10310 ]
organization like the IWA has. It's certainly an objective that the communities have, and it's one I share with both those groups.
J. MacPhail: Well, I wasn't going to bring up the marine workers' dispute, because it's something that's out of this government's hands. What I was going to bring up, though, was a declaration by industry and industry analysts that it's really shipping of product that is having an effect on price increase. The supply and demand curve is very much affected by the fact that shipping of product is a problem.
I took the article out of the paper. It was out of the Globe and Mail on Monday. "Analysts say chronic railcar shortages and last week's strike by unionized tugboat workers in British Columbia are restricting the industry's ability to feed demand from the booming U.S. housing construction sector." Fair enough. I think that's as good a reason as any to suggest why the prices have skyrocketed, and they have skyrocketed. They've almost doubled — well, not quite doubled, but an 80 to 90 percent increase in lumber prices. That's an advantage from the lack of resolve of the softwood lumber dispute, because there is no quantity restriction at the border — none whatsoever. It is an interesting effect, a sidebar effect that was unanticipated, because no one anticipated that prices would go this high.
I take those as economic inputs that are understandable — unpleasant but understandable. What is the resolve of this government to solve the softwood lumber dispute? It really does appear to have been placed on the back burner in a way that has it lingering. It looks like there will be no resolve or even an attempt to resolve prior to November of this year, which is the presidential election.
I'm also curious — so an answer on the plans to resolve this matter…. As the minister and I agree, commodity prices are not predictable and cannot be counted upon to ensure a stable industry. I'm also very interested in what's happening between this province and the federal government toward resolving the softwood lumber dispute.
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm glad we have a bit of time to go through this. Let me say this to the member and others. There is absolute resolve, as there always has been — in fact, a marked preference on the part of the government, the Premier and myself — to negotiate a solution as opposed to relying exclusively on a litigation track. But the real test, of course, or the measure of that resolve, is in part on what terms. The member mentioned the advantages of not having settled on the basis of an agreement that would impose a volume restriction.
I recall, in past exchanges when it appeared that might be the case, the member reminding me of words I had made a year and a half ago that I was not in favour of a quota-based deal and, when that was the basis of the offer from the American side, seeking clarification of whether the position had changed. I'll say it again. I don't like a quota-based deal. We have an automatic reluctance to settle on that basis, in part because it is counterintuitive from a business point of view — counterintuitive, in my view, to the principles of free trade.
On top of all that, no one I've talked to has been able to provide me with a description of a fair and equitable way to distribute quota. It was an issue in '96; it would be an issue again. People profess tentative support, all on the basis that they get all the quota they need or want. No one gets all the quota they need or want, certainly not under the terms of the proposal that we saw from the American side.
The member has posed the question of if this is somehow on the back burner. It might be to this extent. Following the discussions that took place amongst the Canadian officials — the provinces and the federal government — there was, broadly speaking, agreement that any notion of re-engaging with the U.S. should wait, pending the NAFTA panel decision expected at the end of the month. It is expected to be a positive decision. It is, as the member knows, a review by the NAFTA panel of their finding last year that the U.S. had not established either injury or threat of injury.
If that ruling is upheld, that is a strong victory for the Canadian side. There is some possibility, however, I must caution, that they will verify their earlier finding and provide the USITC with a third attempt or a third opportunity to re-argue the matter. I'm told by some trade lawyers that in certain cases they get three chances. Our hope, of course, is that they don't — that the decision is conclusive and final. You have also heard from the American side that that will restart a subsequent round.
I ramble on like that to remind those who would profess there is a final victory in litigation that that may not be the case. That is another reason for us to embark on ongoing discussions, albeit I think there is wisdom in waiting until we have the benefit of what we think is going to be a positive decision in a little more than a week.
Do we get caught in the vortex of presidential politics down south? That's possible. I think there is a window…. I have talked about so many windows, I feel like my car window — which isn't electric, I might add — that goes up and goes down. There is yet another window of perhaps, after this decision at the end of April, a couple of months. If in that period of time there weren't a negotiated settlement, then I'm not optimistic you would see one before the conclusion of the election. At a bilateral level we should also acknowledge that there is electoral politics taking place at the national level here in Canada, so that is an issue.
The other issue that the member was alluding to relates to the relationship between B.C. and Ottawa. I should simply relate to the member and the House what the Premier and I relayed to Mr. Aldonas when he was here, and the nature of the discussions I have had with Minister Peterson and the Premier's had with the Prime Minister. Our preference is still for a national deal. There are lots of reasons for that. It is, at the end
[ Page 10311 ]
of the day, more certain, more predictable and gets the matter done conclusively on a bilateral basis. That's still the preference.
Having said that, the changes we have undertaken in B.C., as they relate to forest policy, I think have clearly attracted a level of interest from at least the Undersecretary of Commerce. To what extent that transcends the political organization I don't know. It has at least attracted the attention of Mr. Aldonas, and we have reminded him that he should know these are changes we have made to make our industry more competitive and better placed to compete with members of the U.S. coalition. Yet they do create, in our view, a market-based forest management structure, forest economy, and that, after all, is what a lot of those guys have been talking about. Now, were they serious, or was it a veil for the kind of volume controls and quotas that many of us suspect were at the root of the complaint and have been in the first place?
We have said to Minister Peterson, federally, and to the other provincial ministers: "Look. This is the number one economic issue in British Columbia — in the same way that if we were in a dispute with the U.S. over the Auto Pact, we would certainly expect Ontario, and also Quebec to a lesser extent, to take the lead." To the extent that there is interest from the Undersecretary of Commerce responsible for trade in exploring with British Columbia what a negotiated settlement might look like, we're prepared to have those discussions, recognizing what our preferences are.
Beyond that, if we look ahead to a day where there is a bilateral deal negotiated on a national level and B.C. — by virtue of the changes that have been made and implemented — is in a position to take advantage of or capitalize on that deal ahead of other jurisdictions, we're going to do it. We'd be foolish not to.
Along the way, there are decisions for us. The member and I have discussed the implementation of market-based pricing on the coastal industry. We didn't talk about the non-implementation of market pricing in the interior. For all the difficulties associated with doing it on the coast, it was made somewhat easier by the fact that stumpage actually went down. That is not the case in the interior, which presents another set of challenges in terms of the implementation. We're not, and I'm not, inclined to make that recommendation, to take that step at a time when we're still paying 27 percent at the border.
There is a linkage there, I suppose, and I would be prepared to make that linkage in discussions with the Americans. But they also need to know this. You know, there was a time when people talked about expressions of good faith. We're doing our stuff, and it engages some negative attention domestically. If they want to talk to us about that and discuss how it might form the basis for a negotiated solution, then we're interested in that, but we're more interested in getting on with doing the things we need to do to have a competitive forest sector to compete the world over and explore some new markets.
Has there been a lull in activity? I guess there probably has. Will that change after the NAFTA panel? I think it will. I think how it changes will depend on what the decision is. The member should know that federal officials have been in Washington. We've had negotiators in Washington this week. It's still too early to talk about formalized negotiations, but pretty specific discussion is taking place. We're trying to keep and are keeping the federal government and the other provinces informed.
J. MacPhail: Just to conclude not only my comments on this but my questions for estimates, I think we have been very poorly served by the federal government in their lack of attention to this file here in British Columbia. So on some level I understand the minister saying that he's going to enter into bilateral understandings — bilateral meaning British Columbia and the United States.
It's a very dangerous precedent, though. I don't know whether it's even legal. I expect that the province may get far down the road in that area and then have our own federal government fly in to say, "No, no, no," after they wake up to this file. Regardless, I just caution on that note. I understand why a provincial government would choose this path, given the complete lack of attention, in my mind, from the politicians toward the softwood lumber file.
Just as a concluding remark, Mr. Chair, I as a British Columbia voter in the upcoming federal election will be concentrating heavily on watching the various political parties address this matter of the softwood lumber dispute.
Those are my questions. I thank the minister, and I thank particularly his staff for their assistance.
Vote 24 approved.
Vote 47: Forest Practices Board, $3,307,000 — approved.
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Chair, I move that the committee rise, report completion and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:56 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply B, having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported resolutions and progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. de Jong moved adjournment of the House.
[ Page 10312 ]
Mr. Speaker: The House is adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 8:57 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply A; H. Long in the chair.
The committee met at 2:47 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
SMALL BUSINESS AND
On vote 34: ministry operations, $139,689,000 (continued).
J. Kwan: I'm trying to find in the minutes from yesterday where the minister might have referenced this, but it's not showing up. Let me, then, just ask the question to the minister. Are there any programs that are being delivered and funded by this ministry to address climate change?
Hon. J. Les: The only direct funding from this ministry is $30,000 that I referenced yesterday. That money is set aside to deliver information to the small business sector in British Columbia in the event that the federal government comes up with a climate change framework.
J. Kwan: That's the reference, actually, that I was looking for, the $30,000. Then that's it, eh? No other programs.
Given, then, that across government…. Maybe I can sum it up as such. There's $30,000 coming from this ministry if the federal government — when the federal government — comes through with their Kyoto protocol targets. Then that $30,000 will be invested in compiling information for the small business community relating to climate change. Then there's $800,000 coming out of WLAP through two different programs for climate change initiatives, and that's it across all of government in terms of programs directed towards climate change — just a confirmation from the minister on that.
Hon. J. Les: The member is correct insofar as the $30,000 is concerned from my ministry and the $800,000 from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection.
The member also, though, wants to keep in mind that across many ministries of government we have various activities that are related to climate change — for example, in the Ministry of Forests, the information that they supply with respect to the carbon sink effect of the forest resource of British Columbia. I don't have all of that work quantified here, and I'm not sure that it's quantified anywhere, but that is important work that has been done, which relates to the climate change issue.
J. Kwan: The minister had advised the House that he is responsible for climate change, and the deputy of this minister presumably then coordinates work in this regard across government. We have identified that WLAP actually provides staff — five FTEs — in this area to the climate change file. We have identified that they also provide $800,000 towards climate change initiatives. As the minister who coordinates efforts across government…. I am interested in knowing what other programs there are and how much is invested in the area of climate change, so I'm asking the minister for that information.
Hon. J. Les: We don't have that information here today, but I will undertake for the member that we will compile that information and supply it to her.
J. Kwan: That would be good, and we'd be happy to receive that information.
Are there any other ministries, outside of the Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development, that have staff who are working on climate change and who report to the deputy of this ministry, like the arrangement of the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection?
Hon. J. Les: No, there are no other employees of government that report directly to this deputy minister. However, they do report on issues of climate change through their respective deputy ministers to the deputy ministers' council.
J. Kwan: What other ministries are working on the issue of climate change? We've identified Forests, WLAP and this ministry. What other ministries?
Hon. J. Les: Right off the top of my head, several ministries that would be involved would be the Ministry of Forests; the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection; the Ministry of Energy and Mines; the Ministry of Transportation; the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services; the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management; and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. I might have missed one or two, but if there are additional ones, we will supply those as soon as we can.
J. Kwan: The minister may or may not have this information, given that there seems to be a whole host of other ministries working on climate change. What programs do they have under those ministries that are related to climate change which this minister is coordi-
[ Page 10313 ]
nating, and how much from government is being contributed to these programs?
Hon. J. Les: That's going to be a fairly complex list to compile. We will, however, again, undertake to do that and supply that information to the member.
J. Kwan: Yes, I would expect so. Given that the ministry and the minister are playing a coordinating role across government, I would expect that is a complex exercise — to gather all of that information in one house so the minister knows exactly what he is coordinating and what programs are within it.
Given that the minister doesn't have the list of programs and how many dollars are being provided in this area, when the minister provides that list, could he also advise who is in charge of the program? I'm only asking that question in the case that the program may not be in the charge of the minister with that particular ministry. There might be cross-referencing approaches, as is the case with WLAP and this ministry — so for that to be identified. Also, to identify the objective of these programs, how it would be measured and who oversees the outcomes of these programs…. Who's in charge of ensuring that the outcomes are achieved in these programs?
With that, I'd like to ask the minister this question. Does the ministry have a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection? For example, in the area of aquaculture, with those issues, the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Land and Water B.C., and Agriculture, Food and Fisheries have a memorandum of understanding about who's in charge of what and who's responsible for what. It clearly lays it out.
Prior to that memorandum of understanding, it was not clearly laid out, and there were issues. In fact, the Minister of Ag, Food and Fisheries made a major error in judgment and gave highly sensitive, confidential information to a fish farm owner about potential issues of violation and investigation related to that fish farm. It caused, as the minister may well know, the resignation of the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. Subsequent to that, a memorandum of understanding was signed to clearly lay out roles and responsibilities and so on and so forth.
I'm canvassing this question particularly in that kind of historical background where, in the case that roles and responsibilities are not clearly laid out, errors — judgment errors — could be made. In this instance, in the area of climate change, is there a memorandum of understanding between WLAP and this ministry?
Hon. J. Les: There is no memorandum of understanding between the two ministries. Frankly, I would suggest that is unnecessary, as well, as there isn't a regulatory component at this point to any of these climate change initiatives directly resulting from the work that is being done under my responsibility.
J. Kwan: Yet on climate change issues and programs and initiatives I thought the minister said he is also responsible for ensuring that the programs achieve their objectives. Given that there is cross-government in terms of other initiatives, on the issue around enforcement of climate change goals and regulations, I was presuming that this minister is responsible for that as well. Is the minister now saying that he is not responsible for the enforcement of regulations relating to climate change?
Hon. J. Les: As I've indicated several times, at this point in time there is no federal regulatory framework. There is no climate change plan that the feds themselves have expressed any confidence in. As recently as last December the Prime Minister indicated that there are still many changes coming forward in terms of the federal government position on climate change and how their climate change plan and their position on the Kyoto protocol are going to take shape in the months or perhaps years ahead.
In the absence of a firm federal plan, there is no regulatory function for my ministry, particularly, to discharge.
J. Kwan: For statutes, acts and regulations that exist now dealing with air pollution that impact climate change, not necessarily tied to the federal government's Kyoto protocol…. There are regulations and statutes and acts that exist now that deal with the issue of climate change. I'm assuming that the minister will, when he says he's in charge of climate change…. It doesn't only happen when the federal government says: "We're now going to do XYZ." It happens also in the context of what's going on every day now in British Columbia. Who is in charge of enforcing those statutes, those acts and those regulations?
Hon. J. Les: I point out to the member that I am not the minister of everything environmental. I am the minister that has responsibility for the provincial response to a federal regulatory environment that might emerge as a result of their acceptance of the Kyoto protocol.
J. Kwan: Well, that isn't what the minutes in terms of questions asked of the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection with respect to climate change…. It doesn't say, and the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection did not say, that this ministry and this minister are only responsible for climate change related to the Kyoto protocol. Nor did the minister say that yesterday in the debate. I asked a simple question about who is responsible for climate change, and this minister said he is. Now there's a big caveat around it. His role has now narrowed.
The staff from WLAP that are working under WLAP but reporting to the deputy of this ministry — are they only, then, working on climate change issues related to the federal government's Kyoto protocol?
[ Page 10314 ]
Hon. J. Les: I thought that was clear all along. I thought that was implicit in everything I said yesterday and earlier today. Just to be clear, my role in terms of these issues is simply to be involved in the provincial response to federal initiatives related to the Kyoto protocol.
J. Kwan: I appreciate the minister's answer today in clarifying what his role is, but in fact that wasn't the case yesterday, and that was not the case with the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection when the question was asked by my colleague about who was in charge of climate change. There was no caveat associated with it.
