2009 Legislative Session: First Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Volume 5, Number 2
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill Pr401 — Verigin Memorial Park Amendment Act, 2009
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Livable community award for Gibsons
Cheakamus community forest agreement
Gay and Lesbian Business Association of B.C.
Grouse Mountain wind turbine project
Rain forest protection and oil tanker traffic in B.C.
Addiction treatment facility in Keremeos
Funding for mental health services in Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast
Hon. K. Falcon
Funding for mental health services in northern B.C.
Hon. K. Falcon
Funding for repairs at Johnston Heights Secondary School
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Manufacturing of Olympic Games flags
Hon. M. McNeil
Motions Without Notice
Appointment of Special Committee to Appoint a Merit Commissioner
Hon. M. de Jong
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 11 — Labour Mobility Act
Hon. M. Stilwell
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 11 — Labour Mobility Act
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 12 — Ombudsman Amendment Act, 2009
Hon. M. de Jong
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 12 — Ombudsman Amendment Act, 2009
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport
Hon. I. Chong
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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2009
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
L. Krog: Joining us in the gallery today is Judy Reimche. Accompanying her are a number of students from the Western Academy of Photography class. They come annually, and I trust they're going to watch an interesting question period. I would ask the House to please make them welcome.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'm delighted to welcome one of my brothers, Andrew MacDiarmid, who is here visiting with his family from Winnipeg. Like everyone else here, I really wouldn't be here without the support of wonderful family, so I would like the House to join me in making him warmly welcome.
E. Foster: Visiting today from Toronto we have Mr. Larry Moore, who is the vice-president of Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association; and my brother-in-law, Mr. Vaughn Crofford, president of the Canadian Hardware and Housewares Manufacturers Association. They're in Victoria this week to promote a recycling stewardship program within their industry. I would ask that the House make them welcome.
M. Mungall: It's my great pleasure to introduce the House to Adrienne Smith, Timothy Chu and Blake Frederick.
They're here from the Alma Mater Society at UBC. May the House make them very welcome.
First Reading of Bills
Bill Pr401 — VERIGIN MEMORIAL
PARK AMENDMENT ACT, 2009
K. Conroy presented a bill intituled Verigin Memorial Park Amendment Act, 2009.
K. Conroy: This private bill was initiated by the Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ, more commonly known as the Doukhobor community. The Doukhobors' original spiritual leader was Peter V. Verigin, Peter the Lordly. He is interred at Verigin's tomb in Brilliant just outside of Castlegar. Over the years other family members have also been laid to rest in this beautiful and spiritual site.
It has come to the attention of the community that there needed to be an amendment to the original act allowing for the interment of these descendants. This amendment simply ensures that all who rest there now and in the future do so with the proper authorization.
The Doukhobors with their current leader, John J. Verigin Jr., more affectionately known as J.J. Jr., are respected and acknowledged throughout our province and indeed Canada and internationally. Their history spans over a hundred years in this province. I welcome the opportunity to sponsor this bill, which would allow the suitable interment of the leadership of these industrious people who truly live their philosophy of toil and peaceful living.
Mr. Speaker, I move the bill be referred to the Select Standing Committee on Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders and Private Bills.
Bill Pr401, Verigin Memorial Park Amendment Act, 2009, introduced, read a first time and referred to the Select Standing Committee on Parliamentary Reform, Ethical Conduct, Standing Orders and Private Bills.
(Standing Order 25B)
livable community award for gibsons
N. Simons: On Monday of last week the town of Gibsons was awarded a gold in the Whole City category of the thirteenth annual UN-sanctioned LivCom livable communities award in Pilsen, Czech Republic.
The award was designed to encourage best practice, innovation and leadership in providing a vibrant environmentally sustainable community that improves quality of life. I'd like to congratulate Mayor Barry Janyk, his council and of course the staff and residents. So I wrote a poem.
Mr. Speaker, it's with much pleasure that I report this news for us to treasure.
The town of Gibsons has won a prize that says it's special for its size.
The UN-sponsored nominators chose the home of the Beachcombers as the world's most livable community in the under-20,000 category.
They also won, it should be noted, in addition to the category quoted, for being best overall at planning ahead against 26 countries, it must be said.
For lifestyle and for sustainability, not to mention their geothermal energy, Gibsons was seen to reach perfection for its smart growth and its heritage protection.
The seaside town of Molly's Reach, where J.S. Woodsworth learned to preach, is a perfect place to go retire, to start a business or join a choir.
Sure, our big smoke neighbour is big and pretty.
I'm not talking about the mayor; I'm referring to his city.
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But Vancouver will try with futility to match the town of Gibsons' livability.
So here's to the town that protects its past, that knows its water has to last, that its scenic views are there to share, and for the future, we must all prepare.
J. McIntyre: I rise today to pay tribute to all those involved in the successful launch of the Cheakamus community forest limited partnership. I was privileged to attend the recent opening ceremony at the Squamish cultural centre in Whistler where community members and partners gathered to celebrate and mark the significance of the partnership among the resort municipality of Whistler — or RMOW — and the Squamish and Lil'wat First Nations in achieving the first 25-year tenure licence with the province.
Cheakamus community forest is one of the first operations on the B.C. coast to employ a new ecosystem-based management approach, which will allow for timber forest harvesting without compromising the forest ecosystems or undermining other tourism, recreation or cultural forest values.
Community forest agreements are a mechanism by which the province transfers decision-making to communities that wish to more fully participate in the stewardship of their local land base. They support new options in economics, recreation, wildlife and watershed management.
In this case, it provides a great opportunity for the RMOW, Squamish and Lil'wat Nations to further strengthen their ties through an equal economic partnership that honours cultural traditions and manages resources in a manner that protects the wild spirit places, now known as conservancies, that were recognized in the Sea to Sky land and resource management plan.
This agreement offers the partnership the right to an annual harvest of 20,000 cubic metres of the 30,000 hectares in the surrounding Whistler area. The region encompasses the Callaghan and Brandywine valleys to the south, the Wedge, 16-, 19- and 21-Mile valleys to the north, and Cheakamus valley to the southeast.
More than three-quarters of this land are alpine lands that will contribute to the management of forest values other than a productive working forest, which makes this community forest agreement unique.
This agreement represents a dream come true for many in the community, such as forester Don MacLaurin; Peter Ackhurst, the inaugural chair; and former Whistler mayors going back to Terry Rogers, Ted Nebbeling, Hugh O'Reilly and current Mayor Melamed.
Congratulations to Heather Beresford and her team from RMOW, and importantly, congratulations to the three equal partners for their vision, their spirit of cooperation and mutual respect in making this a reality.
GAY AND LESBIAN BUSINESS
ASSOCIATION OF B.C.
S. Herbert: I rise today to speak about love and business. As fellow members will know, starting and running a business takes a lot of work and usually involves a love or a passion for the product or service you are providing.
Someone who knows that well is a constituent of mine, a humble man who prefers to go unnamed. This summer he shared with me how, in the 1980s, he was fired because of love. You see, he loved a man. He loved the business he did, but he was fired because of the love for his partner.
I asked him what he did at that point. First, he said that he kept on loving his partner. Then he said he got engaged — politically engaged — since marriage wasn't allowed then, so he joined the party I represent. It was the only party at that time that stood for his right to love, and he fought for equal rights. He did that, but equally important, in my view, he wouldn't let the love for his business die, so he started his own company.
He loved the business, and he prospered. He could only dream at that time that there would be an organization like the GLBA, the Gay and Lesbian Business Association of British Columbia, which now represents nearly 1,000 business and business professionals across B.C.
The GLBA would have helped him immeasurably. It's an association crucial for many gay, lesbian, trans and bi entrepreneurs in B.C. today, whether it's networking, marketing, member services or education. In addition, the GLBA has formed the Loud Foundation, whose focus is support for queer youth and queer seniors.
Whether it's setting up a meeting that leads to a crucial business deal, supporting high school students with a scholarship, marketing a service to new audiences or working to ensure our seniors, when entering a retirement home, don't have to end up back in the closet because of homophobia, the GLBA and the Loud Foundation are working on all our behalf, including my constituent.
I'm glad to be a member and thankful to the Gay and Lesbian Business Association of B.C. for bringing love and business together so well.
WIND TURBINE PROJECT
R. Sultan: If you were in Vancouver this month, you would probably have noticed the shiny addition to our North Shore skyline, the Grouse Mountain wind turbine, otherwise known as the Eye of the Wind.
This highly visible green power initiative was conceived four years ago. Its implementation involves several hundred experts and workers from all around the world. Parts were sourced from Canada, the United States,
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France, Austria, Denmark, Mexico, Italy, Finland and Korea. These modules were assembled in a mere two days in late September.
The completed tower is 65 metres tall. The diameter of the sculpted blades is about 77 metres. Those blade tips will swish by at full power at about 260 kilometres per hour.
Over the next few months electrical systems will be hooked up, a seven-passenger elevator will be installed and finishing touches put on a 35-person view pod at the top of the turbine. It will be completed just in time for the arrival of guests for the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Games. The entire project is privately funded. From just this single turbine, Grouse Mountain will generate approximately one quarter of its total energy requirements.
A quiet revolution is clearly underway on Grouse Mountain. I encourage everyone to get out their skis, ride the spectacular gondola up to the top, have a gourmet meal at their fine restaurant and then be inspired by a view which goes all the way up to the Chilcotin from the top of the tower — the best view this side of Kicking Horse.
Eye of the Wind is a demonstration of Grouse Mountain Resort's continued commitment to sustainability. CEO Stuart McLaughlin hopes that this iconic structure will challenge how we approach our other abundant green energy opportunities.
RAIN FOREST PROTECTION
AND OIL TANKER TRAFFIC IN B.C.
G. Coons: The rain forest coast of British Columbia is the largest remaining intact temperate rain forest left in the world. While it is often the beauty of our rain forest which captivates visitors, it is the productiveness of these forests that makes them so vital. They feature the highest biomass per hectare of any ecosystem on earth. They provide critical habitat for diversity of wildlife and provide spawning and rearing habitat for five species of Pacific salmon.
Last week was World Rainforest Week. Every year the Rainforest Action Network takes this opportunity to highlight rain forest destruction around the world. Usually we think of the rape and pillage of the Amazon rain forest, but this year the network highlighted a little-known threat that tar sands development poses to the temperate rain forests in British Columbia.
Our rain forest, the Great Bear that stretches the entire central coast all the way to the Alaskan border, is being threatened by the most destructive project on the planet, the tar sands of Alberta. Despite the illogical push from all governments to expand tar sands and strip mining, many comprehend the implications. Spills along the 1,000-kilometre pipeline are certain, but the real threat to B.C.'s rain forest is a shipping route that will carry tar sands by supertankers through 100 kilometres of narrow inlets.
The people of British Columbia aren't fooled. A recent poll found that 72 percent of British Columbians want oil tankers banned, and first nations are very clear where they stand. The Haida "will certainly not accept tanker traffic in our waters." The Gitga'at: "There is nothing but risk in this whole process." The Wet'suwet'en: "We don't want it." The Haisla: "We will not allow any project including Enbridge to proceed if it illegally infringes on our constitutionally protected rights."
Last month northwest residents dodged a bullet when a boat freighter ran aground at full speed outside Kitimat, luckily with no environmental damage. Had this been an oil tanker with full payload, it could have been catastrophic. Last week World Rainforest Week helped strengthen my resolve to protect our Great Bear rain forest.
ADDICTION TREATMENT FACILITY
J. Slater: The official opening of the Crossing at Keremeos took place on July 7, 2009. This marked the launch of British Columbia's first long-term treatment centre for youth who are battling the challenges of drug and alcohol problems.
The creation of this world-class facility could not have happened without the support of the Ministry of Health Services along with the following organizations: the Interior, Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health associations, community organizations, Central City Foundation and From Grief to Action society.
Prior to the opening of this facility, our youth had to leave the province for this type of treatment, but now youth are able to stay in British Columbia for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. They will now be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives and reconnect with their families and communities.
The Crossing at Keremeos is a 42-bed facility set on 58 acres in beautiful Keremeos. Eligibility for the program is open to teens and young adults aged 14 to 24, upon referral. The youth are able to stay in the facility for up to a year, learning self-respect and coping skills which are pivotal in the transition to adulthood. They will receive group and individual therapy sessions as well as access to high school and vocational courses.
This project has created 30 full-time positions, and the first graduates will be sometime in February 2010. Through the Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health and Interior Health Authorities, $2 million has been dedicated to the capital of this project and $2.4 million annually for operating costs.
Each year more than a billion dollars is spent to support mental health and addiction services throughout
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the province. This centre is an example of the province's continued effort for health promotion and prevention. I would like to thank everyone who helped make this facility possible. By investing in our youth, we are investing in our future. This is an example.
FUNDING FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
IN LOWER MAINLAND AND SUNSHINE COAST
A. Dix: This week mental health and addiction agencies contracted by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority received letters detailing deep cuts in their funding. We already know in Vancouver Coastal that on the North Shore, agencies like West Coast Alternatives saw all their funding disappear. In Richmond, agencies like Richmond Addiction Services saw all their funding disappear in an agency that serves a community of 174,000 people. Now agencies in Vancouver Community are dealing with dramatic cuts as well.
Can the minister explain why, during what everyone recognizes is a mental health and addictions crisis in the Lower Mainland, the minister is slashing evidence-based mental health and addiction programs?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, the member is wrong when he characterizes it like that. The member should know — and we actually had this discussion some weeks ago — that what is happening is that as we learn more about addiction services, we find there are concurrent disorders. People no longer just have mental health issues; they also have addiction issues. Both of those concurrent disorders need to be treated differently.
There are mental health contracts out there that were providing mental health services and, in many cases, very good mental health services. What Vancouver Coastal is doing, in looking at what best practices say, is that we have to look at how we treat those folks, particularly with concurrent disorders, to ensure we're providing them the treatment they need. Sometimes that means that the old ways didn't work, and you've got to do it differently. That's what they're doing, and it's the right thing to do.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
A. Dix: Without consultation, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the minister cancelled programs — without consultation. This was a budget-driven process. Dozens of agencies this week have got letters substantially cutting their funding. There's nothing evidence-based about this.
Yesterday he called cuts "changes." Today I think cuts are repatriation. Cuts are cuts, and people are going to feel them in Vancouver Coastal Health.
Now, my supplementary is this. While mental health and addiction agencies — dozens of them — are dealing with these cuts today, Vancouver Coastal mental health and addiction services staff on the Sunshine Coast are holding a golfing event at the Sechelt Golf and Country Club. It's not the staff's fault. Attendance is mandatory. To quote from the Vancouver Coastal Health internal document: "This a regular work day for everyone, so you need to come."
How can the minister defend, on the very day that clients and service providers are seeing dramatic cuts in their services, having staff taking part in a work-mandated golf tournament?
Hon. K. Falcon: There goes the member again, completely mischaracterizing and trying to misrepresent what's actually taking place. I said this yesterday. It's amazing to me that in the NDP world, nothing should ever change. Doesn't matter what information you have, doesn't matter what evidence you discover, you should never change a service or do anything differently. That goes against the very core of that member's belief system — that nothing can ever change.
The fact of the matter is the world does change. We know, for example, that when we opened up the Burnaby facility, we discovered that 55 to 60 percent of the people that were presenting in the Burnaby facility for mental health and addictions had concurrent disorders. That means you have to treat them differently. It means you have to do things differently.
It doesn't mean, by the way, Member, that you just continue to fund every single service that's out there. You don't change a thing. You don't look at all the evidence. You don't try something different based on the evidence and what it tells you to do.
That's what he would do. That's why they ran deficits every year. That's why they had a mental health plan that they introduced, which had zero dollars attached to it. That was the chief of staff that signed off on it.
We're not doing that. We're funding real services to protect real people and make sure they get the right services.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The member has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Across-the-board cuts to respected agencies providing mental health services that are needed in Vancouver Coastal Health. It's not just me that says it. It's the chief of police that says it. It's every respected mental health group that says it. There's a lack of services, and the Minister of Health is cutting those services.
My question to him is a question of priorities. Why is it okay for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to be authorizing a golf tournament on the very day — the
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very day — that he's cutting services for mental health patients in Vancouver Coastal Health?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'll get information on this tournament. It's a typical political cheap shot of that member to attack staff, and it's probably based, as we always find out every time, on partial information or misinformation. So I'll get that information for the member.
But the fact of the matter is that what that member doesn't understand — what the NDP do not understand — is that when we are making changes in health care delivery, it doesn't mean it's just a cut. What happens is they may stop providing a service that isn't meeting the needs of clients over here, but they open up a different service that is meeting the needs of those clients over there and making sure they get the service they need.
You know, I'm looking forward to the next number of weeks. I can promise the member this. There will be lots of opportunities for him to jump up and down like a little bug every time we introduce the changes. You know what? These changes are important. They're important because they're actually making sure that we follow the evidence and deliver the services people need where they need it. We're not afraid to make those changes.
N. Simons: Residents in the Sea to Sky corridor, as well as those on the Sunshine Coast, have seen reduction in mental health and addiction services. The Sea to Sky community services contract for youth mental health outreach and all out-patient services were so-called changed — redesigned into oblivion. Programs for seniors and adults with mental illness were also cut.
How can the Minister of Health justify such broad and profound cuts to services that keep families together, that keep people from despair and divert people from acute care services?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member should know the Vancouver Coastal, like all health authorities, are receiving budget increases of about 20 percent over the next three years — 20 percent. It's important to start out my answer explaining that to the members opposite, because they are confused and don't seem to understand that when you are increasing a budget over three years by $2.4 billion, that is more money. It is not less.
Now, that does not mean that in all the world of all the services being delivered by the health authorities, there are not going to be changes. There will be.
The member talks about senior services. There are many very good senior services being delivered out there that were publicly funded. I acknowledge that. Socialization programs, sometimes advice on transportation options were provided. That's all true.
What the health authorities are doing is saying: "We are focusing on core services, delivery of actual health care needs." That is the priority that the public recognizes — that even with 20 percent budget increases, they need to focus their dollars on direct care. That's what they're doing, and it's appropriate.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Simons: However the minister wants to characterize it, the effects are dramatic on the residents that we represent. On the Sunshine Coast the Arrowhead community drop-in was forced to close its doors because after 20 years, funding was no longer available, despite it being the only community-based mental health program on the Sunshine Coast.
The minister has also stood by and watched Vancouver Coastal cancel a program called the lunch bunch, which was a program that had volunteers bringing secluded seniors together once a month for social interaction. Why has the minister directed Vancouver Coastal to make such sweeping cuts to programs that are essential to community health?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, I tried to explain this in my last comment. Even in a world with a 20 percent funding increase in health care, there are still pressures in health care. We've acknowledged that to the member. So what the health authorities are doing is recognizing that even with 20 percent budget increases, what they need to do is make sure they focus all their dollars to delivering direct care, particularly for seniors.
That's care like food programs, bathing programs, adult day care programs that are important for those seniors. The socialization programs and some of those other programs that are important programs — we acknowledge that. But they are not direct health care provisions.
What we have done last year is provide the United Way with a grant of $700,000 to work with community-based programs to deliver those kinds of programs from a community setting. They are not direct health care programs.
They are focusing on delivering direct health care programs to seniors, and they will continue to do so with the 20 percent funding increase over the next three years.
S. Hammell: Hon. Speaker, the change that people of B.C. want is a government that when they say they're going to protect health care, they do it. Families on the Sunshine Coast aren't the only ones hurting because of this government's neglect.
Late last month Vancouver Coastal terminated its contract with Richmond Addiction Services — cancelled not some but all of their funding. Now hundreds of families with concurrent and non-concurrent disorders will be left without critical supports like counselling, assessments, referrals and detox.
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To the Minister of Health: can he tell those families in need in Richmond why they have been abandoned by the B.C. Liberals?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, that statement is absolute nonsense. It is absolute nonsense. I will happily put our record of mental health care and support against the record of your government while you were in power any day of the week.
I am not going to take any lessons to a group that promised a $125 million mental health plan and delivered zero dollars — zero dollars. The fact of the matter is…. I want the member to hear this, because I know in the NDP world, every change is a cut. So I want them to hear this. It's important.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: Richmond Addiction Services were not providing concurrent disorder counselling, which is exactly the kind of counselling we need. So a new program has been provided under Coastal Health in Richmond, providing the kind of concurrent disorders support that those folks need. That is the right decision. That's making the right decision with taxpayer dollars to ensure the people are getting the kind of care they need.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Hammell: Expert after expert has spoken out against these cuts. They've told the government that taking away supports for mental health patients will cost everyone in the long run. It means that some of our most vulnerable will go without care, and it is inevitable that some others will end up on the streets. Yet organizations like Richmond Addiction Services are losing their funding for critical services because the Liberals don't have their priorities straight and because this is a government in total chaos.
To the minister: when will the B.C. Liberal government get its priorities right? And when will it stop failing the most vulnerable — like youth, seniors, adults and new immigrants that rely on organizations like Richmond Addiction Services?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, you know, Mr. Speaker, it is classic NDP. They always say the right words. They always pretend that they're doing something. They always want to pretend….
Hon. K. Falcon: You might not like the next part. In spite of the fact that they'll say the right thing, they never do.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a second.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: What they never figured out is that actually it takes more than just saying the right thing. You have to do the right thing. One thing we know about the opposition is they're never really comfortable with facts and numbers because that actually tells the real story.
Let me give them a fact that they might find interesting. We have increased the number of adult community mental health beds by 64 percent. It was this government that actually opened up the 100-bed Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions — this government that opened it up.
It is this government that is spending record amounts in mental health and addictions, when that government promised it and didn't deliver a dollar.
S. Simpson: More than 80 agencies who deliver mental health services in the Vancouver area received word in the last few days that their budgets are being cut dramatically. This involves millions of dollars that are lost in services. This was done with no consultation with these groups about the impacts, and these cuts come into force December 1, leaving the groups with no time to plan for these changes and these impacts. One executive director called the cuts staggering and incomprehensible.
Can the minister tell the House why there was no consultation with these organizations about the real impacts of these cuts before they were introduced?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, if I understand what the member is talking about…. What Vancouver Coastal has done is said to all of their contract service providers that they expect them to have an administrative cost structure of no more than 10 percent. That is exactly what Vancouver Coastal has done. That's the leadership Vancouver Coastal has done — by wringing out over $30 million of administrative costs to make sure that they bring down their admin cost to no more than 10 percent.
They're asking the exact same thing from contract service providers. I support them in that decision. Everyone has to do their best to make sure that all dollars are going towards front-line service and not being lost in overhead and administration.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The member has a supplemental.
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S. Simpson: The minister should know that he's not building bridges anymore. He's dealing with vulnerable people in British Columbia, and he should treat his file with a little bit more seriousness when it comes to these people. The cavalier attitude of this minister might work with bulldozers; it doesn't work with the mentally ill.
Mental health services are more than an accounting exercise. This is more than an administrative adjustment. This has been reinforced. Police, mental health experts, his own officials have all said that these cuts are flawed, and they will be devastating to our most vulnerable citizens. Does the minister think these groups are making it up, and if so, can he produce one credible independent analysis that supports his position that these cuts won't hurt the mentally ill?
Hon. K. Falcon: Actually, what Vancouver Coastal is doing is responding to what we know in the public, for example, is a very strong desire to make sure that they are minimizing the dollars that go into administration and overhead in our health authorities. Occasionally I sometimes think I hear the NDP supporting that, but I'm not sure. What they are doing is applying that same standard to all of their contract service providers.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'll tell you this. I think it is completely and entirely appropriate, because they want to ensure that every available dollar is going into front-line care, and they're holding everyone to the same standard of minimizing administrative and overhead costs. I can tell you that they're willing to work with all of the contract service providers to help them get there, but they will need to get there to ensure that every available dollar is going towards front-line care, and that is appropriate.
FUNDING FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
IN NORTHERN B.C.
R. Austin: This minister is not only cutting addiction services on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland but in northern British Columbia as well, where substance abuse among youth is a significant health concern.
Terrace is home to the ATLAS Youth Treatment facility, B.C.'s only 30-day youth addictions treatment program. They have recently learned that they are losing their funding. As of December, ten full-time and ten part-time staff will be gone — front-line staff, by the way, not administrators. Why is the minister dismantling B.C.'s only 30-day youth addictions treatment program?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, I want to emphasize to the member opposite that as we discover and learn things about mental health and addiction, we are making sure that we change the way we deliver the program to respond to what we know the best evidence tells us.
Hon. K. Falcon: Now, just a minute. I know the members are very eager to talk about cuts, but the fact of the matter is that there are some services that have been provided by very good organizations providing good service. They don't cover the continuum of care that is required or the fact that the nature of the discoveries is that they have concurrent disorders. That means we have to provide the right service.
I'm sorry to say this, Member, but it means you actually don't continue every single service you've been providing till infinity. That's actually not the way it works. It may work in the NDP world; it doesn't work in the real world. We're trying to make sure — thoughtfully, carefully — that the health authorities are looking at the programs and ensuring the programs are meeting the needs of the people they're trying to serve.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Austin: Minister, this program is one of a kind. It should be replicated, not decimated. All of British Columbia will be affected by its closure. This facility helps not only youth with serious substance abuse problems from northern British Columbia but also youth from across the province, and 495 kids have gone through this facility in the last nine years.
Again to the minister: how does closing the province's only short-term youth addiction facility assist our youth who are at risk?
Hon. K. Falcon: I think it's always worthy at this time to remind the member that Northern Health has actually seen an increase in their mental health and addiction budgets of 43 percent. I think it's important to remind the member, because they often forget that the budget for mental health and addictions in Northern Health is going up every year for the next three years — up every year. So what has changed?
What has changed is that how they deliver the service is changing because they realize they're dealing with people with concurrent disorders. The program that was delivered through the agency which that member talks about is now being delivered directly through Northern Health to ensure they provide the right service for the folks who need it, and that's exactly what they're doing.
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Mr. Speaker: Members.
FUNDING FOR REPAIRS AT
JOHNSTON HEIGHTS SECONDARY SCHOOL
J. Brar: After being embarrassed in this House for breaking their promise to fix a leaky Surrey school, this government has changed its mind again. Doug Strachan of the Surrey school board has confirmed that "there will be additional costs" because of the way this government has handled this file.
My question is to the Minister of Education. Will the Minister of Education tell this House how much money was wasted because of this government's post-election decision to cut the funding to fix the leaky school?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'm really pleased to get up and speak about this issue today, the Johnston Heights Secondary School, where we did in fact exactly what we said we would do. We spoke with the school district. We had consultation with them. We talked about the project. In the end we agreed with them that this project will go ahead, and we're pleased.
In fact, I've had conversations with the vice-chair of the school district and today had a message from the chair of the school district, who tells me how pleased they are that they're going to be able to go ahead with this project.
