2007 Legislative Session: Third Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MAY 28, 2007
Volume 21, Number 7
|Introductions by Members||8227|
|Vancouver Giants hockey team
| Hon. G.
|Introductions by Members||8227|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||8229|
|Small Business Fairness and
Protection Act, 2007 (Bill M218)
|Business Practices and Consumer
Protection Amendment Act, 2007 (Bill M219)
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||8229|
|Memorial Cup champions Vancouver
|Gold River–Tahsis Great Walk
|Judy McGowan and Kiwanis Kids
|Economic development in Coquitlam
|Child care in B.C.
|Plan for coal-fired plant in
Prince George area
| C. James
| Hon. G.
| Hon. R.
|Closing of Canfor mill in
| C. Wyse
| Hon. R.
|Canada line construction on Cambie
| Hon. K.
|Fraser Health Authority service
| A. Dix
| Hon. G.
|Employment practices at Nanaimo
| L. Krog
| Hon. G.
|B.C. Assessment, annual service
plan report, 2006, and audited financial statements for
period ended December 31, 2006
|Reports from Committees||8236|
|Select Standing Committee on
Public Accounts, report on the appointment of an Auditor General
|Motions without Notice||8237|
|Appointment of Auditor General
|Committee of Supply||8238|
|Estimates: Office of the Premier
| Hon. G.
| C. James
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
|Committee of Supply||8258|
|Estimates: Ministry of Aboriginal
Relations and Reconciliation
| Hon. M.
[ Page 8227 ]
MONDAY, MAY 28, 2007
The House met at 1:36 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
B. Ralston: I have some important constituents visiting here today from Surrey-Whalley — perhaps the most important constituents: my wife Miriam Sobrino and our children Daniel Ralston, Martin Ralston and Sonia Ralston. Will the House please make them welcome.
Hon. G. Campbell: Today in the House we're joined by a real B.C. legend. Mr. Dal Richards has joined us. Dal and his big band have been playing for British Columbians for over seven decades. This past New Year their performance was the 72nd consecutive New Year's performance for Dal Richards and his band.
I hope that all of us will make Dal and his wife Muriel Honey feel welcome and recognize that we've still got a big celebration coming in 2010. We're all looking forward to listening to him play then too, and we make him feel welcome.
VANCOUVER GIANTS HOCKEY TEAM
Hon. G. Campbell: Yesterday we had a special event in British Columbia, in Vancouver particularly. I recognize that people in Kamloops and people in Cranbrook have had this celebration in the past, but yesterday the people of Vancouver and across this province actually set a new memorial tournament record for attendance — 121,000 people attending that tournament.
Hon. G. Campbell: Oh, Kelowna as well. I'm sorry.
There were 450 volunteers to make this a memorable Memorial Cup, but I think all of us will recognize that Don Hay, his coaching staff, Milan Lucic — the whole Vancouver Giants team — made us all proud yesterday when they won Canada's Memorial Cup.
Introductions by Members
L. Krog: Joining us in the gallery today is Chris Martin. She's the chair of the Nanaimo Seniors Village Hospital Employees Union local. Accompanying her are a number of other workers who are in the process of losing their jobs and a number of their supporters. I'd ask the House to please make them welcome.
Hon. R. Coleman: I seldom get people that come to Victoria, because maybe my riding is too close. Sometimes when it rains, it pours. Today seated in the Speaker's gallery are a number of ladies who we affectionately call the women's advisory council in my riding, which basically means that they're the ones who tell me when my hair is too long and when my suits don't match.
They're the ones who also tell me when I did a good job at any particular time. Actually, most of the time they're pretty critical, pretty challenging, but they're a good group of people. They all came over today, and I had dinner with them in the dining room.
I'd like to introduce them to the House. Debra Aldred is our newest member of the women's advisory council because she just came to British Columbia from Australia with her husband. They're now doing some things — I think it's in racing, actually — in B.C.
Along with them are Rosaline Webster, Carol Campbell, Julie Willoughby and Ida Fallowfield — all of these folks and their spouses or friends went on a recent safari with me to Africa — Dixie Jacobson as well as Alexander Stolte, Denise Barnaby and Karen Cameron, who is the president of the women's advisory council.
Sheryl Strongitharm, who is the best constituency assistant in British Columbia, joins them as well — and of course my wife of 33 years, Michele, who is my best friend and my greatest supporter. Will the House please make them welcome.
D. Thorne: Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of my oldest friends, who is visiting British Columbia from St. John's, Newfoundland. Her name is Linda Giannou. She is with my most important constituent as well, my husband Neil Edmondson. I would like the House to please make them both welcome.
Hon. C. Taylor: I'd like to welcome today to the House a good friend of mine, Mr. Duncan Wilson, former chair of the Vancouver school board and currently the communications director for the Vancouver Port Authority. Please make him welcome.
S. Fraser: I have a number of constituents visiting today, independent of each other. There are Carole and Graham Bunch visiting from Qualicum Beach, friends and constituents. Also, I see Bruce Dumont. He's the president of the Métis Nation B.C. and is visiting today with a fair number of the executive. Keith Atleo, the elected chief councillor from Ahousat, B.C., is also in the precinct today. Will you please join me in making them feel very welcome.
Hon. M. de Jong: Along with my colleague the Minister of Community Services I am pleased to welcome, on behalf of all members, to the gallery today a number of aboriginal leaders who have gathered here in the precincts to celebrate the unveiling of the aboriginal youth internship program first referred to in the Speech from the Throne. I'd like to acknowledge the work of these leaders and representatives and relay to the House their presence.
[ Page 8228 ]
From the Unified Aboriginal Youth Collective, Tresley Tourond, the minister responsible for youth with Métis Nation B.C.; Stephanie Albiston, lower mainland regional youth representative, B.C. United Métis Youth Circle; Kelly L'Hirondelle, executive director, Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association; Theresa Point, policy and community development coordinator, Knowledgeable Aboriginal Youth Association; Rebecca Jules, provincial urban aboriginal youth governance coordinator, United Native Nations, youth governance; Michelle Morfitt, provincial aboriginal youth council coordinator, B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres; and from the Métis Nation B.C., as already mentioned, president Bruce Dumont, vice-president Lorne LaFleur; minister of children and families Dave Hodgson; Kay Dahl, minister of education; René Therrien, minister of culture and heritage; and Frazer Macdonald, minister for justice, housing and sport; staff of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Also involved in these discussions: Milt Wright, Lisa Nye, Nikko Paulo and earlier — and I think still here — from the First Nations Leadership Council, Dave Porter.
I hope all members will take advantage of the opportunity to welcome these individuals and applaud their efforts. If you have aboriginal youth who you believe may be appropriate for the youth internship program, please provide them the information that we have available and have them participate. Please welcome all our guests.
M. Sather: Joining us today in the gallery is my assistant Sheryl Seale, who does a fantastic job of keeping me organized and keeping things running in Maple Ridge and here in Victoria. Also joining Sheryl is her husband Paul, who is a lawyer and also an accomplished musician; Sheryl's stepmother Maxine Kootnekoff; and her mother-in-law of 29 years Patricia Christian, who lives here in Oak Bay. Will the House please make them all welcome.
Hon. R. Coleman: I could say that one other individual in the women's advisory group wanted to be introduced separately, or I could admit to the fact I can't read my own writing in the right sequence. It is the latter, of course. I would like to have the House welcome Denise Barnaby to the House today as well, please.
N. Macdonald: It's a pleasure to introduce from Golden my constituency assistant, Joy Orr. Would the House please join me in making her welcome.
Hon. J. van Dongen: Today in the members gallery we have a special visitor from Jamaica. Officially visiting Victoria for the first time is Her Excellency Evadne Coye, high commissioner of Jamaica to Canada. The Minister of Economic Development and I had a very interesting lunch with her discussing economic opportunities for Jamaica and British Columbia. Accompanying her are Dr. Astley Smith, honorary consul of Jamaica at Vancouver; Mr. Mike Morley, a member of the Jamaican community in Victoria; and Judith, her assistant from Vancouver. I ask the House to make Her Excellency and her whole delegation very welcome.
R. Fleming: In the legislative precinct today are a couple of constituents of mine who, over the weekend, celebrated a significant anniversary: 25 years together as a couple. Richard and Betty Stevens celebrated together on the weekend. They're a wonderful couple. They love each other very much, and they've had a wonderful relationship over 25 years in both sickness and health. Will the Legislature please join me in congratulating them on that milestone.
S. Hawkins: Will the House please help me welcome Juliet Scaife, the parliamentary librarian of Tasmania. She's visiting our Legislature as the last leg of an information-gathering tour that has included the parliaments of London, Scotland, Ireland and Ontario. Please help me make her welcome.
I. Black: One of our legislative interns is a young man by the name of James McAllister. He's a fine young guy — very, very bright and one of the future leaders of our province, but perhaps more pertinently to me, he's also a fine constituent of the riding of Port Moody–Westwood. James's mom and dad are here today, and I thought we should make them feel welcome.
We've got in the gallery today Barb McAllister and Frank Bird. Frank is an employee of the provincial liquor distribution branch, and Barb is an office administrator. They come from the marvellous community of Port Moody. Would the House please join me in making them feel most welcome.
S. Fraser: Last week I had two grade 5 classes visiting from Qualicum Beach, from Arrowview Elementary School. They were Laurie Rankin's class and Laura Bonnor's class. Last Thursday, when I stood and got this on Hansard, I realized that the red light wasn't on and noticed that there was no one here. So I'm belatedly doing it again.
I would like you to make both grade 5 classes feel welcome this week for their visit last week — and the parents who came with them and all of the students too. Please join me in making them feel very welcome last week.
D. Hayer: I have today a special guest, friend and community leader Ken Fisher, who is the executive director and president of Nova Métis Heritage Association located in Surrey. Ken has been a close friend, and he volunteers on many organizations in Surrey. I have known him for more than 25 years. Would the House please make him very welcome.
D. Jarvis: I have three special ladies to introduce from my riding, and I hope you all give them a warm welcome. It's Hilda Colwell, my riding president; Miss Jane Thornthwaite, who is a trustee for North
[ Page 8229 ]
Vancouver district 44; and last but not least, my wife Dianne Jarvis.
L. Mayencourt: In addition to all the wonderful people that have already been introduced, I have a couple of friends here from Vancouver-Burrard: Betty Jones and Gary Stopyra. Would you all please make them feel welcome.
First Reading of Bills
SMALL BUSINESS FAIRNESS AND
PROTECTION ACT, 2007
G. Robertson presented a bill intituled Small Business Fairness and Protection Act, 2007.
G. Robertson: I move introduction of the Small Business Fairness and Protection Act, 2007, for first reading.
G. Robertson: It is with great respect for the small business owners, their families, their staff and loyal customers that I introduce this urgent legislation today.
This bill creates a program for giving grants and emergency interest-free loans to small businesses struggling from major traffic disruptions due to the construction of provincially significant public infrastructure projects. Specifically it will provide for grants equivalent to a store's annual property tax to be issued directly to the business owners and create a mechanism for providing short-term, no-interest loans so that affected businesses can survive the extended construction period.
Compensation for business losses is common in other jurisdictions. In fact, they're quite often anticipated in budgets. This bill can immediately offer compensation to the over 500 small and medium businesses along the Canada line corridor. Access to their stores is being significantly impacted for six to 18 months, and so far, average sales for most retailers are down between 40 and 60 percent.
Would members of this House sacrifice half of their salaries to see the RAV line built? Government members are supporting quite the opposite in the House this week. Meanwhile, these small businesses are unfairly shouldering unbearable costs in the construction method being taken. This must be acknowledged and compensated for in a fair and urgent manner. I urge all members of the House to support this bill and the fair and reasonable treatment of the small businesses making great sacrifices for the sake of the Canada line project.
I move that this bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M218, Small Business Fairness and Protection 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.
BUSINESS PRACTICES AND CONSUMER
PROTECTION AMENDMENT ACT, 2007
G. Gentner presented a bill intituled Business Practices and Consumer Protection Amendment Act, 2007.
G. Gentner: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Amendment Act, 2007, be read a first time today.
G. Gentner: In 2006 Canadians spent an estimated $6 billion on gift cards, or 55 percent of Canadians over 18 either purchased or received a gift card.
Home Depot, for example, reported $52 million in income from cards that expired between 1998 and 2001. In Canada, Consumer Reports suggests that the amount of unredeemed cards is more than 10 percent, while in the United States of America reports have it as high as 19 percent. It is estimated that about $800 million is spent in B.C. annually, meaning that at least $80 million in gift cards remain unredeemed annually in this province.
That's free money. Gift cards have become more of a gift for the retailer than for the consumer. Consumers need protection.
The amendment to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act introduces the toughest consumer protection legislation in the country, and frankly, it's a page from Washington State. What's good for other provinces and Washington State is good for B.C.
This bill does not endorse date restrictions to promotional cards. It simply eliminates expiry dates on gift cards that consumers have paid for.
There's no time for delay. In less than three weeks from today B.C.'s fifth-largest retailing season is upon us. It's called Father's Day. Let's get this bill done through the session's end, so dad cannot feel guilty about cards left in the drawer or in his wallet.
I move the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Amendment Act be ordered to be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M219, Business Practices and Consumer Protection Amendment 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.
(Standing Order 25B)
G. Gentner: Despite losing her luggage, a stress fracture to her left shin and the late arrival of her skates in Halifax, 15-year-old Cecylia Witkowski won the
[ Page 8230 ]
junior women's bronze medal at this year's National Figure Skating Championships.
Cecylia began taking lessons when she was four. She's up early every morning and spends hours on dry-land training. She's on the ice 20 hours a week, splitting her travelling time between Richmond and Coquitlam. Cecylia plays piano and squeezes in time for hip-hop dance lessons with her friends. What's most impressive is that she maintains straight As at Seaquam Secondary while taking leave at 11 a.m. every second day for skating lessons.
Cecylia's father works and works and works to pay the $30,000 and more for coaching and ice time. An Olympic medal is no easy slog. While competing against most skaters two years her senior, Witkowski landed a double axel, a triple toe loop–double toe loop combination, a double flip and a level-three circular footwork sequence with good spins to the music of Irving Berlin.
She's only a triple salchow away from the next podium, and we can all share that dream, but keep in mind the demand, sacrifices and hardships of athletes and their families. Upon finishing her performance, hurting and sore, British Columbia's emerging star said: "I just told myself that everything would be okay and that I had to focus on something strong and work to do my best." Staying strong and work to do my best — that's what it's all about.
MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPIONS
J. McIntyre: I rise today to celebrate an important event that everyone in the House should be proud of. We are the champions, and I'll spare you the singing.
The Vancouver Giants are now officially the top junior hockey team in Canada after defeating the Medicine Hat Tigers 3-1 on Sunday to claim Canada's top junior trophy, the Memorial Cup. This was following a dramatic 8-1 win in the semifinals against the Plymouth Whalers on Friday night.
This victory is especially sweet for our hometown heroes as it marks the first Memorial Cup win since the team was formed six years ago, bringing top-calibre junior hockey to Vancouver. We have seven players on the team from B.C.
I had the privilege of watching the Giants' first game of the round-robin tournament against the Plymouth Whalers ten days ago at the Pacific Coliseum, joining the thousands of diehard fans cheering on this team with skill and heart. It was a thrilling overtime win for the Giants to start the tournament with a big flair. Let me tell you that if we could harness the energy and the enthusiasm of the Giants' fans, we'd solve all of British Columbia's energy problems in short order.
Competition aside, playing host to the Memorial Cup was a great opportunity to showcase Vancouver to the rest of the country and to highlight our province's sporting spirit, which I expect will be just as strong when we host the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2010. This builds on the same winning platform we exhibited in hosting and winning the world junior tournament over Christmas of '05-06.
I'd ask all the members of this House to join me in offering our heartfelt congratulations to all of the players, the coaches, the staff and owners of the Vancouver Giants for their Memorial Cup victory — the first of many, I'm sure. I'd also like to call on all members to congratulate the hundreds of hard-working volunteers and members of the 2007 Memorial Cup Vancouver organizing committee for putting together a truly first-class sporting and winning event.
Thank you. You make us all proud British Columbians.
GOLD RIVER–TAHSIS GREAT WALK
C. Trevena: Some members of this House and some of the ministers opposite will have heard of my concerns about the Head Bay Road. It's 63½ kilometres of logging road between Gold River and Tahsis. It's a road vital to the village of Tahsis for its dreams and its plans.
Several hundred people are going to see the road up close on Saturday when they step out for one of the toughest fundraising hikes around — all 63½ kilometres of the Head Bay Road in one day. No wonder it's called the Great Walk.
This Saturday marks the 30th Great Walk — a boot-burning event, as it's described. It starts at four in the morning, and hikers continue till eight that evening up and down the mountains through the west coast's most spectacular countryside.
Hikers are coming from Vancouver, Victoria, Oregon, Alberta and as far away as Honolulu for the trek, organized by the Lions Club. Over the years thousands of dollars have been raised for charities, ranging from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to UNICEF. In fact, the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows talked about one of his constituents who's fundraising for that walk.
The whole thing started in the 1970s when the then mayor of Tahsis, Bill Lore, challenged Gold River's mayor, Vic Welsh. Lore said he'd walk to Gold River if Welsh walked to Tahsis. The gauntlet was picked up, and the tradition began.
At that stage $5,000 was raised for the community centre. Since then, the Great Walk has gained the reputation of being North America's toughest walkathon. Like any event, there are the records. The fastest time for 63½ kilometres — 4½ hours. The youngest person to complete it was seven, and the oldest, 82.
It's an amazing event and a healthy tradition. I hope it will continue, maybe even one day along a paved road, for many years to come.
JUDY McGOWAN AND
KIWANIS KIDS CHOIR
B. Lekstrom: It's my pleasure today to stand in this House and speak about an incredible organization in my community that I represent, in my hometown of Dawson Creek — not just an incredible organization, but an incredible lady that really founded this. The
[ Page 8231 ]
organization is what we call the Kiwanis Kids Choir, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.
This choir has been in existence for 16 years. For all 16 of those years Mrs. Judy McGowan has been their leader. She comes from a musical background. Her brother Roy Forbes is a recording artist and is from Dawson Creek as well. The work that Judy has done is truly amazing.
Although this is a kids choir, in 1994 after two years of operation she expanded it to include the adults as well. Many of these adults were the parents of the children that were participating. Both my wife Vicki and I…. Our two daughters went through this. My wife actually participated, as well, under Judy's guidance. I found it interesting that my children asked my wife to participate and not myself, but they have heard me sing, so….
I do want to pay tribute to Judy for the work that she has done with the Kiwanis Kids Choir. She has retired now after 16 years of serving the community in this capacity as well as many others. During the 16 years we've seen 600 children go through the Kiwanis Kids Choir. I can tell you they learn a great deal about music, but they learn a great deal about manners and about discipline. The talent that has come through this is truly amazing.
On behalf of myself and, I'm sure, the members, I want to extend a huge thank-you to Judy McGowan and the Kiwanis Kids Choir and all of the parents that allowed their children to take part in what I think is one of the finest organizations that our community and region has seen. They participated at numerous events, roughly 25 a year on average. One of the highlights certainly is the Christmas candlelight that we do at our seniors homes in Dawson Creek and Pouce Coupe. Each and every year they're there.
I thank them on behalf of all of us.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN COQUITLAM
D. Thorne: I am pleased to rise today to speak about economic development in Coquitlam. More than a hundred years ago Coquitlam built its economic foundations on the lumber and shipping industries. Today a wide variety of sectors, including commercial retail, office and light industrial, choose Coquitlam because of its central location, its excellent schools and a skilled and growing labour pool.
A business-friendly city hall with a focus on economic development, working closely with our large and vibrant chamber of commerce, has created a community which is a prime place for investment and business success. As one of the growth concentration areas identified by the GVRD, the future of Coquitlam is bright.
In order to reach proposed GVRD growth targets, Coquitlam has identified high-technology, home-based business, film and television production, and tourism as potential high-growth employment sectors.
The two main economic areas in my constituency are Austin Heights and Maillardville. Austin Heights, where my constituency office is located, features a wide range of small business. These include medical and dental offices, grocery stores and restaurants.
Recently, the merchants have formed a business improvement association, and I am delighted to be working with this group. As a former small business owner myself, I know the value of a BIA in enhancing the appearance and the viability of a neighbourhood shopping area.
Maillardville, the French village in my constituency, is undergoing commercial and cultural revitalization thanks to the hard work of the Maillardville merchants association and the city of Coquitlam. Shoppers from all over B.C. are drawn to this area, to Ikea and the other big-box retailers.
Since 1991 Coquitlam has added over 15,000 jobs and has created a community that is most definitely becoming a place where people are choosing to live, work and play.
CHILD CARE IN B.C.
D. MacKay: May is national Child Care Month. I would like to take this opportunity to thank child care providers for their hard work and dedication to children. As a grandfather, I am aware of the challenges of raising children. Child care providers deserve our recognition and thanks.
We have heard from many B.C. families about the need for more child care spaces. As government we are committed to building more child care spaces throughout the province. In 2005-2006 we invested over $14 million to create more than 1,400 new spaces. Those 1,400 spaces are spread around B.C. — 286 in the Fraser region, 294 in the interior, 190 in the north, 355 in Vancouver coastal and 318 on Vancouver Island.
As you probably already know, on April 1, 2007, the federal government cancelled the 2005 early learning and child care agreement, which represents a loss of $455 million over the next three years. However, in the March federal budget they announced $250 million annually for space creation across Canada. B.C.'s share will be almost $33 million a year. This is far short of the $152 million that we would have got under the previous early learning and child care agreement. That having been said, we are committed to the best use of those funds to build our child care system in a sustainable way.
As government we are committed to providing child care in order that families can choose from a range of affordable, safe, quality child care options. Child care providers spend days enriching and caring for those children whose family needs the peace of mind of knowing that their children are cared for while they are at work. For all that, we say thank you to the child care providers in British Columbia.
PLAN FOR COAL-FIRED PLANT IN
PRINCE GEORGE AREA
C. James: In February the Premier made a commitment to British Columbians. He said no to traditional coal-fired projects. But over the weekend we learned that no is just a lot of hot air. A proposed coal-
[ Page 8232 ]
fired project north of Prince George could add one full percent to British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions. The Ministry of Energy staff have said there's no policy against it.
My question is to the Premier. Is this another climate change flip-flop, or is it just exposing how weak his commitments truly are?
Hon. G. Campbell: I can tell the opposition that this government is committed to a 33-percent reduction in greenhouse gases.
We have set the course of action for the province, indeed including coal-fired electrical plants. One of the issues that we have been recognized for across the country is the new technology, the new clean coal technology that we're bringing to bear.
We will continue to do that, but this should be very clear to the opposition leader. Our commitment to a 33-percent reduction is firm. We will have targets in place for 2012, 2016. We will work with every sector of the economy, and British Columbia will lead the country.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
C. James: The only record that's being set here is the record on how quick it took to break the climate change commitment that was made by this Premier. The throne speech was clear that any coal-fired projects would require 100-percent carbon sequestration, but now the government is already waffling on that commitment.
The member for Prince George–Omineca said he supports the project. The Minister of Agriculture has admitted that the project will definitely increase emissions. Staff within the Ministry of Energy say that the Premier's coal sequestration policy only applies to electrical projects. New industrial projects are still free to burn dirty coal.
My question again to the Premier: how can British Columbians trust him to deliver on any climate change commitment when it only took him three months to break this promise?
Hon. G. Campbell: You know, the opposition leader is nobody to talk about anything regarding climate change. There's a party where her own member has said the NDP has no position on climate change. They don't know how to deal with climate change, and they have shown that day in and day out with their pronouncements.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. G. Campbell: On this side of the House we will deal with climate change. We will have a 33-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We will work with every sector of the economy, and we will continue to build on not just clean energy but a clean economy for all British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
C. James: It's unbelievable — to listen to this Premier stand up and talk about his climate change commitments when he isn't saying no to burning dirty coal. The Graymont lime plant is going to add a full percentage point to B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions — a full percentage point. It's going to have a significant impact on air quality in the Prince George region.
We need the Premier to make his position clear. Yes or no — does he support dirty coal burning in British Columbia?
Hon. G. Campbell: This government….
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. G. Campbell: Thank you to the member opposite.
Let me say that this government's position is unequivocal. There will be a 33-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia.
It is very important, I think, for the opposition to understand that the way to actually accomplish these goals is to lay out a plan, to work with British Columbians, to work with every sector of the economy and to actually let the processes that we currently have in place run their course.
So far, this has not even been a proposal that has gone through the environmental assessment. This government will be bringing forth new air quality standards, a new air plan and a new water plan. We have a greenhouse gas reduction strategy which has been recognized across the continent.
S. Simpson: There's been climate change rhetoric in the throne speech. There's climate change rhetoric in the energy plan. If the member for Prince George–Omineca is to be believed, there is nothing behind that but rhetoric.
Will the Premier tell us today, and will he tell Graymont, that unless they're going to sequester 100 percent of the carbon, there will not be coal-fired power in that plant? Yes or no — is he going to keep the commitment?
Hon. G. Campbell: This government has been very clear about what our climate change strategy is. We've been very clear about our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent, and I might point out that the opposition has been very clear in voting against every single one of those initiatives.
I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the opposition is reflecting, indeed, the policy implications that we've seen mentioned by the member for Nelson-
[ Page 8233 ]
Creston, who said: "Our party has no idea how to deal with climate change and its implications for social principles."
Let me tell you this. This government does have an idea. We're going to include British Columbians, we're going to include every sector of the economy, and we're going to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by 2020.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: The Premier's inability to say the word "coal…." You would almost think this matter was before the courts.
The member for Prince George–Omineca said: "I hope that this project gets underway. I know coal is used in many industries in the province, so this isn't unusual." The staff for the Ministry of Energy said: "Burning coal for a fuel source doesn't apply under the energy plan."
This is all contrary to the throne speech. If we have an open door on the burning of coal in industry, then we will be adding millions and millions of new CO2 emissions in this province. This project alone — more than half a million tonnes.
Is the 100-percent carbon sequestration a requirement for all coal-fired power in British Columbia, including industry, or is the throne speech commitment a fraud?
Hon. G. Campbell: The opposition is doing what they normally do. They're talking and asking questions before they have the facts.
As I pointed out before, this is in the environmental assessment process at this point. No final decisions have been made. I think it's important to recognize that when we set goals and objectives for the province, we want to bring all sectors of the economy together as we meet those objectives. We intend to do that. The Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Environment and the government itself will ensure that we are meeting our target of a 33-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
R. Fleming: The question is quite simple: yes or no to coal?
The Premier hasn't been forthcoming in telling members of this House today what the answer is. So will he tell the Minister of Agriculture, who has already been on the record saying that this project will proceed? Is he going to tell the Minister of Agriculture that he is wrong and that the government won't support the proposed coal-fired plant north of Prince George?