Just to be clear, the minister only deals with climate change issues in relation to the federal government's Kyoto protocol. The minister keeps on saying in estimates debate that they're waiting for the federal government's decision. In the meantime, they're not really doing anything, because they don't know what the federal government's decisions are in terms of the targets and so on and so forth. Then, in the meantime, the five staff that are in the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection but reporting to this minister, the deputy of this minister — what work are they doing, given that the minister says they don't know what the federal government's decisions are?
Hon. J. Les: Although the federal government has not yet come to any firm position with respect to the implementation of the Kyoto protocol, there is a lot of work being done by the federal government. They're putting out a lot of information and a lot of papers, a lot of circulars, to which our staff are responding and are providing input. There's an enormous amount of work required in fulfilling those obligations. Our staff are certainly very busy in responding to all of those federal initiatives and putting their minds around what represents the provincial interest and how British Columbia can best position itself in this emerging public policy area.
J. Kwan: In other words, it sounds to me like the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection staff reporting to this minister are working on positions on behalf of the province regarding the Kyoto protocol. Is this what the minister is saying, then?
Hon. J. Les: Just to, again, be clear, a lot of the work that staff are involved in is analysis work where different federal positions come forward and those positions are analyzed by our staff in light of the provincial interest. As I pointed out to the member yesterday, the October 2002 report put out by Natural Resources Canada suggested that British Columbia would be expected to bear a highly disproportionate share of the job loss and loss of economic growth under the federal proposals that were contemplated back then. Again, I underline the fact that it's critically important that we constantly analyze the various federal positions that are being put forward in order that we can clearly understand what is being proposed so that ultimately, if a clear federal position emerges, we will be in a position to defend the provincial interest.
J. Kwan: I actually just found the passage from estimates debate yesterday where the question was asked about responsibilities.
"Given that's what the Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection has said, can the minister explain to me who is responsible for protecting our environment from the negative impacts of climate change?"
The minister's response:
"The member expresses surprise that the matter of climate change should be housed within this ministry. However, I'm sure she would readily agree that the matter of climate change not only has very large implications environmentally but certainly has huge potential implications economically as well. With that in mind, it makes abundant good sense that this matter should be dealt with within this ministry.
"In terms of who is responsible for managing this file, we have in place a deputy ministers committee, chaired by my deputy, that deals with this entire issue of climate change."
It was in that context that the question was asked. It was not tied into just the federal Kyoto protocol in the minister's response. The minister says that staff are working on various analyses regarding federal positions. Is there analysis being done on the federal position to implement Kyoto?
Hon. J. Les: We take it as given that the federal government has, of course, ratified the Kyoto protocol, so our staff are responding to federal positions that would implement that ratification.
J. Kwan: So they are working on something around the Kyoto protocol. The analysis, presumably these reports they're working on…. Are there names attached to them?
Hon. J. Les: For clarification, is the member looking for names of people or names of documents?
J. Kwan: Documents.
Hon. J. Les: There are quite a number of those, and we don't have those with us here today. I will undertake to the member to get them to her.
J. Kwan: Yes, I would appreciate that, then. I would be interested in knowing what the ministry staff has produced with respect to the province's response and analysis around the federal government's position on Kyoto. All of that documentation would be appreciated.
Could the minister tell me what kind of time frame we are looking at in terms of receiving the documents and the materials that we've requested throughout the estimates debate? Am I presuming correctly that the documents produced from WLAP on this file would be
[ Page 10315 ]
for the period of…? Is it September until now? What period are we looking at?
Hon. J. Les: The member should be aware that this work on climate change and the provincial response to it has been going on since 1997, so there's quite a body of work there. It will take us some considerable time, I'm afraid, to assemble all of that, but we will do the very best we can to get it to the member in a timely way.
J. Kwan: So the minister's going to provide that information — the documents that are being worked on by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection — dating back to 1997?
Hon. J. Les: I believe the member asked for a listing of the documents, and we are prepared to provide those to her.
J. Kwan: In terms of priorities for the opposition, in terms of time line, for the minister's information we would be most interested in receiving information about these documents and on these items for the time period in which, of course, the government is in charge. That would be since the election. Prior to that, if the minister has that information, we certainly would welcome that as well. That would be our priority, Mr. Chair, for the minister's information.
If I could ask for the minister to provide as a priority the information, I guess, going backwards in time — with 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, etc. We don't necessarily have to have all of the information all at once. Rather, we could receive the information as it becomes available. In other words, for the minister to gather the information starting with 2004, perhaps — maybe that's easier, because there's a shorter time frame — then provide that to the opposition and then, when the material becomes available for 2003, etc., for that information to be provided. I just want to clarify that for the minister.
Hon. J. Les: Yes, I hear the member's request, and we'll do our very best to comply with her wishes.
J. Kwan: Okay. On the issues around climate change I will await the minister's information. As I had mentioned earlier, it may well be that we would have further questions arising, and then I take it I will be able to follow up with the minister — either with the minister's staff in getting clarification or with the minister himself.
Moving on to the last item of questions, which would be the issues around fast-tracking, could the minister advise if he's received any applications for projects for fast-tracking?
The Chair: We'll take a two-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 3:16 p.m. to 3:18 p.m.
[H. Long in the chair.]
On vote 34 (continued).
Hon. J. Les: I believe the question was how many applications there have been for fast-tracking status. The answer to that question, if that is indeed the question, is five.
J. Kwan: Who submitted these applications?
Hon. J. Les: They come in several different ways. In this case, they've either been put forward by the proponent, or they can also be put forward through a ministry of government that has identified a project as a high priority.
J. Kwan: I'm looking for specific information about who provided applications but not generalities.
Hon. J. Les: For clarification, is the member asking me for the specific names of the projects?
J. Kwan: Names of the projects or the location and, if it's submitted by government, from which ministry.
Hon. J. Les: The five projects I have referred to are as follows: Mount Mackenzie, which is a ski area expansion near Revelstoke; the Mount Baldy ski area expansion at Oliver; the Greenwood slag project, which is a slag heap for export reprocessing at Greenwood; the proposed Red Chris gold-copper mine near Iskut; and the Quatsino first nation Island Copper project near Port Hardy.
J. Kwan: The applications that have been submitted — who were the proponents? Let me just ask that question.
Hon. J. Les: The five proposals have been put forward as follows by the following entities. The Mount Mackenzie application is being put forward by Mount Mackenzie Resort Ltd. The Mount Baldy application is being put forward by the local strata corporation. The Greenwood Slag application is being put forward by a consortium consisting of Falkoski Holdings, the city of Greenwood and Marion Kelly. The application by Red Chris mine is being put forward by Red Chris Development Company Ltd., which is owned by bcMetals. Finally, the Quatsino application is being put forward by the Quatsino first nation and BHP.
J. Kwan: Could the minister advise for each of the applications what the plans or policies are that would involve change? For example, in the Mount Mackenzie application is it about a rezoning issue? I'm just trying to figure out, generally speaking, the purpose of the application for fast-tracking.
Hon. J. Les: For the information of the House and for the member, I'm just going to run quickly through
[ Page 10316 ]
the requirements for people to be able to apply for fast-tracking. Applicants have to demonstrate that they have a business plan and documents that support a business case, and the applicants need to have completed a financial plan. They need to have identified all the required permits and approvals that will be necessary to proceed. Applicants need to be able to demonstrate that the proposed project will create significant employment in a region, and applicants need to confirm that the only obstacles holding up the projects are permits and approvals.
What the fast-track process is then all about, once those requirements are in place, is to ensure that, as much as possible, the approval processes happen in tandem, parallel to one another to the extent that that is possible. We are not guaranteeing in any way what the ultimate answer to the approval process is going to be — whether it's a yes or a no. All we are offering to people is an expedited process so that whether the answer is yes or no, they can have that answer as quickly as possible.
J. Kwan: Yes, that was going to be my next question in terms of why these projects are being considered for fast-tracking. The minister has laid out the list of criteria for any project to be considered, but that doesn't answer the first question that I put to the minister. That is, the applications themselves — what are the specifics about them?
In the case of, as an example, Mount Mackenzie, which appears to deal with a resort…. I assume it's an expansion of a resort, without actually seeing the application. Is that, then, a zoning matter it falls in for expansion of development? If the minister could just give me a little bit of detail about each of the projects.
Hon. J. Les: This could be somewhat lengthy. However, I'm happy to provide….
I'll start with the one for Mount Mackenzie. Then we'll see whether this is the type of information the member is looking for. The project overview for Mount Mackenzie. This is an expansion of an existing community ski hill called Powder Springs, currently tenured to the city of Revelstoke and operated by Cat Powder Skiing Inc. through an agreement with the city. Just reading along here, the key agencies involved are Land and Water B.C.; the Ministry of Forests; the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection; the local governments in the area, both the region and the city of Revelstoke; the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; and the Ministry of Health.
[The division bells were rung.]
The note here says that there are no significant provincial agency issues indicated by LWBC. No major impediments have been identified to date. There's a possible issue related to the location of the sewage treatment plant, etc. I don't see any huge public processes here. I think there's just an expedited process required. From a cursory review of this document, I think this is all the relevant information I'd be able to supply at this time with respect to the Mount Mackenzie application.
The Chair: This committee will stand recessed until after the vote in House B.
The committee recessed from 3:29 p.m. to 3:39 p.m.
[H. Long in the chair.]
On vote 34 (continued).
J. Kwan: That's exactly the kind of information that I'm looking for.
Let's just start with the Mount Mackenzie application. Could the minister please advise what the specific barrier is from the proponent's point of view and from the government's point of view for this project to move onto the fast track — that meets fast-tracking?
Hon. J. Les: The issue here is the variety of permits that are required by the applicant. Those, it looks like at this point, are from the Ministry of Forests; the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection; local government; the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; and the Ministry of Health.
I think it's important to note, as well, that these are at all three levels of government — federal, provincial and municipal — and that often is the challenge. Where you have a number of levels of government involved, streamlining those different processes so that they're occurring as much as possible at once, as opposed to consecutively, can save enormous amounts of time.
J. Kwan: Is that the process that will be undertaken by this minister on behalf of this proponent — that is, to coordinate with the three different levels of government and for them to make their evaluations on their permitting process? It's strictly a timing question so that it's coordinated in such a way that all three levels of government are reviewing the application at the same time. You don't have to have staggered and therefore lengthened time periods for the application's review.
Hon. J. Les: I think the member has it largely correct. Our role is largely one of coordination and identification of regulatory bottlenecks and of assisting applicants through those processes.
J. Kwan: The list of ministries the minister identified in which permitting is required for the Mount Mackenzie application is the reason, as I understood, why fast-tracking is required. Therefore, the minister will facilitate for each of the levels of government to review the application concurrently so that the proponent could potentially save time.
[ Page 10317 ]
That's one thing that I understood the fast-tracking process would assist with here. Is there anything else? Also, would the minister please be specific about what permits from each of the ministries and each level of government the proponent would need to receive?
Hon. J. Les: I can provide some more information in terms of the specific permit that might be required from each of those ministries. Before I do that, I want to underline very carefully that it's not my ministry that's going to be involved in the actual permitting process. In the Ministry of Forests, for example, it's still up to the Ministry of Forests to go through their due diligence, as always, before they issue any kind of permit. As I said earlier, this is not about getting to yes. This is about getting to yes or no but doing it in a more expeditious fashion.
In the case of the Mount Mackenzie application, the Ministry of Forests is looking at a possible provincial forest deletion in the logging plan. In the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, there is a sewage treatment plant involved, with discharges into a river, so there are fish, wildlife and habitat issues to be considered. With the city of Revelstoke and the Columbia-Shuswap regional district, there are zoning and OCP issues to be considered.
With the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, there are possible fisheries and stream issues, as I pointed out earlier, with the discharge from the waste treatment plant, possibly triggering a CEAA process. That is C-E-A-A, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. With the Ministry of Health, drinking water and sewage issues have to be looked at as well. With Land and Water B.C., there's the commercial alpine ski policy that has to be reviewed in light of this application.
J. Kwan: On the first permits, the minister mentioned forest deletion. I'm sorry, but I'm not familiar with that term. What is forest deletion?
Hon. J. Les: This is perhaps a question that the Minister of Forests could answer better than I, but I'll take a run at it. Large areas of this province are designated provincial forests, and generally speaking, that designation encompasses the activity known as forestry — logging, for example. For this application to proceed, there would need to be a deletion from the provincial forest designation. In other words, there would presumably be skiing going on here instead of logging.
J. Kwan: In other words, it would simply erase what would be known as a forest — and delete it, I guess. Wow, that makes sense. Okay.
Each of these respective processes will go through their normal course of approvals or rejections through the various different branches within the levels of government, with no intervention from this government. Now, is there fast-tracking going on within each of the respective ministries that are looking into these permits? Are they asked to fast-track their decision somehow? When I first understood the process here…. It's a concurrent issue. Instead of staggering one after the other, it's concurrent in terms of the approval or rejection process. Setting that aside, is there going to be fast-tracking within the ministry for each of these permits?
Hon. J. Les: As I indicated earlier, one of the objectives of the fast-tracking exercise is for these processes to occur concurrently, but there will be fast-tracking within each of those processes as well. When one of these projects is designated for fast-tracking, inherent in that designation is a signal by government that there is a provincial interest involved and that the provincial government is interested in making sure the applicant receives an answer as quickly as possible.
There are often significant investments at stake, and even if the answer is no, sometimes that investment can be shifted to another location as opposed to being entirely lost to the province. So it is in the provincial interest — always, I would suggest — that government provide answers as quickly as it's reasonably able to do so.
The member will recall several years ago when there was a huge backlog of applications at Land and Water B.C., previously known as B.C. Assets and Land. That backlog has thankfully been cleared up. Those kinds of steps forward by this government have gone a long way, I think, to make this province a more investor-friendly jurisdiction that is very clearly starting to result in a lot more investment coming to the province.
J. Kwan: You don't want me to go down the debate about the economy of British Columbia, so I will just ignore that last comment from the minister and stick to the issues at hand. I do want to get through estimates, as I'm sure the minister wants to get through estimates for this ministry.
The application, in terms of fast-tracking. I actually didn't get a clear answer from the ministry whether or not these fast-tracked projects would be receiving fast-tracked action within each of the different ministries. Or is it going to take its normal course within the ministry in terms of processing the permits?
Hon. J. Les: I thought I had been clear, but I'll say it again. Within each of those processes, there is a fast-tracking aspect to it as well. That fast-tracking, however, doesn't in any way imply that the normal requirements are not going to be met. Statutory decision-makers will make their statutory decisions as always. However, where there is an opportunity to produce those decisions more quickly, then we will attempt to do that.
I'm certainly not unfamiliar with that. I can recall quite easily that in my days as a member of a municipal council, when something was deemed to be of significant interest to the municipality, it certainly was not at all unusual to single out a project for an expedited process, which again, as I underlined before, in no way compromises the statutory roles that need to be protected.
[ Page 10318 ]
J. Kwan: For this project, is there any federal government approval needed?
Hon. J. Les: There will be times when there are federal ministries involved. In the case of Mount Mackenzie, as I pointed out a few minutes ago, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is involved and, further, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is potentially involved. So the answer is yes. They're often — in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in particular — very much involved, particularly when some of these applications involve a fairly significant land base.
J. Kwan: Is there also agreement from the federal government to engage in the fast-tracking process for these applications?
