2008 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2008
Volume 33, Number 8
|Introductions by Members||12569|
|Guidelines for Members' statements|
|Second Reading of Bills||12569|
|Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 (Bill 29) (continued)|
|Hon. B. Penner|
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
|Committee of Supply||12583|
|Estimates: Ministry of Health|
|Hon. G. Abbott|
[ Page 12569 ]
TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2008
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. I. Chong: In the gallery today is a class from St. Andrew's Elementary School, a grade 5-6 class. They're here with their teacher Mrs. Grace Higgins and three parents. They're a very special class. While all the children there are special, there are three children who have relations to this Legislature in terms of some of the staff who work here. They have their children in this class. I have a particular person I would like to note, and that's my nephew Graham Chong.
I would ask the House to please make the class of grade 5-6 from St. Andrew's Elementary School, Mrs. Grace Higgins and the three parents all very welcome. We had a nice visit, as well, just earlier with the Minister of Small Business and Revenue, who they, I believe, visit annually. I'd ask the House to please make them all very welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I've now had the opportunity to review the Blues of Thursday, May 15, relating to private members' statements. I am particularly concerned about the content of the statement given by the member for Delta North and find that the member's statements breached the well-established guidelines related to such statements.
In particular, I quote a Speaker's decision in the House of July 2, 1992, in part, as follows: "In reviewing the practice of this House, however, highly partisan remarks that negatively reflect on individual members or groups of members in the House have not been regarded as falling within the spirit and intent of Standing Order 25a."
I note here that the Speaker's decision of March 1, 2007, made it clear that guidelines applicable to Standing Order 25a are equally applicable to statements under Standing Order 25b. Accordingly, it's the Chair's opinion that the member for Delta North breached the well-established guidelines applicable to Standing Order 25B, and should any member transgress the guidelines again, he or she will be ordered to resume his or her seat and discontinue the statement.
This is just a friendly reminder before the two-minute statements come this afternoon.
Orders of the Day
Hon. B. Penner: I call continued second reading debate of Bill 29, Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008.
Mr. Speaker: And in the other House?
Hon. B. Penner: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the reminder.
We'll be carrying on with estimates debate, and for the information of members, we'll be debating the estimates for the Ministry of Health.
Second Reading of Bills
ENVIRONMENTAL (SPECIES AND
PUBLIC PROTECTION) STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2008
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to again join the debate on Bill 29. I would note, for your information, Mr. Speaker, that I am the designated speaker for this bill.
Bill 29, the Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008, is a piece of legislation that I believe, in my view, is somewhat more narrow, certainly, than I think many people had anticipated when this bill was to come.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
You will know that Bill 29 is somewhat a result of the Wildlife Act review that has gone on since back in 2007, when the minister announced the review, released a discussion paper on the Wildlife Act and encouraged many British Columbians to give him comments, provide comments to the government, around what people felt the Wildlife Act should be doing and should be incorporating and what amendments or changes might make sense in that act.
The result of that is that I believe…. Certainly, from the discussions I've had with a number of people and organizations since the bill was introduced, they have all said: "Is that really all there is? Is that really what the result of the Wildlife Act review is?"
My response to them, of course, has to be that it's what we've seen so far, and we've been given no indication or reason to believe that there will be anything else substantive coming. And certainly, the minister, in his comments introducing the bill, did not suggest that there would be further changes or amendments coming in a subsequent bill, either this fall or next spring. So I have heard significant disappointment, not so much about what is in the bill but about what else isn't in the bill.
Now, the bill itself, Bill 29, does deal with some important matters. It deals with amendments in relation to alien species. These are amendments that are important. These are amendments that put significant limits on the ability to own exotic or alien species. I think we know that there have been a couple of incidents where there have been very serious problems related to the ownership of species like tigers, lions, exotic snakes, poisonous snakes and other kinds of species.
I think it makes good sense, and I don't think that there's any complaint about the notion that it's time
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that we put limits on alien species to ensure the protection of the public and to ensure the protection of those species themselves. This piece of legislation does go a ways to dealing with that issue around alien species.
It also goes in a somewhat different direction and certainly deals with questions around waste management issues and recycling, not matters that really have much to do with the Wildlife Act at all. They are separate matters around environmental management, waste management. But the bill does deal with some of those matters around how that recycling would all work. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to talk about that somewhat later on in this discussion.
It also provides some new powers for park rangers, designating them as officers, giving them some of the authority that conservation officers have, as it relates. It also makes a number of changes related to the hunting community, mostly related to guide-outfitters but also related to resident hunters. This is all heading in the direction….
The government, in its White Paper, in its discussion document on the Wildlife Act review, talked about wanting to add about 20,000 hunters in British Columbia or to head towards striving towards an additional 20,000 hunters in British Columbia. They make some changes that take steps to get there and also changes that loosen up some of the requirements and regulations for guide-outfitters in terms of how they do their business, where they do their business and some of the processes that they conduct in doing their business.
The substance of the bill, essentially, ends with those matters. It doesn't move on to discuss any of the other critical issues that are in front of us, and that is a concern. It is a concern for people who looked at the Wildlife Act review and who had expectations that it would cover more, that Bill 29, as the legislation that flows from the review of the Wildlife Act review, would cover more, that it would in fact have some discussions around issues related to species and habitat protection.
Unfortunately, with the exception of the alien species that are discussed in the bill, it's hard to find a section of this bill that says anything substantive around protection of species or protection of habitat for those species.
I want to speak a little bit this morning about the Wildlife Act situation. I want to talk about this bill in terms of the species and public protection, which is part of the title of the bill, and to talk about the pieces that, sadly, are not included in this bill but that should reasonably have been expected to be there or to have been discussed in some fashion as part of the review of the Wildlife Act.
We have a situation in the province where, since pre-settlement…. Just to give you a sense of the situation we face in species at risk, British Columbia is one of two provinces that doesn't have species-at-risk legislation that looks at the value of habitat, that doesn't look at how we protect our species in a substantive way. That's a challenge in British Columbia, because we arguably have the most biodiversity of any province in the country. We have the biggest variety of species in the country, and we do little to protect them. About 49 species and subspecies have been lost since pre-settlement in British Columbia, so we have lost some. There's no doubt.
Today there are about 1,300 species that, based on information from the conservation data centre, are at some degree of risk in British Columbia. It's a very large number. That's 1,300 species out of what are arguably about 3,600 different species that currently exist in British Columbia.
More than a third of those are at some degree of risk, as determined by the conservation data centre and by their information. Now, out of that, only around 68 of those species or so receive any kind of protection under B.C. laws, and none — not one — has that protection attached to habitat.
If you talk to people, whether it be academics, whether it be environmental interests, whether it be hunters and people who spend time in the bush, they will all acknowledge that the protection of species is not possible without some attention being paid to the habitat that those species operate and function and live within and, certainly, without some connection between the interrelationship of species in any given area.
That's not the situation that we face today, so we have a big challenge in British Columbia because we do have species that are at significant risk. This is according to the data centre which, as I pointed out, is the agency that monitors species in British Columbia. Over 1,300 species and subspecies living in the province now are determined to be at some risk of disappearing.
Among the major wildlife groups,67 percent of reptiles and turtles are at risk; amphibians, 47 percent; and freshwater fish, 47 percent. They are the most at risk of local extinction from British Columbia. There are many other wildlife groups in B.C. that similarly contain high numbers of species at risk, including 43 percent of vascular plants, 34 percent of butterflies, 33 percent of freshwater and terrestrial molluscs, 26 percent of dragonflies and damselflies, 18 percent of terrestrial mammals and 17 percent of our birds.
It's a significant number of species that are at risk. This is in a province that…. Because of the unique heritage that we have in British Columbia, because of the wide variety of wildlife that we have in British Columbia, we need to be stepping up and meeting the challenge around species at risk. Arguably, and I know that this is the view from academic interests as well as conservation interests, the piece of legislation we would be seeing this session around the review would give us some comfort on beginning to get at the challenge around species at risk.
This becomes particularly important in British Columbia because we do have a unique heritage here. To give you some sense: 76 percent of Canada's birds are in British Columbia, 70 percent of our freshwater species, 66 percent of butterfly species, 60 percent of conifers, 56 percent of the ferns and 41 percent of orchids — just to give you some sense of how diverse our biodiversity is.
The challenge we have now is that we have more than 1,300 of those species that are at risk based on the government's own data. Yet unfortunately, we're not
[ Page 12571 ]
seeing anything in this legislation that will help us to deal with that challenge.
What we know is that there was action taken. In 2004 the government made amendments to the Wildlife Act. They were amendments that most people believed would have improved things. They would have helped to respond to this situation by creating an opportunity to list additional species. That was the intention of the amendment that was moved to the Wildlife Act in 2004.
Unfortunately, those amendments, the work of that bill, have never been enacted. As a consequence, it's essentially a non-functioning law. It was a law that was intended to ensure some protection and to improve the protection for our wildlife. Unfortunately, to date, the regulations have never come into effect to list any of the species, so the amendment is essentially meaningless.
Even if the government had decided when they introduced Bill 29 that they were going to make an announcement at the time that they would in fact put in force the regulations from 2004, that would have been a step in the right direction. But the government continues to remain silent on the species-at-risk question, raising significant concerns for many over the situation with this bill.
When we look at the review that the bill was based on or that motivated the bill, we know that there was some great interest — that maybe we would see some action around the bill. I would note that in June of 2007 the Association of Professional Biologists of British Columbia, in responding to the consultation paper, the discussion on the review, said:
"The Association of Professional Biologists appreciates that government has recognized the importance of managing species at risk in the discussion paper. In light of that recognition, the Association of Professional Biologists recommends that the new act should…."
So they were recommending what they thought should be in Bill 29.
They made a number of points. They said that the bill should provide for effective conservation of vulnerable species so that they do not become threatened or endangered. They went on to say:
"It should require species recovery as well as effective management of the species' ecosystems, habitats, residences and individuals. It should meet national standards under the national Species at Risk Act. It should provide for professional biologists to determine the biological status of species and to prioritize the species to be recommended for consideration as threatened or endangered by cabinet, and it should provide for cabinet to decide which species will be legally designated as threatened or endangered under provincial legislation in a timely way."
They went on to say…. This is the Association of Professional Biologists of British Columbia:
"The revised act should be brought into compliance with the Canadian biodiversity strategy. In 1992 Canada was the first industrialized country to ratify the UN convention on biological diversity. Subsequently, in 1994 all Canadian provinces signed the Canadian biodiversity strategy, which committed the provinces to conserve biological diversity to meet the national and international obligations under those commitments.
"The new act should include a comprehensive definition of 'biological diversity' consistent with established conservation biology principles. This definition would include the definition of 'wildlife' in recommendation 8 of this letter and legislated authority for the Ministry of Environment to work towards conservation of biological diversity."
None of those things are done in Bill 29. Bill 29 didn't deal with those issues of species, arguably the single most important issue that should have come out of the question of the Wildlife Act review and that should have been included in the legislation that was meant to implement some of the recommendations.
It does implement the recommendations that deal with opening up hunting, both for resident hunters and in easing the regulations around guide-outfitters. It does accomplish that. It does deal with questions around alien species, but it is essentially silent in many ways on the question of species at risk, which is arguably the biggest single issue that we need to face at this time.
This creates a huge vacuum, and it's a vacuum that is of great concern. It's of great concern because we know that this is an issue that the government is well aware of.
We had the Minister of Agriculture and Lands make announcements back a year or so ago around the mountain caribou. What we know is that there was a mountain caribou recovery plan put forward by the government with a significant amount of fanfare. We now know that that plan is facing some challenges. Today we saw an interim review of the recovery plan's progress, prepared by environmental consultants for a range of community organizations and environmental groups that are concerned about the delays.
You'll know that the 2007 strategy stated that the government's goal was to protect 95 percent of the high-suitability winter habitat within identified areas. The strategy listed specific commitments covering public and commercial snowmobiling areas, commercial heli- and cat-skiing operations, forest policy and forest management, mineral exploration leases, translocations of caribou from healthy populations to those in decline and refinement of recovery objectives by management unit.
The purpose of this review that was done was to evaluate the progress. This scientific review was evaluating the progress on the effort that was made there after six months.
What they found is that while there are significant amounts of work being done, the progress appears to be stalled, in fact. It appears to be stalled for a number of reasons, including issues that relate to the forest and range and the ability to exceed the 1 percent of commercial timber harvest land base throughout the caribou range. What we know is that that raises issues, and I'll look forward to talking about that a little bit more, as well as issues around its inability to affect the annual allowable cut and forest operations.
Now, these are significant challenges. There was progress expected to be made by mid-March. I think March 21 of this year was the date in terms of getting these plans substantively in place. Those dates have
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been missed. I know that a number of the organizations are hopeful that the delays are short-lived and that sometime in the next short while those commitments that were made to be fulfilled will be fulfilled. But I also know that there is some significant concern around this.
I know that at the time the mountain caribou recovery strategy was put in place — certainly the most significant step, I would say, around species issues that we've seen — a number of organizations, many of the organizations that had been active around the caribou, opened discussions with the Minister of Agriculture and Lands on the broader question of habitat-based species at risk. I know that the minister has made comments. And I know that in discussions I've had with the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, he had opened some of those discussions around the species question. He had opened those discussions and was having an ongoing discussion around what that kind of legislation might or might not look like.
There was some expectation that there may be steps taken, and there was some indication from the minister, I think, when these discussions were initiated that there would be effort to try to bring forward habitat-based species-at-risk legislation before next year's election. But in the last few months it has become clear — and I know the Minister of Agriculture and Lands has indicated to me — that that's not going to be able to occur between now and May of 2009.
