2008 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, APRIL 15, 2008
Volume 30, Number 9
| Hon. G.
|Introductions by Members||11369|
|Introduction and First Reading of Bills||11369|
|Wills, Estates and Succession Act
| Hon. W.
|Statements (Standing Order 25B)||11369|
|Tynehead Hatchery volunteers
| D. Hayer
|Gladstone Secondary students in
| A. Dix
|Lions Gate Hospital Foundation
| C. Wyse
| R. Hawes
|Queen Elizabeth Secondary School
| G. Coons
| Hon. K.
|B.C. Ferries board appointment
| L. Krog
| Hon. K.
|Independent power project
| Hon. B.
| Hon. R.
|Second Reading of Bills||11376|
|Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Cap and
Trade) Act (Bill 18) (continued)
| C. James
| Hon. B.
|Oil and Gas Activities Act (Bill
| Hon. R.
| A. Dix
| Hon. R.
|Public Safety and Solicitor
General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 (Bill 17)
| Hon. J.
| A. Dix
| L. Krog
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
|Committee of Supply||11408|
|Estimates: Ministry of Education
and Minister Responsible for Early Learning and Literacy
| Hon. S.
| H. Bains
| G. Coons
[ Page 11369 ]
TUESDAY, APRIL 15, 2008
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. G. Campbell: I'm sad to report that one of Victoria's really distinguished citizens passed away yesterday. Frank Carson Sr. passed away. I'm sure members of the Legislature will be aware of the fact that Frank served this region as a city councillor from 1980 to 1990. He was always at the core, at the heart, of Victoria's volunteer community. He was a recognized businessman across the capital region and indeed across the province.
I got to know him personally when he was sitting on the B.C. Transit board back in the late '80s. He always served with honour and with dignity. He always listened with an open mind. He always tried to bring a way of bringing people together in the community to accomplish our goals as a province. He was one of those people that I think everyone appreciated working with.
Carson Hall in the Victoria Conference Centre bears his name as a reminder of his great contributions, certainly, to this city. I know we'll all remember his contributions, and I think it's important for the House to recognize that those contributions were not just to a community but to a province.
I know the House would want to send our condolences to the family and our best wishes and our prayers to them as well.
Introductions by Members
H. Bains: There are 71 grade 5 students from Strawberry Hill School joined by their teachers Rapinder Kaur Gill and Harmony Wilson. The kinds of questions that they asked me when I met them in the hallway…. I'm sure that one day they will be occupying some of these seats here. Please join me and extend our warmest welcome to them all.
Hon. C. Richmond: I'm pleased to announce four people in the gallery today who assisted us in announcing the second year of our tenant starter kits in the main rotunda at noon. These are the kits that we give to people moving into housing, who are trying to turn their lives around, or women fleeing an abusive relationship. The program was a great success, so we've renewed it for another year.
I would like the House to welcome Marg Gordon, member services coordinator of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association; Donna Sassaman, AHEAD coordinator; and two people from our shop, Barbara Stewart, manager, and Ben James, who helped us put today's program together. Would the House please make them welcome.
R. Sultan: In the precinct today we have 50 students from Braemar School in my riding, ages eight and nine. They've asked such penetrating questions as: how many times has the Sergeant-at-Arms actually hit somebody over the head with the mace, and could we give an example of decisions we have pushed up to the federal government level? Would you please welcome these eight-year-olds.
Hon. J. van Dongen: Visiting us in the Legislature today are two dental hygienists, Paula McAleese from Abbotsford and Monica Maletts from Chilliwack. Also accompanying them are Cindy Fletcher, executive director of the B.C. Dental Hygienists Association, and Jennifer Burnett, registrar of the College of Dental Hygienists. I ask the House to please make them all very welcome.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to introduce Gwen Barlee from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, who's here having discussions around private power projects. Please make her welcome.
First Reading of Bills
WILLS, ESTATES AND SUCCESSION ACT
Hon. W. Oppal presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Wills, Estates and Succession Act.
Hon. W. Oppal: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. W. Oppal: I'm pleased to introduce the Wills, Estates and Succession Act. This act was prepared with the considerable assistance from the British Columbia Law Institute. I'd like to acknowledge their help and the help of over 30 volunteers from the legal, academic and notary communities.
This act will modernize the law of succession and replace four existing pieces of legislation. It contains a number of important changes that will simplify the administration of estates and make it more likely that the wishes of a deceased will be upheld.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 28, Wills, Estates and Succession Act, 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)
TYNEHEAD HATCHERY VOLUNTEERS
D. Hayer: There's nothing like a success story, and one of those is happening in my constituency of
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Surrey-Tynehead with the efforts of the volunteers of the Serpentine Enhancement Society. Just recently, we provided the organization with a $9,000 grant to enhance the operations at Tynehead Hatchery. Those volunteers are dedicated to returning salmon runs to our local streams and rivers, especially in Tynehead Regional Park where they have successfully transformed the little creek that eventually becomes Surrey's major river — the Serpentine — into a salmon producer.
This hatchery doesn't just raise fish. Its volunteers operate an education program both at the hatchery and in classrooms, which supplies fertilized salmon eggs to some 40 school groups, and teach children about the value of protecting our environment and bringing it back to life. After raising the salmon, the children then go to the hatchery to release them into the Serpentine River.
There are hundreds of volunteers who diligently contribute their time to keep this valuable hatchery, wildlife habitat enhancement and education program going. Some volunteer hundreds of hours every year.
Directors include Glenn Wright, president; Ebb Budgell, vice-president; Julie Budgell, secretary-treasurer; and directors Alan Dobby; Bruce Easton; Chris Hamming; Lorene Meyer, who is in charge of fundraising; Dave Woods; and Carol Wright.
Among many other volunteers are Orla Christensen, Frank and Willa McKnight, Brian Garard, Catherine Kyle, Al Nyberg, Eric Kaipainen, Greg Moro, Frank Marshalok and many longtime members, including Emil Quinn, Tom and Elaine Goodwin, and Barry Shiles.
I ask everyone in the House to join me in saluting these dedicated volunteers and environmentalists. I also ask the members to join with me for Tynehead Hatchery's 20th anniversary celebrations on Sunday, May 4.
GLADSTONE SECONDARY STUDENTS
IN ROBOTICS COMPETITION
A. Dix: Tomorrow morning, two teams of engineering and electronics students from Gladstone Secondary in Vancouver-Kingsway will travel to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to compete in the World Robotics Championships. Earlier this year the teams won the right to go by winning the B.C. event and then the western regional event held in Seattle, Washington, involving western states and provinces.
The 11 students are Alexander Jew, Alex Mui, Angus Lei, Kelvin Tam, Natasha Palmer, Jason Khuu, Tony Lee, Henson Truong, Victor Yang, Henry Lee and Eli Hollett-Feuchtwanger.
I invite the Minister of Education, the Premier and all MLAs to visit the classroom with teacher Todd Ablett at Gladstone. It is a remarkable place of learning, and the success of the program is a tribute to the students and Mr. Ablett. Todd tells the story of how one of the teams in the middle of the competition in Seattle decided — they were winning the competition, by the way — to take their robot entirely apart and rebuild it overnight.
Hon. Speaker, I know what you're thinking. The Vancouver Canucks should take note.
The students qualified for the world championships in February and only had a short time to raise the $20,000 needed to go. I'm happy to report that we as a community succeeded in raising the money. I want to acknowledge the contribution of Global television, whose coverage of the students' success led to a wave of contributions. The media, a force for good — who'd have thunk it?
I want to highlight, as well, one of the contributors, Rudy Chiang from the Universal Buddhist Temple, who saw the story in my householder and matched my contribution of $1,200 to allow the students to finally meet their goal. Thank you, Rudy.
Imaginative students, a great teacher and involved community — it is a great story of public education in British Columbia. On behalf of the Legislature, I want to wish the Gladstone students all the best in Atlanta and congratulate them for representing our province and our community so very well.
LIONS GATE HOSPITAL FOUNDATION
R. Sultan: In these days of huge health authorities and complicated 3P funding, it is encouraging to discover old-fashioned philanthropy alive and well — private citizens digging deep into their own pockets to build the health facilities they desire.
The Lions Gate Hospital Foundation has served the North Shore for 20 years, during which time it has raised $40 million to build a new emergency department, state-of-the-art imaging facilities and new minimally invasive operating suites, including a neurological-surgical OR second to none.
Under the guidance of president Judy Savage and a board chaired by Carmen Thériault, the foundation has taken on such challenges as raising $15 million from approximately 8,000 of our citizens, topped up by $7 million from Vancouver Coastal to build the Jimmy Pattison ER facility. Jimmy's contribution was important, as was Michael Smith's, but the bulk of the funding came from the little guys.
Their most recent campaign has raised almost $10 million for a hospice, the North Shore being the only B.C. community of this size without a facility staffed with end-of-life specialists. Vancouver Coastal is supplying the land, and the foundation has partnered with the hospice society and Family Services of the North Shore under founding chair Joanne Houssian to raise the balance.
This is all hard, grinding work, but last week to top up the hospice fund, Teck Cominco and the Vanderspeck family backstopped an evening of fun and entertainment at the Meek with Jann Arden and Vicki Gabereau.
This is no fat-cat thing. Most of the foundation's money arrives in $25 and $50 chunks. Contributors are motivated by the wish to see excellent facilities
[ Page 11371 ]
in which to house the excellent staff of our excellent health care system. Others can learn from their example.
C. Wyse: Members on both sides of the House frequently acknowledge the volunteers in their constituencies. We understand how important volunteers are to the well-being of our communities. Volunteers are the soul of any city, town or village in this province.
Today I would like to recognize one of the very special volunteers in the village of Clinton in Cariboo South. Ev Timms has been a dedicated volunteer firefighter in Clinton for the past 50 years. When he began his work, Clinton had almost no firefighting equipment and definitely had no fire trucks.
During his many years of service Ev has seen many changes, as the community now has three fire trucks and a brand-new fire hall which opened last year. During the 1970s and '80s Ev was the fire chief. When he resigned this position, he remained with the hall as a firefighter, sharing his wealth of experience and offering sound advice to the many volunteers on the crew.
Ev also offered his expertise to the new fire chief Robin Fennell, thereby providing smooth transition in leadership and ensuring the community continued to be well protected. Ev Timms continues to work for his community and has been the dispatcher at the Clinton fire hall for the past four years.
This week Ev and his wife Joan are celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary. Ev's 50-year involvement in the Clinton fire department has been for almost their entire married life, and undoubtedly she has supported him in his work and deserves recognition as well.
I ask the House to join me today in thanking Ev Timms for his dedication, his work and his commitment to the safety and well-being of his friends and neighbours in the village of Clinton and the surrounding area.
R. Hawes: Ever since James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith spent a year eating only local foods and published their book The 100-Mile Diet, the whole concept has taken off. The notion of eating only locally produced fresh foods and calculating food miles has captured families throughout North America.
The hundred-mile diet has now come to Mission. Starting June 1, Paperny Films of Vancouver will be filming a dozen Mission families, including mine, who have committed to a total hundred-mile diet for 100 days. They'll follow these families as they struggle to find sources of local foods to meet the challenge.
Just think — a hundred days with no coffee, no tea, no caffeine products, no sugar, no beer or distilled products, no soda pop, no chocolate, no fruits unless grown within a hundred miles, no prepared foods with additives manufactured outside of the hundred-mile limit and no McDonald's, Burger King or A&W — just fresh locally produced and locally grown produce, dairy, meats and fish.
Already the Mission community is scouring the valley seeking farm-gate sources. Restaurants and food stores are getting ready to offer hundred-mile products and meals. James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith will be on hand through much of the hundred days to provide guidance, support and commentary. Mentoring committees are being formed and recipes exchanged.
A hundred more families are committing to 50 percent of the hundred-mile diet. This is an exciting project that's uniting the community and making everyone more aware of the environmental and health consequences of food choices. The production will be aired on the Food Network in February and March of next year.
Provided we in Mission can all avoid caffeine rage and sugar withdrawal, I think we're up to the challenge. We are all learning the wisdom of the often-spoken words of the member for Delta South, who frequently says: "We all have to eat to live."
QUEEN ELIZABETH SECONDARY SCHOOL
S. Hammell: In light of national volunteer month, I'd like to recognize the time and effort the students of Queen Elizabeth Secondary in Surrey have given to executing the annual Roots and Rhythms Extravaganza. This evening of dance and fashion, now in its eighth year, is considered to be the highlight of their school term.
The student-run multicultural event took place last Thursday, and for the second year the students decided to give the proceeds to Surrey Memorial Hospital. The students have indicated they are concerned about the future of the health care system. Surrey Memorial is located across the street from the high school, and these students have said they have been directly affected by long wait lines and the emergency ward situation.
Providing an opportunity for students to get involved in their community gives youth a sense of ownership and opportunity. The Queen Elizabeth student body has a significant number of South Asian students. It has been noted in the local South Asian media that today's youth are experiencing a struggle between two different cultures — the western culture they are exposed to every day and are immersed in while at school, and the South Asian culture that their parents expect them to be part of.
Sometimes these two worlds collide and create issues for our youth. The Roots and Rhythms event is an excellent way to celebrate the difference and temper those collisions. Youth who are involved in volunteer work benefit in the long run as they learn the skills of teamwork, communication and how to interact in a real-world setting. Through projects like Roots and Rhythms, they develop self-esteem and leadership skills.
So congratulations once again to the students of Queen Elizabeth Secondary. Over eight years, more than $13,000 has been raised. Their goal this year was
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to raise $5,000, and the students are confident they've exceeded that. So would everyone say: "Well done."
G. Coons: On the same day that ferry fares were increased up and down the coast of British Columbia, the hand-picked B.C. Ferry board of directors were rewarded with a 60 percent, gravy-train boost to their paycheque. Coastal communities are outraged by the dramatic fare increases, and now they learn there seems to be plenty of money for handouts to this government's friends.
The Transportation Minister said, "Boo hoo," to ferry users, and now he's saying, "Here's the cash," to his friends. Will the minister finally stand up for ferry users and ferry-dependent communities and put a moratorium on any new ferry fares?
Hon. K. Falcon: Mr. Speaker, $130 million — that is the amount that this government provides each and every year to subsidize ferry services in the province of British Columbia, with $55 million just for the Gulf Islands alone. That's $55 million a year for 25,000 people.
You can look in any part of the province, and you will not find an area that receives more government money to underwrite and support important transportation services than we do with the B.C. Ferries system.
Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.
G. Coons: This minister just doesn't get it. Cash-cow payouts to the minister's friends, while ferry users are crippled with outrageous fare increases. He isn't listening to the people in communities who depend on ferries. In the Gulf Islands, Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, the central coast, the north coast and Vancouver Island, residents are all struggling and in a crisis due to this minister's lack of concern.
The B.C. Liberal government has abandoned ferry-dependent communities, but they're happy to hand out big bucks to their hand-picked board. The Minister of Transportation is ultimately responsible. Why won't he support a moratorium on ferry fares? Is it because he wants to keep doling out the cash to his hand-picked board?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well now, Mr. Speaker, once again the member opposite hasn't done his homework. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because the member should know that these are not hand-picked board members. Actually, the communities put forward names. If you have problems with some of the names they're putting forward, Member, you ought to say so.
The other thing I'll tell you, Mr. Speaker, that we won't do…. We won't do what the NDP did when they were there for ten years and ran up the debt 1,800 percent, bankrupted B.C. Ferries and left us with a fleet with an average age of 42 years old. That's what we won't be doing under the new structure.
We've seen almost $1 billion invested in new ferries and new terminals, including a new vessel in that member's own riding, the Northern Adventure; the Northern Expedition, a new vessel coming on next year; and a third new vessel that will be in place by 2012. That's delivering results.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member, just wait.
Member has a further supplemental.
G. Coons: A real disconnect with reality from the minister over there — 13 board members costing taxpayers over $730,000 a year, directors getting a collective $233,000 pay raise while people up and down the coast are struggling to even come up with their fare increases.
It's time for the minister to own up to his accountability on this file. His government gives B.C. Ferries $130 million every single year. Again to the Minister of Transportation: why are taxpayers subsidizing fat increases to the board while ferry users are struggling to make ends meet with these unaccountable fare increases?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'll tell you one thing we are doing differently. We are making sure that people who are appointed to the board actually have some knowledge and experience.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a second.
Hon. K. Falcon: Oh, I know it's a shock for the members opposite to think about things like ability and skill set when you appoint people to the board. After all, when they appointed people, they would appoint MLAs from their own government. They would appoint labour leaders. One of the more famous moments in B.C. Ferries history is the labour leader they appointed who, after the fast ferries fiasco, commented and said: "Well, what the hell do I know about building boats?"
Well, I'll tell you. We actually want to have people on a board that know a thing or two about building boats, that know a thing or two about overseeing a complex large organization and that deliver a capital program of almost $1 billion in four years and continue to improve service.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
I remind the minister to be careful in his choice of words.
C. Trevena: What the minister clearly doesn't understand is that the latest round of fare increases is
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putting a whole new level of hardship on people who live in ferry-dependent communities, people who live on those islands and work on those islands. But the minister thinks 60 percent for the board members — a 60 percent raise for them — is just fine. Forget about the people who live in the communities.
Maybe you should take time to listen to people who are there. Families are leaving. People feel trapped. The economy is suffering in all those communities because fares have become unaffordable under his watch, under this government. So to the minister: will he stop ignoring the very real concerns of North Island families and put an end to his unfair fare increases?
Hon. K. Falcon: You know, I wish we lived in a world where we haven't seen oil prices in the last five years go from $35 a barrel to $110. I wish that wasn't the world we lived in, but I will tell you this, Mr. Speaker. When we added $7 million in additional dollars to reduce fee increases on the northern minor routes, we got no support from those members opposite. When we said we did not want B.C. Ferries to have to pay $13.9 million in GST as a result of doing the right thing and going out and finding a replacement vessel for the Queen of the North, we didn't get any support.
Every penny of that $13.9 million that the federal government, who we worked with to bring those dollars back to British Columbia so that we could use them, as we are, to keep fares down on the northern and minor routes — and without any support from the NDP opposition….
Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.
C. Trevena: I think the minister is missing a beat here. We're talking about $730,000 that is going to board members coming out of taxpayers' pockets and coming out of ferry fares, which is completely unjustifiable. We have communities that are suffering. We have families that are suffering. We have a simple situation where parents can't take their kids to swimming lessons because they can't afford the ferry fares. People say they feel like prisoners in their own homes.
No one at B.C. Ferries will tell people in my community when to expect the next fare increase or the next fuel surcharge. The minister cannot blame everything on the increase in oil prices. This is getting unaffordable. It is getting worse.
I would like the Minister of Transportation to first come and visit my constituents, and then when he does, tell them when those huge raises of the board became more important for him than affordable fares for people in British Columbia and people in northern communities.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'll tell you what I will tell her constituents and what I will tell all ferry-dependent communities. There is a big difference between what took place in the decade of the 1990s.
Hon. K. Falcon: Just a minute. You're going to like this part. You will like this part. I promise.
The big difference is that although the NDP managed to increase fares by over 70 percent, unfortunately, it was done at the same time that there was virtually no investment in the fleet, no investment in terminals. They ran up the debt 1,800 percent. They bankrupted the corporation. They had the worst labour relations record that anyone could remember.
So what have we got today? I'll tell you what we've got today. We've got a new independent ferry system with $837 million of capital in the last five years. We've got renovated terminals. We've got a stable labour climate, and we've got better service being delivered to the folks in those ferry-dependent communities.
B.C. FERRIES BOARD
APPOINTMENT AND REMUNERATION
L. Krog: I represent the third-poorest constituency in the province of British Columbia. The average family income in Nanaimo is $49,000 a year. A director now will get $48,000 a year for part-time work. So I've got a suggestion for the minister. I've got families in Nanaimo who will happily take up a part-time position for $48,000 a year. I am asking this minister today to tell this House that he will direct that board to roll back that outrageous 60 percent increase now.
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, first what I will say to the member is that I agree with the member to the extent that I think that is a lot of money. I actually phoned the chair of the board, and I made it clear that the position of this government was that I thought that was far too generous an increase.
Hon. K. Falcon: Just a minute. I'm glad we can all agree on that.
Where we disagree with the members opposite is that the predilection of the members opposite, through a decade of government, was to interfere in every aspect of the ferry corporation.
The ferry corporation has been structured so that it's independent of direct political interference. The decision they made was based on an independent report they had by a resourcing firm called Hewitt Associates.
I happened to disagree with the conclusion of that. I let the chair of the board know we disagree with that and that we didn't think that was a particularly wise decision, but they are independent. They have the ability to make those decisions independent of political interference.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
L. Krog: You know, hon. Speaker, I don't know what the minister thinks about the intelligence of the
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average British Columbian. But when they know that the only shareholder of the corporation is the government of British Columbia, they know it's their money. They also know that this minister can tell that board to roll it back.
Again, I'm asking this minister to show some leadership. He can get on the phone and complain. Let him get on the phone today and tell them to roll it back.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is a classic example. The NDP can't pick and choose. I heard the same members telling me that I needed to interfere with the B.C. Ferries decision to build some ferries over in Europe. You know what? When they were delivered ahead of schedule and $20 million under budget, where were the NDP? When they were in government — let's remember this — they made the decision to interfere.
They said they had to build fast ferries, and $463 million later three of them are still parked in Howe Sound doing absolutely nothing with no benefit to British Columbians. I'll tell you, Mr. Speaker, that is the difference between this government and that opposition.
We will not be interfering, as the Auditor General said we should not be. We will not be micromanaging the decisions of the B.C. ferry corporation. They are to make their decisions in the best interests not of politicians, not of your friends in the shipyard unions, but of the 20 million people a year that use B.C. Ferry Services.
B. Ralston: I want to deal with another example of non-interference by the Minister of Transportation. Chris Gardner is an old pal of the Minister of Transportation. The two of them were right-wing student radicals at Simon Fraser back in the 1980s.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Just take your seat for a second.
Member for Surrey-Whalley, do you want to start again.
B. Ralston: The Minister of Transportation's pal Mr. Gardner managed the by-election campaign in 2004 in Surrey–Panorama Ridge for the now member for Langley. Mr. Gardner is, in certain quarters, rumoured to be a candidate for the B.C. Liberals in the 2009 election in the riding of Surrey–Panorama Ridge.
Did the minister appoint his pal to the B.C. Ferries board of directors to encourage him to run as a candidate, or did he appoint him as a consolation prize for not running as a candidate?
Hon. K. Falcon: Now, I would have hoped…. This is a great example of how the NDP…. When people of excellent qualifications put themselves forward for a position, that opposition immediately starts attacking them.
So let me ask the members opposite: what part of his qualifications do they have a problem with? Is it the fact that he has a law degree? Is it the fact that he was a senior corporate finance specialist for one of the largest investment banks in the world? Is it the fact that he lived in Asia, working with one of the largest law firms in Asia, and speaks Korean? Is it the fact that he's the vice-president of one of B.C.'s fastest-growing private sector companies? What part of that resumé package offends the members opposite?
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.
We're not going to continue until it's quiet.
Hon. K. Falcon: So you see, Mr. Speaker, there is an important difference. The difference is that we will put people of excellent calibre and excellent qualifications onto a board without any apologies. The fact that they may be supporters…. They joined 50 percent of the population in the latest poll that supports this government, unlike the plummeting support for the NDP opposition.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: The minister modestly forgot to mention Mr. Gardner's most important credential. He's a pal of the minister.
He was appointed on April 4 to the board of B.C. Ferries. The order was retroactive to April 1. On April 1, the pay for directors jumped 60 percent. Did Mr. Gardner make his acceptance conditional upon receiving a 60 percent pay increase?
Hon. K. Falcon: These questions are actually embarrassing, Member. You should be embarrassed to ask those kinds of questions.
I'll tell you, Mr. Speaker. You know, just for once it would be nice if the Leader of the Opposition actually said to her people that rather than trying to constantly attack people who do public service and are serving the public of this province….
I will point out again for the member opposite the stark contrast between the calibre of appointments that our government has a record of making, with the calibre of appointments that they made. A union leader they appointed to the Ferries board, whose most famous comment after the fast ferries fiasco was — Mr. Speaker, I think you admonished me not to use the word, "What the heck do I know about building boats…?"
I'll tell you. It is important that people of calibre and quality with law degrees, with senior executive experience and with corporate finance experience actually know what they're doing when they're overseeing a complex major organization like B.C. Ferries. I'm proud of that appointment, and I'm proud of our record. I'll put it up against their record of absolutely atrocious appointments any day of the week.
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R. Fleming: We've learned a few details here this afternoon, and one was that the minister phoned the board chair and requested that the outrageous increase to director pay be rolled back. He was very disappointed that the board chair didn't listen to him.
Now we've learned that his friend is on the board and that his appointment is retroactive to April 1. I wonder if the minister will consider asking his new friend who's on the board to ask the chair at his very first meeting to roll back those increases and tell them: "No pay increases for directors until ferry fares are rolled back and frozen for B.C. customers."
Hon. K. Falcon: I have to say I'm rather amazed. This is a week-old story. I'm glad the NDP have finally clued into it. I just came out of 19 hours of budget estimates, and not once did I hear the member talk about this issue. Just yesterday I was in budget estimates talking about Ferries. Not once did the members talk about this. This may be new to members opposite. It's certainly not new on this side.
Why doesn't the member opposite go to the B.C. Ferry Authority website and look at the criteria they lay out that they're looking for in people to be appointed to the board? I'll touch on some of them. Accounting and finance experience — that would be important for the members opposite to note, because they had none on the board when they drove the ferry corporation into bankruptcy. Legal experience — that's something they call for, just like this individual Mr. Gardner with his law degree. Marketing.… I realize that the members opposite….
Hon. K. Falcon: Do you have a concern with the law degree? Is that the issue? Is it the corporate finance experience with one of the largest investment banking firms in the world that offends the members opposite? Is it the fact that he speaks an Asian language that offends the member opposite? I'm really having difficulty trying to figure out what part of the qualifications they have a problem with.
INDEPENDENT POWER PROJECT PROPOSALS
S. Simpson: The firm Kerr Wood Leidal has prepared an analysis for the government, identifying over 8,200 potential rivers and streams for private power projects covering more than 1.2 million hectares of British Columbia. If this doesn't perpetuate a gold rush mentality, then I don't know what does.
Now that we've learned we're not talking about 500 or 600 sites but that more than 8,200 private power sites are on the table, will the Minister of Environment agree to support our call for a moratorium on these projects at least until a comprehensive economic, environmental and social analysis is done and a provincial plan is developed with real consultation?
Hon. B. Penner: It's April 15. We're into our third month of the session. The member of the opposition just asked a question. That's his 13th question in question period, and it's the very first one that he's directed to me. So I'm pleased to finally….
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.
Hon. B. Penner: I'm pleased that the Environment critic for the opposition has finally seen enough interest in the environment that he's asking me a question during this session.
In terms of the opposition's approach to energy planning, we've heard it from their Energy critic and from their other members that they would prefer that B.C. continue to import electricity from fossil fuel sources outside of our borders.
That's not our government's agenda. We have a commitment to the environment. We've got a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We've got a commitment to stimulate economic activity in British Columbia. We're going to follow through on that commitment, even if the opposition can't see their way forward to supporting green projects in the province of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: What would be good is if this minister had enough respect for British Columbians to have gone and talked to those 1,200 people who showed up in Pitt Meadows and the thousands of people around this province who are concerned about this giveaway. If he would get out of his office and quit hiding in his office and talk to British Columbians, we'd be better off.
Hon. Speaker, I find it hard to believe….
Mr. Speaker: Member, just take your seat for a second.
S. Simpson: I find it hard to believe that the government commissioned this work if they don't plan to use it — more than a thousand sites in the Lower Mainland, 700 on the Island and 3,000 on the north coast among others.
Be clear. It's not only these projects that are intrusive on their own. They all require transmission line systems that are equally or more intrusive. So if the minister won't support….
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Mr. Speaker: Members.
S. Simpson: If the minister won't support our call for a moratorium, will he commit today to no intrusion into our class A parks or conservancy areas by these projects or their transmission systems?
Hon. B. Penner: By now, members should know — at least the member opposite should know; everybody else seems to — that I've already made a decision with respect to the park boundary application for the Upper Pitt.
Here are some other facts that the member may not be aware of. When we came to office, there were 26 operating independent power projects in British Columbia. Today there are 19 additional. Under the NDP, the largest single IPP in B.C.'s history was approved, and you're right. It wasn't a run-of-river project. It was a fossil fuel–burning project.
As a result, B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector went up 300 percent between 1996 and 2001. That's the record of the NDP. They would prefer to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity. We're looking at clean, green, renewable hydroelectricity.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
J. Horgan: I'm certain that my participation in the debate will lower the volume a little bit as we move forward through question period.
I was pleased to hear the Minister of Environment say one down and, as my critic for the environment said, only 8,200 more to go. I'm going to move over to the member beside the Minister of Environment and ask the Minister of Energy if he can confirm: of these projects that are being proposed, will the B.C. Transmission Corporation be on the hook for building those transmission lines through class A parks as the minister wants to do?
Hon. R. Neufeld: I'm glad they dream in 8,200 numbers, but what they should get to is reality. British Columbia needs 30,000 gigawatt hours of electricity within the next 20 to 25 years, with the anticipated growth. That's not my number. That's the B.C. Utilities Commission's number and B.C. Hydro's number.
We need 30,000 gigawatt hours of electricity. We need to acquire that. As the Minister of Environment said, we want to acquire as much of that as we possibly can from green sources, which they are totally opposed to.
On top of that, we've actually asked B.C. Hydro to account for 15,000 of those gigawatt hours through energy conservation — something that group across the way never talked about and haven't talked about. That's the highest target of any jurisdiction in North America for conservation, and we're proud of it.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: I guess I'll take that as a no with respect to going through parks. They're going to go wherever they want to go, and I guess we'll take that as the ratepayers are going to be paying for transmission lines to hook up expensive power, low-grade power, for their friends to bring to the load centre in the Lower Mainland.
A simple question for the Minister of Energy — a very, very simple question for the Minister of Energy. Will we be on the hook for increased costs as a result of this misguided policy?
Hon. R. Neufeld: Always interesting to hear the NDP try to blow everything out of proportion. I guess 8,200 is the new number today. Maybe tomorrow it'll be 10,000. I don't know. Maybe the next day it'll be a hundred. They don't speak reality at any given point in time.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. R. Neufeld: Prior to 2001 there were 26 IPPs. Of those 26, 19 were storage. Those were run-of-the-river projects. Since we came into office, 13 projects — 13, not 8,200. Absolutely ridiculous.
That's garbage — what they talk about. It's not even worth listening to, but it's the fear factor that they try to perpetrate. I wish for once they'd speak the truth.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: In this chamber, I call continued second reading debate on Bill 18. In Section A, I call Committee of Supply — for the information of members, continued debate on the estimates of the Ministry of Education.
Second Reading of Bills
GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTION
(CAP AND TRADE) ACT
C. James: I rise today to speak in the debate on Bill 18, intituled the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, a bill that in fact says absolutely nothing about how the government intends to achieve that goal. It's a bill that's already found itself mired in controversy related to the heavy-handed secrecy provisions that this bill contains.
It's a bill that empowers the government to do what it pleases when it comes to implementing a cap-and-trade regime without any legislative oversight or, in fact, any public input. It's a bill that in many ways
[ Page 11377 ]
embodies the deeply flawed process which the Premier and this government are taking in the fight against global warming.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
Like never before, the political constituency to fight global warming has formed. The time for action has come. It's our generation's greatest challenge. British Columbians from all walks of life, from all parts of the province, are ready to do their part to save the planet. No more debates about whether global warming is real. No more arguments about whether human beings are to blame or can actually impact change. The environmental community, business, labour and everyday families are coming together to do their part.
They know that the transition isn't going to be easy. They know that it's not going to happen overnight, and they certainly understand that everyone is going to have to make sacrifices. They also know that the stakes are too high to turn away and pretend that global warming isn't the biggest threat to our collective future.
Indeed, most British Columbians came to that understanding long before the Premier or anyone else on that side of the House did. When the Premier was still fighting the Kyoto accord and arguing that B.C. could do very little to impact global warming, British Columbians were in fact doing their part. They were looking at how they could reduce their impact on the environment. When British Columbians were leading the way, doing what they could to develop a green future for this province, the Premier was in fact on the wrong side. He was fighting progressive environmental progress.
As we debate this bill, I think it's important for us to take a look at the past, to take a look at the record of this government. In 2001 when the Premier came in, he embarked on an anti-environmental agenda. In fact, many of those cuts continue to this day. We saw conservation officers cut. We saw environmental protection laws rolled back. We saw the agricultural land reserve weakened. For a time, we actually saw this Premier eliminate completely the Minister of Environment, giving him and his ministers free rein to run roughshod over environmental progress.
The debate we've been having in this House of late, around the liquidation of our forests and gifts of land to the big forest companies over the opposition of communities, is a powerful symbol of the disconnect between the illusion of the government's newly acquired green rhetoric and the reality of their anti-green agenda.
So are the skyrocketing transit fees that we see implemented by this government in cities like Surrey, where it now costs $10 to take a return trip to Vancouver.
So is the government's continued promotion of offshore oil and gas. So, again, are the record subsidies that this Premier and this government are giving to the oil and gas industry — dollars that could actually be spent on green initiatives or on relieving gridlock in our emergency rooms, on improving education in the classroom, on providing child care or fighting child poverty.
So is this government's gas tax, a measure that actually hits average families hard while letting the big polluters off scot-free.
So is the Premier's obsession with secrecy on anything to do with climate change. What's so disturbing about this — and it's clear in this bill as well — is that it's a secrecy that's harming the broad-based constituency we have in British Columbia to actually act on climate change. It's so critical that people buy in, and they can't buy in if they're being shut out.
We can't expect British Columbians to just take this Premier's word for it, to take as an article of faith that the Premier and his sequestered team know exactly what's right. British Columbians are deeply engaged in the political life of this province. They are deeply concerned about the future of our planet. They believe passionately in their rights as citizens to be heard and to have input on laws that affect their lives.
Only when that happens will we all feel the collective sense of ownership over the decisions and the sacrifices we must all make to achieve great things for our province. Is that what we have in this bill that's in front of us?
No. In fact, Bill 18, just like every other climate change proposal that has come forward from this Premier, has been conceived in secret and imposed on high. In doing so, it's contributing to the growing anger and frustration that's undermining people's beliefs that we can all take collective action to meet the challenge of global warming.
