2004 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 37th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2004
Volume 26, Number 9
|Introductions by Members||11511|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||11511|
|Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 66)|
|Hon. R. Coleman|
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||11512|
|Hon. R. Coleman|
|Hon. I. Chong|
|Privatization of automobile insurance|
|Hon. R. Coleman|
|Flu vaccine supply|
|Hon. C. Hansen|
|Role of Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services|
|Hon. B. Locke|
|Kootenay Livestock Association proposal|
|Hon. J. van Dongen|
|Medical Services Commission, financial statements, 2003-04|
|Second Reading of Bills||11516|
|Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 73)|
|Hon. J. Murray|
|Hon. J. Murray|
|Charitable Purposes Preservation Act (Bill 63)|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Land Title and Survey Authority Act (Bill 68)|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Transportation Statutes Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 75)|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Trespass Amendment Act, 2004 (Bill 72)|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Safe Streets Act (Bill 71)|
|Hon. G. Collins|
|Hon. G. Collins|
[ Page 11511 ]
MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2004
The House met at 2:05 p.m.
Mr. Speaker: Good afternoon, hon. members. It is indeed a pleasure to welcome back the Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations, the member for Kelowna-Mission. [Applause.]
Introductions by Members
J. Bray: Joining us in the gallery today, first of all, is — with all great deference to my colleagues here — the best legislative assistant in the precinct, Marnie Llewellyn-Thomas. Marnie is joined today by her aunt and uncle, Wayne and Minna Aitken, from Victoria, and also her great-uncle Glen Aitken, who made a special journey all the way from Ontario. They're here to see what she does for a living and how she stays out of trouble. I ask the House to make all of them feel very welcome.
B. Suffredine: In the gallery today I have two friends that hail from Calgary presently. Gerald Rotering and his friend Shirley Reynolds both currently hail out of Calgary, but Gerald is a long-time friend and acquaintance from Nelson. He's actually the former mayor of Nelson, presiding over fairly difficult times in the eighties and the time when the movie Roxanne was shot in Nelson. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. R. Neufeld: It's a great day today. I want to introduce to the House someone who is actually not here but is at home with her mother watching TV, Carley Jasper Sweet. The daughter of my former MA was born August 5 and weighed six pounds and 15 ounces. I wanted to introduce her in the House. Because I have four children of my own and still no grandchildren, I've claimed this one as my first grandchild, so I'm pretty proud of this little bundle of joy. I understand from what she says that Carley is excited to be living in the best place in the world, British Columbia.
Hon. S. Hawkins: First of all, I want to say what a pleasure it is to be back here today after a very long time. I do want to thank all the members in the House for your support and your love and the hope that you kept out for me. Guess what. I'm back. It feels good to be here.
I also want to thank all the staff in the buildings.
What a great welcome back — to have a blood donor clinic running here today. I do want to recognize the B.C.–Yukon division of Canadian Blood Services, with their director, Patty Thorne, and all the volunteers that are here to set up the clinic and all of you who are generously donating. You are helping to save lives, so thank you very much.
Please help me welcome Canadian Blood Services to our building today.
J. Kwan: I'm sure that I speak for my colleague the member for Vancouver-Hastings in welcoming back the Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations. We're delighted to see her in good health. I saw her, actually, up in Kelowna during the UBCM, and she was just radiant with her natural sense of happiness and, I think, her own personality in every way. We're delighted to see her back in the House.
Just for the members' information, my colleague the member for Vancouver-Hastings is actually downstairs having, I hope, some juice and cookies so that she can be along momentarily, having given blood. I said I would give blood after QP, just in case, because we want to make sure that there's opposition in the House. Welcome back.
First Reading of Bills
MOTOR VEHICLE AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. R. Coleman presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2004.
Hon. R. Coleman: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. R. Coleman: I am pleased to introduce Bill 66, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2004, which adds new tools to enhance British Columbians' efforts to reduce the needless injury caused by drinking and driving.
Alcohol-related traffic accidents claim more lives annually than homicides, fires and drownings combined. In 2003, 100 people died and 3,300 people were injured as a result of drinking and driving. A drinking driver was involved in more than one in four fatal crashes and one in ten injury-producing accidents. As well, there are unacceptable costs on the impact of families and friends and loved ones in this province. The economic cost of impaired driving in these crashes is estimated at over $850 million a year.
After consulting extensively over the last couple of years with police, Crown, traffic organizations and community groups, we have developed a balanced and comprehensive plan to counter drinking and driving. Until now, British Columbia has been the only province without rehabilitation programs for drinking drivers. This bill lays the foundations for these programs. They will include ignition interlock for repeat offenders and mandatory treatment for impaired drivers.
Every year 40,000 B.C. drivers get 24-hour driving suspensions. This bill imposes the toughest measures by allowing police to immediately impound their vehicle for 24 hours, increasing the ability to suspend drivers' licences of repeat offenders with 24-hour suspensions and ensuring that they do not drink and drive — driving home the point that drinking and driving is a serious offence.
Driving prohibitions and suspensions are two of the best weapons against drinking and driving. This
[ Page 11512 ]
bill improves our ability to enforce these measures by doubling the vehicle impoundment periods for suspended and prohibited drivers for up to 60 days on a first offence and 90 days for subsequent offences. The bill also increases the minimum fines for suspended or prohibited driving from $300 to $500.
We are putting additional teeth into liquor infractions, making people pay their liquor fines before they can renew their driver's licence. Finally, we're making certain that drivers with bail conditions banning them from driving can get their driver's licence removed by the superintendent by putting into law this ability as it didn't exist before.
Drinking and driving is a serious offence, and these measures, which I will be speaking to in the next few days, send a strong message that drinking and driving will not be tolerated in British Columbia.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 66 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25b)
G. Halsey-Brandt: This year the city of Richmond is celebrating its 125th anniversary of incorporation as a municipality with festivities planned throughout 2004 that will celebrate the community's rich past, present and future. Richmond was incorporated as a township on November 10, 1879, and became a city on December 3, 1990.
This September 16, hundreds of seniors gathered to celebrate the 125th anniversary in the City Hall Plaza. They enjoyed lunch and entertainment, including a performance by Dal Richards and his orchestra. Later that evening a huge birthday bash for the public was held and was attended by all three Richmond MLAs.
There was much more to celebrate in Richmond this year. The Paralympic Games ended in Athens on September 28, and I'm proud to announce that longtime Richmond paralympian Walter Wu won two gold medals and one silver medal in aquatic events. Continuing on the Olympic theme, all our residents were elated when we learned that the Vancouver organizing committee for the 2010 games named Richmond as a host for the speed skating oval for the 2010 games. The oval includes a legacy of permanent ice rinks and a field house facility for summer sports. The site will include a large public plaza with pedestrian riverfront walkways.
Recently two international teams have submitted final-offer proposals to build and operate the RAV rapid transit line between Vancouver, Richmond and the airport. We look forward to a final award next month.
The past 125 years has seen Richmond grow from a farming and fishing community into a vibrant city of over 170,000 people, the fourth-largest city in British Columbia. Building on a strong multicultural pioneer base, Richmond is now a commercial powerhouse. The mood of our residents after 125 years since incorporation is positive, optimistic and confident of their future. Richmond is the best place to live, work and play in a province which, as you all know, is the best place on earth to live.
R. Stewart: This year we celebrate the ninety-fifth anniversary of Maillardville. Maillardville isn't the oldest francophone community in B.C. Significant francophone populations were present in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and many other B.C. communities decades before 1909. That was the year that the first of two trainloads of Quebec millworkers and their families arrived at Fraser Mills station to start their new lives.
Of course, it wasn't called Maillardville then. It was called Fraser Mills, after the local mill that was in its day the largest mill in the British Commonwealth. The owners of Fraser Mills had crossed the country to find some skilled and experienced workers, and they found them in Quebec. These families were true pioneers, and they created a vibrant French Canadian community on the west coast, a community named after the first Catholic priest, le curé Maillard. These are the 46 names that founded Maillardville 95 years ago: Auger, Beaulieu, Bédard, Boileau, Boucher, Bouthot, Cadieux, Charland, Chevalier, Couture, Croteau, Dechenes, Desormeaux, Dicaire, Duplin, Emmond, Fournier, Gagne, Gauthier, Girand, Gravel, Joncas, Lafleur, LaFrance, Lajeunesse, Lamoureux, Laverdure, LeBlanc, Leblond, Laurier, Madore, Marcellin, Noël, Ouellette, Paquette, Pare, Parent, Payer, Robinson, Rochon, Seguin, Tellier, Trepanier, Trottier and Valliere.
The names of these families are recorded in stone in our Heritage Square and as street names around our community. Of course, in the 95 years since those two trains, thousands of other francophone families have established their future in Maillardville. My mother's family moved from St. Boniface, Manitoba, while others came from Acadia, Alberta and Quebec as well as from France and other francophone countries around the world.
Just as B.C. prepares to host the world in the 2010 Olympics in both official languages of the Olympic Games, Maillardville will be celebrating its centennial. I know that the community in which I was born is looking forward to that celebration as well.
R. Hawes: Crystal methamphetamine is a highly addictive concoction of deadly poisons that include acetone, Drano and red phosphorous. It often leaves its users with permanent brain damage and an inability to function. It has killed kids.
[ Page 11513 ]
While the overall usage of crystal meth is reported to have peaked in much of the province, sadly, this is not true in parts of the Fraser Valley. Crystal meth use is on a rapid increase, especially among our youth, and lives and futures are being destroyed. The police report there is not a car theft, break-in or shoplifting problem in the Fraser Valley; rather, it's a drug addiction problem, and it's responsible for over 80 percent of property crimes. Most of this they attribute to crystal meth.
Maple Ridge and Mission, though, are doing something about it. Recently crystal meth forums were held in each community, and the results were amazing. In a highly emotional and powerful meeting in both communities we learned of the staggering magnitude of the problem. There was a recognition that no level of government can solve the problem alone, but rather, a community approach is needed. Local task forces were formed to look at treatment options, educational opportunities and enforcement. Membership includes all levels of government, the health authority and many volunteer agencies but mostly moms and pops who are concerned about the future of our youth.
I have discussed this with the Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services, and she's committed to doing something about it as well. Detox and residential treatment beds for youth are high on her list, and she has pledged to work with the communities as they develop plans to fight this menace.
I want to congratulate and thank Meadowridge Rotary and its president, Mary Robson, and her husband, Gord, in Maple Ridge, as well as the Mission Rotary Clubs and the Fraser House drug and alcohol centre in Mission and its president, Steve Sharp, for their leadership in helping unite our communities to protect our kids. This is a battle we cannot afford to lose.
Mr. Speaker: That concludes members' statements.
J. Kwan: Let me quote from the New Era document: "A B.C. Liberal government will stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put strains on families." Will the new Minister for Addiction Services stand up for families and oppose her government's expansion of gambling on the Internet?
Hon. R. Coleman: As the member knows, the B.C. Lottery Corporation — which now has the responsibility of the conduct and management of gaming in British Columbia, arm's length from any political influence — has gone on line with PlayNow as of last week, which is the ability for clients that are maybe going into a convenience store or elsewhere to be able to purchase on-line lottery products that already exist today. That was already done in the Maritime provinces last August. Now we're doing it in British Columbia to be able to better serve our customers.
The one thing I should make very clear is that this site does not allow people from outside the province to buy tickets on line. It only allows people that are age-restricted. It has a very significant control on the amount of dollars that can be spent. In addition to that, it is not on-line gaming from the standpoint of being casino gaming, which is a problem internationally that we, as all countries, are unable to deal with because they're offshore servers in places like the Caribbean and what have you. This is only about existing products that the B.C. Lottery Corporation offers today.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a supplementary question.
J. Kwan: The Liberals promised to stop the expansion of gambling. It is amazing, though, that the Minister for Addiction Services has nothing to say about the expansion of gaming when her own government promised to stop gaming expansion to protect families from addiction.
According to a report from the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, on-line gaming has the unique potential to increase the social costs of gambling because it combines the acknowledged double threat of high-speed and convenient access with technology that appeals to youth. Does the Minister for Addiction Services agree with these findings? What is she doing to stop the expansion of gaming onto the Internet?
Hon. R. Coleman: The report the member is referring to is speaking about on-line casinos on the Internet.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Let us hear the answer.
Hon. R. Coleman: The report the member is referring to speaks about on-line gaming on the Internet — that is, on-line casinos — which is not what this is. This deals only with the sale of lottery tickets on the Internet. One of the biggest concerns that all jurisdictions around the world have is on-line casino gambling, which we are unable, from this jurisdiction, to have the ability to control.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant has a further question.
J. Kwan: Let me quote the Liberals when they were in opposition. The member for North Vancouver–Lonsdale cited a report that said that the children of pathological gamblers do worse in schools than their peers. They attempt suicide twice as often. She also cited a report that said the spouse of a pathological gambler is three times more likely to attempt suicide.
Again, to the Minister for Addictions Services: does she accept what her own colleagues said, what she said just a few years ago — that expanded gambling is dan-
[ Page 11514 ]
gerous and will lead to more broken families, addiction and suicide in some cases? Or is she calling her colleagues hypocrites?
Hon. R. Coleman: The conduct and management of gaming is a responsibility of the province under the Criminal Code. We're doing it in a responsible manner by positioning our products in areas where we can identify and have controls to protect the public. There are other forms of gambling out there that we have no control over, that, frankly, are out there and that we would be glad to see leave the Internet and what have you, but we as a corporation and as a government will continue to be responsible to the people of British Columbia in the aspects of gaming.
J. MacPhail: Clearly, that Solicitor General is either misleading about what the site is about, or he hasn't been there. It's interactive Internet gambling. That's what that website is. According to a Statistics Canada report last year, 18 percent of problem gamblers reported that they had contemplated suicide — six times the proportion of non-problem gamblers.
Let me quote the Solicitor General. Here's what he said about on-line gaming just a few months ago. "There are governments in other countries that are mainly in places like the Caribbean, where there are on-line casinos, which are a problem for people that have an addiction or gaming problem." Now he tries to distinguish…. I bet you he's going to say: "Oh, but this isn't a casino." Mr. Speaker, this is interactive gaming.
Now, to the Minister for Addiction Services: does she agree with the Solicitor General that on-line gaming is a serious problem for people with a gaming addiction? What is she going to do to stop it?
Hon. R. Coleman: I did say that about on-line gaming in reference to casinos that are located in places like the Caribbean where people actually go on the Internet and play. They play slot machines like video games. That is a huge problem internationally and around the world with regards to Internet gaming. If the member would take the time to note that this…
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order. Order, please.
Hon. R. Coleman: …is a website that can serve only B.C. residents. It is protected. It is only for people that are of age. In addition to that, there are stringent guidelines on how much a person can spend in order to make it safe for the public. It is part of the B.C. Lottery Corporation doing the business that they should be doing in a responsible way on behalf of the people of British Columbia.
J. MacPhail: The website is self-declaratory about age limits. The person, himself or herself, declares whether he or she is of age. Wow, that's a real control.
Let me read from the same quote from the Solicitor General: "I think we as a country, and most countries, have never, ever come up with how we could actually regulate the Internet…. That's an aspect of gaming we have no control over. That's a side of gaming that the governments are not involved in, and I don't think they ever would be." That's the Solicitor General.
Well, today they're Internet gaming promoters encouraging addicts. That's what this government is doing today. Will the Minister for Addiction Services do her job and stand up for families and demand that the government halt the expansion of Internet gaming, which, even the Solicitor General admitted just a few months ago, government had no real control over and causes big addiction problems?
Hon. R. Coleman: The member knows that, again, those comments were made with regards to on-line casinos, internationally in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Hon. R. Coleman: When I made those comments…. The member says that it is self-declaratory. On the website we have controls in place to cross-reference databases so that we're in a position to be able to confirm the person's age. In addition to that, frankly, the Lottery Corporation has tested this, worked with other jurisdictions in Canada to be able to do it in a manner that protects the public, protects the age side and protects the ability so that people don't use it extensively.
K. Johnston: My question is to the Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services. It is an unfortunate fact that every year hundreds of British Columbians are victimized by telemarketing scams, fraud and high-pressure fundraising tactics. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to such scams and abuse and often lose substantial amounts of money in such scams. To the minister: what is the government doing to protect seniors from this form of elder abuse that includes scamming, defrauding and the forcing of unwanted contracts?
Hon. I. Chong: I appreciate the member raising this. Just on the weekend I was at a conference dealing with elder abuse, of which one of the topics was financial abuse. It is indeed unfortunate that seniors are often the target of fraudulent telemarketing operations. The thought that some people might take advantage of our seniors, stealing away their life savings and their security is unacceptable.
It is through the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General that our government, in fact, is continuing to collaborate with local and international law enforcement officials to combat the problem.
[ Page 11515 ]
Our government is taking a lead role in this area through a project called Project Emptor. This project is allowing our province to work with other Canadian provinces and the United States to develop effective means of tracking and cracking down on repeat offenders. Project Emptor is a wonderful project, and I'm proud that our government is involved in this.
J. Bray: My question is to the Solicitor General. Recent changes at ICBC prompted the sky-is-falling NDP to suggest that this is a clear signal that government is leaning towards privatization of basic auto insurance, otherwise known as first-dollar auto insurance. Predictably, my office received a lot of calls and e-mails from constituents concerned over this issue and wanting to know what government's position is. My question to the Solicitor General is: does this government intend to privatize basic auto insurance?
