2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2004
Volume 24, Number 1
|Second Reading of Bills||10343|
|Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act (Bill 14)|
|Hon. J. Les|
|Motor Dealer Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 24)|
|Hon. J. Les|
|Committee of the Whole House||10344|
|Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 19)|
|Hon. G. Bruce|
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
|Committee of Supply||10356|
|Estimates: Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services (continued)|
|Hon. M. Coell|
[ Page 10343 ]
THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2004
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Harris: In this House we'll be commencing second reading of Bill 14, the Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act, and in the small House we'll be continuing the estimates debate. For the information of members, we'll be doing the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services.
May we just have a short recess while the minister returns — for five minutes?
Mr. Speaker: We'll pause for a few moments.
The House recessed from 10:04 a.m. to 10:07 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Second Reading of Bills
VANCOUVER TOURISM LEVY
Hon. J. Les: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
Last October Tourism Vancouver came to government requesting new legislation that will allow Vancouver's tourism industry to take advantage of the tremendous growth opportunities, including the cruise industry, the 2010 Olympics and the convention centre expansion. Specifically, they said they wanted to expand marketing and promotional efforts.
Government is pleased to respond with this legislation. The Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act will enable Tourism Vancouver to develop new incremental marketing programs that will expand the tourism and convention industries in Vancouver and in the lower mainland.
Each sector of the tourism industry will participate in a democratic process before adopting the levy, which will be established by Tourism Vancouver in cooperation with each sector. The funds will ensure that Vancouver maintains its position as an international visitor gateway to the rest of British Columbia and western Canada, as well as assist Tourism Vancouver in delivering on new strategic and innovative marketing activities that will result in long-term benefits to tourism. The legislation will facilitate Vancouver's preparation for welcoming the world as soon as possible before the Olympics to fully realize the economic benefits of the 2010 games.
The key areas of the Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act will address the following. The legislation will allow for a levy to be collected from the Vancouver tourism industry and, in some cases, tourism businesses outside of the limits of the city of Vancouver. It will ensure that the levy will apply only if support for the levy that is applied to a sector of tourism businesses has been achieved through a democratic process and will be paid to Tourism Vancouver for the purposes of tourism promotional programs.
The legislation will call for a business plan to be developed by Tourism Vancouver before a levy can be prescribed. Good stewardship and accountability of the tourism industry levy will be provided for through a transparent and timely reporting within six months of the fiscal year-end. Tourism Vancouver will provide a business plan prepared to industry standards. The business plan will be updated periodically by Tourism Vancouver to reflect ongoing discussion within the industry and newly proposed levies.
Tourism Vancouver began consulting with tourism businesses on the idea of a self-funding industry marketing program many years ago. It is committed to ensuring that the tourism and convention industries they service are full partners on the design of each levy.
They are also committed to continuing to consult and communicate with industry on their plans and on their achievements. The proposed Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act is part of and delivers on the government's new-era commitment to stimulate tourism and to improve operators' ability to compete successfully for visitors from around the world.
J. MacPhail: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Please proceed.
Introductions by Members
J. MacPhail: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and always the Speaker is ably assisting me in doing my job — an honourable job — to introduce 23 grade 10 students from Templeton Mini School. Templeton is a very, very old high school in my riding, a venerable high school. They're accompanied by their teachers, Mr. Kunas and Ms. Shan. Sorry, Ms. Shan is the student organizer.
I have already had a chance to talk with them, and they're very much looking forward to the debate that will proceed. Would the House please make them welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Members, the question is second reading of Bill 14.
Hon. J. Les: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 14, Vancouver Tourism Levy Enabling Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the
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Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. R. Harris: I now call second reading of Bill 24.
MOTOR DEALER AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. J. Les: I move that the bill now be read a second time.
As part of the government's commitment to reduce the regulatory burden by one-third over three years, the province has embarked on changing the way business is regulated both legislatively and administratively. These changes include the modernization of motor dealer legislation.
At present in British Columbia, motor dealer regulation occurs through the Motor Dealer Act, which establishes the rules and regulations with respect to operations. Government through the registrar for motor dealers and an investigation staff administers the licensing and enforcement provisions. The new Motor Dealer Amendment Act, 2004, will allow for the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia, a delegated administration outside of the traditional government structure, to be responsible for administering motor dealer rules and regulations.
The Motor Dealer Amendment Act will accomplish three things. Firstly, it will update the definition of a motor dealer. Secondly, it will delegate administration of the motor dealer customer compensation fund to the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia. Thirdly, it updates the definition of a motor vehicle under the act. These amendments will enable government to focus its resources on policy while the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia focuses its resources on the delegated powers.
The powers of the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia will include, firstly, registration and licensing of industry members; secondly, inspection, investigation and prosecution of violations of regulations; thirdly, refusal, revocation or suspension of registrants; fourthly, the handling of registrant inquiries resolving consumer complaints and administering the motor dealer compensation fund; and fifthly, developing effective consumer relations, education and training programs.
This means prospective dealers will approach the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia, not government, for licence applications and renewals. The provincial government, through myself as Minister of Small Business and Economic Development, will continue to have responsibility for all policy and legislation governing motor dealers, including any changes to the Motor Dealer Act. Accountability for standards remains with the minister while the delivery of delegated functions is the responsibility of the Motor Dealer Council of British Columbia. Any and all changes to legislation will still require approval by the Legislative Assembly. Changes to regulations will still require approval by cabinet.
As the Minister of Small Business and Economic Development, I will monitor the performance of the authority to ensure performance standards are maintained through transparent accountability mechanisms such as business plans, annual reports and three- to five-year post-implementation evaluation. This new act will maintain high levels of consumer protection while stimulating a competitive market environment for the motor dealer industry.
Hon. J. Les: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 24, Motor Dealer 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. R. Harris: I now call committee stage on Bill 19.
Committee of the Whole House
EDUCATION SERVICES COLLECTIVE
AGREEMENT AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 19; J. Weisbeck in the chair.
The committee met at 10:20 a.m.
On section 1.
J. MacPhail: I predicted yesterday that we would be debating this bill today so that it can be rammed through. Less than 48 hours after the government introduced this, the government will be ramming this bill through — although the amount of notice I had about debating this bill was, oh, maybe 21 minutes. Twenty-one minutes' notice I had of debating this bill, Mr. Chair, at this stage — a bill that has been on the books less than 48 hours.
The new gall of this minister…. He brings in bills all the time breaking contracts, the most draconian legislation, but this is a new level of gall by this minister — 21 minutes of notice. Who did the minister consult with to draft this bill, to bring this bill forward?
Hon. G. Bruce: I would first like to introduce my deputy minister with me, Rick Connelly, and my assistant deputy minister, Richard Longpre.
This legislation was — what is today, Thursday? — introduced on Tuesday, it was given first reading, and it was then brought forward on Wednesday for second reading. As the rules of the House permit, it was brought forward today for committee stage. It is just moving the bill through the House.
It is a document that is actually three pages in length and six sections. It stems from legislation that was brought in, in January of 2002. I'm not sure anybody is overly surprised by all of this. It is a matter of rectifying and putting in place what's required so that
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we can move on in regards to the future negotiations that may take place, if the parties choose to do so, between the BCTF and BCPSEA.
Consultation on this. This has been worked through by my staff in an effort to complete the legislation that had been brought…. Bill 27 was the one piece — and Bill 28, which came in effect in January of 2002.
J. MacPhail: Who did the minister consult with? What parties were consulted with on this specific piece of legislation, including his own colleagues?
Hon. G. Bruce: There was consultation with my ministry and the Ministry of Education. There had been an indication from BCPSEA of grievances that were being filed by several different teacher associations through the province earlier on, but the actual bill — the legislation of Bill 19 — was a work of this ministry. There was some discussion with the Ministry of Education.
J. MacPhail: Yes, I thought it was interesting yesterday. I'm abiding by the rules of the House very carefully here. I'm looking at the Votes and Proceedings of yesterday, when the House divided on Bill 19. There were 41 people voting in favour of it and four people voting against it. I note that the Minister of Education is not on either side listed in those votes. I did see the Minister of Education yesterday throughout the day, but the minister chose not to vote on this piece of legislation. It's listed right there in the Votes and Proceedings. Isn't that interesting?
I wonder why. The Minister of Education — our bright, shiny, new Minister of Education — was going to do things all so differently, and he copped out. He copped out. He knew about the legislation. The Minister of Labour just admitted to that. He must have supported it. He met with the B.C. Teachers Federation over the course of the last couple of weeks — not a peep. He knew about this legislation. He doesn't even have the…. Well, I'm sorry. He didn't vote. He didn't have the political sense to show which way he sides on this legislation. That bodes well for the future of our education system — that we have a new minister that ducks when such an important piece of legislation is before us.
I was completely taken aback when we divided on second reading of Bill 19 and the Minister of Education chose not to put his name forward. That bodes extremely ill for the future of education. He told….
The Chair: Member, please. Take your seat, please. Member, it is inappropriate to comment on the fact that the minister was not present for a vote or in this House. I would ask you to carry on with section 1 and without any reference at all to the Minister of Education.
J. MacPhail: Yes, Mr. Chair. I do understand the rule, and I was being very careful. I was reading from the Votes and Proceedings, which is a public document. Anyway, I'll take the Chair's advice. I didn't realize you weren't allowed to read from the Votes and Proceedings in the chamber, but I take the Chair's advice.
We have consultation where this minister, who has set once again a new record for breaking collective agreements, once again a new record…. It's no wonder he is viewed with such disdain amongst the public. Of course, that could be just in his own riding. I'm not sure that is his role as minister. In his own riding, he is viewed with such disdain. But surely his ministerial role isn't helping him climb out of the hole in his own riding.
Who in the public sector, Public School Employers Association, was consulted and participated in drafting this legislation?
Hon. G. Bruce: I was just recovering because I was hurt to the quick. I know my wife still loves me. At any rate, I was just recovering from that.
Again, we're here. This piece of legislation, as I mentioned, was brought forward. It's this minister; it's this ministry. It was this ministry and this minister that carried Bill 27 and Bill 28 in January of 2002. So it would be this minister that would carry this correction to facilitate the movement so that we can get on with negotiating a contract if they choose to do so.
This isn't anything that's a mystery. As the member opposite knows full well, we've been very patient through this process in that the legislation allowed for the minister to appoint an arbitrator to bring some consistency in language. The first arbitrator that I chose to do that work was on the list of the parties, including that of the BCTF. The BCTF objected to that individual being the arbitrator but accepted a recommendation from him as to who should be the next arbitrator. So I accepted that, thinking that would keep all parties together.
When the second arbitrator got in place, the BCTF objected to his role. Then I was put to the position of actually having to find another arbitrator, which I did. The BCTF then objected to that individual, I believe, on the grounds that his wife had been a former teacher. That left me with choosing once again another arbitrator, who was Mr. Rice. Mr. Rice now is actually a member of the bench. I think is he a Supreme Court justice.
In that whole stepping process, we've now come to this position here of having to bring in this little piece of legislation to conclude what was very clearly set out in Bill 28 as the process to follow. As the Leader of the Opposition knows, as I have mentioned here, it is this ministry's responsibility to carry this legislation, to draft it, to bring it forward and to bring it through to the House — to bring it through first, second and third reading.
J. MacPhail: I'll repeat my question. Who in the public sector employers association was consulted about this legislation? It's a fairly simple question. The PSEA was appealing the decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, so surely they must have been consulted.
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Hon. G. Bruce: The consultation of this legislation was between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour.
J. MacPhail: Ah, the plot thickens even more — that it's the Ministry of Education up to its eyeballs in this. So the new, new era is not a new era at all. It's a more draconian era. It's a step backward.
How much money had the public sector employers association spent up to Tuesday, with the tabling of this bill, on their appeal of the B.C. Supreme Court decision of Justice Shaw?
Hon. G. Bruce: Actually, I don't think it's relevant to the discussion of this legislation, but I don't have that information.