Unlike the Premier, I've taken time to go out and talk to British Columbians. I've taken time to travel to every corner of this province, to hear people speak passionately about the work that needs to be done, to hear people speak passionately about the need for all of us to take responsibility.
I can also tell you, Madam Speaker, that I've heard very clearly from people that they're angry that the government says: "You can just make a choice and change your behaviour."
On my recent trip to the north, I had someone say to me: "When I have to travel two hours to get an ultrasound that I'm required to get, how can I make a real choice when there is no other alternative there for me?"
I heard it from school trustees who are concerned about how they're going to pay the extra costs without making cuts to classrooms, on budgets that are already stretched by this government, on things that are already downloaded on to them by this government.
I hear it in the concerns of local governments already coping, again, with downloading from this government, when they don't have a choice of imposing that cost somewhere else. They're just forced to make cuts or pass the cost on to homeowners, which is the last thing most local governments want to do.
I hear concerns from commuters who are expected to pay the ridiculously high transit fees. I hear it from forest workers already hit by the worst downturn in living memory.
Now, just as in this bill, those British Columbians haven't been included in the discussion. Those voices
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haven't been heard by this government. This government thinks it has all the answers, and they expect British Columbians to sit quietly and take it. Well, British Columbians aren't going to sit quietly and take it. They're speaking out. They want to do their part for climate change, and they expect to be included in the discussion.
If there's one underlying message in Bill 18 and certainly in all the information that has come forward from the Premier around climate change…. He's saying to British Columbians: "Just trust us. We know what's right for you. Just let us introduce whatever kind of cap-and-trade we think will work, whatever we please, whatever makes sense to us. We — the Premier, the executive council — we're the best ones to do what's right. And don't worry. When we decide the time is right, we'll inform the public. But we'll decide. As Premier, as government, we'll decide when the public should know. When the deal's done, we'll make sure that we give you the broad outline, but we may keep the details a secret."
Well, there's nothing about fighting climate change that requires this kind of secrecy from this Premier.
Let's take a look at other jurisdictions. Other jurisdictions, in fact, are engaging citizens in the solution. Only in British Columbia are people being kept in the dark. If we take a look at cap-and-trade, what this bill is all about, other partners in the western climate initiative are actually providing citizens with the information they need to be informed and participate in this debate.
Other partners aren't keeping the public in the dark. Other partners are engaging people in this debate because they understand — unlike this Premier — how critical it is that everyone be engaged in this process.
In a recent letter to the Environment Minister, the Information and Privacy Commissioner wrote that Bill 18 overrides the freedom of information laws. I quote from that letter: "It's a matter of significant concern, considering the importance of environmental protection measures related to climate change and the need for openness and accountability in monitoring and enforcement of such measures."
Well said. Well said because it once again points out the secretive nature of this government and that they're heading in the wrong direction.
The Information and Privacy Commissioner hit the nail on the head. In a democracy, openness, accountability and public oversight are fundamental to managing change of this magnitude. Bill 18 does not do that. This bill goes in the opposite direction. This bill, in fact, shuts people out. This bill is the opposite of openness and transparency.
New Democrats strongly support the implementation of cap-and-trade. It's a critical piece to our climate change agenda. It's critical for us, as a province, to move in that direction. But the devil is in the details. If you take a look at other countries and other regions, the potential for failure — for market distortions and for massive wealth accumulation with no impact on greenhouse gas emissions — is actually enormous. Other jurisdictions have shown that, if you don't do it properly and if cap-and-trade is done in the wrong direction.
If we take a look at Europe, the allocation system proved to be a failure. Far more credits were allocated than were necessary, which created a huge credit market and an actual increase in emissions. But will we know, on this bill, whether that's going to occur under this government? We have no idea, and we won't be told unless the government decides it wants to share information. We won't actually know.
Again, if we take a look at those experiences, it has led many to conclude, including those of us on this side of the House, that a system of credit auctions is a fairer and much more effective form of cap-and-trade and that we need to be looking in that direction. But do we have any idea what the government's doing in this direction? No, because this bill in front of us doesn't let us know what the government's going to do. It doesn't let the public know what the government's going to do.
This bill is silent. Bill 18 is silent on what kind of cap-and-trade model is going to be applied. That's up to the government. No discussion. No public input. No debate. By simply handing the government the authority to implement by regulation whatever it deems — without public involvement, without any oversight and, certainly, without any public buy-in — we greatly increase the chance of failure.
Now, on every important policy decision related to cap-and-trade, this legislation gives the government full discretion to make the decisions behind closed doors on offsets, on reporting and monitoring, on penalties. It's a one-sided monologue, with the Premier calling the shots. In fact, that's like every decision that the Premier's climate change conversion has brought forward. The public has been shut out.
Well, on this side of the House, we profoundly believe that the government is making a very serious mistake by taking this secretive approach to the most important challenge of our time. If we are going to be successful on climate change, we need buy-in from all British Columbians. We need everyone to feel that sense of duty and ownership over solutions. Every British Columbian must know that their individual sacrifice is broadly shared by their fellow citizens and by everyone in our province.
Bill 18, in fact, fails to provide that assurance. It empowers the government to override public will. It empowers the Premier to continue acting in secret. In doing so, Bill 18 undermines the very goal that it's supposed to achieve, which is a lasting reduction in greenhouse gases.
The Iroquois talk about the principle of the seventh generation. They say we must always consider the impact of our actions on the seventh generation.
Well, to get there we must also consider the generations in between. We must ask ourselves: have we set a path that our children can follow? By not including this generation of British Columbians in this discussion, I'm very afraid that the path this government is choosing
[ Page 11379 ]
will affect the generations to come in a very negative way.
This is a critical debate. This is a critical issue for this generation and future generations. We need to do this right. We need to ensure that everyone is engaged in this most important discussion. We need to ensure that the actions we take are implemented in a way that will have lasting impact on support for our province, for our country and for the globe.
The bill in front of us does not do that. It does not move in a direction that includes the public in dialogue. It is, once again, a secretive act by this government. I stand here to say no to that secrecy, no to the direction the government is taking. Let's do it properly. Let's ensure that climate change action really occurs.
C. Trevena: I rise to speak on Bill 18, the cap-and-trade bill. As I speak about this, one of the items in the news today that I think we should all be aware of is that sea levels could rise by 1½ metres by the end of the century, which is a great deal more than the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, forecast in its assessment last year. This is really significant, and it's going to cause huge damage, particularly to low-lying countries.
I preface my remarks with that because I think that both sides of the House are very aware of the huge impact that climate change is having, the rapidity of it, and the need to find solutions quickly and find effective solutions. I think that both sides of the House are aware that cap-and-trade for greenhouse gases works.
It was first introduced in the 1990s, when all we had to worry about was acid rain. We were very concerned about that — the fact that we were seeing huge amounts of pollution brought in through the rain. A system of cap-and-trade was brought in, in the United States, and it worked. It was effective. It was also a comparatively cheap way of working.
Since that time, many jurisdictions have looked at cap-and-trade as a very effective way of moving forward on issues that need to be dealt with. Now we're looking at it for dealing with climate change. I think, as I say, that both sides of the House are aware that this is a good way forward.
But what is of real concern about the government's views on cap-and-trade is that we don't know what they are and that we are being asked to vote on a piece of legislation that gives us no details. While we agree that we need to be moving forward in this way of using the market, through cap-and-trade, as a carrot-and-stick approach to encourage polluters to reduce their emissions and to make sure that we are dealing with something as fundamental as climate change — so we are trying to bring back our emissions and restrict our emissions — we don't know what is being suggested.
This is enabling legislation. The government can say, "Well, it's okay. We just need this framework to take us on. Once we've got the framework in place, we can go ahead and have our discussions with the western climate initiative and bring back the details," but those details won't come before this Legislature.
This Legislature is in place so that we can examine such important things as details that are going to be going into a cap-and-trade bill so that we can actually say if it's going to be effective. We can ask the questions. We are not going to be allowed to ask the questions because of the structure of this bill.
I picked up Bill 18, when it was tabled, with great excitement. Here we are. We have cap-and-trade. We have a pioneering move through what this government is doing in North America. Let's move on cap-and-trade — very exciting. I flick through it. Where are the figures? What are the levels that the government wants to put on levels of emissions? What are the benchmarks? What are the details?
Like many people, I was very disappointed, because we need to have those fundamentals. We need to have those details and the baselines because we have to go into this with our eyes open. We all need to know what is going to be involved. We all need to know what the targets are going to be and how we're going to achieve them.
Whether we're talking about 33 percent below 2007 levels by 2020, whether we're talking more or whether we're talking less, this is something that we all have to know. The way this legislation is set up — and this is the concern and why yesterday we were asking to have it referred to a committee and today are debating the substance of the bill — is that it is asking us as a Legislature to put a huge amount of trust, as the Leader of the Opposition said, into the cabinet, into the climate change secretariat, into the people who have been taken away from the ability to ask questions.
So the government, through this bill, is asking us to agree to something that we just don't have any details on, which is really somewhat irresponsible I think. It would be irresponsible for us to say, "Yes, this is it. This is the correct way forward. This is the way that we want to take B.C. forward on climate change," without any details. It would be completely irresponsible.
Voting on something without any information is not the way forward. It's saying: "Okay, that's it. We abrogate our responsibility. You guys go and decide it, and we'll trust you." Unfortunately, I really don't trust the government on a number of these issues.
We also need to ensure that we know what the government is saying and planning, because this is going to have a huge impact on the way that we as a province move forward. We can't kid ourselves. This is going to have an impact on our economy. We're talking about major industry being involved in a program which is going to reduce their emissions and how they deal with the trade in the emissions and with the credits — how the whole system is going to work.
It's going to have a major impact, and this major impact is coming at the same time that we have other bills introduced to deal with climate change. We have the carbon tax, the fuel tax. We have the bill on biofuels and ethanol. These are different ways that the govern-
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ment is looking at trying to reduce greenhouse gases, and there are going to be others. I'm sure there are going to be others at the same time that communities are also looking at how they can reduce their footprint and make sure that they are sustainable and have the resilience to go forward into the coming years, into the coming century.
It is going to have a huge impact. So it would be irresponsible for us as legislators to approve of something without knowing what that impact is going to be, and we're not going to know what that impact is going to be if the government doesn't put these details in the piece of legislation that is in front of us.
I really don't understand what the concern is — why that information isn't there, what the worry is and why the government is being so secretive. If those figures were there, we would be much more likely to support it. If we could look at it critically and say, "We like those targets. We think that maybe we would suggest this way…." But there's nothing. It's a skeleton. We can't do that blindly. As I say, it would be completely irresponsible.
I've mentioned in the past, and other colleagues on this side of the House have mentioned, that the NDP, the New Democratic Party, has a standing committee on environment and economy linked. This committee has been talking about a sustainable B.C. It has a document which looks at that and has a concept of a sustainable B.C. act, which would make sure that there was a commitment to social, environmental and economic sustainability.
It's the big picture. We have to be looking at the big picture when we're talking about this. We have to be looking at greater concepts, not just frameworks, not just a one-off piece of legislation. We've got to be looking at the big picture, because this is the way that we are moving forward. All sides of the House, I would hope, agree that we are in a period of transition. We are in a period where we are shifting from this society we've known for the last hundred years and the industrialization we've known for the last 150 years, and we're moving on to a different level.
I would hope that there was some vision, some way of bringing together that societal, environmental and economic view in one package. I would hope that by giving us a fuller bill on how to reduce greenhouse gases and on the cap-and-trade, this would be part of it. But we don't see that. We don't see what the government's real vision is.
Instead, we see the sense of: "Trust us. We're part of the western climate initiative. It's all going to be okay. Just go ahead, and we'll fill in the details later. We'll fill in the details when the western climate initiative comes back in August and says that we've come to an agreement." The western climate initiative is largely the western United States, ourselves in British Columbia, and Manitoba.
It's not just rhetoric. People do want to know how it's going to work. It's not just the concepts. We're talking here about industry. We're talking here about our economic engine. I would've thought that they would want to know how it's going to work. I'd have thought that they'd be putting a lot of pressure on this government to say: "This needs more detail. We can't expect to go forward. We can't expect to support you. We can't expect to plan unless we have more details, unless we know what's going to be expected of us."
But in this bill, we don't even know what industries are going to be included. For instance, aviation and other major industries bring about 40 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. I mentioned the other day that on the top-ten list of polluters is the cogen plant in Campbell River. What impact are these plants going to have on that?
What is the government thinking for other industries? I mean, are we looking at oil and gas? Are we looking at the producers of fossil fuels — the miners, the coalminers and other extractors? Are we looking at the big industrial complexes? Are we looking at — as I suggested yesterday when I was discussing the referral — just aviation? These questions aren't answered. I'd have thought that there would be a lot of pressure from industry on the members opposite, on the government side, to say: "We need to know."
I've also got to say about the importance of the forestry industry. There's no description here about how that is going to play into cap-and-trade. There is absolutely nothing. One of our biggest economic drivers, the forest industry — communities dependent on it, and there is no reference to how it's going to play in.
So as I say, I would have thought that there would be a huge concern by industry. I know that Jock Finlayson, the Business Council of B.C. executive vice-president, is uncertain. He is quoted in The Vancouver Sun last week as saying: "This negotiation about pursuing environmental goals…. A number of us have yet to see how B.C. strategy reflects that. The whole thing seems to be run by the climate action secretariat, but it doesn't have a mandate to worry about industry. Its only mandate is to deliver on the greenhouse gas reduction goals that the government has set. But you have to do that in a cost-effective way."
There is some questioning there, but there aren't any answers. So from all sides — whether it is business, industry or this side of the House — there should be some answers. We would hope that there are some answers. It's interesting that Mr. Finlayson mentions the climate action secretariat, which is, again, not public.
These issues are too important to be kept behind closed doors. These issues cannot be kept in somebody's pocket. They cannot be kept secret. We have to be able to be discussing them openly. If we can't discuss them openly, I don't think we as a province can really move on.
The other issues that have huge business impacts and impacts for everybody are how the permits under the cap-and-trade are going to be allocated. This is done using a business model, using the market. It harnesses the market to encourage a reduction of emissions.
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As I said at the beginning of my statements, it is proven that this is a very effective way, using the market to encourage a reduction of emissions. It has been found to be much more effective than the old command-and-control style, where the government imposes an across-the-board cut in emission standards. This way, one company can be reducing and trading its excess capacity to another.
We don't know how the permits, which allow the trades, are going to be issued in the first place. The cap-and-trade has been used in other jurisdictions. It has been successful in some places and not successful in other places. In the European Union in 2005 the government distributed a number of carbon credits. There were problems.
So we should be looking at lessons learned from other places. We should be seeing what has worked for them, what their ideas are, what can and can't work and see more of that substance. That substance isn't here. We don't know whether those permits are going to be auctioned or allocated, and this is a huge distinction.
This side of the House would advocate auctioning the permits, because that generates revenue, which the government can then use. It's nice to actually earn some revenue. The government can use it and put it back into climate change initiatives, put it back into the cap-and-trade initiative for other complementary policies, help build up the climate change vision and just move forward a little bit. So we would hope that that is the way forward.
As I say, the European Union in 2005 started off on a very, very ambitious cap-and-trade system and distributed these carbon credits. I'd like to quote Michael Dorsey from "Carbon Trading Won't Work," where he says: "The credits were based in large part on what the firms estimated their annual carbon dioxide emissions would be. Because these credits were given out, not auctioned off, the firms did not pay for their pollution. Yet they stood to make money by selling them."
So the European Union had a problem where firms were making a lot of money on this, and the system didn't work. That's why we need to see how these permits are going to be allocated, and we need to see it right now. We don't want to wait until we've approved this legislation, this skeleton, this enabling act — passed it on to say, "Well, it's okay. The cabinet will deal with it, and they'll tell us how it's all going to work," and then find that we've got a massive failure.
We can't afford a failure. Whether it's sea levels rising, whether it's pine beetle, whether it's huge windstorms, we are seeing the impact of climate change. We cannot afford to get it wrong. It would be irresponsible for us to approve something that might allow us to get it wrong.
In the secrecy, we don't know what the penalties are going to be. We don't know what the government is suggesting if firms don't meet the cap or break the cap. We don't know how it's going to be enforced. Enforcement, again, is part of the way that you make sure that things work.
Is it going to be self-policing? Is industry going to be the ones who are saying: "It's okay. We met our limits. We're fine"? Or is there going to be another authority, another body that is going to come in and say: "We will make sure that the limit is met"? We don't know that. This is very troubling when we're dealing with something that is so fundamental.
B.C. is, as I say, part of the western climate initiative. The western climate initiative plans, by August, to have more details. It's one of these ones where I think that the government, in its sense of urgency of dealing with climate change, wants to push everything through. It would be better maybe to wait and see what comes out in August and then, in the fall session of the Legislature, bring us back something that has more detail and has some figures and that has been discussed and agreed much more broadly.
It's very interesting that the other jurisdictions in the western climate initiative, as I say — western states in the United States and Manitoba — are being much more open about what's going on. We just don't see what the government is doing. When we don't see what the government is doing, it is very concerning. It's very concerning that the Privacy Commissioner has raised red flags about this, has written to the minister and said: "You could be violating freedom-of-information acts here."
We really have to have a much broader idea. We have to have more details before we can support it, because we agree that climate change is a fundamental. It is the biggest issue that we're going to be dealing with.
We are at the beginning of the 21st century, when we have the opportunity to lay down a really strong foundation for our approach as a society on how we want to deal with climate change, how we want to go forward, how we want to work together and ensure that we can continue having an economy that will support us, that we can have communities that are strong and that we can have a healthy lifestyle — how we can move forward.
These are the very basic blocks that we are working on at the moment. These pieces of legislation that are in front of us — whether it's the cap-and-trade or other ones — are part of those blocks. We need to make sure that we get it right, because we have a legacy.
The legacy isn't what's going to happen in three years' time at Whistler. The legacy is what's going to happen many years down the road in all our communities. If we get this wrong, we've got a huge burden for our children, our grandchildren and, as the Leader of the Opposition said, the seventh generation.
While I strongly believe that we have to find a way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and while I believe that cap-and-trade is a way forward — it's been proven to be a way forward — I'm very, very disappointed in this bill. I'm very disappointed that we have something that's so pioneering, so advanced here in B.C., and that we're going to have to end up voting against it because of the lack of detail.
When we could be looking forward and we could be looking at how we work together to move forward in the 21st century and beyond — and at how we make
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sure, when we're developing and nurturing our society as we go forward in this very new way of looking at things, that we're doing it with everybody knowing what's happening, with none of it happening behind closed doors and with everybody feeling confident that we're making the right decision — it's with regret that I stand here and will be opposing Bill 18.
N. Macdonald: I rise for second reading to talk on Bill 18, which is the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act. It's enabling legislation for cap-and-trade.
Earlier we had a motion that came from the critic for the NDP on the environment where we suggested that this legislation needed to go to the public for six months, that a legislative committee needed to engage the public, include them and make them part of discussion on what is a critically important issue, a critically important initiative and an initiative that we need to make sure is done properly.
The piece that was talked about in the throne speech was about a number of initiatives that the government intended to bring in this legislative session to deal with climate change. I think it's clear that British Columbians, Canadians and many people throughout the world recognize that it's an issue that is going to challenge us and that needs to be dealt with. That makes it particularly important to do this properly.
What we said here in the NDP immediately was that we recognized that big polluters are going to have to be part of finding the solution. Major industry, the aviation industry — they need to be part of finding the solution. We need to balance the needs for a strong economy with the need to deal seriously with this issue. Individuals need to be part of finding a solution, but so do the major industries, aviation and those parts of the economy that are fundamentally the biggest polluters.
Cap-and-trade. What people need to understand is that that is a fairly broad, overarching description of a strategy that can mean many, many different things. So beneath that term cap-and-trade, you can approach things in many very different ways. The term that has been used is that the devil is in the detail. It is the detail that is important, because within the term cap-and-trade you can either do this properly, or you can make it so that it is fundamentally flawed and that it will fail.
So that the public understands what cap-and-trade is…. It's a pretty basic idea. You measure, as accurately as possible, the greenhouse gases that are being emitted by the major polluters — the large industry and the aviation industry. You put a cap, a ceiling, on how much greenhouse gas you're going to allow to enter the atmosphere from those sources.
You put a cap, and then you put in place a system that is going to accurately reflect, through what is essentially a new type of carbon currency, the reality there on the ground. There are many different ways that you can then allocate what is essentially permission to pollute. There are many different ways that you can do it. How you choose to do it is a fundamentally important decision that needs to be made.
If you do it by auction, you get one result. If you choose to simply hand out the credits to pollute, you get a different result. Those are decisions that are fundamentally important as to whether this — what is called cap-and-trade — is going to work. It is just one of hundreds of decisions that need to be made, and need to be made properly. If you get it wrong, cap-and-trade will not work.
The idea with cap-and-trade, then, is having established what is essentially a carbon currency. You give industry the flexibility and the incentive to be creative in finding solutions for reducing their greenhouse gases, and you reward that creativity with something that will be of value, which will actually be worth substantial amounts of money — enough money to get business to invest in changing behaviours.
It is an idea that is really appealing. It is also suitably flexible, if it is set up properly, so that it gives businesses that are going to have more challenges, in terms of changing their behaviour, the ability to buy credits from other polluters who have these credits. They have the ability to then transition at the pace they're able to, into a business that will pollute less and put less greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. It is an idea, a concept, that fundamentally can work.
You have the principle put forward in this bill — even in the title, "Cap and Trade" — that is supportable and an idea that political parties on both sides are going to have to use as part of a strategy to move forward.
That's the first part. You have a principle, a general idea, which is going to be part of the solution. Has it been used in other jurisdictions? In forms, it has. My understanding is that when the Americans, in particular, were trying to deal with acid rain, they used a form of cap-and-trade.
That was back in the '90s, and it was a system that seemed to bear positive results. So they set up a system that could be described as cap-and-trade around solving a serious and difficult issue regarding acid rain, and they used it successfully.
Members earlier have talked about the European Union experience with using cap-and-trade to deal with greenhouse gases. They have entered the cap-and-trade. They've experimented with cap-and-trade. They got in there quickly. What they have found is that in doing that, they have misstepped, and there are mixed results.
There are things that as we move forward, we should be aware of and consider. They were not able to do that, or they didn't set it up completely properly, and so they have misstepped. It points to the fact that when you set this up, you need to do it properly. We need — we have a responsibility — to make sure that we learn from what that jurisdiction has done.
As members have talked about, you also have the western climate initiative, which British Columbia is part of, where there is a wider attempt to put in place a regime for cap-and-trade.
The fundamental problem with this legislation is that it is enabling legislation, which means that what
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we have in front of us in the House is incredibly vague. It gives us — it gives the public, the people of British Columbia — no clarity in how the cap-and-trade system is actually going to be set up. It is that detail that is going to be so important and so fundamental as to whether this is going to be a successful exercise or one that is deeply, deeply flawed.
What we're being asked to do is essentially trust the Premier and cabinet and those that are closest to him to put in place all of the detailed parts of the cap-and-trade system, and that is something we could not responsibly do in my view. We could not responsibly remove those decisions from public purview, from being tested in this Legislature, from being tested by the public of British Columbia.
So you have some of the big players in B.C. industry. You have some of the biggest polluters who are major donors to the B.C. Liberals, and there is no question that that influences the agenda for the party and for this government. That to me is clear, and I think to most British Columbians, that's clear.
If you have a cap-and-trade system that's fundamentally designed by big polluters, it's not going to work for the rest of us. It is not a system that is going to work for us. So there is a real danger when we set up a scenario where cabinet and the Premier — untested in this Legislature — behind a cloak of secrecy are able to set up a system.
You can be sure that there are lobbyists. You can be sure that there are discussions going on and have gone on for a long time in secret about what this cap-and-trade system should look like. I think what is predictable is if you do it in secret — if you only include those businesses that have, quite frankly, a massive vested interest in designing a cap-and-trade system that will make them money — then you will end up with a cap-and-trade system that will not deal effectively with the problem of climate change but will make businesses a tremendous amount of money in what is essentially an economy based on this currency in carbon.
There is a clear responsibility for all members of the Legislature to look at this legislation and insist that it be more than simply a framework, that it be more than just enabling legislation, that some meat is put on the bones so that we actually know as a Legislature what we are agreeing to. As it stands, it is unclear to the public and to this Legislature the direction that the government is going to go.
I would bring the public's attention to the B.C. energy plan and use it as an example of where the public interest is compromised to serve private interests. That's something that should be fundamentally troubling for all British Columbians. It's certainly something that we're going to pay for.
When you look at the possibilities of cap-and-trade being set up in a similar way, we have a situation, which we are predictably setting up, that is going to damage the public interest — not only damage the public interest but cost the general taxpayer money. It is also going to be a failed initiative in what is fundamentally important to British Columbians, which is dealing with climate change.
Just a reminder about the B.C. energy plan and what our experience has been with that since 2002-2003 when it was first put forward. You had the independent power producers of B.C. — you had Alcan; you had Teck Cominco — in there lobbying this government and pushing them in a certain direction. That lobbying was done in secret. That lobbying pushed government to put in place an energy plan that very clearly served their interests and very clearly compromised the interests of British Columbians. That's a pattern that repeats itself many, many times over these past seven years.
We'll just talk about it for a minute to set up the parallels or the possible parallels with the cap-and-trade. The B.C. energy plan is this. The B.C. Liberals chose to restrict B.C. Hydro from building run-of-the-river and wind projects despite the fact that they have the capacity to do that, despite the fact that B.C. Hydro had identified many, many sites where wind and run-of-the-river projects may be feasible.
Ratepayers paid to identify sites. With the B.C. energy plan, you then had those sites. Those sites were turned over to private interests, and they were able to grab them for as little as $5,000 to $10,000. That is in no way in the public interest, but it certainly suited private interests that were closely connected to the B.C. Liberals.
You then had EPAs given from B.C. Hydro. B.C. Hydro was required to give EPAs that were so lucrative that they essentially funded or will fund the building of the power-generating plants.
You then had, very often, public land given for roads. You had public land given for the site of the power plant. You had public land given for the transmission lines. In fact, ratepayers were even going to pay, according to Dr. Calvert's book, for the transmission lines. We will pay, despite the fact that these are often in isolated locations.
The other point, and another key point, is that when the contracts are up — and the contracts are between five and 25 and 40 years — these facilities then become part of a private system that can sell into the North American grid.
What you have is a very important part of what should be B.C.'s strategic economic plan put into place with interests that conflict with the public interest. With cap-and-trade, you have that same possibility — especially if it is going to be put in place, if it's going to be organized, in secret.
With cabinet, with the Premier, you have a complete cone of secrecy around it. You have secrecy that permeates this government. It is the culture of this government, and you have concern raised in a number of circles.
You have it not only with the opposition, but you have many in the public. You even have Mr. Loukidelis, who is the officer of this Legislature who is responsible for freedom of information and for privacy. What he has raised with this legislation, as he did with Bill 16 and as he does with Bill 20, are concerns around
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this cone of secrecy that you're setting up around this system.
My experience — not only here but, I think people would understand, in general, and the experience that most people would have — is that things done in secrecy are fundamentally going to be problematic in a few areas. First, it builds the opportunity for corruption, which we want to avoid. We need to make sure, if we set up a system, that it is open enough and that we can be clear that things are going to be done properly. Everything about the system that we've set up with the parliamentary system is based on that openness, that testing of ideas. That's one problem.
The second problem with secrecy is that it breeds sloppiness and incompetence. We see that with a number of projects that have gone on in British Columbia in recent years, including the example that I use often, which is the Vancouver Convention Centre expansion project.
It is a project that would have been best done in an open and transparent way so that the public could truly test the numbers that were being put forward, so that they could question immediately when the project started to go sideways. It would have benefited from the lack of secrecy.
Similarly with cap-and-trade, if you allow that secrecy, you are inviting problems for the system that you are going to set up. What we need to do with these initial steps in trying to deal with climate change is engage the wider public. We need to make an open effort — that's a key — but this is not an open effort. It needs to be a sincere effort, but it's questionable whether this is a sincere effort to actually deal with climate change.
It needs to be open, it needs to be sincere, and it really needs to be successful. It has to work. Early missteps will jade the public with initiatives to deal with climate change, and that's something we cannot afford to do. We have to have the public confident that the government is moving in a direction that is rational, that is thought through and that is transparent. We have to make sure the public feels that all are sharing equally what is going to be a burden.
The first step that the government took with the gas tax was a misstep. It was a misstep because it did not consider the impact on rural areas, and it was met immediately with opposition from rural and northern residents who quite justifiably felt they did not have the options that people in other parts of the province may have had and, therefore, felt they were going to be penalized with cost — without having the options to make the choices that the government said they should be able to make.
If the government had included the wider population rather than having a secret secretariat — it meets in secret, and who they meet with is secret — and if they had engaged the public in any meaningful way, they would have heard pretty clearly the difficulties that people in the north and rural areas had with that approach. There would have been an opportunity to fix it and get it right, which is the critically important thing with any moves you make on greenhouse gases.
With cap-and-trade, it's the same thing. You have to have clear ideas, and you have to be moving in a way that the wider public has confidence in the approach that you're taking. If you look at climate change and the impacts it will have, what is often said is that the communities that are going to do best, the communities that are going to be most resilient, are the communities that are able to react to the changes that climate change will bring — the changes in the economy and the changes environmentally. To be able to react, individual communities and individual citizens have to be fully engaged and informed in the political process.
I think one of the fundamental differences between the philosophy of this side of the House — the NDP, the opposition currently — and the government is that we do not believe in approaching a problem from a top-down, elitist way. We feel that the strength and the solutions lie in the wisdom that comes from the wider population. That's where the ideas sit, and what we need to do is involve people and tap into that common sense, into that experience. That's where solutions come from.
I'll give you two examples of how that can work. We have an initiative with the B.C. NDP that's called Sustainable B.C. It is a set of principles, a set of ideas that started in individual kitchens with people talking about how to move an issue forward. It then moved into constituency groups. It moved then to a provincial council and eventually to the convention of the B.C. NDP. It took a long time and a lot of work to bring those ideas together, but you have ideas that are thoroughly thought through and that you have a wide number of people fully invested in. Those ideas have flowed up to put together a package that we call Sustainable B.C.
Similarly, we have, within the rural caucus, ideas that have come out of community meetings in our own communities about what rural B.C. needs to look like. Those ideas have flowed up into the things that we talk about here. From the top down is a fundamentally flawed way of doing things, in my view. It is the way this government does it, and it is the way they intend to do it with cap-and-trade. A far better idea — in fact, a necessary way — is to engage the general population and bring them into what is going to be a very important initiative.
What you have with Bill 18 is cap-and-trade enabling legislation. You have the idea of cap-and-trade, which is supportable in principle and really has to be the way that we move forward — it certainly looks like the most likely tool that you would use, some sort of cap-and-trade — but beneath that you have nothing. You have no explanation from this government of what that's going to look like.
We are asked to trust that they are going to do the right thing. Our experience has been that they will do something that will suit a narrow corporate interest and that, therefore, will not be in the public interest, in the wider interests of people in British Columbia. For that reason — that lack of detail — until it comes, you could not responsibly stand in this House and say that it's supportable.
You couldn't responsibly say that we'd turn over those sorts of key decisions to a hidden, secret group of
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people to have them flesh out what this will look like. To do that would be the height of irresponsibility. I stand to say that the principle is the direction we need to go in. But until we have detail, I would not — with any degree of responsibility — give carte blanche to this cabinet, to this Premier, to make decisions on cap-and-trade. I simply wouldn't do it.
With that, I thank you for the opportunity to speak.
Deputy Speaker: Minister to conclude debate.
Hon. B. Penner: I was just wondering if there were going to be some more speakers on the other side attempting to draw out this debate even longer. They've been on this particular stage of the bill, second reading, since last week.
I made note of this earlier, in response to their motion to delay the matter even further. One of their members, the member for Vancouver-Fairview, made a fairly impassioned comment that governments everywhere should be moving quicker — not seeking to delay but rather to move quicker. He complained about a "lack of rapid action" and further noted that governments around the world, when it came to political will, were "notably sluggish."
He ended up by summing it up as follows:
"It behooves us in this House to continue to ramp up the rate of change and force the pace of greenhouse gases reductions. The consequences for not acting quickly enough are staggering. If there's one issue that we need to move on in terms of big legislation — in terms of empowering the citizens of British Columbia to making a difference, individually, in terms of making change to our industries — it is around climate change and ensuring that the impacts of climate change, either here in B.C. or globally, are nowhere near as severe as predictions now put them."
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
So on the one hand, you had the NDP member for Vancouver-Fairview arguing that the government should be moving quicker, while every other member across the way was asking us to go slower. In fact, it was summed up by the member for Surrey-Newton saying that the government needs to "take a slower look."
A number of members said they had questions on this. That's why they wanted to defer it off into a distant time. But, Mr. Speaker, you'll be familiar with the fact that once we get to committee stage of the bill, that is an opportunity for all members to ask questions on a bill clause by clause as we go through the legislation. That's how the legislative process works here in British Columbia.
I would have to conclude that the fact that the various members of the opposition have different positions on whether or not we should be moving quicker or slower when it comes to addressing climate change really does underscore just how effectively leaderless the opposition is on the issue of climate change. If you try and follow the thread, you find that the NDP position is confusing, disjointed and uncoordinated.
The Leader of the Opposition herself spoke this afternoon, talking about putting together plans and how diligently they have been working on this issue. In fact, it was just over a year ago that she said to the media she wouldn't have any plan for responding to climate change until the 2009 election campaign was underway. That was the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition in early 2007. She did a U-turn on that about seven days later after getting appropriately barbecued by a number of pundits. Then they hastily put out a couple of pieces of paper and said that was their climate change plan.
The Environment critic complained that all our government has put forward so far are what he calls one-off policies on climate change. Well, if he believes that, then he hasn't been following what's actually been taking place in British Columbia. We've come out with a commitment to tailpipe emission standards to reduce greenhouse gases that come from the tailpipes of automobiles.
In fact, we've put forward $15 million in additional incentives this year, through the budget the NDP voted against, to help individuals make choices to purchase cleaner vehicles — whether it's through obtaining up to $2,000 through the expanded Scrap-It program, by trading in your old clunker and getting something that's cleaner and more efficient, including a hybrid vehicle or another vehicle that meets fuel efficiency standards; or $2,000 if you purchase a hybrid vehicle or other fuel-efficient vehicle through an additional incentive unrelated to the Scrap-It program. Plus, of course, there is the federal eco rebate program, which will be in effect at least until the end of this year.
