2008 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 38th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
FRIDAY, MAY 23, 2008
Volume 34, Number 4
|Mr. Speaker (Hon. B. Barisoff)|
| Hon. M.
|Introductions by Members||12789|
|Motions on Notice||12790|
|Komagata Maru (Motion 62)
| Hon. M.
| Hon. W.
| J. Brar
| D. Hayer
| H. Bains
| H. Lali
| Hon. C.
| R. Hawes
| M. Polak
| L. Krog
| C. Wyse
| R. Lee
| Hon. M.
|Electoral reform referendum question (Motion 57)|
|Hon. W. Oppal|
|On the amendment|
|On the main motion|
|Hon. W. Oppal|
|Second Reading of Bills||12800|
|Bridge River Valley Flying
Association (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2008 (Bill Pr401)
| H. Lali
|Committee of the Whole House||12800|
|Bridge River Valley Flying
Association (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2008 (Bill Pr401)
|Report and Third Reading of Bills||12801|
|Bridge River Valley Flying
Association (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2008 (Bill Pr401)
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
| Hon. B.
|Committee of Supply||12802|
|Estimates: Ministry of
Environment and Minister Responsible for Water Stewardship and
Sustainable Communities (continued)
| Hon. B.
|Committee of Supply||12802|
|Estimates: Ministry of
Environment and Minister Responsible for Water Stewardship and
Sustainable Communities (continued)
| Hon. B.
| C. Evans
|Estimates: Other appropriations
[ Page 12789 ]
FRIDAY, MAY 23, 2008
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, it is with considerable regret that I must advise the House that our Sergeant-at-Arms, Tony Humphreys, died earlier today in Victoria. He is survived by a foster son in Victoria, a mother and a brother in Vancouver, another brother in Australia and a sister living in Calgary.
Tony had suffered health reverses over the last six months, but in keeping with his well-known affection for the assembly, he carried on his duties whenever his health permitted. The passing of this senior permanent officer of the assembly has left a considerable void, although his loyal staff is rallying in an attempt to fill the void.
Tony had a distinguished military career with the Canadian Military Engineers, rising to the rank of colonel after 33 years of service. He was appointed by the assembly as Sergeant-at-Arms in September 1991 and served the assembly with great distinction since that time.
He was active in church matters, keen on sailing and flying and did much volunteer community work. He engendered enormous loyalty from all his staff, and his devotion to this place was known by all of us.
I will be sending letters of condolence to his family, and I would ask the House to stand with me and observe a moment of silence.
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, like the marble columns that surround us here, Tony Humphreys was a pillar in his own way in this institution, and the news you have brought to us today, for all members, is sad news indeed. His affection for this institution, for this chamber, revealed itself in the manner in which, through the years, he conducted himself, led his team and served the members of this chamber. You have accurately described an individual whose devotion to his duty here and elsewhere and at other times during his life was exemplary.
Many have come through those doors and served the public here. He has done so with distinction for many, many years, has left an indelible mark and will be missed by those that are here today and those that have come before us.
On behalf of the government, we want to extend to Tony's family and to all that know him and hold him in affection our sadness, our prayers and our thanks for the service that he has rendered to a grateful province.
M. Farnworth: Hon. Speaker, in rising on this sad occasion, I pause to reflect on the words that you have said and on the words that the Government House Leader has said, because they remind me of my first time back in 1991 when I met Mr. Humphreys. What became apparent very early on were his commitment and his loyalty to this institution, to those of us who serve here and to those of us who work here.
If I were to think of four words that described Tony Humphreys and how he carried out his duties in this place, they would be duty, service, loyalty and honour. His respect for this institution was enormous. His loyalty to this institution, I think, all of us recognize — but not only that: his loyalty to those he worked with, to those of us in this chamber and to what this place stood for.
He did it honourably. That is a word that is not often used in politics sometimes, but Tony Humphreys served this institution and this place with a great deal of honour. He leaves big shoes to fill. I know that on this side of the House, hon. Speaker, we join with the government and yourself in extending our condolences to his family. We will miss him greatly.
J. Horgan: I'd like to share with this House an anecdote about Tony. Just some weeks ago school children from my constituency were visiting, and I pointed to Tony in the photograph in the foyer and said: "That man carries a sword." When you're in grade 5, there's nothing more exciting than a man carrying a sword, and I told the school group of his role and function here in this place.
There were two groups, one on the first floor and one on the second, and they managed to come together at the opening. Of course, being grade 5s, they were boisterous and they were loud. Within a minute Tony arrived, stern as always, looking at the children. They turned, and I said: "That man's got a sword." And there was silence. I'll remember that always.
I met Tony back in 1991, working in this place. I never thought that I would be sitting here and watching him carry the mace out, and I'm very saddened to say that we won't see that again.
Introductions by Members
K. Whittred: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of yourself on this very auspicious day, with the motion in the House coming before us, I would like the House and all members to welcome the distinguished guests who have joined us in the galleries this morning.
We have representatives from the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation, the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, the Komagata Maru Foundation, the Descendants of Komagata Maru Society and many other groups and individuals in the Indo-Canadian community who, through their actions, have demonstrated their concern that this indignity be acknowledged. Please join me in a very special welcome.
[ Page 12790 ]
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Motion 62.
In the little House, I call Committee of Supply — for the information of members, continued debate on the estimates of the Ministry of Environment.
Motions on Notice
Hon. M. de Jong: Motion 62:
[Be it resolved that this Legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada. The House deeply regrets that the passengers, who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted.]
I wonder what people were thinking in the spring of 1914. I wonder if they knew that the world stood on the brink of a cataclysm — the likes of which had never been seen before or that the guns of August would ignite with a fury that would see empires crumble and the lives of millions impacted forever. I doubt it. I doubt it.
In Canada, a country not yet 50 years old, and a Vancouver where trolley cars carried a growing population along the tree-lined boulevards, no one was thinking about the cauldron of hatred that was simmering in the Balkans or the orgy of death and destruction that would be unleashed by two gunshots in Sarajevo. But in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, our own toxic mix of intolerance, suspicion and racism was about to boil over and reveal itself in a very different way.
On May 23, 1914, a boat arrived. A Japanese steamer sailing from Hong Kong slipped through the narrows between Stanley Park and the North Shore. Unlike the passengers on the countless cruise ships that sail into our harbour today, the lights on the yet-to-be-built Lions Gate Bridge did not welcome them.
[S. Hammell in the chair.]
In fact, for these 376 passengers from the Punjab, there was to be no welcome at all. For these passengers, their odyssey at sea began on April 4, 1914, and remarkably, for most of them, that odyssey at sea would last for nearly six months.
The decision to deny entry to these people searching for a better life derived from the application of myriad Canadian laws and regulations — things like the continuous journey requirement that had been built into immigration regulations. There can be no doubt that these laws were deliberately designed to camouflage a more sinister objective: to restrict immigration from Asia, to restrict immigration from India and to promote a white Canada policy.
For the passengers of the Komagata Maru, their forcible expulsion from our shores on July 23, 1914, was not the end of the saga. While the world's attention shifted to events taking place in Europe, the Komagata Maru sailed on with its cargo of human misery, sailed on for Calcutta, where it arrived at the end of September 1914. There, at a place called Budge Budge, the final act in this transcontinental tragedy played out with the violent deaths of 20 individuals who resisted their forced repatriation to the Punjab.
I read about this and learned about this for the first time as a 14-year-old, remarkably, in a book about Canada's first hockey legend, Cyclone Taylor. He was one of the immigration officers that went out to the boat. I learned a little bit from that book about the story.
But this day has been made possible because of the people and the groups who have worked so hard to keep the memory of this dark chapter in our history alive. We heard them referred to just a moment ago: the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation, the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, the Komagata Maru Foundation and a myriad of others who understood that to properly embrace the history of a nation is to embrace all of the history, to understand it and to acknowledge it.
It's ironic that today as we work feverishly to forge closer ties with India, the efforts of Baba Gurdit Singh, organizer of the Komagata Maru voyage, would probably have been regarded as visionary. Happily, times have changed. Unhappily, the ability to present this apology directly to the victims of the events of 1914 no longer exists. But if we could today, through descendants, through people that continue to care, we would say: Ah-seen kāmăn dā jaa-chack hăăn, Thu-hăă-nuu jee-I-yan-nū kān-dā hăăn.
[Punjabi text provided by Hon. M. de Jong.]
Forgive us. You are welcome.
R. Chouhan: First of all, I would like to welcome the delegation from the South Asian community who have joined us today to be part of this debate, to listen to the debate in the House about this motion.
I rise to support this motion. This is a motion that requires not only an understanding of what has happened in the past but also to recognize the racist policies of the time which caused that misery and that incident in 1914. In the first two decades of the 20th century, the Canadian government passed several bills to limit the civil rights of Indians arriving in Canada. That included the right to vote, hold public office, serve on juries or practise as pharmacists, lawyers and accountants.
That was also the time when, in Australia, a policy was passed to keep Australia white. The Canadian government at that time, because India was part of the British Empire, was not openly trying to create a law or policy which could create a problem for the British government in India. Although when Australia passed their policy and New Zealand adopted that policy after that, the Canadian government also started thinking about doing the same thing here in Canada.
In order to stop Indians coming to Canada, they came up with a very unique plan called a continuous journey. People from India, prior to that, could have come through Calcutta to Canada without any disruptions. However,
[ Page 12791 ]
when the government at that time decided that they must keep Canada white, they came up with this plan, and they passed a law called continuous journey.
To challenge that, Baba Gurdit Singh chartered a ship called Komagata Maru and brought 376 passengers to Canada. We know the history, as the House Leader cited some of the incidents. When those people arrived here, they met with every possible resistance the government could think of at that time.
When they were not allowed to land, a shore committee was set up. In the shore committee we had Hussain Rahim and Sohan Lal Pathak, who were in charge of that committee at that time. They were asked by the community not only to find ways and means to protest against that but also to file a legal complaint to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Later on the Supreme Court of Canada decided in favour of the government and did not agree with the complaint launched by the shore committee. After a couple of months on the shores of Vancouver, British Columbia, the ship was sent back. They arrived back at Budge Budge in Calcutta, and 20 people were killed.
Since then the South Asian community in North America, particularly in Canada, has been demanding an apology. It has been asking that the government should recognize that the injustice done in Canada must be corrected and must be acknowledged. So that's why a demand for an apology has been very strong and coming from all parts of Canada. Recently, as we all know, the federal government has decided to extend that apology.
I'm glad that we had a motion a couple of weeks ago, tabled by my colleague from Panorama Ridge, asking for an apology. We unanimously passed that motion in this House. Today we have another motion, and I'm here to support that. I ask that all members of this House join unanimously, strongly, to send this message that a wrong was done, and today we are here to apologize. We learned from that past, and we will never do it again.
Hon. W. Oppal: I rise in the House to speak to Motion 62. As has been stated, it was 94 years ago today, on May 23, 1914, that the ship of Japanese registry the Komagata Maru sailed into Canadian waters. The 376 passengers all carried British passports and were all members of the British Empire. Many had come here in order to make Canada their permanent home. Twenty-two of them were returning residents, and some, like Janetpura Puran, were students or would-be students. They all had dreams to come here. As has been well documented, they were not permitted to disembark.
I will not detail the indignities and the hostilities with which they were greeted. That has been well documented, and they're not in dispute. Suffice it to say, they encountered racism and hatred. As they remained on ship, they were deprived of many of the necessities of life. Elected officials, members of the media and the public collectively fanned the flames of hatred. The cry of the day was that Canada was a white man's country. The ship finally departed on July 23, 1914.