J. MacPhail: I guess the waste of tax dollars isn't relevant to this minister — absolutely correct. Every day they waste tax dollars, and then they come in here and use their big legislative hammer of 70-odd Liberal MLAs to make the use of those tax dollars just fritter away, and this minister doesn't think it's relevant. Will the minister commit before this debate is over to get me the amount of money that the public sector employers association has spent on their appeal of the Justice Shaw Supreme Court decision?
Hon. G. Bruce: I don't think that's relevant to the debate at committee stage of this piece of legislation.
J. MacPhail: Is the minister refusing my request? Is that what he's saying? It's not for him to determine what's relevant or not. It's for him to answer questions. Is the minister refusing my request of how many tax dollars have been spent on the appeal of the Justice Shaw Supreme Court decision? Is he refusing that request?
Hon. G. Bruce: I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition has other means of being able to glean that information. My responsibility here is to bring this legislation through to the House, to move the process along, to bring some finality to what was a contractual difference starting in 2001, to bring some process, some order, so that the parties, as they've requested, can get on with negotiating their contract. That's what is germane to the debate of Bill 19 here. We're doing that. I would be happy to go through the sections of the act.
The Chair: I want to remind the member to stay relevant to section 1, please.
J. MacPhail: That's very good advice from the Chair, because my questions are absolutely relevant to section 4, and I'll be asking them again — absolutely relevant to section 4. So staff better get prepared to get that information. It's outrageous that the minister is suggesting that I FOI it — absolutely outrageous.
An Hon. Member: He didn't say that.
J. MacPhail: A secretive government…. There is no other opportunity except through direct questioning of the minister to seek the information other than FOI. It's outrageous that this government continues to hide behind forcing people to go through FOI. The minister will answer the question under section 4.
What does section 1 mean? Could the minister go through every single deletion and explain to the public what they mean — every single one of them, (A) through (H)?
Hon. G. Bruce: Section 1 of the bill is the guts of it, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out. If you go through the section, (A) through (G) provide for the deletions of portions of the provincial language. These are provisions that are of provincewide application. Clause (H) provides for the deletion of a list of provisions regarding specific school districts. Due to the length of this list, it was tabled in the assembly when I introduced the bill to begin with. Each and every one of these has some application in regard to the larger list that was provided.
J. MacPhail: Let me be specific, then. What does, as listed under section 1 of this bill…? It says: "Section 2 (1) (a) (v) of the Education Services Collective Agreement Act, S.B.C. 2002, c. 1, is repealed and the following substituted: (v) effective July 1, 2002, (A) deleting Article D.1 entitled 'Staffing Formula – Non-Enrolling/English as a Second Language Teachers.'" What is that?
Hon. G. Bruce: This particular section has provisions that set staffing ratios for non-enrolling teachers — those are teacher-librarians, counsellors, learning assistance teachers and special education resource teachers — as well as for English-as-a-second-language teachers.
J. MacPhail: How did that clause come about?
Hon. G. Bruce: My understanding is that this was imposed by the last government, which the Leader of the Opposition would know, and imposed class size for K-to-3 and non-enrolling ratios.
J. MacPhail: It's always risky to answer a question without understanding it, knowing that the person who asked the question was responsible for it. This was freely negotiated between the trustees and the BCTF and fully funded by the previous government — freely negotiated. No arbitrator, no mediator, lots of support from both sides and the money to fund it, freely negotiated and signed off by the parties, ratified by the parties — that's what this government's deleting. Why is the government deleting it by fiat? Because they don't want to fund it. They don't want to give children the extra support in the classroom because they don't want to pay for it. That's why.
How about (B) deleting article D.2 entitled "K-3 Primary Class Size"? What were those? Could the min-
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ister read D.2 into the record, please, to see what we're making illegal now?
Hon. G. Bruce: I think that the Leader of the Opposition, again, might want to be careful of revisionist history of how negotiations took place in this province during the decade of decline — what was really construed or thought to be freely negotiated and what maybe perhaps were marginalized negotiations. I'll leave it at that.
Of course, the class size K-to-3 is now in the School Act, because it was our view that if class size is as important as people feel it is — and it is — it ought to be included in the School Act, and it is. That now takes precedence, and that's why it's removed from the contracts.
J. MacPhail: I can't believe this minister has the gall to stand up and criticize collective bargaining that was freely held under the previous government when his system of collective bargaining is to bring in legislation and have 70-odd people vote against one side and impose a collective agreement and not fund it. Oh, those bad old days of free collective bargaining and full funding of the results by the previous government. Those were awful days. Our children were so harmed by reduced class sizes that were fully funded to the various school boards. Isn't that awful?
How dare this minister get up and say that those days were bad and these days are good, although this act does take it to a new level. This act actually wipes out a B.C. Supreme Court decision as well. They don't like the courts. Let's just legislate.
You know, I will be asking at some point what other decisions are before this government, at an appeal level, that the government doesn't like. Is there any judicial review at the Labour Relations Board for which this minister is responsible, for instance, that he doesn't like the way it's proceeding, and perhaps they were just going to bring in legislation? I will be asking that question of this minister. I'm just going to leave it to the LRB.
We had a flood of response to the issue about the decision being appealed by the government around autistic children yesterday, a flood of response to that — that this government, when they don't like the way the decision goes for them, has to provide the promise they made to autistic children and their families, and they appeal that all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. That's okay because they're losing, and they need to keep using their judicial review access to try and get legal endorsement of a reversal of their promise. That's okay, but if anyone else attempts to hold the government accountable through the court system, this government uses its legislative hammer.
I fully expect some Liberal MLA will stand up in caucus and say: "Hey, wait a second. There is an inconsistency here. Hey, wait a second. We're using the courts against autistic children to uphold our broken promise, yet we're not allowing the BCTF to use the courts to uphold their rights." I fully expect someone in the Liberal caucus…. In fact, I'm sure they did that on Tuesday, when the government discussed this legislation with them in caucus. I'm sure some Liberal MLA said, "I note a hypocrisy here," and I fully expect the government will be making an announcement that they're withdrawing their appeal against the families with autistic children.
It would be the kind of announcement that the Premier should make so that he is not accused of being a hypocrite. In fact, maybe he is away making the announcement right now — saying to families with autistic children: "You know, given Bill 19, we've revisited our attack on you through the courts, and we're withdrawing our appeal." I can't imagine that there wouldn't be a Liberal MLA — especially those from 1996, who hammered the previous government on funding for autistic children — who would make that point in caucus.
This legislation, of course, takes away further from children with special needs. A child with autism who will be in the classroom now is even worse off, not only because of the government's court decision attacking those families but because of Bill 19 as well.
What does "deleting sections D.1, D.2 and D.3 of Appendix 1 of Letter of Understanding No. 1, dated May 31, 1995" mean?
Hon. G. Bruce: Interesting. It seemed to me that in that first section we were talking about — the revisionist part of history — it was 1998 when that came in. It seems to me that it may have been negotiated, but I think the member would like to check whether it was actually ratified by the school trustees. I think, in fact, the school trustees may have even said that they weren't going to do it because it would cost too much, because it wasn't being funded. Now, I'm not sure if that is absolutely 100 percent correct, but I would think that might be closer to what history would show if you checked on that.
J. MacPhail: What the minister fails to leave out is that the whole class size was renegotiated in 2001 — renegotiated and ratified by both parties. It's all very well and good for the minister to try to pick and choose, and it was fully funded in 2000-01 — fully funded and freely negotiated and freely ratified.
Could the minister answer my question about (C), please?
Hon. G. Bruce: Articles D.1 and D.2 provide for class size and class composition. Article D.3 provides for mainstreaming integration of children with special educational needs, including limits on the numbers of special needs students in a classroom. I think I've got the right reference to what you were asking.
J. MacPhail: Yesterday in second reading the minister said: "Oh, we're not making these clauses illegal; we're saying they can be renegotiated." How can (C) be
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renegotiated? How is it going to go? Just outline for the audience, the public, how those can be renegotiated.
Hon. G. Bruce: What can't be renegotiated is anything that's ultra vires of the School Act. That's what we made clear in Bill 28 — that the changes we were bringing forward relative to class size would now find their way in the School Act, and the School Act would take precedence. If there are, as the member opposite was bringing forward, some other examples — and I forget exactly which ones they were yesterday in her comments — that don't pertain to class size but were omitted or taken out, that can be renegotiated between the parties at the time of negotiation as long as it is not ultra vires of the School Act.
J. MacPhail: I thought that was a very bizarre comment by the minister — that they could be renegotiated. This legislation, says the minister, is to uphold Eric Rice's arbitration decision that strips collective agreements of clauses that are, in his words, ultra vires — illegal according to the new legislation. Then he turns around and says: "Oh no, sorry. They can be renegotiated." That was the most bizarre comment I've ever heard.
Why strip them in the first place? Wasn't that what Justice Shaw was talking about in the first place — that there has to be harmonization between the act and the collective agreement? Now the minister says: "Oh no, we're going to strip everything, but well, really, we didn't…. Maybe we stripped too much. Go back and renegotiate it."
Let me read a clause into the record that is relevant to section (C). It's from Comox. Let's have an opinion by this minister, who seems to have it right down pat — what's legal, what's illegal, what can be renegotiated. It's from the Comox collective agreement, 3(a): "The initial mainstreaming of special needs students shall involve prior consultation between the relevant district staff, parents, guardians, teachers and administrative officers who may be affected by such placement. The placement of special needs student shall be determined by the student's educational, social and medical needs."
In Vancouver, a similar clause, 4(d): "The district shall provide in-service on an ongoing basis to school and district professional staff on (1) the functioning of a school-based team, (2) the responsibilities of the school-based team." And 4(f)(2) says: "Clear administrative procedures shall be established for the carrying out of fire and earthquake drills that expedite the education and care of handicapped children."
Those clauses are about special needs students and don't talk one whit about the ratio of teachers to special needs students. Those have been stripped, according to this legislation. According to Mr. Rice, the arbitrator, they're stripped. They're made illegal. Is the minister saying they can be renegotiated now?
Hon. G. Bruce: You know, the parties, when they're at the table, can agree to negotiate certain items, but they have to make sure that those items, as they come to them, are not ultra vires of the School Act. Some of those examples there need not even be negotiated in the contract. Everybody's got concern in respect to those issues in how the schools are organized and how the classes are run. Some of it could, but again I'll keep to that point. It can't be ultra vires of the School Act.
First of all, both parties have to agree to it. I think, quite frankly, Justice Shaw and Mr. Rice at the time, as the arbitrator, were not suggesting that in any of this there weren't issues that couldn't be negotiated. What we're doing is correcting that which was from Bill 28 and the necessity to bring consistency in the language between Bill 28 and the 62 contracts. When you came to the 62 contracts and some of the language that was in there, there were certainly sections of it that were ultra vires to the School Act. Some of that language in different sections, I suspect, was beyond that.
With the parties not at the table…. If you recall, the BCTF had virtually left the table. The interpretation by Mr. Rice was that he had to take all of the contract, all of the section. I suspect that as arbitrators would work, if the parties were both there and they were indicating they could reach some agreement on their own…. That's usually the role of arbitrators. "Okay, if you guys can reach that agreement, that's great. I don't need to deal with it. This is the section here, the part of the section, that I as the arbitrator see to be ultra vires to the School Act, and so I'm taking it out." But if both parties actually agree that the rest of that sentence could stay, I'm certain that he probably would have let them make that decision. However, we will never know.
As I've mentioned, you've got 60 contracts — then going through the process and allowing the primary parties now, with the passage of this bill, to get at negotiating their next contract.
Don't forget this comes off of 2001, legislation in 2002. The contract we're referring to in this instance actually expires end of June of this year, 2004. Usually the parties like to start to get going now on putting their positions together and developing their strategies as to how they want to go through the negotiations. With the passage of this, they can carry on doing that.