We said from the outset that if there were issues of student health and safety that needed to be addressed, we would work with each individual school district where that was the case, and that's exactly what we've done.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The member has a supplemental.
J. Brar: Mr. Speaker, it is simply unbelievable. This minister knows very well that the funding to fix the leaky school was approved before the election, that the funding was cancelled after the election without any consultation and that the funding is being given back now, when it became a full-blown embarrassment for this minister and for this government.
This government cuts the entire $130,000 grant to B.C. School Sports, then turns around and flushes hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain because they cannot decide whether fixing a leaky school is a priority or not.
Again to the Minister of Education: can the Minister of Education confirm that taxpayers are on the hook for at least an additional half a million dollars because of this government's mismanagement of the Johnston Heights School situation — enough to pay for B.C. School Sports several times over?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The member opposite is somewhat mistaken, and I'm happy to review this. We absolutely again are delighted that the Johnston Heights remediation project is going ahead, as are the school district, the students and the teachers, and we've heard that. We've also heard…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: …from the school board chair today that they are looking at re-tendering this, because they believe they may be able to achieve some savings.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Again, this really is a good-news story, a government that said it would work with school districts and has done that. Let me remind the members opposite and all of us about the over $186 million that we've invested in Surrey since 2001.
OLYMPIC GAMES FLAGS
K. Corrigan: Well, first it was knockoff Cowichan sweaters, then the fake B.C. Olympic wine. Now we've learned that instead of using local manufacturers, B.C.'s Olympic flags will be made in China. B.C. manufacturers have made it clear that they can make the flags here at home.
My question to the Minister of State for the Olympics: why has this government done nothing to ensure that B.C. workers and businesses get the full benefit of the Olympics?
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. McNeil: I've been advised by VANOC that actually 92 percent of all contracts by value have been awarded in Canada.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
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Hon. M. McNeil: Of these, 86 percent were awarded to firms in British Columbia. When it comes to VANOC licensees, I'm pleased to say that 90 percent are Canadian companies.
[End of question period.]
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. de Jong: By leave, I move a motion that a special committee be appointed to select and unanimously recommend to the Legislative Assembly, pursuant to the Public Service Act, the appointment of an individual to hold the office as Merit Commissioner for the province of British Columbia.
Motions Without Notice
APPOINTMENT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE
TO APPOINT A MERIT COMMISSIONER
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, the said special committee is to have the powers of a select standing committee. They are enumerated in the motion that I've provided to my friend, the Opposition House Leader.
[That a Special Committee be appointed to select and unanimously recommend to the Legislative Assembly, pursuant to section 5.01 of the Public Service Act (RSBC 1996, c. 385), the appointment of an individual to hold office as the Merit Commissioner for the Province of British Columbia, and that the Special Committee so appointed shall have the powers of a Select Standing Committee, and is also empowered:
(a) to appoint of their number, one or more subcommittees and to refer to such subcommittees any of the matters referred to the Committee;
(b) to sit during any period in which the House is adjourned, during the recess after prorogation until the next following Session and during any sitting of the House;
(c) to conduct meetings by any means the committee considers appropriate, including but not limited to telephone and videoconferencing;
(d) to adjourn from place to place as may be convenient; and
(e) to retain such personnel as required to assist the Committee;
and shall report to the House as soon as possible, or following any adjournment of the House, or at the next following Session, as the case may be; to deposit the original of its reports with the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly during a period of adjournment and upon the resumption of the sittings of the House, the Chair shall present all reports to the Legislative Assembly.
That the Special Committee to Appoint a Merit Commissioner be comprised of John Rustad (Convener), Douglas Horne, Norm Letnick, Dawn Black and Leonard Krog.]
H. Bains: I have a petition to present by one homeless person, Morgan Trent Forrie — 429 signatures asking this House to eliminate homelessness.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call in Section A, Committee of Supply — for the information of members, the estimates of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport; in Committee B, in this chamber, committee stage debate on Bill 11, the Labour Mobility Act.
Committee of the Whole House
BIll 11 — LABOUR MOBILITY ACT
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 11; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:25 p.m.
On section 1.
K. Corrigan: I just wanted to make a couple of comments generally about some of the questions I'm going to ask today and some of the concerns that I have expressed in the past. I certainly said in second reading that I was going to ask some very specific questions in the committee stage, and I'm looking forward to doing that.
I also want to reiterate that we're very supportive of labour mobility but do believe that the vast majority — and we know that the vast majority — of workers can move from province to province without any barriers at all.
So going specifically…. Oh, sorry. I also wanted to point out that the commitments that have been made under trade agreements — the agreement on internal trade, which is referenced in many, many sections of this act — were made without any consultation with the people of British Columbia, just as the government negotiated and signed the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement behind closed doors without consultation with the people of British Columbia. So I do have some concerns about deferring to the agreement on internal trade.
With that, going specifically to the definitions, I have some questions. In the first definition of "Agreement," it says it "means the Agreement on Internal Trade, signed in 1994 by the governments of Canada, the provinces, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, as amended from time to time."
I want to ask the minister…. I just want to be clear that this includes the amendments agreed to most recently at the end of 2008 and then finalized in 2009 around labour mobility, chapter 7 of the AIT.
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Hon. M. Stilwell: Yes, I confirm that the AIT has been amended by nine protocols of amendment. The most recent of which relating to labour mobility was signed by the jurisdictions' first ministers in January 2009.
K. Corrigan: I also wanted to inquire about the amendments to chapter 17, which I understand were also agreed to in the same time frame. They've been referenced on websites, federal websites, but have not yet been publicized or released. These are the amendments around the dispute resolution process.
Am I to understand that when we are referring to the agreement on internal trade, we are also including the signed but not publicized amendments to chapter 17?
Hon. M. Stilwell: That is correct.
K. Corrigan: So under the next definition, we have "'applicable BC regulator,' in relation to an occupation, means the regulatory authority that is authorized to issue certification in British Columbia in relation to that occupation." I'm wondering if the minister could tell me how many authorities there are.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Before I answer the question, I neglected to introduce the people who are here, so if you'll just give me a second. Mark Gillis, executive director of labour market development, on my left; to the left of him, Bruce Macallum, legal services branch, Attorney General; to my right, Tony Loughran, executive director of governance; and to his right, Katherine Thiessen-Wale — who are here to help me.
The answer to the question was 59.
K. Corrigan: In the next definition — sorry, two definitions on from there — the "BC equivalent occupation," it says: "in relation to an extraprovincial occupation, means an occupation in British Columbia that consists of a set of jobs that is the same as or is substantially similar to the set of jobs that constitutes the extraprovincial occupation."
My question to the minister on this one is: who decides what is an equivalent set of jobs?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer to the question is it would be the regulatory body closest to that occupation who was consulted with and helped to articulate those definitions and standards.
K. Corrigan: I would assume that unless, of course, there is a challenge under the act, in which case it would be the regulatory body and then, if it goes through all the appeal processes, the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Is that correct?
Hon. M. Stilwell: That is correct.
K. Corrigan: Under "measure," it says it "includes a practice, policy, standard and procedure." I just wanted to clarify that when we're talking about measures taken perhaps by a regulatory authority — to make it very clear — it doesn't just mean something that's in their regulations or written requirements for certification and so on. It's very wide-ranging and includes essentially everything that a regulatory body would require — whether they do it by writing or they do it in a policy book, or whatever manner they require something from an applicant.
Hon. M. Stilwell: The act defines "approved measure" with reference to section 2 of the act. These measures are inconsistent with chapter 7, which have been approved by the province on the basis of the measure constituting a legitimate objective. In specific limited circumstances, the AIT permits jurisdictions to impose measures such as requirements for additional education, training, experience, examination or assessments that must be satisfied for a worker to be granted certification to practise his or her occupation in B.C. In other words, it can be any of those but, obviously, within the context of the certification.
K. Corrigan: I must admit I'm still learning the procedures. So that is all the questions I have on the definitions.
M. Sather: On section 1, definitions. This Labour Mobility Act is, I think, the strangest piece of legislation I have ever seen presented to this House. It reminds me of Seinfeld, which was a story about nothing. This is a bill about nothing in and of itself. It's a bill about another act.
As we go through the discussion of this bill, the definitions of terms, as vague and amorphous as they are, must be examined. So the "BC equivalent occupation." Can the minister give a couple of examples of a B.C. equivalent occupation?
Hon. M. Stilwell: B.C. equivalent occupation is defined further to the principles that there will be automatic certification only when the occupation for which one is certified in another jurisdiction is substantially the same as that in British Columbia. An example would be potentially a podiatrist or possibly a nurse practitioner.
M. Sather: Well, we've got an example that we can perhaps go back to.
I don't understand the wording of "measure" under the definitions. Measure is defined as "a practice, policy, standard and procedure." Now, is a measure a practice and the procedure related to it, or is it a policy and the procedure related to it? Or is it a standard and the procedure related
[ Page 1307 ]
to it? Or is a measure a practice, policy and standard and the procedure related to it?
This is really unclear wording. Could the minister please elucidate what is meant by that definition?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is that it can include any or all of those things in the context of certification.
M. Sather: In that case, I would submit that it should say "'measure' includes a practice, policy, standard or procedure." Would she not agree?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think the answer is that it could include any or all of them.
M. Sather: Obviously, it's misworded. It's certainly not simply a housekeeping matter, because none of these words — practice, policy, standard or procedure — are defined in Bill 11. This bill is all about deregulating "measures," and we really need to know what these measures refer to.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think the answer is that this is a drafting style that is meant to cover any or all of those particular aspects within the context of certification by a particular regulatory body.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
D. Black: This is, as one of my colleagues said previously, a very complex piece of legislation, because it underlays or overlays the AIT and TILMA, which in fact relate back to NAFTA and international trade agreements that Canada has taken obligations under. So it is complex, and one section leads back to another section. It really takes a fine-tooth comb to try to figure out exactly what's going on here.
In section 2, as we understand it, it makes it law that a B.C. regulator cannot propose or apply measures that restrict labour mobility, and only the minister can approve measures which are allowed, because the measures seek to meet a "legitimate objective." We know that legitimate objectives also have been very narrowly defined in other matters. So we have some concern about that.
We understand this means that regulatory authorities must recognize out-of-province workers' certifications, but that if they believe the qualifications required from out of province are not good enough for whatever reason in British Columbia, they're not allowed to deny the worker their certification unless the minister specifically allows them to do that.
I want to refer to the situation for social workers, because a person is allowed to practise as a social worker in the province of Alberta if they have a two-year certification from a community college, whereas in British Columbia a social worker must have a four-year degree to practise as a social worker.
I think section 2 also relates to the notice of exemptions. Article 708 of the AIT allows parties to provide notice to the other parties that an inconsistent measure, as I've mentioned about social work, is still permissible when the purpose of the measure is to achieve a legitimate objective and requires that the party imposing the additional requirement demonstrates a difference in skill, knowledge, ability. Article 711 defines the legitimate objectives.
In the process, again as an example for social work, would the minister be considering bringing in an exemption? We know that in British Columbia we've had a number of very tragic cases of child deaths in this province. True, the only, I suppose, positives that have come out of those tragic situations have been that we've brought in procedures to attempt to ensure that that doesn't happen.
So my specific question to the minister: is she considering an exemption for social workers that would ensure that people with certificates in social work would have to come up to meet the traditional B.C. standard of a four-year degree?
Hon. M. Stilwell: With respect to any specific case, I have no specific plans at this moment. Obviously, each case is going through a similar process where the professionals and regulatory bodies have been working together and collaborating on trying to articulate as best they can these qualifications across Canada.
Both I, as minister responsible for this act, and the minister responsible for that regulatory body could examine anyone on a case-by-case basis. The exceptions would obviously be where there is persuasive reason to think that health, safety or consumer protection is an issue.
D. Black: I would ask the minister then…. This is not the first time the issue of the differences in social work qualifications has been raised in the Legislature. Has she given thought to and will she be bringing in an exemption for social work?
Hon. M. Stilwell: With respect to any particular regulatory body, I don't have anything specific to say except to emphasize that the goals are twofold really. And that is, as you know, to grant qualified workers entitlement to practise their occupations — I think there has been general acceptance of that as a principle — and that exceptions would be considered with a regulatory body not on a case-by-case basis of a particular worker but of a particular occupation or work category when there is concern that health, safety or consumer protection is at risk.
[ Page 1308 ]
K. Corrigan: Since the previous member has brought up a question of different occupations, I'd also like to mention at this point — although it could be mentioned at several points — an example that I read about in the last couple of days, which was actually brought up by a Conservative member in Ontario in reference to the similar legislation that is being considered — Bill 175 in Ontario.
The comment made by that Conservative member was that there is a real concern in their jurisdiction being brought forward by the optometrists of that province who were feeling that the lower standards in British Columbia for certification in many, many different occupations was problematic in that there could be a race to the bottom.
The particular occupation of optometrist was mentioned. I can't verify whether this is true or not, but what that member said was that the requirements were for four years to be certified as an optometrist in Ontario and that it was less than a year to be certified as an optometrist in British Columbia.
Following up on the question that was just raised with regard to social workers, is it being suggested that a person who has a certification as an optometrist in British Columbia, if it was reversed in terms of requirements, would be able to pass without any further certification required?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Rather than sort of exhausting the 228 occupations, I think the main point is that the intention is to allow a clear and transparent and fair way for people with like credentials to have them assessed into practice across Canada. I think all of the regulatory bodies that have collaborated and worked together on this have come to points of scope of practice and training that can be complicated, particularly because it represents a transition to a more competency-based framework. So over time there will be these discussions. I can't answer specifically for optometrists at this time.
K. Corrigan: You're right. We can't go through all of them. I won't bring up any more. I don't know about any of my colleagues.
Perhaps to demonstrate with a rather stark example, I would like, though, to see if I can get a response on that — whether it is possible that somebody could apply with that much of a disparity in training time, and if they are practising….
I'm jumping ahead a little bit, to be honest here. But since we're on it…. If there is that much of a disparity in training time, if they are practising the same competencies, is it possible that they could apply and that the regulatory authority could eventually be forced to recognize that certification? I think that's the nub of what this is about.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Again, I think that a move to basing requirements on competency is the real point of this, so time spent is not likely to be a primary consideration. The actual competency of what the person is able to do well and that exceptions would be based on health, safety and consumer protection, rather than specific time, is probably the answer to that.
K. Corrigan: With regard to section 2 again, I just want to clarify something, because section 2 references paragraph 1 of article 708 of the agreement on internal trade, which is the labour mobility chapter of the agreement on internal trade. I just want to make it really clear that what is happening is that this bill that we're dealing with today is therefore deferring, in many ways, to article 708. Included in that is the reference in that paragraph 1 to article 401, 402, 403 and article 705 and parts of 706.
I just want to clarify. Does that mean, therefore, that through this section — and generally — those provisions that I've just mentioned govern or are included in this act?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is that those are incorporated by referencing article 708 of the agreement, which effectively prevents B.C. regulators from maintaining or creating new barriers such as training, working experience, examinations and residence requirements for extraprovincial workers who wish to be certified in B.C.
K. Corrigan: I just want to reiterate something that one of my colleagues has already said. I want to clarify that when we are talking about legitimate objectives, we are also incorporating then — I would assume — the various decisions, the rules, the decisions that have been made by tribunals, and so on, in terms of how a legitimate objective has been interpreted.
I would also make the point that in my estimation, they've been very narrowly construed. We can take a look at it and say, "Oh, a legitimate objective. That sounds quite reasonable," but in fact, they've been very narrowly construed.
I just want confirmation that that body of tribunal decisions and law that is attached to that very specific phrase is therefore being incorporated into this act.
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer, I think, is that although not directly incorporated, obviously when making the decision about a legitimate objection, one would have to be guided by those things.
M. Sather: On section 2, approved measures, it says: "An applicable BC regulator must not propose or apply, in relation to an occupation or an application for certification in relation to an occupation, a measure that
[ Page 1309 ]
constitutes an inconsistent measure referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 708 of the Agreement…." That's the agreement on internal trade.
The agreement I'm looking at, article 708, says: "Subject to article 709, each party undertakes to mutually recognize the occupational qualifications required of workers of any other party and to reconcile differences in occupational standards in the manner specified in annex 708." There's no mention there in article 708 of inconsistent measures. Can the minister comment on that, please?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I just have to say this experience has certainly killed any idea that I might have enjoyed a career in law. [Laughter.]
I am advised that article 708 deals with exceptions to rules. So if the measure is otherwise inconsistent with chapter 7, you could seek legitimate objection.
I want to say that as a matter of policy, there will be few, if any, such measures approved by the two ministers. The section is intended to clarify that the proposal or application of such measures by regulators themselves is not permitted and that in practical fact we have found that the regulators have worked very well across the country and have not found huge difficulties or differences when they actually tried to articulate the like standards.
M. Sather: Well, the minister's esteemed legal counsel will know that every word in law has to have meaning. Here we have a phrase, "inconsistent measures," that is not defined in the agreement on internal trade. It's not defined in Bill 11. So can the minister tell this House: what is an inconsistent measure?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I'm not sure if this is helpful, except to partly reiterate what I said. If the measure is otherwise inconsistent with chapter 7, you therefore have grounds, as I understand it, to seek a legitimate objection. The word "inconsistent" basically refers back to and is parroted in article 708.
M. Sather: Well, we need to talk a little bit about legitimate objectives. So that the viewing public understands, a legitimate objective in essence says that you have this piece of legislation that prescribes certain things. But if you have a legitimate reason to go beyond the scope of that legislation, you can do so. It's been widely quoted already.
What we're talking about in this case is article 709 of the agreement on internal trade. I'll just quote one part of that article. Maybe I'll have to say a little bit more. It says: "Where it is established that the measure is inconsistent…the measure is still permissible…if it can be demonstrated that (c) the measure is not more mobility restrictive than necessary to achieve that legitimate objective."
In other words, one has to indicate, one has to demonstrate that going outside of the parameters of this agreement, although it might restrict mobility of labour, is not more restrictive than necessary. Now, "necessary" is a very qualitative word. It's not a definitive word. One can have one's own interpretation of what necessary means.
I'd like to ask the minister if she can tell me under what circumstances…. Has it ever occurred, and under what circumstances, within the agreement on internal trade, which has been around since the '90s, that a measure has been defeated, shall we say, using that article (c)? In other words, has anyone ever been able to demonstrate the strength of that — that the mobility…? The AIT, of course, is more than labour mobility, but we're sticking to labour mobility.
Has anyone ever been able to use this section to circumvent or go outside the provisions of the agreement on internal trade?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is: not to our knowledge. I won't say "not to my knowledge."
M. Sather: Precisely. That's the case. No one has ever been able to use legitimate objectives, because it's fatally flawed. You cannot possibly prove that the measure is not more labour restrictive than necessary. So we're dealing with a real house of cards here, and I know what the intention of the government is with this legislation. It's certainly not built on sound principles of law, and that's maybe the way it was intended.
K. Corrigan: Just in picking up what the member was speaking about in referencing section 708, paragraph 2 specifies that for greater certainty, for the purposes of the application of 1(b) of article 708 — in other words, talking about legitimate objectives or reasons to not have this bill apply — "a mere difference between the certification requirements of a party related to academic credentials, education, training, experience, examination or assessment methods and those of any other party is not by itself sufficient to justify the imposition of additional education, training, experience, examination or assessment requirements as necessary to achieve a legitimate objective."
Again, I appreciate what the minister is saying about everybody working together, but the reality is that we have different regulatory frameworks, different levels of regulation and different levels of education for good reason. These regulatory authorities have made a decision, in the best interests of the education of their residents and for the health and safety of their residents, that a certain level of training is necessary.
[ Page 1310 ]
This reference in paragraph 708 makes it very clear that that ability to decide in a province what the appropriate level of training is going to be — or experience or examination or assessment methods…. They're all subject to challenge under this act. Have I got it right? That's my question.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think the answer relates again to one of the primary goals of the act, which is to move to a more competency-based system recognizing that while, of course, training, experience and so on feed into and are related to competency, of themselves, they don't necessarily prove competency.
In practical reality, when the regulating bodies from these occupations got together, they were able to figure that out themselves and assess around the margins of what might be different in reference to actual competency. So it's meant to be, I think, ultimately a more fair and equitable way to assess whether people are competent to do something.
K. Corrigan: The minister has more than once said that when various regulatory bodies have gotten together, they've been able to work these things out. My question for the minister is: if that is the case and it's worked in the past, why do we need such an onerous provision that leaves out the regulators in an act before this House?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I actually meant in reference to the work that was done in response to this mobility agreement across the country.
K. Corrigan: I was under the impression that earlier the minister had said that there was…. In reference earlier when we were discussing how it has worked in the past, I was under the impression that the minister had said that given the chance, regulatory authorities or provincial institutions, ministers or whatever had been able to work out some of these differences in the past. Did I misinterpret what the minister said?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I apologize. I should have been more clear. I meant in response to the prospect of implementing this act.
K. Corrigan: Maybe I could, just as an aside, ask the minister what her opinion is on the efforts in the past for various regulatory authorities either acting as regulatory authorities or through umbrella bodies — how they have done in terms of harmonizing credentials, education, training, experience and so on in the past.
Hon. M. Stilwell: You know, I wouldn't necessarily comment or use my own personal experience as a reference point. I think certainly in the past there have been lots of regulatory bodies who have been able to. What we're trying to do is enshrine it more so that all regulatory bodies aspire to that level of collaboration and working together across the country. That is, I think, what my answer is.
If the question is, are there any trades or professions where full labour mobility may be difficult to implement…? Then there are a couple of exceptions — the legal profession, of course, with the issue of Quebec civil law being one of them. All provinces, including British Columbia, have a temporary exception around nurse practitioners, which is a new field and new scope of practice, but they will work towards articulating that.
K. Corrigan: The minister mentioned one occupation where there could be some differences or some difficulties, but I guess I haven't quite been convinced by the suggestion that this is going to encourage regulatory authorities. If there is an ability to do this, again I just would like further clarification. Why do we need to impose this act, these provisions in this act, if it can be done a different way which is more collaborative?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I hope I have a definitive response. The province is accountable for compliance with AIT and therefore requires its regulatory bodies to do this work for them. So I think it relates back to what we have undertaken through the AIT
M. Sather: The minister has referenced the essential nature of article 708 of the agreement on internal trade to this bill. Article 708 says that "Subject to article 709, each party undertakes to mutually recognize the occupational qualifications required of workers of any other party and to reconcile the differences in occupational standards in the manner specified in annex 708."
Then it's made clear that annex 708 is of the same essential quality or importance to this bill. I wanted to ask the minister about part 1, section 2 of annex 708, which talks about undertaking an assessment of occupations, identifying occupations, finding commonality. Then it says: "Parties also agree to invite other regulatory bodies to do the same."
How does this work? Can the minister explain? You have two provinces, let's say, that undertake an assessment. They would consult with regulatory bodies, I would have thought. What are the other bodies, and where do they fit into this process as outlined in that part of the annex?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Sorry, if I could just ask the member opposite to expand on his question, because I am not sure what exactly he would like to know.
M. Sather: It was more of a process question. But I could continue on with part 1, then, to ask the minister,
[ Page 1311 ]
looking at sections 3 and 5, which talk about a high level of commonality…. "Where a high level of commonality has been determined to exist in the territories of two or more parties" — at section 3. What occupations in B.C. have been found to have a high level of commonality of occupational standards? Can the minister tell me about some of those?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Two significant examples would be all of the Red Seal trades and professional engineers.
M. Sather: Well, section 5 talks about occupational analysis, comparing the standards and "assess and measure the extent of the differences, both in terms of scope and of required level of performance. Thresholds will be defined for comparability. By way of example only, 80 percent similarity might be considered a high level of commonality while 60 to 80 percent might be considered a moderate level of commonality."
We're trying to assess the commonality of occupations, but how do we assess it? I mean, it says here that 80 percent might be considered a high level of commonality. So 60 to 80 might be considered a moderate level.
How can we determine the degree of commonality, which is essential to this bill? How can we determine that based on these exceedingly loose guidelines?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Without getting into a specific occupation, I would just say that the regulating bodies basically will work to articulate standards to the best that they can. If the discordance related to the reasons for legitimate exceptions — namely, health, safety or significant consumer protection — then there would be a process to resolve it.
M. Sather: I think we're going to be completely swimming in the dark here if we try to apply these measures, if you will, to occupations and trades in British Columbia.
Still under part 1 of annex 708, section 4 says: "If the parties" — that's a couple provinces we're talking about here — "determine that there is insufficient information currently available on which to make an initial assessment of comparability…."
How many occupations are we talking about here in terms of insufficient information currently available to make an assessment of comparability? Have we got huge numbers? Have we just got a couple in British Columbia where we don't have this kind of information? It seems to me that if we don't have that information and we can't assess comparability, we get further…. How are you going to decide who's who in the zoo if you have no way to determine whether they're comparable?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think the practical answer is that out of 225 defined occupations, four or five have not yet come to agreement. Practically speaking, this has not been as difficult as it might seem.
M. Sather: Thank the good Lord for that — that there aren't more. Thank you to the minister for giving me a number there.
Continuing on to section 6 of part 1 of annex 708, it says: "The occupational analysis will not consider differences in training methods since it is recognized that competencies and abilities can be acquired through different combinations of training and experience."
If I look, for example, at registered massage therapists in British Columbia — and they, as the minister will know, are regulated under the Health Professions Act — a registered massage therapist in British Columbia has to have taken 3,000 hours of training, including 330 hours of clinical practice. That's seven semesters, 28 months of straight education with not more than a three-week break anywhere. In my eight years of post-secondary education, I never kept up a pace like that. They go to school nine to five every day, four to eight classes per day.
They are saying that competencies and abilities can be acquired through different combinations of training and experience. In the three other provinces that are considered to be comparable — Newfoundland, Ontario and Alberta — there's a reciprocal agreement now with those provinces, and there are considerable differences. Before I ask specifically about the differences for that profession, I wanted the minister…. Could she confirm for me whether there actually is a reciprocal agreement for registered massage therapists in place with Newfoundland, Ontario and, recently, Alberta?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is I don't know. I don't know if there's an agreement between those two provinces on massage therapists.
M. Sather: Well, the registered massage therapists understand that there is, but it hasn't been really confirmed to them.
Alberta, which is now part of this reciprocal agreement that we can't really confirm but registered massage therapists tell me is out there, can be certified with 2,200 hours of training. That's more than one-quarter less than in British Columbia.
According to section 6 of this part of the AIT, it says that it is recognized that "competencies and abilities can be acquired through different combinations of training and experience." Here we have one group that has only 75 percent of the training of the other group, yet they're being harmonized apparently.
So what does that mean? What are we saying — that the training that the registered massage therapists of British Columbia took, which is certainly more in-depth than that which those folks in Alberta did, has no mean-
[ Page 1312 ]
ing, has no significance? So we can just wash it out and say, as it says here: "What the heck. Competencies can be acquired through different combinations of training and experience"?
