2007 Legislative Session: Third Session, 38th Parliament

The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.

Official Report of



THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2007

Afternoon Sitting

Volume 22, Number 3


Routine Proceedings

Introductions by Members 8441
Tributes 8442
Bertha Wilson
     Hon. W. Oppal
Introductions by Members 8442
Tributes 8443
Carmen Purdy
     B. Bennett
Introductions by Members 8443
Introduction and First Reading of Bills 8443
Parliamentary Calendar Act, 2007 (Bill M222)
     C. James
Tabling Documents 8444
Legislative Assembly Management Committee, report for the period March 2005 to March 2007
Statements (Standing Order 25B) 8444
Sharon Huang
     J. Yap
Rob Wickson
     R. Fleming
Health care volunteers
     J. Rustad
Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners in Burma
     S. Fraser
Tynehead Hall
     D. Hayer
Adult students
     S. Hammell
Oral Questions 8446
Vancouver Convention Centre expansion costs
     C. James
     Hon. S. Hagen
Marketing for Vancouver Convention Centre
     J. Kwan
     Hon. S. Hagen
     N. Macdonald
     H. Bains
     M. Farnworth
Settlement of power export case between B.C. and California
     J. Horgan
     Hon. R. Neufeld
Impact of legislation on health care workers
     A. Dix
     Hon. G. Abbott
Impact of Canada line construction on small businesses
     G. Robertson
     Hon. K. Falcon
Petitions 8450
M. Karagianis
S. Fraser
G. Coons
D. Routley
Tabling Documents 8451
British Columbia Railway Company, annual report, 2006, and audited financial statements for the period ended December 31, 2006
Petitions 8451
R. Fleming
D. Routley
G. Robertson
Tabling Documents 8451
Guarantees and indemnities authorized and issued report, fiscal year ended March 31, 2006
Statement of 2006-2007 borrowings
Revised schedule I, fiscal year ended March 31, 2007
Motions without Notice 8451
Appointment of acting Auditor General
     Hon. M. de Jong
Second Reading of Bills 8451
Legislative Assembly (Members' Remuneration and Pensions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 37) (continued)
     D. Thorne
     R. Hawes
     N. Simons
     B. Lekstrom
     N. Macdonald
     Hon. R. Neufeld
     G. Coons
     L. Mayencourt
     C. Puchmayr
     Hon. R. Thorpe
     C. Wyse
Committee of the Whole House 8474
Legislative Assembly (Members' Remuneration and Pensions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 37)
Report and Third Reading of Bills 8475
Legislative Assembly (Members' Remuneration and Pensions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 37)

Committee of the Whole House 8475
Human Rights Code (Mandatory Retirement Elimination) Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 31)
Report and Third Reading of Bills 8475
Human Rights Code (Mandatory Retirement Elimination) Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 31)
Point of Privilege 8475
Hon. M. de Jong
Committee of Supply 8475
Estimates: Legislation
Estimates: Officers of the Legislature
Introduction and First Reading of Bills 8476
Supply Act, 2007-2008 (Bill 38)
     Hon. C. Taylor
Second Reading of Bills 8476
Supply Act, 2007-2008 (Bill 38)
     Hon. C. Taylor
Committee of the Whole House 8477
Supply Act, 2007-2008 (Bill 38)
Report and Third Reading of Bills 8477
Supply Act, 2007-2008 (Bill 38)
Tabling Documents 8477
Annual Report of the British Columbia Legislative Library, 2006
Royal Assent to Bills 8477
Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences Act (Bill Pr401)
Mission Foundation Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill Pr402)
Coroners Act (Bill 8)
Security Services Act (Bill 15)
Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 16)
Forests and Range Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 18)
Small Business and Revenue Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 19)
School (Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 20)
Teaching Profession (Teacher Registration) Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 21)
Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 22)
Knowledge Network Corporation Act (Bill 23)
Parks and Protected Areas Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 24)
Health Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 26)
Finance Statutes (Innovative Clean Energy Fund) Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 30)
Human Rights Code (Mandatory Retirement Elimination) Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 31)
Assessment Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 32)
Attorney General Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 33)
Homeowner Protection Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 34)
Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2007 (Bill 35)
Legislative Assembly (Members' Remuneration and Pensions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill 37)
Supply Act, 2007-2008 (Bill 38)
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply 8478
Estimates: Ministry of Children and Family Development (continued)
     M. Karagianis
     Hon. T. Christensen
     C. Evans
     C. Wyse
     S. Fraser
     L. Krog

[ Page 8441 ]

THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2007

           The House met at 1:33 p.m.

           [Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

Introductions by Members

           Hon. L. Reid: I am absolutely delighted today to rise in the chamber and acknowledge excellence in early childhood education. We are today recognizing the B.C. recipients of the current Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.

           It takes a special person to work in this field, and these individuals deserve our appreciation. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to honour these nationally recognized child care providers for their hard work and dedication to our province's youngest citizens — our children.

           Joining us in the gallery today are Natalie Lucas of Valhalla Children's Centre, from Slocan; Susan Middlemiss, St. Margaret's School, Victoria; Angela Roy, North Okanagan Childcare Society in Vernon; Lillian Spurr, Inlet Montessori School, Port Moody; Beverley Superle, Mount Seymour Preschool, North Vancouver; Catherine Burnett, Early Discoveries Preschool and Kids Club, West Vancouver; Ellen Elizabeth James, Advantage Preschool in Burnaby; Sherry Page, Nutsumaat Lelum, Chemainus First Nation, Ladysmith; and unable to be with us today but also a recipient, Neermala Tulsie from Lynnmour Creative Child Care Centre, North Vancouver.

           Hon. Speaker, these individuals take a child by the hand and a parent by the heart each and every day. I would ask the House to join me in recognizing their excellence in early childhood education and welcome them to the chamber.

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           M. Farnworth: I rise in the House to introduce five bright, enthusiastic and extremely hard-working people who are with us in the gallery today, as they have been every day that we have been sitting so far this session. They are our interns.

           Ross Coupé, Jenny Vermilyea, Sarah Wiebe, Erin Bett and Stefan Currie-Roberts are the legislative interns who have been working with the opposition caucus during the session, assisting us with all manner of legislative work and especially in helping to prepare our MLAs for ministry estimates. They've done a terrific job. We have all enjoyed working with them and are extremely proud of them, so we want the House to give them a big round of applause. We look forward to working with them, hopefully in a fall session later this year.

           Hon. G. Abbott: I'd like, on behalf of the government side, to also extend our thanks to not only the legislative interns who assisted us but to all of the legislative interns. I've had an opportunity to get together with them on a number of occasions. They can't believe that someone who was in the program 31 years ago is still alive, and I'm tremendously appreciative of being one of those who are still alive after 31 years.

           They are a delightful, knowledgable group, and I hope that their view of politics hasn't been permanently affected by their experience here. They've been a lot of fun, and they've been a tremendous asset, I know, to both sides of the House. I want to share with the Opposition House Leader in thanking them for a job well done.

           D. Chudnovsky: You'll recall, I think, hon. Speaker, that Vancouver-Kensington is the best of the 79 constituencies. I think I've mentioned that once or twice. It's an amazing coincidence that the best constituency assistant actually works in Vancouver-Kensington. I wonder if we could all welcome Kate Van Meer-Mass.

           R. Sultan: In the precinct today is Darren Parfitt, the Legislative Assembly's own webmaster. As former Chair of our bipartisan Select Standing Committee on Health, I would like to congratulate Darren and also our committee's media consultant Carla Shore for having won no less than three awards for their contribution in designing our Health Committee's myhealthyspace.ca website dealing with the issue of childhood obesity.

           These awards include the Bronze Quill Award from the International Association of Business Communicators, a Hygeia Award given by the Health Care Public Relations Association and a Community Relations Award from the Canadian Public Relations Society. Would the House please join me in congratulating Carla and Darren and other legislative staff who helped so creatively in this committee's work.

           J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today are two individuals that, on behalf of the member for Vancouver-Hastings, I'd like to thank for their effort and tireless perseverance over the past number of months. Of course I speak of Regulator Ross "the Gas Guy" Coupé and our climate change crusader Erin "Enviro" Bett. Would the House please thank the two of them.

           J. Nuraney: In the gallery today we have two of my very close friends. One is Nurdin Kassam, who was one of the pioneers in terms of establishing the practice of mediation in British Columbia. The second is Abdul Pirbhai, a childhood friend whom I've known for many, many years and one of the pioneers of our community who made Vancouver his home. I would ask the House to please join me in making both of them very welcome.

           G. Robertson: With all due respect to my colleague from Vancouver-Kensington, I don't believe that Vancouver-Kensington has the monopoly on superlatives regarding constituency assistants, much less the riding itself.

           I would like to welcome to the House today my constituency assistants who work wonders for the people of Vancouver-Fairview, Maria Dobrinskaya and Joni Sherman. Welcome to you both.

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[ Page 8442 ]

           Hon. S. Bond: Today on behalf of the Premier, I would like to welcome a group of 40 grade 5 students. They're actually coming from Vancouver–Point Grey, from Queen Mary Elementary School. They are visiting here with their teacher Ms. Maria King and a number of other adult chaperones. I had the chance to visit with them and talk to them a little bit about the Legislature. They were on a scavenger hunt finding out all kinds of wonderful things.

           The only thing that concerned me a little is that when they described question period to me, they said it was something about adults yelling at one another. So I am hopeful that today we will have….


           Hon. S. Bond: Yes, it was an accurate description. What was their point? It starts already, students. Do you see? I want to make sure that these students feel very welcome. I'm sure that we will not disappoint them in question period today. Please join me in welcoming them.

           J. McIntyre: I would like to add my voice of congratulations to that offered by the Minister of State for Childcare to Catherine Burnett from West Vancouver. I had the pleasure of meeting her today along with her husband Richard at the awards luncheon. We were warmly exchanging anecdotes about Caulfeild Elementary School, where my two children attended.

           I just want to say that Catherine obviously excels as a child care provider, and we're very fortunate to have someone as passionate as she is about her calling in our community.

           Thank you, Catherine, for all of the good work, and congratulations.



           Hon. W. Oppal: April 28 saw the passing of a great Canadian. Bertha Wilson, the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, passed away at the age of 83. Bertha Wilson was a trail-blazer. She entered the legal profession in the 1960s when the profession was not all that welcoming to women.

           When she first sought admission to the Dalhousie law school, the dean of the law school told her that the legal profession wasn't a proper place for women, and maybe she ought to take up crocheting.

           Thereafter, she went to law school, and she joined a major law firm in Toronto. She got appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1976. She was the first woman to be appointed to an appellate court in the Commonwealth. In 1982 she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada — again, the first woman to be appointed to that court.

           She was tremendously influential in the area of human rights, particularly in the area of gender equality. She was the first judge to recognize the defence of battered wife syndrome. She wrote many judgments championing the cause of women and diversity. She was a giant in the legal profession.

           We are a better nation by virtue of the contributions that were made by Bertha Wilson.

Introductions by Members

           Hon. T. Christensen: I'm very pleased this afternoon to be able to welcome a number of individuals to the House. It's a group from the Fraser Valley that I had the pleasure of having lunch with, a group of elders who have been instrumental in providing advice to the Fraser Region Aboriginal Planning Committee as they make efforts to move toward the establishment of an aboriginal authority for the delivery of child and family services in the Fraser Valley.

           Joining us this afternoon are Mercy Thomas, Shirley Larden, Evelyn Locker, Dianne Monds, Georgina Campbell, Ivan McIntyre, Margaret Francis, Roger Andrews and Florence Louie. They are the elders who are with us.

           They are joined by Jim Latham, Maureen Chapman and Derek Hansom, all of whom are doing great work for the Fraser Region Aboriginal Planning Committee. I would ask the House to please make them all very welcome today.

           B. Ralston: I don't want to engage in any rivalry with my colleagues. I just want to say that I have an excellent constituency assistant, Melissa Sanderson, and she's here today. Will the House please make her welcome.

           V. Roddick: Touring the Legislature today are 35 students from Southpointe Academy in Tsawwassen, who are definitely up to date on our current local issues. They are accompanied by two teachers, John-Paul Planta and Allison Boomer, plus two terrific parents. Will the House please make them very welcome.

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           N. Simons: In the House today I'm pleased to be joined by Chief Stan Dixon of the Sechelt nation, along with Marita Paul and Warren Paul, both councillors with the Sechelt nation. I'm not sure if councillors Feschuk or Tommy Paul are here, but will the House please make them welcome.

           Hon. I. Chong: The member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast got to make the introduction I was going to. For the sake of the other member joining them with Stan Dixon, councillor Marita Paul-Franke and councillor Warren Paul…. They have also been joined by Graham Allen, who is the legal adviser for the Sechelt Indian band.

           I had an opportunity to meet with them earlier and talk about things in their community. I know that they're doing very good work, and I would ask the House to please make them all very welcome again.

           D. Hayer: We have some special guests here today, Wendy Carmichael and Jackie Tryan. Jackie used to

[ Page 8443 ]

work in the Premier's office before. Now they're both working with the government relations and the community relations for Fraser Health. Would the House please make them very welcome.

           We also have Derek Tryan here, who is Jackie Tryan's husband. He has been my legislative assistant for the last three years and has done an excellent job in helping many other MLAs here. He will be leaving on June 1 to work for the Ministry of Health in Surrey. Will the House please thank him for all the hard work he has done here for all the MLAs.

           S. Hawkins: Visiting in the precinct today are two entrepreneurs, Michael Sproule from Kelowna and James Nunes from Austin, Texas, who is soon to be also from Kelowna. Will the House please join me in making them feel welcome.



           B. Bennett: It's my honour to announce to the House today that one of my constituents, Carmen Purdy — a lifelong conservationist, hunter and trapper — has just won the Roland Michener Conservation Award. That is given to the Canadian who has demonstrated a commitment to conservation through effective and responsible activities that promote, enhance and further the conservation of Canada's natural resources. Carmen was selected from many candidates from across the country, so I wanted to congratulate him. I hope the House will help me do that.

Introductions by Members

           J. Nuraney: I also want to add my thanks to Derek Tryan for his excellent services as a legislative assistant to me, in spite of the fact that the member for Surrey-Tynehead tried to hog him all the time. He really did an excellent job for us. I want to say: thank you, Derek.

           Hon. T. Christensen: I don't usually get up to introduce somebody that's already been introduced, but I did want to give a personal and special introduction and welcome to Angela Roy from the North Okanagan Childcare Society. Not only is Angela obviously an incredibly wonderful child care provider, having been recognized by the Prime Minister, but she also works at the child care facility with a number of other excellent child care providers that have provided great benefit to each of my three children.

           I do want to pay a special welcome to Angela and acknowledge the great work of the North Okanagan Childcare Society.

           Hon. L. Reid: I'd like to take this moment, in terms of talking about excellence in the staff…. I'd certainly like to bid a fond farewell to Jennifer Burnett, who has served this House and served this province very, very well over the past number of years and to wish her well in her future endeavours.

           J. Kwan: I just noticed that my fabulous constituency assistant Am Johal is visiting us today, and I want the House to please welcome him back to the Legislature.

           J. McIntyre: I would be remiss, since the member for Surrey-Tynehead and the member for Burnaby-Willingdon have both thanked Derek Tryan for his years of service as their LA…. I'd be in great trouble if I didn't add my voice as well. He's been my legislative assistant not for as long, but for the last year. I really appreciate his efforts and wish him well in his career.

Introduction and
First Reading of Bills


           C. James presented a bill intituled Parliamentary Calendar Act, 2007.

           C. James: I move the bill be introduced and read a first time now.

           Motion approved.

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           C. James: The Parliamentary Calendar Act, 2007, sets a firm parliamentary schedule for the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This is the same piece of legislation introduced in the fall after the government chose to cancel the fall session. Now several months later, sadly, we're in the same position.

           The government has chosen to invoke time limits and closure on key pieces of legislation to avoid a fall session and duck accountability. In the previous parliament, this government rightly argued that our standing orders needed significant amendments to maintain a balance between the will of government and the necessity of adequate accountability.

           In exchange for granting government the authority to invoke closure on business by a fixed date in the spring, a fall session was added to the calendar to ensure that the people's work was done and the government remained accountable. However, at some point this government abandoned that principle. At some point this government chose political expediency over political and public accountability.

           This bill would prevent the government from cancelling future fall sittings and ensure that we're all here to do the work that the people of British Columbia sent us to do.

           I move this bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting after today.

           Bill M222, Parliamentary Calendar Act, 2007, 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.

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Tabling Documents

           Mr. Speaker: Hon Members, I have the honour to present the Legislative Assembly Management Committee report for the period of March 2005 to March 2007.

(Standing Order 25B)


           J. Yap: It's not every day that I get to recognize in this House the winner of a nationwide contest, but that is precisely the honour I have today. It's my privilege to be able to congratulate Sharon Huang on becoming the national winner of the 2007 Canada Day Poster Challenge.

           Each year the Canadian Heritage branch of the federal government challenges Canadian students from the ages of five to 18 to participate in a contest to design the official poster of Celebrate Canada. This contest gives students the unique opportunity of exploring their own heritage while expressing themselves artistically.

           This year I'm pleased to say that the winning artist came from my riding of Richmond-Steveston. Sharon, a grade 9 student at Steveston Secondary who emigrated from Taiwan several years ago, embraced this challenge and was able to capitalize on her artistic talent and curiosity about her new country. Artistic by nature, Sharon has been drawing, painting and taking art lessons for years.

           Taking on the theme of a portrait of Canada celebrating 140 years, Sharon focused on the technological developments, the natural beauty and the multiculturalism that make Canada so unique. Her interpretation of Canada's heritage was more than enough to beat over 15,000 submissions and claim the top prize.

           Not only will Sharon's poster be seen by millions of Canadians in the coming months, it will be on display until September in the Canadian Children's Museum as well as at Bay stores across Canada. To top it all off, Sharon will be flown to Ottawa with the other provincial finalists to celebrate Canada Day on Parliament Hill.

           Please join me in congratulating Sharon Huang and all of the participants in this year's contest. Keep your eyes out for her winning artwork, as it may just help you remember what a great nation this Canada of ours is.


           R. Fleming: I'd like to give thanks and pay my deepest respects to the outgoing president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Rob Wickson. He continues to serve the organization for another year as past president, but I think that his accomplishments as president are worth mentioning today, as is his record of active and valuable community service.

           I would include in that his role as president of the Victoria Bike to Work Week Society, which has had another successful week here in Victoria — incredible amounts of participation from both the public and the private sector. It's certainly not any surprise that, once again, Victoria retains its title as the cycling capital of Canada, thanks to the work of Mr. Wickson and others.

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           Mr. Wickson owns a business in my constituency. He resides in the constituency of Saanich South. He's a very visible member of our community here on the south Island. I know that members from both sides of the House are approached by Mr. Wickson on a fairly regular basis because he is a truly non-partisan change agent in our community.

           What we constantly, consistently and passionately hear from Mr. Wickson are his ideas and his actions to bring about new, energetic leadership in the business community so that the private sector can play a central part in meeting the global challenge of climate change here in British Columbia.

           Mr. Wickson has changed many minds in business, in local government and in his community about how we should provide and organize services and create products in a sustainable manner. We know that there can be great resistance to change. Perseverance is a quality needed to see major adjustments through to change the way we've acted in the past.

           Looking at some of the resolutions that were adopted last week at the B.C. Chamber's annual meeting, it's clear that Rob has been able to substantively change thinking at the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. He has moved the organization to embrace innovation and investment in public transportation, in alternative energy and in tax and pricing reforms that can help us to become a prosperous, environmentally sustainable province.

           I'd like to thank Mr. Wickson for his service during this past year and for all the other things he does in his community, day in and day out.


           J. Rustad: People who volunteer are very special people. They give of themselves for a cause that they believe in for the betterment of all of us. Nowhere is this more true than with the auxiliaries that help in our health care system.

           These individuals are a giving, caring group of people whose aim is to see that better health care is provided for every person in our province. They help to personalize the care and comfort of the patients or residents and help with raising funds for the necessary purchase of equipment.

           Just think. There are over 7,000 individuals in B.C. who in one year registered 1.2 million volunteer hours, resulting in more than $6 million raised to assist health care services in B.C. An example of this was $100,000 raised for the Prince George Hospital in 2005. This is a remarkable feat performed by remarkable individuals.

           Over the years the auxiliaries have carried out their work without a lot of praise. Many people aren't aware of the volunteer work they do or who the auxiliaries are — people like Lorraine D'Auray of Prince George, who donates many hours as an auxiliary as well as

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through the B.C. Association of Health Care Auxiliaries.

           To help raise the level of awareness, the BCAHA declared May 10 this year as Auxiliary Day. Events were held around the province, such as appreciation teas as well as volunteers serving cake and coffee in various communities while raising money. Perhaps one way we could help recognize these fabulous volunteers is by proclaiming May 10 as auxiliary day in B.C. next year.

           I ask the House to please join me in thanking and recognizing the auxiliary volunteers around the province for everything they do to help make our health care system a better place.


           S. Fraser: The regime of Burma, now known as Myanmar, has just announced that Aung San Suu Kyi will remain under house arrest for yet another year. Born on June 19, 1945, the Nobel peace prize laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma has been under arrest for most of the last 18 years.

           May 30, 2007 — that's yesterday, hon. Speaker — marks the fourth anniversary of the Depayin Massacre. On the evening of May 30, 2003, after Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest, she and other pro-democracy activists from the National League for Democracy had their caravan ambushed by up to 5,000 junta-sponsored soldiers and mercenaries.

           Eyewitness affidavits indicate that as many as 300 pro-democracy activists were murdered. Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and taken to an undisclosed prison for four months, while the regime systematically searched for, arrested and imprisoned National League for Democracy activists who survived that massacre.

           June 19, 2007, will be Aung San Suu Kyi's 62nd birthday. As leader of the National League for Democracy, her party won 82 percent of the parliamentary seats in the 1990 general election, and Aung San Suu Kyi had been arrested in 1989. She was in prison. She should be Prime Minister.

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           There are presently over 1,500 political prisoners in Burma. Those include democratically elected Members of Parliament.

           I ask this assembly to join me in calling for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Burma and that the negotiations commence for the transition from a military dictatorship to a democracy.


           D. Hayer: History is a measure of community. My riding of Surrey-Tynehead has a remarkable history and a remarkable group, the Tynehead Community Association, for keeping that history alive. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Tynehead Hall, built by volunteer labour in 1907 on land donated by pioneer Thomas Bothwell, whose great-great-niece Joan Parolin is still involved as a volunteer with the community association.

           For many years the pioneer Tynehead Women's Institute, the first ever formed in the province, operated the hall until the community association was formed. For the past century Tynehead Hall has been the heart and soul of the community.

           I was pleased to present a $66,000 cheque from this government to help extend the life of this historical building, which defined the community in an era before highways and modern conveniences.

           Surrey has deep roots that are still nurtured today by the dedicated work of many volunteers from many community organizations and associations. Surrey has long since grown from its agricultural and forestry foundation, but its past is remembered and its pioneer spirit cherished, and a sense of community has endured through the Tynehead Hall.

           Many board members and volunteers have helped preserve that rich history — presidents of the association like the late Richard Bishop, who served as the president for over a decade, Rob Poole and the current president Rob Terris. There are so many others who have given valuable contributions to make and continue to make Tynehead Community Hall the jewel it is today.

           One of the most cherished pillars was Mrs. Mabel Bishop. She served as a treasurer, director and volunteer for 25 years. Sadly, Mabel passed away on May 18, 2007, and she will be dearly missed.

           I ask all members to join me in remembering the selfless efforts of all those volunteers, both past and present, and congratulate the Tynehead Community Association for maintaining our history in Tynehead Hall as it enters its second century.


           S. Hammell: When we think or speak of our local schools, the images that come to mind are young children playing on the playground, in a classroom reading or working on a project with other students. If we think of the high schools, we think of teenagers in classroom discussions, playing sports or hanging around the school with their friends.

           In my mind's eye, the children are engaged in learning skills that will enable them to be successful in later life. But we know the road to adulthood for all students will not be smooth or uninterrupted. Some will leave the school system for a variety of reasons, and each one will have a compelling reason as to why — some tragic, some bewildering and some just because they're young. They drop out and become statistics. Game's over; school's out.

           Fortunately, that is not the whole story, for in most school districts there is a corner for the student who doesn't usually come to mind when we think of our school system — the mature student. These adult students are also learning to read, doing projects with other students and studying for exams. Many who left are back. They are determined to create for themselves

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and their families a better life, based on education and acquiring the skills they need for success. They are courageous as they face their own limitation, abilities and demands on their time.

           What is important to us in this House is that we recognize that this is a second chance for many of these students — a chance to change their future. An adult student spoke passionately at the Invergarry graduation last week and expressed his deeply felt thanks to his community for providing him with that second chance. Hon. Speaker, I am passing on his thanks to all of us here.

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Oral Questions


           C. James: As British Columbians wait to hear from the B.C. Liberals just how big the boondoggle of the convention centre really is, industry insiders are sounding the alarm. The price tag has ballooned out of control — hundreds of millions of dollars — with no end in sight. Now Phil Barnes, the regional vice-president of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, is warning that the whole thing could become "the biggest empty ballroom in town."

           To the Minister of Tourism, Sport and the Arts: just how many millions is he willing to waste on an empty ballroom?


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. S. Hagen: This convention centre is going to be able to attract conventions from all over the world. It is going to be able to compete with cities like San Diego, Toronto, Hong Kong and other cities from around the world.

           The fact of the matter is…. I've said this in estimates, so this is not new news, but obviously the Leader of the Opposition has either forgotten it or wasn't aware of it. Currently we have 54 conferences booked for the new trade and convention centre. That represents $1 billion worth of economic activity. Of those 54….

           Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Minister.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

           The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.

           C. James: The minister is obviously living in his own world, because no one in the tourism industry believes anything that the minister is saying about the convention centre.

           It's Mr. Barnes who is demanding action. He's the one calling out the government on their incompetence. He's the one telling the minister to wake up and see the black cloud that's above him. I'd like to quote again: "If I was staying here, I'd be scared silly."