J. MacPhail: Well, well, well, talk about rewriting history — that if only the BCTF had stayed with Mr. Rice, Mr. Rice would have actually done what the courts told him he should have done, which is to harmonize collective agreements with the act. Sorry — wrong. Here's what Mr. Rice took as his mandate and put in his decision that the government is now legislating. Here's what he wrote: "Section 27.1" — and he means the School Act — "demands that I delete any conflicting or inconsistent 'provision.' That is all that I may do. I may not modify or amend any provision to eliminate a conflict or inconsistency." That's what Mr. Rice wrote in his decision, and that's what he told the BCTF was his mandate.
Somehow the minister now says: "That wasn't his mandate. If the BCTF had just stayed at the table, Mr.
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Rice would have been able to modify or amend provisions." No wonder this government has to use its legislative hammer. They have no idea what they're doing otherwise — no idea.
Given the minister's words just now, please tell me whether the Comox and Vancouver collective agreement provisions I have read into the record can be renegotiated as the minister has just alleged.
Hon. G. Bruce: I think it is important, again…. There is that which is framed by legislation, and then you have the skill set of an arbitrator and, certainly, the skill set of a gentleman such as Mr. Rice, who's held in high esteem and high regard, as he is now a B.C. Supreme Court judge. I think that is important to keep in mind.
What you're actually trying to do is get parties to come to agreement so you have your legislation. I think he also said:
"I appreciate that deletion of important provisions from the collective agreement doesn't mean, necessarily, deletion from school board policies. However, the provisions for special needs students, for example, it seemed to me were in some ways worth preserving. It seemed to me that the parties could cooperate and reconstruct parts of the agreement in ways that would not infringe section 27(3), and I would recommend that both parties think about it."
J. MacPhail: Oh my gosh. That is exactly why Justice Shaw said that Mr. Rice's decision was in error, fundamentally flawed — because he should have taken that into account under the principle of harmonization. Now, I'm a busy person, Mr. Chair, but I managed to understand that from reading Eric Rice's and Mr. Justice Shaw's decision.
By the way, not one single word I'm saying here impugns the reputation of Mr. Eric Rice, now Mr. Justice Rice — not one. If the government has the right to appeal a B.C. Supreme Court decision around autistic children, does that mean they're impugning the decision of that judge? No. So I'm not quite sure…. Is that all the refuge this minister has — to somehow suggest that Mr. Eric Rice is now a justice and we therefore shouldn't ask any questions or take issue? It's a last refuge, I'll say — an absolute last refuge.
In fact, the very clause of the arbitration that the minister read out is why Mr. Justice Shaw said that the principle of harmonization had been ignored and should have been applied. Can the minister answer my question? Pursuant to section 1, are the clauses that I read into the record from the collective agreements of Comox and Vancouver legal, illegal or able to be renegotiated?
Hon. G. Bruce: Let's be clear. It was never the intent that there be any harmonization of those issues that were ultra vires to the School Act. We clearly put in place that you are not there to harmonize anything that's in the School Act. Where there is other language and particular examples that things could be worked out…. If the parties, as the examples that the Leader of the Opposition gives…. If those examples are accepted by the parties at the table, and they are determined not to be ultra vires to the School Act, then they can negotiate them.
J. MacPhail: Really? Well, no wonder this government is saying there can't be any court decisions forward either, because the minister's assertion right there will never be able to be tested — ever.
Let me read another provision into the record, and let me get the minister's…. And by the way, I don't know why the minister is being so afraid to judge these articles about whether they're ultra vires or not. These are the articles that have been stripped according to this legislation. Surely this government with this draconian legislation has gone through each and every one of these articles and said they're ultra vires. Or why else would they include it in this legislation? So I'm testing the theory that the minister said in response to my second reading that the issues the member — me — brings up can be renegotiated. Those were his words yesterday, so I'm just testing the theory.
Let's carry on. Vancouver Island North. This has been stripped according to Bill 19 — made illegal. So 5.2: "The board and the employee will endeavour to provide exceptional students with positive educational experiences in the classrooms where they are mainstreamed/integrated with other students." Is that illegal? That's been stripped. Why?
Hon. G. Bruce: As I've mentioned, where it is that there are sections or words or verbiage that has been removed that is not ultra vires to the School Act, and the parties wish to sit and renegotiate, they are free to do so.
I want to again remind everybody, because I think it is important, that this has been an ongoing process. We had a situation where we had a labour dispute with the British Columbia Teachers Federation. It went on for a protracted period. Legislation was brought in to end that contract dispute and to bring consistency with what changes were made by government in respect to class size — of putting that in the School Act.
Part of the legislation allowed for an arbitrator to be put in place. We went through four arbitrators. I will keep coming back to this part of the issue. We went through four arbitrators. The first arbitrator on the list of the parties…. The very beginning of that, that arbitrator was rejected by the BCTF, but they accepted his second recommendation as an arbitrator — his recommendation. I took that, and I then appointed that individual as the arbitrator. When they began their meetings, they rejected that individual as the arbitrator. I then had to find a third arbitrator, and I did so. The process started and quickly determined that the BCTF were in angst about this individual — perceived a conflict because his wife had apparently been a former teacher. So he resigned from that position — or stepped away. I then had to find a fourth arbitrator, which I did — Mr. Rice.
Again, I'm not trying to capsulize anything to the Leader of the Opposition when I mention that Mr. Rice is now a B.C. Supreme Court justice. All I'm attempting
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to do is show that we had very high-calibre people as arbitrators through this entire process. It was protracted, prolonged. It was clear that the BCTF were not interested in going through this process in a responsible fashion that would allow for the proper reaction to be taken and discussion to be had. So, then, Mr. Rice has filed his decision.
As I mentioned, government was then left with virtually three different options to take. I've canvassed those options. It was my determination that by going through the process of appealing, it would simply add further cost, but more than that, greater time delay; that the parties would be at it for some time, which would negate the ability for them to be able to get at negotiating; that more grievances would probably be filed, more disruption in the system.
The other possibility was to appoint another arbitrator. I think that if you understand how many arbitrators I've already appointed in this working — four of them — to appoint then a fifth arbitrator and go back through this process…. I didn't have much confidence that the British Columbia Teachers Federation would participate in that role.
The other option was to bring through a piece of legislation that virtually takes the Rice arbitration and says, "Okay, well, we've done this work. That's the way it will be for now," and then let the parties carry on with starting their negotiations if they choose to do so for 2004.
Before you rush to judgment of how fast and how heavy-handed and all of those comments that the member opposite is making about this government, this minister, I think you actually have to understand there has been a fair amount of patience in trying to bring about a resolution here that can work for all parties. Now, with the passage of this, it allows the parties to get on with moving ahead and get on with their negotiations in the future.
J. Reid: I'd seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
J. Reid: I just met with a delightful group of grade 5 students from Rutherford elementary school. I want to introduce them to the House. They're now in the gallery. They're here with their teacher, Ms. Margaret Litch, and they're also accompanied by numerous parents. They're a very enthusiastic group, and I'd ask that we would show them a welcome.
J. MacPhail: I was listening with care to the minister outlining the procedure he has gone through. He says Eric Rice made a decision, and that's true. That decision is appealable. There is a procedure, a judicial procedure, in this land. That decision is appealable, and one of the parties sought out their right to exercise that appeal — just as this government does every couple of months on matters of jurisprudence that it doesn't like.
One party did get a ruling from the Supreme Court of B.C. The other party to the decision didn't like that ruling, and so they did what they're supposed to do. They appealed Mr. Justice Shaw's ruling — just as this government does every couple of months, too, in its course of business.
The minister says he's been patient. Well, nobody's dragging their feet. BCTF have done what they're supposed to do, given their before–Bill 19 rights — rights under the judiciary and our legal system. The next set of negotiations is June 30. This government decided: "Oh well, those courts are just so difficult. The exercise of one's rights within the law is just too cumbersome. So let's bring in legislation." That's exactly what this government did.
I don't know why the minister is avoiding answering my questions about these specific clauses, because these specific clauses are part of this legislation. They're from the document that the minister so proudly tabled in the Legislature, accompanying Bill 19. I'm reading the language that's been stripped from the collective agreements according to Bill 19. They're directly on point to section 1, directly on point.
It was the opinion that he offered yesterday — not the opinion…. He stated, he asserted it here in debate in second reading yesterday, 19 or 20 hours ago, that those kinds of clauses could be renegotiated. I read the clauses into the record. He specifically addressed the issue that I raised. He was more than happy to do that yesterday. Today, in committee stage, I'm just putting the specifics to him, and I will continue to do so to show how ridiculous his statement was yesterday or to hold him to the truth of it — one or the other. He can pick, because he justifies Bill 19 by saying that there are clauses in collective agreements that are ultra vires according to Bill 28. I'm reading those clauses now to him, and he refuses to answer my question.
School board policies are not free collective bargaining, and that minister knows it. I expect this government would like to wipe out unions and any sort of collective bargaining completely. I expect they would like everything to move toward policies of the employer. I know they would feel much more comfortable delivering for their supporters if that were the regime in place. Unfortunately, they haven't yet universally outlawed free collective bargaining.
There has been a long history through many governments of negotiated collective agreements that deal with delivering solid education to children. That's what it is about. That's what teachers want, and that's what school boards want. In fact, some of these clauses have been in place since the government that he was previously in — it was called the Social Credit government then — so I'm just reading them into the record. Let me carry on.
I don't know why the minister is already shy about asserting his view today. He wasn't shy yesterday. Maybe he was trying to give some comfort to his gov-
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ernment caucus members when they were just about to vote on draconian legislation. I'm sure he had already given that detailed comfort in caucus. I'm sure he had gone through every single clause here and explained to his caucus members which ones were ultra vires, etc., so let's just carry on. I know it's difficult work, but we've got lots of time here.
Let me read this one that's listed as part of Bill 19 as ultra vires. Kamloops–North Thompson collective agreement: "11. Integration. 11.2. At the request of the administrative officer, teacher or parent guardian, a student shall be referred to the school-based team. The school-based team shall determine whether in-school assessment is required and sufficient, whether referral to the special education services is required, whether placement or placement options and resources are appropriate." Eric Rice's arbitrator said he had no option but to delete that clause, and the government has confirmed Mr. Rice's point of view in Bill 19.
Is that ultra vires, or is it negotiable?
Hon. G. Bruce: First and foremost, let's be clear. This government is not anti-union, and this ministry and minister definitely are not anti-union. In fact, if one looked at the history of what had gone on in the province through the decade of decline of the former member's administration, you would find that the union movement took probably the hardest hit it had ever taken in the history of this province.
There used to be a mining industry in this province. There used to be 15,700 miners that contributed about $4 billion, or billions, to the economy of this province, but due to the policies of the former administration, they took that industry and they thrashed it. The only export we have in mining today, virtually, is miners who had to leave this province due to the policies and actions of the former administration, which has impacted all of the social services we would like to deliver in the province for the citizens that live here — whether it's folks like moms and dads with autistic children, whether it's people on social assistance, whether it's schools and education so we can have a good system in this province.
Due to the policies of that former administration, we have had to make some tough, difficult decisions to get this province turned around. When it comes to the union movement, let me tell you…. Not only did you take the 15,700 miners and divide that by half, so there are only 7,000 miners in this province today, you then took the IWA, one of the proudest mainstays of unionization in this province, and reduced them by 10,000 to the point that they've had to go and try to find and join another union. So don't lecture me on the ability or lack of that you had as administration in the past — the development of unionization in this province.
Clearly, the policies of the former administration did more to harm the union movement in this province than any other former government did or future government will. A strong economy that provides jobs, homes for people, is the best sort of development for a good unionized sector and a good workforce in British Columbia. Those are the things we're trying to bring about.