Taking those three incentive programs together, it's possible for individual British Columbians to get up to $6,000 off the purchase of a brand-new fuel-efficient vehicle. Those are policies that we put in place but the NDP opposition voted against.
We've talked about putting in place additional policies for the mandatory capture of greenhouse gases or methane from landfills. Apparently, the NDP is opposed to that. We have come up with a $25 million innovative clean energy fund to help stimulate the development of new economic activity in British Columbia while solving climate-related challenges and challenges related to clean energy. That's something that I think shows leadership.
We've come forward with a policy requiring LEED gold standard for new government buildings in various parts of British Columbia. That's a policy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions that come from the building sector in our province.
We have done a whole number of additional things. We are funding rapid transit in British Columbia. We're funding the $1.9 billion Richmond-Airport-Vancouver transit line, which will be in operation relatively soon.
So while we're busy doing that, the opposition is busy voting against the things that we're putting forward. They have spoken against the carbon tax and are working to confuse British Columbians about what the carbon tax is. They conveniently neglect to point out that it is revenue-neutral.
Only a few weeks ago they were demanding that it be revenue-neutral. Then, much to their horror, the Finance Minister introduced the budget, and it was
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revenue-neutral — more than revenue-neutral. Most British Columbians come out ahead because of the tax breaks introduced at the same time. So they're against that.
They're against low carbon fuels — Bill 16. They're against the cap-and-trade legislation, it appears.
They were against — and they argued vigorously against the Utilities Commission — Bill 15 in this section which, for the very first time, puts in law the requirement that the Utilities Commission consider greenhouse gas emissions when reviewing or approving new projects put forward by B.C. Hydro or other utilities regulated by the Utilities Commission. The NDP was against that — requiring greenhouse gas emissions to be taken into consideration — and they all got up and voted against it, including the NDP leader.
They're opposed to green energy projects. We talked about that a little bit here today in question period. It's not just that they're against some; they haven't been able to see their way fit to support a single specific wind power project in British Columbia. I've never heard them speak in favour of capturing methane from landfills, as we're now doing in British Columbia under our government — whether it's at the Delta landfill or just north of Victoria at the Hartland Landfill.
They're opposed to that. And why would that be? It's simply because of ideology. In the 1990s they supported independent power producers. That's why the largest IPP still in operation today is one that was built when the NDP was in office. That fossil fuel–generating plant — 240 megawatts, burning natural gas and emitting significant greenhouse gas emissions — was actually an American company.
Calpine Corp., an American IPP, signed a deal under the NDP, and the NDP were so foolish in their business acumen that they allowed their ratepayer to bear the risk of the price of natural gas. Not the independent power producer — they get paid regardless of the price fluctuations of natural gas. It's the ratepayer that has to soak it up.
That's what the NDP did. They had the ratepayer take the risk of IPP projects rather than transferring that risk to the individual proponent. I stress again it was an American corporation, Calpine Corp., that the NDP signed that deal with, and it still remains today the single largest operating independent power project in the entire province of British Columbia.
Under our government, the record has been considerably different. We have had projects come on line that are clean, green, renewable, run-of-the-river projects. Today the first wind power projects in B.C.'s history are under construction in the northeast part of British Columbia.
We know there are people undertaking research into offshore and tidal energy projects. There's exploration going on for geothermal.
The opposition hasn't spoken in favour of a single one of those projects — not one. Can they name a single project that they'll part their ideology for and say: "We'll support it, because it's the right thing to do for jobs in B.C., tax revenue in B.C., for the environment in B.C., and for making ourselves self-sufficient in B.C."? No. For them, the ideology they hold trumps their concern for the environment. It's ideology first and everything else second when it comes to the opposition.
The member for Vancouver-Kingsway, in his remarks on second reading, made reference to somebody that actually — when the member for Vancouver-Kingsway was working for former NDP Premier of the day Glen Clark — had been appointed to the B.C. Utilities Commission. That's Dr. Mark Jaccard.
Under the NDP, Dr. Jaccard was appointed to become chair of the B.C. Utilities Commission. He later resigned. I think he was upset with how the NDP was interfering with the Utilities Commission, but here's what Dr. Jaccard said.
I know that the member for Vancouver-Kingsway quoted him from an article in The Vancouver Sun. I'll also refer to an article that was in The Vancouver Sun on April 10, 2008, page A17. He said that, and looking at other….
Hon. B. Penner: Well, you're the people that quoted him first. The member for Vancouver-Kingsway quoted Dr. Jaccard favourably, saying he's a noted expert, and indeed he is. So here's what he has to say about the opposition's position on a number of these things: "Opposition politicians may mislead the public for their own political ends."
Here he refers to the Leader of the Official Opposition, the NDP, in British Columbia, noting that: "She wrote in The Sun last week that the carbon tax is unfair and that she would exempt from the tax any person or industry complaining loudly enough, replacing the tax with ineffective subsidies. This saddens me. An honest politician would be telling British Columbians that a carbon tax is essential."
That's what Dr. Jaccard has to say, a noted consultant across Canada on electricity issues, the author of Sustainable Fossil Fuels and the person who the NDP saw fit to appoint to chair the Utilities Commission in the 1990s. He's dismayed, frankly, that the NDP can't be more honest with British Columbians when it comes to the importance of a carbon tax — the fact that it's revenue-neutral here in British Columbia or the fact that we need to put aside partisan politics and get on with confronting the challenge of climate change, irrespective of ideology.
It's interesting how the members opposite complain that they now think that IPPs are wrong, although they lowered water rental rates for run-of-the-river projects when they were in office. In fact, Joan Sawicki, the former Environment Minister, said in 2000 that the reason they were doing that was because they're "good for the environment."
They actually lowered the rates that independent power projects had to pay to use water in British Columbia. Under our government, the rates have actually gone up.
Today this NDP party is actually more ideological and more opposed to the private sector than they were
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even under Glen Clark in the 1990s. We saw what happened to B.C.'s economy as a result. People left the province. We went from first place in Canada in terms of economic growth per capita to last place. That's not acceptable.
The current NDP also fails to notice what's happening in Manitoba. Manitoba Hydro is contracting with the independent power producer sector to develop wind power projects. The NDP in British Columbia thinks it should only be the government, that somehow the government should have to have a monopoly on innovative technologies.
Well, I think the reason why Manitoba Hydro and the NDP in Manitoba aren't pursuing the left-wing ideology we see here in this Legislature from the NDP is because they know that Manitoba doesn't have the traditional expertise around wind power. The NDP in Manitoba is looking to the private sector to contract with Manitoba Hydro to help them meet their electricity needs.
In Quebec the largest hydroelectric system in North America, Hydro-Quebec, is also contracting with wind power producers from the private sector to help them meet their needs. It's only here in British Columbia, where the hard-core left wing remains as a rump for the NDP, that they support any private sector involvement in solving climate change.
Here is a fact. We're not going to easily remedy the challenge of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, much less reducing them significantly, without help from the private sector. The NDP would prefer to ignore the private sector. We think we need them. We're challenging them to help us. It's a deliberate part of our policy to attract new investment in British Columbia to plant the capital and equipment, because we know that new equipment is cleaner and more efficient than the old technology in days gone by.
There are many other things I could say in response to this. I will just make….
Hon. B. Penner: Pardon me. You want to hear some more? Well, I can provide more if the members are so inclined.
The members opposite take a very dark and dismal view of the challenge on addressing climate change. We see that in part with their hostility towards private sector investment. I think the member for Coquitlam-Maillardville really summed up the NDP's negative vision towards the future when she said: "No one has been down the road before. The road is dark."
That was her talking about a cap-and-trade system and how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She repeated several times that this road is dark. That really sums up the NDP's perspective on life. They're negative. They're destructive, and they're pessimistic.
Our government sees economic opportunity in cleaner technology, in solving the challenges here in British Columbia but also marketing them around the world, while the NDP sees it as a road that is dark. We see it as a road that has opportunity. It's a road to the future. It's a road to find economic prosperity here in British Columbia by changing the way we do things, to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by 2020, and doing it in a way that can transform our economy from a carbon-intense economy in the past to looking for ways to reduce our carbon intensity in the future.
The NDP can't seem to shake themselves from those socialist shackles of the past. They cling to the status quo like their life depends on it. I suppose in terms of their electoral success, they seem to think that it does.
We see opportunity. We see hope. We know that British Columbians are confident in their own ability to rise to the challenge of climate change. They're not fearful of the future. They're going to work hard to succeed, and just like us, they believe in the power of British Columbia.
With that, it's an honour for me at this point to move second reading.
Second reading of Bill 18 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 40
NAYS — 33
[ Page 11388 ]
Hon. B. Penner: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 18, Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Cap and Trade) 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. M. de Jong: I call second reading debate of Bill 20.
OIL AND GAS ACTIVITIES ACT
Hon. R. Neufeld: I move that the Oil and Gas Activities Act be introduced and read a second time now.
I am pleased to present the Oil and Gas Activities Act. When we announced the B.C. energy plan last February, we voiced our intention to pursue regulatory and fiscal competitiveness in support of being among the most competitive oil and gas jurisdictions in North America. We will become more competitive by bringing into effect a regulatory framework that shows leadership environmentally and socially, responsible oil and gas development, promotes unconventional resources in underdeveloped areas, and fosters new technologies and growth.
The new Oil and Gas Activities Act will support key commitments of the B.C. energy plan by consolidating oil and gas regulatory requirements and transferring the regulatory responsibility in the Geothermal Resources Act to the Oil and Gas Commission; improving permitting processes; improving environmental regulations; encouraging innovation; enhancing compliance and enforcement powers, including applying them to all oil and gas activities approved by the Oil and Gas Commission and enabling the Oil and Gas Commission to consider an operator's past compliance history when making any new decisions; enhancing the Oil and Gas Commission's powers to respond to stakeholders' concerns; and creating a new appeals process applicable to decisions by the Oil and Gas Commission.
In addition, this bill targets the Oil and Gas Commission's regulatory responsibilities. The Oil and Gas Commission provides single-window permitting and regulation of oil and gas activities. The legislation will strengthen the Oil and Gas Commission's responsiveness to the public, stakeholders and industry.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
British Columbia's oil and gas industry employs thousands of British Columbians and makes an important contribution to our bottom line. The oil and gas industry is the largest resource contributor to B.C.'s provincial revenues. In this recent fiscal year we set a record-breaking $1.2 billion in oil and gas rights sales, which contributed to an estimated $2.5 billion in total oil and gas revenues.
This illustrates the confidence that the industry has in investing in British Columbia and in British Columbia's energy plan released in February of 2007. From 2001 to 2006 industry capital investment grew to $6.1 billion, nearly double the 2001 amount in just five years.
Looking forward another five years and thinking about the exciting new gas plays emerging in B.C., such as shale gas, this legislation is timely and very important. The new act will be a catalyst for new investment, and the legislation will ensure these new plays are properly developed in a manner that safeguards environmental and social values and reflects good stewardship of the oil and gas resource.
This streamlined, innovation-ready legislation will enhance our thriving oil and gas sectors so that all British Columbians can share in the benefits of responsible oil and gas development. I am pleased now to move second reading.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca. [Applause.]
J. Horgan: My goodness, a cacophony.
I thank the minister for his brief introductory remarks, and I want to assure the House that although I am the designated speaker — and quite often members are anxious to hear me go on and on and on — I will make my remarks relatively….
J. Horgan: I will make my remarks relatively short in this instance.
J. Horgan: A national league designated speaker — yes, that's correct.
We've had a series of bills come before the Legislature in the past number of weeks, many professing to be implementing the climate change agenda of the government. With Bill 20 we have, I guess you could say, the first contradiction in the process inasmuch as Bill 20, the Oil and Gas Activities Act, at its core hopes to streamline the regulatory process to advance oil and gas exploration in the northeast as well as in areas like Bowser and Nechako basin.
I know that my colleague from Cariboo North, in his community of Nazko just outside of Quesnel — very much concerned, the landowners concerned about oil and gas exploration in their communities and in fact on their land.
One of the positive aspects of this legislation is that the government has moved a modest distance down the road to protect landowners' rights, and I commend the government for that. However, as is always the case, if it's your land, you have a different perspective when the company comes knocking on the door saying that they have the subsurface rights and they're going
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to ask you to get out of way while they do their business.
One of the challenges we have, and it's one that the government rarely…. Again, I give the minister credit. He and his colleague from Peace River South are quick to talk about the positive aspects of oil and gas to British Columbia, as they well should. The employment figures in the northeast are astounding. Even at a time of extraordinary prosperity in Canada, right across the country, I believe unemployment in the Peace and in northern Alberta is probably at all-time record lows.
That's a result of the value of the fossil fuels that we are becoming increasingly dependent upon as a treasury. The Minister of Finance certainly acknowledges that. In her three budgets the revenue from oil and gas seems to go up and up and up.
We often remind the government that it was the policies of the New Democratic Party in the 1990s that established the Oil and Gas Commission, for which we are now amending legislation. It was the New Democratic government of the 1990s that implemented a Fair Share program in the northeast to address years of neglect from the Social Credit governments of infrastructure in the community. So we're quick to remind the government of that.
In many instances, I have to say, the two members from Peace River North and Peace River South are gracious, and they acknowledge that there has been almost a bipartisan approach to developing this very vital resource to our economy broadly and certainly to the people in the region.
But one of the challenges we have in a climate change environment — and I've raised this in other debates as we've been proceeding through the government's greenhouse gas agenda — is that pipelines, oil and gas products, and oil and gas activities in general are significant contributors to the problem. We know that on this side of the House; they know that on that side of the House. The broader community understands that.
When we're addressing this fundamental contradiction in what the Minister of Environment was just talking about not minutes ago with respect to Bill 18 and the cap-and-trade model that is being delivered to us as a pig in a poke, we have to come to terms with the fact that the treasury is dependent, our social programs are dependent on fossil fuels.
Now, it's not necessarily popular outside of energy circles to talk about that. Of course, the minister and his colleague from Peace River South recognize that. When you're in Kitsilano or you're in Vancouver–Point Grey with the Premier, it's not really the topic of conversation. "Have you looked at the oil and gas revenues this week? Have you looked at what the land sales have been in the past six or 12 months?"
That's not the topic of conversation. It's: "How can we reduce greenhouse gases across the board while at the same time drilling as many holes in the ground as we possibly can in the northeast?" It's a contradiction and a challenge for all of us in this place, both sides of the House, as we realistically address the challenges of climate change and we try and focus our energies on reducing emissions in every sector, whether it be transportation or energy.
At the same time, we have to be mindful of the enormous revenues provided by the sector, enormous revenues dwarfing forestry. I think it was in 2002 or 2003 when oil and gas revenues surpassed forest products in the revenue section of the budget.
I'm sure that whoever the minister was at the time…. What was the fellow's name again? I can't remember. He left quickly, after his office was visited by the…. Mr. Farrell-Collins was the minister at the time. He left so quickly that I'd almost forgotten.
An Hon. Member: I wonder why he left. There was a big black cloud over his head.
J. Horgan: That may well have been.
That was when our oil and gas revenues surpassed forestry as the dominant economic engine of the B.C. economy, and we've seen enormous benefits to all British Columbians as a result of that. So I'm mindful…. And I know the minister's mindful, as well as his colleague from down the road in Dawson Creek, of the importance of this industry not just to their communities but to the broader province.
Having said that and established that this is an issue that I as the Energy critic am seized of, I recognize the efforts of the ministry. I had a thorough briefing from staff. I said — and I think this might be illustrative for those at home — that the minister has tremendous staff working very, very hard, experts knowledgable in the field. Then there's me and a couple of my friends working in the basement here in the research department, doing our level best to manage legislation as it comes forward.
I said to the staff, some of whom I had worked with in the past…. I reminded them of sitting through estimates debate when I was a public servant, and opposition members, then the B.C. Liberals, asking very lame questions, not the current minister but others who got up to their feet to ask energy questions. I can remember rolling eyes with staff. "Oh, that's the stupidest question I've ever heard of." I reminded my former colleagues as we were getting the briefing that I didn't want them to be rolling their eyes too much when I stood in this place and asked a stupid question on behalf of the opposition.
It is difficult to come to terms with a bill of 80-some-odd pages amending three pieces of legislation and repealing the Pipeline Act, which is probably high time. It's been on the books for some considerable period of time — many, many decades.
When you have a significant change like this, it's incumbent upon the opposition to ask a few questions. It's incumbent upon us to ensure that this side of the House is doing its due diligence — myself and my colleagues on the benches here, as well as the able researchers we have working hard for us in the base-
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ment. That's a difficult process when you've got a bill of this magnitude.
At second reading we're going to speak to the principle of the bill. We have a number of speakers, not too many. It's not going to take up most of the minister's afternoon. I know he'll be pleased to hear that. But when we get to committee stage, when we're going through clause by clause, we're going to ask some pretty tough questions.
One of the questions that springs to mind immediately is that this is the third bill we've seen this session that's been accompanied by a letter from the freedom-of-information and privacy commissioner. In this instance, the commissioner wrote to the minister suggesting that section 76.1 of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, which designates public bodies which will be covered by freedom of information, somehow in this bill…. The appeal tribunal that will be put in place to effectively give citizens and corporations, I'm assuming, an opportunity to appeal the decisions of the Oil and Gas Commission…. There will be an appeal tribunal.
I'm certain it's an oversight. We've seen an exchange of correspondence from the minister's office to the commissioner that they're going to make every effort to rectify this. But it is interesting.
Again, the Government House Leader manages these issues, so I guess it sort of rests on his shoulders that we could be here dealing with Bill 20, the third of the energy and environment bills that have come forward and the third one to be accompanied by a letter from the freedom-of-information office saying: "Hey, you missed us. You forgot about us." The openness and the transparency that we've come to expect from government — again, absent in this instance. When we get to committee stage, I'm certain that we'll be able to canvass that thoroughly with the minister, and we'll come to terms with that.
One of the issues that I believe motivated the amendments to this bill from the government side was, as I said earlier, the explosion of exploration and the tremendous value of this resource in the international marketplace. The Minister of Environment was commenting on the natural gas plant that generates electricity on Vancouver Island. He failed to mention that it was a Social Credit government that had the wisdom to put a natural gas pipeline to Vancouver Island. I believe we're still paying for it. Every year there's an annual payment for the….
J. Horgan: You did support that? Okay. My colleague from Saanich North supported that at the time.
Natural gas has been churning turbines in the northwest and right down to California for a long, long time. When the Campbell River plant was developed in the early to mid-1990s, natural gas was the standard. The price of natural gas drove the price of electricity in a regulated marketplace. That's how we set the price. So for the Minister of Environment to suggest that we were somehow rogues by putting a gas plant on Vancouver Island is disingenuous at best.
An Hon. Member: He supported it.
J. Horgan: He did support it? I can't recall that, but he may well have.
If natural gas is an evil and a pox on society, as the Minister of Environment suggests, it's interesting that when we get to Bill 20, the Oil and Gas Activities Act, it seems to me that with this act and with the regulations that are suggested and contemplated, we're going to accelerate our exploration and our development of this commodity. And that's all to the good for the treasury. It's all to the good for the people living in the northeast, and it's all to the good of the broader budget of the province of British Columbia.
As we go further afield and go into more difficult plays in the northeast, we're finding that shale gas and other hard-to-get-at resources require more exploration, more development. I know the minister speaks of this, and I've spoken to representatives from EnCana and other corporations in the sector. They make their case. They make the argument that they require incentives to extract these resources, even as prices continue to rise.
We take a different view on that matter, and I know that that's fair comment. The government can say that they are going to subsidize and supplement the profits of very, very profitable companies in the interests of more exploration, more development and more resource extraction.
That, again, raises the contradiction with respect to the member from Point Grey's climate change agenda. How do you say to your Kitsilano friends and to your friends in the greater Vancouver area that you're deeply and passionately committed to climate change, while you say to your colleagues in the northeast and to your cabinet ministers: "We've a pot of gold at the top of the province. We've been exploiting it for some time, and we're going to exploit it for a goodly long time after this"?
That's a challenge for the government. We call them on it periodically, and I know that the Minister of Energy is quick to defend the industry, as he should. He comes from that sector, he comes from that community, and that's his job as an MLA and certainly his job as the minister.
But it does create a significant contradiction for the government to address, and I'm always anxious to hear how the Premier is going to address that in an open public forum. Maybe at some point he may even rise in this place and debate these issues openly and publicly so that all British Columbians will be able to come to terms with the inherent contradiction that we are all experiencing right now in this place. We've just finished with a cap-and-trade debate, and now we're talking about how we can further develop and expand our oil and gas capacity here through amendments to the various acts that are on the table today.
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One of the issues that I know all members are concerned about, as I said earlier, are landowner rights. We had a discussion about this a couple of years ago when we were reviewing the Mineral Tenure Act and how subsurface rights holders were able to access surface property owners' land and explore and potentially develop mineral deposits. There's a similar challenge in the oil and gas sector.
The bill attempts to address that. I would like to go into some depth at committee stage on that. I think that, in speaking to the principle of protecting landowners, we all agree that's where we want to get to. Certainly, we on this side of the House are going to be pushing that issue with the minister at committee stage. I'm hopeful that he'll have some satisfactory answers for his constituents back in the Peace and, certainly, constituents in other parts of the province who are now going to be looking at potential oil and gas developments — whether as I said, that be in the Bowser or the Nechako basins in the north central part of the province.
Before I wrap up my remarks, I want to say that the issue of repealing the Pipeline Act…. I mentioned that earlier, and one of the challenges that we have as we look at members from the north — the member from Kitimat, the member for North Coast and the member for Bulkley Valley–Stikine….
There is a lot of talk about pipeline development and expansion in the north. We had in the throne speech…. I'm very anxious to get to estimates. I'm hopeful that we'll have time on the legislative calendar to have energy estimates this year. That's still in doubt, I think, at this point. We have a number of ministries to go and not many hours left on the agenda.
One of the questions I would have asked — or will ask, if I get the chance — is this energy corridor that's discussed in the throne speech. It's not really nailed down. What the heck is an energy corridor? What does it mean? Some have speculated that it means pipelines. I can only imagine, if you're having a corridor that involves a pipeline from the northeast corner of the province to the northwest corner of the province, that at one end or the other you're going to have a tanker.
That again is a contentious issue in the province of British Columbia. It's certainly a contentious issue on the north coast — differing opinions on both sides of the House as to what the impact of that will be.
J. Horgan: You won't have any in Peace River North. The minister is absolutely correct.
At the other end of the line, you're running into tidewater at some point, and it's probably the Douglas Channel. That probably means that there's going to be a tanker facility in Kitimat that's going to be moving some products, either across the ocean or receiving a product from the other side. At the estimates process, we'll certainly get into that.
If we're amending the Pipeline Act here in this Legislature after hearing in the throne speech that there's going to be some energy corridor coming to the central part of British Columbia, that raises questions on the opposition side.
That's what we do. I mentioned earlier in the week, and my colleague from Kingsway is very familiar with this…. The Queen, Her Majesty, expects us to be here on the top of our game asking questions of government, ensuring that we're doing our due diligence. We will certainly be doing that at committee stage.
I do have to say that it raises questions when we get a bill of this size that again enables the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to make regulation with respect to pipelines, with respect to oil and gas activities and with respect to oil and gas extraction.
There is no mention that I could see in the bill of coalbed methane. In the definitions, it's not described. Again, at committee stage, we'll have some questions for the minister as to what his views are and why he didn't take an opportunity…. In fact, if I do read the act correctly, he didn't take the opportunity with Bill 20 to address some of the serious concerns that many people have in and around areas where there is coalbed methane, with respect to how that's going to be regulated and what oversights will be in place at the Oil and Gas Commission to protect communities from this activity that may or may not be welcomed.
I see the Government House Leader, and I'm looking to my colleague from Fairview. I'll conclude my remarks on Bill 20 by saying….
J. Horgan: I could go on. I'm being begged on by the minister, hon. Speaker. I'll certainly take the opportunity granted to me by the minister. I thought he'd been tired of hearing my voice the past week or so, but if he wants more, I'm quite happy to offer up.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
We can go to the administrative penalties section and talk a little bit about that. I see that there are described and defined penalties, $1 million–plus, in the act, and I'm pleased to see that.
I'm going to want — and this is foreshadowing for my former colleagues at the ministry — to compare those penalties to other jurisdictions, particularly Alberta, to see how they stand up. I'm assuming that if we're going to be "The best place on earth, " as all the advertising and the branding goes, we're going to be the best place on earth in terms of protecting the environment and the public from potential sour gas challenges, from potential spills, from potential environmental catastrophes that will result from oil and gas exploration.
But again, you never know. When you talk to people in Vancouver, they're of the view that the gas comes from the pump. It comes from the Shell station down the road. The rest of us — certainly those from upcountry — recognize that the product, the energy that drives our economy, comes from the ground. It
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comes primarily from the northeast and northern Alberta. It doesn't just come from the pump down the street. Your hybrid car is all well and good, but if we're shooting it out of the ground and sending it down to California to be burned to generate electricity, I don't know where the cap-and-trade system that we talked about a few minutes ago comes into play.
When we get to Bill 20 at committee stage, I'll be asking the minister again to explain to me and to other members in this place how it is that the opportunity to take a seriously hard look at how we can protect our environment — certainly from greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector, when it comes to oil and gas — was passed over in the interests of streamlining processes and streamlining approvals to accelerate development rather than curtail it.
We talk about moving a bridge technology to a new energy future, and we had a biofuels bill. I believe we're at committee stage on that bill. Again, the scientific community has come to the conclusion that more focus needs to be put on the food-for-fuel debate and on ensuring that our food security is not put in jeopardy as we seek new bridging technologies. When you're accelerating oil and gas exploration and development in your province, it's difficult to see where that bridging technology fits in.
The Canadian Petroleum Products Institute sent a letter to the minister on the biofuels question — and I think it speaks, as well, to oil and gas activities generally — saying that the transition in their sector, based on the costs of putting in new infrastructure and ensuring that standards are met and fuel quality is not compromised, is a significant challenge in and of itself.
That one small corner of this massive industry is concerned that a modest policy put forward by the government — challenged by the science on whether or not there is efficacy in moving to a biofuel technology to bridge us into a non–fossil fuel environment — is the right way to go. So it's a challenging sector.
I know the minister has a lot to juggle at the cabinet table. He has a lot to juggle when he is not at home in Peace River North or he's not hanging with his buddy from Peace River South. The rest of us here who do benefit from this sector are certainly anxious to get into a little bit of a debate at committee stage to see just what can of worms we're opening with Bill 20, the Oil and Gas Activities Act.
With that, I will conclude my remarks at second reading and put on record for the minister that I look forward to many, many hours at committee stage.
G. Robertson: Well, it is with great concern that I rise to speak against Bill 20, the Oil and Gas Activities Act, being proposed here by the government, for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that this bill stands in stark contradiction to the greenhouse gas reduction strategies and the climate change impact that we are trying to minimize here in the province.
Bill 20 is, in effect, an effort by this government to streamline and turbocharge the oil and gas sector in the province. When we take an approach like that through legislation, it sends a very clear signal to the marketplace that B.C. hasn't reconciled the market intervention that is taking place with regard to greenhouse gas emissions reductions and the insatiable desire to draw annual revenue stream from the wholesale liquidation of the hard assets of the public in B.C.
This government has chosen a course that befuddles anyone from a business background. Certainly, I can't quite understand how traditionally minded economists can reconcile the government's approach with regards to liquidating hard assets of the province. In this case we see the government implementing legislation that will facilitate and accelerate the extraction of oil and gas in the province. That extraction will kick off a modest flow of revenue into the treasury. This government has no strategy to utilize that flow of revenue for a long, long period of time. The revenue, for all intents and purposes, flows out in the annual budget.
In fact, the annual budget that we have been debating in this House also includes provisions for discounting the royalties that flow from the oil and gas sector — in particular, $327 million worth of revenue in this fiscal year, flowing from natural gas revenues; $358 million next year; and $305 million forecasted in the budget and fiscal plan for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal year. That's a total of $990 million in royalties that is effectively being given back to the oil and gas sector over the next three years — almost a billion dollars in subsidy to the industry to accelerate the pace of development, to accelerate the pace by which we extract and then combust fossil fuels from B.C.
Somehow that equation is not factored into the greenhouse gas reduction plans that this government has put forward, which members of this House have approved. Somehow it's envisioned that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by the year 2020, while at the same time accelerating, streamlining and facilitating the exploitation of close to all of our oil and gas resources by the year 2020.
We look at the trend lines with regard to natural gas, the trend lines with our fairly minor oil industry here in B.C. The production of the wells that we see today and the development of the wells that will take place over this next decade will more likely than not end up extracting the vast majority of the resources, which are known at this point and relatively easy to access, within the next dozen years.
How do you reconcile the exploitation of those resources and the inevitable combustion of those greenhouse gases into the atmosphere with an aggressive strategy to reduce emissions? Well, the way you reconcile it is by not even counting the greenhouse gas emissions that result from any of these fossil fuels being extracted. It's a convenient way of doing your accounting. It mirrors the way that the government is accounting for the revenue streams flowing from this oil and gas.
Oil and gas belongs on our balance sheet as a fixed asset. It's been there for hundreds of millions of years. It has an ascribed value that is increasing almost daily,
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and as such, it represents an asset value for the people of B.C., who own this asset. And that asset is being liquidated directly onto the income statement, the profit-and-loss statement, which is in our budget and fiscal plan.
That money is being spent annually. There is no permanent or heritage fund. In other words, that asset is being converted and liquidated annually. In a business, these are two very distinct components by which the value and the health of a business are measured and tracked.
In this case the government doesn't see the hypocrisy and the contradiction in not valuing oil and gas as a hard asset, in fact, considering it an asset that can be liquidated annually and with no repercussions for the long-term economic health of the province. By the same token, we can liquidate that asset, effectively contribute massive quantities of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere but not count that on our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Bill 20 is of great concern to members on this side of the House because it's loaded with these contradictions, not only on a big-picture look. It is also loaded with these contradictions in the detail within the bill and particularly regarding transparency, particularly regarding accountability and, specifically, contradictions in terms of respecting landowner rights and respecting the long-term assets of the province — be they oil and gas, soil for agriculture, forest land.
They're contradictions that we're seeing throughout this bill and that we are going to ask a number of questions on through third reading to establish the true intent and the implications of this bill for the province. I'll just outline a number of the specific issues that raise flags for us. This bill does roll up a number of acts and repeal and amend acts that have been in place to regulate the oil and gas industry. There are a number of issues that don't seem to have made it through that translation.
In particular, the move to establish that cabinet, or the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, may make regulations regarding almost the entirety of this new act is a huge issue on the issue of accountability. That ability for cabinet to make regulations behind closed doors, without consultation, applies to the Oil and Gas Commission, to oil and gas activity in the province and to all pipeline activity. For the purposes of this act, it also allows for that regulation to take place behind closed doors regarding a number of other acts — the Local Government Act, the Community Charter Act, the Public Inquiry Act, the Mines Act, the Wildlife Act, the Water Act, the Land Act and the Forest and Range Practices Act.
Cabinet may also make provisions regarding environmental protection and management regarding the oil and gas and pipeline industry, as described in this act in some detail. The empowerment of cabinet to effectively make almost all regulations affecting the oil and gas and pipeline industries without transparency, without accountability, without consultation to the people of B.C…. This industry has fast become a very significant contributor to the revenue of the province and a significant contributor to the job base in the north, in particular, the northeast of the province.
This industry is increasingly important to the future and the economy of our province. Yet we're seeing all of the regulatory ability being cloistered within cabinet as the industry goes forward and develops the remaining resources we have in the province — which is in stark contradiction to, I think, the needs and desires of people in the province to understand what the implications are for oil and gas and pipeline development, to understand the potential impacts of this development on climate change and our greenhouse gas emissions, to understand the economic implications of using up all of our oil and gas in a generation and none being left for future generations to use both economically and in their lifestyle.
In effect, we're taking all of these regulatory powers for a very significant industry in the province — an industry that has a known impact on the environment which can be extremely detrimental, an industry that also has significant impact on communities…. We're taking that into the cabinet, and we're locking it away there for years to come.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
This is clearly a deplorable trend for transparency and accountability. I stand today to speak strongly against that trend with this government.
There are a number of other details to raise here today as concerns on Bill 20. We're seeing an incredible boom taking place in the sale of shale gas land rights in the northeast of the province, in Horn River and Ootla. We're seeing the government pursue an aggressive strategy to sell off access to shale gas resources. Last year over a billion dollars was raised from the sale of these land rights. In the months so far this year, hundreds of millions of dollars have again been raised by the sale of these land rights to access the shale gas.
Clearly, here's another boom that's around the corner for us. This government has chosen to cash in now, to attract the funding coming from speculation on this emerging resource and its accessibility to the industry. That cash-in is happening as we speak.
In terms of what people know around the province, in terms of the implications of this sell-off of resources, my sense is that very, very few people know what's taking place or what may result from the accelerated sale of shale gas resources.
In this legislation, again, we are streamlining, we're accelerating, and we are hiding from public scrutiny the regulatory steps that are taking place within the industry to facilitate the exploitation of fossil fuels.
In light of another big boom taking place with a gas resource in the province, one would think we'd want more scrutiny. We'd want to understand where it's headed. We would want to understand what the value is and what the projected values of this resource will be over time and make informed decisions. One would think there would be some public consultation not only
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with regards to these resources but with any regulations and legislation that are proposed to look after the resources.
In this case we've got it going full speed ahead, and we're actually turbocharging it even faster by streamlining regulation and making this government effectively unaccountable for the results of a very short-term play with long-term assets of the people of B.C.
If we look at additional challenges in this legislation from the opposition standpoint…. There's the lack of transparency for the oil and gas appeal tribunal — the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca raised this issue as well — and the concerns that the Information and Privacy Commissioner voiced in his letter to the minister, urging the minister to introduce an amendment to the bill to amend section 2 of FIPPA and add the tribunal as a public body. We will obviously pursue this in third reading of the bill to find out if, in fact, the minister is taking steps to ensure that the oil and gas tribunal is transparent as a public body. We have great concerns if that does not in fact take place.
We've just been debating bills for several days where similar concerns were raised by the Information and Privacy Commissioner on a lack of transparency on the climate change legislation put forward. We see it again here. We will see in committee stage of this bill whether the appropriate steps are being taken to ensure accountability.
Of course, we're concerned about the potential implications for landowners and landowner rights. This bill does very little to address the concerns of landowners, historically, with regards to the oil and gas industry. This program and the legislation that we're looking at today do not enhance landowner rights. In fact, we see a trend in the opposite direction.