So what we have is…. We had the place where many of the conservation organizations and regional groups that were hopeful they were going to see species-at-risk legislation — in fact, accomplishing this through the Minister of Agriculture and Lands and through his work…. It has now become clear that that isn't going to occur and that there isn't going to be the protection for species there. I know that is disappointing for those organizations and for people who are concerned about our biodiversity.
Then, as that became clearer, the hopes turned to what is now Bill 29. The hopes turned to the government being able to accomplish at least some steps towards species protection, even if it was just towards the listing and the acknowledgment of the species in a more substantive way, through what is Bill 29. Of course, what we know now as we look at Bill 29 is that we never saw those protections.
Part of the problem is that we have a couple of key pieces of legislation. There are challenges around this. The first is the Forest and Range Practices Act, which states that biodiversity protection must not unduly reduce the supply of timber from B.C. forests.
We all know the forest sector is in very challenging times. We know we need to try to protect that industry, find new ways to deal with that industry and find new ways to deal with the communities around that industry. We also know that a sustainability strategy will need to be part of that.
We on this side of the House have talked about what that might look like. We've discussed it. The member for Cariboo North and our Leader of the Official Opposition have discussed those matters in some detail. We continue, of course, to discuss them pretty much on a daily basis with the Minister of Forests and Range.
The problem is that there are significant limits put in place by that act. For example, the government claims that the identified wildlife management strategy is the tool that is supposed to be available to protect habitat for species. That's the vehicle available for the government to be able to protect habitat species. But what we also know is that the government has essentially told the identified wildlife management strategy folks that they cannot impact the logging rate by more than 1 percent. That puts a pretty short leash on the ability to look at protection of habitat.
What we have is what the government would tell us — the identified wildlife management strategy, which is meant to protect species from impacts of logging…. Logging often is one of the key impacts on the habitat of many, many species. We know that. That has been a discussion in this province for decades. We know that.
You have a policy here that provides little latitude or little flexibility to be able to deal with those impacts of logging. What you have is some failure in the law to be able to provide the flexibility to even have a meaningful discussion around how you get at some of these questions related to species, how you get at some of the issues that, for example, affect the mountain caribou — some of the issues that I know have raised concerns, being as the mountain caribou is furthest along in terms of a recovery strategy.
It is the strategy that did, arguably, bring the most people together. It did bring first nations. It did bring environmental interests. It did bring government. It did bring together corporate and industrial interests, including forest sector interests, in a discussion around how to get at this issue. The challenge with it is how to get there without being able to get through some of these challenging questions around other policies that exist for the government.
The issue here — and I would note that not just in the areas based on the harvest land base that may not be affected…. Also, the bill — or the work that's done around the caribou — says that it may not affect the annual allowable cut and forest operations in the short term. The short term is defined as five years or the next timber supply review, which is usually completed in five-year intervals.
So we're told that not only in the areas that are around the land base but also in those areas where there is an annual allowable cut outside that land base, it can't be affected. We know that the Minister of Agriculture and Lands and the Minister of Forests and Range have restated the foregoing as a policy of no net loss of short-term timber supply as a consequence of the caribou management plan.
That may be an achievable thing to be able to do, but I know that in terms of those folks who are most concerned about the protection of the caribou, they're concerned that they're not necessarily seeing that. They're concerned that there is no law in British Columbia that
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protects habitat for species. Bill 29 was the bill that I believe most of those people were hoping would be the piece of legislation that would provide that protection for species. But as we've noted and we know from the bill, it does nothing to be able to in fact protect those.
When the minister announced the Wildlife Act review back in 2007 and put it in place, attached to that document was the review document. Then there was a piece that talked about regulations related to species. It talked in a number of areas about what those regulations might be.
I know for certain that while a number of conservation interests in British Columbia were very hopeful that there would be stand-alone, habitat-based species-at-risk legislation, they were very concerned to get anything in place that would improve our circumstances. I know those groups had said to me that it's certainly not the optimum situation, but if we can find a series of regulations that begin to deal with the question of species, then that's a step in the right direction and something we should do. They looked to do that, and they looked to try to find ways that they could in fact improve that.
What we know is that as a follow-up to what was there, of course, there has been concern raised by numbers of people that the discussion in the review was inadequate. I would quote Dr. Mooers from Simon Fraser University, who said in his comments around the review:
"I am very concerned by parts of the legislation dealing with endangered species.To begin, I do not see how species would be designated as imperilled. Would the federal list be adopted wholesale, or is there some other mechanism? This seems an important matter. Having cabinet declare a species as endangered in a wholly discretionary manner would weaken all other aspects of the law to the point of making the law irrelevant."
Academics and conservationists have all been telling us for many, many years that in British Columbia we need to make progress on being able to move forward on the question of species at risk. When we get to committee stage on Bill 29, among other things we'll certainly be discussing what's not in Bill 29 and have the minister explain to us why decisions were made to leave these issues related to species out of the bill.
Hon. Speaker, as I've said before, I think everybody was hopeful that the Wildlife Act review, with the section that talked about regulation for species, would bring forward something. There was hope around that. Then the government increased the hope and expectation when the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, after the mountain caribou strategy was put in place, began to talk to some of the groups — I know he talked to the Suzuki Foundation; I know he spoke to others — about something even more substantive. He began to talk about habitat-based, stand-alone species-at-risk legislation.
I believe that the groups who had seen the mountain caribou strategy certainly believed that while it was not perfect, it was a significant step in the right direction. We're hopeful that the Minister of Agriculture and Lands would be bringing forward a new piece of legislation — or his colleague, the author of this bill, the Minister of Environment would be bringing forward that legislation.
Of course, we know that legislation isn't coming. The message has essentially been delivered by the Minister of Ag and Lands that that won't be coming, and you have to wonder why. I know that the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, when talking about this…. We had the opportunity to have some preliminary discussion around what this might look like, as it's a significant interest for me that we see some species-at-risk legislation that's habitat-based, and the opportunity to talk to the minister and some of our discussions related to the caribou and in further discussions around species.
I believe the minister had significant interest in this. I believe the interest is sincere. The questions then have to come as to why we never saw anything in this session, why we didn't see anything in Bill 29 that would begin to take us down the road and why the legislation adopted in 2004 was never enacted.
I guess it has to come back to a discussion about what the real balance is at the cabinet table. Clearly, these are decisions that get made at the cabinet table. These are decisions that get talked out there, and we have to assume that there are folks in the cabinet who are more inclined towards a conservation strategy and those who are less so.
All we can assume here is that those folks who might be called the more green members of the cabinet weren't very successful in being able to advance their notion of how we deal with biodiversity and how we deal with species.
What would be called the brown members of the cabinet, those who want to protect the integrity of industrial and commercial operations as the first priority, clearly had some success. Certainly, it appears that way when you look at the decisions of the Minister of Ag and Lands to not bring forward anything around species. You look at Bill 29, the piece of legislation that we're talking about today. I know there was great hope that it would in fact deal with these questions around species, and of course it doesn't do that. That has been disappointing to many.
What should happen here? This is the question now. What should we be looking to accomplish? What should be happening in relation to species? I believe that we do need stand-alone species-at-risk legislation that is habitat-based. I believe we need to develop legislation. We need to put in place a law that makes the protection of our species and the protection of their habitat a priority, that is flexible enough, obviously, to recognize socioeconomic challenges that we have and that allows the permitting of other uses that are required in order to allow other activities to go on.
But when that permitting happens, when it's allowed to occur, the minister needs to be able to explain in a very transparent and accountable way how that's occurring, why it's occurring, what scientific work and analysis has been done to show that this permitting can occur and the damage that's done to species that are at risk because of these other uses. If there's damage done, the minister needs to be prepared to put in place a plan and put a plan on the table that says how that damage gets mitigated over time and how we move past.
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What we don't need is…. We're not talking about a piece of legislation that comes in and handcuffs the government from the myriad interests that go on around our resources, whether it's forestry, mining, hunting interests, recreational interests, development interests or other interests. All of those are challenges and pressures that we are going to continue to see and feel. What we do need is a piece of legislation that clearly identifies the species that are at risk and that clearly identifies how the habitat should get protected for those species.
When we talk about that, one of the first things that we need to do is have a science-based approach to identifying the state of species in this province. We need to determine extinct species; we need to determine extirpated species. This is important. We'll talk a little bit about the issue of global significance in a minute. We need to identify endangered species, threatened species and those of special concern. These are all categories that to some degree, in a diminishing order of risk, we're looking at.
We need recovery strategies for those species that are extirpated and endangered — and threatened, for that matter. The government should be putting those strategies in place. They should be identifying and prioritizing those species and putting in place recovery plans for all British Columbians to be able to look at and to understand and — in the case of species of special concern or in some of the threatened species, certainly — management plans that also explain how those species get managed and how in fact we move forward in a way that ensures that those species do survive and, hopefully, that they thrive.
We need to be able to do this in a fashion that is science-based. It means that we need to apply the resources necessary, in fact, to be able to put that science and those resources in place that will support that. When we start talking about what that might look like, there's a fair amount of advice around to help us with that. There's a fair amount of advice around what effective endangered-species legislation might include.
If you were to look at the best practices…. I would hope that we always strive for the best practices. Sometimes it's a challenge; sometimes you don't get there. We certainly have seen that demonstrated more often than not by this government — not getting to the best practice.
If you want to get to the best practice, here are some of the things that need to be included in such legislation. First of all, it needs to enshrine the principle that healthy ecosystems are essential to healthy human societies and economies. What we can't do…. It is disappointing that we don't talk about this in Bill 29, what Bill 29 doesn't discuss. It does nothing to make the connection between biodiversity — healthy ecosystems — and what we do as humans and how we engage in society.
There are correlations. They are deep, and they are connected in ways that cannot be torn apart. While we may certainly be the dominant species, we are simply one more species on this planet in many ways. When we look at what happens with other species farther down the food chain, there need to be lessons learned by us in terms of our own survival.
We see this today with the discussion around bees. There's a huge discussion going on globally around the future of bees. We know, of course, that the role that bees play in pollination is fundamental and critical to our future. Bees are only one of those species that we would identify, but a very critical one, yet in Bill 29 there is no discussion about what we do for bees.
In fact, in Bill 29 there's no discussion around that correlation between us as human societies, our economies and biodiversity. We need to recognize that biological diversity is essential to healthy ecosystems.
The canary-in-the-coalmine discussion often goes on. We know the discussion around the murrelet; we know the discussion around the spotted owl. Those are two of the higher-profile species in this province. We know that the ongoing discussion now is that there are greater pressures being felt on salmon. We know the role that salmon plays in biodiversity and in the health of our ecosystems as it moves upstream and upriver and becomes food for bears and nutrients for our forests. It's a foundation of those healthy ecosystems.
But we don't talk about those issues in Bill 29. We don't discuss them in any way, shape or form. It's as if they don't exist. It's as if species-at-risk issues do not exist for this government at this time.
We need to identify, protect and recover at-risk biodiversity across British Columbia, and this is key. It is time. The time is now for us to make the commitment that we will protect species in this province and that we will use science to determine what those species are that are at risk, the degree of risk that they are at and to put in place plans that will help us begin to address that and ensure the future of those species in British Columbia. We need to talk about, protect and recover biodiversity by protecting habitat.
We often talk about climate change and how it's hard to find a credible scientist today who wouldn't say that climate change is real. You'd be hard-pressed to find many credible biologists today who wouldn't say: "If you want to protect species, you'd better figure out how to protect their habitat or else you're not going to have much success in protecting those species."
But we don't make that connection here in British Columbia — with the noted exception, of course, of the mountain caribou recovery plan, and we still are struggling with that, as this interim program review has shown us. There is a great degree of struggle here and challenges around whether that habitat will get protected and under what terms.
We need to identify, assess and develop recovery strategies for at-risk biodiversity on the basis of sound science. This is where the government needs to make the investments. We need to invest directly in the biologists and the other scientists that we need to be able to do the assessments of species. We need to draw on outside resources that are available to us to deal with questions around species and put that in place in order to ensure
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that we're beginning to develop the basis of a strategy for protecting biodiversity and protecting species.
One of the other things…. We talk a lot on this side about the precautionary principle. We believe the precautionary principle is fundamental to good public policy. You need to pay attention to it.
Hon. Speaker, you'll know that when the Special Committee on Sustainable Aquaculture…. When we did our work and made a series of recommendations around the protection of wild salmon while allowing an aquaculture industry to move forward in a way that ensured the protection of wild salmon, one of the things we said in that report…. I'm hopeful that some day the government will tell us what their intentions are around that report. But what they didn't do….
What we said in that report is that there's no question that the large body of science makes the correlation between aquaculture and issues related to sea lice and impacts on young salmon. While there is some debate, the precautionary principle makes sense, because it ensures that we protect those things that could be lost forever — at least until we get that science right and satisfy everybody that there is a consensus.
Well, when we talk about species…. If Bill 29 had said that the precautionary principle will prevail when we deal with species in British Columbia, it would have been a significant step forward. But it doesn't say that. So we have not enshrined this principle. We have not dealt with the question, either, of polluter-pays. We need to figure out that those who choose to create the challenges and the problems need to be part of investing in the solution.
One of the other issues…. This is an issue that we've talked about a lot in this House over this session as it relates to a number of pieces of legislation and work that the government's done, and it would relate here as well. We've talked about challenges around the government's secrecy in a whole lot of issues and about its unwillingness to engage citizens in a whole lot of issues.
We also know it's now increasingly the challenges around…. First nations increasingly feel frustrated that they're not engaged in issues.
What we do know is that if Bill 29 was to deal with species at risk in an effective way, what Bill 29 would do is require that citizens, communities and first nations be able to participate in a meaningful and substantive way. But Bill 29 doesn't do that. Of course, part of the reason for that is that Bill 29 doesn't deal with this question in any substantive way at all.