Hon. J. Les: Clearly, there is no requirement or compulsion on behalf of the federal government to sign on to what is essentially a provincial government process or initiative. However, their involvement in an expedited way is entirely voluntary. Our experience, happily, is that in a number of these cases, the federal government has been very eager to work with the provincial government to ensure that the results of their processes transpire in an expedited way as well.
J. Kwan: That's the same, I assume, for the city as well?
Hon. J. Les: That's correct.
J. Kwan: For the Mount Mackenzie project application to have it made this far for the purposes of fast-tracking, am I right to assume that the proponent has already undergone the consultation processes that are normally required from their own respective communities? Am I right to assume that, or am I wrong to assume that? Or would that be part of the requirement as the permitting process is underway?
Hon. J. Les: In the case of the Mount Mackenzie application, there is already strong support from the city of Revelstoke and the local community. However, in terms of consultation, there is clearly a need for first nations consultation. That has begun with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Shuswap nation tribal council and the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket tribal council.
J. Kwan: What is the projected investment with this project to the province, if the minister could provide that information to the House?
Hon. J. Les: Phase 1 of this project involves some 400 jobs and a $75 million investment. The total buildout would involve 1,300 construction jobs; 1,400 full-time and part-time jobs; and a $269 million total investment.
J. Kwan: How long does the minister expect the fast-tracking process would take — in other words, for the proponent to find out when a decision is made one way or another?
Hon. J. Les: The suggested time line for the Mount Mackenzie project is December 31, 2004.
J. Kwan: So 2004. That's the end of this year. Yeah. When did the ministry receive the application?
Hon. J. Les: To the best of our knowledge, this application was made either in December of last year or in January of this year.
J. Kwan: Approximately, then, we're looking at a turnaround time of about a year, give or take a month or so.
On the permitting processes around environmental issues, whether those be sewage issues or environmental concerns generally, the proponent would have to follow through the normal assessment by the respective branches. Is it the case that if one of the permits for this particular project is turned down…? I don't know whether or not it will. I'm just asking. If in the event that one of the permits is turned down along the process, let's say, does that kill the project?
Hon. J. Les: Yes, that's quite possible. If a certain component approval is a showstopper, then the project would not be able to proceed.
J. Kwan: In that case, the minister would have no role, if that comes to light after that?
Hon. J. Les: We would work with the applicant and with the ministry that had rendered a negative decision to make sure and to do the due diligence to ensure that, in fact, it had to be a negative adjudication of that application. In the event that the negative ruling stood, we would help the applicant look for, perhaps, different approaches to achieving a different kind of approval that would allow the project to go ahead. Clearly, sometimes a different approach to putting a project together is workable where a certain application might have had aspects to it that were not able to be approved by the regulatory authorities.
J. Kwan: How would the public find out about that, then? If in the event that an application, through this course of applying for permits through different branches and governments and so on — one or two or whatever — becomes a showstopper, as the minister says, then it sounds to me like this ministry will really be the appeal system or arbitrating system or mediating system — sort of bringing together the proponent and the ministry that's turned down the permit to see if there is a way to resolve the issue. How would the public find out about what processes are undertaken with these fast-tracking initiatives?
Hon. J. Les: Again, I want to underline this fact: the role of our ministry is one of facilitation, and it really
[ Page 10319 ]
does just that. It facilitates. It has no direct role in any of the regulatory processes themselves. In terms of how the public would find out about it if a different option were chosen… As I'm sure the member is aware, many of these processes have a public involvement component integral to them, whether that's by notices in newspapers, by public hearing or by other public consultation processes.
It is not the intention through any of these fast-tracking processes to avoid the usual public involvement that's necessary for these projects. Those all must be respected, and my ministry, amongst other things, would ensure that happens.
J. Kwan: Maybe I can make this request. Given that the decision for this particular project is going to be decided sometime in December, would the minister advise if anywhere along the line for, in fact, all of these projects anybody became a show-stopper — that is, that a negative permitting request was provided to the proponent? Will the minister advise the opposition accordingly from which ministry and for what reason so that we're aware of what's going on within these fast-tracking processes? Then, if there's an alternate approach to trying to resolve the matter, what is that alternative approach and where has it landed — in other words, just so we're informed of the proceedings within these projects?
Hon. J. Les: I have no particular difficulty with that request. However, as I pointed out earlier, many of these processes involve a very significant public consultation component. If there are significant events in any of these processes, we will certainly endeavour to keep the opposition informed. However, I think it would be perhaps a little bit dangerous for me this afternoon to commit absolutely to making sure the opposition is informed of every potential rejection or approval that might happen on each of these projects.
We'll do the best we can, but many of these, if not all of them, are totally wide open processes so that the public is involved in many of them. We will undertake to do the best we can to make sure the member and her colleagues are informed as well.
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
J. Kwan: I would appreciate that. I do appreciate the notion that generally, these processes are public. Having been at the municipal level, I know of notifications and requirements and public processes and so on and so forth, but also from time to time, though, it may be that certain things are not as public as we think. Therefore, the opportunities just to sort of protect the integrity of the project for the long term are missed if information is somehow not out there. That's the purpose of my asking the question. I appreciate the minister's commitment to doing the best he can in providing that information to us regarding these fast-tracking projects.
Okay, so that's the Mount Mackenzie one. There are four other ones. I'm seeking just general information, because this is the first time this kind of thing has surfaced at the provincial level, and I'm interested in getting as much detail as I can about each of the applications. If the minister could provide that information to the House.
Hon. J. Les: The Mount Baldy ski area that I referred to earlier is an application from an operation that is currently a small-scale local ski hill run by a strata corporation. The first phase involves $5 million, including the purchase of private lands and infrastructure. The improvements will consist of three new lifts, a new multi-use day lodge and an expansion of the skiable terrain. There is a proposed phase 2 that's not part of the current application, but the success of the phase 1 application would certainly bring about very favourable consideration by the investors of phase 2.
Phase 1 involves, as I said, a $5 million investment and five to ten jobs. Phase 2 involves a further investment of $30 million to $50 million over two to three years, with 500 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs.
The key ministries involved in this application are Land and Water B.C.; Water, Land and Air Protection; the Ministry of Forests; the Ministry of Transportation; the Ministry of Mines; the Agricultural Land Commission and the regional district of that area for OCP and rezoning matters.
J. Kwan: The same kind of the details with the permits from each of the ministries, please.
Hon. J. Les: For Land and Water B.C., the permit required relates to a commercial alpine ski policy, land and water issues and commercial recreation. Water, Land and Air Protection: fish and wildlife, habitat and waste management issues. The Ministry of Forests: the tree farm licence and provincial forest licence to cut. The Ministry of Transportation: issues around access roads and subdivision layout approval. The Ministry of Mines: potential conflict with mineral claims. The Agricultural Land Commission: dealing with potential ALR issues in phase 2. The regional district: as I said earlier, matters dealing with the official community plan and rezoning.
J. Kwan: Phase 2, presumably, is from the same investor. Or is it a different investor?
Hon. J. Les: I want to answer the member's questions as openly as possible. However, I think there is a possibility here of entering into areas where commercial confidentiality issues are involved. I think this question raises that issue, so I would prefer not to answer that question.
J. Kwan: I'll accept that.
Okay, then, am I right in understanding that phase 1 and phase 2 applications have been received by the ministry?
Hon. J. Les: We are currently dealing only with the phase 1 application. However, in the spirit of being as
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open with the applicant as possible, we are already foreshadowing issues that might arise if a phase 2 application were to come forward. We think that it is helpful for potential developers and investors that if we see issues on the horizon, we let them know what those issues are in as timely a fashion as possible.
J. Kwan: Consultation for these projects to date?
Hon. J. Les: Again, there's been consultation with the Osoyoos Indian band. Those discussions apparently have been very positive in nature. The local governments in Oliver and Osoyoos are very supportive, and of course, we'll go through their normal processes, in this case through the regional district.
J. Kwan: Time line?
Hon. J. Les: The time line for this one for the approval of phase 1 is August 2004.
J. Kwan: And this project was received when?
Hon. J. Les: December or January just past.
J. Kwan: The shorter time frame for this project versus the last one, the Mount Mackenzie one — maybe the minister could explain the rationale. I note that it seems to me that this application does not require federal government approval. I think that's what I heard — the list. I didn't get a chance to write it all down. Is that the reason why the time frame is shorter?
Hon. J. Les: There are probably three reasons why this one would be able to move forward a little bit more quickly. Firstly, there's no involvement here by any federal agency that I'm aware of. Secondly, it's a project that has broad community support. That's been demonstrated without, I think, almost any equivocation whatsoever. Thirdly, the scope of this project is considerably less than the Mount Mackenzie project. I think, as the member is aware, usually the complexity increases as the scope of a project increases, and complexity equals more time.
J. Kwan: The minister just reminded me of a question I should have asked about the Mount Mackenzie question, and that is: who is opposed to the project?
Hon. J. Les: Here today we are not aware of any overt opposition to the Mount Mackenzie project, but as I pointed out earlier, the consultation processes are not yet complete. Those processes may in fact turn up some issues of concern.
J. Kwan: I only asked that question because the minister's response to the Mount Baldy project was that it was overwhelmingly supported by the community, which then led me to think that maybe there was opposition in the other project.
Okay. Then the next three.
Hon. J. Les: I just want the member to know that I enjoy doing this. These are all good projects that provide good jobs and investment in British Columbia. I only wish there were more to do.
The next one that I want to talk about is the Greenwood slag application. This involves 100 jobs and an investment of $2 million. The project overview is the startup of a slag removal operation for shipments to European Union countries for copper and gold recovery and dark glass manufacturing. Planned production is 240,000 tonnes for 2004 and 480,000 tonnes for 2005 and subsequent years. There are an estimated 5 million tonnes of slag available on site, and as the member will know, this is essentially waste material from previous mining operations.
The major portion of the slag is located on public land, which will require a mine lease. I've already pointed out earlier who the proponents are. The location of the slag pile is within the city of Greenwood in the regional district of Kootenay-Boundary.
The phase 1 application. The company applied in December of 2003 for a mine permit to remove 240,000 tonnes of slag per year from the private land portion of the slag deposit. Issuance of a mine permit was expected by February of 2004.
Phase 2 of the application. The company plans to apply for a mine permit and a mine lease for 480,000 tonnes per year. The company is hopeful that the mine lease will be issued as early as mid-2004, and full-scale slag removal is expected by early 2005.
The key permitting agency. It's a fairly short list. In this case, it's the Ministry of Energy and Mines for a mine permit.
Community issues. A public meeting was held in October of 2003. There's strong support from the community and the city of Greenwood. The company plans to give the city a dollar per tonne for a heritage fund and to place a dollar per tonne in a reclamation fund.
J. Kwan: The phase 1 component of this project — the minister said that the decision was to be made in February 2004. Did I hear the minister say that correctly? Does that mean to say that phase 1 has been approved already, or has it been delayed?
Hon. J. Les: I'm advised that we think it has been approved. However, we don't have that absolutely confirmed here this afternoon, so I will get back to the member with that exact information.
J. Kwan: That brings up the question for all these projects. The fast-tracking process is such that the minister is coordinating it. Is it the case that only where projects run into problems the minister would then play an active role? Or is it the case in this instance, with phase 1, if it's approved already, who…? Presumably, the minister would also know. Is it this ministry which notifies the proponents that their project has been approved, or is it the respective ministries that are providing the permitting approvals?
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Hon. J. Les: We certainly advise proponents that their projects have been approved for fast-tracking, but within the various processes that are required by the various ministries of government, their notification with respect to different processes will come from the individual ministries, as always.
J. Kwan: Who sets the time lines for the fast-tracking? Is it this ministry?
Hon. J. Les: What happens in practice is that a committee of assistant deputy ministers work together on these projects — a committee as required from the various ministries. After a careful review of the requirements of the specific application, a determination is made as to what is a reasonable time frame for the execution of the various approval processes.
J. Kwan: Is the time frame by agreement with all the ministries involved? Who calls the shots?
Hon. J. Les: That would be an area where there's consensus amongst the various ministries represented at the table as to what is a reasonably expected time frame.
J. Kwan: And if consensus is not reached? I don't know. Maybe that's not possible. Maybe consensus is always reached. Well, I don't know about that, so I'll just leave that. If consensus is not reached, who ultimately then makes a decision that says: "Okay, well, the buck stops here, and we want to see this project review application permitting procedure finished by such-and-such a time line"?
Hon. J. Les: This is a process where professional public servants get together to see how they might best be able to address these applications. It's not an adversarial process at all. If there are situations where the time frames that have been established turn out to be simply too short, they are extended — again, by consensus.
J. Kwan: The minister uses the word "consensus," so I can only assume that if there's disagreement, the group has to come back together and come to agreement. Maybe they're locked into a room until they arrive at a consensus decision. I'll take the minister's word for it. That's the process, then, that one follows.
Okay. We have two more projects to go.
Hon. J. Les: The next project would be the proposed Red Chris copper-gold mine in the Iskut area in the northwest of British Columbia. I'm happy to report that I actually was able to visit this proposed mine. I think it was in early September of last year. This would be a new open-pit copper-gold mine with a 25,000-tonne-per-day processing plant associated with it and an annual production of 119 million pounds of copper and 116,000 ounces of gold, with an export value of $180 million. The location, of course, as I said — and more specifically — is in the regional district of Kitimat-Stikine about 30 kilometres southeast of the village of Iskut.
Time lines. Terms of reference for an environmental assessment completed by June of '04. Environmental assessment certificate expected to be issued by December of '04. Road construction is to start in January of '05, and mine construction to start in April of '05. The key permitting agencies are the Environmental Assessment Office; the Ministry of Energy and Mines; Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection; Ministry of Forests; Land and Water B.C.; the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; the Ministry of Health Services; and other federal agencies, possibly including the ministry of transportation.
There's consultation with first nations. An MOU for a development cooperation agreement has been tentatively approved by the Tahltan and Iskut first nations. There are no other community issues outstanding at this time.
J. Kwan: I think I heard the minister say 2005 was the time line for the application process.
Hon. J. Les: I mentioned a number of dates and time lines for various aspects of this, but overall the objective by provincial permitting agencies is to have all of the permitting completed by December of 2004. There is a caution here, however, because of the involvement of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That could trigger a review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, in which case I would expect that there could be a need for consensus around extending the date of final approval.
J. Kwan: The determination for whether or not the Environmental Assessment Act would be triggered falls with the federal government?
Hon. J. Les: Yes, it does.
J. Kwan: When was the application received?
Hon. J. Les: Again, this application was received in December or January just past. I should clarify. I believe I did say earlier that we anticipated all permitting to be completed by December of 2004. However, the intention is that we would be in a position to issue an environmental assessment certificate by April of 2005.
J. Kwan: What does that mean — when the certificate is issued?
Hon. J. Les: That is a provincial requirement under the Environmental Assessment Act. That is the final permit that actually gives a proponent the permission to proceed physically with the project.
J. Kwan: In this instance, the proponent has received their certificate from the province, but they would still
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have to receive the other permitting processes from the other agencies of government before they can actually proceed on the project.
Hon. J. Les: What happens with a fast-track process is that when each of the various approvals are available, they're issued to the proponent. We don't have processes waiting for the completion of other processes. We carry them on, as I pointed out earlier, in tandem — not consecutively.
I'm not sure whether the member might be slightly confused here. I said April of 2005 for the issuance of the environmental assessment certificate.
J. Kwan: Thanks for that clarification. I think that's where I was confused. I thought the minister said '04, and I thought: how could that be? Then something's amiss. Thanks for that clarification.
The last project?