Industry, it appears, is not required to post notice of entry prior to gaining access to land. Industry is given options on whether to negotiate and conclude agreements with landowners. The language through the bill and through pamphlets from the ministry continually use the word "may" — "may meet" and "may seek" — and soft language that by no means protects landowners with regards to the development taking place. Of course that's a concern. A number of members on this side of the House have concerns arising from their constituents with regards to oil and gas development impacting landowners.
Another concern to raise is with the administrative penalties that are envisioned in this legislation. Again, the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca referred to assessing the levels that this government has put in place in the legislation and how it compares with other jurisdictions. Of course, that's work that needs to be done and assessed as we go into third reading.
I will raise a flag that the fines laid out in the legislation all refer to dollar amounts and fines that do not exceed those dollar amounts. It just strikes me as an interesting approach. If sentencing was all based on fines not exceeding certain amounts, regardless of how deplorable or destructive the impact was, it then in effect enables the perpetrator or the person contravening the law or regulation to make a business case for breaking that regulation if, in fact, the cost-benefit analysis demonstrates that it ends up sweet on the bottom line.
Finally, I just want to mention a glaring omission of coalbed methane in this bill. The opposition is curious, given the concern and the potential impact and the government's interest in developing coalbed methane around the province, why there is no provision here and no specificity around coalbed methane.
There are certain areas of the province, in particular the Sacred Headwaters in the northwest and the Flathead basin in the southeast, where communities are fighting coalbed methane development vigorously. The ministry, to date, is not listening to these communities and is not being respectful of local concerns.
Coalbed methane has been an extremely destructive form of fossil fuel development in many other jurisdictions. Of course, we're concerned about it here in B.C. The fact is that it may technically not fit into this government's definition of oil and gas activities, when in fact the relationship of coalbed methane to the rest of the oil and gas sector is fairly close. Coalbed methane is clearly one we need to keep our eyes on here, and we'll be curious how the minister responds to the omission of the coalbed methane sector with regards to this legislation.
In closing, I want to again state how concerned we are on this side of the House with the government's direction regarding fossil fuel development. It doesn't look well thought through. It looks like a greedy and shortsighted approach to supercharging the economy for the short term, spending down all of the revenues flowing from this economic development in the short term and not creating legacies, not creating new economic development that is long term and sustainable, using those very resources.
This isn't good for the environment, this isn't good for the communities that rely on stable and sustainable industry, and it's clearly questionable for our economy when we rely on a short-term fix from a one-time spend-down of an asset. We obviously have many more questions to ask in committee stage on this bill.
We will look forward to addressing many of these concerns rigorously and ensuring that the voices of the people of B.C…. They are very concerned about oil and gas development and the implications of accelerating this development not only on climate change but the impacts on our coastline that may flow from pipeline development and tanker traffic, that may flow from industry being one step further removed from accountability — this government being many steps further removed from transparency and accountability regarding a very important and valuable asset of the people of B.C.
A. Dix: I want to speak very briefly on this legislation. I know the minister will be anxious to wrap up the debate. Really, I think that for me, as for other
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members, many of the key questions that arise from this legislation will be addressed at committee stage. I'm looking forward in particular to the exchanges with the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca, who I think has offered some very interesting comments at second reading stage. I think the debate with the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca, addressing some of the issues that he raised….
The future of the debate around tankers, which is really on our coast, and the questions he's going to raise with the minister at committee stage around those issues…. I will be very interested to hear the minister's response because we know, of course, as the minister so eloquently said as he heckled across, there are no tankers in the Peace.
That has been a longstanding issue on the coast of British Columbia, and I think the people of British Columbia have been very clear in their views on that issue — the issue of oil tankers on our coast. It's been a fight in British Columbia since I can remember politics in this country.
I remember a past leader of the Liberal Party in British Columbia — not this Liberal Party; there were other Liberal parties before this Liberal Party — David Anderson. I remember him plastering bumper stickers saying: "Liberals — No Tankers." It was his position. I think that was his platform when he was leader of the Liberal Party of British Columbia. He campaigned passionately on that question.
I know that the member from North Vancouver inherited the seat of yet another former leader of the Liberal Party back in the days when the Liberal Party meant they were actually a Liberal Party, not a coalition of Reformers and others. My good friend the Minister of Tourism will remember those days fondly, when he didn't have to have the name Liberal in the name of his party because there was in fact a Liberal Party that was Liberal.
In any event….
A. Dix: The member is heckling. Nonetheless, those are key questions in the bill that the member and the minister will deal with at committee stage.
I want to note this, because this was part of a little bit of the work we've been doing over the past decade on this issue — both sides of the House. I think the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca said it well — that there has been sort of a consistent view. The Oil and Gas Commission, of course, was created during a very dynamic period of legislation by the previous NDP government.
You'll recall, hon. Speaker, the work of the Premier and of senior public servants at the time, some of whom continue to work on these issues today. I think of the minister's current deputy minister, Mr. Reimer, and others who have done work on that issue.
With this bill, as I understand the minister, we're going to clarify — as the member for Vancouver-Fairview and the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca say — some of the issues here. This bill — at least in its intent here — is consistent with that effort, which is the effort of the Oil and Gas Commission to both build economic development and hopefully do that in a way that's sustainable for the region.
Another initiative is referred to in this piece of legislation, the Muskwa-Kechika, the bill that created that park. I note with pleasure, in terms of this clause of the legislation, that there's no intention in the legislation to supersede that bill. Quite the contrary. If there are contradictions between the two bills, it's the Muskwa-Kechika bill that has primacy, which is an important point. It was also part of that period.
I think one of the struggles we have in this time is to ensure that all of those activities — the promotion activities, the regulatory activities with respect to the oil and gas industry — are consistent with other goals of society — in particular, goals to ensure the sustainability of our economy and the sustainability of our planet.
I think that the issues raised by the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca in the debate…. I think the debate that is going to take place between him and the minister at committee stage will be an important one. It's really important at this point in the debate to clarify where we go from here.
I think it's fair to say that the Minister of Energy — I don't want to speak for him; I'm sure he'll speak about this when he wraps up debate — would have supported — and I think he did support in the Legislature — the original creation of the Oil and Gas Commission. Notwithstanding the concern of many members in the House with the possibility of regulation, the feeling was that that commission, in fact, helped to streamline and get things going in the region. That indeed occurred.
The minister talked about statistics between 2001 and 2008. In fact, much of the momentum that started even prior to 2001 with respect to the development in the region is the result of the work of a previous Minister of Energy, Dan Miller, and others in that government — Glen Clark, who was Premier at the time. I recall him going to Calgary, in fact, and helping to work with the industry on some of these initiatives.
I think this struggle, which this bill attempts to do, is to streamline our need to not have inappropriate regulation. Nobody needs to waste anybody's time with a regulatory framework that's unnecessary. So the need to ensure that a streamlining occurs….
In fact, that's what occurred, as I recall. My distinguished colleague the NDP House Leader was there at the time. He served in those cabinets. For some of that period I was the humble servant of the cabinet, but the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain actually served in those cabinets.
He'll recall that the success of those initiatives combined the best of the two sets of initiatives — to promote economic development, which we did, and also, with the northern Rockies initiative, to ensure the sustainability of the region. I give the region a lot of
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credit as well, because Fair Share, the Oil and Gas Commission and the northern Rockies initiative were all initiatives which seemed to have different approaches to public policy.
The member from North Vancouver, who was there at the time, will recall this. It symbolizes the need to do both things — to ensure that we had a base of parks in our community, an environmental basis, and a sustainability of our economy and our region, which is important.
People in the region worked very hard on that initiative. Some of those issues were very difficult, but they managed to get there. That was an enormous success, which I think was unanimously supported in this Legislature as was, during that same period, the need to create an Oil and Gas Commission and to improve the economy of that region and, thirdly, the justice involved in the Fair Share program.
It broke new ground and was consistent with the government of the day's approach in the Kootenays to ensure that the benefits of such initiatives…. We know that frequently the costs — be they environmental, social or otherwise — are borne by the region but that the benefits stayed at home.
So these are the struggles we're going through, and that's why I think this debate is so important. Sometimes we forget in these dramatic second reading debates, which show some political or ideological difference between each side, the importance of committee stage debate. I'm looking forward to that debate as it comes forward at committee stage, because I think that in that debate at committee stage, we're going to come to terms with some of these issues.
There's the issue of coalbed methane, which the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca raised, as did the member for Vancouver-Fairview. There's the issue of landowners' rights, because this is in the communities.
When I talk to people and visit the Peace, as I've done many times…. I love the region. I know Dawson Creek a little bit better than Fort St. John. It's a great place to live, but the people there are incredibly welcoming to outsiders. I love the region.
Those issues of people who are in fact landowners in that region and other regions of British Columbia…. The member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca talked of the issues and the concerns, and the member for Cariboo North. It's not just the Peace region, but it's obviously a huge and very important player in this area.
In closing, I think what we do here when we deal with legislation at second reading is talk about these issues in a general sense, and we try and focus in on the issues we're going to raise at committee stage. But I really ask people who are concerned both about the future of this industry — because I think this debate will have a considerable impact on that — and also about the broader industry, of where to place this industry in terms of the broader debate around climate change, the broader debate about environmental values….
I really encourage people to listen to this debate and take a look at the legislation, because I know that the minister will be open to it and the critic will be open to it. I think the debate they're going to have at committee stage is going to shine some light on where we need to go from here, how we're going to balance in future.
We see with the Oil and Gas Commission, and we see with the northern Rockies initiative — and we see how attempts were made in the Fair Share program — how that government in that time sought to balance the needs of local communities, the needs of landowners, the appropriate desire to protect parks and the extraordinary beauty of the region and, finally, the critical need to ensure that we have the economic development, the resources we need as a society to do all the other things we want — health care, education and so on. That's how they balanced them at that time.
I think we'll look back on this debate, particularly the debate at committee stage, where the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca will put these issues forward. We'll see how we need to balance those issues today. We get that in some of the discussion of the climate change initiatives, but we're going to also get that in this debate.
I want to thank the minister. This is a shorter speech than I usually do, but I think it's important to go back over those decisions at those times of balancing and the way we balanced those issues then, which I think on balance most people would argue was very successful — I'm sure the minister will be spending much of his time wrapping up praising the Glen Clark government for its initiatives in this area — and then how we go forward and how we're now going forward ten years later and how we seek to balance those initiatives and balance both the regulatory side, the regulatory burden, the environmental values and the need for a productive and efficient oil and gas industry.
G. Gentner: I rise to address this bill in second reading, Bill 20, Oil and Gas Activities Act, and begin by maybe grabbing the attention of members opposite. I know the minister responsible has had the wonderful opportunity by a former NDP government that exempted his property from drilling, which is a major issue in the Peace — up at Charlie Lake and other places — because a whole community erupted with fervour over what was happening.
The government came forward in the early years of 2002-03, I think it was. There was a land rush and an oil rush happening here. Suddenly people realized there were people trampling all over the properties, and the minister was well aware what that meant.
Consequently, the difficulty with this legislation is that it does not go far enough to bring British Columbia in line with other provinces — I think Alberta is there too — by stipulating that a company must notify landholders to gain access to land. I'm sure that during the next stage of debate, the minister will hopefully address that a little better — as to whether or not we are up to the standards of other provinces in this legislation.
[ Page 11397 ]
But just to quickly hone in on that part of the legislation. It is why, in many ways, this act is here. It's what had erupted up in the Peace — erupted with residents who thought they had ranches, farmers who thought they had good property rights. Lo and behold, they found out otherwise.
I know that on March 20, 2003, for example, the residents of Old Hope Road and 244 Road — north of the Peace River between Fort St. John and Charlie Lake — went to the Oil and Gas Commission after being informed by a company that a sour gas well at Bear Flat was to be drilled in their neighbourhood. The final location was a mere 400 metres from the road and about 500 metres within the radius of 50 to 60 people.
The community discovered that setback requirements for gas wells, including sour gas wells, were only 100 metres from the homes. What had happened in that time was that for years people didn't think much about it, because there's a difference between natural gas and sour gas. Now when the rush was on, the price had changed. Suddenly it became a major, major issue.
I think it still is an issue. People throughout the province would like to know whether or not they will be notified when a company decides to do major exploration in their area.
One of the issues that evolved was a company called Terra, which had bought out leases, I believe, from Samson Canada. I won't get into the details very much, but it gives you an example of why people were upset. The residents up there sent a letter to the Auditor General at the time and asked whether or not he would look into this problem and do a thorough investigation into the matter.
The response from the AG stated that this was not the time, the week and the means for carrying out a public scrutiny or the performance of the government. He agreed that he would look into the oil and gas concerns, which also, of course, would address the problem of what ranchers and residents up there felt was trespassing on their properties.
Interestingly enough, they also wrote a letter to the Premier at the time, and the Premier responded relative to the Samson and Terra sour gas issue and the role and responsibilities of the Auditor General. The Premier's office wrote: "We are, however, committed to maintain responsible fiscal management, and a budget increase is not possible at the present time."
So in other words, the problem that ensued of trespassing on people's property…. The residents had asked the Premier if he would help in the process, find the money. The Premier, of course, denied that request by the residents. This has caused a lot of consternation up in that part of British Columbia.
It's also interesting that the Premier knew about the problems of Terra gas, and he knew about the trespassing or the potential of companies interfering with ranchers and their homesteads. Yet that occurred. The Auditor General's report came out on September 24, 2004, but it certainly didn't stop the Premier from buying shares in the same company, Terra Energy, that was accused of trespassing on residents' properties. Lo and behold, what do we find? The Premier buys shares in that very company.
That raises a number of interesting issues, but I have been notified, of course, by my colleague next to me that there will be a change, hopefully, in the bill relative to full disclosure and freedom-of-information and privacy issues. I'm hopeful that that is going to happen.
I just raise those concerns for the record. There was a major issue from residents up in the Peace. They had appealed to the Premier to deal with this. The Premier said that there was no money in the budget to look into an investigation. Consequently, the Premier of this province bought shares in that company to make a profit.
I find it a little unusual that….
Point of Order
Hon. K. Falcon: Madam Speaker, the member is raising a question that brings into disrepute a member of this House. The member ought to know that he ought not to make those allegations. If the member wishes to make allegations like that, the member should go speak to the conflict commissioner.
Deputy Speaker: Member, it is improper to make an allegation such as you have made except in the form of a substantive motion, so please withdraw your remarks.
Member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain.
M. Farnworth: To provide a few remarks on Bill 20…. I think it's important that we recognize, as has been raised by the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca and the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, the importance of this particular piece of legislation and how we got here.
The Oil and Gas Commission was created in the late '90s to deal with some of the issues that occurred up in the Peace River country, where the bulk of oil and gas exploration has historically taken place in British Columbia. There was a need to ensure that we were able to function and that the industry was able to function properly. In the context of land use decisions and the importance around land use decisions that were being made at that particular time…. I think one of the key ones was the Muskwa-Kechika, which saw the preservation of a large, important tract of land and at the same time allowed the continued exploration for oil and gas, taking into account those park boundaries.
It involved some innovative changes at the time — directional drilling, for example, being one of them. It was, I think, a remarkable initiative that the government of the 1990s undertook at that time, and it is something that has stood the test of the last number of years.
This piece of legislation seeks to combine a number of different pieces of legislation that govern oil and gas
[ Page 11398 ]
exploration in this province. It combines them into one. It streamlines them.
We're not opposed to that, but there are a series of questions that it does raise that we need to have answers to — in particular, how it fits in with the government's plans for climate change, issues raised by the member for Vancouver-Fairview. How do we deal with that apparent contradiction between the desire for more oil and gas exploration in British Columbia and the government's stated objectives around climate change? We need to look in committee stage very closely at the changes that are being made in this particular piece of legislation.
In principle we think that those changes are positive, and we think that in principle what's being done here is something that we should be able to support. But it's crucial that we are able to get answers to those questions in the committee stage on that piece of legislation. It's crucial that the minister recognize in the committee stage that there will be debate. We're going to be looking at issues raised by the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca and issues raised by the member for Vancouver-Fairview that are going to require answers.
We look forward to the remarks of the Minister of Energy in addressing issues that have been raised here. Also, I hope that we hear some recognition of the importance of the Oil and Gas Commission and the fact that it was a New Democratic Party government that created it, that, in essence, kick-started much of the benefit that has taken place in the Peace River.
The member for Vancouver-Kingsway commented about my having been at the cabinet table. I remember how important those discussions were around the Fair Share program and the feelings that ran up in the Peace country about communities getting their fair share of the resource revenues that were being generated in that part of British Columbia. I remember having discussions myself as Minister of Municipal Affairs with mayors and councils from those areas, the regional districts, and the importance of getting those issued resolved.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of Energy's remarks and to letting him know that at committee stage there will be lots of questions being asked. This is an important issue for British Columbia. The oil and gas sector is an important part of British Columbia's economy. When there are changes being made, we want to know exactly what those changes are and how they're going to have impacts and at the same time — particularly when the government is making significant changes or wants to make significant moves in terms of climate change and some of the contradictions that come up in that debate — how those two are going to be reconciled.
With that, I look forward to hearing the remarks of the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and then moving on to other legislation that I know that the Government House Leader will have lined up to bring in after the minister has finished his remarks.
Deputy Speaker: Minister of Energy and Mines to conclude debate.
Hon. R. Neufeld: Certainly, after listening to the debates, it's with interest that I hear some of the issues put before me. Rightfully, as my critics said, it's the responsibility of the opposition to actually delve into these acts and ask those questions. I have absolutely no problem with that. In fact, I quite look forward to it.
It's also interesting for me. It was a bit of an enlightened debate, compared to what I've been witnessing over the last while in regards to greenhouse gas. There was even a sound of reasonableness in some of the members' comments.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
But, as should come as no surprise to us, the member for Delta North again just cannot resist coming in and making accusations that are absolutely ridiculous. They're out of line. Saying those kinds of things and thinking that that kind of debate in this House is a debate that we should have…. Actually, the remarks made by my critic are remarks that we should be debating about, not the remarks made by the member for Delta North.
I'm going to spend just a little bit of time, because I have listened to him make remarks before, stating the kind of things that he has said — numbers of them, I know, when he talked about me. I'll talk about me. When he said that the ministry actually sheltered my land from being developed, nothing could be further from the truth.
But that didn't stop that member from saying that. There's a bit of immunity in here. You can almost say anything you want and get away with it. We see it on a regular basis from the opposition. Good debate is good debate. We should have good debate, but when the member talks about the ministry sheltering my property, that's wrong.
I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that that member come back in this House and actually apologize for that remark. I actually would ask that he come back in and apologize for the remark he made about the Premier.
You know what? If he doesn't want to, I suggest he go in the hallway and make that accusation. I'll tell you, that's where you separate a little bit of stuff from the pepper, and the Speaker knows what I mean. To get out there and actually, with the conviction of your mind, stand out there — outside of this House — and make those kind of comments, those kind of accusations, is incorrect and unfair.
I'll tell you who actually said that there should be no activity happening in the area where I live, where there happens to be about 6,000 or 8,000 people living around the lake. It was the regional district. What we do is always ask the regional districts of wherever we're at for their input. "This land may go up for sale. Do you have any reason why you think it shouldn't go up for sale or we shouldn't be doing activity?"
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Guess what. The regional district said: "No, you shouldn't, not until we get our community plans in place." Not the ministry; not me as the minister — the regional district.
I know it's maybe a little hard for the member for Delta North to understand that we would actually deal with the local governments. We do that always on these kinds of issues.
Really, I think that's about all I want to say about the member for Delta North. I have a hard time even listening to the member talk about issues that he's not sure about, but I appreciate that he thinks he wants to get up and cause some kind of problem. So be it. He can continue to do that.
I am going to say that the Oil and Gas Commission was created under the NDP, but you know what? Oil and gas activity didn't start in the northeast part of British Columbia when the NDP got elected. Actually, we've had oil and gas activity in the northeast part of British Columbia since the early '50s.
What was the name of the party that you represent now — CCF or something? Yeah, CCF or something of that nature. You had a different name and a different brand and maybe a little bit different ideas, but it was still that same old socialist party with its roots — right?
So we've had that activity in northeastern B.C. since that time. I have lived in the northeast part of British Columbia since the late '50s and have worked in the oil and gas industry a good part of my life. I know what took place when the NDP came into government. What made them start thinking about creating an Oil and Gas Commission is that they absolutely stopped any development when they became government.
You know what? The member smiles, but listen. I was on the ground. I know full well what took place. You guys couldn't keep it operational. There was a process in place….
Hon. R. Neufeld: No, no. There was a….
Hon. R. Neufeld: Mr. Speaker, would you stop these guys from heckling me?
What actually happened was that the NDP couldn't figure out how they would issue permits for oil and gas drilling, which had been going on for decades. So after lots of advice from a lot of different people — and me being one of them — they actually created the Oil and Gas Commission, which we're modernizing, and I think that the members realize that and have said that.
I know that when the Oil and Gas Act came before the House, I was in opposition. I voted for it. I did. I'm not shy to say that. When I was in opposition I didn't vote against everything just because I was in opposition — what we're witnessing now with opposition. I did look at things that, actually, I thought would work well, and that was one. This is a process of modernizing. Bringing up to speed, up to date — that's actually what we're doing here.
I look forward to having lots of questions about the bill when we go into committee stage. I'm sure, as my critic said, there will be lots of questions, and I look forward to them. But I want to maybe just comment on comments from the member for Vancouver-Kingsway.
I think everybody should know — if you don't know, those that might be listening out there — that the member for Vancouver-Kingsway was a special adviser to Premier Glen Clark. I heard the member for Vancouver-Fraserview talk about contradictions, so I want to bring one of these up.
I remember the Premier of the day, Glen Clark, coming to me one time and telling me: "We're going to get LNG happening on the coast of British Columbia, and we're going to have tankers coming up the Douglas Channel. We're going to have tankers coming in to Prince Rupert with LNG, and we're looking forward to that." Well, it never happened because, actually, a lot of people fled the province and weren't willing to invest.
We fast-forward to today. That special adviser to the Premier of the day now says that he doesn't want tanker traffic up the Douglas Channel, now says that he doesn't want tanker traffic into Prince Rupert — an interesting comment. When you talk about being confused…. My goodness, it's absolutely amazing what a few years will do and what being in opposition for a little while will do to a person, actually — when they start forgetting what they said a just short period of time ago.
I remember it very, very clearly. When they talk about sustainable communities and economic development, I also remember that Premier — another Premier, but from Alberta — Ralph Klein used to say that he didn't need an economic development ministry because as long as Glen Clark stayed in power in British Columbia, they were sending all kinds of business their way, so he didn't need to do that.
I want to remind the members when they talk so fondly…. I think the member for Vancouver-Kingsway has been there, but I'm not sure whether the member for Vancouver-Fairview has ever ventured out of Vancouver. When you talk so fondly of the country up there, it's an interesting comment that I hear. I know that the member for Vancouver-Kingsway was there one or two times — snuck in.
Hon. R. Neufeld: And the House Leader for the opposition has been there. Yes.
It's great that they came up there. But one thing is that they went home. When they talk about the Fair Share program…. They forgot a whole bunch of things that we needed in the northeast part of the province of British Columbia.
It was roads. They totally ignored roads. They ignored the health care system. They ignored seniors housing. All of those things are now happening. Since we became government, we've spent almost half a
[ Page 11400 ]
billion dollars on roads in northeastern British Columbia, which didn't even come close to what took place during the ten years that the NDP were there.
I look at a few of my notes. The member for Vancouver-Fairview, who stood and said he was opposed to the bill…. The House Leader said: "No." He said: "I think we can work through this bill. I think that we need to ask some questions." I agree with that.
My critic actually raised the issue about the FOI commissioner. I should maybe put on the record now that we actually talked to the FOI commissioner. In the FOI Act is exactly what he needs. We'll have a regulation that actually enacts that, and that's what we're supposed to do. We're only following the rules of what we're supposed to do, so those kinds of things, I think, we'll be able to get over relatively quickly.
It's always interesting for me, too, to listen to that downtown Vancouver fellow, the member for Vancouver-Fairview — the next hopeful mayor of Vancouver, as I understand, or wants to be the mayor of Vancouver — talk about a government that just wants to…. In fact, what he said is that we want to produce all of the oil and gas in northeastern British Columbia by 2020.
Interesting comment, when it was the previous government that set up the Oil and Gas Commission so we could actually — what they say — explore for more oil and gas. Direct contradictions between what those two members say.
The one thing that I've actually reminded the member for Vancouver-Fairview about, about oil and gas…. I'm not sure whether he's still looking after Happy Planet or is part owner in Happy Planet, but he certainly was, if he isn't today. Actually, the company he represents, or represented, consumed a huge amount of fossil fuels and still does today.
He stands up, you know, actually moving fruit all over the world so he can get it here and turn it into concentrate, making those little plastic jugs so he can put it in that — that's a product of petroleum — and sell it. But he constantly stands in this House and talks very negatively about the oil and gas industry and how bad it is and how it's not good for the province.
Well, I have a different idea. I think that it's great for the province. I think it's great that the northeast part of the province of British Columbia went from, in the '90s, 12 percent unemployment to about 2 percent unemployment. I think that's great. I think the year-round investment in northeastern British Columbia is actually great. Men and women can work in the industry and have a family-supporting job. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I think that in their heart of hearts they agree with me. I think that in their heart of hearts they do.
I just hope that they actually stand up and say, at some point in time, that they actually believe in people having jobs and full-time jobs, being able to raise a family in a community, in Fort St. John or Dawson Creek or Chetwynd or Fort Nelson, or any one of those communities that depend heavily on the oil and gas industry.
I look forward to the continuing debate that we'll have in committee as we go through section by section. I think it will be an interesting time.
With that, I move second reading.
Hon. R. Neufeld: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 20, Oil and Gas Activities 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. C. Richmond: I call second reading of Bill 17, intituled Public Safety and Solicitor General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008.
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
(GIFT CARD CERTAINTY) STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2008
Hon. J. van Dongen: I am pleased today to move that the bill be now read a second time. The Public Safety and Solicitor General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act amends five statutes: the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, Civil Forfeiture Act, Commercial Transport Act, Liquor Control and Licensing Act and Motor Vehicle Act.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
This legislation introduces a new part to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act concerning gift cards and gift certificates. Most of us have either purchased a gift card or certificate to give to someone else or received one as a gift. They are becoming a very common form of commerce. In 2006 Statistics Canada found that 82 percent of large retailers offer gift cards. All too often these cards have expiry dates, and consumers who don't use the cards right away later discover that they can't redeem them. This legislation prohibits expiry dates, except under limited circumstances.
That means that the consumer can go back to the supplier any time and get full value from the card. This legislation prohibits fees, except in limited circumstances. This includes upfront fees that are paid on the purchase, user fees and dormancy fees that draw down the balance on the card.
Consumers have a right to know what they are purchasing at the time of purchase so they can make an informed decision. Suppliers will need to disclose all relevant terms and conditions on a card or its packaging, such as restrictions, limitations and, if allowed, fees and expiry dates.
Notably, the legislation gives the province the authority to establish regulations that will allow expiry dates and fees in certain circumstances. For example,
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we are considering allowing expiry dates on cards used for charitable or promotional purposes. We may allow a small fee to replace a lost card or to personalize a card.
Regulations will also establish what terms and conditions need to be disclosed to the purchaser. This legislation brings us in line with other provinces that either have or are working toward consumer protection provisions for gift cards.
The amendments to the Civil Forfeiture Act provide clarification in response to guidance provided by the judiciary and legal counsel since the legislation came into force two years ago. It is common to make minor adjustments to legislation once it has faced the tests of legal proceedings and interpretation. In this case, many of the amendments involve subtle clarifications designed to refine and clarify the intent and purpose of the legislation.
The law enforcement community has strongly endorsed the act, and the expectation of a continuing civil forfeiture framework in this province has developed. Therefore, the intent of the amendments is to make strong legislation stronger and to further the message that unlawful activity doesn't pay.
For example, the amendments will expressly clarify that civil forfeiture actions are in rem actions — that is, they are against property and not against people. The current wording of the act clearly implies in rem proceedings but does not literally set that out. Some members of the B.C. Supreme Court judiciary have suggested that an explicit in rem declaration is required to assure the constitutional validity of the act.
The amendments also address specific legal definitions, such as instruments of unlawful activity. Currently, the act states that property used for unlawful activity must actually generate profit before being subject to forfeiture application. The amendments will ensure that property used for unlawful activity that is likely to generate profit is also subject to forfeiture, such as where police officers interrupt a marijuana grow operation prior to harvest of the crop.
Other definitions addressed by the amendments relate to property owners. Currently a gap in the act allows landlords to knowingly allow their property to be used for unlawful activity and financially benefit from that activity, such as in the case of landlords who knowingly rent their houses to tenants so that a marijuana grow operation can be built. The amendments will ensure that these owners cannot be considered uninvolved interest holders.
Other housekeeping changes include administrative matters, such as the provision of express authority for the director of civil forfeiture to receive information from law enforcement agencies and to make payments out of the special account as approved by Treasury Board. Those authorities are already implied in the current act and are simply being clarified here.
The amendments to the Liquor Control and Licensing Act provide for a temporary licence category called an Olympic/Paralympic licence. VANOC, games sponsors and national Olympic committees are expected to make requests for liquor licences that will not fit within the structure of the current liquor licensing regime. These amendments are designed to ensure that the province can respond fairly and effectively to these requests.
The new licence category will be restricted to those having a direct relation to the games, such as games suppliers and sponsors. Also, it will be restricted to parts of the province which are hosting official games events or facilities.
It is expected that the earliest date when these licences will be available will be October 15, 2009, and the latest date will be March 31, 2010. Local and first nations governments will have the opportunity to comment on applications for these licences. The liquor control and licensing branch will take these comments into account when considering applications.
Compliance with the provisions of a liquor licence is enforced by an administrative process that includes the imposition of licence suspensions and monetary penalties. In some cases the administrative enforcement process will not be completed in the life of the licence.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
The amendments allow for regulations to require that applicants post security to ensure they pay any monetary penalty imposed if they contravene the rules.
The amendments also provide for Olympic/Paralympic licensees to be exempted by regulation from current provisions of the act where those provisions are ineffective or inappropriate. To ensure fairness, the existing licensed establishments operating in the areas in which this licence is available may also be exempted from the same provisions. The amendments will be repealed soon after the games are over.
The amendments also contain housekeeping changes to the regulation-making authority. The changes ensure that different fees may be charged, depending on the type of licence, and confirm the power to make regulations governing liquor delivery services.
Finally, in this bill government is proposing some minor amendments to update the Commercial Transport Act and the Motor Vehicle Act. The amendments to the Commercial Transport Act clarify personal or pleasure use versus commercial use. The definitions of trailer and semitrailer will exclude trailers used exclusively for a non-commercial use, to provide legislative clarity and to be consistent with longstanding practices.
The limit on the number of single-use, non-resident permits for commercial vehicles is removed, as it is consistent with current practice. The amendments also move the authority for issuing those permits into regulation, to be consistent with the framework for other similar permits.
The amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act provide more licensing flexibility to vehicle manufacturers, commercial operators and non-residents. They repeal redundant driver and vehicle licensing provisions and streamline various provisions. The amendments
[ Page 11402 ]
remove barriers to business and provide a flexible licensing option for vehicle manufacturers. They repeal the section that provides the authority for motor vehicle dealers to issue interim vehicle licences, since these licences are no longer used.
Out-of-province vehicle licensing and registration requirements are amended to provide greater flexibility to commercial operators to meet B.C.'s insurance requirements and to eliminate unnecessary burdens on motorists coming into B.C. with tow dollies.
Name-change notification requirements are updated from an in-writing to an in-person basis to be consistent with business practices and increased security of licences. As well, a redundant provision that a person under the age of 19 is not permitted to act as a taxi driver is repealed.
With that, I am pleased to move second reading and look forward to members' comments.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain. [Applause.]
M. Farnworth: I haven't spoken, and already I'm getting applause. This bodes well. It probably even bodes well for the government.
It's my pleasure to rise and speak on Bill 17 at second reading and offer some comments and some observations on this piece of legislation, which at first glance seems innocuous. It's sort of a statutes amendment act, and it amends various different pieces of legislation. Each of them has probably, in its own way, a reason for it to take place.
I think what is also important is that we ensure that we give each of these particular issues, in each of these particular sections in this bill, the scrutiny that they deserve, because they do deal with some very important issues. A number of them are related to traffic, motor vehicle issues; others are related to the Olympics and the potential impacts. People want to make sure that there's been proper consultation and proper process.
I want to start, I think, with the pre-eminent part of the bill or the part of the bill that the government has chosen to trumpet. That is the issue around gift cards. I think that this is long overdue and about time.
My only real question is: what took you so long? Maybe this is the new Solicitor General putting his stamp on his new ministry, because what we have seen to date was a bit of, you know, not any great rush to do something on an issue of consumer protection that people feel very strongly about.
I know that on this side of the House we have raised the issue on a number of occasions — in question period, in estimates and in the form of a private member's bill by my colleague the member for Delta North — and outside the House as well.
A. Dix: Even on Global.
M. Farnworth: Even on television. My colleague the deputy House leader, the member for Vancouver-Kingsway, says that even on Global TV we raised this issue. It's been raised on CTV as well, just to make sure that we're being balanced here.
It's a fundamental issue that when you give money or you buy something — even if it's a gift card — you should be able to expect that…. You know what? When you give it to someone and a year later they get around to using it, they shouldn't have to worry about going in, buying something, presenting the gift card and then being told: "Oh, it's expired. It's not worth it." That's not right; that's wrong. It's bad for business, it's bad for the consumer, and it gives reputable retailers a really bad…. It's not fair to them.
What was happening was that the gift card business was a multi-billion-dollar business throughout North America and in Canada. It was estimated that some 10 percent, if not more, of gift cards were not being used during the expiry time. This is a huge amount of money.
One of the most shocking things about this….
M. Farnworth: My colleague from Vancouver-Kensington says that the most shocking thing about this was that the government was complicit in this. The government itself was profiting from this outrageous practice — this government over here. When you went to a B.C. government liquor store and bought a gift card, and you gave it to someone who's a friend to maybe buy something for an anniversary or Christmas — someone at age, over the age of 19 — it came with an expiry date.
An Hon. Member: What did?
M. Farnworth: The gift card. A B.C. government liquor store gift card came with an expiry date.
I'll tell you this. If you owe the province taxes, they don't come with an expiry date. They never come with an expiry date. If you owe the government money, they always collect. In this particular case, they were quite happy to issue you a gift card, but they were quite happy to take your money and not tell you: "Guess what. It comes with an expiry date."