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. R. Neufeld: Again, we have an opposition coming to the House with half-baked responses to something that's still out there, which is in a process that still hasn't been determined yet.
The Premier was clear. There will be an air quality plan for British Columbia that will deal with these issues. We have committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 33 percent. We said full sequestration for generation of electricity by coal.
That trumps anything that group did when they were in government. Greenhouse gases rose by 24 percent under that group over there — under that group. They had a plan to continue to increase greenhouse gases as long as they were there. In fact, that's where most of the gas comes from. It's on that side of the House.
We will meet our commitment of 33-percent reduction — guaranteed. Just give us time to do it.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
CLOSING OF CANFOR MILL
C. Wyse: On May 22 Canfor gave the mayor of Mackenzie one-hour notice — I repeat, one hour — prior to announcing the closure of their milling and logging operations in that town. The mayor estimates that one in three families in their community will be affected by this closure.
To the Minister of Community Services: what is the minister doing to assist the people in Mackenzie with the immediate and long-term fallout from this announcement by Canfor?
Hon. R. Coleman: I know there is one way of looking at an issue like this, and that would be the issue of the critic and the members opposite who would say: "The sky is falling, and nobody can work together to solve the problem." Or you can try and find solutions during the period of time while there are logs still in the yard.
The mill will continue operating till the end of August. We will be sitting down with Canfor, and we will be working through some of their issues to see if there are some long-term solutions for them.
Let's also remember one other thing with regards to these types of issues. The dollar is up, and the price is down. The fact of the matter is that the industry is facing a period of time where there are some challenges with regards to pricing. But if the member would pay some attention to industry analysts, he would know that there's a very, very bright future for forestry in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. Wyse: Regardless of what we have just heard, the people of Mackenzie still have the issue that is immediately facing them. For years this government has been announcing that the pine beetle is devastating our forests.
For two years we have been asking the government to redesign the community transition program so that
[ Page 8234 ]
there is a proactive program and not simply an effort to close the barn door once all the horses have escaped.
Once more, my question is to the Minister of Community Services. Why does this government not have a transition strategy in place now for the many forest-dependent communities that will be getting phone calls just like the mayor of Mackenzie got last week?
Hon. R. Coleman: To the member opposite: coming from a forest-dependent community yourself, you should understand that there's a cycle in any commodity. That cycle is here today. We're in a downward cycle. There is going to be an upward cycle. You will see reinvestment in the forest.
I think the member opposite, though, goes a little bit too far when he starts to question whether there's a plan around certain things, when in the 1990s all you did was wait for weather to deal with the pine beetle devastation….
Hon. R. Coleman: Oh, it really gets you upset when you figure out that you were there at the front lines in 1993-94 and did nothing about beetle. It should get you upset, because you sold out the people in the interior of B.C.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Simpson: I note that the minister has gone off on a rant about the mountain pine beetle. The situation in Mackenzie has nothing to do with the mountain pine beetle. That's a mill that's milling green wood.
The Minister of Agriculture and Lands has stated publicly that he is sitting down with Canfor to negotiate something with Canfor to keep that mill open. They want them to reassess the decision that the company has made.
My question is to the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. What is he taking to the table? What is his negotiating position on behalf of the province to keep that mill open in Mackenzie?
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm much prouder to have a Minister of Agriculture and Lands who's a great MLA in Prince George North caring about his communities and trying to find positive solutions than listen to the negative solutions that didn't…. All we hear is negative solutions.
You bet we're going to sit down and try and work out issues with Canfor. You bet we're going to try and work out situations as we come through this cycle in forestry, because we believe in the future of forestry in British Columbia, and we're not going to run around just being negative all the time.
Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.
B. Simpson: Since 2001, 40-plus mills have closed in this province. Since 2001 over 10,000 forest workers have lost their jobs in this province. Canfor's announcement of the Mackenzie mill is an indefinite closure. They're going to run their wood out. They also said in the announcement that there's more to come. There's more to come on the coast; there's more to come in the interior.
Yet we stood in this House and asked for help for Midway. We didn't get it. We stood in the House and asked for help in the Queensborough mill closure. We didn't get it. We stood in this House and asked for help for Elk Falls, which is struggling to keep their doors open. We didn't get it.
My question is to the Premier. Is the new social contract for forest-dependent communities in this province dependent upon whether or not they have a minister who will stand up for that community? Where are the other forest-dependent communities that are not getting help from either this minister or from this Premier in the province?
Hon. R. Coleman: At least this government never sold out the interior of B.C. on pine beetle like that group over there did. At least this government can stand here and tell you that we didn't put out some phony jobs and timber accord to produce 21,000 jobs that never worked for anybody in the province of British Columbia.
At least this government, in spite of the member for North Island, is prepared to celebrate that the Port Alice mill was reopened a year ago last week. They celebrated their first anniversary of putting jobs on the north side of Vancouver Island.
At least this government is proud of the fact that there's investment — over $240 million of capital investment alone in that member's home community in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
CANADA LINE CONSTRUCTION
ON CAMBIE STREET
G. Robertson: Over 500 small businesses along the RAV line corridor are being devastated by losses in revenue averaging over 40 percent. That means well over $100 million in lost sales for those businesses over the year of construction chaos in front of their stores. With more than one small business a week closing down right now, the situation is dire.
The Premier said yesterday that there are "major efforts to try and take care of it." Does the Premier honestly believe that the $1.5 million marketing fund that he calls a major effort is fair to offset over $100 million in lost sales to small business?
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm always interested in the comments of the member opposite. But you know, I also….
[ Page 8235 ]
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, sure, go ahead.
I also pay attention to people from that business community and representatives from the Cambie Village Business Improvement Association. One of them, Leonard Schein, had a few things to say. He pointed out, for example, that….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, no, actually. I think it's kind of interesting for the member. Schein said that in recent months ten new businesses have opened their doors or have expressed their intention to locate, including a new pharmacy, several new restaurants and a Capers Community Market. He goes on to say: "But exaggerated statements related to recent business closures in this area only serve to deter potential customers and hurt local businesses."
I actually agree with him, because the fact of the matter is that this member is calling for a solution that would be quite unprecedented. No level of government anywhere across Canada provides that kind of intervention. Apparently, this member opposite believes we need to subsidize a bank, a Safeway, a Superstore, a Starbucks and all of the other major big businesses that these people always rail against — which that member always rails against. Suddenly, he's calling for the provincial government to provide relief.
Well, that's not the answer. The fact of the matter is there's a $1.5 million budget that TransLink has put together to help those folks, and it's doing its job.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
G. Robertson: Well, only this minister would think that big banks are small business.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
G. Robertson: Perhaps the minister hasn't seen the letter of support from the Cambie Village Business Improvement Association in support of compensation, as I have brought forward to the House. This Premier and this minister think that the paltry $1.5 million to put up some billboards along the line will cut it, and they're dead wrong.
This government's support for business only seems to apply to the huge multinational construction companies that are digging up the city. We're talking about hundreds of small businesses, thousands of employees losing their livelihoods. We're talking about ripping up communities.
How can this Premier in good conscience say that he supports small business in this province when he's undermining and abandoning over 500 to build this subway project? Will the Premier stand up today and support real compensation for the businesses devastated by the construction of the Cambie line?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, this is really rich. This is the same opposition that voted against significant tax relief for small businesses each and every year. This is the same opposition that opposed the 40-percent reduction in unnecessary regulation that this government and this Premier put through this House — the same opposition. I find this rather amazing.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, take your seat.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: You know, it's so typical of this opposition to just come up with knee-jerk responses to a situation like this without thinking it through. The member says: "Who would think of a bank as big business?" Well, I've got to inform the member that the businesses that he wants to include for tax relief include Chevron. They include Safeway. They include Best Buy. They include stores like Starbucks — all the big businesses that this group are always railing against.
The fact of the matter is that TransLink is developing this project. They've put into place $1.3 million of marketing dollars to go into promoting business in that area.
We don't pretend there's not an impact, but the fact of the matter is that there's no difference in the number of empty businesses today than there was before this project started. It hasn't changed by one.
FRASER HEALTH AUTHORITY
A. Dix: My question is for the Minister of Health. The chair of the Fraser Health Authority said it clearly in the service plan presented to the Minister of Health: more clogged emergency rooms, more cancelled surgeries, new user fees, essential programs deferred, cuts in home support and huge financial risks as a direct result of this government's health budget fiasco — not my words, but the words of the chair of the Fraser Health Authority.
My question to the Minister of Health is: can he tell this House when this indictment of his record and the record of the Premier will be approved?
Hon. G. Abbott: Health care has never been better in the Fraser Health Authority, never been better in the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
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Hon. G. Abbott: When we took office in 2001, the average median wait time for surgeries in Fraser Health was six weeks. Today it's four weeks. More surgeries — a record number of surgeries, in fact — in Fraser Health. More diagnostic tests — in fact, 300 percent more MRIs than when we took office in 2001. An over $500 million lift in the operational budget for Fraser Health. Almost a billion dollars in new capital infrastructure investment since 2001 in Fraser Health.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
A. Dix: I know the minister is frustrated. I know he's frustrated because finally the public got to see an unedited version of the facts that he's been hiding for months. I know he's frustrated because not even the people the Premier appoints to run the health authorities believe his rhetoric anymore.
But imagine the frustration of Mary Lou Frye. Ms. Frye has had her brain surgery cancelled six times, most recently on May 25 at Royal Columbian Hospital — six times. And the minister said last week: "There's no surgery crisis at Royal Columbian." Tell it to Mary Lou Frye and her family.
Why is the minister stuck in denial on the crisis in the Fraser Health Authority, and why does the Fraser Health service plan — on page 55, to help the minister — indefinitely postpone an increase in ICU beds at Royal Columbian Hospital?
Hon. G. Abbott: As I've said a number of times in this House before, we always regret when elective surgeries are postponed because they have lost their precedence to urgent or life-saving cases. That almost invariably is the case, particularly in busy trauma centres like Royal Columbian Hospital. There are periodically occasions when there will be a rash of serious injuries or illnesses that have to be given precedence within the surgical slate.
I know that does happen. We regret when that does happen. I think that everyone — even the members opposite, I'm sure — would agree that if there is an urgent, emergent, life-saving procedure that is required, it should take the highest precedence within the surgical slate.
EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES AT
NANAIMO SENIORS VILLAGE
L. Krog: The Minister of Health is well aware of what's happening at Nanaimo Seniors Village. These workers have been hired and fired more often in a shorter period of time than any other workers in the history of the province. They provide valuable care for vulnerable seniors, who rely on that care. The fact that these people are being fired is a direct result of this government's failed policies in Bill 29.
My question to the Minister of Health is very simple. How can seniors at the Nanaimo Seniors Village get the support they need when policies brought in by this government mean that the hard-working staff who care for them keep getting fired over and over again?
Hon. G. Abbott: Nanaimo Seniors Village is a privately owned residential care facility. It is neither owned nor operated by the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
As I said in response to previous questions in this House in relation to this matter, if there are disputes that are arising with respect to payment for services or the way in which the contract has been managed, the appropriate remedy for those kinds of issues is the Labour Relations Board or the employment standards branch. The member well knows that, and I'm sure that the unions representing those officials will make good use of those offices.
[End of question period.]
Hon. R. Thorpe: I have the honour to present the B.C. Assessment annual service plan report for 2006 and the audited financial statements for the period ended December 31, 2006.
Reports from Committees
R. Fleming: I have the honour to present the report of the Select Standing Committee on Public Accounts on the appointment of an Auditor General.
I move that the report be taken as read and received.
R. Fleming: I ask leave of the House to suspend the rules to permit the moving of a motion to adopt the report.
R. Fleming: I move that the report be adopted. In doing so, I would like to note that this report constitutes the committee's unanimous recommendation for the appointment of an Auditor General.
Members of this House will know that this committee has been working at this task of naming our province's next Auditor General for well on 18 months under two distinct searches. Our committee received interest in the position from talented persons from across Canada and internationally. The reputation of the office and the importance of the work it does for B.C. attracted widespread interest.
While the process has not been easy, I can assure all 79 members of this House and the citizens of British Columbia that the extensive deliberations and rigorous selection process have resulted in our recommendation of an outstanding person for the position of Auditor General.
In making the recommendation as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, I know I speak on behalf of the committee when I say how conscious we are of
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the importance of the position of Auditor General to the citizens of British Columbia and to this Legislature. The confidence of all British Columbians in its government institutions is enhanced by having independent oversight and assurance that the public sector is run efficiently and in accordance with the best accounting and public administration practices.
If confirmed today, British Columbia will have its fourth Auditor General since 1976. Previous Auditors General include Erma Morrison, George Morfitt and Wayne Strelioff. We have also had two acting Auditors General in modern times, Mr. Bob Hayward in the late 1980s and of course, for the past 11 months, Mr. Arn van Iersel.
I'd like to thank all the members of the Public Accounts Committee for their hard work at this task and in particular my two Deputy Chairs of the committee, the member for Richmond-Steveston and the member for West Vancouver–Garibaldi. With that, I move adoption of the report.
J. McIntyre: I'd just like to add my sincere thanks to staff, to the Chair — the member for Victoria-Hillside — to our search subcommittee comprising members from Prince George–Omineca, Langley and Surrey-Whalley as well as to the entire Public Accounts Committee for coming together to make a unanimous recommendation for B.C.'s fourth and next Auditor General.
The gentleman who will, hopefully, be appointed has a very impressive resumé and solid practical experience in his current position. He has also held a series of senior academic positions as well as positions as CFO in major organizations throughout a distinguished career. I'm looking forward to the positive contribution he will no doubt make here to government in British Columbia based on the breadth and depth of his experience.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank Arn van Iersel, the acting Auditor General, for his service over the past year. His last day is Thursday, May 31. He's served in this position with dignity and distinction over a challenging year, and I think his efforts and long public service career here in B.C. should be acknowledged by the House.
R. Fleming: I ask leave of the House to permit the moving of a motion to appoint Mr. John Doyle as the Auditor General of the province of British Columbia.
Motions without Notice
APPOINTMENT OF AUDITOR GENERAL
R. Fleming: I move:
[That the Legislative Assembly appoint Mr. John Doyle as the Auditor General for the Province of British Columbia pursuant to the Auditor General Act (SBC 2003 c. 2).]
C. James: I seek leave to present a petition, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
C. James: I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
M. Farnworth: I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
A. Dix: I rise to present a petition on behalf of more than 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
B. Ralston: I, too, rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
M. Sather: I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
G. Gentner: I'm in line now. I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 or possibly more British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
L. Krog: I, likewise, rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking this House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
M. Karagianis: I also rise to present a petition with approximately 1,000 names of British Columbians asking this House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
C. Wyse: I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
G. Coons: I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately — it's rounded — 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
C. Puchmayr: I have in my hand about 1,000 names. I rise to present this petition to the House to protect consumers from price gouging.
N. Simons: I didn't get as many as everyone else. I believe it's slightly under 1,000 signatures in this
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petition, which is asking the government to protect all of them — whether they're 999, fewer or more than 1,000, as the case may be — from the price gouging.
N. Macdonald: I, too, rise to present a petition on behalf of or in the range of 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
R. Chouhan: I rise to present a petition on behalf of 1,732 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
H. Bains: I rise to hand in a petition on behalf of over 1,300 British Columbians asking this House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
J. Brar: I rise to present a petition on behalf of approximately 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action to protect consumers from gas price gouging.
R. Fleming: I rise to present a petition on behalf of nearly 1,000 British Columbians asking the House to take action on gas price gouging.
J. Horgan: I rise to table 1,100 signatures, making a total today on this side of the House of 18,646 signatures, on behalf of Jon McComb, The World Today and Fight Back Fridays calling on this House to do something about gas price gouging.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Committee of Supply. For the information of members, in this chamber we will be discussing the estimates of the Premier's office and in Committee A, the estimates of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: OFFICE OF THE PREMIER
The House in Committee of Supply (Section B); S. Hawkins in the chair.
The committee met at 2:49 p.m.
On Vote 10: Office of the Premier, $13,771,000.
Hon. G. Campbell: As we start today, I'd like to introduce my Deputy Minister to the Premier, Jessica McDonald; Deputy Minister of Strategic Policy Dana Hayden; and Michelle Leamy.
I'd like to make a few opening remarks, if I can, to highlight some of the things we've accomplished in the last year. I think it's important for us to recognize that the government tries to lay out its plans and proposals for the year ahead. We want to make sure that we have an opportunity for people in British Columbia to see what we're trying to accomplish, and this is an opportunity for us to review some of those things.
It's also an opportunity for the official opposition to firmly and definitively present some of their positions on the issues of importance of the day. This obviously is an opportunity for us to discuss what we manage to accomplish as a government, but it's also an opportunity for the Leader of the Opposition to lay out some of her specific goals and objectives for the province.
The provincial government has established five great goals for the province: to make B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent; to lead the way in North America in physical fitness and in healthy living; to build the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, special needs, children at risk and seniors; to lead the world in sustainable environmental management with the best air and water quality and best fisheries management, bar none; and to create more jobs per capita than anywhere else in Canada.
To get there, we established the Pacific leadership agenda, which we wanted to highlight some of the specific areas where government would focus its attention and shift some of the resources that have been there in the past to meet the needs we face. Number one under the Pacific leadership agenda is to lead Canada in partnership with first nations.
We want to tackle the challenges of global warming and growing urban sprawl, to increase affordable housing options, to reduce homelessness and to help those who can't help themselves. It's important for us to include quality, choice and accountability in our two most critical public services, education and health care. And we want to open up Canada's Pacific gateway and strengthen our economic competitiveness.
Since last we did estimates, one year ago, we've made significant steps forward on these issues and supported these goals and priorities. For example, we have continued in British Columbia to watch as our economy performed and outperformed many of its national counterparts. I'd like to read a quote from the Conference Board of Canada's Provincial Outlook, released this spring: "The British Columbia economy has turned into a job creation machine. In the last year British Columbians have created 58,000 new jobs."
In fact, there are 355,000 more jobs in British Columbia than there were in December of 2001. We're experiencing record-low unemployment — 4.4 percent today. And last March it reached the lowest level ever of 3.9 percent. Single-digit unemployment has now occurred in every region of this province for the last 24 months. Youth unemployment is at 7.9 percent, compared to 13.9 percent in 2001. Unemployment for women is at 4.7 percent, versus 6.8 percent in 2001.
We all, I think, should have some confidence in the fact that this economy is expanding beyond the traditional southwest corner of the province to touch all regions of our province. The rural economy is sharing the benefits; 105,000 more people are working in regions of B.C. outside the southwest region than there
[ Page 8239 ]
were in 2001. There are 400 major projects planned or underway in regions outside the southwest corner of B.C., and they're valued at over $70 billion.
Last year we watched as mineral exploration increased to a record high of $265 million. Last week we heard the announcement of a new Galore Creek deposit project with Teck Cominco that will create a thousand construction jobs in the northwest of this province and 500 full-time jobs in operation. This is a mining industry that's come back to British Columbia.
Last year, about this time, we signed the trade, investment and labour mobility agreement. It is an important agreement between British Columbia and Alberta which establishes the second-largest economic union in the country — almost 30 percent larger than the province of Quebec — generating an additional $4.8 billion in economic activity and an estimated 78,000 new jobs.
In fact, I think it's important for everyone to recognize that our goal is to expand TILMA's reach across the country. It's time for Canadians to stop dividing themselves up and fracturing our opportunities, which undermines our economy and in fact holds Canadians back in every single region of this country.
We've also watched as we have continued to balance the budget, continued to drive budget surpluses. And I think it's important to note that the strong fiscal management of this government has been recognized when Moody's gave the government a triple-A credit rating, when Standard and Poor's gave the government a triple-A credit rating and when the Dominion Bond service gave us a double-A-positive credit rating. In fact, I think it's fair to say that British Columbia is now recognized as a financial and economic leader in our country, and that's something we can all take some pride in.
Since 2001 we have seen 68 tax reductions. Today someone who is earning $108,000 or less in income is paying the lowest personal income tax rates in Canada, and 250,000 of the lowest-income earners in British Columbia pay no taxes whatsoever in terms of income tax. In fact, most British Columbians are paying between 30 and 70 percent less in income tax.
As we look to the future, we see real opportunities in the Asia-Pacific Initiative. We intend to advance British Columbia's global identity as Canada's Pacific gateway; to continue to build a world-class international infrastructure and supply chain; to strengthen and maximize B.C.'s trade and investment relationships with Asia; to become an Asia-Pacific education, tourism and cultural destination; and to ensure the province's labour force is equipped with the skills to thrive in this Pacific century.
The gateway transportation plan will create huge opportunities for people all over this province and indeed across the country. It will result in $8 billion in saved time and costs for consumers. It will create 17,000 years of direct employment and $1.7 billion of gross provincial product.
All of those initiatives are critical, and I think it's important to note that they follow the largest consultation process with the public in British Columbia's history — 10,000 participants, over 120 meetings and 40 open houses. With it come significant environmental benefits. Reduced idling and travel times combined with new vehicle standards will result in a 30-percent CO2 reduction.
The Canada line will result in a reduction of 14,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. With this project we are doing the single largest investment in cycling infrastructure in the province's history. It will enable transit across the Port Mann corridor to service the Fraser Valley. All of these are critical to our long-term goals and objectives.
It would be important, I think, for British Columbians to hear how the opposition feels about the Gateway project. It was launched one and a half years ago. It has had significant and, I think, positive public support. It is a critical component of our economy strengthening and, in fact, of Canada's economy opening up to this Pacific century.
We've also seen significant improvements in education with the strong economy. We know today that we face a shortage of up to 350,000 workers just 12 years away. We are taking many steps to try and fill the gaps that are necessary in terms of skills and development and training.
We're expanding the number of university and trade spaces across the province. Indeed, since 2001 we've seen 17,668 student spaces added to British Columbia's advanced education network. We're committed to 2,500 new graduate and 7,000 new apprenticeship spaces by 2010. We're spending $2 billion on post-secondary education in 2006-2007, and we expect that to expand to $2.34 billion by 2009-2010.
We're putting more resources into skilled workers, and through the provincial nominee program we've watched as over 2,500 workers have been accepted since 2001. Just to put that in context, that's in comparison to six workers that were approved under the provincial nominee program just in 2001.
In the past year British Columbia has negotiated significant new funding from the federal government, and $138.72 million over two years will be provided in federal transfers, which will help British Columbia enhance successful existing services and add new areas of service to support both immigrants and B.C. communities. I do think it's important to note how important immigrants have been to British Columbia's economy, not just in the past but today. Today we watch as the business investment category has resulted in $383 million in new investment and the creation of over 1,400 new jobs.
In K-to-12, spending is at an all-time high of $5.5 billion a year. Per-pupil funding is at $7,596, up 22 percent over the year 2000 levels. I think it's important to note that this investment in K-to-12 education has continued to increase in spite of dramatic reductions in student enrolment.
New legislation will measure student achievement, and it will ensure that all of our education systems are working in concert to make sure that young people in
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British Columbia can achieve the best possible results for themselves and for their future.
A strong economy also allows us to provide for some of the most precious resources and services that we have. In British Columbia we have now got a housing budget that is almost triple the budget of 2000 — $328 million. We've built and committed to build 13,000 new housing units since 2001, including the recent commitment to create almost a thousand units of supportive housing, including units purchased — 15 buildings purchased in Vancouver, Victoria and Burnaby.
There is a $250 million housing endowment fund to support innovative housing solutions. More than 20,000 low-income families are now eligible to receive rent supplement programs. That will provide families of four with, potentially, more than $500 a month in assistance for their housing needs.
We've increased income assistance and support for those most in need. Increases in the budget in 2007 resulted in the highest shelter rates in Canada for singles, couples and single parents; the second-highest total rate for employable singles, an increase of 20 percent; and increased rates for families with kids between $97 and up to $200 a month in terms of support for them.
We've added 20,000 people to disability designation. They now receive the third-highest rate in Canada — $906 plus $500 maximum earning exemptions — here in British Columbia.
British Columbians have said to us quite clearly that they want to have a sustainable health care system. Health expenditures have increased almost 60 percent since 2000 — four times the rate of inflation, seven times population growth. At the same time, demand is increasing.
The challenges of an aging population are there for all of us to deal with, and I am hopeful that we can deal with them in concert, because over the next 25 years, as we move towards 2030, we are going to see a near doubling of the number of people over 65. We're expecting a near doubling of problem diseases such as diabetes and dementias. This will require all of us to provide the best possible solutions for the future so that we maintain and improve not just our health services but also the other critical services that British Columbians depend upon.
As we look to the future, I think it's important to underline the importance of the Conversation on Health. There have been 15 forums held over the last year. There have been over 6,000 registrants in those forums. We've received thousands of phone calls, thousands of e-mails, and indeed, we've received millions of hits to the website. This is a critical part of what the province is trying to do as we look to the future and join with British Columbians in securing our public health care system to meet the needs of people in every part of this province.
We've also established for ourselves a critical priority of dealing with the issue of climate change. The province will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 percent below the current levels by 2020. That target will place emissions 10 percent under the 1990 levels.
The province will work with the federal government and with our Pacific partners to develop sensible and efficient systems to register trade and to purchase carbon offsets and credits. We have just launched that program with the cabinet committee. We are looking forward, again, to working with all of the people of British Columbia and all sectors of the economy as we move ahead.
The B.C. energy plan, which was launched in February of this year, sets a target of a 50-percent reduction in B.C. Hydro's incremental resources through conservation by 2020. This, too, will require each of us to make a commitment personally and institutionally as well as by the government to try and encourage those activities to take place.
In April of this year the government joined the western regional climate initiative with Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico to ensure that we create an evaluative and implemented plan that will ensure that we can reduce greenhouse gases in the Pacific region of the continent. Together we'll develop market-based and multisectoral mechanisms to help achieve that goal.
In April of this year we allocated $45 million for the $89 million federal-provincial hydrogen highway project, which will take a hydrogen highway from Whistler to Vancouver and Surrey and from Surrey to Victoria.
On May 23 we joined 30 U.S. states, a U.S. Indian tribe and the province of Manitoba in joining the climate registry. The registry will act as a first step in accurately measuring greenhouse gas emissions and will help us to track reductions.
We are working with communities to create sustainable long-term communities and to fight the challenge of urban sprawl. LocalMotion provides us with a real opportunity to help redesign communities to reduce the dependence on the automobile and to ensure that in those designs we give people the opportunity to pursue healthy lifestyles.
The Talents for Tomorrow program is focused specifically on small communities in British Columbia of less than 5,000 people. It is a critically important component of what we are trying to do as we move ahead in the province and continue to show leadership.