Hon. J. Les: With the final application that we're working on at the moment under the fast-tracking process, I don't have quite the same degree of detail, as we've only approved this one in the last month or so for fast-tracking. This is the one that involves the Quatsino first nation, in and around Port Hardy, and BHP Billiton, who are the owners of the former copper mine in Port Hardy.
The proposal here is for the Quatsino first nation to purchase 43 hectares of private land containing certain building and other assets from BHP. The Quatsino first nation see some significant economic potential that they would like to exploit at that site. The significant issue, as I recall from a discussion just a few days ago here, is whether or not the province is prepared to provide an indemnification with respect to any potential past environmental contamination of the site. That is currently under review.
J. Kwan: On this project, as more details are forthcoming, will the minister then provide that information to the opposition? I understand that he doesn't have all of the information because it's still in its review stages.
Hon. J. Les: We will do that, as we have committed with the other projects as well.
J. Kwan: So those are the five projects that the minister has advised that the ministry has received for fast-tracking. Have any been turned down before?
Hon. J. Les: The projects we have discussed today are those projects that are part of what we now formally call this fast-tracking process. Clearly, there have been many, many applications for a variety of projects that have gone on for years and years, some of which are still going on. Others have been turned down, and others have gone on to be completely approved and have resulted in whatever economic activity was applied for. I'm not sure….
Hon. J. Les: The fast-tracking process, if that's specifically what the member is asking about, is a relatively new initiative of this ministry. The five projects we have described today are the first five that are formally part of the fast-tracking process.
J. Kwan: That's exactly what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about the hundreds and thousands of applications that have been received years before, some of them being approved or turned down or whatever. I'm talking about, for the purposes of fast-tracking, how many have been received and if any have been turned down.
It sounds to me, though, like the ministry has only received five to date, and these are the five that the ministry is processing through. If that assumption is correct, then I'll go on to ask another question. If that assumption is not correct, I ask the minister to provide me with the correct information.
How much money is being provided to the fast-tracking project branch — I don't know what that might be called within the ministry — for this fiscal year? And what was it last year?
Hon. J. Les: There are 13 staff involved in this area, and the budget allocation for that activity involving those 13 staff members is $1.847 million.
J. Kwan: Is this the same as last year?
Hon. J. Les: As I indicated earlier to the member, this fast-tracking is a new initiative of government, so we really have nothing specifically equivalent to compare it to in the past fiscal year.
J. Kwan: My last request to the minister in this area and for the estimates would be that…. As time passes between now and the next fiscal year, when we engage in estimates again, presumably, there may well be other applications that come forward to the minister. Would the minister provide that information to the opposition on the same kind of questions that have been asked today — who the applicant is, or the proponent, if you will; the details around the project in terms of what it is seeking; where the impediments are or the approval that needs to be made; time line; economic activity; and location.
Hon. J. Les: In the spirit of openness, which I think should guide all of our activities in this place, I would certainly be happy to do that. Frankly, given the amount of economic activity I see coming forward in the province, the member may want to be careful what she wishes for in terms of the amount of material.
J. Kwan: I'll be very clear on the record. Where economic activity is beneficial to British Columbians, where economic activity is beneficial to communities
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across British Columbia, where economic activities are balanced with other issues such as environmental issues, first nations concerns and so on and resolved in a way that is respectful of our environment and our first nations community, etc., the opposition is and has been on record to support such initiatives.
I, for one — and I speak for my colleague as well as the leader of the NDP — wish nothing more than to see the province prosper so that the people in British Columbia would have their quality of life improved. As we know, these issues oftentimes come with competing demands, and it is therefore about ensuring there is a balance in addressing competing demands.
From time to time, it's true: environmental issues may overshadow economic demand for the purposes of protecting our environment for future generations. If there's a way to resolve those kinds of matters, then we're prepared to look at them. As an example, aboriginal community concerns, land claims issues, aboriginal title issues have been longstanding in terms of conflict within our communities, the pain that's been caused for the aboriginal community lasting generations. Still today there are people who are survivors, if you will, of residential schools who tell stories of the suffering they have undergone and the generations of pain that still exist. I wish that we would be able to redress those issues with the aboriginal community so everybody has what I call the opportunity to maximize their potential. The opposition is always in support of those kinds of things.
Having said that, Madam Chair, I would simply close estimates debate and thank the minister and his staff for his cooperation and, in particular, in this last hour or two, for being so forthcoming with information. Certainly, from my point of view as an opposition member, that's what I do seek: openness, and when the question is put to the minister, that answers are provided. Once we've got the information, then we can move on. With that, I'd like to thank the minister and his staff for their participation in the estimates process.
Hon. J. Les: I would like to thank the member for her questions and also my colleagues for their questions. It is clear, I think, that we're embarking on an era in British Columbia where there is going to be increased economic growth. While there will always be challenges — economically, socially and in many other areas of community endeavour — I think it's also accurate to say that where there's a strong, healthy and thriving economic environment, we can deal much more readily with all of the other issues of the day, given that government will have the resources available to it to address those issues that arise. I'm looking forward to carrying on with this ministry to help create that strongly supportive economic environment for the benefit of all British Columbians and their families.
Vote 34 approved.
The Chair: We will recess for 15 minutes.
The committee recessed from 4:39 p.m. to 4:57 p.m.
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
AND WOMEN'S SERVICES
On vote 17: ministry operations, $486,921,000 (continued).
J. Kwan: First, some general questions about the ministry's restructuring. Following the January cabinet shuffle, the position of the Minister of State for Community Charter was eliminated. Given that's the case, am I assuming correctly, then, that the charter is now the responsibility of this minister?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, that's correct.
The Chair: Minister, before you continue, could you introduce your staff, please.
Hon. M. Coell: I have with me my assistant deputy minister Lori Wanamaker and my assistant deputy minister Gary Paget.
J. Kwan: I'm assuming, as well, that the funds, if there were any, would have flowed accordingly in the full amount to this ministry.
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, that is correct.
J. Kwan: This year's budget estimates show that the local government department has taken a $56 million hit from last year. The $56 million overall cut includes a $50 million reduction in local government transfers. Could the minister please advise: what is the rationale for this cut?
Hon. M. Coell: The budget reflects the fact that $44 million of 2004 unconditional and library grants will be paid during the fiscal year of 2003-04 in order to accelerate government priorities. We were able to make an early payment as a result of considerable savings achieved in the ministry's budget over the last fiscal year. The budget decrease also represents reduced cash flow requirements for the old provincial local conditional water and sewer grant program that preceded the current Canada–B.C. infrastructure agreement. In addition, the budget represents a $5 million increase for port competitiveness grants and a $1 million grant being provided for property tax relief in Whistler.
J. Kwan: The $44 million of unconditional grants to accelerate government priorities — what does that mean?
Hon. M. Coell: Local governments have for years asked for earlier payment of their grants. This year we
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were able to do that through the savings that were reflected throughout the ministry. They were actually paid out in last year's budget for the local government to use in the 2004-05 budget.
J. Kwan: So the net effect is such that the local government grants actually did not take a reduction. They actually just took a payout earlier. Where the government underspent within this ministry, such as in the area — I'm drawing on my memory now — of childcare, as an example, as we established earlier in these estimates…. The government took those underspent dollars and put them into this area or perhaps others as well. Am I right in understanding the flow of logic here?
Hon. M. Coell: I don't have the exact number, but the vast majority of the savings came from the infrastructure grants program, in that local government grants weren't paid out last year for infrastructure projects that were flowing from the last two years. So it would be the cash flow in that part of the ministry.
J. Kwan: Yes, I think we canvassed infrastructure grant issues under these estimates, and I think I did ask the minister for a list of information related to that in terms of when the applications were approved and amounts, etc. That's where the savings came from.
Hon. M. Coell: That's where the majority of the moneys came from. There would have been some savings in child care, as well, that would have gone back into general revenue or gone into paying these out early.
J. Kwan: Could the minister provide me — and if he doesn't have the information here, I understand that — with the information on where the underspent dollars from other budget items within the ministry were spent — the full details of that?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, I will be able to do that. The books have just been closed now. The exact figures, I suspect, will be another month away. I'll make a list of those and get them to the member.
J. Kwan: Then I presume that the funding reduction, which, as the minister says, really amounts to no reduction on the local government side…. Am I right to assume, then, that the implementation of the Community Charter would not be impacted in any way?
Hon. M. Coell: No, it wouldn't be impacted in any way.
J. Kwan: The Community Charter that was completed in terms of its presentation and the debate in the House is now being implemented. At the time when the issue was being discussed with the former minister, questions were raised about the next phase in terms of changes relating to regional districts, as an example. I understood that was in the works, and that was supposed to be the next phase in terms of changes. Is that still in the game plan?
Hon. M. Coell: The earliest we're contemplating any changes to legislation would be 2006. What we want to do is to work with the UBCM on the Community Charter now, make sure everything is working and start a consultation with the UBCM and regional districts on what issues are important to them and what they would like to see brought in. We want to move, I would say, slowly and thoughtfully over the next couple of years before there would be any further changes.
J. Kwan: Bill 75, the Significant Projects Streamlining Act, which was passed this last session, allows a minister, with cabinet consent, to override any bylaw or regulations of local government. The bill, of course, flies in the face of the intent, I think, and the spirit of the Community Charter and has been widely criticized by local governments as well as the UBCM. Irrespective of that, the government brought the bill in and gave it speedy passage.
Now that the former Minister of State for Community Charter is no longer, how are municipal concerns going to be addressed at the ministry level in the future concerning initiatives that fall under Bill 75? Would it be brought to this minister, and what role would this minister play in relation to issues that arise under Bill 75?
Hon. M. Coell: What would happen is that if a project were deemed under the act, it would be cabinet that would deal with it. I would suspect cabinet would have a lot of conversations with this ministry and also the UBCM if that were going to be the place. I suspect that that legislation will be used very rarely, if at all. I think that where you might see a piece of legislation like that used would be a large pipeline project that would go across the province in the future — those sorts of projects that would be federal, provincial and municipal by nature.
J. Kwan: Just to be clear around the process, then, if a project's services under Bill 75…. It doesn't arrive at any minister's desk. Rather, it arrives at the cabinet table. Then, on that basis, cabinet members would engage in a discussion about Bill 75, in which case this minister, who has the responsibility to voice local governments' concerns at that table, presumably, would then be able to do that at cabinet. Am I understanding this process correctly?
Hon. M. Coell: I think, to put it simply, it would probably land on the minister's desk who was affected by it. It could be Mines; it could be Forests; it could be Transportation. Then from there, that minister would take that project to cabinet, using the legislation.
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J. Kwan: I'm sorry. I'm not quite understanding the process exactly. The project that would affect the ministry would land…. The triggering of Bill 75 would then land on whatever ministry triggers the implementation of Bill 75 first, then that minister is responsible for bringing the matter to cabinet? I'm sorry. I actually don't get that process. If the minister could explain that to me….
Hon. M. Coell: I can give an example. Let's say a very large highway project. The Minister of Transportation could take that project to cabinet, asking to use Bill 75 if he or she thought that was appropriate action.
J. Kwan: So nobody from the municipal level, nobody from the community, the proponent with whatever project — they don't get to ask for Bill 75 to be triggered. Somebody within government, a ministry within government, asks for Bill 75 to be triggered. Have I got that right?
Hon. M. Coell: This ministry actually isn't responsible for the legislation, but the example I used would be a highway project that maybe went over multiple boundaries and the minister of the day felt that they needed to speed up the project. They would take the project to cabinet, with the idea of suggesting that that bill be used in the development of the project. It would then be up to cabinet whether they agreed or disagreed with the minister. As far as a consultation process goes, it's never been used, so at this point it would be speculation on how a cabinet of the day would use that legislation — whether they would have a number of different public consultations. That would remain to be developed, I think.
J. Kwan: Yes, I understand that Bill 75 is not the responsibility of this minister, but because Bill 75 has such large ramifications on local governments because it has the authority to override local government decisions, I'm trying to figure out what role this minister will play in relation to Bill 75. That's why I'm trying to understand that process first, to see how the minister would be able to interject or not interject. At what point, as an example, would this minister know about the issues and then, therefore, play an active role in relation to that?
Hon. M. Coell: I can give an example the member may understand, having been a cabinet minister herself. As the minister responsible for local government, I think you're seen as an advocate for local government at the cabinet table. I think that if a project were to come up under Bill 75 that was initiated by another ministry, what you would be doing is trying to find ways to represent local government at the cabinet table and to work with local government and to work with the ministry involved.
I would see that as not too different from how any minister responsible for local government has acted over the many years at the cabinet table. I'm sure the member can look back at her days around the cabinet table. Sometimes there are differing views on how local government works. But the minister…. I view my responsibility as very much an advocate for local government at the cabinet table.
J. Kwan: Yes. Those were joyous days, and thank God that I didn't have Bill 75 to contend with.
Is there a requirement from the other ministers, whoever they are…? Let's just keep on using the example of Transportation and the expansion of highways, or something that overrode a local government's decision. The matter gets brought to cabinet, and then the minister will sort of be that advocate around the cabinet table. Is there a requirement, some sort of understanding within government — given that this minister is the advocate for local governments — that whenever a local government decision is overridden, this minister be informed of it and an advice sought from this minister, in addition to a cabinet discussion?
Hon. M. Coell: The Local Government Act that preceded the Community Charter did contain a provision for overriding local bylaws, and that's 874. I think that from my perspective of actually having been a municipal politician — and the member as well — you continually try and work to avoid using override procedures of any kind, no matter what ministry it's in. When you're dealing with local government, you want to work and find solutions to problems before you need to override.
My recollection is the override provision in the Local Government Act was not used extensively at all. I could ask staff. It's not been used since 1977. That's why I say I don't suspect that Bill 75 would be used but for very, very large projects that ran into significant difficulties. I would say very large transportation or pipeline-type projects are what I would expect it would be considered for.
J. Kwan: I can use one example where the provincial government recently actually used its powers to override local government decision-making authorities. As recently as March 4, 2004, cabinet approved a shift of the Quinsam coalmine site out of the Comox-Strathcona regional district area into the city of Campbell River. That was done through an OIC, irrespective of what local government's thoughts were around that issue. Then I have more questions about that, but I'm just using that as one example where government actually did use its powers to override local government's decision-making authority around that.
Getting back to Bill 75, be it as it may…. Hopefully, it would never be used in terms of that overriding power. The intent, I think, was clear when we debated Bill 75, and that is to let the provincial government have that power to override local governments. That's the issue that we're debating. I'm just trying to get a sense here, given that the minister says himself that his
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role in his capacity as minister would be as the advocate for local governments.
Is there some sort of understanding within the provincial government, then, that when whatever ministry may come forward to override a local government's decision, they first and foremost must consult with this minister to seek his advice? I would think that's pretty essential and pretty standard in terms of procedures, given that this minister is the advocate. I would expect there's some sort of understanding, maybe a memorandum of agreement from all the other ministers or something to that effect, about process here.
Hon. M. Coell: Actually, I think that's potentially a good idea. I think that one of the things…. I have spoken to the president of the UBCM about a memorandum of understanding with government on how it would be used. That hasn't been developed yet, but I think that's potentially a very good solution.
J. Kwan: Okay, then. It sounds to me like the government is still trying to figure out what the protocol might be with respect to the exercising of Bill 75 with both UBCM and with this minister. Is there some sort of time line that one could expect for this protocol to be worked out?
Hon. M. Coell: Just to reiterate, I think that the idea of developing a protocol with the UBCM is a good one and something I'll follow up on. It's been in place for a year. I think it's a tool that government clearly doesn't want to need to use, but I think that I'll take the suggestion of the member and follow up on it.
