2008 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, MAY 26, 2008
Volume 34, Number 7
|Introductions by Members||12881|
| Hon. I.
|Annual Report of the British
Columbia Legislative Library 2007
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||12882|
|The Campaign Finance Reform Act,
2008 (Bill M215)
| C. James
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||12882|
|Farmers' markets on Vancouver
|50th anniversary of Dawson Creek
|World Partnership Walk and Aga
|Bike to Work Week
| R. Hawes
|Government action on forest
| C. James
| Hon. R.
|Government support for forest
| Hon. C.
action on forest industry
| Hon. R.
| C. Evans
|Pacific salmon treaty
| Hon. B.
|Funding for post-secondary
| Hon. M.
|Letter from Auditor General in response to request for review regarding ICBC research and training facility|
|Second Reading of Bills||12890|
|Social Workers Act (Bill 35)
| Hon. T.
|Committee of the Whole House||12893|
|Health Care Costs Recovery Act
| A. Dix
| Hon. G.
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||12897|
|Health Care Costs Recovery Act
|Committee of the Whole House||12897|
|Public Health Act (Bill 23)
| A. Dix
| Hon. G.
|Reporting of Bills||12905|
|Public Health Act (Bill 23)
|Third Reading of Bills||12906|
|Public Health Act (Bill 23)
|Committee of the Whole House||12906|
|Health Professions (Regulatory
Reform) Amendment Act, 2008 (Bill 25)
| A. Dix
| Hon. G.
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
|Committee of Supply||12912|
|Estimates: Office of the Premier
| Hon. G.
| C. James
[ Page 12881 ]
MONDAY, MAY 26, 2008
The House met at 1:36 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. T. Christensen: In April of 2007, MCFD launched a new program, the ministry student employment program, as a means of trying to address perhaps some of the myths and the mystery of what goes on within the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Today we're joined by a number of students who are this year's participants in that program. They're here for a program orientation.
Now, some of us might question whether coming to the House and witnessing this place is a good way to start your orientation towards government. Nevertheless, I'm very happy that they are here.
We're joined today by 15 students. They are Pamela Baddams, Janpreet Dhade, Gerardo Espinosa, Cynthia Field, Geoffrey Homer, Vessela Kostova, Lauren Larose, Christina McCauley, Tanner Oscapella, Stephanie Patterson, Megan Purcell, Renee Schultz, Shauna Skinner, Lydia Smith and Jordan Wapass. They are joined by two folks from the Ministry of Children and Family Development strategic human resources department, Michelle Perren and Danielle Carter-Sullivan.
I would ask that the House make all of them very welcome to this place and encourage them to learn a great deal from their experience with MCFD. Hopefully, we can talk them into pursuing a career in government.
N. Macdonald: It's my pleasure to introduce Betty Hoogendoorn. Betty is my belle-mère, as the French say, which is a much more appropriate term for Betty. She welcomed me into her family many, many years ago.
With her are my wife Karen Macdonald and my daughter Brandy Macdonald. I would like you all to join me in making them feel welcome.
R. Sultan: In the precinct today we have 27 students and eight parents and teachers led by Ms. Milva Barichello from Holy Trinity School in North Vancouver in my riding. Holy Trinity has offered the best of scholastic as well as spiritual education to our students in North Vancouver for well over 50 years.
Led by Principal Chris Sumner, they are now completing a ten-year capital campaign to build a new school. I would remind members of the Legislature that schools such as Holy Trinity pay for these new facilities out of their own pocket and do not impose on the generosity of the Ministry of Education.
Would you please welcome Holy Trinity to the precinct.
Hon. O. Ilich: This year as we celebrate our 150th anniversary, our B.C. government agents are also celebrating 150 years of service to the province. They have long been, in that time, the welcoming face of this province, and they share the colourful history that we have.
These are some of the functions they performed. They enforced the law; they kept the peace; they legalized mining claims; they performed marriage ceremonies; they buried the dead; they sold liquor licences; they collected taxes; they took custody of lunatics, as one old document puts it; they liaised with first nations people; they sheltered voters who had ridden vast distances to get into villages; they recorded water tables. There was indeed a very long list of things that they did. Today government agents are part of Service B.C., which is the provincial government's chief provider of front-line services to the public.
This year on June 19 we will be celebrating Government Agents Day in British Columbia. Joining us in the gallery are some of the Service B.C. staff from the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services, who work closely with the government agents across the province.
In the gallery are Lois Fraser, assistant deputy minister for Service B.C.; Bette-Jo Hughes, executive director responsible for Service B.C.'s government agents; Melody Wey, communications coordinator for the government agents 150 project; and Marty Nelson, former government agent in Ashcroft, Chetwynd, Clinton and Lillooet. Would the House please help me make them welcome.
Hon. P. Bell: Joining us in the House is Tami Fur. Tami is with the integrated land management bureau in Kamloops. She's a project manager. She's working with first nations in the Okanagan, in the Kamloops-Thompson region, building new relationships and creating economic opportunities for first nations throughout our region. I would ask the House to please make Tami very welcome.
Hon. I. Chong: Today I rise with some sadness. I want to inform the House of the sudden passing of Mr. Don Lee, who passed away this weekend from pancreatic cancer. Don Lee came to Canada from China in 1949 at the age of 13 and received his bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1960 and then completed his teacher training in Ontario.
Don taught math and physics at Templeton Secondary for more than 25 of his 31 years in the classroom. He was elected a Vancouver councillor in 1996, serving until 2002. Then he returned to public life in 2005 when he was elected a Vancouver school board trustee. He has served as a director of the greater Vancouver regional district, and while a school board trustee, Don chaired the management coordinating committee and was trustee liaison for Churchill and Templeton Secondary schools and their feeder elementary schools.
He was very active in the Chinese community. He was obviously involved as a consultant, as a board member and as a director of many Chinese associations
[ Page 12882 ]
and groups, of which I know there are many in greater Vancouver.
I also am aware that many members in this House have crossed paths with Don while attending events in Vancouver, and I hope that those who knew him well will send a note of condolence to his family, in particular to his wife Sally.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the Annual Report of the British Columbia Legislative Library 2007.
First Reading of Bills
THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE
REFORM ACT, 2008
C. James presented a bill intituled The Campaign Finance Reform Act, 2008.
C. James: I move that a bill intituled The Campaign Finance Reform Act, 2008, be read a first time now.
C. James: I'm very pleased to introduce The Campaign Finance Reform Act, 2008. British Columbia's democratic institutions are supposed to be accountable to the people we serve, but too often ordinary citizens feel that their voices are crowded out by big money, that access to politicians and decisions comes with a price. That has a corrosive effect on our democracy, undermining people's faith that decisions made in this chamber or at cabinet table result from no other consideration than the broad public interest.
The Campaign Finance Reform Act seeks to address these concerns, to level the playing field and to ensure that the public interest always comes first.
The principle underlying this bill is simple. If you can't vote, you can't donate. Individual citizens, not institutions, should finance B.C.'s political process. In addition to this far-reaching reform, this bill also calls for a public review led by the Chief Electoral Officer to provide a detailed examination of the entire campaign finance system to make further recommendations on models that have been implemented in other jurisdictions.
Every British Columbian should have equal access to legislators and input on the decisions that affect their lives. If passed by this House, the bill I'm introducing will put the individual at the centre of our democracy and will help to build public confidence in B.C.'s democratic institutions.
With that, I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M215, The Campaign Finance Reform Act, 2008, 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)
ON VANCOUVER ISLAND
M. Karagianis: Long before the hundred-mile diet became popular, the Metchosin farmers' market was bringing the best in fresh food and crafts to the residents of the south Island.
The market that runs every Sunday from May through October at the Metchosin municipal grounds has been operating for more than 20 years. It's a delicious place that tempts the senses with organically grown produce, fresh farm free-run eggs, jams and preserves, flowers and plants, baked goods, soaps and a whole lot more. It's a delicious place to reconnect with your neighbours, make new friends, listen to some great local music and soak up the fresh air and sunshine.
Just down the road, the Luxton Station market operates every Saturday at the Luxton fairgrounds in Langford. Both markets are run by volunteers and vendors who believe strongly in going local and doing their part to deliver healthy, nutritious fresh food.
They know that the food that the average British Columbian eats travels hundreds if not thousands of kilometres to get to our plates. They understand that more than 90 percent of the food consumed on Vancouver Island is grown off the Island.
That must change. By supporting our local growers and local vendors, we grow our own agrifoods industry, we enhance our food security, and we help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recently released Go Local West Shore Food Strategy states that by increasing local production, processing and enjoyment of great local foods, we can reduce our community's ecological footprint. It makes a lot of sense.
After all, as the members here know and we're oft reminded by the member for Delta South, we all have to eat to live.
50th ANNIVERSARY OF DAWSON CREEK
B. Lekstrom: It is a great day and a privilege to rise today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the city of Dawson Creek.
On January 1, 1958, the city of Dawson Creek was incorporated. It is an amazing community — one that I located to in 1961, mere days after I was born. So it's a little older than I am. I've lived there and enjoyed the lifestyle that it presents to anyone who calls it home or to a visitor — a way of life and quality of life that is second to none in this great province.
We have developed a book and a CD to commemorate the 50th anniversary. I encourage members of this Legislature to contact me if they're interested.
[ Page 12883 ]
The main kickoff to this celebration was that Dawson Creek hosted the Northern B.C. Winter Games in 2008. The Premier was up to kick it off. It was a wonderful start to a wonderful year.
We're blessed in Dawson Creek, and it is truly a city filled with community spirit. We have a diversified economy, with agriculture being our mainstay — but also mining, forestry, oil and gas, and tourism just to mention a few of the key aspects that keep our people working and our community in the type of atmosphere that it has.
We have a 12,000-person community, maybe a little greater, that is full of community pride. It is something to behold. I encourage every member of this Legislative Assembly as well as all British Columbians to visit Dawson Creek in the 50th celebration year. As well, I encourage all Canadians to come to our community to see what the northeast part of our province is like. There's no better place on earth to be than in Dawson Creek during the 50th anniversary celebrations. Come and enjoy it. I know you'll have a great time.
D. Routley: I would like to speak to the House today about the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway, the E&N, and about the E&N land grant that really is about the history of Vancouver Island. In fact, its present-day situation is tied up in that land grant as well.
The E&N was the completion of the promise to British Columbia by Canada that we would enter Confederation and have passenger service from coast to coast. It's that promise that has kept the E&N alive all these many years when so many different operators would in fact have preferred to see it gone.
The coal baron Dunsmuir was granted 30 percent of the Island, the east coast. Along that line he established forestry and coalmining, and that was the purpose of it. Along the line, though, there were also squatters at each station, and those became the towns of Vancouver Island. Duncan station is now Duncan.
Mr. Dunsmuir went back to the government and said: "What do I do with all these people on my land?" So he was granted rights in the Peace country and was granted rights further into Crown timber elsewhere on the Island. That complicated mix is at work today in all the first nations negotiations and in any kind of negotiations around our railway.
The great thing, though, is that we didn't lose the track. The track is still there. It's still viable. That linear string of communities is still there waiting to be served. The E&N is a masterpiece in recycling. The bridge in Niagara Canyon over Goldstream was in fact the bridge at Cisco where the CN and the CP crossed the river in the Fraser Canyon. When the traffic became too heavy for that bridge, it was taken apart and recycled onto Vancouver Island. The masonry that the bridge stood on is now the masonry that the current-day bridge stands on.
The E&N with its many bridges was the first part of the CPR to have diesels. The testing was done there, even though they were misordered and they got the wrong models. It was the last stretch of the CPR to have scheduled steam service. It's a significant piece of Canadian and British Columbian history. Let's make a commitment to the E&N Railway.
WORLD PARTNERSHIP WALK
AND AGA KHAN FOUNDATION
J. Nuraney: Once again, over the weekend the Aga Khan Foundation held their partnership walk in Vancouver and Victoria. Over 5,000 people of all denominations took part, and the event raised over $2 million, setting a new record.
The foundation was established by His Highness the Aga Khan with a view to develop and promote creative solutions to problems that impede social progress in the underdeveloped countries.
In one of his speeches the Aga Khan said: "There are those who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless they can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink into apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us who are more fortunate to provide that spark."
It is through the efforts of thousands of volunteers and donors that we will continue to strive to improve the lives of those who are socially and economically deprived. I would like to commend the work of the Aga Khan Foundation and the organizers and volunteers who have given us the opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
BIKE TO WORK WEEK
D. Cubberley: Next week is Bike to Work Week across British Columbia. It's been 14 years now since intrepid commuter cyclists decided that it would be a good idea to try promoting cycling to work. It began here in this building, actually. We had no clear idea of what we were embarking on at the time. We adopted Bike to Work Week as an off-the-shelf event week to try and focus public attention.
The challenge was to make it realize its potential, and that meant getting the public truly engaged in its program. Our credo was and remains that if we can just get people to try it, some will see how easy it is, and they'll keep on doing it. When we set out, all we really had was faith and a phrase: "Bike it; you'll like it." Around that we framed an entire engagement program.
What makes it work? Primarily, sustained reinforcement for those who are willing to try it, meaning a sense of camaraderie, a ton of fun and, above all, draws for free prizes — lots and lots and lots of free prizes.
Bike to Work Week lowers the price of admission to zero, and it invites riders to join a mobile party. It incentivizes change by making everybody feel special. The results show in steadily rising participation. Last year in greater Victoria there were 6,210 riders on nearly 600 teams. An astounding 1,328 of those, over one in five, were trying it for the very first time.
[ Page 12884 ]
These newbies, as they're known in the Bike to Work Week lexicon, are the real reason for the event. Get them to try it, and some of them will like it — the exercise, the endorphin rush, the stress relief, the weight control or the simple freedom of just getting there under your own steam. Then they keep going. The result of effective promotion is behaviour change.
Bike to Work Week, coupled with improving the infrastructure that supports the choice, is what's making commuter cycling Victoria's fastest-growing mode of transport. This year many more members of this House will have the opportunity to try it for the very first time in their own hometown. I would remind all that if they do try biking it, they're bound to wind up liking it.
R. Hawes: Saturday night a gala was held to honour Mel Zajac for his lifetime commitment to helping others. Hundreds turned out in their finery to support this extraordinary man and the incredible legacy that he and the Zajac family have built.
Since 1968 Mel has devoted his life to supporting seniors and children. Mel's tribute also served as a fundraiser for the Zajac Ranch in Mission. This former provincial corrections facility was purchased by the Zajac Foundation about five years ago. Since then, investment of over $9 million has transformed this site into a magical place where dreams come true for kids with debilitating illnesses. These are kids who could never enjoy a camp experience or know the joy of horseback riding, swimming or simply sitting by a campfire. Now, thanks to the vision of Mel and his family, dreams are coming true at the Zajac Ranch.
All kids are normal there because all of the campers suffer the same condition. No one stands out because of their medical requirements. Those requirements are all met with a 24-hour medical facility that is staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses. This centre caters to a wide range of needs, including kidney dialysis. Children attend with no charge.
The final tally is not in for Saturday night's gala, but it's estimated that as much as $2 million was raised for the ranch, thanks in large part to a $900,000 donation from Dennett Bryson of the Fisher Foundation. That got the ball rolling. This incredible generosity is as much a testament to the Zajac Ranch as it is to Mel Zajac.
Everyone should experience the magic of the ranch and the infectious whirlwind of enthusiasm that is Mel Zajac. He makes me proud to be a British Columbian. We're all better because of him.
GOVERNMENT ACTION ON
C. James: Last week the people of Mackenzie rallied to save their town, to save their jobs, to save their community, to save their way of life. Mackenzie is just one town of many communities who are on the brink of losing support because of B.C. Liberal forest policies.
The Minister of Forests was there in Mackenzie at a round table, but he didn't come out to the rally. He left that job to the Minister of Agriculture, whose comment was that this wasn't a day to lay blame.
Well, my question is to the Minister of Forests. Is that why he skipped out? Is that why he wouldn't show up — because he couldn't take the heat for his government's failed policy and his lack of leadership?
Hon. R. Coleman: Maybe the member should do a little bit of research and find out that a round table was scheduled long before the rally was. The rally took place while the round table was taking place. It started at 8:30 in the morning; the round table started at nine.
I hate to break the news to you, hon. Member. Quite frankly, the MLA for that area, who is well respected in that community and is probably the best MLA that Mackenzie has ever had…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: …went to the event, by agreement with me, so that I could chair the meeting, and he would take care of that.
In actual fact, he brought a very positive message to the community. He had a very good response from the community, because we believe in the future of Mackenzie, and we'll work with that community for its future.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
C. James: I can guarantee that if the minister had decided to take a coffee break at the round table, the rally would have been happy to welcome him to speak at the rally. But it's pretty clear that Mackenzie and other towns aren't a priority for this Minister of Forests. Let's take a look at what….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Just take your seat for a second.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
C. James: The Minister of Agriculture actually made a policy announcement at that rally. I'm not sure if the Minister of Forests heard it, but he told the people of Mackenzie that the policy now was to go to
[ Page 12885 ]
Alberta. He actually offered them jobs in Fort McMurray — jobs away from their families. Nothing for Mackenzie, nothing for the town, but he did say that he would make sure they had a plane ride to other provinces.
My question is to the Premier. How many other towns are going to get direct flights to Alberta because his government…
Mr. Speaker: Minister.
C. James: …has failed to support forest communities?
Hon. R. Coleman: The Minister of Agriculture was telling the community about opportunities, as we go through a tough transition during the forest cycle, for people to have other opportunities. I know that the Leader of the Opposition would just have everybody stay there, be unemployed and have no hope, rather than tell them the opportunities that might be available for them.
The fact of the matter is that all the member was doing was telling the crowd and letting the people of Mackenzie know where there are opportunities for transition while we rebuild the forest sector in British Columbia to deal with the market downturn and to have a future for the community of Mackenzie.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
C. James: If the Minister of Forests had come out to the rally, he could actually have heard firsthand what the Minister of Agriculture had to say.
He actually made another announcement at that rally. He actually said to the people of Mackenzie, "I promise you anything — anything from this cabinet, anything it can get done. I can go to cabinet, and I can get something" — a pretty bold statement from a minister who has done nothing except offer a plane ride to Alberta to the people of Mackenzie.
My question is to the Premier. Given the minister's promise, when will the Premier match the federal aid package so communities like Mackenzie can actually get real support from this government?
Hon. R. Coleman: May 9, 2008: "It will give our community a little bit of a lift right now to continue to diversify, and this will help us get through it" — Mayor Stephanie Killam, the mayor of Mackenzie, on $2 million from the province. A $129 million fund is there for workers in the province of British Columbia — for job creation, for tuition and for matching grants to bridge into retirement.
We will be there for Mackenzie, like we were last week. We'll continue to be. We won't fly in and throw a bunch of negativity at a community. We will build the positives, like the Minister of Agriculture was doing in that community.
B. Simpson: After the Minister of Forests' visit to Mackenzie he stated in an interview: "I think Mackenzie is a great community, personally. I love this community, and I think they're saying we've got to help us get past this." The minister thinks Mackenzie is asking for help? Well, if he showed up at the rally, he would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this community…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Simpson: …is asking this minister for help. They're demanding that this minister help.
If this minister truly loves Mackenzie, will he follow up on the Minister of Agriculture's commitment, go to the cabinet table and demand of the Premier $129 million of provincial money to match the federal money and make sure our communities get the support they deserve?
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: What I will tell the member opposite is that the people that want to spend $250 million at Mackenzie Green Energy are not going to be biased against because this member wants to write the Premier and suggest bioenergy should come to his community first, because Mackenzie should be part of that plan too.
I will tell this member that we are working with proponents who are interested in buying the Mackenzie pulp mill so it can be put back into production for that community's future, and we'll continue to work with them in order to try and build the future of that community.
I will tell this member that the fact of the matter is that there's a strong fibre supply in the area for this community, and we're going to work to make sure there's a strong industry for the future of this community as well.
Mr. Speaker: I remind members — through the Chair.
The member has a supplemental.
B. Simpson: So much for the love for the people of Mackenzie. The minister will not commit to go and ask the Premier for the money that that community needs and all the other communities need to get the support from this government.
In another post-Mackenzie interview the minister was asked specifically if Liberal forest policy was partly to blame for the impact of the current downturn. Here's the minister's answer: "Well, boldly would be that you know we had to look at what's out there and say, 'You know, not every time when….' Sometimes you swing at a bad pitch, and you say…. You have to
[ Page 12886 ]
admit that this didn't quite work the way you wanted it to. So let's go back and have a sober second look at some things, and that's what we'll do."
I would like a translation sometime, but I take it that's a yes. The B.C. Liberals swung at bad pitches when they gutted the Forest Act in this province in 2003. One of those bad pitches was the focus of Mackenzie, and that is the bad pitch of cutting the link between communities and their public forests. The minister said that Mackenzie…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Simpson: …has a strong fibre supply.
Mr. Speaker: Question, Member.
B. Simpson: The question Mackenzie has for this minister is: will it be there when those mills come back up, or will they be another Kamloops, in which this minister will allow those forest licences to be sold for mills in Prince George? Will the minister commit today that Mackenzie's forest licences will stay in Mackenzie?
Hon. R. Coleman: I have more of a question for the member opposite. When the mills are operating in Mackenzie, will it be okay if some logs come over from Fort St. James or Prince George? They were before, when they had all the mills operating in Mackenzie. Will that be all right, hon. Member? Because the fibre basket actually belongs to all of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Through the Chair, Minister.
Hon. R. Coleman: Do you think there's a possibility that maybe there could be some movement of fibre between mills to get the right log to the right mill for the right job to build the right economy for the future economy of British Columbia?
FOR FOREST WORKERS
R. Fleming: This government's hastily concocted tuition assistance program for unemployed forest workers will cover only basic tuition fee costs at schools like College of New Caledonia and the University of Northern British Columbia. It will not cover the cost of the institutions' actual costs for providing the student spaces. Right now these institutions are trying to cut costs in programs because this government reduced their core funding by 2.6 percent only two months ago.
My question is: rather than add to the deficits of B.C.'s public post-secondary institutions, will the Minister of Advanced Education agree to fully fund them to meet the requirement of the Minister of Forests' uncoordinated program?
Hon. C. Hansen: I'm proud of the fact that when we were allocated $129 million of federal money for resource communities, this Premier and this government made a decision that every single dollar was going to go to help forest workers and forest families. The tuition assistance….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Minister, just take your seat for a second.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. C. Hansen: The tuition assistance program is specifically designed to help individual workers who, at a time that they may be temporarily unemployed, can actually tap into up to $5,000 for tuition so that they can upgrade their skills. When those forest jobs return in those communities, they're going to be more prepared for the forest jobs of the future as a direct result of that $5,000.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: You know, it's incredible to me that this minister expresses pride that the federal government has come to the table when his own government in British Columbia has been missing in action.
The tuition assistance program is one that fewer than one in four displaced forestry workers will qualify for. There are between 4,500 and 5,000 laid-off displaced forest workers in the northern region served by the College of New Caledonia and Northern Lights region alone. In the town of Mackenzie 2,000 jobs were lost from the pulp mill, the paper mill and three sawmills closing. Forest workers expect….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
R. Fleming: Forest workers expect that any assistance being offered to them by this government is actually real. But as it stands, the government's tuition assistance program will further strain CNC and Northern Lights if potential students pursuing retraining do not have ministry funding for new seats being created.
Again to the minister: will he agree to fully fund new seats at the northern institutions so they'll have the capacity to actually retrain displaced forest workers?
Hon. C. Hansen: Actually, I am proud of the fact that the federal government has put in $129 million. That's in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars that the provincial government has put into economic development in northern British Columbia. If the member were to check his facts, he would realize….
[ Page 12887 ]
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.
Hon. C. Hansen: If the member would check his facts, he would actually find that the College of New Caledonia and the college of the northern Rockies are receiving more funds this year than they have ever received in the history of those colleges.
The member will know that the Premier announced the details of this funding just a week ago last Friday. We already have teams on the ground that are working in the communities of Mackenzie and Fort St. James to make sure that those workers can get the benefit of those dollars at the earliest possible opportunity. The tuition assistance is available today for any displaced forest workers.
GOVERNMENT ACTION ON
D. Routley: It must be unbelievable to the forest families in these communities to hear these ministers. We have the new Nero, the Forests Minister who fiddles while our industry burns. He will do nothing. Now we have the "say anything" Economic Development Minister, who will weasel out of his responsibility.
The 535 workers at Harmac who lost their jobs need answers. There are at least 2,000 direct family members, at least 2,000 other jobs implicated. This translates into local businesses being hurt. This translates into local people being hurt. The mill can run. It has markets. What it doesn't have is a minister who will do anything to help.
We need this minister to promise today to this House and to the workers that he will guarantee a fibre supply to their mills to save those jobs, to keep those jobs in British Columbia.
Hon. R. Coleman: What Harmac needs right now is an investor with a vision of how to make that mill work in a competitive world with a growing supply of kraft fibre that is coming on the market in the next three to five years. They have some people doing that, looking at it today.
For the member's information, I met with one of those proponents this morning and sat down with them, and we worked through what they needed to do and how they're going to look at this thing. The one thing there, hon. Member, is fibre. There will be fibre for that mill.
Mr. Speaker: Through the Chair, Minister.
Hon. R. Coleman: The big thing to remember, hon. Member, is that we need an investor who has significant money to invest in Harmac for the future of that mill for the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, through the Chair, please.
The member has a supplemental.
D. Routley: Shoulda, woulda, coulda. "We're gonna. We'll do it later. We're going to…." Enough of that from this government.
Their policies drove these mills under. They didn't have fibre. Now the recruitment fairs are on, and pulp mills from Alberta and Saskatchewan are recruiting the skilled workers to their markets. That is because of the policies of this government. That is the only reason that's happening. Those workers want to stay in British Columbia.
What they don't see is a plan. What they don't see is a minister who will do anything. They and I and this side of the House are calling on that minister to come down from the bleachers, stop being a spectator and take the action that's necessary. We're telling him what to do. He can do it.