You're right. It's been a difficult time — what we've had to do. The mess that was left here was horrific. The ten years of what the former administration brought to this province is absolutely shameful. Every single decision that this government, under the leadership of this Premier, has had to do has been the right decision, but they are difficult decisions, not popular decisions. We know that. We realize that when you are faced with the mess that the former member was part of and left for us, it's going to take some tough times for us to work our way through, but we will do that.
Quite frankly, when you look at the labour relations in this province today, it's one of the more peaceful times in the history of this province. I mentioned the other day, and I'll mention it again that in the year 2000 there were 88 strikes in British Columbia — virtually the last full year of the former administration. In 2002, in our administration, there were 18 strikes. In 2003 there were eight. There's been 35 public sector–negotiated collective settlements, some with concessions, in this province during the course of the last 18 months.
There are over two million people working in the province today, the highest number that this province has seen in its history; 126,000 more jobs have been created in this province from one end to the other. The housing construction that's gone on in this province has been at astronomical levels compared to what took place in the former administration. We have seen a 76 percent growth in new housing starts on Vancouver Island alone. It's about 66 percent through the whole province. And yeah, there are low interest rates, and that helps. That's great.
But you know, if you have to worry about an interest rate, that means you have to borrow some money. If you have to borrow some money and you go to the bank, they usually ask you, when you are trying to borrow money to buy a house, whether you have a job and what the future of holding onto that job is like. Yet we have seen tremendous growth and development in respect to the housing construction. But it isn't just housing construction. Then go to the other side of it — of confidence-building. It's housing purchases. It's real estate markets that have grown and are climbing.
So those are strong things and indicators of confidence in respect to how people of British Columbia feel about the future. Yeah, there have been some difficult challenges to go through there — not a lot of popularity. There has been a multimillion-dollar campaign that's been going on by the public sector unions, as the member opposite clearly knows, one after the other, which we've suffered through and listened to and will continue to do so. That's great about democracy. Everybody's got an opinion. That's wonderful. That's happening.
There have been some difficult choices. Talking about building the labour movement and the skill set that's necessary and the future of this province…. A good, strong economy, as we're starting to build, is the best social safety net you can have. It's the best way to
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build good, strong jobs in the economy, and when there are good, strong jobs in the economy, it's the best way to build sustained unionization in this province as well. That's what this government is doing.
As I mentioned in respect to these sections before, where these sections are ultra vires — that means in contravention of the School Act — they shall not stand. Where it is that there are sections that are not ultra vires to the School Act, the parties, in agreement, can negotiate them and decide whether or not they wish to bring them back into the contracts.
The Chair: Hon. members, I want to remind both sides of the House to confine their questions and their answers to section 1 of Bill 19.
J. MacPhail: Thank you, Mr. Chair. That's good advice. I really wish the minister would answer my questions. Very interesting. Perhaps he'd like to look at public opinion surveys about union members and their families and who they think would make a better choice. Perhaps he'd like to look at that, oh, maybe over the course of the last year. Maybe he'd like to look. Maybe he would like to look at women, who have been particularly hard hit by this government.
The Chair: Hon. member, once again, please, let's confine our comments and questions to section 1.
J. MacPhail: All right, Mr. Chair. Perhaps if the minister would answer my questions about clauses. Today he is completely reluctant to answer.
Let me just read an article: "B.C. has been hit harder by long-term unemployment than any other region in Canada." All those Liberal MLAs applauding. Are they applauding for that, eh? Isn't that great? Measured in 2003, it's skyrocketed under this government. The minister tries to use their creation of jobs as being good.
Let me ask this. Is the minister going to refuse to answer every single question I raise about these? I'm going to continue to read them into the record. He is making them ultra vires. Is he going to refuse to answer those questions?
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition.
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, I asked him a question about Comox, about Vancouver, Vancouver Island North and Kamloops-Thompson. He has not answered one of them.
Hon. G. Bruce: I'm going to state it again. In the example that the Leader of the Opposition is raising, if it is that some of that example is not ultra vires to the School Act and if the parties at the table choose to renegotiate, they can do that. Where it is determined that the piece is ultra vires to the School Act, the School Act must take precedence.
We can go through all of those pieces, and so on, of the 60 contracts, which are all listed and which were tabled — not proudly tabled, just tabled, just matter of factly tabled. You can go through every one of them, and the answer shall be the same. Where the parties wish to negotiate them and where there are issues that are not ultra vires to the School Act, they may do so. It is up to those parties. If it is ultra vires to the School Act, no, they cannot because the School Act takes precedence. They'll have to determine that in their discussions they have.
J. MacPhail: What the heck was the government doing in putting this list together in the first place? Is this just a random list? Or were they determined to be ultra vires? What did the government do in putting this list together?
Hon. G. Bruce: This isn't the government's list per se. It is the list from Mr. Rice's arbitration, and we're stating it. There's been no tampering. Here's what it is. This is what was done. It was tabled for the edification of all the members of the House and the public.
J. MacPhail: Oh, listen. This is far too serious for the minister to be so glib — far too serious. Are these clauses that are being stripped pursuant to this act ultra vires or not? Yes or no? This government has deliberately precluded, prohibited — made illegal — a party from going to court to challenge Mr. Rice's arbitration decision. That's No. 1. No. 2, by legislation, they're invoking Mr. Rice's decision to strip clauses. That's what this legislation does. What determination did the minister make, or his staff, about whether these clauses are ultra vires or not? Are they ultra vires or are they not?
Hon. G. Bruce: What's wonderful is that the parties actually had the opportunity, through the offices or assistance of an arbitrator, to go through each and every one of these items. They chose not to do that.
I'm going to go through this one more time, because there may have been some other people that have joined us just prior to the noon hour. I want them to understand that Mr. Rice is the fourth arbitrator. The first arbitrator was one that was on the list that the parties agreed…. They have a current list. They chose not to go along with that arbitrator but accepted his recommendation for the second arbitrator. The second arbitrator came to do the work, and the British Columbia Teachers Federation decided at that point that they didn't like that arbitrator. I was then forced to find another arbitrator. Let's be clear. This takes time for all of this. This isn't a minute-by-minute type of situation.
I found another arbitrator, and they then objected to that arbitrator — I believe on the grounds that his wife had been a former teacher, which I found quite perplexing. I didn't understand that one. So then I found a fourth arbitrator. His name is Mr. Rice. He is now a Supreme Court judge. I mention that again, because I would like to demonstrate the calibre of people that we were dealing with. He wasn't a Supreme Court
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judge then, but he is now. He has been moved to the bench. He performed the work.
As he started the work, the British Columbia Teachers Federation, for the fourth time, objected and said they would not participate with Mr. Rice after the first meeting. So Mr. Rice carried on with his work, performed the task at hand and brought forward his recommendations. Those recommendations were then challenged by the British Columbia Teachers Federation on nine points. I believe Justice Shaw threw out five of the nine. I'm not sure if it was five of the nine or six of the nine. I think it was five of the nine. In respect to then moving ahead with that, he had to deem the action to be taken. Would he take bits or parts, or what have you, or throw it all out? The justice, in his wisdom — and I respect that — determined that all of this should be thrown out. So it was.
I was then faced with, okay, here we are. Back to square one. Do I now go about appealing the ruling, which at this point has already got us to the very near time of another contract to be negotiated? Do I take up the cost in dollars and cents and time of everybody by doing that, which would probably be the better part of a year, and preclude the negotiations for the next year to start when the parties and particularly the British Columbia Teachers Federation specifically had asked that they be given the opportunity to negotiate? Or do I appoint another arbitrator, which would be a fifth arbitrator, and go through all of the process again — and having little confidence for that. Or do I take what Mr. Rice presented, simply bring through in a concise piece of legislation the fact of the work that he has done and say that that shall apply as it is — knowing that there may be parts in there that the parties would be in agreement to renegotiate that are not ultra vires to the School Act? They can then get on with doing that in this next set of negotiations of which the BCTF would like to start that process. That is, in fact, what we're doing here.
J. MacPhail: Whoa. You know, if clause 4 weren't here — which doesn't allow people to even go to court in the future — I'd carry on this discussion, because the minister's own words would be used in court to haunt him forever.
The minister won't come clean and say this legislation declares these clauses under the schedule he tabled ultra vires. I wonder why. I wonder why he is chicken to do that. But of course, he doesn't take any risk there, because he is trying to make it seem — because of his own caucus, I would assume — that, really, there is nothing to this legislation. He might have a little rebellion then — or maybe not, actually. Maybe that would be too much to hope for — that some Liberal MLAs would actually stand up for their constituents' teachers and their rights to free collective bargaining.
This legislation, according to his own words…. Let's read it: "It removes those contract provisions identified by Eric Rice as being in conflict with the School Act." That's what he says at second reading. I assume such draconian legislation would have been examined by his lawyers and that his lawyers would say: "This is very serious legislation, but we agree that these clauses are ultra vires to the School Act."
Or is the minister putting everybody through all of this draconian legislation because he really wants them just to renegotiate the clauses? No, of course not. Of course not, even though when I read back his words in reply to second reading, that's exactly what he said. That's exactly what he said, Mr. Chair.
He said — and this was after I had read into the record the clauses that had been stripped: "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."
There he was. He made a very firm statement. A very firm statement, and all I'm asking, clause by clause, is whether these clauses are ultra vires or whether they can be renegotiated. Of course, the minister refuses to answer. Let me read a couple more of the clauses in question that this government has made illegal — and I assert that, Mr. Chair.
Let me ask this question of the minister. If the B.C. Teachers Federation or a school board or a trustee who actually happens to take pride in some of these clauses that they may have put in place…. If a school board or a trustee or a teacher's representative through their union attempts to renegotiate one of these clauses listed in the schedule — and if the other party says no, no, no; they've been made illegal under Bill 19 — what recourse is available to the party who asserts the right to renegotiate?
Hon. G. Bruce: I'd just like to finish off the paragraph that the Leader of the Opposition was reading, where I think she read: "At the same time, it also can be renegotiated into a contract." It then went on to say: "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."
So when we brought in the legislation of Bill 27 and Bill 28, we put the class size in the School Act. There is protection in that respect, so I just want to make sure we don't leave anything hanging.
As I've mentioned before, when parties are at the table, as it goes back and forth, there are different things you would like to negotiate and different things I would like to negotiate. That's fair ball. You can carry on with that. What's clear is that if the item I'm proposing to negotiate is in contravention of the School Act, then that can't be negotiated at the contract table.
If it is an item that actually is not ultra vires to the School Act and I wish to negotiate it, I can do so, but it takes two to negotiate, so the other side would have to agree to those negotiations. That happens in all sorts of
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circumstances during the course of labour negotiations in this province in both the public and the private sectors.
You weren't in the wrong chair, were you?
J. MacPhail: Mr. Chair, would the minister answer my question, please?
My question was about what legal recourse a party who asserts a clause that's been stripped pursuant to Bill 19 can be renegotiated has when the other party says it can't. What legal recourse does the party who asserts it can be negotiated have?
Hon. G. Bruce: It's part of the negotiation. There is a….
J. MacPhail: Legal recourse.
Hon. G. Bruce: Well, there is a definition of the School Act and the items in the School Act, and we've made it abundantly clear that if the issue that's being presented for negotiation between the parties is in contravention of the School Act, then it cannot be negotiated. Just because one person says, "That's in contravention of the School Act," it wouldn't stay there. There would be, I would suspect, parties looking for a determination — clarification of whether or not it is in the School Act. We've made it very clear. What you've got in this situation here is that if the parties are at the table and both parties agree to it and it's not in contravention of the School Act, they can negotiate it.
J. MacPhail: What legal recourse does a party have? Can they go to the LRB? Can it be arbitrated? Can they go to court? The minister has said these clauses can be renegotiated.
Hon. G. Bruce: They could go to the Labour Relations Board and argue that the other side is bargaining in bad faith and ask for a ruling by the Labour Relations Board with respect to that issue.
J. MacPhail: Tell me where in the act that is permitted. How does that work with the act as it's currently written?
Hon. G. Bruce: This doesn't have to be referred to in the act. This is the process that is utilized in negotiations, and that's what the Labour Relations Board is there for. There is a dispute between the parties, and they would take it and ask for a resolution.
J. MacPhail: Is what the parties would take the issue of bargaining in bad faith or the determination of whether a clause is ultra vires or not? They're very different things.
Hon. G. Bruce: I'm not going to interpret the technicalities, legalities that go before the Labour Relations Board and then how the Labour Relations Board adjudicates on it. That's the process that's available to the parties. Where they have a dispute, they would take and make their case to the LRB, and the Labour Relations Board would rule on it.
J. MacPhail: Oh boy. The minister tries to skate, skate, skate — thinks he can get away with saying something, and when he is challenged, he backs off immediately. I don't know why the minister won't answer that question. I don't know why he won't answer whether it is bargaining in bad faith or the right to have a determination if it's ultra vires.
If the minister is just saying that it was Mr. Eric Rice's determination that all these clauses I'm reading into the record are ultra vires and therefore now illegal, is there an opportunity for us to interpret, then, that the government may disagree with Mr. Rice's decision? Or do they agree wholeheartedly, completely, with Mr. Rice's ruling? Which is it?
Hon. G. Bruce: The government is agreeing with Mr. Rice's decision here. The concern that was expressed by myself earlier on is that if the parties have issues that they would like to put back to the table to negotiate through that are not ultra vires to the School Act, they can do that.
J. MacPhail: Okay. Let's be very clear here. Could the minister explain section (H) of clause 1, then? If he is saying that, if he is asserting that, what the heck does (H) mean?
I'll read it into the record:
"Section 2 (1) (a) (v) of the Education Services Collective Agreement Act, S.B.C. 2002, c. 1, is repealed and the following substituted…(H) in respect of an agreement referred to in Column A of the document entitled 'Teachers' Collective Agreement Deletions' tabled in the Legislative Assembly on the date of First Reading of the Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act, 2004, deleting those words, phrases and provisions, or parts of provisions, as set out in the same row in Column B of that document."
What the heck does that mean, if the minister is saying those clauses can be renegotiated?
Hon. G. Bruce: That is a deletion of all of the local language that runs through the 60-odd collective agreements through the province.
J. MacPhail: It is from that document that I'm making selected readings — I would be happy to read them all into the record — of clauses that I'm putting to the minister — whether they're ultra vires or can be renegotiated, as he said yesterday.
It was from that list in second reading that I was reading specific clauses, to which the minister replied: "They can be renegotiated. They have nothing to do with class size." The minister now is saying, hour after hour, that parties can renegotiate those if they're not ultra vires.
I'm asking the minister: is there anything on this list, the teachers' collective agreement deletions re-
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ferred to specifically in 1(H), that this minister is saying is not ultra vires? That's what he has been saying up until this point. He has been trying to sort of give hope that there would be some and they could be renegotiated. In fact, that's the only thing I could imagine he was referring to yesterday.
Hon. G. Bruce: I will state again. That is the language that has been removed. In respect to different pieces that the member opposite has raised, if the parties, through their negotiations — which with the passage of this bill they will be able to get onto if they choose to do so — wish to put them back on the table to negotiate, and they're not in contravention of the School Act, they can do that.
I will leave it to the two parties, obviously, to determine, first of all, whether they wish to negotiate those items; secondly, to make sure that they are not in contravention of the School Act; and thirdly, to determine what that resolution would be.
J. MacPhail: What does (H) mean, then? Given what the minister has just said, what does 1(H) mean? What possible meaning does it have if the minister is now saying that some of those clauses can be put forward if the parties agree to negotiate them and they're not ultra vires? What is the possible meaning of (H)?
Hon. G. Bruce: It just takes all of the recommendations of Mr. Rice and removes them through all of the collective agreements as he has stated and brought forward.
J. MacPhail: No, the minister speculates about this list. He's actually somehow speculating that the government has not made a determination about this list in terms of whether they're ultra vires or not. Is that true?
Hon. G. Bruce: Again, not forgetting that there were four arbitrators that we went through, not forgetting that each and every one until we got to the fourth had been rejected by the British Columbia Teachers Federation, and not forgetting that the British Columbia Teachers Federation then objected to sitting through the process with the arbitrator to discuss some of these very things that we were talking about here, the parties probably could have gone off, in a practical sense, and figured out some of this language a little bit and come back and said to the arbitrator: "We think we can agree to this part." He may have been able to help them. In fact, I will just read that again. I think it's page 32 of his determination.
"I appreciate that deletions of important provisions from the collective agreement doesn't mean necessarily deletion from school board policies. However, the provisions for special needs students, for example, it seemed to me were in some ways worth preserving. It seemed to me that the parties could cooperate and reconstruct parts of the agreement in ways that would not infringe section 72(3) of the School Act, and I would recommend that both parties think about it."
J. MacPhail: I'm just asking the minister where in legislation that principle is legislated. That's all I'm asking him. He's reading out part of an arbitration that was the basis for the appeal to the Supreme Court of B.C. The party who appealed Mr. Rice's decision won at the Supreme Court of B.C. The government decided to legislate, instead, the list of deletions, not the reference to that clause at all. Perhaps the minister could point in this legislation, given 1(H), where that principle or that recommendation of Mr. Rice is legislated.
Hon. G. Bruce: They could have gone through an arbitration process. I probably could have appointed another arbitrator and put the parties back together. Given that they would do that, it would probably take the better part of a year to go through all of those contracts and clean all of that up. The record to that date…. I don't want to go around it again, but there were four arbitrators and rejections, and so on, of highly capable individuals. I have to make this choice. It's my choice and nobody else's. I make the choice. Should I appoint a fifth arbitrator now and bring the parties back again and go through the whole process that we already started a long time ago, with probably more rejection?
I mean, there really wasn't anything in the way of an indication that the parties would be conducive to that type of process, which would have stood in the way of negotiating. Okay, so I can appoint another arbitrator. Even if the parties then wish to work their way through it, they could take the better part of a year to work through it. Or could I just bring this in, conclude it and then let the parties get on with negotiating their contract, which they're right ready to do now, moving ahead for this completion of the contract of 2004 for the future years?
Knowing that this wasn't going to be…. I mean, you're damned if you do it this way and damned if you do it that way, so at the end of the day somebody makes a decision. In this instance, I made a decision. It seemed to me, for practical purposes balanced with everything that had been presented to me, that the way to try and move this along that would be best for everybody involved — apart from perhaps me individually — would be to tell the parties, "Here's what we're doing," as we're doing here in respect of this legislation. "If you choose to renegotiate and start your negotiations for your contract now, you can do that now. If you choose not to do so…." The reason why you may choose not to do so is because I have another process in play in regards to the restructuring of how negotiations would take place, which the BCTF is part of and said to me they wished to be part of.
Don Wright, a former Deputy Minister of Education, is conducting that discussion to try and build a better system — a system that would work for the parties — because it hasn't worked in this province for many, many years, regardless of political party in power. It's an attempt to find a new way, but if they didn't want to wait for that and they thought there was a way through the process now to negotiate a contract,
[ Page 10356 ]
then by all means go ahead. To be able to get that forward step, you had to complete the current contract which was in effect.
It is a matter of choice, and quite frankly, I suspect then that the Leader of the Opposition sitting in this chair in some time past would have made a different decision. I'm not so sure she would have. At any rate, she didn't have to. It's my decision. I've made that decision and stand by that decision in an effort to try and get the parties to move ahead and to allow them to get into their bargaining if they choose to do so for 2004.
That's all there actually is to all of this. You take the history; you go through each and every arbitrator that was appointed. Every calibre of individual — every person, in that respect — is trying to work out a position so that we can move ahead with this process and then is finding, at the end of the day, that they're still with that arbitrator, with each one not accepted. It's as I stated. You finally come to taking it all on balance and saying…. I think, on balance, for the ability to let the parties get on with renegotiating, it would be better, rather than appointing another arbitrator — No. 5 — to just bring this through, leave it as it is and then say to the parties: "Carry on. Negotiate your new contracts if you choose to do so."
J. MacPhail: Could the minister read into the record again the quote he just read to me previous to this answer from Mr. Rice? Then I want to ask a very specific question about it.
Hon. G. Bruce: What he said was:
"I appreciate that deletions of important provisions from the collective agreement doesn't mean necessarily deletion from school board policies. However, the provisions for special needs students for example, it seemed to me, were in some ways worth preserving. It seemed to me that the parties could cooperate and reconstruct parts of the agreement in ways that would not infringe section 27(3), and I would recommend that both parties think about it."
J. MacPhail: Is it the minister's assertion, then, that Mr. Rice's recommendation has been turned into a right that can be exercised pursuant to Bill 19?
Hon. G. Bruce: No, I think you have to be very careful with that type of language, in respect to it being a right. But it doesn't….
Hon. G. Bruce: Well, be careful on that. It doesn't preclude the parties, as stated here, from getting together and trying to work our way through it, and that was the whole notion of having an arbitrator work through these 60 collective agreements.
J. MacPhail: Oh my, how you ask him specific questions and he backs off completely.
Mr. Chair, noting the hour, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:54 a.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. R. Harris moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: The House is adjourned until 2 o'clock this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:56 a.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply A; K. Stewart in the chair.
The committee met at 10:09 a.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
AND WOMEN'S SERVICES
On vote 17: ministry operations, $486,921,000 (continued).
J. Kwan: During the opening statements that the minister made on March 4, 2004, for these estimates, the minister said that for housing, $153 million will go towards housing the "most in need" in this province. Could the minister please advise who are the most in need in this context?
Hon. M. Coell: The groups that would be defined by those comments would be low-income families, seniors, people with disabilities and, in that group of people, those people who are finding difficulty finding affordable housing.
J. Kwan: Is there a specific criterion which the government uses to define who is most in need? I know that formerly there were criteria establishing homelessness, at-risk — those kinds of different criteria —
[ Page 10357 ]
but now that the terminologies are changing, I'm just wondering if the government has a new set of criteria for evaluation here.
Hon. M. Coell: There are a number of criteria: income, age, level of support needed. Those haven't changed in a number of years. They're still the same ones that were in use during the previous administration. They're still in use now.
J. Kwan: The $153 million going towards housing for those most in need in the province — how does that break down? What projects are they going to and in what categories?
Hon. M. Coell: The categories which we'd be supporting — the existing units — would be families, seniors, people with disabilities. That serves about 56,000 households across the province.
J. Kwan: Could the minister please break down for me each of the different categories — seniors, families and people with disabilities? Of that $153 million, how much is going into what category?
Hon. M. Coell: I don't have those numbers with me, but I will get them and provide them to the member.
J. Kwan: Could the minister also provide me, if he doesn't have the information now, aside from the dollar figures in terms of how it breaks down, the number of units in terms of how that breaks down as well?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, I'd be pleased to do that.
J. Kwan: Just along with that, it just occurred to me that I should actually find out where these units are — in what communities. Presumably, they have been completed, and they are being occupied. Is it the case that the $153 million is a subsidy towards these housing units? I'm assuming that's what it is, but I could be wrong. They could be some other expenditures.
Hon. M. Coell: The $153 million is subsidies for the existing units. I will also get the other information the member asked for.
J. Kwan: Okay, I should do this in sequence, so I'm going to leave that for now.
The wait-lists. What is the current length of the wait-lists for housing in British Columbia?
Hon. M. Coell: There are about 11,000 people on the B.C. Housing list, but there are other non-profits who also keep lists, and those people are quite often on those lists, as I'm sure the member knows.
What we're hoping to do, through B.C. Housing, is to go to one list for the province so that we'll have a buy-in of the other non-profits throughout the province to use one list. Then you'd get a more accurate number of people throughout the province. Also, you'd be able to assess people who are in the most need provincewide and provide housing to them first, rather than have them on a number of different waiting lists.
That's a project, I must admit, that I think will be of great benefit to all the non-profits, as well as B.C. Housing, in the future.
J. Kwan: Eleven thousand. Does the minister have the breakdown of that 11,000? I understand that, yes, non-profits and societies keep their own lists and so on. How does that break down on a region-by-region basis? Do we have that information?
Hon. M. Coell: We don't have that breakdown, but I will provide that to the member as well.
J. Kwan: Yes, because I think that according to the information I have, in Victoria alone we have a wait-list of about 1,200 people, as an example. It would be interesting to see where the needs are and where the demands are. That's why I'm seeking this information.
In terms of the breakdown of the wait-lists, how many of those are low-income families, seniors in need of nursing homes, people with disabilities, etc.? Does the minister have that information?
Hon. M. Coell: The staff have given me some of the information that the member asked for, but I will get the breakdown of families, seniors and people with disabilities. Then in the five areas, the lower mainland has 9,932 applicants in total; Victoria has 1,285; Penticton 208; Prince George 240; and Prince Rupert 23. I can get that breakdown for families, seniors and people with disabilities by region for the member.
J. Kwan: What is the average wait for people on the list to get into a unit?
Hon. M. Coell: The way the lists work is a points score. Someone who is most in need would get housing first, and that hasn't changed. I believe that's been in effect for a number of years. In all categories it's the people who would rank the highest in need for housing who would get the housing first.
J. Kwan: What is the average wait time?
Hon. M. Coell: It would vary by the level of need. Staff advise that it could be as little as one month if someone was in need of shelter and housing, or it could be much longer than that if they were lower down on the point scale.
J. Kwan: Yes. I'm seeking the average number here. I understand that in emergency cases…. I've written letters myself, whether I was in government or otherwise, to B.C. Housing when someone is in dire straits — someone who's fleeing a violent situation and needs
[ Page 10358 ]
someplace to stay or who's just been evicted or whatever the case may be — urging assistance in that way. I understand that those kinds of things come up, but on average, what are we looking at?
Hon. M. Coell: I'll run this by the member and see if this would help. If you did the average by point scale, then you would find out the average wait for a person in need. There would be a number of averages, rather than the global average, which I'm not sure would be as meaningful.
I think you want to know: if someone is in dire straits and needs help, how long is the average wait? I would endeavour to do that and break it down by point scale. Then you'd have the option of looking…. You could average that out and say what the average is for the whole caseload, or you could do it by category of level of need. I can have staff do that and provide that to the member.
J. Kwan: Great. Yes, we'll receive that information, then, from the minister. I just want to get a sense of what the wait-list is looking like and how long people are waiting out there for affordable housing. I should make a distinction, as well, in terms of the wait-list time for people in need of affordable housing versus seniors waiting for nursing home care, assisted living — that kind of category. I would say that they're different kettles of fish. If I could get that distinction in terms of that information.
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, we'd be pleased to provide that information.
J. Kwan: According to the…. Well, no, I should ask the question; I should just not assume. What is the latest information that the minister has around the homelessness count in British Columbia? Does the minister also have the information in terms of the homelessness count broken down on a region-by-region basis?
Hon. M. Coell: I have some of that information. The Ministry of Human Resources is responsible for the shelter portion, so they probably have more accurate numbers throughout the province. Some cities have been doing a better job at counts. Vancouver, I think, is probably the best area of the province to do counts. They approximate 1,000 people who are homeless each day. The city also suggests that there is an increase in the surrounding areas of Vancouver as well. Human Resources would actually be the ones who would, because they have shelters in all parts of the province, be able to give you that information.
J. Kwan: Does the minister use that information from the Ministry of Human Resources to devise housing programs or initiatives?
Hon. M. Coell: A number of partners that we use information from…. Human Resources is definitely one — federal government, HRSDC. A good example of that was there was an opening of Highland House in the greater Vancouver area last week, which is a partnership between Options, a community group; the provincial government; and the federal government. That provides shelters and transitional housing as well.
One of the things — and I can remember from being Minister of Human Resources — is you rely a lot on some of your non-profits to suggest areas. I think of some of the things that the Salvation Army does or some of the other providers that provide shelters. They look out and say that they believe there needs to be a shelter in an area, and you work in partnership with the federal government.
When I look all across Canada, it's an area that's troubling for Canada as a country and British Columbia as a province as well. You need to have that strong partnership, I believe, between the federal and provincial governments. I would say I have been fairly positive towards what the federal government has done with their homeless strategy in the last five years. The previous government as well as ourselves have worked with them on providing shelters, and I suspect that will continue into the future.
The ability to work with cities. Vancouver and Victoria have a pretty good working relationship with both our ministry and Human Resources and, I think, with places like Highland House being opened outside of the city of Vancouver. That's a good sign that partnership is being innovative in how they develop not only transitional housing but shelter housing as well. There are a number of partnerships, and I guess to make a simple answer, we use as much information as we can get from as many sources in developing transitional and shelter housing.
J. Kwan: I'll get into more details around what the current programs are with B.C. Housing right now with this ministry, but I do want to note this though. In Vancouver the homelessness rate, according to the latest GVRD report or survey, if you will, that was done…. It shows that, approximately, in Vancouver and the lower mainland, the homelessness rate had actually doubled from what it was a year ago. Vancouver, I think, went from some 500, 600 to 1,000 or 1,200. The number had actually doubled, and certainly that was being duplicated across the lower mainland.
It's interesting to note because housing programs have also been significantly diminished — if not altogether disappeared from the two senior levels of government — really targeting homelessness in that sense. Anyway, as I said, I'll get into the fuller details around what the provincial government's doing now in terms of housing programs.
I want to get back to this issue that the minister brought up — that is, the wait-lists and trying to consolidate the wait-lists into one with non-profits — just to get a clearer sense of what we're looking at here. Aside from consolidating the lists so that we have one list and therefore a more comprehensive look at how
[ Page 10359 ]
many people are waiting for various kinds of affordable housing, is the intention also for this list that would be consolidated into one for B.C. Housing then to assign the units accordingly when units become available?
Hon. M. Coell: We have a central applicant registry now that we're trying to expand. There are about 30 groups who have signed on — most of the large groups. They still maintain their priorities, and they can draw from that list of the central applicant registry. An affordable housing society might have its priorities for selection. They still keep that, but they draw from the central list. You have the numbers on the central list that you can use for developing new programs or seeing where future programs might need to come from. At the same time, there is the autonomy of the 30 groups who have signed on.
We want to encourage all of the groups to sign on in the future. I think that gives you a better look at what the need is in the province, but it still allows some flexible priorities by region as well.
J. Kwan: The local groups, then, that have signed on…. As I think I understand what the minister is saying, those groups will still get to decide and pick their own tenants and prioritize their own tenants accordingly. Albeit it's from a central list, within that central list it would show who are there — the people that have signed on with the society. From there they could go through the tenant selection.
Hon. M. Coell: Essentially, what the member has said is correct. I think the bonus for the applicant or the client is that they only have to register once. They're ranked on that list so that when one of the 30 groups is looking for — let's say they have a two-bedroom apartment — a single parent with one child, they can go to that list. They can see who in their area is ranked the highest in need and take that person. That person doesn't have to go around and apply to a half-dozen different housing units. I think there's a real benefit for the applicant. I think it'll work out very well for them.
J. Kwan: In other words…. I'm just trying to get it straight in terms of how the process would work. Could there be a situation where on the centralized list there would be some family whose priority, according to the government's ranking, is higher than that of the non-profit society's ranking? Is that possible? If that conflict should arise — and these would be two different families — whose priority would override?
Hon. M. Coell: I think one of the advantages of this is that it is a common assessment tool. Everyone is assessed the same, so you're not getting one group assessing differently. Then the non-profit can go in, and they know that everyone is being assessed and ranked in priority of need, and then they choose the person or persons who fit their housing priorities by region.
J. Kwan: The 30 groups that have signed on to this central registry, if you will, have agreed on the ranking criteria, so there would be no disputes, then? The people on their lists are being evaluated by this one central assessment tool?
Hon. M. Coell: That's correct.
J. Kwan: Is this centralized registry in use now? If not, when will it be in use?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, it is in use now. What we're attempting to do is to make it more Internet-friendly so that it could be used provincewide and then to bring in as many of the non-profits as possible and manage the list in that way. That is something that will be ongoing, probably, over the next two years.
J. Kwan: Who are the 30 groups that have signed on to this? If the minister doesn't have the list, I could receive that at a later time.
Hon. M. Coell: It includes groups like the GVRD, the affordable housing society. I'll get that list and provide it to the member.
J. Kwan: I'm just trying to think if there would be an instance where a non-profit housing society's projects that they either operate or own would not be on the government's central list of projects. I don't think that would happen, would it? Am I right in making that assumption?
Hon. M. Coell: Actually, just a bit of a clarification. It's really not a government list. It's a central registry that's owned and managed by the sector itself, B.C. Housing just being part of that sector.
J. Kwan: Yes, I should clarify here. When I talk about the lists, I'm talking about the list of housing projects that exist across the province. The government has a list that says, "In this area there are this many projects" — seniors, families, whatever. I'm just trying to think if there is any possibility where there would be a project operated or owned by a non-profit that is not on this central list for information. Oftentimes what happens is the public comes to somebody's office — my office, anybody's office — and asks to see where all the affordable housing projects are. They can look through it, then they'll say, "I'm interested in living in this area," and want to put their name forward on a wait-list, indicating the areas of interest which they want to move into.
Am I right to assume that all the projects are on this list so that the public would know where all the projects are? This is particularly important as we then centralize the waiting lists with non-profits. That'll be central for the non-profits' full list of projects to be on the centralized list for the public's information.
Hon. M. Coell: I think there are two issues. There's the central registry, which is just people. On the B.C.
[ Page 10360 ]
Housing website, there's a link that shows all the social housing projects everywhere in the province by client group, by number of units, by address. Then there's a contact on that. Someone could register on the central registry and then go and also see what's available in the area they wanted to live in. It would be nice if at some point you would be able to mesh those two lists, as well, in some way, but right now they're actually two separate lists.
J. Kwan: The 30 organizations that have signed on to the centralized list — that includes co-ops?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, it includes some co-ops.
J. Kwan: Federal dollars. Could the minister give me a refresher and update on what it's looking like on federal dollars? Could I get the numbers? The minister may not have all the numbers, but I'm interested in getting numbers from — let's see now — 2000 to date. How many federal dollars have gone into housing in each of the respective years?
Hon. M. Coell: I can get the information back to 2001. I only have it back to 2003 here. I can give you 2003-04. The subsidy to support units already built was $275,851,000. The provincial share in 2003-04 was $139,349,000, and the federal share, which I think the member was asking, was $89,338,000. In '04-05, this year's budget, the total is $287,133,000. The federal share is $98,788,000. The provincial share is $142,406,000. That's the two years of the subsidy.
There are new federal dollars through the Canada–B.C. affordable housing agreement that was signed in 2001, and that is $88,700,000. That goes for new capital costs. Then there's a second phase, which is around $40 million, that is still under negotiations. That will be spent between now and 2006. That's to be for new projects. That could go into ILBC; it could go into the provincial housing program and a variety of areas as well.
So the $40 million is under negotiations, and the $88 million is to be spent. ILBC would be the majority of that funding.
J. Kwan: Yes, if I could get from the minister the breakdown of the dollars that came from the federal government, year over year, starting…. I'm actually interested in more of a historical pattern as well. If the minister doesn't mind, if I could get this information, at a later point, starting from '96, to see where the federal government has been at…. I know that, in fact, some years it's been zero, relatively speaking, in terms of new programs. So starting from '96 to date, if there were federal dollars that came into the province, what program did they go into and where were they utilized? In other words, what was built out of that — the list of projects built from the federal moneys or contributions from the federal government?
In addition to that, if I could also get the provincial contributions as well, so that I can compare it year over year to see where the province has been at with that information.
Hon. M. Coell: We can supply that information. If the member would like it, we can add something to it that I think might make it more meaningful. I use Hyland House as an example, because it's relatively new. It had some SCPI money. It had Canada–B.C. affordable housing money and then it has an ongoing subsidy from the province. So the capital may have been in the $2 million to $3 million range and then through B.C. Housing you have a 30-year subsidy, which would be approximately $8 million. That would have a subsidy through MHR as well as B.C. Housing.
There are a few different twists in how one of these projects gets built and then how it's funded in the long run. We can supply that and maybe give a couple of examples of that — maybe a seniors' project as well as a transitional shelter project, so you can compare the capital costs to the subsidy costs and where they come from. I think that might be helpful.
J. Kwan: Yes. In fact, that would be very helpful — the list of projects that were developed since '96 with federal and provincial contributions. Because precisely — the minister is right. The federal government has only come in with capital support.
Even to that end, the federal government capital support has only been very limited, let's just say. In fact, a lot of the focus has been around shelter-like arrangements and hasn't been focused around long-term housing, permanent housing-type arrangements. There has been a lobby for a long time for the federal government to come back into the game of housing — since '93, since they opted out of housing altogether. That makes a big difference.
Certainly, the burden for the provincial government has increased as a result of the federal government pulling out, which is why I want to get a historical look here of what that looks like and then also over the years what it looks like from a provincial contribution point of view. So if we can break that down into capitals and subsidies and into what programs these dollars came from, that would be most helpful.
For the projects listed, presumably…. I don't know what's the best way to also see what it looks like across the province in terms of what projects are built where. I know B.C. Housing keeps this information so that we know where the projects are built. If we could actually have an identifier with respect to that, it might be a way to do it. By the 79 MLA representations in terms of constituency base — that might be one way to do it. Or alternatively, whatever way that B.C. Housing keeps this data.
Hon. M. Coell: That's a significant amount of work, but staff tell me they'd be happy to do it.
J. Kwan: I appreciate that. I appreciate that it is a lot of work, but I do want to get a sense of what housing
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has been developed in the projects, what they look like. I should also say that the project…. It will also say, presumably, how many units and what the units are for so that I get a full sense of it. I really do appreciate that cooperation from the ministry.
All right. So let me then turn to the service plan for a minute. According to the service plan for '05-06, '06-07, the numbers of subsidized housing units will decrease from 1,271 in '04-05 to 1,095 in '05-06. I think, fair enough to say in the meantime, the need and demand for subsidized housing is in fact growing. The number of homeless people is increasing. There was a recent report released by Women's Housing Action Team which estimates that in the capital region alone some 6,000 women are in need of suitable, affordable housing.
Maybe this will be covered already by the list the minister is going to provide, so let's just let me ask some quick questions around it. How many new housing units have been built or are in the planning stages of being built since April 1, 2003?
Hon. M. Coell: The numbers I've got in front of me are from June of 2001. The provincial government has committed funding for construction of 3,400 housing units across B.C. To date 2,850 of these units have been completed, and another 550 are under development. Those are for families, seniors and people with disabilities.
The other group that has been undertaken is Independent Living B.C., and to date more than 1,734 units have been allocated across the province out of the 3,500 that we intend to provide. As I was saying earlier, most of the money for the 3,500 will come out of the federal government's $88 million, the new project. With the $40 million still under negotiation, there's an opportunity there for some housing units.
J. Kwan: I just want to make sure I've got the numbers right here. The minister advised 3,400 units, and then he also provided the figure of 2,800 and then 550. Those were the three figures which total 6,750 units.
Hon. M. Coell: The total is 3,400.
J. Kwan: Sorry. The total is 3,400, so it's 2,800 and 550 of family, seniors and disabilities. Gotcha. That's since 2001. Okay. Those are the numbers of units that have been built since 2001.
The numbers don't quite add up. Let me try, then, to sort this out. Since 2001, 3,400 units have been built. Last year the former minister had stated that 7,510 units had been under construction since this government took over in 2001. That number is quite different from this number. I'm wondering if maybe the minister could point me to why these numbers differ so much.
[G. Halsey-Brandt in the chair.]
Hon. M. Coell: The 3,400 units of housing are through the provincial housing program. Those are committed. Of those committed, 2,850 have been completed, and there are 550 under development. So that's the 3,400.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
Under Independent Living B.C. there are 3,500 committed. Of those, 1,734 have been allocated. They're either under construction or completed. Then there's the community partnership initiative, which we haven't talked about yet, but it is in the service plan. It is at 529. When you add those three — the 3,400 for the provincial housing program, the 3,500 for Independent Living B.C. and the 529 to date for the community partnership initiative — you get approximately the number that…. I think there are a few more in there. Some of those are under construction, some are under development, and some are yet to be developed and will be over the next couple of years.
J. Kwan: The former minister had included the assisted-living units, generally speaking, in the housing list. Okay. That clarifies it.
Of the 3,400 units or so, how many of them were actually committed prior to May 2001?
Hon. M. Coell: There were about 700 new units. So if you take 700 minus 3,400, those were committed by the previous government. We finished all of those and, if there were any under construction, completed them. I know that my feeling, and I suspect it's the member's, is that these are taxpayer dollars rather than political dollars. Then on top of the 700 we added the 3,500 of Independent Living B.C.
I think I understand where the member's coming from. Whenever there's a change in government, there are projects that are ongoing. We continued the ones that were ongoing and added to that 700. Then it changed direction a bit with the Independent Living B.C. and added the 3,500 to that. My recollection is that in different provinces, different things have happened where there's been cancellation of some projects when new governments take over, but I think the previous government had projects underway that we reviewed and thought were good and carried on with them.
J. Kwan: Yes, governments change, and the new programs are developed. Old programs are cancelled or eliminated. In this instance, I'm just trying to get a better sense.
I think the information is actually out there, but I just want to reaffirm that of the 3,400 units, some 2,700 units were initiated and underway under the previous administration for affordable housing purposes. The 700 units that this government had committed came in from proposal calls from the previous administration. Instead of cancelling…. I think there were almost 1,900 units of projects that were actually approved already but not yet under construction. The government, in the
[ Page 10362 ]
first year of its mandate, cancelled over 1,000 units. That leaves that 700 to be continued.
Then the rest of the dollars that came in for housing that normally is targeted towards families, seniors, people with disabilities, women, singles, homeless, at risk, etc…. Those dollars have been taken away, essentially — almost all of it, if not all of it — into assisted-living programs. It's a major shift in terms of priorities here.
Let me finish asking these questions in this area. What is the percentage breakdown of these units in terms of tenant market that they're aimed at? The numbers that the former minister gave…. I just want to make sure these numbers are still current. It was 3,300 units, then, in terms of the housing market we're talking about here: 23 percent were for supportive, 33 percent for homeless, 38 percent for families, 6 percent for seniors. That's how the market it was aimed at was broken down to be in percentages. Those were the numbers given by the former minister. Are these numbers still current, or is there an update with these numbers?
Hon. M. Coell: Yeah, the percentages are the same. The information you asked for earlier will be provided and will actually break them down by area.
J. Kwan: Because this is year over year, then, it will also show the percentage of the '04-05 year as well. I asked for the numbers starting from '96 until today. So for next year's allocation, what that would look like would also show. Am I right?
Hon. M. Coell: That's correct.
J. Kwan: Presumably, there would be a significant shift in terms of what that would look like. Anyway, I don't know. I'm just assuming, but I imagine that it would. Then essentially there are no more dollars, really, going into the traditional housing programs in terms of new housing units to be developed. They're all going into assisted living and supportive living. So I'll wait for that list, because that would be most informative.
Now, during estimates debate last year, it became apparent that the government — and as we're discussing today — is moving away from providing traditional 35-year subsidies for low-cost housing rental support. The '04-05 and '06-07 service plans confirm this, and this year an additional 500 rent supplements will be added, but next year there will be zero according to the service plan. That means the government will no longer be providing a subsidy for low-income people to supplement their rent. Instead, the government is handing out one-time capital contributions to non-profit organizations to help them get low-income construction projects off the ground.
If I'm right in following the logic in understanding and reading the service plan, then my first question would be: why are rent supplement figures in the service plan for the '06-07 year still to be determined? It actually doesn't give a number.
Hon. M. Coell: There's a trend. The member may have another question, but there are two types of ILBC units. We've got 2,500 that are done with non-profits, and they all have the long-term subsidy agreements. There are 1,000 ILBC units that are done in the private market, and they have a five- and a ten-year agreement with them, so they could be renewed or moved, if need be, at the end of those ten-year agreements.
J. Kwan: Is the minister saying, then, that the numbers are changing because there's been a shift? Am I understanding that correctly — that it's been shifted from the non-profit sector to the private sector?
Hon. M. Coell: If the member has it in front of her, on page 26 of the B.C. Housing service plan the non-profit housing cooperative subsidies continue to stay in the $180 million range over '04-05 through to '06-07. Where there is, I would think, a change is that we're now doing some rent supplements in the private market on top of that. There isn't a shift as much as some…. The rent supplement increases a little bit from $29 million to $31 million. There isn't a significant shift, but there is a change in doing some more rent supplements in the private market.
J. Kwan: Page 26 of the B.C. Housing service plan? My B.C. Housing service plan for '03-04, '04-05 only goes up to page 21. What year is the most recent one?
Hon. M. Coell: It goes up to 2006-07.
J. Kwan: Okay. Mine's '05-06. I thought that's pretty recent. Thanks.
Hon. M. Coell: Page 26.
J. Kwan: Okay. Why is the number blank on the '06-07 slot?
Hon. M. Coell: I wonder if the member could let me know which graph she's looking at.
J. Kwan: Let me ask this while I look for exactly where that shows the to-be-determined chart. Maybe the minister can tell me, then, how many units we are expecting for rent supplements for the '06-07 year.
Hon. M. Coell: On page 26 of the latest service plan, if you're looking at Independent Living B.C., by the time you get to 2006-07, all 1,000 of those rent supplements should be in place. As a matter of fact, of the 1,734 units that have been built today, 804 of the rent sups are already in the private market. Between now and then there are only approximately 200 to be made
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up of rent sups. The rest will be done with non-profits, and they'll be built….
As you see, there are 1,150 to be built in 2004-05, 1,275 in 2005-06 and 777 in 2006-07 of the Independent Living B.C. In that group there are 1,000 supplements in the private market, and 800 of them are already done. Within those two years, another 200 would be done, to bring your total to 3,500, with 1,000 of those being rent supplements. Then you see the provincial housing program phasing out as the Independent Living program continues to develop in the two out years.
J. Kwan: This year there were an additional 500 rent supplements, then last year there were 500, so that's the total of 1,000. Next year there are none. So far, from last year and this year, the total of 1,000, we have utilized about 800 and some, so there are 200 and some left for the remainder of this year. The fiscal year has only just begun — right? There are only 200 left for the fiscal year this year and also next year. Wow.
Hon. M. Coell: Just to clarify for the member, there was a commitment of 1,000 units. We've actually moved ahead of schedule, so there are 800 units with people allocated. Those are ongoing as well. They don't just end at the one year; they are continued to be funded on the ten-year contract.
It's what I was saying earlier. I don't see it as a major shift. It's a new shift of providing rent supplements in the private market, but the budget for subsidized housing isn't going down by that amount. It's actually pretty level at $100 million, $180 million, while these new moneys go for Independent Living B.C. The new program — I'm doing some private market supplements as well — is being tried, as I said, on five- and ten-year terms so that the government of the day ten years from now can evaluate it and see whether that's something they wish to continue or wish not to continue with.
J. Kwan: What I'm worried about is this, because there is a bit of a shift in terms of moving more towards the private market in providing housing options. In that sense, the rent sups…. I would imagine there is going to be a greater demand for them. Already, if 800 of the 1,000 rent supplements have already been utilized — and that's last year and this year, so of the 500 this year, let's say, you only have 200 left — and the fiscal year has only just begun, and that's supposed to cover for the rest of this year and next year, we're going to run into a problem in terms of the number of rent sups. That would be my sense.
Presumably, the rent supplement number is not going to increase for the '06-07 budget year. It's remaining at zero.
Hon. M. Coell: I guess I'll try and explain it. The supplement program was only going to provide 1,000 rent supplements in the private market. That could have been done over three or four years. What we wanted to do is see if we can get them up as fast as possible and get people into them, because they're subsidized for the ten years after that in any event. So instead of staggering them, 350 a year, you've been able to do better than that and get those units actually up and running sooner. But there was never planned to be any more than the 1,000 rent supplements.
J. Kwan: Now, before the government took power, the non-profit societies got capital assistance, mortgage assistance and ongoing subsidies when they entered into subsidized housing projects, usually for a term of about 35 years. Now it appears to me that they only get capital assistance, because new projects that are coming on stream…. Well, there are no new projects coming on stream. That's why they're basically not really getting very much support from the government.
How much is the capital contribution amount in percentage in relation to the rent subsidy amount over the span of the 35-year term?
Hon. M. Coell: In how the member described it, I don't think there has been much change. ILBC still does the mortgage financing. The 35-year operating assistance would be approximately $17 million. The vast majority of that would be going to non-profits. The program doesn't function a lot differently, the only difference being that the rent supplement portion of the ILBC is new and is different. The other capital costs are from the feds as well, and that was similar to the provincial housing program. As well, ILBC had some federal money in for capital costs.
J. Kwan: So the dollar amounts essentially haven't changed, with the exception that the program focus has changed, and instead of doing families and seniors — individual-type housing — the dollar focus has been shifted to supportive living and assisted living types of programs. The dollar amounts haven't changed for subsidies, but the program focus has changed.
Hon. M. Coell: That's essentially correct. There's been a refocusing of the program, but the programs still function very much in the same way.
J. Kwan: The non-profit societies that are still providing traditional non-profit housing, those that have 35-year leases, etc. — can I assume that the government will continue to pay for the subsidies for those units, that the subsidies for those units with existing leases that have already been committed for traditional affordable housing units will not change and that that, by the same token, extends to co-op housing as well? Co-op housing also has a percentage of units that are subsidized.
Hon. M. Coell: I think the important thing to note here is that we, as well the federal government, have binding agreements with the non-profits for those 35
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years. I wouldn't see any change federally — or provincially for that matter.
J. Kwan: Historically, cooperative housing units have a number of units, a percentage of the units, that are for lower-income residents. Some of those units are subsidized, and they receive a subsidy from the government. Has that changed?
Hon. M. Coell: No, it hasn't.
J. Kwan: Okay. I just want to be totally clear. For the co-op housing projects that are now in existence, where they have been receiving subsidized dollars for families in those projects, the number of units that are subsidized has not changed. That has not changed since 2001, prior to the election?
Hon. M. Coell: That is correct.
J. Kwan: Good. That's good news. Thank you.
Woodwards. I just want to turn to Woodwards for a moment before I get into other regions. I know that the province has sold Woodwards. The province has made a commitment, though, to provide 100 units of subsidized housing in the Woodwards Building. Maybe the minister can provide me with an update on the status of that and maybe more details around the Woodwards project in relation to the 100 units. Is that meant to be affordable housing? Is that meant to be co-op housing? Does the minister have further information on that?
Hon. M. Coell: The city right now is working to look for a developer. We'll work with the city to find a non-profit which would come in and manage and develop the 100 units. That would be a 35-year lease, I would expect, and subsidies to go with it. It would probably — and this may change…. We're seeing the city wanting a mix of housing in there — some for families, some for seniors, some for disability. We'll work with the non-profit to provide those.
J. Kwan: The minister says that the province will work with the city to get a non-profit to, I guess, essentially operate the Woodwards housing component of the project. Is it the case that the province and the city will choose the non-profit society, or is it chosen by the city? How would that work?
Hon. M. Coell: It's expected that it would be a joint process.
J. Kwan: Presumably by a committee?
Hon. M. Coell: It hasn't been determined as yet with the city as to what kind of selection process it'll be.
J. Kwan: I'm wondering. It lists on the '04-05 to '06-07 service plan that the Woodwards project is expected to be completed in the year '06-07. Presumably, the project would be completed by '06-07. Is that the assumption here? It is now April 2004. In a year to a year and a half's time we expect Woodwards to be fully developed and subsidies flowing?
Hon. M. Coell: We're working to the city's time line, but we have guaranteed the 100 units. If they need a longer time, the 100 units are still there.
J. Kwan: That is the time line that the city is still working towards — to have it fully constructed and operating by '06-07.
Hon. M. Coell: We think that's optimistic, but we'll work with them. If they need more time, we're there for them.
J. Kwan: Given that the project is still in its current state, I would share the view that that is somewhat optimistic. But it's good to hear that the units are guaranteed, although I suppose that after the next election, who knows what may happen? Maybe the numbers will change for the better. Anyway, we'll move on.
J. Kwan: Oh, good. I won't provoke you any further. I'll let it go, because that's not the purpose of the estimates here.
Okay. Just to wrap up the questions around Woodwards, the time line is such, presumably, that forming committees for selection and what have you — that kind of thing…. That time line is all driven by the city?
Hon. M. Coell: Yes, very much so.
J. Kwan: Another area. Back in 2002 the Nelson District Community Resources Society purchased Ward Street Place in an attempt to protect the dwindling affordable housing stock in Nelson. Part of this project includes a wing for social housing called short-term accommodation. The project will support 12 beds for people for up to three months. These beds, of course, would be a crucial first step for people to get back on track to find employment, stabilize their health, make positive changes in their lives, etc.
Support for the short-term accommodation has been widespread in the community, with funding or donations coming from the Columbia Basin Trust, the federal homelessness initiative, the city of Nelson and credit union, the Lions Club and the general public of Nelson. Provincial funding, however, which is crucial to this project getting off the ground, is not being provided, and the government is not providing the staffing or the program dollars to get this excellent project underway.
Maybe the minister can tell me: why is this project not being funded?
Hon. M. Coell: I don't have any information on me. I believe I have talked to the local MLA about the issue,
[ Page 10365 ]
but I'm not sure whether they have a proposal in to B.C. Housing or in to MHR for shelter beds. I can get that information for after lunch, if that's fine.
J. Kwan: That would be very useful. We can come back to that after lunch.
There's another project I'm interested in. That is the project that was turned down on February 15, 2004. This is the project with SUCCESS. B.C. Housing has turned down their application to build a 79-unit housing project for the Chinese seniors in Richmond. The provincial government, of course, as we have established, plans to build 3,500 independent living units but only includes a project for the Japanese seniors in Burnaby Kingsway. Chinese seniors are, of course, not included because there are cultural sensitivities with respective projects.
I actually just met with the SUCCESS board — some members of their board and their staff — several weeks ago. I can't remember exactly when, but very recently. SUCCESS advises, of course, that the Richmond community, particularly, have a great demand for seniors housing, and they need this kind of project, of course, to cater to the cultural and special needs of that particular community. Given that there is demand there, given that there is a very credible society which has done tremendous work in our community…. Yet their application was turned down. Maybe the minister can tell me why that application was turned down.
Hon. M. Coell: I have, as well, met with the members of the board of SUCCESS, and they do some great work in the greater Vancouver area as well.
That was a competitive process. The decision was a joint decision of the Vancouver coastal health authority and B.C. Housing based on dollars per unit. Those units aren't lost. There are still 75 units for the Richmond area. We've made a commitment to work with SUCCESS to try and look at other projects that might have less cost to them that would fit into the budget and be a higher priority. There'd definitely be those units for Richmond.
J. Kwan: First of all, the minister said the units won't be lost; they've gone to….
J. Kwan: They have been allocated to…. No, they have not been.
Hon. M. Coell: They're targeted to the Richmond area.
J. Kwan: They're targeted to the Richmond area. They have not yet been allocated. The issue the minister has identified is that that particular proposal put forward by SUCCESS…. It appears to me that the unit cost is too high, and so therefore, the government has rejected that proposal.
When the minister says the unit cost is too high, which component are we talking about? Are we talking about the operating or the capital?
Hon. M. Coell: In this case it was actually both.
J. Kwan: What's a standard, acceptable dollar figure for operating and for capital from the government's point of view?
Hon. M. Coell: It varies depending on the cost of land, the construction costs related to the land and also the health supports that the partner would put in. Also, we're looking for a contribution from groups that are going to be the service provider partner as to how much they would bring in. I know that SUCCESS in this instance probably is going to go out and look for more equity, as well, in other projects they might put forward in the Richmond area.
J. Kwan: In the proposal that was put forward by SUCCESS that was deemed to be too high both for operating and capital…. I don't actually have the proposal in front of me. I left it in my constituency office, unfortunately, so I can't remember what the figures were that they put in. Anyway, I can check that out.
Based on that, how much were they too high by? How far away are they in terms of real expectations in that scenario?
Hon. M. Coell: I don't have the application in front of me either, but I think the magnitude was in the $4 million to $5 million range. So we'll continue to work. We want to see those units built in the Richmond area in the near future, but through the competitive process we have to make sure we get the best value for our dollar. I think SUCCESS is aware of that. They are actively, I think, going out to see how they can change their capital and operating costs to come in where they would be successful. There are probably a number of other non-profits in that area, as well, that are doing the same, and we'll work with the Vancouver coastal health authority to see one of those proponents successful. It's important that those units be built in the near future.
J. Kwan: So it sounds like it would be approximately $5 million over in terms of expectations that the province has for SUCCESS. Am I assuming correctly that it's $5 million in both capital and operating?
Hon. M. Coell: Yeah, I think the $3 million to $5 million was just on the capital side.
J. Kwan: And the ballpark for operating?
Hon. M. Coell: I think the change would be if you didn't have to borrow as much. If you didn't have to borrow the $3 million to $5 million, your actual operating costs would come down.
[ Page 10366 ]
Hon. M. Coell: Yeah.
J. Kwan: Yes, of course, the mortgage would then be different as well. Thanks. It's been some time since I've worked on those kinds of details on projects. I never even thought about those kinds of details. Okay.
Now, the minister says that the 79 units for Richmond are still targeted towards Richmond for the purpose of seniors housing, etc. Is it the case that when the proposal call went out, presumably there were other applicants that came in and none of them had met the criteria that the province was looking for — not only was SUCCESS rejected, but there were other societies that were rejected as well?
Hon. M. Coell: I'll have to get that number. We're not sure. We don't think there were any other viable projects in the Richmond area at that time, but I'll get the number for the member. That's why we've sort of ramped up our work with the health authority to define the level of health services and support services needed in that area.
J. Kwan: Okay. The minister says that the government is committed to getting those units built, but through a competitive project. What does that mean, exactly? Would there be another proposal call-out, then, in the Richmond area to develop the 79 units of seniors housing, or what process would the minister follow?
Hon. M. Coell: We're working with the health authority to identify a piece of property that might be owned by government or by the health authority, and then we would do a small proposal call on that at this point.
J. Kwan: And then that would just be targeted for the Richmond area? Are there other proposal calls that the minister might be expecting for the rest of the province for such projects?
Hon. M. Coell: In every health authority there have been proposal calls over the last number of months, and there will continue to be site-specific ones as well as general proposal calls.
The Chair: Members, noting the time….
J. Kwan: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Okay.
I was just trying to figure out if I had any follow-up questions in this area and then wrap it up before we break for lunch…. But I think we're finished on the SUCCESS initiative.
Sorry, one last question: what kind of time line are we looking at?
Hon. M. Coell: We're working with the idea that, as soon as possible…. It's something we would have liked to have seen six months ago, so we're working as quickly as we can.
J. Kwan: Noting the time, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:47 a.m.
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