Hon. R. Coleman: I appreciate the member's question. No, we have no intention whatsoever of privatizing basic insurance in British Columbia. As the member knows, optional insurance has always had competition, and that will continue to exist. I'm pleased with the operation of ICBC and its board of directors and the fact that they've done a great job on behalf of all British Columbians.
FLU VACCINE SUPPLY
R. Hawes: We've all seen images in the last few days of Americans panicking in the United States, trying to get flu shots. Now they're coming to clinics in British Columbia in big numbers to get their flu shots. It is reported that President Bush is negotiating with the Canadian government to get flu-shot vaccine from Canada.
My question is to the Minister of Health Services. Can you tell my constituents and all British Columbians that our supply of flu vaccine is not going to be compromised and that we will have an adequate supply for all British Columbians who need flu shots?
Hon. C. Hansen: I think this news coverage over the last few days underscores the very good work that's been done by public health officers across Canada to make sure that Canada does have stable and secure supplies of flu vaccines. In British Columbia we have contracted for 900,000 doses to provide for individuals in British Columbia who are eligible for publicly funded flu shots.
That includes everyone over the age of 65. It includes those with chronic illnesses, such as asthma or other chronic conditions. Also, for the first time, the public health officers are encouraging children between the ages of six months and 23 months to have a flu shot, and also those who come in contact with these individuals. All of our health care workers, our first responders and families who have individuals with chronic illnesses are eligible, as well as parents of children under the age of two years. They are all eligible for free flu shots in British Columbia.
On the weekend I talked to our public health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall. I also talked to the new national public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones. They both assured me that we do have security of supply for Canadians, and we will make sure that those 900,000 doses are used for British Columbians to make sure that their needs are met.
ROLE OF MINISTER OF STATE
FOR MENTAL HEALTH
AND ADDICTION SERVICES
J. MacPhail: To the Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services: what addictions is she responsible for, and what amount of time does she spend on gambling addiction?
Hon. B. Locke: The role of the Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services is to deal with those addictions that are substance abuse and others. As you know, addictions around gambling are under the Ministry of Solicitor General.
B. Bennett: I have a question I'd like to ask on behalf of some constituents in my riding who are ranchers.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
B. Bennett: I have a question I would like to ask on behalf of some of my constituents from the East Kootenay who are ranchers. It's to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.
These constituents are members of the Kootenay Livestock Association in the East Kootenay, who would like to build a small abattoir in order to help them deal with some of the complications coming from the BSE problem that's facing all Canadian ranchers. They've asked me to ask the minister if there is anything he or the government can do to help projects like this.
Hon. J. van Dongen: Certainly, I'm familiar with the proposal by the Kootenay Livestock Association. Our ministry will work with those producers to assist them in any way we can in terms of advocacy and getting approvals.
The federal-provincial announcement on September 10 does have a loan loss reserve provision that may assist in financing. It also has an allocation of dollars to enhance the capacity of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to do both approvals and inspections. We are
[ Page 11516 ]
running workshops throughout British Columbia in the next two months to assist any of these proposals and any of these proponents.
I have been clear with the industry that under a no-subsidy-to-business policy, we would not finance plants and we would not build or operate plants, but we will assist bona fide proposals in any way we can. More processing capacity is very important to the resolution of the BSE issue in terms of a made-in-Canada solution.
[End of question period.]
Hon. C. Hansen: I rise to table the Medical Services Commission financial statements for 2003-04.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 73.
Second Reading of Bills
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND
PROTECTION OF PRIVACY
AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. J. Murray: I move that Bill 73 be read a second time now.
Bill 73 amends the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in response to concerns raised about the USA Patriot Act. These amendments ensure that the personal information of British Columbians receives the highest protection of any personal information in Canada. B.C. is showing strong leadership by being the first province to introduce tough new legislative measures that make sure personal information protection is not compromised by laws enacted in other jurisdictions.
Bill 73 strengthens British Columbians' privacy rights and protects their personal information from unauthorized access by foreign jurisdictions in a number of ways. First, the bill requires public bodies and service providers to store personal information only in Canada and access it only from Canada. This requirement strengthens privacy protection by limiting the storage in and access from countries with inadequate privacy laws and laws containing extraterritorial demand provisions, such as the USA Patriot Act.
Second, the bill limits the purposes for which a public body or service provider may disclose personal information outside of Canada. Key changes include new restrictions on disclosing personal information for consistent purposes and disclosing personal information to public body employees, which includes contractors, for the performance of their duties. Disclosure of personal information for these purposes may now only occur within Canada.
Third, the bill extends provisions regarding the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information, which currently apply only to public bodies, and extends them to public body employees, public body service providers and employees or associates of service providers. This will ensure that personal information is equally protected, whether held by a public body or by a service provider.
Fourth, to reduce the likelihood of personal information being disclosed for an unauthorized purpose, the bill adds an obligation for public bodies, service providers and the employees of both to report any foreign demand for disclosure of personal information that is not authorized by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Fifth, to encourage employees to report unauthorized disclosures, the bill adds whistle-blower protection for employees who may report foreign demand for disclosure of personal information or who report, try to prevent or refuse to do something they believe to be a contravention of the act. The whistle-blower protections prevent an employer from dismissing, suspending, harassing or otherwise disadvantaging an employee for taking the above actions.
Sixth, the bill adds offence penalties for contravening the notice requirements, the whistle-blower provisions or the restrictions placed on storing, accessing or disclosing personal information outside of Canada. The offence penalties apply to employees of public bodies, service providers and the employees or associates of service providers that fall within B.C.'s jurisdiction. These fines for committing an offence are up to $500,000 for a corporation; up to $25,000 for a partnership or an individual who is a service provider; and up to $2,000 for an individual who is not a service provider, such as an employee.
This bill also extends the new privacy protection notice provisions and whistle-blower provisions to officers of the Legislature, such as the auditor general, the conflict-of-interest commissioner, the police complaint commissioner, the information and privacy commissioner, the chief electoral officer and the ombudsman. The records maintained by most officers of the Legislature do contain highly sensitive personal information, so applying the proposed amendments to these officers will ensure that this information is protected from unauthorized access.
Other provisions of the bill extend the commissioner's powers to investigate privacy complaints and issue orders against service providers and their employees and associates. The bill also contains a number of consequential amendments to other legislation. These amendments were necessary, for the most part, because the other legislation references sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act that are being repealed or amended by this bill. The consequential amendments will ensure that the original intent of the references in other legislation such as the Assessment Act and the Criminal Records Review Act is maintained.
In one case — the Child, Family and Community Service Act — more substantial amendments were nec-
[ Page 11517 ]
essary in order to bring its privacy protection provisions in line with the new provisions being added to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. These consequential amendments will ensure that personal information handled by service providers for the Ministry of Children and Family Development is safeguarded to the same degree as personal information that is handled by service providers for other public bodies.
Finally, the bill contains important transitional provisions for existing contracts and research agreements. Contracts and research arrangements entered into by the government or a ministry on or before October 12, 2004, are not subject to the new privacy protection provisions proposed by this bill. The new privacy protection provisions will also not apply to a contract or research agreement that the government or a ministry became legally obligated to enter into on or before October 12, 2004, as a result of a completed, binding competitive process.
With respect to other bodies such as Crown corporations, municipalities and hospitals, the new privacy protection provisions will not apply to contracts and research agreements they enter into or become obliged to enter into before the date this bill receives royal assent.
The transitional provisions apply only until the end of the current term of the contract and only where a public body cannot reasonably bring their pre-existing contracts and agreements into compliance with the new provisions. The transitional provisions recognize that contracts and agreements already exist, which cannot reasonably meet the new privacy protection provisions proposed by this bill. Wherever possible a public body must make all reasonable efforts to bring the contract or arrangement into compliance, but until that is possible, the new provisions will not take effect. It is also important to note that the transitional provisions do not apply to the new whistle-blower protections. Whistle-blower protection will take effect for all employees and service provider employees upon royal assent.
The amendments proposed by this bill are groundbreaking. We are the first jurisdiction in Canada to propose legislative changes to address privacy issues arising out of the USA Patriot Act. These tough new privacy measures will support government's alternative service delivery initiatives by ensuring strong protection for personal information that is handled by service providers and will position B.C. as a leader in this area.
B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is already regarded as the strongest privacy legislation in Canada. These amendments will make it ever stronger. I have no doubt that the proactive measures proposed by this bill to protect the personal information of British Columbians will act as a model for legislation in other provinces and other jurisdictions throughout the world. B.C. has a deserved reputation for its ability to develop succinct, clear, usable and leading-edge privacy legislation. This bill is no exception.
J. MacPhail: When the issue of the security of the personal financial and medical information of British Columbians was first raised in this House and in the media, this government dismissed the concerns being expressed. Virtually every single cabinet minister said: "There's nothing to worry about." In this House, in response to my questions and the lobs from government backbenchers, the Minister of Health said: "Don't worry." He continued that theme for weeks, if not months. But when experts in privacy law and also the office of the privacy commissioner echoed those concerns, the government finally decided to act.
It is ironic, at best, that the Minister of Management Services claims to be the first on this matter. Well, they're first to contract out personal information services of a citizen of Canada, and now they're playing catch-up. They create the problem first, and then they offer a solution first, without the benefit of expertise, and they want a pat on the back.
This government asked the independent privacy commissioner to do an investigation into the application of the Patriot Act and the security of personal information of British Columbians that the government was going to outsource to private companies. Let's be clear. This Liberal government created the problem. They're outsourcing personal information that used to be within the confines of the government. They've now outsourced that personal information to companies that are directly obligated to the Patriot Act in the United States.
All of a sudden the government was concerned. "Maybe our personal information is at risk." But instead of waiting for the response from the information and privacy commissioner, the government told the commissioner in July how it was going to fix this problem. What they told the privacy commissioner in July is exactly what we have before us today.
Just as the Attorney General mustered all the legal help available to him to justify this bill and the government's intent — unrelenting intent — to contract out our personal information, so did those who voiced concern initially come up with legal opinions. Those legal opinions differ. One side, the government side, says: "Don't worry. John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney General, will make sure they don't spy into our personal files." The other side says: "Yes, worry, because John Ashcroft is bound by a different set of laws and a different political reality than is our Attorney General."
Even our Attorney General will admit that there is an increased risk to the security of our personal information. Oh, he says it's small. But it's there nonetheless. What the government will not say, either through the Minister of Management Services or the Attorney General, is just what the real dollar cost is of this "small" increase in risk that the private and personal information of British Columbians will be shared with the FBI and the U.S. intelligence services.
[ Page 11518 ]
The government is bringing in legislation without the benefit of the opinion of the information and privacy commissioner. He's going to be tabling his report at the end of this month. Yet this government couldn't wait. They're bringing in legislation without demonstrating any cost-benefit analysis to support the contention that the money to be saved by contracting out, by outsourcing our private information to a foreign company, is of greater value than the surrendering of enhanced security of our personal information.
The real question that this bill does not answer is: why contract out the personal information of citizens at all? Why do this at all? Risk management is about taking the necessary precautions to ensure that the least harm is done. Risk management is not about eroding basic civil and constitutionally enshrined rights. Yes, every citizen surrenders a measurement of our personal privacy to the government in order to provide for and access public services that are shared equally by us all. We do not do it so that the government can save money or enhance the profit of private company shareholders.
The government would like us all to think that this bill is all about the mechanics of good public policy. They want to be patted on the back. They claim — as they do in so many things, in a very misleading way — that they're number one. Well, they're number one barrelling down a road without the benefit of expertise, and they're barrelling down a road as number one where others fear to tread. They are wrong about this bill just being the mechanics of good public policy. This bill is about government gambling with our personal privacy rights. Just like it has expanded gambling everywhere else in this province — doubled it — it is now playing with our fundamental rights as citizens, and that is wrong.
The remedy here is not more law. The remedy is to respect the law that we have, to respect our constitutional rights and to keep personal information private and in the control and custody of the government. It should never be anyone, least of all a government, putting that at risk.
K. Whittred: It's my pleasure today to rise and speak in favour of this bill, which puts in place legislation to in fact protect our privacy and to ensure that it is always protected.
One of the great pleasures I had when I was in opposition was that I served on the privacy committee. We had the honour to travel all over the province, and in fact, I had the opportunity to travel to other provinces and attend a great many conferences and workshops dealing with this particular topic. Out of that experience I learned to have a great respect for those who do try to build policy around this topic. I also learned that it is something that no one has a value on more than any other person. I think that protecting our privacy, protecting our personal information, is one of those things that really transcend politics, and each of us in government brings in the policy that is going to try to achieve that end.
The opposition would have us believe that somehow you can build a firewall around yourself so that nothing will ever have the opportunity to perhaps escape that firewall. While that may be what we try to do, the job of government is to develop a public policy that allows us to protect our values while at the same time being able to go forward with good policy in other areas and try to find efficiencies where we can.
I am very proud that we are the first jurisdiction in Canada to actually come forward with legislation around this privacy protection. We have introduced today new and very tough legislation, which is a comprehensive package that will in fact serve to protect the information that each of us feels is very valuable. This is a made-in-B.C. solution.
Following September 11, we know that things changed. One of the outcomes of that was that the United States passed what is called the Patriot Act. It is still largely theoretical in many respects for us to speculate on exactly what that act presents. I know the Attorney General's ministry, other ministries across Canada and the privacy commissioners right across the country have all been looking at this and endeavouring to come up with good public policy that will be transformed into legislation that will in fact mitigate and minimize the very small theoretical possibility that our privacy would in any way be compromised.
B.C. has always been a leader in this respect, and I'm very pleased that we continue to be a leader by stepping forward at this time — a leader amongst all the provinces in Canada in terms of introducing legislation. I'm quite sure that our other provinces will follow. I'm also quite sure, from my experience, that they are looking at our legislation very closely.
I am very satisfied that this bill extends privacy to the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information. Currently, the legislation around those items only applies to public bodies. I think one of the key things about this legislation is that this same provision now is extended to those employees or other companies or associates that will be recipients of any kind of personal information.
[J. Weisbeck in the chair.]
To translate that into practical terms, it means that if a portion of government that used to provide a service now asks another agency to provide that service, that agency is subject to the same provisions around disclosure of information that public bodies are. There is no difference. In addition to that, it obliges all of those to report on any demand. So if there's anybody that actually demands personal information, they are required to report that information.
This bill limits the purposes for which a public body or service provider may disclose personal information out of Canada, so there are limitations that are imposed. It means that we have looked very carefully
[ Page 11519 ]
at what is involved and we have, as any good public policy should, put restrictions on it.
It goes further than that, because this bill requires that public bodies and service providers store personal information only in Canada and access it only from Canada. This, in fact, strengthens our privacy protection by limiting where material may be stored, where it may be accessed from. Countries with inadequate privacy laws and laws containing extraterritorial demand provisions would simply not get the information in the first place. Those are all ways in which this actually strengthens our ability to protect our privacy and personal information.
Finally, this bill adds very, very harsh penalties in terms of those that contravene the notice requirements. There are whistle-blowing provisions on restrictions placed on storing or disclosing personal information outside of Canada. The penalties apply to employees of public bodies; service providers, as I've just suggested; and employees or associates of service providers that fall within B.C.'s jurisdiction. The fines for committing such an offence are up to $500,000 for a corporation and $25,000 for a partnership or an individual.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that the amendments proposed by this bill are complex. The topic is complex. I think that the people that have dealt with this have done a very good job of addressing all the possibilities that can arise, and therefore, the bill itself and the amendments to the bill are groundbreaking. We're the first jurisdiction in Canada to propose these legislative changes, which probably were brought about by and address the concerns of those that were concerned about the American Patriot Act.
I wanted to speak to this bill particularly today because this had been an issue that, for whatever reason, a number of my constituents seemed to have a concern about. I'm very pleased after the introduction of this bill today. I feel very confident that I can go back to them and say: "Look, here is the bill. This will assure you that your fears were unfounded."
These tough new privacy measures will support government's alternative service delivery initiatives by ensuring strong protection for personal information that is handled by service providers and will position us as a leader in the area. Our current act — and I learned this, again, in opposition, by my attendance at these conferences and so on — is already regarded as one of the strongest pieces of legislation anywhere in the western world, not only in Canada. It is highly regarded throughout Europe and other areas.
I conclude by saying that undoubtedly not only will this legislation protect the personal information of British Columbians, but I think it will act as a model for other provinces and other jurisdictions throughout the world, for B.C. truly has gained a reputation in that area.
J. Bray: I, too, rise very much in support of Bill 73, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2004. This has been an issue with respect to privacy that's been ongoing, I think, as we've entered into the digital age and the electronic age, really, for the better part of ten, 15 years.
As my colleague from North Vancouver–Lonsdale has pointed out, British Columbia has been a leader in information protection as well as access to information, really, on a national scale. We have continued to be out in front of the issue as new trends, new research, new technology comes on board. British Columbia continues to be out front. It is the leader by which other jurisdictions come to study our legislation, our administrative policy.