Then those things that should be inherent in any government legislation, in government practice…. We talk about best practices — things that should be part of that. Governments should have accountability and transparency if they have best practices. They should have laws that they're prepared to enforce and that they have the personnel and the resources to, in fact, enforce, and they should be funded. If we're going to take on the challenge of biodiversity, then we need to invest the dollars necessary to be able to deal with biodiversity. That doesn't happen. Bill 29 deals, essentially, with none of those things. It deals with none of those matters at all.
At a time when we're saying that we do need that stand-alone species-at-risk legislation, at a time when British Columbians are telling us that they want to protect those species, we have a government that has a bill in Bill 29 which, in its title, talks about species and public protection yet is sorely lacking, in its silence on this question.
Instead of saying that we are going to put in protections for extirpated, endangered or threatened species, it says very little or nothing. Instead of saying that it will protect habitat for those species, it says nothing. Instead of putting in place a framework that would ensure that recovery strategies or management plans could be put in place for species, Bill 29 says nothing.
When we have a need for an approach that's responsible in terms of socioeconomic challenges, looking at the reality of economic development and the need to ensure that our resource base is afforded the opportunity to move forward and develop, when we should be putting in stewardship plans and permitting strategies and parameters to be able to allow that to happen, Bill 29 says nothing. So it is a problem.
One of the other problems that we see around this…. This is a concern that I would flag when we deal with the whole question of species. We've heard some rumblings of this from government as they talked about species. The government is talking about something called global significance. Global significance essentially says that, yes, a species may be endangered in British Columbia, may be close to extirpated in British Columbia, but if there are significant numbers of that species elsewhere in the world, then it's not an issue for us.
That's not the way that we should conduct ourselves. We need to say that the biodiversity, the more than 3,600 species that there are in British Columbia…. We have a responsibility to protect those. Certainly, the more than 1,300 that the conservation data centre has identified as being at risk need to be protected, and we need to at least be thinking about how we protect those species in the context of British Columbia law. But we haven't got there. We haven't got there to achieve that.
The bill is disappointing in the sense that it deals with none of those matters — matters that are of critical importance to many British Columbians, matters that many British Columbians expected to be part of the response to the Wildlife Act review — that many British Columbians, most British Columbians, expected the government to take action on.
At a time when the government is talking green on a number of things, to have made the connection and the correlation between biodiversity and climate change…. There are connections. There are strong correlations. Species will be impacted by climate change, but there's nothing here anywhere in the adaptation discussion that says or even acknowledges that that's a problem or a challenge that needs to be addressed and dealt with.
So it is very disappointing that Bill 29 is so silent on the single biggest issue that this piece of legislation
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should have paid attention to and should have dealt with. On the single biggest important piece, the legislation is almost silent.
It does deal with a couple of other matters, and I'm going to talk briefly to those. Then I'm sure there are others who want to join in this discussion and this debate. It does deal with alien species. It deals with alien species that could create risk to humans and that could certainly be harmful to native wildlife. It makes sense to be able to manage those and to prohibit ownership that isn't responsible ownership of those alien species. That makes sense. It's a good thing that that has been addressed in this bill, and it's something that we certainly would support.
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
It has created additional penalties for poachers and offenders. That makes sense. We want to limit illegal hunting absolutely, and making it more costly — making the penalties more significant — is certainly a way to do that in terms of trying to reduce the impact there.
It talks about giving park rangers, as I noted earlier, many of the powers of conservation officers. What it doesn't do — and we'll talk about this somewhat when we get to committee stage — is talk about what is still the continuing lack of resources in this province around enforcement, whether it's conservation officers or park rangers.
I understand that since we don't have sufficient conservation officers in British Columbia to do the job they're required to do, part of the strategy here is to get park rangers to be doing more double duty on this.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we still need to have some discussion about whether it in fact meets resource requirements. We'll have the opportunity to have that discussion later in this bill, or maybe we'll get a chance to have that discussion a little bit more when we get to estimates for the minister sometime later this week or next week.
The other thing it does is provide some flexibility for guide-outfitters and give them some more freedom and flexibility around what they do. Again, I hope we have the ability to discuss in some more detail about what the expectations are around that — the same as the legislation reduces ages for hunting and provides some opportunities to increase the base of resident hunters in British Columbia while at the same time, as I pointed out, giving more flexibility to guide-outfitters to bring folks into play.
Those issues seem to start to get at the government's objective in the Wildlife Act review, when they did the review, to say they wanted to add 20,000 hunters in British Columbia. That has a commercial and economic side to it. I understand that, and I understand the government's desire to increase the number of hunters.
My concern is where the balance is here. As I noted at some length in my comments here, the other side of the balance of that is that you have the hunting community, and you need to have protection for biodiversity as a key piece of that and protection for species as a counterbalance to that.
The bill moves forward to begin to create that latitude and flexibility and moves the strategy forward to increase the number of resident hunters on the ground or guide-outfitters and their clients. It doesn't provide the other side of that mix to deal with protection of biodiversity and protection of species generally.
As I get close to closing up on my comments, I look forward to having some significant discussion with the minister when we get to committee stage of this bill about why the government has decided to go in this direction with Bill 29 and to see if we can get the minister to talk to us in some detail around that issue of species. The other issue that I am going to look forward to having some discussion with the minister on when we get to committee stage is around the Environmental Management Act.
This is a piece that seemed like a bit of an add-on to this, which deals with issues around recyclable materials and waste management generally and looks at regulatory powers around that and around regulation in regard to codes of practice. From situations like what happened a few years back on Industrial Avenue, I can certainly see why the minister wants to put some kind of regulatory controls in place, because not much exists.
This bill, then, looks to do that and puts certain requirements on owner-operators of facilities to ensure that they are operated properly and that when they are closed down — if they're closed down — it's done in a manner that ensures the protection of the public and protection of the environment and requires these owner-operators to provide certain securities to the minister to ensure that that can be done — hopefully, not at public expense but at the cost of the potential polluter. If in fact it's discovered that the facility hasn't been handled in an appropriate fashion, it's not the public that is out of pocket.
As we know and I understand, in the case of the Industrial Avenue project in Abbotsford, charges have been laid. We will have litigation in a court case around that, but we also know that the government paid a significant amount of money to clean up the mess.
Interestingly, the gentleman who was involved in that company, I understand, continues to work and operate in that sector. I'm hopeful that the minister's staff are keeping a close eye on those operations to make sure that the gentleman in question has adopted better practices than the ones that he seemed to engage in, in the past.
So that does raise significant questions. Those questions around the Environmental Management Act and around what this means, around what the codes of practice should be and how we deal with those matters, are questions that I look forward to having a discussion on with the minister in committee stage — hoping, of course, that we get to committee stage on this.
With those comments, I look forward to the rest of the debate on this bill. I'm sure there are other members who are interested in discussing the legislation. With that, I will take my place.
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C. Wyse: It is indeed my pleasure to be up speaking today to Bill 29, Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008. My comments are going to be quite specific to portions of the act. They'll be around sections 7, 10 and 11, the amendments dealing with the Wildlife Act.
This House is aware that one of my constituents of Cariboo South suffered unfortunate tragedy at the paws, if you like, of one of these alien species. It is with that that I will be bringing together some comments from the community as well as from the relatives of Tanya Dumstrey-Soos.
Before I actually go into that part, it would be appropriate, I believe, to acknowledge the efforts of the minister here. I know that the minister has been in touch with family members. For that, I am appreciative. I'm appreciative of the sensitivity that the minister has shown around this particular item, and for that, I extend our appreciation from my part of the world.
That having been stated, there are some points that I would like to put in front of this House for the minister's consideration. When we look at this particular bill, the regulations for controlling alien species is going to be passed off to the cabinet. As the regulations will be developed away from the debate here within the House, it is that aspect that requires me to stand up and make these comments so that they are on the record.
Some of the concerns that have been raised are around the retroactivity portions of the new regulations that will evolve particularly, I believe, from sections 10 and 11. Will alien species that are already here in British Columbia be exempt? Should that be the case, that again raises the issue of whether the conditions that are developed — the regulations, if you prefer — underneath these sections of the act will apply to those animals if they retroactively are allowed to stay within the community within British Columbia.
Now, in particular, one aspect here in the regulations that people from the Cariboo would like drawn to the attention of the House is that not only do the regulations provide for the safety of humans, they also should provide for the well-being of the animals that are allowed to be here within British Columbia. So contained within that aspect of it…. If the regulations do not apply retroactively to animals that have already landed, then that raises questions about the safety for individuals here in British Columbia.
In fact, the tragic case that occurred up in the Cariboo area has a certain amount of belief and credibility that if a different type of caging had been provided for this type of animal, possibly this accident would not have occurred. So that raises the questions in the regulations to ensure that if there is no retroactivity covering the animals that are already allowed in British Columbia, that are here, then at least the regulations that require how they are kept need to be applied to them.
So that is one of the concerns that we would like to be noted for consideration for the minister at a later date. On a number of occasions I have raised the point about enabling legislation. Enabling legislation removes what is actually going to happen away from the House here and the debate and takes it away to where the cabinet does the business or a minister, possibly unilaterally on their own, moves upon the items. Therefore, the ability for the individual electorate, through their MLAs, to make their points is somewhat bypassed.
Likewise, I do notice underneath section 10 that dealing with the alien species, the government ensures that any liability that applies to the government for alien species that have been defined in the act…. The government liability is removed.
However, that raises the issue for the past, present and future about the liability of those individuals who do have alien species here within British Columbia, and their responsibility for being in a position to look after the financial well-being of individuals who may be inadvertently affected by those animals being here.
So Madam Speaker, again, when the minister is looking at these regulations, people from Cariboo South believe that this issue around the liability is another area that requires due diligence to be applied to it.
Finally, the more important part with any type of legislation, whether it be at this moment or whether it be in the regulations, is that of enforcement. To have regulations in place that do not apply for enforcement raises the very distinctive possibility that all our intentions, as good as they are here in this House, in achieving a particular goal are not achievable because no enforcement does take place.
That raises the issue, then, around the aspects of penalties, about the severity of the penalties. Even then, enforcement is more than likely the more important part. We've had a situation here in British Columbia where many, if not most, of the ministries here since 2002 to 2004 have suffered great staff reductions. Therefore, new regulations or new laws can only be enforced if the means are put in place for the enforcement to occur.
Now, I do not wish to suggest that the enforcement of regulations of this nature would fall exclusively to government officials. We have, in practice, the SPCA, which in the past has become the branch of the government of British Columbia for the enforcement of the rules and regulations in this area.
But that then raises another issue that people from the Cariboo, people that have experienced firsthand the result of inadequate legislation to look after alien species, have raised: the question about adequate financial support being provided to the SPCA so that they then are able, if that is the arm that the government wishes to use for enforcement, to undertake adequate enforcement of those rules.
We do know that the SPCA receives a very limited sum of money from the government for enforcement. We do know that that sum of money hasn't changed substantially for quite a long period of time. Yet this issue of adequate enforcement for the protection of species other than humans also is important — that it be undertaken.
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It is indeed with somewhat of a mixed feeling that I am in front of the House, feeling that it is important that I bring forward regulations when in actual fact I would have felt better if I had been in a position to bring forward discussions upon the actual bill itself. I am sure that the minister will pay due attention to these points that have been raised here in the House by myself on behalf of all the residents within the Cariboo.
Madam Speaker, I thank you for providing me with the opportunity, on behalf of the residents of Cariboo South, to bring forward those points. With that, I take my place.
N. Macdonald: Bill 29, the Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008 is, of course, a mixed bag, and my speech is going to jump from place to place to reflect the many issues that are touched on here. There are amendments to the Wildlife Act, and I know that it's important to update this act.
I do want to start by saying that, coming from Columbia River–Revelstoke…. It is a part of the province, like many rural areas, where hunting and fishing are tremendously important. Hunters and fishermen — outdoors people — who are out on the land are really the eyes and ears for those public lands. In most of our communities they work very closely with conservation officers and environmental staff to provide information and make sure that the stewardship that's needed in these areas is done properly.
I think another thing that needs to be mentioned is that hunting and fishing are culturally very important to our part of British Columbia and that hunting and fishing still provide an important food source for many, many people in the area.
The commitment that you have from these groups towards habitat and habitat retention…. In my area they've been very active on the east side of Columbia Lake, with Jumbo Glacier — that area. They have been active on the private power issue, with concerns about developments that aren't consistent with good environmental practice.
So there have been individuals who looked at this legislation and realized that there was still far more to do but who would commend the fact that changes to the Wildlife Act are here in front of the House. The area has very active rod and gun clubs, very strong and active in Revelstoke, Golden, the Columbia Valley and Kimberley. Like I say, their importance is tremendous.
In terms of this legislation, the feedback that has come to our office includes feedback from the guide-outfitters, especially in the southern part of the riding. I was contacted by Mr. Barsby, who is a guide-outfitter, and he commented on the legislation. Basically, he is supportive. He does say that it's not perfect but that it is a move in the right direction.
That same sentiment came through from the Southern Guides and Outfitters Association, through their president, David Beranek. That organization reviewed the legislation. They've met with the minister's staff in the Kootenays, and basically, they that feel it is going to help their operation and provide them with some investment security.
They are not happy, just as we hear from the various rod and gun clubs, about the level of habitat protection. They have many specific issues that they would choose to raise with the government and with the protection of the environment in general. There's a strong feeling that there need to be more people on the ground and that we have to have a better idea of what is actually going on. We have to have better and firmer numbers on the number of animals, and so on.
I have also heard from the Resident Hunters Association, in particular, about issues that the minister would be familiar with. There were questions about limited-entry hunting. There are questions from resident hunters about why they need to enter a lottery when foreign hunters are allowed to come in without having to go through a similar process, with a feeling that that's unfair.