Go down, Minister, and guarantee the fibre. Bring those jobs back to British Columbia. Stop making excuses.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, and through the Chair, please.
Hon. R. Coleman: First of all, let's be really clear. There was no policy of this government that drove Harmac into bankruptcy. The member's definition might be to do anything, might be to go buy this mill — like they did at Skeena Cellulose — and blow $500 million.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: I was also in Terrace last week at a round table, and a guy came up to me who used to have a mill in Terrace. You know what he told me? "The NDP bought Skeena Cellulose and kept sawmills running in competition to me. They subsidized those mills and put me out of business."
That's the type of policy you want. We're not going there, hon. Member. What we will do is work with investors. We'll work with the people to try and build a future for the Harmac mill.
C. Evans: The minister says it's not a policy of the government that drives companies into bankruptcy. I'm holding a letter from Andrew Powell of Paragon Wood Products, independent producer in the Okanagan.
Mr. Powell says: "We regret to advise that we are now shutting down our primary operation at Lumby. In short, we have no logs and no reasonable expectation of acquiring any. It doesn't take a great deal of effort to conclude that this government has decided it has no need any longer for independent companies in the forest industry, and so finally we are taking the hint."
My question to the minister is: is Mr. Powell wrong in believing it is the government's policy to use the downturn to wipe out the independent sector to reward the monopoly major holders of tenure when the markets come back?
Hon. R. Coleman: Yes, I do believe he's wrong. The fact of the matter is that this particular operation needs a certain kind of fibre which has a lot of competition coming from other mills all through the Interior and
[ Page 12888 ]
the coast of British Columbia. There have been actual sales….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: There have been actual sales, no-bid sales, put up in this area where this operation actually runs, and not bid on. It's the profile of the log, and what they want to trade for it isn't the issue. It's the fact that the profile they want, the fibre they want, is not in great supply in that particular timber supply area.
Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.
C. Evans: I'm guessing there are some people that actually believe that answer.
My second letter is not from the particular timber supply area the minister refers to. It's not from that section of the industry at all. It's not from the reman sector. It's from the Queen Charlotte Islands, from Randy O'Brien, CEO of O'Brien and Fuerst Logging Ltd. It's not to the minister; it's to the Premier.
Mr. O'Brien says to the Premier: "You depict your government as being one that encourages secondary manufacturing. How is this when you are allowing major corporations to squeeze small business owners out?"
My question is to the Premier. Is the absolute vacuum in the forestry file the ineptitude of the minister, or is it your direction to wipe out the independent sector?
Hon. R. Coleman: I don't know this particular company's arrangement with other companies or what it might have bid on and how it would be….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Coleman: There is competition out there for logging contracts, and people bid on them with companies in order to do business. Frankly, that's the way the business operates in the field. I will check into the individual member's comments after question period.
PACIFIC SALMON TREATY
S. Fraser: Not only is the forest industry suffering from failed Liberal policy and Liberal neglect, but our fishing communities are also under attack. The Canadian government recently announced the results of the Pacific salmon treaty deal with the United States, which was negotiated in complete absence of consultation with the fishing industry and coastal communities that will be so badly affected by the 30 percent reduction in chinook salmon fishing.
To the minister: is he going to follow the lead of other Liberal ministers and just be a spectator, or will he stand up for the B.C. fishing fleet?
Hon. B. Penner: We certainly will be standing up for Pacific salmon and making sure that conservation is first and foremost so that there is sustainable fishing. The member should know that what's been concluded is a tentative agreement, and now there's consultation taking place with industry and other stakeholders that have received their feedback.
I'll be interested to hear what the member has to say and whether he wants to see a repeat of what happened on the east coast, where people are fighting for the right to catch the last fish instead of making sure there's an abundance of fish to catch in the future.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Fraser: I was actually addressing that to the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, so this is interesting. It explains, I think, recent comments by the member for Nanaimo-Parksville when he was talking about doing away with the commercial fleet in favour of fish farms in B.C.
There are still 160 troll vessels in Bamfield, Ucluelet and Tofino. Those fishermen, their families and these communities are the historic backbone of the fishing fleet and the economy, to a large extent, in this great province. Instead, they're getting another Liberal minister sitting back as a spectator while the control of our public resource is being pulled away — this time not trees, but salmon. It's being handed over to the United States forever.
Will the minister show some backbone and fight to protect our resource and our troll fleet, or will he follow the pattern, which we're getting used to, of Liberal ministers who simply give up on the very people that built the economy of this great province?
Hon. B. Penner: As the member knows, these negotiations were led by the federal government through the DFO. I will be getting a detailed briefing on those negotiations and what the recommendations are, and we'll be listening for feedback from all stakeholders.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. B. Penner: Let's keep something in perspective. For the first time this proposed agreement anticipates curtailments on the part of Alaska fishermen of 50,000….
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.
Hon. B. Penner: For the first time, Alaska fishermen would be expected to participate in conservation efforts to the tune of 50,000 fewer chinook salmon being caught. That stands in stark contrast to the record of the NDP when they were in government.
What did they end up with at the end of the day? They ended up with a situation where Alaska did not
[ Page 12889 ]
reduce their catch, where they picked a fight with our American neighbours and where the federal government pulled $125 million out of the Nanoose Bay settlement. That's the NDP's record. We're not interested in repeating it.
C. Puchmayr: The 2.6 percent funding cut for 25 post-secondary institutions in B.C. resulted in a $400,000 shortfall for Kwantlen. Today we saw a full-page ad in The Province newspaper with the smiling faces of the Premier and the Advanced Education Minister.
My question to the Advanced Education Minister: who paid for these ads, and how much did they cost?
Hon. M. Coell: For the member: as he knows, a $68 million increase in my budget this year.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. Coell: Now, I know the members opposite spoke against the new universities. I know they spoke against the new universities, but I want to know: does that member support Kwantlen becoming a university? This side of the House certainly does.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. Puchmayr: Well, we know that these types of ads cost between $10,000 and $15,000. Why is money being spent on partisan photo ads when programs are being cut for students, especially students with disabilities?
Instead of putting the money to students with disabilities and saving those programs, this government elects to put in partisan photo ads. Will the minister intervene and cut this practice immediately and restore the funding to post-secondary education?
Hon. M. Coell: Well, the member knows that we have five new universities in British Columbia. I think he knows….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Minister, just take your seat.
Hon. M. Coell: I think the member knows that the five communities that those universities represent are pretty darn happy that they have universities. I think the member knows that the $68 million increase in the budget is an increase every year since we've been government. I think the member knows that we spent $1.5 billion on infrastructure for universities and those five new universities.
Now, I can't help it that the NDP, in second reading, continuously spoke against the creation of those new universities. On this side of the House, we're for them.
[End of question period.]
D. Thorne: I rise to table a petition with 1,115 signatures asking that the Riverview lands in Coquitlam-Maillardville riding be kept in public ownership, with services for mental health and wellness, and protection of the botanical heritage and equality of the lands. With the petitions that were tabled before Christmas, this makes over 12,000 signatures asking for this.
N. Macdonald: I'm tabling a petition with 1,028 names from Golden objecting to proposed private power projects on the Blaeberry River, Cedar Creek and Kicking Horse River. The signators ask for a two-year moratorium on private power development so that environmental and recreational issues can be properly considered.
S. Fraser: I present a petition from hundreds of British Columbians supporting the Promotion of Safe Antifreeze Act.
Hon. J. van Dongen: I rise to table a document.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Hon. J. van Dongen: This is a letter from the Auditor General, in response to my request for an independent review of the issues surrounding the research and training facility of ICBC.
Mr. Speaker: Is leave granted?
K. Conroy: I rise to present a petition from 960 residents of Rossland asking that the government not approve any amendment to the controlled recreation area that would allow construction of a golf course or residential property in the Topping Creek watershed.
G. Coons: I present a petition with over 300 names from the North Coast, specifically Bella Bella and Bella Coola, with concerns with the Coastal Ferry Act and wanting to place a moratorium on ferry fares.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: The first order of the day comes to us from the staff who tend to our needs in this
[ Page 12890 ]
chamber. They've asked me to remind people to begin the process of collecting personal items from the desks over the course of the week.
Secondly, in this chamber — after discussions, happily, with the Opposition House Leader — I call second reading of Bill 35, the Social Workers Act, and in Section A, Committee of Supply, for the information of members, the estimates of the Office of the Premier.
Hon. I. Chong: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
Hon. I. Chong: Today in the gallery — some have come and gone, but I know another group will be coming in shortly — I do want to acknowledge a number of students from Oak Bay high school, who are watching and observing things that are taking place in the chamber.
A group was accompanied by their teacher Jacqueline Gillespie. A number of senior students aged 16 and 17 were here earlier observing question period. I'm sure they have lots to take back to their classes. Later today another group of students from Oak Bay high school — again, senior students — led by their teacher Mr. Todd Evanchiew, will be in the House as well. I hope the House will make them welcome by this acknowledgment at this time.
Second Reading of Bills
SOCIAL WORKERS ACT
Hon. T. Christensen: I move that Bill 35, the Social Workers Act, be read a second time now. I understand that the opposition is supportive of Bill 35, and I simply propose to briefly comment on what this act will do.
Registered social workers in British Columbia currently lack the support of good professional governance legislation. The current legislation is almost 40 years old and does not provide sufficient authority for effective regulation of the social work profession. Registered social workers have told us that they want enhanced governance and have asked for a major revision to the existing legislation, and we are proud to have acted on their advice.
This legislation provides registered social workers with what they have been asking for by creating a B.C. college of social workers with the majority of its members elected by registrants. This legislation supports government's goal to build the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, special needs, children at risk and seniors.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
I think we all recognize that as we work in our communities, registered social workers are an important part of our schools, hospitals, mental health and treatment facilities, child and family service provider programs, resource and counselling centres, and non-profit and government organizations. We also recognize, when we get an opportunity to sit down and talk about issues with social workers, that it is an incredibly complex, multifaceted profession that involves providing direct services to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Our first priority is to protect British Columbia's most vulnerable citizens, and a new college will help us do that. It will protect and represent the public interest while serving the professionalism of registered B.C. social workers.
This new act will create the B.C. college of social workers. The board of the college will be responsible to govern, control and administer the affairs of the college. This legislation establishes comprehensive authority for the college to make bylaws in all areas necessary for professional governance.
Until now the board of registration for social workers has all been appointed by government. The newly established self-governing college will have a board with two-thirds of its members elected by registrants and the remainder appointed by myself as minister.
The new act will enhance public protection by strengthening the college's disciplinary powers and by requiring employers to report terminations for misconduct to the college. All registered social workers will be required to report suspected abuse of clients by another registrant. As well, a business associate who has reason to believe that a registrant might harm a member of the public and dissolves their business relationship as a result must report that dissolution to the college.
The college will also be required to provide public notification of the disciplinary decisions that it makes. Extensive provisions to safeguard the rights of registrants have been included in the new act through the establishment of registration, inquiry and discipline processes that are transparent, impartial and fair.
The new act will establish the legal foundation for the college to create new professional categories of registered social workers authorized to perform specialized functions that the current act simply doesn't provide for. This act will also authorize interprovincial cooperation and enable the college to make agreements with other jurisdictions, such as determining the process for registering social workers moving to British Columbia from another province.
Finally, this act will bring B.C. legislation in line with legislation for registered social workers in other provinces by setting out procedural requirements for registration, complaints and disciplinary proceedings in a governing statute.
Today there are more than 2,000 registered social workers across the province, each one day in and day out helping British Columbians to improve their lives. These legislative changes are the result of a long period of extensive consultation with the Board of Registration for Social Workers and with agencies that represent these social workers.
I want to thank all of those who have been involved in advocating for this legislation, for advocating for the
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profession of social work across our province. We have asked for their advice on how to better protect the public and to strengthen the regulation of the profession, and we have taken their advice to heart in moving this legislation forward.
We are committed to building the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, special needs, children at risk and seniors. These changes will help us meet that commitment by enabling this new B.C. college of social workers to better protect the safety of the often vulnerable people who receive registered social work services in a wide range of sectors and service areas right across British Columbia.
The new act provides certainty and greater fairness for applicants, registrants, clients and others affected by professional regulation of social workers.
N. Simons: It's my pleasure to be able to offer comments from this side of the House on the Social Workers Act. I talked to many social workers in late April after the act was tabled for the first time and heard many positive comments about the legislation and about how long overdue it was to update legislation that actually was written a long time ago, in the late '60s originally.
Many people in the social work profession have been calling on this act to be brought forward and have been calling on this legislation to finally address some of the outstanding issues that could only be addressed through updating the legislation. As people know, legislation needs to be reviewed and updated according to circumstances in our communities.
As we learn about the regulation of various professions, we also know that those regulations and legislation governing those regulations sometimes need to be changed and updated.
What is particularly rewarding for social workers is that they believe their voice is now being heard and being expressed through the tabling of this legislation. I'm pleased to say that this side of the House has been looking forward to having this legislation come forward, and we've been looking forward to being able to extol its virtues as well as to perhaps illustrate where some concerns might be raised.
However, this is a bill that has been long awaited by social workers, who believe that it will do a lot to ensure that their profession is managed and overseen by a quality board and by a college that actually has the ability to govern their professionals.
Social workers, as members in this House know, have an extremely complicated job, and I think that complicated job is illustrated quite clearly in this new definition of social workers. Social work encompasses or means "the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and evaluation of individual, interpersonal and societal issues through the use of social work knowledge, skills, interventions and strategies, to assist individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations and communities to achieve optimum psychological and social functioning." A social worker is "a person who practises social work."
With that clarification for the people of British Columbia through the new Social Workers Act, we actually finally have a clear definition of what social workers do. And yes, in fact, it does say that they do everything, and social workers will agree that they in fact do everything. It's an opportunity for them to see that their profession is being treated like other professions in the province, with a regulatory body, a body that can do disciplinary hearings and can provide all sorts of insight to the professionals who practise social work.
It's a good day for the province. It's a good day that we have this bill on the table, and it's also going to be a good day when further information can be elicited through questioning in the committee stage. That may identify some issues that it would be good to have on the record in terms of the expected rollout of the Social Workers Act.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Now, I mentioned that in 1968…. When the first Social Workers Act was created, it called for a board made up of two private citizens, I believe it was, and the rest were eight government appointments. Oh, they were all government appointments. I think that partly what this bill does is add the voice of social workers into the college.
The voice of registered social workers will be heard. They will be dealt with and spoken to and understood as a body representing registered social workers who deal with many of the most vulnerable people in our provinces.
They deal with children in schools. They deal with patients and families in hospitals. They help navigate, sometimes, the very complex systems of government and non-government agencies to access help that they need, whatever their circumstance. There are social workers who assist prisoners upon release from jails, where their reintroduction into society is made easier.
We all benefit from social workers, whether we have a social worker or not. I believe that when we think about the work that they do, we realize the breadth and the scope of their work and how it impacts on all of us in such a positive way.
Now, in committee stage certain issues will be raised, partly because we are now, I think, the fourth-from-last province to have updated our legislation to a similar standard. It's good, and it's not a negative. I don't mean it as a slight in any way. But what it does exemplify or illustrate is the complexity of the situation, the complexity of the work that social workers do. How is it to be governed? How is it to be overseen? And how is it that the community will benefit from this governance model change?
I believe that the minister is correct, in that it will add to the confidence of the people of British Columbia. They know that those social workers who work with their grandparents or children or whoever they happen to work with are held to a standard that is understood and defined and clearly illustrated, so that when, in fact, there is a need to step in to address concerns within that college, they have the authority to do that.
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We know that lawyers have the ability to regulate their industry, so to speak, and that it serves the public interest knowing that there's an independent college looking at the practice of social workers and establishing fundamental expectations of what social workers should be providing and the manner in which they provide that service. The college of social workers will replace the board.
I believe that there will be a lot of work in the transition phases. When you talk to social workers, they often talk about the need for adequate transition to make sure that the new situation is dealt with in a way that isn't a shock — that there's a transition that'll allow all those who are involved in this profession to make the appropriate adjustments, such as they need to be.
Now, there are some people who will see that this is an act that is a long time in coming and that finally, there's a recognition for the important and distinct role that registered social workers play in our province. There are some people who are concerned that this might look like an exclusive piece of legislation, one that may exclude certain people who provide essential social services to communities and that maybe they will not be included in that college.
Some provinces have dealt with the difference between registered social workers and others who work in the social service field by creating legislation specifically for those social service workers. They're separate and distinct from the work of social workers and registered social workers. I don't want to add to this idea that there is any conflict or any differences of opinion in terms of the quality or the importance of the work, but there's a professional body of social workers, and there are hundreds of people who would benefit from membership.
Currently we see a situation where, if there's a concern about a social worker and if someone brings a concern to light, the board of social workers would be without any recourse in the previous legislation should that individual decide to withdraw from membership. That's sort of like taking the teeth out of any particular enforcement mechanism, and legislation without teeth is gummy at best.
The importance of establishing standards and establishing clear and precise definitions of the various occupations that are encompassed in social work I think is a good step. It's a step that I think most everyone I've spoken to has said is a good idea. The transition is not just in terms of the legislation being new, but many of the regulations, I believe, will have to be updated, and much of the background support for this bill will have to be updated and potentially changed.
On a positive note are some of the comments that we've heard from people about this act, the Social Workers Act, Bill 35: "The improved recognition and regulation of social work in B.C. is critical to better understanding and serving those who receive social work services," and "The creation of a college is a major step in the direction of protecting the public and supporting the profession of social work and self-regulation."
The comments from social workers have been quite clear. They have been wanting this legislation for a long time. They've been in extensive discussions not just with the ministry but also with those who were charged with drafting the legislation.
We've seen some legislation come before the House that is very, very simple and straightforward. I would submit that this is complicated, and it's important that in committee stage we make sure that it's adequate in all aspects of its development — that it does in fact provide for the protection of the public that we hope it does and that it does in fact provide for the protection of the social worker, as well, in terms of being able to be not just a disciplinary college but one that is also supporting best practice and innovation in all aspects in social work.
Many child protection social workers are not necessarily members of the board or registered social workers. This might be a place for many of them to find common needs met through an advocacy body as well. I know they're not specifically set up for that purpose, but when there's a college established, it does provide that profession with the recognition of their role as a professional.
Another social worker made a comment that you needed to be registered to work in forestry but not in social work. When you work with trees or when you work with individuals, there seems to be a bit of a standard difference there. In fact, they're sort of pointing out the obvious, illustrating that, it's safe to say, for decades…. It has been a long time for this legislation to find its way here, and I'm pleased that it is here.
The Association of Social Workers has been lobbying for changes for a long time. There are a number of positive aspects of this legislation that will be both…. We'll see them as they come out during the committee stage as well. What I'm saying is that the opposition will have an opportunity to address those concerns that may have been raised by others after April 28, when the legislation was originally tabled.
Now, some of those have to do with cross-jurisdictional issues and the accreditation that's necessary in different provinces. I think that we need to be careful to ensure that provinces are aware of the standards of every program that trains social workers and trains people to work in the social services sector. In order to really understand the impact that could have, with having varying levels of qualification and then having workers from one province go to another province with different levels of expertise…. I think those are among the issues that need to be discussed in further detail.
Now, I'm hoping that during the phase of transition from the current governance structure to the eventual governance structure that the necessary resources are in place in order for that to occur. There are a number of committees under the board, and they have to do with everything — registration, a discipline committee, quality assurance committees. While they exist already, they're going to need time to be transitioned into the new governance structure.
The bylaws and the standards, not just the practice standards but the ethical standards, the competency standards…. Once again, the current bylaws, I'm sure, will be applicable, but how they're established and
[ Page 12893 ]
how they're reviewed by the new board is also going to be something that we're going to be talking about at length, I hope, in order to make sure of the soundness of the legislation. It would be a good opportunity now to make sure that when we establish it, that it's roadworthy, as they say.
I think it's fair to say that social workers are very good at analyzing situations. Just look at the job description currently in the Social Workers Act. I think they will be looking at this legislation from not just the perspective of: "Finally, we're seen as professional, and that's the end of it." In a way, there is an onus on social workers as a registered body of professionals to maintain standards that meet the communities' needs and that also ensure that information and knowledge about social work practice is shared among professionals and is understood. There will be a body over which social work practice…. It will oversee social work practice in a more comprehensive way.
Part of what this act might do is clarify for some people how there are so many definitions of social workers. I will say that many people even in this precinct are sometimes using "social work" in a way that isn't quite precise. There are different kinds of social workers, and there are people who do different kinds of social service work. I guess the concern that many have is, by having to be a registered social worker in order to be called a social worker, that that in some way has an impact on the quality of the other work that has sometimes been called social work.
I want to make sure that it's understood that there is a breadth of skill necessary in social work to deal with almost every aspect of society. It's not always just an individual family. Sometimes these social workers are dealing with societal issues and how to address the challenges that sometimes entire communities face.
With this act, we'll see that there's a recognition for the breadth of practice that exists as well as for the standards of that practice.
After four decades of…. Essentially, there's been lobbying for four decades, apparently, referring to the old legislation as antiquated. This is, in effect, a relief. When social workers across this province hear that Bill 35 is going for third reading in the near future, they will be pleased. There will be a lot of people who are saying: "Finally. It's about time that we have had this issue addressed."
The complexity of the issue has been partly what has stalled, but I'd say that negotiations and discussions have been going on for a long time. This is something that has been applauded and welcomed by various social work agencies in the province.
The concerns around some of the mobility of workers should be addressed in committee stage. Concerns over the potential exclusion of some people should be discussed. I believe that this is the forum for that sort of debate, and this is the forum for trying to find out much about a piece of legislation — not just its intent but its potential impact.
It's an act that social workers have been asking for, for many years, and the changes that it will impact…. In effect, the changes will come later. In a way, it's an act that will enable the strengthening of regulations and standards, and that, in itself, is a good thing. We need to be sure that all aspects of this legislation meet the needs of all of those who are working in the social services sector.
Without going into the details of concerns, they are not sufficient to really do more than heighten our interest in knowing more about various parts of the act. This is a good day for social workers. It's obviously going to be a good day for the college. It's about time. I think we've seen that every major profession in the province is regulated. People have the resulting confidence in that profession. I think that if there are ways that we can make sure that the public has confidence in their social workers and that there are professionals overseeing the practice of those social workers, that's not a bad thing.
It's not about policing. It's about just ensuring the integrity of the profession, a profession that promotes health — individual health, community health and societal health. I think the public of British Columbia are pleased that this is on the agenda. They're pleased that it's going to be going to third reading, and I'm looking forward to that time.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, Minister of Children and Families closes debate.
Hon. T. Christensen: I thank the member opposite for his comments about Bill 35. With that, I move that the bill now be read a second time.
Hon. T. Christensen: I move that Bill 35, the Social Workers Act, be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 35, Social Workers Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. B. Penner: I call committee stage debate on Bill 22, Health Care Costs Recovery Act.
Committee of the Whole House
HEALTH CARE COSTS RECOVERY ACT
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 22; K. Whittred in the chair.
The committee met at 3:01 p.m.
On section 1.
A. Dix: We have, actually, a very few questions for the minister on Bill 22. We've got an afternoon of discussion on these three bills.
[ Page 12894 ]
My first question on the definitions…. Just going through the definitions, particularly the definition of health care services as it applies here in the act, can the minister clarify for me that Pharmacare costs would, in the case of the bill, all be recoverable?
In other words, especially with respect to long-term Pharmacare costs, when we define health care services, which is the recovery of the cost of health care services and which I think is probably beyond what's covered by similar measures in other jurisdictions…. How might Pharmacare costs, which conceivably could be in existence over a long period of time, be picked up? Does the minister feel satisfied that those costs would be covered here?
Hon. G. Abbott: First, I should introduce the staff with me today. On my left is Gord Macatee, who is the Deputy Minister of Health. Behind us are Barbara Carmichael and Corrie Campbell, respectively.
The answer to the hon. member's question is yes. Pharmacare costs are among those which we hope to recapture.
A. Dix: Just so we get it correctly, that's contained in part (e) under "health care services." Those wouldn't be just drug services that might be picked up under the Hospital Insurance Act but in fact would be Pharmacare claims that could actually go for a very long period of time under those acts.
I just want to be clear that it's under section (e) where it says: "any other act or thing, including, without limitation, the provision of any health care treatment, aid, assistance or service or any drug, device or similar matter associated with personal injury." That's where the Pharmacare provisions would come in.
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer is yes, but only the province's portion of the costs.
A. Dix: In terms of that, to explain how those estimates would work, can the minister explain how that would work in terms of the Pharmacare provisions? Really, those are the only questions I have under this section.
If as the result of negligence in this case, for example, a long-term need for a particular drug was necessitated by the incompetence or the issue under which the claim was made, the government would make an estimate of that, and that would be provided by the claim. Is that kind of how it would work in that case?
Hon. G. Abbott: There would be consultations with medical professionals to try to determine what the pharmaceutical needs of the accident victim would be. What we would attempt to determine through a professional consultation at the time of settlement is what future drugs are required, and an allocation would be made of the provincial share of those drug costs. The patient's share of the drug costs at settlement would be recovered by the patient. So there would be a division there based on the division of drug costs.
Sections 1 to 6 inclusive approved.
On section 7.
A. Dix: We have an amendment standing in my name on the order paper, which I don't intend to move at this time. I think maybe we'll have the discussion and move through.
One of the issues that in other jurisdictions has been put forward is the idea that a particular hospital…. Say, essentially, that a very expensive case goes forward. Let's just say that Royal Columbian Hospital picked up the costs of a particular case, which could conceivably be in the millions of dollars to that hospital.
I guess my question to the minister is: would the money, the benefit in this case, come back to the Crown? I'm using this as an example. This question could actually be asked on a number of sections of the bill, so why don't we have the debate here and then just leave it?