Certainly, I've had many meetings with the Minister of Management Services around privacy issues, and I am continually impressed not only with her grasp of the complexity of the issue but with the fact that we've got a really great group of professional civil servants who eat, drink and sleep this stuff and have really become leaders in North America with respect to both freedom of information and protection of personal privacy.
It's important to note, as we debate this bill, that we look at another piece of legislation that was passed by this government, which was the protection of information privacy act, the private sector legislation that, again, British Columbia was a leader on. In fact, our cohorts to the east in Alberta basically studied our legislation and mimicked it, because it was basically so good you couldn't improve upon it. So I have extreme confidence in our civil service in the Ministry of Management Services, as well as our legislative counsel, that they have drafted amendments that are among the strongest you're going to see anywhere on this planet.
You know, it's funny listening to debate. The Leader of the Opposition in the House spoke for a few minutes and asked what I thought was a bit of an odd question. She said: "Why even do this?" Well, the answer is simple. We're doing this because it's the right thing to do. We're doing this because it is responding to what British Columbians have been asking of us. That's why we're doing it. That's why we're in this chamber. I'm surprised that after ten-plus years the Leader of the Opposition doesn't know why we do things in this place. We do things for the betterment of our communities, for the strengthening of our families, and Bill 73 is yet one more piece in that. She said: "Well, why do it now? Why not wait?" Well, because this is where the House is sitting. People have asked government to respond to their concerns around the Patriot Act.
But, you know, I would suggest to the Leader of the Opposition, if she would care to…. I know she seems to be going and buying her lottery tickets on line and spending her time doing that. But she should go to another website around the issue of the Patriot Act. She should actually take a few minutes and read one of the best submissions by a government agency I think I've ever seen, which was to the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner on the Patriot Act by the Ministry of Management Services on behalf of government. It was an excellent submission that laid
[ Page 11520 ]
out the total sum of the issues related to the Patriot Act, the realities of the framework with which we live now and government's proactive, leading response to those concerns. In fact, this is, in many ways, cutting edge legislation, and I have supreme confidence that it is going to do the job.
We're not even waiting for the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner to act, because British Columbians want us to act now. This legislation is in direct response to the people. It's unfortunate that when we talk about personal protection of privacy, the NDP want to play politics with that. We're actually doing good public policy, good legislation on behalf of our communities, and I am very confident in this.
My colleague from North Vancouver–Lonsdale did an excellent job of laying out many of the very strong provisions in this bill, all of which I support. But there is one piece that I want to speak to for a minute, and it is the protection for whistle-blowers. Whistle-blower is a bit of a loaded term. In fact, we actually are legislating protection for those Canadian employees, be they with government or with a contracted agency, who are contacted by a foreign agency for access to information — that they have protection in law by advising their employer, by advising government of that request for access. To me that's a really important concept of ensuring that we don't just protect the data, the electrons and the magnetic files and all that stuff, but we actually protect the people, the professionals who manage our data.
I am very, very pleased that this particular amendment is there, because I know that Canadian companies want to ensure that their employees are safe. I know that we want to ensure members of the public service feel safe. This kind of legislative protection is critical, not just for the actual protection, but it actually signals our respect for those employees and their desire to do the best job for British Columbians and for Canadians.
I know that at some point in the future we're going to have a report from the freedom-of-information commissioner. I know that this minister, the Minister of Management Services, and this government will study that report. And I know that if there are any additional tools that can be added, we will act on those. I do not believe, as the NDP believes, that we should wait on this issue.
I'd love to hear what Carole James has to say, but I actually haven't heard her say one word about this. In my riding of Victoria–Beacon Hill I talk to my constituents all the time, and we're responding to those concerns. I am going to be very pleased to be able to take this bill back to my constituents and show them concrete, good public policy that will protect their information now and for generations to come. I would certainly hope to hear Carole James in the media, if she ever pops up, also supporting this bill and supporting the increasing protection of British Columbians' information and their data. I hope I hear that. I know I didn't hear it from the leader of the opposition, but I hope she'll show some real leadership and actually break away from the member for Vancouver-Hastings and support this bill publicly. It's the right thing to do, it's good public policy, it's what British Columbians have asked for, and it's what we're delivering.
Deputy Speaker: Closing second reading debate on Bill 73, the Minister of Management Services.
Hon. J. Murray: I appreciate the comments of my colleagues. Last February a concern was raised regarding relatively new legislation from the United States, the USA Patriot Act, and our government acted. Whether it was the Ministry of Health Services, Minister Colin Hansen, or myself or the Attorney General, we said that the protection of individual privacy is very important to British Columbians, that our job is to ensure that that protection is as strong as it can possibly be and that we will review this issue immediately.
We did not dismiss this issue. In fact, the Ministry of Attorney General and my ministry together initiated a review within days of these concerns being raised. We committed a substantial amount of funds to seeking the appropriate legal opinions, both on the United States side of the border and the Canadian side of the border. We did a comprehensive review. The concerns of British Columbians were never dismissed.
Out of that review we came to some conclusions, and we concluded that there is reason to act on this issue. We concluded that the USA Patriot Act could allow U.S. enforcement agencies to reach around existing agreements and request or demand the sharing of British Columbians' personal information. That was not acceptable to me; that was not acceptable to our government. We decided to take action, and we have been building very strong contractual protections into any contracts we are discussing and negotiating with service providers.
We identified the risk, though, as being small, because we believe that the existing mechanisms are the ones that the law enforcement agencies from the United States have been using and will continue to use. However, because that risk is there, we decided to act, and I am very proud of our response, how quickly we are responding and how strong our response is.
The member for Vancouver-Hastings asked the question: why do this at all? She asked the question: why have the private sector provide services to government? Under the previous administration during the decade of the nineties, there were many, many contracts negotiated with private sector service providers that have links to the United States. The member for Vancouver-Hastings is well aware that there are private sector organizations that have specific expertise that can help government in our responsibility to our taxpayers.
We have a responsibility to improve service, to improve the timing of our responses. We have a responsibility to decrease the cost to the taxpayer of the processes we oversee. The private sector, with their specialized
[ Page 11521 ]
systems and their specialized technologies, can assist government in serving the taxpayers in a responsible way. The previous administration did know that and signed contracts that included sensitive personal information. These contracts were put in place under the previous administration. This is nothing new. The cost savings and service increases are important.
What is new is the USA Patriot Act. There is no silver bullet in an electronic information age, but we are taking leadership here. We are taking strong action to make sure that our laws provide strong protection, notwithstanding laws in other countries.
The member for Vancouver-Hastings also raised the question: why not wait? And why do anything at all? Presumably, that member doesn't believe there's a reason to take action to strengthen our laws to protect the privacy of personal information. Presumably, she believes that the status quo is all right. Well, I don't believe that. In fact, my view was that we need to take action at the earliest possible opportunity, and that is why we're taking action at this sitting of the House.
We would have loved to incorporate the privacy commissioner's review. However, that review, which was intended to be completed in August and then in September, is still not complete. From my perspective, the earlier we act, the better. This is not a static issue. We live in an electronic age, and we will continue to monitor external forces so that we continue to provide strong protection for people's personal information. I am welcoming the review and the conclusions of the freedom-of-information commissioner. We will analyze those, and if appropriate, we will incorporate those into the law of the land here in British Columbia in due course.
From my perspective, we have taken a very complex issue and practised good government, competent government on this issue. We listened to concerns that were raised. We took those concerns seriously, and we stated right from the very beginning that this is an important issue that we are going to review.
We reviewed the issue, and we reached conclusions. We were public with those conclusions and our submission to the freedom-of-information commissioner's review, and we have taken action on this in a very short time as these kinds of complex governmental issues normally see. This is another example of the leadership that British Columbia shows in Confederation. This is another example of how we lead Canada and the other provinces in a number of ways, and this is leadership of which all British Columbians can justifiably be proud.
Hon. J. Murray: I move that Bill 73 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 73, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 63.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
The Charitable Purposes Preservation Act is designed to ensure that money or other property that is given by a charitable donor to a charitable organization for a specific charitable purpose will be preserved exclusively for that charitable purpose. The act will ensure that the donation will be protected from being used to satisfy the debts, liabilities or other legal obligations of the charitable organization other than those incurred in the performance of that purpose.
The need for legislation in this area arises from a recent case that highlighted and increased the legal uncertainty about when charitable donations that are given in trust are or ought to be preserved from being used to satisfy the debts and other liabilities of the charitable organization. The purpose of this act is to allow a charitable donor and a charitable organization to know when and how a charitable donation is to be preserved exclusively for the charitable purpose specified by the donor.
The act is also intended to establish a fair balance between the interests of donors and charitable organizations on one hand, who want to ensure that the gifts are used for the purposes for which they were given, and the interests of creditors and tort claimants of the organization on the other hand, whose interest is in having other property held by the organization available to compensate them for the debts or the damages owed by the charitable organization.
The act strikes this balance by providing a set of rules which set out the particular circumstances under which donors and charitable organizations may be assured that specific-purpose charitable gifts will be immunized against seizure or attachment to satisfy unrelated debts or liabilities of the charitable organization in question.
If the requirements set out in the act are followed, the donors and charities may be assured that the property will be preserved to be used exclusively for the specific purposes intended and specified by the donor, except to the extent of debts or liabilities incurred in advancing the specific purpose. On the other hand, the other property of the charitable organization may be available to satisfy the legitimate legal claims of creditors and other claimants against it, subject to the laws of trust if or to the extent that it applies.
I move second reading.
K. Stewart: I just want to very briefly speak to this bill before us, simply because of the fact that it gives confidence to people who have given fairly large dona-
[ Page 11522 ]
tions for the benefit of their community and the future of their community. And the thought that those estate items that were given to a charity for a specific purpose may be taken away from that community and used for some purpose other than it was intended for…. I rise to support it for that purpose. It should give those wishing to leave legacies in their community the confidence that that legacy will remain in their community for the purpose for which it is intended.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 63, Charitable Purposes Preservation Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that Bill 68 be now read a second time.
LAND TITLE AND SURVEY AUTHORITY ACT
Hon. G. Collins: It's my pleasure to speak to the principles contained in the bill, which proposes a new act designed to establish the land title and survey authority. This authority will be set up as an independent, not-for-profit corporation responsible for operating the province's land title and survey systems and facilitating the execution of Crown grants. This act is consistent with the government's new-era commitments of operating more efficiently, supporting the economy and bringing certainty to land use issues.
As I'm sure everyone is aware, detailed, accurate and timely land title information is particularly important to a successful economy, as it's the basis upon which private and Crown land is sold and developed. The establishment of the authority will support and improve timeliness of land title information and consequently enhance service to private land owners and investors.
Once established, the authority will assume all of the functions of the ministry's land title branch, including the operation of the land title offices. The authority will also assume responsibility for the majority of activities now carried out by the surveyor general. This includes defining and confirming surveys to support the Crown grant process and the disposal of Crown land. It also involves managing some Crown land survey information and providing efficient client services.
The business unit responsible for issuance of Crown grants, which facilitates the disposition of Crown land, will also transfer to the authority. Government will retain day-to-day functioning of the Crown land registry, including the recording of Crown tenures, and will continue its efforts to establish an integrated land and resource registry.
The creation of the authority through the proposed act will achieve and maintain a number of objectives. The land title and survey authority will preserve the longstanding B.C. Torrens land title system and will provide an enhanced level of land title service by keeping title and survey information linked.
The new governance structure will also engage expertise not currently available in government while maintaining a high-quality Crown land survey structure. The government will continue to receive land title and survey fee revenues, minus a nominal service fee to be retained by the authority, under a contractual arrangement to be set out in an operating agreement.
A strong governance, accountability and operational framework, established through the legislation and operating agreement, is designed to ensure protection of the public interest. Key components of the framework include a board appointment process that is based on stakeholder nominations, is independent of government control and is designed to retain qualified people as board members; provisions requiring directors to act in the best interests of the authority and be subject to conflict-of-interest requirements; a stakeholder advisory committee; performance expectations set by the government; and specific requirements related to financial accountability and transparency.
A new assurance fund will also be established, similar to the fund which currently exists for government. The fund will cover claims for actions against the authority occurring after the authority is established.
It gives me great pleasure to speak to this bill, and I move second reading.
J. Bray: I am very pleased to stand up and speak in favour of Bill 68, the Land Title and Survey Authority Act. This has been an issue in Victoria that I know we've been working on with the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management for some time.
What makes me particularly pleased about this bill is that there was concern expressed by those in the real estate sector, those involved with first nations in treaty and historical documentation, archivists, around the proposed changes to the land titles system, so government went out and met with various stakeholders in the community. We came up with not only a solution but actually an enhancement to the service provided to all of those groups.
That really is good news. It means that we're actually moving forward on the services that we provide British Columbians through the land titles system. I know I've spoken to several real estate agents and lawyers in my community in Victoria who are actually very excited about this, and they see real potential with respect to this move. I know that, along with the member for Victoria-Hillside, the member for Saanich South and the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head, we had several meetings with the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management over this issue, and his willingness to look at all options and his willingness to engage the community has led us to Bill 68.
I know that my constituents who contacted me to talk about this issue were very concerned about it, but
[ Page 11523 ]
then, they're going to be very pleased by this bill. They're actually going to see enhanced service, which is particularly important as the economy here in British Columbia is surging ahead — and nowhere more so than here in Victoria. In fact, because we are doing so many real estate transactions, we're building so many new developments and we're registering so many new additional titles, Bill 68 actually will see improvements in service to all those developers and purchasers who are moving to British Columbia and to Vancouver Island because of our strong economy.
I think it's worthy of note that I did have some communications, as well, with members of the University of Victoria and archivists who were concerned that by moving to an authority-based model, there would be a loss of protection over records, because of course, the Vancouver land titles office has been in existence for about 137½ years and so, clearly, has a lot of documentation that goes back literally to Confederation and before.
I think that as we debate this bill, it's important for the benefit of those concerned about records retention that there is a section 135 added that says, in sub (2) — and this is a very clear statement: "The Land Title and Survey Authority must not destroy or dispose of the records except in accordance with this Act or section 3 of the Land Title and Survey Authority Act." There is a very specific provision there that guarantees the continued safety and security of all documentation currently in the possession of the land titles office and that will ensure that it continues to do so.
The protection goes further in sub (3): "The records are not subject to (a) any process of attachment, execution or seizure, or (b) a trust in favour of a person who claims to have sustained a loss." We have really made sure that the whole issue around records management and retention is secure, but we've also made sure that documentation is not subject to other actions in the courts.
I am very pleased that the ministry, in putting together this authority, has given specific legislative protection to those documents. I know that the real estate community in Victoria is very pleased and very appreciative of the work the Minister of Sustainable Resource Management has done and that my constituents are going to be very pleased with this resolution and will see improved service. I am very pleased to support this bill.
Deputy Speaker: The question is second reading of Bill 68.
Hon. G. Collins: I move the bill be placed on the orders of the day for consideration by a Committee of the Whole House at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 68, Land Title and Survey Authority Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 75.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill now be read a second time.
A vibrant, strong transportation system is vital to economic growth. New jobs and investment depend on a sound transportation network offering safety and reliability for travellers and businesses. Transportation is vital to local and regional economies. At this time traffic congestion costs the lower mainland economy of British Columbia more than $1.5 billion each year in lost economic opportunities.
The legislative changes proposed in the Transportation Statutes Amendment Act, 2004, will contribute to the revitalization of B.C.'s economy through a more efficient, cost-effective and competitive transportation system. As we implement our ambitious transportation improvement plan, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority is either partnering with us or undertaking new initiatives — namely, the Fraser River crossing, also called the Golden Ears bridge; the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver rapid transit line; as well as the line in the northeast sector.
The amendments to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Act are necessary to provide the GVTA with the clear authority and power to carry out the Fraser River crossing and RAV projects. This bill will make several technical, regulatory and administrative changes. It will provide the GVTA with the clarity it needs to acquire and expropriate land for the use and benefit of a subsidiary in relation to specific projects — namely, the Fraser River crossing, RAV or the Coquitlam line in the northeast sector. As part of the RAV project only, the bill also provides the GVTA with clear legislative authority to expropriate needed land and transfer an interest in the land to the Vancouver International Airport Authority, YVR, for the purpose of the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver line.
The bill allows the GVTA to set parameters for the user fees on the Fraser River crossing, including fees for different classes of users, time-of-day and user fee exemptions. An organization may be authorized to charge and collect fees on behalf of the GVTA or a GVTA subsidiary, but the fees must fall within the designated user fee parameters.
Another amendment contained within this bill provides the ability to set property tax exemptions, to be introduced by regulation for the Fraser River crossing project. This amendment provides consistency in the taxation treatment of public transportation infrastructure projects. The amendments are also being made to the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act to allow the GVTA to enter into agreements with municipalities on the RAV and the Fraser River crossing projects.
With respect to the Fraser River crossing, the amendments are needed to provide clear authority to
[ Page 11524 ]
the municipalities entering into these agreements. With respect to the RAV project the agreements will set out the processes the municipalities will use as the project moves forward. These amendments will provide a greater level of certainty for all parties involved who are entering into those municipal agreements.