           Again to the Minister of Tourism, Sport and the Arts: when is he going to get over his cheery defence of this boondoggle, get control of the budget and actually deliver something more than an empty ballroom to taxpayers?

           Hon. S. Hagen: Let me start the answer by saying that there is only one black cloud, and that's floating over that opposition. It's always floating over that opposition. It never seems to go away. NDP stands for negative, destructive, pessimistic.

           Let me also say, in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, that the bookings are on track with where they should be, according to Tourism Vancouver's own independent KPMG projections for 2005.

           Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           C. James: The minister can blow all the smoke he wants, but the industry heavyweights themselves are saying that there's a problem. The minister needs to wake up to it today for the taxpayers of British Columbia.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           C. James: The minister refuses to tell us what the final price tag will be. He refuses to hold anybody accountable for this boondoggle, continuing the trend of the rest of the government, who won't hold anybody accountable for anything over there on that side.

[1410]Jump to this time in the webcast

           We also know that the Auditor General's final report on this mess is due out any day. The minister most likely has seen the draft. The convention centre board hired the Auditor General to conduct the report.

           My question to the minister is: can he tell British Columbians today when that report will be released so taxpayers can see how deep the mess really goes?

           Hon. S. Hagen: Why is the NDP opposed to this project? I mean, the former Premier of the province — Premier Glen Clark, who led the NDP during the dismal decade of the 1990s — said in 1997: "This is an opportunity to showcase British Columbia to the world." They were even prepared to spend $73 million without putting a pile in the sand.

           Now let me answer the question about the Auditor General. The Auditor General, as you know, is the auditor of record for this project. The board has contracted with the Auditor General to do a more extensive audit of the project. The draft is not ready yet. I

[ Page 8447 ]

have not seen the draft. When we get that report, we will make it public.


           J. Kwan: The trade and convention centre expansion project is more than 100 percent over budget. Ken Dobell, the guy who should have been held accountable and responsible for this overrun boondoggle, continues to sit in the Premier's office as his key lobbyist.

           Now the marketing for the trade and convention centre is being mismanaged. The bookings are only in the range of 3 percent to 38 percent — well below the industry's expectations for the trade and convention centre to survive. Industry is saying that the government needs to ensure 80 to 90 convention centre bookings by 2009. They're calling for targets and accountability.

           Will the minister commit today to setting the industry's targets and hold himself accountable?

           Hon. S. Hagen: Once again we have a classic example of the NDP not knowing the facts, not doing their research. What I can say to this House and to the people of British Columbia is that according to the KPMG study that was funded by Tourism Vancouver and by PavCo, we are on track for bookings for conferences right out to 2016.

           J. Kwan: Is the minister saying that the industry's target of 80 to 90 convention bookings for 2009 is wrong? If that target is wrong, then what is his target? And if he won't hold himself accountable, who is he going to scapegoat now?


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. S. Hagen: Unlike the NDP, we believe in working in partnership with our partners. We're working with the hotels and with the restaurants, with Tourism Vancouver, with Tourism B.C., with Tourism Victoria. PavCo is responsible for the marketing of the trade and convention centre. They do 90 percent of the marketing. Tourism Vancouver does about 10 percent. According to the study that was done by KPMG in 2005, we are on track with the conventions.

           N. Macdonald: From day one — and I don't think anyone here would argue with this — this government has mismanaged the construction of the Vancouver construction expansion project. The minister responsible cannot tell the House when this project will be finished. He cannot tell this House the cost, although we know it's over 100 percent over budget.

[1415]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Now we learn that the bookings, which this minister projected a rosy picture about, are not in fact rosy at all. It has knowledgable industry leaders saying that it's a disaster, that you're going to end up with a dance hall — 3 percent in 2013.

           So the question that I have for the minister: when is he going to wake up, and when is he going to make sure…


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           N. Macdonald: …that we deal with this latest convention centre disaster?

           Hon. S. Hagen: Let me give the member some facts. Fact: there are 54 conventions booked out to 2011.


           Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.

           Members. Members.


           Hon. S. Hagen: That relates to $1 billion worth of economic activity. On top of that, PavCo is engaged at varying stages of the booking process with over 169 events out as far as 2015. That relates to $2 billion worth of economic activity.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Member has a supplemental.

           N. Macdonald: You have business insiders. You have people that you describe as your partners telling you in unequivocal terms that this is a disaster. We know the construction aspect of it is a disaster. We know that you have lost complete control of that. You don't even know the cost.

           The fact is that it's not us. It is your partners — the people that you describe as experts — who are telling you that this is a disaster in marketing. You do not have the bookings. You have 3 percent in 2013 — 3 percent of capacity. It's a disaster. The minister knows it.

           The question I have is: who is accountable? I think it should be the minister. Who does the minister think should ultimately be responsible for this disaster?

           Hon. S. Hagen: I hate to say this, but the NDP was actually more positive back in 1997…


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. S. Hagen: …when the then Premier said: "The convention centre is the biggest single economic driver that I have ever seen."

           When you look at 54 conventions, 29 of which could not have come here without the new centre, and

[ Page 8448 ]

when you look at the negotiations with 169 other conventions reaching out as far as 2015, I have no idea what that member is talking about.

           H. Bains: It is clear that minister after minister has mismanaged this project right from the beginning, including the Premier. No one is held accountable. While experts in the industry are worried sick, this minister is asleep at the switch.

           My question is…. Either the minister is incompetent, or he's not telling the true story. Which is it?

           Hon. S. Hagen: The existing convention centre has been operating over capacity for the last several years. You know why? Because that party did nothing ten years ago to proceed with the new convention centre. We have done that, and it's a success story. We have 54 conventions booked, 29 of which couldn't have come here. That's a billion dollars' worth of economic activity. We're negotiating with 169 others — $2 billion worth of economic activity.

           I'm going to make sure that all of you get an invitation to the opening.

[1420]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.

           H. Bains: This minister continued to mislead this House by continuing to paint….


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

           Member, choose your words more carefully.

           H. Bains: While this minister continues to paint a rosy picture about this billion-dollar boondoggle, the industry disagrees with him. In complete contradiction, Mr. Barnes from Fairmont Hotels and Resorts said yesterday that this convention centre will be the biggest empty ballroom in town in years ahead unless somebody wakes up and does something about it now.

           My question is again to the minister. Will he wake up and hold someone accountable or hold himself accountable?

           Hon. S. Hagen: Tourism Vancouver's own independent KPMG projections say that we are on track. As a matter of fact, in the year 2006 PavCo actually exceeded the targets.

           M. Farnworth: The minister seems to be placing a lot of stock in work done in 2005. So let's just recap for a moment, shall we? In 2005 he was saying that the trade and convention centre was on time and on budget. It's now two years later and more than 100 percent over budget.

           Now he's standing in this House and saying that on the basis of a report done in 2005, he's entirely happy with the rate of bookings. Well, today, 2007, Phil Barnes, the regional vice-president, is saying that we're looking at an empty ballroom unless something is done.

           My question to the minister is quite simple. Is Mr. Phil Barnes wrong, or is the minister wrong?

           Hon. S. Hagen: We're working in partnership with the hotel industry and everyone else who is connected with conventions. But I can say this.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. S. Hagen: The targets that were set by KPMG are being met or exceeded — met or exceeded. Fifty-four conventions, 29 of which couldn't have come here because we wouldn't have had a big enough facility, $1 billion worth of economic activity and 169 additional conventions that are being negotiated with for $2 billion worth of economic activity.


           J. Horgan: In 2000 and 2001 the state of California experienced rolling blackouts and brownouts until B.C. Hydro and the people of British Columbia came to their rescue to keep the lights on and to keep the people working in California.

           In light of the new-found relationship between the Premier and the Governor of California, will the Minister of Energy confirm that this is a golden opportunity to seek an out-of-court settlement and get that $286 million outstanding account receivable back in British Columbia where it belongs?


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

           Hon. R. Neufeld: On the eve of a great opportunity for British Columbia to sign some agreements with California to look at climate change across North America and British Columbia and be better for British Columbians, all of these negative Nellies over here could do is complain. What's wrong with having…?


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

[1425]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. R. Neufeld: Just listen up a bit.

           Mr. Speaker, what's wrong with having a memorandum of understanding with California that will foster innovation, including the hydrogen highway, clean and renewable energy, clean technology? What's wrong with having an MOU that shares expertise, technology, knowledge and information, and ocean climate data? What's wrong with that? What's wrong with sharing best practices and policy design?

[ Page 8449 ]

           I suggest that group get off the negative post, get on the positive post and get with British Columbians. That's what we need today.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

           The member has a supplemental.

           J. Horgan: In 2000-2001 we had binding contracts with the state of California, and they said: "Too bad." So now we have the Premier sitting down with the Governor signing what says right here: "This is not…."


           Mr. Speaker: Members.


           J. Horgan: I'm sorry, Speaker. I forgot that there are two sets of rules in this place.

           Mr. Speaker: No. Just take your seat.



           J. Horgan: The Governor and the Premier today signed what is "not intended to be legally binding or to impose legal obligations." That's what we signed today.

           The state of California owes the people of British Columbia $286 million. My question is to the debt collector, the Minister of Revenue. What are you doing? In my hometown, if I don't pay my hydro bill, they turn off the power.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. R. Neufeld: It's interesting that the member across the way, who was a backroom operative for the NDP during the 1990s, talks about binding contracts. We're still trying to collect on all kinds of contracts that that group actually had signed. That's what they call binding contracts. They were selling electricity from British Columbia into a U.S. market that was broke, that wasn't fixed, that wasn't working right — at huge rates, at huge profit — and never thought that they ever had to collect for it.

           Well, that's why they couldn't run a popcorn stand in the '70s. They couldn't run it in the '90s, and I hope the people of British Columbia turn the lights out on them again in the next election, in 2009.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.


           A. Dix: Since we're talking about contracts, my question is to the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health will know that in 2001 he and the Premier promised workers in the Hospital Employees Union that they would never tear up their contract, and they did.

           The minister will know that last night 450 care aides were given a termination notice as a direct result of his government's policies, of Bill 29 and Bill 92 — 450 care aides. What is the minister going to do to deal with this situation that causes so much disruption in the lives of seniors and workers in British Columbia?

[1430]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. G. Abbott: The facilities and the workers which the member references are within three privately owned facilities, I understand, in the Vancouver region.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. G. Abbott: I understand that the issues in question have had some previous reference to the Labour Relations Board. As I said in other exchanges in reference to the Nanaimo Seniors Village in Nanaimo, the appropriate venues for issues of this character to be debated and resolved are the Labour Relations Board and the employment standards branch.

           I understand that the Hospital Employees Union, in fact, has advised that they intend to take this matter, appropriately, to the Labour Relations Board. Our concern as a ministry and as health authorities is to ensure that there is appropriate continuity of care for all of the residents within those facilities…

           Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Minister.

           Hon. G. Abbott: …and that is precisely what we will do.

           Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.

           A. Dix: Appropriate continuity of care? This company was created by Bill 29. This government created this company that's caused all this hardship. The question for the minister is simple. When will he deal with the consequences of Bill 29 and Bill 92? When will he take away those laws? When will he come into this House and rescind those laws so that health care workers have the same rights as other workers in British Columbia?

           Hon. G. Abbott: I realize the member has to raise these questions as the union is an important benefactor for the party with which he speaks.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

[ Page 8450 ]

           Continue, Minister.

           Hon. G. Abbott: I didn't mean to strike such a sensitive chord. I had no idea it would produce that kind of reaction.

           But the member is wrong. This company, or companies, was not created by the government of British Columbia. This is a privately owned company in a privately owned facility. The issues that are in question will be appropriately resolved at the Labour Relations Board and, if not at the Labour Relations Board, the employment standards branch.

           For the member to suggest that the government should be intruding in that I think is entirely inappropriate.


           G. Robertson: For some reason, the Minister of Transportation keeps getting up to trash the small businesses along the Canada line. No big surprise. It's no big surprise….


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Member, just take your seat for a second.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Member continues.

           G. Robertson: None of us on this side of the House are surprised, considering that it is big business that has financed the Minister of Transportation's election campaigns. But I'm not sure why the Minister of Small Business hasn't leapt to his feet to advocate for the fair treatment of over 500 small businesses being hammered by RAV line construction, so I'll give him an opportunity to do so.

           The $2 billion privatized project has now drained over $100 million from revenues of local small businesses. I'm curious if this minister thinks it's fair for those small businesses to subsidize the construction of this line. Given the unprecedented hardship being imposed on small businesses by RAV line construction, will the Minister of Small Business stand in the House today and support urgent and reasonable compensation from this government?


           Mr. Speaker: Members.


           Mr. Speaker: Take your seat.


[1435]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. K. Falcon: Always a pleasure to take a question from the unannounced mayoral candidate in Vancouver.

           The fact of the matter is that again I stand in this House almost awestruck at the new-found interest in small business from the members opposite. I actually was here in this House. In every budget our Finance Minister has put forward that reduces taxes, they vote against tax cuts for small business. Every single time we talked about reducing the regulatory impact and burden to small business, they're against it.

           How is it that suddenly this member, in a desperate quest to find another reason to oppose the Canada line, which will see 100,000 people a day get out of their cars and into public transit…?


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. K. Falcon: They just continue to find ways to oppose a great project that will have great benefit for British Columbians and for Canada.

           [End of question period.]


           Mr. Speaker: Members.


           Mr. Speaker: Members, I know it's the last day.

           M. Karagianis: I have a petition to present.

           Mr. Speaker: Proceed.


           M. Karagianis: I have a petition here with 294 names on it asking this government to supply sufficient funding to the Mary Manning Centre and for all programs that provide counselling for sexual abuse victims in this province.

           S. Fraser: I seek leave to present a petition.

           Mr. Speaker: Proceed.

           S. Fraser: I have a petition with over 1,100 signatures on it from across the province urging this government to move forward with the safe antifreeze bill.

           G. Coons: I seek leave to present a petition.

           Mr. Speaker: Proceed.

           G. Coons: I have a petition of 75 names from Haida Gwaii in addition to the 580 to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour and to abolish the $6 training wage.

[ Page 8451 ]

           D. Routley: I seek leave to present a petition.

           Mr. Speaker: Proceed.

           D. Routley: This is a petition signed by 324 of my constituents urging the government to continue funding child care resource centres and to stop the cuts.

Tabling Documents

           Hon. K. Falcon: In accordance with section 18 of the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, I have the honour to present the British Columbia Railway Company's annual report for 2006 and the audited financial statements for the period ended December 31, 2006.


           R. Fleming: I present a petition to cease funding cuts to child care operating funding programs and the dismantling of child care resource and referral programs.

           Mr. Speaker: Proceed.

           R. Fleming: I have 2,528 signatures signed on a petition against privatizing parts of the water distribution and wastewater collection treatment systems in the capital regional district.

           D. Routley: I seek leave to present a petition.

           Mr. Speaker: Proceed.

           D. Routley: This is a petition signed by 155 members of the community of Honeymoon Bay seeking help from the government related to flooding of their community caused by logging practices, and I seek leave to submit this petition.

           G. Robertson: I rise to table a petition on behalf of small business owners and residents along the RAV line construction corridor calling for fair compensation for the small businesses affected by the construction.

           C. Wyse: I request permission to make an introduction.

           Leave granted.

Introductions by Members

           C. Wyse: It's my privilege to welcome to the House the constituency assistant from Cariboo North. I've noticed that that individual has just arrived. I would ask my colleagues to make the individual welcome.

Tabling Documents

           Hon. C. Taylor: I'm pleased to present a number of reports.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

[1440]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. C. Taylor: Pursuant to the Financial Administration Act, section 72(8), I respectfully present the Guarantees and Indemnities Authorized and Issued report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2006.

           The next two reports on all the amounts borrowed by government and all amounts loaned to government bodies are also pursuant to the Financial Administration Act. These reports provide an overview of the province's borrowing activity in fiscal 2006-2007.

           Finally, I have the pleasure to table the revised schedule I for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2007.

Orders of the Day

Motions without Notice


           Hon. M. de Jong: By leave, I move that:

[The Legislative Assembly appoint Mr. Errol Price as the Acting Auditor General for the Province of British Columbia pursuant to section 7 of the Auditor General Act, effective from June 2, 2007 until the date when Mr. John Doyle is able to commence his official duties as Auditor General.]

           Leave granted.

           Motion approved.

           Hon. M. de Jong: With leave, I move committee stage of Bill 31.

           Leave not granted.

           Hon. M. de Jong: I call continued second reading debate of Bill 37 and in Committee A, Committee of Supply, continued estimates of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Second Reading of Bills


           D. Thorne: I rise today to speak to Bill 37, and for the first time in this House, I have to say it's not with pleasure.

           In the beginning, I agreed with the appointment of a committee to look at the pay compensation package. I never agreed with the composition. I thought that we would have trouble because of it, and we did in fact have trouble. Had we had a different composition of the committee, we would not have had the kind of results that we have had in the recommendations.

           The recommendations that resulted from this committee are out of step with the rest of British Co-

[ Page 8452 ]

lumbia. Over 90 percent of the population is earning less than the current compensation of members of this Legislature, and 29 percent is a figure that is too high to go in one go.

           [S. Hawkins in the chair.]

           I think it's unbelievable that in the face of all the poverty in British Columbia, we in this House are even considering such a raise today. I think the fact that it's being pushed through without sufficient debate is shocking. I feel that to stand and try and say all of the things that I have heard from my constituents and my feelings in such a short period of time, in order to allow my colleagues to speak, is absolutely atrocious.

           For example, Madam Speaker, how about the 15,000 families that are on a waiting list for affordable housing — families that had the misfortune only of living in a province with a government that doesn't believe in spending money on housing with the same fervour as they do on their own paycheques?

           This growing list leads to more homelessness and to the highest number of poor children in Canada for the second year in a row. How can this government push this through, knowing that all of these people — I've only given a few examples — in British Columbia are struggling at the end of the day to put food on the table for their children? We, the privileged few who sit in this House, are looking at an increase of 29 percent.

           I'm not suggesting that the members in this House don't work hard. I think we all work very hard, both here in the House and in our constituencies. But we are not struggling as individuals, I would not think — at least I'm not aware — with the kind of poverty issues and hard work that so many people in British Columbia are struggling with.

[1445]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Just in my own volunteer work at the women's centre in the Tri-Cities, I know many women, single mothers, who are raising their children alone. Some of them are working three jobs; many of them are working two jobs. I would submit that that's hard work.

           I don't think that most of us in this House — I can't speak for everybody; I don't know what they did before they came here — know the grinding, day-to-day poverty and hard work that so many people who are out there in our province today have to struggle with.

           I have heard from most of my constituents that they are not in favour of this pay raise. They would be very happy for us to get a raise, the kind of raise that they get and that most people out there get — 2 or 3 percent a year. Why do we not bring in a bill that says we will get a decent wage increase but something that is more akin to the kind of wage increase that ordinary people get?

           The report itself was shocking enough, but I myself, along with many of my colleagues and certainly my constituents, were in disbelief when this government took the outrageous recommendations in this report and did several things with those recommendations. They brought in one bill, combining all of the recommendations for the pay increase and the pension in one bill.

           I think that was wrong. My constituents think it was wrong. I continue to think it was wrong. Pensions and pay are two entirely different things. Benefits and compensation are not the same thing. There should have been two bills brought in so that people could express their opinions on both separately and not be forced to vote on one bill with two different issues in it.

           For this government to say that they're holding a free vote when both of these issues are in one bill is ridiculous. I don't even understand what that means. What does that mean? I haven't heard an opinion from anybody on the other side.

           What is a free vote? I suspect the free vote will lead to 100-percent acceptance on one side and the opposite on the other side. So there is no free vote. It's just more loose words.


           Deputy Speaker: Order, Members, please. Let the speaker….

           D. Thorne: Okay, Madam Speaker. The….


           Deputy Speaker: Just a moment, Member.

           Order, Members.

           D. Thorne: The second thing that this government did after the report was accepted that I think was shocking was to not make the recommendations, if they are accepted, for the next parliament — to make it retroactive so that, in fact, we are voting on our own salaries.

           I absolutely disagree with this. I found out in municipal government that this is not the way to go. The public does not want politicians voting on their own pay. They don't like it. They've made it clear to me, and I believe that the people who vote for the government don't like it either. I think they're going to find that out, Madam Speaker.

           The third thing that happened, Madam Speaker….


           D. Thorne: I'm talking over the other side. I think that I'm able to do that. I have a loud enough voice.

           Deputy Speaker: Order, Members, please.

           D. Thorne: The third thing is section 4.6, the most mean-spirited thing that most of us have seen in a long, long time — the attempt, in a way, to blackmail MLAs. You know, vote for this bill, or you will never get a pension. Vote for this bill, or you will never get blah, blah, blah.

           It's atrocious that that would happen. We have young MLAs; we have older MLAs with service. How could it happen in a House like this, with supposedly

[ Page 8453 ]

intelligent people and freedom, that we could allow something like this section to be brought in?

           I think I've stated my opinions. I've stated the opinions of my constituents. We are shocked in Coquitlam-Maillardville. People are shocked and outraged at what's happening in this House today. They're shocked and outraged at the bill itself, and they're more shocked and outraged at the way it's being pushed through today without proper debate.

[1450]Jump to this time in the webcast

           This should be put forward to a fall session and discussed properly. If it passes — as I suspect it will, because the votes are on the side that is in favour of this — it should be brought in, in the next parliament. At the very least, this is something this government can do.

           R. Hawes: I'll say the same thing as many of the members opposite have said. It's not really a pleasure to have to stand and speak to this bill, because frankly, I am speaking in favour of the bill, and I have no shame, or I feel no compulsion to speak against anything that's been done here. I am going to stand up and stand on my principles. I'm not going to hypocritically say that I'm going to not do something and then go ahead and do it.

           The first thing that I would suggest….


           R. Hawes: The member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast will get his opportunity, as have his colleagues, for a long time on this debate.

           Deputy Speaker: Member, take your seat for a moment, please.

           Members, please give the speaker respect when they're recognized and standing in their space to speak. Thank you.

           Continue, Member.

           R. Hawes: I'm going to start by first just talking a little bit about, in this report, who the commission is. The commission was put together by the government. They were independent people — people who I think have a fair bit of knowledge and are, to start with, completely insulated from influence in the government. For example….


           Deputy Speaker: Member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, please come to order.

           Continue, Member.

           R. Hawes: One member is a learned judge in our province, and as everyone knows, judges are not only free from political influence in this province, but they are actually kind of used to taking a lot of public pressure, which judges often fall under when they make the decisions that they make.

           We felt it was very, very important that the committee that would look at this would be able to take a look without worrying about the political implication of a decision that they might make. Now, when we looked at Bill 17…. I was and am a member of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which looked at Bill 17 — along with two members opposite and several members from our side of the House. A little over a year ago we looked at pay and pension and came up with a package that, frankly, every single member of this House voted in favour of. Every single member of this House stood up and voted yes to Bill 17. The principles that were espoused in Bill 17 are actually not really different than the principles espoused in this bill. However….


           R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, the member opposite, for Coquitlam-Maillardville, just had her opportunity. If she had more to say, she didn't have to yield the floor.

           The bottom line here is that every member of the House, including the members opposite — the NDP side of the House — all voted in favour of Bill 17. There was no mention, as I recall, of waiting until an election or how bad it was to vote for your own pay raise or any of the things that we now hear. None of that was present with Bill 17.

           As I recall, all members of the House left the House after voting yes to Bill 17 feeling quite comfortable with it until the Leader of the Opposition, in our belief…. She left, by the way, for Saskatchewan immediately when the House adjourned that day and somehow from Saskatchewan got word — I suspect by telephone from Jim Sinclair — that she had done something wrong and took her orders and immediately recanted, which caused Bill 17, as everyone knows, to be withdrawn.

[1455]Jump to this time in the webcast

           It's strange. When that happened, the members opposite were not acting joyfully and were feeling quite bad about the withdrawal of Bill 17. As someone who is in this House and sees what's going on in this House, we all knew — all members of this House knew — that was not a day of great joy. The Leader of the Opposition that day obviously had done a complete flip-flop in her position, and I know that members of her party were not overly thrilled with that newly found position.

           When we looked at this…. The terms of reference that the committee had were to look at pay and pension. But one of the things that I know we have all looked at, and I think quite fairly…. When you think about what happened on the federal scene not long ago…. Members of the federal government in one party said: "We will not take pensions." They signed off on their pensions until they were ready to leave office. Deborah Grey comes to mind. When they were ready to leave office, they suddenly they recanted their positions and took their pensions. So there was a political game played.

[ Page 8454 ]

           Ontario recently passed some new legislation with respect to pay and pension. In their legislation they said: "We do not want people playing political games. We think that people should be straight up with the taxpayers. They should be accountable for their decisions. If they wish to have a pay increase, then no problem. They can have it. If they don't think it's appropriate and they shouldn't have it, they can opt out. That's not a problem either."

           But you can't play political games and opt out and come back in two years just before you're going to leave office — or three years, six years or whenever it is — and say: "I've changed my mind." That's not really on. It's not fair to the taxpayer. It's not showing any kind of accountability. Frankly, it is hypocrisy. It is not hypocrisy to stand up and say to the taxpayer: "I believe that the compensation package is fair, and I'm going to take the compensation package, and I will be judged at the appropriate time in May of 2009. I will be very straight up about my actions."

           It is not, in my view, appropriate to say that I'm not going to take something when really I am taking it. I can tell you, when you're issued a T4 slip for your paycheque that reads on the base $98,000, as it will after this bill if it goes through, and then you say "I'm donating the money…." Well, you've got the money.


           R. Hawes: The member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows asks about donations — how many I make. Well, I do donate to charity, as do many, many people in this House. It's shameful that that member would politicize what he thinks his generosity is. That member should be ashamed of himself. I donate money to charity, as do many people in this House, and I do not do it for political gain.


           Deputy Speaker: Members. Members.

           Member, please take your seat.

           The Chair recognizes that this is going to be a passionate debate, but can we please give the speaker a chance to speak so the Chair can hear what he has to say.