Royal Columbian Hospital has a cost of $3 million or $4 million on a particular case, which really came out of their budget, yet the money would eventually come back to the Crown. As is the case in Britain with some similar laws, do you think it would be useful — for a particular hospital, which took up almost all the costs or had to pay out almost all the costs or assume all the costs on a particular case — for that money, in that case, to go back to that hospital? Or is the minister satisfied that the money would come back to the Crown and then be divided up?
The minister said before, I think, in his response to the second reading debate that it was satisfactory to him that 40 percent or 45 percent of the costs that would come back to the Crown would go to health care. But does he think there should be some particular allocation in that case, say, to a particular hospital? Or is he satisfied that the Royal Columbian Hospital or another hospital that might assume a particular cost in a particular case would be compensated adequately to do that?
The idea here is that the state gets that money back, but in some cases it might be that a particular hospital in a particular set of circumstances has a particularly high cost. Does the minister not think that perhaps that hospital should get or receive the compensation that comes back in a particular case?
Hon. G. Abbott: First of all, I gather we'll see this in the form of an amendment later on, and I'll be seeking the advice of the Chair with respect to whether the amendment is in order or not.
To briefly address the member's point, I think it's a good, appropriate question to be asking. I think the answer to the question is this. In these kinds of cases, to try to say the dollar should go exclusively to Royal Columbian Hospital or here or there is probably not going to be practical.
In most instances where as a consequence of wrongdoing or some unfortunate accident — one can't
[ Page 12895 ]
begin to imagine all the circumstances that might produce a judgment…. They may initially get their treatment — and I'll use the member's example — at Royal Columbian Hospital. There will be some expenses to Royal Columbian Hospital, no doubt, but the surgeon's fees, for example, will be part of MSP. The drugs will be Pharmacare. So it's difficult to know exactly.
Plus, it may be that after a stay at Royal Columbian — where the trauma, for example, is being dealt with — there may be a long period where the patient is at G.F. Strong getting rehab services, and then they may return to Kamloops to live in long-term residential care that supports their condition. It's difficult to make those kinds of judgments about division of legal revenues, so I don't think it's practical on that basis.
A. Dix: The minister will agree, though, that the purpose of the bill is to ensure that health costs that are being borne by the province but that are really, in a sense, the responsibility of some negligent individual or company be picked up by that individual. It does sort of flow that if in a particular case the health expenses are picked up by Royal Columbian Hospital or, as he said, by G.F. Strong, those expenses — if they were particularly large — might be picked up through the same costs.
Rather than move the amendment, because I don't think…. I agree with the minister that since the amendment that stands in my name on the order paper might well have produced an obligation on the Crown and therefore might not be in order, I think we'll just have the debate. I won't move my amendment standing in my name on the order paper. I think that's fair enough.
I wanted to ask the minister: what process might they consider under those circumstances? I think it's fair to say that there might be a circumstance…. The minister talked about $6 million to $12 million a year, depending on the year, and it would obviously vary greatly.
Will the minister and the Crown have a process to consider that? Given that it might be the case that the Crown or a particular agency like G.F. Strong picks up an unusual share of the costs, will there be a process to deal with that on the Ministry of Health side? It seems to me that's kind of the purpose of the bill.
Hon. G. Abbott: I think that in addition to the comments I provided last time, which is that it would be rare where, as a result of the catastrophic injuries sustained by an individual as a consequence of the wrongdoing or failure or something of another party, it would rest entirely with one particular facility within the health care system….
However, let's hypothetically go to the member's suggestion, because it is conceptually or theoretically possible that in a particular case there could be an outcome which meant an additional burden of millions of dollars annually to a particular health authority. What we would attempt to do in a case like that is what we do in the normal annual budget process, which is that beyond what we allocate through the population-needs-based formula…. We have allocations over and above that which would reflect new long-term care facilities coming on or new tertiary or community hospital facilities coming on — those kinds of things.
So in a case where there was something huge enough that might happen, where it could perceptibly or measurably affect a health authority, we would try to be sensitive to that in the annual budget discussions that we had with the authority.
A. Dix: What the minister is saying is that if he were discussing this issue with the Minister of Finance, he would make the case, or the process here would be…. In some cases we've had bills in the past, as you know, where we've said that half of lottery revenues should go to health care, and that was a debate that was held and so on.
In this case the Minister of Health would make the case, presumably, that if in a particular year — I don't know — a $30 million settlement came in to the government, the allocation of costs might be affected. The Minister of Health would make that case within the budget round that given that a particular settlement was high, the Minister of Health would have the responsibility. Rather than having a statutory requirement to do that, the Minister of Health should make that case within the budget process.
Hon. G. Abbott: First of all, a settlement of $30 million would be an uncommon one and would likely be one of the class action settlements. Those tend to run, I understand, in the $3 million to $5 million area, and those are the larger ones.
The personal injury ones tend to be much smaller, and it would be difficult to try to demonstrate that a particular health authority had a preponderance of the personal injury cases. That's not likely to happen. They're going to be kind of spread around.
I think it goes back to the earlier answers, which is that in the single-payer system that we have, the province funds the health authorities. The distribution of services across health authorities tends to sort of mediate these kinds of things. But again, in some extraordinary circumstance where there was a large and disproportionate burden to a particular health authority, we would undoubtedly discuss that within the bounds of the annual budgeting discussion.
Section 7 approved.
On section 8.
A. Dix: I wanted to ask the minister about this process, because section 8 talks about the government's independent right to recover. We understand what the process is if a case for wrongdoing is brought, and the government is automatically joined to the case — or that the people bringing the case have an obligation to inform the government, and the government is automatically joined.
[ Page 12896 ]
In this case, no case is brought under section 8, and what's suggested is that the government has an independent right to bring a case forward. I wanted to ask the minister what processes will be put in place, if any, to bring this into action.
In other words, is the government suggesting that maybe a whole — I don't know — group of lawyers or an individual lawyer or an individual public servant might be reviewing all cases? How would this measure be brought into force or brought into action by the government?
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his question.
The act does provide the authority to bring independent action in cases, for example, where the individual who may have been the victim in the accident is for whatever reason not motivated to proceed. This provision in the act would provide government with the authority to undertake independent action for recovery of costs.
Another example might be where there are several individuals on their own — maybe not particularly large health care costs, but aggregated are significant…. Again, the act would provide us with the authority to undertake independent action for recovery.
In terms of process, it would be Ministry of Health legal and other officials and health authority officials who might flag an issue of consequence and concern, and we would undoubtedly seek further advice from the Ministry of Attorney General before proceeding.
A. Dix: Just to understand this. What they found in Alberta…. This was more involving car insurance, which is obviously not dealt with in the same way here. As I understand it, when this was brought into effect in Alberta, the issue was: how exactly would you become aware of a case if someone didn't sue?
I think what happened in Alberta was that they had a process set up. What they discovered was that the process itself to oversee different cases as they came forward was more expensive than the amount of money that was actually brought in by having the capacity to review all these cases.
I guess what I'm asking is: will the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Attorney General, or whoever is responsible in this case, set up a new process of review in order to ensure that they pick up cases beyond cases brought by individuals who have complaints?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think what the member is asking is how we will be aware of cases and how we will determine whether a given case is worth fighting or not worth fighting, in terms of the recoveries we are apt to receive from it. In terms of whether we need to fight cases where recoveries are minimal or less than the cost of recovering them, no. There's nothing in this act that would compel us to undertake a legal case where we didn't believe the recoveries warranted our entry into it.
The insurers, I'm advised, have an obligation under this act to inform the ministry, I think, of these issues. We would, I suppose, like any other party that was considering entering a class action or other legal action, do a careful assessment of what we would be apt to recover versus costs and make a decision based on that. In making a decision, we might well secure the advice of the Ministry of Attorney General as well as the advice of our own legal advisers in the Ministry of Health.
A. Dix: Let me try and give an example to the minister just so I understand. I'm injured in some way. We'll just give an example. My doctor believes that a particular insulin that I take, say, was faulty in some fashion. I'm a diabetic. I decide not to sue for whatever reason. Will the minister, within the hospital system…?
I'm taken to the hospital. There are costs associated with that faulty insulin in some fashion. The manufacturer has made a mistake, and I decide not to sue for whatever reason. My doctor knows about it, or the hospital may know about it and may suspect that. Will there be a process in the Ministry of Health to review such cases?
The thing kicking off the Ministry of Health's involvement if I sue is that my lawyer has to inform the Ministry of Health — right? But without that, will the Ministry of Health be putting any new processes in place at the hospital level or the reporting level to inform the ministry so that the ministry may attempt to recover the health costs spent on me in the hospital because of that theoretically faulty insulin?
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer is yes, in terms of process. Both at the hospital level and at the health authority level, there is a process whereby information that is secured at the hospital level is sent along to the third-party liability branch at the Ministry of Health. At that point the issue would be flagged, and the assessment we discussed previously would be determined.
A. Dix: Just to be clear on that. Presumably, this would be somewhat enhanced by the expanded use of electronic medical records — wouldn't it? Would that conceivably aid the government in that regard? It seems to me that otherwise, the process would be extremely hit-or-miss unless you had some new process in place at the hospital level to assist you.
Hon. G. Abbott: We are permitted to use our electronic databases only for the purposes of providing health care.
A. Dix: So in that case, any new changes wouldn't be brought into place. The process would be as the minister describes, but this portion of it isn't something that the government would expect to get a lot of money from. Essentially, you're just giving yourself the right to recover such expenses if something happens, but it's kind of a default — right? You're not going to be
[ Page 12897 ]
actively pursuing that part of it. The main recoveries that the government would see would be strictly through cases brought by others, which the government would attach itself to.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
Hon. G. Abbott: The purpose of the bill is for government to be able to make health care cost recoveries. It's not to make legal suits a profit centre for government. It's to try to recover legitimate health care costs that have been incurred by the people of British Columbia.
In most instances the substantial recoveries will be in areas where there are class action suits underway, but as this section of the bill indicates, it's not the only way that recoveries can be made.
A. Dix: This will be my last question. In the minister's or the staff's history in other jurisdictions — because the minister is coming up to other jurisdictions — have there been any cases where the government has taken legal action for health care recoveries?
Of course, as the minister says, if there are no health care costs, the government isn't going to get a judgment. But in other jurisdictions where similar rules are in place, have there been any cases where the government has taken action independent of a suit by an individual or by a class?
Hon. G. Abbott: The member may want to rejig his question, but it is difficult for us to be definitive about what has occurred in other jurisdictions. We understand that provisions like this exist in other jurisdictions, but when and how they've used them, it's tough for us to be definitive on.
Sections 8 to 24 inclusive approved.
On section 25.
A. Dix: On the regulations section, can the minister give us any sense of the intent in terms of bringing regulations pursuant to this into effect? Are we ready to go? This will save us the questions on section 28 as well. Is the government kind of ready to go here in terms of the regulations to bring the bill into force?
Hon. G. Abbott: It is difficult to put a precise time frame around when the regulations will be in place. I expect it will be over the next few months that the bill comes into force, but it will depend on how quickly all of the necessary regulations and provisions can be brought into force.
Sections 25 to 28 inclusive approved.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 3:41 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
HEALTH CARE COSTS RECOVERY ACT
Bill 22, Health Care Costs Recovery Act, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Abbott: I call committee stage on Bill 23, the Public Health Act.
Committee of the Whole House
PUBLIC HEALTH ACT
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 23; S. Hammell in the chair.
The committee met at 3:43 p.m.
On section 1.
A. Dix: I just want to start by thanking the minister, the deputy minister and Dr. Kendall and the team for providing us with a briefing on the bill last week, which I think will greatly shorten the debate and was also very helpful. I thank the minister and his staff for that.
On section 1, I think the minister would agree that one of the innovative parts of the bill is the definition here provided to "health impediment" which I think will assist us. Maybe the minister can speak to the purpose of it, because it seems to me that that will provide us with an ability to get at some public issues that are not, shall we say, emergencies but some of the issues such as the trans fat issue, which is one of the broader public initiatives that will come out of this bill.
Perhaps the minister could speak to that definition — why it's in the bill and what the government seeks to accomplish by it.
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his question.
Joining me again is my deputy Gord Macatee, and behind me are Dr. Brian Emerson and Dr. Perry Kendall. Dr. Kendall is the chief provincial health officer for the province of British Columbia.
In terms of the member's question, I think he summarized it correctly that a health impediment is something that might produce long-term cumulative effects in relation to public health, may cause chronic disease or disability, interferes with the prevention of injury or illness or is something associated with poor population health.
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Though trans fats would be a very good example of a health impediment, the impacts of trans fats are not immediate. They are cumulative and long term, but there's not an immediate risk to health. It is a longer-term process whereby it has that deleterious effect.
Sections 1 and 2 approved.
On section 3.
A. Dix: Perhaps the minister could introduce this section by giving some indication of the purpose for which he would plan to use it. It says, of course, that the minister may require public health plans. Just to introduce this sort of health planning part of the debate, perhaps the minister can talk about how and when he would intend to use this — to assist us as we go through these sections.
Hon. G. Abbott: This provision around public health planning would structure more formally what has already been undertaken in the province, which is the production of public health reports in particular areas. For example, a health authority or a regional hospital district might be obliged to produce a public health plan in respect of the management of HIV issues within its bounds or mental health issues within its bounds, and so on. Those are the kinds of things that would be done under this provision.
Sections 3 and 4 approved.
On section 5.
A. Dix: Just on section 5, this section essentially talks about the impact of public health plans on statutory decisions. It gives the minister's plans a certain override, both section 5 and I think section 6, over other plans already made by the provincial government.
Can the minister just talk a little bit about that relationship, particularly its relationship between public health plans and other plans put forward, say, by local government but also other agencies of the provincial government?
Hon. G. Abbott: This provision will take us into an area which is by its nature apt to be controversial in some instances. As members on all sides of the House know, there are occasions when the need for a mental health or addictions facility is confounded by public opposition and the reluctance of a local government to plan for facilities of that character notwithstanding the public concerns that they may feel.
This would oblige local governments to plan for those kinds of facilities to make sure that within their zoning bylaws and their official community plans, there are areas where those kinds of facilities — mental health, addictions and other facilities — can be found within that community.
It is occasionally believed that there are some communities where there are no mental health or addictions issues. That is not true; every community has them. I guess the core of the proposition here is that every community should plan for them.
B. Ralston: Then dealing with section 5 — there are also questions that arise out of the more specific legislation in section 6 — the minister, I think, has referred to some of the problems that do arise in individual communities. Does this then give the provincial cabinet — under the auspices of this act and the powers that it grants itself here in section 5, assuming this section passes — the power to override a specific municipal zoning decision not to locate a facility in, say, a certain part of a city or municipality?
Hon. G. Abbott: In this section there's is a more generalized requirement for municipalities or local governments to plan for mental health facilities, addictions facilities and so on. There is not in this section the notion that we decide that a facility should be in this part of town or that part of town. The obligation is that local governments recognize that these kinds of facilities are necessary within their bounds.
The only way that we would override in this section…. I think there is a more specific override section later in the bill. But in this section, if an override were to be used, it would be in the generalized sense that we encountered a local government that said: "We don't need to have any mental health or addictions facilities here. That's not necessary. We don't believe there is any need for them." In that case, this section would provide us with the authority to say: "No, we believe that you do need to plan for those things."
B. Ralston: In section 5(2)(a), (b) and (c) there's a phrase, "specified enactment," that's not set out in the definitions section. By "specified enactment," is that what is being referred to — a municipal bylaw, an official community plan or some other act of municipal jurisdiction — or, I suppose one could also argue, of a regional district or a regional government?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
B. Ralston: I believe this is the section that the minister was referring to just moments ago when discussing section 5. I'm looking specifically at 6(1)(c), which reads: "…despite any other enactment, provide that specified government or local government strategic or operational plans, bylaws or other planning documents, or classes of these, do not have legal effect to the extent of any inconsistency with the public health plan."
That would seem to be relatively clear language that would give these plans priority over municipal bylaws or those of a regional district or a regional
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government. I just wanted to confirm that. I understand the policy reasons.
Certainly the area I represent sometimes views itself as the choice for locating these kinds of facilities as opposed to other parts of the city. I know that it's sometimes a widespread sentiment whenever these kinds of facilities are discussed. In the area that I represent, it's a view that's quite common.
I just wanted to be clear that notwithstanding the view of the city government or any efforts to locate those elsewhere, if the public health authorities thought that the best location was, say, in Surrey-Whalley, this would give them the legislative authority to place that facility there.
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the member is pretty much correct in his analysis of this. So (c) goes to where the enactment of a local government is inconsistent with the public health plan for that area. Where it is inconsistent, where we identify that there is an issue, there is an obligation on the part of the minister to consult with the affected local government. Any override of the local government enactment would have to be done by order-in-council as opposed to a ministerial order. Those are the safeguards in respect of that.
To the member's point about Whalley in particular and the number of such facilities there, the aim here by government is that every municipality recognize that it has an obligation to its own citizens who have mental health and addictions issues and that we shouldn't expect only some communities in British Columbia to take account of those. Certainly, Whalley would be the last place we would suggest that hasn't done their share.
B. Ralston: Just a more general question before moving on, maybe a two-part question. I take it that section 120 is the section that empowers the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, the cabinet, to make these kinds of orders. It appears to be related to section 6.
Secondly, can the minister advise what the views of the Union of B.C. Municipalities was when it was consulted about this obvious potential conflict with municipal jurisdiction?
Hon. G. Abbott: The member is correct in respect of section 120 and its application.
In terms of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, we did have a number of discussions with UBCM. Some of the changes that we made over time reflected the concerns of UBCM. I think it would be fair to say that UBCM still has some residual concerns about that. I suspect their preference would be that the province not have an override, although depending on which members of local government one talks to, some of them would actually welcome this, and others would not. I guess that's to be expected.
Sections 6 to 15 inclusive approved.
On section 16.
A. Dix: Section 16 is related to preventative measures. I wanted to just draw the minister's attention to section 16(4). I think it's useful to understand what happens here, what the process is if someone has a form of conscientious objection to treatment and what the process is, for example, with respect to objecting and then potentially to being quarantined.
The individual might make this objection, this sort of conscientious objection to certain forms of treatment, say, during a SARS epidemic or something. The processes of appeal to both the chief medical officer of health and, well, not potentially to the minister…. I think that in this case it's what the process would be for them to raise this issue of conscience. What would happen when that takes place?
Hon. G. Abbott: There are only a very few instances where this provision of this bill would apply. I'm advised that when babies are born, there's a requirement to have their eyes treated with ointment at birth. In that instance, if the parents — and presumably they would be aware of the procedure because of previous consultation with the obstetrician about it — had an objection to the treatment by ointment, then it wouldn't be required. It's kind of as simple as that, I guess.
Sections 16 to 21 inclusive approved.
On section 22.
A. Dix: This is the section related to health impediments. Maybe the minister can just give us an update in terms of his consultation process on — I believe I've got this right; I may be wrong — the trans fat issue and where the consultations are at right now. This might be the appropriate time to ask that question; there may be other times.
Maybe the minister could just comment on that and also comment on what other potential issues he sees in the future as possibly being addressed by that, if I may ask him to speculate. What other kinds of things might the government be considering having a look at here?
Hon. G. Abbott: This section is an enabling provision. It doesn't mean that we're necessarily going to be covering off trans fats, but trans fats are the one example of a health impediment that is likely to be utilizing this section.
It can only be done by regulation. That regulation has not been drafted yet. There have been some early initial consultations, and the consultation process is in fact being designed currently. There will be much more consultation around the potential application of this provision to trans fats before a cabinet decision would be made to add it by regulation.
We've briefly canvassed what some other examples are. We can't think of any other examples at this point that would have the same sort of health impediment profile as trans fats do in our society. We're pretty
[ Page 12900 ]
pleased that there already seems to be quite a bit of movement in the industry to find alternatives to trans fats. So that's a good thing too. Perhaps by the time this actually does become a regulation, hopefully most of the industry will be moved from utilization of trans fats.
A. Dix: But it would be the intention of the government, consistent with the throne speech, to actually act — not to go for voluntary compliance, although one would hope that as the minister says, some form of voluntary compliance would come through. Then the effect of the regulation would just be to essentially regulate the status quo. It isn't the intent of the government to seek some sort of voluntary compliance and not bring in a regulation.
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes, it is the intention of government to proceed with the regulation of trans fats as per our promise in the throne speech.
Sections 22 to 25 inclusive approved.
On section 26.
A. Dix: Just on section 26. Presumably, the reason this is a ministerial responsibility — I'm going through my notes; I just wanted to check this — as opposed to, say, the chief medical officer of health would simply be because of the cost implications. Is that correct? I would assume that all of these provisions would be done on recommendation by the deputy minister or the chief medical officer of health.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm advised that the wording of this section reflects the seriousness of the step that is being undertaken. Essentially, it would involve the expropriation of a given facility for a period of time — for example, sequestering an entire hotel or something of that character. That is the reason for the elevated decision-making on this.
A. Dix: It's obviously pretty important, and the reason it would be…. In a general sense, you'd say that Dr. Kendall would have that power, and he probably does. The reason it's elevated to the level of the minister is that, for example, quarantining a hotel would be a multi-million-dollar cost. Would that be the reason why it would be the minister rather than, in that case, Dr. Kendall or the chief provincial officer of health? Is that fair to say?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes.
Sections 26 to 35 inclusive approved.
On section 36.
A. Dix: Just on section 36. This section gives a health officer the responsibility to contact the land title office about public health hazards. I presume this would include things such as — I don't know — contaminated wells or other pollution on a property. I thought of a piece of property that I once dealt with when working for government, which had a number of problems. I think it was a B.C. Hydro property with problems relating back to B.C. Electric.
Presumably, what this does is allow anyone seeking to buy a property to have some assurance that if there's something that's reached the level of a public health hazard, they don't just have to depend on the absolute obligation of a seller to tell them that something's wrong. In addition, if something has reached that level, there's the additional assurance that the public health officer — if they know about it — will absolutely ensure that that matter is put to the land title office.
Am I understanding that correctly? I wouldn't think that would be a change, although it might be a change. Maybe the minister can just assure us that that has not in fact changed and that obligation already exists.
Hon. G. Abbott: The member's assessment of what this does is correct. It is new. There does not currently exist the statutory authority to do this, but this gives expression to what's been done informally, I think, in the past. It is new in that sense.
Sections 36 to 49 inclusive approved.
On section 50.
A. Dix: It's one of those things which is clearly heartbreaking, but I gather what this section does is allow the government to remove someone living in squalor from their home under a number of conditions. I mean, one of the real frustrations, and we talked about this a little bit at second reading, is that many people….
The minister will know that when I talk to people about diabetes, I frequently talk to people who are living in very difficult conditions. Obviously, they would like to get out of those conditions and live better.
This isn't lifting people up. This section actually has to do with people who would require removal, if I understand correctly — that they're living in such terrible conditions and are refusing, in some cases, to move — to move them out. It doesn't, obviously, deal with people who probably should move and we'd want to move but aren't able to move because they don't have enough money to move. In this case, this deals with, say, an older person, if I understand, or a person who for whatever reason may not wish to move. This allows the medical health officer to apply and seek their removal under a series of conditions.
Am I correct about this? I know there have been a lot of changes with respect to adult guardianship in recent times. Is this a new section? What are the current arrangements? Are these arrangements frequently used? Am I correct to say that this kind of section would be used rather rarely? It wouldn't be used in a case where someone maybe should move, but this is to deal with really extreme circumstances.
[ Page 12901 ]
Hon. G. Abbott: The member's characterization is largely correct but not perhaps entirely. This is a provision, I am advised, that would not be used often. The medical health officer reckons that over four years, they might see it three times.
It is squalor in combination with a serious and ongoing illness that is likely to be exacerbated by the conditions in which the individual is living. That may involve a proliferation of cats and rats and feces and other issues that would obviously be very consequential to the health of the individual.
This would only be used where all other avenues have been exhausted. It requires a Supreme Court order to use this section. It is a serious remedy; it is one that is rarely used. But it is one that needs to exist because these circumstances do occasionally occur.
A. Dix: In this case, unlike other cases, this remedy does already exist, I think. Does it? I guess that's the question I have. Does the remedy already exist, and this is just an updating of the existing legislation? The minister is indicating yes, so we'll let this go through.
Hon. G. Abbott: The member is correct.
Sections 50 to 53 inclusive approved.
On section 54.
A. Dix: Section 54 is the general emergency powers section. These kinds of powers, as I understand it — and I know this because Dr. Kendall told me this the other day — haven't ever been used. Maybe the minister can just let us know, because these are obviously important provisions, if they were to be used. This would give the minister and the health officer, I should say in this case, some more flexibility in the time of emergency powers.
Can the minister perhaps quickly explain what the purpose of this is and what additional powers this gives the health officer to deal with medical emergencies, were these powers to be invoked?
Hon. G. Abbott: The purpose of these general emergency powers is to allow the medical health officer or the provincial health officer to act quickly to deal with an extraordinary and dangerous situation.
The exemption would be to provide…. I'll quickly run through the list: be exempt from time limits; be exempt from providing required notice; present orally what otherwise would be done in writing; suspend or vary a licence or permit without allowance for dispute; specify a facility, place, person or procedure in an order that is not required under section 60; omit otherwise required things from orders; serve an order in any manner; not reconsider, review or reassess an order; exempt an examiner from providing an individual his or her examination results; conduct an inspection at any time without a warrant; and collect, use or disclose information as needed.
Those are the things that would be exempted for these purposes. But it is important to note that the expectation is that all of those things would be remedied when the emergency had passed. It is not something that one would leave unresolved permanently, but I think, as all members of the House would appreciate, there will be times of extraordinary emergency where people need to move very quickly and do the things they need to do to contain an emergency. That's the reason for the section.
Sections 54 to 62 inclusive approved.
On section 63.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
A. Dix: I believe, if memory serves, this is the section that deals with the standards for environmental health officers — that this is new. Can the minister say whether the regulations that are pursuant to these are ready or when they're expected to be ready? Just very briefly, if you could talk about these provisions. We've already done this in the previous part of the update to the statutes that has been done with regard to drinking water.
Can you talk just briefly about the standards for environmental health officers and when we can expect those standards to be put in place pursuant to this section?