Today this treatment would be unimaginable. We, as a province and as a nation, embrace people from all cultures as new Canadians and immigrants to British Columbia. The people who have come here from the Punjab since then have made a tremendous contribution to Canada and to this province. The cultural diversity that they bring has enriched our experiences as a province and as a nation.
Yet the events of the Komagata Maru remain with us as a reminder that governments and communities must be ever mindful to be respectful and welcoming of all immigrants and refugees. The memory of the Komagata Maru is entrenched in the memories of the descendants of the Indo-Canadians and Indians alike.
Motion 62 acknowledges the racism that the passengers of the Komagata Maru endured and apologizes for that suffering. We as a province must apologize categorically for the events that took place relating to the Komagata Maru.
I would like to make special mention at this time of some of the many individuals and organizations that have communicated with this government to express their support for this motion: the Khalsa Diwan Society, which was always instrumental in assisting people from India from their earliest arrivals; the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation; the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation; the Komagata Maru Foundation; the descendants of the Komagata Maru passengers; and many groups and individuals in the Indo-Canadian community who, through their actions, have demonstrated their concern that this indignity be acknowledged.
I want to thank the members of the community who have come here this morning to celebrate this occasion and to acknowledge the past wrongs that have taken place in our province.
J. Brar: Time after time after time, every government recognized that the incident of the Komagata Maru shouldn't have happened in this province and in this country. Yet nobody stood up and said to the Indo-Canadian community: "We are sorry. We are sorry for this incident." That didn't happen during the last 94 years.
I was approached by the community members, community activists, community organizations to do something to put an end to this tragic incident that we have in the history of this country. As a result of that, I submitted a motion in this House on April 7, 2008. It was a real honour for me to rise in this House on May 12 to move a motion with regard to this century-old tragic episode of Komagata Maru, urging this House to support a statement of apology by the provincial and federal governments.
Today is the 94th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident. I am pleased to see that the government of British Columbia has decided to bring this very important issue back to this House for debate. Therefore, I am very, very pleased to support this motion asking
[ Page 12792 ]
this Legislature to apologize for this incident that took place 94 years ago. [Punjabi was spoken.]
As said by many other people, on May 23, 1914, a ship named Komagata Maru carrying 376 passengers from India entered Burrard Inlet, Vancouver. After that long journey they were turned away and not allowed to enter Canada. We must note that the Komagata Maru ship was denied entry to Canada due to a racist immigration policy called "continuous journey."
At that time, to be admitted to Canada immigrants had to come by a continuous journey from their country of birth and enter Canada with at least $200. Since no ship at that time came directly from India, no Indian could enter into this country. In chartering the ship Komagata Maru, Baba Gurdit Singh's goal was to challenge that racist immigration policy called continuous journey.
The Komagata Maru tragedy is a huge black mark in the history of Canada. It's a powerful symbol of the injustices and racism that took place on our beautiful land at that time. Madam Speaker, 94 years ago a bad history was made on our land, and today we are turning the page, and we are making a new history that we will all be proud of — that Canada is a land of opportunity to all people, not only white people.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all the people who are here today to witness this historic apology which has been due for the last 94 years. I would also like to recognize the work and the efforts of many, many individuals and organizations to bring this historic day for the community.
My special thanks to the Khalsa Diwan Society of Vancouver for their meaningful efforts and support to the passengers during their two-month struggle at Burrard Inlet. My special thanks to the family members for their patience in waiting for this apology for 94 years. My thanks to Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation and Komagata Maru Foundation and my sincere thanks to Professor Mohan Singh Foundation for their extraordinary work in recent years to bring awareness in the community and to make this issue a priority on the political agenda of the provincial as well as the federal governments.
Last but not least, on behalf of the Indo-Canadian community, I would like to thank every member of this House — every member of this House from both sides — for coming together to bring an end to this historic 94-year-old tragedy, a dark chapter in the history of Canada.
D. Hayer: I fully support Motion 62 by our government on the Komagata Maru apology. I have often spoken in this House and outside to condemn the Komagata Maru tragedy that began on this date — May 23 — 94 years ago, in 1914.
First, I want to thank the Khalsa Diwan Society that was established in 1907. They have fought against this since 1914. Also, I want to thank the Komagata Maru Foundation, Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation, Professor Mohan Singh Foundation and descendants of the Komagata Maru passengers.
Also, I want to say thank you to the community leaders and the many organizations, as well as the community leaders who are no longer with us today, from a very broad, diverse community, who have stood up to say that this was wrong, who have kept the issue alive, who have helped to bring us to this point, to make sure it does not happen again. It took many years, almost a century, to come to this point.
Just last week, I spoke on a motion calling for the federal government to issue an apology and the circumstances that saw 376 persons — 340 of them were Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus, all of them British subjects — virtually imprisoned aboard the Komagata Maru ship anchored in the Vancouver harbour. They languished on board the fateful ship for almost two months before they were sent packing back to India, some of them eventually to their death when they arrived in India.
Today all those words that I have spoken, all those words so many people who are sitting in our gallery today have spoken and many other people from our community who are no longer with us have spoken, have actually come to succeed, where we are finally issuing the apology. This is the first time any government in Canada has issued an official apology. I want to say thank you very much to our government, our Premier and all of the members of the opposition who have helped to make sure this apology happens.
It's good to see that we have no discrimination today. It's good to see that our Canada has changed, where we allow immigrants from different parts, regardless of their race, their colour or their descent, to succeed at anything they can dream of. I want to make sure this type of incident does not happen again. All of the Indo-Canadian community in British Columbia, around the world and in Canada will be happy with what this Legislature is doing today. It is fixing a dreadful wrong that should have never occurred in Canada.
I also want to say that our youth of today and our youth of the future…. We don't want them to forget the incidents of the Komagata Maru, this tragic tragedy. This whole episode is something that we want to make sure nobody repeats again. This is why it is taught in our schools, in social studies 11 and civic studies 11 classes.
I know we have many speakers who want to speak on this, so I will cut my remarks short and say thank you very much to the House and to every member in the House who is helping us to issue this apology on the Komagata Maru. Thank you, Madam Speaker, and thank you to the community.
H. Bains: It is with pride that I stand here today to support this motion. I'm not going to talk about the history, because many have mentioned it here in this House. I'm in a congratulatory mood, because finally, after 94 years of kicking and screaming, from legislators to the parliament, no government saw it fit to right the wrong of 94 years of history. Finally, we are seeing the results.
There's no doubt in my mind, no doubt even today, that if it wasn't for the strength of the Indo-Canadian
[ Page 12793 ]
community from coast to coast to coast in Canada who have established themselves as the premier and mainstream community in every field of this country and made contributions in every sector of our economy…. We are seeing some results finally, and they have established, themselves, that they can no longer be ignored in this country.
As a result, I want to thank the Khalsa Diwan Society and those leaders who were there at the time — people like Naginder Singh Gill, Bhai Bhag Singh, Bhai Balwant Singh, who gave their lives and who nurtured those passengers in that very difficult time and left a legacy for us. I want to thank them because as a result of their sacrifice and their vision, I am sitting in this chair today. [Punjabi was spoken.]
Madam Speaker, I want to take this opportunity, in conclusion, to pay my tribute to and thank the passengers of Komagata Maru and honour their progressive thinking and their bravery and valour to challenge the laws of the day for social justice. These people put their lives on the line for their beliefs and to stand up for what was right. For that, I want to thank them.
I want to thank every member of this House and every person and organization that exists today — and many of them are here today — that kept this issue alive. Our Punjabi radio stations — Radio India, Sher-e-Punjab, Channel M and many others — and other organizations kept this issue alive. Finally we are seeing closure to this issue and trying to omit the black mark that existed in our history for centuries. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on this.
J. Nuraney: Let me, first of all, offer my warm welcome to the members of the Sikh community who have come here to witness what they have been waiting for, for a long time.
Today we are witnessing a gesture by this government which redeems, to a certain extent, the injustice that was meted out to the passengers of Komagata Maru on May 23, 1914. There were 356 — 12 Hindus and 24 Muslims — on board that ship. This incident is recorded in our British Columbia history as a stain on the ethics and values that we hold so dearly — that is, inclusiveness and respect for others.
This act of racism has become an indelible memory in the minds of the pioneers and Canadians who worked so hard to make our province what it is today. The contribution of the Sikh community in the development of our province is well known, not only in the past as the pioneers in the industries of forestry and agriculture, but today they continue to be very valuable members of the Canadian society and continue to play a very significant role in what Canada stands for.
We could say that this outrageous act, which violated the rights of individuals to seek out their destiny, was outrageous. Today, as we offer our apologies to those affected, we must also take this opportunity to look within ourselves and ask the fundamental question: have we really eradicated racism?
Each one of us has a duty to be vigilant and to guard against any act of racism in our society. I would submit that such acts of racism are a result of ignorance.
Let me quote from the holy Koran in reference to the entirety of the human race. It says: "O mankind, be careful of your duty to your Lord, who created you from one single soul and…created its mate, and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women."
Madam Speaker, as I congratulate our government for this noble act of apology, let me say that we should consider this tragic incident as a lesson to develop tolerance, respect and understanding for others and to inculcate these values in our children and in the next generation so that such acts of racism may never take place in our society.
H. Lali: Like my colleagues on both sides of the House, I join in support of Motion 62. As you know, the Komagata Maru incident was a real black mark in the history of Canada in terms of race relations that took place. I'm not going to go into the history, but obviously, the continuous journey act that was passed was a real racist policy, as you know, designed to keep people from Asia from actually coming to Canada at that time. Baba Gurdit Singh, who was in charge of the 376 people, wanted to test that law when it was brought in.
Once the ship had returned back to India with its occupants, the whole issue did not just end there. There was a lot of misinformation going on at that time which was trying to link Mr. Gurdit Singh's passage to Canada as somehow being a part of the effort to try to overthrow the British government. To this day there is not a shred of evidence that is made available to actually support that theory. Unfortunately, some of the government agents of the day, the immigration officials, were trying to pass that on as something that was legitimate, when it was not.
When they returned to Calcutta, in Budge Budge, as has been mentioned by others, there was a melee that took place, and 20 of the occupants of the Komagata Maru were actually killed in the shootout that took place by the army and the police at the time.
One of the questions I always ask is: what was going through the minds of the people who actually came here and tried to immigrate to Canada at that time? What was in their minds? It reminds me of the stories that my mom and dad used to tell me about 1947, when the partition of India took place into India and Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of people were massacred. It reminds me of aboriginal people I talk to who went through the whole residential school system and also the folks that were massacred in 1984 in Delhi in the riots that took place after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
They all talk about the same thing. They felt shame. They felt guilt. They felt anger. That's what had happened.
There are folks — and I've seen some editorials out there, even in the last few days — suggesting that there was no need for Canada or British Columbia to apologize.
[ Page 12794 ]
What were we apologizing for? What do apologies do, when you're dealing with people — whether it's the aboriginal people that were apologized to by this Legislature in the late 1990s in terms of what happened to the aboriginal people in the residential school system…?
[K. Whittred in the chair.]
What it offers is healing. It offers healing, even though it's 94 years late. Even for someone like me and for others who were not around at that time, to read about it brings about that feeling of shame and guilt. It also is an acknowledgment that yes, our racist policies were racist at the time, and yes, there were a lot of wrongs done at that time. That's what this is all about, whether you're talking about any of those instances where those apologies were offered.