Now, there are a tremendous number of very specific issues that hunters and various groups that represent hunters would still like to see brought forward and addressed. It is a complex issue and would best be served by the continuous discussions that go on amongst groups. With that idea…. I know the minister is in Cranbrook in June, and there are certainly hunters from the East Kootenays that would hope to meet with the minister and lay out some of their specific concerns in more detail.
There were also some concerns that came to my office about animals designated as controlled animal species. Of course, this relates to larger species such as tigers. The member that preceded me alluded to some of the background for pieces of this legislation, a tragedy related to a tiger.
The question that came to our office is from Mrs. Grenier, and she worries that servals will be included. She has questions about the types of animals that are going to be included. Again, she wondered whether servals that are currently owned are going to be exempt, and she also very specific questions about the savannah, which is a hybrid between servals and domesticated cats, I understand.
The final thing that I would put in front of the House is something that is not part of the legislation but is of particular interest near Golden: the Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre. The minister will perhaps remember that when I met with the minister, one of the things that we talked about were Karelian bear dogs. There were certainly a large number of people who organized themselves and put in petitions around regulations related to the Karelian bear dog.
It can be used by conservation officers to move bears away from areas where they may be a problem. They're removed using these dogs. The point that the Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Centre and those who have worked with Karelian bear dogs are making is that this is an effective way of limiting what can be harmful bear-human interactions and making sure that
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bears are moved away in a way that allows them to survive the experience and, at the same time, makes sure that people are safe.
Those are the things that I just wanted to put on the public record and that I would expect the minister would consider as he moves forward with this legislation. With that, I turn it over to my colleague and thank the House for the opportunity to speak.
M. Sather: It's my pleasure to join the debate on Bill 29, Environmental (Species and Public Protection) Statutes Amendment Act, 2008. There are some parts of the bill around endangered or dangerous wildlife and so on, which I'm sure will be beneficial in dealing with those kinds of situations. The member for Cariboo South spoke, to a degree, about that. I wanted, however, to talk about some of the concerns I have about the bill.
I was fortunate this past weekend to get a chance to go camping in Skihist Provincial Park up near Lytton. It's another sad situation with regard to the beetle kill, in that the beetle is spreading. I don't know whether it's the same species or a different beetle, but it's now moving into the ponderosa pine and killing quite a few of those. As a result, the contractors are having to remove trees from the park, and it's a sad thing to see.
It got me thinking a lot about species during the weekend and just what effect that mammoth alteration of our ecosystems in British Columbia as a result of the beetle kill is going to have. It will be profound. I'm sure there must be learned papers out there about it by now. I haven't had the chance — and I'm no longer in that field — to really look at those. But there must be discussion out there by now about what the effect is going to be on species.
Just noticing, around our campground, the red squirrels scampering about…. I did have a slight debate or discourse with my natural history friends on whether they were red squirrels or Douglas squirrels, but I maintain they were red squirrels.
Hon. B. Penner: Which campground was it?
M. Sather: Skihist. Interior red squirrels — right?
M. Sather: Skihist, up by Lytton.
I just thought: Wow, what an effect the kill of those trees is going to have on squirrels, because they depend on cones, of course, in order to live. As the tree dies and those cones are no longer produced, it will decimate their numbers throughout that range.
That's but one species that will be affected. The other species that immediately came to mind for me was the pine marten, which preys to a large extent on squirrels for its diet. I anticipate that they, too, will be decimated by the pine beetle kill of those trees.
The ecological effect of this phenomenon…. Of course, in areas further north where the lodgepole pine is the predominant species, it has already completely eradicated large areas. The effect on species is going to be highly significant — mostly negative, I anticipate.
I heard from my colleague from Cariboo North a while ago. He made a comment about there being a proliferation of woodpeckers in some of these forests. I can see that. As those trees die, there will be more insect infestation. Perhaps that's a group of species of birds that will benefit. But by and large, there's going to be a loss of a lot of species.
We enjoyed looking at the various kinds of warblers there this weekend. Wondering what effect and expecting the effect to be negative…. Certainly it's such a complex system, an ecosystem. The kinds of insects that a given bird, for example, feeds on are different from species to species. They're evolved to feed on insects from a live tree — to wit, certain particular live trees. With the loss of those trees, they're probably going to suffer immeasurably.
Not only do we have a fair number of endangered species now, but my concern is that we're going to be seeing over the next few years a whole lot more species that are endangered and at risk. So it's pretty disappointing to me that the government hasn't come out with legislation that would actually address species.
There was a much-anticipated review of the Wildlife Act. Although it has some good things in it, it doesn't really do anything for species at risk. Although the minister doesn't agree with me on that, I think it's clear that it does minimal for species at risk. There's nothing to protect their habitat, and of course, habitat protection is a huge issue.
Although we can't necessarily protect all of their habitat — to wit, the pine beetle kill — we have to have a mechanism whereby we can identify those species that are at risk and are becoming at risk as a result not only of the beetle kill but of any other factors, either natural or human factors, that will endanger some of these species and are endangering some of them now.
I know that the member for Vancouver-Hastings mentioned that a number of environmental groups and biologists had expressed their concerns that there would be some legislation — and this is the only one we have, I think, that would propose to speak to the issue of dangerous species — to take into account the need to have a mechanism to fully and meaningfully address the increased risk to species that's happening in British Columbia. There's nothing in this, as I say, that enhances species protection.
Of course, related to the beetle kill is the issue of climate change. Climate change in itself through the mountain pine beetle but through other effects — such as, quite possibly, increased drought — is also going to have effects on species. I think now was the time for the government to really step up to the plate and show that they understood the risk that species are at, and that they were prepared to protect those species and do whatever they could to do that.
One of the things that have also been mentioned, which I would like to make note of is: how will species be designated as imperilled? That's a question that we would need to address. Are we going to follow the
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federal endangered species legislation or what? But it seems to me that the government has left us a bit in a no person's land here with regard to species. I look forward to the minister's comments, if he's going to provide further comments. I'm sure he will during the committee stage debate of this. So I would like to hear from the minister why the government hasn't chosen to act on the recommendations that have been made by many interested groups and many people who are learned in this area.
The mountain caribou is an issue of great concern — the protection of the mountain caribou. We've gone from about 10,000 caribou historically down to about 1,900. The mountain caribou is certainly one of those species at risk, which I think not this minister but the Minister of Agriculture and Lands raised quite a bit of hope for last fall with the announcement of the preservation of habitat for the mountain caribou. I know a lot of work went into that with some environmental groups to bring about an agreement to address one of the high-profile species in the province that's at risk.
However, we're now seeing concern from some of those same environmental groups that were there at the announcement with the Minister of Agriculture and Lands about what is actually in fact happening with the mountain caribou. Of course, we have this overlap in responsibilities now between the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Agriculture and Lands when it comes to species at risk. This bill was brought in by the Minister of Environment, which I historically sort of expected, but nonetheless….
So we have these two ministries that are responsible. Yet again, there is a concern out there that the government may not be following through in the way that folks are hoping they will with regard to conservation of mountain caribou. Some 95 percent of habitat in sensitive areas was to be protected as a result of this agreement, but those groups that were involved say that progress seems to be stalled with regard to putting in place the measures that will be needed to protect the caribou.
The caveat in that agreement that not more than 1 percent of the timber land base can be affected by the agreement has certainly had…. Well, I don't know if it's a chilling effect. But it's certainly made it very difficult, my understanding is, for the scientists involved and working, of course, with the forest companies — those that are still remaining in British Columbia — to come to some kind of agreement around that. There were other organizations that had been critical from the get-go that affecting not more than 1 percent of the timber land base would be incompatible with actually protecting the species.
One protected area that has been mentioned is now looking to be 48 percent smaller than planned, and that has conservationists very much concerned about how that will affect the caribou.
The recreation management end of that agreement. There have been no closures in places and no stewardship management agreements signed with snowmobiling clubs, and that is anticipated as a requisite for completing the plan successfully.
There have been budget shortfalls at the integrated land management bureau that are creating staffing and resource uncertainty, threatening to derail the viability of recovery efforts. I know the member for Cariboo North has mentioned that same issue in forestry in the ILMB.
The government is still considering what's called the aspacial approach to management of the central Selkirks. According to the conservation groups concerned, the aspacial approach relies on timber companies to protect caribou habitat. When I questioned the Minister of Agriculture and Lands about whether that was the case, he said that is not the case. It would be very good to have the comments from the Minister of Environment on that issue.
Just a few more words. I wanted to talk a bit about an issue that I had brought up with the Minister of Environment last summer, which is of concern to me. That's the issue of the live capture of birds of prey, particularly falcons.
In Maple Ridge last summer we experienced…. We were very fortunate too. Right in the middle of town there's a small grove of conifers in a housing development, and there was a pair of merlins — a small falcon — that had nested there. Unfortunately for them, I believe, they happened to produce a couple of young in an unusual colour phase. They were black, which is somewhat unusual in that species. In my understanding — I called the Ministry of Environment — with a permit in hand, people went up the tree and removed the baby falcons from that nest.
I just think that in this day and age, with all the pressures on wildlife, this is a practice that needs to be discontinued. There are a lot of falcons in captivity now that are being bred. For the purpose of falconry, I submit that those people can use those captive breeding programs for the birds they need. I know it caused a great deal of concern in my community, and I was concerned — still am — because this is still permitted.
There has been no change to the Wildlife Act to in any way inhibit the removal of wild birds from their nests even though it's a contravention of the act itself. It says that one may not disturb the nest or egg of a bird. So I would have liked the government to address that issue.
I know there's another member who would like to address this bill, so having said that, I will take my place.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to rise and speak on second reading of Bill 29, the Environmental Statutes Amendment Act with respect to species and public protection. I've been listening carefully to the debate. I know the Minister of Environment, when he closes debate here at second reading and, of course, in more detail when we get to committee stage, will help me better understand how we can have a species protection act that doesn't address species at risk or habitat at risk.
I know the minister is very conversant on these issues. It's a curiosity to me why we would be in this place in the last two weeks of the session with a piece of legislation that doesn't address those issues, which the minister and his government committed to back in
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2004 with the Wildlife Amendment Act. The accompanying regulations to protect certain species were promised at that time. Here we are at 2008. We have a piece of legislation before us, and we don't quite meet the mark.
If I've missed the point, I know the minister will correct me when he gets the opportunity. I look forward to that, but at my cursory glance and looking at the work that's been done and some of the comments from stakeholders in the communities throughout British Columbia, there are some concerns about an opportunity missed.
I think it's fair to say…. I give the minister credit in this case, inasmuch as there's always something that's left out. There's always one more clause that could have been added to further advance the cause that the bill is purported to address. I guess we've missed it on this chance, and I'm sure the minister will explain to the House why leg. counsel didn't go the whole distance, why we don't see regulations with respect to wildlife and why, again, we have another framework bill.
It is an important piece of legislation for my community of Malahat–Juan de Fuca, particularly the guide-outfitter requirements. Certainly in Port Renfrew, in the furthest reaches of my constituency, salmon, halibut and other fishing expeditions are very important. Some kayaking and whitewater rafting, on some days on the San Juan River, provide economic opportunities.
Where forestry used to be king in my constituency, now we're looking to tourism — ecotourism. Guide-outfitting is certainly one of the areas where local residents are trying to enhance their economic prospects by staying in their community and using the advantages, the bounty that we are blessed with in Malahat–Juan de Fuca to entice economic activity to come to the region.
In order to do that, we have to have a coherent strategy. I know the minister is striving for that with this legislation and in many of his public utterances. When he does get the opportunity, I'm hopeful that he'll ease my concerns that this opportunity would have better been spent addressing the challenges and promises that were made in 2004 rather than creating higher expectations in the community.
Of course, the Minister of Forests will be aware of this. Within Malahat–Juan de Fuca, there are enormous tracts of forest land. Many of those lands have now been removed from tree farm licences and are on the real estate market, which could have a deleterious impact on wildlife, breaking up historic corridors where wildlife — mostly deer and Roosevelt elk, majestic elk that reside on Vancouver Island — come to the west coast in my constituency for birthing.
To see those challenges in the community, when we have vast tracts of resource lands or wilderness areas that have been historically used for forestry and are now alienated from that and are going to be going towards real estate…. That is going to have an impact on wildlife and habitat. The government seems on one hand to say, "We're here to protect certain species," and on the other hand they're saying: "We're here to protect quarterly profits for Western Forest Products and TimberWest."
I don't know how you reconcile that. Certainly, people in my community have trouble reconciling that. We speak whenever possible about our desire to protect the bounty of Vancouver Island and all of British Columbia, yet the actions of the government seem to give another message certainly to those that are in the development industry in my constituency, wanting to take the Songhees development and run it straight out to Port Renfrew, every quarter inch of coastline to be occupied by homes or clusters of homes.
That's counter to what would be a realistic and comprehensive wildlife plan in what is a rural and wild part of the west coast. I know the minister is aware that the Juan de Fuca Strait from Port Renfrew through Jordan River and into Sooke is absolutely teeming with opportunity for ecotourism, teeming with opportunities for those who fish and those who hunt. I know that one of the objectives — the minister spoke of this — is to increase the number of hunters in British Columbia. Certainly, that will have an impact on Vancouver Island.
In order to have, again, a comprehensive view, it strikes me that you need to have the inventories done. You need to have the regulations in place so that those who are hunting, whether they be longtime hunters or those who are just trying it for the first time, have a better understanding of what they're getting into and what the impacts of their activities are going to be on wildlife and on habitat.
It's the lack of habitat protection that I think most people see as an incongruity in what this government is up to, whether it be issues around pipelines — as I see the Minister of Energy — or other issues where they will have a negative impact on wildlife. That habitat being deleted from the inventory where you can have wildlife corridors is not only a challenge for those who hunt and fish but a challenge for those animals as well.