Hon. G. Abbott: There is on the orders of the day an amendment to section 63 standing in my name. Perhaps I'll move that. I just wanted to inquire, Madam Chair, whether the member had a copy of the amendment.
A. Dix: Yes.
Hon. G. Abbott: Okay. So the member's question is informed by the amendment. I'll move the amendment and get the answer to the member's question then.
[SECTION 63, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
Power to establish directives and standards
63 (1) The minister may by order establish
(a) directives respecting the exercise of powers and the performance of duties
(i) by health authorities under this enactment,
(ii) by local governments under a regulation made under section 120
(1)(2) (a) or (b) [regulations respecting local governments], and
(iii) by a person under a regulation made under section 125 (4) [other regulation-making powers], and
(b) standards of practice for environmental health officers in relation to the exercise of their powers and the performance of their duties under this or any other enactment.
(2) Without limiting subsection (1), in respect of a provision of this Act or a regulation made under it that refers to a facility, place, person or procedure specified in an order, the minister may by order do the following:
[ Page 12902 ]
(a) require particular facilities, places, persons or procedures to be specified for the purposes of any section;
(b) set standards or qualifications that facilities, places, persons or procedures must meet before a health officer can specify the facility, place, person or procedure in an order;
(c) authorize health authorities to set standards respecting facilities, places, persons and procedures that can be specified by health officers in an order.
(3) The minister may make orders respecting the following:
(a) the timing and substance of performance reviews for medical health officers to be conducted by the provincial health officer;
(b) training and qualifications for environmental health officers, including requiring ongoing training.]
On the amendment.
A. Dix: Maybe the minister can just explain the amendment and then answer the question, and then we'll pass the amendment and the section together.
Hon. G. Abbott: There are two parts to the answer here. The amendment is quite straightforward. It just corrects a cross-reference in the bill.
In terms of the member's substantive question around the consultation on standards of practice for environmental health officers, those discussions are underway. We expect the first area that will be brought to a conclusion is around the minimum educational qualifications for the practice, and consultation on other issues will be continuing for some time.
Section 63 as amended approved.
Sections 64 to 73 inclusive approved.
On section 74.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the amendment to section 74 that stands in my name on the orders of the day.
[SECTION 74, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
Delegation by medical health officers
74 (1) Subject to subsection (2), a medical health officer may in writing delegate to a person or class of persons any of the medical health officer’s powers or duties under this or any other enactment, except the following:
(a) a power to further delegate the power or duty;
(b) a power or duty as provided in an enactment;
(b) a power or duty under another enactment, if the other enactment provides that the power or duty is not delegable;
(c) powers and duties under section 73 [advising and reporting on local public health issues].
(2) A medical health officer must not delegate a power or duty to a health officer who has not been designated to act in the geographic area in which the delegated power or duty is to be exercised or performed.]
On the amendment.
A. Dix: I think it's a similar kind of amendment. Maybe the minister could just explain the purpose of the amendment.
Hon. G. Abbott: The purpose of the amendment to subsection 74(1)(b) is to clarify that if another amendment doesn't provide for delegation of a duty or power, then that delegation cannot be achieved through this act either.
Section 74 as amended approved.
Sections 75 to 82 inclusive approved.
On section 83.
A. Dix: The minister talked about the cooperation with local government before in the discussions with the UBCM. I think this is the section. The minister will know that in the Chapman Creek case, there was an effort to bring forward a case that complained about health hazards. I know there are a number of sections here that deal with that.
I wonder if the minister can speak to the old sections 57 and 58 of the Health Act and the reason why changes were made so that a similar locally generated concern about drinking water couldn't come forward in the same way in the future — maybe just as part of that, sort of an entry into that debate.
I know that, as the minister will know, this obviously doesn't mean that complaints can't be brought forward. I think I'm on the right section. I may be wrong on this. I was just doing my notes. Maybe the minister can speak to the Chapman Creek case — the changes the bill makes to that process and why that — I don't know if you'd call it a loophole; the government may call it a loophole — hole was closed.
Hon. G. Abbott: We can get the debate underway at least with this. I'm sure this is an exciting part of the day for members, and that's good.
The Chapman Creek case — the member is right. That certainly is connected to what is being undertaken here. The Chapman Creek case involved a local government — I believe it's the Sunshine Coast regional district — re-forming itself as a local board of health. Local boards of health are something that I'm advised was created in the early 1900s, the early 20th century. They were created to deal with issues like typhoid and cholera and those kinds of issues.
[ Page 12903 ]
Prior to that case of the Sunshine Coast regional district re-forming itself as a local board of health and undertaking the work that they did, we believe that the local board of health provisions had been moribund for at least 25 years. That is, we had never seen an instance for at least 25 years of a local government taking what certainly appeared to be an antiquated provision and using it for a public policy purpose.
The big difference, of course, over 25 years at least, was that we have seen the development of a range of health authorities. Those health authorities have certainly changed over the 25 years, but today health authorities exist with expertise of environmental health officers and medical health officers, etc., to form conclusions about those things.
The day of the local board of health, we believe, is long past. The case, I think, was in large measure prompted by the local government being dissatisfied with the decision of the medical health officer about whether the issues on and around Chapman Creek were valid. The medical health officer, in his detailed and informed consideration of that matter, did not believe that a health hazard existed.
I understand that the regional district government disagreed with that and that they took the action they did, but this will eliminate local boards of health from statutory life. As I say, they have been moribund for a very long time, and I think this step is appropriate.
I would also add that we have spent a very considerable amount of time with the Union of B.C. Municipalities on this particular issue. I don't know what the overall position of UBCM is after the discussion and the safeguards, and so on, that we have put into this in terms of the opportunity for appeals up the ladder, so to speak, from the opinion of the medical health officer.
The members opposite may have some recent correspondence from the Union of B.C. Municipalities on that. But I think that is the core reason why we were proceeding as we did — because this is a moribund, antiquated provision that is no longer necessary within the public policy framework of the province.
N. Simons: I wonder if the citizens of the Sunshine Coast would have considered that their only option to deal with what they perceived as a health hazard was moribund and antiquated. I do wonder if the minister can say whether there is any provision now for a citizen to actually trigger an investigation.
I would like to maybe ask first whether or not he believes that the medical health officer wasn't concerned when, in fact, there seems to be significant evidence that he was concerned as well.
Hon. G. Abbott: I would refer the member to section 83, which reads:
"(3) A local government may (a) request a medical health officer to issue an order, under this act, in respect of a health hazard, and (b) if the medical health officer refuses to issue the order or to issue the order as requested, request the provincial health officer to review the decision of the medical health officer.
"(4) Following a review of subsection (3), the provincial health officer may (a) refer the matter back to the medical health officer, with or without direction, or (b) make an order that, in the opinion of the provincial health officer, is appropriate in the circumstances.
So that is the process, and that is the safeguard. Again, knowing this member, I'm sure he would want to have due public process, and we believe the act achieves that.
N. Simons: I think what may be missing for some people is the fact that a person can't do it. An individual can't require or in any way have any strength or power to tell local government to engage in a further investigation. Really, right now we do have a situation where local government may request intervention, but an individual is unable to do that.
I guess one of the concerns is that some decisions…. I believe that the public should have an opportunity to play a role — not simply to eliminate that possibility entirely.
Did the minister just confirm that it is in fact no longer possible for a private citizen to trigger an investigation into a potential health hazard?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm going to be choosing my words advisedly because what I may say here is important to the interpretation of this. I'm advised that in respect of these provisions, any person at any time can go to a medical health officer and request an investigation of a matter. Similarly, if they are dissatisfied with that, they can take the issue on to the provincial health officer as an individual requesting those things.
Presumably, in advance of doing that, they might also have contacted their local government, expressing their concerns with respect to it. Presumably, if they were persuasive, the local government might take the issue to the medical health officer and, if dissatisfied, on to the provincial health officer, but there is certainly provision for the individual to act here as well as the local government.
N. Simons: Did the minister say that the medical health officer didn't consider that there could in fact be a health hazard with the proposed logging that was about to occur in the Chapman Creek watershed?
Hon. G. Abbott: We are not, by the way this bill is structured, passing comment at all on the Chapman Creek issue.
What we're attempting to do is put in place, as an alternative to the now moribund local boards of health provisions, a process whereby if people are dissatisfied with the decision at one level, it can be effectively appealed to another level. So this in no way supports or disparages the decision-making processes around Chapman Creek. I think those decision-making processes, which existed under previous legislation, were adjudicated by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and we wouldn't comment on that one way or another.
N. Simons: I can tell the citizens of the Sunshine Coast that the act was amended or has been changed
[ Page 12904 ]
due to their advocacy. However, I feel that many residents of the coast are going to be interpreting this as an erosion of their ability to have input into what goes on in their coast, especially when you're talking about a watershed that provides drinking water to 90 percent of the Sunshine Coast population.
I guess it does cause some consternation among residents when what appeared to be the only legislative tool to even get a review of a particular activity, in the only drinking watershed of the Sunshine Coast serving 90 percent of the population….
The only potential ability for a private citizen to intercede has been effectively removed, because we could see evidence that not everybody was in agreement. There was certainly an issue that needed to be resolved. Ultimately it was resolved. I have to point out that some of the proposed logging activity was seen as a potential health hazard, including logging on slopes of over 60 percent.
So in this particular case, we will require that the citizen is simply able to inform the local government or the medical health officer of a concern. They no longer have an actual say in the process that occurs from that point on.
Hon. G. Abbott: It's important that I advise the member that these changes were unrelated to the Chapman Creek court case. The draft provisions we are discussing here today were posted on the Net about three years ago for consultation purposes, and they were posted well before the Chapman Creek issue ever arose.
It was interesting that what we thought three years ago, on the posting of the draft legislation…. We didn't anticipate that it would be controversial in any way, because no one had used local boards of health for over 25 years. Then in the interim, they were used.
This was not developed in response to the Chapman Creek issue. In fact, it long preceded it. But I still think the changes are appropriate, and the safeguards in place through the provisions of section 83 are appropriate as well.
N. Simons: Just one last question. In fact, the changes as proposed — they're not the Sunshine Coast ones. We have the pleasure of using the moribund act prior to its almost immediate disappearance.
When a report is made to a designated person…. Can the minister explain who a designated person is under the provisions of the new legislation? I believe that's going to be determined under regulations, but is it possible to get sort of a preview?
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer to the question is that it will probably vary a certain amount with circumstance — i.e., how large and structured the local government is. It may be, in most instances, a medical health officer, but in relation to drinking water, it could be a drinking water protection officer or an environmental protection officer.
Section 83 approved on division.
Sections 84 to 119 inclusive approved.
On section 120.
A. Dix: This is the section we were talking about briefly earlier. It addresses some of the issues we've sometimes seen in local government using local bylaws to make health delivery more difficult. One could conceivably see it, with respect to needle exchange, perhaps impact the rights of women to reproductive choice and others.
Can the minister just take us through what a dispute between the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council and a local government would look like around this? I believe the minister or the government is required to engage in consultation before using this section. Can the minister just sort of take us through what this power to rescind local government bylaws would look like at a practical level?
Hon. G. Abbott: The examples that we might see being engaged by these sections are — I think the member offered up a couple of good examples of where these things might occur — where a municipality specifically zoned out the opportunity for harm reduction services. As an example, the member mentioned needle exchange. That would be one example of potentially zoning out harm reduction services. We think the other example that the member used around the provision of birth control or other reproductive issues might also be a possibility where, specifically, a municipality attempted to zone out those services.
Obviously, the province is concerned where such an event occurs. There are processes that are engaged in a couple of places here. Subsections 120(2) and 120(6) to 120(8) would all have a bearing on the process, which begins with a consultation on the issue and later goes to management or resolution of the dispute. Ultimately, should we be unable to resolve those things through those processes, the province could override a municipality that, again as an example, had zoned out any provision for harm reduction services in its municipality.
Sections 120 to 122 inclusive approved.
On section 123.
A. Dix: I gather this is a new section. Perhaps the minister can…. It deals with regulations respecting rental accommodations. What kinds of things is the government seeking to remedy here? One can think of a whole series of things in terms of prescribing health and safety standards that must be met by landlords of rental accommodations. But this is, I understand, a new set of potential regulations.
I'm wondering why, in this updating of the public health legislation by the government, this is included and what problems it would seek to remedy.
Hon. G. Abbott: I will try to be deliberate in my comments here, as well, so as to carefully set out what
[ Page 12905 ]
is being intended by this section 123. The section has been structured carefully so as not to infringe on the authority of the ministry for housing in relation to these issues, nor to impinge in any way on the bodies which would be embraced generally in the landlord-tenant act and so on.
What we are specifically addressing in this section is tenants who may be vulnerable because of a mental health issue or a mental capacity limitation. The provision exists to allow for the issues that may be concerned in respect of the treatment of such vulnerable individuals in relation to their landlord. In the landlord-tenant act we typically have parties of full capacity dealing with one another and their issues.
Our concern in this section is with the vulnerable population who, because of diminished mental capacity or mental health issues, may not be capable of dealing with the landlords in the same way that one would expect in a landlord-tenant relationship.
Sections 123 to 125 inclusive approved.
On section 126.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'd like to move the amendment to section 126 standing in my name on the orders of the day.
[SECTION 126, by deleting the text shown as struck out:
General powers respecting regulations
126 (1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council may make regulations referred to in section 41 of the Interpretation Act.
(2) A person must not read any section of this Part as limiting the general powers to make regulations described in subsection (1).
(3) A regulation made under this Act in respect of a person, facility, place, procedure or thing may
(a) establish classes of persons, facilities, places, procedures or things, and
(b) make regulations that are different for different classes of persons, facilities, places, procedures or things.
(4) A regulation made under this Act may limit the application of the regulation
(a) to one or more geographic areas, and
(b) to one or more classes of persons, facilities, places, procedures or things.
(5) A regulation made under this Act may confer a discretion on the minister, the provincial health officer or a health officer
, except the power to make a regulation.
(6) A regulation made under this Act may adopt by reference, in whole or in part and with any changes the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers appropriate, a regulation, code, standard or rule
(a) enacted as or under a law of another jurisdiction, including a foreign jurisdiction, or
(b) set by a provincial, national or international body or any other body that may make codes, standards or rules.
(7) Unless otherwise stated, a code, standard or rule referred to in subsection (6) is adopted as amended from time to time.
(8) If, in a regulation made under this Act, the Lieutenant Governor in Council provides that contravention of the regulation is an offence, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may provide that a person who commits the offence is, in addition to a penalty imposed under section 107 [alternative penalties], liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $200 000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, or to both.]
Section 126 as amended approved.
Sections 127 to 161 inclusive approved.
On the title.
A. Dix: On the title, I know that the minister would want to do this. This kind of legislation requires just enormous amount of work over a period of years. I think the minister will acknowledge this, and it's just to congratulate particularly the staff, in this case, who have worked on this process through that time. I know that a lot of consultation and a lot of work goes forward.
This is very important legislation and not controversial in the usual way. First, I just wanted to congratulate all of the people who contributed to this process, and I'm sure the minister would like to do the same.
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the member's comments very much. The member is right. There has been an enormous amount of work that has gone into the preparation of this Public Health Act. When I became the Health Minister, about three years ago now, work was underway with respect to a renewed, new Mental Health Act for the province of British Columbia, and I think the work had been in progress for years before that.
I do want to thank Dr. Emerson, Dr. Kendall and the many, many folks in the public health section of the ministry for all the work that has been undertaken and, as well, the many capable officials in the Ministry of Health who have assisted with that process. Thank you to the member for his comments.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendments.
The committee rose at 5:13 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
PUBLIC HEALTH ACT
Bill 23, Public Health Act, reported complete with amendments.
[ Page 12906 ]
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported, Minister?
Hon. G. Abbott: By agreement, now, Mr. Speaker.
Third Reading of Bills
PUBLIC HEALTH ACT
Bill 23, Public Health Act, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Abbott: I call committee stage debate on Bill 25, the Health Professions (Regulatory Reform) Amendment Act, 2008.
Committee of the Whole House
HEALTH PROFESSIONS (REGULATORY
REFORM) AMENDMENT ACT, 2008
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 25; K. Whittred in the chair.
The committee met at 5:14 p.m.
The Chair: Members, at the call of the Chair, I will call a five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 5:14 p.m. to 5:19 p.m.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
On section 1.
A. Dix: As members will know, there have been fairly significant amendments to Bill 25 tabled today. I wanted to thank the minister and his staff for providing the opposition with a briefing on those amendments.
To open on section 1 and in the interests of time on the bill, perhaps the minister can explain where these amendments came from. In particular, because a huge portion of the amendments deal with the public's right to know in a broad sense…. In fairness, the bill itself is opening up the public right to know to some degree, and then this is mitigating that to some degree, from where the minister was at when we passed this bill at second reading.
Can the minister say what involvement, if any, the public have had in that discussion? I understand that there have been discussions with the colleges. Maybe the minister can describe that. Just as we debate section 1, maybe the minister can explain how we came to have so many fairly significant amendments to the bill tabled — what the process was and who was involved in that process.
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the member's question is probably headed towards the areas…. There are a few very substantive amendments that are being proposed. I'm sure that's where the member's question is headed. A number of the amendments are housekeeping in character, but there are some that are substantive and really go to the issue of public transparency and the balance between freedom of information and protection of privacy and some other important issues. I expect that we're really talking about those ones, rather than the other, while important, probably non-controversial housekeeping kinds of amendments.
In terms of why the amendments at this stage, I would say, first of all, that this is a complex area of public policy. Through the health professions review board and other instruments that we are putting in place, we really are striking a pretty bold new direction in terms of the management of health professions, colleges and so on.
I think it's fair to say that in our detailed consultation and discussion with the colleges after the bill was tabled…. Those consultations and discussions produced what I think are some very thoughtful suggestions by the college in respect of how these things ought to be structured.
I'll take a moment to kind of make clear to members of the House why we are proposing what we are proposing. I'll also note at the outset that there are public members on those colleges, so to that extent, there obviously hasn't been an opportunity for extensive public consultation around these amendments. Nevertheless, there are public members on the colleges, and I am satisfied — and the ministry and government are satisfied — that the thoughtful proposed amendments put forward by the colleges made sense from a number of perspectives.
At the heart of the matter is this. The colleges have some existing quality assurance mechanisms whereby, if a practitioner were, as an example, to have had mental health issues that affected their practice or if they were to have a physiological change — i.e., the growth of a brain tumour that affected their behaviour and the conduct of their practice — the colleges feel strongly and profoundly that they should have an opportunity in those instances to attempt to persuade the practitioner to withdraw quickly from practice and to commit voluntarily to treatment to deal with those physical, physiological or mental health issues so that the public is protected.
The practitioner is treated fairly and sensitively, and I think this is really the heart of it. The practitioner is not doubly penalized for, first of all, having a physiological issue like a growing brain tumour that affects behaviour or because they have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or some mental health issue. They are not stigmatized and shamed for that in addition to going through what is already a difficult challenge in their lives.
That is why, for those specific instances where we have specific challenges of that character…. I think they are defined, and I think we can go into this in some greater detail as we go through the legislation. Conceptually, they felt strongly and were persuasive
[ Page 12907 ]
with me that to doubly shame someone because of a mental health issue or a brain tumour issue or something of that character would be wrong. I was persuaded by that argument.
That's the one piece of it. If we can leave in place the opportunity for those things to be resolved informally without the engagement of disciplinary and inquiry processes and without the posting of their name and so on…. When it's that kind of issue that has prompted the infraction, then they believe we should leave the opportunity for their quality assurance processes to be retained. So that's a part of it.
Also, the college pointed to an important distinction between what we would term serious issues — and "serious" is actually defined in the bill too, and we'll get to that later — and the regular, ongoing kind of quality assurance initiatives that the college may undertake in respect of its practitioners.
Again, the one example that was persuasive with me and may perhaps be persuasive with the member as well was that for physicians to retain their hospital privileges to deliver babies, they need to deliver a certain number of babies every year or they risk losing their skill set around delivery and, as a consequence, may have to either get involved in more births or be departing from that particular area of practice.
These are the kinds of things that the college monitors on an ongoing basis. They really don't go to whether someone is in any way offensive in what they're doing. It is a quality assurance matter. The college is very concerned that those kinds of quality assurance matters not get caught up, again, in the transparency around transgressions of a more serious nature.
That is why, I think, everyone has landed with some comfort on the description of "serious" that's contained in the bill. It goes to making a distinction between what is minor or routine versus what is a serious transgression of either law or standards of practice — that sort of thing. That's kind of the genesis of the amendments and the reason why they are being undertaken.
A. Dix: We're going to have a chance to discuss them. The amendments do go in a direction. I guess, just to go to a direction that somewhat mitigates the transparency of the process…. They create exceptions on the issue of minor, and I didn't quite understand the transgression that the minister was describing as minor.
Someone earlier today talked to me about — I don't know — during a therapy session, a cell phone going off as being the kind of minor transgression they were talking about. That strikes me as conceivably a transgression and maybe a minor one, but that being the kind of transgression. I didn't quite understand what the minister described in terms of delivering babies as even a minor transgression, but maybe I didn't understand what he was saying.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
I guess a little bit of the challenge we have is that the demand for transparency comes in part from patients. There are some patients who made the case very strongly and expressed their anger very strongly. There are a number of quite well-known cases now of patients who feel that information was kept from them that would have allowed them to avoid really terrible things that happened in their lives.
The concern isn't so much that these issues aren't difficult and that there aren't balances to be developed. The concern is: where are those patients who kind of initiated this process now? Where do they sit in the process? The amendments that have come forward allow for some significant changes in the information that's made available to the public, both on serious and minor…. Also, the exceptions — which the minister describes with respect to mental health issues, perhaps, but I think addiction issues are mitigated as well — are significant.
I guess the question one would have and the struggle that we have is that on the one hand, we're here, it's the last week of the session, and this is an important, broad change. On the other hand, people who may have been involved in seeking the change are not having any real role to have input at all. The colleges have a role, and clearly, they're very interested parties, but they're kind of one side of those interested parties when you come to a complaint process — the other side being the patient.
What I'm asking the minister is…. One might argue that they didn't have a huge role at the first step. Now that we're changing it again, what role would he see or how would he respond to those patients who kind of initiated this, who raised these issues, who expressed…? I mean, some of the cases themselves — and I know the minister shares this view — really shake you to the core, with people who were abused in some fashion and who had information kept from them.
How would you respond to them saying…? Well, if they came to him or to me — if we pass this bill as we go through today — and said, "Well, wait a minute. Other people got to speak out on this. Why didn't I get asked? Why didn't I have occasion to speak out on this…?" Just on that principle, I may ask the minister to speak before we get into the core of the bill, because there are one or two other changes that are relatively important as well. I'd just ask the minister to respond to that, on how we can maybe get at that.
Presumably, there's the option for further amendments. The minister could argue, I think — and he may argue — that we're going from one place in terms of transparency to another place and that we can always go to the third place if we think that's required.
I guess what I wanted to ask the minister is: all of those people who've made those very serious complaints — where does he see them fitting?
The final thing I'd like to ask him about is…. We kind of went through a little bit of this process with respect to the College of Teachers, and some of the provisions as they sit with the amendments seem to
[ Page 12908 ]
parallel that. I wanted to ask the minister, before we get into the details of it, maybe, whether he looked at those changes and those processes as well.
Hon. G. Abbott: The issue is a fairly complex and involved one, so I'll try to get to some of the issues that the member raised.
We should start with the serious. A serious issue is one that may involve the suspension or cancellation of a licence. These would be serious issues that engaged an inquiry committee of the college, engaged a disciplinary committee of the college, and which would result in either the suspension or cancellation of a licence. In every case with matters of that serious character, the complainant will always know the disposition of the complainant because it will be posted on the college website.
The only instances where certain elements in that disclosure may be held back are where, again, the practitioner may have been driven by a mental illness, an addictions issue or a compelling physiological issue like a brain tumour. In those instances the complainant will know the outcome of the process. They'll know that the licence has been permanently revoked or suspended for a period of time or whatever it is. Only in those instances where there is just a compelling mitigating factor, like mental illness, will the name of the practitioner be withheld.
If the complainant is not satisfied with that outcome, if they say, "Well, so what if the practitioner has a mental health issue or a physiological issue or an addiction issue? I still want that name published," the complainant could appeal to the health professions review board, and the health professions review board could provide direction to the college in respect of adding additional information.
One wouldn't expect it if the name was held back for the reasons that I've outlined, but nevertheless, I guess that's possible. But there is an opportunity for the complainant to know the disposition of the matter. Also, where the name of the practitioner had been held back for certain reasons, they could appeal that as well.
The member mentioned the issues that came up last fall. My recollection is that those issues, which Mr. Kines and Mr. Rud, I think, articulated rather well in the Times Colonist, were around allegations of egregious or abusive conduct by health practitioners. I don't recall — and maybe just because I don't recall — any suggestion that the alleged behaviours in any of those cases were mitigated by physiological or mental health issues.
Though, again, it is important to note that we are driving a higher level of transparency but also building into the model the opportunity where we would really be doing that double penalty of shaming or stigmatizing someone who had already paid a price in terms of a mental illness or a physiological problem. I think that's very important here.
Around the issue of serious versus quality assurance issues…. The issue around delivering babies — doing so many a year and therefore being certain of patient safety because they are experienced and their skills remain up — was just intended as an example of a minor quality assurance issue versus the serious, egregious, abusive allegations that might be involved elsewhere.
I guess a final point I would make in terms of the member's question is that we have been looking at the Teaching Profession Act in relation to this act and trying as best we can to line those things up. It's important to note that, again, while there are important differences between the health professions and the teaching professions, and to some extent a comparison is going to be inherently apples to oranges, nevertheless, we have tried to be conscious of the Teaching Profession Act in the structure of this act and in the amendments we brought forward.
In the Teaching Profession Act a lot of the minor matters — that is, matters that will not go to the inquiry and disciplinary committees of the teaching profession — are resolved informally under the School Act before they would ever make their way to the teachers college. So that's important.