Finally, before I sit down, it is important to offer this apology, because, as we see on epitaphs when we see Remembrance Day celebrated, it says: "Lest we forget." Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and we don't want to repeat that racist history again.
Like the others, I acknowledge all of the Punjabi friends who are sitting up in the galleries today. [Punjabi was spoken.]
We're finally issuing a resolution of apology, so I want to acknowledge all of the folks that are sitting up there in terms of hearing the apology taking place today.
Hon. C. Taylor: I have the rather unusual privilege to be in my second layer of government service that is acknowledging the situation of the Komagata Maru incident.
In 1989 I was an elected member of Vancouver city council at a time where we acknowledged this shameful incident and in fact created a memorial so that we would remember it. Here we are 19 years later, once again and at a different level of government, in our provincial Legislature, acknowledging and apologizing for something that is, as others have said, a very dark period in our history.
It has been said very eloquently what the facts are from the situation, so I think that it's left for me just to look with amazement, dismay and anger at what actually happened. Imagine! My Canada, which I'm so proud of, had a policy that was actually whites-only immigration. It was done very carefully, of course. It was a very carefully unspoken but very insidious policy that ensured that immigration would come primarily from white European countries.
I tried to put myself in the place of those who were in government at that time and to imagine the conversation that happened, presumably behind closed doors, and the conversation that said: "How can we accomplish this without really telling people what we're trying to accomplish?" They came up with an act that said: "You must have continuous journey to Canada."
That must have seemed like a solution for those who wanted whites-only immigration, except that CP had a very successful continuous journey shipping line going from Calcutta to Vancouver. So what did the government do? They created the pressure to stop CP from doing that one continuous journey, so that when the Komagata Maru set sail in 1914, it travelled from Hong Kong to China to Japan to Vancouver. Therefore, it had to challenge this immigration policy that was based on discrimination.
It is a shame for all of us to remember that our country did this, but I think that part of the healing process is to go through this, where we apologize for it. To those individuals who have been affected directly or indirectly, to those in India whose future was determined by this policy of discrimination and to the world who watched Canada with dismay as we perpetuated this whites-only policy — to everyone — we say: "We apologize."
C. Puchmayr: Well, this is certainly a momentous day for all of us here in the Legislature.
We will never right the wrongs of racism that were perpetrated upon the passengers of the Komagata Maru 94 years ago today in anchorage off Stanley Park. We'll never reverse the pain that was inflected on the 376 passengers of that ill-fated voyage. We will surely never reverse the lives lost through illness that felled some of the passengers who became prisoners of injustice and intolerance from that horrific journey. We will never reverse the political persecution and execution of 20 of the passengers as they returned to India.
The fact that it has taken so long to get to this moment in this grand chamber once again shows the reluctance of us to move swiftly in a merely symbolic way. But the fact that we are here today speaking words of apology, the fact that we are here in this chamber speaking of reconciliation of the past wrongs, is significant.
If this moment is to be more than just symbolic, it will only be judged by the sincerity that is displayed from here forward — how we communicate the past wrongs to our young people and how we respect tolerance of all cultures and of all nations, from the first nations to the next nations. This moment will only be judged on how we stand up and challenge the racism in our communities and how we share the experience of the many cultures that make up the colourful mosaic that we so proudly call Canada.
As the globe shrinks and we live closer physically, economically and electronically, we must never assume that we have resolved the wrongs of the past such as the Komagata Maru. We cannot rest from this lesson. It takes merely a stroke of a governor's pen to create the modern-day prohibitions to immigration that jeopardize all lessons that history has taught us. Let's celebrate this day and then remain vigilant so that a true and welcoming Canada continues to always hold her arms open to all.
R. Hawes: It's an honour to be able to stand today and help lend my voice to what I hope will be some closure to this long, long-overdue tragic incident. The apology is long overdue. Madam Speaker, our history
[ Page 12795 ]
in Canada actually has been checkered with these types of things.
We've had the Chinese head tax, but we've addressed it. We've had years of mistreatment of our aboriginal community that we're working very hard to address and to correct. We wouldn't allow women to vote years ago, and that was corrected. Our past has been filled with incidents that I think wouldn't be tolerated today, and we've learned from those.
I want to thank the members in the gallery of the Punjabi community who have persisted in making sure that this day comes. Hopefully, it will come in Ottawa, where our national government will also apologize for this incident. I think it's really important that we don't forget that this incident occurred, and I'm confident that the members of the Punjabi community who are here today will ensure that there is no forgetting and no going backwards.
I frequently write letters in my constituency office for members of the South Asian community who are trying to get relatives to come here for weddings or funerals. I don't get asked to write letters for those from other parts of the Commonwealth. I just wonder if that sort of pernicious racism, to a smaller degree, perhaps…. It seems to still be there.
I think that we should be pressing our Immigration Department to ensure that the exact same policies apply to those from the South Asian countries as apply to those who would want to come here to visit from Australia or England. I don't think we should rest until we are absolutely certain that we don't have any racism that exists, and I still see it.
Madam Speaker, it's a pleasure to have been able to speak here today. I want to especially thank, in my own community, the Gursikh Society who are a very important part of the economic mosaic in the community in which I live.
I am proud to say that in this country we have become an extremely multicultural society that embraces all cultures, but we still have a long way to go. I know that both sides of this Legislature believe we should be ever-vigilant. We should work hard to make sure that racism in all its forms is wiped out and that everyone is treated with equality.
S. Hammell: It is a great honour to stand in this House and support the motion moved by the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, and I do think I'll take just a moment to read that motion. It says:
"Be it resolved that this Legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada. The House deeply regrets that the passengers, who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted."
That incident can be viewed from a number of perspectives. We've heard some in the House today, and I concur with the perspectives that were presented. But I want to take a look at the incident from just a slightly different perspective, and that is the perspective of leadership. Unless we as a community learn from the mistakes of our past, it is said, and I concur, we will be destined to repeat those mistakes in the future.
I think that part of the issue here — and the lesson we can learn — is us understanding the power of the establishment, the power of the established order, those who hold power and what they can do, the lengths that they are willing to go to maintain that power as they see it, and how justified they are or were in using the power to maintain the order.
The federal government — our federal government — passed the non-continuous laws. They forbid Indian community members from holding the right to vote, from holding office. Indians were not permitted to become lawyers, members of the establishment, accountants, pharmacists. They were forbidden to take their place in our community. They were denied the right to vote.
They were forced to pay $200 to land. When you were making ten cents a day, $200 was a fortune. The federal government passed the continuous passenger law, and to boot, they pressured steamship companies not to sell tickets to the community.
For those of you who have read the history of this, the mayor of Vancouver, in his position as a leader, said: "I intend to stand up absolutely on all occasions on this one great principle of a white country and a white British Columbia." That was the leadership of the day. That was the established order of the day.
For us as citizens of today, what we have to be is aware that that kind of order can be limiting. If we compare that kind of leadership to that of Baba Gurdit Singh…. If we compare the leadership here to him and the passengers that came and tried to break through that barrier, we see a man committed to equality, to justice, to fairness in terms of a country and a citizenship of the world and the Commonwealth. He had a right, as did the passengers that were with him, to be here in this country and to take his place in this country.
I am so proud of this assembly, because these were real people. Their treatment represents a very black time in our history. I'm very proud and pleased to take part in this debate and, with the rest of this assembly, to offer my deepest apologies.
M. Polak: Many have spoken about the auspicious occasion that this represents as we, as a Legislature, as members in this assembly, come together to support an act of apology. There is, sadly, a concern that I have heard come from my community as this has been publicized that I want to deal with very directly. That is the cynical response of some members of the public to say that this isn't necessary, that this is political pandering, that this is empty. I want to confront that in the strongest possible terms.
There are many things that happen in a political body such as ours that are deserving of cynicism and that are deserving of a questioning eye. But on today of all days I want our public to understand that this is a
[ Page 12796 ]
group of people from different political perspectives coming together to do the right thing because it is the right thing.
Ninety-four years ago people came seeking entry to this country. Today this House comes humbly seeking forgiveness, because that's what an apology is. When we apologize, it doesn't end the dialogue. It begins one, and it begins it in a state of peace and love, seeking forgiveness, just as those individuals sought entry into Canada.
We can hope, humbly, as this House seeks forgiveness, that we are treated with the kind of example that we know is commonly experienced from our brothers and sisters in the South Asian community. I thank them for the opportunity to be here today and to be a part of what is an amazing action on the part of a Legislature — that of confronting an act of government years ago that was based on hatred with an act of a Legislature today based on peace, and humbly seeking the forgiveness of those who have been offended.
S. Hammell: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
S. Hammell: In the gallery are students from Creekside Elementary from Surrey. I think they're so fortunate to be here to observe this debate and take part in this session today. Could the House please make them welcome.
L. Krog: Well, I am honoured, too, to be able to stand and speak in this House today.
When I was in grade 3 at French Creek Elementary School in Coombs, this big kid came into the class. He wasn't as tall as the member for Surrey–Panorama Ridge, but he was probably suited to about grade 7 or 8. He was put in our grade 3 class because he was from India. His name was Harshan Bains, and his English was very poor.
That was my first contact with a member of the South Asian community. I've often thought since that time, as I've grown older and I hope a little wiser, what it must have been like for him, a big kid stuck in a classroom filled with white kids. He was the only face of colour in that whole classroom. What must it have been like for him?
All of my ancestry is northern European. There's English, Scottish, Norwegian, some German, some French. I'm a white, heterosexual male. I've never faced discrimination in my whole life. I never faced it on the basis of my religion; I'm a baptized Anglican. I never faced it on the basis of my colour. I never faced it on the basis of my orientation or gender.
I am a child of privilege. But those in the gallery today represent another group. They were not, if you will, the children of privilege or the child of privilege that I was. Their ancestors, when they came to this country, weren't welcomed. Mine were, without fail. They spoke English, they were white, and they were welcomed. They never faced what the ancestors of some of the members of this chamber did.
Unlike my sister-in-law's family, who were Japanese Canadians…. My sister-in-law's parents and her older siblings were all interned in the Second World War. I never faced any of that.
The point of what I'm trying to say today is that, as I look into the gallery, I want all of those who are listening today to understand that I, as a representative of the privileged classes of this country, both now and historically, and speaking particularly to those who still face discrimination on the basis of their race or their orientation or, indeed, their gender, want to say I'm sorry. I'm honoured to be able to speak here today.
I want to apologize on behalf of the constituents of Nanaimo, whom I represent. One of the oldest cities in this province had its own history of racism, particularly against the Chinese community in the early days. So I'm sorry.
I'm delighted you're here. I'm proud of this Legislature for passing this motion today, as I'm sure it will. It is an historic moment. It is a recognition, an acknowledgment of an historic injustice. Let us all move forward from this time today to try and build the kind of British Columbia that every one of us, I believe, wants our children to inherit.
J. McIntyre: This 94th anniversary of the arrival of the steamer ship Komagata Maru in Vancouver is taking on a special significance today, not that this is cause for celebration. With this motion in the B.C. Legislature today, we have the opportunity to finally apologize for the racism, discrimination and intolerant behaviour that the 376 passengers from India, all British subjects, had to endure so long ago. They were denied the opportunity that my ancestors and those of most of us serving in the House were privileged to experience when they arrived on Canada's shores many years ago.
The Komagata Maru passengers came in search of a better life and a brighter future, but they were turned away. This treatment, by any modern standard, is shameful and completely unacceptable, and we need to use this dark part of our history to ensure that we never repeat this unforgivable act.