With regard to first nations, I think all British Columbians should take real comfort in the direction and the leadership that we've seen, not just from the First Nations Leadership Council but from many first nations communities across this province. We have now concluded 127 first nations forestry agreements, totalling 24.4 million cubic metres of wood and valued at over $160 million in revenues. Final agreements with the Maa-nulth and Tsawwassen First Nations are pending ratification. There are four additional AIPs which have been signed.
In the last year we've come to agreements with the Kwadacha and the Tsek'ene bands, which in fact start to address the impacts of flooding from the Williston reservoir on first nations in the Peace River Valley. In April we achieved four long-term agreements with the
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Blueberry River First Nations in the northeast part of the province to support economic certainty both for the resource industry and the Blueberry River First Nations.
In November we initialled an agreement with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, which they have subsequently ratified, which deals with the parcel of land that our Legislature in British Columbia is currently situated on.
It would be interesting to hear what the opposition's position is with regard to the treaties. There has been some confusion created by members opposite with regard to whether they support those treaties or don't. I can tell you that I believe these treaties are of critical importance to the future of British Columbia, as is the new relationship and the new relationship trust for economic development, as is the new first nations health care plan that we have in place currently. This health care plan allows us to find ways, under the leadership of first nations, to close the gap between first nations and non–first nations people.
We have a new aboriginal health officer in the provincial government now for the first time ever. There are specific components of the ActNow program which are aimed directly at first nations. There's an MOU with the federal government and the leadership council to support health promotion, improve quality and track aboriginal health outcomes.
The first nations education agreement that we signed, a $65 million aboriginal post-secondary strategy, will be of critical importance to first nations across this province as they build the kind of future and opportunities that they desire. We've also now signed 33 aboriginal enhancement agreements with our school boards to make sure that aboriginal children and culture and history are properly reflected in the goals and objectives of our public education system.
Finally, a new protocol on education with the federal government and the First Nations Education Steering Committee will enhance aboriginal completion and achievements as we move into the future in this province. I do think it's something that all British Columbians should take great pride in. First nations are working very closely with communities and with service providers across the province. They're working closely across the province, and I think there is a real opportunity to improve the quality of young first nations lives in every single region of this province.
Of course, since we last dealt with Premier's estimates, we've had the opportunity to complete a number of public sector service agreements. Those agreements are touching literally thousands of public servants across the province. We were successful in concluding the first negotiated settlement with the B.C. Teachers Federation, for the first time since provincewide bargaining was brought in place.
I think that all British Columbians are going to be extremely well served by the stability and the confidence that the public service and the government have as we work to ensure that British Columbia's public service is recognized across the country as one of the premiere employers and one of the premiere leaders in terms of public service development in British Columbia.
We launched in the fall a corporate human resources plan targeted at making British Columbia's public service a more competitive employer. As you know, we're going to see dramatic changes in a number of employees getting older and leaving the workforce, so we want to be sure that we're encouraging younger people to come into British Columbia. As we've watched, we have seen some positive results from the initiatives that we've undertaken.
The Pacific leaders program provides scholarships for public service employees to support their career development and learning. Scholarships for their children — up to 60 $2,500 scholarships each year, graduate fellowships to attract leading researchers to public service careers and forgiveness of B.C. student loans for employees who work in the public service for at least three years are all part of that.
Last week we signed the first agreement between CUSO, the Canadian University Service Overseas, and a provincial public service to provide continued benefits and coverage for employees who volunteer to serve overseas with CUSO. They will have a job when they decide to return to British Columbia.
The new recruitment program has managed to attract 2,100 new employees under 30 years of age. That's more than five times the number the year before, and that's very encouraging, I think, for the public service and for all of us in British Columbia.
On May 28, today, we announced a new aboriginal intern program to encourage aboriginal youth to consider careers in the public service.
All of that will serve to meet the needs of British Columbia as we look out to the years ahead. I think it's important to reflect on the important contributions that our public service has made to enhancing our quality of life over the last number of years.
Obviously, as we look to the next few years, we see the opportunities of the Olympic dream coming forward. It's an opportunity not just to inspire young people in academia, in athletics and the arts, but it's an opportunity for our communities to show off to the international community as we welcome our international visitors and the international media who will come and be part of the Olympics. Sometimes when you're successful at achieving a bid like the Olympics, it's easy to lose track of the enormous benefits that will come with that.
Domestic sponsorships, which were anticipated earlier to be $450 million, are already up and moving towards $750 million. The Olympics and the Paralympics are expected to create between $6 billion and $10 billion in economic activity, 200,000 person-years of employment, $2.5 billion of incremental tax revenue. The 2010 Commerce Centre provides B.C. businesses with an opportunity to access $4 billion in international business, and I know already many are taking advantage of that.
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In conclusion, let me say that I think that the province of British Columbia and the people of British Columbia have taken up the significant challenges of change which we confront. We confront changes in terms of an aging demographic. We confront changes in terms of the changing economies that we face. We confront the changes that are clearly in front of us with regard to the environment.
I think that the people of British Columbia should be congratulated for the commitment and the leadership they've shown as we meet those challenges by creating a strong economy, a better education system, a better health care system and an even stronger social cohesion between first nations and non–first nations in this great province.
C. James: Before I start inquiring into the Premier's budget and the specifics in that budget, I'd also like to make some opening remarks. My opening remarks will focus on an opportunity that the Premier has during this estimates process — an opportunity that I hope he will take — to answer questions that the public would like to know about, questions that we have not heard answers from government on. I'd like to take a few minutes, as well, to talk a little bit about the attitude that I've seen from this government over the last couple of years and some changes that I think are important.
As you know, we're working under a fixed legislative calendar, which is an innovation that I certainly support. But what we've learned is that under that fixed legislative calendar, it requires more than simply the calendar. It requires respect. It requires respect for this House, respect from government for this House. That has not been the case under this administration.
We've seen the fixed calendar abused to force time allocation on important bills, which is closure by any other means. We've seen an entire session cancelled at the whim of the Premier. At the time I remember clearly the House Leader calling the work we do in this chamber busywork. That shows an attitude that needs to change.
Certainly, the fixed legislative calendar has had no effect on the government's willingness to provide timely and relevant information to the public. We've seen that sad fact on display, in particular, for the last three months.
We've seen serious questions raised about B.C. Liberal corruption, about political dirty tricks from the Premier's office. We've seen serious questions raised about violations of the lobby registry act, untendered contracts for friends and insiders. We've seen conflict-of-interest issues be dismissed and ignored, in fact, for the entire session.
This estimates debate is an opportunity, as I said at the start, for the Premier to come clean — for the Premier to actually answer those questions that the public has been asking. If we simply continue the stonewalling tactics that we've seen and that we've become accustomed to in question period, then this entire process will be a farce. It'll be unfortunate for the democratic process if that occurs.
As we know, the Premier has commented extensively on openness and democratic accountability — in fact, enough to fill an entire book of quotes — so people can judge for themselves the standard that he's set. I'd like to read a few of those quotes from the Premier. "Open government is the hallmark of free and democratic societies. Secrecy feeds distrust and dishonesty. Openness builds trust and integrity." That was the Premier in 1998, when he led the opposition.
He then went on to say: "The fundamental principle must be this: government information belongs to the people, not to government." He also promised British Columbians: "We will bring in the most open and accountable government in Canada. I know some people say we'll soon forget about that, but I promise we won't." Later as Premier he told this House: "We think that openness beats hiddenness every time. We want to be sure that people can see what's taking place."
Well, I couldn't agree more. The public expects that of us, expects that of all of its elected officials. It expects us to state our commitment to these principles. As we've seen, the Premier has never been shy about doing that, but the public expects more than simply words. The public expects that those words will have meaning and real action when it comes to government — that we'll actually follow through on our commitments in concrete and practical ways. That's where the Premier is falling far short of any of those words and promises.
In countless numbers of big and small decisions under his direction, secrecy has supplanted openness. Whether it's dramatic cuts to the freedom-of-information office, whether it's exempting B.C. Ferries from the FOI Act, whether it's increasing waits and fees for basic information — and we'll get into more specifics of this as we get into a section around FOI and the Premier's office — what we've clearly seen under this Premier's leadership is that the government has moved decision-making further and further into the shadows. There's a culture of secrecy that permeates all of government, and it starts at the top.
This is a fact that isn't lost on the Premier, because back in May 1999 he told the House: "The Premier must lead by example. His office must lead by example." I'm sad to say that when it comes to secrecy, this Premier certainly has led by example. He's met a ton of questions that have come his way about improper activities in his office by stonewalling, by refusing to answer, by hiding behind a court case — questions on everything from fake phone calls to phony protests to high-level B.C. Liberal political interference in a police investigation.
The Premier has contracted out an investigation into the activities of a top deputy minister to a private firm only answerable to him, the client. He's used his office to clear close associates of wrongdoing without any public disclosure of the evidence. The Premier's strategy in handling these questions seems to be: "Trust me. I don't have to answer your questions. Just trust me." Well, that makes a mockery of democracy and a mockery of his promises and his earlier words. That certainly is something that he never would have
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accepted when he was Leader of the Opposition, but sitting on that side of the House and having the power that the public has entrusted in him has apparently changed the Premier's outlook.
Over the course of this debate the Premier has an opportunity, as I said at the start, to answer that criticism, to show the public that his promise to be open and accountable was more than simply words on a paper. If he does, this will be a very interesting debate. It will be an interesting couple of days around estimates. If the Premier sticks to his stonewalling as he's done, it's going to be a very long debate.
Whatever the Premier chooses, it's my job to ask the questions. I want to assure you that I'm going to ask those questions in a respectful manner and in a way that takes into account the fact that many of this government's actions are before the courts. But I will not let that be a hiding place for the Premier.
The Premier is asking for millions of dollars to run his office, and he's not going to get a blank cheque. To get that money, he has to be accountable for his actions, the actions of his government and the actions of his staff. The public will judge how forthcoming he's being.
So I'm going to get into the activities of the Premier's office and start with staff, but before I do that there are a couple of specific questions that I just want to get the Premier on record on.
The first one is a question that I shouldn't have to ask, but I do. My question to the Premier is: will there be a fall session as promised by this government?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm sort of surprised that the hon. Leader of the Opposition doesn't recognize that those discussions will be had between the House Leaders, and the government will make a decision at the time as to whether or not we're going to proceed with the fall session.
I can tell you that we are hopeful that there will be two treaties that will be ratified — or certainly one treaty that will be ratified — prior to the fall session. Should that be the case, we definitely will be having a fall session.
Maybe the Leader of the Opposition can tell us now whether she will be open with British Columbians and be held to account and tell us whether the opposition, in fact, will be supporting the treaties, because the treaties that have been put forward are treaties that will be beneficial to the first nations that are involved.
To be quite candid, they have resulted from a significant amount of work done by first nations negotiators, federal negotiators and provincial negotiators. They are in the ratification process now.
The best you could say is that the Leader of the Opposition has been confused about whether she supports those treaties or doesn't support those treaties. Members of her opposition have said they may or they may not. I think it's important for first nations people to know: is the opposition going to be there to support the first nations treaties that we have before us, and will they support them upon ratification?
C. James: I'll ask the question again to the Premier: will there be a fall session?
If the Premier is waiting to hear our response, our response has been the same all along. It's yes to a fall session. We're ready for a fall session. So my question, again, to the Premier is: is he saying that there will only be a fall session if the treaties come forward for ratification?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I said previously, the government will continue to work on an agenda. There is a ratification vote that will be taking place, and should there be a ratification of a treaty, then certainly there would be a fall session. Pending that ratification, the government will decide in due course whether or not there should be a fall session. That will be following discussions with the Opposition House Leader.
C. James: There's no need to have conversations with the House Leader from the opposition. We've already agreed that we want a fall session. We expect that there will be a fall session. Continuing on, as there is in a fixed legislative calendar, would be that we have a spring session and a fall session. So our answer, if the Premier's waiting for it — I'll repeat — is yes to a fall session.
My question, again, to the Premier then would be: is he saying that if the treaties do not come forward for ratification, there will be no fall session?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the standing orders are quite clear. They were brought in, in 2005, with the agreement of the opposition. Should we decide there is business that requires to be done in the fall session, it would be called back. If the ratification takes place, certainly we have committed to the first nations that we would call the session back.
The Leader of the Opposition glibly says if we've heard something from the House Leader, then that's fine. I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that we've heard a number of things from both her and her House Leader, and they are not always in sync.
It seems to me that one of the things that's important for us to be clear about is that we will deal directly with the House Leader. If the Leader of the Opposition would like to do something about that, that's fine.
But I can tell you that if that ratification comes forward, it would be a very positive thing for all British Columbians. It would be interesting to hear how the opposition feels about those treaties and whether they will ratify them or not. I also think it should be very clear that we will have a session in the fall if the government deems that it's required.
C. James: The only person who is confused here is the Premier. There are a number of pieces of legislation that are not going to be completed over the next four days, so my question to the Premier is: is he saying, just so that we're clear and the public is clear, that government has not made a decision yet about whether to have a fall session and has not made a decision yet about whether to carry forward legislation that will not be completed over the next four days?
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Hon. G. Campbell: The government's position is quite clear. If there is a ratification of a treaty, then we would be back in the fall. If there is not, then government will decide prior to the fall whether that's necessary, in consultation with the Opposition House Leader.
I do think it's important that if the Leader of the Opposition is concerned about the time it's taking, I'm sure the House Leaders can even today discuss how we can expedite the passage of a number of bills. If the opposition feels that some of the bills need to be passed right away, we'd be glad to do that. I think that's an important part of this. We're willing to work with the….
The Chair: Order, Members.
Hon. G. Campbell: Certainly the Government House Leader would be willing to work with the Opposition House Leader to expedite the passing of legislation the opposition feels is critical to pass that's on the government's agenda. Otherwise, the answer stands. We have been very clear since 2005 that the fall session was there to meet urgent needs. At this point, I can't give you the answer, other than the answer that I've already given.
C. James: Yes, of course, as the Premier knows, some of those discussions take place between the House Leaders to look at managing the time that is left in the legislative calendar. In those discussions, as I'm sure the Premier knows, there are at least seven bills that have not been debated and that would end at the end of this session and would be carried forward to a fall session, we hope.
My question to the Premier is: is he willing to let those seven bills go, or is he willing to commit today to a fall session to ensure that some of that very important legislation gets debated?
The Chair: Member, I just want to advise: that question has been asked and answered four times. This is the fifth time it's being asked, and there is a rule on tedious and repetitious questions.
The Chair: Order, Member.
M. Farnworth: I'd just like to point out to the Chair that while I understand where the Chair is coming from, the fact is that this is estimates, and traditionally in the estimates debate there is a considerable amount of latitude in terms of the questioning, the type of questioning and the ability of the questioner to question the Premier. That's exactly how every other ministry is dealt with, and I would ask that the Chair respect those traditions of this House.
Some Hon. Members: Hear, hear.
The Chair: Members, I have heard the question four times. I've heard the same answer four times. So it's a reminder to members about tedious repetition.
C. James: Well, thank you, Madam Chair. Then I'll ask a very specific question around the pieces of legislation left. Will the Premier, then, say that he is willing to let the seven bills die on the order papers and not bring them back in the fall session?
The Chair: Again, I would remind the members that the necessity for legislation in matters involving legislation cannot be discussed in the Committee of Supply.
C. James: Madam Chair, with respect, I'm not speaking about the specific bills. I've been very clear about that. I'm speaking about the legislative calendar and the time to debate the legislative calendar.
I believe my question is in order, and I'd like to ask the Premier again whether he is willing to let the seven bills drop off the order paper if he doesn't bring the House back in the fall.
The Chair: Members, again, the rule in this House has always been clear. Only the administrative action of a department is open to debate. This is the debate on the Office of the Premier, so any questions open in that debate can be debated here.
C. James:, Thank you, Madam Chair. Then I will speak about the agreement made between the two House Leaders, the two House Leaders' discussion on the pieces left in this legislative calendar and the discussion that the agreement was that the pieces would come forward in the fall and have the legislation then debated in the fall.
My question to the Premier is: does he agree with the agreement made between the two House Leaders that we would in fact be debating pieces of legislation in the fall, or does he agree that they would fall off the order paper and die?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm not aware of the agreement that has purportedly been made between the House Leader for the opposition and the Government House Leader. I will have an opportunity to discuss that.
I think it is important to note that for the legislative calendar to be effective, it is not simply a matter of coming to the Premier's estimates and saying: "How will the government deal with one bill or another?" We were very clear when this new legislative calendar was brought in that the government would make the decision as to whether or not there would be a fall sitting.
The opposition this year has decided to debate a number of issues which they evidently decided were more important than some of the legislation that was before them. In just about every case the estimates have
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been longer this year than they were in other years in terms of the ministerial discussions. The sitting is in place. The opportunities are there for the opposition to manage its time, as well as for the government to manage our time.
We continue to be committed to doing that, but the sitting will not be simply a question of saying that the government will allow the opposition to make all of the decisions with regard to whether or not their bill is considered. We brought in bills that we think are important. If the opposition would like to pass them, we're certainly willing to work with the opposition to see those bills successfully concluded. If that in fact does not take place, we will have to consider how we will proceed in the future.
Our objective here is to get the province's business done. We certainly want to engage the opposition in doing that, but in terms of whether or not the fall session will take place, frankly, as I said, that will be the government's decision. If indeed there is a ratification of a treaty, I would be fairly certain that there would be a fall sitting. Otherwise, the government will see how effective we are in dealing with legislation in this session, and then we will make the appropriate decisions.
C. James: A question to the Premier, then. Does the Premier agree that if bills aren't completed debate now and aren't completed debate in the fall, they will die, and therefore, that will be a huge failure of the government's legislative agenda?
[J. Nuraney in the chair.]
Hon. G. Campbell: If there is an agreement between House Leaders, I am glad to ascertain whether that is the case or not. I don't understand that it is the case.
In terms of the question that the hon. member made, as I said, the government will decide what course of action is most appropriate for the fall. If in fact there is not a session in the fall, we obviously will be establishing a legislative agenda next year.
C. James: I guess that's the clear answer for the public, then, from the Premier: that we may or may not have a session. The government once again is going to make a decision and ignore the legislative calendar, and it's up to the government whether they decide they want to answer questions.
I think it's unfortunate that we're in this situation once again, and it speaks to the arrogance that I talked about earlier. As I said at the start, I had wished that I didn't have to ask these questions and put them on record. I would have hoped that it would have been something straightforward and simple. A couple of other questions for the Premier, then, before we get into specifics around staff in the office.
The Premier, as we know, is committed to having government do its part to ensure that we have a fair trial in the Basi-Virk trial, with full disclosure on the B.C. Rail corruption charges. Right now, as the Premier knows, the court is considering significant disclosure applications which include government documents that are not yet in the hands of the special prosecutor. In court, the special prosecutor's assistant said it was hoped that government would not seek to withhold documents using privilege arguments.
My question is to the Premier. Will the Premier commit to releasing all the documents that are being sought by the court?
Hon. G. Campbell: Since this issue first broke, I have said that I believe it is essential that there be an independent, unfettered investigation. There is a special prosecutor involved in this. The Premier's office does not have a direct input into that, certainly not with this government. It may have been different in previous governments, and the opposition leader may know about that.
I can tell you this right now, hon. Chair. This Premier's office is not involved directly in that. We will continue to follow the due process which is required under our legal system, and we will continue to allow that process to run its full course without interference from any of the elected political leaders in the province.
C. James: I certainly would expect that the Premier's office will be involved in deciding documents to go forward and not go forward. We've heard discussion previously about cabinet confidentiality and other questions that sometimes come up.
My question would be to the Premier. Will he commit to releasing documents without invoking privilege?
Hon. G. Campbell: Again, I would go back and say that obviously there are issues with regard to cabinet confidentiality that must be and would be considered in these issues. Having said that, my goal and the objective of the government throughout has been to proceed with an unfettered and, frankly, independent process.
There's a special prosecutor in place, and I will not be involved in those discussions. That has been delegated to the Deputy Attorney General, and he will make those decisions as he sees fit.
C. James: Just so I'm clear on how those decisions are being made, I understand, as the Premier pointed out, that a special prosecutor makes the decisions about documents to go. My question is around the Premier's office making sure that the special prosecutor has all the documents. The Premier said that that now is with the Deputy Attorney General, and they will make the decisions.
Is the Premier's office, then, not withholding any documents but handing them all over to the Deputy Attorney General so that the special prosecutor has all the documents to make the decision?
Hon. G. Campbell: I do want the Leader of the Opposition to understand what I've done here. In terms of the screening of cabinet documents, all those
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documents will be available to the Deputy Attorney General. He will make the decision vis-à-vis cabinet confidentiality or any of those issues in consultation with the special prosecutor. He will make the decision without any further consultation with me or anyone in the Premier's office.
C. James: I appreciate that clarification, but just a question again around the privilege or, as you said, determining whether there's cabinet confidentiality or otherwise. Does the Premier agree that preventing document release through privilege is interference?
Hon. G. Campbell: This is an important issue; there is no question about that. I think it's important for the Leader of the Opposition to understand that the government's only real direction with regard to this was, from the outset, that it should be unfettered and independent — that we would remain away from both the decisions with regard to whether or not a case should proceed. Certainly, we don't intend to comment on what's taking place within the court.
I have delegated the responsibility for screening of cabinet documents in this particular case to the Deputy Attorney General. He will make all of those decisions. He understands what the government's commitments have been to the independence and to the unfettered nature of the investigation that should take place.
He also has a responsibility to the institution he serves and to the public. He will work directly with the special prosecutor and make those decisions without consulting with me. It would be inappropriate for me to determine, prior to those decisions being made, what they should be or to try and characterize them in any manner whatsoever, so I won't do that.
I will be very clear. That will be a decision that will be made by the Deputy Attorney General, and the Deputy Attorney General will make those decisions without any consultation with the Premier's office.
C. James: Just so I'm clear then, did the Premier give very clear instructions to the Deputy Attorney General, written or otherwise, to say that he wanted documents to be released and that it was important for that process to be non-political and for unfettered — as he used that word — access to documents be available so that the court process could proceed in an open and transparent way?
Hon. G. Campbell: Cabinet privilege actually comes from the common law in British Columbia and in Canada. I think the critical thing is that I did not provide instructions to the Deputy Attorney General. If I was going to provide instructions to the Deputy Attorney General, that would actually undermine the very principle that I'm trying to support here.
We have a professional public service. I think it's important for the Leader of the Opposition to recognize a professional public service. The role of the Deputy Attorney General is to protect the courts, to protect the legal process and to act according to the laws of British Columbia. I have confidence in the Deputy Attorney General — and the Attorney General, for that matter, but the Deputy Attorney General in this particular case.
What was important, I felt, was to make sure that in terms of the independence of this process it was done in the unfettered nature that we had hoped for within the constructs of the law that we currently live with in British Columbia — that there be no political interference.
The decision with regard to the screening of those particular documents — in this particular case, the cabinet documents…. The Deputy Attorney General has unfettered access to the cabinet documents. The special prosecutor will make the requests that he feels are required under this particular case. The Deputy Attorney General will determine who in fact and what kind of documentation will be made available within the confines of the law as it currently exists, and he will not consult with the Premier's office with regard to that.
That, it seems it me, maintains the independence that we're calling for. I think it recognizes the strength of a professional, non-partisan public service in protecting the public's interest. That's what I tried to establish with regard to that, and I believe that giving instructions would have been tantamount to undermining that very principle before it even began.
C. James: While I also support a professional civil service and the good work that they do on all our behalf, I certainly think people would expect that the Premier, in handing over the responsibility to the Attorney General and to the Deputy Attorney General, would give some kind of instruction about the fact that this should be, to use the Premier's words again, as unfettered a process as possible — that the Premier would want to make it clear from the Premier's office, to ensure that this process was open, to ensure that the court got all the documents that it needed, to ensure that this case continued in the way that it needed to do. Surely the Premier feels it important.
That's my question. Does the Premier feel it's important that those kinds of statements be made so that the Deputy Attorney General, yes, makes the decisions about the documents but understands that, from the point of view of the Premier's office, using privilege causes difficulties — that making sure this is as open a process as possible is something that the Premier would want on behalf of all British Columbians?
Hon. G. Campbell: I don't think I would support the approach that I believe the opposition leader is suggesting I take, where I would instruct the Deputy Attorney General of what his decision should be or should not be. The Deputy Attorney General takes an oath of office. The Deputy Attorney General is, frankly, a guardian of our court system.
What I have done in this particular case is say to the Deputy Attorney General: "You will have full access
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to all the cabinet documentation, you will make the decisions as to which documents should or should not go to the special prosecutor, you will work with the special prosecutor on this, and you will make those decisions without any political interference whatsoever from the Premier's office."
I think that's the appropriate approach to take, I think it's an approach that maintains the independence of the system, I think it's an approach that respects the professional expertise and responsibilities of the Deputy Attorney General, and I think it's the approach that protects the public interest.
C. James: Then just a follow-up question to the Premier. How is the Premier assured that the Deputy Attorney General will make a decision around cabinet confidentiality, for example, in a way that ensures unfettered access and ensures openness and transparency so that the court gets all the documents that it needs?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think what it really boils down to here is that I don't concur with the thought that's being put forward here by the Leader of the Opposition — that somehow the Premier's office should direct the Deputy Attorney General.
The Deputy Attorney General holds that position because he is recognized as a man of integrity, as a senior public servant who is in the service of the people of British Columbia. It would simply be wrong for me to direct the Deputy Attorney General in what I would like or not like to have happen in the undertaking of this responsibility that we have asked him to do.
I think the opposition leader is not correct that I should be directing or politically interfering in any way. I have great confidence in the Deputy Attorney General, and he'll make the right decisions in the public interest.
C. James: This isn't about direction or political interference with the Deputy Attorney General.
Now that we understand that the Deputy Attorney General is going to be making those decisions about which documents to release and which ones will be held back because of cabinet confidentiality or other decisions, my question to the Premier is: how is the Premier assured — not in direction — that the Deputy Attorney General is going to make decisions in the spirit of openness and transparency in releasing documents?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the line of questioning at this point is actually calling into question the integrity of the Deputy Attorney General. I don't think that's appropriate.
He makes decisions every single day that are upholding the public trust. He's been asked to make a decision with regard to this particular matter. It's important that he exercise that independent judgment in the public interest. He will do that. He will do that, I'm sure, in consultation with the special prosecutor. He has responsibilities to the public.
Again, the Premier won't be checked with on this. The Premier's office won't be checked with on this. It will be his decision and his decision alone, and I have confidence that the Deputy Attorney General will make those decisions in the public interest.
C. James: This had nothing to do with the integrity of the Deputy Attorney General. I have full belief in the integrity of the Deputy Attorney General. This has to do with the Premier and the Premier's willingness to take a look at openness and transparency when it comes to documents, when it comes to this court case and when it comes to his stated belief that the government should be open to making sure this court case goes forward. That was what this issue was about.