Anyway, that was just wrong. So how can the government expect retailers, large and small, and medium-sized businesses, to do away with expiry dates on gift cards when the government itself is engaged in this same pernicious practice. It's just….
N. Simons: It's hard to believe.
M. Farnworth: My colleague the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast says that it's hard to believe. As hard to believe as it may be, it was, in fact, the case.
An Hon. Member: Shocking.
M. Farnworth: Shocking. I am happy, hon. Member, to report that this outrageous practice has ceased. It has ceased. It ceased this past summer.
[ Page 11403 ]
An Hon. Member: Who ceased it?
M. Farnworth: Well, it ceased in part because of the exposure, I think, that the government had received and — I like to think too — in response to the questioning from members of the opposition and members of the media that this practice is just wrong.
I'd like to remind the new Solicitor General, because I reminded his past colleague, that you could go to a former Premier, Bill Vander Zalm…. You could go to one of his Art Knapp garden centres in British Columbia, in the Lower Mainland, and you could buy a gift card, give it to a friend, a spouse, anyone, and it didn't come with an expiry date. It didn't matter whether you bought it in the summer and that that person went and bought some plants two years later. That was still valid.
Unfortunately, you couldn't say the same if you went to a B.C. government liquor store. You could buy one, and it came with an expiry date. Bill Vander Zalm knew that it wasn't right. It's too bad the government didn't know that it wasn't right.
However, as I said, I'm in a generous mood today. I'm feeling good about things. I support this. That's why I'm glad to see that the new Solicitor General is putting his stamp on it and recognizing the importance of this particular issue and the need to get rid of this particular piece and to bring in this legislation.
In other jurisdictions — Washington State, for example — gift cards have no expiry dates. That's the way it should be, because when you give money to pay for something…. If you buy a service, you get that service. If you buy a gift for someone — a TV, clothes or whatever — you get that right then and there. So when you buy a card, you're giving cash in expectation that the person you give it to is going to be able to spend it at their convenience, at the time that's appropriate for them.
So it's the right thing to do. This side of the House tabled a private member's bill to see that it be done. This is good news, and I'm happy. I am happy. This is a victory for common sense. This is a victory for the opposition and the power of an opposition to raise an issue and for a government… There are days that we lose hope.
As my colleague the member for Vancouver-Kingsway said on some bills that we have been debating lately: "Maybe they'll get it. Maybe they'll buy the argument, and they'll see our point of view." More often than not they go: "No." They use the power of the majority to vote down the opposition.
But every once in a while, they seem to recognize that…. You know what? They hear that bit of common sense. They hear the argument of the opposition, and it's reflected with this particular bill dealing with gift cards.
So I am very pleased to be able to tell the minister that we will be supporting that. We look forward to dealing with that particular issue in committee stage.
There are other issues in this bill that I think we need to address, that we want to get on the record — important information. The minister talked about issues around liquor control and licensing and the issuing of temporary, time-limited licences with special rules for the 2010 Olympic/Paralympic Games. We recognize that this is a significant, major event — that there are going to be hundreds of thousands of people attending from around the world and from across Canada and British Columbia. We want to make sure that the experience is as enjoyable as possible.
So we recognize that that may, in fact, require some flexibility and some creativity in terms of how we deal with licensing. But we also want to ensure that existing businesses that have been there for a long time — or have started up, in anticipation — are treated fairly. We want to make sure that they're not inconvenienced. So we're going to have questions in committee stage around that.
Exactly what does the minister mean when he says: "These rules will expire?" Well, when will they expire? How will they apply? Is there a potential for lowering of standards or lowering of requirements? Will existing businesses be impacted, and how will they be impacted? How does the government intend to deal with those impacts? Most importantly, have they been consulted? Were these changes brought in with consultation? Did the ministry go out and talk to the industry? Did they talk to individual business people to ensure and to get a sense of exactly…?
We're making these changes. We want them to work for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. But exactly how are they going to impact, and did they deal with and address issues such as consultation?
We want to make sure that it's not just those who decide to do something for the two-week period of the games or in the run-up to the games or just shortly after them. They're not just the ones who benefit. Those temporary licences or temporary businesses that often spring up around the games quite often do just fine. We want to make sure that the businesses that were here before, that are here now and will be here then are treated fairly and that they're not impacted in a negative way by these proposed changes. If they're not, we'll be supportive of that at committee stage as well.
I think that the minister needs to ensure that when we come to debate those committee stages that he's able to deal with and answer the questions that are going to come up around that.
The Civil Forfeiture Act. Again, this is another important issue. You know, we have been very supportive on this side of the House on the issue around proceeds of crime and the civil forfeiture. We've noticed and raised issue in terms of the need for additional resources in the fight against crime.
As a sidebar to my remarks, I look forward to being able to raise those issues with the Solicitor General during his estimates process. So I won't be going into them here today.
The issue of civil forfeiture is an important one, and when there's a change in terms of the definitions, I think that we need to ensure that the changes are going to have the effect that the government hopes. I recognize the need to make a change around the definition,
[ Page 11404 ]
for example, of intended or with the knowledge of criminal activity going on inside a premise, whether it's a private premise or a public building or what have you.
But I think we do need to make sure that when we make those definitions, we fully understand what the consequences of that change are. We also want to make sure that we deal with any unintended consequences — that we've explored to make sure that there are not unintended consequences that may impact on law-abiding individuals and law-abiding businesses. So we want to make sure that the changes do what the minister says they're going to do.
There is an issue that I will raise now — and if the minister nods, I'll be quite happy with that response; I intend to explore it more in committee stage — and that is around the issue of the potential seizure of vehicles. I have seen some initial comments where the minister indicated that he would like to see that they would be sold. If that's the case and the minister was to nod, I would expand a little bit on that. I am seeing him nodding.
One of the issues that I do intend to raise with the minister — and I'll let him know this now — is that I'll be asking questions around that on the basis of…. I understand what the minister is trying to do with the legislation on that. If a vehicle, for example, has been used in illegal speed racing, seizing it and selling it may be the appropriate thing to do.
But it may also not be the appropriate thing to do from this perspective. If the vehicle is just a regular vehicle that has been used in racing, then maybe it's appropriate to sell it, and the proceeds go to victims of crime, for example. But if the vehicle has been modified for street racing and is in a situation that, for example, has caused death or injury, then I don't think that it's appropriate to sell it. It's probably more appropriate to have the vehicle destroyed, so that you're not selling it and it's going back onto the street for somebody else to buy and race.
I would raise that with the minister and let him know that I'm going to be exploring that issue with him. So there are issues around that. We need to ensure that, in the legislation, what the minister wants to do is exactly what this bill does. We want to make sure that we, again, are not dealing with unintended consequences.
One of the things that did strike my attention was, okay, if the vehicle has been seized, and you're selling it, well, you don't want to sell it to go back on the street to be bought by somebody else to potentially commit the same thing. Ontario is maybe a jurisdiction that we could be looking at in that regard. But it's important that we make sure that we explore in committee stage the consequences and the potential unintended consequences, both good and bad, and ensure that the legislation is to do exactly what it's supposed to do.
That brings me again to civil forfeiture. I firmly believe that any money that is seized or that comes to that account, either through settlement or otherwise, should be used for either victim services or to fight crime — in particular, organized crime, if it's coming from grow-ops and criminal activity of that nature.
So, again, we'll be exploring that in committee stage to make sure that we are being as effective as we possibly can and that it's not just window-dressing legislation, but it's legislation that will actually do something. If appropriate, this side of the House will offer up amendments to ensure that we are able to do the things that we expect the legislation to do. I hope that if we do that it may be one of those moments, like with gift cards, where the government recognizes the wisdom of the opposition argument.
I see the member from Comox shaking his…. Member, I haven't even finished and already you're confirming the worst instincts of government, which is not even to wait for the good idea, not even to wait for the brilliance of members opposite in pointing out what needs to be changed and dismissing it out of hand.
Hon. Member, all I can say to the new Solicitor General is don't ever use that….
M. Farnworth: The member says we had ten…. I'd like to refresh the member for a moment. I'd like to refresh that member on some of the great ideas that I know related to legislation such as this. I'm thinking of…. You know, the Island Highway was a great idea that we built.
M. Farnworth: He says…. We built the Island Highway. Didn't we build UNBC? Wasn't that a great project done by this government? UNBC — what a great project that was. West Coast Express — wasn't that a wonderful project? West Coast Express. The extension of SkyTrain. What has happened since then? We have not had transit out to the Tri-Cities.
You know, we had the creation of Pinecone Burke mountain. That was a wonderful thing. What a class A provincial park right on the doorstep of Vancouver. Super, natural British Columbia at its best — another great thing that was done.
Deputy Speaker: Relevance, Member.
M. Farnworth: I'm speaking to the legislation. I'm just responding to my colleague across the way, who in his zeal….
L. Krog: Inspirational.
M. Farnworth: Inspirational, as my colleague from Nanaimo says.
Anyway, I was going to say to the Solicitor General: don't use that negativism as your role model. Think to the good ideas that can be put forward by the opposition in terms of amendments, and be prepared to
[ Page 11405 ]
consider them. We will offer them constructively, and that will make for better legislation.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Finally, I want to come to the other area around the Motor Vehicle Act and in particular the issue around the age of 19 and taxis. I'd like the minister to be able to comment around the logic for that and around the ability in terms of taxis and the rationale for that, and if it's something that is outdated, to address that.
I know that I have other colleagues, potential colleagues, who may wish to avail themselves of an opportunity to speak to this legislation.
M. Farnworth: Confirmed colleagues. Exactly, you know. They may see the light. I mean, hey, the member for Peace River North has been in — what? — three or four different political parties already. I'm quite sure that he'd be more than happy to add a fourth to his belt.
J. Les: He'll never be an NDPer.
M. Farnworth: No, he may never be an NDPer, but he's been Reform, Social Credit, Liberal.
Anyway, there is a lot in this bill.
Hon. L. Reid: It might be best to take your seat.
M. Farnworth: The member for Richmond East says I should take my seat. I will take my seat, but I feel the urge, after the member for Peace River North, to once again remind the House of some of the great things….
An Hon. Member: You could have been a Socred.
M. Farnworth: I could have, but I'd look really bad in a white belt and white shoes and a white tie.
Back to the bill we have before us, Bill 17. It is an important piece of legislation, and we need to remember that. It deals with the issue around gift cards, and it deals with important issues around civil forfeiture, which I stated, is something that we feel very strongly about. We've been supportive of other initiatives of the government in that particular area, and we're supportive in this case on this particular piece of legislation.
The issue around the Motor Vehicle Act, we've addressed that. Again, I'll be looking forward to the minister to address some of the issues in that.
The other point that I think around…. Section 5 is something, again, that I want the minister to be ready to address in discussions. That is also key.
Then, finally, we come back to the issue around the Olympics, the importance of the Olympics and the need to ensure that businesses are being treated fairly. We want to ensure that people who are able to take advantage and use their initiative in terms of what is taking place around the Olympics are able to do so, but that we make sure that businesses that have been here for a long time are not impacted in a negative way and that that's been done through plenty of consultation.
As I said, I know that some of my colleagues will be speaking on this particular piece of legislation. I look forward to hearing their remarks, and I look forward to hearing the closing remarks of the minister tonight. Then I look forward to the committee stage debate. With that, I shall take my seat.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have a notice that the member for Delta North has come into the House.
I'm asking you to withdraw your unparliamentary remarks and to apologize. Failing to do so, you will be ordered to withdraw from the House for the remainder of the sitting.
G. Gentner: I rise to apologize for any remarks that may have besmirched the character of any member of this House and unequivocally withdraw those remarks.
A. Dix: I rise to speak to Bill 17, the Public Safety and Solicitor General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008.
I want to start by saying that — as the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, the Opposition House Leader, has noted — there are often many steps in the development of legislation in the Legislature of British Columbia. One of the most important steps is building the public case for change, the public case to demonstrate that there's an issue and a problem that (a) can be resolved and (b) can be resolved by government.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
In this case, the case of Bill 17 — at least, the provisions of Bill 17 that deal with gift cards — that issue was raised by my colleague the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, the Opposition House Leader, over a number of months.
I think that it's fair to say he did an extraordinary job. It was such an extraordinary job, in fact, that here we are today — after he raised the issue again and again, after he showed, I think, the real unfairness of what was happening with the issue of gift cards and the uncertainty that it was causing in the business of gift cards out there. After, I think, a very effective campaign by the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and other members of the House, we have legislation before us.
I think on behalf of members of the opposition side, first of all…. Because there are, of course, many authors of legislation, I want to acknowledge, really, the extraordinary work done by our critic, the Solicitor General, our House Leader and the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain.
I also want to say, because as you know, even…. And I think the Solicitor General might acknowledge
[ Page 11406 ]
this — that he, unless he was extremely far-seeing in his understanding of politics; unless he had some expectations of his own future in the week before he became the Solicitor General…. Clearly, this bill was the work of many other people as well.
We have to give credit on that score to the previous Solicitor General who was in the post before and who would have worked and responded and, obviously, would have brought this legislation, as it does, through the legislation committees of cabinet, through his own ministry and the legislation committees of cabinet and then to the cabinet itself so that it was ready to prepare and be brought forward in this Legislature. So we acknowledge that.
We acknowledge that sometimes the system works as it should — maybe not on all of the big issues. My colleague from Vancouver-Kensington, I think, has done an extraordinary job — for example, just an example of what I mean of this process, consistent with the process that has led to Bill 17 — around British Columbia in recent times in raising the issue of homelessness.
I think what the effect of that work has been to do is to show people across the province the pervasiveness of that in British Columbia society. It's a critical role of the opposition to do that and to develop the societal basis for change. The member for Vancouver-Kensington has done that. Just as another example — because I don't think he's fully convinced — is the work over many decades of my colleague from Burnaby-Edmonds in supporting the work of farmworkers. That's another example.
I think that it's critical, on the opposition side — and I think that it's a real obligation and a real opportunity for those of us who have the real privilege of serving in this Legislature — to raise issues, to put them in the public debate, to build public understanding and support — and yes, to criticize the government and to force change.
It doesn't always happen on the big issues, but sometimes when we succeed in doing that — as in this case, with the remarkable work of my colleague from Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain — we actually get some change. The government is persuaded by the force of the hon. member's argument, which in this case was considerable, but also, I have to say, by the embarrassment and the skill with which the hon. member — in this case, the hon. member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain — brought the issue forward.
In other words, what he was able to do on this question — it's an important thing, and I think it's an object lesson in how to do this — was to bring attention to this issue which was hurting a significant number of people in our communities, including my community, who bought gift cards that had expiry dates or received them as gifts and essentially lost the value. I think it was a particularly important moment when he showed that this was not just happening in commercial businesses, but that it was happening in the government itself, with gift cards at liquor stores.
I think when that moment came, there was no longer any possibility…. When the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain brought that compelling case forward, he showed: "This is how pervasive this problem is. Look, we can actually fix this problem. There may be problems that we can't fix. Here's a problem that we can fix."
It's illustrative, I think, of how to handle an issue. You raise it in the public debate. You communicate with people. You build public support. Then, I think, the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain also offered to the government a solution.
At the end of this process, what do we have? We have the changes proposed to the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act contained in Bill 17, which include and preclude and prevent suppliers from putting expiry dates on prepaid purchase cards.
I think all of us can acknowledge here that this kind of consumer protection is why government is involved in the field at all. It's protecting consumers, but it's doing more than that, I'd suggest. Like all good consumer-protection legislation, the effect of it is to build confidence in business, to build confidence in this industry. In other words, you provide this kind of protection. People believe they have this kind of protection. I don't think it hurts the industry; it helps the industry. It takes away questions that people will inevitably have, which are: "Can I trust this process? Is there some sort of expiry date that I can't see? What is my position?"
In fact, what's happened here is the best of consumer protection, I would argue. The initiative that was led by my colleague from Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain — and I don't have any insight into how the cabinet over there works but probably the work of the previous Solicitor General and now the new Solicitor General — has been brought to this House as legislation. I suggest that this is how we should deal with other problems facing us in British Columbia.
I just want to briefly talk about some of the other initiatives. The member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain and I and some other members — the member for Surrey-Whalley was there and other members — attended a picnic this weekend involving the group Families Against Crime and Trauma. With respect to the issues involved with the Civil Forfeiture Act, I think that I, as well as the member from Port Coquitlam, am going to raise issues about this.
They expressed to me…. We spent the afternoon — and it was a remarkably moving afternoon — talking to victims of crime and their families — people involved in FACT, people involved in Mothers Against Drunk Driving, people involved in other groups.
They told us of their struggles, of the consequences of what happens when they suffer a terrible loss. In several of the cases it included the murder of a relative. In other cases it included serious injury in traffic accidents due to drinking and driving. In other cases it was serious injury.
I think that when we look at these issues around civil forfeiture, we also have to ask questions about the real need to do more as a society, as a government, to support people who have been victims of crime. One of
[ Page 11407 ]
the things that we talked about in that process is how isolating it can be.
That's why I'm hopeful, and I will be very interested in the debate involving my colleague from Port Coquitlam and the Solicitor General on this question. I think we have to do more to ensure that the victims of crime receive support and compensation to get through the period when they are, in many cases, grieving or suffering physically or suffering emotionally from the impact of crime. I think that the issues raised by my colleague from Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain are very important.
If you think about it, what you see in these is that it's part of a notion of solidarity as a society that we need to promote — this sense that when something happens to someone, it happens to all of us. We've seen in this province that that hasn't always been the case.
Members of my wife's family lost their lives in Air India. One of the incredible and terrible things that happened after that was the sense that their government wasn't with them, that their crime wasn't valued as other crimes. We had the Prime Minister of Canada actually phoning other Prime Ministers to commiserate with them on their loss, when it was Canadians that left Canada who passed away and a crime committed in Canada. I think that we've come some distance in ensuring that victims of crime are supported, but a lot of that distance has happened outside of the government sector.
In the discussion around these issues of civil forfeiture, I think we have to have a broader discussion — which I know will include the estimates, because some of it may be outside the scope of the committee stage of the bill — to talk about how we victims of crime the resources, the compensation and the support they need to go on after the fact.
I think that my colleague from Nanaimo may have a few things to say in conclusion on this bill. I want to thank again and congratulate my colleague from Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain for his work on this issue and congratulate the Solicitor General, particularly with respect to the gift card issue, congratulate the former Solicitor General for the same and say that I look forward to passing Bill 17 at second reading when it comes to a vote in the Legislature.
L. Krog: I'm delighted to rise late in the day to talk about Bill 17 and to offer, along with the previous speaker, my congratulations to the member for Port Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, who led the charge on the issue that is addressed clearly — the issue of gift cards.
As the previous speaker pointed out, there are times, actually, when this place functions quite well. If it involves a sort of petty theft, if you will — I mean that in a rhetorical sense, not in an accusatory way — like the government picking up good ideas from the opposition, well, bully for them and good for them.
As we all know, the Minister of Health, who in the fall rather pooh-poohed the concept of banning smoking in cars with children under the age of 16…. Suddenly, when the throne speech rolled around this spring, there was an announcement that the government was going to introduce legislation doing exactly the same thing. That pays testimony and testament to the hard work of Skye Breen-Needham, a young woman in my constituency who, together with other high school students, insisted that I bring forward a private member's bill last fall to do exactly that. They saw an issue, they took it to heart, they rallied, and they pushed it.
That's what's happened with the introduction of Bill 17. The government has listened, paid attention, taken the political soundings and realized that, frankly, it makes good sense. It's unfortunate that we live in a society where some individuals, businesses take advantage of things, where they're always trying to squeeze that extra advantage out of a commercial transaction, which forces governments to regulate.
Now, this government prided itself, of course, on deregulation. We know that the Minister of Transportation prided himself on leading that charge. I think that at some point we abolished the act that protected trilliums in British Columbia even. That was part of the great deregulation scheme.
L. Krog: Some of the members on this side of the House are shocked. But, in fact, that's true, I believe — if my recollection is correct.
What we're doing here, contrary to what this government has said about regulation and deregulation, is we're moving forward with regulation. And I support this regulation. The members on this side of the House support this kind of regulation.
It sends a message to the business community, a message to big retailers in this province that they're not going to get away with squeezing extra profit out of decent consumers who go out, buy gift cards and hand them over, believing, of course, that they will be honoured at all times in the future. But hon. Speaker, it is rather amusing — don't you think? — that the government that promised so much deregulation is now happily engaged in it.
As I pointed out in my remarks the other day with respect to Bill 18…. I see, frankly, the same problem arising in this legislation. There's sort of a skeleton, if you will, set out in the bill, but the flesh is going to get put on again by cabinet, by regulation.
I just have to keep asking the same tiresome old question of the government side. What is it that is so difficult about actually drafting legislation that doesn't require these enormous regulatory and regulation-creating powers in the bill? I mean, what is the problem? Are there no lawyers working in the Attorney General Ministry anymore? Is the province so devoid of legal talent that we can't put together a fulsome piece of legislation in this House for once? Is it so difficult to draft up something that could actually meet the test of reasonableness in the public that they could actually read and see and understand? Is it constantly
[ Page 11408 ]
necessary to continue to give this regulatory power to cabinet?
Goodness. What happens if cabinet decides that they don't want to create the regulations? What if they get a little lazy, and it slips off the government agenda? There's no point passing legislation if you're not going to do something with it, and it just strikes me that here we have another example.
It's a great idea. Glad they adopted it from the opposition. I think I used the term "stolen" earlier, but I didn't mean that in a pejorative way, of course. They borrowed another good idea from the opposition. If this keeps up, I'm worried, of course, that the government may have nothing to run on in the next election. They'll be stuck with running on the New Democratic Party platform.
But having said that, I'm delighted to see that the new Solicitor General is taking his position seriously, moving forward with progressive legislation, doing the right thing. I know that he's anxious to stand in this House now and make a few more remarks about this bill. So I will take my place and thank the minister for stepping forward with this bill and thank him for having the courage to implement NDP policy.
Hon. J. van Dongen: I want to thank the members opposite for all of their very generous comments to myself and my predecessor Solicitor General, and I look forward to the committee stage debate.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I appreciate the notice from the hon. critic on some of the issues that he may raise in question. I look forward to that discussion. With that, I again move second reading of Bill 17.
Hon. J. van Dongen: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 17, Public Safety and Solicitor General (Gift Card Certainty) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. C. Richmond moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:21 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
AND MINISTER RESPONSIBLE FOR
EARLY LEARNING AND LITERACY
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); B. Lekstrom in the chair.
The committee met at 2:32 p.m.
On Vote 25: ministry operations, $5,675,357,000 (continued).
D. Cubberley: Welcome back, everybody. We're going to pick up where we left off, a little bit.
I'd like to ask a couple of questions about funding at the general level and would like to begin with what happened during the course of the year last year where a decision was made to switch from a per-student, or per-capita, funding formula to a per-course funding formula.
I'm just interested in the minister giving us an explanation about why that decision occurred in the way it did and why it was decided to move at that time.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, in fact, I've been very public about my comments about that particular decision and have made it clear that it certainly did cause some disruption and concern for boards of education.
The principle, as the member opposite would know, was based on the fact that some boards were receiving funding levels for students that were only taking part-time courses. So in order to ensure that there was a more appropriate level of equity…. It was a decision that was not taken lightly.
The dollars that were intended to be distributed were indeed distributed. So $4.345 billion was the announcement. That is indeed what was sent to school districts. The change did cause some discomfort and uncertainty, and I certainly took responsibility for that.
D. Cubberley: It was, by all accounts, a fairly profound shift in the way that that funding is done for school districts. The question that I still have in my mind is why a choice would be made to do that in the course of a school year as opposed to doing this in a more orderly fashion — giving districts notice that a transformation was going to occur, and therefore, giving them time to plan towards it and not to have to try and make a shift in midcourse.
Hon. S. Bond: I think, in my previous answer, I made it clear that that was a decision. Staff had done a considerable amount of work. The recommendation
[ Page 11409 ]
was made to move forward with that. I concurred with that decision. We did move forward. At the end of the day, there was much discussion, as the member opposite can imagine. I'm sure that he had the benefit of that as well with boards of education around that decision.
I think the most important part is the fact that we did distribute the amount of money that we committed to distributing. I certainly recognized and made public comment about the fact that it was not perfect timing for boards of education. Certainly, we've made a commitment to, in the future, have those discussions with boards of education, probably in a more appropriate way.
D. Cubberley: The minister made the comment that there was a fairness element. I don't think that you used the word "fairness," but you said that some people were part-time students and were actually qualifying as full-time and this was intended to correct that.
At a certain level it makes eminent sense. A course is a course, and I've heard that logic expressed. On the other hand, there are lots of people in schools who might be taking less than a full-time load who would, in fact, simply to remain in school, bring down most of the fixed cost of a student who was taking a full course load.
We might take somebody who was involved in elite athleticism and took a reduced program in order to accommodate the higher level of discipline involved in high-performance sports, or at another level, somebody returning to school, having been out of school, who couldn't carry a full course load but who was beginning to work their way back into schooling.
There was a logic for the idea that you could qualify for a full-time-equivalent without taking eight courses. I'm assuming that in order to try and put a patch on the switch to another method of funding, there had to be some checks on the "a course is a course" philosophy, otherwise it would have made it very difficult to operate certain kinds of programs at schools.
I wonder if the minister could comment on that. If she could tell me, as well, whether a patch was put on it for particular programs.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, our concern is always to provide support, particularly for those students who are most vulnerable. It was made clear to me and to our staff that there were some programs that would be at risk of not being able to be provided for students. In particular, it was alternate ed programs. As a former school trustee, I am well aware of those and in fact was a person who helped to encourage that type of unique programming to be created.
So when that concern was expressed to us by boards of education, we did indeed adjust the formula to allow for those types of programs that would be funded differently than the basic formula change that took place. I think that's fair.
But the reality of the change that we made, timing set aside — and I've taken responsibility for that…. If you set the timing aside, the fact of the matter is that some boards of education in the province were actually receiving funding for courses that students were not enrolled in. So in terms of basic fairness, we think we addressed that principle. The timing was certainly an issue and one that needs to be considered in future decisions.
But yes, we did listen to the recommendations around being very careful for those programs, and that recognition is now also maintained within the formula.
D. Cubberley: I'm just wondering what kind of impact the switchover to per-course funding has on school districts and their revenue streams in the area of distance education. It's not an area that I know extensively, so I'm kind of feeling my way in this regard. But as I understand it, there are some districts that are very involved in producing distance education courses and others, such as rural school districts, that are more consumers of distance education courses.
How will the formula take account of the potential that has to flow money towards people who are producers and away from districts that are consumers of distance education courses — to keep a relative equality?
Hon. S. Bond: From our perspective, it's not a matter of worrying about which district gets the money. What matters is that the students get the choice of taking distributed-learning courses. So the student will be funded to take it, whether it's a distributed-learning course or a bricks-and-mortar course.
We're certainly finding that some of the very students that the member opposite has referred to, such as athletes and others who have different learning styles, are choosing very much to take a variety of courses. Some may be in classrooms; some may be through distributed learning. That's the thinking behind course-by-course funding. So that is fairly and accurately represented — that if a student is taking a distributed-learning course, there will be funding for that.
The other adjustment that was made, and not mentioned by the member opposite, is that it also allows that if a student is taking ten courses, school districts would actually be funded for ten courses. So there is a balancing out effect. Certainly, that did cause some shifting of funding.
But once the issues were dealt with — with the timing and also the alternate ed protection — generally speaking, there was a sense from many districts that there was a preference for a course-by-course funding, recognizing that when students were in courses, that that's what they should be funded for. Previously there was a view that some boards were being inequitably funded to the beneficial side because of the previous formula.
D. Cubberley: Thinking about the impact, in particular, on more rural and remote school districts…. Does not a situation in which a course is a course and in which districts that are less engaged in producing
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course material for distance education consumption — more fully concentrated in bricks-and-mortar education — will see increasing flows of revenue move out of their district and into districts that are producers of distance education courses? In fact, would that not strongly incentivize the production of more distance education courses on the part of those who are in that game, to some extent, to the detriment of those more building-dependent school districts, who have the same fixed cost in delivering a unit of education as they had prior to the outflow of money?
I guess my concern is that in a situation where you have declining enrolment and you have the additional challenges of distributing educational opportunity in a context where population is dispersed and you have — exaggerated, probably — a decline in enrolment due to out-migration of people moving to cities to take jobs, that we add the other element of some additional outflow of money to producers of distance education courses. Is there a mechanism for ensuring that those school districts don't simply have more bricks added to their load?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, for the member opposite's information, 46 boards across the province are actually producers. So there is a significant degree of support for 46 boards, which is why a large number of boards were quite supportive of the change despite the timing as an issue, because it does now reflect the kinds of services they're providing. So it was about equity.
In addition to that, declining enrolment is an issue for those boards. But we need to point out that when we look at the kinds of supplements that are provided to boards who actually are in enrolment decline, there are significant dollars added to ensure that boards across the province actually are not penalized for where they live. We have factors that recognize geography, remoteness, climate — a number of things.
But more importantly, there are also thresholds of enrolment decline which generate additional funding. So when you see a decline, you receive additional funding dollars. That is now built in as a protection to the formula.
So it's not simply looking at recognizing DL courses. The formula in itself, by its very nature, actually reflects the differences across the province. We also built in enrolment decline protection, which many, many rural districts take advantage of. They continue to be very appreciative of the fact that we have built in that buffer component.
D. Cubberley: I'm interested to know a little more about how the formula actually reflects the differences. An area of interest to everyone, obviously, is the presence of special needs kids in classrooms. It's a significant presence. I've seen 10 percent as being a kind of overall number for the percentage of special needs kids. It's maybe concentrated in particular areas. It would certainly seem to follow sociodemographic characteristics of areas to some extent.
How does the funding formula take account of that? Bear in mind that for someone who is outside this and doesn't have advisers from the ministry, the funding formula and block funding are a mystery. Anything you can do to open it up will….
Hon. S. Bond: Well, thank you to the member opposite. I can tell you that it is very complex, even if you're on the inside of the ministry. It's a matter of a great deal of time and energy to just…. Staff, obviously, know it well.
Children with special needs are funded, in essence…. While not recognized specifically in the formula, there are additional dollars provided for children who are identified with specific special needs. There are three categories of support. When a child is identified and fits…. It's almost awkward to describe it in this way because we all feel somewhat uncomfortable by that, but there are certain characteristics that would generate a particular degree of funding.
The highest level of additional funding, I believe, is $32,000 for the most significant needs that a student might have. So there's an amount of funding that is targeted for those children with special needs. We do not look at classrooms and look at how many children are there in supporting classrooms. If we did, one would wonder what the role for locally elected boards of trustees might be.
The other amount of funding, though, that is provided for children with special needs is actually rolled into the block every year. That gives boards some discretion to be able to deal with children who would not be in those categories that receive supplemental funding. So there is money that previously had been targeted that was actually rolled into the block for a group of students. In addition to that, there's supplementary funding for three very specific categories of children with special needed.
Ultimately, those dollars are transferred to boards of education. Locally elected trustees, who know their circumstances, actually decide how those dollars are going to be utilized.
A child, for example, who actually carries with them, perhaps, an extra $32,000 of funding…. It doesn't necessarily mean that a board would choose to…. They would choose how those dollars are distributed. A teaching aide might be attached to that child. There are a number of ways, but the government does not make choices about how specifically to utilize those dollars.
D. Cubberley: In the instance of kids, say, suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome…. There would be a definite level of funding for each of those kids once they go through an assessment process, or would that be a supplementary amount of money?
Hon. S. Bond: Rather than just try to explain without…. I will actually give the member opposite the definitions that are attached to the categories, because they require a diagnosis. Basically, a child would then be assigned that level of funding.
[ Page 11411 ]
Level 1 funding is $32,000, and it's students who are dependent, handicapped and deaf-blind. Level 2 is $16,000 in additional funding, and those are students with moderate to profound intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, chronic health impairment, visual impairment, deaf or hard of hearing and autism spectrum disorder. Level 3 funding is at $8,000, and it's students with intensive behaviour interventions and serious mental illness.
Remember that those are three supplemental funding levels, given in addition to the basic funding allocations. Those are typically for low-incidence students, meaning they occur less frequently than other students that may have other high-incidence-type categories.
We need to remember that the block funding was actually increased to include that targeted funding.
D. Cubberley: Each of the three levels is contingent on diagnosis. Are there parameters on how rapidly kids have to be diagnosed? I understand that there are some significant waits in some areas, but is there a limit on how long of a wait?
Hon. S. Bond: Certainly, one of the issues that we're in discussion with and on a regular basis — and to be honest, we have yet to sort out…. There isn't a master list, so to speak, of where students are in that process.
One of the concerns that has been expressed to us by the B.C. Teachers Federation is the length of time that students do wait for that diagnosis. I think that is an ongoing issue for us, one that we certainly are working to try to sort out and have had discussion about in a general way at the round table that we bring together. So I think that the issue of how many children are waiting for a diagnosis continues to be under discussion. There is some concern that there are waits for those particular diagnoses.
The other thing is that when a child transitions from community to school, there's also a question of: is that done efficiently and effectively, or do we begin to recreate the wheel once they hit the K-to-12 system? That's something that's been of particular concern for me. I know, for example, families that work very closely with child development centres. We have an outstanding one in Prince George. Do they get to carry the work that's been done there with them into the public school system to avoid some of the delay that now takes place?
We're working on that. Undoubtedly, there's a concern that that needs to be done more quickly.
D. Routley: I'm interested in asking a question about the special needs students who are not funded and have not been diagnosed and whose needs still present themselves to our system. Those needs must be met, so districts are forced to water down other areas and other goals that they have in order to meet that need. The funding formula has allowed districts to take from those diagnosed and targeted students and place that money elsewhere.
In the case of school district 79, for whom I served as a trustee, a decision was made to take half of the additional targeted special needs funding in one fiscal year and apply it against the generally accepted accounting principles deficit that was imposed on us by requirements from the ministry — a total of over $800,000 in funding that was targeted to these special needs students. More than $400,000 of that money was diverted into that purpose. So the inclusion of that money in the global budget or in the per-student allotment has forced districts, I would suggest, to take some of that money away from serving those needs.
I'm saying that in order to establish the ground for a following question. On the one hand, we're talking about special needs students who are diagnosed and who are funded. On the other hand, we're talking about those who aren't being diagnosed because there are huge waiting lists for those services. Still on the third hand, we should be talking about those students whose needs won't be funded even if they are diagnosed but who still present incredible needs.