I've had the privilege of making friends with Indo-Canadians at the temple in Squamish, and I've seen firsthand the quality of life that they have today because of the hard work of their ancestors in building and contributing significantly to that town's success. So I would like to extend this apology directly to all my constituents who have been affected by this black mark in our province's and in our country's history.
I welcome the opportunity to support Motion 62 publicly and add my voice to this assembly's apology.
In closing, I'd like to ask us all to recommit ourselves to honouring and celebrating the diversity and the tolerant attitudes that we now share in Canada today. Let us all share in those blessings that we enjoy
[ Page 12797 ]
and ensure that those who follow us enjoy the same and that we never stop learning from the past.
I support this motion wholeheartedly and apologize for the pain and humiliation that this racist policy of the past inflicted so blatantly 94 years ago today.
C. Wyse: It is indeed with mixed feelings that I stand in this House today. I'm not quite certain where I wish to begin, but where I've decided I wish to begin is that, as a member of this Legislature, I take ownership for an injustice that took place over 90 years ago to over 300 people who attempted to come to the place where I call home. That is significant to me. It's with that ownership being taken here in this Legislature that, in my opinion, allows healing to take place. It is that significant part that is being demonstrated here in this Legislature.
We had an injustice that took place that was based upon racism. It included some of the worst attributes of humans. It involved prejudice, it involved discrimination, and it involved intolerance. By taking ownership of those feelings, it's my opinion — and I hope I am correct — that it provides an opportunity for healing to take place.
I wish to recognize the courage of the 376 individuals who provided this situation for us here to share. It's their courage to simply want to arrive in an area and contribute to that particular society.
It's important in the area where I'm from, the Cariboo, to acknowledge the contribution that the Indo-Canadians have made to my area, my community, my province and my country. I don't wish to narrow that contribution to just one very small part of Canada, because that contribution has been made right across the entire nation. But as I represent that area and take ownership for something that took place here in British Columbia, it is equally important, I believe, to recognize the contribution that has been made to this part of the province.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
In closing, I want to thank those individuals and organizations that have stayed the course to have this particular day, which I can be part of, and to extend unequivocally my support for this motion and my apologies for an action that took place over 90 years ago.
R. Lee: I rise to support this motion. Ever since Confederation and until the end of the Second World War, Canadian governments introduced laws to restrict immigration based on race.
In 1878 the province of British Columbia passed a strict law to prevent Chinese immigration. However, the federal government of the time went to the court to rule that the provincial Legislature had no jurisdiction over immigration. In 1885 the federal government itself passed a Chinese immigration act that required all Chinese entering Canada to pay a $50 head tax, which was increased to $100 in the year 1900 and $500 in 1903. In the early 1900s, $500 was two years' average salary.
The head tax was ended by the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1923, which virtually stopped all immigrants from China. During this period of race discrimination, the Canadian government made laws to block immigration from India indirectly by requiring that immigrants had to come by continuous journey from their country of birth and enter with at least $200 cash.
The government of the day also forced the only direct shipping line run by Canadian Pacific to stop services between Canada and India, as we heard. It was under these kinds of discriminatory policies and actions that the incident of Komagata Maru happened.
I believe that today it's not only a milestone in this House to recognize the discriminatory characteristics of these unfair laws, but it also serves as a reminder that as legislators, we have the utmost responsibility to ensure fairness in the laws we pass as well as fairness in the execution of those policies, laws and regulations.
Redressing the past injustice may bring up many unpleasant memories. Sometimes it's like cutting open a scar — painful. However, any surgeon can tell you that if the wound is not treated right, it will not heal properly.
Looking through the lens in our hearts, we all benefit from a clear, undistorted, unbiased view of these historical events. Thanks to the Indo-Canadian community for bringing this issue forward. I'm pleased to support wholeheartedly this motion.
M. Farnworth: It's my pleasure today to take my place in this debate on this important motion.
We are celebrating our 150th anniversary of the founding of British Columbia in 1858, and that is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate not only the great things about British Columbia, the great things in our history, but also to take time and recognize those things that are not so great, those periods in our history that we look back on with regret and that we apologize for.
I can stand in this House today, and I can say to the people in the gallery watching this debate sat sri akal — good morning; welcome — but 94 years ago not only would I not have been able to say that. I would most likely not have ever even wanted to say that. It is a period in our history that it's important we don't forget. But to understand how we got here today, we need to understand where we came from, and that means both the good and the bad.
The events that occurred in 1914 just prior to the First World War on the Komagata Maru illustrate not only racist attitudes of the time, not only how discrimination governs so much of our daily lives but how discrimination governed how we functioned as a society.
It also serves, I think, as an opportunity to show in the intervening years just how far we've come. Not only can we stand here today and apologize for what took place but also celebrate the contribution that South Asians have made to British Columbia in those 94 years in every walk of life, be it economic, be it business, be it labour, be it the arts, be it politics, be it health care, be it education, be it the judiciary. South Asians have made tremendous contributions to the building of this province.
[ Page 12798 ]
Oh, wouldn't it be great if we could go back to those people who made that racist decision back in 1914 and say: "Look at the mistake you've made. Look at the talent you've turned away. Look at the opportunity you've denied this province."
Hon. Speaker, today is an opportunity for us to apologize. Today is an opportunity for us to commit that we as a society have learnt from the mistakes of the past. Today is the opportunity to say that we welcome everybody if this province to build a new and prosperous British Columbia for everybody and truly say sat sri akal.
R. Chouhan: Hon. Speaker, I want to say today bole so nihal.
L. Mayencourt: Mr. Speaker, I know time is short, so I just want to acknowledge the people that are here today. Up until just a few years ago I did not know about this black mark on our history, and it is the result of work by the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation, the Komagata Maru Foundation, the descendants of the Komagata Maru Society and the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation. These folks invited me to come to an acknowledgment ceremony seven years ago, and that's when I first learned about this thing that happened.
So I'm here to say thank you to them. You are the reason why this motion is here. You have carried the torch. You have brought this all the way, all these 94 years. You are to be saluted. Please accept our humble apology.
G. Gentner: I, too, am here to apologize. Very quickly, I want to share with you my upbringing. I grew up in a racist community, a racist tradition. Social Darwinism was created in the Edwardian period, which this history was all about. Unfortunately, I grew up in this tradition of thinking we were somewhat different than others. My first babysitters were people from the Punjab, and it certainly changed my ideas as a young person. So early in life we get…. I have to say that I apologize for what happened then, and I apologize for what is happening today.
When we see, even today, with prominent people who come forward — I'll leave names unmentioned, but people who could be involved with VANOC — who suggest that you should not sing the national anthem in another language, I think that's wrong. This is a journey that will continue every day, and I humbly apologize to the House and to our friends who visit us today. It's time to march on to a brighter, happier future.
Hon. M. de Jong: A remarkable day and debate here in the chamber. I want to thank all of the members for their contributions, for speaking with conviction, speaking with passion. We have, with our words today, tried as best we can to redress the injustices that occurred 94 years ago, and perhaps 94 years from now people will look back on this chapter in the history of this province in this chamber and reflect fondly on what a great day it has been.
With that, I move Motion 62 and the apology contained therein.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, please take your seats.
Members, the question is on Motion 62 by the Government House Leader.
"Be it resolved that this Legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada. The House deeply regrets that the passengers, who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted."
Motion approved unanimously on a division. [See Votes and Proceedings.]
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Motion 57 standing in my name on the order paper.
Hon. W. Oppal: I move Motion 57, which stands on the order paper in the House Leader's name.
[Be it resolved that this House approves the following wording for the electoral reform referendum question which will appear on the May 12, 2009 general election ballot:
"Which electoral system should British Columbia use to elect members to the provincial Legislative Assembly?"
- The existing electoral system (First-Past-the-Post)
- The single transferable vote electoral system (BC-STV) proposed by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform]
As members of this House will….
Mr. Speaker: Attorney, could you take a seat. There are a couple of people who want to make introductions. Sorry, Attorney.
S. Hammell: I would like leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
S. Hammell: The second set of students from Creekside Elementary are here in the gallery observing this occasion. So would the House again join me in making them very welcome.
D. Hayer: I have a group of special students here from William F. Davidson Elementary School — 106 students from grade 5. They are here for this very
[ Page 12799 ]
historical event. They are with their teachers — Mrs. Patricia Fowler, Mrs. Brenda Champion, Mrs. Linda Levers Erickson, Mrs. Joyce Buckham — and 20 volunteer parents who have taken time away from their busy schedules to be with the students. Would the House please make them very welcome.
J. Brar: I seek leave to make an announcement.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
J. Brar: I understand that the members of the community have been invited for lunch after this, but in the spirit of cooperation and celebration, I would like to invite them for a quick cup of tea in room 201.
Hon. W. Oppal: As members of this House will recall, government made a commitment in the throne speech in September 2005 to bring forward for debate a draft of the question to be decided in the May 2009 referendum on electoral reform. This motion asks the House to approve the wording of the question that will be on the ballot for that referendum.
The referendum question would read: "Which electoral system should British Columbia use to elect members to the provincial Legislative Assembly — the existing electoral system, first-past-the-post, or the single transferable vote electoral system, BCSTV, proposed by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform?"
Members may recall that the question asked in 2005 was the following: "Should British Columbia change to the BCSTV electoral system as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform — yes or no?"
The proposed wording for the 2009 referendum clearly identifies the two choices, one being the current system and the other being the form of STV specifically proposed by the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform. The question is different from that in 2005, in that it removes some language that we heard was perceived as biased in favour of a yes vote, particularly words like "change" and "recommended by." In addition to a number of complaints received during and after the 2005 referendum that the question was not as neutrally worded as it could be, a post-referendum study by the NRG Research Group queried the neutrality of the question.
Government has carefully considered these issues and reviewed referenda questions from other jurisdictions. I believe that the proposed wording is clear and neutral and will help to ensure a fair debate on the important matter of which system British Columbia uses to elect members to this House. I urge all members to support the motion.
I move Motion 57.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to stand here and participate in the discussion on the motion before us today, Motion 57 in the name of the Government House Leader. I listened carefully to the Attorney when we were debating Bill 6, the legislation that would implement the referendum during the coming election campaign in May 2009.
We had, I think, a fairly stimulated debate about the issues, and the Attorney assured this House at that time that executive council would bring forward a question. I'm very pleased that he has ensured that that question is before this Legislature for discussion before it goes on a ballot next May.
In that debate, the Attorney will remember, I raised the issues that had been brought to my attention not just by the alumni of the citizens' assembly, two of whom are from every constituency in the province, but by the two, certainly, from my constituency who were very, very active in promoting and advocating for the single transferable vote. I listened carefully to them at that time and to others who have contacted me in my constituency and here in the Legislature.
I'm pleased to see that the government has brought forward a question that they believe to be as neutral as possible, and I think that neutrality was the crux of the challenge following the debate. There was also the supermajority issue, and we canvassed that issue in committee stage of legislation that was recently passed by this House.
I do still believe that the supermajority is a challenge and an obstacle. If the question, although it may well have been biased in 2005, couldn't achieve the supermajority at that time, with all of the attention that had been focused around the work of the citizens' assembly and all of the promotion of trying to find balance in this place, whether it be having a vibrant opposition or having a government more cognizant of the diversity of opinions in the community, then I'm rather suspect that the question will pass now with the 60 percent — not just 60 percent per constituency but 60 percent of the constituencies.
So I'm pleased to support this motion. I know many of my colleagues want to speak on this, or certainly some of my colleagues do, but I would, hon. Chair, with your indulgence, like to move an amendment to the motion and add the following. It would be the third bullet in the motion, and it would read that you would have the option of the existing electoral system or the first-past-the-post; you would have the option of the single transferable electoral system proposed by the citizens' assembly; and a third one, which would go as follows: "a mixed-member proportional electoral system."