Let's move on, then, to an area where the Premier does have direct involvement. That would be related to the role that's been played by various cabinet ministers both current and former, including the former Solicitor General, in the Basi-Virk case.
My question then would be to the Premier. In the interests of full public disclosure on this issue before the trial, will the Premier commit that ministers and any other government officials who may be called to testify will commit to do so?
Hon. G. Campbell: The opposition leader has signalled that she intends to ask some questions with regard to the Basi-Virk trial. Since this began, not just publicly but in question period and in other times in this House, I've been very clear that I don't intend to comment on the trial.
I do think it's important to take a moment just to reflect on what the opposition leader herself and her Attorney General critic have pointed out with regard to this. The Attorney General…. It was pointed out that cases should be left to the courts and to keep comments to himself. It was pointed out that it's essential to the rule of law that the integrity of the judicial process not be interfered with. This quote, I think, is critically important: "High profile prosecutions have failed in the past because politicians felt compelled to make comments in public that were later deemed prejudicial."
I think that all of our mutual responsibilities here are not to prejudice this action or this case which is before the courts in any way. I have not changed my position since we started. I will not change my position as long as this is before the courts.
It remains before the courts, and it would be simply inappropriate for me to comment now to any other questions that are related directly back to this issue throughout these estimates or any other discussions that we may have in public or, for that matter, in private.
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, if I may raise a question of caution that we should not be discussing any matters that would prejudice the trial that is ongoing.
C. James: Thank you, hon. Chair. I certainly don't want to interfere in the court case. I think it's important
[ Page 8248 ]
for all British Columbians that this court case proceeds, that we ensure that it has full involvement of those necessary to ensure that it is an open court case and goes forward.
But my question was not in fact a specific question around anything that is before the courts. My question was to do with the Premier's own statements that he believes that government needs to be as open as possible to ensure that this court case goes forward, that government not interfere in this court case in any way, shape or form.
So my question — again, not related specifically to the court case — is to the Premier. Will he ensure that if cabinet ministers or former cabinet ministers or current sitting MLAs are called to testify, he will make sure that people testify in the court case?
Hon. G. Campbell: Same answer.
C. James: I'll ask the question a different way to the Premier. If the Premier himself is called to testify, will the Premier commit today to British Columbians that he will testify?
Hon. G. Campbell: Same answer.
The Chair: Let me once again raise the caution, Leader of the Opposition, that maybe you want to pursue a different line of questioning for the benefit of what we are here for, which is the estimates of the Premier's office.
C. James: Thank you, hon. Chair, and I certainly think that, as with the estimates and as with the Premier's responsibilities, he is ultimately responsible for the actions of government, for the actions of cabinet ministers, for the actions of MLAs. Those actions, whether they are related to a court case or related to government business, are ultimately the Premier's responsibility.
So my question would be to the Premier: on what basis is he making a decision that not responding to these questions is related to the court case?
Hon. G. Campbell: These questions are all emanating from the opposition leader's desire to discuss a case which I am not going to discuss. My answer will not change because it's asked in different ways. These are questions about a case which is before the courts, and I don't intend to answer any questions with regard to that.
C. James: My question would be to the Premier. Does he believe, in a court case that could occur in the province of British Columbia…? If MLAs or cabinet ministers or former cabinet ministers are called to testify, would he encourage MLAs to fully cooperate in any process that may be before the courts that they are called to testify to?
The Chair: If I may interject. Leader of the Opposition, I think it is the parliamentary procedure not to discuss any matters relating to any court case or reference to any matters that could relate to a court case. If I may put it on record, the sub judice convention means that parliament will voluntarily restrain itself from discussing matters which are pending before a court of law, lest such discussions should prejudice the outcome of a trial.
C. James: I understand that and respect the views of the Chair, which is why…. I will ask again my question. In a general sense — not specific to a court case that is before the courts right now but in a general sense — in the Premier's duties as Premier, who is ultimately responsible for all the MLAs and all of cabinet, is the Premier willing to say in this House that he believes it's important for any cabinet minister who may be called before the courts to testify in an open and transparent way?
The Chair: I believe the question has been answered.
C. James: My question, then, would be to the Premier. Does he believe that any cabinet minister or MLA should respond to a court subpoena in a positive way?
Hon. G. Campbell: Each of us takes an oath when we decide to serve in elected public life. That oath says that we will be faithful and bear allegiance to Her Majesty according to the law.
I don't think there's any question about this government's respect for the law or any individual member of this government's respect for the law. We maintain that respect. We maintain respect for an impartial, independent judiciary, and that is a record we'll be glad to stand on.
In terms of openness and accountability, I would be glad to stand on our record for openness and accountability in May of 2009. The public will make a decision with regard to that. I would hope that the opposition will be able to do the same.
The fact of the matter is that we are, and I am, intent on protecting the independence of the judiciary. I am intent on maintaining the independence of the current processes which are underway, and I will not be making comments with regard to that. I will continue to uphold my responsibilities as Premier of this province, and I would expect all MLAs to do the same.
C. James: Just so I'm clear with the Premier, then. The answer is yes around testifying.
Hon. G. Campbell: This government respects the law. We have always respected the law. We will continue to respect the law.
C. James: I'll take that as a yes — that the Premier and any MLAs will testify, if they are called to, in the court case.
I'd now like to move on to the Premier's staff and the Premier's office itself and take a look at the budget for the office, at specific staff, at the roles of specific staff, at a number of staff who have left and have a little bit of a discussion about those issues.
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[S. Hawkins in the chair.]
If I can just start off with some clarification questions for the Premier. The budget for executive and support services in the Premier's office is now at $7.67 million. My question to the Premier would be: what's your office using that money for?
Hon. G. Campbell: Could the Leader of the Opposition just repeat the budget amount that she's concerned about?
C. James: It's $7.67 million for executive and support services.
Hon. G. Campbell: I take the question to be effectively: what is the Premier's office spending its money on?
The Premier serves as the president of the executive council of cabinet with the government of British Columbia. I head cabinet. My office is responsible for coordinating activities amongst ministers, ministries, agencies of government. The Office of the Premier provides advice and support to the Premier and the cabinet to facilitate effective and integrated operations in the government of British Columbia, and it leads the public service to achieve the government's directions.
We have highlighted three specific core areas of activity. First, the Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat. The secretariat works with all ministries and Crown agencies to ensure that relations between the federal, provincial and international governments advance British Columbia's interests.
Second, the deputy ministers policy secretariat is under our vote. The deputy ministers policy secretariat is a corporate resource for ministries and deputy ministers. It works with line ministries, the deputy ministers committee on natural resources and the economy, the deputy ministers committee on social development and agencies to provide leadership and assist in advancing key policy issues in an integrated fashion horizontally across government. The secretariat provides leadership in policy, program development and performance planning for all ministries.
Third, the executive and support services — the Premier's office and executive operations. The deputy minister to the Premier leads the public service, coordinates activities of all ministries and Crown agencies. They manage key relationships on behalf of the Premier and provide strategic advice, media relations, issues management support directly to the Premier and cabinet. Executive operations includes cabinet operations, which provide administrative support and services for cabinet decision-making processes, documentation and serving the needs of cabinet on an ongoing basis as well as cabinet committees and government caucus committees.
C. James: Continuing on with some clarification questions before we get into the specifics around the individual staff in the Premier's office and what those staff do, how much of this budget is directed to media monitoring and issues management?
Hon. G. Campbell: The specific amount is not broken out for those various activities, but as the Leader of the Opposition knows, there are components of the Premier's office which are currently engaged in media monitoring and communications. I would be glad to discuss those activities if she thinks that would be beneficial.
C. James: Yes, I would. If the Premier could describe what activities he would include in his office in media-monitoring issues management — what would be staff, what would be other resources and how those would be divided up.
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the Leader of the Opposition will have an organization chart to highlight some of the positions that take place. Of course, there is the chief of staff. There's the deputy chief of staff and the executive assistant to the Premier. She is responsible for the Premier's communication branch, the Premier's scheduling branch, the Premier's correspondence branch.
She's responsible for the recruitment and hiring of administrative coordinators and support staff in the Victoria minister's office. She's responsible for operations of the Premier's Vancouver and Victoria offices, including recruitment, hiring and ongoing review of administrative coordinators and support staff. She is responsible for the Premier's tour and special events. She is the lead liaison with the protection detail. She organizes the Premier's travel and meetings and events, and she ensures that follow-up takes place.
There is a deputy chief of staff for policy coordination and issues management, who reports to the chief of staff. He coordinates issues management for the Premier and the chief of staff across government and provides strategic advice for the government's policy and legislative objectives. He has a number of key responsibilities: to provide issues management and policy advice to the Premier, as I mentioned; to coordinate issues management activities of the government vis-à-vis the ministerial offices; to provide the Premier with all issues management briefing materials necessary for preparation for announcements, events, legislative sessions.
Under the direction of the chief of staff, they are jointly responsible for human resources, for HR management with ministerial assistants and executive assistants. They're responsible for research and legislative support for the Premier, including oversight of House business.
There is also a director for policy coordination who works with the deputy chief of staff for policy coordination and issues management and who also provides political advice to the Premier. He compiles and coordinates briefing materials on current and emerging political matters. He provides advice and support to ministerial assistants. He coordinates research and information in support of the activities of the Premier.
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There is a press secretary to the Premier whose overall responsibility is to maintain and enhance the working relationship between the Office of the Premier and members of the legislative press gallery and other provincial media. He is responsible for working with the executive director of communications and other public affairs staff to ensure that all information that relates to the Office of the Premier is coordinated and communicated in the appropriate manner.
He's responsible for keeping the Office of the Premier apprised of emerging issues and events that are of potential interest to the provincial media. He is responsible for the timely distribution of media advisories, press releases and communiqués to the provincial media that are in the name of the Premier.
The executive assistant to the chief of staff is also a manager of human resources and carries out those responsibilities with ministerial assistants and executive assistants. She coordinates ministerial assistants' and executive assistants' performance and planning evaluations, among other things. She is responsible for keeping the chief of staff informed of major projects as they arise, and she attends and coordinates meetings on behalf of the chief of staff and in place of the chief of staff as required.
There is a director of communications who reports, as I mentioned earlier, to the deputy chief of staff and executive assistant for the Premier. His task is to ensure coordination of communications in support of the Premier and the Premier's office, to coordinate news releases and backgrounders, op-eds, regional editorials, speech notes, etc. He is also involved in the media relations. He supervises the media monitoring manager, the producer of audiovisual media and the senior coordinator for website and direct media.
The manager for media monitoring reports directly to the director of communications. He monitors all major provincial, regional, national and multicultural media on a real-time basis. His key responsibilities are to keep all staff in the Premier's office apprised of ongoing developments in the media on a real-time basis.
There is a senior coordinator of website and direct media who is responsible for the development and implementation of communication strategies related to the website, on-line media, the Internet and e-mail communications — with key responsibilities being the development, design and coordination of websites and on-line media; graphic design as needed; and the development and implementation of the use of e-newsletters.
There is a producer of audiovisual material who, again, is primarily responsible for producing Premier's videos from concept to distribution. It includes filming and editing. She is also a strong advocate for a governmentwide use of audiovisual media in terms of the communications strategies that we develop.
C. James: One more clarification question before we get into the specific staff. The budget amount in the Premier's office has gone up, but the number of people in the Premier's office has gone down. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Campbell: Just so the Leader of the Opposition…. She may not have heard this, but the government has realigned the budgets and related costs for shared services for human resources, information and technology services and rent costs so that ministries receiving the services show those costs in their budgets.
In the Office of the Premier, that amounted to $810,000. There was also a negotiated wage increase that increased the budget in the Office of the Premier. That amount was $227,000, so the budget for the Office of the Premier is up approximately a million dollars.
C. James: I have a staffing list in front of me for the Premier's office. Just before I start getting into the specifics, I want to make sure I have got an accurate list and there aren't additional people or people missing. If I can just run through the list that I have in front me and then ask the Premier if there is anyone I missed or anyone additional he wants to make sure is added to the list.
I have Martyn Brown, Lara Dauphinee, Jay Schlosar, Jeff Hanman, Melissa Safarik, Mike Morton, Dale Steeves, Tara Foslien, Nicole Chalmers, Rishi Sharma, Jessica McDonald and Dana Hayden.
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm not sure what the Leader of the Opposition thinks that that is a full list of. It certainly is not a full list of all the staff in the Premier's office or of staff that the Premier's office is responsible for.
C. James: Perhaps I could ask the Premier, then, to list additional staff who are not on this list. This is the Premier's contact list, May '07, from the Premier's office. Perhaps I could ask the Premier to list staff who are not included here and who should be.
Hon. G. Campbell: There is a B.C. government directory, which I am referring to here.
The chief of staff to the Premier is Martyn Brown. The deputy chief of staff, executive assistant to the Premier is Lara Dauphinee. The press secretary to the Premier is Michael Morton. The deputy chief of staff, policy coordination and issues management is Jay Schlosar. The director of policy coordination and issues management is Jeff Hanman. The executive assistant to the chief of staff, manager of human resources is Melissa Safarik.
The director of communications is Dale Steeves. The manager, media monitoring is Rishi Sharma. The senior coordinator, website and direct media is Nicole Chalmers. The producer, audiovisual media is Tara Foslien. The executive receptionist and greetings coordinator is Martina Bell.
The correspondence branch includes the managing director, Antoinette De Wit; Chantal Barbier, the correspondence officer; Danna McGaw, another correspondence officer; Bernadette Whitmore, correspondence officer; Lindsey Affleck, correspondence coordinator; Jen Coakley, a correspondence clerk; Carrie Oberg, a
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correspondence clerk; and Danielle Riley, a research and records correspondence clerk. Martina Bell is the greetings coordinator. Bob Alexander is a file clerk and courier.
In the scheduling branch Judy McCallum is the executive scheduling coordinator. Tamara Davidson is a scheduling clerk. Candice Hughes is a scheduling clerk. In the Premier's office, the cabinet offices in Vancouver, Katherine Bergen is events and project coordinator, Tara Shirley is administrative coordinator, and Gail Roberts is executive receptionist and administrative support.
In the deputy minister's office Jessica McDonald, who I introduced earlier, is the Deputy Minister to the Premier and the cabinet secretary. Angela Koutougos is the executive administrative coordinator to Jessica McDonald. Dana Hayden, who I introduced earlier, is deputy minister of strategic policy. Deborah Laverty is the administrative assistant coordinator to Dana Hayden. Kim Henderson is assistant deputy minister, corporate initiatives.
Rueben Bronee is the project director, public services initiative. Elizabeth MacMillan is the assistant deputy minister, cabinet operations, and deputy cabinet secretary. Amber Rossner is the executive administrative coordinator. Michelle Leamy is the director, executive operations. Sandy Wharf is the director of corporate priorities and performance management.
In cabinet operations Elizabeth MacMillan is the assistant deputy minister, cabinet operations and deputy cabinet minister. Charlotte Powell is a cabinet committee director. Hilary Woodward is a cabinet committee director. Scott Bariillo is a cabinet analyst. Kursti Calder is a cabinet analyst. Jamie Campbell is a cabinet analyst. Jean Hanna is a cabinet analyst. Sharon Horner is a cabinet analyst.
Debbie Tsukayama is the manager of cabinet operations. Sohee Ahn is a senior legislative adviser. Danielle Kavadas is an assistant legislative officer. Nora Cedar is the OIC coordinator. Jaime Gill is the office manager. Mary Fairholm is the cabinet committee assistant. Mae Williams is administrative support. Sheila Stevenson is the documents processing coordinator.
In the deputy ministers policy secretariat Lauri Choi is acting secretariat coordinator. In climate change Graham Whitmarsh is the chief adviser, carbon trading. Warren Bell is a special adviser. Laura Cornish is a research officer.
In natural resources and the economy Kathy Chopik is a chief adviser, Lawrence Alexander is a special adviser, Simon Coley is a special adviser, and Charles Porter is a special adviser.
In service planning and reporting Corrie Campbell is the director of service planning and reporting. Suzanne Moreau is a service planning adviser.
In social development Tom Lee is the executive director, Raymond Fieltsch is a special adviser, and Greg Perrins is a research officer.
In the intergovernmental relations secretariat Virginia Greene is deputy minister. Pierrette Maranda is assistant deputy minister. Patti Dunn is senior executive assistant. Julie Turner is executive coordinator. Don Haney is executive director, economic policy in Asia-Pacific initiatives. Cathy Stigant is executive director, social policy and operations support. Garry Curtis is senior adviser, strategic services.
Teresa Coburn is acting administrative assistant. Paul Craven is director, federalism and constitutional policy. Conor Donaldson is a research officer. Bryant Fairley is the director of United States relations. Deborah Quinn is executive administrative assistant, international. Grant Smith is a policy analyst. Sukumar Periwal is director of international relations. Claudia Fabbri is manager, international relations. Jessie Lloyd is a policy analyst, international relations. Vincent Portal is director, francophone affairs program.
In the office of protocol Marc-André Ouellette is the director and chief of protocol. Kristine Madsen is the acting executive coordinator. Helen Carr is protocol and events officer; Mark Collins, protocol and events officer; Karen Felker, protocol and events officer; Manjit Khaira, protocol and events officer; Lucy Lobmeier, protocol and events officer; Brian Rowbottom, protocol and events officer; Daphne Armstrong, manager, special projects; Jenny Dellabough, protocol and events officer; and Genevieve Elliott, protocol and events officer.
C. James: We've gone through the current staffing list, and a number of departures have occurred over this last year in the Premier's office. I'd like to take a little bit of time just to talk about some of those departures and begin with Tom Syer.
His departure is something that took place at the start of this year, in January of '07. My question to the Premier is: was Mr. Syer fired?
Hon. G. Campbell: No, he was not fired.
C. James: If he wasn't fired, could the Premier let us know if he received severance when he left?
Hon. G. Campbell: No, there was no severance.
C. James: When Mr. Syer departed from the Premier's office, our research department sent an FOI request for the work that had been produced by Mr. Syer. One of our FOIs is still caught up in a fee dispute, but the other requests we got back showed that his title was issues management.
It appeared from the FOI we received that Mr. Syer had actually spent a lot of time doing work related to media monitoring and preparing reports for the Premier, according to the FOI, about what the opposition was doing, about what groups like the HEU were doing and what they were saying in the media. He either prepared those, according to the FOI note, or he was the recipient of those reports that were prepared somewhere else.
My question to the Premier is: were these reports provided by Tom Syer, or was he the recipient of those reports produced somewhere else?
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Hon. G. Campbell: As the deputy chief of staff for issues management, it's not unusual for Mr. Syer to have received reports, verbal and written, with regard to issues that were taking place in the media. I would expect him to know what was going on in the media. He would be a critical link in terms of me understanding what was taking place in the media.
What various organizations were saying or not saying with regard to what was taking place would also be part of what I would expect to take place in terms of issues management.
C. James: Just to be specific again, perhaps for clarification for the Premier, my question was whether Mr. Syer prepared those reports or received those reports from others.
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm not sure what reports the Leader of the Opposition is referring to. I'd be glad to find out what reports she's referring to if she wants to give them to me.
The deputy chief of staff for issues management, frankly, nine times out of ten would report to me verbally. He may prepare information for the Premier with regard to issues that are coming up in the House or issues that may be coming up in estimates or something of that nature, but I can't really determine who the author of a report was unless I know what the report is. I haven't seen the report, so it's hard for me to say.
[J. Nuraney in the chair.]
C. James: Just to touch back on the issue of issues management versus media monitoring, I understand from the Premier that it's not divided up in the Premier's budget — that you haven't got it broken out to determine how much is issues management and how much is media monitoring. But my question to the Premier would be: can those calculations be done, and can you bring that back and table it during this estimates process?
Hon. G. Campbell: I read out earlier the job descriptions and positions that we have in the Premier's office. I think it would be fair to say that most people that are involved in issues management are keeping one ear on media monitoring. It would be virtually impossible for me to break out which goes to media monitoring and which goes to issues management.
There is a manager of issues management who focuses his attention on watching what's going on and taking note of what's going on. But it would not be unusual for me to say to the staff, "What was on the news today?" and they would tell me. That, arguably, could be media monitoring.
It would be very difficult to break those two things out. I think it's fair to say that the staff that would be considered political staff are people who are paying attention to the media and what's taking place and may or may not be involved in developing issues management responses.
C. James: Then, could the Premier break out — since it doesn't seem possible, or it seems like it's interchangeable, the issues of issues management versus media monitoring — the issues management, media-monitoring portion of the budget and bring that back?
Hon. G. Campbell: If the Leader of the Opposition could maybe be a little bit more specific about what she's trying to accomplish here. It's very difficult to break people's salaries out — right? There is a manager of media monitoring, who is paid at about step 3 of band A, which is there for the leader to see.
I'm not trying to be anything except straightforward. It's difficult to break the time allocations out. I don't require my staff to keep minute-by-minute schedules like perhaps a lawyer does at a law firm or something of that nature, so it's very difficult to break those numbers out.
C. James: I'm not trying to make this difficult, but there are some very clear questions being asked about media monitoring going on in the Premier's office. Some very legitimate questions are being asked about media monitoring and how many staff in the Premier's office are spending time doing media monitoring and what kind of staff time is allocated to media monitoring.
If the Premier wants to take some time and bring it back to estimates tomorrow, my question would be: how much staff time and how many resources are being spent in the Premier's office…? Since the Premier can't break out issues management and media monitoring, how much time and dollars of the Premier's budget are being spent on issues management and media monitoring?
Hon. G. Campbell: I did read out earlier for the Leader of the Opposition the job descriptions of a number of people that are involved in the Premier's office, so that's clearly on the record. There's only one staff that is exclusively required to carry out media monitoring. He's the manager of media monitoring.
The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition can look at all of those roles. She can decide how she would allocate them. Those roles are determined by OIC. She can perhaps find the number that she's pursuing by looking at those OICs — the salaries are disclosed on the OICs — and reach her own conclusions with regard to it.
The fact is there's one staff that's involved with media monitoring. As I've said, there are staff members that are involved in issues management. To be candid, most political staff are paying attention to what's taking place in the media, as are MLAs and members of the cabinet. I think that would be a way that the Leader of the Opposition could get the number that she's searching for in a way that meets her needs.
As I mentioned, we don't break down the tasks that staff have according to those particular functions. They're part of their ongoing operations, and we've described what the terms of reference are and what the job descriptions are for those staff that are involved.
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C. James: I heard the Premier a couple of questions ago say that he couldn't divide out his staff between issues management and media monitoring. The two went back and forth, and staff who were spending time on issues management were spending time on media monitoring — that was just part of their job.
It's not questions from me to the Premier. These are questions for the public who have been asking questions about media monitoring and dirty tricks out of the Premier's office that have been alleged. It's important that the public knows how much of the Premier's budget is spent on media monitoring.
The Premier appears to contradict himself when he said, on one hand, that he couldn't divide out media monitoring from issues management, and now he's saying that only one staff is involved in media monitoring.
My question again to the Premier is: how much of his staff and budget is going to media monitoring and, as he says in his own words, issues management, because that also includes media monitoring?
The Chair: A bit of a caution, Leader of the Opposition, in the choice of words — not to make an inference.
Hon. G. Campbell: Let me try and take the Leader of the Opposition through this again, because I certainly don't want her to have any misperceptions.
There is one staff person who is exclusively dedicated to media monitoring. He looks at information that comes in from across the province so that, frankly, we're up to date and we know what's taking place. To repeat the job description, his role is to monitor all major provincial, regional, national and multicultural media on a real-time basis, and his responsibility is to keep all staff in the Premier's office apprised of ongoing developments in the media on a real-time basis. He does share that. If he wasn't sharing that, he wouldn't be doing his job.
That job is an OIC. His salary is posted with that, if the leader is interested in his salary. I think that it's important to note that all of these job descriptions have been read to the Leader of the Opposition. No one's trying to hide what the job descriptions are, and it shows how those roles are interconnected. There's no question that people use the information gathered by the single media-monitoring manager that we have in the office.
The point I was making was not that people go and take on that job or whatever; it's so that staff, for example, are aware of what's going on in the noon news. They may, for their previous sins, have to watch the evening news as well. I don't consider that as part of…. That's something they do, but they are not directly responsible for media monitoring. It's the manager of media monitoring who is responsible for that.
With all of those job descriptions that were read earlier, if the leader would like to take them and make her own judgments on them and go and look at what the OICs are and the salaries that are allocated, she can reach the conclusions she was looking for. I think that's what is critical here.
C. James: I have to say that the Premier knew that this estimates process was coming up. The Premier is well aware that estimates is an opportunity to be able to provide information to the opposition on specific questions that are asked, so I do find it incredible that the Premier can't answer a straightforward question around how much of his staff time and budget is spent on media monitoring and blurs it with issues management.
Apparently, the Premier doesn't have an understanding of that in his office. I'll take that to mean, as he's described, that many of his staff spend time on media monitoring and that a large portion of his budget goes in that direction.
To leave that issue for a moment — and I'll come back to that issue — I'd like to now talk a little bit about communications between the Premier and MLAs, communications between the Premier and staff in his office and ask a straightforward question to the Premier. Is he familiar with the e-mail address email@example.com?
Hon. G. Campbell: No, I'm not aware of the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
C. James: Does the Premier or anyone in his office use an e-mail address outside the government system to conduct the business either of government or his office?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm not sure what the leader is getting at, but people across government often have to do business from their homes. Just as someone may be making a phone call doing government business using their private phone, so they may not have access to a government server. They may use personal home e-mail. I can't speak for all of the people in government with regard to that, clearly.
C. James: Is the Premier then aware of any of his cabinet colleagues using non-government e-mails to carry on government business?
Hon. G. Campbell: I am not particularly aware of cabinet ministers using personal e-mails. It's not something I'm aware of. Perhaps through the estimates process, after 186 hours, individual cabinet ministers could have been asked that. I don't know the answer to it.
C. James: Just so I'm clear, the Premier said the possibility is there that government members and cabinet ministers otherwise may be using personal e-mails at times to do government business.
Hon. G. Campbell: What I said earlier, which I will repeat, is that someone may be required to use a private computer or private e-mail when they're not using the government server, just like they use a private phone. I can't speak to the specifics of the member's question, but I think the fact of the matter is that across
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government there are people that work long hours, and not just here.
People across government often do business from home. I'm sure, if it was a requirement, they may indeed, because they don't have access to the server or they're not comfortable with that, use their private computer or something like that to make a connection.
C. James: Then my question to the Premier would be: has the government made either the RCMP or the special prosecutor aware of the fact that government members may be using non-government e-mail addresses to conduct government business?
Hon. G. Campbell: I've been trying to answer the opposition's questions here, but I have been clear with regard to any questions that arise out of the current proceedings that are before the court. I don't intend to answer that question now, anymore than I did earlier today or more than I did a month ago or four months ago or a year ago.