We can't have it both ways. Either training means something and we value it — I mean, certainly those students paid big money for it, worked really hard for it — or it has no meaning at all.
Can the minister comment on that? This is a significant part of this bill. Here's a group of professionals who are mighty upset right now that they're seeing people moving in from Alberta and going to take the same jobs that they got, with less than three-quarters of the amount of training that they have. Can the minister comment on that, please?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I actually think that example you just gave me is arguing my point that competency is not measured by hours. However, what I think we're really doing here is saying that it's up to the regulatory bodies to apply AIT. If they are certified to be a massage therapist in Ontario, then they will be certified here. Those two regulating bodies have worked that out or are working that out.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
M. Sather: Well, with all due respect, what the minister just said is very troubling to me. She said I made her point that the amount of training doesn't matter, that hours don't matter. So what we are saying to this group of professionals and to others in the province of British Columbia is: "The training you took — that you worked hard for, that you paid big money for — doesn't matter a whit because somebody else can come in and take the same job you've got, with a lot less training."
In fact, the minister might want to know — based on the information I have, and she can tell me and correct me if I'm wrong — that registered massage therapists in Alberta, some of them, have 700 hours of training. I mean, they have been grandfathered with 700 hours. So are these folks with 700 hours of training going to be considered equivalent to our registered massage therapists with 3,000 hours of training?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think we're getting sidetracked. That is not exactly what I am saying. What I am saying is that competency has to be measured in more than hours and that for me to stand and discuss any particular occupation, outside of what the regulatory bodies themselves have collaborated on and articulated, doesn't make sense.
All I'm saying is that to move to a competency-based framework allows anyone who thinks they are trained and has certification in Canada to practise to move to the province they wish to.
M. Sather: That's the problem. So the high level of commonality, then, that we're talking about…. Given everything the minister has said so far, it must in fact be dependent on ignoring significant differences in training. Is that not so?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is that if a person is certified by a regulatory body in another province, B.C. will accept that certification.
M. Sather: Notwithstanding any differences in training that they may have then?
Hon. M. Stilwell: That is correct.
M. Sather: That's worse than preposterous. It's downright dangerous. What message is that sending to the professionals and the tradespeople of our province? It's saying that your advanced education is meaningless. It's saying that you don't have to go out and get a good education because what the heck, why should you have to?
Somebody in Saskatchewan, somebody in Alberta, can come in with way, way lower qualifications and, as the minister said, walk right into your job. That's what she said, in essence. That's why we're so concerned about this bill.
The last thing I want to ask the minister under part 1 of annex 708 is under section 9. It says:
"In cases referred to in paragraph 8, each party shall also seek to make accommodations to its licensing, certification or registration requirements to give appropriate recognition to the training, skills, experience and education of out-of-province workers. Such accommodations may involve the development and implementation of alternate systems for the assessment of their qualifications, such as systems that allow workers of another party to reach the required qualifications through additional modular training or supervised work experience."
I can understand saying that you have to bring up your qualifications through additional — what they're calling here — "modular training," but it says "or supervised work experience." So in other words, all you have to be is supervised at work, and you become equivalent with the other occupation. Could I please have comment from the minister on that one?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I don't think I have a complete answer, but I will say that I don't interpret this as saying that there's no value of education.
As a physician who trained in one province and moved to British Columbia, I see it as a way for me to take my qualifications to work where I want to work.
As for whether supervising somebody's work is adequate, the fact is in medical residencies, that's exactly what happens. So in my experience, that's understandable.
To me, it just reinforces the point that this is the regulatory bodies that have the responsibility to apply the AIT. They have been able to work this out. For me to
[ Page 1313 ]
stand and talk about whether it's massage therapy or another occupation, I don't feel that we're getting to where we want to get.
It's up to the regulatory bodies to apply the AIT. They get together and try to articulate the standards, which so far, approximately 220 out of 228 have been able to do. The other ones continue to work on it. My understanding is they're making progress, and if they can't do it, there's a way of resolving it.
M. Sather: Well, that's simply not the case. The minister can't simply say that it's up to the regulatory bodies. Because as we'll see as we look into this legislation further on, the minister and the government can override those bodies with considerable authority.
But it's legislation — how badly construed and drafted — that's being brought forth by this government and this minister. So to stand up and wash their hands of it and say that it's up to the regulatory bodies, and that they're getting along not too bad, really. I'd have to say that it's quite missing the mark if we refuse to or don't address those very considerable issues that are at play here.
One thing on part 2 of, again, the annex 708 of the agreement on internal trade, which says — and this is "Development of new occupational standards and changes to existing standards":
"If occupational standards have not been established in the territory of a party" — a province — "in respect of a particular occupation but exist in the territory of any other party" — to the agreement — "the party without the standards will develop its standards in a manner that will facilitate future reconciliation, taking into account the existing standards in the territories and the other parties."
So they're to reconcile their differences "in a manner that will facilitate future reconciliation." I would like the minister to explain to me how this one works. "In a manner that will facilitate future reconciliation" doesn't say anything to me. How exactly will they do that?
They have to take into account the existing standards. Okay. But the bottom line, it seems to me, is that this is a Wild West show and that trades, occupations are really being given no significant direction here. Can the minister please comment on part 2 and on how these bodies are supposed to proceed with their business?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I just want to clarify that we're reading off the same document. I have final text, chapter 7, "Labour Mobility," approved December 5, 2008. I think I heard you refer to 708, subsection 9, and I don't see one. Did I mishear?
M. Sather: Annex 708.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I'm still not sure that we're reading off the same document. Do you have the document approved December 5, 2008?
M. Sather: I'm not sure. Can the minister tell me when that became public?
Hon. M. Stilwell: It was ratified January '09 at the first ministers meeting.
The Chair: Member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows, on section 2. We are talking about paragraph 1 of article 708. It's what we're referring to.
M. Sather: Thank you, Madam Chair. I will complete my comments there.
K. Corrigan: I just wanted to clarify something with the minister before we go on. Originally, when I asked about the number of applicable B.C. regulators that there were, the response was that there were 59.
Now I'm hearing that we're talking about 220 of 228 regulatory bodies that have, essentially, harmonized. Is one of them federal, across the country, and one…? No? Can I get clarification on that?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is: the 228 refers to defined occupations; the 59 refers to regulators. So for instance, the Industry Training Authority would have in excess of 70 occupations within it.
K. Corrigan: So I just want to be really clear that it is the understanding of the minister that of the 228 occupational groups that this act would apply to…. That is the total, first of all, at this time. I understand that there could be a new regulatory body or a newly regulated occupation, but as it is now, there are 228 occupations, and 220 of those 228 occupations, or the regulatory bodies that govern them, have harmonized, to their satisfaction, the requirements across the country.
Hon. M. Stilwell: So my advice is that there are 228 occupations. I believe there are four or five that have not currently harmonized with British Columbia.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
D. Black: On section 3, when we look at subsection 4, it says that a regulatory authority must consider and issue certification in accordance with chapter 7 of the AIT. So again, we're going back to the AIT, which basically means, almost automatically, that they will be certified.
Article 706, in paragraph 1, says that "any worker certified for an occupation by a regulatory authority of a party shall, upon application, be certified for that occupation by each other party which regulates that occupation without any requirement for any material additional training,
[ Page 1314 ]
experience, examinations or assessments as part of that certification process."
This appears to mean that a B.C. regulatory authority cannot deny an extraprovincial — a worker who comes from out of province — a certificate if the training and certification standards in the other province were lower than in B.C., unless there's a specific exemption approved by the minister, which we spoke about a little bit earlier.
So the minister has been talking about, several times today, that she views this bill as bringing in a level of competency-based approval for certification across the country and here in British Columbia.
My question is one that I think some of my other colleagues have been concerned about, and that is that we worry that standards are going to be lowered — not just in British Columbia but even in other parts of the country — because of this provision.
So I want to ask the minister: when she talks about competency-based, is she talking about a high level of competency, or are we, perhaps, going to enter into a situation where competency levels are reduced?
Hon. M. Stilwell: This bill does not make reference to levels or specific standards. What it does is refer to certifications to practise or perform the work in every province in Canada being acceptable in B.C.
D. Black: But that doesn't give me much comfort because the concern is that standards will get lowered across the country. That's the concern we're hearing from people in different occupations and different professions in British Columbia.
So I ask the minister again: isn't there a concern? We fear that there is a situation promoted through this bill and the other trade agreements that will reduce the level of certification and the competency of workers.
Hon. M. Stilwell: The assertion that this bill will cause decreased standards is an interpretation that I don't think is built into this bill. The bill refers to adopting national and international standards. So I can't see anything in this bill that requires me to believe that there will be a diminution of standards.
K. Corrigan: In section 3, the process by which an application would be made and, then, the follow-up process and so on…. The regulatory framework and the requirements, and so on, are included in that section.
But this issue that has been raised by my colleague in terms of the lowering of standards, I want to ask the simple question. Who is going to be applying? Is it not always the person who has had a lower level of training applying to challenge when they are not being certified by a B.C. regulatory authority?
Is that not where the conflict is going to happen — when you have somebody who has received a lower level of training? Is it also not true that we won't have any cases where somebody who has a higher level of training is going to be challenging under this act?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Again, I think that to frame the question in terms of higher standards and lower standards is subjective. The reason we have certifications of workers in any province is to have a simple and clear statement that the person is able to practise that occupation. That is basically what has happened. The regulatory bodies, as I said, for most of the defined occupations in Canada have been able to articulate those standards for those certificates across the country.
K. Corrigan: I appreciate that, and I've got to say that I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that we received assurances today that of the 228 occupations in this province that would be covered by this act, only four or five have not harmonized their requirements and that everybody's happy. It surprises me, but I'm honestly saying that I'm comforted by that.
But I do want to just ask the question again — the very small point but, I think, important — about who the applicant would be. My understanding is that the only time there would be a need for an application is if somebody is challenging the regulatory authorities' ability to deny them certification. My understanding would be that maybe there will be no applications. Maybe there's no need for this bill at all because it's all been worked out.
But if there are challenges, will it not always be somebody who has a lower level of training, a lower standard of training? Those will be the only people challenging under this section.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Going back to the initial part of your statement about the 228 occupations. I just want to clarify that those are agreements between B.C. and another province. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that all two hundred and X occupations have agreed across Canada, but B.C. has agreements with other provinces.
With respect to the legitimate objections, that does not depend on a test case. In fact, at the moment we have an objection — it is time-limited — around nurse practitioners. That's at the ministerial level. It doesn't require a challenge to make that exemption.
K. Corrigan: This harmonization. Is that…? Those agreements have been made, I would assume. Maybe you could clarify. How many of those harmonizations are with the province of Alberta?
Hon. M. Stilwell: My advice is: all of them.
[ Page 1315 ]
K. Corrigan: There's a lot that I don't like about the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, but it does have provision for a process of negotiation with regard to occupations. It gets back to our comments, or many of our comments, that we are concerned that we are using, essentially, a sledgehammer, and we're using the courts where a process which could work is to have discussions and negotiations.
The minister has confirmed that it's where…. My understanding is that it's been a very difficult two-year process to go through that, and that type of process has been abandoned with this legislation. I'm wondering if the minister has any comment on that.
Hon. M. Stilwell: My understanding is that the labour mobility protections are replicated or similar in TILMA and AIT.
K. Corrigan: It brings me to another question about the relationship between TILMA and this bill. If a worker wanted to challenge a decision of a regulatory authority under this act, would they have the ability if they were from B.C. or if they were from Alberta…?
Let's just use the example of Alberta, because it's the most obvious one. If they were from Alberta, would they have the ability to challenge either under TILMA or under this act? And how are the two going to fit together?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I'm advised that they could select their remedy.
K. Corrigan: Okay, thank you for that. They could select their remedy.
Are there any circumstances where one would be layered on top of the other? The reason I'm asking that is that TILMA has some pretty stringent provisions in it, and my concern would be that TILMA provisions would be layered on top of Bill 11. I just want to be really clear that the remedy would be one or the other.
If that is the case and they couldn't mesh the two together in any way…. Just a little bit, perhaps, of legal explanation of that. I'd like some comfort in that the two would not be meshed together and that the more stringent application of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility would not be layered on top of and meshed with this act.
Hon. M. Stilwell: The court or the panel would decide that.
K. Corrigan: Is there anything in this act or in the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement that it would be your understanding that would prohibit an individual who did not receive satisfaction in one forum going to the other forum to seek relief?
The Chair: Just to remind the member to speak through the Chair.
Hon. M. Stilwell: My advice is that, practically speaking, that wouldn't happen because the court or panel would sort that out.
K. Corrigan: The court or the panel would sort that out. Okay. I'm just trying to get my head around this. There are two different forums, and if somebody decided that they wanted to challenge through Bill 11, and they were somehow unsuccessful, at what point…? Would it be in the second challenge?
Are you suggesting that if they then challenged under the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement…? This would be a different type of forum. It would be a tribunal, not the court. Are you saying that that person would be refused the opportunity to bring their challenge by that tribunal, or vice versa, if they were to attempt to do that? I just haven't seen where that would be the case in either this act or in the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.
Hon. M. Stilwell: There would be nothing to stop a person from challenging under the other act.
The Chair: Member for Burnaby–Deer Lake, bear in mind we're discussing section 3 here, not section 4 of the bill.
K. Corrigan: Yes, thank you very much.
I want to talk a bit about section 3(2), which says: "A worker who holds a certification in relation to an extraprovincial occupation may, if there is a BC equivalent occupation, practise the BC equivalent occupation in British Columbia without obtaining the certification referred to…if" — I'm concerned about subsection (b), the B.C. equivalent — "the BC equivalent occupation is a prescribed occupation or an occupation within a prescribed class of occupations."
I just want to be clear that what is being referred to here is that the minister responsible will have the ability, through regulation, to designate certain occupations or full classes of occupation as being exempt from the requirement that somebody seek approval for their credentials through the regulatory body.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Using the Industry Training Authority as an example, this would continue the seamless recognition of certifications granted extraprovincially in respect of the trade certified by ITA. Workers having a trade certification from another province will be automatically recognized as qualified in B.C. with their current certification. They will not be required to reapply for a B.C. certificate. I'm sorry; I'm not sure if that answered your question.
[ Page 1316 ]
K. Corrigan: Madam Chair, through you again to the minister. It partially does. But I want to tie it down just a little bit more. I could see that as being an example, but is it also not possible through this provision that the minister could, or through regulation there could be a provision that where there hasn't been harmonization, where there hasn't been a process of harmonizing the requirements, that there is the power to regulate, to bring in a regulation that would say this occupation is not subject to the certification process through the regulatory authority?
I understand that there are some cases where you're talking about cases where you could see it applying in an appropriate way. I'm just wondering about what the limits to that authority are.
Hon. M. Stilwell: My advice is, practically speaking, that that would not happen. The intent is purely to recognize certification from other provinces in British Columbia, not to change the establishment and operation of regulatory bodies.
K. Corrigan: I appreciate that, but I just want to clarify, though, that it could be used, and I'll give you an example of a case that would be slightly different. What if there was a continuing tension between two provinces about qualifications, about certification and the education and so on that goes into that certification? Could not the minister, by regulation, then prescribe an occupation and theoretically say, essentially, "I've had enough of this. We are simply going to recognize this occupation and prescribe it by regulation," and end the difference of opinion between the two — the difference of opinion with the regulatory body?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The section and subsection you're describing are not designed for that, although later on in the act, there are provisions that we can talk about around that.
The Chair: I would like to remind the minister to speak through the Chair.
K. Corrigan: Through you to the minister, now we've both been reminded to speak through the Chair. We're learning.
I want to ask another question along the same lines. What is there in this to stop a province…? Let's say if all the provinces were to enact similar legislation…. They are in the process of doing it in some provinces right now. What if a province decided that they would be able to start an industry, have a substantial industry in churning out certifications? This is all theoretical, and I don't suspect any province of going so low as to do it.
But let's say a province was to decide that a good way to get students and training schools in their province was to just slightly lower the bar and make it a little bit easier for somebody to get what would then be a nationally recognized, almost in a pro forma way, certification. Could that province not, at any time, lower the standards without consultation with any other province and certify individuals? Those individuals, as long as the work that they were doing was not significantly different in any other provinces…. Is there anything to stop a province from going in that direction?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think we're getting into a speculation world now. I mean, I guess the ultimate answer is: all of these agreements are based on interprovincial cooperation agreements that have been signed at the level of first ministers and working for many years. The answer is: anything could happen, in which case we have the remedy of legitimate objection based on health, safety and consumer protection.
K. Corrigan: But the legitimate objectives only apply to a very narrow scope of provisions. If it is not within the legitimate objectives and is simply because a provincial regulator or a provincial government — whoever has the power to lower the standards — makes a decision, then the legitimate objectives will not help and will not apply. That would be my understanding.
Hon. M. Stilwell: First of all, I stand corrected. I thought it should be limited objection, but…. The answer is that those kinds of things would have to be settled at an interprovincial political level, if you will.
K. Corrigan: We have in these sections referenced article 707, the occupational standards. With regard to these applications and the provisions that will apply when an application is being made, 707(2) says:
"Each party shall, to the extent possible and where practical, adopt occupational standards based on common interprovincial standards, including occupational standards developed for the interprovincial standards Red Seal program, or international standards.
"The parties acknowledge their continued commitment to the interprovincial standards Red Seal program, including the use of national occupational analyses, as a well-established means of establishing common interprovincial standards for trades."
It's nice to see that recognition of the importance of the Red Seal program. But I just want to clarify that apart from a nice statement that we all recognize that it's valuable — and I appreciate that — is there anything in this agreement that requires the parties to live up to the standard of the Red Seal program?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I think that, again using the Red Seal, this bill is predicated on the previous agreement that those are the standards to which all parties agreed. I
[ Page 1317 ]
think we're getting into…. Are we not getting into talking about if one party or another abuses the agreement? Then that is a totally different…. It seems to me, at least, that that is a different situation.
It sort of seems to be referring back to section 2 — that the section prohibits British Columbia, for example, regulators from proposing or applying measures that are substantially different from what has already been agreed to.
K. Corrigan: I'm mentioning this because we're talking about the application of the agreement and how the decision is going to be made and what the framework is and how — not yet appeal — the decision has to be made. It does specifically talk in subsection (4) about if a regulatory authority is authorized to issue certification, they must consider and determine the application in a manner consistent with the government's obligations under chapter 7 of the agreement.
That's why I'm mentioning chapter 7 of the agreement at this point. I think we are now talking about the process that will occur when an application is being made and what the framework is for that.
So I just want to reiterate. I agree that there is a certain amount of allegiance to and agreement on the Red Seal program — a certain amount. But it is a little bit lukewarm in that where they say where it's possible and practical to adopt occupational standards on common interprovincial standards including the Red Seal program….
The reality is that in British Columbia the Red Seal program is being left behind in many occupations. Despite that commitment, the reality is that what we have in British Columbia for training is the lowest standards in many cases. In many cases, we have an abandonment of the Red Seal program.
Perhaps the minister can address that as well as a question about the national occupation analyses.
It is my understanding from talking to various people in various trades that the province of British Columbia is now reconsidering and exploring the national occupational analysis as perhaps not being appropriate and even setting standards that are too high.
I guess why I'm mentioning all this is that if the spirit is there for everybody to cooperate and for everybody to reach a standard, then yes, it will work. But there's nothing that seems to me that binds people to work. If we abandon the Red Seal or we abandon the national occupational analyses, then we do have that downward trend.
I guess you're asking us to believe that nobody across this country would want to do that. Maybe we could get a response on that.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I can't speak to the preliminary conversation about standards other than Red Seal, except to say the point and intent of this act is recognition of established certification. Clearly, we all understand that if you're Red Seal in Ontario, you're accepted in B.C.
With respect to the national occupation classification, I am not aware of any substitute or developed substitute for that.
K. Corrigan: It's my understanding that in introducing enabling legislation in Ontario, that Ontario has, in fact, included a requirement that occupations live up to the Red Seal program standard in that province. They've protected occupations in that way.
To be honest, I'm not absolutely positive about that, but that is my understanding. If that were the case or whether it's not the case, I'm wondering why we in British Columbia did not take that step to protect the important Red Seal program by enshrining it within the legislation.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I'm advised that, first of all, Ontario has a different legislative scheme and, therefore, a different starting point in terms of the relationship to the regulatory bodies — for what that's worth — but secondarily that our act obligates the regulatory authority to recognize the AIT so that the end result is similar.
K. Corrigan: I appreciate what you're saying, but I'm not sure why — whether there's anything in the AIT in the obligations we've undertaken, despite the fact that we have a different framework — there's anything in this that would prevent us from requiring that occupations live up to the Red Seal standard.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Article 706.2, subject to paragraph 3, 4 and article 708: "Each party shall recognize any worker holding a jurisdictional certification bearing the Red Seal endorsement under the interprovincial standards Red Seal program as qualified to practice the occupation identified in the certification."
K. Corrigan: I recognize that what it's saying is that we have to recognize the Red Seal program, but that wasn't my question. My question is: is there anything that would prevent us from having included in this legislation a requirement that the occupational standard be the Red Seal program?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The Industry Training Authority Act is the act that deals with the Red Seal program, and it's not the intent of this act to do so.
R. Chouhan: Subsection (3) and subsection (4) of section 3 — they're talking about regulatory authorities and requiring them to publish, on a website, information about how workers from other provinces can apply and are granted certifications.
[ Page 1318 ]
Similarly in subsection (4), regulatory authority is required to do things like background checks, verifications, etc. So who would pay for this extra cost, this work taken up by the regulatory authorities?
Hon. M. Stilwell: My understanding is that…. Well, first of all, the regulatory bodies will be required to post the information on their websites, and they all have websites.
R. Chouhan: This is the extra work — not only the information that they have to put on their website. They also have to do background checkups before they issue certification. That will require extra time of the staff. So would the government be…? Is it the ministry who is going to pay them extra funding to make up for that extra cost that they will have to bear?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is that the applicant will pay for whatever work needs to be done, as long as it is within the scope of what's required to get the certification. The applicants will pay the fees, as they would now.
R. Chouhan: Just arising out of that…. If there's a dispute, if it goes all the way up to the Supreme Court, would the regulatory authority be required to pay for legal expenses for that, or is the province responsible?
Hon. M. Stilwell: As is the current case, the applicant would pay his or her costs of the appeal, and the regulatory body pays their share of the cost of the appeal.
R. Chouhan: So that's an additional cost that these regulatory authorities will now be incurring because of Bill 11. That extra cost…. Are they going to get additional funding to pay for that?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is that the situation will be unchanged. Regulatory bodies are self-financed, usually through membership fees. Right now when an applicant applies, they pay a fee, and the regulatory body bears those costs.
M. Sather: On section 3(5). "A worker who holds a certification in relation to an extraprovincial occupation and who is authorized to practise the BC equivalent operation in British Columbia in accordance with this section may use, in British Columbia, the occupational title, designation or abbreviated title or designation applicable to the BC equivalent occupation."
Does that mean, then, that a worker who was, basically, task-trained — as it's called in the vernacular of current practices in labour in British Columbia — as a roofer could call himself or herself a journeyman carpenter?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The short answer is no, but since I have these lovely notes, I will expand.
This subsection confirms that workers who obtain a British Columbia certification and are authorized to practise their occupation in B.C. are permitted to use, within B.C., the occupational title — for example, professional engineer designation — or related abbreviated title or designation — example, P.Eng. — that accompanies certification for that profession or occupation in B.C. If the occupational title differs in other jurisdictions, workers would not be entitled to use that title in B.C.
K. Corrigan: I want to go back to section 3(4) and just clarify what the progress would be with an applicant.
Section 3(4) makes it really clear that a regulatory authority must consider the application "…in a manner consistent with the government's obligations under Chapter Seven of the Agreement" and "…must issue any certification required by Chapter Seven of the Agreement…"
I just want to ask the minister…. I just want to get clarification that that means that the regulatory authority, even if they have differing opinions on whether or not that worker should be certified, is required because of that provision, section 3(4), to certify that person, whether or not that would be what they necessarily would want to do.
Hon. M. Stilwell: This subsection sets out the key obligation for a British Columbia regulator to accept the certifications granted to workers by a regulator in another Canadian jurisdiction in respect of a particular occupation. This requires B.C. regulators who receive applications from workers certified in another jurisdiction to apply the labour mobility provisions of chapter 7 of the AIT when considering the applications and to issue any certification required according to those provisions.
K. Corrigan: I want to go to subsection (5) again. It's been touched on a little bit, but I wanted to ask a question.
If somebody came from another jurisdiction where a title was not used in their practice, in their certification…. I just want to be clear that whether or not they had that designation and that title in their home province, if they came to British Columbia, they would then be allowed to use that designation.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Once the worker is certified, it is intended that the workers would have the same rights and would be subject, therefore, on the flip side, to the same restrictions and obligations as members of that profession or occupation who are certified under the usual qualifications or admission processes in B.C.
So the short answer is: once certified in B.C., there would be no distinction between them or workers qualifying under a different stream, and therefore would use the B.C. title.
[ Page 1319 ]
K. Corrigan: I actually think that I don't have any more questions at this point.
D. Black: In light of much of the dialogue that's taken place over this section, I would like to propose and move an amendment.
That would be to add the following paragraph:
(a) by adding the following paragraph to section 3(4):
(d) may require the applicant to demonstrate knowledge of matters applicable to the practice of the regulated occupation in British Columbia.]
On the amendment.
D. Black: Part of the rationale for this has been evident in the questions that have been asked by my colleagues here today, in particular my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake. But also, this amendment arises from a similar provision in the Ontario act that the B.C. act is lacking — an exception to the prohibition against imposing material additional training, experience, examinations or assessments.
An Ontario regulator may require an out-of-province applicant to "demonstrate knowledge of matters applicable to the practice of the regulated occupation in Ontario, as long as this does not involve material additional training, experience, examinations or assessments." That's section 9(5)3.
This seems like an important provision, considering that many occupations that we will be certifying require knowledge of, for example, the B.C. building code, workplace safety or other provincial regulations. In chapter 7 it is article 706, paragraph 4, which states that "regulatory authorities may still refuse to certify a worker if they have such things as professional complaints against them or if they haven't practised the occupation in a certain period of time or if they have practice limitations on them in their own province."
For the reasons that we've articulated here today and the example from Ontario, I hope that the government will give serious consideration and support this amendment.
K. Corrigan: I'm rising up to speak in support of the amendment. I appreciate the comments that have been made and the forthright answers that the minister has given to us on the many questions that we have asked today. I think that those answers rest upon an assumption and a belief and maybe a hope that all the provincial players across the country will want to rise up to a high level of certification.