On the amendment.
J. Horgan: That is one of the questions that was put on the ballot in Ontario recently and is certainly another option or alternative for electoral reform, not just here in British Columbia but in Canada.
With that, I move that amendment and seek leave to speak to that.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, the amendment is out of order as it is beyond the scope of legislation on which the motion is based.
[ Page 12800 ]
On the main motion.
J. Horgan: Continuing on the main motion.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly respect your ruling, and I thank you for that, but I do believe that it's important that, certainly on this side of the House, we be on record that there is a multiplicity of alternatives and options for electoral reform. Certainly, the citizens' assembly reviewed all of those, but the mandate of the assembly was very narrow. They were directed to come back with only one option, and the option they selected at that time, at that moment in history in 2004-2005, was the single transferable ballot.
It's my opinion that there are other options. There are other ideas in the community. If we are going to canvass the public again, at significant cost…. A referendum is not without its impact on the treasury. We have, as the Attorney outlined in legislation passed earlier in this House, put forward blocks of money for a yes and a no campaign to actively promote either side of the question.
It's just my opinion, having had the opportunity today to rise on this debate, that we put on record that a mixed-member proportional system is certainly as viable and as legitimate as anything that could have been brought forward by the assembly, as anything that could have been concocted in the executive council. It's something that I believe citizens would want to pass judgment on as well.
Our electoral system is the foundation of our democracy. How we arrive in this place is very important. It is, for many people, their one single opportunity to exercise their judgment on how they would like to see the province coordinate its activities, spend its tax dollars and provide services, whether they be health, education, social services, economic development initiatives and so on.
The foundation of our democracy is how we bring people to this place. We don't draw lots. We don't pick randomly. We put forward names and ideas, and we debate those at election time. I think that if we're going to fundamentally change how we do that, how we send people to this place, which the referendum is contemplating, then there should be a range of options open to the public. I certainly believe that the mixed-member option is one that we on this side of the House — or at least this member, speaking for myself — would want to support.
With that, hon. Speaker, I thank you for your time. Again, I regret but certainly appreciate your ruling on the mixed-member proportional representation idea. I'm hopeful that the Attorney…. I don't know, on a motion, if we're going to have a closure of debate or if the Attorney's remarks were finished. I certainly would like to hear his views on the matter, and I'm certain we could get unanimous consent for that if the House were asked.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the Attorney General closes debate.
Hon. W. Oppal: I appreciate the comments and the advice given by the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca. However, it is the position of the government that the recommendations as proposed by the citizens' assembly be adopted, and accordingly, that is the position of the government.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call Bill Pr401, Bridge River Valley Flying Association (Corporate Restoration) Act.
Mr. Speaker: We'll take a short recess of a couple minutes till the member for Yale-Lillooet gets here.
Second Reading of Bills
BRIDGE RIVER VALLEY FLYING
ASSOCIATION (CORPORATE RESTORATION)
H. Lali: Hon. Speaker, I move that Bill Pr401, Bridge River Valley Flying Association (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2008, be now read a second time.
H. Lali: The Bridge River Valley Flying Association had actually fallen off the records due to some non-reporting over a decade and a half ago, and what this bill does is actually restores the society. As you know, that area up in the Gold Bridge, Bralorne, Bridge River, Tyax area is an area where there will be tourism and recreation activities that are growing and business opportunities coming with it.
What this allows is to actually restore the society. Even though they have, for the last decade and a half, carried on business as usual, they were really in contravention of the law. They're basically restoring the society to allow them to do some of the work that is necessary and to apply for federal, provincial or other types of grants to build fencing, do some brushing and also clearing and grading.
This is so that there would not only be economic opportunities available, but the medevac, the air ambulance, could also land there in case of an emergency. It will be an area that will be growing. That's what this does.
By leave, I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered forthwith.
Bill Pr401, Bridge River Valley Flying Association (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2008, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration forthwith.
Committee of the Whole House
BRIDGE RIVER VALLEY FLYING
ASSOCIATION (CORPORATE RESTORATION)
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill Pr401; K. Whittred in the chair.
[ Page 12801 ]
The committee met at 11:50 a.m.
Sections 1 to 5 inclusive approved.
H. Lali: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 11:51 a.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
BRIDGE RIVER VALLEY FLYING
ASSOCIATION (CORPORATE RESTORATION)
Bill Pr401, Bridge River Valley Flying Association (Corporate Restoration) Act, 2008, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. de Jong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:52 a.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 10:18 a.m.
Hon. B. Penner: If members will indulge me for a moment. Just before I move the formal motion, I would just like to comment on the recent sad news about the passing of our Sergeant-at-Arms here at the Legislature, Tony Humphreys. Most of us here, of course, got to know him over the years as being a fixture in the building and a very dominant personality around the buildings. He cared a great deal about the buildings.
I first met him probably many years before — I was actually elected here in '96 — because I was a legislative intern here prior to that.
But actually, my most vivid memory of Mr. Humphreys has nothing to do with the Legislature, at least not directly. It was in the spring of 2005 during the election campaign, and I was on my way to the campaign office in Chilliwack when I came upon a motor vehicle accident near the former Canadian Forces base in Chilliwack. It had appeared that a cyclist had been hit by a vehicle. In fact, I could see someone's leg sticking out from under a vehicle on the side of the road — obviously, the cyclist's.
So I got out of my vehicle and went to see if there was something I could do to assist, because emergency vehicles had not yet arrived. As I was down on my hands and knees looking under the vehicle, there was a young boy there that was pinned under the vehicle, trapped by the axle. The boy was saying: "Can you do something to get the vehicle off of me?" He was quite lucid, but obviously in some pain and distress.
In the event, it turned out that he had fractured his leg in a couple of places and required a pin or two inserted. But as I was down on my hands and knees pondering what to do, I heard this very calm voice behind me saying: "Well, Barry, what do you think we should do?" I turned around and looked over my shoulder, and there behind me was Tony Humphreys. It was almost as if I was having a strange dream sequence, because it was so out of character for how I usually encountered Tony Humphreys, and it was him.
It turned out he was there to visit some old friends that he had known when he was in the military. He had served a number of years at Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack, so he was in town to visit some of his former colleagues.
The two of us were trying to devise a method to lift this vehicle off the child and got the jack out of the back of the minivan that had unfortunately struck the cyclist. Eventually the emergency crews came, and the boy was successfully extracted from under the vehicle.
That will always be, I think, my most vivid memory of Tony, with him and I working to try and get this boy out from under this car. Quite out of context with what happens around the Legislature, but yet our experience here at the Legislature meant that we knew each other and felt comfortable working together under those trying circumstances.
So Tony will be dearly missed — I know not just by his family and friends but certainly by all of his friends here at the Legislature, including the staff that have worked so closely and loyally with him over the years, keeping us all safe and hopefully looking respectable in the hallways.
That comment is directed particularly towards members of the press gallery who sometimes resented instructions to look appropriate when they were in the Speaker's corridor, but nevertheless, I think that was an appropriate direction from Tony to them.
[ Page 12802 ]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
ENVIRONMENT AND MINISTER
RESPONSIBLE FOR WATER STEWARDSHIP
AND SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES
On Vote 29: ministry operations, $216,815,000 (continued).
Hon. B. Penner: Now, if it suits the member for Vancouver-Hastings, maybe this would be an appropriate time for me to give some quick responses to a couple of matters we didn't have the details on yesterday.
The member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows had a question around the sandhill crane response. I can advise the member that I think it was just yesterday, again, that we had a Ministry of Environment person, a biologist out of our Surrey office, Mr. Blackbird. Tom is his first name. He was out yesterday with members of the HCTF to explain the benefits of the program. I understand there may have been some lack of full awareness on the part of HCTF about the potential benefits.
Our understanding is that there will be a submission made either to the HCTF or by the HCTF, the Habitat Conservation Trust foundation, to do a burn next year. Looks like it did not take place this year. You were asking if one had taken place, and yesterday I wasn't sure. So that's the hope for next year.
This year we do have a B.C. conservation corps team. That's the program with recent graduates and young students to manually clear vegetation along the dikes to reduce predation by coyotes. We'll continue this program next year, as well, in an effort to assist the sandhill cranes in the member's constituency.
There was also a question from the member for Vancouver–Fairview, I believe, pertaining to False Creek. The note that I've just been handed indicates that it's our understanding that False Creek is provincial jurisdiction, while English Bay and Burrard Inlet are federal. The province is one of a number of parties — including the city of Vancouver, the private landowners and the federal Crown — involved with cleanup in False Creek.
Several areas have already been assessed and remediated associated with redevelopment of the uplands. Currently the federal government is undertaking work on federal properties through their agencies, specifically the Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans within False Creek. If the member for Vancouver–Fairview wants additional information, we can endeavour to get those details.
Then lastly, the member for Malahat–Juan de Fuca had a question around TFLs 25 and 19. A certain winter ungulate range, I believe, was the question. Western Forest Products has said that they would maintain the ungulate winter ranges as long as they own the land. I believe replacement areas were found on the same TFLs, 25 and 19, in the area of the TFL that was not removed, and so that's the status.
Now, I understand there may be a change in ownership. I think the member's question pertained to what happens in the event of a change of ownership, and I don't have those details here. So that's still a question that we need to determine.
S. Simpson: I thank the minister for his comments and his story about Mr. Humphreys. I certainly would agree with him, as would I'm sure all the members, that Tony will be sorely missed. It's certainly true. I know that he had a firm hand around attire.
In the Speaker's hallway only yesterday I had a journalist, a TV reporter, who wanted to do an interview. He called up and talked to our communications people and said: "I really need to do this interview, but can the member come out to the rose garden? I forgot my jacket, and I'll never be allowed in the Speaker's hallway without my jacket." That was Tony Humphreys, who assured them and all of the journalists through fear that they actually had to find a tie and a jacket, at least for the men. That has been a challenge for some of our friends in the media.
S. Simpson: We don't have a lot of time this morning. We're going to try to deal with two issues. We're going to deal with parks, and then we're going to see if we have some time for environmental assessment after that. I expect those are the two things that we'll discuss this morning.
Could the minister now tell us, with the additions that have been announced in terms of parks and protected areas, how much acreage or hectares are protected now in British Columbia through the parks and conservancies system?
Hon. B. Penner: At this point we believe that about 14.26 percent of B.C.'s total land base is considered to be dedicated to protected area status. This is according to figures that the integrated land management bureau has provided. That number includes provincially and federally protected areas as well as the publicly announced protected areas for land use plans. So that's the percentage.
In terms of what that translates into in hectares, we're trying confirm and to make sure we've got the most recent numbers. That would include Bill 38, which is currently before the Legislature and may be subject to committee stage debate this afternoon. So it might take until this afternoon to get the full, new, updated number. But I'm advised that Bill 38 contains an extra 660,411 hectares of lands that will receive legal protection.
I've got a note here that as of December 2007 — so before Bill 38 — the amount of area protected through provincial parks, conservancies, ecological reserves and protected areas covered 12,044,112 hectares, or 120,441 square kilometres, that are managed by B.C. Parks through the Ministry of Environment.
[ Page 12803 ]
Again, that number may need to be adjusted to reflect Bill 38 and those additions. If one does that, as it appears my assistant deputy minister for environmental stewardship has just done, then you come up with a total of 12,704,523 hectares. That's assuming, of course, that Bill 38 passes, which I hope it does in the next week or so.