I guess the second important distinction between the Teaching Profession Act and this Health Professions Act is that there would be the opportunity for the complainant to appeal to the health professions review board in the case of this act. That just, again, goes to an important difference between the two statutes.
A. Dix: I appreciate the minister…. We'll get into the details of it as he moves the amendments. But I'd understood that one of the things that the colleges…. At least, what the colleges said to me was that the concern on addictions was that the decision not to publish might well be used, in effect, as an incentive, if you will, to address the addiction. Is that fair to say? The minister was saying "doubly punish." But as I understood it, one of the concerns with the publication, if it was linked to addiction issues…. One of the things that the colleges wanted to be able to do….
Now, from the perspective of the individual, it might be different. They might argue that what happened to them, on the one hand…. "The same thing could happen to me by someone facing addiction issues or someone not facing addiction issues, but what happened to me happened to me, and people should know about it. Other people who might potentially go to that practitioner in the future should know of it." That would be the individual's case.
I mean, this will help us get through. We might as well have the debate now. Then we can move through the sections, because we're here — right?
What the colleges said was: "Isn't this, in fact, a way to lever people into getting addictions treated?" I understand that the brain tumour issue is serious, but that would be a really small number of cases. The larger number of cases would be the addiction cases, I would think. I don't know, but I would think that they would be a larger number of cases. Is that one of the things that was under consideration?
[ Page 12909 ]
Hon. G. Abbott: Again, these are fairly complex matters, so I'll try to accurately describe what is being attempted here in the college processes and in the disciplinary and notification processes.
The member asked if the non-disclosure could be a lever to induce a practitioner's early departure from practice. The answer is yes. Under this amendment, this mechanism, the ability of the college to achieve an early departure would be enhanced. It would not take away the opportunity for the complainant to register a complaint with the health professions review board, but it does provide a lever for early departure from practice for the college.
If the accused practitioner denies the problem, appropriately or inappropriately, and they go through the inquiry committee processes and the disciplinary committee processes and the college concludes that they have been guilty of egregious or outrageous conduct, again, their names will be published, along with all the other attendant details — except in those instances where, in the view of the college, there was a mitigating factor that should be taken into account in this circumstance.
So there will be a kind of value judgment that the college will have to make in these matters about whether a physiological issue, a mental health issue or an addiction abuse mitigated their egregious behaviour.
Should the complainant be dissatisfied with that value judgment that the college made in respect of those very few matters, then they could, again, take the matter to the health professions review board.
I guess it would be fair, in terms of summary, to say that we are trying to strike a thoughtful balance here so that the rights of the complainant are respected but also that the rights of the practitioner are assured.
A. Dix: Just the last question on this before…. The minister said that it may be used as a lever to facilitate the early departure from practice. I guess what I'm asking is: Is it to be used as a lever, though, not to facilitate the departure from practice but the entry into treatment?
I guess that's the other question. I understand…. I mean, if the person is leaving the practice and that's the deal, then that's pretty serious. But I think the concern…. I guess the concern — this is the balance — right? — from the complainant's perspective would be: "Okay, so this is the reason why I was treated however I was treated." The college determines that alcoholism, say, played a role, and the college tries to use this as a lever to get a person into treatment. So that's a little bit of the debate.
I guess that's the question I had. I understand if they want to get them out of the practice. That would be pretty severe punishment. Does the college feel that maybe the non-disclosure would be sufficient to lure people into treatment but stay in the practice, conceivably?
Hon. G. Abbott: The member is right, and I should have noted in my earlier response that it is not just departure from practice. That tends to be the first step — voluntary agreement to departure from practice. But a commitment to treatment is also a part of this as well — that you can't just withdraw from practice for a period, go untreated and then return to practice. That is not on in terms of this model.
A. Dix: So we'll get to those.
In Section 1, "certified non-registrant." The issue of certified non-registrant…. I've heard a little bit, from some of the professions — concerns about this, particularly from physicians. But it seems pretty clear. Maybe the minister can assist me here, because I've been having this discussion with one or two people about it. It seems to me that a certified non-registrant requires the approval of the college, that this couldn't be superimposed on a college by the ministry or others.
Hon. G. Abbott: The term "certified non-registrants" applies to certified dental assistants who are within the authority of the dental college.
A. Dix: So this term only deals with certified dental assistants. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Abbott: At this point in time they would be the only example. Theoretically, it could apply to others, but they are the only example we have at this point in time.
A. Dix: Is the intent of the legislation to expand that, or is it just to deal with that situation and then potentially expand it to others?
Hon. G. Abbott: The legislation isn't structured to produce that outcome, but it does envisage the possibility of that occurring in other colleges.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
A. Dix: Just a quick question. We've had a fair amount of public discussion of advisory panels. There's some criticism of the panels from some of the colleges in terms of their role. How does the minister see…? I mean, maybe the minister can just take a specific kind of issue, by order, that he would refer to an advisory panel. Does he have any in mind right now?
Maybe he can let us…. Well, he doesn't need to make any announcements today. But the kind of issues he sees the advisory panels doing, the kind of people he sees as being appointed to the advisory panel, and how does he deal with the sorts of concerns of some of the professions — principally, I think, doctors — about the role of the advisory panel vis-à-vis their professional standards?
Hon. G. Abbott: To respond to a couple of points, we're not aware of any critical comment that has been made by a college in respect of the panels which are
[ Page 12910 ]
contemplated in this legislation. The member may have heard comments with respect to the health professions review board, concerns about that, although we haven't seen that either. I'm just not familiar with any critical comment that has been rendered around the panels by the health regulatory colleges.
In terms of the people who would be apt to be engaged on panels, they would be, I guess we would say, people who have expertise but who do not have conflicts. So we might, for example, see retired medical professionals or retired health authority administrators. We may see academics, retired jurists. These are the sorts of people who might be engaged to give us wise advice around what are often very, very difficult, complex issues involved in scope of practice.
I'll give the member a couple of examples. The first one is an issue that has bedevilled a generation of Health Ministers. I don't know how far back it goes. I think quite a ways. That is the issue around the scope-of-practice line between optometrists and opticians.
Want to get a good argument going among people who deal with your eyes? Ask them about scope of practice for opticians. It produces fascinating results. Having looked at this issue now for three years, I must say that this might be one where we invite a panel to look at that issue and respectfully try to understand and provide some informed advice on that.
Similarly, these issues may be worked out without the need to engage a panel, but conceptually, the relationship between pharmacists and physicians on prescription renewal might be an area where, if it can't be resolved among or between the colleges, it might be referred to a panel for adjudication of some of the issues around that as well.
Those are the kinds of things that would be engaged by the panels. It's really an attempt to try to get sort of a wise kind of third-party look at some very involved and difficult matters sometimes.
Sections 2 to 4 inclusive approved.
On section 5.
A. Dix: Far be it from me to defend the privileges of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, but has going to cabinet been a problem? Because these seem to be important issues — right? — and so I just was wondering what the purpose of this was. Why the minister…. This legislation would limit this to ministerial orders plus the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. I don't have a strong opinion about it. I'm just curious as to why the minister chose this route, because the other route does have some advantages, as well, as the minister knows.
Hon. G. Abbott: The short answer to the very good question is that, as we were laying out what should be order-in-council versus what should be ministerial order, we tried to distinguish between what is of a very technical nature versus what are sort of big policy questions. Clearly, the bigger policy questions need to go to cabinet and be dealt with through order-in-council, but there are a whole lot of mundane questions which come under the area of ministerial order that we didn't believe needed to go to cabinet.
Sections 5 and 6 approved.
On section 7.
The Chair: Now, Minister, there's an amendment to section 7.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'll move the amendment to section 7 that stands in my name on the order paper.
[SECTION 7, in the proposed section 12.2 (1) by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
(1) Despite section 12.1 (1) and (2), but subject to section 12.1 (3), a person’s use of a title prescribed under section 12 (2) (b), an abbreviation of the title or an equivalent of the title or abbreviation in another language is not a contravention of section 12.1 (1) if the person
(a) is authorized by a body in another province or a foreign jurisdiction that regulates a health profession in that other province or foreign jurisdiction to use the title, the abbreviation of the title or the equivalent of the title or abbreviation in another language to indicate membership in that body,
(b) indicates, in using the title, the abbreviation of the title or the equivalent of the title or abbreviation in another language
(i) whether the person is authorized to practise the health profession in the other province or foreign jurisdiction, and
(ii) the name of the other province or foreign jurisdiction
(c) uses the title only for the purpose of indicating whether the person is authorized to practise the health profession in the other province or foreign jurisdiction.]
On the amendment.
A. Dix: On some of the later sections, I think, we were having a discussion that there were eight or nine amendments and that we would move them as a group — I think that was the idea — but go through each section as we go along. I think that's what we have to do, anyway.
Maybe the minister can explain this, because we're going to start a debate about osteopaths, inevitably, on this section. I wanted to ask him, because he and I would have received correspondence around section 7 as it exists with the amendment. There are some concerns expressed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Obviously, there are a number of sides to these issues, but I wonder if the minister can explain the change here and why it's made. Then we can maybe get into a discussion about its implications.
Hon. G. Abbott: These are fascinating and complex matters. I'm advised that this amendment doesn't
[ Page 12911 ]
change the direction of the act or this section of the act. It is to further clarify the intention of the section. I'm advised, as well, that this really applies only to osteopaths.
The member's expertise on osteopaths is very strong, I'm sure — particularly compared to mine. I understand there are very few osteopaths in British Columbia, but we must make provision for them within the act. The way we make provision for them is to allow them to use the title but not to practise here. These are interesting, complex, byzantine matters which produce this amendment.
A. Dix: Okay. Well, then, perhaps the minister can explain how this will affect those osteopaths, because there's a debate. The minister may have received the same set of registered letters that I did from one particular physician who is quite exercised on one side of this debate. I should say that osteopaths have a case to make on their side of the debate.
I just want to know…. First of all, I have, of course, been aware of the long correspondence between the distinguished Mr. Craig Knight of the ministry and any osteopaths in the land. Can the minister just explain precisely why this amendment came forward and how it affects osteopaths in particular?
Hon. G. Abbott: I will do my best to convey the international debate around osteopathy.
First, just to be clear, this provision and this amendment would allow a registrant in another jurisdiction…. When they come to British Columbia, not just an osteopath but another profession from another jurisdiction — if, for example, they are physicians but not registrants with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. and they're here to teach, not to practise — they can still use the term "doctor" in front of their name. That's one piece of this.
The other piece, which is a fascinating new area of public policy for me, is around osteopaths. I'm advised that there are two different streams of osteopathy internationally. Apparently, those streams are not talking to one another very well, so there's great debate about whether one is a real osteopath or not and fascinating issues like that.
The bottom line is that you can't practise in British Columbia without membership in a college. I'm advised further that there are very few osteopaths in B.C. — period. But the ones that are practising are practising, I understand, outside the scope of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. This is an attempt to clarify, I guess, that relationship.
A. Dix: But nothing's changed. I'm just reading from what Mr. Knight said: "These changes will not establish the terms 'osteopathic' or 'osteopathy' as titles reserved for the exclusive use of members of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia." Nothing in these changes will do that, as I understand it. Is that fair to say?
Hon. G. Abbott: The short answer to the member's question would be yes.
A. Dix: Okay. So if you're not a member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, can you call yourself an osteopath?
Hon. G. Abbott: I am advised that the title "osteopath" has signified membership in the College of Physicians and Surgeons. To use a term like "osteopathic practitioner" outside of the College of Physicians and Surgeons would be, we understand, permissible.
A. Dix: We could continue this in estimates, because all of this isn't strictly to do with the amendment. Why don't we deal with the amendment? And then we can, I think, pass this section, get through to section 15. Then maybe we'll rise and report, because the minister has an amendment on section 16. Then we'll quickly make our way through it tomorrow, I think.
Amendment approved on division.
Section 7 as amended approved.
Sections 8 to 15 inclusive approved.
On section 16.
Hon. G. Abbott: I move the amendment standing in my name on section 16.
[SECTION 16 (c), by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
(c) in subsection (2) (b) (i) by striking out ", (l.4), (m) or (n)" and substituting "or
Section 16 as amended approved.
Hon. G. Abbott: Noting the hour, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:26 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. C. Richmond moved adjournment of the House.
[ Page 12912 ]
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:28 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: OFFICE OF THE PREMIER
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 2:34 p.m.
On Vote 10: Office of the Premier, $14,102,000.
The Chair: Premier, would you like to do an opening statement?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'd like to introduce those who I have with me today. Jessica McDonald is the Deputy Minister to the Premier and the head of the public service. Rob Lapper is the associate deputy minister of the intergovernmental relations secretariat. Graham Whitmarsh is the head of the climate action secretariat. Tara Faganello is the executive financial officer, and Denise Walker is the executive director, social development and service planning and reporting.
I'm happy to answer any questions about the budget.
C. James: Before we begin with our questions, I'd like to make some opening comments to start off. We know when we take a look at the legislative session and what has gone on in this legislative session that it really has been a session that has been marked by the behaviour we've seen from this Premier over the last seven years, which is a climate of secrecy, a climate of a lack of accountability and a Premier who ignores the real challenges that are facing people in British Columbia.
I'm a proud British Columbian. I've lived in this province almost my entire life. We are an extraordinary province with amazing strengths, with amazing people. But over the last seven years under this Premier's leadership we have become a more divided province. We have become a province where we take a look at what has happened around a statistic such as child poverty, and I think that is…. I hear the Premier often — and I'm sure we will throughout this estimates process over the next couple of days — talk about statistics.
Well, I'd like to also talk about a couple of statistics, because I think it's important that we set the stage for the kinds of questions and the kind of discussion that we're going to have. For the fifth straight year in a row, British Columbia is number one when it comes to child poverty. Now that is a shocking statistic when you take a look at the kinds of surpluses that we have in our province's budget. In a province as rich as ours, to see that kind of statistic is simply shameful.
We see, yes, that unemployment is low, but wages, in fact, for a quarter of a million British Columbians are less than $10 an hour — again, from a Premier who refuses to raise the minimum wage. We don't have to look very far to see what's going on with forest-dependent communities around our province. Seven years of direction from this Premier, seven years of neglect in the forest industry.
We see housing prices continue to soar, and yet we see thousands of British Columbians living on the street. Again, if we take a look around our province, an issue that often people thought about as a Lower Mainland issue has now become an issue in every community in every corner of British Columbia. Who would have imagined that small communities would be doing homeless counts to be able to talk about how big the problem is?
What are ordinary taxpayers doing? Ordinary taxpayers, unfortunately, are having to pay the cost of this government's mismanagement on everything from the trade and convention centre cost overruns — $500 million and counting in cost overruns, not the cost of the project…. Imagine what that could do for the people of British Columbia. Imagine what that could have done for all those children and families living in poverty or the forest workers or colleges facing cuts.
If we take a look at health care and what's going on in health care, we see emergency rooms in gridlock. We see hospitals calling crisis on so many days that you lose count. Code oranges are now becoming routine in overcrowded hospitals in corners of British Columbia — again, under this Premier's leadership. A code that, in fact, is reserved for plane crashes and major disasters is being used on a regular basis in hospitals because of the neglect of this Premier when it comes to health care.
I could continue and list the challenges that people are facing because of this government, but it's very clear, if you boil it all down, that we have a government and a Premier, in particular, who are out of touch with the challenges facing British Columbians.
Now, if we take a look at the last campaign, we saw the Premier campaign in a very closed campaign — a lack of support; a lack of openness; a lack of ability to talk to real British Columbians; everything scripted tightly; closed, invitation-only events — and what I've seen this Premier do is carry that approach into government.
You know, you would have thought that perhaps that was an approach for a campaign. Perhaps the campaign…. The Premier likes it more tightly scripted, more controlled. But unfortunately, that kind of approach has now come into government, and we now see a Premier that runs government with that same kind of closed, lack-of-accountability, lack-of-openness approach.
His Finance Minister, just to use an example, said they were simply spectators when it comes to the forest crisis. His Forests Minister followed on with that and said that it's false hope to think that we could do any-
[ Page 12913 ]
thing for struggling families. His Health Minister, when asked about the crisis in health care, said the people are dreaming if they think health care can be fixed.
We've seen freedom-of-information laws ignored and disdained by this Premier. We see new bureaucracies created with no oversight, little public accountability. We've seen big decisions with huge economic and social consequences being forced through with absolutely no discussion, no public consultation and even less debate.
One of the hallmarks of this Premier and this government is promises that are made and forgotten as soon as they're made. In this parliament, just in this term, we've seen the Premier pledge action for children, for seniors, for first nations, for the poor. I'm sad to say that in each of those cases, the promises were made and forgotten. People in each of those cases had expectations built up by this Premier through a throne speech, through a budget, through a promise made, and yet nothing was acted upon. They were forgotten. They were disappointed. They were betrayed by this Premier.
On issues of fundamental trust, this Premier has put up a wall of silence. He stonewalled basic questions about the integrity of his office. Just in the last few months we've learned about a scheme in the Premier's office involving Ken Dobell that a special prosecutor said could only be described as influence-peddling.
We've seen how the Premier's office itself violated a basic protocol to protect evidence in the B.C. Rail corruption trial — a case that goes to the heart of this government's credibility.
We've seen the Premier's top law enforcement officer forced to resign in the wake of serious accusations related to land deals. We saw the Premier's handpicked head of ICBC leave after a customer ripoff scheme was uncovered that took place under the Premier's handpicked person's nose.
This session we've asked the Premier and his ministers many times to explain their behaviour, to account for their actions, their policies, their direction. But the arrogance of power has convinced this Premier that he doesn't have to answer questions, that a majority government gives him the freedom to do as he pleases without regard for this Legislature and, most importantly, without regard for the people we serve.
When you lose touch with the people who elected you, that creates a very dangerous place for a Premier and a government to be, because they become arrogant. They don't listen to people, and they don't take a look at the impact of the decisions that they're making.
So over the next couple of days I'm going to, again, ask the Premier to explain his role and that of his ministers and officials in a number of scandals, a number of unanswered questions that are circling his office. Again, I'm going to talk to the Premier about his government priorities and how we're going to address some of the challenges that we face.
Now, we all know what happened last year in estimates, and the Premier can choose, as he did last year, to use the time as dead air, to stall, to delay, to not answer questions, or he can actually engage the opposition and talk about some of the issues going on around his government. As we get into the debate, I certainly hope that the Premier chooses to be open and forthright.
With that, I'd like to move into some questions about the Premier's office. I'd like to talk about the disclosure of privileged documents from the Premier's office. If we take a look at last year…. I think it's very important for us to actually take a few minutes to talk about last year's estimates because, in fact, we talked about this issue in last year's estimates.
We talked about the disclosure of documents, and I want to read what the Premier had to say last year: "I do want the Leader of the Opposition to understand what I've done here."
These are questions around the handling of documents, privileged documents from the Premier's office. "In terms of screening…cabinet documents, all of those documents will be available to the Deputy Attorney General. He'll make the decisions 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."
My question is: does the Premier stand by that statement regarding this process?
Hon. G. Campbell: As the Leader of the Opposition knows, this is a matter that is currently sub judice, and I have no intention of having a discussion about matters that arise out of the court case that is currently before the courts. That has been our position all along, and it remains our position today.
C. James: Could I ask the Premier, then, to explain the difference between last year, when he was quite forthright in talking about a process that he wanted everyone to know about, and this year, when he doesn't want to speak about it.
The Chair: If I may interrupt. Leader of the Opposition, I think it is a 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 the discussion should prejudice the outcome of the trial.
C. James: I'd like to ask the same question again. I would like to ask the Premier what the difference is between last year and this year in answering how his office — this is an issue directly related to his office, not the court case — handles privileged documents.
Hon. G. Campbell: I believe the Leader of the Opposition is aware of the fact that this is a matter that is now before the court. It is sub judice. The issues that are being raised by the Leader of the Opposition are
[ Page 12914 ]
actually subject to court consideration. Therefore, I will not be answering any questions with regard to this issue.
C. James: Again to the Premier. Last year when we discussed this issue, the issue in fact was continuing on, as the court case has done for a number of years. So my question is again to the Premier. This is a question directly related to his office and how his office handles confidential documents. My question to the Premier is: does he stand by his statements last year in estimates?
The Chair: If I can interject. The Chair has made a ruling that we're not going to discuss any matters that are related to court cases. If you'd like to take a different line of questioning.
C. James: I'd like to ask the Premier: does he stand by his statements made last year in estimates?
Hon. G. Campbell: The record speaks for itself. I will not be having any discussions with regard to this matter. It is currently before the courts. The courts are currently discussing these matters and will make their rightful decision.
C. James: My question to the Premier — a very straightforward one: was this issue before the courts last year when he spoke about it?
Hon. G. Campbell: This matter is clearly sub judice, and we will not be discussing it during these estimates.
The Chair: If I can remind the Leader of the Opposition that we're here for the budget estimates for the Office of the Premier, and if we could take a different line of questioning.
C. James: This directly relates to the Premier's office, directly relates to how his office handles confidential, privileged documents. I would like to ask the Premier again…. This is not related to the court case. I'm asking the Premier: was this issue before the courts last year when he spoke on it?
The Chair: We've already been through this, hon. Leader of the Opposition. We will be discussing matters relating to the budget estimates of the ministry, and we will not be discussing any matters that are before the courts.
C. James: I understand the Chair's discussion and, in fact, what I'm talking about is how documents are handled from the Premier's office. I think that's a very important issue. It's a very important issue for British Columbians to know how things are handled from the Premier's office.
So I would like to ask the Premier: has there ever been a case where a member of his office staff was consulted on issues related to the release of privileged documents?
Hon. G. Campbell: I believe this is getting to exactly the point that is before the courts at this time. The courts are making their decision, will make their determination. The government has been open and straightforward with regard to this throughout. We will not, in fact, be commenting or in any way intervening in the discussion that is sub judice.
C. James: This is not related to the court case. I'm asking the Premier what kind of processes he has in place in his office. There may from time to time be questions about privileged documents from his office. There may be times that courts are asking for documents from this Premier's office. I think it's important that we understand what kind of processes are put in place in the Premier's office to deal with these.
So I'd like to ask the Premier: what kind of process is in place in the Premier's office to deal with confidential, privileged documents?
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, if I can raise a caution that we've been through this on a number of occasions and that any matters that are before the court will not be brought up here, as they may prejudice the case. So if you'd please take on a different line of questioning.
C. James: Well, I'll ask my question again just for clarification then, hon. Chair, because this was not a question directly related to the court case. This was canvassing how the Premier's office deals with confidential documents, and I'm asking the Premier: does he have a process in place in his office to deal with confidential documents?
Hon. G. Campbell: You know, I think it's important for all of us to respect the court processes that are currently underway. It is not beneficial to engage in hypotheticals. What we have to do is respect the courts, respect the court process. That's what we intend to do, and I intend to have no discussion about the details of this or matters that relate to this case that is currently before the courts.
The Chair: The Chair has made a ruling in regards to the questions that you're asking. There will be no questions to be asked regarding court cases, and I would ask that you take a separate line of questioning, Leader of the Opposition.
C. James: Hon. Chair, I'm not asking a question, again, about a court case. The question I'm asking…. I'm certain that some time over this past year the Premier's office has had to deal with confidential documents. I would expect that that would happen in a Premier's office.
My question to the Premier is: what kind of processes or protocols does he have in place in his office to deal with confidential documents?
Hon. G. Campbell: Section 12 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act governs
[ Page 12915 ]
cabinet and cabinet documentation. We are governed by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in terms of access to any documents. We will continue to be governed by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The Chair: May I remind all members to keep comments to themselves. Individuals have the floor. When they have the floor, we'll listen to them.
This is particular to the member for Burnaby-Edmonds.
C. James: The Premier spoke about confidential documents, dealing with those documents through freedom of information and making sure that that applied. My question, then, will be to the Premier: how does his office deal with privileged documents and the case of where the Premier may decide to use privilege on a document? Could the Premier please explain any protocols that might have been used in his office over this past year?
Hon. G. Campbell: The government and the Premier's office are governed by section 12 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. If the Leader of the Opposition is referring to court privilege, we do not intend to discuss court privilege in this estimates discussion today.
C. James: The question again was around protocols, not related to a court case. It was to ask the Premier whether there are protocols in place in his office to deal with documents.
Hon. G. Campbell: Yes, the government is, in fact, subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
C. James: So is the Premier saying that there were no protocols in place to deal with documents that may have privilege related to them?
Hon. G. Campbell: The Premier's office, the government, is subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
I can only assume that the Leader of the Opposition is trying to go through the back door to something that should not be discussed, as ruled by the Chair, and which is also, I think, appropriate to protecting the legal processes that are currently underway.
C. James: You know, questions around how documents are dealt with in the Premier's office are critical. The Premier talks about freedom of information, but as we know, often documents are caught up in freedom of information, taking months and months — in fact, later in estimates I'll talk about years — to be able to have documents released to individuals. So I believe that it is important. The Premier may not feel that it's important to deal with this issue, but in fact I do believe that it is important.
Just so that I'm clear and so that the Premier has had every opportunity to be able to answer this question, I'd like to ask him again. Is the Premier saying, then — just so I understand it — that freedom of information is the only tool used in his office to deal with either privileged or confidential documents and that there are no protocols in place in his office?
Hon. G. Campbell: The thrust of the Leader of the Opposition's question is clearly sub judice. It is clearly something that is being considered by the courts.
The Chair: Members, can we please have order.
Leader of the Opposition, if you'd please take a line of questioning.
C. James: Thank you. I'll continue with a line of questioning. It's extraordinary to me the lengths the Premier will go to avoid answering questions, but I don't know why anybody would be surprised, because it's continuing the tack we've seen over the last seven years.
My question, then, to the Premier is: has his former deputy minister, Ken Dobell, ever reviewed confidential documents in his office?