           R. Hawes: Many of us in this House donate money to charity, various charities. Each year as we do that, we do it because of a sense of duty on our part — not to gain political favour, not to go out and advertise what we do. Some of us give to our churches. Some of us give to all kinds of charities. Nobody goes out and puts on a website what they have donated to. That is not, in my opinion, what the essence of charity is all about.

           I am not interested in political gain for the donations that I give, and at the municipal level I have been a volunteer in my community for decades. I have donated to the various charities that I believe I should donate to, in terms of both time and money, for decades.

           I've served as a mayor in my community, a community leader for a long period of time, and not one time did I go out, even in election campaigns, and advertise the kinds of organizations that I belong to. I donate my time to them. I do it not for political gain but because I think it's my duty to do so. I'm ashamed of these people that want to go out and advertise on websites the kinds of donations they make. This is about politics; it's not about charity. And that's disgusting to me.

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           When we looked at what wages should be in Bill 17, there were some principles at play. One of the principles that was agreed to by both sides of this House was this. We have as a government said our civil service should be compensated as the second or third highest in Canada, and it is. We also, then, in Bill 17 said: "You know, as MLAs we should be compensated second or third in Canada." Bill 17 achieved that.

           With Bill 17 being withdrawn, we have slipped to eighth in Canada. But our civil service continues….


           R. Hawes: The member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast is going to get his choice. I'm going to get to that.


           Deputy Speaker: Order, Members, please.

           R. Hawes: When we look at wages, I think the principle that we've tried to apply to our civil service — actually, quite fairly — applies to MLAs. I think that if you look at what the commission did in this report…. They took that principle and have applied it, I think quite fairly. Within the provinces, I think this moves us to number three, and number four if you count the government of Canada. Everyone knows what their wages are, and we aren't doing that kind of comparison, but to other provinces, we are number three, which is where our civil service is. They're second or third for the most part.

           I think that the principle is fair. Now, you look at the comparisons that I hear the members opposite doing, to people who are at minimum wage or people in our economy who are struggling. And there are people like that. But we're not comparing ourselves to doctors or lawyers or engineers. Wages generally in this country are decided upon by comparison. That's generally how we decide. In every sector of our economy, engineers compare their wages to engineers, carpenters to carpenters or other similar trades.

           I'll tell you what, Madam Speaker. Bakers rarely will compare their wages to those of brain surgeons and say: "We should be paid equivalently." It doesn't work that way. It works with comparisons. So now you look at what an MLA does. Well, who would you compare that to?

           In the committee report, the committee went out and consulted broadly with British Columbians, and

[ Page 8455 ]

they found out that British Columbians, by and large, really have very little knowledge of what an MLA's job is. They believe that we work, for example, I think it says, 38 hours a week and only 196 days a year. Now, members on both sides of this House would agree that we work very, very long hours, and actually, many of us work harder when we're out of this building and in our constituencies than when we are here.

           This is a job that doesn't have regular hours, that doesn't have the luxury of allowing us to go home to our families every night.


           Deputy Speaker: Members, please come to order.

           R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, you can't compare this job as an MLA to really any other job I can think of in the general run of society. Who would you compare to? Well, I would suggest other MLAs in other provinces. That's the best example, the best comparison you can make. So I'm having some difficulty understanding how the salary of an MLA compares to minimum wage or to any other occupation that's…


           Deputy Speaker: Order, please. I'm having trouble listening to the speaker.

           R. Hawes: …not affiliated.

           I've heard over and over and over in the opposition's seeming opposition to this bill, for the wage and pension that they want to vote against but they want to take…. They talk about how this is being rammed through somehow, and they talk about how we're abusing the Legislature by shutting out debate.

           Earlier this session I sat and listened for a couple of days while we talked about whether or not a sessional order…. A sessional order is to make a change in the times that the Legislature is open for this session as an experiment. It was thought by the government, and I think rightly so, that sitting until nine o'clock every night…. Many of us are in this building at seven o'clock in the morning, and being here till nine o'clock at night two nights a week, if that's fair…. We felt it's not a healthy thing for people to do. People should have an opportunity to go out and go to the gym….

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           Deputy Speaker: Member, just a moment.

           Members will have their time to stand and speak in their place. The Chair is having difficulty listening to this speaker. So Members, please remember that. Thank you.

           R. Hawes: We spent two days talking about a change that amounted to half an hour a week or something, but we spent two days of vacuous time in here listening to the NDP go on and on and on about a sessional order. At the end of the session, it ends; it goes back. The experiment is over. I'm not sure what the House Leader will decide and how he will discuss that with the NDP in future, but this is a sessional order. We wasted two days talking about it, because that's what the NDP chose to do.

           Yesterday I listened for several hours when what I think is a very important bill came up to end mandatory retirement in this province. I think that's a very important bill. I listened for several hours while the NDP got up, one after the other, and talked about how the bill was getting rammed through. They didn't talk about the merits of ending mandatory retirement. They didn't talk about the bill at all. All they talked about was how it was being rammed through.

           Then today we come and we say: "Okay, let's move this bill into committee stage so that we can get into the discussion about the bill." They won't agree to that. So they want this bill to go to closure. They want this bill to go through without the kind of debate that they say they want on it — again, more hypocrisy. The last several days have been crowded, hour after hour has been crowded, with really unbridled hypocrisy on the part of the NDP.

           I just want to say for a minute…. The Leader of the Opposition said in January, as the commission was appointed: "I am certainly pleased to see it's a public process. I said, when I acknowledged the mistake that was made last year" — that was on Bill 17 — "that if we're ever going to bring this back again and have a discussion, it needed to be open and transparent, and it needed to be an outside panel looking at it. I am pleased to see that process is going to occur."

           Well, it did occur, and the panel brought in the recommendations. Somehow — because, again, I suspect that Jim Sinclair and a few others made a phone call — suddenly 29 percent, as outlined in this report, is too much. They don't say how much is enough. They seem to be saying that they're going to donate the difference between the base pay and the new base pay — 29 percent, which is $22,000. At least I take it that they're saying: "We're going to donate that money, less the taxes on that money, to charity." I have not yet heard one of them get up and say that's not true.

           The panel's recommendation does say that there will be a pension and that pension will require an 11-percent contribution. I would like to hear the members opposite, as they get up and take their place in this House later in this debate, get up and say: "Gee, we're going to give the $22,000 to charity, take off the taxes and then from the remaining base pay — so that we haven't had a raise, $76,100 — we're going to pay the 11 percent on our pensions." I'd like to hear them say that, but I suspect that won't happen. I suspect that they're all, every one of them, going to take the 11 percent that's required for the pension contribution, which is a raise, and they're going to….


           Deputy Speaker: Order.

[ Page 8456 ]

           R. Hawes: They're going to say that they're not taking a raise, but they're taking the 11 percent to make their pension contribution. And I haven't heard them talk about next year, when they get a tax refund, if they donate money — that they're now going to redonate that tax refund to charity. You don't hear any of those things.


           R. Hawes: Madam Speaker, I haven't stood up and said that I'm going to make any donation to charity from my raise other than what I feel my conscience says I should make. I'm not going to advertise ever what I donate to charity — ever.

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           The bottom line is that I don't happen to believe, as I said earlier, that anyone should be compelled…. Frankly, I don't think anyone should be out there advertising what they give to charity, and especially under these kinds of circumstances. So, Madam Speaker….


           Deputy Speaker: Order, Member.

           R. Hawes: The member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast is developing an annoying habit of wanting to speak a lot in the chamber but rarely gets to his feet to reflect the kinds of things that he's saying, the kind of nonsensical things that he's coming to.


           R. Hawes: Now, I didn't hear that. But, Madam Speaker, if what my colleagues are saying, that that member did say: "Pigs at a trough…." I would really like him to have the courage to get up and withdraw his remark. That is completely uncalled for.

           Deputy Speaker: Members, the Chair recognizes that there is going to be a lot of debate, and this is a passionate debate. Again, I would ask that the members keep their comments parliamentary. Thank you.

           Continue, Member.

           R. Hawes: In 2001 when we were elected as government, we took a look at where the budget was at that time, and we had been left with very empty cupboards indeed by the NDP.

           [Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

           So we thought as a government at that time…. Every member of our caucus said, "We should show some leadership and take a 5-percent pay cut," which we did. Universally, our caucus took a 5-percent pay cut in 2001. We walked into the comptroller's office and said: "We would like to take this pay decrease." We didn't say we were going to take some….


           Mr. Speaker: Members.


           R. Hawes: We donated the 5 percent back to the government, in a way, by saying to the comptroller: "Take it off our cheque so that it never appears on our cheque." So our paycheque in 2001 was reduced at source to $68,000. It was reduced by 5 percent, and we froze it for four years — until the election.

           If the members opposite truly think they shouldn't get a raise, the easiest thing for them to do would be to walk over to the comptroller's office the day that this bill passes and say: "Reduce our pay to $76,100, which is the base." They then don't have to worry about all of the stuff about donations. They don't have to worry about taxes. Their cheques will automatically be cut to $76,100 — just as we did in 2001.

           But what would be the implication of that? What would be the implication? The implication of that would be that their pensions would be based on a paycheque of $76,100. It's very clear that these members who don't want the raise but want it, these members who aren't taking the raise but are taking it, are really looking at the $98,000 pension.

           They sit here and point fingers at members on this side of the House who actually are being straight up and straightforward with the taxpayers and are standing up and saying: "I will be accountable for the raise that I'm going to take, because I happen to believe this commission, which travelled to several locations and held public meetings and took public submissions — not just in British Columbia but travelled to Quebec and Ontario and, I think, Saskatchewan — and did interviews across this country and came up with the numbers that they said this job deserves as compensation."

           I look at it and say that the commission took a look. I think it's a fair report. They've said what the job is worth. I am not ashamed to say that I am going to take for my salary what the commission says the job is worth.

           I've heard members of the opposition, and I've heard others say: "Well, gee, you knew what you were getting paid when you got elected." Well, a lot of people in British Columbia, when they first got their job, understood what their paycheque was. But we do live in the kind of a country and the kind of a province where you have the right to say to your employer: "I'd like a raise." When you start on a job, it just doesn't freeze everything forever.

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           Our unfortunate position as politicians is that we have nobody to go to ask: "Could we have a raise?" The decision can only be made one way, and that's by a vote here. We have to vote, or there can be no change.

           I think the members opposite get that. I think the members opposite, to be honest…. It would be my guess that the members opposite are absolutely thrilled at the prospect that the members on our side of the House, the government side of the House, are going to stand up and say to the taxpayers in a straightforward

[ Page 8457 ]

way: "We will be accountable. We think it's fair. We're going to vote in favour of this."

           They're thrilled that's happening. They can try to hide under the cover of voting no, under the cover of saying, "We're making these wonderful donations," when I really do believe that at the end of the day, every single one of them will take the 11 percent for the pension contribution and add that to their base, which is a raise right off the top.

           That in itself is sanctimonious. That in itself is hypocrisy, to say: "I'm not taking it, but yet I'm going to take the 11 percent for the pension." To say that they don't want the raise, that it's too big…. Why would they then want the pension to be set at the new $98,000 rate when they could simply go straight to the comptroller and say, "Cut my pay to $76,100," and it will be done?

           There will be no worry about taxes. There will be no question about what they are really giving their money to. There will be no media going to them later and saying: "Could you show us receipts?" It will be done. It will be reflected in Public Accounts. Everyone will know that they're making $76,100 as their base. They have day after day after day got up and said: "This is what we should be getting, because we shouldn't have a raise."

           Speaker after speaker on that side of the House gets up and says: "There should be no raise, and we're giving it all away." If they're giving it all away, then why not just go to the comptroller and save the taxpayers the problem?

           In fact, I find it pretty objectionable that they would take the taxpayers' money when they say they don't want it and give it to the charity of their choice. What about those charities out there that aren't going to receive their largesse, if you will? Will this be a favourite treatment? Will it only be their favoured charities that receive money? If they're going to deal with taxpayers' money, then they should be dealing with it in a fair manner.

           They seem to be implying that it's not their money; it's the taxpayers' money, and that's why they can't take it. Then tell the comptroller that you don't want it. Tell the comptroller to cut your pay back to $76,100. You'll still have your pension, which you said you want, but you won't have to worry about taxes. You won't have to worry about anyone coming after you to ask for an audit. Just do that. That would at least have a shred of integrity.

           I don't see any integrity in the position of saying: "I don't want a raise. I'm voting against it, but I am taking it." I don't see it. How can you do this? It is absolute hypocrisy at its greatest height.

           Members, I would ask everyone in this House, if you really think that this raise is warranted, stand up. When the vote is called on this bill, stand up and vote for it and then tell your electorate: "I think it's fair. Here are the reasons that I think it's fair. The raise will be something that I will be taking."

           If you don't think that it's fair, if you think for some reason that it's too much, refuse it. This bill actually gives you the choice. You can walk in and say: "I've decided not to take the money."

           An Hon. Member: Forever.

           R. Hawes: Yeah. It's forever. I think that if you say now, "I don't want a pension. I don't think that it should happen," or "I don't think I should have a raise, because I knew in advance what I was going to make," then fine. Don't take it. The bottom line is that if they decide to do that, their pay would still be indexed.

           M. Sather: More dirty tricks.

           R. Hawes: The member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows says: "More dirty tricks." How can it be a dirty trick to lay out a choice? Here's the dirty trick. The dirty trick is right here. The dirty trick on the taxpayer is to say, "I'm not taking a raise at all," and then turn around and take the raise.

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           Go to the comptroller and say: "I don't want the raise." That's completely honest. That is doing precisely what you say that you're trying to do, but you're not, really. We all know that you really want the money, and you're taking it. Be honest.

           Just in closing, I've read the report carefully. I was on the committee that formed Bill 17. I thought…


           Mr. Speaker: Member.

           R. Hawes: …Bill 17 was put together in a very fair manner. It was put together in complete cooperation with the NDP, who at that time agreed wholeheartedly that Bill 17 was the right way to go. Bill 17 had a pension plan, actually, that was much, much richer than the pension plan that's contained within this bill.

           The members opposite gleefully voted for that. They gleefully voted for the raise that came with it, and now the whole issue of their conscience seems to have hit — the 29 percent that Jim Sinclair has told them is too much. So they found a way to take their leader out of the hole that she dug by once again speaking precipitously and saying they would not take the raise.

           Even the very next day the House Leader for the NDP was on television going completely opposite to what the leader said, and the fumbling and the bumbling. We all saw that. You all saw that. The members opposite know this is what happened — the fumbling and bumbling around trying to protect the leader's ill-conceived position that was precipitously made, and now you've found a way to get out of it. Do things honestly.

           N. Simons: They say you should never follow children or animals, and I don't want to be insulting to children, but…

           Mr. Speaker: Member.

           N. Simons: …what I've heard from the member for Maple….

           Mr. Speaker: Member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, you will withdraw that immediately, with an apology.

[ Page 8458 ]

           N. Simons: I withdraw with apologies.

           I will continue. That's a very common expression in show business that may not be known to some in the House that simply indicates it is difficult to follow someone when they've made an exciting and wondrous display of something. Now, I leave that something up to each one of you, but I'm speaking on Bill 37. I'm speaking on an issue of importance to me, and that's integrity of this House, and the integrity of this House was brought down and debased by the member.

           The member on this side of the House has no right to question our motivation, no right to come in here and question whether or not we will carry through with the word that we have given to our communities. We will hold fast to what we have said, and the member on this side of the House, who happens to be from the other side of the House, should know better.

           He knows very well that the dirty tricks of this government have put us in the place where we are today, where the debate has been cut short and where the actual discussion on the issues that are important to British Columbians is left to the trash, left on the side.

           Let me address issue number one. The recommendations of the report which purportedly are now in Bill 37 did not include tying the pension and the pay together. Strike 1 to the government.

           The second thing. It did not say: "Give them an opt-out clause, and make it optional." They didn't say that, yet the government decided to put that in. Strike 2.

           The third thing they did is they said: "Take it or leave it within seven days. Walk away forever. Take it now, or take it never." Strike 3. This government should be seen as the fraud that it is. In this particular case they have given us this option, the only possible option, that the members opposite don't understand.

           I'll tell you, Mr. Speaker, the option is this. When giving in to a situation where there's no choice, when the government plays a dirty trick, leaving no option for opposition politicians, on the pain of never taking it for their entire career…. The ministers opposite, who may be making noises in defiance to what I say, know very well that the government did not have to bring in a bill like this. They did not have to make this the most divisive bill possible, but they chose the low road once again. They chose the road travelled more by their type than by our type, and we have seen the result of that. We have seen the results.

           I urge the members opposite to think carefully about this. This is a bill before the House like many others before us. We have voted different ways on different bills on different issues. This is the first free vote for the party in power. This is the first time they have an opportunity. Well, they pretend they have other options. Okay. They have this option now….

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           R. Hawes: With great apologies to my colleague from the opposite side, I seek leave to make an introduction.

           Leave granted.

Introductions by Members

           R. Hawes: We have a class from Hillside Elementary, which is a grade 5 class, I think, from Mission. Pardon me, 45 grade 7 students are here. I'm trying to read the sign they put in front of me.

           Hillside School is a very good school in Mission. Actually, I have a grandson who attends that school. I don't know if he's in the audience or not. Welcome, and could all members in the House please make the grade 7 class from Hillside welcome.

Debate Continued

           N. Simons: The member was making an introduction. I also welcome the class. I'm happy that you're here. You're seeing in front of you a debate over whether we should give ourselves a pay raise, whether we should give ourselves more money for us to take home in our pockets.

           We should be saying to the government that we shouldn't do it while we're in the job. We should wait until we get re-elected. I'm trying to tell the government side of the House that they should vote against this because it was built badly. It was written badly, and it included things that shouldn't have been included in the bill. They didn't have to do it that way.

           I think that the grade 6, 7, 5 or 4 class that the member for Maple Ridge–Mission…. They should realize that, in fact, this is just one debate that we have. We have debates about other bills, and usually we have enough time to debate them. But this government didn't really want us to have enough time, so they said we have to stop at 5:30 today no matter what — because they can. They've got the power to do that; they're allowed to.

           They're also allowed to put legislation forward that we think is okay sometimes. Sometimes we think it's bad. In this case we think it's bad for many reasons.

           The first report this government has ever received that they've approved of the recommendations and immediately added their own bad ones…. We've had the Hughes report and a series of reports for the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Mines. We have a number of reports from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and that took two years to get recommendations put into practice.

           Well, they were pretty excited about these recommendations. As soon as they came in, they turned around and put their favourite ones into it. They added a few little spicy things that said: "Let's make it like if you don't do it now, you don't get to do it even if you get re-elected. Maybe even if you get re-elected, maybe you'll never have an opportunity to change the legislation yourself."

           We're stuck. There's no choice. "You decide now within seven days. You've either got what we have as backbench MLAs on the government side, or you don't." I don't think that's fair. I don't think anybody in my constituency thinks it's fair.

           Because of that, they look at this situation, and they say: "Are you going to take a 29-percent increase in the

[ Page 8459 ]

middle of your term and say that's a good idea? Are you going to vote in favour of that?"

           I say no, I can't possibly vote in favour of that legislation because that legislation sucks. It's not good. It's bad legislation.

           They say: "What are you going to do about it?" I say: "My option is that I vote against it. My option is that this is what I'm going to be paid forever and ever and ever."

           "What do you mean forever and ever?" Yeah, they said it in the legislation. It'll never be changed. That's what you're stuck with forever. So you'll never get a pension, and you'll never get a raise.

           Even most British Columbians think we should get a raise. We could have, probably, if the government had thought about it a little more instead of just taking full advantage of the giddy little excitement they had when they saw 29 percent. Suddenly it was 29 percent in the legislation. It didn't say tie it with the pensions. It didn't say you're allowed to opt out, but you've got seven days to choose. And it didn't say that you take it or leave it.

           This is what makes the legislation bad. On that basis alone, the government backbenchers should vote against it. I know that people in my constituency are fine. That's okay. They understand. I've been public about it. They understand this is an uncomfortable situation for everybody. They think that the government has purposely done this, that it's a cynical move and that it doesn't do much for us in terms of respect for politicians, unfortunately.

           But this is the position they've cornered us into, and this is the position we've accepted. We are proud to be able to say that there will be no net gain. We're going out and telling them….

           It's clear that there's division on the government side. It's clear that, unfortunately, they're required to be able to say with a singular voice that we will be up to our ears drinking from the trough of the public purse….

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           Mr. Speaker: Members. The member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast has the floor.


           N. Simons: I would simply like to hear from the government's side some of the issues around why everything was bundled into one and why it decided to take the full recommendations. I have never seen the government accept recommendations and put them into law so quickly as when it benefits their particular interest. Here we have a 29-percent increase. I've never seen the giddiness of their side's response: "Someone else told us we could, so we can."

           Well, somebody else told them about the pathetic state of child welfare in this province, and it took them years to figure that one out. Someone else told them that the forest industry is on its last legs, it appears by most accounts, and they're trying to figure that out still. People have told them that the fisheries were in terrible difficulties. They said: "Let's find out. Someone else should tell us what we should do." When they pick and choose what recommendations they want to accept, which ones they want to turn into legislation and which ones they don't…. That's what I'm pointing to, the fraud of the government. They say one thing, and they do something else.

           The member for Maple Ridge–Mission knows very well of what I speak. He knows very well that we're taking the principled stand in this particular situation.


           N. Simons: The laughter from the other side betrays an insecurity of what they're about to do and of what their constituents will say. "Did you do this for yourself?" "Yes, I did it for myself." That's what every member of the government side will be able to say.

           I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker. I'm afraid that it does degenerate into a discussion about who's nicer than the other ones. The fact of the matter is that it's bad legislation. I appeal to the others in this House to vote against it.

           B. Lekstrom: As I take my position in this debate, I rise and I will speak in support of this bill, Bill 37. I've listened to the debate, and I have a great deal of respect for the debate that goes on in this House. I think it's fair to say that there are different views, not just from both sides of the House but from different people on each side of the House. We've heard those views today and yesterday, and I'm sure that we'll hear them carry on for some time.

           It's never easy — whether you're dealing with elected office at the level at which we hold, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, or whether you're a school district trustee, a mayor, a councillor or a federal MP — when the issue of compensation comes forward. But there are times when I think it has to be looked at, and it's a difficult decision that has to be made.

           It was clear that roughly 18 months ago the decision that this assembly made unanimously, together, wasn't acceptable. For that reason we then reached an agreement that we would entertain an independent panel, which we actually commissioned. They went out and did their work, and that's what we're here to debate. Bill 37 reflects what the compensation commission came back with. We're debating it here today, and there will be a vote.

           I've spoken to my constituents, and I've spoken to people who thought it was a reasonable expectation that a Member of the Legislative Assembly would receive the compensation as laid out in that package. I've talked to others who thought it wasn't acceptable, and that's fair. We have a good discussion about it, and then we leave on our way. I accept both sides of this discussion.

           Do I think that it's reasonable that a Member of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia earns 65 percent of what a Member of Parliament earns? I do. A Member of Parliament begins at $150,000 a year. I've

[ Page 8460 ]

never held that position, but I would believe they would earn every bit of that. Do I think that a Member of the Legislative Assembly is worth what this report and this piece of legislation is recommending? I do, and I think it's important.

           We hear that people are talking about a 29-percent increase. They're talking about the Premier and seeing this massive increase in his wage. Our Premier is the CEO of a $34 billion corporation, organization — call it what you will. It's a large, large, large business. The difference in our business as government is that our return to the shareholder is service, not money in their pocket. I'm proud of what we've delivered for the last six years with the service, with what we've done.

[1535]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I'm not going to stand and speak for a half hour, but I certainly heard members of the opposition, and rightfully so, ask where we stood on the issue. I think they knew where we stood as far as where the vote was going to be, but they wanted to know reasons. I want to make it very clear that I've never ducked an issue in my life. I certainly won't begin to do it now. If I thought this wasn't right, I would stand up and say it wasn't right. If I think it's right, I'm going to stand up and say that.

           The key issue here…. This bill is not about any one individual in this chamber. This is not about myself or about members of the opposition — at least in my mind it's not. It's about the position of a Member of the Legislative Assembly, whoever holds this position. Whatever the compensation is at the end of the day when this vote either passes or fails, whoever has the honour and the privilege to be elected to this office will earn every cent of what the compensation is. For that reason I wholeheartedly support this.

           If it was about money for myself and my family…. I can tell you that I'm not an independently wealthy guy. I work each and every day, and I have since I was 18 years old. My first priority is to earn a living for my family. But if it was solely about earning big dollars, I'd go work out in the oil patch. I have friends, I'm sure like many of you, that are earning far more than we would earn in this business here.

           You know what? I think each and every member is here for one reason, and I do believe that, and that's because they believe they can make our province a better place. Their commitment to the people of British Columbia is what brings them here. They don't look at a compensation package and say: "That's the job I want to do." At least I couldn't imagine somebody looking at that and saying: "I want to do that because I can earn $98,000 a year."

           If there are people that do that — maybe there have been in the past, and maybe there will be in the future — I don't think they would last the four years, because if you don't love each and every minute of this job, it would be the worst job in the world. You deal with the good, you deal with the bad, but what you deal with is your ability to make our province and your own constituency a better place.

           I've heard debate, and I have a great deal of respect for differing views. That's really what this House is about. Opposition comes to this House to present differing views on much of what the government puts forward. We listen, and we act upon what we think, as government, is in the best interest of the province. That's what democracies do. That's what those who now are in opposition did during the 1990s. They acted on what they believed was right. We've made a change in government. That change happened in 2001.

           Where I have a significant problem — and I know that members have spoken about this time and time again — is if you want to speak against it, I have the utmost respect. If you want to vote against it, I have the utmost respect. But in my mind, you can't speak against it, stand up and vote against it and then take it. That's an incredible thing.

           There are issues, and like I said, this is not about any individual.


           B. Lekstrom: People can chirp all they want, but I would suggest…. Take it for what it's worth. I've sat here and listened to your debates. I don't have to agree, but I certainly have the privilege, and I respect you, and I'll listen.


           Mr. Speaker: Member, take your seat for a second.