The amendments for the parking site roll will exempt some properties and authorizes the GVTA to exempt others by bylaw. Specific exemptions are provided for class 1, residential property; class 9, farm property; class 7, managed forest land property; and the exemptions provided elsewhere by statute that exempt schools, hospitals and public institutions from property taxation. It also authorizes the assessment commissioner to enter into an agreement with the GVTA with respect to preparing a parking site roll and provides the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council with the regulation-making authority that will provide the GVTA with the powers and duties of the assessment commissioner for purposes of preparing the parking site roll.
The bill also includes amendments to the Transportation Investment Act. These amendments will allow for performance payments as a means of compensating partners or those who operate highway infrastructure. Performance payments will therefore provide incentives to ensure that the project meets travellers' needs for safe and efficient travel. The act initially stated that the partners would receive compensation only from roadway users. Because the province's tolling policy does not provide for tolling when there is no reasonable free alternate route, as is the case for the Sea to Sky Highway as well as the Okanagan Lake Bridge, this amendment allows for performance payments to originate from alternative sources. Performance payments can be paid by the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority or directly by the B.C. government.
Finally, two minor amendments are required to the Transportation Act. These clarify the activities on provincial public highways and concession highways for which authorization is required. The amendments are effectively technical drafting changes.
Mr. Speaker, amendments to this bill are required to allow us to keep our commitment to improve roads and highways, making them safer and more efficient.
I move second reading of the bill.
R. Hawes: It's a pleasure actually to stand and support this bill.
I'm standing to speak to the section that applies to my riding, Maple Ridge–Mission. My colleague from Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows would feel the same way, in that this enables the second crossing of the Fraser River at Pitt Meadows to finally go ahead. It has a huge, huge impact on the commuters in our communities that sit in the endless line at the Albion ferry every day. It has been waited for, for so long. It's great to see it go ahead. This is the last piece that was needed, and both my colleague and I have worked very hard with the Minister of Transportation to bring this about. I'd like to thank him for listening and for hearing our communities and the GVTA and allowing this to go forward on an expeditious basis. Very soon, I think, our communities are going to benefit from that new crossing so desperately needed.
G. Halsey-Brandt: It is a pleasure to rise in support of the Transportation Statutes Amendment Act, 2004. As the Finance minister was reading the second reading introductions, I know a lot of it sounded pretty dry and kind of basic. Really, these are the components that not only help us as a government but the people who live in the lower mainland and the people who visit us from around the province to move ahead on several major transportation improvements in the lower mainland.
I think it's a great day for British Columbia. This legislation is really critical in allowing us to move forward. My colleagues, particularly the one who spoke just before me from Maple Ridge–Mission, would remember the Livable Region Strategic Plan in the GVRD. Certainly, there was one in the Fraser Valley as well. A good part of that talked about a concentrated growth option of where the population was going to be concentrated in greater Vancouver — in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster and parts of Surrey. It was also going to link together the rest of the region where a lot of employment centres are, whether they be in Maple Ridge, Mission, Langley, Surrey, Richmond or other parts of our great region. To make that whole system work — to make it really livable so that all of us can be proud to live in the lower mainland and keep it as beautiful a place as it is — we had to have a transportation system that allowed people, obviously, to live and work close by and also, if they didn't work close to where they lived, to be able to get around our region.
Most of the transit and transportation improvements in the last number of years have all been focused on Vancouver and the suburbs. Finally, we're starting to build a mechanism that ties some of the suburban municipalities together so that people can surely get around our region for employment and for education purposes.
I think this legislation introduces some exciting new concepts. The first one is public-private partnerships — which we're looking at in terms of the new Fraser River crossing and, certainly, of the RAV line between Vancouver, Richmond and the airport — which allow the private sector to come to the table with their expertise to design, build, operate and partially finance the system we've got. We can get the expertise of the private sector that do these in other parts of the world to come together to provide the latest in technology and service for us in British Columbia.
Certainly, the parts of the legislation on expropriation are necessary not just for the GVTA but for their subsidiaries, TransLink and RAVCO and the other bridge project, because if you're going to build something of these lengths and sizes in our region, you have
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to have the power to expropriate just in case there are some unwilling property owners.
The second thing it talks about is tolls, particularly referring to the Fraser River crossing. It's a really exciting way we can finance our way forward to transportation improvements. I know that our government talked about not borrowing any more to build transportation improvements, of not burdening our children with debt. We were going to be a pay-as-you-go province, and certainly, tolls are one way to finance a very important infrastructure improvement. Of course, tied to that is the change to the ICBC legislation. If people are not paying their tolls, it allows ICBC to not give or renew a vehicle licence.
The third part that the legislation deals with is the parking space tax for almost all non-residential parking spots in the greater Vancouver area. This legislation, on behalf of TransLink, was first introduced around 1995 or 1996 by the previous government. It was going to be a tax on all commercial parking lots in greater Vancouver — in other words, parking lots that charge money at the present time to be able to park there. But there are lots of commercial property parking lots in greater Vancouver that do not charge for parking. I think at that time I happened to be serving on the board of B.C. Transit, and we were just inundated with faxes and phone calls from commercial and industrial property owners in greater Vancouver over the unfairness of that tax proposal back in the mid-1990s, because if you charged for parking, you had to pay the tax. If you didn't charge for parking on your commercial property, you didn't have to pay it.
This change is a new and different way of collecting it, looking at the assessment roll, where they can look at commercial and industrial properties. The assessment authority can then draw up those properties, whether they charge for parking or not, and they can charge a levy against those properties to help pay for transportation, transit and bridges, etc., in greater Vancouver.
The fourth part of it deals with some enabling legislation, really, to expedite and to help construct the RAV line and even the C line out to Coquitlam, particularly as it relates to the Richmond-Airport-Vancouver rapid transit project. As you know, the existing legislation that municipalities have, the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act, sets out very clear regulations in terms of zoning and building permits. It's quite a process to go through. It's really not designed to handle things like rapid transit projects or bridges, which are unique, one-off rail line experiences. What this amendment enables the communities and GVTA to do is to set up an agreement on a process by which they wish to address zoning and building permit approvals that are outside the main strictures of the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act. Again, they've been processed through both Vancouver and Richmond. I am pleased to say that my community agrees with this amendment and is looking forward to the final award for RAVCO and getting on with the construction.
I wanted to conclude by saying, too, that the legislation does address the C line. I was very pleased last Friday. There was a TransLink board meeting. They approved, I think it was, around $800 million for a project from the Lougheed Highway and North Road out to Coquitlam Centre — sort of the last piece of the puzzle that we know of right now in terms of rapid transit throughout the region. I know there was a lot of concern in the northeast corridor when the project to Richmond and the airport was approved. They really wanted something to Coquitlam as soon as possible and are very, very pleased that that was approved by the board last Friday and that it will be going ahead at approximately the same time. I think that's fantastic.
In conclusion I want to say that although this legislation seems to be made up of a lot of small pieces, when you pull them together, I think it's a summation that allows transportation in the lower mainland, particularly in the GVRD, to really move ahead in a lot of new ways — with new technology; as I mentioned, the public-private partnerships; the C line to Coquitlam; a new bridge across the Fraser River; rapid transit to Richmond, the airport and Vancouver.
It's exciting and innovative legislation, and I am very, very proud to support it in the Legislature this afternoon and to see these projects go forward.
Bill 75, Transportation Statutes Amendment Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I call Bill 72.
TRESPASS AMENDMENT ACT, 2004
Hon. G. Collins: I move the bill be now read a second time.
The Trespass Amendment Act, 2004, amends the Trespass Act, a decades-old statute which regulates presence on enclosed land, land defined as being surrounded by a lawful fence, a natural boundary, posted signs or a combination of those. As a result, the current Trespass Act is more suited to rural or bare land than it is to urban premises. This bill makes a number of changes to the Trespass Act so that it will apply just as readily to urban settings as it currently applies to rural settings. I'd like to briefly describe those changes.
First, the bill adds definitions for "premises" and "occupier" to clarify where the act applies and who may make use of it. The act will apply to buildings and land, including enclosed land; to ships; to trains; to railway cars; to automobiles and trucks, except while in operation; to any portable structure used as a residence or to house a business; and to places like marinas. Mall tenants, renters or owners with responsibility or a right to control premises are all classes of persons who may
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use the act to regulate presence or activity on those premises.
Second, in addition to the current offence of entering or remaining on enclosed land, new offences of entering or remaining on premises after being given notice not to and engaging in a prohibited activity are added. This gives statutory authority to the posting of no smoking– or no skateboarding–type signs and allows occupiers to instruct unwanted persons to leave the premises. A separate provision clarifies that notice may be given orally or in writing and when posted by use of a sign, it must be clearly visible and legible.
When reading this offence provision, which will be section 4 of the amended Trespass Act, it's also important to note that a new provision, which will be section 4.1, includes defences to a charge respecting one of those offences. That is, the new section 4.1 will make it a defence to a trespass-type charge that the alleged offender had consent of the occupier or an authorized person; had other lawful authority — for example, was lawfully conducting a land survey or reading an electrical meter — or was acting with colour of right.
Colour of right means that the person thought they had lawful authority to be on the premises or engage in a prohibited activity on the premises, but they were mistaken. This can happen, for example, where a person is mistaken about the exact boundary between his or her own property and the property of a neighbour. Colour of right is a defence in trespass legislation across Canada and is included in the private member's Trespass to Property Act.
Another change is that a current provision in the act which requires a person to give his or her correct name and address when an occupier has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is on premises in such a way as to constitute an offence is made applicable to the new offences in the act as well.
Finally, the amendments move provisions specific to the practice of land surveying to the legislation that deals with land surveyors, the Land Surveyors Act.
I look forward to further discussions of the bill at committee stage debate. I move second reading.
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 72, Trespass Amendment Act, 2004, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins: I call second reading of Bill 71.
SAFE STREETS ACT
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
The Safe Streets Act is a relatively short act designed to deal directly with the most distressing and threatening of behaviours on our streets in a way not already addressed by provincial legislation. It's about providing another tool to police to deal with problems on our streets.
To walk through the bill, the first provision defines "solicit" quite broadly as any in-person communication for the purpose of receiving money or another thing of value, whether or not something of value is offered or provided in return. This would capture attempts to sell things or to busk as well as the more traditional panhandling. While this term as defined sounds like it would outlaw a lot of activity generally considered to be legitimate, it must be read in context of the sections in which it is used. In the section on soliciting in an aggressive manner and the section on soliciting a person who is a captive audience — for example, waiting for a bus at a bus stop or using a bank machine — the bill does not make it an offence to solicit, but it does make it an offence to do so aggressively or with respect to a captive audience. I think that's an important distinction.
The first of the substantive sections of the bill is section 2, which make it is an offence to solicit a person in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to be concerned for their safety or security — the aggressive solicitation provision. Examples of the kind of solicitation that might cause a reasonable person to be so concerned — solicitation where the path of the person solicited is obstructed, abusive language is used or a person is physically approached by a group of two or more persons, among others — are listed, along with the requirement that the listed type of solicitation actually be done in such a manner as to cause a reasonable person to be concerned for their safety or their security. This amounts to a two-part test, such that innocent activity on the part of a person soliciting is very unlikely to be captured as an offence.
The section also makes it an offence to threaten the person solicited with physical harm by word, gesture or other means. The private member's Safe Streets Act made aggressive solicitation an offence but did not provide examples of the type of activity that would constitute an offence. The example list should make this section easier to understand.
The second substantive provision is section 3. This section makes it an offence to solicit a person when that person is at one of a number of listed places — places like an automated teller machine, a pay phone, or a bus or other transit stop. The person soliciting commits an offence if they solicit a person at one of these places from a distance of five metres or closer to a place. This proximity requirement is added to the bill to ensure that a necessary component of this offence is the captive nature of the solicitation. Proximity was not an explicit requirement of the private member's bill. The provision also deals with the problem of people coming onto the roadway offering services such as window cleaning by making it an offence to be on a roadway
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and soliciting a person in a stopped, standing or parked vehicle.
[H. Long in the chair.]
Finally, the last substantive provision of this bill is an amendment to a provision of the Motor Vehicle Act — again, dealing with pedestrians on the roadway, the domain of the squeegee kid — clarifying that it is an offence to breach the section by being on a roadway or by soliciting, except where a ride is being solicited in an emergency situation.
With the addition of a provision stating that the act comes into force by regulation, this is the whole of this short bill. We did not include a provision on disposing of dangerous items as the private member's bill did, because section 12 of the Waste Management Act already makes it an offence to litter.
As I said in first reading, the problems that this bill is trying to address are complex; so must be the responses. The bill is a part of the solution and will offer more tools to police, but it's not the definitive answer to the problems on our streets. I look forward to hearing the comments of other members and to debating the bill at committee stage.
I move second reading.
J. Kwan: I rise in debate on second reading of Bill 71. I represent a community at which this bill is targeted — a vibrant, multicultural, diverse and dynamic urban centre; a community with a long history of social activism; a community with incredible street life and artistic energy; a community that has shown and proven itself to care about each other. The community that I represent is also a poor community, one of the poorest in the country — a community where homelessness, drug addiction, crime, AIDS and, yes, panhandling and squeegee kids are a daily part of life — but a community, nonetheless, in which citizens are making every effort to improve their lives. Many work at hard jobs to support families on minimum wages. Many are single moms struggling to provide for their kids. Many are new immigrants living paycheque to paycheque. We have a large urban aboriginal community in this riding as well.
One publicity-hungry Liberal MLA called my community the worst neighbourhood in Canada. My community may be poor. It may wrestle with issues that most British Columbians never have to confront, but insulting these people as the media-chasing MLA did is symbolic of the utter lack of understanding and compassion coming from this government.
I have watched with dismay over the last three and a half years as life in my community has been harmed by a steady and unrelenting increase in human desperation. Every day through my office doors are people brought to the edge, suffering in ways that all of us here can only imagine — confused, hungry, many very ill and overwhelmed by the condition of their lives, looking for support and finding little comfort from this government. These people know crime. They deal with this violence every day. The poor, after all, are crime's most common victims. For them, insecurity and fear on our streets are a daily reality. They experience it every day. Sitting on a street corner asking for change may be, some say, a lifestyle of choice for some, but I say that it's simply trying to stay alive for many.
For a media-hungry MLA it may be cool to pretend that you know what poverty is by playing tourist in the downtown east side, by coming down for one week and saying: "I really know what being homeless and poor is like." Let there be no confusion: it is much, much, much more than that. As a recent community person said to me: "Don't talk to me about how you know about poverty until you've had two years of accumulated grit underneath your nails and you no longer care what you smell like."
Poverty and despair have always been with us, but this government has made it worse — much worse. In doing so they have contributed to the growing sense of insecurity and fear that this bill pretends to address.
Also, let me make it plain. Society cannot tolerate aggressive and abusive behaviour on the streets. There are reasonable explanations for this behaviour rooted in an analysis of poverty and deteriorating social conditions, but that does not provide a moral excuse. Every citizen has the right to walk our streets safe from fear. It is why we have laws that say you cannot accost another citizen. You cannot intimidate them, and if you do, there are consequences. Street safety cannot be compromised.
As a way of measuring the well-being of our communities, the vitality of street life and safety we feel in our communities is fundamental. Without safety and security and without freedom from fear there is no opportunity to fully express our rights as citizens, to participate completely with others in daily life. As the great urban planner Jane Jacobs said: "The point of communities is a multiplicity of choice." When choices to go to the store, to take a stroll, to sit at the sidewalk café are restricted by fear, then community life slowly grinds to a halt.
This experience has been replicated again and again in communities large and small throughout our country. The vibrancy of urban life gives way to the misery of urban desolation: locked cars become the only means of transportation; TV and radio the only view to the outside world; people holed up inside their walls as individuals, barred by fear from participating in life outside those walls as citizens. I make this point because citizenship and community solidarity are at the core of a progressive, humane and democratic future, and as a progressive politician, someone who believes that the rights of citizenship and opportunity should be shared by the many and not the few. Any infringement on community life is also an infringement on the possibility of a progressive future for our province, and crime and the fear of crime are an attack on that future.
This brings me to this legislation we have focused before us. Can it reasonably be described as an appropriate and measured response to improve street safety
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and to fight crime? My answer, Mr. Speaker, is no, it cannot. What we have before us is not a piece of legislation grounded in the reality of my community and the challenges it faces. The only reality it seeks to address is the reality that this government is in political trouble and is looking once again for a quick fix, an easy headline and a good wedge issue to divide British Columbians. It is, to put it bluntly, a cynical attempt to create a scapegoat for deep social problems that this government has done nothing to remedy and, in fact, has made much worse.
How can British Columbians take seriously a bill intended to improve street safety when it comes from a government that cut funding to victim assistance, that took over three years to deliver on a simple promise to return traffic fine revenues to communities for policing and public safety, that has contributed to homelessness and despair by gutting social assistance and by transferring millions of dollars earmarked for social housing to build cheap assisted-living beds for seniors, to cover off another election promise — a broken election promise?
No one can take this bill seriously, because it is clear that the government isn't really serious about street safety or about crime. If they were serious, they wouldn't have cut funding to community policing. They wouldn't have closed courthouses across the province. They would not have cut funding to Crown prosecutors. They wouldn't have ended the zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse. They would have held the summit on organized crime that they offered up as a quick fix over a year ago to deal with another bad headline.