The Chair: Once again, Leader of the Opposition, exercise caution, please.
C. James: Would the Premier have any concern about government members using non-government e-mail to conduct government business?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think I've answered that question.
C. James: I didn't hear an answer from the Premier, so perhaps I could ask for that answer again.
Hon. G. Campbell: I think I've answered that question.
C. James: I heard the Premier say that people may, if they're at home, use their e-mail. I didn't hear him make any kind of judgment around whether he himself felt that that would be any kind of concern — to have people using non-government e-mail to conduct government business.
I'll ask again, since it was a different question than the Premier had answered before. Would the Premier have any kind of concern about cabinet members conducting government business on non-government e-mail?
Hon. G. Campbell: I have no problem with people across government doing work from home. As I mentioned, I would not be surprised. Just as they may use a personal phone to make a phone call, they may end up needing or requiring to use a personal computer to make some form of connection. I don't think that should be particularly surprising. People across government are dedicated and work long hours, and they may find sometimes that the government server is not available to them.
C. James: Just to be clear with the Premier. The Premier should be concerned, because the concern is the fact that private e-mails are not accessible to FOI. The government e-mail system is accessible to FOI. If someone is using private e-mail to e-mail privately, it is a big concern about evading the opportunity for things to be gathered and documents to be kept around FOI. I certainly would hope that the Premier would find some concern about that and check into whether any of that is happening across government and report back. I think that's a very important piece to pay attention to.
To ask another question, then, to the Premier: is he or any of his staff making use of any communications technologies — whether cell phones or BlackBerrys or e-mail accounts — paid for by the B.C. Liberal Party?
Hon. G. Campbell: First, let me be very clear with the Leader of the Opposition. All of the BlackBerrys that are in use by any of the staff in my office are covered by FOI. In fact, it's government equipment — right? — so that is available for people.
I can't speak for all of the staff. If they have separate personal communications devices, they would be able to have that, in fact, under the current situation.
C. James: Just to clarify the question for the Premier, because I think he missed a large portion of the question: does the Premier or do any of the Premier's staff have any technologies — e-mail accounts, cell phones, BlackBerrys — paid for by the B.C. Liberal Party?
Hon. G. Campbell: The only way I could ascertain for certain the answer to the question would be to ask everyone in the staff if they had personal communication devices which were funded by a third party.
I would remind the Leader of the Opposition that these are the Premier's estimates, which are regarding the Premier's office budget and how it's utilized. In fact, a third party would not come into those discussions.
C. James: I would expect that the Premier would want to know. These are questions about his staff and himself directly. So I would certainly hope that the Premier would want to know if his staff were carrying cell phones, BlackBerrys or personal e-mail accounts that were funded by the B.C. Liberal Party, because that could raise conflicts to do with non-partisan versus partisan work.
My question to the Premier is: will he look into whether any of his staff are carrying any of those devices paid for by the B.C. Liberal Party?
The Chair: To the Leader of the Opposition: it is my considered opinion that that line of questioning should have some relevance to the estimates that we are debating, please. Thank you.
C. James: Just to talk about the relevance, it is related to FOI, which is the issue that I'm speaking about. The section that I'm speaking to in the Premier's office has to do with freedom of information, access to
[ Page 8255 ]
information and the fact that personal accounts, whether outside government or paid for by a third party, are not accessible to FOI. It is important in my considered opinion — with respect, hon. Chair — that the Premier should answer whether his staff have devices that could be apart from FOI and therefore not accessible by FOI.
Hon. G. Campbell: First, I think that if the member opposite has some recommendations for how we can improve FOI, there are opportunities to do that.
I do think it's important to understand that FOI applies to anything government-related, regardless of the network. With regard to the question, the member was simply incorrect. If it's government-related, it's FOIable.
C. James: If people are using personal accounts and no one knows that it's being done because it's outside government business, then it isn't FOIable. So that's exactly the concern and exactly the line of questioning.
To continue on with that, my question to the Premier is: do any of his staff or himself use PIN or PIN communications that they wouldn't want archived or FOIable?
Hon. G. Campbell: The Leader of the Opposition's question implies that somehow or other the use of PINs would not allow something to be FOIable. That is not the case. They would be FOIable. The ministry of management services has been clear with regard to that.
I think there's an unfortunate undercurrent here that is questioning the integrity of people that are serving in government. I understand that there may be differences of opinion. I also know the record of this government to be candid compared to the record of the previous government.
This is a government that has been open with regard to these initiatives. I think it's important to recognize that government workers and professional public servants across the public service are, in fact, people that act within the code of conduct that's been established and within the framework and the law of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act which is in place.
C. James: This has nothing to do with the civil service, and I resent the Premier trying to infer that this has anything to do with the civil service. This issue is directly related to the Premier, to government MLAs and to political staff in the Premier's office.
There have been some very serious questions raised about this government's behaviour around FOI. These are very legitimate questions to raise. Obviously, the Premier is uncomfortable with these questions, doesn't like these questions. I'm sorry that he doesn't like these questions, but it's my job to ask them, and I'm going to continue to ask them.
I also want to remind the Premier of his indignation back in 2000 when he was Leader of the Opposition and discovered that a secondary e-mail system was being used. He raised all kinds of concerns. So as I said, these are legitimate questions to raise.
There have been issues that have happened south of the border with the President around the Karl Rove strategy, where government members were carrying cell phones and other devices paid for by political parties to ensure that they could circumvent FOI. We've certainly seen many examples of this government trying to get around FOI. So again, these are quite reasonable questions to be asking the Premier.
We've seen the financial industry become aware of the need for some time of capturing communication, like PINs, that don't actually create a record anywhere. There's new software being created by the financial industry that they're looking at utilizing so that those PINs and other technologies will become part of the record and part of the archiving and will not disappear and not be accessible.
My question to the Premier is: has he looked at any of that kind of technology that's being looked at now by the financial institutions, and would he explore that kind of technology for government?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition understands, we currently have in the government a chief information officer who works in the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services. He has significant responsibilities to ensure that we secure government documents, that we provide for security in terms of the protection of privacy. He also has responsibility for government systems.
The leader seems to be under the impression that somehow or other, PIN communications are not backed up on the server. They are backed up on the server, as I mentioned earlier. We are always looking for ways that we can upgrade government systems. If she has specific recommendations, I would encourage her to bring those forward.
If she has specific concerns with regard to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I would encourage her to deal with Mr. Loukidelis on that or, indeed, with the Attorney General with regard to that.
I do think it's important to note that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act has been significantly upgraded in the last five years. We continue to improve it, and that will be something that we do in the future.
We've added 65 public bodies to the act, including in the forest practices branch and the provincial Agricultural Land Commission. It now covers 2,000 bodies, the most public bodies of any jurisdiction in Canada. We've simplified the process for adding public bodies to the act. It can now be dealt with under the code. There are now privacy impact assessments that are carried out under this act, and there's an all-party committee of the Legislature that reports every six years.
I think that as we look to improving the security of our systems in British Columbia, we're always concerned not just about the freedom of information,
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but the protection of privacy and the protection and security of government documents.
C. James: I can see how, from the Premier's perspective, he would have seen FOI improved from his government's perspective, since it's now more difficult to access FOI and it's more expensive for people to access FOI. I'd like to get into a little bit of that now with the Premier.
I know the Premier is aware that government has a responsibility and is required by statute to protect all documents and records. Can the Premier tell this House, please, what his understanding is about that statutory requirement, and how his office is meeting that requirement?
[S. Hawkins in the chair.]
Hon. G. Campbell: The Premier's office has a full records management system that's in place — both hard copy and electronic. Everyone in the office is trained. We abide fully by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
In fact, the office of the comptroller general just undertook an audit of our records management and IT systems, and we received a very high score. That's encouraging, but we're always looking for improvements and we will continue to do so.
C. James: Just continuing on, I want to refer back to a comment that the now special adviser Ken Dobell made in the Premier's office when he was there, which is now an infamous statement about FOI and preservation of records. He was the Premier's deputy when he said: "I delete the stuff all the time, as fast as I can."
That was a quote from that time by the deputy to the Premier. I'd like to ask the Premier whether he believes that that standard set by his former deputy, now special adviser, meets the standard for open and transparent government.
Hon. G. Campbell: I actually can't recall when that comment was made, but I do think that it's important for the leader to recognize that the standards we endeavour to set in the Premier's office are for complete records management. As I mentioned, we do have full records management in the Premier's office — both hard copy and electronic. We take that responsibility seriously, so members of the Premier's office are fully trained in that, with regard to that.
We fully comply with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. If there's a concern with that, a complaint should be made to the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I'm sure he will deal with it openly and fairly.
As I mentioned, we've just undergone an audit of our records management and information technologies in the Premier's office, carried out by the office of the comptroller general. We received a very high score for that. I'm encouraged by the fact that we received a high score for that. I think it speaks well of the people that are at work in the Premier's office.
Having said that, I can tell the leader that we will always be paying attention and trying to find ways that we can improve on our records management in the Premier's office. Indeed, we try to improve on our records management across government.
C. James: I'd just like to review some of the areas that the Premier talks about things having improved under his government in FOI. Let's take a look at the record.
The Premier mentioned a few things; I'd also like to mention a few things. Since 2001 under this Premier the government has passed 16 amendments that have made the FOI process more difficult and time-consuming. They've slashed the portion of the Information and Privacy Commissioner's budget which was available to FOI by 35 percent from 2002 to 2005. Some of the funding has been restored, but the funding for FOI still isn't back to 2002 levels.
They've extended cabinet secrecy to several Liberal caucus committees, which is a step that's unprecedented in B.C.'s history. They've engaged in political interference with FOI requests.
They've made excessive fees for people who are trying to access FOI. They've removed B.C. Ferries from FOI. They refused to include VANOC in FOI. They've initiated a secret review of FOI by bureaucrats in 2005 instead of taking on recommendations from their own committee that made recommendations around FOI. In 2006 they tried to pass the Public Inquiry Act, which would have allowed the government to keep reports secret and not release them immediately to the public.
That's just a short list of this government's record on FOI. I find it difficult to listen to the Premier talk about improving things in FOI when we take a look at the facts, and the facts speak for themselves.
The Premier said he wasn't sure where the information came from. Just to refresh his memory, it was an FOI conference in 2003 where Mr. Dobell made that comment. He made another comment at that same conference. He said he refrains from writing down accounts of meetings to avoid leaving a paper trail. So my question to the Premier would be: is this a practice that his staff have adopted as a whole?
Hon. G. Campbell: Just a couple of comments. First of all, the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner's budget is up 25 percent today since 2000-2001. We have provided the independent officer with new tools so that he can manage his own agenda. I do think it's important to note that our office is fully in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Should there be complaints or should there be disagreements with the positions that have been taken, those complaints and disagreements can be brought forward to the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner.
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It's also important to note that we in fact do not have caucus committees that are protected under freedom of information and protection of privacy. We do have government caucus committees of cabinet, which have members of the caucus as well as members of cabinet, that are indeed under the cabinet protections. I think it's important to note that that's not unusual. It's very similar to the Treasury Board and other cabinet committees that are currently in place.
The issue for us, I think, is always to be within the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. As I've said, there is a select standing committee of the Legislature who can recommend improvements to that act.
We have in fact expanded that act. We've added 65 bodies to the act since 2000-2001. We require all public bodies to conduct privacy impact assessments for new legislation, programs, projects and systems, and we're the only jurisdiction that I'm aware of in Canada that does so. We've extended privacy protection to include personal information handled by contractors acting on behalf of public bodies — the strongest in Canada.
We have legislation before this House now that we believe would add some improvements to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. I think the fact that we provided the commissioner with greater flexibility to manage his operations, such as refusing frivolous requests and the ability to delegate a number of functions to his staff, is also an important step in terms of enhancing and strengthening the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
C. James: Let's talk about specifics of that act, then. The Premier asked if there were specifics that could be improved. I'd like to ask whether the Premier has given any specific instructions to his staff on the use of section 13 policy advice.
Hon. G. Campbell: FOIs are coordinated, as you know, through our FOI branch. There's a group of public servants who provide similar services to the Ministry of Finance.
The FOI requests that go to staff for record searches and for records are returned if they meet the request. The deputy minister's office signs off on all final packages that go out. Of course, there's an opportunity for appeals to the commissioner should that in fact be considered to be the case.
I think that the real question is: has the commissioner overturned or given specific direction to us? Not to my knowledge. The only instruction that I have given to my staff or to my deputy is that they pursue full compliance with freedom of information and protection of privacy.
The Chair: Members — both members — I just wish to remind both sides that matters involving the necessity for legislation and involving legislation…. This is not the place to be discussing that. Only the administrative action of a department is open for debate in Committee of Supply.
C. James: The Premier mentioned that he didn't hear of any concerns that had been raised around section 13 of the freedom-of-information legislation. Certainly, I would expect that the Premier would know that not only the campaign for open government but, in fact, Mr. Loukidelis himself has raised concerns about this section and said that section 13 has been used improperly to deny public information.
I can certainly tell the Premier that the opposition has had direct experience with the Premier's office whiting out and removing huge amounts of information based on some justification in other areas and a lot of justification around section 13 policy advice. My question would be to the Premier: is he aware of his office's use of section 13?
Hon. G. Campbell: Our office like other offices, I'm sure, applies all sections of the act, including section 13. I understand that the opposition has asked the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner to review a request that they made. That is being undertaken at this point, and I await the direction of the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner.
Let's be clear. The sections of the act which the opposition leader is referring to are rights under the act that have been in place since 1993. My staff have been participating in the review that was initiated, and we'll hear from the commissioner responsible what his comments are and if he feels there are other actions that should be taken.
C. James: Just as an example for the Premier, it isn't the section. It's the abuse of the section that is causing problems right now. To give a specific example to the Premier, we requested correspondence between your deputy, Jessica Macdonald, and former Deputy Minister of Health Penny Ballem. The material that we received was so heavily severed under the excuse of policy advice section 13 that, as you point out, we sent it to the office for review. We've done that with a couple of pieces.
It looks like no amount of mediation is going to have the Premier's office actually release this information. My question to the Premier would be: doesn't he find it difficult that his office is trying to deny access to information? And will he in fact release the information and the correspondence between his deputy and the former Deputy Minister of Health?
Hon. G. Campbell: Just to respond to that question. As I mentioned earlier, we comply completely with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. There was a request made, as I understand it, for a correspondence between the former Deputy Minister of Health and the Deputy Minister to the Premier. We actually worked directly with the commissioner's office to review the correspondence between those two individuals to ensure that our interpretation was correct.
That is exactly how the system is supposed to work, and I think it's important to note that is again one of
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the things that's critical about this. The system is there to assure that there are opportunities for appeal, if that's required. If the opposition want to avail themselves of that at any given time, they may. We endeavour to work fully and completely with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Hon. Chair, with a view to the time, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:28 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. C. Richmond moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 6:29 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 2:55 p.m.
On Vote 11: ministry operations, $50,960,000.
S. Fraser: I understand we've got a couple of days in here. I thank the minister and staff for being here. I'm trying to make the format, from my point of view, as gentle as possible on staff, so I'm going to try to keep it to the broader issues today, for the most part. I might divert, depending on who maybe shows up in the audience. There might be a chief or two who shows up. If that's the case, I may ask leave to try to get some of their issues, if that's suitable. I'll understand if you have to come back with answers on that.
This is the minister's first estimates on this. I've been through this before with the previous minister. I know the staff all look like familiar faces, so I think that continuity will be there. I've been to a number of events that the minister has been involved in since he's taken over this portfolio, and I appreciate the work he's been doing. I also appreciate that the ministry has a difficult mandate in a lot of ways. As critic, I see it as something of a moving target to be critical of.
If the minister is not already aware, we as the opposition have signed on in principle to The New Relationship and the spirit of intent of that document. It is in many ways a good document, especially in its simplicity. It cuts to the chase. It deals with issues of recognition and, I think, of assessing the needs that aboriginal people in B.C. need to see addressed in an expedient manner. Having it get around the legalese that we see in most documents of this day is, I think, of benefit to all in British Columbia. It is something, five pages' worth, that everyone can settle on and deal with in their own way and understand in a very clear way where we must go, where we have been and the challenges that we see today.
That's from the ministry's point of view — I think it's from the government's point of view — and it's also from the opposition's point of view. It reflects on some of the previous challenges that other governments have had too, because reconciliation is something about the past. It's about atoning for a lot of the issues of the past that none of us are proud of.
I'm going to go right into some of the money issues, if I can. I noticed in the budget proposed here, in the core business areas in the estimates, that we're seeing a trend, quite a significant rise from '06-07 to '07-08. We're seeing a rise in the total budget from $36 million, give or take, to $55 million. We're seeing that trend continue to rise in the anticipated 2008-09, where it hits the over–$61 million mark, and then we are seeing it drop again in the 2009-and-beyond plan.
Can the minister comment on that trend and why it's going in that direction?
Hon. M. de Jong: I can, and thanks to the member for his opening remarks and questions.
I think he's familiar with a number of the officials that are here. I'll introduce them so that they are on the record: Lorne Brownsey, the deputy minister; the director of finance, David Hoadley; Mike Furey, ADM, negotiations; Arlene Paton, ADM, partnerships and community renewal; John Harper, director of economic development.
Like the member, I am indebted to them for their tireless work on an ongoing basis and for their participation in the proceedings of this committee.
The short answer — and we will likely explore this in more detail — is that we are, in going forward, trying as best we can to anticipate what our needs are going to be and to ensure that we have the resources and staff required to advance the cause of treaty negotiations and, we are hopeful, treaty ratification and treaty implementation.
One of the things that we, meaning government, have learned as a result of the experience with the
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Nisga'a in the mid- to late 1990s is that there are significant challenges and work associated with both the negotiation and the implementation of agreements. That's a general answer to a general question. We are trying to plan around continued successful negotiations and ratification, we hope, because there has been, obviously, unprecedented progress. The remaining hurdle remains the first ratification, which we hope we will see in July, later this summer.
Then if you go further, the service plans and the budget documents are designed to reveal the hope we have that we will realize some efficiencies based on what we learned around the earlier sets of negotiations. That, in broad terms, I hope accounts for the increase and then the levelling-out that the member correctly referred to.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. The specifics, though. Up to 2008-2009 we're seeing it breaking the $60 million mark for the budget for the ministry and then a drop of $12 million, give or take, for the next fiscal — a significant drop. I note that almost all of that is in negotiations.
Considering the number of tables that are involved in the treaty process currently and the fact that we have a few tables that are at the latter stages here — obviously getting very close — wouldn't there be an anticipation, optimistically maybe, that a great many tables may be coming forward? Wouldn't that necessitate an increase in necessary funding?
Hon. M. de Jong: One of the things I should acknowledge right upfront is that some of the planning around this is contingent upon how those negotiations materialize so that, for example, in the event of successful ratification for, let us call it, the second grouping of agreements, there will be additional implementation costs. There will be additional settlement costs that are part and parcel of those agreements that will necessitate a review of the budgeted amounts that are there.
The cautionary principle we've tried to employ here is to not develop budgets that unrealistically project 100-percent success rates at the negotiating table but are designed around the hope that we will continue to see progress and actual implementation.
Again, in the event of a dozen treaty ratifications, there are undoubtedly going to be implementation costs. There are going to be additional costs. For example, we are trying to account for the costs associated with the transformative change accord, as well, and bridging the gap.
The funding levels — I don't want to pretend to the hon. member — are not subject to regular review. What we do try to lay out, however, is a three-year rolling estimate based on our best projections at the time.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I am cognizant of the fact that these are estimates only, and we can't predict the future.
Contingency-wise we've talked about the optimistic position here, and obviously you've followed a plan that takes us there and potentially the budgeting necessary to take us, assuming that we're seeing the same level of progress. Has the contingency been put into place should there be a repeat or a continued repeat of what happened, say, under the Lheidli T'enneh table? If we see that trend happening, for reasons maybe unseen to any of us, how would that be reflected in a change or in the existing budget that's been laid out before us?
Hon. M. de Jong: Two things come to mind in response to the member's observation. One is that we obviously remain hopeful about ratifications occurring. The member correctly points out, too, what occurred several months ago in Prince George with the Lheidli T'enneh. I continue — on the basis of the contacts and the discussions I've been having with representatives of the Tsawwassen and the Maa-nulth, who have scheduled ratifications votes — to be cautiously optimistic about the prospects there.
If another scenario develops — and it is not improper for the member to pose questions about that other possible scenario, which I think he and I hope does not occur — then undoubtedly we will have to examine where resources are being allocated.
I attach this caveat, though. Irrespective of what happens with the ratification votes themselves, our obligations and our commitment to work with the first nations in the context of the new relationship that has been struck remains firm. The costs associated with undertaking that work, the costs associated with fulfilling those Crown obligations, will not suddenly disappear. It would, however, undoubtedly require a fairly significant review of the specific manner in which those resources are allocated.
S. Fraser: Thank you to the minister for the answer. For the executive and support services we're seeing close to a 40-percent increase for '07-08, and then that seems to remain steady throughout. It's up to $7.3 million for '07-08. The increase and then the straight-lining of that number for the next anticipated several years…. Can the minister comment on that significant increase initially? What is the rationale for that, please?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm trying to anticipate what I thought the next question might be, to give as complete an answer as possible.
The ministry in its original iteration was largely preoccupied with treaty negotiations. Obviously, in the era of the new relationship the focus has expanded. Operationalizing the new relationship along with the transformative change accord has broadened the involvement of the ministry. It's a good discussion to have because it goes to the heart of what the ministry is largely doing. It is not any longer, if it was ever fair to say this, a department of government exclusively concerned with treaty negotiations.
It now fulfils a much broader mandate in terms of coordinating within government, developing proper
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accommodation strategies for individual departments of government to work, coordinate, operationalize and execute on the stated goal to bridge the socioeconomic gaps that were very much at the heart of the transformative change accord and the focus of discussion at the Kelowna round. I can't recall if the member was there, but I certainly think he was there for those important meetings.
What the member has correctly identified in examining the budget is a reflection of those expanded duties and the fact that an ADM with specific responsibilities around the new relationship and an ADM with specific responsibilities around the transformative change accord and the additional support that flows from that is a reflection of the expanded focus and the evolving preoccupation of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. The minister has mentioned the ADM positions. So largely these are wages. Are these full-time-equivalents for the most part? Is that what we're talking about?
Hon. M. de Jong: I just wanted to confirm. I think the member's question related to the FTEs and the fact that these are employees of the ministry. There may be a couple of contracted positions, but they are by and large employees. I'm advised that in some cases they are auxiliary in the sense that they have been promised periods of work of six months to get everything configured, but they are public service employees as opposed to contracted positions.
S. Fraser: So full-time-equivalent-wise, then — between 2006-2007, anticipated to 2007-2008 — where are we going from and to, as far as the size of the ministry? I'm talking about personnel, and we can include the contract people, at least for the time being.
Hon. M. de Jong: I'll put the numbers I have on the record, the estimated numbers going forward: for '06-07, 132 FTEs. That's anticipated for the fiscal year we are in, '07-08, to go to 179, and in '08-09, to 174. In '09-10 that's anticipated to reduce slightly to 167 FTEs.
S. Fraser: So between '06-07 and '07-08 we're looking at 47 new positions for the ministry. Maybe some of those contracts are temporary positions. For any of those new positions, are any of the employees aboriginal?
Hon. M. de Jong: Our hope very much is that, of the new people coming on board, there will be healthy representation from aboriginal communities, aboriginal peoples. Of course, the member very kindly attended an event earlier today that spoke to the question of recruiting and providing young people, in this case, with something of an invitation and welcome to become members and partners and to seek careers within the public service.
Like many segments of society, the provincial public service is one in which first nations and aboriginal peoples within B.C. are still dramatically underrepresented. I suppose the good news is, and what we saw the beginnings of in the presentations earlier today, a realization that the stars are aligning in such a way that we need each other. It's a theme that I constantly come across and actually try to promote.
The public service in British Columbia, like most large entities, sees this large demographic bubble of people heading into their years where retirement is an attractive option, and they are retiring. So where do we recruit from? The government is embarking upon a series of general strategies to reinvigorate in the minds of people the notion that the B.C. public service can be an employer of choice and to bring them along. What we are also doing is trying to provide a focus that says to aboriginal peoples: "You are welcome here. We need you."
There are a variety of corollary benefits that flow, obviously, to the individual, to the public sector and, I believe, to the communities from which those people hail. Part of developing the understanding and promoting the notion of reconciliation is to ensure that we do have a better understanding of one another's governing processes. We do that by becoming more involved with one another. So there are aboriginal peoples employed in the ministry today, but not as many as we'd like. We are actively trying to recruit more. I'm convinced that the internship program we saw unveiled today will be a positive step forward in that respect.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I watched with interest the announcement today, and I appreciate what is being attempted here. Can I ask the minister what aboriginal agencies or leadership were involved in the decisions of the announcement today?
Hon. M. de Jong: They're very much at the centre. I don't have the list with me, but all of the agencies that the member heard me refer to, both at the event and later in the House when I introduced the youth collective: the Métis Nation, the various components of the First Nations Leadership Council, the United Native Nations, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the First Nations Summit, the Assembly of First Nations — all of whom have played an instrumental role and have provided a very positive vote of confidence and an endorsement of what we're attempting here.
I thought, actually, and I said this purposely…. I thought David Porter's presence today representing the First Nations Leadership Council was particularly poignant. I had forgotten, for example, that David Porter was an oil and gas commissioner, maybe the first oil and gas commissioner in….
A Voice: I don't know.
Hon. M. de Jong: I think I do. I think he was. In the Yukon, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories today, obviously we think of him as having fulfilled various political responsibilities and roles, particularly
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on behalf of aboriginal peoples, but he was something of a pioneer in terms of his involvement in the public sector.
All of these agencies have come together, and the way the program works makes that important on a go-forward basis, of course, because the people involved, the interns, spend nine months with provincial government, but then three months with their host organizations. The selection process is designed to involve those agencies that were instrumental in helping to set this up. They will be part of the selection process. I'll shamelessly utilize our time here, and the member's, because I know he has a longstanding interest in this.
The timelines to get this up and running are fairly short and tight. The applications, I believe, must be in by the end of June, and the selection process ends, I believe, at the end of July. So if the member is aware of talented young people who qualify and have an interest, I know he will be active in encouraging them to go to the website or get the material. By September we would like, and intend to have, the first group of ten interns functioning.
All of the groups have been instrumental in helping to get us to this stage. They have worked cooperatively with government but also with one another. That's important, and that continued spirit of cooperation will be necessary on a go-forward basis. I'm confident, based on everything I've seen and heard, that that spirit of cooperation will persist.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I note that the chief councillor for Ahousat is here today in this room watching the proceedings. I know he'll be noting that too. It will be coming up to graduation here. I know there are several students graduating from Ahousat's high school this year. There may be an opportunity there where he can steer the right people in the right direction. I won't try to go to the interns — that's a difficult one.