           Members, there is no use of cell phones in the chamber. Please step outside the chamber if you're wishing to use your cell phone.

           Continue, Member.

           B. Lekstrom: The key issue here is that we put something forward that allows, I think, for a fair decision to be made by each and every member in this House. The issue is that if you believe this is the right thing to do, you would vote for it. If you believe it is the wrong thing and you have different ideas and feel that this isn't the piece of legislation that you can support, you would vote against it. I do have to go back to the point that to vote against this, speak against this and then accept the package is an abdication of their responsibility to the taxpayers of British Columbia.

[1540]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I do want to point out that in Bill 37 — I believe it's under section 4.1 — there is the opt-out clause. I thought that was a reasonable clause. It allows each and every member in this Legislative Assembly — who hopefully has a free vote on this; I know that we do — who thinks it's reasonable to stand up and vote for it. It allows members who think it isn't reasonable to vote against it and then walk down the hall. It's a short distance, Mr. Speaker, to your office, as this bill is written. They have seven days to sign a paper and opt out. And there's nothing wrong with that, if that is their choice.

           But again, I can't stress enough…. I'm going to stand up in my constituency, and like each and every one of us…. I'm sure you'll have people who will come and say, and I've had a number: "I can't believe that it's

[ Page 8461 ]

taken this long for that assembly" — not for you, Member, or myself, but for that assembly — "to address this issue, because we support you, and we think it's long overdue."

           I've also had some others come and say: "You know what? We don't think that's right." That's fine. That's what a democracy is about. But I encourage the members, as they've encouraged us on this side, to listen and take the information and the debate that we hear to heart, weigh it out before we cast our votes. That's what I'm encouraging the members opposite to do.

           If you do truly believe that this bill is wrong and it's the wrong direction, then do vote against it. But also, if you do that, have the courage to walk those 35 steps down to your office and sign the opt-out clause, because it is wrong if you don't. You can live with it, and you can justify it, but….

           I think a lot of people watch these debates and think, "My God, these people must be enemies, because they're on different sides of this House and different parties," when in fact that's probably just about opposite of how it really is.

           I think that most of us are friends in this assembly. We go at it here, and we have some good, healthy debate. You watch question period, and you'd think it was like a war. But shortly after question period you then carry on with your business. You're pleasant to one another. You talk to each other. You want to understand how their lives are going. That's part of any job. I think that's part of humankind.

           But I want to make it perfectly clear — and I've never been accused of not being clear — that I support Bill 37. I will stand for it. I will vote for it, and I will not stand up, speak for something, say I'll support it and then not do it, because that's where I have difficulty.

           In carrying on with this debate, I know that we're going to have a significant amount…. We also hear that debate has been stifled and….


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           B. Lekstrom: I hear members yelling that we're invoking closure. When I started the spring session of the Legislature, it was quite clear to me that on May 31 at 6:30 p.m. we would adjourn the spring session.


           B. Lekstrom: I know for a fact that the member that's talking can read, because we've had some good discussions. I know that he's seen the same issues and knew the same deadline. So I'm not going to get into whether I'm right and you're wrong and so on. This is a personal choice. But it's an important choice.

           I'm going to close with a couple of comments. I respect the views of all the members from both sides of the House on this issue if they speak to Bill 37. What I don't respect and find it very difficult to find inside my heart to respect is someone that would stand up and speak against it, someone that would stand up and vote against it and then somebody that doesn't have the courage to go sign the opt-out clause because they're going to take it. That doesn't score any points, certainly not with me. I think the public can see through that screen, and I think they will see what's actually taking place.

           The idea of making a donation to charity — I encourage you all to. I think that we all do. I don't know who does and who doesn't, but I know I do. I don't write my newspaper and write an article about it, but our family donates. I think we all have a social conscience. That's what it's about.

           The one thing that I'll say to the members opposite, because they seem to want to lecture us on this on how righteous they are in their views on this…. Sometimes that is a hard thing to take, but again, it's debate. I certainly will respect your views if you're against this, and I do. If you're going to vote against it and you're going to speak against it — and so far that's what I've heard from every member from the opposition — have the courage not to take it. This job….

           J. Horgan: And be a second-class MLA. Vote for me. I'm 29 percent cheaper than the other people on that side.

           Mr. Speaker: Member.

           B. Lekstrom: That's pretty good.


           Mr. Speaker: Member. Member.

[1545]Jump to this time in the webcast

           B. Lekstrom: It's interesting hearing the member talk about that he's less of an MLA. I don't want to stand here and agree with you; I'll let the public determine that.

           But the issue here is not about the member over there or myself being worth this. This issue is about if the position of MLA in British Columbia is worth what Bill 37 has put forward. I think it's worth every penny.


           Mr. Speaker: Member.

           B. Lekstrom: In closing, I stand in support of this bill. I've spoken in favour of this bill. I will vote for this bill. I will be answerable to my constituents on this bill. Once again, I encourage the members of the opposition to have — I don't know what political word I can use here, Mr. Speaker — courage, I guess, or guts. Live with your convictions. To speak against this bill and to vote against this bill and then take it is so hypocritical.

           Hon. S. Bond: I seek leave to make an introduction.

           Leave granted.

[ Page 8462 ]

Introductions by Members

           Hon. S. Bond: Today we're delighted to have in the gallery…. It seems to be the day for having students from Vancouver–Point Grey. I know very much that the Premier would have liked to have been here today, but on his behalf I would like very much to welcome you to the legislative precinct.

           We're always delighted when we have school classes coming to spend time observing and learning more about the process of government and how it works. I know that my colleagues will want to make very welcome a group of grade 7 students from St. Augustine's School who are visiting with their teacher Ms. Donna O'Hara. Thank you for being here, and welcome to the precinct.

Debate Continued

           N. Macdonald: We've heard a lot about hypocrisy here. I'll give an example of hypocrisy. This is a Premier that in 1996 fought against pensions and fought against pay. What if he had signed in 1996? He would have broken it at some point. He breaks it now. Let's talk about the Premier because this is driven by him, as all things in this House are. The Premier flows, this flows….

           Mr. Speaker: Member, don't talk about a personal member of the other side.

           N. Macdonald: Okay, I'm talking about the legislation, sir. It says "Premier." He's listed here.

           Mr. Speaker: Member. It is part of the bill, but if you don't start having some respect for the Chair, you will not continue to speak. Now you can continue.

           N. Macdonald: This bill flows from a commission that was set up by the Premier. The Premier chose the people to sit on the panel. The Premier and his government chose the people that would sit on this panel. I had no choice on that. I had no choice on this agenda. It is the Premier and the government who chose to act on their recommendation. It's the Premier and his government who chose to act selectively in terms of what they chose from those recommendations. It is the Premier and his government that threw in some of their own things.

           To be honest, there are elements of farce in terms of how this commission has acted. I chose not to participate in any way. Despite the fact that we were told that this was going to be a confidential activity, the panel decided that that didn't mean anything, and they broke down the results and made it public. So there's a problem with that.

           There's a problem with the fact that it wasn't unanimous, and one member finds out, apparently in Europe, what the recommendations are actually going to be. That member was accused of not knowing about pensions, which begs the question about why the Premier and his government chose to have that person on the committee. So I have problems with the committee, and I have problems in particular with what they came up with.

           My view on this is that if we're going to make a change, it should be a change for the next parliament. A 29-percent increase in wages at the base rate for all of us is by any standards too much. By any standards, it is too big a raise. I would ask anyone here to point to where in British Columbia somebody is getting a 29-percent raise.

[1550]Jump to this time in the webcast

           What's different about here is that, unlike any other situation, we get to decide for ourselves. We get to choose. Well, that's not quite true. The government gets to choose, because this is the Premier and his government's agenda. This is not something that we asked for nor is it something that we want. We will vote against it.

           The real burden in this job is the time that we spend travelling and away from family. So $76,000 as a base rate is by any standard a good wage. It is, as other members have pointed out, a wage that is higher than almost all of the people that we represent. Now, there are people here who think that this is a particularly difficult job. I've had other jobs that I've found more difficult. The only difficulty, really, is the travel and the time away. That's my experience.

           The Premier and his government choose the panel. The Premier and his government write the legislation. The Premier and his government reward the Premier, in particular, despite his objections to pensions and raises in 1996, because it's the Premier who is the biggest benefactor here — a 54-percent raise from his caucus. This is somebody who said he was against raises, and somebody who said that he was against pensions. But it's a magnificent pension that he's given himself as well.

           Now, a member over here from Cariboo South was talking about him as a CEO, which is I'm sure the way he sees himself and that somehow he has earned this. I wonder where he gets the right to say that he's earned it. He gets to decide for himself. He didn't mention this before the election that this was one of the things that he was going to do. In fact, his record for things that he says before the election and after is not that great.

           When I talk to people in my constituency, they mention a number of things. I will mention just a few — of people pointing out. The convention centre project. Here's somebody who feels that he deserves a 54-percent raise, and yet we have a convention centre project that he has run, he has chosen his people to run. He has donors. If you look at that board, there is not one person who is there for any reason other than connections to this Premier and the B.C. Liberal Party. They are all donors, and they are all compatriots for a long time.


           N. Macdonald: It's 54 percent. I am asked: "Does this relate to the bill?" It does, because the bill is about giving the Premier a raise of 54 percent. It was put to me that that was as a reward for something. I wonder what the reward is. I wonder what the justification is.

[ Page 8463 ]

           It would be interesting if the Premier came and spoke in this House and explained to us why he feels that he is justified in taking a 54-percent raise, given that the convention centre project is 100-percent over budget, given that each person that was chosen to run that project was chosen by the Premier based not perhaps on their competence but definitely on their connections to the B.C. Liberal Party.

           You have a former party president. You have defeated B.C. Liberal candidates that were there for a while. There's not one person there that is not part of a company that has donated massive amounts of money to the B.C. Liberal Party.

           What's the result? We have a project that is out of control in terms of cost. We have a project that has not been marketed properly, so that there are all sorts of problems with the bookings that will come in the future. It is a disaster from start to finish.

           That is just one of the faults that the Premier has to take responsibility for, because he also talked about making private clinics redundant. You remember that promise? He gets 54 percent as a raise for making private clinics redundant. That was his goal. How did he do on that?

           He did pretty poorly by any account. What about this — 5,000 long-term care beds? It's 2007. How has he done with that one? Failing grade, but still worth a 54-percent raise, apparently. How about the improvements that he promised in 2001 to the apprenticeship program? How has that gone? But still, 54 percent as a raise.


           N. Macdonald: The Minister of Education is talking. Well, let's talk about some…

           Mr. Speaker: Member.

           N. Macdonald: …of the promises that were made….

           Mr. Speaker: Member. You don't refer to people that are in or out of the House. Thank you.

[1555]Jump to this time in the webcast

           N. Macdonald: A member was talking about education. So let's talk about that, because the promise in 2001 by this minister was to improve education. Well, the experience that people in my area had was — what? — seven, eight schools closed? When the member is visiting, she can visit with some of those schools, and they can tell you about the other problems that exist in the schools that remain, about special education, about librarians, about maintenance. All of these after a promise by the Premier to strengthen education.

           Still on that theme, how about Bill 20? That comes after a promise by the Premier to strengthen the independence of school boards. How's that going? It's worth a 54-percent raise, according to the Premier and his government — a 54-percent raise.

           What about protecting child care — B.C. children? Child care — a failure there. Protecting B.C. children. How does that work? How do you earn a 54-percent raise, according to this Premier and his government?

           First you cut the amount of money you're spending on it. Then, at the same time, you reorganize. Then you get rid of the children's commissioner. When you've been shown that that is a complete mistake, what do you do? Do you come back and face it, or do you sit out a whole session in the fall, not showing up once? That earns a 54-percent raise?

           What about the promise from this Premier to stop the expansion of gambling? How's that going? As the CEO of the government that has expanded it to where it's a billion dollars…. What is it? It's a billion dollars that the government is taking in. That's after a promise not to expand. What's the quality of the work that's going on there?

           I would expect — I would hope — this afternoon that somebody is going to get fired for the work that's gone on there, for the travesty at the Lottery Corporation. Yet the very same afternoon that we're dealing with this fiasco at the lottery commission, we have the government voting the Premier a 54-percent raise.

           Is it the promise that the Premier made to stop political advertising? During the summer of 2004 you had a massive campaign. In 2008 there's no question that it will be the same thing — public money paying for a campaign that is very clearly more about the B.C. Liberals than it is about any government information.

           What about the promise not to sell B.C. Rail? How did that go?

           An Hon. Member: Sold.

           N. Macdonald: Sold. A thousand-year lease.

           Three years of investigation. You have a raid on the Legislature. You have all sorts of dirty tricks that have become clear through police reports, phone taps, and that despite a promise by this Premier not to sell B.C. Rail. It has pointed to a rot at the core of this government.

           All of this, and the Premier is in here using his majority to give himself a raise that by any accounts steps out of the bounds of what any normal British Columbian can expect, but which they're going to pay for, and a pension that he used to say was something that MLAs should not have.

           I could go on and on, but I turn to the next speaker and give them an opportunity in the limited time that's available to speak against this bill.

           Hon. R. Neufeld: I rise to speak in favour of this bill, and I'm seriously in favour of this bill. I've spent probably…. In fact, there are three of us in this Legislature that were elected in 1991, that actually were elected in each election after 1991. Those are myself, the Minister for Childcare, from Richmond East, and the member for North Vancouver–Seymour.

[1600]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Elected at the same time, in 1991, were the Opposition House Leader, the member for Vancouver–Mount Pleasant, the member for Surrey–Green Timbers, the member for Yale-Lillooet, the member for Nelson-

[ Page 8464 ]

Creston and the member for Nanaimo, all elected at the same time in 1991, but were unable to get re-elected in 2001 because of a totally failed government.

           But this is not about failed governments; this is about leadership. This is about dealing with issues that are very difficult to deal with at the best of times. I've spent time in municipal politics prior to getting here. I know, and I'm sure that the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke, who spoke just a few minutes ago and who spent time on municipal councils, found that the hardest thing to do was to adjust anything to do with pay or any money that local politicians or regional politicians or provincial politicians or, for that matter, federal politicians get. Nothing is more difficult.

           I can remember the days when we were in this House for those ten years when I believe we got $100 a day for living out for 60 days, and if the House sat longer — tough. Just pull it out of your pocket. And guaranteed, the government of the day made us sit longer than that every time. They made us sit through the night. Talk about jamming legislation. It was unbelievable what went on in the 1990s when you talk about jamming legislation — introducing it sometimes at ten, 11 o'clock at night and continuing the debate.

           This bill is actually about courage, about moving forward and dealing with salaries for members on both sides of this House, whether you're in government or whether you're not. I totally agree with the member for Peace River South. Who knows who's going to be in this seat next time? I will be.

           One thing I remember clearly through the '90s, through our term, is that we wanted to include younger people. We wanted to include people who had children, people who had young children. We wanted to include women, to get them to run. And how do you do that?

           You actually have a pension plan that's there for them. You have a salary so that they're able to look after their children. You encourage them to come into this House so they don't just have to be wealthy or come from some other profession that they can walk right back into with nothing actually happening to them. It was important to do that, and we should not lose sight of that.

           The young children that are up there today watching us…. Some of those young children may be sitting in this House some period down the road. You know what? I want to be able to go home and say that I was able to make it available for those children to say: "I want to be an MLA, and I want to represent a constituency in British Columbia." Mr. Speaker, that's leadership.

           When we look at what happened with salaries…. In 2005 members on that side of the House, the opposition, and members in government worked collectively to bring forward pay and a pension and to change some of the things that are in this House to actually make them better.

           That was in November of 2005 — full agreement. We all stood in this House, each and every one of us. For those that think the 29-percent wage increase now is too much, at that time it was 15 percent. They all stood and voted for it along with the government — 100 percent on Thursday. I think by Saturday, the Leader of the Opposition, who doesn't have control of her caucus, who can't work with her caucus, actually turtled and said: "No, we can't do it." She said no to 15 percent at that time.

[1605]Jump to this time in the webcast

           She said that we should appoint a committee to be arm's length from government to go out there and decide what politicians should get. Let me read into the record, from January of 2007, what the Leader of the Opposition said at that time.


           Hon. R. Neufeld: That's your leader. I know there's a bit of mistrust about your leader over on that side, and you're not really together on this. I understand that, Member.

           But what she said was: "I'm certainly pleased to see that it's a public process." It was.

           They travelled the province. In fact, they arrived in Fort St. John. That panel sat in Fort St. John all afternoon and well into the evening to listen to what the public had to say. They went to communities all across the province. They went to other jurisdictions to actually see what happens so that they could come up with a recommendation.

           Again, I quote from the Leader of the Opposition at that time: "It needed to be an outside panel taking a look at it. I'm pleased to see that that process is going to occur." She didn't say that quietly to somebody. She said that on Voice of B.C. on the 15th of February, 2007. She agreed with it. She said that this was the right process to do.

           This is what we think we should do. This is how we move this process forward, a difficult process to deal with. Mr. Speaker, I'm telling you that I agree again with the member for Peace River South. When an MLA is paid $98,000 and a MP is paid $147,000 — okay — I'll live with that. They go a lot farther, I guess, from this part of the world to that part of the world to actually do their work.

           It's still an awful lot different, and as I understand, this still puts us in third place across Canada on pay. There's a whole bunch of other benefits that other jurisdictions get that we don't get, so I thought it was relatively fair.

           I thought we were doing what the Leader of the Opposition wanted, although I was a little nervous — you know: once bitten, twice shy. When the Leader of the Opposition actually turtled the first time, I thought: "Well, if we're going to do what she wanted to do and what I assume her caucus agreed to do…." Maybe not. Maybe there was just a small group that worked with the Leader of the Opposition, because I think that's all that's left around her now — but maybe not.

           Maybe it was the whole caucus that agreed before she went on Voice of B.C. and said: "This is the right thing to do." I thought: "Boy, now she's coming along. She's actually starting to agree with the public process where independent people will go out, find out and

[ Page 8465 ]

make recommendations on what we should do." Then in May of 2007, the day after the report — again, I hearkened back to November — she turtled again for the second time on this issue — from November to May. Strong leadership, isn't it?

           I challenge every member in the opposition to think how strong that leadership is, because by May of 2007 the Leader of the Opposition had totally changed her mind. What happened was that she said: "We will not vote in favour of the pay raise nor the package." Okay. So that's fair enough.

           They don't want it? They don't believe in the process? Then stand up in the House and vote against it, and don't take it. What's in the bill, Bill 37?


           Hon. R. Neufeld: Don't chirp from the back chair. You can get in your own chair, and you can actually stand a little bit later, Member, and talk about it all you want.

           The bill clearly gives the ability to the opposition to say: "No, I don't want it." In fact, Mr. Speaker, it's in section 4(1). Within seven days from royal assent — and royal assent will be later today — they can actually go to your office. They can actually sign a letter. They can sign a letter that says: "I don't want the pay and pension." They can do that.

[1610]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Well, it will be interesting to see, because as I understand it, whoever goes in and signs that will be put on a website so the public actually knows who took it and who didn't, who's being hypocritical and who's not. Now we hear different things. The proof is in the pudding. It's always in the pudding. When you've got to stand up and you've got to sign…. You can talk all you want in here — we hear them talk all they want — but when they sign seven days from now, that's the proof in the pudding.

           I would suggest that after sitting here and listening to the members that I've listened to…. I want to put those names on the record. These are the ones I've listened to saying: "No, we're going to vote against the bill." They are the member for Saanich South, the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville, the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast, the member for Cowichan-Ladysmith, the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke, the member for Burnaby-Edmonds and the member for Vancouver-Kensington. That's who I've heard speak so far who are saying no, they can't take it; they can't accept it.

           Mr. Speaker, I would tell you, then, through you to them, that they uphold what is traditional in this House — what you say in this House, you live with — and they walk down to your room within seven days and sign that note. Sign that letter. Have some guts. Do what you say you're going to do. Go to the Speaker's office, sign and say, "I will not take the pay and pension for as long as I'm an MLA," because nothing is more hypocritical than if at 5:30 or 6:30 tonight — whenever the vote takes place — we see every member of the opposition, if they all stand up and vote against it, not go to your room. That is what makes people cynical about politicians. That is what makes people say: "I cannot believe that those people would do that."

           Mr. Speaker, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, because they may actually all have that fortitude to go into your office and sign that letter.


           Hon. R. Neufeld: The member talks about being forced to do something. There's nothing forced here at all. They're all grownups. They're all old enough to know what they're doing when they stand up and vote. I tell them to make that trip to your office and actually have the guts to sign that letter.

           Mr. Speaker, I think what you'll see…. Now, this is only speculation, because I don't know. I'm actually going to give them the time. I'm like the member for Peace River South. We'll give them the time. But I have my suspicions that very few of them, if any, are going to carry that second portion out. They all like to politicize this. They all like to stand in this House and talk incessantly about a whole bunch of things that have nothing to do with pay and pensions, but they don't have the fortitude or the guts….


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. R. Neufeld: Now we see the Environment critic over there chirping off. It's great to see him chirp a little bit, because I assume he's another one that isn't in favour of it. I can only assume he's another one. But I will be waiting with bated breath for seven days to see what comes on the website. You know what? I'll tell you, people are going to think a lot less of you if you actually don't go sign that and you vote against the bill.

           Your opportunity is to stand in this House in a free vote. I know there is a small cluster around the leader, and there's a bit of fractiousness over there, and I understand that. It's a difficult issue to deal with.

[1615]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I also want to just say briefly before I close…. When people talk about MLAs on the other side of the House not being worth $98,000 a year…. Some folks on the other side of the House were backroom operatives for the NDP during the '90s, were receiving salaries of about $120,000 a year plus pension benefits. Now, where was the conscience at that time? Where was it? Where were those members' consciences at that time? I guess because it was quiet, no one really knew, and no one said anything about it.

           I challenge those members. I'm not going to say who they are, but I'm sure they're watching. I'm sure they're listening, and they know who they are. At that time they didn't have one bit of conscience about not taking that $120,000 and their pension but today actually compromise, maybe, some of the other members

[ Page 8466 ]

that are elected here now with their decisions. I think that's totally unfair.

           There is a free vote on this side of the House. One thing we believe in is free votes on this side of the House. I actually ask the members opposite: don't make the public cynical about you. Don't make the public cynical about me, because that's what happens. That's what happens when you actually vote against something and then you don't do the right thing and say: "No, I don't want it."

           Even if you want to take the pension, say you'll take the pension, but: "What I'll do is go to the comptroller's office, and I don't want the raise." That's all you have to do. It's pretty simple. It's very easy. All you have to do is say: "I don't want the raise. Don't give it to me. Don't pay me the raise." I suggest that's pretty simple to do.

           In fact, the first session when we were in government, we took a 5-percent pay cut, and we encouraged the two NDP members to do it, but they didn't do it. They kept their 5 percent. One of those members is still in the House — or is still a member of the House, not in the House.

           I would ask these members to please, please actually live up to what they're saying.

           Mr. Speaker: Minister, a reminder not to refer to whether people are in the House or out of the House.

           Hon. R. Neufeld: Yep. I apologize for that. I know better than that, and I apologize for that. I didn't mean to infer…. I meant "member of the House."

           I encourage the opposition to actually do the right thing. Either stand up and vote for it, or if you stand up and vote no, within seven days visit the Speaker's office, sign the letter and say: "No, I don't want it." Live up to your conscience, because you won't be able to go home and look people straight in the eye. If you do, there's something wrong.

           G. Coons: I have the honour of rising and opposing Bill 37. It's interesting to listen to the comments of the members on that side of the House, because that's what makes this side different. That's what makes us so proud — that we don't have the principles, the ideals those members on that side of the House have. The arrogance, the bullying tactics of this government shine, and they shine through the six years of their regime that they've been through.

           This Bill 37 is designed to give them a pay raise of 29 percent and the Premier 54 percent — the Premier, $89,000 immediately, one year. It is difficult to be put in the position of having to make the decision about your own compensation package. I do believe MLAs should have a fair pay and pension package, and the way we're doing it through this government is not the way to do it.

           They need a reality check. Some of the members spoke about…. I think my colleague from Peace River South talked about the significant amount of debate and proper debate, and he's mistaken. The member previously held up the sheet of who he listened to. He's not going to listen to too many more because of what this government has done with their closure and the time limit on the debate. That strikes down the principles of democracy. British Columbians deserve to have the debate in this House on what our pay package should be.

[1620]Jump to this time in the webcast

           This government brought in time limits and closure, as I mentioned, to restrict debate. Again, it's a continual fundamental attack on democracy. This seems to be the norm for this government.

           The rhetoric claims they're the most accountable and open bunch that passed through the halls, but we see secrecy, dirty tricks, helping their friends and insiders. This is a place that was raided by the RCMP under this Premier and this government. Unbelievable. This is just another example of how this Premier and this government deal with issues. They shut them down — no debate — in their arrogant and bullying way.

           The previous member talked about including women. What has happened in this province with women? They dismantled the Women's Equality Ministry. They eliminated services for women throughout the province — the women's centres, sexual assault centres, assistance centres, legal aid. A continual attack on women.

           We look at the members talking about putting us in third place. We have the proud distinction of being number one in child poverty two years in a row, and we're fighting to be third. Why can't we be third in child poverty and not number one? Why can't we put resources into helping women, children, students and the most vulnerable? But no. This government, in their scratch-and-win tactics, see this as just lining their pockets.

           When I look at what's happening in my riding, I look at first nations — the dismal, adverse socioeconomic conditions. I look at the recent report of the Skeena Native Development Society, and we look at the Nisga'a in the four villages in the Nass Valley — 60.5 percent unemployment. We look at the Tsimshian, 67.8 percent unemployment; the Haida, 52 percent unemployment; the Tahltan, 49.5 unemployment.

           Throughout my riding, the majority — 85 percent to 90 percent — of my constituents don't even make $22,000, which will be the pay increase that these members are voting into this Legislature.

           We looked at the members talking about comparisons. A previous member, I think the member for Maple Ridge–Mission, talked about comparisons and where we compared, relating us to number three. As this government gives itself a 29-percent pay increase, the Premier a 54-percent pay increase and an $89,000 pay increase, they won't even support the opposition's cry for an increase in minimum wage.