Hon. G. Campbell: Mr. Dobell was the Deputy Minister to the Premier from 2001 to 2005. He was the secretary to the cabinet. Obviously, cabinet documents were available to him as the secretary to the cabinet, and that is governed by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
C. James: Just continuing on, then, with that questioning: did Mr. Dobell ever look at privileged documents?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the Leader of the Opposition is again trying to find a way to discuss something that is before the courts.
C. James: Could I ask the Premier, then: have there been any changes in his office around how he deals with confidential or privileged documents from last year's estimates to this year's estimates?
Hon. G. Campbell: These are all matters that are clearly related to the initial question of the Leader of the Opposition, and my answer remains the same. We should not be discussing sub judice matters when we're in the committee.
C. James: In fact, this isn't an issue that's before the courts. This is an issue of how the Premier's office deals with documents. Pretty straightforward, a pretty basic question in estimates of how a minister or Premier deals with documents.
[ Page 12916 ]
My question again to the Premier would be: has there been any change between last year's estimates and this year's estimates on how his office deals with confidential or privileged documents?
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, the Chair has already ruled. We've ruled that the debate is not related to the budget estimates, and for anything that is before the courts or a court proceeding the Chair is going to enforce the sub judice rule.
C. James: I'd like to ask the Premier, then: has the budget changed around how he deals with documents? Has he brought additional staff in or additional resources to assist his office in how he deals with documents of either privilege or confidential documents?
Hon. G. Campbell: No.
C. James: I'd like to take a look at another staff person in the Premier's office, because it's pretty clear that the Premier is going to continue the hallmark of his leadership over the last seven years, which is secrecy, avoiding questions, refusing to answer. We're going to continue to see that. Perhaps the Premier's office itself is under investigation, based on the questions that we've asked, but I'll leave that for another day and another opportunity for questions.
I'd like to now talk a little bit about another investigation that went on out of the Premier's office, and that is the issue regarding Ken Dobell and the special prosecutor. You'll remember that earlier this year we learned that a special prosecutor approved various charges against one of the Premier's top advisers, Ken Dobell. Terrence Robertson, in fact, recommended that Ken Dobell be charged for violating the Lobbyists Registration Act, and Mr. Dobell subsequently pled guilty on March 12, 2008.
I'd like to ask the Premier, in fact: why did he ignore his own lobbyist legislation?
Hon. G. Campbell: The Leader of the Opposition is correct. This was a matter that was dealt with by the courts. I think it's important to look at what Judge Galati has said. He said it was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement, and it resulted in an absolute discharge.
It's important, I think, to note both the special prosecutor's and the FOI commissioner's comments that "Mr. Dobell held 'an honest but mistaken belief' throughout that his activities were lawful. He cooperated fully and attempted to be an 'open book in the special prosecution,'" and in the investigation by Commissioner Loukidelis, which is corroborative of the honest but mistaken belief that he had.
To quote the FOI commissioner: "The purpose of the lobbyists registry is transparency. There was, in my view, no intention by either the city or Mr. Dobell to hide his consulting contracts. Transparency to him took precedence, as it should, to perceived technicalities around requirements of the Lobbyist Registration Act."
On the allegation of conflict, this issue has been put to bed. The courts have made their decision based on the remedies under the law, and we will let that stand.
C. James: I'm really sorry to have to tell the Premier, but this one isn't before the courts, so he actually has to answer some questions whether he likes it or not. He may still not answer, but in fact this issue has not been put to bed for British Columbians.
I would have imagined that the Premier would have thought it was fairly serious that his top adviser, the person that was closest to the Premier, pled guilty to violating the Lobbyists Registration Act. I mean, that's extraordinary. I don't know any other Premier in this country who has had someone, a top person connected to them, plead guilty to violating an act.
So I'd like to ask again: was the Premier familiar with the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: Yes, I'm aware that this is the first government in British Columbia to bring in a Lobbyists Registration Act, and I am familiar with it.
C. James: I want to ask again: were the Premier and his deputy, Jessica McDonald, ignorant of the rules, then, that Ken Dobell then violated and pled guilty to — ignorant of the rules that they set up?
Hon. G. Campbell: I am aware of the fact that Mr. Dobell made a mistake. I think that Mr. Dobell is aware of the fact that he made a mistake. I think it's best to recognize both Mr. Dobell's exceptional contribution to public life in British Columbia over the last 35 years and also to heed the words of the judge, who looked at the matter thoroughly and said that this was "a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement," and it resulted, effectively, in an absolute discharge.
C. James: In fact, these questions are not about Ken Dobell. These questions are about the Premier and his deputy's behaviour — the Premier and his deputy, who set up the process that, in fact, Ken Dobell ignored and pled guilty to and that the special prosecutor said was tantamount to influence-peddling. Again, that's extraordinary.
So my question is to the Premier. Did he know that Ken Dobell was lobbying? Did he not suspect, based on the many hats that Ken Dobell was wearing, that he was lobbying?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think it's clear from the courts that Mr. Dobell made a mistake in registering late. I think that the judge was very clear that it was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement, and it resulted in an absolute discharge.
C. James: I'd like to come back again to remind the Premier that this is about the Premier. This is about the Premier's office. This is about the Premier's deputy, who set up this process that was pled guilty to. So
[ Page 12917 ]
again I'd like to ask the question of the Premier: did he ever raise any concerns about the kind of work that Ken Dobell was doing in his office?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think that the Lobbyists Registration Act speaks for itself. I think that the judge found that it was a trivial breach of the regulatory requirement. It did result in an absolute discharge for Mr. Dobell.
I think that all of us recognize that the Lobbyists Registration Act is there for people who are considered to be lobbyists to register with the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner.
C. James: I heard the Premier say that lobbyists are expected to register under the Lobbyists Registration Act. My question, then, would be to the Premier. Did he ever have that conversation with Ken Dobell while he was doing the work in the Premier's office?
Hon. G. Campbell: Hon. Chair, I know that the Leader of the Opposition understands that it is the consultant's responsibility to register.
Mr. Dobell has admitted that he made an honest mistake. That has been reviewed by the courts. Judge Galati has ruled in the courts, and he said that it was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement. That resulted in an absolute discharge for Mr. Dobell.
C. James: I appreciate that the Premier is doing what this government and this Premier always do, which is point fingers somewhere else and never look at their own accountability. These are the Premier's estimates, may I remind the Premier — not someone else's estimates, not the court process, not the Lobbyists Registration Act discussion. These are the Premier's estimates, and the Premier is accountable for what goes on in the Premier's office.
In fact, I have a lot of quotes that talk about the Premier when he was Leader of the Opposition, discussing the fact that the Premier is in charge of everything and is responsible for everything.
My question again to the Premier would be: did he ever have a conversation with Mr. Dobell about the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: As Premier, I expect every British Columbian to live within the laws of British Columbia.
C. James: My question, then, would be to the Premier: what did he do to try and protect the integrity of his office?
Hon. G. Campbell: In 2002 the government established the Lobbyists Registration Act. The Lobbyists Registration Act clearly puts the onus of responsibility on the lobbyist to register there. If there is a complaint, the complaint can be lodged.
From our perspective we have a code of conduct which every senior public servant follows. We expect that to be carried out.
In this particular case, as you know, Mr. Dobell's case was brought before the court. It was reviewed by the court. The court pointed out that it was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement. Mr. Dobell accepted that he had made a mistake. He in fact waived some of the rights that some people would normally have been able to exercise. He accepted that he made a mistake. The judge called this a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement, and Mr. Dobell was given an absolute discharge.
C. James: I'd like to take the Premier back just to remind him of the pieces he left out. This issue did not come forward until the opposition raised the questions, until Mr. Dobell and the Premier's office were caught out. That's the only reason this issue came forward. It didn't come forward because the Premier decided all of a sudden that people should pay attention to this issue. It came forward because the opposition raised questions. The opposition took the issue forward.
It's extraordinary to me that I hear the Premier saying that it's all up to everyone else except the Premier himself. That is, sadly, typical of what we see with this Premier.
My question would be again: does the Premier have anything in his office that would ensure that the integrity of his office is protected, for people who come to lobby the Premier?
Hon. G. Campbell: Well, as I mentioned earlier to the Leader of the Opposition, we did establish the Lobbyists Registration Act. The onus is on lobbyists to register. We expect all British Columbians, whether they're working with the Premier's office or any other office — the Leader of the Opposition's office, for that matter — to be acting within the laws of British Columbia.
C. James: I've heard the Premier say that it's up to lobbyists to register, so it was up to Ken Dobell, in fact, to register. As we know, Ken Dobell failed, because he pled guilty.
I want to read what the Premier said last year in estimates. He said: "Mr. Dobell was forthright in telling me what he was doing for the province. Obviously, I knew."
So my question is: if the Premier was fully aware, why didn't he take action to protect the integrity of his office and assure that he wasn't being exposed to what was found to be an illegal scheme?
Hon. G. Campbell: I again go back to the comments of Mr. Loukidelis, the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner. He pointed out that the purpose of the lobbyists registry is transparency. This is according to the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner: "There was, in my view, no intention by the city or Mr. Dobell to hide the consulting contracts…. Transparency, to him, took precedence, as it should."
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He went on to point out that as far as he was concerned, Mr. Dobell had been forthright in what he'd done. This matter was considered by the courts. Mr. Dobell clearly made an honest mistake. The courts looked at that. They reviewed that in full, and the judge of the day found that it was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement, and therefore it resulted in an absolute discharge.
C. James: You know, the Premier can read from the court judgment all he wants, but he's forgetting that this is related to his office. Where was the decision made to allow Mr. Dobell to do the many activities and not register? Well, that decision was, in fact, made in the Premier's office. That decision, in fact, and the process for Mr. Dobell were signed off by the deputy to the Premier.
The deputy knew what was going on and signed off on the letter that allowed Mr. Dobell to do those many activities that he then pled guilty to and that in fact were, in the words of the special prosecutor, tantamount to influence-peddling. My question would be to the Premier: what did he do to protect his office from this process?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'd just like to say that I understand the…. Well, I don't understand it.
Mr. Dobell was a 35-year public servant. He served the people of British Columbia honourably in a number of roles, including as Deputy Minister to the Premier. He made a mistake, and the Leader of the Opposition understands, I'm sure, that he did actually plead guilty to making that mistake.
He was open. He was transparent in the reviews with regard to the court case and the special prosecutor, with regard to Mr. Loukidelis. The judge who reviewed this matter pointed out that what Mr. Dobell had done was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement. The judge, in fact, granted Mr. Dobell an absolute discharge.
It was a mistake. No one is suggesting, I'm sure, that any of us in this room have not made mistakes at one time in our lives or another. Mr. Dobell admitted to making a mistake by registering late. He did register. It was late; he admitted that. It was fully reviewed by both the freedom-of-information commissioner and the courts. The court's final conclusion was that it was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement, and Mr. Dobell received an absolute discharge.
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, the questions are becoming repetitive, if you'd like to partake in a new line of questioning.
C. James: Thank you, hon. Chair. I'll continue to ask the Premier about the process that was in place in his office that led a special prosecutor to lay charges that led to Ken Dobell pleading guilty and that led the special prosecutor to say that it was tantamount to influence-peddling. I think that's very important, and it certainly relates directly to the Premier's office. In fact, the Premier had his own deputy minister investigate the charges of conflict and lobbying, and his deputy minister came back and said that everything was fine and that there was no problem.
Well, the Premier talked about a mistake. That was obviously wrong. It was wrong, and the special prosecutor showed that it was wrong.
My question again, then, would be: does the Premier believe that his deputy minister is the best person to investigate possible breaches that may come in the future?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think Mr. Dobell clearly made a mistake with regard to the registry. He admitted to that mistake. The judge has ruled on that mistake as a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement, and Mr. Dobell received an absolute discharge.
I think that it's clear that Mr. Dobell's record of public service speaks for itself, and I think that everyone in British Columbia should recognize that that's where the matter now stands.
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, if I could encourage you to move on to a new line of questioning.
C. James: I'm going to continue with the Premier's office, which is what these estimates are about, hon. Chair.
I heard the Premier say that the issue is done. Well, he's right. The issue around Mr. Dobell is done.
The issue for the Premier is not done at all. This issue, in fact, is a very serious issue. It's an issue that occurred in the Premier's office, a scheme that was signed off by the Premier's deputy. He wouldn't answer my question, in fact, in the last section about changes in procedure.
So my question would be to the Premier. Now that this has occurred, now that a special prosecutor has laid charges, and Ken Dobell pled guilty, and the prosecutor said that it was tantamount to influence-peddling, what changes has the Premier made in his office from last year's estimates to this year's estimates to ensure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again?
The Chair: Members, as this room is somewhat smaller, I would encourage all of you to keep your comments to a minimum. Thank you.
Hon. G. Campbell: We have sent a cross-government memo out to all standard contracts reminding contractors that if relevant, it is their responsibility to register under the Lobbyists Registration Act.
C. James: My question, then, would be to the Premier. What has his staff done? I understand you've sent a memo out to everyone, and that's very nice that you've done that out of your office. But my question would be: what systems are put in place in the Premier's office to ensure that this kind of breach doesn't occur again?
[ Page 12919 ]
The Premier is in fact working with a lobbyist who had not registered, who pled guilty in a process that, as I said, the special prosecutor said was tantamount to influence-peddling. I would think that the Premier would be interested in protecting the integrity of his office. You would think that that was part of what the Premier would look at. So my question is to the Premier: what has he done in his office to ensure that this kind of thing doesn't occur again?
Hon. G. Campbell: Should our office be entering into standard contracts, we, like others in the government, make it clear that should the contractor be in fact considered a lobbyist under the Lobbyists Registration Act, that it is a requirement for them to register.
C. James: Was that a process that the Premier had in place that he told Ken Dobell about? Did he inform Ken Dobell that he needed to register with the Lobbyists Registration Act, or is this something that was set up in the Premier's office since Ken Dobell has pled guilty?
Hon. G. Campbell: Prior to the cross-government memo going out, it was clear in the standard contract that all contractors were required to meet their responsibility by complying with all appropriate government legislation and laws. Subsequent to this issue we have sent out a memo reminding everyone that that is the case and highlighting that for potential contractors.
C. James: Two questions, then, for the Premier related to that. Is that a change from last year so that these are new procedures brought into place from last year's estimates?
The second question, then, would be: was that conversation held with Mr. Dobell?
Hon. G. Campbell: The memorandum was done subsequent to last year's estimates, so in that regard it is a change. It was clear that we wanted to be sure that everyone recognized that that was a critical component of the existing contract, which said that everybody was supposed to work within the existing legal framework for British Columbia, including the Lobbyists Registration Act. So yes, we have done that, and we expect that everyone will follow that directive.
C. James: Was that the only change made in the Premier's office related to the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: That's the change that I recollect. If the leader has a more specific question, I'd be glad to respond to that.
C. James: Was the information about ensuring that everyone has registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act also communicated to all ministers of government, as well as the Premier's office?
Hon. G. Campbell: Ministers themselves do not enter into service contracts. The memo was communicated to all signing authorities to assure that they were aware of it, and it was part of the process.
C. James: Just in the same way that I asked the Premier whether he didn't feel it was part of his responsibility to ensure that people who were lobbying him were registered…. I would think that was something that's pretty basic — that the Premier would want to protect his own integrity and the integrity of his office by ensuring that individuals lobbying him were registered. I would expect, similarly, that it would apply to ministers in the government.
I'll ask the question again: has no direction been given to any of the ministers nor to the Premier himself to check and see whether people who are coming to his office on meetings are registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: This is the government that introduced the Lobbyists Registration Act. We expect that people will fully comply with the laws of the province of British Columbia.
C. James: The Premier has already proved the point, by the fact that Ken Dobell pled guilty, that the government allows people to violate this act, that it obviously doesn't matter to the Premier and to this government that they have some personal responsibility to ensure people register — that that's important.
Perhaps I'll use a specific example of someone — the former head of ICBC, who has moved on to work for an independent power company, NaiKun wind power company — who may come back to lobby the government. That would be an example of someone who may be registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act.
But what steps are in place in the Premier's office and with every minister of government to ensure that they check to see whether the integrity of their office is protected? Are they doing anything to make sure that the individuals who come to see them won't be other examples of violating the government's Lobbyists Registration Act?
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
Hon. G. Campbell: Well, we do have an expectation that those who are lobbyists under the Lobbyists Registration Act have registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act. That's why the act is in place. If the opposition or a member of the public feels that someone is in that position inappropriately, they can register a complaint with the Lobbyists Registration Act through the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner.
C. James: How well did it work for Ken Dobell? How well did that process work for Ken Dobell, Mr. Premier?
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Are you actually saying to all of us, to the public, that there is no one in the Premier's office, when a meeting is set up, who checks to see whether the individual is a legitimate person coming to lobby on an issue and is registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act? No one in the Premier's office cares about protecting that integrity?
Hon. G. Campbell: The Leader of the Opposition is aware of the fact that my calendar is FOIable, as are all ministerial calendars. We assume that citizens are law-abiding. We are explicit, I think, with regard to the Lobbyists Registration Act, that lobbyists should be registered, and we try and deal with people openly in that regard. But it's their responsibility. We don't assume all citizens' responsibilities to meet the laws of the province of British Columbia.
C. James: I have to ask the question again, because it just seems so incredible to me what I'm hearing from the Premier. Did the Premier actually say that there is not an individual anywhere in his office who asks the question about someone who may have worked for government and who is coming back to talk to the Premier? I used the example of Paul Taylor, but I'm sure that there are many, many examples of individuals who've left government, who've gone to work for individual companies and who are lobbying.
The Premier is saying that there is no one in his office who actually checks to make sure that the person may be registered with a law that he wrote and that is part of his government. Is that actually what the Premier is saying?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I mentioned to the Leader of the Opposition, I meet with citizens from all walks of life and all parts of the province. My assumption with citizens is that they are living according to the law and they are acting within the law. That is, I think, the way to properly carry out the business of government, and it's certainly the way I intend to carry out the business of my office.
C. James: Again, just so I'm clear and the public is clear. I still, as I said, find this extraordinary from the Premier's office. He is saying that he'll only deal with things when they come forward as complaints or through FOI, in looking at his calendar or someone expresses concern or a special prosecutor or questions from the opposition or the media finds out about it. That appears to be the only way that we can push the Premier's office to actually follow the law.
I'd like to ask again, just so I'm clear. The Premier is saying that no one — no one in his office, no one in the ministers' offices — checks when someone is coming to meet with the Premier who may have been a former member of government to see if they have registered and followed the law that the Premier is well aware of.
Hon. G. Campbell: When citizens call and ask for a meeting with my office, obviously, I am made aware of what they intend to discuss with me, regardless of what their background is. I think it's important that citizens be able to come into the office. When they do come into the office, I expect them to be following the law. It is the lobbyists' responsibility to register under the Lobbyists Registration Act. We recognize that. I think that the opposition recognizes that.
It's my responsibility to meet with citizens. As I've said, it's not a secret who I'm meeting with. My schedules are regularly distributed through the Freedom of Information Act, and I'm sure they will continue to be. I intend to continue meeting with citizens, with the expectation that they are living within the laws of the province of British Columbia and acting within the laws of British Columbia.
C. James: I certainly would expect that the Premier would want to be cautious after having a former close aide, a Deputy Minister to the Premier, plead guilty to violating the Lobbyists Registration Act. That would be a wake-up call for most individuals. That would make them pay attention to this issue. Most individuals would pay attention to an issue like that — when your deputy minister has pled guilty to violating the Lobbyists Registration Act and has been accused of what the special prosecutor said was tantamount to influence-peddling. I would have thought that would have made the Premier pay attention.
Is he actually saying that if a former ministerial assistant booked a meeting…? We're not talking about citizens here. We're talking about people who there may be questions about, who have worked previously for government. If a former ministerial assistant phones his office, they get booked into his calendar just like everyone else, and no one in the Premier's office checks to see if they're registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm aware when people come to meet with me, and I'm sure that ministers are aware, why people are coming to meet, what the request is and what the issues are to be dealt with. I am sure that people that are coming to meet with the Premier are aware of their responsibilities to meet the laws of the province of British Columbia.
C. James: You know, the Premier says that individuals should be aware of following the law. Well, his own deputy wasn't aware of following the law. His own deputy pled guilty to violating the law. So again, just a free piece of advice to the Premier: if I were him, I'd make sure somebody in his office was checking. I'd want to make sure that this kind of thing didn't happen again. I'd want to make sure that you actually learn from your mistakes and that things have changed.
But it's pretty clear from the Premier's answer that nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing has changed. His own deputy pled guilty to violating the Lobbyists Registration Act, and the Premier has done absolutely nothing in his office to make sure that the integrity of
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the Premier's office is protected — absolutely nothing. He said that. We've heard that. I've given him every opportunity to be able to answer, and the response back has been the same — that he has done nothing.
So now I'd like to move on to the issue of the influence-peddling that was mentioned by the special prosecutor and ask the Premier: when we take a look at that — that, as I said, the special prosecutor's letter said that what Ken Dobell was doing was tantamount to influence-peddling — does the Premier agree with the special prosecutor's assessment of that?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think that the special prosecutor dealt with that matter fully in his report. He points out that Mr. Dobell had an honest but mistaken belief. This matter was taken to the courts. The courts did make a decision on it, and the result of that decision was an absolute discharge.
C. James: That doesn't take away from the fact that the special prosecutor said that the behaviour of Mr. Dobell in a scheme that was signed off by Mr. Dobell and the Premier's deputy minister, Jessica McDonald, was tantamount to influence-peddling.
So I'd ask my question again to the Premier. Does he agree with the special prosecutor — not the charges, not the issue of what happened in court, not the issue of Mr. Dobell; this is a question for the Premier — who said that the process that was put together by his former deputy and current deputy was tantamount to influence-peddling?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think it's clear that we took a different view than the special prosecutor. The special prosecutor did review this matter. The special prosecutor reached his own conclusions with regard to this matter, and I think that the special prosecutor's actions are the final word on what took place. Mr. Dobell accepted the fact that he had made a mistake. It was reviewed by the courts, and Mr. Dobell received an absolute discharge.
C. James: Again, just so I'm clear: is the Premier saying that he disagrees with the special prosecutor?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think my answer was clear. I believe this matter has been dealt with by the courts. Through the special prosecutor, Mr. Dobell received an absolute discharge.
C. James: I take that, then, as yes, the Premier disagrees with the special prosecutor. Regardless of whether the Premier agrees or disagrees, the special prosecutor said that it was tantamount to influence-peddling. This was a scheme that was put together by the former deputy and the current deputy to the Premier.
My question would be that given that the special prosecutor found evidence of influence-peddling, given that the current deputy minister signed off on this process, could the Premier please tell me how he could have support for his deputy minister in ensuring the integrity of his office is protected?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I said, we took a different view than the special prosecutor. Mr. Dobell's role was in no way hidden from either the city or the province. The special prosecutor reached the conclusion that there was no merit in proceeding. We agree with the special prosecutor, and we agree with the judge.
C. James: This was a letter signed off, as I mentioned, by the past deputy and the current deputy. Here's what was said in the letter by Ken Dobell. "There may be a perceived conflict that should be addressed in the unlikely event that specific issues arise where these assignments from two governments overlap. Then the conflict will be managed by adjusting the work that I am asked to undertake." That was something signed off by Jessica McDonald, the current deputy.
So my question would be: did the Premier himself ever adjust Ken Dobell's workload, or did he ever have discussions expressing concerns about the workload and conflict of interest?
Hon. G. Campbell: I was aware of the fact that Mr. Dobell was, obviously, in contract with the government and had a contract with the city as well, I understand. We felt that it was transparent, fully aboveboard, and we agree with the conclusions of the special prosecutor with regard to this. We also agree with the judgment that the courts have already made.
C. James: The Premier previously said that he didn't agree with the special prosecutor, so…. It's interesting.
Ms. McDonald, the Premier's deputy, in April of '07 defended this influence-peddling scheme by saying: "I remain satisfied that Mr. Dobell fulfilled his obligations with respect to managing potential…interest and that the discussions that he and I had…about the procedure we agreed to effectively safeguarded the province's interests." Well, it's very clear that they didn't at all safeguard the province's interest. Mr. Dobell himself pled guilty. The special prosecutor called it influence-peddling.
I'd like to ask the Premier: does he now feel, looking back, that something more should have been done?
Hon. G. Campbell: Let me again say that I agree with the conclusions of the special prosecutor. I agree with his conclusions that there was no merit in proceeding with a charge of influence-peddling. I agree with the judge, who said this was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement. The judge determined on his own that that would result in an absolute discharge.
C. James: The Premier has given conflicting answers here, so I'd just like to be clear. The Premier said he agrees with the special prosecutor. Previously he said he had a difference of opinion with the special prosecutor. So does the Premier agree with the special
[ Page 12922 ]
prosecutor that this was tantamount to influence-peddling?
Hon. G. Campbell: I agree with the special prosecutor that there was no merit in proceeding with the charge.
The Chair: Leader of the Official Opposition, again, I would just want to caution you to ensure that we avoid repetition in the questioning here.
C. James: I'm just making sure, since the Premier gave conflicting answers, that we have in the record what the Premier's answer actually is. So I appreciate that. I'll ask the Premier, then. With the special prosecutor saying that this was tantamount to influence-peddling, does the Premier still feel that his deputy's assessment, which was "Everything is fine," was accurate?
Hon. G. Campbell: Well, let me try and be clear for the Leader of the Official Opposition. We had a different view of the matter than the special prosecutor. We do fully agree with the special prosecutor's conclusion that there was no merit in proceeding with the charge.
C. James: There's a difference between no merit in proceeding with the charge and the fact that the special prosecutor said it was tantamount to influence-peddling. There's a very big difference there that the Premier is purposefully ignoring. So I'd like to ask again: does the Premier feel, after the special prosecutor's letter that he said he agrees with, that his office did due diligence and that his deputy did due diligence, considering what happened afterwards?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think I've answered that question.
C. James: I'll take that as a non-answer from the Premier, that he won't answer whether he feels that his office has done due diligence.