If this government was serious about fighting crime, they would have kept their promise to communities for more crime-fighting resources as fast as they kept their promise to high-income earners for a larger tax cut. If this government was serious about fighting crime, they would have taken action on gang violence instead of waiting until this serious issue became a potential media embarrassment for them, which is just what this Solicitor General did last week when he got wind that the Indo-Canadian community leaders were about to go public with frustration at his government's inaction on gang violence and hurriedly sent out a news release claiming that he was reviving a task force into Indo-Canadian gang violence.
No, they wouldn't be dealing with serious issues of crime by sending out news releases. They wouldn't be running around acting tough. They would have actually gotten tough. They would have actually worked on the issue around crime — but just as importantly, on the causes of crime. Tough on crime for the sake of it, tough on crime to score political points, tough on crime to scapegoat and avoid social problems, many of their own making — that does nothing to protect our communities or to advance our sense of security. It does nothing to further a constructive dialogue about how to cope with growing homelessness and desperation.
It is cynical; it is manipulative; it chooses the cheap, quick, political answer; and it is ultimately destructive. It diverts the government's attention, it diverts its resources, and it corrupts the debate about how to improve safety. More than ever we need that debate; we need that dialogue. Why? Because today in B.C. crime is on the rise, up 12 percent over 2001. Organized crime in B.C. today is, according to the RCMP, akin to a cancer growing on the social fabric of our communities. More women are being added to the missing women's list, whole communities are being overthrown by grow-ops, and today in B.C. more people are living on our streets than ever before.
This government doesn't have a clue how to address these issues other than to waste our time on a piece of legislation so ill-considered and rushed that there are not even penalties attached to aggressive behaviour — behaviour that is already against the law. In fact, this legislation is about more than the issue of street safety; it is symbolic of this Premier's style of government that has hurt communities and created a more polarized and more divided province. It speaks to this Premier's failure of ideas and lack of vision about how to lead a government and to meet the complex social and economic challenges of our time.
This legislation is about a government that read the polls and is seeking a quick headline to cover off an issue in the campaign. The same MLA who is eager to get media headlines, who likes to do media stunts by being a tourist in the downtown east side for one week, just now, when I started my debate, heckled me and said: "Well, 50 percent of the poll supports this piece of legislation."
It just goes to show you: this legislation is about a government that read the polls and is seeking a quick headline to cover off an issue in the campaign. It is about a government that took the axe to the programs and community supports that keep communities together and is more concerned with the political fallout than the social consequences.
In keeping with the government's entire approach, it throws up a quick and easy distraction to stoke division, fear and resentment, hoping that British Columbians can't see it for what it is — a manipulative but not very clever election ploy. It is typical behaviour of a right-wing government eager to cloak itself in populist clothing to turn the debate away from its own record. Typical of a government that cut funding for education and youth programs but brought in the Parental Responsibility Act, under which, as far as we know, no one has ever been charged. Typical of a government that cut health care, drove up wait-lists by 26 percent and then tried to point the finger at laundry workers, hospital cleaners, food servers — the lowest paid in the health care system — as the culprit. Typical of a government so mean-spirited that it painted B.C.'s disabled welfare citizens as welfare cheats, spent $5 million to root them out and found there were only 46 people who didn't qualify, and never even apologized; a government that tried to take seniors' bus passes away,
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that tried to cut audio books for the blind; a government that eliminated all funding for women's centres, organizations that help women in crisis. And typical of a government that has embraced an ideology as old as it is tried and that puts a premium on conflict and confrontation for its own sake.
An agenda that can help produce short-term gains for the bottom line but doesn't do anything to create a fairer, more prosperous society. An agenda that balances the provincial budget after racking up the biggest deficit — deficits, I should say, in plural — in B.C. history. That's all through deep cuts to the two ministries — Children and Family Development and Human Resources — that serve the most vulnerable people in our province. An agenda that can create the illusion of growth but doesn't do anything for those left out or left behind. An agenda that can make for a good wedge issue in a campaign but doesn't do anything to improve community life, to make our streets safer or to foster citizenship.
I know that some have accused us, the opposition, of falling into a neatly devised political trap laid by the government. After all, what politician wants to be on the wrong side of safe streets? This is a bigger issue. There is a bigger issue at stake than making the right move in a short-term political chess game. If the choice is between good policy that will make people's lives better and strengthen our communities or good politics, then I choose the former.
Unlike the government, I have faith on this complex issue. British Columbians know there are no quick fixes and no easy answers — certainly none provided by this bill. I know because I have seen first-hand in my own community that there is enormous goodwill on the part of British Columbians to do the good work and the hard work of dealing with enormous, difficult social problems imaginatively and constructively, with goodwill and with the understanding that athough every now and then a government will come along and try to profit politically off deep social ills, addressing these issues takes a different kind of leadership. This government and this Premier have proven once again, with this badly written, deeply flawed and wrong-headed piece of legislation, that that kind of leadership is missing from this government.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for listening. I hope the people who will listen to this debate and who will read this legislation will understand and see it for what it is. All that it is, is a cynical political ploy for the government to try and score points to divert attention from their own record and from what they are doing. It does not actually provide solutions to the problems of safer streets, of needing to create safer streets in our communities.
P. Nettleton: Thank you for this opportunity to speak to this bill in second reading with respect to safe streets. I should say from the outset that I have an open mind with respect to this legislation. There are, however, a number of questions I would like to raise. I understand this is second reading and not committee, but I think it's fair to put a number of questions forward, to bring those questions forward, with respect to this legislation in terms of my representation of my constituents.
The Attorney General has said that the Safe Streets Act is not about stopping people asking for spare change. In fact, he is on record as having said, as the Attorney General, that it is about preserving the rights of citizens and visitors to go about their daily business without being aggressively panhandled. On the surface, these words "preserving the rights of citizens" sound nobly motivated. My question to the Attorney General would be: are not the needy, even though sometimes reduced to begging, also citizens with rights? What safeguards and protections does the Attorney General include in this legislation for those who have fallen between the cracks to ensure that their rights are not trampled?
I do seek some clarification on the proposed Safe Streets Act. A further question to the Attorney General with respect to this act: does the Attorney General know whether the existing trespass, public nuisance and vagrancy laws have been and are being enforced? If not, how does the Attorney General intend to make this new legislation to amend these laws effective and enforceable?
I know something of the Attorney General, having spent five years in opposition with him and then about a year and a half, I guess, in government. My experience with respect to the Attorney General is that he is a careful, cautious, reasoned man. I'm somewhat surprised, in fact, that he has agreed to press ahead with the safe streets legislation before he has dealt with the question of enforcement. That seems entirely inconsistent with the man I have come to know.
In any event, an example I would put forward with respect to this concern would be: how would the police correctly identify offenders who are transient or vagrant? The Attorney General's reply when this question was raised by the media…. He indicated that it was merely a technical matter to be dealt with later. Certainly, to me this sounds like a rush to implement a law without concern, whether it achieves the expressed intention or not. It is a concern that's been raised here and elsewhere. Is it, as the critics have suggested, merely pre-election window-dressing without the accompanying enforcement legislation or regulations, or is it something else? How would the Attorney General respond to this concern regarding legislating yet another toothless and unenforceable law?
Those are some of the questions and concerns that I have on behalf of my constituents with respect to this legislation. I do have an open mind, and I will listen with a great deal of interest to the debate. I look forward to the comments from the government members with respect to this legislation and why it is that we in this House should support this legislation. I am concerned about the practical implications for the community that I represent, of course, whether it is the busi-
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ness people in the downtown core of Prince George or those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to beg to make ends meet.
Again I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to raise a few questions with respect to this legislation. I look forward to the debate over the next few hours and days.
D. Jarvis: I rise to speak on Bill 71. I have to say that I'm not against panhandling, etc., per se. Unfortunately, it is one of those pseudo-professions that has always been with mankind, if you look back through history.
My support of this legislation is ostensibly with the concern about belligerent and aggressive panhandling. I understand and realize that this legislation is certainly not going to be the panacea to control panhandling in our cities and towns or even to have it removed from our streets in its entirety. It will give municipalities some measure to try and control a very, very complex problem.
I would not want it in place just for the reasons of being mean-spirited or for the manipulation of certain segments of our society who find begging in any form distasteful, especially to themselves, or just to punish those who for some reason find themselves unable to work or for that matter to find work. I believe our society has a responsibility to look after indigents or those lacking the ability to look after themselves. I believe these services are somewhat available through government services today that do such things. Maybe they're not as perfect as some would wish, but there are the services available to solve some of those problems.
There are those on the streets who will always be non-conformists, and of course there are those who are also mentally ill or addicted, and those that you can never just please or satisfy as they will always want to and will continue to do their own thing. This sometimes leads to aggressiveness, and that is not acceptable to the average person who feels harassed at times or feels safe to a varying degree.
The crux of the situation is that people want to feel safe on the streets. Their feeling of safety on the streets has been deteriorating somewhat, and I feel that government has an obligation to attend to that matter. I appreciate that some may see this as very draconian. The facts are that people walking down the streets — whether they be residents or tourists — should not feel unsafe, intimidated or even uncomfortable while walking around our streets. Again, there may be reason for panhandling and begging, but there is no excuse for bad behaviour, no matter what degree it is at.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 71. I will support it accordingly.
G. Halsey-Brandt: I wish to say a few words this afternoon on Bill 71, the Safe Streets Act. I would remind members that the legislation particularly addresses and calls up aggressive panhandling and talks about verbal and physical abuse, really, to a captive audience — whether they be at such things as pay phones, automated banking machines, public toilets or transit stops and the like. It also prohibits squeegee people from solicitation of a person in a vehicle while it is stopped at a traffic light or stop sign. It is not directed and does not make reference to people who are quietly panhandling on the sidewalk, but it really goes to those who are over the top.
There was mention earlier this afternoon about the urban fabric and our community life, and I think this is really what this legislation is all about. Often the streets are taken over, in instances, by some people who will not recognize the rights of others. I think that's what this legislation addresses. We all have rights, and they have to be recognized by each other.
We've worked hard in my constituency, in the city that I represent, to build a pedestrian-friendly environment in the downtown area of Richmond and to have some street life with coffee shops and malls, etc. We have certainly had the experience in recent years of very aggressive panhandling and of squatting in our community as well — perhaps not as significant as Victoria, Kelowna or Vancouver, but it's certainly there.
When the legislation was first discussed in the spring, I took the opportunity to advertise and call a public meeting in my community. I invited the member for Vancouver-Burrard to come and talk to us. I wanted to get the feeling of my constituency and how they felt about the problem and this initiative. In attendance we had several civic politicians. We had representatives of the police and of private security services. We had business people. We had mall managers. We had people who ran coffee shops. More particularly, and what I was particularly interested in, we had representatives of social service agencies in my community as well.
We had a really good discussion. The feeling was that the social safety net is in fact in place in our community, but there were those who were not obeying what I guess you'd say are normal decorum and rules and who got into aggressive behaviour that was really upsetting not just those in authority but also those from social service agencies. We do appreciate those on low income, those who are homeless and those suffering from mental illness, but we do have programs in place to assist those people if at all possible.
Again from that discussion in our community, there was a very strong comfort level with this legislation. It was approved by our city council. It is supported by my constituency. As one of the members said previously, it's really all about safety on the streets for everyone — whether they're residents, whether they're tourists or whether they're other panhandlers that feel threatened by this inappropriate behaviour. Therefore, I look forward to supporting this legislation this afternoon.
J. MacPhail: As my colleague has made very clear, this so-called safe streets legislation, Bill 71, is really just another cynical attempt by the government to dis-
[ Page 11531 ]
tract from its record. Instead of offering positive solutions…. I have no idea what the member who just spoke meant when he said we've got solutions in place for people who are poor. They don't have any positive solutions. They're not offering any positive solutions for the real difficulties in our communities. This legislation instead seeks to find a scapegoat for those problems. That is exactly what this legislation is.
The problem that this government has contributed to so dramatically by its very policies is poor people on the streets. Yes, in a manner that has become sadly familiar to British Columbians, this British Columbia Liberal government finds the cheapest, most ideological and mean-spirited way to address a serious issue. It is not an exaggeration to say that one of the hallmarks of this B.C. Liberal government has been just how mean-spirited it has shown itself to be. Even some supporters have been shocked at the manner in which this government has seemed to go out of its way to target this province's most vulnerable citizens and how in several cases this government not only has carried out mean-spirited policies but has actually seemed to take pleasure in doing so — some members of this chamber.
Whether it is blaming the lowest-paid workers in our health system for their own failed health policy, first breaking the workers' contracts and then trying to retroactively strip their pay, or trying to take away seniors' bus passes and audio books from the blind; whether it is slashing funding for victim assistance, cutting programs for youth at risk or eliminating all funding for women's centres, reducing addiction services for young people, closing the youth detention centre addictions services — as but one small example…. Those are the actions of this government, and now they want to target panhandlers to make us safe. Given this government's actions over the last three and a half years, it has rightly earned its reputation as ideological and mean-spirited.
It did occur to me as I prepared for this debate that ironically, this government has also demonstrated itself to be none other than a first-rate panhandler. Yup, a first-rate panhandler this government is, exhibiting a most obnoxious, aggressive form of behaviour — far worse than anything on our streets. Just think about it. On day one they gave the wealthiest citizens in the province a whopping tax cut. From then on, they proceeded to cry poor, whining about their circumstances — the circumstances that the rest of the country, too, faced — and the surplus they had been left; begging for money from the federal government — aggressively begging for money from the federal government, when indeed they said when they were in opposition that they didn't need it; and, finally, panhandling to ordinary citizens — yeah, panhandling — at the very highest level, demanding British Columbians cough up not just spare change but thousands upon thousands of dollars in user fees, premium hikes, rate increases and higher sales taxes.
There was the Minister of Finance with his hand out, demanding $18 more a month per person in MSP premiums — aggressively demanding. Isn't that what you call panhandling — chasing down B.C. taxpayers for hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of consumption taxes and user fees, lurking at every cash register and forcing people to hand over more money in sales taxes? Talk about a captive audience. British Columbians are the captive audience, and they're stuck with this government until May 2005. At least if they squeegeed our windshields, we might feel we got something for the exchange.
It's really not a good idea to give this government money like that. Let's look at how irresponsible these B.C. Liberal panhandlers have been. When they aggressively took our money, what did they do with it? Did they build more housing for the homeless? No, they cancelled that program. Instead, they spent millions of dollars in partisan advertising — money they won't even account for.
I thought it was interesting to hear the Premier last week say they're spending about half what the NDP spent — wrong, absolutely wrong. We'll be getting to the Premier on his complete misleading of the public on that. I'm sure the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill knows the truth about how much money this government spent on advertising. He is going to go public on it. I can hardly wait for the member from Beacon Hill tonight to show what year he is saying that their government is only spending half on advertising. Of course, this government won't come clean on how much they're spending on advertising.
Then there is a total of $274,000 in big fat bonuses for themselves. These aggressive panhandlers are giving bonuses to themselves. The Premier gave himself $9,000. All 34 of their cabinet — the largest cabinet in B.C. history — got $7,800 each just for doing the job that they're all very well paid to do already. I guess they took the investment advice "Pay yourself first" to heart.
Over $5 million on a mean-spirited and ill-conceived disability review that caused pain and suffering for British Columbians with disabilities…. Not my words. That's what the auditor general said about the $5 million they spent to put people with disabilities through. It's no wonder that with these so-called Liberals, real liberals now are jumping overboard. The wonder is that it took so long.
The social conservatives, by the sounds of the statement from the member for Kamloops–North Thompson in the public, are tying themselves up in so many knots over their government policies. It is going to be hard-pressed to see how that member is getting out of the twists and turns and knots he got himself in.
Here's what the member for Kamloops–North Thompson said on an issue very important to him — gambling. Here's what he said.
This government, which has doubled gambling revenues, and not one Liberal government caucus member will stand up and hold their government to account. Shame on them. Particularly, shame on the class of '96 to 2001 when they stood every day in this House and railed against gambling — not expanded
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gambling but against gambling. Every day they railed in this House.
Maybe it's those people whose addictions this government is encouraging that they're now attacking in the safe streets legislation, but oh no, this government caucus would never put those policies together. Here, in opposition, is what the member for Kamloops–North Thompson said. He, along with the Premier, was the staunchest opponent to any increase in gaming.
On October 17, 2004, here's what the member for Kamloops–North Thompson is now saying: "People are used to the activity; governments are used to the revenue," he said. "You can't stop a freight train in progress." Oh, really? I guess when your own government's the freight train, it takes a little extra act of bravery for a Liberal caucus backbencher to stand in front of it, and clearly no one here is willing to do that — no one in this government.
Here's what the member for Kamloops–North Thompson said on the government's new scheme that allows people to buy lottery tickets and gamble on line: "It's a different form of doing the same thing." Oh, is it? Maybe he should talk to the Solicitor General. "Moreover, revenue from gaming has decreased," he said and added that revenues must be managed responsibly. "We can't forgo the revenue," he said.
The member for Kamloops–North Thompson's own views on gaming circa 2004? "It's not my place to police other people's morality." Is that right? I guess this government just wants to be an enabler for people gambling or drinking, but gosh forbid if one of those people has to go on the streets and put a hat in front of them and ask for money. Oh, this government's going to clamp down on them.