           [S. Hawkins in the chair.]

           Why can't we compare our minimum wage to Ontario? No. This government sides with their friends and insiders to line their wallets. This bill is something that

[ Page 8467 ]

I hope members on that side will take into consideration and realize we need to relook at.

           Members talked about the committee that was formed. The recommendations that came from that committee were nudged around and changed a bit. The opt-out clause changed a bit. "Take it or leave it" changed a bit.

           Again, when we talk about charity or politics, this side of the House is looking at the principles of the whole aspect. The other side of the House is playing politics.

           Bill 37 is a bill that denigrates British Columbians. It's a bill that just shows the arrogance of this government.

           When we look at the Premier, as was mentioned previously, he had some comments. These are previous comments from the Premier, who brought in this bill. "They don't want elected officials to vote one thing for themselves while they're asking the general public to do something else."

[1625]Jump to this time in the webcast

           This is another quote: "For us, it is wrong for elected officials to take care of themselves better than the hard-working taxpayer who pays their bills."

           I believe in those statements. But again, this Premier, this government flip-flop on what suits them in their scratch-and-win lottery to make it to the top in the pay category.

           I would vote for this if this was put to the next parliament. Many of my constituents believe that also.

           We look at the Premier talking about: "In order for us to change the public image of MLAs as self-serving, it's going to require MLAs to stop being self-serving." Bill 37 is self-serving. The committee, made up of people that were not representative of British Columbians, made recommendations that were outrageous and did not meet the test of the public.

           I believed that I took this position for four years. I realized the pay that I was going to get.

           The Premier, in the press release, mentioned: "MLA compensation has not received any significant increases since the recommendations of the '97 Citizens' Panel Report on MLA Compensation were adopted." He failed to mention that MLAs' pay has been indexed since 1997.

           Members' pay is adjusted on April 1 by a formula based on the consumer price index for B.C. combined with average hourly wages of employees in selected professions, less a reduction factor. While members haven't received a significant amount, we and those before us received annual increases. Most British Columbians haven't had any significant pay increases for the past decade.

           We see what this government has done to the HEU workers. HEU workers were devastated, decimated by legislation of this government.

           Former Premier Bill Vander Zalm was vocal on this and put forth his opinion about Bill 37. He's quoted, "It's the process that ought to concern people, because the process is very flawed. They ought to do it over again, and this time they should have people who are more representative of the average British Columbian," rather than a lawyer, a former judge and a business professor. This opinion was shared by the Times Colonist, which said: "It would be both unfair and irresponsible for the government to go ahead…." This side of the House echoes those concerns.

           Bill 37 came as a result of the Premier's stacked committee and does not represent British Columbians and what British Columbians think is fair compensation. When we look throughout the province, we see close to 100,000 British Columbians earning the minimum wage and another 125,000 or 130,000 earning less than $10,000. We should be raising the minimum wage in this province before we are raising the wages of MLAs.

           We start looking at seniors who are facing long-term bed cuts, students facing massive debt loads. It's unfortunate that we have to spend time in this House debating our pay raise.

           I realize that as we proceed to 5:30 — one hour — when debate is stymied, is stifled, members in this House will not have their input, will not have their chance to debate the issues, will not have the chance to look at Bill 37 in depth. And I realize that the people on the other side of the House are the people who've made life miserable for the poor, the disabled, children, women and seniors just to save a few provincial dollars in the coffers.

[1630]Jump to this time in the webcast

           These are the people who have spent billions of dollars in public construction projects and cost overruns and who continue to sell off our public resources, both water for run-of-the-river projects and land tenures for wind farms.

           In conclusion, in order to let some of my colleagues have an opportunity to respond, I oppose Bill 37. I hope that the members opposite join in defeating the bill, that they listen to their constituents, listen to British Columbians and be prepared to get another panel that's representative of British Columbians to come up with a fair compensation and pension package.

           L. Mayencourt: It's a pleasure to stand here today to talk to Bill 37. As members will remember, I had some words to say the previous time when we were looking at MLA compensation, so I think it's appropriate for me to make some comments about this.

           I think that every member of this House works very, very hard. I think that individuals might look at us and think, well, we're in the House, and that's when we're working, but when we're not in the House, we're not working. I know that not to be true.

           I know that my community does call on me at all hours of the day to deal with issues within my community. I know that in order for me to be able to do that, I have to dedicate myself to this job almost exclusively. I don't get to do a whole lot of other stuff.

           I like this job. I think that this is a wonderful place to spend some time in our lives, to contribute to community, to make things better for our community. That's really what I've been trying to do over the past six years in this House and what I hope to do over the next two years.

[ Page 8468 ]

           The issue for me is that as an MLA, I have the opportunity to get out there and meet a lot of people, and I certainly do in my life. I'm going to be spending the month of June travelling the province and talking to people about a new therapeutic community initiative that I want to get going. I'm going to be talking about safe schools. I'm going to be out in communities to make sure that people understand what we're trying to do here in British Columbia through this Legislature.

           When we came to government, we were looking at a very serious deficit. We had a structural deficit as well, which meant that British Columbians did not have the opportunity to make the kinds of choices that they would like to make about social policy and social justice issues which are very key to my belief system, things that I really care about — services for women and children; services for seniors; looking after those less advantaged than ourselves, like people that are in need of housing and people that need support in even applying for welfare or getting mental health services somewhere in our communities.

           When we came in here, we were in pretty bad shape. Over the past six years we've put our noses to the grindstone. We have made some very tough decisions, and we've brought about some change in British Columbia.

           Today we have more British Columbians than ever working in this province. We have the lowest unemployment rate in this province since it's been recorded. We have the highest number of housing starts, the best housing market that we've seen in many, many years.

           I start to think about what we are doing in this House and that contribution that we're making to our communities, and I think it is of value. It's not just that I'm saying that I as a person have that value. I'm saying that every member of this House has that value. We give up our families, our friends, our weekends, our evenings to serve the people of British Columbia, and British Columbians expect for us to be treated with respect and dignity.

           I have been very, very interested in making sure that we have a pension for members of this House. I think that whatever was said in the past by whomever, today we're dealing with a situation where there are members who will spend a fair bit of their employable lifetime in here.

[1635]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Some of them have come from other jobs. Some have been teachers or lawyers or doctors or what have you. They might have pension plans that they've developed for themselves. But for the most part, you know, we all come from pretty humble beginnings. For the most part, you don't find many millionaires sitting in this chamber. For the most part, you just find people that are committed to their community and people that want to do things to make things better. They come here and they do them each and every day.

           The fact of the matter is that the compensation that we have had to date hasn't been great. We're one of the lowest-paid groups of legislators in Canada, and this bill puts us in a position where we will be number three in Canada. I think it is reasonable.

           As I said, the real issue for me has been the pension, not because I need a pension, but because there are lots of people here that have families, that are sacrificing part of their careers. They're spending some time here, and they need pensions for themselves to continue to live well in the future after they've finished with their work here in this Legislature. I think that it is only reasonable.

           I know that there have been members of this Legislature who've taken ill, who have got to a position where they haven't been able to, perhaps, continue to work. We know of Mr. Ed Conroy, who is an NDP member, who for many years lived with problems with his liver and had transplants and all of that sort of stuff. That gentleman walked out of here without a pension, and yet he gave quite a lot to the province. Even when he was sick and in a wheelchair, he would come into this House to vote.

           That gentleman is one example of the kind of people that come into this Legislature and give of themselves, and when they leave, they do deserve some compensation. They do deserve a pension.

           There is no way in God's green earth that a government in British Columbia could have employees that don't have a pension, that don't have a disability program, that don't have decent wages. The government just wouldn't survive if we were doing that to our public service employees. The MLAs that sit in this Legislature are public servants as well. So it is fair and proper for pensions to be available.

           I know of many individuals…. I think of Arnie Hamilton, who was a member of this Legislature. He was on the job, fell while he was visiting a site in Prince George, sustained a brain injury and could not run again. He has no pension from his work that he put in here. To me that's unfair, because that man didn't get compensated for the kind of effort that he put in and the fact that he was now not going to be able to work again.

           I think that we have to be very, very conscious of the fact…. We've had a number of MLAs in this House, including the Leader of the Opposition, who have had brushes with cancer. I wonder what people like that can do when they stop being an MLA. Is someone going to hire them and put them on a disability program? Is someone going to bring them into their business? The fact of the matter is that there are fewer options that are available to someone that has a compromised immune system or a life-threatening illness. Those are the realities of what happens in this House. We're just like the people on the streets of Vancouver or Prince George or Kelowna. We're susceptible to these kinds of things.

           As servants of the people we come, we do all this work, and we love it. We think we're doing good stuff. If you take a look at our record over the six years, you'd have to say we've done a pretty darned good job of turning this province around.

           It's time for us to consider this raise, to consider the pension, and I will be voting in favour of it. I don't think that people in British Columbia that I've spoken to…. As you may recall, Madam Speaker, the day that we repealed Bill 17 in the last session, I spoke quite

[ Page 8469 ]

passionately about the need for us to compensate MLAs appropriately, the need to have a disability program, the need to have a pension program, and I received an awful lot of e-mails.

[1640]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I received some 260 e-mails that day from people who said, for the most part: "You know what? It's not that you didn't deserve the raise. We know you're working hard. We know that all of the members of the Legislature are working hard. It was that you hadn't finished the contracts with your government employees. It was the fact that the deal for the raise was made within a small group of people, and it just came to the House, and it wasn't a public process."

           People said to me: "What we'd like is for you to go out and find an independent panel. Pick some people that will take a look at the work — the hours of work that you do, the number of phone calls you make, the number of e-mails you receive in a day — to come forward and understand the work that you're doing here and find some way of compensating you fairly."

           Now, it's really hard to do that, because there are not a whole lot of people that are in the business of legislating. There are 79 of us here representing the whole province, so it's pretty hard to put a number to things. But I think that we had a group of people that sat down and talked to former politicians, talked to members from both sides of this House, talked to people that are in business and came to some agreement that we should be somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to compensation.

           At $98,000, that puts British Columbia at number 3. It puts us behind a couple of other provinces. I think it puts us in a place where…. This is a job where we know that we can continue to work. We can have a future for ourselves, and I think that that's important.

           I think that of the 260-some e-mails that I received over the last several weeks since this issue has come forward again…. I've received about 35 e-mails in total, and most of those have been from people who wrote me before and said: "Okay, now you've got the contracts done. You've got an independent panel. It's been fair and transparent. People knew it was coming, and we're not upset about it."

           So I've found that most people say it's not a problem. I have received a couple of e-mails, but I really want to stress that. I've received two e-mails that were against this raise, which said we shouldn't do it. I respect those individuals that sent that piece of correspondence. That's their opinion, but I have never heard anybody in this chamber or anybody that knows the kind of work that MLAs do on a regular basis, who have followed them around to see what kind of work they're doing…. I've never seen anybody say that you don't deserve the pay.

           So Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to support this bill. I do wish that members across the aisle from us would support it as well. I think it's important that they do so, because they know that members in this House are underpaid. They know that members in this House that have experienced health problems have had to leave this chamber and not have jobs because of their health condition. They know of members that have contributed 20 years of service in this House who have walked away with nothing. They've walked away with nothing in the way of money. But also some of the relationships we have that we lose — friends, family that we lose touch with that you don't get to call anymore…. All of a sudden you're out there, and there's nothing for you. So I think it's really important that members do this.

           I want to also comment on the fact of the pension, because it's important to me. I'm not here for my lifetime. I'm here for a few years to give service to British Columbia. As long as I can do something positive and make a change in our community, as long as I can get up in the morning and love this job and be able to meet with constituents and solve problems, I'll do that.

           But I also know that I can't do it for a lifetime. That means that for that period of time, I will receive a pension of 3½ percent of my salary per year for my pension, and I think that's fair. I'm not here to look for a gold-plated pension or a nickel-plated pension. I didn't come here for that. I came to serve, but I also have to recognize that when I'm done here, I will have to support myself. I will have to be able to go on and move on.

           For individuals that I have known that have had to leave this chamber with nothing, I feel really bad. I also think it's really quite nice that we have actually considered people like Ed Conroy. It will be possible for Mr. Conroy to purchase back his pensionable earnings so that he can get that back, and I think that's important.

[1645]Jump to this time in the webcast

           That's important not just to him, but it's also important to the people of British Columbia who have a sense of fairness, who understand that his contribution to this chamber, to the life in British Columbia, was substantial. He should be justly paid for it during his time here, but he should also receive benefits afterwards, because he's not able to go and work somewhere else.

           So Madam Speaker, it's been a pleasure to be in this House for the past six years. As I said, I love this job. I didn't come here for the money, but on the other hand, I didn't come here to go broke either. I thank you very much for the opportunity, and I do hope that members on both sides of this House will carefully consider their options and will vote in favour of the pay raise that they ultimately will be taking anyway.

           C. Puchmayr: I rise in opposition to this pay raise, and I want to talk a little bit about the genesis of this. I know that when we were first elected, Bill 17 came forward. I really respect the leadership that my leader took to understand that the public did not have an appetite for that. I really thought she showed great leadership in saying that this was not right — that this was not the way to go. I was very pleased that we took that position, and many British Columbians were pleased that we did as well.

           Now, as far as I was concerned, that was over. The pay issue was over. It was the Premier who decided

[ Page 8470 ]

that he was going to create a selected committee which was going to deal with the issue of compensation. It was the Premier that chose the committee. It was the Premier that chose the panellists of that committee, and it was the Premier that had the ability to influence that committee through the work that caucus did on the actual report of the commission.

           We need to just stop and look a little bit about what the commission did and remember also that the commission was not coming up with binding recommendations. The commission was coming up with recommendations, and those recommendations actually even changed, contrary to having unanimity on that committee. So it's very puzzling as to how this thing materialized and unfolded. If the commission had have come forward strictly with the issue of the pension and the raise and the opt-out clause would have been an opt-out clause that would have been more consistent with LAMC or more inconsistent with opting-out for the term, that would have been a lot different. But what the other side did was decide that they were going to add a clause — a clause that said that after seven days of it receiving assent, people have to march over to the Speaker's office and sign a document that says: "I shall never take a raise or pension again as long as I'm an MLA."

           Just think about that. When you're a young person who's decided that you are going to make a career….


           C. Puchmayr: We've had some really good debate in this House in the last little while. We've showed a lot of respect to the other side. We've showed respect to each other here. I hope, Madam Speaker, you will exercise your powers as a Speaker and ensure that we can continue with this debate. There's not a lot of time left to do so, and we need to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak and to be listened to. If they listen, maybe the other side may realize that we're not going to blink. If they want us not to take it, all they have to do is vote against it with us, and no one will get it. That's all they have to do.

           So what I want to say about the issue with the poison pill that was included in that is that the commission didn't say: "You shall march across the office and sign out." There's a young MLA that sits to my right who may well make a career of politics — wasn't even born when this political party was formed. Now, he is supposed to go across there…


           Deputy Speaker: Members. Order, please.

           C. Puchmayr: …and sign off that he will never receive a pension or a pay increase again. After maybe ten, 15, 20 years of service, he is now in the workforce trying to find employment with no contributions and not having received a pay increase for ten, 15 or 20 years? That's not fair, Madam Speaker. That's not fair at all.

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           That shows exactly what I'm getting at. The commission didn't put those rules in. That was done by the other side. That was done by this caucus. That was done as a political game. That's really sad.

           Another member, from Victoria-Hillside. A young family, just had a new member of the family — I think their first child. That member is supposed to march over there right now and say: "I'm devoting myself to a political career to represent the people of my community and the people of British Columbia, and maybe someday even a cabinet minister, but I shall never take a pay raise or pension again as long as I'm in here." That's really unfair. I think it would have been more forthright and more honourable had the recommendations been more consistent with what the commission had done and not added those components into it.

           I know the member for Vancouver-Burrard talks about…. Last time he said that 15 percent was equivalent to a latte a week. I guess now that it's 29 percent it's two lattes a week. I understand people do work hard, but some members here took cuts in pay to come here. They knew what this entailed. They knew it was a lot of hard work. They knew it was some very long hours, and they knew that it was going to be taxing on their family and on their friends. But those are the decisions we made when we ran. We made those decisions understanding that those are the sacrifices you make.

           To say that paying people more will attract a higher quality of MLA, which are some of the comments that I've heard…. I don't think that really plays itself out. I really don't. If you look at federally, they get twice as much money. Are those people twice as good? I don't think so. I think when you look at the statistics, there are only about 29 of them that rise to the top, in my opinion, and yet they're all being paid the same amount of money. I don't think that is really consistent at all.

           Sometimes you get over here and it's sort of this surreal place. Sometimes you get caught up in the world of the Legislature and the world of Victoria and the lavish surroundings that we have in this chamber with the marble and the oak. Sometimes people get caught up in that, and they start to think that they're worth more than anybody else. When you look at what's happening in British Columbia, when you look at that 93 percent of B.C. that makes less than we make — 93 percent make less than we make….

           We're in the top 7 percent. There are only 7 percent of us, and we're already there. So to think that the Premier needs a pay increase of 52 percent is outlandish. To think that MLAs need a pay increase — and not just a pay increase of 29 percent, which is pay and pension, but all the other perks that go along with all the different committees that, especially, the other side sit on…. I don't think that is fair.

           I think that the right process…. I know it's difficult. I know it's difficult for politicians ever to go with a pay increase. A city councillor going for 1.5 percent, you're going to get letters to the editor. But there has to be a better formula, and I think the best formula, the greatest formula, would be that we deal with it now, but we

[ Page 8471 ]

deal with it to start in 2009. That is the best way that we could have done this without setting all these traps. That would have been the best way that we could have done this.

           Madam Speaker, I will now yield the floor to some other colleagues so that they can make their comments. Again, if this side thinks we're bluffing, vote against it. Vote against it with us. We won't get the pay increase, and we'll talk about it after 2009.

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           Hon. R. Thorpe: I think it's time for all members in this House to know that what is being debated in this House today is an extremely serious issue, one that none of us should make light of and, quite frankly, one that I believe very strongly should not be about cheap politics.

           But for some reason the leader of the NDP, the Leader of the Opposition, has turned this very serious family-oriented issue into cheap politics. To say that the Leader of the Opposition has flip-flopped is actually an understatement. She has demonstrated new Olympic standards on flip-flopping.

           If people can go back to November 16, 2005, people will recall that I actually was the only member not in the House that day. My colleagues knew that I stood with them, but I had to go to Ontario to visit my very, very sick sister. So on November 16 all members of this House, with the exception of myself, voted 100 percent for a compensation increase and a pension plan.

           The NDP justified it then as necessary to be done at that time. The Leader of the Opposition said: "We felt we were going in the right direction." But you know, on that Friday — unbeknownst to the members of her caucus, especially her House Leader, and from Saskatchewan, not in British Columbia — the leader of the NDP cut the feet out of every member in her caucus and also the honour of this Legislature by doing that flip-flop. Their members heard about their new position on the radio. Now what kind of leadership is that?

           You know, I've heard the rhetoric over there about what the Premier's salary is going to be, what cabinet ministers are going to be, what MLAs' salaries are going to increase, but I haven't heard anybody mention that their leader is getting a 38-percent increase — haven't heard that.

           It was the right thing to do in 2005 — all members of this House working together. It was the right thing to do then. But when the Leader of the Opposition did her first memorable flip-flop, they said it had to be done, they were concerned about the public. I don't know how many real public phone calls she had, but I understand she had some from very significant major union leaders in the province. I do recall that the Leader of the Opposition said she wanted to move away from that control that the B.C. Fed had on her and her party, but apparently that didn't happen.

           Then in January 2007 our Premier, showing leadership said: "You know, we've heard British Columbians. We're going to appoint an independent panel."

[1700]Jump to this time in the webcast

           What did the Leader of the Opposition say in January 2007? Just so I don't get it wrong, this happened to take place on February 15 on the Voice of B.C.: "I am certainly pleased to see it is a public process. I said that when I acknowledged the mistake that was made last year, that if we were ever going to bring this back again and have a discussion, it needed to be open and transparent, and it needed to be an outside panel looking at it." She went on to say: "I am pleased to see that that process is going to occur."

           You know, I believe the member for North Coast, should he have time today, should return to this House and apologize to those three British Columbians who were appointed to this independent panel because of his comments in this House.

           It's interesting that one of the members of the panel is the Hon. Josiah Wood, a very well-known former judge in the province of British Columbia, an extremely accomplished individual in the province, and one that the NDP appointed in 1997 to chair the Electoral Boundaries Commission. That report reported out in 1998. Yet the member for North Coast shows very little respect for an honoured British Columbian when he makes the comments that he did about that panel member.

           So the panel goes out and does its work and talks to British Columbians. British Columbians in a large number think that MLAs make $190,000 a year, plus have a pension plan. I've been fortunate to be elected three times in British Columbia, and I can tell you that most of my constituents since 1996 through to 2000, and through to 2005 and today, thought we'd had a pension plan all along.

           I heard my colleague from Vancouver-Burrard talk about members on both sides of this House who, no fault of their own, have had serious challenges — found their health or found themselves near death, found the trauma and tragedy it puts their families in. I could be surprised, but it's my belief — the way the talk's been going — that the vast majority of members on that side of the House are going to vote against this bill, yet they're going to take the money, and they're going to take the pension.

           The part of British Columbia that I live in and that I represent would call those folks at home hypocrites. Of course, there have been a couple of members on that side that have demonstrated great personal courage and spoken their voice. They've said they are actually going to look after their families, not only for today, but into the future. That is the right thing to do.

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           After the report came in and, I understand, without really reviewing it in depth…. What did the Leader of the Opposition say the day after the report came out? "We're not in favour of the recommendations. I said yesterday, when the independent report came in, that our MLAs would be meeting. We did that last night. We looked at the recommendations, looked through the report, and we're rejecting the recommendations."

           There is much discussion in the halls of this building if in fact that's what really happened at that meeting, but I wasn't there. We've heard varying reports,

[ Page 8472 ]

but the thing that's really quite interesting to me — and it links back to the 2005 report — was I have heard, and no one's denied it yet, that the night before the report came out the head of the B.C. Federation of Labour….


           Deputy Speaker: Members, we've had fairly good decorum in the House, where members who were speaking were given the respect of being listened to.

           Member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca, please come to order. Thank you.

           Hon. R. Thorpe: I've heard, and it has not been denied, that Mr. Jim Sinclair, the head of the B.C. Federation of Labour, the night before the report came out was in working hard on individual members of the NDP and their caucus to turn this down.

           Now, the last time I looked in this House, that member, hon. Speaker….


           Deputy Speaker: Okay. Order, Members. Members.

           Thank you. Let the speaker have the floor.

           [Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

           Hon. R. Thorpe: The last time I checked, Mr. Sinclair is not a member of this Legislature, but he does seem to wield unbelievable influence. It's quite interesting to me that he would have that much influence on these hon. members.

           We have another flip-flop here with the leader. She's for an independent panel; she's against an independent panel. Her members are for an independent panel; they're against an independent panel. So now they're not going to take the pay, and they're not going to take the pension.

           Then the day after the bill comes in this House, what does the Leader of the Opposition say? News flash. "We will be participating in the pension plan. We will as New Democrats donate back the pay increase. The difference" — we have to listen to this very carefully — "between our current paycheque and the new paycheque with the pay increase will be donated back to charity, to community organizations that have been hurt by this government."

           So my first question to the hon. members of the NDP…. There may be another flip-flop. We don't know. Their leader has said they are going to donate to charity. My question is: will the first donation be to the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society?

           If the leader of the NDP lives up to the commitment, what does that donation back really mean? Will it be…?


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

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           Hon. R. Thorpe: The hon. members, Mr. Speaker, may want to listen, because this is a checklist so that they can keep their word to British Columbians.

           Will the difference they are donating include the former RRSP contributions when calculating their current income? Will they deduct their new pension contributions or any buybacks from past years when calculating their new income? Given that their pensionable earnings are based on the new salary, will they continue to donate that portion in the future? Will they reduce their pension contributions to ensure future payments will reflect the old salary?

           Will they seek tax deductions for those donations? Will political donations be acceptable? More importantly — because we heard in this House today at 1:50 about not ducking accountability and transparency from the Leader of the Opposition — how will they report out to British Columbians on this commitment? And if they do, what will their leader do to discipline those who do not contribute?

           Those are the questions the NDP has refused to answer, but somehow I believe the public, the media, other members of this House may ask questions. We know they do not want to duck accountability and transparency. We know that. Their leader said it.

           Let us look at an individual MLA — for instance, one maybe from Vancouver-Kingsway, just as an example. If one takes into account the earnings, including their RRSP to date, that would be about $82,000.

           Mr. Speaker: Minister, don't refer to any individual member. If you want to refer to the whole, that's all right, but not to an individual member on the other side.

           Hon. R. Thorpe: I'm sorry, Mr. Speaker, if I offended anyone. I withdraw that.

           Let's just assume that a private member of the Legislature had been making a total income, including their RRSP, of $82,949. Now, if this bill does pass the House, they would be making $98,000. Hmm. If we deduct the RRSP contributions and the 11-percent pension, just to get to the same after tax before they took, that will be a donation required of $10,000.

           People will be watching. People will be watching, but I'm sure they'll be reporting out because they do not want to duck accountability and transparency. Of course, those same members in that $98,000 will not want to take that increased amount of pension off that, because that wouldn't be fair. That wouldn't stand by their principles of accountability and fairness and transparency. So when you factor that in, hon. Speaker, the donation amount now is estimated at $13,500.

           That would be a private member. But let us look, perhaps, at someone….

           Hon. C. Richmond: The leader.

           Hon. R. Thorpe: Thank you. The Leader of the Opposition.

           As a starting point, taking into account the RRSPs, an 11-percent deduction for pensions, and making

[ Page 8473 ]

sure…. They don't want to take anything more. That's the quote. That's the quote from the Leader of the Opposition. That donation requirement would be $15,000 a year.