I read just this morning that the caribou plan that the Minister of Lands announced with considerable fanfare some months ago seems to be on the rocks. It's surprising that, having just learned that one of the flagship policies of the government with respect to lands and with respect to habitat and wildlife is now dangerously close to collapse, we are now here addressing a bill that only goes a quarter of the way to meeting the challenges that were laid out by the government themselves in 2004.
The amendments to the alien species…. Obviously, that's welcomed — certainly by this side of the House and I think all British Columbians — although I have, and I know the minister will get more letters than I do on this…. There are those who feel that alien species have a role to play in communities, if not in the wilderness and in the wild. I don't get that, but I know there are people in the community who do.
I'm happy to pass my correspondence pile on this to the minister if he has credible answers that I can provide to my constituents about why he brought this forward. I think it's fairly self-evident, though. We've had incidences with animals that should not be here taking the lives of humans. We can't tolerate that, and I
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know the minister had that in mind when he brought this legislation forward.
But there are responsible owners of animals — exotics. I'm interested to hear at committee stage how the minister proposes to deal with those responsible individuals who believe that we're somehow violating their rights by bringing forward this legislation.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
But it's the guide-outfitters that are of most importance to me and to the economy in my community, and I know other members of this place who depend on ecotourism and other outdoor adventure to bring dollars to communities that used to be serviced by forestry — none more evident than my constituency, particularly in the areas of Jordan River right out to Port Renfrew where an absence of salmon can mean the difference between going hungry over the winter….
I know that people talk of the halibut getting smaller and smaller and smaller. As we get closer and closer and closer to lunch…. Hon. Speaker, noting the time, I move that we keep on going. I'm getting mixed messages here from….
Is he going to wrap it up? There's a long pause. With that, I'll take my chair and see what the minister has to say.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, Minister of Environment closes debate.
Hon. B. Penner: I'm just going to take a few moments — I see we have about six minutes — to quickly wrap up Bill 29, which I think is an important piece of legislation. I want to set the record straight and respond to some of the inaccurate comments made by members of the opposition in response to this bill.
Bill 29 responds to the throne speech commitment, and just to refresh members' memories, here's what the Speech from the Throne said — and the Lieutenant-Governor when he delivered that speech a couple of months ago: "Amendments to the Wildlife Act will build on the mountain caribou recovery plan, the Vancouver Island marmot recovery project and the Kitasoo spirit bear conservancy. Tough new penalties will prevent and punish poaching and killing endangered species."
That's what the bill does, and it does a number of other things as well. It responds to concerns that came to the forefront last year when a young woman was tragically killed by a Siberian tiger, and we've heard one member of the opposition refer to that already.
The BCSPCA put out a news release, I think a week ago, saying they strongly support the legislation. I'll quote what Sarah Dubois, the BCSPCA manager of wildlife services, had to say: "We applaud the Ministry of Environment for introducing Bill 29 last month, and we hope both parties will recognize the urgency of this issue for British Columbians and will support the swift passage of the bill."
Patti MacAhonic, who is executive director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, said: "We're pleased that the amendments to the Wildlife Act include increased penalties for those who choose to flout the regulations. Stiffening the fines and penalties will act as a deterrent by sending a message to would-be offenders that there's a high price to pay for their misdeeds."
As I noted in first reading, these amendments will more than double most of the penalties under the act for poaching, especially for offences or infractions involving endangered species. The members opposite have said this legislation does nothing to protect endangered species. In fact, it more than doubles the penalties to up to $250,000 on first conviction and up to two years in jail from one year in jail, as it was under the former NDP.
So we are clearly taking actions to increase penalties for things like killing an endangered species, trafficking in wildlife, damaging wildlife habitat, hunting with poison, hunting with an aircraft, night hunting, damaging a beaver dam, failing to supervise an underage hunter, possessing wildlife without a permit, destroying a heron nest, shooting across a highway, hunting on cultivated land without consent of an owner, discharging a firearm in a no-shooting area and transporting wildlife without a permit. Those are all things that we've increased penalties for.
In contrast, Mr. Speaker, I'm going to read one brief letter into the record. It's from a former Minister of Environment. I believe, given your background, you'll be interested in what this former Environment Minister had to say. This is from Moe Sihota when he was the NDP's Environment Minister. He wrote to the head of IWA-Canada at the time, Gerry Stoney.
Here's what he had to say: "I have indicated on several occasions publicly that this province and this government do not intend to introduce endangered species legislation." That was the NDP's position when they were in office. "We will instead leave this matter up to the federal government. One of the basic reasons as to why I've taken the view is because I've recognized the points that you have made as a trade union." Then he goes on, "Quite frankly, we have no intention of doing that" — referring to introducing endangered species legislation.
Mr. Speaker, we are taking steps to protect habitat. In fact, the members' memories may be somewhat faulty because only a few weeks ago, we were debating Bill 38, Protected Areas of British Columbia (Conservancies and Parks) Amendment Act, 2008.
When that bill passes, as I hope it does within the next two weeks, our government will have established since 2001, 57 new parks, 135 conservancies, one ecological reserve and eight protected areas and will have expanded approximately 50 parks and six ecological reserves, protecting more than 1.8 million hectares of additional land. That is protecting habitat. Only the opposition would say that an additional 1.8 million hectares of protected land is somehow not protecting habitat. It is.
With that, I move second reading.
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Hon. B. Penner: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting after today.
Bill 29, Environmental (Species and Public Protection) 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. B. Penner moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:58 a.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF HEALTH
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 10:08 a.m.
On Vote 37: ministry operations, $13,617,487,000.
Hon. G. Abbott: If I may, by way of introduction, on my immediate left is Gord Macatee, who is Deputy Minister of Health. Immediately behind Mr. Macatee is Michael MacDougall, chief operating officer. To his right are Manjit Sidhu, assistant deputy minister for financial and corporate, and Wendy Hill, assistant deputy minister, health authorities division. On my immediate right is Rebecca Harvey, executive director, health authorities division.
While it is something of a tradition to give long introductory remarks here, I'm going to not avail myself of that, given the limited time we have for these estimates.
A. Dix: Thank you to the minister, and welcome to his staff.
Just to give people a sense of what the next few days are going to be like, we are going to do mostly health authority questions today. It will be principally myself between now and roughly four o'clock. Then we're going to have a number of questions about the Vancouver Island Health Authority from members from Vancouver Island, followed by questions about the Interior Health Authority and the Fraser Health Authority today from individual members.
Just a heads-up. One set of questions we'll be doing is similar to questions we asked in question period the other week around septic issues. That might be a little off what you'd have people here for, just in case…. I know the minister is always ready for anything.
Tomorrow we'll be doing Pharmacare, e-health and mental health issues. My colleague from Vancouver-Kensington will be there tomorrow for the section on mental health issues. On Friday my colleague from Delta North will be dealing with seniors' health issues, long-term care and so on. Then next week we'll be dealing with public health, the Medical Services Commission and other things. That's kind of the frame from which we'll be doing the next few days of estimates here.
I wanted to ask the minister, first of all, whether the health authority service plans — which last year were presented to him, I believe, before the end of March — have been presented to the minister. Is he in a position to table them? I presume he isn't, but where are we at in that process now?
Hon. G. Abbott: We are in receipt of draft service plans, but discussions with respect to those draft service plans continue, and we are not in a position to table them at this point.
A. Dix: Last year, as the minister will recall, those service plans were eventually released to the public on October 11, 2007. Does the minister plan…? I think the minister said last year that it was the first year of that particular change in model, and that was perhaps the reason why they were tabled so late. Is it the intention of the government to allow the public to see those plans earlier this year?
Hon. G. Abbott: Our aim is to release those completed service plans in as timely a way as possible. What the precise date of that would be remains to be seen. It will, of course, depend on how quickly we can finalize them.
A. Dix: Last year the Fraser Health service plan was approved by the Fraser Health board on March 9. The Vancouver Coastal health plan was approved by their board on March 30, the Interior health plan was approved by their board on March 21, and so on.
When the minister refers to draft plans, is he suggesting that these are the documents that….? Presumably, the draft plans have been approved by the board, of course, but is the minister saying that the documents that would eventually be released would not be the documents that have been submitted by the health authorities? Would they be changed documents, or is it the same process as last year, basically?
Hon. G. Abbott: What the health authority boards would be approving at that point in time are draft plans. Those become an object of discussion between the health authorities and the ministry and, when they are finalized, become the service plans for the authorities.
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A. Dix: So in terms of their budgets for this year…. Presumably, we're well into the fiscal year now, almost two months into the fiscal year. The draft plans are more comprehensive. They include, obviously, budget figures to the ministry. Last year, if I recall correctly, the health authorities received their budget numbers in January. It was an unusual circumstance. I think this year the minister released those numbers to the authorities a few days after the budget — the week after the budget, I think, at some point.
Those plans have come forward to the minister. Last year, as I understood the process, there was a deadline of March 31. Were those draft plans all submitted by March 31 this year, or was an extension granted this year? Did those draft plans actually come in to the minister after the start of the fiscal year?
Hon. G. Abbott: All of the health authorities were provided until April 15th to get their draft service plans in, and they all brought them in within that time frame.
A. Dix: So in terms of that process, the minister will recall that last year there was a significant difficulty that some health authorities had and that the government, in fact, had with the budgets, particularly the Fraser Health Authority and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. If you recall, Mr. Purchase, when he left, talked about a totally unacceptable budget process. "Our board feels it has been kept out of the communications loop by government and, quite frankly, questions, at times, why it exists. The very community leaders we enticed to provide good governance and business acumen to the management of the health sector now appear totally ignored."
Has the government made changes? I know that the process has changed a little bit, in that the health authorities now bring their case directly to Treasury Board, presumably along with the Ministry of Health. Have changes in the process addressed some of the concerns that Mr. Purchase had with that process? It seems to me that April 15 is actually later and that a lot of people felt, rightly or wrongly, that the process was a mess last year. Obviously, the chair of the board of Vancouver Coastal Health was fired. The chair of the board of Fraser Health left. There was a lot of consternation in January and so on about the budget process.
Yet in spite of all that, in terms of getting the plans in place, they all seem to have been in place or at least have been brought forward to the minister. By March this year they were given an extension. Is it the case that there was greater difficulty this year in producing the budget? What was the reason for the extension?
Hon. G. Abbott: In terms of the member's question…. I forgot to thank the member for articulating the flow of issues during estimates. That is always much appreciated, particularly by staff. I thank the member for being fulsome in the discussion of where they would be going at which times. That's very useful, in our regard.
In terms of changes from last year, there are a few changes that, I think, have been beneficial. One, as the member identified, was the visit to Treasury Board by all of the health authorities, along with the ministry, which was useful. In terms of the differences from the previous year, the health authorities got their numbers in February of this year as opposed to January of last year. That required a little bit more time for them to get their draft service plans in. Again, it was not possible in the current year, I think, particularly given some of financial uncertainty out of the United States, to give early numbers to the health authorities.
A. Dix: I wanted to ask if the minister can tell us this much. Are all of the budgets submitted by the health authorities? The minister said very clearly in last year's estimates, and he's said it elsewhere, that he would not…. Well, I'll just quote what he said: "We expect every health authority to balance their budget, and we expect every health authority to take appropriate and reasonable measures to balance their budgets."
Are all of the preliminary budgets submitted by the health authorities for the 2008-2009 year in balance?
Hon. G. Abbott: In terms of the issue of whether the budgets are balanced, again, as we noted at the outset, what we have are draft service plans. We are still working through those issues. So obviously, we're working with the health authorities to try to deal with the pressures that they may face in terms of their budgets. We'll continue to work through those.
In terms of whether we expect health authorities to balance their budgets, yes, the government policy is that budgets should be balanced, and we expect health authorities to work through towards that goal.
A. Dix: On that note, the minister knows…. We had this discussion last year. Last year I asked him whether the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for the year ending 2007 had a balanced budget. He said that they didn't have the accounts in at that point, so he couldn't answer, although he fully expected that they would, in fact, have a deficit budget.
When Mr. Johnstone was fired in January 2007, he was fired — in part, anyway — because the health authority was $40 million over budget, or was expecting a $40 million deficit, and the government saw that as unacceptable. There was a little debate. The minister was away for a week, and another minister was in place. He said that they might be allowed to run a deficit. The minister came back. He said that they were not allowed to run a deficit. The changes were made with respect to Mr. Johnstone after that point.
Am I correct to say that when the board chair was replaced and measures were put in place and all steps were going to be taken to bring the budget into balance, in fact, that $40 million deficit for the fiscal year ending 2007 ended up being $44 million? Is that the correct figure for the deficit of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for 2006-2007?
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Hon. G. Abbott: We believe that is close to correct.
A. Dix: I just want to understand what happens. Let me ask about this past year, 2007-2008. It's our general understanding that, notwithstanding the statement about the expectations about balanced budget, the service plan that was eventually signed off — I don't know what the exact process was; the minister signs off or somebody signs off on it — included a deficit number for '07-08 and that in fact the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority for the fiscal year 2007-2008 will also be running a deficit.
I understand that the minister won't be able to tell me the exact number; that will come out a little bit later. But is it his understanding that for a second consecutive year the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority is running a deficit in the neighbourhood of $40 million?
Hon. G. Abbott: Based on the information we have, we expect a deficit but at a lower number than the member cited.
A. Dix: But is it like $35 million, or is it $20 million? Is it much lower, or is it in the range of $30 million to $40 million?
Hon. G. Abbott: Again, we are finalizing these things, but the likelihood is that it would be in the $35 million range.
A. Dix: I just want to understand how it works on a sort of cash flow basis. I presume what happens periodically is that the health authority gets a pile of money. Right now, if you add those two deficit numbers up…. The government has said that they're not going to make them whole. So they're just accumulating these deficits.
Just for the sake of argument, if we say it's $35 million this year and it was $44 million last year, that's about $80 million of accumulated deficit over two years. Can the minister explain what actually happens? At some point, if they were to continue to accumulate deficits, would the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority have a cash flow problem? Would they be out on international markets? What actually happens when a health authority runs a deficit?
Hon. G. Abbott: In terms of whether deficits and, particularly, accumulated deficits become potential cash flow issues, yes, they do. The ministry monitors those situations very closely to try to ensure that they don't become a cash flow issue.
A. Dix: Realistically, I guess, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority…. The minister and I debated about what the lift is, since they're $35 million over budget, maybe, for the last year. If you were to add that on top of last year's allocation from the ministry to the health authority, that would mean their lift is in the 2 percent to 3 percent range this year. The minister would say, and the budget document says, that it's a lift of 4.3 percent over last year's allocation. I would argue that it's 2 to 3 percent over last year's actuals.
Is there actually a plan to address that deficit figure? Is it just going to be left out there — that $80 million? Or is there a plan for the health authority to, I don't know, cut $80 million in services? I doubt that that would be the plan to address the accumulated deficit. Do they have to present or are they presenting to the minister a plan in terms of how they're going to deal with that deficit situation?
Doesn't the minister think…? I mean, I guess it's a broader question than that. Mr. Johnstone was let go partly because of this issue of overrun. He was cited, and the minister…. He was the chair of the board. So in fairness, he wasn't singled out, but he was the only one who was fired. They had a $40 million deficit. All of the efforts were put in place in February and March. It was still a $44 million deficit. All the efforts were put together in the next fiscal year, and there's another deficit.
In retrospect, I guess, is the decision to get rid of Mr. Johnstone for his $40 million deficit fair, and is anyone taking responsibility for this year's $35 million deficit? Or is it fair to say, which is what I would say, that just maybe all these efforts — all the efforts of Treasury Board intervening in the process, the Ministry of Health intervening in the process, a new board chair in the process….? All these new processes, and there's still a deficit. Doesn't that maybe indicate that there is inadequate funding being voted for, for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority?
Hon. G. Abbott: In terms of the member's question around plans to deal with deficits…. The policy of broader government is that deficits are not permitted, that every authority is expected to balance its budgets. Obviously, yes, we do. We work through plans and discussions to try to ensure that every health authority moves to balance budgets.
In terms of the decision with respect to Mr. Johnstone…. Again, I made a decision based on the situation that I saw at Vancouver Coastal Health, and I believe it was the right decision. I'm certainly not rethinking that decision. Whether others share that view or not is, I guess, always an interesting debate. I believe it was the correct thing to do.
In terms of whether Vancouver Coastal Health has adequate funding, we believe that yes, they do. We know, first of all, that in terms of the three years moving forward, the Ministry of Health and the health authorities will receive…. Some 68 percent of all the new and incremental spending and revenue of government will be devoted to health. That is a significant portion of the pie.
Obviously, for my 20 cabinet colleagues…. I'm sure that they all have areas of public policy and services that they want to deliver, and they are going to be delivering it within the 31 percent remaining that is not going to health.
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The member may want to probe this some more as we move along here, but there are pretty complex formulas that go into determining what the distribution of dollars is among the health authorities. We're glad to talk about that, but we have a population needs-based formula that I think experts in this field endorse. It looks at a range of issues in determining what the appropriate distribution of those funds among health authorities will be.
Further, there is an allocation on top of the population needs-based formula for things like new capital — for example, with Fraser Health Authority seeing the new Abbotsford hospital and cancer centre coming on line in August. There is an incremental lift in the Fraser budget to reflect that. The same will be true for all health authorities with new capital projects coming on line during that time.
There is also, on top of the PNBF funding, funding for government priorities such as the 5,000 residential care and assisted-living units that are incrementally being added to the stock of residential care and assisted living across the province. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into developing the numbers that will come out of the formula and the other works that are a part of that formula.
We believe, again, that it may not be any perfect model, but I think this is a fair and appropriate model and one that we stand by.
A. Dix: Did the minister sign off on the deficit for this year? Because, in a sense, when you sign off on a deficit for a health authority in these circumstances, as minister you're saying pretty clearly that you don't think the allocated funds are okay. If you did, you'd say: "Oh no, health authority chair or CEO, I'm sending this back to you. Get rid of the $35 million."
My understanding, if I recall the service plan correctly, is that the service plan that was sent to the minister, that was released by the minister or by the health authorities under the direction of the minister, contained a deficit.
The minister was very emphatic in January of 2007 — no deficit allowed. There were consequences, because the deficit came in Vancouver Coastal Health. He was very emphatic last May that no deficits are allowed. Then, after, in the period between last May and where we're sitting this May, he signed off on the service plan that had the second consecutive deficit for Vancouver Coastal Health embedded in it. It wasn't a surprise this year. That's for sure.
He signed off on the deficit, and presumably — I'm just guessing — next year will be number three. Because I don't see, in the 4.3 percent change — which is 2.2 percent over last year's allocation plus the extra money, the overrun — how Vancouver Coastal Health is going to get into balance this year.
I guess what I'm saying is that the minister's policy, effectively, in practice if not in principle, has changed — did it not? — when he said: "It's okay to run a deficit in 2007-2008."
Hon. G. Abbott: I don't sign off on deficits. What we do with the health authorities is…. Regardless of where they start out at the start of the year, we work with them to try to find ways to improve their situation over the course of the year, again, with the object of fulfilling the government's expectation that entities should move as quickly as they can to balance budgets.
In the case of Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, they have a $2.2 billion budget, approximately. A $30 million pressure represents, perhaps, somewhere in the neighbourhood of less than 2 percent of their overall budget, but again, to achieve that is not easy.
We work with the health authorities to try to manage, as well as we can, all of those issues, but we do respect that it is not always possible to turn around these things immediately. We work with them to do it in a thoughtful and responsible way.
A. Dix: The minister will agree with me — I don't want get too stuck on this — that the target of the Vancouver Health Coastal Authority in its plan this past year wasn't a balanced budget. That plan was presumably approved in some fashion by the minister. The plan was a deficit in the neighbourhood of $37 million, I think. I know we were talking $35 million earlier, so they basically met the plan.
I would expect, I think, in fairness to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, that they would have worked hard to reach that target, but there are a lot of pressures in Vancouver Coastal Health. They get a lot of pressures from around the province too. It wasn't just a matter of them being sloppy. They thought that, with all the different cuts or changes they would make, they could get to $37 million.
I guess if the minister doesn't sign off on it…. Is he satisfied that having received a deficit budget, even if he didn't sign off on it — I don't know what the process is — that that $37 million proposal from Vancouver Coastal Health, which was agreed to in some fashion by the government because they didn't say, "You have to balance…?"
We are now some 17 months after the January 2007 departure of Mr. Johnstone. Is the minister saying he never approved that, he never expected that and he never agreed to that, or is he saying in fact, in a sense, that by coming in at $35 million or around that — he doesn't know the final figure — Vancouver Coastal Health sort of met its contract with him when they said they were going to have a $37 million deficit, I think, in the plan?
Hon. G. Abbott: Just so we're clear, we want all of the health authorities to balance their budgets, and all of the health authorities have with the exception of Vancouver Coastal. All of those health authorities have pressures. I could talk for an hour about what those pressures are.
There are lots of pressures. Lots of them relate to the demographics of our society, an aging society. The prevalence and incidence of chronic disease in society
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is growing. The cost of medical technology and all the rest is all quite breathtaking. All of that makes for challenges for all of the health authorities.
Whether it's Vancouver Coastal or any other health authority, we're going to work with those health authorities to assist them in every way we can to try to, first of all, ensure that services are delivered in the most cost-effective and efficacious manner and, further, to manage their resources in a way that permits them to produce a balanced budget.
Again, if that is not on day 1, we'll work with them on days 2 to 365 to try to find ways to improve their financial situation.
A. Dix: I'll assure the minister that I'll get off this point in a second, but in this case last year's allocation for Vancouver Coastal Health was $1.931 billion. Presumably they needed — and it's the board chair the minister put in place that did this — more than that, because with all their efforts, they came in $35 million short. If you compare that, what they needed, presumably, to balance…. If they'd received $1.966 billion, they would have balanced based on last year.
The increase from $1.966 billion to $2.013 billion, which is this year, is in the neighbourhood of 2.4 percent from last year's actuals. After all those efforts, the board chair the minister put in to fix the budget situation — because it had failed under the previous guy, in his view…. That's kind of what he said in question period. It was really an issue of accountability. I'm quoting him. "What we did was attempt to ensure that we got the accountability around that ongoing $40 million overspending issue."
So the ongoing $40 million issue has become a $35 million issue. Doesn't the minister agree with me that maybe they just didn't quite have enough money, that maybe, in fact, Vancouver Coastal Health didn't quite have enough money in their budget?
Clearly, they must have made lots of effort. The minister hasn't fired this board chair, so presumably he's satisfied with the effort. He thinks they've made every effort to get there. Does he not agree that maybe they're just a little short?
We have this debate about money. The minister always says that I want to spend more money and everything else. But in this case, this is his board. This is his allocation, and they're $35 million short. What they get this year, on top of that…. If you take $1.931 billion plus the $35 million, you really see an effective 2.4 percent lift.
I think they've got contracts, as I understand it…. Probably contract costs are considerably more than 2.4 percent. Is there any expectation, when you give the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority a budget like this, that they're going to balance this year, or are we in a situation where it's kind of a phony debate, because they're being given permission to run deficits and the government doesn’t want to admit or make changes that will allow them to come in and balance?
Hon. G. Abbott: We have somewhere in excess of $13 billion for health care delivery in the province. With that something in excess of $13 billion, we deliver many different parts of a very large and complex health care delivery system.
There are issues. I suppose they'd range from Pharmacare through home care, acute care, primary care. Some of the functions are delivered by health authorities. Some of the functions are delivered by the ministry. We have an ambulance service, etc.
It is a huge part of government. It is large and complex, and there are no unimportant parts of the health care delivery system.
It seems to me that the member is arguing the thesis that somehow the allocation that goes to Vancouver Coastal Health is unfair or inappropriate in relation to all of the other things that we do in the world of health care delivery. It seems to me, again, that his thesis is that if we just add $10 million or add $35 million or add $100 million, then everyone will be happy.
That is, I suppose, an interesting and striking thesis in some ways. But the fact of the matter is that government this year is devoting about 45 percent of its provincial budget to health, and we are further devoting 68 percent–plus of every single dollar that comes in over the next three years to health.
So if the member is saying that there's not enough money there, then fine. He should say that and make that a part of the thesis that he is developing here. That would be interesting in itself because that, of course, invites questions. Do we capture those other dollars from other ministries, or do we get those dollars from increased taxation in some areas? So that's all a very good question as well.
What we have to do as a ministry is to develop a formula that sets out in the clearest terms how it is that the pie we are dividing among the health authorities is a fair and appropriate one. Again, I'm very glad to spend all the time possible today with the member, talking about the population needs-based formula — all of the elements that are incorporated in that, how the provision for new capital is set down, how funding for government priorities is identified within the allocation to the health authorities.
But if we take $35 million, and we say, "To make your job easier, we're going to give you $35 million," we can do that, but it comes from somewhere. So you know, the member can tell me where that $35 million should come from. Should we just take a few million dollars away from each of the other health authorities who, just like Vancouver Coastal Health, have all those pressures as well? I don't think so.
We've tried to allocate fairly. Should we take it away from Pharmacare or home care? There's nothing easy about this. We want to work with the health authorities to deal with the many and difficult challenges they have, but if the member is saying it's as simple as, "Well, just give them more money," that's not the way it works. Every area of health care always needs and wants more money.
A. Dix: In fairness to the Minister of Health, I didn't say that they could run a deficit this year. He said it. I
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mean, the money is spent — right? The $44 million in 2006-07 was spent. And unless I'm mistaken, I'm not the Minister of Health. The minister is the Minister of Health.
The $35 million overrun this year has been spent. The fiscal year is over. That money is spent. So when the minister says it's me, I'm just saying that maybe you want your budget to be more realistic because the minister is allowing Vancouver Coastal Health to spend it. That money was spent. It wasn't cut. It wasn't re-allocated. It was just spent, and it's now sitting there as a debt. It's $81 million that was spent.
I'm just saying that, in a sense, what Vancouver Coastal Health is maybe saying to the minister…. Because it's their thesis; it's not my thesis. They said: "This year, we can't do that last $35 million." They said in 2006-2007: "We can't do that last $44 million." I don't know what they're saying to the minister about this year, but I bet they're not saying it's a balanced budget this year. I bet they're not saying it. That would be my guess, but the minister may prove me wrong.
My point to the minister isn't that I'm saying it. I'm saying that he's allowed it. That $81 million has been spent. So he can talk about re-allocating from other places. The fact of the matter is that whatever he did — nodded, winked, whatever it was — he said, "Run a deficit this year," and they ran a deficit this year. He didn't say that the previous year, and the board chair got fired.
So you know, that's his thesis, I would argue to the minister. But he wants to talk a little bit about the formula. So I'll just ask him about the formula. Vancouver Coastal Health has real pressures, as do all the health authorities. Believe me, we'll get to the other ones shortly. We're just starting with Vancouver Coastal this year. But Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, according to the government, is going to see in the next three years the second-largest increase in population among the health authorities: 2.2 percent, I believe. I think Fraser Health is the largest, of course — almost double that, at 3.8 percent.
So maybe the minister, because he has been aching to tell us about the population-based formula, can tell us about how Vancouver Coastal Health got the smallest allocation with the second-largest population increase.
I think one of the things we're seeing…. Nurses were telling me that at Lions Gate Hospital they're just seeing an explosion in that hospital of the use of the emergency room and the number of admissions through emergency. So my sense is that…. As the minister knows, those kinds of admissions cost more, and certainly, that increase isn't reflected here either.
I recognize that all health authorities face those issues. I know the minister will say that. But maybe the minister can explain specifically why Vancouver Coastal received the smallest lift, without taking into consideration the fact that they were over budget the last two years and the fact that their population increase is actually, I believe, according to the Ministry of Health, the second-largest in the province.
Hon. G. Abbott: The member made reference to quite a number of issues in his last question, and I'll try to address them all.
One of the things the member should note is that Fraser Health Authority in their service plan also indicated that they would likely have a $60 million-plus pressure moving forward, but Fraser Health Authority managed that pressure and was, it appears, able to balance its budget. We'll see that when the final numbers are concluded, but it appears that they were able to balance their budget.
Again, I'm not sure if the member is making some suggestion about whether there ought to be some penalty or other against Vancouver Coastal in respect of their budgetary issues. Again, all I can say is that we work with health authorities to try to help them deal with the fiscal and other pressures that they have. Vancouver Coastal Health, even though the member has been preoccupied with it to this point, is not unique in terms of the pressures that they are facing as a health authority.
All of the health authorities face pressures. Some are different. Obviously, Northern Health Authority's issues may be somewhat different than the issues in Vancouver Coastal Health, but there are also some comparators. The member mentioned Lions Gate Hospital. Yes, it's a busy hospital — a very good hospital, based on my experiences there.
Yes, there are pressures on hospitals. That is why we are devoting a lot of effort as a ministry to developing a more robust primary care model for this province so that, hopefully, we can deal with some of the issues around chronic diseases, which often drive a lot of visits to emergency departments and drive a lot of acute care days. We want to build a model where we can intercept and manage more of those pressures in the community through a more robust primary care model.
There's an enormous amount of work ongoing to assist with all of these issues. As the member knows, we have seven bills that are making their way through the Legislature that all attempt to address different portions of what we think are some of the potential solutions — or at least ways in which we can assist the resolution of the many challenges that face health care delivery in the province.
We're getting some additional information for the member in terms of the specifics around population needs-based formula and additional incremental lifts to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. But I'll begin by saying that in comparison to Fraser Health, the other portion of the Lower Mainland that is managed by another health authority…. Population growth in Fraser has been much stronger than in Vancouver Coastal. Also, in terms of the distribution of a more elderly population, Vancouver Coastal has a smaller elderly population than other health authorities, particularly, I think, VIHA and Interior.
There are significant differences in age, so a relatively younger population in Vancouver Coastal. Of course, utilization of the health care system is something that is
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largely driven by the age demographic of the population in a health authority.
There is also recognition in the formula for the fact that interregional flows do exist. Because some of the high-acuity, high-end quaternary services are provided at Vancouver Coastal, we do see interregional flow into Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, but that's recognized within the formula.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
We also recognize the fact that there is an academic component to the regional costs at Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, because of, again, the work that's done particularly at St. Paul's and at Vancouver General Hospital.
The other things I would offer to the member are, additionally…. Compared to Fraser, where there now has been over 1,000 residential care and assisted-living units added since 2001, there have been relatively few residential care and assisted-living units added in Vancouver Coastal, because they had a stronger component of those residential care and assisted living units at the time, and they've had to add fewer. Fraser has had to add more, and as a consequence, their allocation for that is larger.
Similarly, the last major capital project that was added in Vancouver Coastal was a couple years ago or three years ago now — the Gordon and Leslie Diamond Centre, an ambulatory care centre, adjacent to Vancouver General Hospital. That has been the last big capital project in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Again, compared to Fraser, which has a major new regional facility — the first new regional facility in over 30 years, I gather — coming on at Abbotsford, the allocation would be comparatively low.
All of these are factors in determining what the allocation is. I know the member has suggested in the rarefied atmosphere of question period on occasion that somehow we structure the allocation to Vancouver Coastal Health to be punitive. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are working each and every day with Vancouver Coastal Health to help them work through some of the very difficult, and I'm sure often perplexing, issues that they and other health authorities face.
A. Dix: I'm actually somebody who helps Vancouver Coastal Health because I live right on the border of Burnaby. My local hospital is Burnaby Hospital.
In a general sense I think one of the things that Fraser Health has said in its service plan is that its effort to repatriate patients from Vancouver Coastal Health is something that has consistently had to be delayed because of their very significant pressures, as the minister has said. I think Vancouver Coastal Health has lots of pressures, but I'm delighted to give the minister an opportunity to talk about that.
I'm going to ask him…. This is slightly off the direction I was going with, but I was mentioning emergency room visits. I was talking to an emergency room nurse at St. Paul's, and my understanding is that the relative balance of those emergency room visits, which are very important to people in Vancouver and all over B.C. — lots of people from every part of B.C. use Vancouver General Hospital, and it has always had a great reputation — between the two is changing. More and more people, in fact, are going to Vancouver General Hospital. One of the reasons why Vancouver Coastal Health is in deficit is the growth in cost of Vancouver General Hospital itself, the dramatic increases in admissions through emergencies that they face relative to St. Paul's.
I guess I want to ask him where in that context, because he talked about major projects, the future of St. Paul's fits into the minister's and the ministry's thinking now about the future of Vancouver Coastal Health and health care in the province. One of the reasons people say to me that they'd rather go to Vancouver General Hospital — and this is entirely not evidence-based, I have to say — is that St. Paul's is struggling on its infrastructure and that it seems like the place to go if you're equidistant between the two.
Can the minister say where he's at on St. Paul's — whether he thinks it's true that St. Paul's is losing emergency room visits relative to Vancouver General Hospital and whether he thinks that some assistance is required, especially on the capital side, to St. Paul's to help them to continue to serve their mandate?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think we're going to try to generate the most recent numbers we have in terms of emergency department visits. St. Paul's does have a busy emergency department, as does Vancouver General Hospital, as does Royal Columbian, as does Surrey.
A number of improvements have been made over the past few years in terms of the emergency department at St. Paul's thanks to, I think, some very excellent work by Dr. Grant Innes at St. Paul's Hospital. At least, at that time Grant was at St. Paul's Hospital. St. Paul's has been a leader in terms of how emergency rooms can be managed so as to make the most effective use of the space they have and the flow they have, and that sort of thing.
There has been some major work done at St. Paul's Hospital around fast-track streaming of mental health patients versus minor treatment patients, versus acute patients, versus CTAS level 3 patients who are needing longer observation before admission — those kinds of things. So yes, St. Paul's remains a very busy emergency department, and yes, investments have been made to ensure that it remains current and state of the art in terms of its emergency department.
We will look for the relative balance between St. Paul's and Vancouver General to see if that has shifted. I'm not aware that the relative balance has shifted, but we will attempt to determine whether it has in the minutes or hours ahead.
The member's question was around St. Paul's and what the future redevelopment of that is. It is somewhat tangential to where we've been, but everything in estimates
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is tangential to something, so I don't mind going there. The last time I heard, the estimated redevelopment cost for St. Paul's Hospital was in the area of $1.3 billion. There have been quite enormous increases in the cost of construction. Steel has escalated, and concrete has escalated, etc., since the last time we looked at a figure for that.
Nevertheless, we have to be cognizant of the fact that St. Paul's Hospital is now near 100 years old. In fact, I think there are some portions of it that may be 100 years old or more. It is not getting any younger, as infrastructure goes. It will have to be replaced at some point in the future, and there is much work being undertaken at Providence Health Care, at Vancouver Coastal Health care and at the Ministry of Health in thinking about that redevelopment project.
As one might expect, given the magnitude of costs here, this is something that is going to take some time, some deliberation and some careful choices.
A. Dix: Just on St. Paul's, though. I think — and I may be wrong on this — that the redevelopment plans have been pushed back somewhat. The minister may correct me on that. Does he think, in the interim period, that St. Paul's requires some…? We call it minor capital, although the numbers always seem staggering to me. Has St. Paul's made any requests for more help in the interim?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm not aware, and staff are not aware, of any capital plan for redevelopment of St. Paul's that has been set back, because we don't believe that there has ever been a plan that had been endorsed by any Treasury Board or government. The member may be aware of a plan from NDP government days, but we don't know of one and don't believe one exists.
Have they asked for help as we await the redevelopment of St. Paul's? I think it's fair to say that they have made a number of constructive proposals, particularly with respect to emergency department renovations at St. Paul's, because that's been where there has been considerable pressure. St. Paul's, as of '05-06, received about 60,000 patients through their emergency department, so that's one of the busiest in the province.
It's not the busiest, but it's certainly getting up into that magnitude. So 60,000 to 70,000 is where the busiest emergency departments in the province tend to come in, including Surrey, VGH, and so on. It is very busy. It remains very busy, and we expect it will continue to be very busy.
Like Surrey Memorial Hospital, it had an emergency department that was designed for a smaller population than what currently exists today. As the member knows and other members of the House know, we have committed to a tripling of Surrey Memorial Hospital's emergency department, a quadrupling in the case of Kelowna, etc. We know that part of the answer around emergency departments is ensuring that there is appropriate area available to configure the departments in ways that provide for the greatest efficiency and efficacy of flow management.
In the case of St. Paul's, in June 2007 we completed phase 1 of the St. Paul's emergency department redevelopment. That included a redesign of staff workstations. It expanded staff facilities, and it replaced and upgraded flooring, lighting, mechanical and cabling systems. Phase 2, completed in October 2007, involved renovations to the emergency department's fast-track area to improve access, control, safety and functionality. In phase 3, which will be completed very soon, are renovations to the four-bed diagnostic and treatment unit.
Additionally, we've got other work in and around the acute care patient areas, around the triage, admitting and rapid assessment zone, the trauma room and a second acute care patient area. The work continues at St. Paul's.
Some of the fundamental questions about St. Paul's haven't been answered. That is, should St. Paul's be redeveloped at the Station Street site or elsewhere, and if it is, should there be continuing services, and in what form, at the current St. Paul's Hospital location? I think there are lots of complex questions around those areas that will need to be answered in the months ahead.
A. Dix: I appreciate the minister going down that digression with me.
I wanted to ask him about the service plans themselves. Last year we received the service plans on October 11, with the exception of Fraser Health, which I received some time before that, in May. What I noted about the service plan is that….
Hon. G. Abbott: Draft service plan.
A. Dix: Was it a draft service plan that I got in May?
Hon. G. Abbott: It was, yes.
A. Dix: Okay, it was still a draft, but it was identical, I want you to know, because I checked. It was identical to the one that you released. I was heartened that the one I released is the same as the one he released.
I think it's fair to say that there's relatively little consistency between the plans. If you look at Fraser Health's and Vancouver Island Health Authority's service plans, they both say "Service Plan" on the front. That's something they have in common, but other than that, I think it's fair to say that Vancouver Island Health Authority's service plan last year was lacking in detail, as compared even to some of the other service plans.
The minister said at the time, and I never like to misquote him: "This is the first year formal service plans have been submitted by health authorities. In these transition years there are inconsistencies across the various service plans. As this process matures, there will be greater consistency in the information included and clearer targets and deliverables."
So here we are. He's seen the draft service plans for this year. Is it the case that work has been done to ensure consistency across health authorities? Can he tell us
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that? Secondly.… Well, we'll do one question at a time for a little while.
Hon. G. Abbott: Just to complete the circle with respect to St. Paul's and Vancouver General Hospital, the member had asked previously if there was any perceptible shift in terms of patient population going to VGH in preference to going to St. Paul's. The answer to the question is that while there may be some slight shift, the relative magnitude of pressures on those hospitals has remained the same.
In the case of St. Paul's, in fiscal '05-06 there were 60,045 visits to the emergency department. St. Paul's fell just slightly below that to 59,858 in '06-07, and at least in numbers to date in '07-08, 58,750 at St. Paul's. VGH, 65,725 in '05-06; 66,890 in '06-07; and 70,188 in '07-08.
I guess it just goes to underline that both of those emergency departments are ones that have significant pressures on them. We're cognizant of that, and that is why both of those hospitals have been leaders in effective deployment of emergency department services in this province.
In terms of service plans and the member's question around are we going to derive a greater consistency in terms of service plans, the answer is yes. What we do with service plans,, basically is that, largely through government letters of expectation, we ask them how they are going to deliver the services set out in the government letters of expectation within the budgets that have been provided to them for those purposes. We ask them, and they explicitly tell us, what kinds of pressures they are anticipating which may have a bearing on how they can deliver those services within the budgets that we have created for them.
That's been, I guess, the focus of many of the previous exchanges that we've had to this point in ministerial estimates.
We are working towards that greater consistency through a common template, through linkage to ministry service plans. I guess if the member's saying that there should be complete uniformity between the structure of the plans, we're not necessarily going to drive for uniformity, but we do want to see consistency so that when we do comparators, the comparators mean something.
A. Dix: Just asking about those letters of expectation, a couple of questions now about the Fraser Health budget.
Last year in the Fraser Health service plan, the chair of the board wrote to the minister. It was quite an interesting letter, in fact, but I'll just quote this small piece of it. The minister will have read it before, I think. He said: "Some of the expectations set out in the government letter of expectations are not likely to be achieved in full measure as we do not have the available funds to expand programs."
Has the minister…? In terms of their letters of expectation, are they satisfied that the requirements or the requests or the standards set forth in those letters of expectation have been met this year by health authorities? Maybe he can provide some examples of where they haven't been.
Hon. G. Abbott: I think it's fair to say that we believe that Fraser Health has done a very good job in terms of managing both service delivery and budget challenges. We don't expect that health authorities are going to meet each and every target each and every day. We are doing continued analysis around the completion of government letter of expectation targets, and so on, that we wish them to meet. But I think that Fraser Health has done a very good job in managing their resources and managing them effectively.
A. Dix: In terms of the government's letters of expectation themselves, the Fraser Health plan stated pretty clearly the following: "The government has not clarified its expectations for a wide range of programming, and this budget has limited capacity to accommodate these uncertainties. These include government letter of expectation initiatives for mental health and addictions, aboriginal health, emergency room congestion and e-health priorities."
A complaint we occasionally get from the health authorities is a lack of clarity around the government's letters of expectation, which are, obviously, important to the health authorities as they set out their budget process, in some respects. That's the test they have to meet when they're doing that.
I was wondering if the minister agreed in general with the assessment of the Fraser Health Authority about the government's letters of expectation, which, by the way, is a point of view that's shared by other health authorities, not just in conversation but in their service plans.
Hon. G. Abbott: In terms of the government letters of expectation, the member said something to the effect that over the years this had been an issue. In fact, it is only two years that we have had government letters of expectation as a mechanism to drive service deliveries in the health authorities. They are a relatively new and — I'm sure, to some extent — evolving mechanism to produce what I hope the member would also embrace, which is continuous improvement in the health care system. That is what we try to do each and every day — continuous improvement.
The government letters of expectation are not something that descend from on high, on stone tablets for the health authorities to embrace whether they like it or not. Government letters of expectation are the product of long discussions between the senior staff at the Ministry of Health and senior staff at the health authorities.
They work together, I understand, very intensively and very effectively on issues like aboriginal health and how we can improve that. How can we most effectively introduce the new e-health programs and networks in
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the province? How can we work together to decongest emergency departments?
These are the kinds of questions that senior staff from both the ministry and the health authorities work on together. The products of those discussions are the government letters of expectation. We think it is a good mechanism to ensure that everyone understands how we believe and how the health authorities believe that continuous improvement can be developed in a health care delivery system that is admittedly under pressure due to demographics, admittedly under pressure due to growth in chronic disease numbers and all of the rest of the bundle of challenges we have.
I think we've come a long way in terms of understanding and managing those things. Where we are, are there residual challenges? Absolutely. Have we come a long way? Absolutely yes, as well.
A. Dix: I'm not sure, in terms of transfers, that several health authorities, including Fraser Health and the others, saw very significant transfers from the Provincial Health Services Authority. Is it the case that in their requests this year they're asking for a dramatic increase in these transfers?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think we may require just a little bit more information from the member with respect to exactly what he is asking.
The Provincial Health Services Authority exists to provide some core provincial functions — cancer treatment and care, renal treatment and care, and several other kind of pan-provincial issues. In some cases the services that are within that umbrella of PHSA services…. Let's use cancer as an example. In some cases operations will be undertaken by the health authorities, or chemotherapy will be undertaken by the health authorities, and so on.
We just want to be sure that we're answering the right question for the member. Those transfers are formulaic at base, but we just want to make sure that we understand the question that the member is asking.
A. Dix: Basically, it's that. I mean, PHSA got a bigger lift. If you take out the money for the Abbotsford startup, they got the biggest lift of all, for a whole bunch of different reasons.
I think it's fair to say that those portions that health authorities, essentially of the PHSA universe, perform…. Presumably, some of the cost increases that PHSA has seen are reflected in cost increases on the health authority side, and that would go through the formula.
I guess what I'm asking is: as they go through their service plan this year, have the health authorities been requesting significantly more money in transfers from PHSA than they've seen in other years?
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the clarification from the member, and hopefully, we're getting a little bit closer to the answer to the question that the member seeks.
To set it in context, PHSA deals with issues like cancers, which are showing quite marked rise in incidence. A lot of it is related to the aging of our society, but not exclusively. There are, in some cases, lifestyle issues associated with the incidence of cancer, but we know through the work that the Cancer Agency is doing that the incidence of cancer is growing and will continue to grow as the aging of society continues.
Similarly on cardiac…. Again, a lot of issues around the need for open-heart surgery or angioplasty — all of that sort of high-end cardiac work. Again, the volumes continue to go up. Similarly on renal — again, with the issues we have in that area. Transplant, as well, is another PHSA.
PHSA is funded for what's termed "life support." They are not funded in the same way as the other regional authorities in terms of the population need–based formula. They are funded for life support. I think, to answer the member's question, predictably, as the volumes of cancer cases that are not dealt with at the Cancer Agency in Vancouver — that's PHSA — but the operations that might be done at Royal Columbian or Vancouver General or Kelowna General for cancer…. As those grow, yes, the transfers to the regional health authorities will grow between PHSA and the applicable regional authority.
In all of these areas, I think the predictions are that demand will continue to grow. So predictably for the dollars that will follow, we also expect those dollars to grow.
A. Dix: This, for the minister, will be another digression, but since I'm asking about PHSA, I wanted to ask him about the proposal that PHSA…. It's really, I guess, about their plans for this year.
The minister will recall in January 2006 that PHSA made a business-case proposal to the ministry around colorectal cancer screening in British Columbia. It's a proposal that in the scheme of health expenditures…. It's all expensive, but in the scheme of health expenditures, it wasn't a significant amount of money. Certainly, the evidence base for a broad FOBT screening program is very strong. In fact, that's why in the period since this proposal was made to the minister, several other jurisdictions have, in fact, gone past British Columbia in terms of screening programs.
As the minister will know, we had the campaign to end cancer here last week. Certainly, colorectal cancer is a significant cause of death in British Columbia. According to the business case and according to other jurisdictions, if a full-fledged screening program could meet targets of, say, 50 percent, we're talking about the saving of a couple hundred lives, not on colonoscopy but on FOBT alone.
I wanted to ask the minister whether there had been any progress and what the minister thought. Obviously, the minister, like me, I'm sure, will take the opportunity to encourage people to get screened — especially people who are in high-risk groups but really everybody over 50. I wonder if the minister has made any decisions now about this or, in cooperation with the Provincial
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Health Services Authority, has made any decisions about this plan to expand colorectal cancer screening, consistent with what other provinces are doing and have done in the period since 2006.
Hon. G. Abbott: Just to put out a few numbers in terms of the PHSA expenditure budget breakdown by program area. This will give the member a sense of how the demand is growing, which again, will produce some transfers between PHSA and the health authorities.
Back in just '05-06 — not very long ago — $122 million for cardiac services. The actual '07-08 is $141.5 million, and we're predicting $154.5 million for '08-09. So there's quite dramatic growth in terms of the pressures around cardiac services.
On renal: $71.9 million actual for '05-06, growing to $84.1 million actual for '07-08, and projected at $99.5 million in '08-09.
B.C. Transplant: $35.1 million actual in '05-06, growing to $42.3 million actual in '07-08, and staying about the same in '08-09.
B.C. Cancer: $345.4 million in actual '05-06, growing to $396.5 million actual in '07-08, and projected at $426.4 million in '08-09.
So the total of just those four things — which are the principal drivers of costs for PHSA — has grown from $574.4 million actual in '05-06 to $664.4 million actual in '07-08 and is projected at $721.9 million in '08-09. So that gives you a sense of how those issues are growing within the bounds of our health care system and of the importance of all the prevention and other programs to it as well.
In terms of the member's question around colorectal cancer screening. I appreciate the question. It is a very important issue. The Ministry of Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority and the B.C. Cancer Agency are continuing to analyze screening strategies in the colorectal area and other areas.
Obviously, screening is very important. For people like me and perhaps the hon. member, as well, who have incidence of colorectal cancer in their families — and I do — those screening programs are very important. In fact, I have consistently availed myself of those opportunities for colorectal screening. Like the hon. member, I would encourage others who feel that they may be at some risk because of family or other histories to also avail themselves of those screening programs.
We do have, and I think it's important to say this, a very good colorectal screening program in the province of British Columbia today. Overall, it's about a $20 million colorectal screening program. Can it be improved? Yes, quite possibly. That is why we continue to do that analytical work with the B.C. Cancer Agency and with PHSA, to try to determine how we can take that $20 million screening program and improve it. Like every other area of health care delivery, we believe in continuous improvement. We believe in it in this area as well.
An example of this would be in the health innovation fund of last year. We did a project at the Vancouver Island Health Authority called a virtual colonoscopy program, which involved something other than the now familiar, to me, colonoscopy — a different way and a potentially more effective way of screening.
My question to the author of the program was: "When are you going to get around to virtual barium, because that's the real challenge in the colonoscopy process?" Perhaps we're getting too technical here at this point, but virtual barium would be a great step ahead, I can tell you.
A. Dix: Rarefied.
Hon. G. Abbott: Rarefied, yeah.
So there's work being done in terms of all of these questions around an effective screening program, but we do have a good program. Anyone between the ages of 50 and 75 and, additionally, anyone considered at high risk, and family history would be a reason for higher risk, are eligible for annual colorectal cancer screening under MSP.
There is fecal occult blood sampling that is done annually. About 500,000 of those fecal occult blood tests are done annually, and around 70,000 colonoscopies are done under the program annually as well.
So I think we have a good screening program. Is it one that can be improved? Yes, I believe it is. I think the intensive analysis that will flow from the work that PHSA, the ministry and B.C. Cancer are doing will, hopefully, allow us to at least incrementally improve that screening program.
A. Dix: Just specifically about this proposal. Without going on about this subject too much, I think it's important to go on about it. People need to know, and lots of people don't know. I think given the really low cost of the fecal occult blood test, the evidence suggests that an increase in the utilization of the tests would bring a dramatic decrease in the mortality from colorectal cancer.
There's a specific proposal — I can share it with the minister; I can send it across — that was made by PHSA in 2006. I just want to ask him what happened specifically to that proposal, because it's really important. I know the minister has had some experience; we've had some in our family. For us, anyway, our experience was that early detection didn't mean something; it meant everything. I think this is the case that was made in 2006 by PHSA, and it's been made by other provincial governments.
I say to the minister that since that time, other provincial governments have taken the lead, whether it's Ontario or others, to really make advances in this area. I guess rather than questioning the minister, I just wanted to encourage him, because it seems to me that in terms of potentially a rate of return to the health care system, this kind of prevention model, an evidence-based model like this, would make a lot of sense.
I just wanted to ask the minister specifically about that proposal, which I think he's aware about because I asked him about it last year — where that's at and, aside from the current program, whether we should
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expect to see something within the next year that would match the efforts of other provinces to increase colorectal cancer screening.
Hon. G. Abbott: As I said in the earlier answer, the analysis continues. I think we are moving significantly closer to a resolution of those issues. I think everyone appreciates that it was a constructive suggestion that was made by the B.C. Cancer Agency.
That having been said, I think we are always looking to ensure that the model we ultimately adopt is the most effective one in terms of the distribution of dollars for screening tests and that sort of thing. I think it was a good, constructive proposal, and it is working its way through to a conclusion. I am certain, should we be in this forum again a year from now, that the issue will be resolved around an enhanced colorectal screening program. So it is moving forward.
That's part of the issue. The other thing, obviously, that we need to be cognizant of is that there are a lot of British Columbians who are not taking advantage of the screening tests even though it is, in its current form, paid for, for people 50 to 75, and paid for anyone with family history, etc., but a lot of British Columbians aren't taking us up on it. Clearly, we need to do some additional work around the educational importance of getting out there and getting screening done if there are any apprehensions at all.
A. Dix: I'll get used to this, because in the other place we go right to the hour, but I think we have to abandon it at some point. I'm getting encouragement here, anyway.
Just a final point — time flies, you know — on the screening program. I think that's the important question. Maybe the minister can just provide for us the percentage of people 50 and over who actually take an annual FOBT test. I think one of the problems with it is not really a technological problem, as the minister suggests, but almost a public health information problem where we've had really extraordinary steps taken in other screening programs to inform the public which have had a very significant increase on utilization. We certainly haven't had that in this case.
I appreciate that the issue is complicated, because once you have more tests, you'll get more positive tests, and then that will perhaps drive health care expenditure. I would suggest that expenditure will happen anyway in those cases, unfortunately. Is the minister contemplating, with respect to the FOBT test, any kind of new public health information initiative that would mirror other cancer screening programs out there that would let people know?
I think the percentages are actually quite low in terms of utilization in the affected group — men and women over 50. Is the minister contemplating doing that so that we would have a similar kind of public information effort we've seen that's been so successful with mammography?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes, and I'm shocked at how quickly the time passes here, and I'll conclude my comments here with a rise and report.
In terms of the member's point around utilization of the test by those who are eligible for it, yes, it's very low. I think something around 20 percent or less are utilizing the fecal occult blood test that are eligible.
We think there are a number of reasons for it. If anyone's ever taken the test, they know that it's not the most fun test to self-administer nor is it obvious the reasons why it is being done and so on. I think a lot of people sort of go: "Well, this is too unpleasant or difficult, and I don't want to do it."
One of the things we're looking at is: is there another test that would be equally as reliable yet be able to be an effective screening mechanism? Again, I think we're trying to move forward and trying to understand that. When we are able to land the new screening program, there will be a communications package and product around that which we will want to drive greater utilization of that test. So that's important.
Just before we go, as well, the member noted earlier — and he noted correctly — that Vancouver Coastal Health had the second-highest population growth after Fraser Health from '06-07 to '07-08. That's correct. VCHA had the lowest growth in the 65-plus group. As the members likely know, it is the 65-plus group which is the highest cost group in terms of the provision of health care dollars. VCHA had the lowest growth in that age group. VCHA population growth is mainly in the 20-to-64 age group, which is generally the lowest in terms of health utilization.
Hopefully, that helps to enhance the understanding. With that, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:52 a.m.
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