J. Kwan: It sounds like the idea of establishing a protocol is first being canvassed here. I would urge the minister to do that and to hold the other ministers to account.
Having been in cabinet before, I would also urge the minister to ensure that, aside from setting out the process, there is a clear understanding of what the ramifications might be for the offending ministry or minister — that is to say, the ministry or minister that does not abide by the protocol and what the consequences might be — and, finally, a clear understanding of what the overriding factors are in making a determination here. This is just my own advice for the minister — to be around the cabinet table to make sure that your voice as the advocate for local governments will count. That's just off the top of my head in terms of some suggestions. I'm sure that others, particularly those from the UBCM, will have a lot more to suggest to the minister around that.
All right. Let's move on to the Quinsam coalmine situation. As I mentioned earlier, on March 4, 2004, the cabinet approved a shift of the Quinsam coalmine site out of the Comox-Strathcona regional district into the city of Campbell River through an OIC. The coalmine is about 20 kilometres away from the city. Why was this move of the mine from the regional district to the city of Campbell River necessary?
Hon. M. Coell: I think the historic reason for doing that is to bring the economic generators within municipal boundaries or local government boundaries. I can give you some examples. In Port Hardy, the mine there is a satellite extension as well, because Port Hardy was basically the hub where the people lived who worked in the mill. The services were in Port Hardy for the mill. At one point, I guess, they had petitioned, many years ago. Elkford and Sparwood are other ones where you have a boundary extension to take in a mine that affects a local economy. Granisle is another one. Logan Lake is another one that has a mine attached to it.
Again, the boundary extensions don't have anything to do with Bill 75. This is purely an application from a municipality that wishes to have, generally, a mine within its borders, even though it is some distance from the local boundaries of the municipality. I think, as I say, that there are a handful of them that have been done in British Columbia in the past. I suspect there probably will be some in the future.
Another example of a boundary extension that was done just in the last few weeks is in the Cache Creek area, where you have the GVRD landfill, which is very much similar to a mine, I guess. That is now within the boundaries of the local government, as well, for the same sorts of reasons that this extension was approved at the request of Campbell River.
J. Kwan: Yes, I am fully aware that this is not utilizing the provisions within Bill 75 and that this boundary change was at the request of one municipality over the regional district. Now, to my recollection and certainly in my tenure as the Municipal Affairs minister, when boundary changes and extensions occur, the process is such that you get the parties to agree, and then you proceed with it as opposed to imposing it. In this instance, there was an imposition. The regional district did not agree with the move.
There are ramifications, as well, in terms of the tax shift, if you will, from one district to the city, from the regional district to the city, as an example. There are other ramifications as well.
The minister, though, in his answer to my question about what it was that necessitated this move…. I'm not sure if I heard a clear answer about that. What necessitated this move and the government decision that it has to bring in an OIC?
Hon. M. Coell: The district of Campbell River requested an extension to the boundary to incorporate the Quinsam Coal site. The property owner in any of this has to agree. The regional district doesn't have a veto. However, regional districts will express their opinions.
I think the member is correct that there is somewhat of a tax shift. It's not a lot in this. I believe it's about $30,000 that would go from the regional district to the district of Campbell River. Campbell River's ar-
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gument would be that the cost of servicing the people working at the mine fell to Campbell River, not to the regional district.
J. Kwan: Yes, the regional district, as the minister said, may not necessarily have a veto over the matter, but they should have some sort of say over the matter, one would assume. And one would assume that the matter would be subject to a public hearing and rezoning and so on. What say did the regional district have on this issue?
Hon. M. Coell: In this case, the regional district would have been asked its views, and then our staff would have reviewed the effects of the taxation. In this case, as I said, it's rather small. The regional district would still have access to the mine's tax base for hospital, for regional planning, for parks, for economic development, and then they shift — correct me if I'm wrong — about $30,000 from the regional district to Campbell River. Campbell River makes the argument that the people working there, the trucks moving back and forth there, the services they provide…. They would request some sort of taxation from the mine site to deliver to the district.
J. Kwan: Yes, indeed. The regional district wrote a letter to the former Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services dated December 29, 2003. The letter is two and a half pages long. Let me just put the letter on the record, because they actually opposed the move. There were a number of reasons, and I would like the minister to address their concerns accordingly.
"This is a further formal objection regarding the satellite annexation proposal to move Quinsam Coal out of electoral area D's jurisdiction and into the district of Campbell River. This is no more than a tax raid by our neighbouring jurisdiction. It will create bad feelings between neighbours for years to come. Quinsam Coal is 19 kilometres outside the boundary of Campbell River and not contiguous with any boundary.
"If this is allowed, it will open up a jurisdictional can of worms across the province as municipalities compete in a race to the bottom to swallow up their neighbours. The result would be a jurisdictional hodgepodge and a bureaucratic nightmare. This is not how you build communities.
"I would also like to make you aware of some of the other consequences of allowing the satellite annexation to proceed. Area D contributes heavily to some shared services with Campbell River. Should area D not receive compensation for this loss, we would certainly seek to reduce our contributions to some of those shared services where they are not evened out by sharing formula.
"I would further like to point out that soon after the newspapers here were printing that Quinsam Coal would receive a preferential tax if it went into Campbell River, Norske Skog began making requests across the Island to have their taxes reduced by millions. I understand that Crofton mill has already had its taxes reduced by $2 million per annum. I also understand that Norske Skog contributes over $9 million per year in taxation to the district of Campbell River, and Norske Skog is competing with Quinsam on an IPP tender to supply the B.C. Hydro power grid.
"I do not believe that our courts would uphold discriminatory taxation, particularly between competitors. If Campbell River were to offer one rate to one industry and a much higher rate to a similar industry, the result would be a tax appeal. If this tax appeal were successful, it would mean major financial pain for residential and commercial taxpayers in Campbell River at a time when the town can least endure these increased costs. If Campbell Riverites knew the potential harm of this proposal, they would be lining up for those petition forms, and I would predict that their mayor and council would be slated for wipe-out at the next election.
"I would also like to put to rest the argument that area D's zoning bylaw amendment to the utilities definition poses an impediment for Quinsam Power to proceed with any utility project. The new definition merely would send any major utilities proposal to public hearing, and the public would have the benefit of having input. This could well improve the outcome of the project for all concerned. In any case, with the enactment of Bill 75 no local government can create any impediment that the province could not override. This bylaw amendment is no justification, therefore, for this annexation application to proceed.
"The argument by Quinsam Coal that they support the satellite annexation because 'most of our employees live in Campbell River' is totally irrelevant. Many people, including myself, have Campbell River mailing addresses and live in the regional district. Using this rationale, I suppose that Gulf and Discovery Islands should be under the jurisdiction of the United States as they're partially occupied by Americans.
"In addition, I have a few issues with lack of due process in the satellite annexation request. I received a complaint recently from a Campbell River citizen who tried to obtain counterpetition forms from the district of Campbell River and was impeded from doing so. He was made to wait well over an hour for the administrator to copy a few forms and then told him there was no point in him counterpetitioning because it was a done deal, and if the counterpetition succeeded, then a referendum in Campbell River would not fail. Is this due process? How fair is this? What on earth are they doing advertising for people to petition through the holidays?
"Then Campbell River followed up with their official annexation advertisement with a press release stating that they expected this to be approved by December 31, 2003, thereby further discouraging the public from participating."
There's a press clip attached to back up that statement.
"While on the topic of the lack of due process, I would also like to make you aware that the issue has never been referred to our regional board for discussion or comment. Why is this? Is this not required in the annexation guidelines? I think that the annexation guidelines are clearly and certainly transparent in their unfairness to regional areas. The rural areas of the province are being treated shabbily by your government. We deserve a vote, too, on the issues that affect us, particularly on the annexation boundary issues.
"Where is the legislation to protect rural interests in the Local Government Act or in your annexation guidelines? I'm tired of rural people being treated like second-class citizens simply because they choose to live in the country. I'm sick of having to fight for our rights every
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time I turn around. It is time that the province looks upon the electoral areas as being equal to an autonomous form of municipalities and that our rights and responsibilities are recognized and written into the Local Government Act.
"Many of the electoral area directors on our board, including myself, have served their communities well for over a decade, and regional government is by far the most efficient, accountable and fiscally responsible form of government in Canada. We deserve more respect than you have afforded us in your annexation guidelines.
"I'll be watching the results of this satellite annexation proposal very closely. Given the potential impacts, I strongly believe that your rejection of this application would be the optimum outcome for all concerned.
So the regional districts and certainly from area D director…. There are concerns here, and there are many outstanding issues. I would like the minister to address the issue around consultation. Why wasn't this matter brought up to the regional district for discussion just to invite input, as an example? If it was, maybe the minister can enlighten us, because it appears that according to the director there, it didn't go before the board.
Hon. M. Coell: To the best of our knowledge, the regional district board did debate it. We did receive a letter from them and comments from them. Is this a letter from one of the individual board members?
Hon. M. Coell: Okay. So it's a letter from area D.
Just in sort of a general comment to the letter, I think that from my perspective, when you look at the history of some of the larger mines in the province and how they affect municipalities and regional districts, you want to make sure that there's some taxation going to those who are affected. In the case I mentioned of Port Hardy, with Island Copper, that was a satellite extension as well. Then you have Fording and Teck in Elkford and Granisle Copper. Logan Lake is Highland Valley copper — you know, large taxation bases that affect quite small communities that provide the services.
I can give two examples. I mentioned Cache Creek earlier. I meant to say Ashcroft. You've got a small community that has a potential of a very large landfill on its boundary. We extended their boundaries to encompass that landfill for taxation purposes but also for some control over the effects on their area. Another example would be…. There was a new multi-hundred-million-dollar mill built just outside the boundaries of Fort St. John. That would be another instance where, if they asked us to look at it, we probably would, to allow them some control over major developments outside their boundary.
The ability to share some revenue is that the regional district would still have access to taxation revenue for hospital, regional administration, parks, economic development. Then the municipality would also have some access to the tax base to provide some services.
We actually did the boundary extension?
Hon. M. Coell: Staff are correct: we actually did the boundary extension for Fort St. John to incorporate that mill site as well.
That's sort of the rationale that I think ministries and ministers in the past have used to, I think, be fair in sharing the sizeable tax base that comes with large mines and mill sites that affect smaller municipalities throughout the province.
J. Kwan: Does the coal site now have to be rezoned under the municipality of Campbell River?
Hon. M. Coell: As it is now, the bylaws of the regional district would still remain in place for the foreseeable future.
J. Kwan: The minister mentioned a number of other sites to which mines have been moved, boundaries have been changed. The distances for these other locations — what was considered to be normal distances with these other sites? Were they 20 kilometres approximately, like the instance with this particular coal mine?
Hon. M. Coell: I don't have the exact number, but staff have provided me with their best estimate. Port Hardy is about 30 kilometres from the site; Elkford is about 30 kilometres; Logan Lake is 25. The Ashcroft future landfill was about 10 kilometres. The boundary was actually just extended. It wasn't satellited — just moved the boundary the 10 kilometres.
J. Kwan: Are there any rules within the Community Charter that would put forward, I guess, distances for such a potential transfer? Is there a range?
Hon. M. Coell: We have boundary extension criteria on our website that a municipality could look up. They would follow that to apply for an extension or a satellite. I could provide that to the member as well.
There are actually no rules in the charter that set out exact mileages. I think, in looking at these, generally, it's been very obvious who is affected. Port Hardy is the closest and only community that would be affected by the Island Copper in the past. As I said, the Ashcroft one is a very good example of a boundary extension, and then Fort St. John, where you're taking in a major taxation generator and making sure that the local government has access to it.
J. Kwan: These other situations, where the boundary changes incorporated mines — were they done by
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OICs? When were they done, and were the parties involved in agreement?
Hon. M. Coell: They're all orders-in-council, and they range from the 1970s to two weeks ago when I approved Ashcroft's.
J. Kwan: Could the minister fill in the gap between the 1970s and two weeks ago?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, I can get the member the exact years, but Port Hardy was in the 1970s, Elkford was seventies and eighties, Granisle was seventies, and Logan Lake was seventies. Fort St. John was last year, and Ashcroft was this year.
J. Kwan: So the ones that were done were some years ago, back in the seventies. Then there are more recent ones — the Fort St. John one and then the Comox-Strathcona regional district one. The parties that were involved — is it safe to assume…? Let's not go back to the seventies. Well, no, actually, let's just use a couple of examples from the seventies.
Generally speaking, in my experience as a Minister of Municipal Affairs, when we talked about boundary changes, those were very sensitive issues. We worked very hard at trying to bring the parties onside, and so on and so forth, and tried hard not to impose such decisions and to respect local governments' decision-making. That was my approach as minister, I should say.
It appears, though, that approach has changed recently. The provincial government now takes a far more active role in making these changes. Is it the case that in the Fort St. John situation, in the situation with Ashcroft, the parties involved were onside? What process did they undergo, if any, in seeking the opinions of their community members on this?
Hon. M. Coell: It's been in the last couple of years that we've produced the guidelines for boundary extensions. I don't have any staff here old enough to remember the 1970s, but I will endeavour to get that information. The recollection is that in those days it was seen as good public policy, even if business disagreed. There may be some instances where the mines didn't specifically want to be attached. I'll see if I can find that information.
In this instance, Fort St. John, Ashcroft, the GVRD did agree to the extension. At Fort St. John the mill did agree to the extension. In Quinsam's case, Quinsam agreed to the extension. I think it would be nice if all three parties could agree on these, but if two agree and one disagrees, government has to weigh the effects. We really looked at the effects of the taxation and tried to be fair to both Campbell River and the regional district, in that they both still had access to the taxation base.
J. Kwan: I'll have further questions on this issue with the minister when we get back from our dinner break. Noting the time, I move that we recess until 6:35 p.m.
The committee recessed from 5:53 p.m. to 6:46 p.m.
[H. Long in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
On vote 28: ministry operations, $51,289,000.
Hon. J. Murray: I'm pleased to rise today and present the spending estimates for the 2004-05 fiscal year for the organizations under my responsibility as the Minister of Management Services. Those are vote 28 for the Ministry of Management Services and vote 29 for the B.C. Public Service Agency.
Before I begin, I would like to introduce some of the staff here today. For the Ministry of Management Services, we have the Deputy Minister, Cairine MacDonald; the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Results Management Office, Cleve Molsberry; the Assistant Deputy Minister of Common Business Services, Sunny Mathieson; the Assistant Deputy Minister of Service B.C., Lois Fraser; the Assistant Deputy Minister of Corporate And Ministry Support Services, Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland; the Chief Information Officer, Rick McCandless; the Senior Advisor for Alternative Service Delivery, Kirsten Tisdale; the Executive Director of our Strategic Planning and Policy group, Chris Norman; the Executive Director of Corporate Planning and Performance, Ann Bozoian.
From the B.C. Public Service Agency, we have the Deputy Minister of the B.C. Public Service Agency, Diane Rabbani; the senior financial officer, Roseann Whitton; the Associate Deputy Minister for Labour Relations, Ron MacEachen; and the director of policy, Barbara Greeniaus. From the B.C. Building Corporation, we have the CEO, John Beales; Executive Vice-President, Sharon Halkett; the Vice-President for Corporate Services and CFO, Lak Parmar; and the Director of Corporate Communications, Denny Rasini. Welcome, everybody.