I would like to tie that into the previous line of questioning, after an answer from the minister, about her opinion on whether it is beneficial to special needs students to allow districts the flexibility to remove their funding and then to suggest that districts make that choice themselves, when those districts are presented with untenable budget requirements from the ministry that they are forced to meet by making cuts to that funding.
Hon. S. Bond: A number of things there that I'd like to follow up on. Certainly, I know that the member has been very passionate in years before about this topic. I do appreciate that and also his history of work with boards of education. I too was a locally elected school trustee. In the middle of the 1990s, the board that I was a part of spent literally millions of dollars of additional funding, by choice, on supporting children with special needs. That was in the middle of the 1990s.
I think that all of us know, as we work in our school districts, that the question of how we adequately support students will be an ongoing challenge. The question about whether it should be targeted or not, which is really the heart and the essential nature of the member's question, is an issue of debate regularly. Trustees, for years — including when I was a trustee in the 1990s — asked for de-targeting of funds to allow flexibility.
The vast majority of dollars that boards receive are generally about people. They're about salaries and wages, and it left very little in terms of how, even in the 1990s, we looked at how we used those resources.
The decision was to maintain targeted funding in several key areas. In fact, there is additional supplementary funding provided for aboriginal students, for English-as-a-second language students and also for children with special needs. We did de-target as a result of criticism from boards of education in previous years.
But it is important to note — and I do want to remind the member — that when we moved to generally
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accepted accounting principles, additional funding was provided to boards to do that. Only this year have we included the GAAP funding now in the block funding, because the vast majority — I will check with my staff in the next question — of districts have actually taken care of those responsibilities but were continuing to receive GAAP funding and using it for other purposes.
When you look at how we fund children with special needs, the debate about whether to target or not target is one that I assume will continue, but we made that choice consciously in response to the requests from boards of education to allow them to have more local decision-making in the utilization of those resources.
I should point out that from 2006 to 2007 the total number of students reported with special needs actually decreased in all categories. One could imagine why that would be the case — because we have rapidly declining enrolment. So that's a trend that isn't surprising. But as we looked at children and had them assessed and identified as having more complex special needs, we actually responded with additional level 2 supplemental funding.
So we look at what's happening and try to reflect that in the funding that we provide. For example, with students who have autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome, we have actually recognized that and are working to deal with the trends that are in front of us.
D. Routley: I remind the minister that we are discussing the estimates of the 2007-2008 year, not ten years previous.
All of these spectrum disorders have presented huge increases across the population in terms of percentages. So the population that presented itself at the front door of the school is one that has many hundreds percent more autism and many hundreds percent more other difficulties, including behavioural disorders.
But the decrease is not due to any rapidly decreasing enrolment — because the enrolment has declined by, I would suggest, less than 1 percent per year on average — but is in fact due to a failure of boards to be able to provide the support services and the diagnostic services to identify those needs that are unmet, unfunded and languish in the classroom. For the minister to suggest that a decline in those presentations is because of rapidly decreasing enrolment, I think, is very difficult to explain to people, given the numbers.
The questions that originally prompted me to ask the critic if I could become involved in this discussion were around the per-course funding. I would suggest that many of the students in high school programs who are taking less than a full course load are also many of those students who have struggled in the system without the necessary supports because of various disorders that are either not of a degree sufficient to become funded or are not being tested because of the wait-lists for testing.
Many of these students are struggling to stay in the programs that they're in. As a result, they present other difficulties to the districts in terms of managing those students' lives within the system, including administrative and counselling difficulties. I think it's accurate to suggest that the very students who the minister considers removing funding from are the students who districts need funding for the most and are vulnerable students who would not complete their programs if those additional funds were not there.
Will the minister reconsider this move and recognize that part-time students present administrative and other costs to districts that aren't reduced by the percentage of their course load?
Hon. S. Bond: For the member opposite's information, the funding formula change did not impact children with special needs. That formula was actually protected….
D. Routley: Not identified.
The Chair: Through the Chair, Member.
Hon. S. Bond: The information that I'm presenting to the member opposite is about the formula changes that took place. As with alternate ed programs, funding for children with special needs was not, in fact, at all adjusted. We continue to provide supplemental funding for those children.
Autism is a medical diagnosis. In fact, when we look at the number of…. That is actually not done within the school system. That is a medical diagnosis. About 500 of those are done a year. I've already made it clear to the member opposite that we continue to grapple with the issue of waiting for children to be assessed.
We can debate all day long whether losing 50,000 children in five or six or seven years is dramatic. I could choose not to use that word. It is a significant decline in enrolment. One would expect that there would be adjustments in the number of children that actually are proportionately part of that group. That's simple mathematics.
Does it mean we're not paying attention to how we fund children with special needs? Of course we are. In fact, this is a government that reflected and dealt with autism spectrum disorder, which had not taken place before.
I do need to remind the member opposite that over $230 million remains within the budget. That was originally targeted. Now it is no longer targeted, at the request, basically, of boards of education saying: "We want more flexibility in how to serve those children."
D. Cubberley: I was encouraged to hear the minister's recognition of the problem with diagnosis and timely diagnosis. I'd just like to explore that a little bit further, because in my interactions with teachers in particular, that's a large problem that is spread right the way across the system.
There are a couple of angles to it, one of them being that a long waiting time means that opportunities for the earliest intervention are forgone. And resources aren't actually tracking the individual, because I believe you have to be identified in order to qualify.
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There's a bit of a dilemma there for school districts. They would have to make a choice that would be a very uncomfortable choice, which would be either to fund based on a belief that there may be a problem, or what is much more likely is that they would simply not provide the special supports, pending diagnosis.
I think it's a significant problem, and the question is whether, like with waiting times in the health care system, the minister and ministry are looking at the development of some tool to deal with the queuing that's occurring. One of the things you see in health care — and I'm sure it would be applicable to any system where access to something is being rationed — is that once you develop a backlog, then it simply extends.
Anytime that there is a further bottleneck in prompt diagnosis, the backlog simply gets longer. If you don't have a process for clearing, you never get back to timely diagnosis. We have seen the challenges with that, if one were to stretch the analogy a bit, with hip and knee replacement operations, where the queue just builds.
The question at one level is: is there a clear recognition of that? And is the minister contemplating intervening in some fashion in that area, either with a review of it to look at what the options are and what could be done to begin to address the backlog and make sure that the resources get to individuals as quickly as possible…? I'll leave it there for now.
Hon. S. Bond: Very complex issues, and thoughtfully presented. I appreciate that.
Of course, there is a recognition of the challenge, and in fact, work is being done. There are a number of factors. One of the projects that we're working on is the children and youth with special needs assessment process. We're doing that with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Children and Families, because there are a number of factors that lead to this circumstance with waits.
Two separate ways to look at this. Medical diagnosis obviously takes place outside of the school system, when you look at things like autism and others. So absolutely right. The member is right. We need to look at how we collaborate with other ministries to sort through some of those issues.
I'm pretty pleased with the work we've managed to begin to do. It is underway with children and youth with special needs and a look at, collaboratively, how we serve those across ministries. That's on the sort of health side of things.
When you're looking at diagnosis and, basically, evaluation around learning disabilities, that of course is done within the school system. One of the most significant challenges we have that is creating some of the wait is the severe shortage…. I don't want to say that and then cause major alarm, but we do have a shortage of school psychologists, and that is an issue. We are now partnering with Advanced Education to try to sort out how we ensure that we have enough trained professionals to bring into the system.
It isn't about not accepting the fact that there are some challenges with diagnosis. There are some complicating factors. I would agree with a collaborative approach between ministries, particularly Health — that work is underway — and also additional training of professionals to help us.
Another area where we need to really concentrate is that there is great work done in the communities, very often, across the province before a child gets to school. The question is: do we fully utilize the information and resources that are gathered around that child when they transition to the system?
I know of some very unique partnerships — I only know of my own circumstances, in my own city, as well as most others — between child development centres and non-profit agencies and others who work with children. Then we should be able to transition that more effectively into schools to try to help alleviate some of the wait. But we're aware of it. We're working together with other ministries. Also, it is an issue that the B.C. Teachers Federation has certainly brought to our attention.
D. Cubberley: I appreciate the minister acknowledging the TF's engagement with the issue. I would urge, actually, that the TF be enabled to play some role in the sorting-out process. The teachers in the classroom have the front-line experience with this kind of thing, and they're the ones who have the strongest awareness of the impacts when these procedures aren't in place and aren't working well.
Before moving on, I want to raise one other aspect of this which is a little more troubling. That is that when you get a large queue developing around access to diagnosis, one of the options available to some folks is to go outside and buy a diagnosis so that they can move up more quickly. I have heard that this is happening.
I simply want to impress upon the minister that that possibility increases the risk of greater levels of unfairness, because those with the resources to do it are enabled to get access to specialist resources within the school system sooner than those parents who cannot afford it or who simply don't understand they have the option, because knowledge plays a role in this.
I'll give the minister a chance to respond on that, if she would like.
Hon. S. Bond: I can only respond, particularly, by using the expertise of the staff that have been here for, obviously, longer than I have. I should recognize Susan Kennedy, who has joined us and who does a terrific job in this area and other early learning areas and in a number of tasks.
I think that it is something worth noting. Certainly, the advice that I've been given is that it isn't a new phenomenon. It is something that has occurred over time, and there are certain parents who move to take advantage of the ability to do that. It isn't just something that's developed in the last two years.
Should it be noted? Absolutely. But the fact of the matter is that we have to work to build up the capacity
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to actually manage within the system and also from the health care diagnosis perspective. We have some strategic plans in place to begin to alleviate those concerns, but I think it is fair to say that there's more work to be done, and we're trying to do that in as collaborative a way as possible.
D. Cubberley: I am encouraged to hear the minister giving what I think is a commitment to attempt to put more energy into that area, to see if the time of delay for achieving a diagnosis can be reduced in the province. I think that there are issues of, for lack of a better term, fundamental justice for families in this.
There's also an interest that we have to have as legislators and stewards of the public education system to ensure that as early as possible the appropriate tailored specialist resources are getting to these kids in need. The evidence in at least some areas is pretty clear that if the intervention isn't prompt, the ultimate ability to move forward and achieve a good outcome is reduced. Therefore, I think it's imperative that we take it seriously and that we give it a sense of urgency.
There's also the government's commitment to produce the best system of supports for people with disabilities and special needs. I think that in light of that commitment, it behooves us to look very seriously at these areas.
I'm tempted to go a little further with the classroom side of this, although I had thought to talk more about special needs at another point. I'm just thinking out loud where to go. This was intended to be a little bit more around funding.
I wanted to just raise the matter of targeted funding. I heard the minister's comments about the rationale for de-targeting funding for special needs kids. We also have the situation where, in reality, I think, the only targeted funding today is for first nations through aboriginal enhancement agreements. It would be interesting for me to hear a comment from the minister on why that area in particular we chose not to target.
I hear a lot of comments not from school trustees but from actors in the school system — from parents and community leaders — that they would like to see targeted funding. School trustees don't apparently want targeted funding.
It would be interesting to hear some discussion from the minister's side about the pros and cons of this, because while trustees are very responsive to latitude, parents trying to find resources for kids within schools are not at all convinced about de-targeted funding.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I think that it is an interesting discussion. I think there are a couple of reasons for both sides of it, and I think that's why you try to sort out where you're going to do that.
I want to be very clear on the record. I may have muddied the waters a tiny bit, so I want to be clear about this. There are several areas where supplemental funding is provided, but the only area that is strictly targeted around "here's the money, and here's what you need to do with it" is aboriginal funding, the additional funding we provide for aboriginal students.
There is supplemental funding for English as a second language, as I said. There's also children with special needs. So there are a number of categories that receive additional funding, but we do not specify what to do with that. We simply say: "Here it is. You're in the best position to decide."
I think the debate really focuses around the role of locally elected school trustees and the fact that when you have an envelope that's given to you as a block, as a locally elected official, someone who is there for the best interests of the students in that school district, there should be as much flexibility as possible to make the decisions necessary.
The other side of the argument that parents and others might occasionally bring to the table is: if this money is being provided for children with special needs, how come we can't see where those allocations are specifically going? So I think it's a balance between accountability and autonomy. Not that they don't sort of overlap and interlink, but I think there is that debate.
One of the things we're doing now, for example, by asking for academic achievement plans, by providing superintendents of achievement who walk through those plans with districts…. One of the things we're asking for is a greater degree of accountability for how some of those dollars and decisions are made. Of course, with that comes the tension — that immediately boards of education are saying: "Hands off. This is really our decision-making."
So I think there is that significant tension between, "Show us where the money has gone and what you've decided to do with it," and "It should be more strictly tied to certain issues," against the whole issue of: "We're a board of education, we're locally elected, and we know our students better." I think that's a healthy tension. We have found a place where we believe that it's a good balance between making sure that boards of education receive dollars, supplemental funding, but that we don't tell them in a prescriptive way how to use them.
D. Cubberley: That was interesting and, I think, a fair presentation. I'm interested to know why, in the area of aboriginal enhancement, we follow the opposite principle? We removed targeted funding from special needs kids, which I'm not persuaded yet is the right thing to have done, but in the area of aboriginal enhancement, we decided to target the funding, which I think does make sense.
I'm just interested to know what the rationale for a different approach in that area is.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I think that is a thought-provoking question. I think the rationale — we've chatted about it briefly — mainly centres around the fact that we have such an extraordinary gap in success for aboriginal children in British Columbia. I know that the member and I have chatted about this numerous times,
[ Page 11415 ]
and we both share a concern about the fact that at the moment we have 48 percent of our aboriginal students completing their high school programs. That's not acceptable to either one of us, I'm certain.
It also allows for a significant role by first nations in terms of the inclusion of culture and language in an effort to ensure that we have a learning environment that is as relevant and inclusive as possible for students. So it was very much a priority to deal with the significant gaps that exist for the success of aboriginal students and also for the significant inclusion of aboriginal people in the decision-making around how those particular funds are utilized. There are amazing partnerships that take place in many, many school districts related to the utilization of those particular aboriginal funds.
D. Cubberley: The minister mentioned a couple of mechanisms that are used to try to ensure that the money is reaching the target populations. Is the money that is spent actually being tracked in a more systematic way? And are outcomes being tracked in a systematic way for subject populations? Whether it's special needs kids of a particular kind or it's first nations achievers or ESL students, are the outcomes being systematically tracked?
Hon. S. Bond: When boards of education do their year-end report, they do indicate to us where the spending is done. In fact, they would indicate how much spending they've made related to children with special needs. We do look at a breakdown of that.
We track, generally speaking, reports from boards of education that tell us how they spend those dollars. It is certainly not line by line or looking at individual initiatives or programming.
We would potentially look at staffing levels. For example, if we see a particular amount of money and a number of students, we might match that up to the number of staff that have been attached to those dollars. So there is a general tracking.
When we look at outputs, the way we would measure that is the same way we would measure output for all students in the system. We would look at grade-to-grade transition, foundation skills assessment results, high school completion. So there is a measurement that is used across the system, whether you're an aboriginal child or a child with special needs.
There is a general overview of those initiatives, but the key factor to note is that we believe that locally elected boards of education actually manage those dollars on a day-to-day basis. It is not something that the ministry intervenes in or makes recommended usage of. It is something decided by boards of education, hence the move away from targeted funding and the opportunity for boards to utilize those resources as they best see fit.
D. Cubberley: Just to change gears a little bit. It's always refreshing to come at things from another angle.
The province has some general initiatives underway around climate change and reducing our carbon footprint. Obviously, the education sector, K-to-12, has a carbon footprint, as do all operations that are using fossil fuels in any form. I'm wondering what state of planning the minister or ministry is at in terms of beginning to look at that carbon footprint and what kinds of things are being included in the analysis of that. I'll just give the minister a chance to open that up, and then I'll ask a couple of more specific questions.
Hon. S. Bond: I should just say that one of the things I'm most encouraged by and impressed by is the fact that when I visit schools, literally dozens of classrooms around the province — hundreds last year — one of the areas that students have embraced most significantly is the issue of climate change and sustainability. To be honest, our generation needs to learn a lot from them. Students are very interested in making sure we have a planet that they're happy with and that will actually be healthy and beneficial for them. They really are quite remarkable in their passion for this issue.
As a result of that, many schools have already embraced a lot of fantastic programs that look at how we live in greener spaces and how we make our buildings more efficient. I was just in a classroom the other day where the classroom actually had composting. It had recycling. You name it. It had everything. It had the salmonid enhancement program. They were fantastic at what they did. And no, it's not a large urban community. It was actually in Valemount. It was quite impressive.
We are beginning, as is the broader public sector — as you can imagine, it's to take place in the broader public sector as well — to do the analysis about an institution's carbon footprint. We've actually started within our own ministry to ask ourselves…. If we're going to ask people to do this, we need to lead by example.
We have a process in place to begin to analyze that. What we would eventually do is work with the sector and provide some tools for how you assess what your carbon footprint is and then begin to look at a sectoral approach to begin those things. We certainly won't be doing that alone. As you can imagine, the rest of the public sector will be engaged in that.
I personally think we have a great start. As I've said, many schools, many districts have already embraced many of the concepts that we're thinking about. As we visit around the schools, we see programs to encourage people to walk to school. They're being thoughtful about what they have in school — those kinds of things.
The formal assessment is being developed, and the analysis will take place. We're certainly not finished the work but are encouraged by the enthusiasm that we feel and see around this initiative.
D. Cubberley: Just to probe a little further on that. In the course of working out what a school's and what a school district's carbon footprint might be and how to contract it, will the minister and staff be including in their analysis of the footprint the travel to and from the
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school — the means of getting kids to school and the means of getting them back home?
Travel to and from places of work is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and to all forms of pollution, and it also has other implications, obviously, for schools in terms of safety around schools. So I would just ask if that would be included in it.
Hon. S. Bond: Certainly, we are looking at innovative programming. In fact, I've been invited to participate in just a week or two in a Walking School Bus program, which is looking at how we actually get children to school when they often have two working parents or there are concerns about safety. We've made a commitment to look at those types of programs. In fact, I think they were included in either the throne speech or the budget speech — one or both. So we are looking at ways to encourage families and individuals to be thoughtful about how they get from place to place.
As importantly, we have looked at a program to deal with our bus fleet, for example, which is quite remarkable. We have the first diesel-electric hybrid bus in Canada being put in place in the Kelowna school district. We're looking at using biodiesel, for example. We're looking at retrofits that make our school bus fleet more efficient.
We're looking at that from a number of angles, and one would expect us to have to if we're going to change behaviours — looking at modifying existing infrastructure; looking, when we purchase new buses, at how we do that in a more energy-efficient way; and, obviously, looking at the emissions issue with that as well. So I think we're trying to look at a comprehensive way.
It is an expectation that we will be carbon-neutral by 2010. That does include all of the broader public service in terms of greenhouse gas emissions — carbon neutrality by 2010. We're working closely with the Climate Action Team to actually sort out how you do that on the ground and change behaviour — again, encouraging signs. As districts contemplate busing and all of those things, they are making decisions that clearly line up with the agenda.
D. Cubberley: Just one little sidebar on this. The carbon tax that is going to come down. School districts have been doing some calculations about the impact on budgets of the carbon tax. I have had three or four communications where they've mapped it out. Victoria is working with an estimate of about $90,000 a year. I have another one from Coquitlam, district 43, which indicates about $110,000 a year — that kind of an additional cost.
Is it the intent of the ministry to find a way to offset those additional costs, or are those costs for school districts to pick up?
Hon. S. Bond: As we do with the funding formula for a number of things, some of the things that the formula itself contemplates are things like climate, distance — all of those issues. Some responsibility will need to be taken by boards, obviously, but we want to work to make sure that it's proportional so that you're not unduly impacted by your climate, your geography and all of those things.
We have a technical review committee that looks at the funding formula every year. The representatives on it are from across the province — rural, urban, large and small districts — and one of the things I've asked them to look at is the impact of that and making sure that it doesn't unduly impact districts across the province.
D. Cubberley: Just a quick question on that. The composition of that committee — is it trustees who sit on that committee? What kinds of people are drawn into that?
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
Hon. S. Bond: It has been in place for a number of years. It includes superintendents and secretary-treasurers. But undoubtedly, this will be one of the topics of discussion. We have fairly regular meetings. We've started a new series of meetings with superintendents and board chairs, and these undoubtedly are the kinds of issues that would come to that table as well.
D. Cubberley: Welcome back, Mr. Chair. You woke me up.
Let's talk for a moment about energy efficiency and green building design generally and whether the intent will be to mandate for new schools and for retrofits of schools attempting to go to much higher energy efficiency standards. In line with that, is consideration being given to using the LEED designation tool as a means of helping to guide school districts towards more efficient and greener buildings?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes. In fact, buildings will be expected to comply with LEED gold or actually a higher equivalent, if that's possible. Yes, there is that expectation.
D. Cubberley: Just wondering if that applies currently. Is that in place? Are we aiming at LEEDs gold currently?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes. Anything that can be impacted in that way either in planning or where it's feasible — if we haven't built a building yet…. Yes, that would be the case.
D. Cubberley: I just want to dot the "i" on this one and cross that "t." LEEDs silver is often referred to as a no-brainer. It's something you can do simply by shifting choice around without any incremental cost. LEEDs gold involves, typically, some additional costs in the building in order to get the efficiencies. But usually for LEEDs gold there's a payback of five to seven years, so you're recouping the additional investment in energy savings over the life of the first five to seven years of the building.
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My question, to be a little more specific or precise, would be: will the ministry approve the additional costs of capital construction for achieving LEEDs if it's substantiated that there is that payback horizon in terms of the operation of the building?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, we are making budget considerations to ensure that our buildings comply with the expectations that we now have in government. I'm glad that the member made the point, because I was certainly urged to make it, that the investment will obviously gain benefit over time. We do expect to see that be a result of the LEED gold.
We should also point out, though, that at times, when you're looking to achieve LEED gold status, it's not necessarily about extra cost. It's about evaluating every process, every project, in and of its own. It can simply be the way you situate the building.
There is a process in place, but certainly we are recognizing that in order to do those projects, we need to make some budget consideration for that. The expectation is, of course, that we'd receive the reward for that investment further down the road.
D. Cubberley: One of the things the LEEDs process does is prompt some thinking on the part of management. Obviously, you have to get up to a certain level of point credits in order to actually get the certification to be gold.
In my experience with this at the municipal level and, in particular, around the CRD headquarters building, the initial design of the LEEDs project…. It was a struggle to get to gold. One of the reasons for that was…. I found this very interesting, given the location of the building at the centre of a city which we had got designated as the cycling capital of Canada, with transit running on every side of the building — the major hub in downtown and with the highest level of walking to work in the city. There was only one point attributed to linkages to transportation innovation in the original proposal put together by the consultants. After a considerable amount of work was done on it by politicians and advocates, we managed to get a significant number of points out of the transportation component by doing some fairly small redesign things around the building.
To bring this over to schools, in my own neighbourhood I've watched a couple of schools go through expansion processes over the last number of years. One of the most troubling things I've watched in the expansion of the schools — not the building itself; the building is lovely and a tremendous improvement over the old building — is that vast amounts of money were put into parking lots, into repaving the old parking lot and into adding new parking capacity with a new road access to it.
They actually did a nice job of dealing with runoff from the new parking lot. You could see improvement in thinking, because they're managing water better with it, but they were not managing the transportation impact.
They were not investing equivalent amounts of money in the pedestrian environment or in the transit environment, and certainly nothing in the cycling environment. All the money flowed into the parking lot structure.
Now, it was a high school, and you've got to deal with it, but if you want to take responsibility for your carbon impact, your carbon footprint, the primary source of emissions around the school is going to be automotive transport. The ability of design to begin to prompt people to change their behaviour in favour of taking transit, walking and cycling is enormous, but it requires a modification of the standard approach to the design of the school and its integration into the transportation setting.
I just want to lodge that with the minister and let her respond to it. But I think if you want to move down the path of reducing these impacts, we can't privilege investing in an infrastructure that actually grows the impact.
Hon. S. Bond: First of all, I appreciated the comments about the LEEDs process, because I'm not as familiar with it, obviously, as the member opposite.
It will take some time for us to sort out how we actually manage a major cultural shift. I'm a firm believer that while I absolutely embrace the thought that we need to get people out of cars and we need to think about how we use transit, I'm also a person who lives in northern British Columbia, recognizing that where I live, it's a long walk to school, and it's also cold a lot of the time.
So I think it isn't about one-size-fits-all. It's absolutely about building buildings that reflect the expectations around greenhouse gas reductions and all of those things. But I think the best thing we can do is work individually with boards of education and with districts across the province. I think we have to look at the principles of transportation and transit, because the member is right, that is a major contributor — a significant one.
I think it will take us a bit of time to catch up. But I think the good news is that absolutely LEEDs gold is the expectation. We're going to work with districts. I've seen some very creative work being done in buildings, things like — the member is right — the collection of water, the way windows open and close. There are just so many things that can be done.
I think valid observations. I think it's an enormous change to expect in a short period of time, and I do think we have to look at regionally specific challenges before we sort of decide we're going to either have parking lots or not. I know the member wasn't suggesting that, but we have to think about that from a regional perspective as well.
D. Cubberley: Yes, and I'm not advocating one-size-fits-all. I do recognize that the potential is different in each region as are the obstacles to achieving it.
Just a couple of suggestions, though. I'm not going to name the school that I'm talking about, because it's not my intent to give it any notoriety. It is a very
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good school. It went through a planning process unto itself, and it didn't engage the municipality and the community around the interface of the school and the community.
One of the downsides of that — apart from the fact that the money went into parking lots…. And not into pickup and drop-off either. It managed to get the parking lots but no pickup and drop-off. So that's just done on the public street in the middle of the congestion that the buses and the people and everyone else are in.
I think that one of the things that can be value-added in the process of trying to contract carbon footprint of schools is when they're planning a school to engage the schools — and to commit the schools and school districts — in discussion with the municipality about the supply of additional infrastructures at the time of redevelopment. What we tend to do is build it and then afterwards try and fix all the problems that we didn't take account of when we were designing the infrastructure.
I've been through rather a lot of this, because I started my career in municipal government sitting on the administrative traffic committee, which was a great learning experience, but it was largely, at times, about school problems. It continues to this day, but I would say having evolved to a higher level.
There are now some tools out there. For example, I would really recommend that staff create this connection, if they don't have it already, and that the minister become acquainted with ICBC's safer school program. There has been developed and tested — piloted in my own municipality and others around the province — a tool called safer schools, which works, in concert with school districts and municipalities, with a trained coordinator.
They have produced some tools for analyzing transportation demand and for shaping how people come to the school, to minimize impacts. These often have to do, literally, with safety, but they can translate very, very easily into gains that reduce the carbon footprint, that increase exercise and that achieve gains on a whole bunch of accounts.
I think that one strong recommendation is to mandate a process of communication among schools, school districts and local government when a school is being planned — around the interface areas and to include transit, where transit exists as an entity. That would see some parallel investments made at the time that the school is built, rather than trying to bolt them onto the ten-year capital plan long after the school has been built and new problems have emerged.
The other strong suggestion would be not to have every school district and every individual school planning process get on the same learning curve about LEEDs and to look to create, through retaining and buying the expertise, a LEEDs planning consultant who could provide some guidance — you may already be doing this, but this is free-advice afternoon — and advice to the school planners about how to get the gains so that you don't have to reinvent the learning on every project but it can be disseminated quite easily.
There's really rather a lot of experience with it now. The challenge will be to pick somebody as the consultant who is creative so that they're actually at the cutting edge and not somebody who's doing boilerplate, because you miss a lot of easy innovation if you just get somebody who's walking their way through it.
I make those suggestions for the minister's consideration.
Hon. S. Bond: Thank you. Those suggestions were helpful. We've just made a note of the ICBC safer schools program. I'm not aware of it, certainly, and the staff I have here isn't. That doesn't mean that some wonderful person in the ministry isn't already involved with that. We've made a note of it. I think that's very helpful.
I think the whole discussion…. Obviously, the member's experience as a municipal councillor has been helpful in the thinking that prompted these questions. I think that the more we can collaborate as a community in terms of designing buildings and looking at that in a partnership kind of way, the better it is for all of us.
When we build new buildings, one of the things that's most exciting…. Watching the process is always interesting. There is enormous interest by parents, staff and students in the building itself, in how it will fit, in what it looks like and even in where rooms go. That's the way it should be. There should be that internal consultation. Buildings that are created by the people who are going to work and study in them are pretty important, but I think that expanding it to look at how we fit within a community or a municipality is a good suggestion.
We do provide resources to school districts — on LEEDs, for example — to use a consultant. But I think that looking at a consistent approach to that is a thoughtful idea — whether or not there would even be an application for that across the broader public sector. Let's be clear. All of our buildings are going to face those challenges.
We are looking for ways to do that efficiently and effectively. I would totally agree that as we build new buildings and even retrofit…. One of my staff pointed out that, for example, we have experts from B.C. Hydro now coming out and looking at the buildings that already exist, to say: "What can we do to help retrofit these buildings?"
We are trying to connect districts with expertise in order to make this successful. A discussion with municipal planners and municipal leaders is also a very positive suggestion that we can certainly look at. Much of that work is underway, perhaps less formally than the member opposite would prefer, but I think there is that connection being made.
H. Bains: I would like to move into the area of….
[The bells were rung.]
The Chair: Committee A will recess until the vote is complete.
The committee recessed from 3:45 p.m. to 3:59 p.m.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
[ Page 11419 ]
H. Bains: As I was starting to say, we want to move into a different area. I'd like to talk about the CommunityLINK program. Perhaps the minister could explain, maybe in a few simple words, what this program is and what criteria are used in order for any district to qualify for funding.
Hon. S. Bond: The member brings to our attention a very important program, and one that I know is very important in Surrey.
The CommunityLINK program has $45.8 million attached to it currently. It is directly given to boards of education. It provides extra support for vulnerable students. The school districts work with a number of community agencies, including MCFD, the RCMP and others. It can obviously do things like provide hot lunches and meal programs and a number of things.
It's an important program. At the moment it has $45.8 million attached to it.
H. Bains: Thank you for that explanation. Could the minister explain how different districts get funding, and what funding formula exists right now?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, one of the challenges we're facing is that the funding for this program has been based on a historic funding allocation. What we see is that things are changing in the province. We're grappling now, as the member opposite would know, with looking at how we address the needs of growing school districts and districts that may not be growing. How do we find a formula that in some ways might more accurately reflect the current demographics in a particular school district?
Just last Friday my deputy met with the Surrey board of education to deal with their view that there is inadequate funding being provided to them for the CommunityLINK program. We're grappling with that at the moment, because anytime we look at a fixed pot of dollars — which we have at the moment, $45.8 million — and we look at adjusting that, it means that we're going to see those changes take place across the province.
I think it's fair to say that we are grappling with the allocation of those dollars. How do we do it equitably, and how do we recognise districts that are growing and certainly face significant challenges in that area?
It is an issue that has been brought to my attention by the board of education. I asked my deputy to meet with them last week and previous to that. There has not been a resolution to the concern, but certainly, it is in front of us and one that we're trying to sort out.
H. Bains: I guess when we talk about historical funding formulas…. My understanding was that, at one point, all of the districts got together and basically simply divvied it up based on the number of districts there were. They divided it up, and everyone received almost the same funding based on — you know, there might be some variation about — a certain criteria. Is that still the formula?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I'm happy to have staff correct me if I'm inaccurate. As I recall, this program didn't originally reside in Education. I think that it resided in another ministry, the Ministry of Children and Family Development. In essence, we inherited it. It had come with a pattern of funding.
As I've suggested, I think we are grappling with how you take those dollars and allocate them in a way that would deal with the issue of, especially, growing districts. I certainly respect the member's bringing it to this venue, because there is an issue with the Surrey school board of education. We are working through how to create that formula.
To the member's direct question more directly: I'm not sure how the initial funding was allocated, but I should assure the member that we are aware of the challenge. We are grappling with it and, obviously, reluctant to make mid-year adjustments to that — you can imagine what that does to programs that exist — and not certain how to quite manage that. We are working through that and not only with the Surrey board of education. There may well be others who feel that their share is not appropriate.
I think it's fair to say that probably every district in the province would love to have more dollars than they are receiving now, for whatever reasons. Any adjustment, obviously, has to be done thoughtfully and with some research and history. I do recognise the challenge that the member brings to the table.
H. Bains: I believe that the Surrey school board, or the district officials, gave a briefing to the minister as well earlier this year?
Hon. S. Bond: That is accurate. I have met with members of the — not the entire — board of education, but certainly the chair and others, I believe, were there. I had a briefing at that time. My deputy was with me, and the deputy had a follow-up meeting with the board of education just this past Friday.
H. Bains: Just for the record, I'd like to read…. I believe the area of concern that they brought to the minister's attention was — I'm sure that later they probably were the same ones that were brought to the deputy's attention as well: "a) dramatic level of CommunityLINK underfunding for Surrey school district; b) the inequity based on comparisons with other districts; the programs and services the board is committed to resourcing with increased CommunityLINK funds."
I think the issue here is that while this reallocation, or as the minister said…. The minister's words were "grapple with this issue" and how to reallocate or allocate the funding based on the growth in certain areas. In the meantime, there are students in need. Students in Surrey district schools are not getting new resources and the services that these students need, compared to some of the other districts and the students in other districts.
My question to the minister would be: what is the immediate relief available to the Surrey district, at least, or to those children who are in our school system
[ Page 11420 ]
while this reallocation and this issue are being dealt with by the ministry?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, certainly, the issue as I've said…. First of all, I want to confirm that the agenda that was read into the record does reflect the discussion that we had. I think it's important to do that.
I have been appreciative of the Surrey board of education's programming support that they have put in place, and they have. They've provided additional dollars to ensure that those children are having their needs met. I think that it is an issue that we need to continue to actually work on, and we are committed to doing that.
It is not an easy discussion. If you were to use a formula, if you make that formula population-driven, if you make it…. There are a number of ways to look at it. The worst-case scenario is that you have people who gain and people who do not. So that's the challenge that we face.
I will simply thank the member for bringing this to our attention once again. We've committed to working with the Surrey board of education and with others who have similar concerns, and we will try to find a resolution with a fixed pot of dollars. That's very challenging to do, but I assure you that it is on our radar screen, and we are trying to find a way to work collaboratively with the Surrey board to solve this issue.