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           But because of that increased salary — we'd want to take advantage of that, so we'll want to hold our pensionable contribution at the same level — that donation requirement now will be $25,000.

           At 1:50 in this House today the Leader of the Opposition said that people should not be ducking accountability. So we would expect the leader, as British Columbians will expect the leader, to hold true to her word and not have flip-flop number four but accountability and transparency and will not duck it.

           The leader has said that the members of the NDP party will donate to charity. How will they actually account? How will each member actually account? Will there be a collective accounting for this? Will there be an individual accounting for this? As I said earlier, what will the leader of the NDP do to MLAs who do not donate the required amount?

           I think it's very, very important that the leader of the NDP clearly tell people, clearly tell British Columbians what the definition is of a charity for this.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

           Hon. R. Thorpe: Rightfully so, all British Columbians will be watching. The media will be watching. The members of this House are hon. members. We all have a tradition in this House to be hon. members. We should not be hypocrites in this House.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Hon. R. Thorpe: It's always interesting in this House…. It's always interesting in this House….


           Hon. R. Thorpe: Mr. Speaker, could I have quiet, please?


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.

           Hon. R. Thorpe: It's important that all members in this House stay honourable, are honourable and not be hypocrites. This is a very, very serious personal issue for every member in this House. You know, we often hear members of that side of the House talk about free votes. Well, if there was ever a time for all members in this House to feel they could have a free vote, this is the time.

           Members who vote against this bill and who do not proceed to your office, as I understand the bill is worded, to opt out will not be doing this Legislature an honour. They will in the words of most be hypocrites.

[1720]Jump to this time in the webcast

           It's important for all members to realize that pensions are very, very important. They are important for some older members; they're important for younger members. They're important for all members of this House because we need to make sure that we are attracting those that can serve this province for all political parties, that their families can be cared for, that in situations — whether they're from the Kootenays, from the Island or from other places in British Columbia — where they face severe health issues, they will know that their families are cared for.

           It's also important that…. I'm sure all members of this House have read the report. Yes, there were members from this side of the House that went to meet with the independent panel, but I actually know there were members from the other side, because I had to say to a few of them where the Oak Room was because they were going to have their meetings.

           It would be interesting…. But only they know this. What they're going to do in this House today and the rhetoric that they've been espousing in this House over the last week…. Is that exactly what they told the independent panel? I do not believe so, hon. Speaker. I do not believe that for a second.

           I believe that Jim Sinclair has unduly influenced the leader of this party, has caused flip-flops at least three times and is now telling them what they can do and what they can't do, and that is wrong. That is fundamentally wrong. If he wants to be the leader of the party, then tell him to run to be the leader of the party.

           You know, hon. Speaker, as I said in my opening comments, this is an extremely serious issue for all members of this House. This is an issue that in 2005, both sides of this House voted, worked together to bring in. Every member in this House voted for the salary increase and voted for the pension. Not one voted against it. Now we have hypocrites on that side of the House. It's unbelievable.

           Then their leader called for an independent panel and said that's what she wanted to see in British Columbia. You know what? That's what happened. They travelled around British Columbia; they met with British Columbians. They met with every member of this House who chose to meet with them. That's what they did. They researched, Members. They reached out to British Columbians. They then brought back what the leader of the NDP said she wanted to have done.

           Then we have members on that side of the House challenge the credentials and the credibility of some members of that panel. That is outrageous. They are all very good British Columbians working on behalf of every member in this House.

           This is about accountability. This is about being accountable for your actions, so the hon. members who vote against this bill will obviously do the first honourable thing, and that'll be to go to the Speaker's office

[ Page 8474 ]

and opt out. If they don't do that…. I don't think there will be a big parade. I don't think anybody has to stay around to guide traffic.

           The honourable thing you'll then be able to do is go to your accountants and do the proper tax planning, which I would have thought you would have done before you took your positions, and donate the $15,000 and $25,000 to registered charities. Then do the honourable thing and report to the public that that's what you did. You won't do it. You will not do it.

           Hon. Speaker, I will be voting for this bill.

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           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members on both sides.

           C. Wyse: The aspect of Bill 37 where I begin with the discussion is the bullying aspect of Bill 37. The bullying aspect of Bill 37 has contained in it: you take it all or you leave it all. The independent panel never recommended that. There is selectivity that is contained in Bill 37. That bullying aspect of it has been demonstrated by the arrogance of much of the debate that has gone on this afternoon, in my judgment.

           Now, in caring for families that have been referred to in this House, we need to have a look at the effect of Bill 37 when we talk about families here in British Columbia. Here we are talking about a proposed increase in salary of people that are earning in the 93rd percentile — an increase of 29 percent, which translates into the base rate of $22,000, which is twice the amount of money that a single parent here with one child receives in British Columbia.

           We are talking about families that are dealing with a minimum wage that has been frozen since 2001 at $8 per hour. We are talking about a situation in which the seniors here in British Columbia rate at the lowest income in all of Canada. These are also the families of British Columbia. These are the families in British Columbia that this House in entirety is responsible for looking after.

           When we look at increases that surpass twice the amount of what families are making, then we have serious concerns, in my judgment. We have situations that in this House…. Commissions have brought forward reports that are walked by — coroner's reports, reports on ambulance services, WCB reports. But we get a report with a majority recommendation in it. All of a sudden we have closure put upon a bill that requires increases — bullying tactics that are contained in it.

           If we were not dealing with a government that is so sensitive to the hypocrisy contained in the result of this bill, we would not have had closure. We would have had the debate. We would have had the opportunity. It would have been rolled out in front of British Columbia. These other points would have had an opportunity to be made.

           There are many charities here in the province. People may consider making contributions to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Who knows where contributions may be made to the various charities? There will be my vote against this bill. When I ran, I knew what the compensation package was.

           I understand the points that are contained in the bill. When the government turned the legislation into bullying tactics…. Simply standing up yelling at people, myself included, doesn't make it any more accurate.

           Vote against the bill.

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           Mr. Speaker: Pursuant to an order of the House adopted yesterday, the Chair will put forthwith all necessary questions for the disposal of the various stages of Bill 37 and Bill 31. Accordingly, the question is second reading on Bill 37.


           Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.


           Mr. Speaker: Members.

           Second reading of Bill 37 approved on the following division:

YEAS — 43










van Dongen












de Jong
























NAYS — 30


S. Simpson






B. Simpson























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[ Page 8475 ]

Committee of the Whole House


           The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 37; S. Hawkins in the chair.

           Sections 1 to 24 inclusive approved on division.

           Title approved.

           Hon. M. de Jong: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.

           Motion approved on division.

           The committee rose at 5:39 p.m.

           The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.

Report and
Third Reading of Bills


           Mr. Speaker: Members, the time has been waived.

[1740]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Bill 37, Legislative Assembly (Members' Remuneration and Pensions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2007, reported complete without amendment, read a third time on the following division and passed:

YEAS — 43










van Dongen












de Jong
























NAYS — 30


S. Simpson






B. Simpson























Committee of the Whole House


           The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 31; S. Hawkins in the chair.

           The committee met at 5:42 p.m.

           Sections 1 to 7 inclusive approved on division.

           Title approved.

           Hon. M. de Jong: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.

           Motion approved.

           The committee rose at 5:43 p.m.

           The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.

Report and
Third Reading of Bills


           Bill 31, Human Rights Code (Mandatory Retirement Elimination) Amendment Act, 2007, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.

           Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolutions, was granted leave to sit again.

Point of Privilege

           Hon. M. de Jong: Firstly, on a matter of privilege. Early this afternoon, with tempers running high, I used language that I think was unparliamentary. I want to withdraw that and apologize to the House and to the Leader of the Opposition as well.

           I call Committee of Supply, Mr. Speaker.

Committee of Supply

           The House in Committee of Supply (Section B); S. Hawkins in the chair.

[ Page 8476 ]

           The committee met at 5:45 p.m.


           Vote 1: Legislation, $58,072,000 — approved.


           Vote 2: Auditor General, $10,350,000 — approved.

           Vote 3: Conflict-of-Interest Commissioner, $322,000 — approved.

           Vote 4: Elections B.C., $8,961,000 — approved.

           Vote 5: Information and Privacy Commissioner, $2,952,000 — approved.

           Vote 6: Merit Commissioner, $833,000 — approved.

           Vote 7: Ombudsman, $4,214,000 — approved.

           Vote 8: Police Complaint Commissioner, $1,532,000 — approved.

           Vote 9: Representative for Children and Youth, $4,815,000 — approved.

           Hon. M. de Jong: I move that the committee rise and report resolution.

           Motion approved.

           The committee rose at 5:48 p.m.

           The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.

           Committee of Supply (Section B) reported resolutions.

           Mr. Speaker: When shall the reports be considered?

           Hon. M. de Jong: Forthwith, Mr. Speaker.

           I call consideration of a report of resolutions from Committee of Supply.

           Hon. C. Taylor: I move that the reports of resolutions from the Committee of Supply on March 6, 7, 12, 14, 28, April 18, 23, May 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 29 and 31 be now received, taken as read and agreed to.

           Motion approved.

           Hon. C. Taylor: I move that there be granted from and out of the consolidated revenue fund the sum of $29,279,654,000. This sum includes that authorized to be paid under section 1 of the Supply Act (No. 1), 2007, and is granted to Her Majesty towards defraying the charges and expenses of the public service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

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           Motion approved.

           Hon. C. Taylor: I also move that there be granted from and out of the consolidated revenue fund the $1,866,907,000. This sum includes that authorized to be paid under section 2 of the Supply Act (No. 1), 2007, and is granted to Her Majesty towards defraying the capital, loans, investments and other financing requirements of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

           Motion approved.

Introduction and
First Reading of Bills

SUPPLY ACT, 2007-2008

           Hon. C. Taylor presented a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Supply Act, 2007-2008.

           Hon. C. Taylor: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.

           Motion approved.

           Hon. C. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, this supply bill is introduced to provide supply for the operation of government programs for the 2007-2008 fiscal year. The amount requested is that resolved by the Committee of Supply after consideration of the main estimates. The House has already received, taken as read and agreed to the report of resolutions from the Committee of Supply and, in addition, has resolved that there be granted from and out of the consolidated revenue fund the necessary funds towards defraying the charges and expenses of the public service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

           Mr. Speaker, it is the intention of the government to proceed with all stages of the supply bill this day.

           Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I would ask you to remain in your seats for a few minutes while the bill is being circulated.

           In keeping with the practice of this House, the final supply bill will be permitted to advance through all stages in one sitting.

           Bill 38, Supply Act, 2007-2008, introduced, read a first time and ordered to proceed to second reading forthwith.

Second Reading of Bills

SUPPLY ACT, 2007-2008

           Hon. C. Taylor: I move that the bill now be read a second time.

[ Page 8477 ]

           Motion approved.

           Hon. C. Taylor: I move that the bill be now referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.

           Bill 38, Supply Act, 2007-2008, read a second time and ordered to proceed to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.

Committee of the Whole House

SUPPLY ACT, 2007-2008

           The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 38; S. Hawkins in the chair.

           The committee met at 5:54 p.m.

           Sections 1 to 3 inclusive approved.

           Schedules 1 and 2 approved.

           Preamble approved.

           Title approved.

           Hon. C. Taylor: Hon. Chair, I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.

           Motion approved.

           The committee rose at 5:55 p.m.

           The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.

Report and
Third Reading of Bills

SUPPLY ACT, 2007-2008

           Bill 38, Supply Act, 2007-2008, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.

Tabling Documents

           Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the Annual Report of the British Columbia Legislative Library, 2006.

           Hon. Members, we are awaiting the arrival of the Lieutenant-Governor. When the Lieutenant-Governor does arrive, we will ring the division bells to call everybody back. So there'll be a short recess.

           The House recessed from 5:57 p.m. to 6:17 p.m.

           [Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

           Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, can you please take your seats. The Lieutenant-Governor is in the precinct.

Royal Assent to Bills

           Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor entered the chamber and took her seat on the throne.

           Hon. I. Campagnolo (Lieutenant-Governor): Pray be seated.

           Clerk of the House:

           Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences Act

           Mission Foundation Amendment Act, 2007

           Coroners Act

           Security Services Act

           Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Forests and Range Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Small Business and Revenue Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           School (Student Achievement Enabling) Amendment Act, 2007

           Teaching Profession (Teacher Registration) Amendment Act, 2007

           Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Knowledge Network Corporation Act

           Parks and Protected Areas Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Health Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Finance Statutes (Innovative Clean Energy Fund) Amendment Act, 2007

           Human Rights Code (Mandatory Retirement Elimination) Amendment Act, 2007

           Assessment Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Attorney General Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           Homeowner Protection Amendment Act, 2007

           Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2007

           Legislative Assembly (Members' Remuneration and Pensions) Statutes Amendment Act, 2007

           In Her Majesty's name, Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor doth assent to these acts.

           Supply Act, 2007-2008

           In Her Majesty's name, Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor doth thank Her Majesty's loyal subjects, accept their benevolence and assent to this act.

           Hon. I. Campagnolo (Lieutenant-Governor): As this is my last royal assent, in the name of the people of the province of British Columbia I thank you for all your service during the years in which I have worked with you, and I wish you well in the years ahead. [Applause.]

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           Her Honour the Lieutenant-Governor retired from the chamber.

           [Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

           Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, before I ask the Government House Leader for the adjournment motion, I want to first thank all of the members for a job well done. Your work is just beginning when you head back into your constituencies. There is an awful lot of work

[ Page 8478 ]

that goes on outside of the chambers as well as inside the chambers. I know that most of you will get to spend considerably more time with your families. Take that time because it's valuable time, and it means a lot to you and to everyone in your families.

           I want to thank you for the efforts that were put in by both sides. We got through another session, and by and large, I think that we are still one of the best in the country at keeping the decorum in a reasonable area.

           Hon. M. de Jong: Firstly, so that I don't get in trouble with Joyce, make sure your desks are cleaned out.

           I move, Mr. Speaker, that the House at its rising do stand adjourned until it appears to the satisfaction of the Speaker, after consultation with the government, that the public interest requires that the House shall meet or until the Speaker may be advised by the government that it is desired to prorogue the third session of the 38th parliament of the province of British Columbia. The Speaker may give notice that he is so satisfied or has been so advised, and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in such notice and, as the case may be, may transact its business as if it has been duly adjourned to that time and date. In the event of the Speaker being unable to act owing to illness or other cause, the Deputy Speaker shall act in his stead for the purpose of this order.

           To all members: good health, good travels, a safe summer, à la prochaine fois, until we meet again. I move this House do now adjourn.

           Hon. M. de Jong moved adjournment of the House.

           Motion approved.

           Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until further notice.

           The House adjourned at 6:23 p.m.


Committee of Supply


           The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); S. Hammell in the chair.

           The committee met at 2:48 p.m.

           On Vote 20: ministry operations, $1,219,530,000 (continued).

           M. Karagianis: Just before the lunch break we were examining some of the various aspects here of group homes and of the number of individuals who had been interviewed about the possibility of accepting some kind of residential option other than group homes.

           I have to note to the minister that, first of all, I see that the performance measures have been removed from the service plan, especially those around the number of adults who accept the option to leave group homes. I would have to ask: why that has been removed, and why there are no performance options, in fact, in several places throughout this service plan?

[1450]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. T. Christensen: I appreciate the member's question, because it does highlight that a previous performance measure — essentially a performance measure around the number of people in group homes that chose another option — really wasn't consistent with what we're trying to accomplish with the residential options project. The residential options project is about compatibility and ensuring that people know the choices available to them in terms of different living circumstances and that they are involved in the planning for those.

           It didn't make sense to sort of target how many people would be in group homes or in any other type of living arrangement. The target, which is difficult to encapsulate, is really to ensure that in each case people are able to attain the type of residential option that best meets their needs, given their particular level of disability.

           M. Karagianis: It's my understanding that the residential options project was expected to produce cost savings. Can the minister outline if in fact that is occurring? Given of course the very small number of individuals who seem to have chosen that option, is it reaching the targets that were expected? It's hard to tell without performance measures, I'm sure, but there must be a dollar figure here that was expected to be the cost savings. Can the minister explain whether or not that has occurred?

           Hon. T. Christensen: There's not a cost target in terms of the residential options project saving any money. There's an expectation, if more people choose options other than group homes, that many of those options are more appropriate to their particular care needs and are less expensive. Any resources that are sort of freed up as a result of that simply go into providing additional services to more people, so there are no savings to be had.

           The focus of the residential options project, as I indicated, was to try and align people's residential options with what their particular needs are. The experience to date, although limited, has suggested that with the shifting demographics, often people that have not been in a group home setting previously won't necessarily choose that type of option. They'll look at something that's a little bit more individualized, and that can often be done at a somewhat lesser cost. The project itself is not being driven by a cost-savings target.

[ Page 8479 ]

           M. Karagianis: I have been informed that the time period here this afternoon is going to be even more constrained than anticipated originally. I will have to unfortunately not ask a number of questions that I would have in pursuit of some of the issues around the group home closures.

           I do have one last question here. What are the ministry's plans for aging parents and for the individuals that are currently under either sole or partial care of those parents, and how do they enter this system? Where do they fit into the expected intake of new cases?

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           Hon. T. Christensen: That's a concern that CLBC and government are well aware of. There's no question that people are living longer, and it's actually creating, really for the first time ever, the dynamic in the last number of years where you have developmentally disabled individuals, who historically haven't outlived their parents, now living much longer. Their parents are getting older and, in some cases, aren't able to care for them.

           CLBC will provide supports to those families to try and allow a developmentally disabled child, although they may be in their 40s or 50s themselves, to remain at home with their parents, provided that that arrangement works both for the individual and for their parents. They'll work with the family to look at other potential living options. That will include other residential options, whether it's in a particular circumstance that might involve a group home, or it might involve a range of other types of living arrangements.

           I think it's fair to say that those are families that over the last number of years both the ministry, prior to the establishment of the CLBC, and CLBC, since 2005, have had increasing engagement with due to the aging demographic. It's something that, in projecting forward in terms of some of the demand pressures on CLBC, is certainly a very relevant factor and one that CLBC has taken into account, along with government.

           As I indicated earlier when we were talking a little bit about the wait-lists, when they looked at trying to determine what types of services people might be waiting for earlier — a year ago, when that was first set up — one of the challenges was that included in those numbers were anticipated needs two and three years out, based on what CLBC workers were seeing with families, and with aging parents in particular.

           Our expectation is that those inflated the wait-list numbers because they weren't people that were requiring immediate service, but there was anticipation. As the months and years passed, there was no question, if general trends continued in terms how people age and what their needs were, that at some point in the relatively near future they would require additional services, so they were included in some of that wait-list information.

           M. Karagianis: I am conscious of the time, and I would like to get to some questions directly involving the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

           I must say that it's very disappointing that this particular estimates debate has been constrained in the last day of the sitting and that because of the business of the House, even the time we had been allowed has been further constrained. I know that there are a number of families who have been waiting for months and months for this opportunity to bring up questions about their particular situations. I would have to say to the minister that I have to apologize to those families that I am unable in this time constraint to bring up many of the questions that they have asked me to.

           Through this debate we have seen that CLBC was created with no business plan and has been fraught with difficulties, self-identified throughout the ministry's service plan here — inadequate funding, inadequate data on wait-lists, unclear future plans on funding shortfalls and the number of individuals that will be receiving adequate service in the future. The need outstrips funds frequently throughout the service plan here. Not everyone who requires service is getting it and in the future may be able to get it.

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           A lot of the data is unclear. In fact, because things like performance measures have been removed from this plan, it's unfortunate that there is no business plan to compare it to, no performance measures to gauge us as we move through the process in its second year. It is a new concept, and there does not appear to be any clear accountability thread here because of no business plan on which it was based and because of the lack of funding of data, of performance measures in this.

           It's extremely troubling to me and to the community out there that is having to deal and grapple with the changes and the shortfalls — the inadequacies, the lack of clarity for them, in many cases, on how they are going to get services in the future. We have families who are going through an extremely arduous process of building family plans, setting up microboards, going through a number of procedural steps here only to be turned away for funding.

           It is extremely frustrating and disappointing to find that in fact even some of the data stream that one would expect to find here…. It would help justify why the system is not working for many, many families here in British Columbia and why we don't have a clear picture with substantiated business plans and performance measures along the way to say that this is how it's working, it is working, or it is not working.

           I'm really disappointed that two years in, the whole community living program seems to still be a bit experimental and a bit unclear as to what the outcomes are going to be for families at the end of the day. I hear lots of really great language about consultation and about how the community has led this, but I don't see any hard, crisp business proof that it's working.

           What I do see, self-reported throughout this service plan, is that numerous times there have been references to the fact that services far exceed the capacity of the organization financially. These will be concerns that are going to continue to haunt us all — certainly the minister, and me as the critic — until some better answers can be provided.

[ Page 8480 ]

           With that, Madam Speaker, I would have to say that I only have a couple of hours left here. I would like to move into MCFD questions, because there are some of those vital questions yet to be asked. I'm having to try and find the best way through this constrained time frame to ask the questions that the citizens of British Columbia would wish me to.

           Hon. T. Christensen: I do have a few concluding remarks in response to the opposition critic's final comments. It is worth noting that this year in this committee, Committee A, there have been three months of estimates debate. That is the same as has been in all the years that I've been elected here, since 2001. The time in this committee available for estimates debate has not been constrained by anyone.

           There has been opportunity to bring forward those estimates and for the opposition to ask questions and to determine how long they want to question each minister. I would agree with the member that perhaps it's unfortunate that MCFD hasn't had time to explore additional issues that the member and other members would like to explore, but that hasn't been as a result of any constraint imposed by government.

           Estimates. Everybody knows there's going to be three months available in Committee A. That's what we've done this year, as in any previous year. The public can look back through the record of Hansard debate over those three months and determine whether, in some cases, people were using time effectively or not.

           I also think it's disingenuous for the member to suggest that there was no planning in place in terms of the establishment of CLBC. There are a great number of people across this province in the community living sector and otherwise who spent literally thousands of hours in determining what they believed would be a more effective structure for the delivery of community living services to people in British Columbia.

           There was the Community Living Transition Steering Committee that established the original vision. There was the establishment of the interim authority, which did a great deal of work in terms of determining the principles upon which CLBC would come into being and the expectations in terms of what would result from the establishment of CLBC.

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           As I indicated in these estimates, CLBC will be undertaking an external review to look back at the work done and the expectations that were set prior to the establishment of CLBC — to determine, after two years of experience, to what extent those expectations are being met and to what extent they are maybe not being met so that adjustments can be made, so that the original vision can be realized.

           We have seen CLBC work very effectively in increasing the number of people that are served by adult community living services, quite significantly. We've seen them increase the number of services that are being provided. We've seen — for the first time, I would suggest — that Community Living is looking forward in terms of their planning. They're looking to gather the data and the information that is necessary to undertake effective planning. Prior to that, that sort of work wasn't being done in a comprehensive way to ensure that we could look ahead and try and anticipate what pressures, significant or otherwise, might be there in terms of providing those services.

           Certainly, the opposition, when they were in government, had a ten-year period in which to work closely with the community living sector, to look at how that sector could be better served and to look at the type of data-gathering that needed to be undertaken. They didn't do that.

           I think that, moving forward, while nobody would argue that there have not been challenges in terms of the establishment of a new Crown agency and a new way of determining how services were going to be allocated and delivered, there are always going to be bumps in that type of transition process. The majority of the difficulty of that transition has been overcome. There's a very strong foundation that's been put in place by the CLBC board for gathering the information necessary to do the effective planning, to be working effectively with government in terms of how we're going to best serve the clients of CLBC and their families.

           I am certainly very optimistic about the future of this new Crown agency and the work they're doing. That's really a credit to the dedication of a great number of people that are working with CLBC right around the province, including those that are volunteering on community councils, including CLBC's board and, certainly, the staff that have worked very hard over the last two years to ensure that the job they're doing to serve people in the province is effective.

           M. Karagianis: I would like to ask the minister some questions about the Hughes recommendations, if I may. I know that the minister alluded in his opening remarks to the fact that all of the Hughes recommendations were either underway or had been implemented, yet I don't see any indication anywhere in the ministry service plan about where resources have been allocated to that and the performance measures around what is being implemented when. In fact, I've seen reductions in some of the performance reporting here as well as in the CLBC service delivery plan.

           Can the minister elaborate at this point on the Hughes recommendations and their implementation and where the resources can be found in the service plan?

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           Hon. T. Christensen: As I believe I indicated in my opening comments — I guess that was yesterday — there has been a great deal of work done in response to Mr. Hughes's report from a year ago. At the time, immediately after the report was received in April 2006, there was a transition steering committee established, as the member knows, that was chaired by the Deputy Attorney General.

           A number of the recommendations have a cross-government flavour to them. The majority of them are specific to MCFD. If the member is looking for a section

[ Page 8481 ]

of the service plan that is specific to the Hughes report, I'm not going to be able to point to that, because the service plan hasn't been designed in response to the Hughes report.

           We've taken the recommendations that Mr. Hughes made. We have been working on implementing those over the course of the last year, and this week we have posted to our website an overview report from the transition steering committee as well as a recommendation-by-recommendation list that certainly gives an indication of what has been done in response to each particular recommendation. It clearly indicates that all of them have either been completed or there's work underway.

           What I can say — and I think this is where the Hughes recommendations and the service plan are integrated — is that there are certainly elements of the service plan that are very consistent with what Mr. Hughes was recommending. While it's not to specific recommendations, it's certainly to groups of recommendations. Probably the best way to try to explain that is by examples.

           There are a number of provisions of the service plan around how we're working with aboriginal children and families and the fact that there's a great deal of progress that needs to be made on that front. There's no question that Mr. Hughes made a number of very good recommendations in that regard.

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           That's an example of where the service plan is certainly very consistent with what Mr. Hughes has recommended, but we haven't prepared the service plan as a point-by-point response to the 62 recommendations.

           M. Karagianis: I understand the minister to say that a report has been posted on the Web and that it will be fairly easy to follow through each of the 62 recommendations and see where steps have been taken or implementation of some nature has begun. But recommendations like the multidisciplinary team and child death injuries, for instance — some of that has obviously been allocated to the children's representative.