Unfortunately, I'm not so sure that that will always happen. Therefore, I think we need to put some provisions into this bill that will allow a regulatory authority to have some independent ability, not hampered by chapter 7, that will allow them to require demonstration of the knowledge of the matters, as the amendment suggests.
For that reason, I am certainly supportive of the amendment that has been proposed.
M. Sather: I rise to speak in favour of the amendment to section 4 of Bill 11, which adds: "(d) may require the applicant to demonstrate knowledge of matters applicable to the practice of the regulated occupation in British Columbia."
A couple things I'd like to say about this amendment. It's clearly a flexible amendment, and I know the government is fond of flexibility. It says, simply, that there may be a requirement for the applicant to demonstrate knowledge. So if the government chooses, I suppose, not to invoke — the regulator or the government, whoever the case may be — that subsection, they could do so.
Clearly, this is a commonsense amendment suggesting that an applicant should be able to demonstrate knowledge of matters applicable to the practice of the regulated occupation in B.C.
Surely we can all agree that we want to have labour standards, labour practices, in our province that lead to not only higher productivity…. As I tried to allude to earlier in my comments, productivity is determined considerably by education and training. We want to know that our workforce is going to be productive; that when they get on the job, they do have knowledge of what they're doing; and that, at least at a base level, they can demonstrate that knowledge to those who would want to and need to regulate it, if you will.
I know that regulation is a bit of a dirty word with this government, but I think it's foolhardy to simply suggest that anybody can do various occupations. It's a basic mistake, and I hear the government making this mistake, whether it's about a professional authority or whether it's a trade. I've heard horror stories from folks that train individuals to operate cranes on construction sites — about the lack of training that some of those individuals have.
We know, too, that we've suffered a lot of casualties in this province recently, over the last number of years, and that safety has to be a concern always when we engage someone in an occupation, when we ask them to do a job. It's incumbent upon us as legislators to ensure that we take great care to ensure that our workforce is not only trained but that they're going to be safe.
So this is a very commonsense, not in any way heavy-handed, amendment to a piece of legislation that is…. Well, let's say that it has a tremendous amount of flexibility. I would tend to call it weak and ineffective. Nonetheless, I think that the government side could help not us but the people of British Columbia, the workers of British Columbia, to pass this amendment so that
[ Page 1320 ]
there can be some greater level of protection for them than is encompassed in this bill as it is.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I just wanted to say that the amendment is not required, as in fact, flexibility is provided on interpretation by 706(3)(f). As well, there is a provision for conditional licenses.
Amendment negatived on division.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
D. Black: Section 4 allows a worker who is denied certification or who's granted "certification on terms, conditions or requirements" to appeal. The worker must first use any administrative review and appeal process normally available under the regulatory authority in question. If they're not happy with that outcome, they can appeal for review to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, if they believe that the decision reached on their application is not in accordance with this act and with chapter 7 of the AIT.
The case to the Supreme Court needs to be argued in reference with the government's obligations under chapter 7 of the AIT, and the court must determine whether the decision under review was consistent with chapter 7. If it was inconsistent, it must refer the application back to the applicable B.C. regulator, with directions. The applicable B.C. regulator must reconsider the application in accordance with those directions.
The question that arises out of that is…. This is a significant change, we believe, in this section as compared to the earlier introduction of the Labour Mobility Act, Bill 9, in the spring of 2009.
In this bill, subsection 4(3) states:
"Each person or body conducting an administrative review or appeal referred to in subsection (2) (a) must consider and determine the administrative review or appeal in accordance with the obligations imposed on the government and the regulatory authority under the following: (a) this Act; (b) Chapter Seven of the Agreement; (c) to the extent that it does not conflict with paragraphs (a) and (b), the governing Act."
Whereas in Bill 9, subsection 4(2) stated:
"On a review or appeal under subsection (1) (a), the person or body that has the authority to consider reviews and appeals under the governing Act has the authority to consider the review or appeal under subsection (1) (a) and is to do so as if the application for certification under this Act were an application for certification made under the governing Act."
So my question to the minister is: why was this change made between the two bills?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The reason is that the application — it's a clarification, really — is still made under the governing act.
D. Black: I thank the minister for her response, but in going through this, it would appear that the change requires the administrative review to be conducted under this act in chapter 7 instead of under the governing act. I just want to ask for a little clarification on that because it's certainly not clear.
Hon. M. Stilwell: This was added to avoid the possibility that it would overrule the governance of the regulatory body — that the application and the review are under the governing act of the regulatory body.
K. Corrigan: Section 4(3) is troubling to me. I understand why it has to be there — because of the obligations that we have undertaken as a province in a deal that was signed without public scrutiny.
I do want to mention that again. You know, what we have been required to do is to create an act to enable us as a province to comply with an agreement that was signed behind closed doors without any public consultation whatsoever. Therefore, we're put in this position now of having to impose provisions upon a regulatory authority because of this deal that's been signed.
So as far as section 4(3) is concerned, I just want to have the minister confirm that, in fact, what is happening is that the regulatory authority has lost its ability to make a determination or to hear the review or appeal, depending on what the process is with the regulatory authority. They've lost the authority to make that determination on the basis of their own criteria that they have set.
Instead, whatever requirements they previously might have had are now subsumed by both this act and chapter 7 of the agreement.
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is that where there is inconsistency, the AIT and Bill 11 will take precedence.
I just want to go back, because a little light went on when we were talking about Alberta. When I said "all," there are the two exceptions that I had mentioned previously — lawyers from Quebec, which wouldn't apply to Alberta, but the other one is the time limited objective about nurse practitioners. That actually applies to Alberta, as well, so I apologize.
K. Corrigan: I want to go back because we moved away from it a bit earlier. It probably was a discussion that was better under section 4. We kind of crept into section 4 while we were discussing section 3, I believe it was, or even 2.
So I want to go back to TILMA and how TILMA would interface with the Bill 11 process in terms of the review and appeal — in terms of reviews. I want to get real clarification that what the minister has said is that the person
[ Page 1321 ]
would choose one mechanism or the other. If they ended up at the end not having satisfaction, would they or would they not have the ability to use the other mechanism? Just go through that again, if you don't mind.
Hon. M. Stilwell: So through the AIT, my understanding is that you can approach it through either or both. Through TILMA, depending whether there's a provision to exhaust remedies — and I don't have that information — then once we're done, you could approach via AIT, remembering that, of course, TILMA only applies to Alberta. So obviously, there's theoretically an 8⁄10 chance that it wouldn't be TILMA.
K. Corrigan: Madam Chair, through you to the minister. Well, you're saying AIT, but I just want to make it clear that we're talking about this act and that that, therefore, incorporates the AIT. That could end, in the end, with a Supreme Court reference. So can you clarify that….
The Chair: Member, once again, through the Chair to the minister.
K. Corrigan: Yes, I thought I said that at the beginning.
K. Corrigan: Oh yes. Thank you for that clarification.
Can the minister clarify: one is a Supreme Court reference; one is a tribunal? I'm just trying to get it really clear that you could do one and then the other if you weren't successful.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Under TILMA, part 2(a), "Extent of Obligations":
"In the event of an inconsistency between provisions…2 and 5 of this agreement and any provision of the agreement on internal trade, the provision that is more conducive to Liberalized trade, investment, and labour mobility prevails between the parties. In the event that such a provision of the agreement on internal trade is determined to be more conducive to liberalized trade investments and labour mobility, the provision is hereby incorporated into and made part of this agreement."
I think that the practical reality is that you would end up using AIT — plus, there is also a local remedies requirement in TILMA.
K. Corrigan: So if the minister could clarify, then…. I'm trying to get my head around this. That means that TILMA would apply. But if the applicant had made the decision that they wanted to go at this from the Bill 11 approach, then how would TILMA, which is to prevail, suddenly take over the proceedings — which it sort of makes it sound like from what you're saying? Help me if I'm wrong on that, please.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Hon. M. Stilwell: It may be that I don't understand exactly what the question is, but it would seem to me, at least, that Bill 11 disciplines AIT and requires the regulatory bodies to meet AIT obligations.
TILMA says that people who had certifications in Alberta would be the only people who would be concerned directly with that question and, given what I just read, it would seem to me that it clearly says that the one that's more liberal to labour mobility would be applicable, and that's AIT. I'm not sure if that helps.
K. Corrigan: I just would seek clarification from the minister, then, that what that means is that if that is the provision in TILMA, then does TILMA in some way thwart the process under Bill 11? If somebody makes a decision that they want to apply according to Bill 11, and if the provisions of TILMA are more liberal, does that then mean that an application would be stopped at some point — an application by somebody seeking certification — because there was a submission made that TILMA was more liberal and, therefore, the section 11 process should not apply?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Relating, I think, the question back to TILMA — part 4, "Dispute Resolution Procedures," article 24, "Application…." Let me just figure out which one of these it is. Yes, No. 3: "Where a party or person believes that a measure is inconsistent with both the agreement on internal trade and this agreement, they must choose which agreement's dispute resolution process to use and, once chosen, will have no recourse to the other process regarding the same measure." So I apologize. That's outlined there.
K. Corrigan: So the minister is, then, confirming that if somebody were to challenge, under Bill 11, that there would then be at some point…. What the minister has read says that the individual would have to make a choice but has also read a section from TILMA which said that if one is more liberal, then it prevails. I'm trying to figure out how those two seemingly, possibly inconsistent provisions would be harmonized.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I believe that the net effect is that the AIT provisions are incorporated into TILMA by the paragraph I first read.
K. Corrigan: Okay. Thank you for that.
Just on the question of payment. I'm going to ask this question. Because there's no provision right now for penalties…. I guess I'll just ask the more general question and just confirm that responsibility for the costs associated with this review and appeal process right to
[ Page 1322 ]
the Supreme Court, the responsibility for bearing the cost of the appeal and, I would presume, also any penalties that are invoked….
Who would take responsibility? Who would the cost be assigned to of the various parties?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I interpret the question as relating to court costs — the costs of each party going to court, the applicant and the regulatory body. Each of them would pay their costs, as they would now. As would be the case now, a court decision could take into account and make awards relating to costs.
K. Corrigan: I was wondering about that. I'm speculating on the issue of penalties. We don't know about the penalties yet, because the chapter 17 provisions have not been made public; although, I do understand that they've been signed already.
I think on this section that perhaps I'll just…. I won't ask any more questions at this point.
M. Sather: I'm curious about the issue of TILMA, which this government passed, having no recourse to the Supreme Court. There's a tribunal that rules, but in this case, with the AIT, as encompassed in this bill as well, there is recourse to the Supreme Court.
I would have thought that the government would have preferred the tribunal route. I'm wondering if there were discussions that took place with the other parties and the federal government to try to have the same route as was taken in TILMA as opposed to recourse to the Supreme Court.
Hon. M. Stilwell: To my knowledge there was no consultation with respect to that specifically, and this represents the British Columbia government's drafting.
M. Sather: So I'm just wondering what to conclude from that — why there wouldn't have been any discussions. Does the member and does the government feel that, in fact…. I know that the government tried to sell TILMA to other provinces unsuccessfully and now is going to add labour mobility at least — that part of it — through the AIT.
Has the government concluded, then, that in fact the AIT is going to be more effective and the mechanisms are more effective than those adopted by TILMA? Is that why there were no discussions?
Hon. M. Stilwell: TILMA was an inciting event that was successful between B.C. and Alberta and then led the other provinces to see the benefits of labour mobility and then enabled the wider agreement of the AIT.
M. Sather: That doesn't make sense to me. If the other provinces saw the benefits of TILMA, why didn't they embrace TILMA?
Hon. M. Stilwell: As you know, TILMA involves much more than labour mobility, so it's sort of like comparing apples and oranges. This bill was simply selected as the best mechanism for the implementation of the AIT.
K. Corrigan: I just wanted to go back and quickly revisit something that was said in the context of section 4 — and not quite let it go by. When we've had all of this discussion about TILMA and so on, I am not so clear, not so sure, that we can be absolutely confident that TILMA only applies to people who are coming from Alberta and who might challenge the training requirements, the certification requirements.
I know that has been the position of government for some time, but I think there is some legal question as to whether or not…. Because of the wording of TILMA, there might be some question as to whether somebody coming from another province who then moves to B.C. might be able to take advantage of the operation of TILMA within British Columbia, whether or not they have come from Alberta. I certainly….
Well, I'll just leave it at that, and I would like that on record. I would ask the minister for clarification about whether or not the government position is that there is absolutely no possibility that somebody who is not certified in Alberta — is certified somewhere else — cannot come to B.C. and avail themselves of the provisions of TILMA because of the way it talks about somebody working…. I won't try to quote it, because I don't have it in front of me today, but I would just like some clarification from the minister on that point.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Article 13 in TILMA gives recognition to a certification from Alberta. I think the phrase "a person from Alberta" only has relevance if they are certified in Alberta. Then they have a choice of remedies, regardless of where they're from, and they wouldn't necessarily have to live in Alberta. It totally relates to the certification.
K. Corrigan: Thanks to the minister for that. I also don't want to leave this section — it's probably the last thing I want to ask about — until I've asked a question or two more about costs. I see later — and this is only mentioning later sections in reference to section 4 — that there is the ability of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to make all sorts of regulations. It says "rules, orders, forms and directions" and so on, but I don't see anything that talks about money, particularly.
It's my understanding that the provincial government has negotiated but it has not made public section 17 of
[ Page 1323 ]
the agreement on internal trade and that there has been an agreement that there will be penalties up to the maximum of $5 million. I've seen that in federal government websites. My understanding is that that's sitting there and at some point will be made public.
Because we're talking about directions and we've been asking about costs and it's not specifically referred to later, I would like to ask the minister if the cost associated with a penalty — if there was to be a penalty of $5 million — would then be imposed in the same way that the answer was earlier about whoever were the parties to the process. Could it apply, then, to the regulatory authority? I guess that's the main thing I want to find out.
Hon. M. Stilwell: As distinct from costs, which we discussed in the previous question, the question with respect to penalties relating to compliance with AIT relates to penalties to provinces which do not comply with the agreement.
K. Corrigan: I'm hoping the minister can just absolutely tie down that what is being said is: when that penalty regime is in place and made public, then it would be the province, under this agreement, which would be penalized up to $5 million, as opposed to the regulator.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Without speaking to amounts, my understanding is that the penalty relates and applies to provinces which do not comply with AIT.
K. Corrigan: Thanks to the minister for that response.
I just would like to ask another question on this. I am wondering if there is contemplation of any circumstances where the regulatory authority could be a municipality, a school board, another government institution or a post-secondary institution.
The reason I ask this is that I know there's a different kind of regulatory framework in other provinces. The legislation in Ontario specifically deals with regulatory authorities that are municipalities, school boards and, I think, post-secondary institutions. So my question to the minister is: does this act contemplate any situation where the regulatory authority affected could be a municipality, a school board or a post-secondary educational institution?
Hon. M. Stilwell: My understanding is that the answer is: in B.C. it relates only to a regulatory body that issues the certificate of qualification.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
D. Black: Section 5 is a new addition to the labour mobility bill presented by this government. In Bill 9 there was no such provision.
Occupational regulatory authorities are deemed to have mobility provisions, which are bylaws that affect or may affect the ability of a worker from another province to work in B.C.
Subsection (2) says that they may only amend or repeal these provisions in ways that make them comply with this act, the regulations and chapter 7 of the AIT. Subsection (3) says that the minister charged with the administration of the act under which an occupation is governed may request specific changes be made to mobility provisions or that it be repealed.
Subsection (4) allows the minister to compel changes to a regulatory authority's mobility provisions if they don't comply with a request within 60 days. Subsection (5) specifies that a minister's amended mobility provisions take precedence over the regulatory authorities.
The definition of "authorizing enactment" in subsection (1) excludes occupations governed by the health professions. The entirety of section 5 is new to Bill 11. It wasn't in Bill 9, which was presented earlier this year, in the spring of this year. There were no provisions for the responsible minister to suggest changes or actually unilaterally change the bylaws or the rules or resolutions.
My question to the minister is: why was this change made? What made the government think that this was a necessary power to invest in the minister?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Over the summer we had the benefit of time and of seeing other provinces' acts. We decided to adopt the remedy for non-compliance while first giving the regulators a chance to align with compliance. We concluded that this was the best remedy, based on two other provinces.
M. Sather: On section 5(1), "authorizing enactment" means "an enactment, other than the Health Professions Act." I just wanted to ask the minister why the Health Professions Act was excluded from that authorizing enactment definition.
Hon. M. Stilwell: The Health Professions Act is excluded as it already incorporates labour mobility provisions and a process whereby regulators' bylaws can be ordered amended.
M. Sather: Does that mean, then, that the professions that are regulated by the Health Professions Act are in some way exempt in the provisions of Bill 11?
Hon. M. Stilwell: No. It's simply not required because there are already provisions in the act.
M. Sather: Just a question and clarification on section (3)(a). It says: "may request the regulatory authority to
[ Page 1324 ]
amend the mobility provision to make it comply with one or more of this Act…." I don't understand that phrase. Am I missing something there? One or more what of this act?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Through to the member, I think it's just how you're reading it. After the comma, where it says: "with one or more of this Act, the regulations and the Agreement…." So it's all three. It's a list, I think.
Sections 5 and 6 approved.
On section 7.
M. Sather: I'm sure I must be missing something here, so I'll need some explanation. Section 7 is very short. It's that the agreement does not become law. "Nothing in this Act renders the Agreement" — that's the agreement on internal trade, of course — "an enactment or otherwise gives to the Agreement the force of law."
Well, this is legislation. If it's not law…. It's all about the agreement on internal trade, so if it's not law, what are we doing here? I'm missing something here.
Hon. M. Stilwell: This section is included in order to clarify that the act in itself does not serve to render the AIT an enactment or give it the force of law. This ensures that the AIT, for all purposes external to the Labour Mobility Act, remains to be interpreted on its own terms.
M. Sather: I can understand that the AIT should be free, notwithstanding this act, to be interpreted on its own. But how, then, when this act imports all these provisions of the AIT, can they have the…? Does this bill have the force of law? If it does, how can it if all the provisions that it's importing don't have the force of law? I still don't understand.
Hon. M. Stilwell: What this bill does is serve to implement a trade agreement, which is in itself not a law.
K. Corrigan: This is not a question; this is a comment. I appreciate what the minister says. But I do think that the provision, as well as the comment that was made about it, demonstrates yet again one of the real problems of this way of doing business, this way of creating law, in that there are multiple references to, and there is deferment to, an agreement which has been negotiated in private — without any kind of public consultation, without any kind of public knowledge.
We end up, then, with a fairly short bill at the end of it, the purpose of which is not to have discussion or allow any kind of public discussion about whether or not the agreement itself is a good thing for British Columbians but merely to discuss the implementation of the act.
It really bothers me that this is the way that we are making law in this country, because although it says it's not a law, the full force and the power of the agreement on internal trade is being imposed, or superimposed, on this bill, and I don't think it's transparent.
Section 7 approved.
On section 8.
D. Black: Section 8 establishes that the government or another person can't be sued solely because of the AIT, except for a proceeding under chapter 17 of the AIT, which is the dispute resolution procedure.
One of the difficulties we have is that that process hasn't ended yet — the negotiations on chapter 17 of the AIT. There's nothing in the public domain that tells us what is in chapter 17. We understood that it's still being negotiated. My colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake has understood that those negotiations may have ended, but that nothing has been released into the public domain.
It's very difficult for the official opposition to understand why we would be passing legislation that leaves this great hole and this great opening where another piece of negotiated agreement will be imposed into the bill after the bill has been passed.
We don't know what chapter 17 entails. I must say that we have a great deal of difficulty with that provision. Can the minister enlighten us in any way, shape or form where we can find the public information on what is entailed in chapter 17, and give us some kind of assurance on this side of the House?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Chapter 17 is posted on the AIT website as of October 17. There are some amendments being negotiated, but it is posted on the AIT website.
D. Black: But that's entirely my point. It's still being negotiated. Part of that chapter is still being negotiated. Therefore, I would like to submit an amendment to this legislation.
[Section 8: (a) by repealing subsection (2)]
On the amendment.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I apologize. I misunderstood. In fact, it's been ratified. It is posted. There are not amendments being negotiated. I apologize.
D. Black: Is the minister saying that there's no further negotiation on the AIT and that chapter of the AIT — that it's signed, sealed and delivered, and whatever is posted on the website now is the way that that chapter will remain?
[ Page 1325 ]
Hon. M. Stilwell: The last signature on the tenth protocol of amendment containing amendments to chapter 17 was filed with the secretariat on October 7, 2009. Thus, October 7, 2009 is the date of entry into force of the new chapter 17.
D. Black: And the minister is telling us that each and every province and territory that's subject to these provisions has signed on to that chapter.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Yes, that is my understanding.
K. Corrigan: I just want to clarify that these amendments that you're referring to about October 7 are the same amendments that I saw posted on a federal website that talked about the fact that there would be, under chapter 17, penalties of up to $5 million.
Hon. M. Stilwell: At this time, I do believe that that is correct.
Amendment negatived on division.
Section 8 approved.
On section 9.
K. Corrigan: It is presumably through regulation that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council can make significant changes or additions to this act. I want to ask if it is the understanding of the minister that included in the power to make regulations is the ability to incorporate the provisions of chapter 17 and that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council could have the ability to impose those significant finds that we've been talking about through the regulations that are later enacted under section 9.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I do not believe that there is any intent or power to do that.
K. Corrigan: I want to clarify, then, that it's not in this section that there would be the ability to impose penalties under chapter 17 of the AIT, but I know we've passed section 8. So that would be section 8, then, where that penalty would be imposed?
Hon. M. Stilwell: There is no power to do that under this act. There would only be between the parties of the agreement under the AIT.
K. Corrigan: So it would not be under this act, but because this bill incorporates or references the AIT, then penalties could be imposed, just for clarification on that. You've probably already said that, but I just want to make sure that I've got that right.
Hon. M. Stilwell: No, there is no power to do that in this.
K. Corrigan: To make it absolutely clear to somebody who's not really clear at this point, the minister is saying that there is no way, if somebody was to take this process through Bill 11 — make an application under section 3, then review under section 4, then no regulation at all, and then they went to court — that there is no ability to impose a financial penalty through any of this process, either through the incorporation of chapter 17 or any other provisions of the AIT or through any regulation that the cabinet might make or somehow through a parallel incorporation of the AIT provisions.
Hon. M. Stilwell: No.
K. Corrigan: I have no more questions at this particular moment.
D. Black: Well, section 9 is actually the longest section in the entire bill and goes through a number of the ways that cabinet can make regulations that affect quite a number of organizations in the province, yet there's no provision anywhere in the bill or in section 9 for public input or consultation. I want to move an amendment to section 9.
[Section 9 is amended:
(a) By adding subsection (1.1):
(1.1) Before making a regulation under this Act and before considering a measure under section 2, the Lieutenant Governor in Council must first consult publicly by issuing a notification of the regulatory change or measure in question and inviting submissions and public comment for a period of at least 60 days before the regulation or measure is passed or approved, and the minister must notify and invite submissions from parties affected by the regulation or measure in question, including applicable employers, trade unions, professional associations, regulatory authorities and governing bodies.]
I so move that amendment, Madam Speaker.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I rise on a point of order that this amendment involves the public expenditure of money and is therefore out of order.
The Chair: The minister is correct. The amendment, in fact, on the face of it, appears to involve the expenditure of public dollars and, in fact, would not be appropriate.
Amendment ruled out of order.
K. Corrigan: Subsection 9(2)(h). I'm wondering why that subsection was added when it wasn't in the previous incarnation of this, which was Bill 9 in the spring session. I'm wondering if the minister could clarify that.
[ Page 1326 ]
Hon. M. Stilwell: Subsection 9(2)(h) permits the exemption of an occupation from application of requirements of the act in circumstances where jurisdictions have agreed and are working towards arriving at common certification requirements. As noted in subsection (5), any regulations made under this section are repealed two years after the coming into force of this section, rendering the provision to have time-limited application.
K. Corrigan: I don't actually have any more comments at this point on section 9.
Sections 9 to 22 inclusive approved.
On section 23.
M. Sather: These are amendments consequential to the Wildlife Act. It says: "(1) A regional manager" — that would be a regional manager of wildlife, of course — "(a) may issue a guide outfitter licence to a person if all of the following apply: (i) the person is a citizen of Canada or a permanent resident of Canada; (ii) the person has public liability insurance prescribed by regulation; (iii) the person has other qualifications prescribed by regulation." How is this different than the provisions of the Wildlife Act as they currently stand?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The only change is currently in part (b). It now says "must issue" versus previously it was discretionary.
M. Sather: On subsection (b), then: "must issue a guide outfitter licence to a person if the person is a person to whom the regional manager is obliged under the Labour Mobility Act to issue a guide outfitter licence."
I take it from what the minister said, then, that the references to the Labour Mobility Act were already there in the legislation. My question, then, is: what qualifications do they have to have now to be a licensed guide-outfitter that they didn't have to have before this legislation?
Hon. M. Stilwell: I'm sorry. Can I ask you to repeat the question? I didn't hear it this time.
M. Sather: Well, there are actually a couple of questions. Was the provision for the Labour Mobility Act in this act before, or is this new? I understood from what the minister said that it wasn't, that it was already in there, because she said the only change was adding "must" to section (b). I'll just ask that question first, then.
Hon. M. Stilwell: Yes, the only change is that now a regional manager must give the licence versus previously.
M. Sather: How does the Labour Mobility Act, then, have any bearing on a person getting a guide-outfitter licence?
Hon. M. Stilwell: The answer is because it is a regulated occupation and covered by AIT.
Section 23 approved.
On section 24.
M. Sather: This one says that:
"(1) The regional manager or the regional manager's designate (a) may issue an assistant guide licence or an assistant angling guide licence to a person if both of the following apply: (i) the person is a citizen of Canada or a permanent resident of Canada; (ii) the person is 19 years of age or older, and (b) must issue an assistant guide licence to a person if the person is a person to whom the regional manager is obliged under the Labour and Mobility Act to issue an assistant guide licence."
Is this the same effect, then? Is it just the changing of one word as in the last section that we're looking at here — it's "must" or "may"? Or are there additional ramifications for an assistant guide licence that there weren't before?
Hon. M. Stilwell: Yes, you are correct.
Sections 24 and 25 approved.
Hon. M. Stilwell: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
Motion approved on division.
The committee rose at 6:19 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 11 — LABOUR MOBILITY ACT
Bill 11, Labour Mobility Act, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed on division.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. de Jong: I call committee stage of Bill 12, the Ombudsman Amendment Act, 2009.
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Committee of the Whole House
BIll 12 — OMBUDSMAN
AMENDMENT ACT, 2009
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 12; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 6:22 p.m.
On section 1.