I know that the Premier believes that the individual is responsible for, in fact, signing up with the Lobbyists Registration Act. I've heard the Premier say that a number of times. But it was actually Ken Dobell who raised the concern himself. Ken Dobell put it on the table that there might be a concern here. So the Premier could not have said that he didn't know about the issue or that his deputy didn't know about the issue. It was actually raised by Ken Dobell himself. He actually wrote a letter saying there might be a conflict here.
I think that would be, if nothing else, a red flag for the Premier and for his deputy that something should be looked at here. Again, my question to the Premier: does he feel that the integrity of his office has been protected by his deputy, who signed off on a scheme that was found to be influence-peddling by the special prosecutor?
Hon. G. Campbell: The matter was reviewed by the special prosecutor. The special prosecutor made his recommendations. The matter was reviewed by the courts. The courts found that this was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement. The special prosecutor reached the determination that there was no point in pursuing any other issues out of his investigation and his review. The matter now stands completely taken care of.
I think that in terms of our office, I don't think there's been any breach in the integrity of the office whatsoever.
C. James: Let's just review how this process happened. The Premier and his office created the arrangement, the arrangement that Ken Dobell pled guilty to and the special prosecutor said was influence-peddling. The Premier personally signed off on Ken Dobell's contract, directly — the contract that then he pled guilty to and then was found to be influence-peddling.
Ken Dobell has admitted his mistake, and he pled guilty. So I'd like to ask the Premier: when is he going to admit that he had some role and responsibility in all of this and admit that to the public of British Columbia?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think that the review of these matters has been transparent. They've been reviewed both by a special prosecutor and by the courts. Conclusions have been reached by those two, the special prosecutor and the court, totally independently of the government, and I think that the conclusions speak for themselves.
C. James: Yes, the conclusions do speak for themselves. The Premier and his office have no care whatsoever about integrity, have no care whatsoever about making sure that this doesn't happen again. The Premier has admitted that. He has admitted that he doesn't care if it happens again. It's up to the individual to take care of it, not his office, not his deputy — nothing there that has to worry about making sure that this might not happen again. It's extraordinary, just extraordinary. You know, we have a lobbyist who pled guilty, a special prosecutor who said it was tantamount to influence-peddling, and the Premier just says that nothing is wrong.
So my question would be: will the Premier cut all ties with Ken Dobell, based on his guilty plea?
Hon. G. Campbell: Mr. Dobell, I think, not just apologized to the public but was clear with the courts that he had made a mistake. The courts reviewed the matter thoroughly. The courts decided that it was a breach of a regulatory requirement, and it resulted in an absolute discharge for Mr. Dobell.
C. James: That does not take away from the fact that Mr. Dobell pled guilty. That's a fact. Mr. Dobell pled guilty.
As we know, Ken Dobell is registered to lobby the Premier and other ministers in a whole number of
[ Page 12923 ]
areas — the city of Vancouver; Cubic Transportation, an international company that looks at transit gates. He continues to hold positions with the Campbell government, with VANOC, with Legacies Now.
Does the Premier think it's important for Mr. Dobell to continue in all those positions after he pled guilty?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the courts have been very clear with regard to both Mr. Dobell's mistake and the remedy, which they felt was an absolute discharge. Mr. Dobell has a 35-year record of service to the public. Mr. Dobell has apologized to the public, to the courts and to the government for the mistake that he made. I think it's important for us to heed the advice of the court and treat Mr. Dobell as we would treat other citizens in the province of British Columbia.
C. James: We have to take a look at other jurisdictions and realize that if we were in Ottawa, Ken Dobell would be banned from lobbying for two years. Does the Premier agree with the laws that are in place in Ottawa for federal government lobbyists?
Hon. G. Campbell: Certainly, I am pleased that we are the first government in British Columbia to introduce a Lobbyists Registration Act. That does not mean that we think that the Lobbyists Registration Act is perfect. I think the Leader of the Opposition knows that the Attorney General is currently canvassing that matter. We welcome any recommendations from the opposition. We will look at other jurisdictions and what they've done, and we will act accordingly.
C. James: It's interesting that the Premier mentions the Attorney General taking a look at this issue. I'd like to talk about that for a moment.
If we take a look at the Attorney General's response — we actually asked him in question period about legislation to do with Lobbyists Registration Act — he said that it wasn't a priority. There are many things that government has to do. Lots of things the government was busy with, but this wasn't one of them. This wasn't on the top of the list.
In fact, the Attorney General also stated that he didn't know of any legislation around that prevents people convicted of lobbying from actually not lobbying, from getting a penalty that says that they can't lobby. Clearly, again, he was wrong. The federal act does prevent people from lobbying when they plead guilty, as Mr. Dobell did.
I'd like to again say to the Premier: does he support stronger standards if his government ever gets around to looking at the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: First of all, let me say that when we introduced our model back in 2002, we were using Ontario and the federal government at the time as models. We brought that into British Columbia as the first Lobbyists Registration Act in the province. It was an important law, I think, to bring in.
But like with any law, laws are subject to improvement and suggestions for how we can improve them. We know today that the act is not perfect. It is one of the issues that the government is reviewing. The Attorney General will review that and will do it in consultation with interested British Columbians, including the opposition. So if they have recommendations that they would like to bring forward to government, they will be considered, as will all the other recommendations we hear.
C. James: I'd like to take a look for a moment at the essay. The Premier will know that one of the requirements that Ken Dobell had to undergo was to write an essay because of his violation of the act. I just want to take a minute to read what Ken Dobell said.
He said: "Over the course of my work in government and since leaving it, I now recognize that I've encountered a number of individuals doing work that would likely fall under the ambit of the legislation who may not be registered." These are Ken Dobell's own words. "I suspect that, like me, in most cases they haven't seen their work as lobbying. Rather, they see their contacts with government as necessary and incidental to their assignments."
So I'd like to ask the Premier: does he know of any other lobbyists who haven't registered?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I said earlier, I think that it's a requirement for people that are working in British Columbia or working with the government of British Columbia that they act within the laws of the province of British Columbia. Lobbyists are required to register. They are required to be acting within the ambit of the Lobbyists Registration Act.
I believe that, like any law, there is an opportunity to improve the Lobbyists Registration Act. The Attorney General is currently reviewing that matter. I think it's important to note that…. I know that the Leader of the Opposition understands that future legislation is not a topic for estimates, but I can say that we understand that there are things that we can improve, and I'm expecting the opposition will make their recommendations on how we may be able to improve an act.
C. James: I've given the Premier every opportunity to recognize that there are some serious problems here and that his office should be paying attention to them. But again, he's made it clear that it's up to the individual. The Premier has made it clear that it's up to the individual to register.
Well, I'd like to give the Premier some facts. We put a request in under the Lobbyists Registration Act asking for the number of registrations that have occurred between March 12 and May 21. According to the registry, there have been 67 registrations since March 12. That's the largest number of registrations ever. Usually they average much less than that.
We currently have 351 active registrations; 67 new registrations amounts to a 20 percent jump since the
[ Page 12924 ]
Ken Dobell case. Out of those 67 new registrants, the registrar reports that 11 of these missed the legislated ten-day deadline. In other words, 11 registrations have been backdated to be able to cover off the fact that they didn't register in time.
Faced with these facts, wouldn't the Premier agree that this problem is much bigger than simply the Ken Dobell issue and that perhaps his office should take it seriously?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the statistics that the Leader of the Opposition has just read actually suggest that the steps that we've taken have had an impact. We expect people to live according to the law in the province of British Columbia. We have high levels of procurement standards in the province. A memo was sent across government to remind potential contractors of their specific obligations. That was an important step, and I am pleased to see that people have registered.
C. James: Nothing to do with the Premier, obviously, because he didn't think it was important. It was up to the individuals.
I want to take a look at a specific case. The Premier says: "Everything's working. It's all fine." Let's take a look at a specific case. The lobbyists registry reports that in early April lobbyist Michael Brooks registered for at least five lobby jobs that he had actually started in 2003. This includes lobbying for Telus, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. After listening to that example, would the Premier agree that there's a problem here?
Hon. G. Campbell: Again, I think we've seen the benefit of having the lobbyists registry in place, which was not in place before. I think that if there is a complaint, it should be made with the commissioner, and that would be appropriate.
I have also said that we recognize that the Lobbyists Registration Act can be improved. We have, in the past, looked at standards across the country. We are currently doing that. It is not appropriate to talk about future legislation in estimates, but we would certainly welcome any recommendations that the Leader of the Opposition or the opposition might have.
C. James: One of the most important suggestions that the Premier needs to realize is that this is a serious issue, and do something about it in his office. That's one of the most important suggestions that I can pass along.
Did the Premier know that Mr. Brooks was meeting with ministers and meeting across government and hadn't registered with the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: I am not aware of all of the meetings that the ministers have, but as I've said before, I believe everybody has a responsibility to act within the laws of the province of British Columbia, including the Lobbyists Registration Act.
C. James: Did the Premier remember meeting with Mr. Brooks?
Hon. G. Campbell: I don't recall if I had a specific meeting with Mr. Brooks. Certainly, I know Mr. Brooks. I expect Mr. Brooks, like others, would be subject to the Lobbyists Registration Act, where appropriate.
C. James: Just to refresh the Premier's memory, Mr. Brooks recently registered as a lobbyist for Telus, for IAP Life, for Microsoft, for University of Phoenix, for Hewlett-Packard. While his registration is dated this year, the lobbying he reported went back years. It's interesting because, unlike other registrants, Mr. Brooks actually doesn't identify the ministers or the officials that he met with. Nor does he identify the ministers that are involved in his public reporting.
So I'd like to ask the Premier: does he have any concerns about the fact that it appears that Mr. Brooks backdated his lobbyist registration forms?
Hon. G. Campbell: If the Leader of the Opposition does have concerns, then she should take those up with the registrar.
C. James: Oh, I'd like to assure the Premier that we will do that. We will follow up in the appropriate way, but this is the Premier's estimates. This is a chance for the Premier to tell us how he feels.
So I'd like to ask the Premier again: isn't he concerned about the fact that a Lobbyists Registration Act is in place and that there are a number of lobbyists, including this individual, who are backdating their lobbyist claims?
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, I'll just caution you somewhat. We seem to be debating legislation here and the relevant issues within that legislation. I just put that forward from the Chair as a caution. This is budget estimates for the Office of the Premier.
Hon. G. Campbell: There is legislation that is currently in place. That legislation allows for the Leader of the Opposition to register direct complaints or concerns with the commissioner. That's what I recommend she do.
C. James: This does directly relate to the Premier's office. This was, in fact, one of his deputies who pled guilty to the Lobbyists Registration Act. So it's very key to this Premier and to the lack of accountability in this Premier's office.
Does he know of Mr. Brooks meeting with any of his cabinet colleagues over the last number of years?
Hon. G. Campbell: I don't know all of the meetings that the cabinet ministers are having. I'm sure the cabinet ministers, like myself, expect that those who are meeting with them to be abiding by the laws of British Columbia.
C. James: After going through this discussion over the last while, doesn't the Premier see how important it
[ Page 12925 ]
is that someone in his office checks to see whether someone has signed up with the Lobbyists Registration Act, when we have here a clear case of someone who backdated their lobbyist registration forms? Does the Premier not see that there's a problem here and that perhaps his office has to provide some accountability on that?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think that we know that the accountability lies with the individual to register under the Lobbyists Registration Act. I think Mr. Dobell has actually been held to a high level of account. In fact, I think the Leader of the Opposition has done everything she can to besmirch his reputation, in spite of the fact that the judge himself has said there was a trivial breach of a regulatory requirement and that it resulted in an absolute discharge.
I think that I'm clear about what our responsibilities are. Our government established the first Lobbyists Registration Act in the province of British Columbia. There are avenues for the Leader of the Opposition to complain if she feels there is a complaint that should be lodged. I expect citizens that come and visit with me and discuss issues with me to be acting within the laws of the province of British Columbia.
C. James: Given the statistics that I shared earlier — the flurry of registrations, the retroactive registering — would the Premier agree that there is a problem and that there should be a full audit of the registry act to ensure we really know what the problems are that are going on?
Hon. G. Campbell: The commissioner is independent, as I'm sure you know. This government is willing to entertain improvements. If the commissioner felt that an audit was required, I'm sure he would say that he felt an audit was required.
I think that we have to be willing to accept the fact that the law can be improved. The Attorney General is asking for recommendations on how it can be improved. We would welcome those from the opposition. I understand that they had committed to a private member's bill. We'll see what that bill looks like when it's finally delivered to the House, and that will be considered, as well as other matters.
C. James: So the Premier has no opinion on whether there are problems with the Lobbyists Registration Act that need changing?
The Chair: Just once again, I will interject. This is dealing directly with legislation, and it is not the purview of budget estimates. This is the budget estimates of the Premier's office.
Hon. G. Campbell: Recognizing the caution of the Chair, I have said today in these meetings that we recognize that there are areas where improvement can be found. We are in the course of canvassing that, and we welcome recommendations from the opposition as well as from others.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
C. James: Continuing on, then. As we know, Mr. Loukidelis has made some recommendations after the Dobell issue. He has written a report that talks about stronger enforcement powers given to the registry. Currently there are none. So my question would be: does the Premier support Mr. Loukidelis's recommendations?
Hon. G. Campbell: I understand that the Attorney General is in discussions with the commissioner. I think it's important that we welcome the recommendations the commissioner has made. As I have said earlier, we welcome input from other British Columbians who are interested in this matter as well. The government will consider all of those matters and then make a decision.
C. James: Just to take a look at what the Premier said last year in estimates, he said that the Attorney General has been working for some time with regard to improving the Lobbyists Registration Act and will continue to. But let's take a look at what the Attorney General said this year. He said: "It's not a priority for government." He said: "It's a question of priorities, and we have health care legislation and a whole bunch of other things that are going on." That's what he was reported as saying.
So I would like to ask the Premier again — yes or no: is this a priority for the Premier?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I have said on a number of occasions here this afternoon, this is an area where we believe there is room for improvement. I recognize that it is not an appropriate location to discuss potential future legislation, but we would welcome any recommendations from the opposition with regard to how we may be able to improve this bill, and we will act accordingly.
C. James: I'm not speaking about future legislation but talking about the importance of this issue. Will the Premier make it a priority for the government to bring the issue and the changes forward that have been recommended not only by Mr. Loukidelis but by ourselves as well?
Hon. G. Campbell: Obviously, the government does believe this is an important issue. That's why we introduced the act to begin with. It was a brand-new act in British Columbia. There had been no lobbyist registration prior to that.
I have reiterated on a number of occasions today that we believe there is room for improvement. The Attorney General is in the middle of discussions not just with the commissioner but also with other interested members of the public. When that review is complete, we will be in a position to fully consider all matters before the government and make a decision.
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, if I could remind you to direct your questions towards the budget estimates.
[ Page 12926 ]
C. James: I'd like to actually continue on around the Lobbyists Registration Act and the changes. With everything we've talked about, does the Premier feel that within his office we should be looking at additional resources to be able to assist in making sure that there's actually some accountability and some integrity protected in his office around the problems with the Lobbyists Registration Act?
The Chair: If I can remind the Leader of the Opposition, the act is not allowed in this committee. We're talking about the budget estimates. So if you'd like to direct your question towards the budget estimates of the Premier's office.
C. James: I'll ask the Premier again, then: is there any money in his budget that deals with the challenges and the problems that have occurred with the Ken Dobell issue around the Lobbyists Registration Act?
Hon. G. Campbell: I think the Leader of the Opposition must be aware that the act is the responsibility of the Attorney General's ministry, and I understand that ministry has already had estimates. The fact of the matter is that from our perspective, our office is operating within its existing budget.
C. James: Then could I ask the Premier…? He mentioned a memo earlier. It's pretty clear that the Premier's office is doing nothing to address the problems that have occurred with Mr. Dobell. No budget allocations have been put aside, and no additional staff are in place to try and address that issue. Could I ask the Premier then: will he table in the Legislature the memo that he sent around to contractors?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition is aware of the fact that should she request that document, it's available under freedom of information.
The Chair: Committee A will recess for five minutes for a comfort break.
The committee recessed from 4:36 p.m. to 4:46 p.m.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
C. James: I'd like to take just a few minutes on a past member of the Premier's staff who was in place for this past year, and that's former deputy Dana Hayden. As we know, Miss Hayden was put in charge of the Lotteries Corporation when the last scandal broke, related to the retail sales issue. The Premier, in fact, recommended his staff person to the Lotteries Corporation, said she would be a good choice. So it was directly related to the Premier making that recommendation.
As we know, the deputy went in. It's pretty clear now, over the last number of weeks, that that wasn't the only mess. The retail issue was not the only mess in the Lotteries Corporation. As we know, we've since had another scandal break. So I'd like to ask the Premier: did he feel that his deputy minister did her job?
Hon. G. Campbell: Miss Hayden went to the lottery board on an interim basis to work on their behalf. I think the judgments about her performance are really with the board. The board, I think, felt she did an admirable job. They concluded the search for the CEO, and a new CEO is now in place.
C. James: Well, as the Premier knows well, and as the public knows, freedom-of-information documents that were obtained by the media show that the Lotteries Corporation has been under-reporting incidents, suspicious incidents and potential money laundering and that that's been going on at the Lotteries Corporation for a long period of time. Those are the allegations.
The Premier, as he said, sent in his deputy. She was on secondment to address this. So my question would be: does he have concerns about the fact that his deputy was sent in to clean up the show, when it's clear it wasn't cleaned up?
Hon. G. Campbell: Miss Hayden served from, I think, June of '07 to February of this year, while the Lottery Corporation was in the midst of a search for a CEO. I think it's really up to the Lottery Corporation to decide whether she did the job that they were expecting. From all reports I had, they felt she did an admirable job.
In terms of details of the allegations, I think we should recognize…. I understand that CBC has made available a number of documents that they've had. The Solicitor General has said that he will work with the lottery board, and his estimates, I understand, are coming up on Thursday. I think detailed questions with regard to that are best directed to the Solicitor General.
C. James: I appreciate the Premier…. We will be asking those questions in Sol. Gen. When we come to the Solicitor General's estimates, we'll ask those specific questions.
But this was a member of the Premier's staff. This is someone he personally recommended to the lottery board, as he said. This is a person who was seconded. So my question would be again to the Premier. Did he have conversations with his former staff person about what was going on at the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: Well, Ms. Hayden was seconded to the Lottery Corporation. I did not have conversations with Ms. Hayden. I know this matter was brought up with the Solicitor General last week. The Solicitor General has met with the board, and I understand an action plan is being put in place that will be reviewed with the minister this week. The minister will have his estimates coming up later this week as well.
[ Page 12927 ]
The Chair: Leader of the Opposition, if I could encourage you to ask questions for the budget estimates for the Office of the Premier.
C. James: Yes, thank you very much. This is related to a former staff member from the Premier's office for the last year — therefore, directly related to the Premier's budget.
This is an individual who was within his staff. This is an individual who the Premier personally recommended to move over to the Lottery Corporation that has since, as I said, had a number of concerns raised — the most recent one being the issue of suspicious transactions — that I think the Premier would be concerned about and, since he sent in his staff personally to look at these issues, would wonder what was going on over there.
The other concern that was raised was the issue of the length of time that it took for the FOI reports to be presented to the CBC. Four years seems excessive in anyone's mind. So I'd like to ask the Premier: does he feel that that's reasonable?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I mentioned, Ms. Hayden was seconded to the B.C. Lottery Corporation in June of '07. She did that with an explicit intent of working with the Lottery Corporation board to implement the recommendations of the Ombudsman. She did carry those responsibilities out, as well as perform the task of an interim CEO while the board carried out a search for a new CEO.
That new CEO has been selected. The minister, on hearing the allegations that are referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, met with the board. They are putting in place a plan. They will review that plan with the minister this week, including the checking of all the facts that are involved in the plan, the story as it was put out by the CBC. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to fully discuss those matters with the minister during his estimates.
C. James: The Premier mentioned that his former staff person went in to implement the recommendations, to make changes after the last scandal. What kind of instructions did the Premier give his former staff person as she went over to the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: My former deputy was seconded to the board. Instructions that she received would have been received from the chair of the board. As I mentioned in my previous answer, the understanding was that she would be putting in place and implementing the recommendations of the Ombudsman.
There is another issue that was brought up last week by the CBC. The minister has met with the board. They will be putting in place a plan, which they'll review with the minister this week, and the details of that plan will be able to be reviewed during the minister's estimates later this week.
C. James: During the secondment, did the individual, Ms. Hayden, report back to the Premier or have discussions with the Premier about what was going on over at the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: Not to my recollection.
C. James: Does the Premier find it reasonable that an acting CEO wouldn't look at all of the issues going on at the Lottery Corporation and wouldn't see that there was another potential scandal brewing?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm sure that as interim CEO of the Lottery Corporation, there was constant review by the board of the operations of the Lottery Corporation. If issues were brought up, I'm sure that the interim CEO would have dealt with those.
She was specifically requested by the board, I understand, to carry out many of the recommendations of the Ombudsman. She carried that out as the board itself looked for a new CEO. That new CEO was found in February, was selected in February, at which point she returned to government.
C. James: Is the Premier concerned about the lack of reporting of suspicious activity that's going on? Wouldn't he have imagined that his former staff person would have seen that and would have been aware of the fact that it's illegal for a casino not to report to the federal agency?
Hon. G. Campbell: Just as the minister has said, as the board has said, as the CEO has said, I, too, am concerned with the allegations that are contained in the CBC report. I think the most important thing, when you receive allegations of this matter, is first to register your concern, which the government has done, then to gather together all the facts, which the government is doing, and once those facts are all available, to take appropriate action.
As I mentioned, the lottery board will be coming back to the minister this week with an action plan. When that action plan is in place, the minister will obviously be in a position where he can answer the details of that plan during his estimates this week.
C. James: The Premier said earlier that by all reports, he understood that his former staff person, Dana Hayden, was doing a great job over at the Lottery Corporation. What reports?
Hon. G. Campbell: I can only say that when Ms. Hayden had completed her task as an interim CEO, the board chair and the board thanked her for her efforts on behalf of the people of British Columbia and on behalf of the Lottery Corporation, prior to returning to government.
C. James: Just a further question on this issue to the Premier. There was, as we know, an FOI put in by CBC on the scandal going on at the Lottery Corporation.
[ Page 12928 ]
That took four years for that FOI to actually be released to CBC.
One, does the Premier believe that's reasonable? Two, did anyone in his office become aware that this FOI request had been put in and that a scandal was brewing over at the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: I am not aware of my office being informed with regard to this. I am not aware of all the FOI requests that are received by government. I know that when FOI requests are received, they are prepared and responded to by professional public servants acting according to the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy law. I am also aware that should there be a complaint about that process, the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner is available to deal with those complaints.
C. James: The Premier did not receive any kind of briefing from PAB around this issue?
Hon. G. Campbell: No, I did not receive a briefing on this issue.
C. James: I just want to be clear, then. Although this went on for four years, and there were people involved in trying to make sure that the FOI was released during that entire time, no one in the Premier's office was made aware of the challenges with this FOI and the potential of a scandal brewing at the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: I can't be certain of all the FOI requests that may or may not have come in. I do not believe that my office was informed with regard to this particular FOI request. I think that we all heard about it when the CBC put the story out on the airwaves. As I have said, the Freedom of Information Act is run by the professional public service.
It is very difficult for me to know all of the issues that have been brought forward over the last four years, but I can tell you that I have no recollection of my office being informed with regard to this matter prior to last week.
C. James: Just so I'm clear on the process, my understanding is that FOI requests, when they are ready to be filled or are going through the process, go through PAB.
Hon. G. Campbell: I can't speak specifically to what actions PAB may have taken. I understand that the Minister of Finance's estimates are now complete, and PAB was actually the subject of a fairly extensive discussion at that point.
I can tell you, from the perspective of my office, that we were not aware of this matter until last week when the CBC put the story into the public realm.
C. James: Wouldn't there be someone in the Premier's office who would liaise with the Finance Minister or others in PAB to ensure that they were aware of updates of potential challenges? This was an issue that went on for four years, that involved lawyers, that involved quite a process. Is the Premier saying that no one in his office was made aware of this?
Hon. G. Campbell: Certainly, in my recent memory I have no recollection of this matter being brought forward to my office. In terms of what PAB has done in the last four years, I can't answer that.
I do think it's important to note that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is administered by professional public servants. It is, in fact, open to the opposition or to anybody that is making a request to launch a complaint with the freedom-of-information and protection-of privacy commissioner.
I am not aware of the details of this particular matter. It was brought up last week when I wasn't here. But as I said, I'm sure the minister will be in a position where he can respond directly to any specific concerns that the Leader of the Opposition may have.
C. James: You know, I find it a little ironic that the Premier says that people can take a complaint to FOI when it took four years for this report to come forward. Perhaps it would take another four years for the complaint to work its way through the process.
Was the Premier's chief of staff…? Does he get regular briefings from the public affairs bureau?
Hon. G. Campbell: With regard to this, my chief of staff does not get regular briefings from PAB.
C. James: Could the Premier please describe what kind of process is used, then, in his office to alert the Premier to scandals?
Hon. G. Campbell: With regard to freedom-of-information requests that are received by my office, all requests are processed in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Freedom-of-information requests are responded to and prepared by professional civil servants under the law. They're not prepared by the political staff.
Any concerns with regard to the practice or the responses, disclosure or timing are forwarded on by the public to the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner. He is there to protect the public's interest, and he does act in the public interest.
The commission does have the ability to independently inquire into concerns with regard to guidelines that are not being met. We have increased his budget to assure that he can manage his workload more effectively. We have also given him more opportunity and discretion under the act to decide if there's a frivolous request or not. Those sorts of issues are there.
We have expanded the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to include 65 public bodies in the act which were not included prior to this. We've tried to simplify the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for the public in the public inter-
[ Page 12929 ]
est, and we often follow the recommendations of the commissioner with regard to how he feels it can be strengthened as well.