           Are there actual budget lines anywhere in the ministry service plan that speak directly to some of the costs incurred by implementing some of the steps here that Mr. Hughes recommended that are specific to MCFD? Certainly many of these do have cost implications outside of the office of the children's representative. Are those reflected anywhere in the budget?

           Hon. T. Christensen: The majority of the recommendations that are specific to MCFD fall within the child and family development part of our budget. That budget is going up $61 million this year, so that is providing the resources that will assist us in implementing the Hughes recommendations.

           To be frank about it, it would be somewhat of an artificial exercise to go through on a recommendation-by-recommendation basis and try to allocate a specific dollar amount to each one, for a number of reasons. In many cases the recommendations will work together. They're not a unique, isolated concept. There are a number of recommendations that are somewhat interdependent in terms of how you would actually work towards implementing them.

           In many cases the recommendations are consistent with work that the ministry was already engaged in and was underway. For example, a good deal of the work around moving towards the establishment of aboriginal authorities is work that was underway prior to Mr. Hughes issuing his report. His report has validated that work and encouraged it in terms of the work we're doing with aboriginal people. But it would be somewhat of an artificial exercise for us to go in and pick out specific numbers for each one.

           With the overall increase in the budget both in 2006 and then in this year, we're certainly confident that we have the resources necessary to follow through on the recommendations that Mr. Hughes has made.

           M. Karagianis: Are there any direct performance measures that we can view or that we will be able to view on the progress of the implementation?

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           Hon. T. Christensen: I think if the member looks at the 62 recommendations, as you read through them what you find is that many of them don't lend themselves to the establishment of a specific performance measure, other than to determine whether or not they've been completed. For example, for the establishment of the office for the representative, you've either done it or you haven't. There's not really a performance measure other than that. There are a number of other measures that are like that.

           Certainly my recollection is that Mr. Hughes did comment in his report that there are a number of things that the ministry already measures. He did encourage…. He had a specific recommendation in terms of the ministry establishing a comprehensive set of measures to determine the real and long-term impacts of our programs and services on children.

           That is work that is underway in terms of establishing that set of measures. My expectation is that we should have that framework in place by this fall. That's being done in conjunction with some work around having a better developed or more appropriately developed quality assurance framework for the work that the ministry does generally.

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           One of the challenges is that the ministry actually tracks a whole host of different measures. I think one of the things that we all have to turn our minds to is which of those measures are best reflective of whether or not children are developing well — whether they're safe, whether they're thriving. Some of those obviously involve other ministries as well, as we have seen this week with the report from the child and youth rep and the provincial health officer around education outcomes. So there's some cross-government work that's certainly a necessary part of that.

           The service plan, as it's currently drafted, does include a number of specific performance measures that

[ Page 8482 ]

are consistent with the spirit and the specifics of some of Mr. Hughes's recommendations. For example, the percent of aboriginal children in care who are served by delegated aboriginal agencies. That's something that we've established as a performance measure. If we look at other measures, they're consistent with trying to better serve children. For example, the percent of children with adoption plans who've been placed in an adoption.

           We are striving to ensure that we have the most relevant and appropriate performance measures in place in terms of what we can measure that actually reflects that a child is doing well. That is a point of ongoing debate in the ministry. Future service plans will be, I would expect, revised as we determine what more effective measures are.

           I'll give the member some sense of the types of things that we are already trying to measure in the ministry and tracking and reporting on in one form or another. We have the percent of children who enter kindergarten ready to learn, the number of children whose families receive a child care subsidy, the percent of socioeconomically disadvantaged children whose grade level is as prescribed for their age, the rate of recurrence of child neglect and/or abuse by family, the percentage of children with adoption plans who have been placed, the rate of youth in custody, the number of children safely placed with extended family or in community as an alternative to coming into care, the percent of aboriginal children in care who are served by a delegated aboriginal agency, the percent of agencies required to be accredited that achieve accreditation, the rate of children in care who are at an age-appropriate grade level, the percent of children in permanent care with a long-term plan to remain in foster care to age 19, and the percent of aboriginal children in MCFD care placed with aboriginal caregivers.

           I won't go through them all, because it will take a long time. There are a number of measurables that the ministry is already tracking. I think the continuous question for all of us is: are those the right things to be measuring in terms of what the higher level goals are around ensuring that children are safe and that they're developing appropriately?

           M. Karagianis: I have a different line of questioning, but I would like to allow the member for Nelson-Creston to ask a question at this point, if the minister would allow.

           C. Evans: I came a couple of weeks ago and talked with the minister about the need for an outreach youth worker in the city of Nelson. I want to put our conversation a little bit on the record and then simply ask the minister for his response.

           In 2001 I was in a meeting in Nelson — maybe it was 2002. The province asked the ministry to not run deficit budgets in their regions. That resulted in a 63-percent cut to services for youth in the city of Nelson as the local administration attempted to balance their budget with their historic outflow.

           Prior to that time we had a youth service worker in Nelson. The purpose of this person's job was to go out on the street and, essentially, find those young people who would come to Nelson.

           Nelson is a little bit famous for some lovely things and some not quite so lovely things. Across Canada and certainly across the region it's known to young people as a place that's attractive to go to. So kids would run away from home. Kids would just simply evolve, and young people at risk could wind up on the streets.

           We had a youth worker whose job was like the human being vacuum cleaner to go out and find those people, bring them into services, get them connected with some healthy peers and keep them out of the drug trade and worse.

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           When that person was cut, we had a situation where the police had nobody helping them. Young people had nobody except the bad guys to connect them when they came to town. We had young women getting into situations which the minister can understand, which are unfortunate, and we had an increase in youth criminal behaviour, which we had been able to avoid previously.

           There is a housing project in Nelson called Cicada Place — wonderful — run by Nelson Community Services where young people at risk are given a home. There is a caretaker. That caretaker assists those people to get connected with a job, and we find a way to bring people at risk back into mainstream society instead of into crime. All of that ended in 2001. We still have Cicada Place, but there's nobody bringing in the young people.

           Now that the Crown has moved from a deficit situation to a fiscal excess, I had a meeting with the minister to ask him to consider visiting Cicada Place, visiting the city of Nelson, and reinstating the youth outreach worker. I asked the minister to contact the local manager to see whether or not my submission was in fact backed up by his own staff.

           My question is simple. Has the minister had a chance to talk to the manager? If so, what did the manager say, and will the minister come and help us resolve this problem?

           Hon. T. Christensen: I appreciate the member's question and will confirm that he came to visit me. I thought we had a very good discussion. I was impressed with what he had to tell me in terms of how the city of Nelson has, historically and currently, a number of agencies and different entities working together to support youth.

           I haven't personally talked to the community services manager, but as I indicated to the member in our meeting, I believe, there is a definite desire on my part, on the part of government, to be looking at what it is we can be doing further to support youth who are struggling. The circumstances that the member related to me were consistent with that, and in the coming weeks and months we'll be making some decisions around that.

[ Page 8483 ]

           As I'm sure the member will understand, from the minister's office I'm not going to be deciding specific staffing assignments around that, but certainly what the member was requesting, from my perspective, was consistent with some of the work that we'd like to be doing with youth. With the new funding allocations that we do have in this year's budget, it's a matter of determining how we're going to allocate that in respect of youth services.

           M. Karagianis: I would like to move into a different line of questions with the minister.

           Last year in the throne speech we heard much about the transformative change that government expected to bring about within MCFD. In fact, it was quite a hallmark of the government's communications throughout much of last year and less so, unfortunately, this year as we've moved into kind of a new message. I would like to go back on the original intent around transformative change and aboriginal authorities and to ask the minister: what is the status of the transformative change that the government promised?

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           Hon. T. Christensen: The transformative change is a very broad and comprehensive shift in terms of how the ministry does its business — who's involved in the decision-making. For example, some of the elements that have been put in place are that we now have our regional executive directors, who are the top public servants within MCFD in each of the five regions, as part of the leadership team that drives the ministry. So we have a number of ADMs here in Victoria that are part of that leadership team, but the regional executive directors are an integral part.

           What that has allowed is much more effective communication with head office, in terms of what's happening in the regions, as decisions are being made. We've certainly seen much more staff engagement in many respects by encouraging the regional executive directors to be out around the regions that they serve — in offices speaking with staff, identifying what it is we need to be shifting if we truly want to go towards more of a strength-based approach to working with families.

           The deputy minister has spent considerable time on the road visiting offices around the province. The feedback I'm getting is in many cases it's the first time they've ever seen the deputy minister visit them.

           Again, it's to get feedback from our front-line workers in terms of the work they're doing with families, the pressures they face and how we can be doing that work more effectively. The goal is to keep children safely with their family or, if that's not possible, with their extended family — really focusing on the supports we can provide that are focused on the strengths of a particular family, rather than focusing solely on the challenges that that family faces and using that as a risk determination in terms of potentially removing a child.

           I think one of the most significant aspects of transformation — but it's only one element of it — is the shift towards aboriginal governance and the establishment of aboriginal authorities on a regional basis. That is a process whose roots were the 2002 Tsawwassen accord between the province and the political leadership of first nations and other leadership in terms of some first nations service organizations around the province.

           From that starting point in 2002 there's been a joint aboriginal management committee that has been working together. It's co-chaired on a revolving basis by myself and one of the leaders of either the Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the United Native Nations or Métis Nation B.C.

           We meet every three or four months to discuss issues of concern around the delivery of services to aboriginal children and families in the province, so that there is much more effective interaction on how those services can be improved and how we can hopefully reverse the trends of the number of aboriginal children coming into care, because those trends continue to go not in the direction that any of us would like. INAC is actually part of that discussion as well.

           On the one element of that, which is the concrete step of establishing aboriginal authorities, we are hoping very, very soon to be moving towards at least two of the interim aboriginal authorities, which will be a major step forward in moving towards aboriginal direction of service delivery to aboriginal children and families in those particular regions in the province.

           Certainly, the intent remains to get there in all parts of the province.

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           M. Karagianis: I take it from the answer regarding the transformative change that this was an internal reorganization of the ministry yet once again. I guess that explains why front-line families and children have not seen any real transformation in the services. So I understand that it's been a reorganizational exercise.

           If the focus has been on these aboriginal authorities, can the minister tell me what resources have been allocated to the transition of authority to first nations communities?

           Hon. T. Christensen: I actually take some offence at the suggestion that transformation is simply another internal reorganization of MCFD. There's no question that this ministry has been plagued by reorganizations, and some shifts in terms of the duties of staff and the leadership within the ministry to include the regional executive directors can be…. That does involve some reorganization. But transformation is significantly much more than a simple reorganization. Otherwise, quite frankly, it wouldn't be worth doing.

           Transformation is focused on moving towards a strength-based model. It's focusing on the strength of families to try and keep children in families rather than removing them. That's involved the development of different approaches at the local level in terms of how we're working with families.

[ Page 8484 ]

           It has involved the development of things like family group conferencing and mediation, which we've seen a dramatic increase in, which is showing very positive results at this point. It has involved the establishment of family development response. At a local level, in dealing with families, depending on the risks identified in a family, they may be worked with by a family development response team that is much more structured around how you can support keeping a child in a family and ensure that they have the supports that keep a child safe in a family, rather than moving towards what has been historically a very adversarial system that is focused on risk and on removing a child from the family. That is happening on a local level.

           When I have visited local MCFD offices, I have heard very positive feedback about what a positive shift that is in terms of how the ministry is doing its business and working with children and families. We're piloting different things around the province in terms of how we can better support children that are in care in terms of some of the transitions that they go through.

           There's a very positive Youth Transition Conferencing pilot that's been going on in the Fraser region. Again, we get strong feedback from the youth that have had an opportunity to participate in that.

           Transformation is about focusing on the strengths of the family. It's about trying to avoid taking children into care so that that only happens as a last resort when the safety of the child is compromised.

           It's not something that is going to happen overnight, but the feedback I'm receiving from front-line workers in the offices that I've had an opportunity to visit has been very positive in terms of the shift that they see from within the ministry.

           They still express concerns to me around some workload issues, but they see a very significant shift in terms of the approach that the ministry is taking in working with families — a much more supportive approach in terms of building families rather than taking children away from families. I think that is a very positive thing for the future of families at risk around the province.

           In terms of the aboriginal authorities' planning process, we have had aboriginal planning committees in place in each of the five regions. The budget to support those planning committees that will ultimately move towards interim authority last year was $5.91 million. We're just finalizing those budgets in terms of what has been submitted by those planning committees for this year, but the expectation is that the budget would be in that neighbourhood again.

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           M. Karagianis: Certainly the minister can take offence about my comments regarding the transformative change, but what are the tangible results of the transformative change, other than the internal reorganization the minister mentioned?

           We have the same number of children in care that has been traditional in this province for decades. We have the same number of children being taken into protection, if not more. We have an erosion of foster care. We have more children being taken into care from the aboriginal communities than ever in this province. And we have front-line workers showing enormous stress, fatigue and staff erosion.

           You have to weigh up the reality of what is happening on the front line with the real transformative change, or lack thereof. I'm not saying that it's not ongoing, but certainly it was something that we expected to see be rushed through here. The throne speech in 2006 promised enormous delivery of tangible results and a transformation of house services to be delivered on the front lines. I don't think that has been proven in any way, and I don't see any tangible results of that on the front line or in the statistics that have come down on the number of children in care and protection.

           With regard to the aboriginal authorities, though, this was a hallmark of the government's transformational change as well. Aside from the dollars that the minister says are still being finalized — I think we are now well past a year in the promised process here — what other resources are being allocated as far as personnel and long-term investment in how this transition is going to take place? What is the time line now on the transition of authority to first nations communities of these responsibilities?

           Hon. T. Christensen: I need to correct the member. There are approximately 1,500 fewer children in care today than there were in 2001. That's a pretty significant drop. It's gone from about 10,700 down to about 9,200. At one point it was a little bit lower than that, but it's been steady, and it's expected to remain steady at about 9,200.

           Having said that, I haven't thought simply counting the number children in care is a particularly effective measure of determining how well children are doing, if what we want to ensure is that children are safe. That's the measure. If it unfortunately requires taking a child into care to ensure their safety, then that's the appropriate step to take.

           I would suggest the member should talk to some of the workers or the families that have been involved in something like family group conferencing. Even though at the end of the day the family group conference, in some cases, may end up in a child coming into care or remaining in care or going into continuing care, the process of the family group conference is a much more constructive and interactive process with the family than a traditional court proceeding, where you have lawyers involved and everybody's fighting with one another.

           Even though the end result is sometimes the same, the ability for that family to continue to function and to have the parents have some interaction with the child even though the child is in care is much more positive when a family group conference is involved than through the traditional methods that have been in play at previous times.

           Similarly, I'd encourage the member to talk to social workers who have had an opportunity to be involved

[ Page 8485 ]

in the family development response model in terms of dealing with a child at risk. They report, certainly to me, that that's a much more constructive and positive approach to working with the family. It focuses on the family strengths. It focuses on keeping children in families.

           The member may wish to belittle that work, but that is transformative work in terms of how ministry personnel and front-line social workers are working with families. By no means are all the challenges in terms of how we can work with families and better support children resolved. I think those are a couple of examples of very positive steps forward that go much further than simply a reorganization of the ministry. They are fundamental to how the ministry does its work, and they are examples of the type of work that we want to be doing in the future in terms of how we support children and families.

[1550]Jump to this time in the webcast

           In terms of the second part of the member's question around the move towards aboriginal authorities, that has been a process that hasn't happened as quickly as I would like. It hasn't happened as quickly as some first nations and other aboriginal people would like, but it has been a process where we have tried to be responsive to what first nations and aboriginal people are telling us in terms of readiness to proceed.

           We had thought a year ago that we would be moving ahead rather imminently with interim authorities, based on discussion at the Joint Aboriginal Management Committee that it wasn't appropriate to move forward at that time in terms of people being ready to do that.

           We believe that because of the work undertaken over the course of the last year, we're now very close to establishing two of the interim authorities, hopefully with others to follow quite quickly. But the timing of that isn't going to be driven by government saying it must happen by such-and-such a date. The timing of it is going to be determined in working with those planning committees to ensure that to the greatest extent possible we've worked out any of the bugs that are there in any sort of change and that we're planning effectively for success.

           I think that's the most respectful way to proceed in terms of working with first nations partners and aboriginal people in this process, and I think it's the most prudent way to proceed in ensuring that we're being as effective as possible in serving aboriginal children and families.

           I want to be very clear with the member. Nobody is happy that the number of aboriginal children in care continues to increase. Most of all, aboriginal people aren't happy about that. Certainly, I have seen the impact that has on aboriginal communities and families. We must reverse that trend, but it's going to take a great deal of effort on behalf of the province working with aboriginal people, first nations and the federal government if we're going to truly achieve that goal.

           M. Karagianis: Well, I'm glad to hear the minister admit that the process has not proceeded as government planned and touted that it would. So can I ask: what plans are in place, then, for training and resourcing the communities to assume authority?

           Certainly, in my discussions with first nations communities, that is the piece that has been missing all along from the rather hasty promises that the government made that the transition of authority would all take place last year, in the fall, and that this would happen very quickly and seamlessly. Yet communities repeatedly have shown that there was a lack of investment in training and resources for those communities to assume those responsibilities and to do that effectively and confidently.

           As part of the admission that the interim authorities and this process have gone much more slowly than anticipated and have not met the original promise of this government, what kind of resources are being invested in that, and what is the time line for training and resourcing those communities?

[1555]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. T. Christensen: The planning committees have been doing their work to get towards the establishing of the interim authorities. The role of the interim authorities will be manyfold, but part of it will be better identifying the work to be done in terms of building the capacity to be able to deliver the actual services and improve services.

           So those on an authority-by-authority basis — those budgets haven't been allocated. But the ministry itself has an overall allocation, beyond the $6 million that's already being used on the planning side, of a further $9 million on an annual basis that is going to be available to support that shift towards becoming a permanent authority and meet the training needs and a host of other needs in terms of making those permanent authorities effective.

           The most immediate sort of milestone that we want to reach is to get them to interim authority status so that they can then be looking at what they believe will be the most effective government structure for a permanent authority that reflects the needs of aboriginal people.

           M. Karagianis: Everything is still pretty much in the planning stages is what I hear from the minister.

           There were, I believe, transition teams put in place, or there was a plan to put transition teams in place. Are those still there? Is that still part of the planning process that's ongoing, or have they somehow been absorbed into some other aspect of the ministry? Do they still exist? What is their status?

           Hon. T. Christensen: It's interesting. I get the sense that the member is belittling the lack of progress in terms of the establishment of authorities. I would caution the member — and she certainly doesn't need to take my advice — that when she belittles the work that has been done to date, she is belittling the efforts of a great number of people both within the ministry but more importantly within aboriginal communities across the province that have been working to move this process forward.

           Albeit it's been slower, as I said, than anybody would like, the reality is it's been important work. This is a major shift in how services are going to be deliv-

[ Page 8486 ]

ered to aboriginal people in this province. There is a great deal of hope and optimism and anticipation involved in this shift in terms of getting to a model that more effectively meets the needs of aboriginal children and families given the tragic history in this province and across this country in terms of how aboriginal children and families have interacted with governments through decades, if not centuries, across the country.

[1600]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I would caution the member that there has been a great deal of effort made by a great number of people who have put their hearts and souls into doing this work.

           Again, I remain very optimistic that we'll see significant progress in the coming weeks in terms of concrete progress towards establishing some of the interim authorities and that that ultimately is going to lead to much more effective services to aboriginal children and families and to keeping aboriginal families whole, which would be counter to generations now of moving in the opposite direction. So if we're able to accomplish that, I believe that will be a very significant accomplishment in the history of this country.

           The member mentioned transition teams in place. We're a little bit uncertain as to what she means by transition teams — whether she means the transition teams in terms of the move toward aboriginal authorities or something else. Perhaps the member can clarify, and then I can respond to that more specifically.

           M. Karagianis: In response to the minister's caution: I wasn't belittling in any way the need for the transition of authorities, but certainly I'm questioning government's failure in its promise around how this was going to occur.

           Government went out into the community a year ago with much fanfare and expressed how a transition was going to be imminent. It was a huge showpiece for the government. All kinds of promises were made. In fact, I think some attempts were made pretty aggressively to move authority over into aboriginal communities and agencies, without appropriate resources for those communities, without ensuring that they had the capacity to take that on under the pressure that the government was putting on them.

           In fact, I'm just gauging at this point how much of a rethink the government has had on this and what that actually means to those communities. Because at the end of the day, while government experiments with this authority shift, front-line workers and families are in somewhat of a state of confusion as to whose authority they look to for protection or for answers.

           I think that what happened in the Fraser Valley with the Xyolhemeylh agency and the confusion that occurred in the Stó:lô community is a very good example of the confusion that ensues if there is not some clarity around how the progression of transition of authority is going to be made. In that case, the community was not ready or fully engaged in the process of taking on that authority and recognizing the agency that was put in place, and the government has now had to move in and take steps to pull back the authority into their own hands.

           I'm trying to gauge in this questioning where we stand. There were a whole number of promises made out there around transformative change and how quickly aboriginal communities were going to assume governance of their own child and family protection. I would love to see that happen, and I would love to see that happen with the adequate resources and to be able to build that into those communities so that they are confident.

           There was a promise of some transitional teams. Perhaps it is part of the interim process and ongoing planning that the minister has referred to. But for the shift of authority over into aboriginal communities, there was a promise of transition teams. I'm trying to gauge whether or not those are still in existence. Have they become part of the mainstream? Where do I find any of that process reflected in the current service plan for the government?

[1605]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. T. Christensen: I do want to clarify. The member has mentioned the Xyolhemeylh, which is a delegated agency in the Fraser Valley. It's actually a delegated agency that was established in 1993, and it's important that the member not confuse delegated agencies, of which there are now 24 around the province and which we continue to support and work with closely, with what will be aboriginal authorities.

           The child protection workers within those delegated agencies are delegated directly by the director of child protection in the province to do the work of a director under the act. We continue to work closely with them, but they are distinct from the move towards aboriginal authorities. Delegated agencies don't have governance over the delivery of services, for example, and they are constricted. The word "delegation" is appropriate, in that the work they do is delegated by the province.

           The move towards establishing regional authorities is a move towards providing a much more direct voice for aboriginal people in the determination of what services are going to be delivered and how those services are going to be delivered to best meet the needs of aboriginal children and families within those particular regions.

           It is a process that is complicated. It involves both the federal and provincial governments. It involves first nations governments and aboriginal service providers. It involves the Métis Nation in British Columbia. There is a good long list of participants in terms of that discussion to move forward. While government had intended to move forward with legislation a year ago, we didn't because we were told by representatives within the aboriginal community that it wouldn't be a good thing to do at that point in time. There was additional work that needed to be done in terms of the planning, and we very much risked failure if we were to move forward a year ago.

           That has resulted in the additional work over the course of this last year. As I say, I'm very confident

[ Page 8487 ]

now that in at least two of the regions of the province we should be able to move forward with interim authorities very quickly.

           In terms of the transition teams that the member mentioned, those really are the planning committees that are in place in terms of planning for the establishment of the interim authority. Then it is the interim authority that will do the work around what the appropriate governance structure would be and what else they need to have in place to effectively move to become a permanent authority that would then be responsible for allocating budgets, for determining what services were going to be provided and by whom to best meet the needs of the aboriginal people that that authority was responsible for serving.

           M. Karagianis: Perhaps the minister could tell me if there is a new time line then. He has mentioned that two of the authorities are coming soon and, hopefully, will be ready to fully take over their own governance.

           What is the time line for the additional, I believe, seven authorities? The minister talked about nine regions now?

[1610]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. T. Christensen: There are five.

           M. Karagianis: Five. So two are up and running, and we have three more to come. What is the time line on them?

           Additionally, much like CLBC when there was a split of responsibility from MCFD to CLBC, how are the funds and resources then going to be split away from MCFD and turned over to these authorities? How is that resourcing going to be done in the resources and funding split?

           Hon. T. Christensen: The member probably won't like this, but I'm not prepared to commit in terms of a time line of the other three. While I am confident that they are making progress, I'm relatively confident that not all three of the remaining ones will be interim authorities by the end of this calendar year, for example. But I would expect that at least one of those remaining three will be, if not two. It's hard to know for sure, as that work is ongoing.

           Certainly, my intention and government's intention…. From our perspective we want to move as quickly as possible. In determining what is as quickly as possible, we are going to be responsive to what first nations and aboriginal people, who would be intended to be served by a particular authority, are telling us. That's why it is not a unilateral move forward by government; it's a responsive move by government.

           In terms of the question around the eventual split of funding, there is a working group in place within the ministry that's working with a number of aboriginal representatives and also at the regional level to try and start to work through that. They have been doing that work for some time in terms of ultimately determining how the existing budgets will need to be allocated to provide the necessary resources to the aboriginal authorities.

           As the planning committees become interim authorities, they'll then do some of the work towards becoming a permanent authority. They'll be very much engaged in that work and will be very much informing the answers to the questions in terms of exactly how the funding needs to be allocated.

[1615]Jump to this time in the webcast

           M. Karagianis: What impact will that inevitably have on the Ministry of Children and Family Development? We know right now that more than half of the children in care are aboriginal children. If the funding is to be proportionately distributed, then what does that do to the Ministry of Children and Family Development? What impact is that going to have long term on staffing and on capacity there as well?

           If half of the budget or better is to go, logically and reasonably, to the number of children that are going to be moving from MCFD care into aboriginal authority care, then what is the long-term impact there? What does government expect it will have to do as far as reinvesting in resources for both sides of this responsibility, both the aboriginal responsibility and the non-aboriginal responsibilities?

           Hon. T. Christensen: Firstly, it's important to note that you can't determine how the resource split would occur just by looking at the number of children in care. MCFD's operations budget is about $1.2 billion. Of that, about $300 million is actually children-in-care costs.

           [H. Bloy in the chair.]

           When we look at aboriginal children in care, there's a significant role played by INAC in terms of on-reserve children. We know that about $1.2 billion is there to serve about 900,000 children across the province, and 100,000 of those 900,000 are aboriginal.