A. Dix: Perhaps in all this, just for the purposes of people watching at home, the minister can explain the purpose of these sections. We'll do it maybe all in section 1 and just pass it then.
It seems, on the face of it, to be a complicated bill, but in fact, you're just replacing one word with another throughout the act.
Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the member for the question. In fact, what is taking place here is the change in title from the term that has been in place for 30 years — "ombudsman" — to "ombudsperson" for all of the reasons that we canvassed in second reading.
Not only is the title of the act changed, but anywhere in the act where the term ombudsman appears, hereafter the term ombudsperson will appear. And in any of the additional pieces of legislation, as covered by the consequential amendments, wherever the term ombudsman appears, that will be replaced.
Going forward, the proper term and the term of usage will be ombudsperson, and as was canvassed yesterday, this takes place both in response to a request from the present ombudsman — and she will maintain that title until this act is proclaimed — and it also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Office of the Ombudsman in British Columbia and the 200th anniversary of the creation of the office in the country of origin, Sweden.
Sections 1 to 7 inclusive approved.
Schedules 1 and 2 approved.
Hon. M. de Jong: Hon. Chair, I move the committee rise, report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 6:24 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 12 — OMBUDSMAN
AMENDMENT ACT, 2009
Bill 12, Ombudsman Amendment Act, 2009, 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 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:25 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
HEALTHY LIVING AND SPORT
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); N. Letnick in the chair.
The committee met at 2:29 p.m.
On Vote 35: ministry operations, $85,078,000.
The Chair: Minister, would you like to proceed with opening comments?
Hon. I. Chong: I would like to just preface the estimates debate with a few opening remarks and really thank everyone who is currently here and who perhaps will be attending over the next number of hours to participate in the debate.
It is certainly a pleasure of mine to have this opportunity to speak about the work that we're doing here in British Columbia to protect the health of British Columbians and to promote the very best possible health outcome for everyone living in this province.
As individuals, as communities and as a province, good health is primary. Good health is the most important asset that we can own. We are living longer, and that's a good thing.
Healthier lives and healthier communities are experiencing lasting economic and social benefits as well. As we host more major sporting events and as more people
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participate and excel in sports, this contributes to a more vibrant and a healthier province.
This is an exciting time here in British Columbia. As you know, hon. Chair, we will be hosting, in very short order, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. We're going to be hosting the world. We're going to be having thousands and thousands of people attending, and as well, we will be having billions of pairs of eyes watching here in Vancouver.
What a great opportunity that is to showcase our province and reap the economic benefits of a world-class sporting event. Those economic benefits are going to be far-reaching long after the Olympic Games are over. It's going to allow us to continue to provide those important dollars to invest in our communities for those healthy outcomes.
Our vision of healthy people, healthy communities, healthy lifestyles and individual excellence guides our work for this major event as well as for the long-term sustainability of our health care system. We have heard time and time again how the demands on our health care system require more dollars as well as more technology, and that's why it's important that as we move forward, we have a sustainable health care system. But it still depends on a strong and healthy economy.
This ministry in particular, our Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, is actively working with a number of organizations, partnering with them to maximize our collective resources in order to work at all levels and for the greatest reach possible. From the grass-roots community level right up to the World Health Organization, the WHO, we are promoting programs and initiatives that get British Columbians on board with choosing the best options possible for their health.
We continue to uphold our commitment to building a new relationship with first nations and aboriginal people based on mutual respect, recognition and reconciliation.
Public health improvements continue to evolve here in British Columbia, whether they be for vaccinations, control of infectious diseases, safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies, or recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard. Right off the top, we know that the H1N1 flu virus registers as a major concern and certainly one this ministry has been actively engaged in.
Joining me today from the ministry is Dr. Perry Kendall, who is our provincial health officer. Also, to my left is the deputy minister for the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, Grant Main. Behind them, I have the pleasure as well of introducing Wes Boyd, assistant deputy minister of finance, and Andrew Hazlewood. He is the assistant deputy minister of population and public health. As the hours progress and we find there are other areas and topics of interest, I will ask for the opportunity to bring additional staff forward and introduce them at that time.
We have worked very closely with our federal colleagues and with the health authorities. I just want to say that we are very much ready to implement the sequencing of the administration of the H1N1 vaccine based on our priority list. After we've taken care of those most vulnerable populations — and that includes people at risk of illness, the homeless, first nations — everyone who needs and everyone who wants the H1N1 vaccine will be recommended to receive it.
In the meantime, we are actively promoting public awareness for prevention techniques that will help people to stay healthy and will minimize potential spread to others. Public health and promotion of healthy living are working in tandem today in this province more than ever before. I'm pleased with the work that we've achieved over the past six months.
With that, I will welcome the debates and the comments and the questions from the opposition.
The Chair: Member for Surrey-Fleetwood, would you like to make an opening comment?
J. Brar: I certainly would like to make some opening remarks as well. I would like to start by saying thanks to the minister for providing a brief snapshot of the service plan and the priorities ahead of her ministry as well as the government.
My sincere thanks to each and every staff member working in the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport for the extraordinary work they are doing to serve the people of British Columbia. I would like to thank all those staff members who have been working hard to prepare the minister for budget estimates.
Welcome, and thanks for coming to help us out.
Thanks to my team as well. There are people who have been working with me to prepare me for the budget estimates. My special thanks to Catherine Lovering, research officer; Gurbrinder Kang, legislative assistant; and Ruby Bhandal and Peter Leblanc, both constituency assistants in Surrey-Fleetwood.
My role as the member of the opposition is to ask questions with regard to the public policy, visions, goals, objectives and budget of the ministry. That's the role I'm here to play. I want to emphasize, though, at this point in time that I don't have any intentions to suggest or question the commitment and education of the public servants in their day-to-day work. But I do have that role to ask questions, because this is a very important task we have here in this House.
Just to give you a snapshot as to where my focus will be. I have already spoken to the minister's office, but just to repeat, my focus will remain on the following key areas.
The first one, of course, is the H1N1 pandemic planned preparedness. The second one will be the area that we
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talked about, population and public health, particularly the funding cuts in that area. Then we go on to HST and the impact of HST in the areas that this ministry is responsible for. Number 4 will be senior care, and there are some questions about that — the inspection issues as well as the HST impact. Then we have some questions about sports.
That is the part which I believe that the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport is responsible for. As we know, this ministry has two ministers. The Minister of State responsible particularly for the Olympics and ActNow…. I think there is one more piece, and that will be taken care of under that debate.
In addition to me asking questions, there will be other members who will come and ask questions, and there may be some new topics that I don't know. But one of the areas I know about will be meat regulations as well. There will be some question about that that some member would like to ask.
With that, I would like to once again thank all the staff members for their support, and I would like to start with my first question, going back to the H1N1 pandemic plan. I understand that overall, the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport does have a kind of lead role in order to prepare the plan for H1N1, but I would like to ask a question just to clarify that. Who is in charge of preparing the H1N1 pandemic plan?
Hon. I. Chong: I would like to thank the critic for acknowledging the hard work of the ministry staff and their professionalism. I couldn't agree with him more. They are very dedicated, particularly to this portfolio. I thank him for that as well as for outlining his sequencing of the areas he would like to canvass today. That certainly will help us in managing the appropriate staff that are here.
With respect to the question about the H1N1 pandemic planning, yes, it is this ministry that has the lead role for ensuring that pandemic plan is in place. Our provincial health officer has been working across government. So while we have the lead role, there are other ministries involved, particularly Health Services, as well as the Solicitor General role. They have emergency preparedness staff on the ground who are also able to help us to ensure that we deliver these services in the most efficient way.
While the provincial health officer has the main lead, he does work across government to ensure that our plan is absolutely going in the right direction and is being handled in a way that ensures the confidence in the implementation and administration of the H1N1 vaccine.
J. Brar: How many full-time staff members are dedicated for developing the H1N1 pandemic plan and for coordinating the implementation of the plan?
Hon. I. Chong: It's not difficult, but it is rather complex to give an accurate number of how many people are involved in this planning because, as I've indicated, we work across government.
Just as an example, we have the provincial health officer. Under his direction…. He works with all the medical health officers in each of the health authorities. There's more than one health officer in each of the health authorities. In addition, he works across government with other ministry staff to ensure that they have awareness of how we would deal with the pandemic plan as it rolls out.
While I can comfortably provide him with a figure of about 20 dedicated, full-time staffers currently, that can change from time to time as we redeploy people as needed. Should we need more people, we would get those additional staff from other ministries or from health authorities. Or if we find that it is being managed in a way that we can divert their attention elsewhere, we will do so.
It may not appear that they're involved in the pandemic plan and the implementation of it, but they will very much have a role to play. At this time, perhaps the best way to describe it is that we have 20 people who are working on the file in an active way, and as we need more, we will add more. As we find we don't need as many, we will then allow them to go back to their other responsibilities.
J. Brar: Thanks to the minister for the response.
Those 20 people. I would like the minister to clarify, if she can. How many people are working within the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport?
I understand that there may be people working in different health authorities who are working with the provincial health officer and other people who are responsible to develop this plan. But how many are specifically working within the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, and how many are outside?
Hon. I. Chong: The number I gave the member of 20 — again, give or take one or two — is the number that is dedicated to the pandemic plan through the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. I want to clarify that those 20 individuals will not always be dealing with the H1N1 pandemic plan, because it's not an area that may necessarily evolve next year.
What we have done is that while they are in the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, we will have deployed them from other areas of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. This is one of the reasons why it's a bit complicated. We have staff in Healthy Living and Sport currently….
With H1N1 it's vitally important to ensure the appropriate protocols and steps are taken. So if we need to move people from other roles that currently are in Healthy
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Living and Sport — to spend more time, whether it be in an administrative, a support or a coordination role — they are Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport individuals, but they are concentrating their time regarding H1N1.
It's the redeployment that we're doing within the ministry to ensure that we have a great plan in place and that people in British Columbia are confident about our delivery of the plan.
J. Brar: Apart from those 20 people who are responsible to develop the pandemic plan, is there any group of individuals or a committee responsible for providing input into the development of the pandemic plan?
Hon. I. Chong: Firstly, I would like to say that there is within government a deputy ministers committee. The deputy minister with me today in Healthy Living and Sport, the Deputy Minister of Health Services and the deputy minister with the Public Safety and Solicitor General obviously meet on a regular basis to ensure that the coordination is taking place within government.
There are also interprovincial committees. The provincial health officer will be meeting and getting input from our counterparts across the country and with the federal minister as well. In addition to that, there are several other committees that are occurring.
I'm presuming that the member is wanting to know where and how all of the inputs are or how people can provide input.
Much of the work can be accomplished through working with the B.C. Centre of Disease Control. They have a swine flu coordination committee. Through the B.C. Centre of Disease Control they are coordinating this, and they involve all the medical health officers in the province.
Also at the B.C. Centre of Disease Control we have a vaccine program implementation committee. They, too, have a group of people that will provide input. A clinical care committee invites input and involvement from the BCMA. So our doctors, our physicians, are very much involved.
Of course, the member will have heard that for the first time ever pharmacists have been given the opportunity to train in injection so that they can help deliver the vaccines. The B.C. pharmacists association has also been involved.
We have really expanded the scope of the involvement in how many people can be engaged in what is a very important area, to ensure that we have the best plan possible here in British Columbia.
J. Brar: Once again, I appreciate the response from the minister. My understanding is that the response the minister has given is that the groups which have been mentioned…. The majority of those groups are groups who are providing services in health-related areas.
My next question will be: is there any opportunity to have volunteer sector community organizations provide input into the plan? We have a large number of non-profit sectors in the province. Is there any opportunity for them? There may be a huge impact of H1N1, as well, on their services and delivery of services, at the end of the day.
Hon. I. Chong: I neglected to offer up in my previous response to that that while we're working with a number of cross-ministry….
We are also very much working with our first nations community. Our aboriginal physician adviser, Dr. Evan Adams, has been very much out in the community — early, when the prediction that we would have a second wave of H1N1 had been out in the community — helping them develop their own pandemic plan. I neglected to offer that up, and I want to state so for the record.
What I understand is that the member is inquiring about those that may provide input who are…. I guess in the medical world they are community organizations. I can say that because this is a serious health issue, primarily we are working through our regional health authorities, as would be the appropriate case.
However, I understand that we have written to all the community health organizations — maybe not to community organizations as a whole but to those community organizations which have involvement in some aspects of health and health promotion — asking them if they wish to provide any information or input.
In particular, I want to just give the member a few examples — like the Red Cross and like the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, which represents a variety of organizations like B.C. Lung, Heart and Stroke and groups like that. That's through the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance. United Way has also been contacted to see if they want to provide information.
Also, through the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, the first responders organization has also been asked to provide any additional information, input, advice and recommendations to ensure that the delivery of this H1N1 flu vaccine is done in a very efficient way.
It is about preparedness. That's what we're working on — ensuring that preparedness takes place in a way that, as I say, is very efficient and very effective.
J. Brar: When I asked this question…. I will probably give an example. I understand the health sector organization being part of it. That's very important. That's very good. There are a large number of non-profit organizations providing very important services to the people of British Columbia, and it's very important that they continue those services under any circumstances.
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For example, we can talk about food banks. The food bank is very important. It's very important that the food bank continue providing food to people who are hungry. Under the worst-case scenario of H1N1, there could be a large number of people infected by H1N1.
As a result of that, the food bank may not have enough volunteers to continue providing food to the people who are hungry. So they must be part of the planning process. That's what I meant when I said "non-profit sector."
Is there any process, when the plan is being developed, to get input from those organizations providing help to hungry people, providing help to the disabled community to ensure that they can continue their services if we get into a situation where large numbers of the workforce are not available anymore or volunteers are not available anymore to continue those services?
Hon. I. Chong: I thank the member for expressing that concern in that way, because it is important to note that when I indicated that we worked primarily through the regional health authorities, they have the ability to reach out to those non-profit organizations.
For example, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has been working with the community organizations in the Downtown Eastside. We were very much alerted to that at the very start of this concern, so they have worked with a plan for that area to address exactly those issues that the member has raised.
The Ministry of Housing and Social Development is involved in this plan because they are working with those non-profit and those community organizations, as well, in delivery of those services. Should they feel that there is any form of interruption in how they can deliver their services as a result of H1N1, they would generally feed that back through the health authorities. People automatically think, "Well, this is a health issue," so they will go to the health authorities first to provide that, before we are having to deal with it.
I can assure the member that community organizations, because of the relationships that they've developed over the years with health authorities and others, are able to speak to those workers that they routinely deal with to ensure that those concerns are heard and met and then to ensure, from the perspective of the coordination we do at the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, that any areas we need to focus more attention on, we will.
As I say, the community organizations have not been left out. If the member is aware of any organization that has felt that it needed to provide input, I would be happy to receive that information and look into it for him.
J. Brar: My understanding is that all the health authorities are required to have their own H1N1 pandemic plan. Can the minister confirm that that is the expectation from the ministry of each and every health authority? What are the specific expectations from the health authorities in that regard?
Hon. I. Chong: I want to be clear that the provincial pandemic plan is the one that we have developed and worked on, but we also acknowledge that British Columbians have unique needs in other parts of the province. That's why there are different regional health authorities that will deal with the plan itself in their best way.
Generally speaking, I would say that all the health authorities are required to follow the template of the provincial plan — that they aren't developing their own plan. Nor are they required to develop their own plan.
What we have provided within this template — I'll just give you a number of examples — is, for example, acute care. Well, how they deal with the requirements in each of the hospitals may be different here in Victoria than they are in Vancouver or in Surrey or in Dawson Creek. They're also required to deal with the mass vaccination plans. Again, what works here may be very different from another region.
They are also going to have to ensure that they have in place a human resource plan — how they're going to deal with absenteeism if that takes place within their health region. You can't tell each health region what they must do until they are faced with that, but they have this template upon which they can work.
They're also required to liaise with the local doctors. Again, they're going to require the local doctors to help implement the inoculations and ensure that that takes place in a very efficient way. Remote areas will deal with that liaising with their doctors in a different way than they may down in the urban areas.
The pharmacists will also be called upon to deliver and administer the vaccines. So each health authority will need to take a look at where their pharmacists are located and how they're going to deal with that. Municipalities — obviously, a big part of this as well — will need to be engaged.
Each health authority will follow the template of the provincial plan. They are not required to develop their own plan, but there is enough flexibility and room to make sure they best serve the needs of the people in their area.
J. Brar: Thanks for the clarity on that. Actually, I'm pleased to see that we have a provincial template which provides clear directions to each authority to prepare itself for the H1N1 pandemic plan.
Now, we can have the best template available on the globe, but it will not, at the end of the day, be effective if we don't have any compliance strategy for that. So my question for the minister will be: what is the compliance strategy to ensure accountability for preparedness requirements from each health authority?
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Hon. I. Chong: Again, a very important point to be made is that because the health authorities have that flexibility following that template within their regions, they actually are reporting out on their plans on a regular basis. I am advised that currently it's weekly. So there is compliance. There is accountability. If there are questions that are raised, we can deal with them in a very efficient and timely way.
If it's required that we need to hear from them on a more regular basis — daily, for example — I expect that will take place. But currently they're reporting out to us through the provincial health officer on a weekly basis.
J. Brar: This is a very sensitive issue. It deals with people's lives. If someone in a health authority failed to follow the direction, what happens then?
Hon. I. Chong: I would agree with the member that this is a very important health issue — no question — which is one of the reasons why we have worked across government and have worked with all the agencies and all the organizations and have brought in experts in dealing with people at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to ensure that we have a good plan in place. Again, I want to reiterate the fact that the plan is flexible enough that every health region can deal with its unique needs.
I want to be careful to respond to the member's question to ensure that we're clear on what the question is. The previous question was about compliance and accountability, which I indicated we have as a result of working with them on a fairly frequent basis in the case of reporting out.
But if there are persons, individuals, within the health authorities that are not following professional practices…. If what the member is suggesting is that a health professional is not abiding by health care standards in the profession, there are clearly issues of professional practice. Those would be taken up through their public body, the regulatory body.
However, we also know that we have a Public Health Act. If in fact there are violations of that, we would be able to enforce compliance in that regard.
If the member is suggesting non-compliance or uncooperative work with a health authority, that would be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health Services which, through the government's letter of expectations, requires health authorities to provide a level or a standard of health care and health practice. So that would take place.
Again, if we're talking about clinical care or if we're talking about specific practitioners that the member is concerned with, I would be somewhat cautious to ensure that we're not talking about their professional conduct, because that would be a different role. Of course, I think the member would be aware of the regulatory bodies that would be there to very quickly ensure that that kind of practice did not continue.
J. Brar: I understand the role of those bodies. They are self-regulating bodies, and they can deal with the discipline issues. That's not my question, though.
My question was…. This minister is responsible — that's why I asked the first question — to prepare the H1N1 pandemic plan. In that plan, one of the actions this minister has is to prepare a template for the health authority to follow those guidelines and develop an H1N1 pandemic plan.
The question was simple. In case any health authority does not follow the rules…. This is a very sensitive issue. It deals with people's lives. Does this minister have any powers to ensure compliance with the template given by this minister's office?
Hon. I. Chong: I thank the member for his clarification.
If a health authority…. I have to stress that this is, therefore, very speculative, because at this point we haven't had any health authorities that have not been cooperating and that have not been involved in the preparation of the plan.
However, if there should be an instance where a health authority is not in fact following the template of the plan — that is not, for example, dealing with mass vaccinations as we suggest or putting in a plan to deal with the acute care — then because that health authority falls under the Ministry of Health Services, we would immediately ensure that the Ministry of Health Services was made aware. They would therefore be required to enforce the government's letter of expectations for those health authorities — that they in fact follow that direction.
It's very speculative. The health authorities have been a part of the planning. In this ministry we're responsible for ensuring that there is a plan that can be rolled out — that health authorities are a part of and the community is a part of — that they can implement. But once we get to that implementation stage — where you involve the acute care system, where you involve the clinical care system — we are dependent on those individuals to take that responsibility.
Again, if there should be a health authority that in any way, shape or form should not want to follow the plan, then they certainly would be called to account for that. The Ministry of Health Services would have those measures available, so I would ask the member to canvass that with the Minister of Health Services.
J. Brar: I will move into some specific areas of the plan with more specific questions. We have gone through some general nature kinds of questions. Now I'll move
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on to these. There are some outstanding issues, in my opinion, about the human resources areas.
The provincial health officer — respectfully, Dr. Perry Kendall — has estimated that the H1N1 influenza could infect about 20 percent of the B.C. population. In other words, about one million B.C. residents could get the new H1N1 influenza during the coming flu season. Similarly, the European centre has said that about 12 percent of the workforce could be off at any given time.
There could be a situation where a large number of people — working people, I'm talking about here — will be asked to stay home once the health emergency is declared. There could be a large number of those workers who are covered under the Employment Standards Act, so they may not have sick leaves, but on the other side, they will be asked to stay home because they have the flu or the symptoms of the flu.
My question to the minister is: has the minister met with the Minister of Labour to discuss the issue of job security of those H1N1-infected workers who are asked to stay home during a declared provincial emergency?
Hon. I. Chong: We have had the ability and the opportunity to take a look at what has happened in other jurisdictions, in particular the southern hemisphere, where they've just gone through the H1N1 flu season themselves. All indicators are that it's been mild to moderate — pretty much close to a regular flu season.
We are preparing for the very worst possible outcome, I guess, and hoping for the best, obviously — that the numbers that are infected will not be as great. However, as I say, we are planning for that. We're also ensuring that people know what they can do, what their roles and responsibilities are, what they can do to stay home.
I know that there has been concern with individuals who, even in a normal flu season, don't stay home. They go to work because they feel they need to.
What I can tell the member is that throughout government, all ministries have been made aware, obviously, of preparing, and all ministries have been encouraged…. I understand they have met with the various stakeholders that they deal with.
So whether it's the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, they've met with their stakeholders to ensure that there is a continuity plan — whether it's a business continuity plan or a continuity-of-operations plan — in place to deal with absenteeism and possible large absenteeism. It is up to each ministry respectively to work through with their stakeholders and see what can be done.
If the member is suggesting that government compensate people for staying home because they're feeling ill or sick because of H1N1 or any other flu-like symptoms, that's never been the practice of government in the past, nor do I expect that it would be going forward.
What we can do is ensure that at the earliest sign or as influenza-like symptoms appear, people seek out professional help, go see their doctor and absolutely have the vaccination take place. It's one of the reasons why we're also going to ensure that the regular flu season vaccination shots are available.
It's amazing — and I want to put this on the record for the member as well — that even while we have the seasonal flu each and every year, there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who still choose not to get a vaccination, who may still get sick and stay home or go to work.
We are really strongly recommending, because of the H1N1, that people become vaccinated or have the inoculation and prevent the spread. But there will be absenteeism. I can't dispute that that's not going to occur. How great will it be? Again, it's very speculative at this time.
J. Brar: My question was simple: whether the minister or the minister's officials have met with the Ministry of Labour to discuss the issue of job security of those H1N1-infected workers who are asked to stay home during a declared provincial emergency.
So I will move on to the next question, but the response the minister has given clearly indicates to me that there has been no discussion on that. If there has, I would like to know what the response was from the Ministry of Labour.
But my question is: will the jobs of H1N1-infected workers who are asked to stay home during the declared provincial emergency be secure or not? That's my question.
Hon. I. Chong: I want to clarify. The member has referred twice now to a declared provincial emergency. There has not been a declared provincial emergency. Again, that would be speculative — if that would happen. We do have a pandemic plan in place, because a pandemic plan indicates the fact that this has reached a number of jurisdictions. So H1N1 is being dealt with in that manner, but there is no declared provincial emergency as such today. I just want to make sure that anyone who would be following these debates is understanding that.
Normal workplace rules would apply with the H1N1, as they would with the seasonal flu season. There are workplace rules in place in businesses. Some are covered in a very generous way, others not so much. However, the normal sick-leave policies would take effect, whether it's H1N1 or the seasonal flu.
There are no changes, that I understand, being contemplated to the Employment Standards Act, if this is what the member is trying to get at. I'm not the minister
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responsible for the Employment Standards Act, so if he wants to canvass that, he can. My understanding, certainly, is that the current rules in place for employees who have to take sick time are still in place now, as they would be for H1N1.
I think the other question the member had is about whether people will have, again, job security. Again, the rules that exist now regarding absenteeism and regarding people requiring time off would apply whether it's the flu season or H1N1, unless employers decided to develop their own plan because of their workforce that is currently in place. So I hope that helps the member.
J. Brar: We are not talking about the declared provincial emergency. I understand that. We are talking about developing a plan under the worst-case scenario, and I'm pretty sure that the minister will prepare for the worst-case scenario as well as for the…. I wish there was no flu at all, but we have to prepare for the worst-case scenario and the prediction made by our own provincial health officer. So that's my question.
I'm talking about, to make it more clear, that there are a lot of workers who will be covered if they have to take time off, if they're asked to stay home because of a declared provincial emergency as it happens, when it happens. There will be workers who will be covered under the collective agreement. But the people who are not covered under the collective agreement sometimes don't have sufficient unpaid leave to stay home. So their jobs will be in trouble at that time. They will not have job security.
The province does have a responsibility, and I'm saying it. The province does have a responsibility. It's not the responsibility of the employer. The province does have a responsibility to provide or take a leadership role to provide job security to those people who are not covered under the Employment Standards Act if they are asked to stay home under the declared provincial emergency.
So my question again: are you doing anything to make sure that those workers who are not covered under the collective agreement will have their jobs if they are asked to stay home because of the declared provincial emergency as a result of an H1N1 pandemic?
Hon. I. Chong: Well, that's an interesting concept, because currently if businesses have a slowdown in their business because there is not the business that they expect, then they have to lay off employees on that basis of their business plan.
If there would be high absenteeism at a business such that the efficiency of the workplace could not be upheld and then the owners make a decision to reduce the workload that is there, then that's what generally happens.
So with the flu season, sometimes there is already high absenteeism in some businesses or some operations. There has not been in the past, that I can see, and even in previous administrations, that governments have stepped up to provide those additional resources to businesses. If that's what the member is suggesting, then it would be interesting to find out an example of where that has happened, because I do not recall that.
In addition, what we're dealing with here is about a plan that deals with ensuring that…. When this wave of H1N1, I guess, in its fullest form takes place here in British Columbia, our plan is to ensure that the least amount of people are infected, that those who are infected know that they have access to the medications they need and the help they need, that good practices are followed that take shape and take place in and around the province and that we do not help the spread of the disease far greater than it is.
So I hope that helps the member, but if he's suggesting more than that, that's an interesting concept, but it's not one that I believe has been one that previous administrations have adopted, even in past flu seasons.
J. Brar: Once again, we're not talking about the regular flu season here. We're talking about the H1N1 pandemic plan under the worst-case scenario. I made it clear every time, and I emphasize that again on that one.