When this government was elected almost three years ago, the Premier had a plan for British Columbia and the people of our province. This plan was built on fiscal responsibility and free enterprise. It included an unflagging commitment to public health care, education, public safety and the most vulnerable people in our society. The plan pledged open and accountable decision-making and a professional, non-partisan public service. It promised competence, innovation and leadership.
This plan is working, and we are delivering it. As promised, we introduced a balanced budget for fiscal 2004-05, despite more than a billion dollars in unexpected costs from forest fires, floods, SARS and BSE. We've increased spending on education, advanced
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education and health care. Our economy has turned the corner. Our families are moving back into British Columbia. First nations' opportunities are on the rise. Through discipline and focus, we are laying a strong foundation for future growth and opportunity.
We committed to responsible, accountable management of public resources and tax dollars. We pledged to reduce the cost of government by increasing efficiencies, by being innovative and by being good managers. The three organizations under my responsibility — the Ministry of Management Services, the B.C. Public Service Agency and British Columbia Buildings Corporation, or BCBC — are focused on supporting all of these government objectives. They are shrinking the cost of government so we can deliver on the priorities most important to British Columbians. These organizations are forging new ground in creative, leading-edge approaches to delivering services, whether to citizens, businesses, other ministries or the broader public sector.
The Ministry of Management Services, the B.C. Public Service Agency and BCBC have a common focus. They make all of government more efficient and more responsive by championing new processes and eliminating duplication. This means that government can free up resources for the things that matter most to British Columbians. For example, by reducing costs in areas like payroll administration, more money can be allocated to health care and education.
Each of these organizations also works to make government more responsive to B.C. families by providing people with convenient, innovative services and solutions to meet their needs. They each are also focused on environmentally sustainable processes and practices which reduce costs and reduce environmental impacts. Together with our partners inside and outside of government, we are working to find original, new approaches so taxpayers get best value.
Today I'll talk about each organization, their objectives, their highlights from the last year and what's ahead for the 2004-05 fiscal year. From Kitimat to Cranbrook, from Dease Lake to downtown Vancouver, our work benefits the everyday lives of British Columbians. The three organizations have common strengths: innovation, creativity and leadership due to the excellent dedicated people that work in these organizations. Since the last estimates there have been significant changes and improvements in all three organizations, so I will take a few minutes to provide some detail.
Let me start with the Ministry of Management Services. Early last year the ministry expanded significantly to become more responsive to British Columbians' needs. In February of 2003 the chief information office, the service transformation project, government's agents and government's telecommunications function were transferred to this ministry. By housing them under the same roof, we can take advantage of synergies and become more creative and leading-edge in our approach.
Firstly, the ministry now includes Service B.C., which provides information and services, such as government agents' offices, B.C. Bid and B.C. OnLine to British Columbians. Secondly, it includes Solutions B.C., which is a government's shared-services agency supporting all ministries and the broader public sector by providing corporate support services like payroll and IT support; thirdly, service improvement initiatives, which are the incubators of innovation in our ministry; and lastly, governance functions provided by the chief information office and our corporate freedom of information access branch. The ministry operates with approximately 1,600 employees.
I'm just going to touch bases on each of those four parts of the ministry. Service B.C. offers citizens the convenience of connecting with government in person, on the phone or over the Internet at any time day or night. These services put government within easy reach of all British Columbians, including heartlands families and individuals. Through Enquiry B.C. we link more than one million callers each year to services and individuals anywhere in the provincial government. The satisfaction rating for this service is more than 97 percent.
Across the province 58 government agents serve two million citizens annually, and an impressive 96 percent of these people say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the help they get. B.C. OnLine handles about six million transactions for business and government users every year and brings in more than $61 million in revenue. B.C. Stats provides a wealth of statistical reports and services. That's the first of the four groups.
The second is Solutions B.C., which was launched last April. It's a leading-edge approach to reducing duplication and saving money across all ministries by consolidating business services in one place. British Columbia is being looked to by many other jurisdictions for this approach. We create economies of scale. We allow ministries to focus on their core priorities by doing their business services for them.
Solutions B.C. is focused on improving customer services and, over time, reducing the cost of these services, which are delivered across the provincial government and to the broader public sector. Solutions B.C. includes streamlined payroll services, corporate accounting, information technology and procurement and supply services for the provincial government and other public bodies.
Just to give the members a quick sense of the scope of Solution B.C.'s business, each two weeks the payroll services produce 31,000 electronic payments to staff. This year we introduced a new employee self-serve technology, which enables government staff to quickly and easily see their employee payroll, leave and personal contact information on line, so that's a major innovation that improves a service.
The corporate accounting service handles ten million transactions each year, with approximately four thousand scheduled processes every day. Common information technology services, or CITS, continually protect, prevent and intervene when viruses and
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worms threaten government IT services. In the current climate of global worming that we're seeing today, it's essential to be able, as we are, to provide leadership in protecting government systems from these threats. CITS stopped more than one and a half million infected e-mails in February and March of 2004 alone. CITS also provide electronic storage, transport and processing capacity for about 50 billion printed pages.
Our procurement and supply services handle $92 million in cost-recoverable products and services, and Solutions B.C. also includes product distribution centre, the Queen's Printer and B.C. Mail Plus.
Through B.C. Bid, the central website for accessing public sector bidding opportunities in B.C., more than 190 public sector bodies post their needs for goods and services. They create a window into more than 4,400 government business opportunities, so on any given day there are about 200 bid opportunities on the site for businesses around the province, large and small.
This year the innovation is that we introduced electronic notification and bidding opportunities to BCBC, which create a more level playing field for businesses, making it easier to bid, whether you live in the lower mainland or hundreds of kilometres away.
My ministry's commitment to reducing costs and eliminating waste while using technology or teamwork to improve government service excellence is at the heart of a number of initiatives that I'd like to mention. Maximizing convenience to the public is one of the main objectives of our service delivery initiative in which we worked with other ministries and other levels of government in 57 communities to identify ways to work collaboratively and use a one-government approach to ensure that our services are organized around the needs of the people that use them. As a result, 21 service centres have opened across the province, bringing together various ministry offices in one location, providing greater customer convenience and cost savings.
The benefit of these projects, our alternative service delivery projects that apply private sector enterprise expertise to government's business processes, is that private sector partners can enable government to focus more fully on government's programs and services that are core to British Columbians. With these alternative service delivery projects, it is important to note that the province will continue to own all the information, will be accountable for all services and will ensure that British Columbians' personal information receives the highest level of protection where we have partnership with the private sector.
We are also using new technology and processes to improve people's lives through the new government website. In September 2003 we launched the new public Internet portal, which gives people more convenient, secure access to information and services through a consolidated government Web presence.
We're also putting technology to work to help people connect with others and improve their quality of life — how they live and work and succeed in their communities. To this end, we recently announced our strategy to provide affordable, high-speed Internet connections in every British Columbia community over the next two years. I want people in rural towns and remote first nations communities, children and families, students and people with home-based businesses to have the same access to the benefits of high-speed Internet technology as do people in urban centres.
By providing high-speed Internet access to all communities we're supporting literacy initiatives and government's literacy goals; we're opening doors to telehealth and to economic development in remote areas. People who want to work from home, including parents of young children, and people who want to learn and to earn a living in their community will have a tool to do that.
Just as the ministry leads in new technology and business processes, it also leads in information management for government through our governance functions. The chief information office is responsible for improving service delivery across government, focusing on e-government innovations and initiatives that will enable the public to deal with government in a way that's cheaper, faster and better. This office is also responsible for building in safeguards that confirm people's identity when they use government services on the Internet, verifying that they are authorized to make or receive payments.
Another way my ministry oversees information management is by setting governmentwide policy standards and directives related to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. We responsibly manage information held by government, ensuring that it's accessible while protecting personal information and privacy.
On January 1, 2004, B.C.'s Personal Information Protection Act came into effect, providing strong protection for information held by the private sector. Our intent is to make our new made-in-B.C. act easy for British Columbians to use. We do that by offering businesses and non-profits free workshops and by providing them with a variety of tools and templates. We also help people understand the new act through our toll-free information line.
Looking ahead to the year we're entering, we're leading government in a new direction. Taxpayers want us to stamp out waste and simplify bureaucratic processes. They want government to provide services in a way that keeps costs to a minimum while improving quality and convenience. That's what we're working on.
We'll continue to focus on the needs of businesses and citizens by expanding services provided through government agents and providing new electronic services for land titles, and corporate and personal property registries.
In 2004-05 Solutions B.C. will continue to listen to our clients, improve service and reduce costs. Solutions B.C. will also offer to provide shared services to other public sector bodies so that they also can benefit from the cost savings and the quality service resulting from our economies of scale.
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I'll turn to the B.C. Public Service Agency and B.C. Leadership Centre. Making government more efficient and responsive to people's needs can't happen without a qualified, professional public service focused on delivering on the goals of government. The B.C. Public Service Agency and B.C. Leadership Centre were created last year to recruit and develop a professional workforce committed to service excellence. The Public Service Agency consolidated human resource services from across the provincial government to eliminate operational duplication, to significantly lower costs and to bring business practices up to date. That's what the agency has been doing.
The agency is also responsible for collective bargaining and for creating and administering benefits plans for government employees. The agency's wordmark, I think, very well expresses its responsibility. Its wordmark is: "People, performance, results." In its first year the agency focused on renewing and revitalizing the public service through learning and performance planning. It also played a key role in administering the government's workforce adjustment program to reduce the overall size of government.
As we move into this year, 2004-05, the agency's focus will be on continuous improvement to better serve our clients. Key activities include: firstly, developing and refining employee performance and development planning, which will be required from all employees by the end of 2005; secondly, recognizing excellence in the public sector through the Premier's awards; thirdly, benchmarking human resource processes, practices, systems and services against best practices within both public and private sector organizations; fourthly, rolling out new staffing practices as a result of recent changes to the Public Service Act; and lastly, of course, capitalizing on technology to improve service delivery and reduce costs further.
Last year the B.C. Leadership Centre began its work of recruiting, developing and retaining innovative, results-oriented senior managers and executives to serve our province. Over the year the B.C. Leadership Centre focused on succession planning to ensure accomplished leaders are at the helm of government when a large portion of our workforce retires in future years.
The centre created a 360-degree feedback performance measurement tool to assist senior managers. It established an advisory board made up of senior executives from a number of sectors to contribute to the development of innovative, results-oriented executives to serve the province. This year the B.C. Leadership Centre will focus training and development on other target areas. The centre will develop tools and training for competency-based recruiting that selects managers with well-honed people and interpersonal skills.
I'm confident these agencies will provide the leadership needed for excellence in the public service. They will support our many skilled and professional people and ensure we're able to meet the diverse and changing needs of citizens and government.
My third area of responsibility is the British Columbia Buildings Corporation, which provides land and buildings for accommodation of government ministries and public agencies. BCBC also provides the provincial government and other public bodies with strategic accommodation advisory services and innovative stewardship of government property resources aimed at creating efficiencies.
Like the Ministry of Management Services, BCBC is finding innovative ways to manage technology and processes to provide best value for taxpayers. Last year the corporation paid dividends to government of about $14 million, and at the same time, BCBC took a major step to create cost savings for taxpayers. It entered into a private sector partnership agreement for property management services that is expected to save $35 million to $40 million over the five-year life of the contract. As of April 1 of this year, property management services for owned, leased and maintained properties across the province will be provided by a private sector organization.
As a result of this transfer, BCBC's staff complement is expected to drop to 320 employees from approximately 756 employees at the end of 2002-03. This agreement enables BCBC to move away from operational work and focus on its core expertise of strategic accommodation advisory services. For all our clients BCBC will continue to ensure flexible, affordable and healthy workplace solutions.
In the meantime, BCBC will continue to contribute to sustainability by integrating high performance or environmentally sustainable principles into our building practices and programs. BCBC also provides technical advisory services for green buildings and promotes the adoption of green buildings in the public sector, because green buildings do save money. They improve air quality, and they reduce impacts on the environment.
Another focus, a very important one for BCBC, is the sale of surplus properties. The corporation expects to sell over 70 properties in 2004-05 with an estimated sales proceeds of $75 million and associated gains on sale of $26 million.
Those are some of the major new directions and activities for 2004-05, and the organizations that I oversee — Management Services, the Public Service Agency, the Leadership Centre and BCBC — have established clear goals, objectives and performance measures to ensure that they're accountable and that their client-focused services are providing good value to the taxpayer.
The road map has been drawn. All roads lead in the direction of eliminating duplication, bringing leadership and innovation to our services and making government more responsible and responsive to peoples' needs.
We have some of the most creative and innovative staff leading within this ministry and exceptional staff working on programs and projects that reach across government to other public sector bodies and to the private sector, modernizing the way things are done
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and providing better value for taxpayers' dollars. I know these staff have a commitment to achieve service excellence. In the ten weeks that I've been with these organizations, I've been very impressed with the dedication and capability of the staff. Some examples of this innovation are initiatives like B.C. Bid and our state-of-the-art electronic service delivery, the most progressive private sector privacy legislation in Canada and the initiatives to make the B.C. public service the most well-trained, results-oriented staff working in government anywhere in the country.
Together, Management Services and the B.C. Public Service Agency anticipate gross expenditures of $775 million and recoveries of $714 million. Today I'm asking for approval of net operating expenditures of $51.289 million for vote 28 for Management Services and $10.016 million for vote 29, the B.C. Public Service Agency.
By doing our job well as a ministry we contribute to the economic and social goals of this province. Approval of this funding will help ensure that British Columbians receive the best value for their tax dollars by bringing out the best in the programs and services that improve and enrich their lives.
B. Belsey: I thank the minister for that explanation of the services that she's responsible for. That was very thorough and very interesting.
I have just a couple of questions in two areas. One area is BCBC and the sale of property and some of the concerns of some of the people in my riding. The other is in the area of high-speed Internet, broadband. I'll start with the broadband.
During the campaign I had an opportunity to visit one of the rural first nations communities in my riding — Klemtu, or Kitasoo. I was dropped off at a floatplane dock and had to walk through town and up to the band office. During that walk a young girl from the community was going to take me up there and show me where to go to the band office. As we walked up, she started telling me about life in one of these communities and the difficulties she has — she was trying to take a course over the Internet — and the cost of using a dial-up connection from her community. She'd get on the Internet and download as much as she could, and she'd work on her project.
She kind of looked at me and said that she wasn't old enough to vote, but she would be next year. I'm looking forward to being able to go back and tell her that we've made great strides in connecting up these communities.
I'm interested in how the ministry decides where we go with the Internet connection, what communities are included and maybe, first of all, how we determine that. Is there a list of these communities that we intend to connect up by, say, the end of this year, or a list that could tell me what communities in my riding are going to be connected?
Hon. J. Murray: We do have criteria, but before I go into that, I just want to share the member's delight in the kinds of opportunities that people in Klemtu will have. I was there close to two years ago as well. The members of that community are very determined to have productive activities that contribute to their families' lives and contribute to British Columbians' lives. I know that having high-speed broadband Internet access is going to assist, because it is a very remote community. The community has been very proactive already even without that tool, but it's an important tool to add to their opportunities.
A community has been defined as a place that has a place name and either a school, a library or a health facility. That definition was recommended to the ministry by the Premier's Technology Council as it looked at how you would define a community. Is it six people living in a remote place? The decision to make these criteria not dependent on numbers of people, I think, was an important one. Where there are enough people to create the need for a school, library or health facility, we will connect that community.
We do have a list of communities that are on the list that will be receiving broadband Internet access, and I'm happy to share that list with you, member.
B. Belsey: It seems to me there are an awful lot of communities in British Columbia that meet these criteria. I, too, am looking forward to going back there and telling that girl, now that she's voting age, that we have done something for her.