           No question that aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in terms of the children that the ministry actually has interaction with, but they represent about 13 percent of our mental health clients and about 26 percent of youth justice. So there's not an easy way to look at how you divide it based on current caseloads or current children in care.

[1620]Jump to this time in the webcast

           In looking at how those budgets do need to be split and how funding does need to be allocated, the focus is going to be very much on the service delivery piece. As we move toward interim and permanent authorities, what is the nature of the services that are going to provide more effective outcomes for aboriginal children and families? What are the resources that we can put towards getting those better outcomes?

           As the member has rightly pointed out, there is no question that that's going to require some change in the ministry. It's going to require some change, presumably, in staffing levels in the ministry, but if people aren't working for the ministry, they may be working

[ Page 8488 ]

for an aboriginal authority. There's going to be a significant demand by authorities in terms of who is going to be doing the work there.

           We've been in contact on a regular basis with the BCGEU, as they are legitimately expressing their interest in the progress that's being made on this front. As we move towards interim authorities and as we are able to better determine what some of those practical issues are and what the changes are going to be, that's going to be part of the discussion with the staff and with service providers in terms of making any transitions very seamlessly.

           It's important that we be cognizant of the challenges inherent in making these shifts, whether that's dividing budgets, allocating staff or otherwise. I think we have to make sure that we consistently remind ourselves of why we're doing this. The reality is that we've been spending $1 billion-plus on an annual basis for a good long period of time to try to meet the needs of children and families in the province.

           When we look at what we've been spending for aboriginal children and families, the results aren't that great. By moving towards a model that puts decision-making, responsibility and authority into the hands of first nations and aboriginal people, we firmly believe that we are going to achieve much better results for aboriginal children and families. That's going to be the benefit here. The benefit, in my view, far outweighs a number of the legitimate practical challenges that we're going to encounter as we get there.

           M. Karagianis: When we talked earlier, the minister talked about the number of children in care. As we both know, children in the home of a relative are not technically considered to be children in care, and they do not appear in the statistics for the number of children currently under the responsibility of the ministry. Disproportionately, they are aboriginal children in the home and in the care of aboriginal families.

           Will they also be included in this as we move forward to allocating resources over to aboriginal authority? What becomes of these children that are in the home of a relative? How do they register within the system?

           They will have, I think, a higher profile within aboriginal authorities than they are currently playing in MCFD, and they cannot be ignored. I believe that the numbers of those children are in the thousands at this point. What steps are being taken to also include them as part of the consideration of resources and funding?

[1625]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. T. Christensen: As I believe the member will know, the child-in-the-home-of-a-relative program is a program within the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance. It's a program that's driven by income-support need. It's not driven by child-at-risk or child-protection concerns, as are MCFD programs in some respects.

           I'm not in a position to comment on how that will be impacted by the move towards interim authority or, ultimately, permanent authorities. I know there have been some discussions at the Joint Aboriginal Management Committee meetings, where there have been presentations by the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance around the child in the home of a relative program. INAC has a similar program to CIHR that provides on-reserve support to children who are in the home of a relative.

           Those are certainly discussions that at this point, I would anticipate…. As the interim authorities are established, and as they're looking at their mandates and at the children they want to be working with, it would surprise me if that didn't engage some discussion with MEIA and INAC around the families that are receiving income support because they have a child living with them who is a relative.

           M. Karagianis: I know that time is quickly passing here. Although I have a great number of questions on other topics within the ministry, I'm going to start to confine it to just a few here in order to touch on some issues that I know are of concern to many of the individuals receiving care from the ministry.

           I will be watching very closely. Obviously, the transition to aboriginal authorities is very much a work in progress. As we proceed, we'll be looking to see exactly how it unfolds. I am still concerned about the uncertainty for first nations communities on what the end-game is going to be, the time line on this and when they can have some certainty about their own futures. I guess we'll watch to see how that progresses, and probably ask some questions again — hopefully, at the next opportunity to do so with the minister.

           I do know that there'll be a number of other members who have some questions as well, so I'm going to just touch on a couple of quick topics, if you don't mind.

           First and foremost, a topic that's been very much on the top of our minds and in the news recently: I'd like to ask the minister yet one more time for some clarity on what your intentions are regarding Mary Manning Centre.

           Hon. T. Christensen: The member and I have canvassed this to the length that question period allows. As well, I've made a number of responses in the media.

           The ministry continues to provide significant funding to the Mary Manning Centre on an annual basis — an increase in their base operating budget this year of $25,000, which is about an 8-percent increase.

           As the member knows, in 2005 the ministry had provided a one-time grant — it was made clear at the time that it was a one-time grant — of $150,000 to address a specific wait-list issue that existed at that time. I'm advised that that funding was successful in addressing the wait-list.

[1630]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I am cognizant of the concerns that have been expressed by the Mary Manning Centre and other service providers around the potential for children who have suffered sexual abuse to have to wait for a particular service. I have spoken at some length with my staff about that.

[ Page 8489 ]

           I was surprised, to be frank, to hear that sexual abuse and intervention program funding had remained relatively constant since 1990, when the program was first introduced. That has led to a number of other conversations around what it is that we should be looking at in terms of this type of funding and why it hasn't been identified, over the course of the last 17 years now, as an area of priority in terms of needing some additional resources. So we're looking at that closely.

           The program itself has been the subject of some examination by the ministry over the course of the last number of months. It hasn't been prompted by the recent calls for additional funding. We're looking at some of the work that we've done over the last number of months in terms of the types of services that are currently available or may need to be available for children who have suffered sexual abuse. We'll be acting in accordance with that review, moving forward.

           With respect to the Mary Manning Centre specifically and where funding levels are at today, I'm not prepared as minister to intervene in terms of allocating additional funding to a single service provider that is involved in providing these types of counselling services for children who have suffered sexual abuse.

           As we identify whether resources need to be added in the coming weeks and months, that's going to be done in respect of the range of service providers that are involved in providing those types of services. My most immediate concern in terms of Mary Manning Centre has been to ensure that children who are receiving critical services now continue to get those and that children who urgently require service get that service.

           That has been what the ministry at a regional level has been trying to work with the Mary Manning Centre to ensure is occurring, but that does require significant engagement by the Mary Manning Centre. I have no reason to believe that that engagement's not there. That's where the situation stands today.

           M. Karagianis: With the greatest respect, Minister, at approximately five o'clock tonight, even as we are winding up debate here, three counsellors for sexually abused children will leave that job and not return tomorrow, because they have been laid off. The minister cannot in a reasonable way believe that that is not going to have a significant impact on the services Mary Manning currently provides.

           The lack of three counsellors tomorrow morning is going to significantly alter the ability of Mary Manning to provide services to a family that walks in the door and needs service and counselling urgently for their child.

           In fact, at this point in time, when the Ministry of Children and Families discovers a case of sexual abuse in a family and requires immediate and urgent counselling for that child, if a family does not take concerted action immediately to seek and provide that counselling to their child, they can have their child seized by the ministry and put under protection as suffering further abuse by not having that protection. That's the reality on the front lines right now. I've heard that from families.

           It defies logic to me that any of us in this House would not feel some sense of urgency, some motivation — in fact, that we would not feel compelled — to ensure that those services were not diminished in any way. When an organization that supplies a vital service like urgent and emergency crisis counselling to children who have been abused and to all of the court services that go around their protection — often their testimonies in court — and all of those really traumatic events that take place when sexual abuse occurs…. Yet we are going to allow that to happen.

[1635]Jump to this time in the webcast

           I know there'll be other members here that will be asking questions. Possibly the member from Nanaimo will talk about the situation in his community as well.

           I'm just very concerned that the minister is saying, "No, we will not take any steps," and that three counsellors will leave their jobs tonight and not return tomorrow and that children, as of tomorrow morning, who need services in the capital region here are not going to be able to have them. However, I accept that the minister has been very clear that he will not be intervening.

           I'd like to just quickly ask a couple of questions about youth agreements. Maybe there's a bit of a theme here. There has never been any clear indication from ministry reports here, and from the information that I can gather, about the number of children, youth, who are currently living independently on youth agreements.

           Does the minister have that kind of information, and can he provide it to me at some point?

           Hon. T. Christensen: As of March of this year, March 2007, there were 463 youth agreements.

           M. Karagianis: What is the status of those individuals? Is there ongoing evaluation of their situations, of any risk to those individuals who are living independently, many of whom have been forced into affordable housing in Vancouver that could be considered high-risk? Does the minister have oversight on those youth agreements and their current circumstances?

           Hon. T. Christensen: Within the context of a youth agreement, it's an agreement, and there are services that are provided to the youth. It often involves a youth worker component where the youth has an ongoing, specific relationship with a youth worker.

           Beyond that, they'll certainly have an ongoing relationship with a worker within the ministry. The plan will include the expectations of the youth in terms of whether they're going to be attending school, counselling or a job placement or training program. It is a somewhat interactive agreement between the youth and the ministry in terms of the support that the ministry is providing and the expectations of the youth.

           It's interesting, actually, that as we've seen an increase in the number of youth agreements over the last number of years, we've seen a pretty significant decline in the Greater Vancouver regional district — between

[ Page 8490 ]

2002 and 2005, at least, which is the most recent data — around the number of homeless youth under 19.

[1640]Jump to this time in the webcast

           That sort of bucks the trend that we've seen around homelessness generally, but I think that's positive. While I'm not aware whether this study by the Social Planning and Research Council could attribute that specifically to youth agreements, it certainly provides an option to youth who might otherwise find themselves to be homeless.

           One of the benefits of the youth agreement as a tool is it's very much an appropriate option for a youth that might not otherwise stay in a foster placement and may simply run away. A youth agreement provides a very strong option that gives the youth a certain level of independence but also with some expectations in terms of what they're doing on a day-to-day basis.

           M. Karagianis: I agree with the minister that there has been an increase in the number of kids living on youth agreements. Is there evaluation being done on how successful the program is or in fact if there are any harms or risks, as I mentioned earlier, to these individuals? Where would this evaluation information be found?

           Hon. T. Christensen: Before the ministry expanded the use of youth agreements a number of years ago, youth agreements had been a tool that had been available since the late 1990s, I believe. There was an evaluation of the youth agreement program that was undertaken, and it actually indicated many positive improvements for high-risk youth in particular: significantly improved physical and mental health; significant reductions in addiction, sexual exploitation and criminal involvement; positive shifts in peer association; and participation in educational and job training programs. That had been the experience of the first few years of youth agreements in terms of the ministry looking to them as being an effective tool.

           There has not been a very recent formal evaluation of the continued use of youth agreements, but anecdotally the feedback that the ministry receives is positive in terms of them continuing to be an effective tool in meeting the needs of youth and in particular high-risk youth.

           M. Karagianis: So no current data available on evaluating that program.

           Does the minister have any idea what the cost is per individual or what the cost savings have been to government in pursuing youth agreements versus other forms of care? As part of that question, what kind of safe and affordable housing is provided to these individuals?

[1645]Jump to this time in the webcast

           Hon. T. Christensen: Actually, the ministry's assessment of the increased use of youth agreements suggests it hasn't been a cost saving at all. In fact, the number of youth aged 16 to 18 years coming into care has remained relatively constant, while at the same time the number of youth engaged with youth agreements has increased by about 150 percent. It's an additional tool that's being used so that overall more youth are being served than were served seven or eight years ago. It's not been something that is a cost saving.

           For example, in some regions of the province, the north in particular, prior to expanding the use of youth agreements, they had virtually no children in care who were over age 16. Those children just didn't come into care. I'm not sure what the reasons are, but presumably for a host of reasons.

           What's happened is with the introduction of youth agreements, it's actually created a cross-pressure in the north in terms of using that as an effective tool for youth that it's an appropriate agreement for. On average, the cost on a monthly basis for a youth agreement is about $880.

           M. Karagianis: The only piece that the minister didn't respond to was: what kind of safe and affordable housing is provided for these individuals?

           Hon. T. Christensen: The ministry strives to work with youth to ensure that they have safe and appropriate housing. There are parts of the province — I think Vancouver would jump to mind for all of us — where that's a particular challenge, and there the ministry will make available additional resources to try and secure appropriate accommodation.

           That's often one of the significant roles of the youth support worker in working with the youth — actually identifying where is it that you can find to live that is safe and appropriate accommodation for that youth. In some cases, that may involve sharing an apartment with another youth — provided that the two are compatible, obviously.

           Certainly, the ministry works with them to try and ensure that they're getting appropriate accommodation.

           C. Wyse: I'm going to refer to some correspondence that I have sent to the minister. One dated January 14, and that correspondence deals with the lack of youth counsellors in Williams Lake becoming a serious problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. My office has contacted two senior medical officers in Williams Lake, Dr. Glenn Fedor as well as Dr. Ivor McMahen. These gentlemen are concerned that the lack of patient follow-up and the lapse in treatment are a time bomb waiting to go off.

[1650]Jump to this time in the webcast

           The response to my correspondence of January 14 from you, hon. Minister, is dated March 9. It doesn't in actual fact address the concerns that I have raised in my letter. The correspondence that I have from you refers to three things that are not at all referenced in my letter of January 14.

           Subsequent to my letter of January 14, I wrote you once more on February 26 with the same concerns. To this point in time, my office confirms that I do not have a response to this issue that I have raised with you at least twice. I've raised it with previous other ministers around this issue.

[ Page 8491 ]

           The issue is, regardless of what the reason is, that the counsellors for providing youth mental health services for different reasons are not available. There is a backlog of concerns by the medical people with regards to this inadequate care.

           Having laid this in front of the House, being on the record, what I'm seeking here is a commitment from the minister to provide a response to the inquiries that I have made of his office on January 14 and followed up on, on February 26. I am simply looking for a response to my letters of those concerns and where his ministry is going to deal with this shortfall that has been chronic and has been ongoing for a long period of time in this part of British Columbia.

           Hon. T. Christensen: I thank the member for raising the issue. Certainly if he gives me copies of the letters, I'll make sure that we provide a fulsome response. I don't know off the top of my head what the specific issues are in respect of the member's constituency and the challenges being faced in providing counselling services. It may be a human resource challenge, given where the member's constituency is. It is a challenge, unfortunately, in many of the more rural parts of our province to have the people there who can do the work.

           I can advise the member, and the member may already know this, that over the course of the last five years the province's commitment to child and youth mental health has been significant. We have a five-year plan that was initiated in 2003, which has seen more than a doubling of the financial commitment to child and youth mental health. It's a plan that, quite frankly, in my discussions with organizations like the Canadian Mental Health Association and others is the envy of mental health advocates across the country.

           It doesn't mean that we've got all the problems resolved there, but significant investments on the financial end have been made in expanding services available in child and youth mental health. I appreciate that the member has a strong commitment to ensuring that these types of services are available, as do I.

           I can further advise the member that part of the child and youth mental health plan has been an attempt to increase the number of workers available. We've been able to recruit in the neighbourhood of about 200 mental health workers across the province since 2003, an addition of 200.

           We've just within the last couple of months initiated a further domestic, national and international campaign to attract mental health workers to British Columbia, to ensure that we have the workers available to provide these important services so that the financial resources that we've been able to apply to child and youth mental health are actually effective in putting the workers in place to do the work. I think all of us recognize that the money doesn't do you much good if you don't have somebody who can actually do the work.

           This is somewhat anecdotal, but in a discussion that I actually had with a child and youth mental health worker who visited me in my office here at the Legislature, the most encouraging part of the discussion I had with him is that he had moved here in March from Alberta because he wanted to be a child and youth mental health worker in British Columbia. He saw the commitment that was being made in terms of investment in those services and the work that we were doing with the aboriginal community, and this individual had a particular interest in the aboriginal community.

           We are making progress. I'm sorry to hear there are some challenges that continue in the member's riding, but if the member will provide me that correspondence, I'm more than happy to look at it as soon as possible.

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           C. Wyse: I wish to acknowledge the minister's commitment. I assure the minister that I will have this correspondence once more sent to his office. In thanking the minister once more, I would ask that I don't get a similar type of response that I received earlier from the minister, which talks about provincial-related types of items.

           This is a problem that requires being fixed, not dealing with provincial stats and situations of that nature. With that, I thank the minister for his time and turn it over to my colleagues.

           Hon. T. Christensen: If I may, I know that the member referenced the January letter, and I believe it was a March response. I've got a quick note here from my office that we don't seem to have a record of the February letter. To ensure that I get that one….


           Hon. T. Christensen: Thank you.

           S. Fraser: I realize we're getting toward the end of these estimates, and I appreciate the opportunity to put one issue forward to the minister.

           I raised an issue last year about this time. It was in May. It was regarding a little girl — she'd be 11 now — in Ahousat. She has a condition known as Usher syndrome.

           A year ago there was a different minister. However, I did raise the issue with the current minister here in his role as Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister, which was his past role.

           Again, a year ago, so it may be a little bit rusty here. It spans several ministries. I was advocating on behalf of Alicia-Anne Seitcher. Usher syndrome is quite an unusual one. The issue — and I spoke into the record — is called Jordan's principle. It's through the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. They recognize the disconnect between the federal and provincial authorities, off and on reserve, with children. The children and the families were often the recipient of nothing because of that sort of inertia that happens between that.

           To be fair, I want to give credit to the minister at the time and this minister in his other role. Both acknowledged that disconnect and agreed that it was unacceptable and had to be worked on.

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           I'd like to confirm. Alicia-Anne subsequently did receive some assistance, but I'd just like to know the status of that. Her condition is a progressive one, and it will require continuing assistance — an intervener. There are certainly costs associated with her condition because it is a progressive one. Can the minister help update me on that, please?

           Hon. T. Christensen: I thank the member for raising the issue and advocating on behalf of this particular constituent. As the member has rightly acknowledged, in follow-up to becoming aware of the issue last year, the ministry's provincial services for the deaf and hard-of-hearing division worked collaboratively with an integrated team comprised of professionals and the aboriginal community and family members to support this particular child over last summer.

           We've increased funding, actually, for the summer intervention program by about $117,000 for the '07-08 year to address support needs for deaf/blind children throughout the province.

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           The expectation is that that support will assist in this case, and I'm told that the ministry certainly continues to have a very active involvement in terms of ensuring that supports are available for this child. As I'm sure the member can appreciate, given the location, that creates some challenges too, but the ministry is certainly committed to working with the community and the family to ensure that this child gets the services she requires.

           S. Fraser: Thank you to the minister and his staff for that. I very much appreciate the efforts. You know it's appreciated in Ahousat and certainly by Alicia-Anne.

           Last year, following my discussions here, there was a fundraiser in Tofino. The issue was raised in the local press. Her intervener Lou Lefebvre was involved too, and there has been support, financially and otherwise, coming from the public — a true partnership.

           Just to be correct, the assistance since that time will continue? It wasn't just the one year? We're going to see her….

           Also, am I to understand — because there were other children in similar situations with Usher syndrome and with other similar conditions, in the broader context of Jordan's principle, being left out too — that there's been an attempt to address the larger picture and others in that situation?

           Hon. T. Christensen: I'm certainly pleased to confirm that yes, the services in terms of this individual case will continue. In terms of that larger issue, there's no question that it remains a challenge. It is something that is an active part of our ongoing discussions with INAC, because I think everybody recognizes that it's a challenge we must overcome.

           L. Krog: My question to the minister revolves around the Nanaimo Family Life Association, a matter I've raised with the minister previously and during question period. I'm wondering if the minister can outline today what steps the ministry has taken to ensure the continuation of the programs that were offered by Nanaimo Family Life Association. Have arrangements actually been put in place, or are we still in process?

           Hon. T. Christensen: Thank you to the member for the question.

           As member knows, Nanaimo Family Life has indicated to the ministry that they will end their contracts with the ministry. The local ministry staff has been working with them closely in terms of ensuring continuity of service for children and families that are receiving service. The last I was updated on how that work was going, the regional ministry staff advised that it was going well. They were confident that they were going to be able to ensure that there was a continuity of service, either through existing service providers in the community or, potentially, new service providers.

           What I'm certainly happy to undertake is to get a further update for the member. Unfortunately, the staff that would have the most up-to-date information are the regional staff, as opposed to those that I have with me for these estimates, which are more provincial in nature. I'm happy to undertake to get a further update for the member.

           L. Krog: I do appreciate the minister's response in this, but with great respect, that was a highly political answer. I think what the minister is really telling me is that notwithstanding that this is an issue that has had significant public interest, particularly in my community, there were no firm plans in place, it appears to me, to assist all of the people who are presently receiving assistance through the Nanaimo Family Life Association and its numerous programs, which were formerly funded through ministry contracts.

           As much as I appreciate that the minister will provide that information, again, it appears to me that in fact, nothing is happening. The clock is ticking away, just as it has been ticking away in the Mary Manning Centre in Victoria.

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           The simple fact is that I approached the minister's predecessor well over a year ago with respect to the issue around Nanaimo Family Life. The problem that that agency and similar agencies were facing across the province because of the government's apparent failure to fund increases in negotiated wage packages through union agreements — this was a problem that's been known for a long time.

           We knew that this problem would come to a head and that obviously some agencies have simply run out of money and, in the case of Nanaimo Family Life, run out of interest in trying to fight to get money to maintain programs which, in my community, are seen by my constituents to be absolutely essential.

           Counselling children who have been sexually abused and counselling particularly young women and girls with significant eating disorders are seen as essential services. This is not some fluffy service to provide

[ Page 8493 ]

assistance to people who have minor problems. These are serious issues.

           I would have hoped that today the minister would have had a more fulsome answer around this particular issue, particularly in light of the questions that have been raised around the Mary Manning Centre during the course of this estimates by my colleague the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin.

           So my final question to the minister on this — and I'm appreciative of the time involved: does the ministry have any plans in place to deal with the series of agencies across this province, the non-profits, who are all facing this same problem and who in fact deliver services which I am confident the minister likewise believes are absolutely essential and important?

           Hon. T. Christensen: Certainly, it's disingenuous for the member to suggest that there are no firm plans in place in terms of a transfer of services. I agree, and the ministry agrees, that these are essential services. That's why we were contracting with Nanaimo Family Life to provide those services.

           Nanaimo Family Life has indicated that they are not going to be renewing their contracts. We know that the contracts are up in July, and ministry staff have been working diligently with staff from the Nanaimo Family Life Association and other organizations to try and ensure as seamless a transition as possible and to ensure continuity in the delivery of those services.

           As I indicated to the member, I have not got a detailed update on that transition, but the advice I was provided is that ministry staff believe it is going well, that service will not be unduly disrupted and that people requiring those services will have them available. I will be getting that update and, as I said, will undertake to provide that to the member.

           It's perhaps worth noting that there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500 different large contractors around the province that the ministry contracts with. As minister, I don't know the intimate details of each of those contracts. I do know that various contractors have cost pressures of one nature or another. The ministry is aware of some of those pressures, and we're certainly committed to working with our service providers to try and ensure that they are able to continue to deliver the important services that they provide to individuals in all the communities that each one of us in this place lives in right around the province.

           M. Karagianis: Actually, that was a stunning number that the minister just revealed: 500 service agencies across this province provide a variety of services and, much like the Nanaimo Family Life Association, not just a single service but a whole variety of very complex services.

           I would like to just echo my colleague's comments about the severity and the impact of these services being removed from a community and the repercussions, because in fact now we're seeing here on the south Island, from Nanaimo south, that there has been a significant impact on the services available to children who have been sexually abused. It's a huge impact. It's like a chain reaction as well.

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           I think that the minister needs to think about how the individuals on the south Island here, from Nanaimo south, are going to be impacted by this. Even as new service agencies are sought in the Nanaimo area — if that's the choice that the minister is going to make — that's going to take some time to get up and running, to get those services functioning properly. There'll be a huge gap in services, and it is that gap that worries me the most.

           I am aware here again of the clock ticking forward, and I have a number of questions that I would like to ask the minister with regard to both union and non-union staff recruitment and retention. There are huge vacancies that have occurred across the province in child services — hundreds of vacancies, retirements ongoing, and certainly as many, if not more, in the aboriginal community sector. But knowing that we are probably going to run out of time, I'll try and make sure that the minister has an opportunity to answer a couple of these questions all at the same time.

           I'm concerned with the long-term plans of the ministry and the minister around recruitment and retention and finding ways to bring more people into the field. It is no secret that working in any kind of job related to contracted agencies, in child care, in child protection or in child services…. These are very complex, very demanding jobs that require a certain kind of dedication.

           Unfortunately, those jobs have become more and more low-paying. Certainly, the non–union sector jobs are not terribly appealing, and we have seen a continued erosion of interest at the post-secondary education level in these jobs because they don't pay well. They are tough work. They demand a lot, and there is a lot of competing interest out there for young students coming out of school and going into careers.

           I'd like to know what the ministry has as far as ongoing plans to deal with this, both for themselves and for the agencies that provide services.

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           Hon. T. Christensen: Certainly, part of ensuring that we're able to recruit and retain people is trying to move in a direction where we're being more competitive around compensation. The most recent budget included $78 million of new funding that applies in respect of both ministry staff and our unionized and non-unionized contractors. That's $78 million that is available to try and address some of those labour force challenges.

           As the member knows, this isn't a challenge that's limited to our sector. It's a challenge that we're facing in many areas of the economy right now, in terms of recruiting and retaining people. It's something that the ministry has become aware of.

           I think it's fair to say that in our own recruitment drives around adding social workers and then the more recent one in terms of child and youth mental health workers, while we're getting a good number of

[ Page 8494 ]

responses, we're finding that we're not getting as many fully qualified people as perhaps we had hoped. So we're recognizing that recruitment and retention of employees is likely going to be an increasing challenge.

           We are currently in the process of developing a broad human resource strategy on that front so that we have effective plans in place to make sure that we do have people with the necessary training to provide what we have all agreed here are very essential services in communities right across our province.

           Vote 20: ministry operations, $1,219,530,000 — approved.

           Vote 21: community living services, $647,114,000 — approved.

           Hon. T. Christensen: I move that the committee rise, report resolutions and completion of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and seek leave to sit again.

           Motion approved.

           The Chair: Committee A now stands adjourned until the next session.

           The committee rose at 5:18 p.m.

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