H. Bains: I think the question that would come from my district and those board members is this. This issue has been brought to the ministry's attention last year, this year and again when the budget was brought down and debated in the House, and they see no fix in this particular area. The expectation was that if this fixed amount of dollars isn't the answer, could we not have found dollars somewhere else to pay for those districts who are growing, as the minister said, and who are in need of those services and for those children that are not getting those services right now?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I think the only thing I can say to the member opposite is that in fact we're adding $122 million to the education budget. It is a significant increase in dollars. We try to expend the maximum dollars we possibly can.
I can understand that there was some disappointment by the Surrey board of education. I can only reiterate the fact that we have added additional funding to the block, and we will continue to try to work through the CommunityLINK program issue.
Again, the Surrey board of education continues to provide exemplary service to those children who are vulnerable, and we need to find ways to more accurately reflect their concerns with CommunityLINK. It was not resolved with the budget, and we will continue to find ways to try to do that.
H. Bains: I guess that is a frustrating part. The school board and everyone involved in that district are trying their best at trying to provide those services that are needed in that area.
I just want to say — so that we all understand the extent of the problem that we have and the kind of community that we are dealing with — that Surrey is a very complex and extremely diverse community. The district has some of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Canada as well as some of the poorest.
Early development indicators showing the vulnerability index highlight the neighbourhoods of significant and growing need in Surrey. The proportion of vulnerable children in Surrey compared to other urban districts is not reflected in the funding distribution, and I have certain tables that clearly show the discrepancies. There is some data that I could provide to the minister. I'm sure that the minister perhaps got it already during that briefing.
More children zero to seven years of age, and a higher projected percentage distribution to continue to 2016. This is what our district is facing right now.
A higher child dependency rate — which means more families with dependent children — than Vancouver, for example. A higher annual average population percentage change for the last year. Again, compared to Vancouver, it's much higher.
A higher annual average population percentage change for the last five years. A higher average annual population percentage change for the last ten years.
A lower average family income level — $64,890 in school district 36, compared to $69,451 in Vancouver. A lower percentage of children zero to 18 receiving income assistance benefits, but a higher percentage of income assistance caseloads of single parent families.
So the list goes on. I think that when you compare all of that to other districts, the funding that comes to Surrey to deal with those issues that we are facing in a fast-growing community…. It is actually astounding that we haven't been able to deal with the problem here.
For example, Surrey received $2,821,818 through this program for 63,597 students. This comes out to about $44.40 per student. When you compare that with Langley, Langley received a little over $100 per student; Vancouver, $158 per student; Burnaby, $83 per student; and greater Victoria, a little over $192 per student. Only Coquitlam comes close. So I think when you compare the demographics of Surrey with the other major cities, it is actually alarming that students in our district are not getting the funding in this particular area compared to others.
I think that at this time I would request and leave it with the minister that we should deal with this issue sooner rather than later. Perhaps we should not leave it until next year's budget. If we can find some way to put money into this program for Surrey district, I think that would be appreciated. I would like the minister to comment on that.
Hon. S. Bond: I appreciate the information shared. I think that one of the challenges we face is that, just as the member opposite has stood and explained the demographics for Surrey, we could probably have an MLA for each of those other districts stand up and provide the demographics. It isn't about, necessarily,
[ Page 11421 ]
per student. It's based on needs and unique circumstances in those districts. Probably all of those districts have very worthwhile and supportive programs for the children that are there.
We are trying to do this in a thoughtful way. I understand that it is not quickly enough for the member and for the Surrey board of education. Certainly, we'll take under advisement his recommendation that we look to deal with this in some way before the next budget cycle, and that's certainly the work that we're undertaking at the moment.
It may well be transitional. I'm not certain how we would address that, but it is an issue that has been brought to our attention, once again today by the member. It is important that we take it in the context of the entire province and look at the needs across the province. But work is being done, and we will continue to do that.
I certainly got the message that sooner rather than later would be a more appropriate approach. So I do appreciate the member bringing it to our attention.
H. Bains: I think the minister is correct in explaining that in all those districts — whether it's Vancouver, Burnaby, greater Victoria — there are children who need those services, and those funds are needed there. There's no question about that. But the only question here is that….
School district 36 and the children that are going to school in that district are not getting the funding that they need to provide those services. As the challenges come with the fastest-growing community and soon to be the largest city in B.C., it brings with it the issues that I just listed. I think we need to deal with that issue a.s.a.p. so that those children can get on with the program, the teachers can get on with the services that they can provide and the school district is also comfortable that they have the funding to provide those services.
I just want to go on to a few other questions over funding. Maybe the minister could tell us: what is the overall funding that went to school district 36 for this year?
Hon. S. Bond: I will attempt to read this from a distance here. The funding for school district 36 for 2008-2009 is $485,608,000.
H. Bains: How does that compare to the last year's funding?
Hon. S. Bond: Last year's budget was $469,618,000, so it is a 3.4 percent increase.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could tell us: what is the total cost of the labour contract increases, for Surrey teachers and others, that is included in these two budgets?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, the way we allocate funding is that we actually allocate a block funding amount to the Surrey board of education. They determine how many staff they're actually going to hire with the allocation that they've been given.
So within this $485,608,000, the board would look at its class size and composition, look at the supports they want to put in place, and they would create the staffing plan. This funding would be expected to cover that. We provide block funding, and they decide on their staffing component.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could comment on, if I give you some numbers…. So $132 million is needed to deal with the labour cost, and only $120 million is funded to pay for that. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, I wouldn't be aware of the way that the Surrey board of education decides how they're going to staff their school district because, as we've pointed out before, districts across the province, for example, choose to support children with special needs in different ways. So there may be an expectation that they would staff a classroom differently.
We provide block funding. The increase to the Surrey board of education was 3.4 percent. Within that envelope the Surrey board of education decides how it's going to staff its schools.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could comment. When the public sector, especially the teachers', contracts were negotiated, I believe that it was around 3 percent, if I'm not mistaken. Also considering that the Surrey school district is one of the few districts that actually has increased enrolment this year, you will need about 3 percent, 3½ percent funding just to keep it at status quo. But with the additional 400 students coming on board for this year compared to last year in addition, wouldn't that require additional funding to pay for those students?
Hon. S. Bond: A couple of things. First of all, you can't simply look at the percentage of increase on the funding side; you actually have to also look at the percentage of change in enrolment. The member opposite is correct, but the estimated enrolment growth is actually only 0.3 percent. There isn't a comparable increase in the number of students. The funding is going up 3.4 percent, while the percentage of change is only 0.3 when it comes to estimated enrolment.
So a growing district, I grant that, but certainly only at 0.3 percent. If you look back at previous years, in some of the years — 1997, for example — the growth rate in population was 4 percent. So growing not as quickly as it has in the past, and this year only estimated to grow by 0.3 percent.
In fact, we provide dollars to the board of education. There are no formulas for staffing. For example, we don't say that a board of education has to hire this many of this or that many of whatever other support services. We do provide an envelope. The wage recognition that was negotiated is fully funded from that
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perspective. But boards make decisions to support the students with additional staff. There are no longer formulas in place for the number of staff.
Of course, that's been a contentious debate. There's no doubt about that. Obviously, the B.C. Teachers Federation very much prefers the formula approach. Our belief is that boards of education are in the best position to determine how to staff a class and how to support the class and all of those components within a school.
Key factors, though: 3.4 percent increase in funding and 0.3 percent growth in student numbers.
H. Bains: Has the Surrey board of education identified to the minister that there is a…. I'm looking at all of these increases, whether there's a growth in students and the wage increase cost, the transportation and other. You know, those are built-in costs that they have. You call them overheads or you call them whatever, but they go up every year.
Considering all of that, when they sat down, had they identified to the minister that there is a shortfall of $4.5 million?
Hon. S. Bond: I can honestly say that I don't think that I've met with a board of education, either when I was on one or have now been responsible for listening to them, when funding is not an issue for them. The fact of the matter is that I think, as in times past and in times forward, everyone will want more funding. It's the same thing in health care.
I can perhaps provide a helpful number to the member opposite. When I look at the historic changes in funding, in the last five years population within the student enrolment numbers has increased by 4.8 percent, and funding to the board of education in Surrey has increased by 29.2 percent.
H. Bains: On one hand, the minister is saying that the best decisions are made by the local elected school board officials. But they have done their calculations, and they have looked at their needs. They looked at what they need in the special needs area. They looked at the needs of the growth area of students, and they looked at the funding that came to the district. Considering all of that, when they came to the bottom line, they are identifying that there is a $4.5 million shortfall.
Perhaps the minister could take one position or the other. If they are allowed to make their decisions based on their needs, based on the growth of the city, based on the needs of the services they have and the demographics of their community, then we need to respect the numbers that they come out with.
My question to the minister is: looking at all of that…. I understand the minister has to look at the overall provincial picture, but this particular district is different. It's unique, as we all know. It is the fastest growing. It is probably the most diverse community in the province, and the local school board officials are very prudent when it comes to dealing with education needs and funding. So they have done their homework.
All I'm saying is that perhaps the minister could reconsider and take a look — if they are saying a $4.5 million shortfall — if there is a $4.5 million shortfall. If that funding doesn't come, it means that they have to cut some more services. We just finished talking about the need for more services in the area of CommunityLINK.
Now, if they don't have this funding to deal with the other areas of funding and services, then I guess something has to compromise. Perhaps the minister could deal with this issue and see, you know, where the discrepancy is when they say there is a $4.5 million shortfall.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I think that the most important context to look at…. Obviously, we support locally elected school boards making decisions, but they need to do that within the framework of record-level funding in British Columbia.
The education budget has never, never been larger in the province, at a time when we have fewer students. Is there an endless pot of dollars for education? No. I would suggest that most boards of education and many would wish that there would be. But we require the ability to say…. Record levels of funding are being invested, and boards of education need to work within that.
The other thing that's important to recognize. When you look at districts like the Surrey board of education, for example, we can't simply look at operating important investments and an extremely large budget — at almost half a billion dollars being invested, and rightly so — to deal with that area.
We also have to add in the capital funding when you look at what we're investing in Surrey. If you look at where we have built the most significant degrees of capital, if you look at the Surrey board of education, since 2001 we have added almost $160 million worth of capital infrastructure in that school district. Obviously, decisions have to be made. Boards have to deal within the envelope that they're given.
I don't think that it's at all contradictory. The fact of the matter is that we believe that we need to give boards of education abilities to make choices. Just as the member opposite and I would have to make those choices within the framework of the budgets available to us, that's precisely what we expect boards of education to do.
C. Trevena: I would give a little bit of advance notice to the minister. I'm going to be switching tacks. I do have some local questions on school district 85 in particular, but I want to look at…. Both the StrongStart and the plans for all-day kindergarten are my foci. I'll be working along with my colleague from Saanich South.
I just wanted to start on the StrongStarts. We've seen 80 StrongStarts begin across the province, and they clearly are meeting a need. I was at StrongStart down in Georgia Park in school district 72. It's really well used, a great place. The school has it well inte-
[ Page 11423 ]
grated into school, and everybody seems to be very happy with it.
I wanted to know from the minister what the rollout plan is for the 400 now planned to come in the next two years.
Hon. S. Bond: I'm delighted to have the opportunity to talk about a program that is seeing extraordinary success across the province. We're very excited about this. I continue to receive notes and comments from families for whom it is making a difference.
I think we have some issues to deal with. Great news recently when the Minister of Employment and Income Assistance announced some transportation support for vulnerable families. That was a real concern for me and my staff, knowing that there are families who cannot get to a StrongStart centre who absolutely should be able to be at one.
We are yet to determine exactly where those centres will go. We have currently asked for proposals from school districts across the province to consider how to best utilize the sites that we have. We are thrilled to be able to move that to 400, and we want to continue to see that happen over the next number of years.
We've asked districts to consider a number of things. Excess space. One of the critical components when we looked at beginning StrongStart was that there is excess space, and how can we best utilize that? So a proposal would have to consider excess space. We need to consider vulnerability factors, and EDI would be one of the considerations.
We have yet to formalize that process, but the information has been conveyed to districts that they need to start thinking about how to make those proposals.
We did start 16 pilot projects, and I think we're at 86, as we speak. In the second round every school district received at least one StrongStart centre. We felt that it was important to see how it worked in all parts of the province. We're working on the process and wanting to make sure that it's equitable but that it does maintain those principles we looked at, of excess space and vulnerability.
We're exploring things like shared sites, mobile things. We really don't want to see this necessarily locked down to a model that is a box that everyone has to fit in. Lots of healthy discussion is going on about how to make those happen.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that. She mentioned shared sites. What's meant by shared sites? Shared with other drop-ins, or what is that?
Hon. S. Bond: In one of my visits to the school district…. The name escapes me at the moment. I'm sure someone will hand it to me in a minute. I went to so many. I can visualize it, but I can't remember the name at this point.
There was a concern about having the requirement to have one centre open every day of the week in a very small community. It was not going to be as well utilized as actually being able to have two sites, where you shared the early childhood development expert between two sites.
[R. Cantelon in the chair.]
Originally in our thinking it was one site, excess space. I guess that I wanted to be able to explore a more individual community approach to it. What would work in some communities wouldn't necessarily work in a small rural or remote community.
We certainly are exploring that. I think we have three pilots underway that are looking at sort of splitting the services so that families can take advantage of it in two places, rather than one — that kind of thinking.
C. Trevena: In school district 72, in Campbell River, it's complementary. At Georgia Park they've got it at certain hours, and then down at Cedar they've got it at other hours. The parents do use both, if they can — again, if they can access both because, obviously, of the cost of transport.
What's the budget figure for the 400, and how is that going to be broken down? Two years is quite fast to introduce them all.
Hon. S. Bond: The funding model that exists today will remain in place. For every site we start there's a $20,000 provision for startup, which is for equipment and all of those kinds of things. The ongoing funding level is $30,000 per centre. I think the budget reflected about $38 million, but I think it's important to note that because boards expressed a concern about ongoing funding and making sure that it was in place, this is actually a separate line item that goes out. When the block funding goes out, this money is outside of the block. There's actually a line that says StrongStart so that boards are clear that the funding has been provided and will continue to be provided.
Our budget makes provision for the ongoing sites that we have in place, which are, I think, 86 at the moment. We're moving that up to 200 throughout the next school year and then up to 400. The budget provisions that we received in Budget 2008 cover all of those additions.
C. Trevena: StrongStarts are very effective, and not just for the parents. As I say, I've been very impressed with the ones I've seen, the commitment from both the staff and the importance it has to the parents who can participate and the caregivers who can participate. There were a couple I went to where it was grandparents who were there with their grandchildren.
Using excess school space. Are the numbers of participants in StrongStart reflected in the numbers of children in a school?
Hon. S. Bond: They are not included in the number of students that are counted when we count the K-to-12 system, but it is an ongoing discussion. In fact, I've asked our staff to do some work looking at recognizing
[ Page 11424 ]
capacity, because it's pretty difficult to say to a board of education: "We think it's really important that you have a StrongStart centre. We want to start looking at early learning, but by the way, we don't count those kids in your capacity."
It is something that boards of education have shared with us. Certainly, the past president of the BCSTA made it clear that that was an issue of concern. We're actually doing some work about that capacity.
It does have financial implications, of course, and we have to be thoughtful about that. It also has capital implications. But the good news is, as the member opposite points out, that the centres have been incredibly successful. I know last year we spent a long time debating the whole role of parents who are working parents and caregivers, but in my experience — and I've visited a number of StrongStart centres — we're seeing not just grandparents but aunts, uncles, cousins, day care providers and other people taking advantage of the StrongStart centres.
I think some of that early concern about who was going to be able to access it has diminished. I think there are still transportation issues that we have to address. The transit pass idea is a good one for, obviously, urban vulnerable families, but that doesn't help you if you live in Hazelton or where I live or where the member opposite lives. We're still grappling with how we make the centres more accessible — perhaps mobile or sharing or whatever that looks like. I think we're willing to explore that.
As we move forward, we will continue to emphasize the importance of looking at a suite of supports to provide to vulnerable families. I think that we need to look at how schools meet the needs of families and look at a funding formula and an assessment of capacity that actually reflects what we're asking boards of education to do.
I also know that the member opposite, as the critic for child care, would be interested in the perspective that we also want to look at additional hub centres in the province. For example, we've just opened one, or are in the process of opening one in Prince George, which sees multi-age day care being provided in the same facility with programs from the YMCA, family health, and those kinds of things, so that a parent or a family has an ongoing place to bring their children, whatever age they're at. In fact, that is in a school that was closed.
I think that there are some progressive things happening. I think that we can do more work on a collaborative approach of looking at child care services, StrongStart centres and all of those things, but we do have to address the capacity issue. It's not an easy one. It has financial implications, so we're trying to take a thoughtful approach to how we might address that concern.
C. Trevena: On the capacity issue and the capital, one of the things about StrongStart being in a school and using the extra space in school is that it's obviously using a classroom, and it's in an elementary school, so there is some access to little-kid stuff.
I mean, StrongStart is babies. It's right through. I wondered if there is capital budget to be accommodating the refurbishment that would be necessary to allow the continuation of StrongStart. I'm thinking about, basically, low toilets, low wash basins and changing tables and everything for the parents who are going to be using them.
Hon. S. Bond: Certainly, we try to recognize, with the startup funds, the $20,000…. I know there may be challenges with that, but certainly the $20,000 is expected to try to get the centre up and running.
It brings to mind a couple of really important points. First of all, one of the things I love most about the fact that StrongStart is in an existing school facility is that…. In one that I visited recently, the StrongStart centre was next door to the kindergarten classroom. I loved the connections that that made.
In fact, the kindergarten teacher said to me on that visit that the great news was that even though they only had StrongStart for a very short period of time, months last year, it has made a difference for those children coming into her kindergarten class. Not only were they familiar and more comfortable, but they were actually doing better. That was a really important thing for us, that co-location. I love the fact that they can use the library and the gym. We're not looking at new infrastructure — so important.
There is an important element that, though not specifically asked…. As we begin to build buildings now — and there are still times we build, or we renovate, or we create replacement schools — I think that we do need to look at those structures in a new way, as well, and that from the beginning we start to look at the inclusion. While it may not be excess space, we now have to look at a community place, where child care would be considered, StrongStart, those kinds of early learning initiatives. Since we've moved the mandate of boards of education to include that community look, we need to build buildings that reflect that.
Currently one of the discussions underway is with the Vancouver school board, and how do you begin to deal with things like child care, StrongStart, heritage buildings, all of those things. I'm hopeful. They have a wonderful approach to thinking about community and education and how we do that. I'm hoping we'll learn some things through our discussions with them. Certainly, as we build and as we renovate, we need to think ahead of time now about these things as we move forward. I think it's very exciting.
Also, the work we will do exploring possibilities for full-day kindergarten and all of those things require a different building. I think we need to look at what that means for current capital and future capital.
D. Cubberley: Just to build on that a little bit, the direction of the minister's comments, many of us are very persuaded around exactly the experience the minister is talking about, about co-location. For my own family, we've had the experience of having preschool and out-of-school care provided on site in a separate
[ Page 11425 ]
building, with just a walkway between the care centre and the school itself and with a very complete integration in the use of facilities between the two.
Part of the beauty of that setup and why it is such a good use of public space is that I don't think my son noticed that he entered kindergarten. Yes, it was different, but there wasn't the kind of transition that kids have to make who are coming from another environment entirely, who are being dropped for the first time by their parents. All of that churning that goes on and is part of that kindergarten year didn't occur. There may be some fruitful ground here today, as we go through the early learning piece of it, to talk a little bit more about that and the benefits of it.
I wanted to build on the question that the member had asked earlier about counting the StrongStart spaces, about whether there's been consideration given to counting spaces in preschools that are supplied on site in school classrooms, in surplus classrooms, towards enrolments and whether, by extension, other forms of care taking place on site at schools would qualify in that manner.
Hon. S. Bond: I think that is exactly where we find ourselves — exploring who we count and is that model and method of counting the most appropriate for a school system in transition. I think that's exactly the debate we need to have, and I don't think it is exclusive to StrongStart. I think that we do need to look at incredible programs that were in place in the province long before government cottoned onto the idea of early learning as an important investment. There are boards that have been investing for a very long time. Qualicum comes to mind, and other places I have been that have extraordinary programs.
I think the question is: when do we actually begin to recognize the fact that that space is being utilized in an important way, rather than simply assuming only K-to-12 should be counted? I think we are engaging in that. I think that over the next number of months, as we go through with the early learning agency and have this kind of discussion, that is precisely the kind of conversation we need to have. How do you count, and what do you look at?
Again, I do add this caution. It comes with a financial implication, and we need to balance that against the need to build new schools, and all of those things.
It's important work and actually very, very exciting work. I think the way the member opposite described, you know: "My son didn't know he was going to…. He suddenly entered kindergarten." I think we want to refer to that as the seamless transition. We know that children will do much better when they feel comfortable, included and have some sense of what it's like.
We are striving for a more seamless transition. I think that the next area is how we do that from grade 7 to grade 8, or wherever those transitions take place. It's exactly the work that needs to be done. I would look forward to and welcome ideas and observations about that, as we go through the process over the next number of months, related to early learning and how that should fit and who we should count and how that works.
C. Trevena: Again, to take on the theme, I would very much like to explore the early learning agency in a moment. Again, the numbers and how we count who's in the school…. I was at a child care centre in Duncan, in a school that's slated for closure. The child care centre is a non-profit organization and actually has a very thriving centre there. It's ready to expand, has the numbers to expand, but the school is slated for closure.
All the examples that have been described about the seamless transition…. The centre is right there next to the kindergarten. The kids from the centre, when they get to the toddler age, can use the gym, the library and the computer lab. They've got access to all of that. But because they're not counted, the school — where they're fully integrated, and the principal is very enthusiastic to have the child care centre located there — is possibly going to face closure.
While it's a discussion that's ongoing, I guess it's a plea to put some urgency into the discussion so that those more imminent thoughts that boards of education are facing can be addressed.
Hon. S. Bond: I think, as we move forward, that it's clear we have to address the changing role that not only schools but organizations play in communities and how that links to school buildings.
I should just point out — I know the member opposite knows this — that we have, in fact, put a special adviser in place in the Cowichan school district to work with them, to sort out some of the issues and not at all to take away from the elected responsibility of the board of education. They recognize that.
There are concerns, and not just in that district, about how we incorporate that service provision for families. I do think we're at an exciting place where we can actually ask some of those questions. I think non-profit organizations and their connection…. I think the member opposite, the critic, captured it in the best way, and that is co-location.
When you think about how do you make things easier for families today, you figure out how many services you can co-locate. Eventually you could be looking at models, like in the case of the one in Prince George, for example, which includes some health services — the public health nurse and all of those people — and libraries. There's an amazing way to look at that.
It is about facing that in a way that says it's time for us to have a look at that. It's not easy, because the system, of course, has been designed to operate in a particular way with a funding model attached to that for a very long time. From our perspective it's time for us to address that and to look at it. The approach we're taking now is to look at districts who are significantly in that transition and say how do we work through those challenges with a district-specific example, but
[ Page 11426 ]
we're also looking at the capacity or counting issue at the same time.
It's a good reminder to point out to us that non-profits and others offer services that are often co-located or nearby and that we should think about that in the context of the use of public assets. Most importantly, how do we serve students and families really well? Arbitrary formulas are not usually the way to do that.
I think that it gives us an opportunity, and we have a window of opportunity, especially on the early learning side during this next six months, as to what the future for early learning should look like in B.C.
D. Cubberley: One thought that passed through my mind is that it would be interesting for the ministry to identify some locations where we have co-located services, where we've had preschool out-of-school-care programs supplied, and to actually do an assessment of how kids who have passed through those programs are doing in school relative to kids who have not had access to those kinds of programs, and to make it roughly sociodemographically equal so that it's useful material — to see if you're actually getting an early learning gain from that kind of proximity.
I mean, I think the results will blow you away, when we do that kind of work and find out. I think it will be strongly positively correlated. It would be a very good approach, I think, for sorting out if this is a direction that can be fertile for us.
Hon. S. Bond: I think that is important work that could and should be done. I think that the challenge we've always faced is how do we track those children in particular. We have not had the ability, for example, to give them an education number previously.
Now, with StrongStart, because of the legislation we brought through, in their case we can give them an education number in their early years, and we can actually track outcomes. We can watch what happens. I think probably, anecdotally, that we'll be able to look at what benefit the current programs have derived.
Certainly, in our very early conversations with receiving kindergarten teachers — and I can only measure that which I have had the ability to measure at this point, which is StrongStart — we are seeing that even the proximity and also the pattern of being in a school — having an early childhood educator, having a child care expert, people who have that expertise — does make a difference, which makes it all the more compelling for us to look at how we assist extremely vulnerable families to take advantage of those resources.
It may not be a StrongStart centre. It may be a non-profit day care. It may be whatever that service is. I think that the key is making sure vulnerable families, who probably…. When you think about it, when 25 percent of our kids show up at kindergarten and they're not developmentally ready, much of that is about family support and how do you help create the support network necessary.
I think that it's about collaboration across ministries — we need to work harder at that; I think we've started to do that in a much better way — and also about collaboration within communities, where great things are already happening. Let's build on them.
The Kootenays is a perfect example. I spent four or five days there last year visiting different school districts — incredible connectivity in the ways that agencies are now linking their programs to StrongStart, which is linked to school. I think we have amazing opportunities, and we just have to figure out how to put all those pieces together.
C. Trevena: You mentioned the tracking. I wondered if the minister actually has the number of children who have gone through the StrongStart so far, and projected numbers who might be captured in the next rounds?
Hon. S. Bond: We don't have that number, but I have been told that we should have it by June, as we look at what those numbers look like.
I'm not sure what it was like in the StrongStart centres that the member visited when she was there. I'm very glad that she's done that. I know she's out and about the province a lot doing those things. Wow, when I was there, I've got to tell you that they were hip, hop, happening. There was a lot of stuff going on, a lot of kids and families in them. You know, we're finding that if anything, there's just more demand than early childhood educators can actually manage. So the faster we get moving on the next ones, the better off I think communities will be.
I am told that by June we should be able to give a number. We're certainly happy to put that on a follow-up question for the member and make sure that when we have the data, we will be happy to share that.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that, and I appreciate it.
I would like to move on to the next stage of the plans in the ministry, or maybe not the next stage but the other issue of the early learning agency and all-day kindergarten. Obviously, this is very innovative. I know that the job was posted for, I believe, the lead person for the agency, and it was posted in the middle of last month. I wondered if that post has been filled and if the team is ready to go.
Hon. S. Bond: I thought I was correct, but I just wanted to see if it changed in the last day or so. We have a short list, so that process is underway. It is being led by my deputy minister. At some point he will identify the person that will take on that responsibility.
The group will be made up of people, including child care…. It's internal to government in terms of the agency, so there will be a broad spectrum of representation on the group that is part of that. But we are short-listed and have yet to select the lead person.
C. Trevena: If it's internal to government, it's going to be…. This may sound a very naive question. It's obviously going to be people who are working in
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the minister's ministry and other ministries brought together under the Ministry of Education's budget.
Hon. S. Bond: The primary two ministries that would provide the expertise would be the Ministry of Children and Families and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education is the lead on the project, so it does report through my deputy to me, eventually, with the report. Obviously, it's in close collaboration with the Ministry of Children and Families — the Minister of State for Childcare and the minister. The internal team is really the steering group, basically. A workplan is being initiated, but it is absolutely dependent on extensive consultation and input, and that process is not yet determined. A workplan is being created.
Another key part of the responsibility will be research. We want to look at what other models exist in Canada and in other jurisdictions. Obviously, a number of provinces have junior kindergarten. They have a variety of things. I think the important work that needs to be done will be fairly extensive, and there are no answers in the back of our minds.
This is really about what's best for British Columbia and how we serve our early learners and our families best. It will be an aggressive workplan because we expect the report to be back to us before the end of the year, and lots of opportunity for people who are very passionate about this to have some input into the work that's gathered before the report is written.
C. Trevena: I may be a little in advance, then, because the workplan obviously is going to be drawn up when the lead person is in place. But I wondered what terms of reference the minister was looking at — what sort of plan, with whom the consultations will be and to just give some sort of picture of how it's going to evolve over the next six months.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, as I alluded to, we're completing the search for the executive lead, and that will be done shortly. Then the workplan will be prepared and initiated. There will be a number of things that are expected. Obviously, this is just our general outline at the moment, but examining models in Canada and elsewhere to look at scope and possibility.
The group will be asked to draft a discussion paper, which will then be shared to generate discussion with a number of stakeholders. Certainly, the child care community, the early childhood development community, educators, trustees and parents are some of the key stakeholders that we would expect there to be ongoing dialogue with.
Then, ultimately the group would be asked, the agency would be asked to develop options, including pedagogy and how we would make that work, operating and capital expenses, implications for government — all of those things.
So a fairly broad set of expectations and a fairly significant workplan. I think it's work that will be very interesting and invigorating for people who are very interested in this. As the member opposite knows — I know that she works on this file — there are people who have invested their lives in trying to provide excellent child care, excellent early childhood development opportunities.
For us, it's not about either/or. It's about: let's look for what's good, what works and then make recommendations to government. There's no predetermined outcome that would suggest that there will be an all-day program for three-year-olds. We've already had some reaction about what that would look like.
There's no predetermined outcome. It's really about exploring what the best options are for families in the province.
D. Cubberley: Last year, when there was the initial discussion of the StrongStart centres and the like, there apparently was a provincial early learning framework document covering children from birth to age five that was in some draft form. It was posted on the ministry website for a relatively short period of time for public comment and then was taken down, I understand, with work to be done on it to produce a document for public discussion.
I didn't ever see it, so I don't know what was in that. I know that a lot of people with an interest in it would not have known about that or provided feedback, so if the minister can give a sense of what role that document will play, if any, or if events have overtaken it now.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, the member opposite is correct. He hasn't seen it yet because we're about to distribute it soon. So that's good. He's going to be waiting. He can be the first. I'll make sure that you're one of the first to read it.
The member opposite is correct. It was developed in partnership by the Ministry of Education, with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. We've taken about 18 months to develop the framework.
A couple of things. Obviously, the landscape has changed slightly since then because we're looking at a new approach, potentially, over the next number of years. So this is a very foundational document. It does not prescribe either/or. It's about very broad, general principles. We did a significant amount of consultation and collaboration between the three ministries.
As I understand it, its release is fairly imminent. I don't want to assign weeks or days, because I'm not quite certain. We can certainly find out where that's at. The framework will be applicable to all of our programs that have an early learning component. It complements our existing provincial standards. It does set a vision on principles for early childhood learning, but of course, those should not be, obviously, contrary to where we're moving in the future.
I did want to point out that we do have a bit of a changing landscape, with the early learning agency now being created and some questions being asked. Its
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release is imminent, and we'll be certain that the member opposite receives a copy of that when it's ready.
D. Cubberley: I thank the minister for that.
I guess one of the things that is important is that there be an opportunity for a broad-ranging public discussion, because there are…. I don't know if the views are ultimately fundamentally in conflict, but there has been a perception that there's a choice of some kind to be made between early learning that's school-based and developmental child care as a vehicle for early learning.
This is kind of a troubling topic, because the way that it has unfolded — and I'm not saying that it's anybody's intention — it has kind of divided communities, which in fact are probably in exactly the same game but using slightly different approaches, one perhaps founded more formally in the idea of lesson-based learning and the other based more squarely in the idea that it's around developmental play and group activity that kids get themselves ready for more structured programming.
I'm interested to hear the direction that the minister is taking with this, because it does appear to be opening outwards more, and I think that's a very healthy thing. So I just give her an opportunity to comment further on that, if I'm characterizing that properly.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I'm certainly not a formally trained early childhood educator. I really admire the work they do, and I think they're terrific in terms of what they contribute. But I think those are exactly the questions we're going to be asking.
We do know that children learn through play, and as we work through this process, it may turn out that there is a consensus that all-day kindergarten is an appropriate thing that most people can agree on. It may be that people would suggest that a school-based program that is universal for three-year-olds may not be the direction that there is a general sense is appropriate. So I absolutely want to assure the member that there is no predetermined outcome, that it is about looking at what's best for families and how we explore that.
I would absolutely agree that developmental play and…. Children learn through play. You just have to watch them. So it isn't about either/or, and it is about the opportunity for there to be healthy dialogue.
I do recognize the accuracy of the member's observations that there's been a sense that perhaps it's child care or not, or it's non-profit or it's not, or it's school-based or it's not. I think that's unfortunate. I do think that a healthy discussion about how we look at a combination of things for families…. It really isn't about one-size-fits-all.
Critical to me are things like early childhood educators providing opportunities for families to support them. I think that great home-based day cares…. All of those things are important matters of choice for families, so I think it's going to be an interesting discussion. There has already been much reaction to the fact that we're even talking about an all-day type of program for three-year-olds.
You know, a lot of people immediately reacted to that, thinking there was a model in mind. "Yes, we want it," or "No, we don't." I'm not sure what they're saying yes or no to, because I have no concept of what that's going to look like, certainly, from our team. We have not got a preconceived notion.
It's important to reflect on the fact that we want to see as much discussion as possible. We want to facilitate that with a process that allows and encourages it, and that will be part of the mandate of the group that's put together.
C. Trevena: I feel as though we're playing tag team here. I just wanted to follow up on that. When the Minister of State for Childcare was talking about the possibility of all-day kindergarten in, I think it was, her response to the budget or response to the throne speech, she did mention that it would be play-based and experiential.
One of the issues and the concerns that's been raised is maybe just by the word "kindergarten." As soon as someone says kindergarten, there's an assumption that it's going to be school-based, structured and that you're going to learn the reading, writing and arithmetic basics starting off. So I think that there is some concern about that.
I just wanted to explore a little, because it is something in progress. It gives us the opportunity, I think, to explore the ways forward.
The idea of all-day kindergarten. I know that Ontario is moving forward with this. A couple of questions for the minister. One is: has the minister talked to her counterpart in Ontario about their thoughts about what they're doing? Secondly, looking at the rollout, the different options…. Having talked to many, many people in the community about this and continuing to do so, kindergarten is very positive in some aspects and not positive in others. But for five-year-olds, it's more acceptable. The younger you get, the more difficult it is. Again, I think maybe it's the language we're using.
I wondered if the minister could talk about those things.
Hon. S. Bond: I think the member opposite is exactly right. I remember when we first started to talk about StrongStart and what that represented. I think there was a…. I know we all read the media, and we all sort of cringe sometimes, and other times we're happy about it. I think I was accused of starting baby boot camps. There was that vision of these little infants and toddlers marching off to some institutional program. Literally, it was called "Bond Starts Baby Boot Camp," or whatever it was.