My next question is regarding BCBC and the sale of property. It's a comment I've heard in the Bella Coola valley area of my riding. They have certainly been hard hit economically in that valley as a result of some of the land use planning that went on under the previous administration and the impact it had on the community, with forestry virtually leaving the valley as well as the workers. There are a number of buildings that are vacant and, I understand, for sale, and the sale of these properties has impacted those in the community that are also trying to sell their property.
I'm wondering: does the ministry give any consideration to the impact that putting a number of buildings or houses or whatever onto the market might have on the community and the sale of buildings and houses that those living in the community might try and sell off? Now we have government competing with the locals in their disposal of property.
Hon. J. Murray: When a property is identified as a candidate for disposal, there is an assessment done of the availability of property in the community, and the sale of BCBC surplus property is staged in such a way as to not flood the market. It's in government's interest, both from the perspective of the community's health and also the financial plan of BCBC and the dividends it provides to government, that prices are not driven down. That is a consideration as we dispose of these properties.
Disposing of surplus properties is seen to be — and is — a positive for British Columbia. What we had was properties that were no longer needed but were occu-
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pying space in a community and not creating economic benefits. There are a number of properties that have been disposed of and sold that are now positives for the community because they're being used for constructive purposes.
Both from the perspective of having activity in those properties, being a factor in creating services and other economic activities in communities and reducing government's debt — or BCBC's debt, which is the responsibility of government — it was important to identify properties that don't need to remain as part of government's holdings and to dispose of them in a carefully staged way.
J. Bray: I'd like to thank the minister for her opening comments. They provided a lot of information and certainly answered some of my questions, although, being that this is the Ministry of Management Services, I still have several more that I will ask. Also, being somebody who really is very supportive of the concept of three-year service plans and recognizing the importance that service plans provide for ministries to actually engage in their activities and to be able to always refer to what government's objectives are, I know the importance of service plans.
First of all, I just want to comment that I think staff have done an excellent job on their service plans, both in the Ministry of Management Services and the Public Service Agency. They provide a lot of information for British Columbians to see what the ministry activities are, where they're going and the sort of strategic shifts they're making. They're excellent documents and provide a lot of information, so really the questions I'm going to be asking tonight are just to flesh out some of the concepts and the issues raised in the service plans.
For those following at home, I'll be starting with the Ministry of Management Services service plan, and I'd like to start on page 15. Certainly, a lot of attention was paid a year or so ago to the portal enterprise and the whole issue of the new government website. My first question around that area is actually on the results management office. I'm wondering if the minister can expand a bit on what the results management office is doing and, in addition to the portal project, what other projects the results management office is dealing with.
Hon. J. Murray: The results management office's primary responsibility is to work with the portal project, both the public portal and the employee portal. Part of that is working with other government groups that have the initiatives that are being delivered through the portal so that migration of content and delivery of services through that integrated Web approach…. The results management office will coordinate that, and it also has the overall responsibility to ensure that the portal projects are carried out according to the plan and the time lines, that the results are achieved, that the feedback is sought from the customers and clients of the project and that expectations are met.
J. Bray: Is the portal project now into the phase where the actual transferring of information into that portal is occurring, so the results management office is really overseeing to ensure the coordination of the migration of data and information? Customers over time should be seeing the amount of information available through the portal increasing in a staged and managed fashion. As for the expectations — perhaps this is the reverse onus, too — for ministries to be participating in this project, the results management office will also be overseeing that — not only the coordination but also, to some extent, the accountability for them to continue to handle their migration according to plan.
Hon. J. Murray: That sums it up pretty well. That's a very thorough understanding of the stage we're at. Yes, the hardware, the software, the launch — that's all happened successfully and is behind us. Now, piece by piece, we are identifying the ways that the portal can best serve the needs of the public. As the member knows, the key objective for the portal is to be able to provide government information and services in a much easier-to-access and streamlined way. I guess you could say that that's to provide these services in a way that's better, cheaper and faster to the user.
With the results management office, we are looking at what the priorities are for that information transformation to the public so that they can get those benefits — staging it one project at a time and ensuring that it's done in a way that we're doing the right thing and we're doing it right so that it works.
J. Bray: Certainly, I'm very pleased to hear that. Being a member of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, one of the themes we heard from witnesses during our public consultation phase was the whole issue about access to routine disclosure and the methods by which that might be accommodated. I'll be communicating back to my constituents that part of what the portal can do over time is to start allowing for more of that easy access for routine information so that the public can access much more information much easier as well as the actual services and interactions they may have.
The final question on the portal. About a year ago this time there was a great deal of discussion in the media around the budget and the cost. Certainly, my constituents had some concerns with what the stories were relating. I'm seeing the service plan indicating that the project is on budget and that the future operating budget is actually now just part of an even larger budget. I'm wondering if the minister can explain the budget for this current fiscal year as well as how the operating budget will be managed in the out-years for the portal.
Hon. J. Murray: The estimated costs for this project were $18 million over four years. We are coming in on
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budget with that $18 million. That includes capital that was phased in over three years as well as implementation and the ongoing operating costs of transferring projects and initiatives and information onto this new way of delivering it in a way that's better for the users.
The capital is already all in place. There are no capital costs for this year. The capital costs have been fully accounted for and included in that $18 million. This year's cost is $3.8 million. The total for the four years is $18.3 million. That assumes all of the capital fully amortized and expensed at this point.
J. Bray: That certainly is very clear, and I'm very pleased to hear that this project in fact met its budgetary targets from earlier. I certainly think that as it progresses, British Columbians are going to see the value of the portal in a whole myriad of ways and will recognize that this investment really is an investment that's going to pay great dividends for citizens right across the province.
I'm going to move on, then, to the area of alternative service delivery. I've canvassed this in the past, and so I've certainly learned a lot about the alternative service delivery strategy. I do know that there is an attempt to bring in a corporate approach to the alternative service delivery strategy. That's an attempt to maximize opportunities, I think, for alternative service. I'm just wondering if the minister can expand a bit on the concept and how that's really looking with respect to a corporate approach to alternative service delivery.
Hon. J. Murray: One way I've been describing the alternative service delivery project is as almost a public-private partnership, but instead of highways and buildings infrastructure, it's focused on services that need to be provided. The alternative service delivery projects take services that in some cases were scattered across government ministries and package them together. Through a request-for-proposal process we identify private sector providers for those services. The benefit, of course, is that there are economies of scale by pulling all of those services together into one contract. Also, the private sector may be providing that service to a number of other clients and have much more up-to-date capital equipment and processes with which they then provide these services at lower cost to government.
We have, I believe, eight alternative service delivery projects that are in various phases, from the identification of the project through to the final negotiations with a proponent. Every two weeks, I receive an update that shows exactly where each of those projects are.
I think the thing this government has done that is unique and is being looked at by other provinces that also would like to improve their services and reduce their cost through these public-private sector partnerships is that we brought into the ministry a set of expertise in creating the architecture around these contractual arrangements and actually doing the negotiations with the private sector so that we know the taxpayers' interests are being protected through these projects. We have on board the expertise that enables us to do that.
That expertise that we brought on board with the ASD group has a plan for making sure that people within government, ongoing, have the capacity and the skills that are needed to manage these — in some cases — very large and complex projects being delivered by the private sector so they can be successful in the long run.
J. Bray: Certainly, since last year, the alternative service delivery secretariat has clearly made excellent progress. I actually wasn't aware that we were up to eight. This is really good progress given that these are, in my reading of the service plan, longer-term types of projects — seven and ten years. That really sounds like we're getting some good momentum there. Knowing how governments sometimes work, having come from the public service, that's actually really good progress.
I'm wondering, then, if we can talk a bit, just have an update on the shared-services side of things and whether or not we're seeing similar progress with what is sometimes the difficult job of Management Services of trying to break down some of the silos between ministries to get them to recognize that there are common activities that, perhaps through a shared-services model, they can advance their budget issues and improve service to their own clients. I'm wondering if the minister can update us on shared services.
Hon. J. Murray: Our shared services initiative is another place where British Columbia is leading, I'm very proud to say. We're gaining some major efficiencies — tens of millions of dollars saved overall — which enable ministries to then devote their budgets to their core functions, whether it's managing our forests, managing our wildlife or doing hip surgeries.
Just a bit of background. When the Ministry of Management Services was formed in June of 2001, the Premier directed that a program for delivering shared support services to core government be pulled together and also, once it was working, be offered to the broader public sector. That was to get economies of scale and, again, be able to use the most innovative processes and technologies so that it's a well-managed organization and we're doing leading-edge work.
Shared services covers, generally…. Our computer information systems are managed on a shared-services basis, so our payroll operations, our corporate accounting system and our purchasing and procurement activities…. Each of those functions used to be duplicated across 20 ministries. Bringing them together into one place meant, of course, reducing duplication but also having economies of scale to get a way better deal with what we're doing and being able to use those efficiencies to be innovative and get equipment up to date. I would say that is a success story for this government.
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J. Bray: My follow-up to that would be, because government is a huge entity and we are a major player in terms of paper-clips and paper and various other items…. Although one government office might be no different than a law office or some other entity, as government, of course it is a huge volume. I'm wondering if the minister can describe a bit more our strategic sourcing strategy and whether or not we continue to realize cost savings through a strategic approach to our sourcing-out strategy.
Hon. J. Murray: Yes, we will be looking for more cost savings and improvements through our strategic sourcing strategy. One of the things we are also very aware of is the importance of small business in heartlands communities. As we explored which of the goods and services we buy as government that we could actually source in bulk and buy across government rather than ministry by ministry, we analyzed in each case the potential impacts on heartlands communities and have designed our strategic sourcing project to minimize or eliminate those impacts on the businesses in heartlands communities. We are confident that with bulk buying we will be able to improve the process and, actually, the turnaround time as well as get a much better price for tax dollars.
J. Bray: Certainly, as I leave the Ministry of Management Services service plan, I must comment that year over year the ministry continues to, from my observation, achieve some of the goals that its initial creation was meant to bring about — trying to break down, in areas like procurement, bidding processes, human resources and payroll, where that's something similar to all ministries, and actually trying to find efficiencies and improve service to clients. Certainly, the service plan, some of the performance measures and what the minister has provided us tonight show that the ministry does continue to actually move forward and achieve its goals.
I'm certainly very pleased to hear that, and I think the minister and the staff are to be commended for really doing what was much more difficult than I think people realize, which is actually breaking down the silos that naturally build up between ministries and the natural turfs that arrive on that to get that kind of coordination between deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers and directors of various branches, to recognize broader public policy goals with respect to how we spend taxpayers' money and actually achieve those results. I want to congratulate the minister and her staff for achieving a lot of those goals.
I'd like to move on now to the area that's sort of near and dear to my heart, and that's the Public Service Agency. Actually, I'm sorry; I do have one more question on the Ministry of Management Services, on page 26. I'm sorry. I missed one more.
This is for my own edification. I am a huge proponent of the employee appraisal and staff development plans, because I think that's a vital tool for staff and for managers to get the best out of each other and improve the workplace.
The performance measure under objective 2 of a performance-focused workforce is the percentage of employees surveyed who understand how their work contributes to the achievement of service plan performance targets and the success of the ministry. The baseline was 36 percent of employees in the Ministry of Management Services. When we get to 2006-07, we get to 75 percent. My basic question is why, over the course of three years, we might not be looking to have 100 percent of Management Services staff able to identify how their work impacts positively on the ministry's strategic plan.
Hon. J. Murray: One hundred percent is great. I'd love 100 percent. This ministry has had a major amount of changes over the three years. When an employee survey was done in the fall of 2002, there was, of course, some uncertainty about what the job of a ministry employee was. We're aiming to exceed our 70 percent target. That 70 percent is significantly up from the results of the survey.
We do have a goal of 100 percent of staff having completed employee performance and development plans. That will make a big difference in terms of the alignment and the understanding of the nature of the work.
The reality is that this ministry is still in a great deal of flux. It's pulled together some pieces from other parts of government that are newly part of this organization. It will probably take a couple of years before we're where we want to be in terms of that realignment really being behind us and having stability.
I do want to just say that I appreciate the member's comments about the shared services and how difficult it was and how government may have underestimated the challenges of breaking down those walls between ministries that are historic and functional and personality- and process-related. My view of government is that we have excellent people, and in some cases excellent people trying to make out-of-date processes and equipment and systems serve their desire to serve the public in a way that meets the public's expectations. We've had great people and not always good processes. What we're working towards having are great processes and systems that those great people are working with and managing.
I do want to acknowledge the cooperation of the other ministries in government. There's been a shared services deputy ministers' council that is led by Mr. Dan Doyle from Transportation. That group has worked very constructively with the ministry to identify the concerns, identify where other ministries may fear letting go of some of these payroll, accounting, information and purchasing processes and address the concerns and solve the problem in a way that gave confidence and trust all around. I do want to express my appreciation, not just for the work that my deputy and executive and staff have done but also the faith,
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trust and confidence that the other ministries' staff and executive have had working together to make this succeed.
J. Bray: I appreciate that addendum to that, just because I know that sometimes culture shifts in the public are hard to do, but sometimes in large organizations like government, culture shifts are the hardest to achieve. I think that the minister has highlighted why I want to focus on the Public Service Agency for a bit, and that is the great people that work in our public service. You know, it hasn't always been an easy time in the last couple of years, and there has been change. I know, having spent 13 years in the public service, just the kind of dedication that people who work in the public service have towards British Columbians and their desire to serve the public and really, by and large, their desire to serve the government of the day and their non-partisan approach to the public service.
I've often commented in this place about how there is a stereotype of the public servant and how there are often jokes about government employees. The reality is that, both working in the public service and in my three years as an MLA, I've never met a living example of that stereotype in the public service. I've always had a strong interest in our commitment as a government when we were campaigning around revitalizing the public service.
The first area I just want to spend a bit of time on is the Leadership Centre. For the background that I've given in this place before, one of the frustrations that I encounter in the public service and since becoming an MLA…. What I've heard about is the problem of promotions. It's not that they're not based on merit, but what happens is you get a wonderful — I'll use a fictitious ministry — widget technician who is one of the best technical people in widgets you're ever going to meet, and they're applying for the director of a branch that has 20 employees.
The way the evaluation occurs, the way the testing occurs, because they have strong technical skills, they're the successful application, and no one argues with that. The problem that happens, though, is they no longer are really spending a lot of time on widgets. They actually now have to manage budgets, work flow, personnel, labour relations, other directors and other branches — all sorts of other things that are perhaps skills that they've never had a chance to attain. Although they're great on widgets, it's frustrating for other staff, because work flow doesn't occur properly. You spend a week running like crazy because you've got five briefing notes to do and then two weeks with nothing to do, and there doesn't seem to be that coordination — although everyone thinks the director certainly knows their stuff in terms of widgets.
So I'm wanting to spend a bit of time on the Leadership Centre because I believe this is, again, something that is really leading in the public service across Canada with respect to recognizing how we ensure that those who take management positions or positions of leadership within the organizations bring those skills to bear so that in fact the employees that are going to work for them have a rewarding workplace, a workplace where they can maximize their own skill and scope of practice.
I'm wondering if the minister can provide us an update as to where we're at in the formation and implementation of the Leadership Centre.
Hon. J. Murray: The Leadership Centre formally became a part of the B.C. Public Service Agency just this past September, so this is a relatively new initiative. Just to touch on the member's question, yes, competitions used to focus more on skills and education and so on. Our competitions through the Leadership Centre now do focus more on leadership competencies. As the member has mentioned, you can be great at the technical side, but if your primary job is to motivate and empower and direct staff, you need to have those competencies as well.