C. James: Interesting comments from the Premier that he has expanded the freedom of information. He has expanded it but never fills recommendations and sends things blanked out to individuals. It's interesting how often his government uses the opportunity to be able to censor information for the public.
In fact, I'm talking about the challenges that occur with FOI requests as they go through. As was mentioned by the Premier and mentioned by myself, the FIO requests do go to the public affairs bureau.
My question would be: who in the Premier's office gets briefings on information that relates to either work of the Premier or to challenges that are upcoming?
Hon. G. Campbell: The deputy chief of staff for issues management and communication would receive the results of a freedom-of-information and privacy request.
C. James: What process occurs, after that individual receives the information, to then brief the Premier on when issues are coming up?
Hon. G. Campbell: Can the leader ask the question again, please, hon. Chair?
C. James: The Premier mentioned that his deputy chief of staff receives the information, that it comes to them from public affairs bureau. So my question, then, would be: when does the information go to the Premier directly on when scandals or problems or challenges are coming up around FOI requests?
Hon. G. Campbell: Let me just clarify. My deputy chief of staff does not receive a briefing on all the freedom-of-information requests. Any issue that comes having to do with the Premier's office would be reviewed by the deputy chief of staff for issues and communication, and if it was necessary to brief me on that, he would do that.
C. James: Who does the deputy chief of staff report to?
Hon. G. Campbell: The chief of staff.
C. James: Does the deputy chief of staff work with a team on the issues management for the Premier's office? And could the Premier please describe that team and who makes up that team on issues management?
Hon. G. Campbell: The deputy chief of staff for issues management has a number of people on his team. They include the director of communications, the senior communications coordinator, the manager of media monitoring, the senior coordinator for website and direct media and the producer of audiovisual media. He also has one other person that I'm trying to find the appropriate title for.
If I just go through, for the Leader of the Opposition, some of these matters…. The deputy chief of staff for policy coordination and issues management coordinates issues management for the Premier and the chief of staff across government. He does provide strategic advice to government on policy issues.
He provides management and policy advice to the Premier and the chief of staff, to the ministers' offices and to the MLAs. He coordinates issues management and activities in government vis-à-vis ministerial offices, etc. He is responsible for our ministerial assistants and our EAs and ensures that they are carrying out their responsibilities as well.
C. James: Earlier the Premier said that the deputy chief of staff was responsible for issues management and for looking at FOIs related to the Premier's office. According to the description that the Premier read now, the deputy chief of staff is not only responsible for issues management related to the Premier's office; he's also responsible across government. He mentioned ministerial offices.
My question would be: what kind of process is in place for the deputy chief of staff, as the Premier says, to receive information around either FOI requests or other potential issues management issues from other ministers' offices?
Hon. G. Campbell: I don't want to leave a misimpression with the Leader of the Opposition. As I've mentioned earlier, the deputy chief of staff in the Premier's office does not receive all information on all freedom-of-information requests. He is included in freedom-of-information requests with regards to the Premier's office.
Should a minister inform the deputy chief of staff, he may or may not inform me that there is an issue that has been brought to his attention. But all freedom-of-information requests do not go through the deputy chief of staff for issues management in the Premier's office.
C. James: I certainly would expect that a freedom-of-information request that took four years and that involved a major scandal would have come to the deputy chief of staff, according to the process that the Premier has outlined, and the Premier certainly would have been made aware of this potential.
I'd ask the Premier again: was his deputy chief of staff — according to this process, who receives information on FOIs, who receives issues on issues management from other ministries, who gathers information and who may or may not inform the Premier — aware of the four-year process for the CBC to receive the FOI request on the scandal at the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: We have no record that I am aware of, of that request coming through our office. As I answered earlier this afternoon, the first we were
[ Page 12930 ]
made aware of that request was when the CBC put the story on the airwaves.
C. James: My question to the Premier would be: does he see it as a problem that his office, his deputy chief of staff, who's supposed to be in charge of issues management, was not made aware of a four-year request and a scandal at the Lottery Corporation?
Hon. G. Campbell: The freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner is responsible for carrying out that act on behalf of all of us in the province of British Columbia — government, opposition, the citizens of the province of British Columbia. As I've said, my office was not made aware of that request.
Requests are managed through the professional public service. It goes through an appropriate process that is established under the act, which the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner is responsible for carrying out. At no time was I made aware, that I can recall, of this being an issue that was either before the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. Nor was it, at any time that I'm aware of, before the Premier's office.
If there is a complaint about the length of time, I can't speak to that, because I don't have all the facts before me. I know there are allegations that have been made. I am concerned about those allegations, as is the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, as is the board of the Lottery Corporation, as is the new CEO of the Lottery Corporation.
The Solicitor General has reported to me and to the public that he has met with the board of the Lottery Corporation. They are gathering together the facts as they know them, and they will be presenting the Solicitor General with their recommendations for action this week. The Solicitor General will be far better prepared to answer the details of this matter than I am.
Speaking to the issue of the time it took for the process to complete itself, I can't speak to that today, either, because I have no idea what the issues were that the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner or the public service were dealing with. I think it's a good idea to get the facts.
We certainly want the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to work for all British Columbians. Should there be improvements made as a result of the factual information that comes forward, I'm sure the freedom-of-information commissioner will make recommendations for that.
C. James: These questions are related to the Premier's own staff — the deputy chief of staff who, as he read out in the job description, is in charge of issues management. I think it stretches anyone's belief to think that someone in the Premier's office wouldn't have been told that there was an issue brewing over a four-year delay in an FOI around a scandal at the Lottery Corporation.
Perhaps it's the lack of accountability that's happening right now in the Premier's office and government. It's just routine, so it doesn't become an issue. It isn't an issues management piece for the Premier's office because it just happens all the time. That's the only thing that we could believe, based on what the Premier said.
My question, then, would be to the Premier. His deputy chief of staff is in charge of issues management. What's the process for bringing issues forward to the Premier?
Hon. G. Campbell: First, I'm actually interested in the line of questioning here that the Leader of the Opposition has. We feel that it's positive, in fact, and it's important for the public that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act be managed by the professional public service.
This matter was not brought before the Premier's office that I am aware of. It was certainly not brought before my deputy chief of staff for issues management that he can recall or that he's aware of. I don't think that it would be appropriate for the government to interfere with the freedom-of-information requests that are going to Crown corporations.
What we have tried to do is ensure that the freedom-of-information and protection-of-privacy commissioner is available when there are complaints about process, about timing or anything of that nature. I have not been made aware that the commissioner is concerned with regard to that.
The government has said we're concerned about the allegations that were contained in the CBC story. The government and the board and the minister have said that we're concerned. The minister has had a meeting directly with the board. The board will be reporting to the minister on actions that they intend to take. The minister will be available this week for more detailed questions with regard to that, if the opposition decides that that's appropriate.
Having said that, the way that issues are brought forward to the Premier's office is actually pretty straightforward. If ministers feel that there are specific issues that are there that I may need to be made aware of, they do so. If PAB feels that there are issues that I may need to be made aware of, they do so.
If the media raises issues, whether it's on the radio, the television or in the newspaper, it's apparent whether I need to be informed about those things or not. My deputy chief lets me know what the circumstances are, what the facts are, so that I can respond if necessary.
C. James: I certainly would have expected that a four-year delay and a back-and-forth with lawyers on a scandal would have been something that the Premier should have been made aware of.
That aside, just to go back to the specifics of the team working with the deputy chief of staff. When the Premier was reading off the number of positions, I counted six. Could the Premier please identify those individuals and what level they're at in government?
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[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
Hon. G. Campbell: There are five bands, A through E. The manager of media monitoring is in band A. The director of communications is in band A. The senior coordinator of website and director of media is in band A. The senior communications coordinator is in band A as well.
Under band B. The producer of audiovisual is under band B. Under band D. The deputy chief of staff is under band D. Under band E, the director of policy coordination and issues management.
C. James: Just so I'm clear then. All these individuals are part of a team that works with the deputy chief of staff on issues management in the Premier's office?
Hon. G. Campbell: All of the members of the Premier's office endeavour to work together, in that level. The direct reports, if you want, are in the organization chart, which is on the website and I'm sure is available to the Leader of the Opposition with the service plan.
The director of policy coordination and issues management reports directly to the deputy chief of staff, policy coordination and issues management. The other officials that I was mentioning earlier are people that report to the deputy chief of staff and executive assistant to the Premier.
C. James: Continuing on with the actions of staff in the Premier's office and the duties and responsibilities of staff in the Premier's office, I want to touch for a few minutes on the Children and Youth budget issue, and to ask the Premier…. As we know, there were problems with the Liberal committee members on that committee who took action to interfere or hinder the representative's independence.
I'd like to ask the Premier whether anyone in his office, any staff in his office, were involved and instructed the Liberal committee members who were on the Children and Youth committee to get involved in dealing with the independence or the budget of the children and youth officer's office.
Hon. G. Campbell: Select standing committees of the Legislature are legislative committees, as the Leader of the Opposition knows. They are charged with reviewing the budgets of the independent officers of the Legislature — all of the independent officers of the Legislature — and they make their decisions.
C. James: The members appointed by the Premier. I come back to my question again, which is: did any staff in the Premier's office talk with the Liberal members on that committee about dealing with either the budget or the release of a report from the children and youth office?
Hon. G. Campbell: Members of the Legislative Assembly from the government side of the House speak with my office on a regular basis on a wide array of issues. I'm sure that there have been discussions on all issues of government in terms of my office, and there will continue to be. I actually don't believe that I was here when those decisions were made eventually, but the MLAs make their own decisions. The committee makes its own decisions, and I think that's important to understand.
C. James: So I'll ask the Premier again. He said that yes, members of the committee talk with himself and with people in his office. So can the Premier confirm whether he or anyone in his office instructed the Liberal committee members to take certain actions to restrict or to hinder the representative's independence?
Hon. G. Campbell: Government established the representative to be an independent voice. I'm sure there were no efforts to restrict the independence of the Representative for Children and Youth.
C. James: The Premier, I'm sure, knows that in fact there were actions taken to try to hinder a report coming out from the representative and to hinder her ability to do her job by restricting her budget. I'm certain that the Premier would know that. In fact, he made comments on the issue.
So if we look specifically at the issue of the report, 18 months after Ted Hughes made 62 recommendations, we saw the independent officer get ready to release a report to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth on the progress of those 62 recommendations. Before the committee was even given her report, a letter of response from the Ministry of Children and Families came out and was circulated to committee members. The representative was not given advance notice of that letter.
My question would be: did the Premier or any of his staff talk to the Liberal members on that committee in an attempt to try to get out ahead of the representative's report?
Hon. G. Campbell: I can reiterate that the government has no intention of, in any way, fettering the independence of the Representative for Children and Youth.
A legislative committee has responsibilities for dealing with all of the independent officers of the Legislature, for establishing their budgets. Sometimes that will, I'm sure, require some discussion amongst legislative committees. I want to be clear that our office is in communication, and was in communication, with the Minister of Children and Families. That is also not unusual.
I think that one of the issues that is clearly in all of our interests in dealing with children's issues in the province is to make sure that not just the Minister of Children and Families but the children's representative is focusing on what we can do together that's best for the children of British Columbia. That's the intent, I'm sure, of the legislative committee. I'm sure it's the intent of the representative. It's certainly the intent of the Ministry of Children and Families.
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Having said that, I believe that the Ministry of Children and Families has had their estimates reviewed. They spent 8½ hours reviewing the Ministry of Children and Families and the activities that have taken place, and they are making progress on the Hughes report, as I'm sure that the Leader of the Opposition is aware.
It's important that we continue to allow the representative to have independence and encourage the Minister of Children and Families and the thousands of people that work in that ministry to continue to provide support to the children of British Columbia.
C. James: The Premier, once again, avoided answering the question, which was related to him and his office. So my question is: did anyone in the Premier's office — the Premier, the Premier's staff, perhaps the deputy chief of staff, who is in charge of issues management, any of that team that the Premier talked about, any of those individuals — talk to the Liberal members on that committee, about trying to get out ahead of the representative's report?
Hon. G. Campbell: I am sure that members of my office were at work with the Minister of Children and Families. We committed to carry out the recommendations of the Hughes report. We've been anxious to have those activities carried out. We have been very concerned about building an additional level of support for children in British Columbia, particularly aboriginal children, working with aboriginal leadership so that we meet the needs of aboriginal children in British Columbia. We will continue to do that.
There's a report on the Web, I understand, that outlines the progress that has been made to date. There is no intention of this government to fetter the independence of the Representative for Children and Youth, whatsoever.
In fact, the reason that we established the representative as an independent officer of the Legislature was to allow members of the Legislature to work together in the best interest of the children of British Columbia, recognizing that we have 4,800 staff people in the Ministry of Children and Families that work every single day to try and meet the needs of children in the province of British Columbia.
C. James: It's a bit rich for the Premier to talk about being proud of putting in place the Children and Youth Representative, when this government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this issue, when people had to work for six, seven years to try and show how important it was and what a loss it was when that office was eliminated by this government and this Premier. This was a government who stood up and did nothing on behalf of children and families.
I mentioned at the beginning in my opening remarks the shameful statistic that for the fifth year in a row, we're No. 1 when it comes to child poverty here in British Columbia. So it's a bit rich for the Premier to talk about this government's commitment to children and families when we know the reality here in British Columbia.
To come back to the issue, though, the Premier said that his staff may have talked to individuals in the minister's office. My question was related to the Liberal committee members on the committee. I'd ask, again to the Premier: were any of his staff talking to the Liberal members on that committee?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I answered to the Leader of the Opposition earlier today, I'm sure that MLAs are discussing matters with my staff on an ongoing basis, on a whole variety of issues.
I think it's important to note that the Leader of the Opposition is very much mistaken if she thinks the government has any intention of fettering the independence of the Representative for Children and Youth.
C. James: Then I'd like to give the Premier a specific example to talk directly about the budget. The representative went to the Finance Committee for an increase in her budget. She asked for $6.5 million, 36 percent higher than the interim annual budget — which, as we all know and as has been discussed publicly, was an interim budget before the office was in place and all of the duties were in place. As we know, the Liberal members on that committee balked, made some comments about reducing the budget, which certainly fetters the ability for the representative to do her job.
So my question would be: did any of the members of the Premier's staff, paid for out of the Premier's budget, have discussions with the Liberal representatives on that committee, about fighting the representative's budget request?
Hon. G. Campbell: I understand that there was a discussion in the committee with regard to the budget for the Representative for Children and Youth. I think these are difficult issues for all of the members of the Legislature to face. The legislative committee did have discussions with regards to that.
As I've said, MLAs have discussions with my office on a broad range of issues on a regular basis. It was the MLAs in the legislative committee that made the decision with regard to the representative's budget. I think that it's important that, as we don't fetter the opportunity of the Representative for Children and Youth to represent children, we don't fetter the MLAs in carrying out their legislative responsibilities.
C. James: To the Premier: did members of his staff have discussions with those committee members about reducing the budget for the children and families representative? Yes or no?
Hon. G. Campbell: Hon. Chair, I think I've answered that question.
C. James: I'll take that as a yes, then — that those discussions occurred in the Premier's office. I'll take that as a yes. I haven't heard the Premier say otherwise,
[ Page 12933 ]
so I'll take it as a yes that the Premier's staff — and the Premier, therefore — were directly involved in talking to the Liberal members on that committee about reducing the budget for the children's representative. It's a funny way of showing support for children and families, I would suggest.
To the Premier, then: did the Premier support this request to reduce the budget?
Hon. G. Campbell: I tried to address the questions of the Leader of the Opposition earlier. I had said that MLAs discuss matters with our office on a regular basis. I've also said that the legislative committee is responsible for determining that budget. I support the action of the legislative committee. I was not involved in the debate of the legislative committee, but there was a discussion with regard to it. The legislative committee made a recommendation that was adopted by the government and the House.
C. James: Again I've given the Premier an opportunity to say that his office didn't talk to MLAs about this issue, but he continues to say that individuals, including Liberal members on the committee, have talked to his office about a range of things. So without the denial, I'm presuming that they did talk about this issue.
I would then ask, continuing on with that…. A decision was made to quit fighting the representative on the request for the budget. So my question would be: did any of the Premier's staff talk to the Liberal members on the committee about changing their mind and doing the right thing?
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition understands that the committee was responsible for the first decision. They were also responsible for the final decision. The government and I actually agree with the final recommendation that came out of the committee. I think it was the right recommendation.
As I've said, there was no intention of the government nor, I believe, was there any intention of the committee to fetter the independence of the Representative for Children and Youth.
C. James: I'll try one more time with the Premier. These are his individual staff who are paid for out of the Premier's budget. They are involved, as the Premier has already described, in having discussions with members of government on a whole number of issues. I've given him the opportunity to talk about the specifics….
The Chair: Member, just as a caution, the questions…. We've spoken about this. I just want to avoid any repetition, if we could, on the questions. I believe this one has been dealt with at length, and I would just caution the member.
C. James: I appreciate that, hon. Chair, but I will speak again about the Premier's involvement in the decision that was made to provide support for the budget. The Premier has now stated that he, in fact, was in support of the final decision, which was to ensure that the entire budget was given to the children's representative.
That was a change in decision, and so my question is: was anyone in the Premier's office involved, from the chief of staff down — or deputy chief of staff in charge of issues management? I would think that this was an issue in the Premier's office. I would think that this was an issues management that had to be dealt with. Were any of those staff involved in speaking to members on the committee?
Hon. G. Campbell: I can only reiterate the answer that I've already given you. My staff deal with MLAs on a regular basis on a broad range of issues. The legislative committee responsible for the Representative for Children and Youth had a number of meetings. They speak on a range of issues. They made a decision. The final decision to meet the representative's budget request was made by the committee. I support that decision.
C. James: Of the individuals that the Premier listed earlier that were involved in the issues management team with the deputy chief of staff…. He listed a whole number of individuals — six who were involved in this issues management team. Which individual would MLAs who had concerns about creating an issue for the Premier's office, like the representative's budget…? Who would they go to speak to?
Hon. G. Campbell: I can't speak to who, specifically, MLAs may discuss a matter with. It would not be unusual for them to discuss matters with my chief of staff, my deputy chief of staff, etc. I think all of the representatives are welcome to talk directly with my staff with regard to any issue that they're concerned about.
I think it's important to note that this was a decision that was made by the committee. It was a discussion that was held by the committee. I understand that that discussion meets the needs of the Representative for Children and Youth, and there is no thought on my part or anyone on the committee's part that they ever would have wanted to fetter the independence or the opportunity for the Representative for Children and Youth to carry out her task the way it's been laid out by the Legislature.
It's a legislative committee decision. The legislative committee makes that decision. They may discuss that amongst themselves; they may discuss it with other members of the Legislative Assembly who do not sit on the committee; they may discuss it with my staff. But it's the legislative committee that makes the recommendation which government accepts and which I support.
C. James: We talked earlier in this estimates discussion about issues management and about the team in the Premier's office that deals with issues management. Well, this certainly appears to be an issue that had to be managed on behalf of the Premier's office. As we all
[ Page 12934 ]
know and as the Premier mentioned, he was away for part of this issue. But this issue blew up, and amazingly, the decision was reversed.
I would ask the Premier, then, specifically: did the member for East Kootenay come to talk to one of the Premier's staff from the issue management team? Or did someone from the issue management team go to talk to the member for East Kootenay about the problem with this decision?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I said earlier, any Member of the Legislative Assembly from the government side or, for that matter, from the opposition side is welcome to engage my staff in a discussion, should they decide that is an appropriate thing to do. I've noticed….
The Chair: Members.
Hon. G. Campbell: I've noticed that the opposition doesn't take advantage of that opportunity, hon. Chair. But having said that, certainly government members are welcome to discuss matters with my staff.
The member for East Kootenay sits on the committee of the Representative for Children and Youth and was part of the committee that made the decision to meet the needs of the Representative for Children and Youth as was laid out by the representative.
You know, I think we have to recognize that these are difficult issues. I think budget issues are always difficult issues. It's not inappropriate to ask questions. It's not inappropriate for MLAs to discuss matters with other MLAs or, for that matter, with members of my staff, should they deem that to be the case.
The representative for East Kootenay may well have had discussions. I have no way of knowing if he had direct discussions or not, but he may well have, and that would be appropriate if he did. However, I should be clear that it is the Members of the Legislative Assembly that made the decision in the committee. It is the Members of the Legislative Assembly that made their recommendation. I support their recommendation.
C. James: Did the Premier speak directly with the member for East Kootenay? Or did the Premier's chief of staff or the Premier's deputy, Jessica McDonald, speak directly on this issue to the member for East Kootenay?
Hon. G. Campbell: I have conversations with Members of the Legislative Assembly on the government side of the House on a regular basis. I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that…. I think that MLAs have got to feel comfortable coming and discussing matters with the government. I have no idea about the range of issues that they are dealing with on an ongoing basis. I do know this: the members of the legislative committee agreed to the budget. I support the recommendation of the legislative committee.
C. James: I'll come back, again, to the specifics of the question, because I think it's important the public knows. This was a very important issue. This was a critical issue of support for the independence of the children's representative, an office that, as we know, the government had to be forced into creating, and then, through the process of the Finance Committee, tried to undercut that office by reducing the budget.
I think the public will want to know — and it certainly relates directly to paid staff in the Premier's office — whether they were involved in the decisions. So my question would be to the Premier: was the chief of staff to the Premier involved in talking to the Chair of the Finance Committee about reducing the budget for the children's representative?
Hon. G. Campbell: It's important to note that the Representative for Children and Youth actually requested a budget increase, I think, of $1.7 million. The Finance Committee initially recommended a million dollars. Subsequent to that, they recommended $1.7 million.
I accept the recommendation of the Finance Committee. Whether the increase was a million dollars or $1.7 million, I am confident that there was no intent of anyone on the committee, or certainly in the government, of in any way fettering the independence of the Representative for Children and Youth.
We established the office deliberately. We established it in response not just to the Hughes report, but the government's own concerns about how we could improve the quality of support that we provided to children in British Columbia. The committee had a consideration. When that consideration was brought to conclusion, it was a recommendation for a $1.7 million budget increase. I support that, and I support the committee's recommendation.
C. James: The Premier has said that he supported the final decision of the committee, which was to provide the representative with the full amount of her budget. So I would ask the Premier then: did he have discussions personally with members on the committee about the mistake, the wrong decision that they were taking in the beginning to reduce the budget, and his support for making sure that the full budget was provided to the representative?
Hon. G. Campbell: I have a number of discussions with the members of the Legislative Assembly, and I will continue to do that. I think the important thing is that I support the increase in the budget for the Representative for Children and Youth. I think they've made the right decision. The government supports that decision, and I certainly personally support the decision.
The Chair: Leader of the Official Opposition, again, I just want to caution you to ensure that we avoid any repetition. I believe that we've gone down this path.
[ Page 12935 ]
C. James: Thank you, hon. Chair, and I'm not really sure why the Premier won't just admit that he didn't like the decision that his members on the committee were taking and that he pushed them to try and change the decision because he saw it as a political problem. But it appears that the Premier is going to do everything he can to avoid mentioning that.
I'd like to ask the Premier when he was briefed on this issue. He mentioned that he was away. He mentioned that he returned. I'd like to ask when the Premier was briefed on the issue that was going on in the Finance Committee around the reduction in the budget and who briefed him.
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm trying to recall. I mean, I certainly was made aware of this issue. I was away in early December of last year when I think this matter may have been brought up. I certainly was made aware of it when I returned from my trip. I think the important thing to note is that the members of the committee made their decision, and I support their final recommendations.
C. James: Just to provide a little detail, perhaps, to the Premier. It was November 29, 2007, that the representative went to the Finance Committee for an increase in her budget. She talked about the fact that this was what was needed to fulfil her mandate.
I've heard the Premier speak often about the fact that he believes it's important to support the representative's office. He's said that today. So I'd like to ask the Premier again. When was he made aware of the fact that the Finance Committee was looking at cutting the budget, and did he feel this was a way to support the independent officer of the Legislature?
Hon. G. Campbell: I support all of the MLAs in the committee who are wrestling with the challenge of how we provide support to children across the province of British Columbia. My understanding is that an initial recommendation was for an increase in budget of $1 million. That was reconsidered by the committee, and they recommended an increase in budget to $1.7 million.
I think the important thing is that I do support the recommendation of the committee. I would have supported whatever recommendation the committee came forward with. I think that the final result of their considerations and deliberations was one that has my full support and the full support of the government.
C. James: I would like to go back, then, because the Premier, in fact, has contradicted himself again, as he did earlier, where he said he was in support of the end decision of the Finance Committee, which was to give the full budget to the representative. The Premier now says he would have been happy with any decision. So did the Premier support the first direction of the Finance Committee — his members, the Premier's members on that committee — to cut the budget, to not provide the full budget to the representative?
Hon. G. Campbell: Again, I think it's important to note that…. At least, my understanding was that the initial recommendation from the Finance Committee was for an increase in the budget. The ultimate recommendation was for an increase of $1.7 million.
I understand that there are significant challenges in meeting these. I think every committee member has a responsibility, in fact, to feel confident with the recommendations that they are making. I'd fully support the recommendations of the committee. The government fully supports the recommendations of the committee.
So that there is no confusion, I support MLAs who are doing their best to carry out their responsibilities. I also support the final recommendation of the committee, which provided a $1.7 million budget increase for the Representative for Children and Youth.
C. James: For the Premier who says that he wasn't involved in any of the discussions…. He seems to be aware of the back-and-forth that went on with the budget and the back-and-forth to the final decision. So my question would be, again, to the Premier. Did he or did he not support the original decision of the Finance Committee Liberal members, which was to not provide the full budget to the children's representative?
Hon. G. Campbell: I believe I have answered that question on a number of occasions. I fully support the Representative for Children and Youth. I fully support the recommendation that was brought forward by the Finance Committee of the Legislature, the $1.7 million increase that has the government's full support.
I also understand the difficulty of trying to reach appropriate conclusions with regard to how much a budget increase should be. Having said that, I fully support the recommendation that came forward to government from the Finance Committee.
Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:15 p.m.
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