As the members would know who have been there, StrongStart is anything but that. It is all about play. It is so exciting and energizing to be there. Boy, do I admire the early childhood educators who are facilitating those programs.
I think it is about language. I think maybe the use of…. When you talk about kindergarten, I think the member opposite is absolutely correct that it sort of
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brings a visual that you have three-year-olds sitting in desks all day long. I hope we can dispel some of that and have a legitimate, thoughtful discussion about what's in the best interest of three-year-olds and how do we….
In thinking about the agenda or the initiatives around early learning, when I think about why it's important, it's important because we need to support families. We need to sort out how to do that in the most appropriate way. Maybe we are shortchanging ourselves when we use language like "kindergarten." I think that would be true.
This is about providing options for families. The Education critic has reminded me on numerous occasions about…. We have families that are both working, and we have circumstances that require different options. So I'm hoping that we will legitimately explore a number of models.
I have not spoken to my counterpart in Ontario. I have done some reading about that, but certainly one of the…. They are moving. It's ironic, because the language perhaps…. Pre-K, or junior kindergarten, it's called, for four-year-olds. I think that is what they're looking at, maybe even part-time. Again, you have this visual of what that means.
I hope we can set some of that aside and look legitimately at: what are the services families require? How do we do that? Perhaps space may well be linked to a school building, but it doesn't necessarily have to follow the same format. It doesn't necessarily have to use the building either.
I think that we're at a place where we can explore and that we should perhaps set aside some of the limitations that the language provides. I think it's a very important observation, one that I think has caused the reaction, perhaps, that the members have both described to me — the use of that language.
C. Trevena: In the exploration and in the options, I think that the other aspect is possibly that kindergarten is part of the school system. Parents can send their children to kindergarten if they so choose. It's going to school, and there is no cost for parents.
I'm wondering if the minister has thought this through in…. When we're talking about all-day kindergarten or whatever words we use to describe it, would it be part of the public school system? Has that been explored? Or would it be, as the minister mentioned, possibly located close to and somehow in a little bit of a different format?
Hon. S. Bond: With the all-day kindergarten, I think that one is probably a little bit more tightly defined by its very nature, in that we see benefits from having children in kindergarten. The question is: can we enhance the benefit by basically extending it? That's just my initial reaction to it, in response to the question.
I see that more like an expansion of an existing program. I think where the genuine debate and discussion will come is when we start talking about uncharted territory, which is four-year-olds and three-year-olds in particular.
That doesn't mean that there may not be variations or suggestions on what an extended kindergarten program might look like. In my mind, at least, when I'm thinking of the framework, I think of all-day kindergarten as in a way expanding an existing service within public education. It's how I would frame that. I don't want to limit discussion by saying that, but I do think that's sort of the context we have thought about that in.
Again, to be fair to the process, we haven't spent a lot of time imagining what this might end up looking like, because we are going to wait to hear from people. I would encourage both of the members opposite to engage in this process with us as we explore and bring ideas to the table. I know that the members would know a number of people within sectors that would be valuable to participate in the process in terms of input. The consultation process would certainly allow for that, and I would encourage it.
D. Cubberley: It's an interesting direction and conversation. At the risk of rolling backwards a little bit, I want to go back to one of my themes and try to use it as a way of illustrating the importance of thinking about the whole day when thinking about early childhood development and the approach that we might take. I'm going to use this device of the three different days that are disconnected in the way the world currently operates.
There's the working day, which is structured by employment requirements and which forces parents to do certain things on a particular schedule. That's structured beyond the choosing of most adults. That simply goes with the terms of employment and requires you to be in a certain place.
Then there's the teaching day, let's call it, for lack of a better term, which kicks in, in kindergarten and occupies a portion of a day and then, in the following year, gets a little bit larger. But it isn't an overlay with the working day. It's disconnected from it. So when we think about kindergarten as earlier start in primary school for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, which in my view is sort of the unfortunate end of the image, it's an elaboration of that disconnect that you already have in kindergarten, which is profound, from the working day. It presents challenges for all two-income families, all sole-provider families.
Then there's the third day. That's the learning day for the child. The learning day for the child is the whole waking day that the child is there.
These are all misaligned in some sense, and I think the big challenge is to find a way to align the structured, formal teaching day and the learning day with the working day. An important element in doing that is the provision of care. It's the opportunity, when the teaching day ends, for structured activity in another form to be available, and in a way that's efficient for the people who are working and that's optimal for the child — seamlessly, if at all possible.
I think it's a tremendously strong argument for co-location of services, if you think about it in that fashion.
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Because without it, what you have is numerous interventions during the course of the day to try and move kids around, to put various patches on the fact that these things don't line up properly. The stress for working people — I'm sure there are some people in this room who've experienced it — is very, very difficult, and a lot of that lands on the moms.
In thinking about it — whatever discussion there is about perhaps thrusting more structured learning down in time so that we start it earlier — there will still be a need to encompass this larger idea of developmental care and to consider how that can be provided. Apart from all of the expenses of thrusting it down, there are numerous logistical challenges in achieving something that will work for parents and for kids.
The further thing is that the situation persists even when kids go into grade 1 and the day is longer. There is still that two- to two-and-a-half-hour gap at the end of the day, when teachers are no longer engaged with them, when parents are still at work and when there's the question of what they're doing. I mean, you don't want latchkey situations for very young kids. It leads to a whole lot of other problems.
Where the provision of activity…. Whether it's the activity that's provided in the old-fashioned way — through sports and arts and other things that kids do after formal school hours, where teachers volunteer and provide it — or it's a care setting where early childhood educators and youth leaders provide structured or unstructured activities for children to participate in, it's got to be part of it. I just urge looking at it from that vantage point so that these things don't get all siloed as: that's one group's responsibility over there or not.
Hon. S. Bond: I think that what compelled us to look at the three- and four-year-old situation is very much reflected by the comments the member opposite made. I think it is about helping families provide care for their children in a world that has shaped how they, many of them, have to work — as you say, sole-provider families. I think that is one of the driving elements of looking at early learning in this way.
It isn't about K-to-12 hours anymore. It's about how we provide quality care — whether that's through child care, day care or whatever those circumstances are — in a way that best supports families. I use "family." The definition includes, obviously, the descriptions that the member opposite has used.
We're trying to find ways to make that collaborative. The member opposite is correct that it is about co-location. It's about community partnerships, because there are people who do this very well already. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. In fact, there are many communities who have, in the member opposite's own experience, found a place where that kind of provision of care for children and their families is done in that very special and unique way.
We are at a point in our province where, driven by some factors that none of us really like very much, initially — the fact that we have declining enrolment and excess space in buildings and that we have families, many of whom have to work and many of whom are challenged with transportation and urban-rural issues…. I think we should be very, very aggressive about looking at what the status quo provision of those services is and then be prepared to challenge that. That means tackling things like funding formulas, building plans and all of the things that we've done so typically and done well.
I'm very complimentary of the staff and of others who have created the system. Having said that, it's time to challenge that a bit and say: "How do we do this differently?" That always causes anxiety. It causes anxiety by the language we use and the processes we set up, but I think this is a legitimate opportunity for all of our partners to come together and say: "We want to do this."
I should add one other caveat. It also comes with a fiscal framework here. We don't have unlimited dollars to do everything that we'd love to do, but it is about presenting options and then making those choices. The alignment of the days is a really good example of how we have to think differently, build differently and collaborate differently. While that may be exciting for us as legislators and people with the ideas, it's challenging for people who are really being asked to do things quite differently. But I think it's something that we can partner on, and I look forward to the input that we will receive across the province.
C. Trevena: I do find this very interesting. I have to ask the minister. In the discussions, if I go back to the three- and four-year-olds' care situations that have been sort of touched upon here — again, without prejudging the early childhood learning agencies' work — the minister has talked here about child care as part of the picture.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
One of the real concerns has been the ideas we've discussed — that kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds is going to be too prescriptive, that we need to have it play-based and that it needs to be experiential.
I'm very heartened by the minister's involvement of child care in this. When looking at it, one of the things about child care in B.C. — I've got to say this — is that the child care regulations are very good. We have very high standards on child care regulations. One of the parts of that is the child-to-educator ratio. We've got very, very tight numbers.
When we are talking about looking at new models and new ways of doing things, I would hope that the minister is also looking at the fact that we have some very good models that really should be embraced, so that if we talk about early learning and care of the three- to five-year-olds, we don't lose sight of the strength we have, especially the strength in numbers there.
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Hon. S. Bond: I think that as we move forward, it is early to speculate about what the model will look like. Obviously, high-quality child care services and provision is based on what's good for kids, and it works well.
I think that regulations are typically put in place for reasons, and I would hope that we would explore the importance of that in relationship to any program that we'd consider for three-year-olds. Ultimately, because we don't have any idea what the outcome would look like, it could be that the consensus is that we really don't need to add additional services for three-year-olds.
It might be that the model we have now…. By supporting and enhancing certain programs or opportunities through child care or whatever, it might end up being the consensus that at this point in time it isn't necessary for us to look at a program. I think that the doors are open to that.
Again, I want to concur that I think the more we can message the fact that this is recognition that it is about play, experiential learning and all of those things — to take away from that image of boot camps…. I think it's an important differentiation. I had to spend a long time talking about StrongStart not looking like that. Part of it was that it was attached to a school. The minute you put a StrongStart centre in what is….
You know, there's a particular visual about what that means for kids, and then the assumptions were already out of the gate that this was just going to be just a younger version of kindergarten. As we know from having been in the sites that we've been to, it's anything but that. You literally have babies in moms' arms to two-, three- and four-year-olds all over the place, learning from each other.
I do think that the opinions of people in the child care sector are important, and they will obviously be encouraged to participate. We also hope to have involved in the early learning agency people from government, who are very good at representing the views of child care experts in the province as well. We want them involved right in the foundational work that's done.
C. Trevena: One of the aspects and, I think, one of the problems that we're seeing is that there is an overlap, obviously, between the child care world and what we're exploring here. One of the overlaps is going to be the staffing issue. We're already seeing a squeeze in child care, and being the critic for child care, one of the problems is the squeeze on the number of early childhood educators who are available, because they are leaving the profession.
Some are going to the StrongStarts — very, very eager to go to the StrongStarts — because as someone said to me: "Well, this is part of what we were looking for, for child care. It's here. It's free. It's accessible. It's part of the public system." And they get paid better, a lot better.
I was wondering whether the minister could address some of this — both the pull on the early childhood educators going to StrongStarts and, again, the staffing of all-day K for five-year-olds. I'm assuming that's going to be in the kindergarten model that we have already with the kindergarten teacher. But going back again to the four- and three-year-olds, whether we would be looking at early childhood educators working with the four- and three-year-olds.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I think one of the things we've discovered, as the member opposite points out, is that we do have some supply issues with early childhood educators in British Columbia. We need to train more of them. So I think it's incumbent upon us to work with Advanced Education and others to make sure that we're providing adequate opportunities for training. You're right. As we move these programs forward, we obviously have to look at the professionals to actually be in the program. I think we do have to be cognizant of that.
I would assume that, as the early learning agency looks at the work that they're going to do, one of the other parts of the framework will be looking at supply and demand. Do we have the people we need to actually operate these programs?
When it comes to the kindergarten scenario, I don't want to preclude other great options that might come forward either. I don't really know what that looks like. I think it's easier to assume what that one might look like if we were to contemplate it, but again, I don't want to limit those possibilities.
I think there are supply issues. I think we have to look at training. We have to do that in a thoughtful way, in collaboration with the Ministry of Advanced Education. I do think, in general, that it's good news for people who have invested their time — for a lifetime, many of them — and energy in making sure that we're paying attention to the early years.
I think that it provides a new opportunity, but I would concur that we do have some supply issues that we need to grapple with. We will continue to work with AVED to ensure that there are spaces available and that people are taking those programs.
D. Cubberley: Just along those lines…. This is a supply issue. Again, it comes back to the power of words in the Speech from the Throne. It's not always necessarily apparent at the moment it's given, but clearly they have kind of a shelf life.
I just want to raise a circumstance that's expressed in a letter which you may or may not have seen. I think it captures a challenge that we have as a result of the new direction, which is inadvertent, but it is, I think, real. This is from a volunteer board member of a child development society providing child care and other services to families in the Tri-Cities. He says:
"We recently opened up an after-school care centre at an elementary" — I won't give the name — "investing our funds to gain licensing approval for the classroom, only to have the school and our centre close in one year. It's been very difficult to find space to open a centre in another school or even to situate a portable on a school ground. This is partly due to seismic upgrading, and we'd hoped the situation would improve as projects were completed.
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"Unfortunately, as a result of suggestions in the throne speech, the school district has apparently declared a moratorium on providing space for outside organizations, since they may require the space for three- and four-year-olds in the future."
I want to bring it to the minister's attention because, when I saw this, I thought to myself: this is an inadvertent consequence that is probably not what you want to have happen, because there's a synergy here that's very, very useful and that we would like to see allowed to do what it can do.
I'll just allow the minister to comment on that. It would be highly undesirable, I think, for us to be in that situation where, out of apprehension that the space may be needed in the future, we lose opportunity for child care now.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I certainly think we don't want to see those kinds of partnerships or opportunities grind to a halt. I think the member opposite is accurate about that. I think we certainly do need to think about future planning, and we will be working through that with boards.
First of all, there's been absolutely no decision about either three- or four-year-olds. Even if there were to be a decision made, it is a phased process. The member opposite has made that comment just now — absolutely. We're looking at 2012 by the time you're looking at a major transition to looking at a program for three-year-olds.
In the meantime, we need places for families to have their children cared for in an appropriate way. Certainly, if we can help in our discussions with boards of education, we will try to continue to clarify the fact that this is about transition. It is not about replacing those great community partnerships that already exist, where, as in the member opposite's case, there are already in existence child care and other types of after-school or before-school care.
It isn't about supplanting them or eliminating them. I have heard a degree of frustration from non-profits around the province and their inability to find meaningful partnerships with boards of education, and especially space, because of the costs that are incurred in some districts. In other districts it works just fine.
We have obviously got work to do in terms of clarity around that issue. We want to continue to see partnerships built. We want to continue to see non-profits involved, and we certainly don't want to be reliant on something that's going to occur, potentially, in 2012.
D. Cubberley: I thank the minister for that response. Perhaps there is some ability to communicate with school districts to send that message — that that's not an outcome that we would like to see as a result of announcing a new direction on early learning and urge them.
This has come to the fore in another way, which is expressed in this. I just want to mention the possibility. In some school districts — it's happened more than once — because the child care, out-of-school care, preschool arrangements that may be on site at a school that's considered for closure are not-for-profit — are not the initiative of the school districts but are under an arrangement with a not-for-profit society — frequently, when the school is closed, if a school is chosen for closure, those spaces are at risk. There's no provision in the closure arrangements to move those spaces somewhere else.
One of the things that I think would be worth considering…. I really don't think it would be onerous for boards. I think it would be more a question of saying to them: "We don't want to lose any capacity in the early learning child care sector as a result of school closures." It would be to develop a rule that says, in the instance of closures of schools, there would be no net loss of those kinds of spaces, which would oblige boards to look for another opportunity — if the population is dispersing or going to another school, then to transfer the arrangements around child care to the school where the population is going. It's really a double whammy when you lose the child care spaces along with the school.
I'll give the minister a chance to comment.
Hon. S. Bond: It is not something that I have or am necessarily contemplating — looking at no net loss of spaces. I think we do have to rely on the boards of education in communities to actually make that part of their assessment.
Having said that, I have asked our staff to contemplate the integration of services, and not just in future planning. I do think that's essential — that as we build new buildings and as we replace buildings, we look at other elements. I mean, it's a new world in many ways.
We have begun a discussion about how we build and how we integrate those kinds of services. I do think it is incumbent upon boards of education, now that early learning is part of their mandate, to consider those things, and I think we have to. But I think we have to help with that as we…. It's a new experience, to be expected to look at things like StrongStart and other programs.
We need to work with boards of education. Obviously, in the current circumstances where there was a deep concern about that in the district where we've now assigned a special adviser, there was a significant loss of spaces when you look at the reconfiguration that was being contemplated.
Certainly, one of the things that would be considered by the special adviser would be looking at all of those important services and providing any recommendations. So I haven't contemplated and am not likely to contemplate a suggestion that they be responsible for no net loss of spaces because there are other challenges.
There may well be a declining in population of families, although certainly we've heard regularly that there are extra demands for child care opportunities across the province — I hear that in Prince George, as well — and certainly the types of child care that
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families require — early, late, night shifts and those kind of things. So I do think it is incumbent on boards to contemplate that in the school closure process.
C. Trevena: I'd just like to go back to some of the concepts we were talking about. A very simple question first — again, hopefully not prejudging the outcome of the early childhood learning agency. The minister mentioned that the boards of education have a separate budget for StrongStarts. Is this a way that the minister might be looking at ensuring that there is guaranteed funding for that earlier section, not so much the five-year-olds who are already in the kindergarten stream but the three- and four-year-olds?
Hon. S. Bond: I think it's too soon to speculate about how we would do that, but I do know that, obviously, one of the things we would expect to come back to us is the magnitude of fiscal implication. When you look at even the math that would be involved…. For example, if we were simply — and I don't say this "simply" in that it would be simple — to consider the full-day kindergarten, just a doubling of what we have now…. There are obviously very significant cost implications to that.
How would we do that? I'm not certain at this point, and it's too soon to do that. But it would certainly be one of the things, the pieces of information, that would be required to come back in the report. What does this mean? What are the financial implications? How would we do that?
I can assure you that boards of trustees would be very clear in their reaction to the fact that if we're going to do anything like extend kindergarten, there would need to be a significant investment to do that.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that.
I'll just take up one last question, I believe, on this section. It's in the throne speech. The Premier stated that there's going to be a feasibility study providing parents with a choice of day-long kindergarten for four-year-olds by 2010 and for three-year-olds by 2012.
The issue of parental choice. I'm hearing that one of the concerns, again, is that this will be…. Parents will have a choice to have children going to kindergarten — however it is, however it's configured — for three- or four-year-olds, if they so choose, in the school system, or they will have to continue working out child care, which they'll have to pay for.
Again, I know there are whole implications that haven't been worked out yet, but I would also like to ask the minister whether we are looking at the plans for three- and four-year-olds to be part of the school system or to be separate from that.
Hon. S. Bond: One of the reasons we're having an early learning agency is to ask those very questions and to try to sort out how the pieces fit together. For many…. Well, not for many. That would be unfair. For some families, they make the choice, and they have the ability to be able to stay at home. We don't want those children to be required to attend something. So I think when we talked about it in the format of choice, there are parents for whom it is possible for them to be at home and would choose that for their children, even if an option was provided.
It's premature to debate sort of universality and how that fits. I think it is about looking for new options. It's about multi-age kinds of groupings. It's about how we better serve the needs of three-year-olds. We may get advice from every expert on the planet that says that that's not a model that would work for three-year-olds.
But I do expect the agency to do their homework, to consult and to come back with what would be reasonable options for government to consider. I would be hopeful that one of the things they would look at is: what is the role of choice for parents in that? I think that's what we had tried to convey with the language we chose.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that and thank her for the time to explore this, because it's very interesting, as we're potentially evolving a new system, to have that opportunity.
I would like to take the liberty now of switching gears considerably and going up to the north end of Vancouver Island, to school district 85. I have a couple of questions for the minister. I wrote to the minister some time ago, and I'm sure the minister is aware of the state of the Alert Bay school. I wondered if there were any plans in very much the foreseeable future for refurbishment or replacement of that school.
Hon. S. Bond: We were just reviewing the letter. My response is on its way. I looked at the date, and probably, the member hasn't received it yet.
We are aware of the desire of the board of education. It is a priority for that board. I don't have an imminent yes or an imminent no. It will join with all of the other projects in the province and be ranked according to the priorities and then also be put in the context of the entire capital budget.
Certainly, in my letter I also indicate that if the board would like to have further discussion with us about that and the need for the building, we'd be happy to do that. We are aware that it's a high priority. It will be considered, along with a number of other projects from across the province, as we contemplate future capital plans.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that. I'm sure that the board will want to talk to the minister about this. I'd invite the minister up. I know that she's gone to many school districts.
Alert Bay. It's one of these situations where it is the hub of the community. It's got a very high first nations school population, even though there is a school on the other side of the island. It's a very healthy school in that respect, but walking around it…. There are certain areas in the corridors that you just don't want to walk,
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because you're going to just go straight through the floor. There are certain places where they've closed it off. I'm sure the board is going to be very eager for further conversations with the minister on that.
The board has a couple of other dilemmas, which I have again written to the minister about, and only recently. Because like the minister, the board of education and the trustees' decisions on certain ways of going forward…. I wanted to let that process go as far as possible before intervening. It is the possible closure of two of the schools in the school district. They're not just rural schools. They are remote schools.
Quatsino Elementary has been the school in the community for more than a hundred years. The first school was built in 1897, a one-room school. The other is the school in Echo Bay. Both have declining numbers — yes. I understand that Quatsino is now just three pupils short of making the grade. And Echo Bay…. I know that the first nations have had meetings with the minister about this, trying to find ways of keeping it open.
I wondered if this was something where the minister could assist in ensuring that those two schools, where there is no other option for the communities, could stay open.
Hon. S. Bond: What I can commit to the member today…. In fact, I had asked for this earlier today. I have asked my deputy to actually contact the superintendent, just to have a discussion about those schools. I'm not a resident there, and so I don't have a sense of that. I certainly do from visits I've had across the province.
Closing a school is never ever an easy decision to make. One of the things I have asked my deputy to look at is the definition of rural and remote and how that fits. I've actually, earlier today, asked my deputy to contact this school board, the superintendent, to just have a conversation, particularly about those very small schools that would fall under my definition of remote. Whether or not that's reflected in the actual definition, I don't know, but that certainly is remote.
I have had delegations that have come to tell me that there are schools in what we would consider urban British Columbia that are called rural schools. So again, there's that whole debate about that.
We are going to have a conversation just to get more information about what the thinking is and what the pressures are for that board. I cannot make promises about keeping either of them open, but I want to have some dialogue about the circumstances and the distances for students and all of those things.
I'm not planning to intervene — that isn't my role — but certainly to get more information. Obviously, our concern for the completion rates for aboriginal children is an issue, especially if those are focused particularly on support for aboriginal students.
It's ironic. We had just had this discussion earlier over the lunch-hour, and I've asked my deputy to contact that superintendent.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that, and I appreciate that the minister has asked her deputy to do that. I know the school board is…. They met last night and had a discussion about Quatsino. I know they're meeting again in a couple of weeks about this, so it's very good news.
One thing that this has provoked is a discussion from the board — I'm not sure whether the superintendent will raise this, but I know that the board chair has raised this — about both the designation of rural and the way that the funding mechanism works for these particularly remote schools, where the school is the centre of the community. There is really no other alternative.
These are both…. Quatsino is about a 40-minute boat ride just to the road before you get onto the bus. Echo Bay is a lot further, just to get to the nearest school. I would appreciate if the minister will also consider the funding issues, the funding formulas, when we're talking about these very remote schools.
Hon. S. Bond: I think that one of the discussions we've been having…. That's what led to our decision today to chat with that particular superintendent and board of education by, I guess, extension. We're just exploring that difference between remote and rural. One of the things that we have some work underway on at the moment, the member will be pleased to note, is part of our rural school strategy, which we're working on quite diligently. We're asking some work to be done on the definition of "rural and remote."
Then what we would like to do is look at whether or not there's a way to look at that definition. Then we would recommend that the group that looks at the funding formula contemplate that while they look at the formula that exists today. Is there a rationale for a difference between remote and rural? How do you define that? Who's remote, and who's rural? And whether or not it would warrant a look at how we fund those schools and the support we provide to districts….
That work is ongoing, and it is being led under the initiative of the rural school strategy. So it's a current topic for us and, I think, one that merits some consideration. When I hear about the location of some of those schools in the Broughton Archipelago, for example…. It would be hard to argue that that's not remote.
I think that there is good work going on. It may not fit in the time lines that lie in front of this board of education, but we will certainly contemplate that, look at the definition and see if it does warrant an adjustment in some way.
G. Coons: Thank you, Minister, for the few minutes to get a few questions across.
I've just travelled throughout my riding — which, as you realize, encompasses the Nass Valley, Stewart, Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii and the central coast. It's very diverse, remote, rural — pretty hard to get any more remote — with all of the concerns that happen in the regions in trying to ensure that we have accessible and equal educational opportunities.
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I realize there are ministry plans for smaller districts, for example with Haida Gwaii, the Central Coast and perhaps some other ones like Stikine and Fort Nelson. I'm wondering what is happening, what the minister's plans are with some of these smaller districts and if there are any plans to consolidate them.
Hon. S. Bond: There are no plans to consolidate those districts. Having said that, we know that by their very nature they're small, rural, remote districts and that not all of them are geographically located close to one another. Most of them are. But for example, there would probably be one that we would include in that category that's in the Kootenays, so it's pretty difficult when you look geographically at how to deal with those districts.
We have, though, begun an initiative where we have brought together representatives from very small school districts to have a discussion with us about the kinds of support and services they require. The member opposite knows this far better than I, but it is difficult, in terms of capacity and skill set and all of those things, in a very small, dispersed district with a very small population.
We are doing some work with those districts to try to find areas where perhaps they could share services, resources and expertise. We brought them together under the umbrella of our rural school strategy. I attended the first meeting that took place when the small schools were represented, and I found it to be a productive dialogue. That work has continued, but I want to be clear with the member. We have no intent to amalgamate those districts, but we certainly would like to find more innovative ways to support them.
G. Coons: Thank you, Minister. I'm just wondering. You talk about the rural school strategy — I assume that it was from three or four years ago that it was initiated — and working on that. I'm wondering how much funding or budgeting has been allocated, say, for this year for these schools in rural districts.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, for the member opposite, the formula itself contains what we call a small school supplement, so very small schools in the province do receive additional funding. Each school would receive $126,000 when classified as a small school. That totals about $56 million in the province to support those small schools.
Even more important than the ongoing funding, which is important, we have put together opportunities for those districts that are rural, particularly, to come together, and that's unprecedented. I've been at it two years in a row now. We bring people together, teams of people from small districts and rural school districts, to work with one another.
For example, one of the new opportunities to network allows them to virtually communicate with one another, to share best practice and to sort out how they can actually manage in sometimes very challenging circumstances, with declining enrolment and geography.
We continue to fund small schools with a supplement, as I said to the member, of $56 million. In addition to that, we are looking at new program supports such as virtually connecting them to one another and bringing them together at least once a year to talk about best practice, classroom situations, all of those kinds of things.
G. Coons: Again, I remember quite well the rural school strategy, because I worked on it, but it's been out of my mind for a couple of years. I wouldn't mind, in the weeks to come, maybe getting some written questions to the minister to focus in on that. That would be very helpful.
As the minister said, some of the really small schools are very challenging, whether they're in Hartley Bay or Kitkatla or on the Charlottes or on the central coast in Shearwater. I'm pleased to hear that there are plans for smaller districts to work together and share resources, whether it's technologies or services. I'm glad it's not going to be consolidated into, say, one school board and letting go some of the trustees. That was a concern.
When we start looking on Haida Gwaii, there's a major concern. A couple of teachers, when I was over there last month, asked me whether or not…. There's a real concern with students coming into elementary schools hungry, traumatized and basically, in their minds, set up to fail.
One of the key issues is the concern with school psychologists in rural regions. I know that in Prince Rupert we've been looking for a school psychologist for years. Therefore, it puts off more funding for the regions, and it's a real concern. I'm wondering where the minister is on that with her staff, as far as getting school psychologists.
Hon. S. Bond: Thank you to the member opposite for that question. We did have a bit of a discussion about this earlier, but the question wasn't as specific as this, so it's a chance for me to explain.
We are facing a challenge. While I don't live in quite the same circumstances in my riding as the member opposite, I do have some sense of familiarity with the challenges in recruiting professionals to our part of the province and, in fact, other parts of the province. We have a significant shortage of school psychologists in the province, and it does cause challenges with assessments.
One of the things we are uncertain about is the extent of the waiting that takes place, because there isn't a formal mechanism. There isn't a list that we could simply say, you know, this is how many people that are waiting for service. But there is definitely a shortage of professionals, including school psychologists, speech-language therapists, a number of those professionals.
We have worked with Advanced Education to allocate a loan forgiveness program, to try to create additional incentives to bring professionals — there's a fairly significant list of them now — to areas that are deemed underserved communities. We're trying to find the professionals necessary, and we have to make
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sure that we're being aggressive about recruiting those individuals to be trained.
It is a complex issue. We recognize that there is a shortage, and it does, at times, cause difficulty in getting those assessments done within the school system.
G. Coons: I recognize the challenge. Thank you for that, Minister.
I realize and I'm sure the minister realizes that the north coast, specifically Prince Rupert…. With the early development instrument, with Clyde Hertzman, there was a report done locally in Rupert in the last week or so — again, very challenging and needy students in Prince Rupert. As the minister knows, there are two schools closing in Prince Rupert, Kanata and Seal Cove. Seal Cove is one of the regions that is the most vulnerable in the province as far as the latest EDI results.
I realize the minister and staff take that into consideration. It's mentioned in some of their ministry documents and their bulletins. I'm just wondering what the minister and staff do with the EDI results, as far as communities and regions where schools are closing, in very vulnerable areas where that's the heart and soul of the community.
Hon. S. Bond: The ministry has a less direct impact on those decisions, obviously, because they are made…. And never easily. I never hesitate to say that, because it is a very difficult process. But I know that boards of education work very hard to consider all of the factors when deciding it's necessary to close a school.
I do want to say to the member opposite that I've had the incredible pleasure of being in his riding and visiting a number of schools there. In fact, I think we ran into each other. We were both on our way to visit schools — on our way to Haida Gwaii, I think — when I was there.
I do want to be extremely complimentary of the work that is done, and I know that there's often a correlation in many people's minds about low EDI and what happens at schools. There is some extraordinary work being done in the member opposite's riding to work with students who are extremely challenged, and I'm always very complimentary of that.
The ministry, less directly, is involved in making those decisions around school closures. Obviously, it's something that we do not intervene in, but I am confident that boards do consider vulnerability and the EDI context.
Where we are involved with early development scores is particularly related to initiatives like StrongStart, where we try to focus those types of resources in places where there is significant need. I know that in our 16 pilot projects our staff worked very hard to identify some of those places. In fact, I think Prince Rupert was one of the very early starters in StrongStart, and we've seen good success there.
The ministry is not directly related in using those scores when it comes to school closures, but we do use them in some of the work that we do with additional resources like StrongStart centres.
G. Coons: Yes, there are two StrongStarts going. I'm waiting for the opening at Pineridge, though. My wife works there. I've had two false alarms that they're opening it, and I said: "Oh, I can be there."
Thank you, Minister. That's a good segue into…. You were saying that there's lots of hard work and lots of diligent and good work happening. That goes right back to Roosevelt School, which is, under the FSAs….
We've had this policy debate and discussion. I won't get into the pros and cons of that. This side is saying that many of us have concerns about the ranking of the schools, inaccurate reporting results and, in my opinion, the damage to some schools like Roosevelt. When C.D. Howe did theirs and took into account socioeconomic characteristics such as incomes, employment rates, education, mobility rates, languages spoken and at what level the kids came into kindergarten, it basically turned around and was one of the best in the province.
I found it interesting that…. The minister, I'm sure, has her concerns with the ranking — as well as staff, the B.C. School Trustees Association, the principals and vice-principals, the school superintendents, the secretary-treasurers, and teachers. It seems that all stakeholders, including the ministry, have a concern with the results of the FSA, and I'm just wondering if there's any movement by the minister to re-evaluate their push and re-evaluate releasing school names to the Fraser Institute.
Hon. S. Bond: I think the member points out something that is incredibly important, and I might take a bit of a different approach to expressing it. The most important measure of success at school is individual student-by-student improvement. It is about a child who is making progress and improving.
While I would agree that it's not the only tool that should be used, I do believe that the important function of the foundation skills assessment is to drive that individual achievement, to be able to actually look at how an individual student is doing at that point in time.
I've been very clear about that. It is a snapshot of a child's academic progress at that point. It is an important tool if you're measuring individual improvement. I am hopeful, as results have gone out and have been shared with parents this year in a more systematic way, that we will have parents and administrators working together to create plans of individual achievement.
Undoubtedly, there is the concern around the ranking of schools. One of the concerns that I have, and I have expressed this publicly, is that it doesn't consider some of the other important factors — including not even all of the programs that are offered in schools when that ranking is done.
I do need to point out that the information is typically gained by freedom of information. The ranking of schools isn't something that we encourage. We certainly can't stop it. It's an independent organization. I do fundamentally believe that we need a standardized approach to measuring individual student achievement. It's not the only method, and I know that teachers use classroom mechanisms every single day.
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I want to concur with the member opposite that I have been in those schools. When I look at success and see daily and monthly and yearly improvement, when a child is moving and improving, that really is the most important measure that we face. In the case of Roosevelt and others, that is absolutely true.
G. Coons: Noticing the time, I have one last question or comment. I found it really interesting when the Minister of Health was caught in the report card dilemma with hospitals. Basically, what he had said was that the government was concerned that it would not be a proper apples-to-apples comparison of health facilities, because it wouldn't take into account varying situations. I think I recall further that he talked about the complex and diverse situations in communities that hospitals went through.
I correlated that right to schools and the complex and diverse situations in schools and, in my mind, the damage that is being done by releasing a school's FSA. The Minister of Health basically said that the problem…. This report said that the institute couldn't get permission from the B.C. health authorities to identify which hospitals.
I would think it would go a long way to alleviating the concern and realizing the validity of the one-shot test and how it ranks schools and puts schools in a situation of trying to act like Roosevelt has acted. It has come to the forefront, I think, as a leader for the schools that are declared the worst in the province.
I was wondering if the minister could, through whatever directives, indicate that a school's FSA not be released to institutes like the Fraser Institute for ranking purposes.
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, the information is gained through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and that isn't something that I can either stop or influence. I do think that we all need to put those results in context. The most important use of that data is for educators — including teachers and administrators — and parents to work together, using this as one piece of information to create a plan for student achievement.
I think that there may well end up being a fundamental agree-to-disagree that it is important. It is important to us, and parents have told us clearly that they want more information, not less. I think that what we do have to discuss — and I've had this conversation with the B.C. Teachers Federation — is the use of that data and how we actually use it in a systematic and thoughtful way.
D. Cubberley: In light of the hour, I will move that the committee rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:14 p.m.
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