The vision of the Leadership Centre is pretty simple. It's leadership at every level, and the core activity of the Leadership Centre can be encapsulated by this description of the business of the centre: "We support excellence in the B.C. public service by providing integrated leadership, learning and performance development services." This area is one that the Premier is visionary in, and this initiative is, I think, a testament to government's determination to carry out the promises that we were elected under, which include having a first-class professional public service. That was a commitment, and this is some action to ensure we have that.
As the member is not in the segment of our demographic that is looking to retire soon…. Many members of our public service are approaching retirement age. I think the average age is about 50 in the public service. It is very important that as a government that looks long term — and we are a government with a Premier who has always said we're not looking just to the next six months or even the next four years — we have a responsibility to the public for the long term. One of the things for the long term is how we're going to have those excellent leaders ready to come into places of responsibility at a time when they're needed, and that is one of the core thrusts of the Leadership Centre.
J. Bray: For those people in the public service who are not 50-plus and looking for retirement but those who are harking back to the days when Victoria used to be the Crown jewel of the public service in Canada…. In fact, people chose to make careers in the public service. Over the last ten or 15 years, through various things, including some political creep into the civil service and other issues, there has been frustration within the civil service, so people have used it more as a launching pad.
In an attempt to try and tell young university graduates and others that you can in fact make a career in the public service, for the public servant that's currently working now, is the connection to why we're
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putting such an emphasis on the employee appraisal and performance plans to identify those people that are looking for growth opportunities in the public service and then connecting them to the Leadership Centre to coordinate how the employer can assist them to gain the skills that will then allow them to successfully fill into those roles?
I mean, is that a functional connection that is why we're making the employee appraisal so important — because, in fact, that's part of the way we will connect people to the Leadership Centre and identify employees for going to that Leadership Centre over the coming years?
Hon. J. Murray: There certainly is a connection between the work people are doing and the human resource practices and that excellence and leadership that we're talking about. The employee performance and development plans are not as directly the link as the member may have suggested. They are not about appraisal and appraising an employee's performance. They are about assisting that employee in developing and identifying where the employee wants to go and what are the kinds of experiences and skills and training that would be needed to get there. That's the focus.
The Leadership Centre is a few months old. In order to not try and tackle everything all at once and actually do things in a staged manner, the focus has been on the senior positions, and so 75 people that have potential for moving up to the most senior positions were identified throughout government. Deputies and assistant deputy ministers were asked to identify people in the civil service that were interested in and ready for growth. There is a nurturing of that interest with some innovative things, like organizational coaching, which is leading edge in the private sector, through individual coaching services and other aspects of the development of these senior people.
I know that when you have that at the senior ranks of the organization — 75 people who are being groomed to be excellent leaders — that resonates throughout the organization and people see that it's not just possible for them, but there's actually a structured way that when they're ready and interested, they may be able to participate in that as well. It's starting at that senior level, and we intend to bring it more into the civil service to be rolled out more broadly during this fiscal year.
J. Bray: Do the Public Service Agency and the Leadership Centre yet have any idea on what those numbers might be? We're starting with 75. Certainly, I understand that as an agency in its infancy the Leadership Centre is also going to have to learn a bit as it's going along. Is there sort of a Gantt chart somewhere that is showing where it's going with respect to its intake? I'm presuming that there may be contact with employees with leadership over the course of time, where perhaps the employee is following through on an action plan where they're not spending all their time with someone from the Leadership Centre but there is more of a guiding operation. I'm wondering if the Leadership Centre has any sense on — say, '06-07, '07-08 — how many employees it might be engaged with in some capacity?
Hon. J. Murray: I may not have the exact numbers that the member might be looking for, but I can give an order of magnitude.
The B.C. Leadership Centre is funded to be developing management levels 6 to 12. That's 1,100 people. In the past few months the centre has been operating, the focus was on people who are near-ready or ready for deputy or assistant deputy minister positions. That was the group I described as being approximately 75 people. This fiscal year the centre will be working on development plans for individuals that are ready or near-ready for management levels 7 and 8. That means executive directors and directors. In '05-06 it will focus on people ready or near-ready for management level 6.
To complement that, the Leadership Centre is creating a mentoring program for all 1,100 people in levels 6 to 12. It plans to work with that group this fiscal year and then look at rolling that out more broadly the following year. That means that young people will be part of a structured mentoring program even though they may be a number of years away from the potential of a senior position.
J. Bray: That's actually very helpful, because it sets out the scope for what's going to take place.
I'll just ask this: is there something available, either a website or something, for — I say "the average civil servant" — somebody who's not otherwise engaged but is interested in learning more about the Leadership Centre? Is there information available that they can readily access, just to get a sense of what's going on, and find out some of this basic information?
Hon. J. Murray: Yes, there is a website. It's linked to Management Services
through the B.C. Public Service Agency. It has a wealth of information about the different programs — the employee development programs and so on.
J. Bray: What I'm trying to do is create a picture so that as the young public servants I meet day to day in my constituency are asking me questions…. "You talked about revitalizing the civil service. How is that looking for me?"
It's clear in my mind now how the Leadership Centre is going to focus and what it's going to achieve. I think that's going to make a world of difference to the entire culture of the public service. If you've got people who are in management positions who actually have the skills to do that, I think it increases the satisfaction of employees throughout the civil service as well as improving the services to the public.
Is the intent of the Public Service Agency when dealing with the annual employee development
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plans…? As the minister said earlier, it's really about taking it away from checking boxes that say, "Good," "Satisfactory," "Needs improvement," to "What do you like about your job? What are the areas you're interested in? What kinds of opportunities can we look for in secondments, temporary assignments or other things to further your career and your enjoyment and build your skill base?" Is that human resource function going to be linked long-term in succession planning to actually take the 25-year-old who's entering in as a research officer in the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, for instance?
They are going to be able to see a structure that if they really said, "Boy, I'm 25, and I really love working for government and serving British Columbians, and I'd love to be the deputy minister of this ministry someday," there is some sense that there's a plan they can build upon to help them make that journey. That's opposed to the way it has been in the past, where you were sort of out there floundering and hoping you got the right degree or the right certificate or you knew the right person or however.
Is the goal to actually keep the Leadership Centre at the more senior levels but, in fact, through the human resources strategies, that initial employee can see how they can get there in a coordinated fashion? Is that kind of where we're going, so that young employees who want to make a career actually can see how to do that successfully?
[G. Trumper in the chair.]
Hon. J. Murray: In response to the member's question. A 25-year-old coming in as a research officer for Water, Land and Air Protection probably wouldn't be able to map out the course of their career through to deputy minister — and where would be the sense of adventure, if one were to be able to do that? I think people are adaptable and flexible and take opportunities whose exact form they may not have foreseen. The form of the pathway may not be visible, but I would say the answer to the intent that the member was exploring is yes.
If a young person comes into the civil service and is interested in a career with the provincial government and is interested in more senior management positions, there are a number of ways the revitalization that this government is doing will contribute to the success and achievement of that intent in some form or another.
One of the ways this can happen is with the succession planning that's taking place now at those very senior levels through the Leadership Centre. The intent is to roll that down so that at every level there is succession planning, and so that, as a person at a mid-level moves up or sideways or out of the public service, there is someone beneath them who has been getting the building blocks of competency that are needed to move up.
There's a pipeline here, and we intend to be able to bring people to fill vacant positions at all places in the pipeline. That's one thing that's underway. Secondly, there are a number of courses that are free. They're listed on the website. They're all across the province, so there are opportunities for young people and all-aged people, actually, to develop their skill sets.
One example is called the Leading the Way program, which is through the employee learning services. It's targeted at the supervisor-management level and is part of the workplace skills program, which was launched this year. So there are innovative programs to support the development of those people who are ambitious and do want to contribute to the public through the public service in the long term.
J. Bray: Thank you, Madam Chair. Nice to see you in the chair.
That's very good. I know the whole idea of creating a workplace that's welcoming to people, that they in fact are welcome to make a career in the civil service — and we want to provide opportunities — is really an important message. Certainly, I'll be carrying that back.
I appreciate the minister's comments. I mean, I wasn't sort of saying that they could say: "Well, on Thursday I'll be this, and two years from now…." It was more the idea that there is a way for them to funnel into these other services and that they'll be supported in their career goals, that they don't have to decide out of frustration they're going to go to another province or to the private sector simply because they weren't supported in the workplace.
I'm very happy to hear that new innovation is coming in to achieve that and that it's around the province — that it's not something that's a benefit for Vancouver employees or Victoria employees but is going to be available all around.
Another area that I think has been very critical, which we as a government campaigned on before the election, has been trying to make sure we had a non-partisan civil service and really put an emphasis back on the merit principle. Certainly, going back, even if you talk to retired civil servants in the eighties, there was a sense that some people started to arrive at cubicles. You didn't really know how they got there, but gee, you found out somewhere down the road that they knew someone who knew someone who was at a party with the minister.
It started to break down the sense that if you work hard and if you've got the best qualifications, you're going to get the job. We brought in the merit commissioner as a way of trying to really re-instil the merit principle throughout the civil service. That's something I campaigned hard on, and I'm very pleased we've actually achieved that.
I'm going to go to another side of the hiring process, which I raise every year. It's one that I think is equal, in the sense that it leads to frustration within the public service with respect not to the partisan political nature but more of the personal political nature or perceived personal political nature. It is the scenario whereby a person…. Say you've got policy analysts
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who are all admin officer 5 positions, and then there's a senior policy analyst, a management level 4, who all of a sudden has to leave for some particular reason. You're unsure whether or not that person will be returning, and for operational needs, the director of that branch has to get somebody in there right away. They've been working on an important project or something.
They use the secondment process. It's a very legitimate management tool, but what tends to happen is: "We're just going to second someone for a couple weeks just to fill the position." Then: "Well, the person is not coming back, so we're going to extend that for a month." Then they're going to extend it for three months, and then they're going to extend it for another three months, then: "Now that we know that person is permanently not coming back, we're going to post the position."
Guess what happens. The person who's been doing it for six, seven, eight months almost inevitably becomes the successful applicant. Others in the area feel they never got a fair chance, because if they didn't get to act, they couldn't acquire the skill base to then make them successful. It leads to people being frustrated that the secondment process is used either to intentionally subvert the merit process or, by natural stance, just does that.
I'm wondering if the ministry is looking at secondment policies that ensure a fairer approach to those situations so that there isn't the perception that somebody's pal got the secondment without a panel, and it got extended and extended and extended, and then miraculously, they won a competition several months later.
I don't know whether that would look like you can put someone in a secondment without any kind of panel process for 30 days. After that, you have to have a full-panel process. Or conversely, you can appoint somebody, but they are excluded from applying for that position if it becomes vacant. I'm wondering if the B.C. Public Service Agency is looking at the secondment process to remove that frustration. People feel they're not getting fair opportunities through the secondment process and through the in-service process.
Hon. J. Murray: As the member acknowledged, there are two objectives there. One is to have fair opportunities for the people working in the department, and another is to fill the operational needs a vacancy creates. Work sometimes can't wait until a permanent person is assigned to the job, so that's where temporary assignments are made in those cases to balance that and to get the job done. It's a temporary assignment that has an end point, and seven months is the limit, I believe, of the temporary assignments.
The person can't then just be hired without competition without the approval of the merit commissioner. I'm told that is rarely approved, so there'll be a competition at that point. The intent is to balance those: the need to get the work done and the fairness to employees. I believe that's the balance we're seeking, and we'll continue to look at the issue in audits and reviews of these issues. The audit for last year doesn't indicate that the merit principle has been contravened, even in circumstances where there was a temporary assignment.
J. Bray: That's an important point on the merit commissioner. It's a hobbyhorse of mine, because I saw it so many times and have heard people grumble about it. Of course, one of the issues with the merit principle is the actual application and the perception of the application. I'll continue to work with the minister, Madam Chair, on this one.
I would also be very interested, if there were a dedicated audit, to really find out how employees feel about the temporary appointment process, the secondment process, both in and of itself and, as well, as it relates to the ultimate filling of permanent positions to make sure people feel it is in fact generally fair. Obviously, personalities will always come into it.
My last question is: on page 17 of the Public Service Agency's service plan, there is a rating, the engagement rating, for the public servants. Essentially, this is an index that comes out of the auditor general's…. The work environment survey is the service plan highlights. This engagement rating indicates a commitment or intellectual and emotional involvement in one's work in the organization.
As the footnote highlights, it is a measurement, one of many measurements, for the overall quality of the public service. I see that the baseline for 2001-02 was 59 percent and that the goal for this current fiscal year is a 10 percent increase. Then '05-06 is a 15 percent increase, and '06-07 is a 20 percent increase from the baseline.
I think that's an excellent measure, and certainly, it's critical for the public and taypayers to get a sense that there's an improvement in the public service. It certainly helps defeat the stereotypes. Is there going to be an attempt in this, or is there the ability in this rating, to be able to tie back some of the innovation and the strategies that are being brought in, to learn whether or not there are areas that have a particular impact on improving this rating or whether or not this rating is more of a measure of multiple things that…?
It's hard to say it was the Leadership Centre that did it or it was the merit commissioner. I'm wondering if the minister can expand a bit on this, because I think this is a critical measurement for the Public Service Agency. Hopefully, it can teach us that the strategies that really work well, we'll focus on and expand on, perhaps even faster, to try and move up to, say, 25 percent from baseline in '06-07. I'm wondering if the minister can comment on that.
Hon. J. Murray: With the member's indulgence, I'm going to go back to the previous discussion we were having about the temporary assignments and the merit principle. I do just want to make the comment that to me, the discussion really illustrates that we have a
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very, very knowledgable member in our government who is a staunch advocate for the civil service, who is a believer in the quality and excellence of the civil service and has a very detailed and comprehensive understanding of both the barriers and the opportunities for people working in the public service. I think British Columbians can be happy they have that advocate. I did want to make that comment.
With respect to the employee engagement rating the member was asking about, that's not a rating that is determined — as the member is aware — by the Leadership Centre or the B.C. Public Service Agency. That's the auditor general's rating. It's considered to be an effective way of taking the pulse of the satisfaction of the public service. It's a very broad set of conditions that feed into that. The Public Service Agency and Leadership Centre do not work with a specific set of analyses to identify what moves that rating. It's a health indicator.
However, we are creating a benchmarking program. That benchmarking program will be the method of having some objective measures that tie into the different programs of the Leadership Centre, so we will be able to get feedback. The member is very aware that one of the key factors for continuous quality improvement is having feedback loops and then being able to fine tune and improve the processes, then track and measure and again be able to feed that back in and make further improvements. That's what we will be doing through this benchmarking program.
J. Bray: I don't have another question, but I just want to state that the progress the Public Service Agency is making and the whole plan around revitalization…. I'm very encouraged, even more so than I was earlier tonight, with respect to the progress that's being made. I think it's going to make a big impact for public servants, for those who are considering a career in the public service, for the taxpayers who provide their salaries and the public they serve. I just continue to be amazed at the progress the Public Service Agency is making and the way they have embraced our strategic shifts in government.
I'd just like to thank the staff at the Public Service Agency and tell them to keep up the good work, because all British Columbians will benefit.
Vote 28 approved.
Vote 29: B.C. Public Service Agency, $10,016,000 — approved.
Hon. J. Murray: I move the committee rise, report resolution of the Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development and the Ministry of Management Services, report progress on the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 8:28 p.m.
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