S. Simpson: The minister says that we have almost 13 million hectares of parks and protected areas in the province. What's the annual budget for administration of those parks and protected areas?
Hon. B. Penner: If the member refers to the Supplement to the Estimates document, the member may be pleased to know that now, this year, for the first time we're actually breaking out a separate number for parks management. I know we've had these types of questions in previous years, where the member has been asking us to break down the environmental stewardship division's budget and how much of that pertains to parks management. The member can take some pride in the fact that it's now being done.
On pages 42 and 43, if the member refers to that document, you'll see that in fiscal 2007-2008 we had operating expenses for parks management of $34.83 million and that the amount budgeted for 2008-2009 operating expenses for parks management is listed as $37.777 million.
S. Simpson: We may need to use the math capacity of your ADM here for this again. You never know.
We're roughly talking here — I'm just trying to do this a bit off the top of my head, and I might not be close — something in the range of a little more than $3 a hectare. If you break it down that way, it's what we're spending on total management of our parks and our protected areas. Would that be accurate?
Hon. B. Penner: My assistant deputy minister for environmental stewardship tells me the member's math is roughly correct. It's important to note, though, that spending decisions aren't based on a formula of dollars per hectare. It's based on what our operational needs are, and of course, they vary, depending on the location of the park, the nature of the park or conservancy, its intended use and what the park management plan indicates.
S. Simpson: Yesterday I know that the minister spoke about some increases in staffing positions related to parks. I believe it was five FTEs last year and about four FTEs in new park rangers and the number of three new park planners, as well, for about 11½ positions that have come into play.
Could the minister tell us: in its entirety, when we look at the staff within the ministry that are dedicated to the management and care of our parks and protected areas, how many people are we talking about?
Hon. B. Penner: The total number of people looking after B.C. parks and conservancies would be approximately 1,000 through the course of the year. That number consists of 307 people working directly for government in the form of regional managers, area supervisors, parks and protected areas section heads, park planners, park rangers, executive directors and Victoria branch staff at the headquarters here, and then about 700 employees working for various park facility operators around the province to deliver services.
Oh, just before I take my seat, I should also point out that in response to the previous question on expenditures for B.C. parks, I neglected to mention the capital investments. I think my assistant deputy minister is getting me that number now in terms of capital for the current year. I think capital investments over the last three years have totalled something in the order of $65 million into B.C. parks.
The amount budgeted for this year — I think we're just quickly compiling — may be in the range of $12 million. I'm trying to find it here in the…. Pardon me. It's $14.996 million, so about $15 million.
S. Simpson: Just to clarify that number. The minister said that roughly about 300 ministry staff are involved. Could the minister tell us whether those are 300 FTEs or what the FTE number would be? Could he confirm that of that number — probably about 70 would be my guess — would 70 of those FTEs be park rangers? Or what might that be with rangers?
Hon. B. Penner: It doesn't look like we have the FTE number immediately available to go with the 307 people, the figure I gave earlier. Those are ministry employees. The member is correct. Quite a number of those would be seasonal employees, such as park rangers and other staff. But we don't appear to have a breakdown here of how many FTEs that 307 translates into.
I would believe that…. Well, I was out in the field. A number of those positions are seasonal, whereas some of the more senior positions, especially in headquarters or at the regional level, would be year-round employees.
S. Simpson: Does the minister know the number around park rangers, the full-time-equivalent for park rangers? My sense is that it's about 70 FTEs. Does the minister know if that's accurate?
Hon. B. Penner: We've just apparently been provided with an estimate of the FTE count. It's about 208 overall, with about 73 FTEs in the park ranger category.
S. Simpson: Just to make sure and kind of get some groundwork for that leads me to the discussion that I look to have with the minister for the next few minutes, which is around whether that is sufficient.
The minister made a comment, which I certainly don't disagree with, that the issue is being able to provide adequate management of our parks system. It's
[ Page 12804 ]
not how many people, but it's the ability to provide adequate and quality management of our system with the resources that are applied.
What we know is that we're talking here…. If we have 70 or 73 FTEs, with the amount of hectares that we're talking about in parks and protected areas, we probably have a situation where it's about one ranger to about 200,000 hectares of land. That compares to our national parks here, where it's about one to 65,000 hectares; Alberta, about one to 26,000; Saskatchewan, maybe one to 80,000 or so.
So the question I have for the minister is: considering those discrepancies — and I certainly accept that management practices can make things more efficient, depending on how you apply that management — is the minister satisfied at this point that we are applying enough resources in terms of park rangers to provide the protection in our parks and protected areas that we require, when you consider the vast discrepancy in the numbers in British Columbia versus the numbers that other jurisdictions have clearly determined that they require to meet their needs?
I'm interested in knowing if the minister is satisfied that there are enough resources going in to meet those needs.
Hon. B. Penner: Just to be clear with the member, there are about 225 staff that have park ranger status working for B.C. Parks throughout the year. So the base number that the member may be using to do his calculation needs to take that into account.
Again, it's in the busy seasons that we ramp up or staff up our services, but we don't just rely on park rangers. As the member knows, we also have 700 employees working for us through park facility operators that the ministry contracts with. So we have a different management model than the federal parks.
In addition, we also have conservation officers that provide additional services within B.C. parks when they're called upon to do so. That's different than the model employed by the federal parks, where their park wardens also include the duties that our conservation officers are called upon to do in British Columbia. So in British Columbia we have the extra resources of conservation officers to call upon, when required.
The two branches or services between B.C. Parks and the conservation officer service have become more integrated in recent years, resulting in better operational efficiency and provision of services. We have increased our staffing over the last number of years and our presence through direct ministry personnel fairly considerably in the last three or four years, but we also need to keep in mind that there is good work being done for us, as well, by park facility operators and their employees.
S. Simpson: I appreciate the minister's comments. I would note, in terms of the numbers that I use for other jurisdictions, that I used a number that relates to park rangers and FTEs because it seemed like the best way to have some comparability in terms of the staffing at those different jurisdictions. Rather than using a global number, we used an FTE number to identify that in order to be a little more fair about the use of park rangers in any of the jurisdictions.
I accept the minister's comment that conservation officers sometimes come in and provide a role in the parks, but conservation officers clearly have a very challenging and wide-ranging job of their own in dealing with all the responsibilities they have across the province.
I have to believe that in terms of the day-to-day management of our parks, that's left primarily in the hands of our park rangers in terms of enforcement. That is their responsibility, though clearly conservation officers can come in and support and assist when it's required. But I'm sure it's our park rangers that primarily have responsibility for that.
In terms of the other employees, I appreciate that there is a significant number of private sector employees through licensees that are in our parks now. Yet I'm sure the minister would agree that their training and statutory responsibilities and those of park rangers are very different. They will become even more different after the current legislation that's before the House passes and those park rangers are given additional authorities, comparable to conservation officers in terms of their authority.
I think that's a good thing, and I support that. But that creates an even bigger discrepancy in terms of their authority versus people who are licensed in parks to provide certain services.
Getting back to the question. We have staffing levels that are dramatically different in these jurisdictions. We have funding levels on a per-hectare basis that are dramatically different again, as we had said — a little more than $3 a hectare in terms of the budget here, about $20 a hectare for the national budget and our counterparts in Alberta at about $17, as I understand it.
When we look at the protection of our parks and protected areas…. We're growing those areas — and that's a good thing — with the new areas that are being added. The question is: are we applying enough resources to be able to properly manage those parks and protected areas, or does the minister feel that we're going to need to ramp that up?
Hon. B. Penner: It needs to be stressed that we have a different operating model in British Columbia than in the federal parks. So what the member is talking about is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
The member is right about the roles of park rangers, something I have some familiarity with, having personally had that role in the past. We can never have enough staff to report on every single thing that's going on in our vast land base. So we count on a hierarchy of observation and reporting, which includes people and visitors to the park. The park facility operator staff are trained to observe and record and report and, if they believe it's necessary, to contact park rangers or other park staff.
[ Page 12805 ]
The park rangers themselves know that if there are certain situations, they need to call in backup from the RCMP or the conservation officers. Park rangers in British Columbia, for example, are not equipped with sidearms, and I'm not at the point yet where I'm going to recommend that something like that take place. I don't believe it's necessary.
When B.C. Parks staff get into sticky situations, the protocol is for us to either call on backup from the RCMP if it's a problem in terms of people or, if it's a problem involving wildlife, call on assistance from the conservation officer service.
In addition, B.C. Parks staff do have access to long-barrelled firearms — rifles or shotguns, as the case may be — to deal with certain problem wildlife. We have a whole policy in place around the use of those firearms for those occasions, but that's about dealing with problem wildlife as opposed to dealing with problem campers. That's one point. We have a very different model in terms of managing our parks.
But in terms of the outcomes, what are the results? The results appear to be quite positive. Every year B.C. Parks undertakes a very broad user satisfaction survey, and the results have been increasing in terms of public satisfaction. The most recent results were somewhere in the area of 83 percent public satisfaction.
Our service plan goal is to attain and maintain an 80 percent user satisfaction rate. I'm pleased to report that we've exceeded that and that we're somewhere north of 83 percent, according to the latest survey.
S. Simpson: The minister talks about the very distinct differences in the management systems for B.C. Parks versus our national parks. Maybe the minister could explain some of those or identify for us some of those distinct differences that make this an apples-and-oranges discussion.
Hon. B. Penner: It's a good question. It's a good area to explore, because it is useful for the members of the public to know about the difference.
Beginning in 1983, the maintenance operations in B.C. parks were contracted out to service providers, whereas in federal parks, Parks Canada, I believe all of those services — the camping services, front-country services — are provided by direct government employees of the federal government. So that's a very significant difference. One hundred percent of the front-country camping operations for B.C. Parks are provided by park facility operators under contract with B.C. Parks and the Ministry of Environment.
In terms of back country, there are some areas where back-country services are also provided under contract with some of the major back-country areas like Bowron Lake, whereas some other back-country services are provided by B.C. Parks staff — for example, the back country at Manning Park.
If one were to go on the Skyline trail, the Hozameen camp, the Morich camp or north towards Three Brothers, those areas are still looked after by B.C. Parks staff directly, whereas the front-country camping services in Manning Park are provided by a park facility operator.
That's a pretty fundamental difference, and that change in the management model was adopted in the 1980s and has been maintained ever since.
S. Simpson: We'll talk a little bit more about the park facility operators in a minute, I think.
Getting back a little bit more specifically to those people who provide the responsibilities of a ranger, who act as rangers, whether it is in a national park or in a provincial park…. Could the minister tell us whether he sees significant differences in those responsibilities; i.e., is there an apple-and-oranges position in regard to the role of the park rangers, not the overall staff but the actual rangers, who have responsibility for the park facilities, national versus provincial?
Hon. B. Penner: I'm on somewhat delicate ground, because I'm commenting on the role of park wardens. I'm not intimately familiar with their legal responsibilities. I don't want to step on the toes of our federal counterparts.
But my understanding, such as it is, is that the park wardens have a greater peace officer role, or more peace officer status, than provincial park rangers do. That's what led to an arbitrator's ruling, over the last year or so, that the federal park wardens need to be equipped with side arms, as a police officer would, due to their legal status in terms of being peace officers and having responsibility to enforce certain federal statutes.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
One point of contrast is that provincial park rangers do not have authority under the federal Fisheries Act, for example, whereas I believe the park wardens would, as do the provincial conservation officers. Provincial conservation officers do have enforcement status, I believe, under the federal Fisheries Act as well as a number of other statutes. So our provincial conservation officers do have peace officer status and can get called in to deal with a whole range of issues, whereas park rangers have a more limited suite of enforcement powers.