If I can, I'm going to change pace on this, based on my introduction to Chief Atleo, and touch on a couple of local issues out of respect for the Chief. I know his time is probably…. He's as busy as or busier than we are in this place. The Premier's had a chance to visit Ahousat, I think, more than once now. We know he received a name, which is quite a moving ceremony — getting a title and a Nuu-chah-nulth name. That was a number of months ago now, probably close to a year ago.
One of the issues that the Premier was certainly able to witness when he visited Ahousat, and it's probably not…. I mean, there are a lot of different issues in remote communities — first nations communities, aboriginal communities — along the coast and elsewhere in the province, but there's a road network in Ahousat that is woefully lacking and is, indeed, a significant health concern. The level of dust in the summer is very significant in Ahousat. The road conditions are very poor.
There's certainly been a real push to try to get some level of improvement — hopefully pavement, asphalt and some dust abatement — of those transportation systems. This is on reserve, so I understand that there is a federal role here, but there was some commitment made by the Premier at the time to take a serious look at that and see how the province could come to play in addressing some of that situation.
I'm just wondering if the minister or the staff have any knowledge or if there have been any discussions, in the aftermath of the Premier's visit, in dealing with the transportation system and helping to mitigate some of those problems. Again, it is a significant health risk, for kids and the elderly especially, but for all in the community.
Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the member for the question and for acknowledging the Chief's presence here today. Like most ministers, we are confronted by issues. In this setting, we harbour the secret dreams that we can stand up and puff out our chests and say: "Aha, I hear the question, and I have an answer, and all the problems will instantly go away." Sadly, that is rarely the case. It is similarly not the case in this situation.
But I can provide this update to the member and through him to others watching and to the Chief. First of all, I think in the past there has been this tendency, in terms of our relationship with first nations, to hide behind differentiations between federal jurisdictions and provincial jurisdictions. I guess that is a natural consequence of a constitution that is federal in nature and enumerates powers in the way that ours does between sections 91 and 92.
At the same time, I hope and think that there is an emerging realization — there certainly is within the government of British Columbia — that if we are going to realize our goals to effect a new relationship, to bridge the socioeconomic divide and to promote genuine economic sustainability and a strong economic future, it won't do to simply bat the ball back and forth between two senior levels of government.
I say that because on a number of occasions we have tried to take the initiative and say: "You know, we are going to get on with this." I am thinking, for example, of transportation, similar but dissimilar, in Kingcome Inlet, where I learned of a situation where there was no road service.
In the winter storm season, the only access in and out of the community was by boat. Sometimes, as we found out this past fall and winter, that can be fraught with difficulty and indeed danger.
So we got on with it and actually were able to coordinate with the federal government, and a road is in the process of being built. This is an upgrade, as I understand it. We are pursuing it. In fact, one of my first meetings with federal Minister Prentice…. I think largely on the strength of the observations of the Premier and the information he received at the time he visited the community, we said to what was then the relatively new federal minister that we've got to work together to make sure that this is addressed.
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There are other examples for both the Nuu-chah-nulth and for the Ahousaht in an area where there is exceptional opportunity and, happily, first nations leadership that are resolved to exploit that opportunity to the betterment of their people and communities. It's a real tribute to the leadership.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
We recognize that infrastructure development for a first nations community is every bit as important and in fact in some cases perhaps even more important than it is for non-aboriginal communities that may be located in places that are slightly less isolated.
I'm not in a position to assure the member or the chief councillor today that we've found a solution. But I do take some solace from the fact that in a number of other circumstances we have managed to find solutions and effected some real change on the ground.
I will take advantage of the question to point out that I am hopeful this summer that I will have an opportunity to come personally to the Ahousaht communities and the communities of the Nuu-chah-nulth so that we can pursue the matter further on the ground right on the spot.
S. Fraser: I thank the minister for that. I concur with his analysis that we have to get beyond the jurisdictional boundaries that we see between federal and provincial. There is a Nuu-chah-nulth term. It's hishuk-ish-ts'awalk, and it means all things are connected. That is wisdom, I believe, and it's the wisdom of elders.
The road is a road. It's a transportation corridor. In this case we're on record. The minister knows and I've mentioned to him that the Premier has acknowledged the problem and has suggested that he would be looking into that. So I'm sure the minister will be able to confirm that in his upcoming visit and hopefully be able to help provide some resources.
Again, we look at what is happening in adjoining municipalities, and there are programs there that recognize infrastructure needs. The federal-provincial infrastructure grant program that provides one-third, one-third and one-third funding…. Such programs are simply missing in adjoining aboriginal or first nations communities right next door, say, to Tofino or Ucluelet, which have the access to such funding programs. There is an inequity there that I think we need to look at. I'm hoping the minister would be mindful and help to address that.
While we're on the transportation thing, and I know that the minister will see this when he pays the bill…. The water taxi up to Ahousat. This is again not unique to Ahousat. In the north part of Clayoquot Sound in part of the Hesquiaht territory and a significant journey beyond Ahousat, from the end of the First Street dock in Tofino…. Essentially, the end of the highway is the beginning of the highway to communities like Opitsaht, which happens to be very close — just across the bay from Tofino — up to Ahousat, which is a significant 30-to-40-minute boat ride, and then beyond to Hesquiaht and Hot Springs in that area, which is further still.
The cost associated with that is being largely borne by the community and is especially noticeable to all residents in Ahousat. It is the cost of fuel. In this case the fuel is part of the highway. It is a lifeline. It is access to medical services, and it is access to basic supplies for survival. Food and clothing and basic shopping needs are almost all handled by that marine roadway.
Is there any role for the ministry to play in helping to address the very real and costly realities of that isolation? The traditional communities are not getting the level of support that, again, non-aboriginal communities…. I'll just take the ferry system. We have Vancouver Island accessed…. It is aboriginal and largely non-aboriginal and is subsidized heavily by public funding. Yet we're seeing the burden for transportation being, I think, inordinately placed on the aboriginal communities that need it.
Hon. M. de Jong: One of the things I am very hopeful that I will be able to do through the months of June and July — in fact, the planning is fairly advanced — is to experience just what the member has described by visiting some of the more isolated communities for which there is access sometimes only from the sea. That will be the approach that we take as opposed to taking the plane or the helicopter. Most people don't get to do that; they can't afford it. So the member correctly identifies the challenge that people face.
We're going to take a fairly extensive period through the summer to get a firsthand impression of how some of those challenges compound in the lives of people who live in very beautiful but very isolated communities.
The transformative change accord actually focuses, in one component of it, very much on the transportation infrastructure challenges facing first nations communities, trying to minimize or eliminate some of the jurisdictional barriers that do exist, not just on roads but on housing, water quality issues — a variety of issues. Transportation is certainly part of that.
I'm thinking back now to an earlier discussion. For us to set this as a standard or objective…. I think any community in British Columbia has a right to expect that it can be reliably tied into our overall transportation grid or infrastructure. There are communities for which that is not presently the case. We have to work on that. But in the year 2007 it seems to me entirely legitimate for us to set as an objective the establishment for all communities of a reliable transportation infrastructure system that guarantees their citizens, the citizens of those communities, the ability to move in and out of their communities regularly and reliably.
S. Fraser: I agree, but the reality of the situation is what I'm getting at. The reality of the situation is that right now in Ahousat, Hesquiaht and Ehattesaht there are no hospitals. Right now even doctor service, which is visiting and tentative, is very limited. Most of the basic services that are required for health and well-being in these communities are accessed from
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non-aboriginal communities that adjoin. That's an understanding, and there's certainly budgeting for that.
There seems no recognition on the ground that there are costs associated with accessing those since they are not being provided in the specific communities. The reality is that the community of Ahousat is shouldering a huge and growing burden. Every time you look at the price of gas going up, it's reflected with a cost to that community that can little afford it as it is.
I ask the minister for specifics. Is there anything that can be done here? On reserve…. Again, we're trying to get around this federal-provincial…. The highway system, if you will, is a provincial responsibility. Health care is a provincial responsibility directly and specifically, as far as the administering of that. I would submit that access to all these services that are not now offered in the community of Ahousat, for instance, is necessary for health and well-being. I mean access to groceries and such.
Is there anything that the minister can anticipate doing in the short term to help address that reality in communities like this?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'll try to answer the question in two parts, flowing from the discussion. First of all, I think some good progress has been made in terms of engagement with the federal government on the question of health care delivery. There was just an accord signed with actual dollars attached to it — not just dollars attached but a different delivery model. That was, in my view, a significant, positive step forward and advancement for the federal government to recognize its commitment, its obligation but also its limitations in being able to deliver on the ground. I think that is reflected in part in the accord.
It's also a significant step forward for the first nations that were instrumental in helping to negotiate the agreement in terms of recognizing their needs but also their ability to help address those needs and how instrumental it is for them to be a part of any solutions designed to address those needs. I think there is some positive work taking place.
I should relate to the member this additional thing. We recently had an opportunity to sit down with the federal minister, Mr. Prentice, and did so jointly — myself and the deputy minister, along with representatives of the First Nations Leadership Council. The federal minister received a fairly explicit, direct reminder that in an age when the kinds of cost pressures that the member has just described around even one component of living in an isolated community, which is fuel costs, are visited on communities and on their members, the caps that have been applied to funding within the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs are in many ways visited in a very direct and disadvantageous way on those communities.
The message that the federal minister received — and I think heard, in fairness to him — was that there was a profound sense of disappointment that some of those pressures weren't recognized in the most recent federal budget and that those caps remain in place, leaving some serious questions about how they might be addressed, at least insofar as the federal government is concerned, in the future. We have collectively received the assurance of the federal minister that he is cognizant of that. He is alive to it.
We obviously have talked about other issues as well. I don't think anyone here in this room is in a position to or would try to diminish the challenge posed by things like rising fuel costs in communities that depend on that fuel not just for transportation needs but in some cases for the generation of electricity.
Part of what we are trying to pursue, as well, as it relates to fuel costs, is an initiative with B.C. Hydro that would address some of the energy and electricity needs of isolated communities, both in terms of the costs posed by reliance on fossil fuels and also the environmental aspects of reliance on that fossil fuel–generated electricity.
One of the things I've learned is that the issues are all somewhat interconnected. They are at times vexing and difficult to resolve as quickly as we want, and there is no shortage of them. But we do, with the assistance of proactive leaders within the first nations communities. The cooperation and the dialogue that are very much part of the new relationship seem to be accelerating the progress far beyond what we have seen over the last 30 or 40 years.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I will urge the minister to continue with that pressure at the federal level and to ensure that these items do not fall off the table because the realities are now, and the expense and the burden are now. Long-term planning on these things is not going to help now.
The minister anticipated my next question around energy. If you just go a little further north, I already mentioned Hesquiaht. The entire community is reliant on a diesel generation system, and the costs of fuel there are for basic power needs. Again, that's an issue that I don't think can just be lobbed on the federal government. I believe it's a partnership solution, and it's a partnership, obviously, with first nations too. They need to be at the table to be part of that solution.
I'll just step on to one more issue locally with the Ahousaht. Then I'm going to move on to the larger issues. I've got a lot of issues here.
There's a provincial park on the island. Obviously, it's very proximal to Ahousat, being an isolated island, landlocked, and it's a beautiful trail, Wild Side Trail. There is not really any…. The management of that is being handled by Parks.
In the interest of reconciliation…. Actually, just in the new relationship and the words in there, the spirit and the intent of it seem to be of inclusion. We're not seeing the benefits of that park and the trail that is associated with that, which is obviously a great draw for kayakers and any number of tourists — ecotourists especially — to come. I would urge everyone to do that because it's magnificent. I would urge the minister, just
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taking a step back, to forget the flight anyway. To take the time travelling through Clayoquat Sound and Nuu-chah-nulth territory is not a burden, except if it's in a real storm season. But then you don't want to fly that anyway.
Is there any way that the minister can maybe look into seeing how, in the interest of relations, there is an ability for, at least in part, consideration of management of a park, a provincial facility, on the island proximal to Ahousat — to have more involvement there, an economic generator, an employer of youth and a management role that might be available there. Is that something that the minister might be able to investigate?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think the short answer is yes. I'm not familiar with the specifics of life on the wild side but….
We have, in partnership with first nations, developed a number of partnership agreements, comanagement agreements for Parks. I remember actually a number of years ago when we started this, it involved some of the forestry rec sites. There is a developing track record.
The member is correct. In some cases it just makes tremendous sense because we're dealing with folks who have an intrinsic knowledge of the area. They are on site, but also they have a very special and at times spiritual connection with the land, which is able to be conveyed to visitors in a way that no one else could.
Maybe what we can do…. We've obviously made a note of the specific example. The Chief, I think, will verify the interest on the part of the Ahousaht to explore that as an option, and we'll have a look at it.
Again, part of our role and part of my role is to ensure that when an expression of interest like this is made — in fairness, I think that the Chief and the Ahousaht have, if I think back, expressed this interest in the past — there is coordination with the Ministry of Environment and Parks to see what can be developed.
There is certainly an emerging track record of cooperation and comanagement. If we could add another such agreement to that group, to that inventory, so much the better, because it's a very special part of the planet. I think it's a great way to showcase it in a way that works for others. I hope to see some of that for myself in a few weeks.
S. Fraser: Thank you to the minister for that. I'm going back to the larger issues — sort of the more 10,000-foot level — on the budget.
Obviously, a large portion of the budget is still dealing with treaty, and I understand that's only a portion of the responsibility, as the minister has pointed out. However, treaty, being a large part, is a tripartite process. Can the minister — quickly, hopefully — just touch on what involvement federally you have to undertake to embark on this treaty process? Anticipating the treaty costs obviously can't be done in isolation without the federal counterparts. Could he comment, please.
Hon. M. de Jong: I think the member may have this, but if he doesn't, I'll gladly provide it to him. I'm talking now about the cost-sharing agreement that exists between the provincial and federal governments, which enumerates the manner in which the cost associated with the treaties is broken down. It's roughly 50-50.
Sometimes that leads to discussions about what is part of a treaty and what isn't. From the point of view of a first nation, that can at times be a very frustrating discussion. From the point of view of the provincial or federal government, it can be a very important conversation because it goes to the question of how the agreement or final settlement is going to be funded. I'd be glad to provide the member with a copy of that agreement.
As well, there are other components of negotiating treaties, the costs of which are shared between the parties. For example, the Treaty Commission process is an agency that receives equal funding from the province and the federal government.
In the case of treaties, I think it's also fair to say, though, that the manner in which the parties provide that funding can be slightly different. The province, as I think the member knows, will provide its contribution, in many cases, depending on where the final agreements are being negotiated, in the guise of land resources — and the federal government, more generally, in cash. There are a number of variations and permutations on that.
The member may have more specific questions than that. The general parameters are set out in that bilateral agreement between the federal and provincial governments.
S. Fraser: Just for clarification — this speculation of where we're going with treaty and the cost, now obviously an accelerated cost initially…. We've already gone over this pattern. We're potentially dying down. Is that something that is reflected in the federal commitment also, in their anticipation?
Hon. M. de Jong: Again, we try to share — in fact, we do — with our federal partners at the table. Our analysis on where we think…. To provide an example, the breakthrough table strategy, which we may talk about at some point in these estimates, was an initiative of the provincial government that said: "Look, let's try to break through on some final agreements." We obviously had discussions with the federal government and, ultimately, agreement.
We try to do that, looking forward, about how we think this is going to play out — where we think the opportunities are, what we think the costs are — and work with their officials. I believe there is a developing momentum, not just around treaties but around the relationship generally. We are trying to convey that to the federal government and say: "Look, we think the stars are aligning in a way that is going to allow the three parties to do some remarkably important things
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together, but we do need you to be there because you have a very important role to play."
The communication that the member alludes to is very important for those reasons, because there is only so much that the two parties on their own can do. We may talk later about some innovative approaches to agreements or incremental treaties. We may get into that. But we are intent on spending the time necessary with the federal government to reinforce the notion that not every treaty table is the same. Not everyone looks the same. Not all of the language…. Although the principles that our negotiators take to the table are based on certain instructions and mandates they have. But there is room to advance those and adapt them in different ways.
The work and the coordination with the federal government is obviously very important, in part because of the unique relationship the Crown in the right of Canada has with first nations.
S. Fraser: You mentioned the breakthrough strategy, so maybe I'll touch on that now. There are some parties that are critical of that process and that strategy, and that's — I'll say that — first nations and not. The Auditor General has certainly raised some concerns about that process, that that strategy may actually not be helping.
Certainly, if you look at the gaining momentum and the support for, say, the unity protocol and the signatories to that, we're seeing a growing frustration, arguably, in the treaty process. Maybe they are seeing themselves at the expense of this breakthrough strategy, because the resources seem to be going inordinately towards trying to get that breakthrough.
With that, the distribution of funding amongst the tables…. We have a lot of tables, so I'm not looking for that level of detail. Let's just deal with Lheidli T'enneh, Maa-nulth and Tsawwassen.
I know Lheidli T'enneh have gone through part of that process already. What percentage, say for those three breakthrough tables, is your budgeting for negotiations? If you can give me that information, that would be helpful.
Hon. M. de Jong: I've asked the staff to see if it's possible to break out numbers in the way that I think the member is looking for. While they're working on that, though, I thought I might offer some general observations, because I think the member fairly raises a good point and an argument we've heard in the past.
There are all of these tables that have been embarking, some of them for 12 years or longer. My God, to not be impatient at this point would be a very unnatural feeling to have. The logic that drove the decision to devote some resources, energy and attention to the breakthrough tables was built around the observation that unless it can be demonstrated that there is some prospect for success, measured by actually arriving at a final agreement, the continued commitment to the overall negotiating process was going to wane. We have seen some of that waning interest already built around the accumulated cost of negotiations.
The two schools of thought on this, and I will do this clumsily, might be summarized as follows. One would be the breakthrough — to try to push a small number of tables to completion to demonstrate that there is a way for this to succeed. In that scenario a few tables jump out ahead, arrive at that place, and other tables lag behind.
The alternative is to try and bring everyone along at the same pace. My concern with that approach is that that pace is so excruciatingly slow that if we ever do get to that destination represented by a final agreement, so many people will have dropped off, it will have been a self-defeating process.
I hope the member will accept that it was (a) a purposeful decision to focus in on some tables where we thought the prospects for success were better and (b) candidly, that we are hopeful that in the aftermath of successful ratification, we can take some of what we have learned from those exercises and apply it elsewhere, not necessarily to say that this is the way it's going to be, but to take a second group of tables to arrive at that similar destination, represented by a final agreement.
The Auditor General? I actually thought the Auditor General's report was reasonably instructive. I thought the point about the amount of money that has been invested in this process is important for people to know — the frustration that exists in many cases around the lack of progress, lack of final agreements. The notion that in certain ways the success we are enjoying around promoting a new relationship and new, innovative ways to improve the lives of people helps first nations leaderships develop a sustainable economic model for their communities can in some cases act as a bit of a disincentive for completing final agreements.
That's all true, but I don't think we should be utilizing that as an excuse to stop what we are doing. At the end of the day, treaties, as fundamentally important as they are — and they are, for all the reasons we've talked about, in terms of creating certainty and defining undefined rights and where they apply — are an instrument we use to improve people's lives. There are other instruments out there that we shouldn't be hesitant to utilize.
To come back to the point that I think the member began with in his question. There's no doubt that in a breakthrough strategy of the sort we have employed, that has involved focusing attention on certain tables. That has generated some frustration at other tables that were not identified as breakthrough tables.
S. Fraser: I appreciate the minister's comments. I would take it a step further. The breakthrough table strategy is often seen as diverting funds specifically from other tables in search of that brass ring, which is a treaty or three.
At the expense of all the other tables who are sitting on a lot of debt…. It's growing debt, and it's onerous debt in a lot of cases. A lot of tables are seeing that their negotiating position is not being given the resources to actually move ahead at all. They're spinning their wheels in a great quest for a table or two or three.
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That may be putting all the eggs in one basket. The discontent and the impatience that the minister is referring to may be exacerbated by the breakthrough strategy. The Auditor General has alluded to this maybe not being the appropriate way.
Certainly, the level of support for the unity protocol…. We saw recently the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs also signed onto the unity protocol. Those issues are real. The breakthrough table strategy is arguably a part of the problem.
We've had a number of first nations drop off the table recently. Even during the Lheidli T'enneh final negotiations coming up to the vote we saw controversy. I expect there will always be controversy, certainly around territorial boundaries. That's expected.
We certainly saw threats and actually the completion of first nations people leaving the treaty process out of frustration. Yet the resources were all put, in that area, into one table. We're talking about the northern interior. That's Lheidli T'enneh. That did not pass the vote, and I understand. It was clear that the minister, the government and the Premier expected that to be a success, if that's the right term — a yes vote — and it was not.
What did that cost the other tables? I'll use it right now as just a rhetorical question, but I will come back to this issue. If it's possible for staff to give me a breakdown of where the funding for the different tables is — how it is broken down. I understand you may not have that right now. If I can be provided with that at some point, that would be helpful. I can move on to another budgetary question.
There is, I know, a certain amount of money budgeted for media, for announcements, for events — announcements like what happened today. Those happen throughout the province. Is there a budgeted amount for that? Is there something set aside, a line item set aside for…? I don't mean this in a bad way, but it's self-congratulation or celebrating announcements. How much is budgeted toward, say, media and that sort of thing?
Hon. M. de Jong: While we're getting some information on that, I'll go back to the matter that the member raised earlier. This might be helpful.
I'm advised that with respect to the breakthrough tables of what were then approximately 150 FTEs that comprised the ministry, 15, or 10 percent, were dedicated to the breakthrough table. So 10 percent is 10 percent, and that's not an insignificant amount of manpower to be dedicated to those tables. We thought then, and do now, that in search of the elusive prize of a final agreement, that was an appropriate expenditure of resources and staff and staff time.
I should say, as well — coming back to something we discussed earlier — that there is a lot of new work taking place that draws on the staff. The transformative change accord is just one example. The member referred to the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and this is something that we are proud of. There has never been the kind of direct dialogue and work taking place between the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the province that exists now, and that is a function of some of the new people that are there — the formalization of the contact, the formalization of the relationship with the First Nations Leadership Council.
I should say this on the record, and the member was generous in pointing out that it's my first opportunity to speak at length on the record in an estimates discussion. Some people will say I'm a broken record because I've said this. Maybe the member remembers this from some of those events.
I think that 20 years on one of the singularly definitive events that has taken place in the last three or four years is the formation of the First Nations Leadership Council, the bringing-together of first nations leadership that historically, as one them said on the weekend, operated at odds with one another. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the First Nations Summit to be joined by the Assembly of First Nations regional Chief is such an important step.
It's an important step for the first nations. It's an important step for the provincial government to be able to have that agency and that assembly of leadership that we can work with and speak with. It is something that I think the federal government is waking up to now as well — that this is an opportunity that heretofore has not existed in British Columbia.
That's all work that is taking place. It transcends any one treaty table. It does, I believe and hope, help facilitate the discussions that will ultimately take place.
The union is interesting. The member refers to them in terms of the unity protocol. One of the things I haven't actually got clear in my mind yet — insofar as the union is an agency representing first nations who are specifically not involved in the treaty process — is how the relationship with the unity protocol works between nations that are involved in the treaty process but have questions and concerns and positions around specific issues and an agency whose members are specifically opposed to the B.C. Treaty Commission process.
That's one of the advantages of having an ongoing dialogue. We get to explore that, and perhaps I'll have a better understanding of that by the time we have this discussion again. Those are some thoughts.
If the member will give me a moment, I think I'll be able to provide him with this information. For the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, for events and communications of the sort that I believe the member is referencing, for '07-08, covered under what we refer to around these places as STOB 67, it is a budget of $350,000.
I will say this. I'm certain the member didn't mean to imply anything, but I learned the hard way one time a number of years ago the importance that first nations assign to some of the ceremony that takes place around the execution of agreements and protocols.
There is, obviously, an expectation that the Crown, as represented by the province of British Columbia, will be in a position to reciprocate and play an appropriate role as it relates to some of the types of events that the member has referred to. Happily, there have
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actually been — and the member has kindly attended a number of them, both here at the legislative precincts and elsewhere — a fair number of these events.
If I think of the signings we've had involving the Kwadacha Band on the Williston Reservoir, the Songhees and the Esquimalt First Nations at the precincts themselves, the education accords and the health accords…. There is a lot of work taking place.
The member is right. Every time we effect one of these gatherings, there are costs associated with it. My sense is, however, that at this stage in our relationship and in the grandest sense, it represents a worthwhile investment in the evolution of our relationship and the establishment and reinforcement of the new relationship.
S. Fraser: Thank you to the minister for that. I understand the importance of communications, and I applaud communications as a means, certainly, for openness in government. I mean, that's a necessary cost. My probing of that wasn't necessarily critical.
In keeping with what the Auditor General was referring to, too, there are some issues around openness that he specifically criticized in this government in this treaty process. If you're providing information on all of the issues but it's only good news stories, that can tend to maybe skew the reality of a situation.
Then we can see issues where you've got a growing number of tables at the treaty process becoming disenfranchised and those challenges not being given the same level of public scrutiny. They're not aware of it because the bulk of the resources are being used towards good-news stories, and the public is left in the dark about the rest of the challenges here. I'll touch on that further because the Auditor General's report is quite explicit on that.
I guess getting just a little bit further on this. The public affairs bureau…. You mentioned the number of workers in your ministry, and you said 10 percent. That isn't clear for me. If we're following that same analogy, based on the question I asked, that means that 90 percent are then on the other tables that aren't…. I know that's not what the minister meant, but what I'm trying to get down is that comparison.
I guess the question is: right now how many active tables are at some level in the treaty process? You've got 10 percent in the breakthrough tables. That's fair enough. But give me a breakdown of the comparison between the breakthrough tables and those that have not been raised to that level of recognition.
Hon. M. de Jong: To make the point that I don't think I made very well in terms of the 10-percent figure, I didn't want to suggest to the member that all of the 150 FTEs were involved in treaties. I don't think he took that from my comment, but I'll say that on the record.
The specific question. There are 47 of what we would call "active tables" in the B.C. Treaty Commission process. It is appropriate, however, to further define the term "active." This'll be a rough estimate. When I say 47 active tables, that involves just over 100 communities.
Some of the tables involve tribal councils with more than one first nation represented, but a third of those tables one could describe as proceeding in a way that represents significant progress, significant advances. Another third are making more modest progress. Probably a final third, to be fair, one would have to conclude, are somewhat languishing at the moment. I wouldn't want to pretend otherwise.
I won't in a general way try to describe why that might be. There'd be a variety of reasons. It might be a difference of opinion about why that is. But that's roughly a breakdown on the state of the universe in terms of the overall B.C. Treaty Commission process.