Here's what the Minister of Labour said. I did talk to the Minister of Labour, by the way. I expected a response from the ministry that there must be some discussion with the Minister of Labour, because this is a very important issue on two levels: on continuation of services as well as on job security for the people of British Columbia.
This is what the Minister of Labour said to me when I asked him: "It is actually an interesting topic." He goes on to say: "There may be things in different collective agreements that would cover that, but for someone who is not covered by a collective agreement, there wouldn't be an opportunity unless there was a legislative change made." Legislative change is made by the province, not by the employer and not by any outside body.
So my question to you is: will the minister make the recommendation to the Minister of Labour to amend the Employment Standards Act in order to provide job security in the form of unpaid leave — unpaid leave, I'm saying — for people following orders of the provincial health officer under a declared health emergency because of the H1N1 pandemic?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm glad to hear that the member did in fact have an opportunity to canvass this with the Ministry of Labour. My understanding of what he has read into the record is that the Minister of Labour indicated that if there were changes to be made, they would be legislative changes. It would be up to the Minister of Labour to make that determination based on all the best available information that he has.
I don't have all the information that the Minister of Labour has at his disposal as to what the impacts could
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or could not be, so I'm not going to speculate on whether changes need to be made to the Employment Standards Act or any other pieces of legislation that he has responsibility for.
What I will say is what I did say earlier, because I don't want the member to misinterpret. I did indicate that regular workplace rules are in place for people who have sick leave.
As the member has indicated, if this should be the worst-case scenario, and if the employers are concerned about it being the worst-case scenario and ensuring they have a continuity of business — should the absenteeism get back to normal levels, if there is such a thing as normal levels — then they would not want to lose those employees. So I would expect that employers would accommodate whatever changes they feel are necessary.
Again, if the member is suggesting that legislative changes are required, then those would have had to have been raised with the Minister of Labour for him to provide that information, because our role here is to ensure that there is a pandemic plan in place. Our role is to ensure that all those involved in administering or implementing are ready to do so. But, again, there are a number of scenarios that can happen.
All ministries across government have been made aware of having in place within their ministries and discussing with their stakeholders what they need to do in ensuring how they are going to deal with the various stakeholders they have, the various sectors they have that involvement with, when H1N1 is in sort of a full status.
So again, we're planning for the worst, in the sense of ensuring we have enough vaccinations for everyone who wants one and needs one. We're planning for the worst, in the sense of ensuring that people know whether they can get the inoculations. That is what this ministry is preparing for. That's what our role is in ensuring that a pandemic plan is in place.
The Chair: I'd just like to thank the member for excellent questions, but I think you're drifting into legislation or the need for, maybe, legislative changes. I'd just ask you to come back to the motion that we have in front of us, which is the $85 million, and focus on those, if you can, please.
J. Brar: Mr. Chair, my understanding is that, as we started from the very beginning, this ministry is responsible to make sure we have the best possible H1N1 pandemic plan, and that's what I'm asking. If this will give you comfort, let me give you another example.
Ontario has prepared their H1N1 pandemic plan, and part of that is also human resources issues they have dealt with. Ontario has already amended the Employment Standards Act to do exactly what I'm asking the minister to make sure of — that people who are asked — I'm repeating it — to stay home because of a declared health emergency can stay home on an unpaid leave and that their jobs are secure. They have made that amendment already.
Having said that, I have already said what the Minister of Labour said here — that it is an interesting point and that it would need some legislative changes. So my question will be simple. As the lead ministry to develop an H1N1 pandemic plan, will the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport recommend that the Minister of Labour make legislative changes to the Employment Standards Act to ensure job security of those workers who will be asked to stay home as a result of a declared provincial health emergency?
Hon. I. Chong: If the Minister of Labour, based on all the information that he has, all the statistics that he is able to garner as a result of what his expectations are, feels that a change needs to be made to the legislation that he has responsibility for — as he indicated to the member, it's an interesting idea — I would expect, then, that minister to bring forward those ideas.
I am not going to tell other ministers what legislative changes they need to make in regards to the best information they have available. What I can do is provide to all the ministers the best information we have in terms of planning for the pandemic, all the consequences and all the outcomes that may occur. Again I would stress to the member that those possible changes or any contemplated changes are the responsibility of those ministers.
You know, I'm not going to be able to provide the member, obviously, with a satisfactory answer, so perhaps we need to move on.
The Chair: I'd just like to remind the member that we should stay within the scope of Vote 35, and perhaps we can move on to another question.
J. Brar: Mr. Chair, I would like to make a comment on that.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
We have seen a recent survey from Quebec where they're saying that a significant percentage of workers will continue showing up at the workplace if they don't have job security, which means it is directly related to the plan we are talking about — to ensure that people who have H1N1 flu don't show up at a public place. In that respect I was asking questions. I think this is an important issue — to prepare the best possible plan to deal with the H1N1 pandemic.
I would also probably ask one more question to the minister. There will be a number of workers — it depends what the level of H1N1 flu is — who will not be able
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to afford to stay home for a long time because of their low income level. I know that this provincial ministry cannot provide them income support, but I think the federal government can provide them support through the EI temporary financial assistance.
My question to the minister will be: has the minister made any submission to the federal Minister of Human Resources on the issue of income security for those workers who are asked to stay home on an unpaid leave during a declared provincial emergency?
Hon. I. Chong: Hon. Chair, welcome.
Again, I want to go back to my initial comments when we began these debates. The H1N1 pandemic planning that is taking place — the Ministry of Healthy Living is the lead for that. We are the lead for the health sector planning. As the member moves on to other areas of H1N1, I would suggest that he raise those with other ministers.
We are responsible for health sector planning. We are responsible for ensuring that all the measures and the protocols are in place to have the vaccinations and that the delivery and the administration are in place. Then those who must deliver that…. We'll deal with that in the Health Services sector.
Similarly, there will be protocols in place, which we will help develop, that the schools then will administer. Likely, that will happen in our business community. That will happen in our municipalities. People are responsible for those and for the decisions they make. We are responsible, as the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport, as the lead ministry dealing with the health sector planning. That's the area that I believe we need to continue to focus on.
The Chair: Member for Surrey-Fleetwood, can I ask you to focus on Vote 35 again, please? Thank you, Member.
J. Brar: I would just make some comments and then move on to my next line of questions.
It's clear from the comments made by the minister — and I would just like to summarize them — that the minister will not actually recommend that the Minister of Labour make an amendment to the Employment Standards Act to provide job security to workers who are asked to stay home during a declared provincial emergency as a result of H1N1 flu.
Subsequently, the minister will also not make any submission to the federal Minister of Human Resources to provide income security to the workers who are infected by H1N1 who are asked to stay home during a declared provincial emergency.
My next line of question will be about the pharmacists. The minister already mentioned that pharmacists will be part of delivering vaccine shots to the people. I think it's a good thing.
Just to summarize before I ask my question. There are about 4,500 pharmacists in the province. There has been discussion about involving them in delivering vaccine shots to the people so that we can basically immunize the people of British Columbia as quickly as possible.
My question to the minister will be: has the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport worked out a system for pharmacists to give the H1N1 flu shots? If the answer is yes, what is the system?
Hon. I. Chong: I don't want to get into, I guess, a prolonged debate here, but it is important to acknowledge that the work we are doing in our ministry is about the health sector planning.
The member raises what he feels are valid concerns and comments about how that interacts with other government ministries. Then he is certainly free to delve into those areas with those other ministries. But as I say, our focus today is on ensuring we have a pandemic plan in place.
With respect to the pharmacists, we did change the ability of pharmacists to administer the injections for H1N1, and other injections, if they choose to. At this time we have heard that there are 400 pharmacists who have undertaken the training. Not every pharmacist wants to take advantage of the scope of change that has been allowed to them. So 400 have now been trained to deal with injections.
The approval for that, of course, will also be through their College of Pharmacists. They would have had that approval take place. Then what would happen is that the pharmacists will work with the regional health authorities to ensure that the administration of the vaccines is done in an appropriate way, in an efficient way. We've also devised a payment schedule for the pharmacists, because this is definitely a new undertaking for them.
J. Brar: I think that in the past…. I don't exactly recall whether it was in the throne speech or the comments made by the minister or the provincial health officer that legislation will be introduced to allow pharmacists to administer the vaccine. Has that changed? What kind of change have you made? I haven't seen any legislation introduced in the House.
Hon. I. Chong: It was a regulatory change that was permitted through an OIC. That has taken place, which is why the 400 have been trained.
J. Brar: We are roughly, I think, about three weeks away from the vaccine, if everything goes right. The first week of November is the expectation. I will get into how soon we can actually provide vaccine to the people of British Columbia.
But when we talk about pharmacists, we have 400 pharmacists trained, which is roughly about 10 percent
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of the total number of pharmacists. What is the plan to train other pharmacists? That number seems to me very low. What are the training opportunities for those pharmacists in the next three weeks so that they are up to speed and can be part of the delivery of H1N1 vaccine shots to the people of British Columbia?
Hon. I. Chong: I just want to make sure and clarify that the member is aware that there are no barriers for pharmacists who want to take this training.
I was just trying to find out if we knew what number of weeks the training course was or whether it was a number of months. Unfortunately, I don't have that information. The College of Pharmacists perhaps can provide that. If we find that information out before the conclusion of the estimates, I will get that to the member.
But there are no barriers. The fact that 400 pharmacists took up the additional responsibility was, I thought, a good uptake. Would we like more, or should there be more? Well, there are no barriers, so if more decided to do this, there would be nothing stopping them from doing so.
It may just be a decision of the pharmacist who has an active practice already and who may not want to do that. We made the change to enable as many as possible to take advantage of this new opportunity, this new scope of practice, should they choose to take that.
J. Brar: How do we compare with other provinces? I know that Alberta has also given the authority to pharmacists for the flu shots. How do we compare with Alberta? We have 10 percent of pharmacists who came forward for a training program and subsequently to deliver flu shots. What is the ratio between Alberta and British Columbia when it comes to percentage of pharmacists being part of this process?
Hon. I. Chong: We don't have that information, and I don't know whether it would be particularly helpful. Again, it depends, province to province, jurisdiction to jurisdiction — the capacity that they have to deliver. They may not have as many physicians as we have, or they may not have as many public health nurses as we have, which may have opened up the opportunity for more pharmacists to take the training.
The fact of the matter is that we have a good number of physicians. We have our clinicians available, and we have our public health nurses available. It could have been a personal decision of the pharmacists themselves that they felt that the capacity was there and that they didn't need to take the extra course in order to take advantage of this new scope of practice.
I don't know if the comparison is particularly relevant. If the member is particularly interested in that, we could see if we could find out. But again, I think it's important to deal with the capacity that each province, each jurisdiction, has to ensure that the people are in place on the ground to administer the vaccine.
J. Brar: I will move on to the school issue. I know there are some areas of schools which are part of this plan as well. One specific recommendation made by the Public Health Agency of Canada with regard to schools I would like to mention. It is recommended that high-touch surfaces in the schools be cleaned at least twice a day. That was the recommendation made by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and subsequently the provincial health officer has made that recommendation as well.
My question to the minister is: has the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport met with the Minister of Education to discuss this serious matter and to ensure implementation of this key recommendation made by the Public Health Agency of Canada to prevent the transmission of H1N1 in schools?
Hon. I. Chong: To the member. I just want to, as well, inform him and others that early on in the year or before the school season started, the provincial health officer was very much involved and engaged in ensuring that superintendents were aware of how to plan for the H1N1 should it affect their areas, their districts. He had a teleconference. As well, there was a press conference at the end of August that was held, so I know the information has been conveyed.
The local medical health officers, as well, have been out talking to all school districts, ensuring that they're aware of requirements that are in the best practice of ensuring that they are ready for H1N1. There has been guidance to all the school districts as to what they should be doing. However, it is ultimately up to all the school districts to comply.
Obviously, whether the Public Health Agency of Canada or others make recommendations, these are clearly some of the recommendations they believe should be implemented or put in place. When recommendations are offered, it still will be dependent upon all jurisdictions to decide how they're going to follow through on that.
Here in the province the Minister of Education has been made aware of that. I have ensured that the Ministry of Education are aware of the recommendations that we received through the Public Health Agency of Canada. Ultimately, if the Minister of Education feels that there are problems associated with that, then it would be her responsibility to speak to those school districts independently or collectively, however she wishes.
If there are specific instances that the member wishes to raise with particular school districts, I would ask that he refer those to the Minister of Education.
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J. Brar: On August 24 the Minister of Education announced a pandemic response framework for boards of education comprising the following elements. There are five of them: (1) transportation of sick students, (2) communications protocol during a pandemic, (3) rules and responsibilities of emergency response teams, (4) continuity of instruction in the event of classroom disruptions, and (5) post-pandemic recovery plans.
It does not mention at all what we talked about it, the number one recommendation made by the Public Health Agency of Canada, as I mentioned before: to clean the schools at least twice a day. My question to the minister, based on that, is: has the minister reviewed the pandemic response framework established by the Ministry of Education and subsequently asked the Minister of Education to address this serious matter of cleaning the schools twice a day?
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated, recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada have been shared across the country with all provinces and territories, just providing them with information as to what they believe should take place. Every jurisdiction, of course, will take a look at those recommendations and incorporate them into their plans as necessary.
As the member has read into the record, the information bulletin that was put out by the Minister of Education…. Clearly, her decision includes a variety of steps that she feels is necessary for school districts to adhere to. Again, the responsibility we have is to ensure that the pandemic plan we have in place, as the lead agency, deals with the health sector planning and the appropriate course of action that needs to take place to implement the plan.
All ministries across government are aware that they need to ensure that the stakeholders they deal with understand what their roles and responsibilities are. If the member is not satisfied, or takes exception with a particular ministry and their stakeholders, then I would ask again that he would have to specifically ask that minister the reasons for the decisions that are being made there.
Pandemic planning that is taking place in the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport really is about ensuring the appropriate number of vaccinations or doses that we have; ensuring that it is distributed in all parts of the province in a safe, efficient and effective way; and then ensuring that it is delivered and administered in the best way possible.
J. Brar: Is the minister suggesting that this ministry has no role to provide any direction to the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Labour when it comes to the H1N1 pandemic plan?
Hon. I. Chong: What I have said is that, as the lead ministry for H1N1 pandemic planning, it is to ensure, as I've indicated a number of times, that all the measures are in place to make sure we are ready to deal with H1N1.
As it comes to specific areas where various ministries have stakeholders that they deal with on a much more regular basis, those ministries have absolutely been involved in our cross-government discussions and initiatives. We have discussed, with all the ministries, what they need to take place. They also develop with their stakeholders what needs to roll out and what needs to take place as they plan for them.
But if the member is suggesting that this ministry directs specifically to every stakeholder in this province what they must do, then I'm sorry. We would disagree. We have to ensure that those ministries will deal with their stakeholders. They'll deal with their interest groups to hear the concerns of them in a variety of ways, to have whatever they feel are the measures that will ensure that everyone is ready to deal with the H1N1.
We do have cross-government discussions that take place. I've indicated the Deputy Ministers Council, which continues to take place, and the provincial health officer is always available and ready to provide assistance and advice to all the ministries across government.
J. Brar: I think, to make it simple, that this is an issue of accountability. We have a plan, but we have to implement the plan as well, and we have to make people responsible somehow.
The question I've asked the minister is regarding implementing the number one recommendation made by the Canada health agency and subsequently made by the provincial health officials about the schools — to clean the schools twice a day. I understand that directly lies under the Minister of Education, but let me say this to you. There are a number of schools in the province, particularly the elementary schools, that do not have daytime custodians at all. So they cannot clean the schools even once a day. That is the situation.
I think that the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport does have a role: to talk to those ministries and ask for action on the recommendation made by our own provincial health officer. So that's what I'm asking.
I understand that it is the Ministry of Labour or the Ministry of Education doing this, and that's what my question was. I will give, probably, another opportunity to the minister, saying once again that there are a number of schools that do not have daytime custodians. They cannot clean the schools at all, whereas the recommendation made by the provincial health officer is to clean the school twice a day. So that will, of course, accelerate the transmission of H1N1 flu — if we don't follow that recommendation, which is the responsibility of this ministry.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I want to be clear that the pandemic planning that this ministry is involved with is to
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ensure that all across government they are aware of what is taking place and the fact that we have the necessary amount of doses and access to the vaccine when it is made available. We're also working across government to ensure that all ministries put in place their plans with the stakeholders that they have.
As the member can appreciate, when the Ministry of Education is dealing with her stakeholders primarily — whether it's the parent groups, whether it's the school districts, superintendents, teachers, whoever — she has the benefit and the knowledge and the opportunity to deal with all the school districts around the province in whatever fashion and in whatever efficient manner she can.
Clearly, not all school districts are the same. Clearly, the guidelines that came out from the Public Health Agency of Canada are that: they're recommendations and guidelines.
However, I cannot speak to what the Minister of Education has been doing. Perhaps the Minister of Education has had these discussions and is putting those in place. Perhaps she's dealing with unique circumstances in each district. Perhaps superintendents have raised this. I cannot speculate on that.
What we are able to do when we are speaking with all the ministries across government, again — and I stress this — is to provide them with the guidance, share with them the information that we are made aware of as to how to deal with the spread of H1N1 and then allow those ministries, with their stakeholders, to work out the best possible plan in place.
So if there are specific schools or areas that the member is concerned with, again, I would suggest that he raise that with the minister, because they may actually have a plan in place that we're not aware of that actually is working, perhaps, better than we are otherwise presuming.
So it's very difficult to speculate because we don't have specific circumstances. Again, those should be raised with the Minister of Education.
J. Brar: I will move on to the hospital capacity. There are some capacity issues. Here are comments made by one of the doctors: "British Columbia health care is running at near 100 percent capacity."
So the ability to take a big, huge surge of people is a significant problem as a result of H1N1. And the provincial health official has estimated that there may be 5,000 people who need care in hospitals.
My question to the minister is: how many additional ICU beds do we need to ensure that we have enough beds to deal with an H1N1 pandemic, if that happens?
Hon. I. Chong: As we are involved in health promotion, in prevention and putting in the H1N1 pandemic plan, we're not dealing specifically with the acute care system and how that is being managed and the capacity that's available there.
I would ask that the member direct those questions to the Minister of Health Services, because he would have the opportunity to share with the member what he has put in place and how he is dealing with the capacity issue, if that's what the member is specifically interested in.
J. Brar: My understanding is that the health authorities are actually answerable to both the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport and the Ministry of Health. Is that true?
Hon. I. Chong: We do work with our health authorities to ensure that…. The medical health officers, in particular, are involved in the pandemic plan that we have in place. We are ensuring that they share with us information that they receive on a weekly basis, if not more, as to how things are changing in their region.
However, when it comes to the acute care side and what is necessary — the capacity — that is the Ministry of Health Services. They have the ability to provide those direct answers to the member and, again, that's the reason I would ask that he ask those of the Minister of Health Services.
J. Brar: Is it true that the H1N1 pandemic plan does not include, then, how many beds British Columbia has at this stage of the game and how many beds we would need as a result of H1N1 pandemic? Is that not part of the pandemic plan?
Hon. I. Chong: As I've indicated, because this is cross-government, every ministry is responsible for ensuring that they have in place those necessary measures to deal with a pandemic plan. So that information would be more readily available, I would expect, through the Ministry of Health Services.
What we're doing in this ministry is ensuring that there is a plan in place, that there are in fact a number of doses of vaccine that are available. At the end of the day, it's not, again, our ministry that will be administering those doses. Once we have brought all those areas together, once we have dealt with the sequencing and the priority of those who are going to get the vaccine, we will ask the Ministry of Health Services to then deliver. They will deal with the capacity issues, and they will deal with ensuring that the doctors and the public health officials are aware of their area of responsibility.
So really what I'm just trying to convey to the member is that there are plans in place. All ministries are dealing with their various stakeholders and groups that they need to, and the specific answers that the member is looking for could best be answered by the Minister of Health Services. That's all I'm just offering.
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J. Brar: I don't understand the process here. This minister does not make any recommendation for human resources issues to the Minister of Labour. That's their issue. This minister does not make any recommendations to the schools, and there are no expectations to clean the schools twice a day — a recommendation made by the provincial health official. This minister is not prepared to tell us how many ICU beds we have in the province and how many we would need to deal with H1N1.
I don't understand what the plan covers in that situation. If there are no answers to these questions, what do you mean by the H1N1 pandemic plan? What does that plan stand for? It's very hard for me to understand.
My question simply is this. Did you, Minister, make any recommendation in your plan about the capacity of ICU beds in the province? We know, every average person knows, that there is a shortage of ICU beds. Did you make any recommendation to make sure that British Columbians are safe if we are hit with an H1N1 pandemic and that there's a sufficient capacity of ICU beds? Did you make any recommendations on how many additional beds we would need in the province to deal with an H1N1 pandemic?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps it would be easier for, I guess, the member and for clarification regarding the pandemic planning, although I've tried to share with him on a number of occasions now as to why our ministry has the lead responsibility for the plan…. However, specific areas and specific measures are required to be delivered by specific ministries.
What we have done in developing our plan — again, through the advice of working across the provinces and territories and with the federal Health Minister — is determine, based on the experience of the southern hemisphere and based on what we've seen now around the globe, how many doses we would need to order. Originally, it was thought that everyone would need two doses. Now it's appearing that everyone would only need one dose. So those are the kinds of things that we continually work with in order to have a good plan in place and to know that we have the appropriate number of doses available.
What we're also ensuring is how we implement this throughout the province, and working across government ensuring that all those who need to be aware of dealing with H1N1 — whether it's our school districts, our hospitals, the community as a whole or municipalities — also have information and that we're sharing that information.
What we're also doing is ensuring that there is a process in place and that the protocols are in place to have the administration of the vaccine, whether it's to have the seasonal flu vaccine with the H1N1….
All of those discussions, as the member will know, have happened in the media in the last while as to what is the best practice and what we should do in British Columbia — sharing that information across the country as to what should happen and what, also, should be done in terms of testing for the H1N1.
We've been working with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, in particular with their vaccination program, ensuring that they, too, are in a position, when they receive the vaccines, to have them prepackaged and positioned and put in place — again, making sure people are aware of how they can get the flu vaccine, how they can get the H1N1 vaccine, how they can be prepared for that.
We're working with our first nations community, as well, to make sure they know what is expected, what their roles and responsibilities are and, therefore, to have a pandemic plan in place that might be different for one first nations community over another. Again, we can't dictate to them on how it must be, but we're sharing with them the information that we know and the best practices that we know that should take place to prevent the spread of H1N1.
I just want the member to know that we are tracking what is happening. The surveillance and the monitoring that is taking place is ensuring that we are ready should there be a larger outbreak — if necessary, that we have people in place, have the vaccines in place where they need to be in place and that there are people there to administer them.
But at the end of the day, yes, we are dependent upon other ministries to make decisions as well, to ensure that the people that they deal with have the appropriate people in place, the appropriate measures in place to ensure that that takes place.
Health Services absolutely is involved in ensuring that they are ready to deal with this based on the best information we have as a result of the surveillance and monitoring that we have undertaken over the last number of months so that they are ready.
But at the end of the day, the Ministry of Health Services will also be dealing with the health authorities directly and the medical health officers, as well, to understand the capacity issues, to understand what they need to do and what kind of repositioning they need to undertake, if they need to undertake that.
Again, we don't know. We are still in the very early stages, although we have larger numbers than we expected. But we are still at the stage where the template is there, but the plans are flexible enough, and the various ministries that have responsibility in a number of areas are able to adapt to them.
I hope that gives the member some comfort in knowing that this ministry is working to ensure that all ministries across government are aware of their responsibilities and making sure they reach out to all those stakeholders to have good plans in place.
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J. Brar: I think if the minister is responsible to prepare the plan and implement it…. The minister doesn't know how many ICU beds we have in the province and how many we need in case we hit the worst-case scenario. So that's how I will take it. The minister, of course, is not aware at this stage of the game how many additional beds we need in order to deal with an H1N1 pandemic in British Columbia.
I will move on to a different topic now. I know that the issue of vaccine delayed is a big one, and there's a lot of discussion going on, on that issue. I would like to ask a few questions about that.
The overall situation in the country is actually a positive one. That's my understanding. The level of flu we have in the province is much lower than the predictions that were made, so that's good news in that light.
But the situation in British Columbia is different. The H1N1 flu in British Columbia is much higher as compared to the rest of the provinces. So my question to the minister is: has the minister made any submission to the federal Minister of Health, the federal government, to fast-track the vaccine?
Hon. I. Chong: I don't want to leave the comments that the member made unclear to those who may be following these debates. I want to assure him and to provide some comfort to him and others that the Ministry of Health Services, in fact, is working on a continual basis right now to ensure that they are preparing for possible surges in the hospitals should there be one.
The Ministry of Health Services has a plan in place for a number of beds. My request that the member ask the Minister of Health Services directly is so that he can get a more complete and accurate picture. The Ministry of Health Services is absolutely responsible for ensuring that — whether it's the number of beds or the number of ventilators and those specific areas that he may wish to question — he gets those directly, because that's what the Minister of Health Services is working on.
That's what I mean when I say that all ministries are working to put in place their plans. I just want to ensure that it's not left unclear here that there is not a plan to deal with this. The Minister of Health Services absolutely is, and I again would encourage the member to ask him that question.
The member prefaced his question by the fact that there was a delay in the vaccine. I want to again emphatically correct him that there is no delay. There has never been a delay of the vaccine being produced and not a delay in the vaccine being made available. The vaccine was….
J. Brar: That's news to me.
Hon. I. Chong: The member says that it's news to him. Well, it should be news to him, because he must be reading reports from his own caucus.
I can tell you that the discussions have been taking place since early spring and the fact that our provincial health officer is co-chair of a steering committee, where all the provincial health officers are working together, along with the provincial health agency of Canada — working diligently and, I might add, very quickly — to ensure that we have not only a good plan in place here in Canada as a whole but to also ensure that we will have the vaccine produced and made available as quickly as possible.
I'm not going to get into all the technical processes, because there is quite one. If the member would like a briefing on how a vaccine is developed, then perhaps he will understand how it has come to be that we are now hopefully about to receive the vaccine, because there is a process on how you develop a vaccine.
You don't just suddenly start mixing ingredients together. There is a process. That process took place immediately. Now there are clinical trials being undertaken. When those are concluded and the vaccine can be administered safely, because public safety is what I think we're all concerned about…. The safety and efficacy of the vaccine must be approved by the federal authorities. Once that's in place, we are going to be ready to provide the inoculations as quickly as possible.
I assure you, and I don't want to leave it unsaid here, that there is no delay. If the member is aware of a delay, I would be very interested in hearing who his source is.
The Chair: Member, all the questions through the Chair, please.
J. Brar: Two points that I would like to highlight here. The United States of America, Australia, England, New Zealand — all those countries started giving vaccines to their citizens in mid-October. We are one month behind all those countries, Minister, and you should know that. I don't know what you can call that — whether it's a delay or not. We are almost a month behind as compared to other countries around us. That is a fact.
I'm sure that if you ask the provincial health officer, he will tell you that we are getting our vaccine much later than the other countries. I don't know whether you would call it a delay or not. We can use different words for that, but it's a fact that in Canada we are one month behind as compared to four or five other nations on the Earth when it comes to vaccine.
I just want to add to that I know that Canada is working on a different kind of vaccine. I don't want to get into that, but there are technical terms so that I can make my point. We have the non-adjuvant and adjuvant vaccines, and we are working on a different one. But when it comes to the final impact and outcome of those vaccines, they're roughly the same. So there's no argument anymore that Canadians are preparing much different vaccines. That
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argument doesn't stand anymore. So that's one on the delay of the vaccine.
Certainly, I will take it that the minister has never written or made any submission to the government of Canada for fast-tracking the vaccine which people of British Columbia need the most. On the record, I just want to say, as well, that the Health Minister of Ontario has made a submission to the federal government for fast-tracking the vaccine. In this province it could be a different practice. I can understand that.
I will move on to my next question. If the minister has been talking…. Have you finalized the plan to have everyone who needs to, to be vaccinated with the appropriate number of doses — which I know is one now — by the end of December?
Hon. I. Chong: I want to read into the record some information, because I think it's important. When the member, as I say, suggests there is a delay…. I assure him that there has not been a delay about having the vaccine at the earliest possible date. I think there have been comments. Yes, we would like it earlier. Just because we would like it earlier doesn't mean that there necessarily has been a delay.
The fact of the matter is that the vaccine production started immediately when it was available to be made. The producer of the vaccine, which the federal contract holds the contract with, is in Quebec, and they were completing the seasonal flu vaccine. Once they completed that, they immediately moved on to the H1N1 vaccine.
I assure the member that we have been in constant dialogue through the health officer, as a result of being a co-chair of the standing committee, and that we have always encouraged that production take place at the earliest possible date. So I don't want, again, to leave it on the record that the member suggests that British Columbia has not been a leader in this area. In fact, we certainly have been.
Absolutely, we were suggesting that the vaccine be made available and be produced as quickly as possible. That happened in July. Then after the vaccine is produced, Health Canada requires a review and authorization process, and I believe that takes a number of time as well. After safe testing and preliminary development of the work, the actual production of the vaccine is about another 12 weeks.
So what has happened now is that the vaccine, having been produced, submits to Health Canada clinical research data on the safety and the effectiveness of that. As a result, we are then able to receive shipments after that process has taken place. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is very much involved with that.
We are absolutely involved with the federal government when it comes to having the vaccine, the production, made as soon as it is available, without delay, and ensuring that it's safe and effective and that the proper tests that need to take place are taking place. We are just waiting now for the federal government to give us the approval in order to use that vaccine to inoculate them.
The member raises the use of the adjuvant and non-adjuvant vaccines. Clearly, that was also a discussion that took place, and there have been medical experts and advice as to what should be the case. Of course, those were decisions that were made with health officers, as well, across the country. Again, our provincial health officer was involved in that.
Again, I cannot leave for the record that there was any delay caused — certainly not by this province and certainly not caused by the federal government. I have to say that they have worked very well across the country ensuring that everyone was able to get the required dose that they wanted. Again, I just want to make that clear.
In terms of the plan about having people who want access to the vaccine, yes, the provincial health officer advises that the plans have been finalized, are in place and that all those who wish and want the vaccine will have access to it.
The question is whether people will come forward early to have the vaccine or whether they themselves will delay. To be quite frank about it, there are many people who don't even avail themselves of the seasonal flu vaccine. Some people are averse to having vaccinations. I don't know that the members are, but there are certainly some people who don't want to have the vaccination shots that they really should have. So we are recommending it, and we have enough doses to deal with it here in British Columbia.
J. Brar: How many weeks will it take if people are ready to get the vaccine?
Hon. I. Chong: What we're expecting to receive is about 450,000 doses per week. So if we received 450,000 per week, it could take about nine weeks for the full administration of that. Again, we may receive more as the vaccine becomes available, but that is the expectation, and that's what the plan is dealing with.
J. Brar: Can the minister tell us: how much is the total budget for H1N1?
Hon. I. Chong: The member may recall that in the budget update, September 2009, an additional $80 million was set aside to deal with H1N1.
J. Brar: How much of that funding has been allocated for H1N1 flu pandemic preparation?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm not exactly clear, but I'll attempt to provide the answer to the member. The entire $80
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million has been dedicated to deal with H1N1, and that is to deal with the supply of the vaccines, to deal with the antivirals and the pre-positioning of it, to make payment to the doctors or those who are requesting payment to administer it. So the entire $80 million has been set aside for H1N1.
J. Brar: To make it simple, either the minister can provide simple detail of that; otherwise, I have questions specific to that.
I will leave with one bigger question: are there any simple details as to what the categories are that $80 million will be spent on? If that is not available, then my question will be: how much funding has been allocated to buy the H1N1 vaccine?
Hon. I. Chong: The additional increase of the $80 million that was announced in Budget 2009 in September 2009 is being placed in the Ministry of Health Services, because they're going to actually be administering it. As I say, we're the lead ministry for ensuring that we put the plan in place. However, we provided information as to what dollars were necessary.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
At that time, we thought that we would need about two doses per person and we thought about 75 percent of the population, so we had estimated that approximately $20 million of that $80 million should be set aside for the vaccines and antivirals, which again, were additional amounts that we had requested.
However, now that there appears to be perhaps only one dose that is necessary and, again, assuming 100 percent of the population will want to be vaccinated, the number may be closer to something like $15 million. But the $80 million is dedicated to H1N1. We know that the dollars are there to pay for all the vaccines that we need in place for British Columbians.
If the member wants specific details on how the balance of those dollars are going to be used — because that will be the administration, the capacity, the doctors and all those additional costs — the Ministry of Health Services is working those numbers out. They would have provided that number to get the extra dollars in the Health budget.
J. Brar: So $15 million. My understanding is that this is for the vaccine and antiviral drugs, that it covers both.
I do have other questions. I will just list those, and the minister can feel free to respond or say that these are Ministry of Health questions.
The first one, and I will read all of them, is: how many additional dollars have been allocated for additional supplies of antivirals? That's part of this already. That has been taken care of. How much additional funding is allocated to increase intensive care by hiring staff and/or more equipment and supplies? That's one question.
The second one: how much additional funding is allocated to purchase additional masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment for health care providers?
How much additional funding is allocated for additional testing, equipment and additional public health staff? How much additional funding is allocated which is to provide information to the public about the pandemic and personal precautions?
Hon. I. Chong: Hon. Chair, welcome to you this afternoon as well.
I think what perhaps is best is that if we can provide that information to the member specifically, because he has listed a whole array of them, we can try to get that to him. Again, I would suggest that he might want to speak to the Minister of Health Services, because they are working through a number of these, as well, and know better what capacity and what resources they will need.
As I say, the roughly $13 million to $15 million of the $80 million we know is going to be necessary for the ordering of the vaccine. That we know. That we have to have in place. However, if we should decide we don't need as many vaccines, we will not have to acquire as many doses. That's why that number still can be a bit fluid. We had ordered additional antivirals early in the year, so if we need to order more, we may do that.
Again, the $80 million is to deal with a number of the things that the member has listed. The specific details of that, I think, would be better suited to the Minister of Health Services. Or if we can get that information to the member sooner, we will provide that. The Ministry of Health Services has been working on those numbers and has a better idea of them than I. I will see what I can do to facilitate having him receive that.
J. Brar: One more question on the budget issue. Who is responsible for public relations when it comes to the H1N1 flu pandemic? Is it this ministry or somebody else who will provide the public with timely information about what's happening and all that — including educating the public?
Hon. I. Chong: I wanted to ensure clarity on this, because if the member is specifically looking in the blue books for a budget line item for the communication of H1N1, he will clearly see there isn't a line item specifically for us to deal with this. There is an allocation to deal with this through the public affairs bureau. They will ensure that the public awareness and the information that needs to be conveyed is there.
We work with them to ensure that the right information and all the appropriate information is available
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to raise awareness. The health authorities, as required within their regions, will also, within their health authority budgets, have an allocation to ensure that they communicate in their region any specific areas of concern.
We do work with the federal government through the public service announcements on what people should do, what the roles and responsibilities are in raising awareness. I know that even the Ministry of Education will do their part in ensuring that the public and school children are aware as they send information home.
But a specific line item…. If that's what the member is looking for within our budget, he won't find one. That is provided through the public affairs bureau for our ministry and others to ensure that the information is, in fact, conveyed.
J. Brar: So my understanding is that this ministry is actually responsible when it comes to preparing a public relation plan for the public of British Columbia for the H1N1 pandemic and that PAB is responsible to implement that plan. Can the minister tell us how much the budget allocation is for the minister to implement that plan?
Hon. I. Chong: We can get that information to the member. As I say, we certainly have the responsibility for ensuring the public is made aware and for what information needs to be communicated.
As the member will be aware, we have the H1N1 website, which is being updated on a constant basis. The allocation, however, is through the public affairs bureau. Once we let them know what we need, they will provide that allocation for us. We can try to get that information to the member as quickly as we can.
J. Brar: I would certainly like to have that information and the information about the questions I already listed earlier.
My fellow members would like to ask some questions about the meat regulations, and they may have some different questions as well. I'll ask them to ask the questions on that issue.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm happy to move into this other area.
I just wanted to let the member and any others know, if they were hoping to have any more questions on H1N1, that unfortunately, Dr. Kendall, our health officer, has to take another conference call, as I understand it, or meet with other people. So he has to leave. I just want to let members know that we aren't going to have his valuable services in the next little while, but I appreciate the member having had his briefing with the public health officer.
J. Brar: I don't have any further questions at this point in time on H1N1. I do have a lot of questions here, but I won't ask those questions at this point in time, keeping in mind the limited time we have for the budget estimates.
I would like to put on the record that I will put those questions in writing, and the minister and provincial health officer can respond to them in that fashion later on.
With that, I will ask the members to ask questions about the meat regulations.
D. Donaldson: Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the budget estimates.
As my colleague pointed out, I have some questions for the minister around meat regulations, beef regulations, and particularly around what's known as farm-gate sales — some questions around that area.
It's a topic of great interest to people in my area who depend on agriculture and the farm for getting high-quality local food and to people who depend on farm-gate sales for their livelihood and to try to string together a livelihood in an area of fairly high unemployment — as you're aware, Minister.
My first question would be: in this vote and budget estimates that we're considering today, can you bring me up to date on the regulations regarding the farm-gate sales? There seem to be a number of people in my area and, no doubt, around the province who want to know what the state of enacting the regulations is. Can you fill us in on that?
Hon. I. Chong: I want to begin by saying that I appreciate the concerns that he's raised, because that, too, is a concern we continually have in dealing with our meat regulations. I know there was some concern, when they were introduced, as to why they were a number of years ago. Really, the highest priority for us is to protect the health and safety of all British Columbians. That's really what the meat regulations were all about.
As we heard, when those were introduced, there were challenges faced by local meat producers and processors. As a result, we put in place a meat transition assistance program. MTAP, I think they called it. I believe about $8 million had been set aside for that. As recently as this year, in April, a further $3 million was put aside for that, because we had heard that there were still some challenges being faced.
I also want to indicate that over the past five years we have seen the number of provincially licensed meat-processing facilities actually quadruple. There have been more, and that's good news for British Columbians. At the same time, it's good news to know that we have a meat safety inspection program in place that other provinces did have and that we actually were lacking in.
I also take note of the member's concern that in some places we have found that the capacity is not there yet.
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Currently we're working on a pilot project in the northwest part of the province, where there is no slaughter capacity. We're hoping to see how that pilot evolves and whether we might try it in other areas, where there is, as well, no slaughter capacity. While we've quadrupled the number of licensees, there are still gaps. We know this, and we're trying to accommodate that.
In terms of what I guess people are referring to as farm-gate sales, we have in the ministry classified those as our temporary class C licences. When the meat regulations came in, there were the class A, the class B. That has to do with the processing and the inspection and the authority with which they can sell their meat to other persons and to restaurants, stores, grocers and things like that. The farm-gate sales were classified under a class C.
Again, those were introduced to be temporary. We will in fact be phasing those out. We have not yet been able to phase them all out, but we will likely move more quickly. We're working with the meat processors industry and our stakeholders, and they have been very helpful to us in that regard.
D. Donaldson: Thank you for that answer. It's interesting, because when you give your answer, it just raises some more questions for me, so I'm glad we have some time here.
Can you give me a number on how many class C licences have been issued? Also, if there's class C, let's go back to class B and class A as well.
Hon. I. Chong: As of September 15 of this year there were 73 provincially licensed and 13 federally registered — so some have done dual registrations — slaughterhouses in British Columbia, including 60 that have become licensed since 2004. There are a total of 36 fully licensed class A or B plants, 13 of which have been licensed since 2004. Thirty-seven of the 73 licences are the transitional class C licences. I realize that only some of them are expected to progress to the class A or B. That is as of September 15.
If the member wants that more clearly in a note or a letter to him, we can provide that. I know I just sort of read that out very quickly for him.
D. Donaldson: Yes, that would be helpful. My writing is sloppy, so it would be nice if you could supply that in writing.
It brings up the question of…. You mentioned the pilot projects in the northwest. I was wondering if you were referring to the Bella Coola project and also the Powell River project and whether you could give me an idea what kind of resources will be devoted under this budget vote to bringing those projects a little bit more into fruition.
Hon. I. Chong: The member is correct. Those are the projects we're referring to in the Powell River, Queen Charlotte and Bella Coola regions.
The extra $3 million that we had provided through the meat transition assistance program in April 2009 is being used in a variety of ways. Part of those dollars are being used to support this pilot program. There aren't specific dollars, and that was what I was trying to see — if I could nail down a number for the member. It's difficult when, in fact, there are things that are being done in terms of developing the risk assessments, also taking a look at whatever consultation processes need to take place and, of course, staff support being provided.
It is being supported in a variety of ways. If dollars are required, as I say, to do risk assessment, if dollars are required to meet with stakeholders and find out how we can put the program in place in the area, we will dedicate that, because we have the $3 million available to allow us to do that. At present there's not a limit on the amount that is being provided to that, nor is there a restriction. We're just working through that currently.
D. Donaldson: I wanted to move on to a couple of questions about studies that have been done or potentially could be done within this budget allocation. The minister referenced earlier about the health and safety concerns that were behind the intent of this regulation.
I was hoping that she could provide me with the name of a study that was done to show that, for independent facilities that are now covered by these regulations, there was an adverse health impact from beef coming from these kinds of facilities. If that hasn't been done, perhaps she could indicate whether, in this upcoming budget that we're considering today, an analysis will be done regarding whether these regulations have made any difference whatsoever to the healthiness of the beef that we are consuming.
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is perhaps better able to provide specific information. They are the ones that keep the statistics with regard to food safety and water safety.
What we were made aware of — one of the reasons why the meat inspection regulations came into place — was that British Columbia had the highest food- and waterborne disease rates in Canada. Again, that came out through the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. We can try and get you a copy of the report, which basically led us to making these changes towards healthier food, for certain. If that's helpful, I'll try and see if we can get a copy of that report that indicated we were having the highest rates of food- and waterborne diseases.
D. Donaldson: Well, sure, thank you. That would be fine if you wanted to supply that report.
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I'm more interested in…. Obviously, you would have had to have some specific reasons to enact these regulations around beef, not simply food, and around the quality of beef. Perhaps you can give examples — you know, not just the beef that was from these facilities that are covered by the new regulations, but what was the incidence of disease in meat, in beef, coming from facilities that we might classify as class A or B as well? I'd appreciate that information, if you could at least give a response to that, and I'll take that in writing because we are limited in time.
I'll ask my final question in this vein, Chair. I understand there are discussions around lessening the impact of these kinds of regulations on not simply farmers and ranchers in class C but perhaps those who can't achieve the class C status. You talked about this still being a concern, and I agree with that. It's still a concern to many ranchers and farmers in my area.
So can you give an update, as it relates to this budget estimates vote, around the so-called freezer trade and where we're at with that style of selling beef from ranchers at their locations — freezer trade?
Hon. I. Chong: To the member's question, I apologize. The staff are not familiar with the term that you use: freezer trade. So if you're referring to the fact that people who are selling through their farm-gate sales need to ensure that the meat is in a cooler or refrigeration unit, that's still a requirement, but the meat that they sell has to still be inspected or have come from a licensed processor before they are able to sell it to the public at large.
So I'm not sure if it's a new terminology that he's referring to in terms of freezer trade. Maybe we can sit down and have a briefing, and our staff can find out more information on that.
Just to wrap up on a fact that he talked about. One of the reasons why we moved to this and the reason why B.C. Centre for Disease Control has been involved was that — the member will recall — over the last number of years there were issues about mad cow, BSE, and the ability to trace and to track was not possible. Those, in addition to the fact that we had these highest rates, as I say, of food- and waterborne disease in Canada, really led to some of the changes we've made. They're not the only reasons why, but certainly, they were a part of the decision that was made to go to these new inspection regulations.
N. Simons: Thank you to the minister and staff for being here. I recall prior to the enactment of the meat regulations, the Deputy Minister of Health was travelling the province explaining the need for the regulations and couldn't find an actual case to substantiate his concerns and instead used a fictitious one. It was from a novel. It pointed to a situation where someone died from eating improperly stored jam, and from that, the industry was told that they had to undergo this entire change of policy for meat processing.
Despite that, it's in place now, and many people are still upset because other provinces have provisions for the sale of farm-gate sales so that farmers would continue to be legally allowed to sell a chicken to their neighbours without having to, in the case of Powell River, put it onto a ferry for an hour and a half and then drive it down to Comox and make sure that it doesn't get into the slaughterhouse after other animals are there for slaughter. It just didn't make sense.
What exactly does the pilot project entail, and who is overseeing it? Is it also the MTAP, and if it's MTAP, who is overseeing that MTAP program?
Hon. I. Chong: For the benefit of this member and the other who was asking about the dollars that were allocated, I've been advised that about $500,000 has been allocated to this pilot project of that $3 million. We were able to get that information, and I hope the member can convey that to his colleague.
The MTAP is in fact leading this pilot, and the group involved in this is chaired by Dr. Lorna Medd, who's a medical health officer for Vancouver Island Health Authority — so very much involved in that. Members of this consultation group do include representatives from our ministry, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, B.C. Centre for Disease Control, health authorities and stakeholders from the three communities of Queen Charlotte, Bella Coola and Powell River.
I also want to just let the member know, because he was talking in his opening remarks about the meat regulations, that in fact provincewide meat inspection is required in every province except for Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. So you know, it's not that we're out there on our own. It certainly has occurred in other provinces. I think it's important to make note of that.
N. Simons: I didn't mean to imply that we were different from everywhere. I do think, though, that there are meat inspection requirements in other provinces as well, but they have provisions to allow for farmers to actually just sell what they produce to neighbours and friends and not to any restaurants or for any industrial purpose.
In that case, the difference is that here, a system that previously seemed to work was…. It took three tries for the government to implement these new regulations because of the major concern that people had in the community. I don't think people are really that reassured when you see the listerosis outbreak and all the various health hazards from the factory farms.
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I think that there's a bit of a…. I don't know. It seems to be rather an excuse to use that: "You know, it's for the trade." Well, we're not talking about meat for trade. We're talking about meat for local consumption, meat that's been raised locally, that's part of the local economy, that supports farmers and all the other farming activities that they do. It's not just the livestock alone that sustains many small farmers; it's the various other activities they're involved with. That includes the raising of animals for consumption.
Can the minister advise whether or not the pilot project is scheduled to be an ongoing pilot project and when there might be a review of that process, so that some farmers on the Sunshine Coast have some certainty around it?
Hon. I. Chong: I know that process is underway, and the last thing I would want to do is to speed it up to the point that it risks possible success for recommendations coming forward to government. So I would like to say that we're hoping to receive some recommendations from the group as to what can work and what kind of success we can look at by, certainly, next summer or part of next summer. But I'm hesitant to give a specific date because to do so might limit the ability to have a good evaluation and a good report for what could be a very successful program.
N. Simons: As a final question…. I thank the minister for those responses. I wonder if small farmers in British Columbia can hold out hope that the result of the pilot project may lead government to consider legislation based on best practice and based on our best scientific evidence to reconsider the prohibition of farmers to sell products that they produce. Is it possible that the results of the pilot may assist other rural farmers in this province?
Hon. I. Chong: I think it's important to clarify the purpose of the pilot project. Why it was in the area that was chosen in northwest British Columbia was because it was looking at those rural areas that did not have slaughter capacities. So the pilot is looking at how to deal in those areas without slaughter capacity.
It is not about receiving recommendations that may change the inspection rules to allow for farm-gate sales in areas where there is slaughter capacity. I think it's important that the member understand that the public health imperatives here are to ensure that food safety is a priority and that the ability to track and trace a product, if necessary, can be done.
So the pilot project will give us some answers as to how to deal with those rural areas, those remote areas around the province that don't have slaughter capacity, who need to find a way to sell their product. But where there is slaughter capacity, that will continue to be the place where meat will need to be processed and for meat inspections to take place.
J. Brar: I'd like to go into the funding cut area, which includes the funding allocation area. I would say that includes the minister's office and various other organizations. I don't know whether you have the staff around you or whether you need to call somebody.
J. Brar: Okay, so I should continue that.
Between February '09 and September '09 the budget for base salaries in the minister's office for fiscal year 2009-10 increased from $169,000 to $382,000. Can the minister tell us why it was necessary to increase the salary budget in her own office at this point in time?
Hon. I. Chong: In general, I think that it's important to note — and the member acknowledged earlier in our comments — that the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport has also now a Minister of State for the Olympics and ActNow B.C. As such, the budget takes some consideration for that. But I should advise the member that in my ministry office, I have not seen an increase in staff. There are still the same support staff that were in place in February as they are now.
J. Brar: I would ask the minister to explain, then, this change in the budget line where the salary in the minister's office, as indicated here for fiscal year 2009-10, increased from $169,000 to $382,000. If the minister can explain that, as to what it is, I'll appreciate that.
Hon. I. Chong: I thought that I had made it clear that the ministry operations includes the Minister for Healthy Living and Sport and the Minister of State for the Olympics and ActNow B.C. So we have a minister of state and their support staff there now which previously was not there in February 2009.
J. Brar: If that's the case, then my understanding is that these are positions moved from somewhere else to this ministry and this salary is towards those positions. If that's the case or even if that's not the case, can the minister provide a list of positions getting this salary? We're talking about the increase in the budget in the minister's office. What are those positions?
Hon. I. Chong: The salaries of all the public servants as well as ministers are all listed in the public accounts, so that's going to be readily available for the member.
Again, the ministry's offices, as the member will know…. He has had interaction with my ministry office.
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The ministers have about four support persons, generally: a person who deals with the incoming mail and appointments and things, a scheduler, and then there's a ministerial and an executive assistant. Those are how ministers are generally supported.
There haven't been increases in staff. I assure the member of that. So the additional dollars that he's looking at is referring to the fact that we have a minister of state included within this Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport. That's why, clearly, there is an increase in the budgetary line item that he's referring to.
J. Brar: Still the answer is pretty vague. I understand that there is an office for the minister of state in this ministry. But what I want to ask is very simple. There is a difference in the budget line when it comes to these salaries. I just want to ask the minister: can the minister tell me what those positions are which stand for these additional budgetary dollars which are in the budget now that were not there in the February budget?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm not trying, you know, to not answer the member. I've indicated that this ministry has a minister of state. Our budget item, our line item, is similar to other ministries that also have a minister of state.
Perhaps a bit of the confusion — and I will convey this to the member — is that in February 2009 when the budget was put together, it was based on the previous year for '08-09, so the February '09 budget for '09-10 and the previous year's budget had the Minister of Healthy Living and Sport being established in June. So rather than using a full 12-month, I believe that a nine-month period was used when they put the budget together in February '09.
That's my understanding, because they had not accounted for the fact that there had been a Minister of Healthy Living and Sport established in June 2008. So they went and chose the '08-09 total figure and put that in the February '09-10 budget having not accounted for three months.
However, when the September 2009 update was prepared, it was based on a full year for the '09-10 year, as well as providing for a minister of state position.
As I've indicated, other ministries that have ministers of state…. Their budget items are similar. If you were to make that comparison, you would see that there are no additional support staff provided beyond what was there previously.
J. Brar: The budget for other base salaries in the ministry also increased from $2.492 million to $2.746 million. Can the minister tell us why it was necessary to increase the budget for other base salaries in her ministry at this point in time?
Hon. I. Chong: I apologize to the member. Can I seek clarification as to what numbers he's specifically looking at? We're also looking at our blue book numbers, which I'm presuming he's doing, and I just want to make sure we have the right category or the right items so we can provide him with the information he's looking for.
J. Brar: I will repeat the numbers as requested by the minister. I'm talking about the budgetary item line: other base salaries in the ministry. The budget jumped from $2.492 million to $2.746 million.
A Voice: We can't find what you're talking about.
J. Brar: Okay. I would probably give further clarification on a combined number. I have asked a different question, but I'll give you probably the global picture. You can explain that, Minister.
If you look into the February budget, under executive and support services, you have a budget allocation for $2.661 million. If you look at the same budgetary line in the September '09 budget, the figure is $3.128 million. So combine these figures, and this is almost a 17.5 percent increase in that budgetary line, which is salaries.
So my question, basically, is: can the minister explain what it is, and how can the minister justify the 17.5 percent salary increase at this point in time?
Hon. I. Chong: I apologize for the delay. I just wanted to make sure we had the same figures.
I think perhaps the best way to describe it is it's not necessarily an increase in salary amounts but increases to some of the personnel that we have. We previously did not have a senior financial officer, which we have had to bring on, and also an individual who provides corporate support to our provincial health officer, which we previously did not have as well.
This ministry has taken on additional responsibilities in dealing with population and public health, so the additional supports have been put in place to provide particular services, again, to the various branches of population and public health that we have.
I hope that provides the member with some information. If he wants specific FTEs and things like that, we can try to get that to him. Again, we apologize. It's just not as clear in our data as perhaps he would like. We can provide him with further information, if he would like that.
J. Brar: Thanks to the minister. I just did a rough calculation here when the minister was looking for answers to this question. Altogether, this figure is about half a million dollars. It's about $457,000, which is, if you look at the budget, additional funding as compared to the budget in February.
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If that's the case, I would like to ask the minister: if this funding is completely dedicated to the new hires, then can the minister tell what are those positions? The minister did mention a couple of them.
That's one question. If there is part of this amount given to some civil servants as a salary increase, I would like to know those positions as well.
Hon. I. Chong: I can advise the member that there were no salary increases as such. These dollars would be for staff positions that we needed to fill that were not previously there, perhaps. I did share with him a couple of those. What we can do is specifically go back to the comparison he's looking for, for September '09 and February '09, and provide that information to him so that he'll have that.
J. Brar: I certainly would like to have a list of those positions and new hires, if that's made available as soon as possible.
I would like to move on to the cuts in the population and public health budget. Between the budgets tabled in February '09 and September '09, the ministry has cut its population and public health budget for the fiscal year '09-10 from $43.647 million to only $24.999 million. Can the minister provide details of what these cuts are?
Hon. I. Chong: What occurred in February 2009 was a budget allocation amount for the opportunity for the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport to consider a number of contributions or transfer agreements that we were readying ourselves for, should we have some projects that we wanted to fund. The reality of our current fiscal economic climate removed that opportunity for us to take a look at partners and transfer agreements. That's where the reductions are.
I cannot provide the member with specific organizations, as such, in the population and public health area because there had not been necessarily a detailed list of who was going to be allocated those dollars. When the budget was prepared in 2009, we wanted to take a look at an opportunity to be partnering with organizations should they come forward and present to us a good idea or a good concept. It really was a budgeted amount for potential partnerships, potential pilot programs. The opportunity to do that, as I say, evaporated when our fiscal situation changed dramatically.
J. Brar: I think it will be incorrect to say that all of that funding, which is almost 43 percent less as compared to the February budget, was all about the future opportunities. I can say with some certainty, although I am the critic of the department, that there have been some funding cuts to the existing organizations or existing programs.
With that note, I would like to get into three different areas. I would like to specifically ask the minister some questions.
The first one. The ministry has cut $7.985 million from STOB 79. I think STOB is understandable — right? I don't understand what STOB is, but I think the minister will understand that. STOB 79, which is "Entitlements" — that's what I think the minister was referring to. Entitlements, by definition, must be paid out.
My question is: can the minister tell us why it was necessary to cut nearly $8 million of entitlement funding from her ministry budget? If the minister can explain that, particularly STOB 79 funding cuts.
Hon. I. Chong: I just also want to clarify comments the member made regarding the allocation we had in February '09. Yes, in the sense that there was money set aside to look at opportunities and possible pilot programs, there was also an opportunity to perhaps look at a second or third, I guess, phase or continuation of some programs that had been funded before. So he's correct in the sense that there were some programs that we didn't engage in a second or third year or phase of. I do want to agree with the member, in that sense.
STOB 79, which says "Entitlements," was actually not truly entitlements. They actually should have been in the other STOB grants and transfer agreements and had been, I guess, inadvertently — as the member will know, in some of the budget line items — put in STOB 79 as an entitlement when, in fact, they had not really been determined to be entitlements. They were under the grants and transfers under agreement which, the member knows, were reduced. I hope that clarifies that.
J. Brar: So my understanding is that STOB 79 is not entitlement, but it's part of the grant programs, which is STOB 77. If that's the case, I will move on to STOB 77.
If we combine both the money listed under the STOB 79, which is "Entitlements," and STOB 77, which is "Grants," now both fall under the grant program. Together it will be roughly about $13 million in funding.
My question to the minister will be: can the minister tell us why it was necessary to cut nearly $13 million worth of grants from her ministry?
Hon. I. Chong: As I say, STOB 79, which had been erroneously listed as "Entitlements," should have been put in either STOB 77 or STOB 80. Again, I understand that the reason why it had been put in 79 was that it was the new ministry last year, and that's the category they thought it belonged to. Having said that, the amount could have been combined under either grants or transfers under agreement.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
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The member will know, and I've indicated in the past, that because these have been very challenging financial times, we had to take a look at the opportunities for providing grants. In some cases we're not able to continue, and our transfers under agreement are essentially transferring to other organizations. In the past we may have asked them to deliver a service or program, which we're no longer able to do.
One such example of a transfer under agreement would be, like, to the UBCM, who have, admittedly, over the last number of years received transfer agreements from a number of ministries to deliver a whole range of services or programs. That just was not possible this year.
J. Brar: Welcome to the chair, Madam Chair. We are talking about roughly $13.5 million here in funding cuts to the grant program overall. So I would appreciate if the minister can provide a detailed list of organizations that lost their full or partial funding under this $13.5 million funding cut.
Hon. I. Chong: Welcome as well, hon. Chair. The member, I know, is trying to seek clarification as to those organizations that may have not received dollars that they might have received in a previous year. But I think that it's important to caution that the fact that a grant had been awarded in a previous year or a transfer under agreement had been received in a previous year did not necessarily indicate that they were going to be receiving the same support or the same dollars to continue on in that particular program in future years.
So I am not able to provide the member with a comprehensive list, if this is what he's looking for, because there was no predetermined decision as to who was supposed to get money, and then who was not. We, certainly, as all ministries do, receive requests for assistance for grants, for transfers under agreement, to take a look at programs, to go into a second or third or fourth year of a program. If we were able to do that, we would. But clearly, we weren't able to do that.
So I will share with the member, perhaps, this in terms of what we are able to fund in terms of public health spending. We have focused, you know, in these very challenging economic times on maintaining core funding to programs dealing with healthy eating, with tobacco cessation, with immunization programs.
A couple of examples of that for the member. The QuitNow services by the B.C. Lung Association. We were able to continue with that program. We thought it was important because of the highly successful tobacco cessation rate and programs that they were delivering. About $2.1 million was provided to them.
The immunization program and promotion to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for its fall program — another example. We wanted to continue to fund that because we felt that was core to what was necessary to maintain public health. There was $400,000 that was provided there.
Action Schools' healthy eating program — $500,000 was continued for that, to increase the number of servings and the variety of vegetables and fruit consumed by school-aged children.
That's an example of some areas that we wanted to focus on. That's how, when we were making our decisions as to the entire budget that we were given…. What core funding did we wish to maintain? That's how we wrestled with the decision on these really difficult economic times.
J. Brar: The question is pretty simple. We're talking about a $13.5 million funding cut. That funding was allocated to different organizations. I understand the difficult times. What I'm asking is: what were those organizations that were supposed to receive that funding? Or what were those organizations which got funding cuts, whether it's partial or full funding? If the minister can tell us those organizations, that would be helpful.
Hon. I. Chong: I need to clarify for the member that there was not a predetermined list of people who were going to share in those dollars. What we had was that allocation.
Were it possible to look at expanding certain programs that we may have been involved in or engaged in or whether it may have been that we could have looked at new programs, we would have certainly proceeded with that. The financial situation we found ourselves in precluded us from making those decisions.
What we then took a look at was what important core funding programs we wanted to maintain. As I've indicated, they had to do with healthy eating, tobacco cessation and immunization. For that reason, we said that for these three programs that I gave as an example, we needed to continue to provide dollars for. We made that decision, and those are the programs that we have been able to fund.
J. Brar: As I understand, then, from the comment made by the minister, this funding, which is $13.5 million, was funding intended to fund certain organizations in the future. If that's the case, can the minister then confirm that there was no organization given any agreement or contract for this funding we're talking about — $13.5 million — and that this was funding just in the budget and for the future allocation of funding and there was no allocation made about that funding?
Hon. I. Chong: The simplest way to describe it…. They're not just grants. They're also transfers under agreement, meaning that we transfer, for example, to an
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organization that might deliver a program on behalf of a number of other organizations.
I can confirm to the member that he is correct. We had not decidedly made any decisions as to where those would go. When we had to take a look at focusing on where we were going to spend the dollars, we did.
We did take a look at any potential funding multi-year agreements, if that's what the member is looking for, to ensure that if there were any, we would live up to those commitments. There was no change or no reduction to those organizations that had any kind of a multi-year commitment.
The dollars they had received in a previous year…. There were organizations that had received dollars for whatever service or program. They had received them for that particular year, and it had not been committed that there would be a second, third or fourth year in continuum.
J. Brar: I would like to correct the minister again. The transfer under agreement is a different STOB. We're not talking about that. We're talking about STOB 79 and 77 only, which is a grant program and entitlement program. We're not talking about transfer agreement funding — right? That's separate funding. I'm going to ask questions about that too, but that's a separate part of the money in the budget.
Is the minister telling me, then, that there was no funding cut to any existing organization receiving funding from the ministry?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I want the member to understand that when I refer to STOB 80, which is a transfer under, 79, which is where we started talking about…. I did clarify that yes, inadvertently, 79 was used as a catch STOB, I guess, for what could have been STOB 77 and STOB 80. That's why I'm using both in conjunction — because not all of STOB 79 would have moved into STOB 77. Some of it would have moved into STOB 80.
Having said that, I want to respond to the member's questions. The dollars that we had provided for STOBs 77 to 80 had given us the opportunity — in some cases, if we were able to — to look at expanding or continuing on with organizations, if we had chosen to do so.
There were no funding commitments for any multi-year agreements, which is one of the reasons why…. When we discontinued or did not renew or replenish any organization's previous program, it was because we had not put in place a multi-year funding commitment.
What we did look at were those areas that I've indicated. We wanted to continue to seek assistance with these other non-profits and say that this was where we were going to dedicate some dollars and that this was what we were going to fund — as I say, the tobacco cessation, immunization and the healthy eating program.
J. Brar: My question is simple. Was there any funding cut to the existing commitments made to the different organizations under the grant program?
Hon. I. Chong: I thought that my answer was simple as well. Because we had no multi-year funding commitment, there was no funding cut to any commitment that was made, because there was no commitment.
J. Brar: We are talking about only one year here, Minister. We're talking about the February budget, and then we're talking about the September budget of the same annual budget cycle. So we're not talking about multi-year here. We're talking about one budget.
Once again, I would like to ask the same question. Within the same budget year was there any funding cut to any organization which had already received a contract or agreement from the government?
Hon. I. Chong: If a funding contract or commitment had been signed, we would have continued. But there had not been a funding contract or commitment that had been agreed to or signed that would have required a cut to the program.
I'm certain that there were organizations that were hopeful that they could continue on and deliver a second or third or fourth phase within that year — in February, when the February budget was first announced and when we were in, certainly, a better fiscal situation. Again, as the member well knows, when that situation changed and when we had the September 2009 update, it also removed the ability for us to look at expansion of any programs that we had previously thought of expanding.
J. Brar: Probably, I need to continue asking that question. Are there any funding cuts to the ongoing programs funded by this ministry under the grant program?
Hon. I. Chong: I've answered this question as many times as the member has asked it. I've indicated that we had not any commitments to go beyond what we had funded in our previous year. If we had a commitment, we would have continued on that.
As I've indicated, I'm certain that there were organizations that had wanted to present an opportunity to continue on with a program. If what he's referring to is ongoing programs, then that very well may have been the case. But we were not in the position to fund an ongoing program, necessarily, if we had not made a multi-year commitment to do so.
I think that's the best way I can provide that clarification for the member. He's asked me, I think, four times now. I've given the answer. We did not cut a program to which we had made a commitment.
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J. Brar: Can the minister confirm or deny that funding to the Blind Sports program was cut by 2.5 percent?
Hon. I. Chong: Hon. Chair, I just wanted to confirm, in case, and anticipate a future question. On the question that the member raised about B.C. Blind Sports, they are one of about 65 provincial sport organizations. My understanding is that they all received about 2.5 percent less than what they had hoped for. While they did still receive some funding, they received 2½ percent less than what they had hoped for.
J. Brar: So they received less but not a funding cut, though. Interesting.
I would now like to read from this list in Public Accounts, and this was the last year, the number of organizations that got funding from this ministry. I would like to list for the minister those organizations and the funding they got. I would like to ask the minister to confirm whether they will continue getting that funding or if there has been a cut to that funding as well.
The list of organizations includes B.C. Food Processors Association, which got $1.9 million last year. Did they get the same amount this year? B.C. Healthy Communities got $25,000 last year. Did they get the same amount this year? British Columbia Blind Sports Association got $12,975 as part of this. Did they get the same amount this year?
British Columbia Lung Association got $531,000 last year. Did they get the same amount this year? Canadian Mental Health Association got $15,000 last year. Did they get the same amount? Then we have the ProMOTION Plus Girls and Women in Physical Activity and Sport Society. They got $60,500 last year. Did they get the same amount this year? Public Health Association of B.C. got $55,000 last year. Did they get the same amount this year?
Sports Medicine Council of B.C. got $240,000 last year. Did they get the same amount this year? The Healthy Aboriginal Network got $26,000 last year. Did they get the same amount this year? The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research got $39,000 from this ministry last year. Did they get the same amount this year? Vancouver AIDS Society got $5,000 last year. Did they get the same this year? Vancouver Native Health Society got $6,000 last year. Did they get the same amount this year?
If they get less funding, is that a funding cut, or do they just get less funding?
Hon. I. Chong: Listening to the member read off those organizations and the amounts, it's quite clear that many of those dollars that were provided in the previous year could well have been for specific purposes — for specific festivals or specific workshops or a specific project, or things of that nature — which meant that they were discretionary in that particular case. It was not funding that was going to be necessarily continued on, nor necessarily was that organization going to come forward with a project or a program that we would agree to fund.
If the member, as I say, would like to suggest that those are cuts, then he is making a statement that those were certainties that those organizations were going to receive. There was never a certainty that those organizations were going to receive that.
The fact of the matter is that the grants that we had previously provided for we did so based on the fact that we had the ability financially to do so. When we were faced with a very drastic change in our financial situation, we needed to take a look at whether or not we would continue to fund these discretionary grants, some of which were one-time.
Others, I'm sure, people felt should have continued on. We were not able to do that, and for that reason we have dedicated the resources that we do have to those organizations which I mentioned in a previous answer.
J. Brar: Did the minister's office contact those organizations to inform them about funding not being available this year?
Hon. I. Chong: Organizations, as the member well knows, will request from not just this ministry but other ministries and other sources all the time dollars to support, as I say, their projects or their particular services. If we were able to consider funding them, we would have. For those that we were not able to, if we had received a request, we certainly would have replied to them appropriately through the ministry's communication response.
J. Brar: Just to probably conclude that part, my understanding from the response given by the minister is this, then: all the $13.5 million funding under STOBs 77 and 79, which are basically grant programs — not the entitlement program but grant programs — all that money was not committed in any fashion to any organization at that stage.
Hon. I. Chong: What I have said is that the dollars that we had available through STOBs 77 and 79, which should have been 77 and should have been part of 80, had not been allocated or committed to any specific organization or project for which we had made any arrangement for them to receive them.
If they had received a formal agreement, then we would have ensured that that funding would have been made available. This is one of the reasons why, based on the difficult times we had, we had to take a look at those
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discretionary dollars which were provided to us to consider if we had the opportunity to have an expansion of programs or new programs. We did not have the ability to do that, and for that reason, they were not funded or they were not provided for. There were no specific commitments that had been made by virtue of any agreement. I hope that provides the answer for the fifth time.
J. Brar: It is a response, but I don't think it's the answer, Minister, about this question. To make it simple, then, is it possible for the minister to provide a list of all the organizations that got funding last year and all the organizations that are getting funding this year and the amount each organization is going to get? That would make it pretty simple for us to understand what organizations got funding last year and what organizations are getting funding this year.
Hon. I. Chong: Well, I think the member very clearly showed that he has access to information that provides all the organizations that got money last year through the public accounts process, and when the books are closed off for the '09-10 fiscal year, he will also see those organizations that received money this year.
However, to make a comparison to suggest that those organizations that received money in one year would have been entitled to receive money in a subsequent year is not necessarily correct, because those organizations may not have applied or requested any additional dollars to expand their program.
The organizations. I've given the member a number of examples where we have provided some funding. They were the immunization, the tobacco cessation, the healthy eating programs, where we clearly have provided those dollars. That has been made available. But as to what he's looking for in what was provided last year, that would be in the public accounts.
The Chair: Member, I think just a gentle reminder to ensure that the questions aren't repetitive, even though that may not be quite from your perspective. But the minister has answered a number of times on this line of questioning.
J. Brar: Thank you, Madam Chair.
The minister just mentioned about the public account information, which we all know comes almost a year later. We're talking about the estimates of the budget of '09-10 now. We're talking about the information, and the questions are related to this year and related to this situation now. I know that information will come about a year later.
Is that my understanding, or — can I say this? — is the minister not prepared to provide the list of organizations being funded by this ministry at this stage? What is the difficulty of the minister's office providing that list to the people of British Columbia at this stage? That is public information.
Hon. I. Chong: What I can perhaps provide to assist the member is a list of those organizations that have received funding from this ministry to date for this year. The reason why I'm referring him to public accounts is because he's wanting a list of everyone who has received money this year versus last year. That is what I thought I heard.
We are not yet concluded with this year, and there are still dollars that we will be allocating as we proceed through the balance of this year. So we haven't got a full, comprehensive list because we haven't reached the end of our fiscal year of March 2010.
If it's helpful to the member, I'd be willing to provide a list of those organizations that to date have received an allocation of dollars for this particular year. But again, if he's referring to last year, all that information is available in the public accounts.
A. Dix: Just very simply, last year the ministry spent, on the population and public health line, $44 million. They brought forth a vote in the February budget of $44 million. It's now at, roughly, $24 million. Will the minister commit to providing us a detailed explanation of the difference between $44 million and $24 million?
Hon. I. Chong: I had answered this question to the critic a while ago and indicated that the allocation in the February 2009 budget was — I guess the best way to explain it — mirrored under a proposal to have an opportunity to allocate to a variety of organizations, should those opportunities or organizations come forward where we could possibly partner with them.
What occurred in the September 2009 budget update was the fact that our fiscal situation changed. We could not look for those opportunities to partner. There was not a predetermined list of individuals or groups that we had made any commitment to in February of 2009, if that's what the member is looking for.
It sounds like he's trying to say: "Well, who did you agree that you'd make a $44 million allocation to?" We had not that predetermined list. We did not have those decisions made.
When we did take a look at what we were able to fund within the context of our fiscal situation, we looked at the amount of $24 million, roughly, which is what was going forward in the September 2009 budget.
A. Dix: No, it's very simple. The ministry spent $44 million, roughly, last year on this line — right? So what did they spend last year, what were they proposing to spend in February, and what are they spending now?
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I mean, this is what we debate. This is the vote — right? This is what we're debating. If it's the position of the Ministry of Healthy Living that they're not going to provide us with that information, that the minister simply is going to refuse to tell people what they're going to spend the money on….
That's the purpose of the budget estimates. It's not some illusory thing in February. The minister seems to talk about it as if it was some fantasy document. It was the budget of the government of British Columbia prior to the election. It was $44 million.
It went through Treasury Board. They didn't pick it out of a hat. The minister or her predecessor went to Treasury Board. They made a series of proposals. It was there in detail. It was $44 million, and now it's $24 million. We're not asking for the Treasury Board documents. We're asking for the documents that supported the budget in the House, that they tabled in the House.
It's very simple. All we're asking for…. It seems not unreasonable. It's the most basic of basic questions. It couldn't be more basic. The ministry spent $44 million last year. They're spending $24 million this year. What does the $20 million that they're spending less consist of?
The minister has previously asserted in the House that that was administration. She's asserted that the focus was administration. That's what she asserted in her response in question period. Fair enough.
So let's find out. It was $44 million; it's now $24 million. What does the $20 million consist of? If the Minister of Healthy Living isn't prepared to answer or her staff isn't prepared to provide that information, then it is an extraordinary thing to say in an estimates debate.
Hon. I. Chong: What is extraordinary is the mischaracterization of what occurred in question period. The member suggests that I alluded to all of the savings that were found in the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport as administration. I clearly checked the Hansards, and I'm going to correct him now, for the record.
While I said that there were savings made in administration, travel, office supplies, I also said on a number of occasions that there were savings made in the discretionary spending, and discretionary is exactly that. It is where dollars are made available for ministries to be able to determine whether we're going to be looking at partnerships and collaborations with other organizations for probable programs or services that could be provided, perhaps for continuation of services or programs.
Let's be clear. Let's be clear that the member — his assertion that I made an assertion that it was clearly and only administration — is not correct. So I'm going to correct that for the record now, once and for all.
As to the dollars that were made available in February of 2009, I also indicated to the critic and now to the member who is asking and posing the questions, that there were dollars that were made available to the ministry with a number of areas that the ministry thought would possibly be areas that we can pursue.
One that comes to mind, for example, is where we were developing a number of seniors parks throughout the province. The member will know — I hope they will know — that there are currently 18 seniors parks that have opened.
Well, when we took a look in September — and these are the partnerships we would have with local governments and through UBCM — the uptake wasn't as great, so there has been a decision not to continue to proceed with as many as might have been decided upon in February. That's just an example.
There was not a specific list, as the member would like to presume, that was made as to every area that we were going to consider. But there was an opportunity for this ministry to take a look at who we would partner with, what proposals might come forward, what second- or third-year or further phases that we could consider.
I'm quite happy to provide to the critic a list of those that we have currently funded to date. He knows well what we funded in the past, and those are the figures that we're going forward with. If the member wishes to debate whether we should fund those ones that we've already funded, fine. We could debate that. I happen to believe that the ones we have chosen to fund are critical to promote healthy lifestyles and healthy living.
A. Dix: A very simple question. The minister talked about administration. What percentage of that $20 million from the population and public health branch was administration of those savings?
Hon. I. Chong: In the population and public health specifically, there was about $837,000 savings found in administration. The balance, as the member will know, was in the area of discretionary grants in the particular STOBs that we have been discussing.
A. Dix: So administration was roughly 4 percent?
The Chair: Could you wait a minute.
A. Dix: Sorry, hon. Chair.
The Chair: Through the Chair, please, Member.
A. Dix: So administration was approximately what percentage? So $800,000 over $20 million?
J. Brar: About 4 percent.
A. Dix: About 4 percent. I'm getting help from my colleague.
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So the administration that the government was focused on was 4 percent of the cuts, and programs were 96 percent of the cuts?
Hon. I. Chong: In terms of the population and public health budget in total, the administrative savings amount to about 11 percent of the population and public health budget.
J. Brar: I would like to go to this new line of questions. This is about STOB 80. The minister has cut roughly $4.977 million from STOB 80, which are agreements. Agreements, as per my understanding, are contracts the ministry has with different organizations or individuals — which I don't know. So can the minister tell us why it was necessary to cut nearly $5 million worth of contracts in her ministry?
Hon. I. Chong: Sorry. I want to correct the member regarding the question on operation. The 11 percent savings on administration, which I referred to, was the savings within the administration budget of the population and health budget, but not of the entire population and health budget as a whole. So I want to correct that for the record, should he check Hansard.
On the question of STOB 80, the response I have to the member is the same as I would give for STOB 77. Whether it's a grant or whether it's a transfer under agreement, these were amounts that were not committed to, to the extent that we were having to provide those transfer under agreements.
I just want to be clear that while they may say "transfer under agreement," they were not actually agreements that were committed to. They were agreements in the sense that when you do transfer, there is an agreement to do a certain project or to deliver a certain service with those dollars.
As I say, the financial situation that presented itself in September of 2009 required that we take a look at the potential where we had hoped to provide some grants and transfers under agreement. That obviously was not possible in September of 2009.
J. Brar: I would like to pose probably the last question on this round of questions. We are talking about almost $20 million of funding cuts here. If you go back, that funding was part of the budget. It went through various steps and processes when the funding was actually put in the budget. Can the minister tell us, then, what the basis was for proposing that funding in the first place? It was $20 million, which is significant funding when we talk about the total funding of the ministry.
Hon. I. Chong: Well, I'm not going to disagree with the member on that. If there were more dollars available, yes, government would like to be able to provide a variety of services and programs and to do more. But the reality is that with September 2009 and our fiscal update, the changes we found that we were in and the challenges we were presented with just did not present the opportunity to continue on with those ideas and those proposals that we had hoped to engage in, in these ensuing months.
I can appreciate that the member has raised — and, I'm going to say, rightfully so — that there is a substantial reduction in the discretionary dollars that we previously had. I would agree that it would be wonderful to be able to provide all those things, but we are living in an economic reality today that doesn't provide that. Based on that, we made the decision to go with a number of core programs that this ministry would fund to provide the outcomes that we want.
I hope that is satisfactory for the member, for the critic. Certainly, there will be times that we disagree on how those decisions were made, but that's what the situation presented us with.
The Chair: Noting the hour, we'll move on.
J. Brar: Madam Chair, I can probably ask a last question, and then the minister can wrap it up. Then I think I will be given the opportunity to make some closing remarks. Or should I make them now?
The Chair: If you have a question. Otherwise, the minister was going to wrap up.
J. Brar: The last question I'll make, and also comments, then.
The Chair: A question.
J. Brar: My last question, but not the last…. I had a lot of questions, you know.
Keeping in mind the time, I certainly want to ask a question about the impact of the HST, particularly on seniors care, which is part of the ministry's responsibilities. The B.C. Care Providers Association has indicated that the HST will cost seniors care home providers as much as $200,000 in additional taxes in some cases. My question was, basically: did the minister consult with care home providers before deciding to impose the HST? That's the HST question.
I would like to conclude before the minister stands up and makes her concluding marks, including giving the answer to my question. I appreciate the staff members and the minister for answering all the questions to the best of her ability.
I do have a number of questions which we were not able to ask because of the time limitations, and I would like to put those questions in writing to the minister
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and make it part of the budget estimates. I would ask the minister to respond to those questions in the future, once we make the request. If the minister can commit to that, I would appreciate it.
Thanks once again to all the staff members here, the minister and the Chair.
Hon. I. Chong: With respect to the HST, I have to advise that in terms of any key issues identified by any of the specific sectors, including through this ministry, the Ministry of Finance is working to address those as we move towards implementation next year. I would request that the member refer those specific questions to the Minister of Finance.
Wrapping up for the estimates on the portion for Healthy Living and Sport, I do want to thank the critic and others who participate in the budget estimates. I know that while at times we may disagree or not come to complete agreement on how things should be developed or perceived to be developed, I think that the exchange we have had with the critic — and I thank him for it — has been cordial.
I look forward to providing him with additional information that he has requested. We have made note of that, and that will be made available. Any other further information that he would like — certainly, we will provide that. I hope he knows that our office has been very open to facilitating any meetings that he wants with any ministry staff to have as much information made available to him as well.
Just before I move that we rise, I'm going to just put on the record — because I have this information available for the previous question regarding the pharmacists — that we have found out that for pharmacists to be able to inject, the training is a one-day, on-line training and also a practicum and CPR. So approximately, it would take three days — again, no barrier for pharmacists who wish to get the necessary requirements to do injections.
With that, again I want to thank everyone. I also thank all the staff, who have been most helpful throughout this process.
I now move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:17 p.m.
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