But as the member correctly notes, we're working on a bill on the other side of the Legislature to give them some greater authority with respect to wildlife.
S. Simpson: As the minister says, that bill will pass at some time in the next week or so, and it will give them greater authority. I think that the greater authority is a good thing. I think it makes sense for park rangers to have greater capacity to be able to protect our parks and the wildlife that reside within them.
What we have is a situation right now where a park ranger who has that authority — and that authority is about to be increased, and rightly so — of having to deal with roughly 200,000 hectares of land per FTE. Now, we can break that down when we get to seasonals, but I'm sure that that's true for seasonal and
[ Page 12806 ]
full-time in every one of the jurisdictions in high seasons, when there are greater visitors.
So it's 200,000 hectares for one ranger. That's roughly, if I understand it right, with the number of parks that we have…. Of course, this is a bit of an apples-and-oranges, because all parks are somewhat different. But it's a large number of parks. It's got to be more than ten parks, 12 parks per ranger, just to provide some sense of the scope of this.
So the question to the minister is: does the minister believe that the park rangers can sufficiently do their job — I know they all work hard and do the best job they can — when they have to deal with 200,000 hectares per ranger, on an FTE basis, in the province? Is that reasonable to expect them to be able to manage 200,000-plus hectares of land, on average?
Hon. B. Penner: As I've already indicated, there are actually 225 staff that have park ranger enforcement capabilities. In total there are 307 staff that work directly as employees for the Ministry of Environment in delivering park services, through a range of functions. I've already enumerated what those various positions are — regional managers, area supervisors, parks and protected areas section heads, park planners, visitors, staff and the like. But the member is, again, overlooking the important role that 700 park facility operator employees play in providing services.
I do believe in an outcomes-based approach, and if you look at the empirical evidence, which we have from the results of visitor satisfaction surveys, visitor satisfaction has been going up. People are indicating that their experience in terms of our parks, whether it's in the front country or the back country, has been a positive one.
Can we improve? We're always looking for ways that we can improve the visitor experience and the performance of B.C. Parks in our protected areas, and that's something we continue to work on.
We're looking to be more specific. We're looking for greater inclusion and involvement of our first nations. We have a first nations internship program within the Ministry of Environment. We're looking to hire a number of seasonal park rangers who come directly from the first nations community in certain parts of the province, where they can bring more of their traditional knowledge to bear in helping us manage some of these new conservancies — for example, in the north coast and midcoast.
We are always looking at ways we can update and improve our operating model, but from the empirical evidence, it appears that the system is generally working well. I'm always interested in how we can make improvements, particularly in terms of signage or better information being made available through our website and that type of thing. That's something we've actually been having conversations about in the last week or so and that we'll continue to do.
We have to keep in mind that we have a number of partners that help us in delivering B.C. Parks services, so to seize on one particular number doesn't actually reflect the total amount of management effort that's being made to manage our parks.
S. Simpson: Here is a place where the minister and I differ. I believe that park rangers have a responsibility. They have a job to do in the park. That's not the job that somebody who operates a boat launch or a concession has, who has been contracted and is part of the commercialization of our parks. It's a different job for these licensees. It isn't their job or their mandate to provide the kind of oversight and protection and compliance protection that rangers provide. I see a very, very big difference in those responsibilities.
The minister talks about 200-odd folks in that category. The question I would have for the minister is: how many of those 200 spend the predominant amount of their time in the field?
Hon. B. Penner: I would say that most of them do. It's interesting to hear the member's comments about what he thinks the role of a park ranger is. As the member knows, I used to do that job myself.
I believe that the management model we have is appropriate and that through the extra eyes and ears of park facilities staff and the other partners we have, the park rangers are able to do the job that we're asking them to do. Again, the proof is in the pudding. The visitor satisfaction surveys indicate that visitor satisfaction is on the increase. I'm certainly not aware of any specific issues that have come to light in recent years around problems that people would say are attributed to not having a sufficient presence in our parks system.
Are there things we can do to improve? We're always looking for ways that we can improve things. The member made a comment about commercialization of parks. I would just point out that the NDP was in office for ten years and didn't do anything about contracting in the maintenance or the provision of services within our B.C. parks system.
The current model was in effect throughout the 1990s and, in fact, went into effect starting in 1983 until about the year 1986-1987, when I was working for B.C. Parks, when the provision of all maintenance services and looking after camping facilities and that type of thing were done on a competitive bid process in an attempt to make sure that taxpayers' interests were respected in terms of getting the best value for money, while also putting in place strict performance requirements in those service contracts so that we can make sure that we get the best possible amount of service to our parks system and maintain the standards that people have come to expect when visiting B.C. parks.
Anecdotally, I can tell the member, too, that I continue to get letters from people that say that of all the parks systems that they visit, they prefer B.C. parks. I think B.C. parks are incredibly popular with the public and with visitors from abroad. I don't get many people telling me — no offence to Alberta or even Saskatchewan — that they'd rather camp in an Alberta park or a
[ Page 12807 ]
Saskatchewan park. They like B.C. parks, and they like them a lot.
S. Simpson: I get a lot of letters too, and many of those raise concerns about what people feel is an erosion in our parks. I'm sure the minister would agree with me that neither the B.C. Liberals nor the NDP nor Social Credit before that can take credit for the natural beauty of British Columbia, which clearly far surpasses what's available in Alberta.
Could the minister tell us what the visitor numbers for parks have been in British Columbia for the last three years?
Hon. B. Penner: For the years '05-06 and '06-07 we recorded a 7 percent increase over those two years. However, last year, '07-08, we looked at a 4 percent decline. The number in the camping category, the overnight category, was up 2.2 percent, but day use was down by 5.5 percent. Staff attribute that largely to the poor weather we had through much of last summer, particularly on weekends when people tend to choose to go to the beach or the picnic areas.
I have a bit more detail on the visitors satisfaction survey to address some of the member's concerns around the roles of park rangers versus other staff. Probably the most on point would be that people are asked about their sense of security when visiting B.C. parks. We got an 87 percent score in terms of satisfaction, people's sense of security, when visiting B.C. parks.
In terms of cleanliness of grounds, we got a 94 percent score in terms of people's satisfaction with the cleanliness that they encountered in B.C. parks, and in terms of maintaining natural surroundings, a 91 percent satisfaction score, etc. I think that's fairly positive.
S. Simpson: When I look in the service plan on page 29 — it's part of the reason for the question — I see that the baseline for park visits is set at about 18 million for '04-05, and then it jumps up to get into forecasts and targets. What I was looking for are raw numbers for '05-06 and '06-07 since we seem to have them for '04-05, and then we jump to forecasts and targets and away from real numbers.
Hon. B. Penner: The numbers I have in this document indicate that for '05-06, the actual number was 18.3 million — and keep in mind that's, again, a combination of overnight visitors or campground use in addition to day use — and '06-07 recorded an increase to 19 million total. Then last year we had a decrease in day use although an increase in campers, resulting in a combined total of 18.2 million visits to B.C. parks. I see in a footnote that that's based on attendance data from April 2007 through to January 2008.
S. Simpson: The visitor satisfaction information. I see here that we had 80 percent at the baseline and then 83 percent, I think, in '07-08 for the forecast, and then projections to maintain or improve that. Could the minister tell us how that information is collected?
Hon. B. Penner: I'm just taking a look at page 29 of the ministry service plan, which the member may have with him. If you'll look under the chart or the bar there about park visitation and visitor satisfaction, there's a footnote. It says, in terms of visitor satisfaction: "The satisfaction rating is based on an extensive satisfaction survey that is conducted in campgrounds and day use areas around the province and is based on nearly 5,000 respondents."
I'm told by staff next to me that what we do is survey about one-third of day use operations and camping operations every year with a written survey. So it's provided to people that are actually in the park. It's done on a random basis, and then people can return those surveys by putting them in the mail or in a drop box. Then the results of those surveys are analyzed.
Further on page 29 of the service plan it says: "Since 1985 the ministry has monitored the effectiveness of providing services in provincial park campgrounds and day use areas by conducting an annual satisfaction survey with a random sample of park visitors in these campgrounds." So that's been going on for about 23 years in order to provide a baseline.
In order for a number to show up in the "good" column, people have to indicate that their rating of the particular service or the question is excellent or above average. So when we're striving for an 80 percent or 83 percent satisfaction response, what we're actually looking for is 83 percent of people rating the particular service as excellent or above average.
M. Sather: Time is short, but I do want to comment on what the minister said about the cranes in Pitt Meadows and help that may be coming to that endangered population. It's really encouraging news, and I wanted to thank the minister for his role in assisting these birds. It's certainly hopeful that we can save them, and it will help the work that's anticipated.
Now on to the bad news. The once-proud B.C. Parks system has been decimated under this government, and I don't mean the land base itself. I mean the services within those parks, and nowhere more so than in the interpretive services. That's the natural history services that are provided in parks — very valuable information.
People need to know about nature. They need to understand their relationship to nature. It's exceedingly important, and that service was eliminated by this government a few years ago. It's now staggering back in a haphazard form.
I wanted to ask the minister about a park in my neighbourhood, Golden Ears Provincial Park, the most visited park in British Columbia. Can he tell me how many interpretive park service naturalists there will be in the park this summer?
Hon. B. Penner: With respect to Golden Ears Provincial Park, it has been built right into the service
[ Page 12808 ]
contract with the park facility operator. One of the services they must deliver and administer is the provision of park interpretive services. So there will be interpretive services this year at Golden Ears. I don't have the numbers with me in terms of the number of staff that will be employed by the PFO in delivering that service, but that is what they are required to do in their contract.
I just have to say that I completely disagree with the member's characterization of what has happened in B.C. parks. People have expressed that clearly through the visitor satisfaction survey that I've already talked about. Satisfaction levels are going up in terms of people's satisfaction with their experience in B.C. parks. I already mentioned a number of those responses on an individual basis, but our global number now, I think, in terms of the document I just had in front of me, is 84 percent satisfaction overall.
M. Sather: Well, the information I have — and this would be consistent with what happened last year — is that B.C. Nature, formerly the Federation of B.C. Naturalists, provide…. Through them, the naturalists are provided to the park.
My understanding is that only one, so far, has been provided and that they're looking for a second one. I'd like to ask the minister: who provides the funding for those positions?
Hon. B. Penner: I wonder if the member could clarify his question somewhat. When you say one is provided, I'm not sure what you're referring to.
M. Sather: I'm referring to one naturalist for Golden Ears Park this summer for the interpretive program. That's provided through B.C. Nature. I was asking the minister who pays for those naturalists.
Hon. B. Penner: In terms of some of the specifics in the member's question, we'll have to get back to the member on that, because I don't have some of those details.
As I indicated earlier, it's now a part of the service delivery contract for the park facility operator responsible for delivering services at Golden Ears Provincial Park to provide park interpretive services. Whether they do that through an agreement with B.C. Nature or just how they are going to do that, I can't comment. I don't know exactly what they'll be doing to deliver on their obligation to provide interpretive services.
We do have a good relationship with B.C. Nature. In fact, the Ministry of Environment helps fund them to deliver some services on behalf of the Ministry of Environment and B.C. Parks, and I understand that B.C. Nature also gets funding from other sources.
In addition, in the B.C. conservation corps program, which I mentioned tangentially earlier, we have 150 people — recent graduates, young people and students — that work for us through the course of a year. A number of those positions do focus on providing park interpretive services for B.C. Parks in cooperation with park facility operators and the Ministry of Environment.