S. Fraser: With the 47 active tables, are we…? I'll go back to the three breakthrough tables. There are several that are very close on that ladder towards being a breakthrough table, I would assume. But of the three that we've seen of recent, they are getting ten FTEs. They're getting a certain percentage.
I'm trying to get the breakdown here. If that's something you are going to be providing later, then I don't want to take up your time here. I can get it after. But I haven't got a handle on that. The issue — from my understanding of the discontent amongst first nations with the treaty process and the slow process they see — is an unfair recognition of a few breakthrough tables at the expense of themselves and of the other tables that are not recognized at as high a level. What I want to know is: is there any truth in that?
I mean, they're feeling it, and breakthrough tables are getting more resources. Certainly, per breakthrough table, they've got to be getting more resources, just by what the minister said. What I'm looking for is some kind of an idea or breakdown of that. How much are those breakthrough tables getting, percentagewise, of the treaty tables that are…? Even if we can go down to the one-third that is making progress, how many of that one-third, which is going to be 15 or 16 tables…? There are three of them that are considered as breakthrough in that one-third. I need a breakdown here.
Hon. M. de Jong: I want to be as candid as I can. I'm not sure how helpful my original statistic was to the member. For example, when I say 15, or ten percent, that is obviously, as a percentage of the staff dedicated to negotiations, a much higher figure. When we talk about breakthrough tables, we're not just talking about the numbers of people but how much of their time is spent. How many meetings are they having?
I can say this. If you were involved in the Tsawwassen or the Maa-nulth or the Lheidli T'enneh, for that matter, as part of our breakthrough strategy, those tables were meeting a lot more frequently than other first nations.
I think the frustration can stem from a variety of things. It can be: "Why aren't we meeting?" It's pretty hard to make progress if one is not meeting as regularly as another table. Leadership says: "You know, I
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have to explain to my first nation community why we're not making progress, and I also have to explain why we're not having meetings as regularly as the first nation down the road who now stands poised to have a ceremony to initial a final agreement." So that can be a source of frustration.
There can be another reason, which is a policy impasse. The member is in tune enough with this to know that there have been concerns expressed about some of the mandates that provincial and federal negotiators take to the table. Those things are going to happen as part of a negotiation.
One of the things we were able to do in terms of the breakthrough tables was empower negotiators with some altered and expanded mandates around things like self-government that I think help facilitate those settlements. Those mandates are now available across the board. One of the challenges is to ensure that our negotiating partners with the first nation understand that and ascertain whether or not that can form a basis for moving things forward.
I can try to get an additional breakdown in the manner that the member is alluding to, but I want to be as forthright as I can. Some of it is not about the number of people, because some of these folks, especially lead negotiators, have responsibilities at a variety of tables, but they were probably spending more time at a couple of those tables than they would have been at others. I think that may give rise to some frustration as well.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
S. Fraser: I accept that the minister has explanations for what may or may not be a discrepancy between where the resources are going in the treaty process. I guess what I would like is an assurance that the minister will have his staff provide me with a breakdown of where the resources are going.
We've got a budget, and the largest portion of the budget is negotiations. I want to know what portion of that budget is going towards, as the minister describes them, the breakthrough tables. The strategy of the breakthrough table is, in some people's minds, taking away…. It's concentrating those resources to a few tables at the expense of the others.
I don't want to question the philosophy of that at this point. What I would like to know is: will I be able to be provided with those numbers? What is the distribution of the funding amongst the different tables? We can always discuss whether that's a good idea or a bad idea or why that's distributed there. Will I be able to get that information either today or subsequent to these meetings?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think we can provide something that will be of assistance to the member. It won't be today or tomorrow — if it's going to be helpful. I think I understand. The member is not talking here about the identification of fiscal settlement mandates but negotiating resources as they relate to the ability of those tables to meet.
S. Fraser: All right. I'm making a running list here. There may be other things I'm hoping to acquire as time goes on that we can't get in this shorter time line here.
How many public affairs bureau workers are working in or for the ministry, and would that be part of those full-time-equivalents that the minister was referring to before?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm told that the number is seven and that they are not counted within the FTE numbers that I related to the hon. member earlier in the proceedings.
S. Fraser: Other ministries — the Premier's office, for instance: do they provide resources that are not accounted for either through public affairs for promotions…?
There are a few things I want to get at, I guess, on this. I'll just touch on them. We had the recent announcement that there was $65 million for post-secondary aboriginal education initiatives. I know it took a lot of people by surprise. It took me by surprise. I know it took a lot of first nations leadership by surprise. That obviously didn't come out of your budget. It came out of the Ministry of Advanced Education or however that breakdown was.
There are a lot of things budgeted for dealing with aboriginal relationship reconciliation that the minister is the lead on. There's money coming in that is going to that, and it's coming from other sources.
The first part of the question is: are there any other ministries that are actually providing direct assistance — I don't mean one-offs, but direct assistance — to the ministry that's maybe not showing up in this accounting?
Hon. M. de Jong: I wonder if the member could clarify. I thought I understood his question, and then he referred to the $65 million as part…. I need to distinguish between funding for the protocols or funding the agreements themselves. For example, the new relationship trust was $100 million.
I thought the member was talking about support costs for announcements for generating data, but I may be a bit unclear. When the member asks, "Who else is contributing?" is he referring to public affairs–type costs or broader programming costs?
S. Fraser: Actually, I'm looking for both. Separately would probably be easier for me. If not, you could lump them together. There are resources which show up that seem to come out of, say, the Premier's office directly related to this ministry, but I'm not sure that they're reflected here. I'm curious as to how you account for that and how significant that is.
Hon. M. de Jong: I think I understand the question better now. I want to be very clear. As the member knows, we're discussing a motion that allocates $50-million-and-some-odd to the ministry. Fairly obviously, the bulk of the programming costs for things like
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the new relationship trust, the settlement of the legislative precincts claim and the health accord do not come from within the ministry's budget. They are drawn from the various departments.
I come back to what I spoke about earlier in terms of one of the key mandates of this department of government: it is to coordinate. I'm happy to say that task, although it's always complex and complicated…. The seminal shift that has taken place within the provincial government around this issue, so that the notion of the new relationship is now deeply embedded in every department of government, makes that job that much easier.
Ten years ago, in the case of the disposition of Crown land, to use a fairly straightforward example, I don't know if anyone would have automatically said: "Oh, and what is the position of the first nation in the area? What are our obligations to consult or accommodate?" That is so much now a part of the ethic around government. That doesn't mean there aren't still times when we can't do it better. I think we can always do these things better, but the nature is very different.
In terms of the cost associated with funding many of the programs, many of the announcements, many of the protocols that we have been talking about, they clearly do not come from within the ministry, because the ministry has a fairly modest budget — I rarely think of $50 million as modest, but by government standards — that wouldn't be able to accommodate the kinds of demands that are being placed on it as we advance through these negotiations.
S. Fraser: I'm not sure that I got the answer I was looking for.
We'll go on a little trail here. He talks about other ministries. Do other ministries have to account for a percentage or a certain amount of resources of their budget to be affecting the new relationship? Is there any consistent way that you monitor that? Is it just something that's sort of out there? We have a five-page document. It's not legislated. Is it even signed? How is the new relationship being administered by yourself or by the Premier's office or whoever?
Hon. M. de Jong: Right. I should again be clear. There's not a quota. It's not the kind of thing where government has mandated to each department of government an X percentage. We have government. The Crown in the right of the province of British Columbia has some legal obligations. It is sometimes challenging to understand what they are, and they evolve with common-law pronouncements from the courts, but we try to discharge those obligations in addition to that. That visits upon all departments of government, whether it's the resource sector or land use sector, the social ministries.
In addition to that, we have a strategy built around the new relationship and the transformative change accord to bridge the gap, to develop economic opportunities. We try to identify those opportunities and promote them, and it involves the dedication of resources. Yes, there is a significant budgetary component to that.
Not to be presumptuous, but I think the member is asking a very interesting and relevant question. How much does government spend on aboriginal issues across the fold? How much does government spend on advancing the new relationship? I think it's a fascinating question.
Of course, the answer depends on how you define these things. Is addressing the legal obligations around accommodation and consultation — in the Mines Ministry, the Forests Ministry, the energy sector…? Are those costs associated with the new relationship? They could be, or they could be costs associated with fulfilling one's mandate as required by the courts.
I don't have a number today for the member, looking across the government. But I will say this to the member. I think it's a good question. I think it's a question that…. I'm not sure we'd ever arrive at a number that everyone agreed upon, but I think it is a good question.
S. Fraser: Thank you for suggesting it's a good question. The lack of access to answers to that is part of, I guess, where I'm going. Out of some frustration towards the end of the estimates process with your predecessor, I suggested that the ministry is somewhat of a nebulous entity. It's hard to pin it down. I have already embarked on a process with mining. You mentioned Mining as a ministry, Forests and others.
Mining, for instance…. There's an initiative in the north-central part of the province. It's a two-hour flight. I had an opportunity to go north of Prince George to Amazay to a lake there. It's called Duncan Lake. Kemess Mines is a huge mining operation. It's very impressive, and the proposed expansion of that involves actually killing a lake. I thought that was not allowed under the DFO, but I think there's been an asterisk put on there somewhere, where you're allowed to kill a lake under some circumstances.
You know, there are four nations there. There's the leadership council, and all have said: "No, we won't go along with killing the lake." I put the question in this room to the minister responsible because I had pulled out…. I have the paperwork here, and I may touch on that tomorrow if we have time, but it refuted the decision to move ahead, even to this stage, with this against the explicit objections of the first nations involved, the traditional territories involved. It's a caribou migration route. The goals, of course, are listed in The New Relationship quite clearly.
It breached half of The New Relationship document, the spirit and intent, by anyone's estimation. So I was just saying: how does the minister reconcile actually moving down a path that could, in essence, breach the new relationship in so many fundamental ways? The minister didn't…. In my opinion — and obviously he may disagree — I don't think he got it. I don't think he got the new relationship, and I don't think that the new relationship was clearly laid out to him or where it played in the big scheme of things.
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What precedent does the new relationship give? What does it mean? Does it fall off the table if another interest comes forward? Without that explicitness that we're not being provided with, either from this ministry or from the Premier's office…. I know that's where the inception of the new relationship is.
I'm not saying this in a critical way. I agree with the new relationship. It is a direction we must go. I raised this in question period, and it was regarding business council and some of their concerns about the new relationship. It was question period, so I understand that I don't get an answer in question period. It was the First Nation Consultation and Accommodation: A Business Perspective.
They were very critical, and this is the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Coast Forest Products Association, the B.C. utilities advisory commission, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, Council of Tourism Associations. They were very critical of the new relationship. This was submitted to the New Relationship Management Committee on January 19 of this year.
I asked the minister because it says here: "Many industries in British Columbia are experiencing a great deal of frustration at the pace, content and lack of clarity of the first nations consultation processes. Also missing is a cohesive vision on how best to implement court rulings on consultation and accommodation in a meaningful and practical way."
It goes on to say: "…the scope of the duty is proportionate to a preliminary assessment of the strength of the case supporting the existence of the right or title and to the seriousness of the potentially adverse effect upon the right or title claimed."
It's critical. It suggests: "It has been…18 months since the new relationship promised to 'establish effective procedures for consultation and accommodation.' The lack of policy direction and shared vision is frustrating government officials, first nations and industry." I raised this in question period, and I never got an answer as far as…. How does the minister respond to this?
The minister has just responded: "Gee, we don't really know where the resources are. There's no specific quota for ministries." I certainly have found time and again in estimates that ministers have no idea. They don't have any idea where the new relationship fits into anything in their mandate as ministers and in their ministries. There's a whole whack of things, without question.
I'm going to ask a question, because I asked it in question period, and it's germane here because it's directly to…. This came out January 19, 2007: First Nation Consultation and Accommodation: A Business Perspective. The New Relationship Management Committee submitted that it has been "18 months since the new relationship promised to establish 'effective procedures for consultation and accommodation.' The lack of policy direction and shared vision is frustrating government officials" — which I've seen in estimates — "first nations" — which I've certainly heard on the ground, at the ground level — "and industry," because this is industry.
This came to the government. It came to this minister. How has the minister responded to this group?
Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the member for the question, which I think goes to the heart of the ongoing challenges and sometimes the ongoing tension that exists — the desire we all have to want to arrive at a point where we can say: "There, it's done. We have an accommodation and consultation strategy that applies in all circumstances and all situations. First nations are content, the business community is content, and government is equipped to respond, going forward."
We're not there yet. I hazard to guess we probably aren't going to be at that point for some time. I do think, however, that we are showing steady progress.
One of the great advantages to both the new relationship and the advent of the First Nations Leadership Council relates to the fact that there are now standing working groups in place that are focusing specifically on the general concepts of accommodation and consultation strategies.
How do you try and bring some structure to that in the way that I think the business council was speaking about, in a way that introduces an element of predictability and certainty? In over a hundred forestry agreements, that is done. There are consultation protocols associated with those, albeit on a more limited basis — one particular resource sector. You can talk about that.
The member may have been here when we did the Blueberry River First Nations oil and gas agreement. That is a specific and yet grand example of bringing some structure and a framework to the consultation and accommodation requirements, to land use plans generally, which there have been…. Some notable examples are further examples of that. I think the member was present when we did, in the longhouse around the corner from here, the pilot project on land use planning and resource use. So there is steady progress.
Is it as quick, as all-encompassing as we would like? No. I think there is a ton of work to be done on a matter that will engage the attention directly of those of us in this room, legislatively. We have statutes that we work with and that our officials work with in this province, which were drafted and passed here by a variety of governments in a day when no one was talking about a new relationship and no one was talking about what the obligations to consult and accommodate were. And I think there's a big chunk of work that we are going to need to undertake as legislators around bringing those statutes up to date.
There is a working group addressing the Heritage Conservation Act right now, but that is just one example of a whole host of legislative updates. The reality is that we're going to have to prioritize because we're not going to be able to do them all at one time. There is a working group…. As I say that, I think about the working group dedicated to rights and title recognition — again, flowing out of the First Nations Leadership Council and the new relationship.
I say all of this, not to in any way diminish the relevance of the commentary that we saw within the report
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or to diminish, again, the level of frustration expressed by those who wish we were further down the path of reconciliation, towards the goal of achieving greater certainty. But I do offer it up in defence of my own observation that we are making relatively good and steady progress.
My guess is that that is a little more expansive and maybe even a little more relevant than the answer I gave at that other place at that other time. But the member will pursue that, I'm sure.
S. Fraser: I'll pursue it very quickly. Was there an answer given to this document? Did the minister provide a response to this amalgamation of business groups — to their analysis?
Obviously, this is a critique, and it's critical, in parts, of the government's new relationship or how they've handled it. I don't agree with some of the premises in this — don't get me wrong — but they have touched on something here.
I think there's a basic recognition and respect that is…. I think this is an old paradigm that they have here. In my opinion, they're missing part of the point of a new relationship.
That being said, they have stated that they are concerned by the lack of vision and certainty that's being provided by the model that we're seeing coming from this government. They're saying it from their perspective, and they're also suggesting it's coming from ministries, ministers and line ministry people, and it's also coming from first nations.
Did the minister have a chance to respond to this group and to their concerns in a meeting, or did he send a letter back?
Hon. M. de Jong: Two things. We do meet and, probably just as importantly if not more importantly, we are now in a position and have taken advantage of the fact that we can, in our response, say to the Business Council: "By the way, we'd like to introduce you to the First Nations Leadership Council, and the two of you should meet."
I know that the member would not be included in this group, but I'm sure there are people who are bothered by the notion that as part of a new relationship but also as part of the obligations that the courts have laid out for the Crown in a variety of decisions, the days are over of simply operating on the land base without regard for what the impacts will be on first nations and traditional territories and asserted rights. That is the cause for some concern.
I'll make this observation. I'm sort of interested in what the member thinks about this. Since this report and the discussions that we have had, I have noticed a trend. I can't say it applies across the board, but I have noticed a trend.
I think it's a very positive one — at times challenging to government because the trend at times gets out ahead of the ability that government has to respond — of business approaching first nations and saying: "We want to work with you. We have some ideas for partnerships, and here's what we can bring to the table. Here's what we would like you to bring to the table." That sometimes generates a different discussion with government.
But I see a growing trend on the part of the business world to identifying (a) the fact that there is a new relationship evolving and at play, and (b) as you might expect from business: "How do we take advantage? How do we try to capitalize on it?"
That's a sense I have from some of the proposals and submissions that I hear about, but the member, as well, is out there very active both around the province and within his community. So as part of this exchange, I'm curious to know whether he sees that same dynamic developing. I understand that my job is to answer questions, not to ask them, but I'm curious enough to know whether he has seen anything similar develop.
S. Fraser: Oh boy, I get a chance to answer, so I'll see if I can. You know, the minister raises a point. We're seeing a level where business is recognizing that they have to include first nations in each traditional territory they're doing work in.
I'll go back to that hishuk-ish ts'awalk. "It's all connected." That's one piece of a relationship. If a new relationship is about access to resources, it's about money. If you go into a first nations community and you talk to elders about the disconnect they've got with youth, with everything, and the connection that they have traditionally — traditional ecological knowledge with the land, with the land base — it's a spiritual thing. It's not just about money.
Business organizations have one thing in mind, and that's their job. They're beholden to shareholders, as they must be. Yeah, they want access to the resources, and they don't want to have to…. They see court cases going the way of first nations in some cases, so they're looking to government to bring some certainty, and they're also looking for first nations cooperation on some of these things.
In some cases they're being — "they" as in the model that your government's bringing forward…. Forest and range agreements — you brought those up. It's access to a piece of a resource, which was leaving traditional territories with little or no benefit to first nations. These first nations communities have a huge disparity in socioeconomic means, as we all know, comparative to non-aboriginal communities.
We're seeing first nations signing on to this, and I am in the field, and I hear, behind closed doors, first nations leaders saying, "Hey, we signed it; we didn't like it," and the option was…. This was in negotiation, supposedly freely and clearly…. The negotiation was: "You can take it, or you can watch those trucks continue to leave your traditional territory with your resources, and you get nothing." Now, there's a deal.
If that's the model that business is supposed to follow, that doesn't bode well for first nations. Some have to sign on because of the desperate needs they have in those communities. So what we need from
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government has to be somewhat different than business. There's a bit of a social justice element that has to come with these relationships and with the new relationship.
It isn't just about getting a relationship so that we can access the resources that are on traditional territories. It mustn't be just that. If it is, that new relationship will fail. It will not survive.
As an opposition member, I mean, I might be seemingly speaking in somewhat utopian ways, but that would be a house of cards. I don't care what relationship…. I've had a few relationships way back when I was a teenager. If it was based on money, it wouldn't last very long, and I'm telling you, that's not what it's about. Access to resources isn't everything.
That's where these guys are coming from, and good on them. That's their mandate. Government has to provide something more than that, and it has to be more than just access to those resources so that these guys are happy and that the first nations are getting a little piece of it, because they've got no other choice than to take the little piece.
Forest and range agreements. Even the Auditor General has got issues with those. He does not believe that that is conducive to the treaty process, for instance. He believes it may hinder the treaty process. I will touch on that in a bit.
I think I had a chance to answer a question probably in a way that the minister might have answered the question in reverse. You wouldn't have got an answer that you could hang a hat on, on that one with me.
Is the ministry supporting — I've heard it put three different ways — an investigation or a probe or a review of what happened with the Lheidli T'enneh? It came out of the B.C. Treaty Commission. There was an announcement a while back. Can you tell me the status of that and what role the government has had to play in that?
Hon. M. de Jong: The short answer is no, although I understand from discussions with the B.C. Treaty Commission that they have had some meetings. I think when I spoke with Chief Commissioner Steven Point just last week that they are planning to be in the Lheidli T'enneh territory this week or next.
S. Fraser: I don't mean this to be too rhetorical, but a vote goes one of two ways. I know that a lot of resources and expectations have gone into hoping that that would be a yes vote with the Lheidli T'enneh, and it was not. Their threshold was arguably high.
That being said — and 70 percent is certainly high — it was less than 50 percent, so by any threshold the vote was a no vote. If it was a yes vote and there was a concern from those that voted no, would resources have been brought to bear to investigate, probe or review why it was a yes vote?
Hon. M. de Jong: I cannot speak for the Treaty Commission, obviously. What I believe has happened and what I am supportive of is the response of the Treaty Commission to a request from the community to involve itself in an analysis and discussion of what took place and how it took place.
In a different circumstance…. In a close vote I think the member may raise a good question. Had it been a close vote in the other direction, a close vote in favour of the treaty, might there have been a role for the Treaty Commission to effect a different kind of internal reconciliation? Maybe. I don't know if the community in those circumstances might have prevailed upon the Treaty Commission to perform that kind of service.
I am a great admirer, as I think the member is, of Chief Commissioner Steven Point. He has a remarkable status, standing and respect within aboriginal communities. I could certainly see him playing that role.
I won't hide the fact that I wish we were talking about that in fact and not hypothetically, because of course the result was very different.
S. Fraser: I, too, have the greatest of respect for Mr. Point, having spent time with him at various functions. He knows so much. He has a lot of wisdom there as far as dealing with first nations and with the treaty process, absolutely, so I'm not being critical of him here. But was there communication with the Treaty Commission regarding the no vote, to have them embark upon this path?
There have been other votes, not necessarily treaty votes, which have been voted down by first nations before, and which the Treaty Commission has been involved in. I've never heard of this sort of thing happening before — an investigation or a probe. Was there communication to embark down that path — either from you, from other government officials or from the Premier?
Hon. M. de Jong: None from me, and none that I'm aware of from any other department of government. I have had a couple of informal discussions with members of the Treaty Commission, of the sort you might expect after the first vote is unsuccessful, I think, professing our mutual disappointment. But the request to participate in discussions within the community, in a dialogue with the community, was very much one that emanated from the Lheidli T'enneh.
I did speak with Chief Dominic Frederick shortly after the results of the vote were known, and he did inform me that he and the council had been in contact with the commission and had sought their involvement.
I guess it's unusual, because we've not had a ratification vote before under the Treaty Commission process, but I must say I'm happy that the request was made and happier that the Treaty Commission has seen fit to accept the invitation to attend in the community.
S. Fraser: Obviously, at least the majority of the Chief and council were proponents of a yes vote. Would that be accurate?
Hon. M. de Jong: What I can advise the member is based on my discussions with the Chief and his treaty
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council, which was a subset, I think, of the larger council. He certainly was supportive. He signalled that by initialling the agreement, and his treaty council was also supportive. I cannot provide the member with a breakdown of the other members of the band council.
S. Fraser: That's fair enough, and I don't know that answer either. With all due respect to the Chief and council, obviously, community members voted. There was the ratification process for who gets to vote. My understanding is it's a pretty explicit and detailed process. They try to make sure that it omits no one.
Was the community…? Did they call for a probe into why it was a no vote? With the majority of the community members that voted no, were they the ones that came forward asking for a probe?
Hon. M. de Jong: My impression is that the Chief and council contacted the Treaty Commission, but I need to emphasize to the member that I have not been privy to the communications that have flowed between the Chief, his council and the Treaty Commission — although, as I say, the Chief did inform me that the request is being made.
I learned last week from Chief Commissioner Point that he would be travelling to the area. That's really about all I know about it, but I have conceded that it strikes me as a worthwhile endeavour. But I can't tell the member how the request was formulated, whether it represents a motion on the part of the council or an initiative that the chief has taken. I'm just not aware of the genesis of the idea.
S. Fraser: So the probe is the initiative of the Treaty Commission, independent of government at the request of chief and council. It's unknown whether that was voted on. I don't recall…. I don't have a copy of the press release when it came out, but the justification for the probe, I think, was something along the line of investigating what misinformation or misunderstanding led to the no vote. It was something along that line.
I read that, and I just thought it curious that if the rationale for a probe into a vote…. Family heads decided that the threshold was 70 percent. I'm not talking about the legal nuts and bolts of where it had to be.
I don't know where the minister would have gone if it was 51 percent. Certainly, the threshold was laid at 70 percent by the community, by family heads and by the committee involved, who were actively involved — unlike Tsawwassen, which I think is a raw 50-plus-one.
That was not laid out that way in the Lheidli T'enneh. This was not really close. This was 44 or 46 percent, and the threshold that the family heads laid out quite clearly in this process was 70 percent. The rationale for the probe was laid out to explore what misinformation or misunderstanding led to a no vote.
Does the minister have a comment? Obviously, the vote could have gone either yes or no, with respect to the Lheidli T'enneh who voted, based on the threshold, quite convincingly no. Is the assumption being made that they were in error? Is that the reason for the probe?
Hon. M. de Jong: Again, I need to emphasize to the member in these technical, legal terms: I haven't got a clue. First of all — I should point this out, and I think the member understands this — the threshold of which he speaks, the legal threshold for the Lheidli T'enneh, was, under the terms of the final agreement, precisely what it is in the Maa-nulth and the Tsawwassen agreement. It is 50 percent, in a similar way.
The member is correct. The chief and negotiating treaty council stated as a matter of internal policy that they were seeking a mandate in excess of 70 percent, or a minimum of 70 percent.
How that would have worked technically is interesting, because there is, under the terms of the treaty, a triggering mechanism by which the band notifies the other two governments that ratification has occurred. Whether they would have done that with a 60-percent vote, I'm not sure. Actually, that's a bit of uncharted territory as well.
I'm at a disadvantage because I'm reluctant to speak on behalf of either Chief Dominic Frederick and the council or the Treaty Commission. I can only share this impression with the member. Based on my informal discussion with Chief Dominic Frederick and the subsequent informal discussion with Chief Commissioner Point, there is a desire to learn from this.
The member uses the word "probe." Maybe that's in the…. I don't have the news release handy. I know there was one. But aside from reminding me of discomforting medical procedures, that may unintentionally colour what people think.
My impression is that the Chief, after having spoken with his community, wants himself and the community to have a better understanding of why the vote emerged the way it did and has decided that the Treaty Commission and particularly Chief Commissioner Steven Point may be able to assist them in doing that. It may be no more complicated than that.
Would a similar discussion be taking place involving the commission if the numbers were reversed? I don't know. It seems to me that in a case where there is a close vote, there is often a need to reconcile the differing opinions, and maybe that is something that the Treaty Commission will look at. We'll have another vote here at the end of July, and we'll see.
Based on the little I know, I am reluctant to not at least take a stab at articulating my impression that this represents a desire on the part of the Chief, council and community to come to terms with what happened and to learn from it. I would say that the Treaty Commission, as the keeper of the process, probably is curious about what happened and how it happened and what concerns people may have had about the ratification process, if any.
Maybe they don't. Maybe it's merely a reflection of the opinion of the community at the time the vote was taken. But I have not been privy to any of those
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bilateral discussions between the community and the commission, and I don't intend to participate or be privy to any of the subsequent discussions that take place.
S. Fraser: I thank the minister for that.
A step back, hypothetically. If it had been a resounding yes vote…. Say it was 70 percent, so no controversy internally or externally — a clear vote. We have a mandate, then. In that situation we would have had a mandate for…. It would come to this place, presumably, for discussion. What kind of a format…? Just for my own edification, how would that then arrive at us?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'm hoping that this fall we'll get a chance to live the dream, so I'm happy to explain. What we in this chamber, in this place, will see is ratification legislation — legislation that brings the treaty before Members of the Legislative Assembly and affords us an opportunity to discuss it, debate it, discuss the individual provisions of it and ultimately have a vote on whether or not the Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia endorse and ratify the agreement.
At that point, that would trigger a similar process in Ottawa in terms of the federal parliament. I'm told there is no real magic around the order in which these things are done, except that you go from the smaller constituency to the larger.
S. Fraser: Colloquially, too — I haven't seen this in writing; it's one of the reasons I'm asking — my understanding was that with respect to the nation…. It's difficult. I mean, these are long-term decisions for generations to come. Obviously, there is the potential for the loss of some things associated with what arguably is a bad model, the Indian Act — a race-based model.
But there are certain positives that come with that. They certainly may not outweigh the negatives — but a potential to lose some status in some cases. It could arguably be extinguishment. I know it's a negative term. There are ramifications of a decision, and there's always good and bad with everything. Those have to be wrestled with by the members of the first nation.
I've certainly perused all this stuff, and I find it complex. It is nothing like The New Relationship document. These are lengthy documents. They are a lot of legalese. They're difficult and in some cases, I suppose, up to interpretation.
With respect, hats off to trying to make a decision. I'm sure the education process of trying to figure out whatever it means and the discussions that happen internally with the nation themselves…. It's got to be complex, and it's got to be difficult.
I'm assuming there are resources made available within the nations themselves to try to wrestle with that. I know they've got to wrestle with the ratification process.
Does government provide resources to help with that? I don't know if they necessarily need lawyers, but they probably do. Is that something that we help with — we as in this place, the government, your ministry or the Treaty Commission?
Hon. M. de Jong: The short answer is yes. Obviously, there is funding provided through the negotiating process, and there are agreements in place to address that component of it at the completion or initialling of a final agreement.
There are also resources made available. There are agreements between the two levels of government around that designed to help facilitate the ratification process and provide some modest resources to the first nation, who then needs to communicate with their citizenry around what they have negotiated, what they are commending to their constituents or members within the agreement.
Those resources are made available. I think the member and I are on the same page. We think that's appropriate.
S. Fraser: Presumably, there would also be resources towards dealing with off-reserve members who are eligible to vote. I don't know what's involved. I'm assuming — I think rightly so — that every effort was made and is made to bring in those members to make sure that if they are not on reserve, they still have to be given the ability to vote and hopefully be given some resources or helped with the understanding of what that big document might mean to them and to future generations.
Hon. M. de Jong: I think the member is correct. For some of these communities, one of the greatest challenges is communicating the essence of a document — the text and the consequences of a comprehensive large document — to members who are no longer resident or are not resident within the community and therefore haven't been part of some of the more regular consultation that has taken place.
For example, in the case of the Tsawwassen, I think there is a small group of members who now live in Bellingham. I think there has been some work undertaken to ensure that they are contacted and registered so they are eligible to vote, first of all, and then provided with some basic information. Again, some modest resources are made available to allow for that to happen.
S. Fraser: I'm glad to see that that's part of the mix. I assumed it was. I know I read somewhere that it was, but I just wanted to confirm that on record. That's good.
Presumably, that will happen with any of these — the Tsawwassen, the Maa-nulth, whatever. As they come forward, those same issues are going to be there. In the interest of not having a challenge later on for non-inclusivity or something like that, I think it's wise that those resources are made available. That shouldn't be a stopping point for any nation to taking the final step of getting a vote.
With that being said, my understanding of the process, based on the minister's analysis of it, is
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accurate. That's certainly been my interpretation. We've got this process. I know it's come up. It's come up in the House in question period. I think it was the member for North Island who raised an issue around forestry, a decision around removing land from TFL 6, I guess, and the Kwaguilth. The potential legal challenge there is quite à la the Hupacasath case — very similar situation there.
That's an issue I'm sure you're going to hear from the good member on tomorrow, because I've certainly allotted some time for that. However, if I recall correctly, your response in the question period to her question about that was along the lines of trying to draw us out — us as in opposition — to taking a position.
Then the Lheidli T'enneh vote was yet to happen. I just want to apprise the member. I'm the critic, so I'm the lead on this. My interpretation of this process, with all respect to government and with all due respect to the nations involved, is that this is a difficult process and there is a time line and a process. That process, when it's at final and it's going before the first nation involved and all of the people who are involved with that vote — and the difficulty in making a decision on that and the irrevocableness of that decision….
With respect, I will as critic not take a position prior to their vote. Indeed, the process as I understand it in the B.C. Treaty Commission process, which I happen to support, is one that leaves us a position when and if that vote is a yes.
I don't make any premonition on whether a vote is a yes or a no. I do not believe that is a useful thing. I do not believe, whether it's government or opposition, that jumping out ahead of a first nation that's wrestling with a decision is a wise thing to do. I don't think it's necessarily productive and in keeping with a good decision. I think it can even hinder a decision or affect the decision in a way that is less than objective.
I just want the minister to know that I'm not…. The process is in place. My understanding is, as the minister has stated, when and if a nation votes yes above the threshold necessary for the vote on the issue, the way is for the ratification legislation to come to this place. We, government members and opposition members, have every opportunity and, I say, a duty and an obligation to go through that legislation and ask the hard questions.
That is the role of us here in the opposition — and in the government, because you've got members that will have just as many questions, I'm sure, as we do on any of these treaties. That's a check and balance that is a benefit to all of us. Then presumably the federal level will handle it in a similar way. I'm hoping that questions in question period don't draw out that answer again.
I'll tell the minister right now. I believe that any of us taking a position prior to the nation actually going as far as that difficult vote is, first of all, not in keeping with the Treaty Commission process, and I don't think it's useful to the nation. In my opinion, it shows disrespect to that nation who are having to wrestle with a difficult decision themselves. There's no question there.
With the court challenge that the Shuswap and the Treaty 8 nations — I understand. The same with Nisga'a. There are challenges that come along with this, with the treaty process. We understand it; it's built into the process. So in the case of Shuswap and Treaty 8, there were territorial challenges.
What's the status of those, now that we've got to a no vote in that treaty? Do those challenges still live on or do they sort of die on the order paper, as such?
Hon. M. de Jong: I note he didn't end his submission with a question, but I'll take a moment to respond. I have been around long enough to have some appreciation for the theatre that is question period. But there is actually an important principle embedded in what the member, Her Majesty's official opposition critic on this matter…. The principle and petition that he enunciates….
The member makes the argument that to — what he would term — prematurely adopt a position is disrespectful. I may have a different view on that. I may have a different view on it substantively. I may have a different view on it in a very partisan way. But there are two components of that that I won't endeavour to change the member's mind on but at least ask him to consider; that is, the only other time in recent memory that the province has embarked on a process like this was the Nisga'a treaty.
I was here then. I was in opposition. At that time I was the critic. We took a very strong position against the treaty, and we can talk about what we learned from that. Nonetheless, we took a very firm position and did all the things that the member correctly identifies as being the role of an opposition — to critique, to ask questions, to analyze.
The government of the day, and the party that the member is a member of, also took a very pronounced position in the same way that today I and the Premier stand before the public and make it fundamentally clear that we are proponents for this treaty.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
We do that implicitly because we sign on. We initial. We send in negotiators, and they come. They derive a mandate. Then when we think that they have secured an agreement that we can endorse, we do so, and then we tell people that we endorse it. We're not shy about that. When the member's party was in government and the Nisga'a treaty was negotiated, they did so as well in a very passionate and very aggressive way.
I don't know if it follows that the disrespect that the member says would flow from taking a position is limited to the opposition or if, in a similar way, the fact that the government has taken a position is in the member's mind disrespectful or if the fact that the government of the day in 1996-1997 took a position was equally disrespectful.
Those are things that the member might want to consider. Then there is another aspect of this discussion.
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Look, I'm not blind to the fact that there can be differences of opinion on these things. In fact, members of the opposition — colleagues of the member — have had some very critical things to say about some of these treaties and some components of these treaties. Now, the member can't be held responsible for comments of his colleagues, but he also cannot disassociate himself, his leader and his party from those comments.
So when I read members of the opposition expressing their outrage and their criticism of an agreement because of particular components of it and impugning the motives of those who would sign it as somehow trying to camouflage a hidden agenda around the removal of the ALR lands, those are positions. Those are the member's colleagues saying: "I don't agree with this."
I'm not intending in any way to try here today to spend time — we have important things to discuss — drawing the member out. It may be convenient for the moment to adopt the position that says we will await the outcome and, when the matter comes before this House, express an opinion. But the agreement is there. It is available. I know the member as a diligent critic has spent a lot of hours going through them and familiarizing himself with them.
I'm not sure that I agree, with the greatest respect, with the proposition that for Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to proffer an opinion and a position at this point is somehow disrespectful. I didn't think so when I did, as a member of the opposition. I didn't think it was disrespectful when the NDP government of the day proffered an opinion. I didn't share the opinion or the position at the time, but I did not think it was disrespectful of anyone to do that. I also understand that the member operates within a caucus, and his leader has made this approach clear.
My last point on it, however, would be to remind the member — I don't mean this in a pejorative way — that the splendid neutrality, if I can use that term, that the member seeks to advance to a certain point is not one that all of his colleagues have chosen to embrace. Some have had some very specific, negative things to say, which, insofar as articulating a position, is the role of an elected official.
I'm not critical. I disagree, and I believe that somehow impugning the motives or suggesting that the Tsawwassen treaty, for example, is an attempt to camouflage a hidden agenda around development. I believe that is wrong, and I welcome the opportunity to engage in that discussion.
It's difficult, though, if having made the statement, that member then retreats behind the shield that says: "But I'm not going to talk about it." That, I think, is unfair. I don't think I've heard that from this member, but I've heard something close to it from others. In any event, there wasn't a question associated with that component of the member's submission.
The question related to the court challenge. My understanding is that as we speak the Lheidli T'enneh and the Treaty 8 first nations are embarked on a protocol that would address overlapping issues, joint land use issues.
The raise on debt for the court case itself, of course, has for the moment at least disappeared. Whether or not it re-emerges remains to be seen, and if it does, one hopes that the work that is being undertaken now to resolve issues around overlapping claims and joint use of territories would be complete. That's about the size of the update I can offer the member today.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I welcome the opportunity to hear his perspective on the process. Certainly, the minister has history here that predates me as far as the Nisga'a treaty. I understand he was a member of the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs that actually met, that actually was an integral part of the treaty process.
That's a fundamental difference between the process under the New Democratic treaty process and this process under the Liberals. I know because I would automatically be on that committee. I believe I've been named to it, and the member sitting across would be the Chair of that committee, and that committee hasn't met.
When the minister spoke just moments ago about him voicing an opinion, he was part of a process. Under the New Democratic process there was an AIP signed with Nisga'a, and that committee was kicked into play. You met many times on the Nisga'a treaty. It was an open process. It's a process that I believe I've got somewhere. I'm sure I've read that you were given the option of a minority report in that process.
So you were as much involved in the treaty process as anyone was, even though at the time you sat as opposition. You were given that opportunity in a transparent way that you as government have never given this opposition.
That was one treaty, Nisga'a, and the loyal opposition of the day was given every opportunity to participate — encouraged to participate. Issues were brought forward in the open because they were not done in a vacuum. You had access to those issues at AIP stage. That's something you've never given this side of the House.
A quote from the 1996 Liberal election promise, the Courage to Change: "You will have a voice on negotiated settlements. A committee of the Legislative Assembly will review all proposed set agreements at public hearings in the communities directly affected by the agreement. A report of these hearings will be submitted to the Legislature prior to any ratification vote." There's a whole process that happened there, an open process that you as opposition signed on to. It was an election promise that you committed to.
There was one treaty, the Nisga'a treaty. The number of meetings by my count were 35 meetings of the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and 27 on the topic of the Nisga'a agreement. You as a member of that committee, as an opposition member, were given every opportunity to participate.
You made a commitment, you as government, at the election in 1996 that that committee of the Legislative Assembly would receive all proposed agreements at public hearings in the communities directly affected
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by the agreement. You made a promise, which I don't believe has ever been lived up to.
Since I've been sitting in this place for two years, our committee has never been called forward. Three treaties have come forward to AIP. I mean, we'll call it close to final ratification. With one treaty, Nisga'a, under the New Democrats, we had 27 meetings of that committee.
When it comes forward to us having some questions — and you hear comments of worry about where this part of a treaty came from — well, you never gave us the opportunity for an open and transparent process, despite the election promises in 1996.
Yes, you came up with a position. You came up with a minority report at the time of Nisga'a that we never came up with as an opposition this time. But we were never given that opportunity. The committee has never been called forward.
I have a notice of motion that I submitted to the Clerk the week before last, that the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs be empowered too. I'm going to be mindful of our time. It's two pages, but I'm asking that it be brought forward.
We have three treaties. One is being probed because it was a no vote. But two other treaties are coming forward that I think require informed debate by this House. As it stands, because of the way this government has handled the treaty process, I believe the only place for that debate is not until it gets to this House, which would be post-yes vote, above the threshold required of the first nation involved.
Until that time it would be premature at best to start debating what we haven't even been involved with as the opposition, in contradiction to what this government said when they were in opposition and were running in the 1996 election.
I do not agree with the minister's analysis. I respect his opinion, but I believe he's talking apples and oranges here. The treaty process under Nisga'a under the New Democrats was an open and inclusive process. I mean from within this House, and I mean open because it involved community debate at the committee level there.
We may come back to this, I realize. With the court challenges from Shuswap and Treaty 8, if they're no longer…. I'm curious. The Shuswap challenge was somewhat different in many ways than Treaty 8. The Treaty 8 challenge was quite late in the game, I think, in the treaty process here. The Shuswap challenge — that was not new. If I recall, there was some….
Hon. M. de Jong: No. The other way around.
S. Fraser: Was it the other way around? Treaty 8? I thought there was a writ issued from Shuswap back in 2003. Was that Treaty 8? Have I got that backwards?
S. Fraser: Well, my understanding is that there was a Shuswap challenge to this, and the writ was involved. It could be 2004. I think it was 2003, if my memory serves correct.
Does the minister have any comment? Does he recall?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'll get the chronology of the litigation for the hon. member. My recollection is in terms of the applications for injunctive relief, that the matter involving Treaty 8 had been proceeding for a period of time, and then somewhat later in the day the application for injunctive relief from the Shuswap came along. I'm not sure off the top of my head when the respective writs or originating documents were filed.
I feel, though, that I've received a bit of an invitation to comment on the proposition that the hon. member has made about distinguishing circumstances between '96-97 and now. Though it pains me more than I'm sure it does the hon. member, I do have to remind him and members of the committee that in '96 we lost. It is indelibly marked in my mind.
The manifesto that the member refers to was one that the people of British Columbia — I think a slight majority of the gross number of voters — may have embraced, but not the majority of MLAs who were elected.
However, I do want to ensure that I understand the member's argument correctly, and it seems to be that the absence…. By the way, I saw the member's motion this morning when I arrived and read through it very quickly. So I have not read through it in detail, and I'm not, therefore, in a position to comment on it in the specifics.
It seems to me that the position the member is advancing is that the absence of involvement by the select standing committee in the AIP is the rationale for the official opposition's reluctance to articulate a position on the treaty. I won't get into another diatribe about whether I agree with that or not, but that did seem to me to be the essence of the position being advanced by the member. I'll think on that. I'll think about that argument, if I've understood it correctly.
I do, though, want to provide the member with this assurance. I made one note to myself that he…. I hope I heard him correctly and I repeat his words correctly. I thought I heard him say that that was the only setting he could think of where a full discussion could take place about the treaty prior to a debate in the Legislature on ratification. If I heard him correctly, I merely want to offer the observation that I'm not sure I entirely agree.
We can spend as much time as is available to us today and tomorrow to talk about the treaties in a very formal, structured discussion where there is a record of the questions and answers. These are public documents, and it is entirely appropriate for the member to continue the process of prodding and critiquing and analyzing and exploring the rationale for why the government is a proponent of either the Lheidli T'enneh agreement before it was unsuccessful in its ratification, the Tsawwassen agreement, the Maa-nulth agreement.
It is entirely legitimate for the opposition critic or his colleagues to say: "What about this? What was the
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rationale? What was the argument? Why are you in a position? Why are you advocating this to British Columbians in the way that you are?"
I agree that it's risky to do that if the opposition doesn't have a clear position itself, because the member is skilled enough to know that I will frequently respond with things like: "And what's your position?" But there is nothing to prevent us, over the course of a couple of days, in advance of ratification votes and ratification legislation from embarking on that kind of detailed discussion. The member can take that for what it's worth, and I'll try to obtain a more specific chronology of the litigation.
This just in: Treaty 8 filed the writ on February 9 of '07; Shuswap, March 12 of '07. But I'm going to attach a caveat to that. Those dates strike me as perhaps involving the filing of interlocutory relief documents as opposed to originating documents, so I will try to confirm that for the member.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
I may be mistaken, but I do recall a writ either being proposed or actually being served — I think it was Shuswap, and it was over territorial discussions, Lheidli T'enneh — as far back as 2003 or 2004. It's before my time in this place. I'm sure the chronology is probably right, or it may well be right here — this more recent chronology. My understanding is that there was a writ served previous to that. I would be curious to see what happened with that, where that went, how that was dealt with at the time or if it was dealt with at the time.
Just to close off the loop on that. Again, I appreciate the minister's comments, and I'd love to be able to debate treaty, but unfortunately, I have a pretty fair amount of things already scheduled, so I may not.
A point, though. The minister knows now. He has seen my notice of motion. In '97 the report on the Nisga'a, the agreement-in-principle…. The hon. minister at the time was given, I think, a pretty good opportunity to be involved there and to provide a dissenting position as part of that process. In that dissenting opinion, the minister now…. I mean, '96 — fair enough. But there was an argument from your side of the House for a more open process, and in '97 you were given one.
That allowed a reasoned debate to happen to the point where you were given the opportunity to have a minority report on the issue. It wasn't one done at the end of the game. It wasn't one done that was without any formal process or without the knowledge that would have come along with 27 meetings associated with Nisga'a that you had the opportunity in that committee setting to deal with.
I think that in the interests of a successful treaty, having the support and information and knowledge of both sides of the House…. That's what that committee is for. The Premier refers to it at the beginning of every sitting, and it is yet to be called up. The only time that I believe your government has called up that committee was to deal with the referendum, which I will not be referring to in these proceedings. But I suggest that it would be a benefit to all British Columbians for that committee to be brought to task in the interests of openness and fairness and in the interests of a successful treaty and treaty process. I believe it fits in with the B.C. Treaty Commission process.
Maybe that won't close that loop, but that's my little spiel there. I don't know if I'm allowed to promote my own motion. Probably, there's a procedural thing that the Chair has somehow allowed me to deal with.
A question with the issues. How does a nation deal with legal challenges? It's the 11th hour. You're coming into a treaty. What happens there? You start getting, in this case — Lheidli T'enneh — a challenge from Treaty 8 and from Shuswap. Does that challenge go to government, or does it go to the Lheidli T'enneh, or does it go to both?
Hon. M. de Jong: It actually goes to three parties. All our parties are impacted, so the first nation and the two levels of government all find themselves involved. One of the things, I suppose, on the positive side that we are learning as we move through this is different strategies for trying to ensure that we don't arrive at that destination.
The member of course recalls that it was at a formative time in the life of the ratification process. I suppose the kindest word that one could use is distracting, because it requires bringing people in to deal with it. That's not to impugn anyone's motives on the part of the people bringing the challenge, but what one would like to try to ensure going forward is that we don't arrive at that place and that these matters can be dealt with in advance.
The short answer to the member's question is that a claim of the sort that he is referring to, involving the Shuswap or the Treaty 8, automatically engages the attention, certainly, but also the participation not just of the first nation but of the two other levels of government.
S. Fraser: I assume, as with any legal challenge, that there's a cost to be borne. Is that split three ways, then? Is that a tripartite cost? How does that play out?
Hon. M. de Jong: As with most litigation, the parties are generally responsible for providing their own responses, their statements of defence. It's costly for government; it's costly for first nations — a further reason for trying to do the work necessary to avoid being there in the first place.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
Do the minister or his staff have any idea of what that cost would be in this case? With two challenges at the 11th hour, what would that be in dollars and cents?
Hon. M. de Jong: I can try to get a figure for the government. I wouldn't be in a position, obviously, to provide numbers either for the federal government or for the Lheidli T'enneh, but I can undertake to try and provide the member with a figure of what the provin-
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cial Crown's costs were to respond to the…. I think he's asking about the Treaty 8 and the Shuswap claims.
S. Fraser: Well, I guess a hypothetical question, then. We see challenges like this happening. I think we can anticipate them happening in the future. The legal costs could be daunting, obviously, for a first nation involved. How would they be expected to pay, facing a legal challenge, as they're embarking on the final phase of ratification of a treaty or a vote towards that end?
Hon. M. de Jong: Two things. In the aftermath of a transaction that at the moment we don't generally tout as an overall success…. I'm talking now about the Lheidli T'enneh ratification process and the litigation that is the focus of our discussion right now.
We did actually receive the benefit of a judicial pronouncement as it relates to the application. I think the member recalls that the specific application there was for injunctive relief to prevent the ratification vote from proceeding. The courts did provide a ruling to allow the ratification vote to proceed, notwithstanding that these unresolved claims and arguments that were being advanced by a third-party first nation would not result in any prejudice.
There was actually a guiding decision around the question of applications that initially, at least, were designed to frustrate the ability of the vote to take place. That helps the parties. It doesn't, however, eliminate the cost that can accrue around the broader principle of unresolved claims from adjacent or third-party first nations.
What I want to emphasize to the member is how the approach to that now is to utilize the involvement of the Treaty Commission itself, the involvement of governments to far more proactively ensure that the parties are working together to avoid as best we can a situation from developing where the argument around a lack of consultation can be advanced and requires judicial intervention.
It's interesting, isn't it? You think about the obligation we have when land use decisions are being made to consult with first nations. These are now consultation obligations arising out of land use decisions that involve first nations. But we are not immune or exempt from the requirements that exist.
The short answer is this. Out of the Lheidli T'enneh circumstance and example all the parties have learned that in addition to all of the challenges associated with negotiating the complexities of the substantive agreement, there better be some focused attention at the appropriate stage on involving adjoining first nations to ensure that the requisite levels of comfort and understanding exist to allow the matter to proceed and, as best one can, negate the possibility or the need for judicial involvement or judicial intervention.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that, and I agree. We're best to avoid these before getting to the point where there's a challenge, especially if it's onerous, which I'm sure it is, on the finances of the nation involved in the treaty.
We can anticipate this. I know the minister does and will for the future. Nisga'a was not without challenge. We saw that. There is a precedent here.
In this case did the Lheidli T'enneh seek or did they get financial assistance for legal costs associated with the challenge or challenges?
Hon. M. de Jong: I just wanted to verify to ensure I gave an accurate answer. I'm advised and satisfied that we did not provide any funding to the Lheidli T'enneh that was designed to be utilized for judicial proceedings relating to the matter that we've been discussing.
S. Fraser: Was there any direction given from government on how to deal with the obvious costs that would be incurred by these challenges?
Hon. M. de Jong: Again, we weren't in a position to provide any advice on sourcing funding, although I believe we made it clear — and I would have wanted it to be made clear — that we were anxious to coordinate the defence of the application insofar as there was a joint interest. As between various counsels we would have wanted to ensure that there was a healthy level of communication and an understanding of the arguments that were going to be advanced.
My recollection is that when the matter did ultimately proceed to court, that happened. There was coordination between the counsels as to the arguments that were going to be advanced in reply to the application by the parties. I think Treaty 8 is the one that ultimately was heard by the court. I think that degree of coordination did occur.
S. Fraser: Following the vote, the headlines in the paper were pretty definitive — something along the lines of "No Second Chance for the Lheidli T'enneh."
I'm curious where the minister is now. Obviously, we've moved along. We've got a probe or a review or whatever the appropriate term is from the Treaty Commission potentially taking place or going to take place. Again, I don't know if that's just for general education. Where are the Lheidli T'enneh at now? What do you tell the Chief and the council if they are to discuss that with you?
Hon. M. de Jong: I'll try to paraphrase for the member essentially what I think I did say to the Chief when I spoke with him. I thought it important then and do now to communicate, firstly, our profound disappointment — "our" being the government of British Columbia — and, personally, my own and the Premier's profound disappointment at the result of the vote. But these are democratic processes, and one needs to respect the result, obviously.
I did, however, say that we also take the position that there are consequences associated with a vote that would have been in favour of ratification and
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consequences associated with a vote that says no. What was being voted upon by the people of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation was an agreement that had been signed off by three chief negotiators: one theirs and chief negotiators for the other parties, the government of Canada and the government of British Columbia.
It had been initialled by the political leadership for those three agencies: the Lheidli T'enneh via Chief Dominic Frederick, the government of Canada by Minister Jim Prentice and the province of British Columbia by Premier Gordon Campbell. So that level of endorsement and acceptance had occurred.
The people decided not to accept that endorsement by their political leadership and made the decision that we are now discussing. I made it clear to Chief Frederick, however, that I could not accept the result of that vote as representing a signal to renew negotiations.
I don't know how one could advance through a negotiating process — a Treaty Commission process that, quite frankly, is much larger than any one group — if at that critical time, at the time people are asked to make a decision to accept the work that has been endorsed by their chief negotiator and their political leadership, they were then in the position where they could take the view: "Well, we'll say no and see if we can reopen and secure a little more from the negotiation."
I did communicate that to Chief Frederick and believe that it was appropriate — actually essential — for me to do so in order to preserve the integrity of both the negotiation and the ratification process. What has flowed from that in terms of internal to the Lheidli T'enneh I can't really say, beyond the discussion we had earlier about the invitation to the Treaty Commission.
I'm not interested in seeing the yeoman work that was done come unravelled. The member may have thoughts on that. I still believe that this was a good deal for all concerned. The question, of course, is…. Well, the answer at this point from the people of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation is that they didn't agree with that observation. They didn't think so.
Might they come to a different position at some point in the future? Perhaps, but that is something very much for them to decide. I actually will do what I can to ensure that the elements of this final agreement remain in place for the foreseeable future so that that option exists.
Now, I think the member got the little note that said: "Noting the hour." I suggest we rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:20 p.m.
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