Well, after three years of slashing and privatization and flip-flopping on some of their key election promises — actually misleading the public — the members opposite are starting to look increasingly uncomfortable. You know, if only Mr. Klein, the Premier of Alberta, had done us all a favour and told the world in 2001 that this B.C. Liberal Premier is really a Conservative like him instead of waiting until this month, maybe people could have made a different choice. He might even have been doing a favour for some of those members opposite who are uncomfortable with this government's draconian ideological shift in a mean-spirited way.
What a favour he would have done British Columbians who in 2001 believed the fictions of this Premier's new-era promises, who actually trusted in what they read in the B.C. Liberal bible, the New Era document, a document that has disappeared. Well, let's remind all those present what the now government said in opposition in their New Era document. "Stop the expansion of gambling that has increased gambling addiction and put new strains on families." Not according to the Solicitor General today. You'd think that he'd never heard of a gambling addiction. Certainly, he twisted himself into a pretzel like I've never seen before to distinguish his Internet gaming expansion from the Internet gaming expansion he decried just months ago.
Remember, Mr. Speaker, that it was this B.C. Liberal government that has made its deepest budget cuts in two ministries, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Human Resources — cuts bigger than in all the other ministries combined. Those are the people this government has attacked with their budget cuts — cuts that affected programs for special needs children, youth at risk, people with disabilities, single moms, children in care. Those are our most vulnerable citizens, and this is who the government decided to attack.
Now the government members show no shame as they crow over a budget surplus that they financed on the backs of these citizens, the most vulnerable in our province. This government also got its surplus from gaming revenue; from property transfer tax doubling that has nothing to do with this government; and oh yes, from tuition out of the pockets of students. Wow, that's a nice province to live in.
It's like they just can't help themselves. Just look at the timing of this bill, the Safe Streets Act. It was the last day of the session before Thanksgiving Day weekend, a time when those of us fortunate enough to have employment, some money in the bank, supportive families…. It's when we traditionally gather with our loved ones. We enjoy a good meal; we give thanks for our good fortune. I bet everyone in this chamber did that. It's also a time when many British Columbians, conscious that their own good fortune is not shared by all, give to the food banks, church groups and social agencies that service our poorest citizens.
How did this B.C. Liberal government choose to celebrate Thanksgiving? Did this government announce that they would be taking some of their much-vaunted surplus and rolling back three years of harsh cuts to services for the most needy in our society? Nope. Did they actually restore some of the funding to the agencies that they cut? Did they give any money to the food banks, which are in deep, deep trouble this year? Did the church groups have an easier time at Thanksgiving this year than they've had over the last three years? And I do distinguish the last three years. No. Food banks have a greater struggle than ever in this province, church groups had to feed more of the poor at Thanksgiving, and social service agencies are being intimidated every day by this government in order not to talk about the cuts that they're suffering.
Did this B.C. Liberal government announce a one-time boost to all the province's food banks? Did they give any extra money to the homeless shelters? No, nothing. Did this government come up with a plan to provide more street-based resources that would actually make our streets safer? No. Instead, on the eve of the Thanksgiving weekend, this B.C. Liberal government introduced the Safe Streets Act, an act that scapegoats the poor in the name of a cheap political stunt.
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However, it does seem to be a bit of a pattern. Looking back over this government's record, we found that the first year this government was in power, they chose Thanksgiving that year as their opportunity to send out letters to welfare recipients, warning them that their assistance was in jeopardy. Remember that, my fellow Liberal MLAs? Remember that threatening letter you sent out…?
J. MacPhail: Thank you. Thank you for my colleagues for correcting the record. I actually misconstrued my relationship to these members. Isn't it interesting, the behaviour of these Liberal MLAs?
That first year maybe they could actually say whether they remembered that letter, that threatening letter in October of 2001 that was sent out to welfare recipients. Does the member for Vancouver-Burrard remember that? I hope he will address that in his speech.
Deputy Speaker: Order, member. Order, member. The Leader of the Opposition has….
J. MacPhail: I hope he'll remember that in his speech.
Deputy Speaker: Order, order. The Leader of the Opposition has the floor. I'll call the House to order.
J. MacPhail: Yeah. I just hope that when he gets up to talk about those aggressive panhandlers, he'll actually review his own government record around threatening the poor from almost day one.
Here's what the letters did. Thanksgiving 2001. The letters warned of the many draconian changes this government was planning to make to social assistance — changes that came true and changes that are clearly a key factor in the number of people who are now on our streets. The member for Vancouver-Burrard takes such pride in the cuts to welfare that his government has made — such pride. While this government may have had to backtrack….
Deputy Speaker: Order, member.
J. MacPhail: While this government was forced to backtrack on its most draconian plan, the two-year limits on welfare, they have had to put in place other regressive policies that prevent people from ever qualifying for social assistance in the first place, and they wonder why people are on the street.
Here's an example. The government brought in a two-year independence test that denies youth in need assistance. They make all people, no matter how needy, wait three weeks before they can even apply for income assistance — a rule that is causing incredible hardship amongst many, welfare rules that might have driven a person to panhandle or squeegee a windshield just to get by.
This, of course, is also the government that cut funding to police, including community policing. This is a government that ended the zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse and that cut victims assistance. This is a government that has so drastically cut funding for social housing that now there is next to no money to provide new housing units for needy families and the mentally ill — absolutely no money.
As you can see, these Liberal members tend to not accept these, even when I point out these hard truths. So let's just see what others say.
J. MacPhail: I hear the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill saying I'm wrong. Well, let's find another source, then. Here's what Linda Thomas, the housing director at the Vancouver coastal health authority, told the Vancouver Sun about the situation under the Liberal government:
"During the 1990s, Thomas said she was able to create housing for the mentally ill by going to non-profit groups, building housing for families or singles and offering them support staff paid from her budget if the housing society would agree to reserve some units for Vancouver coastal health authority patients. But the Liberal government has essentially stopped building low-income social housing as it previously existed. 'There isn't any of that general housing anymore,' says Thomas."
I wonder if the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill is saying this expert in housing is wrong. Please stand up and say that she's wrong. Really, Mr. Speaker, I have looked forward very much to hearing the member for Vancouver-Burrard, so he can speak exactly to Linda Thomas's comments. Please address her directly.
Just in case that isn't enough evidence for the government members, here's what Canada's most prominent housing researcher, the University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski said. Here's what he had to say about housing and homelessness in British Columbia.
Deputy Speaker: Order, member. Order, member.
J. MacPhail: David Hulchanski said this about housing and homelessness in British Columbia. It was a long article all about the situation here. Let me quote some of the highlights. I would be happy, Mr. Speaker, to give you the whole article, because clearly the Liberal backbenchers haven't read it.
If government programs for housing, income support or services change even a little, the rate of home-
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lessness changes. "There are so many people on the edge, it just takes small cuts to any of those to push people over the edge," Hulchanski says. "After 1995, when the Ontario conservative government killed social housing, cut welfare and reduced services, Ontario's homeless population soared to U.S. levels. B.C., in comparison, had far less homelessness at that time, even though it had high housing costs and unemployment. The only explanation was the difference in government support." That's from his report. Commenting on his report, Hulchanski says: "My guess would be that the cuts now are what's driving the situation in B.C." Of course, we know….
J. MacPhail: As I said, Mr. Speaker, I'd be happy to table the exact report. I know knowledge is not something that any of these Liberal government members are interested in — or research or the facts — but I'd be happy to table the whole report.
Of course, we know Mike Harris's Ontario is exactly the model this government is following. The Harris Conservative government brought in a so-called safe streets bill that banned squeegee kids. The Harris Tories brought their bill in over four years ago, long enough that its effect has now been studied. The researcher Bill O'Grady, of the University of Guelph, focused on the effect of the Harris government's legislation on the activities of squeegee kids once the ban was in place. What the study found was that many of the youth continued to squeegee, at the risk of being ticketed by police.
Now, there's not that problem here with this legislation, because the government is so cynical about their own bill — and understand that it's purely political — that they didn't even include penalties. There's not even the power to make regulations to make penalties. So if they're going to do what the Attorney General said sheepishly — which is, they're going to make penalties by regulation — they actually have to bring in new legislation. That's what this government has to do — a piece of legislation that, in order to actually make any penalties, they have to redo. That's the effectiveness of this government.
The Ontario study found that even more of the youth took up panhandling and — this is most telling — that a significant percentage moved on to more dangerous activities, including drug peddling and prostitution. The study also found that the effect of banning squeegeeing cost the young people money that usually went to pay for housing, actually pushing them more into the streets. More of the youth started living on the streets — either in squats, bus shelters or ravines — or moved to other areas to continue their activity. The study found that the legislation created more conflict, not less, between the youth and the police. That's what the police said.
The one thing O'Grady says was successful about the legislation was that it made poverty far less visible. Out of sight, out of mind. That's probably the goal of these Liberal members: to make the poverty that they've exacerbated far less visible. Of course, B.C. had the chance to learn from the Ontario experience, but like the Harris Tories this B.C. Liberal government is choosing to paper over the disastrous effects of its own policies with cynical, extreme legislation.
But it's grown to be a habit with this government. This is, you will recall, the government that went on a rampage about cutting regulations by one-third yet thinks nothing of creating ideological, redundant, unenforceable laws year after year for the sake of optics and cheap political gain.
Let me just give an example of that. In their first year, here is a piece of legislation this government created to show they were tough on kids. It was called the Parental Responsibility Act. Remember that? Remember that act? I will remind the House, since no one ever heard of it again since it was overwhelmingly passed by this government, that that was a bill that there hasn't been an application of, so far as we can tell — not one application of that legislation — by the cops.
That was where parents were going to be held responsible for kids who vandalize. This government was going to get tough. They were tough on kids who vandalize. Today it's squeegee kids and panhandlers. How many charges laid? Zero. Nada. So the Parental Responsibility Act was all talk, all law-and-order swagger modelled on right-wing American legislation, pretending to solve a social problem that our existing laws provided every necessary remedy for. It was another case of this government taking away supports from people — in this case, parents — and then making a big deal here in the Legislature of how they would be taking a punitive approach to parents whose kids vandalize private and school property when they knew full well that the School Act and common law already provided remedies for acts of vandalism.
Oh, and then next there was the Youth Justice Act brought in by this government. When concerns were raised about the increasing number of youth at risk here in British Columbia, including the concern that youth who should be in foster care are being left to fend for themselves on the street, the minister responsible for children and youth at the time even admitted that his own government wasn't providing enough addiction services for youth. But what did this government do? They brought in the Youth Justice Act. Did that provide the services? No, nothing. Once again it's this government using a piece of legislation as a get-tough-on-crime showpiece but really doing nothing of real value to solve the problems faced by our youth.
Now we have this poor excuse for legislation, the Safe Streets Act, a bill so redundant that all activities it is supposed to address can already be dealt with under existing laws and the Criminal Code. In fact, the main example cited by the backbencher who dreamed up this bill, the member for Vancouver-Burrard…. He cited an example in a National Post op-ed, and the example he cited was dealt with under the existing laws. I thought it was ironic. Of course, did anyone point
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that out? No. The irony of him saying, "We need new legislation," and he gives an example that's already been taken care of by existing laws…. He also talks about a car window that was smashed by a squeegee person. But assault, smashing windows, threatening people and even jaywalking are already offences. The laws are there, but let's face it: the police have better things to do with their time and limited resources than arrest panhandlers or issue tickets that people with no money can't pay.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
In fact, very few, if any, police officers in Ontario use the Safe Streets Act — very few. But this bill is such a cynical exercise that the government didn't even bother to make provisions for penalties. This is a bill that is so flawed that if it were actually ever applied, it would make it illegal to ask for change for a phone. It would make it an offence to step off the curb to flag a cab. It would make it illegal for the Salvation Army to solicit donations in mall doorways this Christmas. Well, that will be the Christmas gift. That will be the Scrooge gift from this government to social service agencies that have had their funding cut by this government.
The bill is so useless and redundant that real Liberals such as the mayor of Victoria, Alan Lowe, have panned it outright. Here's what the president of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce had to say last week. He is, of course, supporting the government on their Safe Streets Act. I know that the member for Vancouver-Burrard has a stack of letters of support.
Well, the people who are supporting this Safe Streets Act — let's just see whether they actually have a problem or not. Here is what the chamber of commerce from Langley said: "While Langley has not reported the increase of nuisance behaviour and criminal activity experienced in other communities in the lower mainland, provincial legislation is required to ensure that all communities in the region have the same laws and penalties." Langley doesn't have a problem, but they voted in favour of the Safe Streets Act at the Union of B.C. Municipalities because they're desperate for help with the real property crime issues facing them.
Now, the government likes to demonize the city of Vancouver and its mayor and council, who have been very critical of the legislation, so I won't even go there. Let's focus on Victoria instead. Here's what Mayor Lowe said: "I've been an advocate, saying I do not believe we need the Safe Streets Act. We have the Criminal Code to deal with aggressive panhandlers." Now, when did he say that? October 13, much after the legislation was introduced.
Here's what Victoria police spokesman Const. Rick Anthony had to say about this government's safe streets bill: "What's the point of writing a ticket to someone who has no money?" Of course, Anthony thought there was actually a provision for writing tickets in the legislation. There isn't. But it's not Anthony's fault for assuming that the bill was less flawed. Anthony, who patrols downtown Victoria on a regular basis, said concerns about aggressive panhandling, at least in Victoria, are overblown. From the Victoria News, October 13, 2004: "'To tell you the truth, I get very few calls about aggressive panhandling,' he said. 'What the police and the public need are more resources for the police to enforce existing laws.'"
Yet this government cut funding for policing, for public safety programs, stalled for three and a half years on providing promised traffic fine revenues to pay for policing. They made deep cuts to social programs that actually helped people get off the streets. Let's face it. There are other crimes that are arguably more of a threat to our community than panhandling and squeegeeing that this government has been woefully inadequate in addressing.
I'm sure the people of B.C. would sleep a lot easier if this government spent more time on the problem of organized crime in this province, on home invasions and gang violence. Thank God we've got a by-election in Surrey–Panorama Ridge, so this cynical government, this cynical Solicitor General was forced to do something about gang violence. Thank God. Of course, it's going to take quite a bit of time for the Attorney General to get any results on gang violence. It isn't a very broadly based approach to gang violence that he has put in place.
What about the growing levels of poverty and homelessness in this province? The fact that this government has actually presided over an increase in the number of poor people in our province and in the number of homeless is not just a rhetorical point. While it is true there has always been poverty in our province — much to our collective shame, including mine — recent studies are showing that the situation has never been worse than under this government. According to a September 2004 Statistics Canada report, B.C. now has the biggest gap between rich and poor of all of the provinces. That's not in their ads — those multimillion-dollar ads. I didn't see that. I didn't see that big chart showing the gap, ever growing and being the lead amongst all the provinces of the gap between the rich and poor. Maybe I should put the government on notice. I'll be asking a question about when we will be seeing the paid ad demonstrating that.
What is more, poverty is growing faster in the lower mainland than in any other urban region in Canada. The number of homeless in the lower mainland has more than doubled in the past two years. In Victoria it is estimated that nearly 50,000 people are living in poverty, 9,000 of which are children, and that 22,000 have a housing crisis, while the number of shelter beds available in the capital city on any one night ranges from 87 to 117 in total. Yet the government's actions in response to these problems has not been to increase funding for social housing and shelters. Its solution has not been to look to some creative approaches being developed in other jurisdictions where governments are investing in the social capital of their communities. Instead, this Liberal government slashed the social
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safety net, took away key supports and then, in the most ideological fashion possible, today is blaming the victims.
This is a government which, after all, has boasted about how it is cutting off all funds for groups that do advocacy work. The Minister of Finance told groups: "We don't fund advocacy; we are not in the business of funding advocacy." He said that in Vernon. Where are people to go who have a problem and may use a route other than panhandling or squeegeeing? There's no government support available to help them.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this B.C. Liberal government has taken great pride in defending cuts to several well-established and successful social agencies on the ideological basis that they would not fund agencies to do advocacy. Funding for women's centres — community-based organizations that actually help women in crisis, help connect them to the resources, programs and housing they need to keep them off the streets — is gone under this government. Funding for groups like the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, a coalition that helped people with physical and mental disabilities and mental illness find the resources, treatment programs and housing they need to keep them off the streets, is gone under this government. Funding for PEERS, Prostitutes Empowerment, Education and Resource Society, an organization here in Victoria that literally helps get women off the streets, is gone under this government.
There are countless other examples. The Kettle Friendship Society, which is in my riding and serves people with mental illness; the Studio program for at-risk youth and the Picasso Café, which my colleague and I raised in this House last spring — their funding is gone under this government. These are all programs and organizations that understand and deal with the very reasons people end up on our streets: poverty, family breakdown, drug addiction and mental illness. These are the institutions, the programs, the organizations that advocate for people who are facing those tough times.
Do you see a pattern here, Mr. Speaker? The very groups that work with our most vulnerable citizens and help them to find their way off the streets and to a better life have had their funding cut by this government. The programs don't exist. The fact is that this government, by its very policies, is making the situation on our streets much worse.
I wanted to make one thing clear, though. Holding this government to account for the actions that have contributed to the problems on our streets does not mean that we are excusing harassment or intimidating behaviour on the part of panhandlers or other people living on our streets. Since the government has championed this issue excruciatingly vociferously, I have made note of the aggression of panhandlers and squeegees over the last several months. It may be just me, but I have yet to face one situation of aggressive panhandling or squeegee kids — one situation. And I spend a lot of time going around my city — a lot of time.
Seniors, as well as everyone, should be able to walk on our streets free from harassment and safe in the knowledge that protections exist for them in our society. This legislation doesn't protect them; it doesn't protect them at all. There are no penalties. There's nothing.
Of course, the truth is, and the government knows this, that there are laws that are actually drafted properly and are effective and enforceable that are already there to offer this protection. Instead of offering action and positive solutions, this government chooses to do a cheap political stunt, trumpeting a bill that they know is flimsy and unenforceable and that solves none of the real public safety problems facing our communities, our citizens, who deserve to be safe on the streets.
K. Johnston: I rise today to speak to Bill 71, the Safe Streets Act — which I think is what we're talking about right now. I just wanted to say that I want to support this bill for the very reasons that a lot of the arguments put forward by the prior speaker talked about. I'd like to acknowledge the rights of all the citizens and all the people of the province, not just a select few. I think what this bill does is, in fact, acknowledge the rights of those people.
You know, it's an interesting experience. I just heard the member for Vancouver-Hastings talk, after a long, long winding road, about how she does not excuse harassment — one line at the end of the dissertation. I've got to tell you that she should have been with me. We were in our constituencies last week, and she should have been with me when I was in downtown Vancouver doing some business during our constituency week, we call it.
I got out of my car — it was funny — down by the Waterfront Centre. I parked it, and I took about five steps, and this well-dressed 30-year-old fellow came up to me. I thought he was going to ask me the time or something. He stood right in front of me and said: "Are you going into the mall there to get something to eat?" I said: "Yeah, I am." He says: "Well, bring me a muffin back, and if you don't, I'm going to follow you down and follow you back." I've never been approached for a muffin before. I thought that usually it's money and stuff. I'm not the smallest person in the world, nor the largest, but I have to tell you that I was somewhat intimidated. I was somewhat taken aback that a person would stand in my way and ask me for something like that.
Many times when you go to downtown Vancouver — and the member said she'd never actually been approached anywhere — you can't walk down Granville Street, literally, without somebody coming up to you. You can't walk down Cordova without somebody coming up to you. It's happened on numerous occasions to me. I mentioned the muffin thing because it was so different. Usually it's just funds, or they want to get bus fare, or they want to go home or something like that.
I recognize that this is a very, very large social problem as well as a potential criminal problem, but the situation is that people have the right to not be in-
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timidated. People have the right to move about their streets in a very safe and unfettered manner. That's what this is all about. This is not going to cure all the social problems and ills. All of us are trying our best to do that in whatever small way we can. This is about aggressiveness to people who are on the street and have a right to be on the street. Nobody should have to put up, as I said, with this threat of harm — nobody — and be sworn at and be followed.
The other thing I noticed is that if you go around Vancouver specifically — I'll deal with Vancouver, where we are — you'll see so many ATM machines with people lined up to use them, and standing about ten or 15 or 20 feet away from these ATM machines, you see people waiting to hit up people when they come off the machine. It's got to be totally intimidating. As I said before, it doesn't really bother me too much. Can you imagine seniors? Can you imagine, specifically, women and others who aren't the same physical size as some of these folks that are coming up to them?
What a great experience for a tourist. Can you imagine? You arrive at Vancouver International Airport. You get on your bus — you're maybe going on a cruise or something — and it will take you downtown. As soon as your bus arrives downtown and the doors open and you step out, you are faced with people aggressively saying things to you and trying to get money off you. I had that experience about 30 years ago in a Third World country, in Morocco, and that's not what we want anywhere in British Columbia — that sort of situation.
The government does understand that this is a social problem as well. I think that with the recent UBCM announcements of the traffic fines going back in the communities for policing and with the task force of the mayors that's been set up with the various ministers to address the challenges of mental illness, addiction and homelessness…. The member mentioned there was no money going to social housing. There's $154 million this year going into social housing as well.
Safe streets. I guess this is the easy thing to say. This has been supported by just about everybody — 80 percent at UBCM. It's supported across North America, and 46 out of the top 50 cities in the United States of America are addressing this issue through some sort of legislation, some sort of laws that address panhandling.
It's interesting to me, when you look at the city of Vancouver's bylaw…. If you read it through on panhandling, part of the problem is that it doesn't address what we're trying to address here: aggressiveness in terms of panhandling. Their fines that they have in there…. They have up to a $2,000 fine. It's quite interesting. They have a distance criteria of 10 metres back, for example, so that you can't go towards an ATM and panhandle. It is actually stronger than what is proposed in Bill 71 here. It's just that I don't think they've ever come to the point where they have the ability to, or want to, enforce this.
What is important about Bill 71 is that, in fact, there will be uniformity of a Safe Streets Act across all of British Columbia. So the municipalities won't be different, one from the other.
As I said, safe streets legislation has been endorsed by the B.C. chiefs of police. And I would suggest to the member for Vancouver-Hastings that the B.C. chiefs of police have a better handle on how to deal with these sorts of situations of aggressive panhandling than she may, and they are behind it.
As I said, everybody has the right to move about in a very safe environment. Special privilege should not be given to those that are intruding, blocking or harassing other individuals in society. That's the main reason I'm very, very strong in supporting this. I believe the right to individual personal safety overrides any right whatsoever to panhandle, harass or collect money from somebody in an unruly manner. We really have to ask the question, at the end of the day: who are the real victims? We talk about the victims. We tend to forget that the general law-abiding public are the victims in this, and that's what we're trying to address with Bill 71. It's all about stopping aggressive behaviour towards individual citizens.
So with that, I would like to actually commend the member for Vancouver-Burrard for taking the initiative to start the ball rolling with his private member's bill on this. I can tell you that he's worked very hard on it, and I believe Bill 71 is the right thing to do at this time. Thank you very much.
R. Hawes: I, too, rise to speak in support of Bill 71 and would also like to thank the member for Vancouver-Burrard for initiating this action.
I spent almost a decade as the mayor of the community in which I live, and during that decade, I had occasion — on many occasions — to deal with or try to deal with panhandling and aggressive behaviour on the main street of my community. The downtown business association pulled its hair out trying to find solutions, because their customers were being scared off the street. I was on our main street and watched as parents, often fathers, walking with small children, would reach out and grab their child and pull them in close as they walked down the street and they approached someone whose behaviour was aggressive. That can't be condoned.
I listened to the speaker opposite as she gave her great rendition of what we've done wrong and listened as she seemed to condone that kind of behaviour. The innocent people who are being made victims by aggressive behaviour are in some way the problem in her eyes. The problem is the aggressive behaviour, and it really doesn't matter…. In fact, it's an insult to those who are in poverty to defend aggressive behaviour the way that she has. I believe that she has insulted the thousands and thousands of people in this province who live in poverty but are honest, law-abiding citizens and who themselves don't condone that kind of behaviour. This bill addresses that.
It's not a panacea. It is not going to solve the problems of poverty, but it is going to give an extra tool to
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the police, if they choose to use it, in occasions where there is aggressive behaviour. If one reads the bill, it's behaviour that a reasonable person would find threatening or a threat to their safety. That doesn't mean someone sitting on the corner with a hat. That certainly doesn't mean someone standing with the Salvation Army bucket in front of a store. The member opposite takes these sorts of situations and twists and contorts, as the NDP were wont to do for over a decade, to try to make enemies of anyone who wants to earn a profit in this province. Anyone who wants this province to move ahead economically is our enemy, according to them.
There is an industry built in this province around poverty, and the actions of this government are to destroy that industry by destroying poverty. We are creating jobs here for people. We are creating an economy that can build a social safety net and pay for it — actually pay for it with surplus money, something the members opposite don't understand.
On behalf of the people who live in my community and the people who live in the Fraser Valley who have spoken out in great support for this bill, I want to say that I am going to gladly support it. I also want to say that her words today, in my opinion, are an insult to the people who live in my riding, to the people who sit on the city council where I live, to the people who don't want, and demand action be taken to stop, aggressive behaviour on our streets.
This isn't going to end all aggressive behaviour, but it does give an extra tool, and that's very important. The police where I live are supportive of this, and I can tell you that the city council is very supportive. I will be voting in favour of it, and I want to thank both the Attorney General for bringing it forward and, again, the member for Vancouver-Burrard for initiating it and taking it around the province, where it gathered huge support throughout the summer.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I know there are others who want to speak.
G. Trumper: I rise to speak to Bill 71. The reason I rise to speak to it…. I want to just maybe describe a couple of incidents that I had while in Vancouver. While I don't wish to single out Vancouver, there is an issue there. I'm not as young as the member for Vancouver-Burrard.
G. Trumper: Oh, you did. Well, thank you.
I'm not often in Vancouver either, but on the last two occasions that I was there…. First of all, I was driving in my car — I now lock the doors of my car when I'm driving through Vancouver — and had two very aggressive squeegee individuals literally attacking my car and the windows. It actually got to the stage that there were two other individuals who pulled them off. I don't get rattled very easily, but I was rattled that day.
The other incident happened when we had been to the UBCM convention the last time it was in Vancouver. I got off the SkyTrain at the Burrard station to walk up to my hotel. There was somebody there — I was on my own — who was extremely aggressive in trying to get money or whatever from me. I shot into the back door of the hotel, which happened to be across the street, being chased all the way by this individual. The hotel, I have to tell you, was extremely helpful. They apologized, though it was nothing to do with them, but also made the statement: "You know, we will phone the police and tell them to maybe have a look around Burrard station to see what was happening, but there's really nothing they can do." I believe that for anyone, it should be safe to walk on the streets of Vancouver.
This bill is specifically for the aggressive individual, for the person who makes you feel that it is not safe to be on the streets. It is not for those unfortunate people, and there are — and we all know that — people who are on the streets who we wish were not living on the streets and who often, in many cases, feel intimidated by these very aggressive individuals on the street.
One of the things that was done in the nineties that I consider was wrong was to encourage people with mental disabilities back to their communities. Often they went back to their communities. Some did have support, but a lot of them did not have support and ended up on the streets because they don't take their medication, for all sorts of reasons. So there they are, living in very difficult circumstances. I know and have heard from many people that they have a very difficult time on the streets due to these very aggressive other individuals. I do know now that anyone who comes from a facility deals with people with mental disabilities…. They do now go out with support services, which didn't happen then.
I feel, like most people, very badly for those individuals who don't have the support, do not have the families, to help them get through. It is incredibly difficult for them, particularly, I think, when they go to Vancouver; it does seem to be the place where many of them congregate because they've got support amongst themselves.
The UBCM supported this bill. I was the mayor of a community for 18 years. We don't have the problems that you have in downtown Vancouver. There are many pillars and things that have to go towards supporting people who are certainly less fortunate than ourselves. For those people who are aggressive on the streets and make others feel unsafe — and in many cases, it isn't safe for them — there have to be tools for our police forces to be able to deal with those people. This is what this will do. They will be getting funding, as we all know, from the traffic fines that are going back to the communities, which I hope will enable most of the communities to put more resources into policing.
This bill is necessary. It's unfortunate that it's necessary, but it is a tool that will help to make our streets safer, I hope, for many of our citizens.
V. Roddick: I would like to begin my comments in support of this bill today by congratulating the mem-
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ber for Vancouver-Burrard. All of us were new to actual government in 2001, but some of us were just new, period. One wondered at first whether we really could or would make a difference or whether we'd just be swept up in the collective whole.
Each of us has strived to serve our communities — with Delta South, it was primarily our hospital — as well as serve the overall province. Again, in Delta South, it's the ALR, B.C. Ferries, Tsawwassen first nation and Vancouver Port — all to be linked to the rest of the lower mainland with a new and vastly improved gateway transportation infrastructure program.
The member for Vancouver-Burrard has managed to single-handedly bring a very difficult issue, from a politically correct point of view, to the forefront of his community and his province. The overall success of the Safe Streets Act and amendments to the Trespass Act is an excellent example of the fact that this government and its Premier listen to the people of the province and their communities. We are working with local governments to ensure they have the tools to best meet the needs of their citizens.
Clearly, communities want a safe place for people to play, live and work, as seen in the enthusiastic support by the UBCM in Kelowna last month. Municipal politicians representing 80 percent of our communities voted in support of the Safe Streets Act and Trespass Act, showing overwhelmingly that this is not simply a Vancouver or lower mainland issue. It's societal. Our Premier deserves high marks for tackling a difficult issue that for the most part would have been easy just to look the other way on. This government is listening to the real concerns of local communities throughout the province.
With help from the mayors of Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George, Kelowna and Surrey, plus the Ministers of Community and Aboriginal Services, Human Resources, and Mental Health and Addiction Services, we will establish a framework for an integral program to tackle the challenge of mental illness, homelessness and addictions. We can care for those in need and make our streets safe.
Strong communities create a strong British Columbia. I support this bill.
J. Bray: Thank you very much. I rise to support Bill 71, the Safe Streets Act. Along with my colleagues, I want to acknowledge the work that the member for Vancouver-Burrard did, and not just on this bill and the Trespass Act bill. In fact, I know that in caucus as well as in public, there's no stronger advocate for the social safety net and for building and strengthening the services we provide to people in need than the member for Vancouver-Burrard. Once again, he's demonstrated that we can provide a balanced approach to these issues on behalf of those in need but also citizens at large, and I congratulate the member for his advocacy in all of those areas.
As the member for Delta South mentioned, one of the mayors on the Premier's task force is in fact the mayor from Victoria, Alan Lowe. Being the regional centre that Victoria is for the whole South Island, we deal with a lot of the issues around mental health, addiction services and homelessness. It isn't necessarily Victorians who are suffering from those issues, but they coalesce into our downtown core from other parts of the region as well as, for that matter, Vancouver Island and the lower mainland. It does fall on Victoria's shoulders to deal with that disproportionate issue to their own population. I'm very pleased that our mayor is part of our task force, because I know he's been working hard with our police staff and with the Vancouver Island health authority to develop real strategies that actually attack the problem and not just more studies. I look forward to their report to the Premier in a few months.
It's important when we talk about this…. The NDP love to do their Chicken Little, sky is falling routine every time we tackle issues that are complex and difficult. They were in government for ten years, and of course they did nothing to deal with the issues of community safety. It's true that 80 percent of the municipalities in this province — 186 municipalities — 80 percent of those councillors and mayors voted to support these two pieces of legislation, the Safe Streets Act and the Trespass Act, which means that they represent almost every community, large and small, urban and rural, in this province that says we want to provide an additional tool to our police officers to help curb the behaviour that we see on the streets.
This isn't about panhandling, as the NDP like to tell you. This isn't actually about panhandling. This is about aggressive behaviour and intimidating behaviour. In fact, the act is quite specific. Here are some of the things we're talking about: obstructing the path of the solicited person — standing in somebody's way demanding money, change, cigarettes; using abusive language; proceeding behind, alongside or ahead of the solicited person, following them down the street, in the underground parkade, wherever it may be; physically approaching as a member of a group of two or more — in other words, a group — the solicited person; or continuing to solicit the person, harassing them.
Now, I have thousands of constituents who live right next to us in James Bay, many of them seniors. A large portion of them are widows, seniors who are living on their own. The number one issue I hear from that constituency group is their concern and their sense of safety for walking downtown. Now, the NDP and Carole James say that's not an issue we should deal with. Well, I say shame on them. Shame on them that they don't want to deal with people's sense of personal security and say that it's not something we should deal with. It is something we should deal with.
I've advocated for wet housing, for detox, for the Sobering and Assessment Centre, for doubling youth detox, for facilities like Johnson Manor that house those that are hard to house with mental health issues. We've delivered those in this community, and I'll continue to advocate for those. But unlike the Leader of the Opposition, I have no problem also advocating for that sen-
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ior who will not leave her apartment after 6 p.m. for fear for her own personal safety. That is something that I find shameful, and the NDP says that's not an issue.
We have a relevant piece of legislation dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace. That whole premise is that it's not the person who says the comment or says the joke. It's not their intent that's the issue. That's not the measure. The measure is the perception of the person who's offended. What we're talking about here is people whose perception for their physical safety and security is impacted so much that they're held hostage in their own homes. What we're trying to do is make sure that we provide the police with an additional tool to be able to actually deal with that so that people can feel safer.
The Leader of the Opposition said in her debates that we've already got the laws in place to deal with that. Of course, this is what she doesn't get. We're trying to provide an additional tool to actually change the behaviour on the street at the time. Her solution: use the Criminal Code. What does that mean? What is the Leader of the Opposition advocating for? What is Carole James advocating for? Jailing panhandlers. That's exactly what she just stood in this House and said we should be doing.
What we heard from police is that there is a better tool where we can actually change their behaviour to make our streets safer for people. The Ontario experience that the member opposite raised so often…. Guess what they found. The amount of aggressive behaviour and the feeling of a sense of safety and security among the citizens improved dramatically after Ontario passed their safe streets legislation. The police were able to deal with the behaviour right then and there, not put them in jail. I find it ironic that the NDP want to put panhandlers in jail rather than change their behaviour.
I held a town hall meeting last week here in my community to hear from citizens on this issue. I invited them to write my office, to e-mail my office and contact me. I was either surprised or disappointed that in that town hall meeting, which was heavily advertised and was on TV, I only had a handful of people actually attend. Most were seniors, and most were wanting government to act in some way to make their streets feel safer. I have heard from the business improvement association, the chamber of commerce and the Safe Streets Coalition, and I got calls from other seniors to my office after that — all advocating for this legislation because it deals with the aggressive behaviour, not with the panhandling.
It's important to note before I sit down that with respect to squeegee kids, we cannot be so limited as a society that we assume that because somebody is engaged in an activity, we put a label of homelessness or we put a label of a mental health issue or we put a label of substance abuse issue on them. The fact is that we don't know. I do know this. Last year we did have some squeegee kids near my constituency office. One of them ran for mayor of the city of Victoria in the last municipal election.
D. Jarvis: Did he win?
J. Bray: No, he did not win — came a close second, I think. He indicated proudly to the media, when they said, "You know, you list your occupation as squeegee kid…." He proudly said: "Because I clear a hundred bucks a day." Actually, he's not doing too badly as an individual.
We cannot make an assumption that just because someone's engaged in an activity, we can place a label on them and determine that they're in need of everything the government can offer, like the NDP do. We have to deal with individuals on a one-on-one basis, we have to provide support for those that we assess need it, and we have to expect proper civil behaviour from those people who are on our streets — for the benefit of all of us.
I'm pleased to support, on behalf of my community and the seniors who live in my riding, Bill 71. I sure hope Carole James comes out of the woodwork and decides that she's going to support safety and security for our seniors as well.
L. Mayencourt: It's a pleasure to stand in this House today and support Bill 71, the Safe Streets Act. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition. For people who are at home watching this debate, I want to make something clear. When we get in this chamber, sometimes a lot of things are said, and sometimes people get the impression that we don't actually agree on a lot of things. I want to tell you that I've had many wonderful times with the Leader of the Opposition in terms of being a friend and sharing conversations about things like safety in our communities, about welfare, about the need for reform. I know that she was here delivering a bit of theatre today, but she said some things.
She said that our government is attacking the poor to score political points. Where have I heard that before? I heard it in January 1994. It was Pat Chauncey of End Legislated Poverty commenting on the minister of human resources' attack on 8,000 single parents in British Columbia — the minister of human resources, the now leader of our opposition.
There are lots of things said about the Safe Streets Act. There are lots of things said about the Trespass Act. There are a lot of linkages to poverty, to mental health, to addictions. All of that is very true. There are a lot of problems in our province, and they've been going on for a long, long time. The thing about it is that for many, many years, we haven't really done a very good job at looking after society's vulnerable. Why? Well, because there hasn't been the money.
What have we been doing with the money? Mr. Speaker, I hate to say it, but the $500 million that we blew on fast ferries would have gone a long way to addressing the needs of people who are impoverished, would have gone a long way to support social housing initiatives in this province, would have made a difference in providing training opportunities, life skills opportunities, the ability for kids to get good day care
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and good social supports in our communities and in our schools.
Instead, the so-called compassionate New Democrats put it into some aluminum shell that sits in our harbour even today — $500 million that could have helped people who are impoverished. It went to things like Skeena Cellulose and all sorts of flimflam ideas that the previous government had, and it didn't do any good. It left a legacy of despair, of disappointment and of tragedy not just in the downtown east side, which was so eloquently spoken about by the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, but in many other communities — in Surrey, in Prince George, in other communities. They're all wonderful communities, but they were sold down the river by a former government that didn't know how to keep its eye on the figures and keep its eye on the budget. They wasted a lot of opportunity in British Columbia.
Though I like very much the Leader of the Opposition as a person, I do disagree with her on the issue of safe streets. I believe that we are entitled to have safe streets. I believe that the way to do that is to clearly articulate for people in this province what is acceptable behaviour. I don't think that's out of line. We already have that kind of stuff to tell us that it's not good to murder each other. We have that kind of stuff to tell us it's not right to steal from people. We have legislation that tells us it's not right to speed.
Today what we're asking people in British Columbia is: is there a level of social behaviour that is acceptable? Is there a level of anti-social behaviour that is unacceptable? In my community, people are telling me over and over and over again that the anti-social behaviour — the belligerent, obnoxious, constant harassment that they are facing every day on their streets — is not acceptable.
We as legislators have a responsibility. You know, we don't just come here and make up laws that serve us. We deal with legislation that is addressing society's needs. Society is calling out for us to deal with the issue of aggressive panhandling. It's asking us to deal with squeegee people. It's asking us to set a new standard, but it's not asking us to do that in isolation.
That is the reason why, from the moment I and my colleagues contemplated safe streets legislation and trespass legislation, we have been very, very clear that we know this is not going to fix every social problem in our province. We know there is much work to be done on mental health. That's why we have spent more on mental health services than any government in the history of British Columbia.
That's why we're deadly serious about not kicking people out of Riverview until we have a better place for them to live and receive the kind of social supports they require so that they're not drifting from one desperate corner to one desperate alley to one desperate community after another. We want people who are dealing with mental health problems to have the services they need. That's why we don't take them out of Riverview until we've built a new facility they can go into.
We are being very careful about doing that, and we have already opened several of these facilities — one in Prince George and one on the Island. We're trying to build one in Vancouver in the Knight Street neighbourhood. We're trying to do this because we know that the failed policies of the previous government — just taking people out of Riverview, out of the mental health services, and dumping them in the downtown east side to become victims of drug dealers, of prostitutes, of scam artists, of pawnshops — don't work. It's not nice; it's not fair. It's the wrong way to approach it. That was what her government did.
Let's be clear. The downsizing of Riverview is not an invention of this government, of this member, of any of the members of this chamber except for the Leader of the Opposition. That's why we have people with mental health problems moving from corner to corner, sleeping in our parks, desperately lining up for food and for shelter. That's why we have this problem. We stand here in this Legislature today — every day since we came into power — to fight for those people, to make sure that they receive the services they need, to make sure that the health authority has the right resources to support those individuals.
I've had lots of opportunity to spend time with people with mental health issues in my community at the Coast Foundation, at the Kettle Friendship centre, at the Living Room in the downtown east side and many, many other places. I know those people have been disappointed by the past 15 years of government policies that did not take into account that they needed extra social supports. So I am really proud that my government, in addition to talking about safe streets, is talking in a way that no other government has done before, and that is about putting money and resources into each and every health authority so that people with mental health services get the services they need. I'm proud of that. That's part of the safe streets initiative, to help people with mental health problems.
The other issue is addictions. You know, I've heard a lot about the issue of addictions, and I've seen a lot of it. I've spent a lot of time and a lot of nights on the streets of Vancouver and other communities trying to understand what it is that we as a government, we as a society, need to do about the issue of addiction. It's clear that we needed more detox beds. It was very, very clear when we came to government that six beds for women in the downtown east side to detox wasn't sufficient. It was outrageous, and that's why, over the course of these past three years, we have increased access to detox in our community and around British Columbia by 30 percent. That's why, in the time that the Leader of the Opposition was running the show, it took a month to get into detox. It's better under this government, because we've got it down to one day. The maximum wait time for detox in British Columbia now is two days.
That is a vast improvement and something that could not have been accomplished when we were wasting money on fast ferries and pulp mills that were
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going broke and flimflam ideas that popped out of the heads of people like Jim Green and Glen Clark and all those guys. We can't afford that kind of thinking and that kind of doing, and that's why we have a minister who's responsible for mental health and addictions. That's why we're doing a better job now than any government in the history of British Columbia.
One of your former colleagues, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Rafe Mair…. He's a radio commentator. Well, Rafe doesn't like me anymore. Rafe has taken to me because he's blaming me and my government for the fact that there are the mentally ill on the streets, the fact that there are addicted people on our streets.
I want to make sure that Rafe is listening to this because, Rafe, you were the Health minister that downsized Riverview. You were the person that didn't provide supports to the mentally ill when you released them into the streets of the downtown east side. My government and I and the people that support us were left with a very difficult task — to clean up the mess that you made and to clean up the mess that the Leader of the Opposition's party exacerbated in the nineties.
When all of Canada and North America were moving forward and building an economy and building the ability to support social services, that government let us all down. That's what we're doing today — trying to address those problems.
There's lots to be said about homelessness, and I heard over and over again from the Leader of the Opposition and from the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant that we cut housing. The facts just don't bear that conversation out. It just doesn't work. When you take a look at 2000 and how much her government spent on social housing, you see that they spent $98 million.
She stands in this House today and says we cut social housing. That would mean we're spending less than $98 million in 2004 on social housing. You know what, Mr. Speaker? That isn't true. What is true is that this year, our government is spending $154 million on social housing. That's something I'm proud of.
That is helping people like low-income urban singles. It's helping people through the SAFER grant. It's helping individuals with mental health problems. It's helping people around this province that spend more than 30 percent of their income on their rent, and I know there are a lot of people in British Columbia spending more than 30 percent on their rent. I know it.
I know that, and I also know that our government has made an unparalleled effort to address this issue by increasing social housing dollars and units by 50 percent. I'm proud of that. I do not know how that member can stand in this House and claim that is a cut to social housing. It is not a cut to social housing. It is a massive increase to social housing. It is a commitment to the working poor people of British Columbia, which says that we are there to build the kind of things you need so that your children can grow up in a society and know that they are valued, that they are equal, that they are part of society and that we care about them.
I want to talk for a minute about that member and the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, and I also want to talk about Carole James. This has been a long time coming. We've been speaking about community safety in this House for two and a half or maybe three years. We speak about it all the time, because it's important to us.
It's part of our belief system that grandmothers should be able to walk down the streets and not be tripped by someone with a Rottweiler or be chased down a street by someone that wants their purse. We believe that kids should be able to walk to school and not be harassed by drug dealers or prostitutes. We believe that each and every one of us, regardless of our status in life, is entitled to a safe community.
We believe that people with mental illness should be protected from aggressive solicitation. We believe that the homeless should not be robbed in the middle of the night. We believe that we should be doing a better job each and every day to help those people that are vulnerable. We also believe that every citizen is entitled to a safe journey to and from their home, and we're going to do it with this piece of legislation.
It's not everything, but we have decided that this is going to be a holistic approach to dealing with the root causes of poverty, of homelessness, of lack of mental health services, of lack of addiction services. We have to do better. This is a call to action. That is why the Premier insisted, last month at the UBCM, upon us delivering the $40 million to communities around British Columbia.
He said that they need more money for community policing. She just said no to policing. He said that it was time to deliver that revenue to them so that they could have community safety initiatives, could have school patrols, could have police liaison officers in our schools. He said it is important that we share that revenue around the province so that our province's communities can do the job they need to do to keep their communities safe. I'm proud of that. I'm really proud of that.
I'm also proud because, well, the Premier started a task force. It's not a task force to study something, because frankly, British Columbians are sick of studies. They're sick of committees making recommendations on this, that and the other thing and gathering dust. Whether it's in the downtown east side or downtown Surrey or any other community, people are sick of them. They want action. So the Premier called together seven mayors of cities in British Columbia. I call them the group of seven, and I hope that they will use this opportunity to deal once and for all with the issue of homelessness.
It isn't simply an issue for the homeless. It isn't simply for our citizens that want to feel safe. It's because everybody benefits from a stable and safe community. We can't do that without dealing with the issue of homelessness, so that task force is committed to putting all of its resources — provincial, federal and civic — and community groups together to actually
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deal with the issue of homelessness, to talk to people about what we can do to make a difference.
There's something wrong in our system when nobody knows what we're trying to accomplish with mental health, when nobody knows what we're trying to do with addictions, when nobody knows what we're trying to do to improve the safety of our communities. So it's very important that this debate be in a public forum. It's very important that it be public. It's not so I can get good press, as the Leader of the Opposition says, but rather because it's time for all British Columbians to have a say in what they think we should be doing to address the issues of homelessness, to deal with the issues of crime, to deal with the issues of safety, to deal with the issues of mental health and addictions.
For once we've ignited this province. There are people on both sides of the political spectrum, left and right, that are saying: "You know what? It's time for us to deal with safety." There are people in this province that are old and are young who agree that it is time for us to restore some order to our communities, to demonstrate that we care about those who are vulnerable and ensure that we get results that make a difference in the lives of people in British Columbia, and I'm committed to doing that.
I have here letters from people in British Columbia. I actually have thousands of signatures saying they support safe streets, saying they support trespass…. They're from both sides of the political spectrum. They're young; they're old; they're rich; they're poor. All of them are united. Why is it that Carole James, the NDP, the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant don't want to listen to these people? Why? I don't really know. I think it's a crying shame. I think these people have a voice. I think these people should be listened to. I don't know who they're talking to.
It's time for us to understand that in our lifetime we have a choice. We can make things better, or we can leave them the same. I'm not interested in leaving them the same; I'm only interested in making them better. I'm committed to doing that, and I know that our Premier, our Finance minister, our Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services, our Health minister, our Minister of Children and Family Development, our Minister of Advanced Education, our Minister of Education…. In fact, all members of this government stand united in not standing in front of the status quo and saying that's good enough. No.
We came here to make a difference. We came here to do something good and right. We came here to protect vulnerable people. We came here to ensure that our communities are safe. We came here to make sure that we have the money to provide health care to people when they need it, where they need it. We came here with a very clear mandate. We're fulfilling that mandate. One solid plank of that is a commitment to make communities safer, to make our streets safer, to make our schools safer. We're doing that with every step we take here in this Legislature.
I cannot say enough how much I wish that the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant and Carole James of the NDP — maybe even a few others — would get in line here and help us make a positive difference in the lives of all British Columbians; help us do what's right; help us provide safety, security and support for those that are really in need. Only then will British Columbia truly be the best place on earth to live.
Hon. G. Collins: I had planned on giving a rousing summation in closing this debate, but for two reasons I won't. The first is that the member left me no time. The second is that he said it all.
I do want to mention a couple of things in response to the debate, because I did find it a little difficult to listen — I tried — to the comments, particularly of the member from Vancouver…. I'm trying to think. Vancouver-Hastings, I think, is her riding — the leader on the opposite side. When she spoke of some of the track record of this government, she failed to mention at all the history of her government. It's growing ever more challenging every day to listen to the rhetoric that comes from that member, particularly on this issue.
That member was the Minister of Health in British Columbia when she and her government announced a mental health plan for British Columbians, a $125 million mental health plan. We learned after the fact that the plan was one of those plans that they had no intention of following through, because they never put one penny into the $125 million mental health plan.
J. Kwan: False. Not true.
Hon. G. Collins: They deliberately and wilfully misled the people of British Columbia, and the member says it's not true. Well, I can go back and pull the tape for her from the Voice of the Province interview when the member, who was the minister at the time, said there was no money in the budget for it.
That's the kind of opportunistic political posturing we saw from the previous government. They would make an announcement, knowing full well that there was no money to follow through on it and that they had no intention of following through on it. That generated my favourite political quote of all time, which was from Corky Evans. At the end of the NDP mandate, when he decided to run for the leadership of a very misguided party, he actually at least confessed his sins to the people of British Columbia. Some of them didn't like that, but he did. He said: "We announced things we had no intention of doing." They announced things to British Columbians that they had no intention of following up on.
It's very difficult to hear from the members of the opposition their criticism of government policy when they seem to be completely oblivious to what they did when they were in opposition. Today was just one of several examples we've seen over the last number of months, mostly years. It used to be, at the beginning of
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this term, that at least the members were a little bit chagrined about their record in government, but now you would think that they had all the answers for all four million British Columbians, that everything was wonderful and that all we have to do is re-elect them. Well, that's clearly not the case. I just hope that when they're up there making their comments and making their speeches that they at least remember a little bit of what their record was when they were in government for ten years and had ten years to solve some of the problems that they now talk about. They, in fact, made them worse, not better.
This is one tool that is available for law enforcement to try and make our streets just a little bit safer. It's deliberately drafted. If the members had deviated from their prepared text — I don't know who wrote it for them — and heard what was said when this bill was introduced and the comments of the Attorney General and my comments here today, they would know that there are specific provisions in this act to ensure that people just asking for assistance in a way that is not aggressive, not threatening, will see no impact of this legislation. Those who do so in an aggressive way, those who do so in a way that targets individuals who are in a captured position and are at risk will face tougher standards.
It's clear that this bill is designed to focus on those aggressive people who go out of their way to intimidate, to threaten and to make people very uncomfortable, if not at risk. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of British Columbians every day who are out there on the street or who, as the member from Beacon Hill said, decline to go out there on the street and into their community because they're afraid for their own personal security and afraid of the threats that exist out there. This is one tool in a broad range of tools in a toolkit to try and deal with that. It's designed specifically to deal with the problem and not with those who are not posing a problem.
I think the member for Vancouver-Burrard summed it up extremely well. I give him credit for the work he did on this issue in an effort to try and provide one more tool to law enforcement to make our streets safer. That's what this legislation is about. I move second reading.
Second reading of Bill 71 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 35
NAYS — 3
Hon. G. Collins: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 71, Safe Streets Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Collins moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: The House is adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:08 p.m.
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