This year there will be 15 conservation corps interpretive positions delivered that way. There are additional positions provided through B.C. Nature. I think we're anticipating perhaps up to 25 additional interpretive positions delivered by B.C. Nature. Then there are the PFOs, park facility operators, who may have their own staff delivering those services directly.
M. Sather: The information I have is that B.C. Nature is applying for money from Service Canada for these positions. They got the money for one. The government has not only eradicated the natural history services in parks, but now they don't even fund them. It's the federal government that's funding them. So it's a complete lack of support there, and I think the government really has to pick it up on that end of things.
I just want, lastly, to comment on the minister's comments about visitor satisfaction. Well, I can tell the minister that I get a lot of expressions of dissatisfaction with Golden Ears Park. It's largely around — well, in part at least….
There are a couple of things. One is the parking there and having to pay for it — constant complaints about that. That is partly responsible, no doubt about it, for why visitor day use has dropped. I hear that anecdotally, and we know it's in the numbers as well. The other thing is about trail maintenance. The lack thereof in Golden Ears Park is astounding.
I'm hoping that the minister will look into this. I think it's a severe problem with funding in the parks service. I'm hoping that the Premier will look at this and cabinet will look at this and will start to fund our parks adequately.
Hon. B. Penner: Again, I'm not sure the member heard my previous answer. It appears he wasn't tracking it very closely. I said that, in fact, we do fund B.C. Nature through the Ministry of Environment, and I think they're to be congratulated for also looking for additional dollars. I'm not sure why the member would be offended by B.C. Nature attracting funding from other levels of government in addition to the provincial government.
Certainly, I'm not averse to that, particularly if it helps them deliver even more services for British Columbians. I think they're to be commended for that. I can't say much more about it than that.
In terms of the day use fees, the member should keep in mind that we ask people to pay for camping, and people using day use services are being asked to contribute a very modest amount to the provision of the day use services.
I think the program is actually working quite well. It's generating about a million dollars. It comes into the park system to help deliver programs. I am not inclined to turn my back on a million dollars, particularly when the member just said: "Why don't you spend more?" If we were to give up on a million dollars of revenue, it would be very difficult to do that.
[ Page 12809 ]
[The bells were rung.]
The Chair: At this time Committee A will recess until the vote in the legislative chambers. Committee A is recessed.
The committee recessed from 11:28 a.m. to 11:41 a.m.
[B. Lekstrom in the chair.]
C. Evans: I'm aware that we only have a few minutes. So I'm going to try and fit this into only one question. There's a bit of a prologue. I'd like to talk about the Creston Valley wildlife management area. The minister, the minister's staff and I have discussed it several times, so he knows where it is.
The Creston Valley wildlife management area is part of the Creston Valley flatlands, which is part of the western flyway. It was once called the Valley of the Swans. It is part of the land where international migratory birds move from Alaska, in the United States, through Canada on their way up, often to the Arctic, to their summer nesting area. People proposed it as a wildlife reserve ever since the 1900s, when the land began to be diked and used for agriculture and the swampland used by the birds was being eradicated.
It wasn't until the Columbia River treaty between the United States and Canada that wiped out marshland, nesting area in Libby, Montana, all through the Duncan valley up to behind the Mica dam, all through the Arrow Lakes…. The United States and Canada signed an agreement that Canada would have 60 million acre-feet of water held on what had been marshland. So you can imagine that that is many, many square miles of the western flyway that we took from marshland and nesting habitat and made into reservoirs.
As the water began to come up behind the Duncan dam, people of wisdom in Canada looked and said: "Oh, my goodness. We're about to wipe out the western flyway."
The Creston Valley wildlife management area was negotiated between Canada, represented by Lester Pearson, and British Columbia, represented by W.A.C. Bennett. They said: "Okay, if we're going to wipe out an international flyway while we sign an international agreement" — which the International Joint Commission was involved in — "then we should make up the habitat."
So 17,000 acres were set aside in Creston in order to try to make up nesting habitat to make up for the 60 million acre-feet that we were about to flood. Dikes were built. Pumps were put in place.
This is not a park. This is a constructed, engineered nesting area in order to try to make up for many, many square miles on both sides of the border.
It was agreed that $250,000 would be put in by the province and by the federal government each, each year, in order to support this man-made wildlife preserve, to try to keep up our international agreements. In the intervening 30 years both Canada and the province have withdrawn, and now every year the minister's staff are approached to put in some kind of stopgap measure to try to keep it alive.
The staff who've been working there for 30 years don't have any pensions. They're provincial employees. They've worked their lives, but they work on contract. They don't have regular terms.
Dikes don't have regular maintenance funds. Some of the pumps don't work. Essentially, what's happened is that now that the dams are in place and Canada has forgotten, so has British Columbia.
We are in danger of losing the area. I've talked with the minister and the minister's staff about it. Steve Bullock, who is the chair looking after the place, has written the first really honest letter I've ever seen, copping to the fact that we no longer keep our word and cannot sustain the property.
I only have one question, and it's really simple. I don't think this is fixable here in estimates. I don't think it's fixable in a meeting in the minister's office. I would like to ask the minister to accompany me on a non-partisan visit to the Creston Valley wildlife management area — take an entire day and see if we can address the issues and figure out a future, or admit it publicly and sell the place and forget it.
Hon. B. Penner: We're not prepared to walk away from that area or the vision that people have to create a long-term, sustainable operation. It's something that the ministry would like to see happen. We are undertaking what I'm told is a mandate review this year, so we'll have more to say later.
In terms of scheduling for when the House rises, I am working with my scheduling assistant now to see what we can do this summer to get me out and about. The area that the member mentions is one that's on my list of things I'd like to do. I can't guarantee just when I'll get there, but it's certainly an area that I am interested in visiting.
C. Evans: I'd like to go with the minister, so could the minister's staff advise me? Sometimes when the government comes to Creston, I get six hours' notice, and I'm somewhere else. I would love it if the minister would make a commitment that I could accompany him to the place.
Hon. B. Penner: I'll see what I can do. Sometimes I get less than six hours' notice about where I'm going to have to go, but I'll see what we can arrange.
S. Simpson: As we have probably about six or seven minutes tops here before we shut these estimates down, I have a couple of quick questions related to environmental assessment — specific questions.
The first of those questions relates to independent power projects. The minister will know that the requirement for environmental assessment is 50 megawatts or more of power in order for there to be a full environmental assessment.
The concerns that have been raised to me are that, largely, much of the environmental impact of these projects comes not necessarily from the amount of power that's produced but from all of the construction related to these projects and the activity that goes on
[ Page 12810 ]
during the construction period leading up to the projects. That's a significant amount of the environmental impact, and it's not governed, necessarily, by the amount of power that's created by the projects.
The question I have for the minister is: is there any consideration to change the way that the cutoff is established so that it's not about power, necessarily, but it also considers the amount of property or land or the level of impact from the construction period, which is often a significant part of the environmental impact?
Hon. B. Penner: I think the best way to address this is to note that the considerations in terms of the issuance of a water licence are the same from an environmental perspective whether the project is above 50 megawatts or below. All run-of-river power projects require a water licence to build and operate. Some larger projects, as the member notes, would require also a certificate under the Environmental Assessment Act.
In any event, an application for a water licence must first be issued by the Ministry of Environment. Before that is done or is considered, a water licence application must be supported by a project development plan providing details of the project proposal. A development plan would also contain details of the river hydrology, impact assessment and proposals for mitigation. It would also have to include any discussions with first nations, other interested parties and the public.
The Ministry of Environment will provide notice to other affected licensees, applicants and riparian owners. The Ministry of Environment will also consult with first nations and seek input from DFO and other governmental agencies, including local governments. If a decision is made to issue a water licence, the licence would contain a number of conditions that must be met during and after construction.
All water power licences are now limited to a term of 40 years. That's a change that our government made in 2003 with amendments to the Water Act. I note that the previous government issued water licences in perpetuity, without an end date. That's something that we felt was ripe for reform, so we did it. We put a maximum term on those water licences. They expire after 40 years.
In total, there are something in the order of 50 or more different approvals from different agencies — more than a dozen different governmental agencies, federal and provincial — that are required before a small hydro or run-of-river project can proceed. There are also Crown land requirements. In most cases, these projects are proposed on Crown land, so they need to obtain a tenure or a lease from the integrated land management bureau. There's also an end date on that lease.
So it's completely false when members of the opposition say that we're privatizing or selling rivers and creeks in British Columbia. At most, they're being rented for a fixed period of time. Anyone who's ever lived in an apartment building, as I did when I was a student in university, knows the difference between renting and owning. When you're renting, the landlord calls the shots. At the end of the day, when you stop paying rent or your lease expires, the landlord takes over, and that's the case here.
At the end of the water licence period and the Crown land tenure, any fixed assets will stay with the land. That's a basic matter of property law, but it's also included in the Crown land tenures that are issued. In fact, the government retains the right to force the occupant of Crown land to take out those fixtures if the government of the day considers it necessary to do that. But stated differently, those assets can stay, and the public will get the benefit from those investments and the improvements that have been made to the land in terms of the penstock or the powerhouse, etc.
S. Simpson: I know that we're short of time. I appreciate the minister's sensitivity as his government gives away the rivers in this province to the private sector. I'd be sensitive, too, if I was the Minister of Environment.
Noting the time, I will file a series of questions related to the environmental assessment in writing. Hopefully, the ministry will answer those questions. With that, I'm done.
The Chair: Minister, Vote 29 has been moved already. We could vote on that prior to going to the other votes, if you would like.
Hon. B. Penner: Sure. Just before doing that, I'd like to put on the record that far more licence applications for power generation purposes have either been denied or people have abandoned those applications than have been granted.
Again, the member used the terminology "giving away," which is also false. In fact, people have to pay not solely for the application fee, which the members like to dwell on, but because it's a rental, people pay a water rental fee to the province of British Columbia that often amounts to millions of dollars over the life of the project. That revenue goes back into providing services for British Columbians.
It was the opposition, back when they were in government, that granted water licences without expiry dates and, in fact, cut water rental rates to support small hydro projects.
I'll quote from a government news release that the NDP put out on August 1, 2000. Headline: "Lower Water Rental Rates Stimulate Small Hydro Projects." The Minister of Environment of the day, Joan Sawicki, said that the government of the day, the NDP, were doing this to "take advantage of the environmental benefits offered by small hydro projects."
That's a direct quote from the news release issued by the NDP Environment Minister of the day that they were cutting water rental rates for IPPs in order to encourage more of these projects to go ahead because, again in Joan Sawicki's words, this would help them "take advantage of the environmental benefits offered by small hydro projects."
So it's interesting how the current opposition, the current NDP, has a much different view of how we need to generate electricity in British Columbia.
[ Page 12811 ]
Anyway, with regard to Vote 29, I think we can now have a vote on that.
Vote 29: ministry operations, $216,815,000 — approved.
Vote 30: climate action secretariat, $15,458,000 — approved.
Vote 31: environmental assessment office, $10,508,000 — approved.
Vote 50: Environmental Appeal Board and Forest Appeals Commission, $2,096,000 — approved.
The Chair: At this time the Legislature has adjourned. Committee A will stand recessed until this afternoon.
The committee recessed at 11:59 a.m.
[ Return to: Legislative Assembly Home Page ]
Hansard Services publishes transcripts both in print and on the Internet.
Chamber debates are broadcast on television and webcast on the Internet.
Question Period podcasts are available on the Internet.
TV channel guide • Broadcast schedule
Copyright © 2008: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada