2010 Legislative Session: Second 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, May 18, 2010
Volume 18, Number 1
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 14 — Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2010 (continued)
Hon. M. de Jong
Bill 10 — Veterinarians Act
Hon. S. Thomson
Hon. S. Thomson
Bill 15 — Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2010
Hon. B. Penner
Hon. B. Penner
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Education (continued)
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
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TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: Good morning, Mr. Speaker. In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply — for the information of members, the ongoing estimates for the Ministry of Education — and, in this chamber, continued second reading debate on Bill 14.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 14 — Motor Vehicle
Amendment Act, 2010
N. Simons: Yesterday, until we were rudely interrupted by the end of the day, I was speaking on Bill 14, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to perhaps repeat and sum up the issues that are raised with this bill.
This bill is a wide-ranging bill amending the Motor Vehicle Act and, in some ways, introducing unprecedented measures against drivers who are potentially or are drinking. I guess that's the issue, because this new legislation seems to indicate that there are progressive penalties for people who consume progressive amounts of alcohol. While I understand that and expect people to adhere to the rules, what it does is actually…. I find that it might actually widen the net of law enforcement to a point where we have not seen.
In other words, there are provisions in this act where a police officer can prohibit you from driving even if you have not consumed the legal maximum amount. I hope that my words come out the way I mean them to, and they don't always.
When the percentage of alcohol in the blood is over a certain amount, it's a criminal offence. When it's under that amount in a "warn" area, if someone is tested at the roadside and it's indicated that they have a certain amount of blood alcohol, a level close to the legal allowable amount, you would still be subject to fines and/or suspensions.
Obviously, it will be challenged in court. I think the Attorney General even recognizes that, because it goes a lot further than lots of legislation. As I said yesterday, you know, bad crimes and unsupportable behaviour like driving while impaired are not something that we take lightly in our society. Nor should we.
I would just point out that laws are not really tools to prevent bad behaviour. Deterrence is not something that necessarily comes from simply having a law on the books. I think it is imperative that as a society, we have open and honest discussions about impaired driving, and I think we've failed to do that in the area of use of illegal substances when driving. I'm not suggesting that we don't have adequate tools to measure intoxication, but I'm saying that the whole discussion about our approach to prohibition needs to be looked at.
I'm concerned about laws that come in that are attempting to address serious issues. As I've said before, bad crimes do not result in good laws in most cases. I think we have to consider the cost of enforcement. We have to think of the cost of the result of being suspended. You know, it's never a popular thing to defend people who are considered to have breached the ethical codes of our society. But I do think that we have provisions in place in our laws to protect civil liberties, and I think that to do so is not always popular.
I do think that while we need to do more to prevent tragic and needless deaths and injuries on the highways and byways of our province, we also need to make sure we remember that the civil liberties that we've fought for resulted in carnage over the years, over the decades, over the centuries. We have come to a place where we have some element of trust between each other in society so that when we need a law to support basic commonsense ideas, it's indicating that there seems to be some sort of dissolution of order in our society. It's reflecting a problem in society, a perceived or real problem in society. Whether it'll have any impact on the problem itself, I guess, remains to be seen.
There are a number of issues that I think I'd like to make sure we canvass at the next stage of this legislation's life, which is when we go through it clause by clause. I have some concerns, and I'm curious about some of the statistics to support this legislation. But as I said yesterday, on the face of it, it's difficult to argue against a bill that says bad behaviour should be punished. The question that we have before us is: what degree of bad behaviour and how bad a punishment? Ancillary to that issue is: will our legal system really give us a sense of safety or security?
I think that safety and security on our streets comes from having people who are considerate drivers, who are educated as drivers, who take that role seriously. We need to get irresponsible drivers off the road. There's no question about that. I think there are many ways to do that, and I'm not always convinced that legislation is the best way to go.
However, I'm looking forward to further discussions on this issue. With that, Mr. Speaker, I…
Mr. Speaker: Take your seat?
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N. Simons: …take my seat. Indeed. Thank you very much for the suggestion.
V. Huntington: Debate on Bill 14, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2010, gives me the sad opportunity to briefly speak of the tragedy that occurred on May 17, 2008, in my own constituency just a few blocks from my home. On a warm and lovely day, little Alexa Middelaer was standing by a fence feeding a horse, enthralled with the day and wondering what else was coming her way. That last moment of her four years was at least a joyful one.
Since then her mother and father, Laurel and Michael Middelaer, have worked tirelessly, along with organizations such as MADD, to change the way in which society treats drivers who are impaired.
I am very pleased that the Attorney General has responded to this social issue in the manner in which he has. I think we do need to treat impaired driving with a great deal of seriousness in the province, but I think we're faced with a bit of a catch-22 with this bill.
Many of the rights arguments have been settled through federal-level cases, but I would like to just briefly remind the House that each small step that contributes to an erosion of the rights of British Columbians and Canadians is a slippery slope, and we see this occurring fairly often these days.
I just wanted to comment very briefly that I believe that the government has a responsibility to find ways to protect these rights while addressing the difficult issues, such as impaired driving, in the province.
I join with other colleagues in the House to say that I do look forward to the debate in committee, and a number of issues must be brought forward. There is a necessity to look after society in a manner that is successful and deals with issues like drunk driving, but it must also be done in a way that protects the civil liberties of our citizens, and I do think there are sections of this bill that go beyond what we would normally consider a proper and appropriate way in which to treat civilians.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the Attorney General closes debate.
Hon. M. de Jong: Thank you to the members of the assembly who have contributed to the consideration of this measure at second reading.
I'm also obliged to the member for Delta South for reminding the House of the role played by Mr. and Mrs. Middelaer in the aftermath of the tragic loss of their four-year-old daughter. It is not an exaggeration to point out that they have been, in a very unique way, a driving force both in the advancement of the regime that is before the House for its consideration but also have provided a very human, tragically human, face to one of the issues we are endeavouring to address by virtue of these amendments.
I am grateful for the time members have taken to highlight some of the issues they intend to pursue at the committee stage in the debate and look forward to that occurring in the next few days ahead. With that, I move second reading.
Hon. M. de Jong: I move the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 14, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2010, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. de Jong: Mr. Speaker, I call Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act.
Bill 10 — Veterinarians Act
Hon. S. Thomson: I move that the bill be now read a second time.
I'm very pleased to rise today to speak to the second reading of Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act. Having grown up and been raised on a farm, I understand the very important role and service that veterinarians play for the agriculture industry but also for the public in terms of the care and safety and protection of animals for both the agriculture industry and the public. Veterinarians provide a very professional and valuable service.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
This bill proposes to repeal and replace the current Veterinarians Act. Legislation governing the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association was first enacted in 1907, replaced in 1967 and has been amended infrequently since that time. This new bill responds to requests over time for modernization and updating of the legislation. It's been requested for some period of time, and we're pleased to respond to those requests by introducing this new bill.
The bill renames and refocuses the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association as the College of Veterinarians of B.C. It's intended to be similar in purpose and scope of authorities to other colleges for self-governing professions in B.C., such as the colleges of physicians, nurses, dental surgeons and pharmacists.
The primary purpose of the bill is to ensure that the new college has the legal authorities required for the effective, fair, transparent regulation of safe, competent
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and ethical practice of veterinary medicine and to protect the public interest.
The bill makes the Veterinarians Act more consistent with other legislation governing self-regulating professions in B.C., such as the Health Professions Act and the Social Workers Act. The bill is also very similar in principle to the Ontario Veterinarians Act.
The bill also prescribes processes for registration, investigation and discipline that are to be followed. The bill is designed to ensure fair and transparent decisions, which was one of the key principles in the drafting of this legislation.
Another key change in the bill is to provide public access to information on disciplinary outcomes through the on-line registry. This will protect the public's interests in the safe and competent practice of veterinary medicine by ensuring that those who use the service of veterinarians have the opportunity to be informed of their professional competency and conduct. The need for this information was made to us clearly by the public during the public consultation held last year.
An on-line public consultation was conducted from November 2 to December 2, 2009. The consultation solicited ideas for improving and modernizing the act regarding the role and duties of the association, the process for registration of veterinarians, investigation of complaints, disciplinary processes, and bylaw and regulation-making power.
We received a total of 583 submissions in response to the consultation process, 30 percent of those from veterinarians and 70 percent from non-veterinarians. Overall, the submissions indicate a general support and general agreement for the proposed changes.
Staff in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands also had a number of meetings with individual association members during this process, including representatives of the executive of the association as well as the Veterinarians for Justice and members of the general public. Public consultation to solicit input for the review of the act observed all of the guiding principles of the Auditor General's report Public Participation: Principles and Best Practices for B.C.
As a result of this consultation, the bill was influenced by the feedback received on the regulation by animal health technologists, the certification of alternative animal care therapies and member approval of bylaws.
The new bill provides for an additional level of government oversight of the college's operations. This step was also taken in response to concerns that were provided to us during the public consultation. In particular, the new bill requires that a greater number of laypersons outside of the veterinary profession sit on the new council of the college.
There are also several new provisions added to the bill that will provide the college with similar regulatory powers that other colleges have to conduct effective investigations of complaints. The college will be authorized to resolve complaints using alternative resolution processes; to search business premises and seize records as part of the investigation, if required; to investigate and discipline veterinarians who resign prior to completion of investigation or disciplinary proceeding, ensuring a member cannot evade the outcome of an investigation or a disciplinary proceeding by resigning.
The bill also addresses public demand for alternative treatment for animals. Specifically, the bill provides that the college may create bylaws with government's approval to certify groups of non-registrants, such as animal health technologists or alternative treatment practitioners. The provision in the bill enables future animal treatment for consumers while ensuring that regulatory oversight continues.
The ability to regulate animal health technologists under the act was specifically requested by the Animal Health Technologists Association of B.C. The mission statement of the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association, current association, says this: "The British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association promotes the well-being of animals in British Columbia. The association is committed to serving the public by regulating the proficiency, competency and ethical behaviour of its members and by ensuring that acceptable standards of veterinary practice are maintained."
This new legislation and the new college that is being proposed in this legislation will, with the modernization, ensure that the new college maintains that basic mission statement and that their role is maintained and strengthened.
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to move second reading.
L. Popham: I'd like to thank the minister for his comments and note that I appreciate being able to stand and participate in second reading of Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act. The updating of this act is quite welcome as it hasn't been updated since 1967. I'd like to note that the act is as old as I am, and after 42 years I think everything needs a bit of an update.
The update claims not only to modernize but to create a more open regulatory system whereby the province would have greater oversight of the profession. I think what we've seen over the last little while is quite a controversy within the veterinarians' profession, and I'm hoping this will address it.
The update attempts to resolve the longstanding dispute in the veterinarians' profession between the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association and many Indo-Canadian veterinarians. As there's a case pending before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, some of the concerns that I think need to be addressed won't be able to be addressed at this time due to the pending case, but it
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seems that there's some attempt being made to address this controversy.
I think, generally, on this side of the House we see the changes as being good. There are some concerns that we'll discuss when we get to committee stage, but the majority of what I see is a good change. The concern, though, is: will the changes be enough? Again, we'll get to that during committee stage.
One of the concerns I have heard from the feedback that I've been going out and trying to get is that the update allows for new non-industry members to be appointed to council. Because of the longstanding grievances between the current association and the Indo-Canadian veterinarians, the concern is that if some of the old group stays in place, the problems may persist. But that's something that maybe we can discuss later.
There's also another concern that was brought through in correspondence, and that is a monetary concern. If the BCVMA had to face financial difficulties in the past, they were responsible for the financial burden. But the new act seems to have a provision that collects money from the defendants, and this means that a large monetary commitment must be made in order to challenge the BCVMA.
This is a concern for me because I really am looking for a system and an update that allow for much more fairness than we've seen in the past and not how much money somebody has in order to defend himself, but we can comment on that later as well.
I think my colleagues have been very involved over the last few years with the situation and the controversy with the Indo-Canadian vets, and I know they will be rising in the House today to discuss second reading and give their comments. So thank you very much to the minister, and I look forward to the committee stage.
T. Lake: It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act. As members of the House may know, I've been a member of the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association since 1986, upon graduation from the University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine.
I now am registered as a social member, meaning that I have no ability to vote on affairs of the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association. But I still take very active interest in the association that guides our profession here in this province. I have in the past sat as a member of the BCVMA council on two separate occasions for two-year terms each time and served as the secretary-treasurer of that association in the 1990s.
The B.C. Veterinary Medical Association has a long and storied history. It has looked after the interests of not only animals across this province but also the owners of those animals. But the structure of the BCVMA as it has existed up until this point has had an inherent conflict — or perceived conflict, at least — in that the BCVMA has had a regulatory side, which is involved in licensing and regulating the profession and looking out for the public interest, as well as a professional support side, which is more of the member interest side, looking after business affairs and the well-being of the profession itself.
As a member of the BCVMA council in the past, it was certainly an issue that we discussed on many occasions, and we did put in place devices and mechanisms to try to separate those two sides of the association as best we could.
We had a registrar who was in charge of the regulatory or public interest side and a director of member services who was looking after the interests of the members — continuing education and benefits that would accrue to members from their membership in the professional association.
Despite our best efforts to do that, I would say there has always been a concern of a perception of conflict. This new Veterinarians Act, I think, addresses that major concern — that a new college of veterinary medicine will be chiefly responsible for the regulatory or public interest side of the profession and really not become involved in the member interest or self-interest part of the profession.
I think that's a good step and probably one that we should have taken as a profession much earlier, but I'm glad to see the government responding with this new legislation to in fact enshrine that in law.
The other, I think, positive aspect to this new legislation is that the ministerial appointments to council have increased, with up to four members of the public now being appointed to council. I think that always is a good balance — to have lay members of the public sitting on professional organizations who bring a different perspective and allow the board or the college to have a more open view of the way the world views the profession. It is, as the minister has stated, in line with other professional self-regulated organizations in the province.
Also, there is increased government oversight in terms of how the minister or the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council can get involved with the profession if necessary. Again, I think that lines up well with other self-regulatory professions in the province of British Columbia.
I left my practice at Coquitlam Animal Hospital in 1996 to move to the wonderful city of Kamloops to teach at the then University College of the Cariboo, at that time the only animal health technology program in the province of British Columbia. So I'm especially pleased to see the recognition of animal health technologists in this new legislation.
Animal health technologists are graduates of a minimum two-year program at universities and colleges throughout North America. In fact, there are similar
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programs in Great Britain where they're known as veterinary nurses, in Australia, in New Zealand and, in fact, throughout the world.
These graduates are very, very well trained. Having been one of their trainers, I can attest to that. They are well versed in anaesthesia techniques, surgical assistance, radiology and nursing, and are invaluable members of the veterinary profession. I'm very pleased to see the recognition of this profession in itself with the new Veterinarians Act.
Another one of the benefits I see to the new legislation is the ability to grant a restricted licence, something that we have not had in our profession in British Columbia to this point, but certainly there are other jurisdictions around North America that have moved in this direction.
When I graduated in 1986, we were examined and tested upon all species of animals which we had been involved with in our studies so that we had a licence that allowed us to practise on all animals. Well, after a number of years practising strictly on small companion animals, most of us lose the ability, I think, and the expertise to practise on the larger animals — the domestic species that are involved in agriculture particularly. So I see this new restricted licence, the ability to grant a restricted licence, as a very positive move.
As a social member now, if I would like to apply for my practising membership once again, I would like to think that I could practise only on those species for which I believe I'm qualified, which would limit me in my case, I believe, to small companion animals. I think this gives more flexibility to the profession and, in fact, allows the profession to fulfil a need we have in the province for practitioners to re-enter the profession and serve the communities where their services are in demand.
The member for Saanich South mentioned a concern about a dispute involving the current B.C. Veterinary Medical Association and some of its members. She characterized the group as Indo-Canadian veterinarians, and I would like to state for the record, Madam Speaker, that I think it is quite wrong to categorize the members in any particular way. These are all members of the profession and have rights. Under the current legislation those rights are being exercised in a process that is ongoing, and I think that is best left to the process between the BCVMA and its membership.
This act, I think, understands that in the past the old legislation, the current legislation, has perhaps been an impediment to making sure that the perception of conflict is a concern. This act, then, addresses that issue particularly. But I think it would be a mistake to think that the government should legislate or somehow impose itself in-between a regulatory and professional association and its membership. I think that that is best left to the members of that profession as they see fit.
Finally, I just want to say that this is a very strong profession, and I am very, very pleased to see the government support it with this new legislation. A recent survey of the most trusted professions in Canada had veterinarians among the top ten. Unfortunately, politicians were down near the bottom, so I find myself a little bit torn as to where I may fit in that ranking. But I will, when convenient, cling to my more well-trusted profession of veterinary medicine, while still being proud to stand up in this House as a politician making sure that government functions for everyone in British Columbia.
I look forward to the committee debate on this legislation. I want to commend the government for addressing the concern with this new legislation.
R. Chouhan: I rise to speak on this issue, Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act, in second reading. As my colleague has talked about, many of the concerns that we have been talking about over the last many months are valid concerns.
The act which we currently have is 47 years old. We all know that it had some problems. The way the BCVMA was set up, it had some concerns. Many of the professionals who are members of the BCVMA also had concerns about the act or how it was implemented and how the BCVMA conducted itself in some of these issues.
There are some allegations, very serious allegations, that have been made about the conduct of some of the BCVMA council members. That issue is in front of the Human Rights Tribunal, so I won't touch that. That dispute has been going on since 2007.
I'm very hopeful that through this bill, the minister would have, as he has indicated, more ability and authority to intervene when we need to deal with such issues. In the past when we raised these issues, the previous minister indicated very clearly that they did not have the authority to tackle those issues. Therefore, they just simply were unable to address those concerns. Now the dispute resolution mechanism that we have heard about probably would help to address these questions that we have been faced with.
My other concern is about the commencement of this act. You know, if you look at the back of the bill, sections 1 to 102 are going to be done by regulation of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. So the whole of the bill is not yet enacted but dependent upon cabinet.
This is a prime example of legislation by regulation. So even if we pass the bill as is without any amendments, it would still not be enacted immediately. You know, we have to wait to see what kind of motion is passed by the executive council, and then we'll see how it will be implemented. So that's my concern.
My other concern is about accountability of the new college. Yes, the new college seems like it's going to be an independent body. It will be dealing with all these issues,
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but again, they will be creating their own bylaws. Who will be monitoring? I hope that the monitoring part will be much more stringent and that there would be a lot more accountability — more than what we have seen in the past.
Even though it's too early to speculate how it would function, I just want to caution the minister and the ministry to make sure that we take care, make sure all these loopholes are covered properly so we won't have to be faced with unnecessary issues later on. When these issues arise, they're very costly and very time-consuming, as we have seen in the current dispute between the Indo-Canadian veterinarians association and the BCVMA.
My colleague from Kamloops–North Thompson has said that we should not be differentiating between Indo-Canadian veterinarians and others. I would like to do that. However, some unfortunate incidents in the past…. You know, Indo-Canadian veterinarians were left without any choice but to put themselves together in their own association to defend themselves against some of the allegations.
Now, we will be raising some of these issues at the committee stage — to talk about the bias, the discrimination, that we have seen in the past. Some of the serious complaints in the past were dismissed as frivolous. Some frivolous complaints were pursued to a point where members ended up spending thousands of dollars to defend themselves. As one of the Indo-Canadian veterinarian members has put it…. He says that under the new act, if any member seems now to dare to challenge the actions of the BCVMA, he will have to have a pocket full of dollars. Otherwise, he will have to accept whatever the college alleges against him.
That's a concern. It's a valid concern. When a complaint is filed, how would that be dealt with? Things like that. So we will deal with that at the committee stage. These are very serious concerns that we have.
In the meantime, Madam Speaker, I'll just wait until we reach that stage. If we get all the answers that we have questions about, we will support the bill. If we don't get those questions answered the way that we would like to see them, then we will have a debate, and that debate will continue. Let's hope it's resolved now.
J. Brar: I rise to speak, as well, to the second reading of Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act. But before I say what I want to say, I see the students — I don't know the school — watching the House here, so I would like to welcome all the students. I would ask the members to welcome them to this House.
Madam Speaker, members have spoken from both sides about this act. I understand the intentions are good behind this new act, but my understanding is this: the key factor and the key cause for this bill is to resolve a long-pending dispute in the veterinarian profession between the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association and many Indo-Canadians — veterinarians known as Veterinarians for Justice.
If you look back at the history, in 2007 the Indo-Canadian veterinarians association lost a human rights complaint alleging discrimination against the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association. The complaint was in part over an English-language proficiency admission requirement, and the reality is that — this is the reality — the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association had set standards for English proficiency admission requirements that were higher than the standards set by the College of Physician and Surgeons of B.C.
Many newcomers, as a result, believed that the key purpose of that requirement was to keep newcomer veterinarians from entering this profession. So that was the intent as per many veterinarians I have spoken to, and I'm talking about the newcomer veterinarians. Clearly, if you look at that standard, which was higher than the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C., that was completely unfair.
That was completely unfair to have that kind of test, because that kind of test does not support in any way the standards of the organization. The purpose of the act was, as many believe, to keep certain people from certain ethnic groups out of this profession. So that was unfair, and that was systematic discrimination as per many newcomer veterinarians as well.
That tells us we have a serious problem existing in this body. That tells us the thinking paradigm of this body. We need to keep that in mind when we debate this bill and pass this bill in this House, because that is the key issue that I hope this bill, at the end of this, will take care of, because that has been there. That has been ugly, and that has been out there for a long time.
The dispute between these two groups is still alive, as said by the member who spoke before me, and the case still remains before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. As per Dr. Hakam Bhullar, the spokesperson for the B.C. Veterinarians for Justice, the human rights complaint against the association has already consumed about 200 days — 200 days, and it's still not over. That is probably one of the longest cases the Human Rights Tribunal has faced in the past, and that is not something good, you know, when we look back about that issue.
Therefore, I do support some of the amendments proposed in this bill, which I think are positive and which I think will produce positive results as well. As said by the other members, the first one that I think is a good move is that this bill removes the language provision from the Veterinarians Act. I think that's a positive change, because you cannot set up standards to keep a certain group of people from a certain ethnic background away from the profession. That's not what happens in British Columbia, and that's not what British Columbia stands for.
The second positive thing, as mentioned by the other members as well: the minister will have the power to appoint four laypersons from the public. I think that's a good change as well. We need some members from the public who can provide a kind of public input into this, because at the end of the day the quality of care is the issue. The quality of care is the key issue, and members on this side fully support that we maintain the highest standard of quality of care when we talk about veterinarians.
The concern that I have is the concern that I have heard many newcomer veterinarians have, particularly the veterinarians who are in this dispute. The concern they have is the transition from the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association to the new College of Veterinarians of B.C. The fact, as per this act, is that the old board members will continue until the new board members are elected. As per this act, the current complaints before the board will continue, and they will continue to be investigated by the new board once the new board is elected.
This is the same board, with the same board members, which established the English language test with the purpose to stop some people from entering this profession. That is very, very concerning. This is the same group of board members, the same board which has been involved in a longstanding dispute between the British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association and many Indo-Canadian veterinarians, known as Veterinarians for Justice.
Many newcomer veterinarians are concerned. If the old group remains in charge, they believe the current problem is going to continue. That's very, very disturbing, and that's very, very concerning to many people in the public as well as the veterinarians on both sides. That's a very genuine concern. If we look at it from that perspective, it seems that this bill will give the new body, the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia, more powers to silence the veterinarians who have been in dispute with the association. If that's the intent of this bill, that is very, very concerning.
The other thing I want to say is it's very concerning that under this act, this act authorizes the same old body, the same old committees, to continue holding the disciplinary hearings which are going on already. The same group will continue doing all the disciplinary hearings under the new College of Veterinarians of British Columbia.
There are a number of questions that we would like to ask at the committee stage. Those questions are very general questions. I hope the minister will keep those questions in mind and that the minister will address those concerns of the people, from the public as well as from veterinarians who are concerned about it.
The questions are: what checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that this is really a fresh start? What checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that the organizational memory does not impact the new start? What rules and regulations will be put in place to ensure that the licensing process and the disciplinary system are fair and objective? What checks and balances will be put in place to ensure that there is no systematic discrimination? We would like to ask those questions.
I totally agree with the critic of this ministry. I particularly am very concerned about the financial penalty against members who are going to bring forward some of the issues impacting the members and, probably, impacting the public. If you push back, you're going to be penalized with money. I think we are going to compromise fair process big-time.
We will ask those questions at the committee stage. With that, Madam Speaker, I will take my seat.
B. Ralston: I appreciate this opportunity to address the bill that's before the House.
When I was first elected in 2005 I began as the agricultural critic. This issue of the operation of the professional regulation of veterinarians…. It became readily apparent that it was an important issue, one where the organization had become the subject of extreme conflict, and that a very embittered and conflicted process was taking place in that association.
I'm pleased to see that some of the recommendations that were discussed at the time, such as adding more public members — I think, under the present act, there's only one public member; this act proposes four public members — have been accepted and brought forward.
I think the general principle in a self-regulating profession, of which there are many in the province and in the provinces across the country, is that the Legislature delegates to that profession the powers to run its own affairs, to admit people to the profession, to discipline those who don't meet their standards — all with a view to protecting the public and providing good service to the public.
What I think is clear in the recent history of this organization is that intervention by the Legislature and by the minister was required because those standards were not being met. Certainly, many of the issues that are before the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association are before the Human Rights Tribunal. Of course, that prohibits us from discussing them properly here in the Legislature. Nonetheless, I think that's evidence of the conflicted nature of the relationship between that organization and many of its members.
The language proficiency requirement has been dropped, which is welcome. The argument that was advanced in litigation, which has now been resolved, was that the language proficiency requirement for veterinarians was set at a greater level of proficiency than that
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required for medical doctors, who would converse with human patients as opposed to dealing with animals of various types. Certainly, there was a perception that that was wrong, and I'm glad that issue has been resolved satisfactorily.
What's important in this bill…. The provisions that I particularly think are wise are the provisions that give greater power to the minister to act, whether by regulation or review of bylaws, and the general oversight capacity of the minister in looking at this organization.
Given the history of conflict, I'm not at all certain, as other members have expressed, that simply bringing in a new act and promulgating a new act and new regulations will solve the disputes that vex that organization.
I would suggest there is a role even at the outset, presuming that this legislation passes, for the minister to sit down with the parties and encourage them using the authority of the minister and the implicit power that he's granted in this legislation to suggest that if this organization isn't run in accordance with the kind of professional standards that one expects from a self-regulating body, if these disputes aren't solved, if the public isn't served, the minister will step in and more directly run the organization.
Certainly this legislation gives them those powers. That may seem a trifle extreme, but I'm sure that is why the minister, in this draft of the bill, has been given those powers.
My colleague from Burnaby-Edmonds has pointed out that much of the legislation really delegates to the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, the cabinet, to make regulations. This is a growing tendency — throughout not only this Legislature but legislatures across the country and, I think, in the Commonwealth, commented on by academic commentators — where the Legislature really has little power, if any, to review the regulation-making process, which takes place under the cloak of cabinet confidentiality. So the opportunity for input by other legislators or by the public is extremely limited, although I understand that in certain cases….
I'm familiar with certain financial statutes where industry is consulted on the drafting of regulations. Certainly, in other legislatures and other legislative processes — in the American Congress, for example — the process by which the regulations are drafted is as important as the legislative process.
The regulations are the mechanics by which the legislation is brought to life. If anything, it's more important because it sets out the real legal boundaries of the operation of the act.
It's regrettable that the minister has accepted, doubtlessly, a recommendation from those who advise him to include a lot of this legislation granting vast regulatory power. But I'm confident that the minister, in this particular case, will use that power wisely in order to resolve the disputes, because the public will be better served by a profession that is indeed self-governing and runs smoothly and fairly.
I think everyone would welcome that and put the disputes of the past behind them and better serve the public and provide affordable, accessible veterinarian care. Many people in the province, of course, have companion animals, not to speak of the agricultural requirements for veterinary treatment as well.
It is an important profession. Many people derive much delight in their lives from their pets, and they're concerned about the health of their pets. This is something that the public is alive to, and it's important that that profession and those who people rely on to treat their animals have the professional competence that's required and that the organization runs smoothly and fairly.
With those comments, I conclude my remarks.
S. Cadieux: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
S. Cadieux: It gives me pleasure to introduce the second of two groups of students from Hyland Elementary that are here in the gallery today from my riding of Surrey-Panorama. They're here with their teacher, Miss Carol McNeill, and a number of parents who have taken time out of their schedules to accompany the group over. I would like the House to assist me in making them very welcome.
H. Bains: I, too, feel that it is a privilege to stand here to speak on Bill 10, the Veterinarians Act. Madam Speaker, if you look into the background, where there was a need to make these changes and bring this Veterinarians Act, the changes to the original act…. I think if you go back, you will find it originates from a very bitter dispute that existed between the members of the B.C. Veterinary Medical Association and the association itself.
It's on record that they have already had 200 days before the Human Rights Tribunal. They are saying that there could be another hundred days. Now, this could be the longest human rights case in history. If not the longest, it would be one of the longest.
I do not remember in recent history where you have someone before the Human Rights Commission trying to get justice go through this length of time. Who can afford that many days of hearings before the tribunal so that they could get justice, as they feel that their rights are being violated?
[ Page 5453 ]
If you look at why they're before the tribunal and look at the allegations, they're very serious. Actually, it embarrasses us as British Columbians that in this day and age our system still allows people to make those decisions where other people — either through systemic or through intentional use of their power…. They would use those powers to make those people feel that they are less than what they should be in this equal society that we take pride in.
I think this bill actually moves in the right direction. There are a number of concerns, and there are a number of questions that still exist. Those questions will be asked during the committee stage, and hopefully the minister will be able to answer those and satisfy those people who are concerned — concerns such as that it will give the college or the council much more wide-ranging powers to discipline people who are taking those disciplinary measures. Part of that Human Rights Tribunal case is coming out of those decisions made by these very people.
Separating the board into authority at the college and into the council makes sense, I think. Having some government appointees makes sense — having people who are not directly involved with the membership or the college or the others. I think it makes sense that you have some new, independent folks who will be looking at and dealing with those issues and providing them with, hopefully, unbiased approaches.
But concerns are still there. One of the concerns is that if the same people are going to move into the college or into the council, I think that may not serve the purpose. So I think the question to the minister is: how do you deal with that? How do you start fresh so that people on both sides feel that there will be justice, that there will not be any more bias when those decisions are made? That will affect the very existence of their businesses and how they provide service to the animal owners.
I think those are some of the concerns. I hope the minister will be watching and listening to these concerns and addressing those issues. Having minister's powers to intervene at certain stages here makes sense, in my view, because at least now they will know that if they are not following the act and if they are bringing in some changes to their bylaws that may not fit the description or the intent of this act, the minister may be able to intervene and send direction to them that those bylaws do not meet the test of this act and its intention.
I think those are some of the questions that we will be asking at that time, but the serious concern still is there. We still have another hundred days scheduled. Nothing that we can say or do here is going to change that, because it is before the tribunal. So we don't want to comment too much on that, but it is a concern. I think if, through this new language and this new act, we can avoid in the future those types of lengthy hearings, then we are moving in the right direction. But I'm not so sure that this act will do that.
The other concern, like I said earlier on, is that there is a serious, serious concern by some of the people who are from that industry. They're saying that…. It says that if any member dares to challenge the actions of the BCVMA, he will have to have a pocket full of money. Otherwise, he will have to accept whatever the college alleges against him. That is a concern.
Also, it goes on to say that according to the new act, as introduced, the college will have the powers to search and seize any property. It may be even a house of a member or any other building related to the defendant. Those are very, very serious concerns.
I hope the minister is listening — and he is listening — and that those concerns will be addressed through this act. You cannot give those kinds of wide-ranging powers. Justice will be denied or seen to be denied if you cannot afford to go through the system and conclude the process without having to sell your house or go through bankruptcy.
That is not justice. That's not what our society is all about. Those are not the democratic values that we actually are proud of. You can't allow some people who are in authority, who could use those powers, to put somebody in a position where that person, in order to seek justice from those people, because of the systemic rules they're going to bring in now has to go bankrupt before that person can afford to seek justice.
That is a concern here still. I don't know how the minister is going to address those concerns. Those are the concerns that we're bringing on their behalf.
Overall, I am pleased that this bill is before us, although it took, like I said, 200 days of hearings before the human rights panel. Nonetheless, it's here. Finally, somebody woke up on that side, and I thank the minister for paying attention to this very serious issue and trying to address the concern that is before us. But you know, I cannot undermine…. I cannot say enough about the concern that still exists out there.
With that, I hope the minister will be able to address those concerns so that the membership of the association, the association itself, but more importantly, the public — the animal lovers and animal owners — will be served through this new act the way they deserve from this minister and from us as government.
I hope that those issues will be addressed and that we will start a new, fresh page so that everyone will say: "Look, what happened, happened. But now we have some tools in this act that will not allow you to go through the same system that people before us went through." They don't have to go through 200 days of more hearings in the future in order to seek justice.
Those are the concerns. Hopefully, the public interest is addressed through this bill, the memberships are
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served well, and the association can go on and do the work that they need in order to promote that industry and their members.
With that, Madam Speaker, I take my seat. I thank you very much. I'll have more to say during the committee stage. Hopefully, we will be asking those questions.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. S. Thomson: I appreciate the comments from the members opposite and the general support for the direction that we're moving with this new legislation. I think we've struck the appropriate balance between self-regulation and public oversight with the additional provisions we've got in the bill. I really appreciate the experienced support and comments from the member for Kamloops–North Thompson. I do look forward to the committee stage of the bill.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I think I need to, at this point, provide the appropriate caution as we move forward into the committee debate on this, which is to ensure that what we are debating during that process is the bill and the provisions of the bill and not the case that's currently before and continues before the Human Rights Tribunal, because that is separate from this legislation and from this bill. We need to ensure during the next stage of debate on this that we are dealing with the substantive provisions of this new piece of legislation.
With that caution, it gives me great pleasure to move second reading.
Hon. S. Thomson: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 10, Veterinarians Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. I. Chong: I call second reading of Bill 15, the Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2010.
Bill 15 — protected areas of
Amendment act, 2010
Hon. B. Penner: I move that this bill be read a second time.
This bill continues the ongoing work of our government to consolidate the expansion of our parks and protected areas system in fulfilment of the agreements reached through multi-stakeholder land use planning processes and government-to-government discussions with First Nations.
The legislation will add nearly 13,218½ hectares to the area protected by the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act by adding seven new parks and one new conservancy, by making additions to 12 existing parks and by placing one park that is presently established by order-in-council in a schedule.
These amendments will bring the total area in British Columbia dedicated to protected area status to more than 13.5 million hectares, or 14.27 percent of the province, which is more than any other province in Canada.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
These amendments, if approved by the Legislature, will bring the number of class A parks established in the province to 611 and the number of conservancies to 144.
Six of the new class A parks and additions to two existing class A parks are a result of the Lillooet land and resource management plan. Included in these six new class A parks is South Chilcotin Mountains Park.
Following the government's announcement of a revised Lillooet land and resource management plan in 2004, consultations to address community and some stakeholders' concerns, and consultations with First Nations in the planning area, approximately 80 percent of the existing Spruce Lake protected area that is established by an order-in-council under the Environment and Land Use Act will be established as a class A park. The remaining approximately 20 percent will be established later this year as three mining and tourism zones.
These decisions are part of the revised land use plan for the Lillooet area aimed at bringing economic certainty to the area and the goal of striking an appropriate balance between environmental stewardship and economic development.
This bill also establishes a new class A park north of Salmon Arm known as Oregana Creek Park. The establishment of this park completes one of the last items to be implemented as part of the Kamloops LRMP.
One new conservancy is being established by this bill. The Sea to Sky LRMP identified the Mkwal'ts area, also known as the Ure Creek watershed, as an unresolved area. In a 2008 land use agreement the province and Lil'wat Nation agreed to work together to find a solution for the land use zones in the Ure Creek watershed.
In April of this year the province and Lil'wat Nation signed an agreement respecting the Ure Creek area. These amendments will implement that agreement to protect the entire Ure Creek watershed through the establishment of the new Mkwal'ts conservancy.
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Through these amendments, this government is also making a number of small but significant additions to ten parks located around the province. Seven of these additions are a result of private land acquisitions.
Madam Speaker, 7.9 hectares will be added to Beaver Creek Park in the Kootenays; 64.8 hectares will be added to Eskers Park near Prince George; 2.2 hectares will be added to Francis Point Park on the Sunshine Coast; 124 hectares will be added to Gilpin Grasslands Park near Grand Forks; 310 hectares will be added to Skaha Bluffs Park in the Okanagan, and I know that's an area that's near and dear to the heart of Mr. Speaker himself; 5.6 hectares will be added to Tyhee Lake Park near Terrace; and 62.7 hectares of land are being added to Valhalla Park in the Kootenays. In addition to the private land acquisition, 18.3 hectares of foreshore are being added to the park.
Three other existing parks will also have additions. Brandywine Falls Park will be expanded by 270 hectares as a result of mitigation measures for the red-legged frog from the Sea to Sky Highway improvement project, 44.5 hectares of marine foreshore are being added to Buccaneer Bay Park near Sechelt, and 911 hectares are being added to Mount Robson Park as a result of the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and completion of that project.
Madam Speaker, I'd like to describe for you some of the natural, recreational and cultural values that are being protected in these new parks, conservancy and park additions. The Mkwal'ts conservancy, at 3,874 hectares in size, is a result of the province's land use agreement with the Lil'wat Nation. The conservancy protects a significant cultural site in the Ure Creek watershed and includes old-growth hemlock forest that provides habitat for a range of species, including mountain goats and spotted owl.
Yalakom Park, 8,941 hectares in size, is being established pursuant to the Lillooet land and resource management plan. It protects the entire Yalakom Creek basin and much of Nine Mile Ridge, providing extensive representation of the Camelsfoot Range, including old-growth forests, a mosaic of dry and streamside forests and wetlands, high elevation aspen, krumholz forests and alpine grasslands. It also protects bighorn sheep, mountain goat and deer migration corridors. There are many trails throughout the area offering back-country recreation opportunities.
Oregana Creek Park, at 286 hectares in size, is being established pursuant to the Kamloops land and resource management plan. It protects a small area of ancient forest containing a representative example of old-growth cedar, a hemlock forest and associated vegetation, including rare lichens. It also protects riparian areas along the upper reaches of the Adams River and serves as valuable seasonal habitat for mountain caribou.
As noted, this bill also expands Skaha Bluffs Park in the Okanagan. Last fall I had the pleasure of introducing an amendment to establish Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, and shortly after that Mr. Speaker and I had a chance to tour that area. As we did, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a number of California bighorn sheep. It was quite an occasion and not one that I'll soon forget. It was pretty impressive to be greeted by those California bighorn sheep.
That just underscores one of the important aspects of protecting this particular area. In addition to the wildlife benefits, it's also, of course, well known that Skaha Bluffs has an international reputation in the rock-climbing community, and people such as my wife have enjoyed rock climbing there previously.
By virtue of the efforts of not just the provincial government but also the Land Conservancy of British Columbia, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Mountain Equipment Co-op, we have been able to purchase a parcel of land exceeding 300 hectares in size to be added to the park.
The benefit of this land acquisition is to secure access to that recreational area for mountain climbers and also for families and children who wish to go out and enjoy a lovely day strolling about the grasslands. Perhaps they, too, will have a chance encounter with California bighorn sheep that also like to get out and stretch their legs in that area.
These amendments add these lands and two other small parcels to the park. As noted, these lands consist of a variety of distinctive terrain features, including steep cliffs, riparian areas, grassland and open forests which function together to provide habitat for many provincially or federally listed species at risk, including, as I noted, the bighorn sheep, the western rattlesnake and the western screech owl.
I can certainly commend to members of the House that once the House rises in June, this would be a great spot to go for a little day trip. There are a number of very interesting and well-functioning wineries located very close to the park, including one of B.C.'s newest wineries called Painted Rock.
I'd just like to take a moment here to thank the owner of Painted Rock winery for his assistance and cooperation in granting an easement to allow access to the new parking lot that we've established at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park. That will allow the public to again have safe access to this new provincial park. It's a beautiful area. I can also attest that the wine is pretty high quality from Painted Rock winery, having enjoyed some just last week in Vancouver at a function I was attending. But I digress.
I should note that the reason that winery is called Painted Rock is because of a pictograph that is present within the new area of the provincial park. I've had a chance to go up and see it. It's really quite impressive
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and remarkable. So this winery that's located just adjacent to the park is named in honour of that pictograph, which is many hundreds of years old and portrays hunting and fishing activities by the local First Nations in that area, just on the eastern side of Skaha Lake.
This expands Valhalla Provincial Park by 81 hectares. A key private inholding of 62.7 hectares was acquired by the ministry through a collaborative effort. The ministry worked with the Land Conservancy of B.C., the Valhalla Foundation for Social Justice, Columbia Basin Trust, B.C. Hydro fish and wildlife compensation fund, B.C. Trust for Public Lands, the regional district of Central Kootenay and the Toronto Dominion Friends of the Environment Foundation.
The property consists of low elevation old-growth cedar and hemlock rain forest and a 1.7-kilometre lakefront shoreline with sandy and pebble beaches and a small cove. Also, 18.3 hectares of foreshore are being added to the park.
Bill 15 also contains amendments to modify the boundaries of seven existing class A parks and two existing conservancies.
These amendments are largely administrative in nature, such as removing some existing roads from parks, allowing minor right-of-way expansions to address safety concerns and correct errors in boundary descriptions. In total, the area being removed from the protected area system by these boundary modifications is about 12.5 hectares.
One park description being added to schedule C of the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act is Juniper Beach Park, which up to now has been established by order-in-council. It's located just east of Cache Creek. In addition, adding it to the schedules of the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act will give it increased legislative protection.
At this time, all but six of the 604 class A parks are presently named and described in either schedule C or schedule D of the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act. With the addition of Juniper Beach Park to the schedules of the act, the number of class A parks not included in the schedules will be reduced to just five.
The amendments in this bill contain a name change to an existing park. The name of Nanika-Kidprice Park is being changed at the request of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation to include a First Nations name alongside the existing name. The park is being renamed Nenikëkh/Nanika-Kidprice Park. The first spelling of "Nenikëkh" now will be in the First Nations dialect.
Finally, the amendments in Bill 15 contain some boundary changes of an administrative or housekeeping nature that are part of the regular business of protected areas management. For example, we are shifting the descriptions of two ecological reserves, Meridian Road near Vanderhoof and Stoyoma Creek, from schedule B of the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act to schedule A of that act.
We're doing this because official map plans have now been prepared for these ecological reserves, whereas the ecological reserves in schedule B are for those which are described by reference to the original order-in-council that created them. No land is being added to or removed from these ecological reserves.
Likewise, an official plan is replacing the metes and bounds description for Sasquatch Provincial Park, which, you may be interested to note, is located in the great constituency of Chilliwack-Hope, the riding that I have the tremendous honour to represent. The official plans are now more accurate, understandable and easier to locate on the ground. In total, the area protected will remain the same for Sasquatch Provincial Park, but as noted, the boundary description will now be more accurate than the former metes and bounds description.
B.C.'s parks and protected areas are part of the health, wellness and prosperity of every British Columbian in every community in our province. Once the Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2010, comes into force — assuming that members of the Legislative Assembly deem to give it their support — it will mean that more than 1.9 million hectares of additional land will have been protected since 2001.
This is because 65 new parks, 144 new conservancies, two new ecological reserves and nine protected areas will have been established, and more than 60 parks and six ecological reserves will have been expanded since 2001.
Madam Speaker, I think this motion is to be reserved until after other people may have spoken on this debate, so I'll take my place.
R. Fleming: Thank you to the minister for his comments in opening debate this morning. I know that probably one of the more enjoyable days as Environment Minister is when he has occasion to table legislation that adds to B.C.'s parks system, new land conservancies and protected areas in the province of B.C.
I look forward to debate, particularly at committee stage, to look at the details of this legislation in the various regions of the province where we are looking at some actions here to expand parks but also, in some cases, removing lands.
I think we will wait for the next stage of debate to inquire fully about those questions. But I am pleased at second stage of debate to be able to place this into the context of parks and parks policy in British Columbia and the record of this government in that regard.
I mentioned that for a Minister of Environment, one of the things that they most certainly look forward to is tabling legislation to protect new areas of the province from industrial activities and to protect its watersheds and to protect trees and to protect species at risk in dif-
[ Page 5457 ]
ferent parts of B.C. That's something that the previous government in the 1990s did very well.
The minister mentioned the 1.9 million hectares of land that's been added to this category since 2001. I think it's worth noting that in the 1990s there were 5 million hectares in British Columbia that came to enjoy protected status. In fact, British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in the world to meet the United Nations biosphere target and protect 12 percent of its land base in that decade. I think that British Columbians have come to appreciate that more and more as the years have gone by, as significant additions to the protected status of our land base have become fully enjoyed by British Columbians.
It's interesting to note some of the statistics about B.C. parks and the attachment that residents of our province have to their park system. A full nine in ten British Columbians will use and enjoy a B.C. park at some point in their lifetime. I was quite pleased to hear that six in ten British Columbians will use a B.C. park in any given year. That's a phenomenal statistic. It shows that British Columbians take advantage of the park system that has been provided by successive governments — using their wisdom, working with local governments and First Nations to protect significant areas around B.C.
There is in this bill the creation, as the minister said, of seven new class A parks. I look forward to hearing more details and having questions answered at committee stage on some of these park systems and how the infrastructure, in particular, will be provided so that these parks can be enjoyed by people.
There are some land additions, as well, to existing parks. Again there are some questions there — about who was consulted and, indeed, whether First Nations people were involved. The minister has said in his opening remarks that, indeed, they were, and I look forward to those assurances at a later stage of debate on this bill.
The land conservancy in the Lil'wat area, with the First Nations agreement, is something that I think is significant today. In this bill I think it's important to recognize that, first of all, the requirement to do those land use plans was something that I think a former Premier, Mike Harcourt, can take some pleasure in seeing come to fruition today. These are long discussions that have taken a long time to conclude agreements in some parts of the province. I think the Lil'wat agreement is an example of that.
Where we had conflict over land uses in previous decades — in the 1980s the infamous war in the woods and those kinds of phenomena — today we're concluding land agreements where much of the work was done in the previous decade, in the 1990s, and that's a very good thing.
We'll have some questions around land removals that are proposed in this bill, in four provincial parks. What the purpose of that is…. There are, as I read it in the legislation, proposals to remove ten- to 30-metre strips along specific roadways within the park. It seems like a very wide thoroughfare to me. There may be legitimate reasons for that. I look forward to the minister saying.
We simply don't know what's planned for there. But as we do know from proposals to remove public enjoyment of parkland only very recently in the upper Pitt River area, in that provincial park system, it was to facilitate a transmission line. That created great controversy, and it was only at the eleventh hour that government stepped in and rejected that and rejected the application by the proponent for that run-of-river private power project.
So the questions in this case, because these are large swaths of land being removed from existing provincial parks, are: what kind of road construction is presumed to occur there, and is this to facilitate things like pipelines or transmission lines? I look forward to the minister being able to fully disclose the rationale for including that in the legislation today.
While we applaud the addition of more parks land and protected areas in the province of B.C., it's important to highlight some of the challenges that we have in maintaining our existing park system in British Columbia today. It's important to understand that while the lands that we're talking about today will enjoy protected status, they enjoy a protected status that has been significantly diminished, particularly since 2004.
That's when Park Act provisions were weakened by the B.C. Liberal government, weakened in a way that allowed the access of subsurface rights to facilitate petroleum and natural gas activity within provincial park boundaries. It's astounding, but it occurred. It was passed here in this Legislature. It was legislation sponsored by this government.
I think it's also, as I said, important to put on the record the situation in B.C.'s parks today. As we head into another summer, an intensive camping season where British Columbians and their families will be visiting B.C.'s parks, it's important to note that only last summer we saw the spectacle and received an announcement that 45 of B.C.'s 200 provincial parks had been closed indefinitely and that a number of parks had had their seasons reduced significantly.
Some of this is due to the fact that the park ranger service has never been more understaffed than it is today in British Columbia. That's a fact that I think is embarrassing, particularly when we stack up the size of our park ranger service to our neighbours in Alberta, where it's a significantly larger public service doing that work on a much smaller park system than in British Columbia. That has repercussions. It has repercussions.
I think it's also significant that we're having this debate just after the implementation of a new parks fee
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structure for British Columbians. Park fees have gone up significantly, in part to cover the deficit that this government concealed, saying it would be $495 million maximum only, during the election a year ago in B.C. Then we heard after the election that the deficit was closer to $3 billion.
This is symptomatic. Fee gouging on parks, taking more money out of the wallets of people trying to plan an affordable vacation, is just one way that this government taxes British Columbians in a hidden manner. It's already generating a lot of mail in my office as Environment critic, and I'm sure the minister is hearing about it as well.
I want to actually read a letter that I just received about what kind of hardship the new parks fees that the government has implemented is creating for British Columbians. This….
Deputy Speaker: Member, you're confident that the material you're canvassing is contained within Bill 15?
R. Fleming: Absolutely, Madam Speaker, because it relates to a park system that is managed according to a fee structure that has been imposed by government. The comments I have are that we're adding more hectares to our park system, and we're already unable to manage it properly. That's my main concern here at second reading stage.
The letter, from Lorne Smith of Kelowna, reads as follows. The other weekend she took her grandchildren to Bear Creek Provincial Park in the Kelowna area. It reads:
"This would have been a great weekend, but we were told by Discover Camping that all sites at Bear Creek have to be reserved — so we reserved them, only it cost $6 per night for the reservation — and that the reservation must be in place for each of the three nights. You can try to book on line on the computer. Guess what. You pay $6 per night just the same.
"Now, there are 300 sites in this park. You can see how much money in one night — even after booking using your credit card, getting charged $6 per night just for the right to book — that is for B.C. Parks. We live in B.C., we support B.C., and to use a park we have to pay an additional $6 per night. Now the site costs you $36 per night without any hook-ups. So if you're going for a weekend, the site is now $36 no matter what, because you have to book.
"We decided to bring our children and grandchildren with us. That one site is $36 per night. Though we did all the requirements for them to park their car, we have to pay an additional $12 per night for the car to be there. Now with the HST coming, what does that cost? Additional charges on top of that."
This letter-writer asks:
"How can the average person afford such a price? What is wrong with this system? Why so much?"
She's asking that because the cost to use a park system is in some cases on par with or greater than the use of an indoor accommodation at a private motel.
That's the reality of the charges that have occurred over the decade with this government. But only just in this budget, which has not passed the Legislature in this spring sitting, do we see more fees being imposed on British Columbians to use a park system that their income taxes pay for to maintain through the main budget of government. This is a surcharge that is affecting a lot of British Columbians, and they're irritated about it.
She concludes her letter by talking about other fees that were then applied over the weekend that she was upset about. She says: "Although it is one of our favourite parks, it will be a very long time before we ever go back to Bear Creek Park or any other provincial park."
That's a huge concern, Madam Speaker. We know that British Columbians love their park system, but we now know they're becoming increasingly irritated by the range of surcharges and fee increases that are being assessed on them and are costing their enjoyment of our park system.
I think there are a few other concerns that need to be illustrated at this stage of the debate around our park system, because we have added 1.9 million hectares to the park system since this government came into office, but we have amongst the lowest levels of park support in provincial history today.
When this government came to power, $42 million was budgeted annually for parks. Today it is approximately $30 million. There was a 30 percent cut that was imposed in 2001 that the park system has never recovered from. Government has sacrificed funding levels for parks year after year, but they don't seem to show any similar restraint for some of their favourite areas of government spending.
I think it's significant that in five of the last seven years the budget for the public affairs bureau in British Columbia, which has topped out at $36 million, has been larger than the entire budget for B.C.'s parks. Hundreds of parks, almost 14 million hectares, have less of a budget allocation than the spin shop of this government. It's incredible to me.
This government knows — from the Outdoor Recreation Council and other major stakeholders that are the eyes and ears in our park system, that advocate for a quality outdoor experience for all British Columbians to enjoy — that the situation is dire, that there has been a real deterioration in the enjoyment and quality experience in B.C. parks, and still there is no relief from this government.
They're adding new fees while cutting the budget, and I think that's a disgrace. It certainly dampens down the enthusiasm and otherwise receipt of the potential good news of this legislation — where we're adding new parks that people very much want and have been advocating for, for many years — because that is the situation.
I mentioned Alberta earlier and the park ranger system there and how much more funding they receive for a much smaller park system. It's significant that our closest neighbour here on the south part of the province, Washington State — much smaller lands base than
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British Columbia — has a park budget of $100 million to manage 110 state parks. That's three and a half times greater than the parks budget for this province.
When you look at the federal park system, national parks in British Columbia, again there's another interesting comparison. On average, there's about a million dollars per year budgeted to maintain national parks that are situated in British Columbia. In B.C. provincial parks, because of the underfunding situation, there is a mere $43,000 annually to maintain our park system.
It comes as a shock to people that in Manning Park, one of the greatest parks in British Columbia, their visitor centre has actually been closed since 2006, that in 2002 the Manning Park visitor centre actually stopped receiving any funding at all from government. What does that mean? That means that all of the nature interpretation and staffing that goes with that visitor information centre in Manning Park doesn't exist. It's not going on.
Now, you cannot argue — and I haven't even heard the minister argue this — that Manning Park, the experience at Manning Park, is the same or better without an active, functioning visitor information centre than it is with one. That's simply impossible. In fact, he knows and this government knows from all of the stewardship groups, the volunteer organizations that do most of the work at Manning Park and other park systems in B.C. to maintain the trails and improve the infrastructure, that this situation has become intolerable.
The question is why the government seems to think that it can continue to pare down the funding in B.C.'s parks system when it has been cut so badly to the bone, when we have trails that are not open, when we have bridges that cannot be repaired in the parks system — that they keep the funding at this unsustainably low level.
The government is in possession of a parks study that very convincingly looks at the economic benefits of B.C.'s parks. It's one the government itself commissioned, which showed that for every $1 spent by the government on parks in B.C. there was a $10 return to the economy.
You know, we heard a lot from this government about the economic benefits of the Olympics. We even heard the government and the Minister of Environment say that the Olympics were going to be an opportunity to showcase our parks system in B.C.
Now, here we are in the post-Olympics, where we would think we'd want to capitalize on an economic strategy from all those sets of eyes that saw the branding around Vancouver, Whistler, the province of B.C. and Canada in the 2010 games to bring them back or to bring new visitors who didn't come for the games to come to this province for their very first time. But we're not doing it.
We're underfunding parks continuously. We're not marketing this major part of our tourism economy as aggressively as we should. We'll come out losers in this. If word spreads that the better camping experience in western Canada isn't in British Columbia, that it's in places like Alberta, that it's in places like Washington State and in Oregon, we're going to lose visitors. We're going to lose jobs. We're going to lose sales. We're going to lose economic activity in B.C. That's where we're headed with the situation in our parks system in B.C., and it's a shame.
I want to read a couple of things further on the situation, because I don't expect the minister to take my word for it that the situation is as bad as we hear it is in British Columbia in our parks system. I want to read something from the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., because it's a respected, non-partisan, voluntary organization that represents the interests of back-country hikers as well as families doing very basic forms of camping in campsites.
They represent the whole gamut of British Columbians who use our parks system. They have repeatedly tried to have their message made to this government, to help them do the work that they do to enhance and improve our parks system, and it's fallen on deaf ears.
I want to read into the record, again, some of the things that are actually being said in the editorials of their newsletters and the information that they send to their members, because these people don't do politics. They are about the natural outdoors experience in B.C. That's simply it. They want people to enjoy angling experiences, camping experiences and hiking our beautiful province.
But they have had to say and had to speak out to this government because they find the situation has been neglected for so many years. It's in a place where, without an injection of funds and some support for the voluntary groups that help make our parks experience better, we're in a state of decline that isn't recoverable.
This is a note from their editorial from their most recent newsletter, and it reads as follows:
"With the grinding reduction in an already inadequate operating budget for B.C. Parks over a number of years, there has been a steady decline in the standards of B.C. Parks' infrastructure and services. For a long time this deterioration was not especially noticeable, and it was possible to argue that no real harm was being done. But their steadily worsening state is now becoming obvious to visitors from overseas as well as B.C. residents. We believe that the B.C. government is failing to provide B.C. Parks with the resources it needs for the trails, bridges and buildings which are such an integral part of this potentially world-class system."
It goes on. The editor continues by saying:
"The parlous state of the Ministry of Environment's budget, and that of B.C. Parks in particular, has become a regular and embarrassing topic of conversation between members of the non-governmental organizations who support these organizations and their dedicated staff. Given the relatively small amounts of
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money…with their budgets, when compared to the overall levels of provincial expenditures, we feel it is time for the B.C. government to do what is required to try and preserve some of the things which once made this province super, natural."
Now, there are some specific examples of how bad the situation has got in some of our class A parks in British Columbia — some of our most iconic, tourism-attractor parks that we have in B.C. I want to read that too, because this is information gathered by volunteers who work in the parks system.
"For example," they ask, "how can we be proud of the situation at Manning Park, one of the parks used most heavily by residents of the Lower Mainland, when its…popular visitors' centre has been without funding since 2002 and closed since 2006?
"How can we brag about the glories of Garibaldi Park, when half the toilets in the incredibly beautiful and popular Garibaldi Lake campsite were shut this past summer? This unhealthy situation continues with little or no supervision by park rangers because the ranger complement for the area has been scaled down to just two rangers at Garibaldi…for a park that receives 10,000 visitors a year. In fact the rangers' hut in Garibaldi was not even opened in 2009."
The editorial continues:
"Perhaps the most troubling problem for B.C. Parks is its inability to adequately maintain the trails — for example, the trail to Della Falls."
This is one that I have actually hiked many years ago, which leads visitors to the third-highest freestanding waterfall in the world. This is a major park system here on the mid-Island, which attracts a lot of visitors. They have been unable to maintain the trails and bridges in that park system. That's what we're dealing with.
Now, here's where I think the editorial really gets interesting. Parks staff are afraid to speak out about this situation. Those in the employment of government have sat by for years, watched this happen. They're demoralized. They're upset. They're trying to do more with much, much less, and it has reached an impossible state. This is reported, again, by the Outdoor Recreation Council, and it says:
"Discussions with park staff reveal that they…do not have sufficient funds left in their budgets even for such housekeeping items as screws, nails or toilet paper, or gas to visit the parks in their district…. It explains why the infrastructure in so many parks is deteriorating and shrinking when it should, if anything, be improved and expanded. Furthermore, this has major implications for the safety of hikers and issues related to liability. This is presumably the reason why B.C. Parks has decided to close so many trails."
That gives you an idea of what's going on out there. We should be celebrating today the expansion of our parks system, the addition of lands to existing class A parks and the seven new class A parks reported in this legislation. But this government has even failed to be able to maintain at a steady state the condition of the parks system that it's currently tasked with managing.
It begs the question: what will it be like when we scatter already scarce resources over an even greater parks system? How is the government going to accomplish that? I think if there's any reservation that I can express at this stage of debate, it is that simple question. When will the government finally realize that they have overtaxed their volunteers and that they are losing people who create and maintain the trail system and parks infrastructure because they simply won't provide any seed money or support for the activities that they're engaged in?
They're closing trails, failing to replace infrastructure as a management strategy for parks. Their management strategy now has got to the point where it is about reducing the enjoyment and scope of park activities in B.C. to meet the insufficient funds that are budgeted by this government year after year. That's a terrible state of affairs, and that's something that is already getting out there.
You know, this is a digital world. The minister made that point when he introduced an on-line registration system this year for parks — which is great. I think that it's problematic where it's mandatory, because then it clearly is a fee gouge. It's a digital world, and in this digital world people go to travel sites. They look for other visitors who do rating systems on their holiday experience in a place like British Columbia before they book.
I'm concerned that if this information, which is so easily available with a few clicks of a mouse…. If the cumulative reports, which I'm starting to hear in greater and greater numbers coming through letters to my office as an MLA in this place, are being posted on line, then this is really going to damage the reputation of B.C.'s park system.
What would make all of us feel good — members on both sides of the House, I think — is if the budget we were discussing, which was up for debate in this sitting of the Legislature, had contained a significant lift. Even if it had contained, over three years, a plan to restore park funding to the level at which this government inherited it in 2001 — back to the $42 million, instead of being down here in the $30 million basement, with all the new inflationary pressures and all the layoffs that have occurred amongst staff….
If we had a three-year plan to rebuild our parks system to a funding level that we enjoyed ten years ago, I think we'd feel a lot better about debating and approving Bill 15. I'm confident of that. But that's not the case.
I think one of the other areas that needs to be discussed, as a consequence of underfunding, and it's a concern that's been raised by organizations like West Coast Environmental Law, is that when you have fewer people working in our parks system — the Outdoor Recreation Council made a very good point — it reduces the safety of campers and hikers and increases the liability to the province if something goes wrong.
There's also something else. It has the risk of reducing compliance levels of people who use the parks system. It has the potential to reduce the number of people who feel that the risk of being caught without a fishing licence, for example, is less than the cost of purchasing one.
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We don't want to go down that road. We don't, because we will lose further revenues to the province, but we'll also lose any ability to manage our freshwater fisheries in our parks system.
We will also lose, I think, something that we have worked for many decades to create, and that is a culture of respect for parks and for lands and a culture of risk avoidance when people are camping — learning proper behaviour around campfires and those sorts of things. Compliance levels have gone down in British Columbia as well.
Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak at second reading today.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. B. Penner: I look forward to addressing some of the questions that the member had, when we get to committee stage debate, about the purpose for some of the park boundary tweaks and adjustments. At this point I'd like to just respond to a couple of comments, which he should know because I've corrected him a number of times, but he continues not to listen or not to want to represent the facts.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
It is not true that the public affairs bureau budget is greater than the B.C. Parks budget. I pointed that out to him last year, a few weeks ago in estimates debate and now again today. Yet he continues to perpetuate a falsehood.
I should also point out that in the last five years our government has spent $107 million to improve B.C. parks' infrastructure. There's no acknowledgment from members of the opposition about that. I know it's not sexy to provide clean, safe drinking water to people that are visiting our parks, but our government does think that that's very important. It's a fundamental part of our commitment, and that's why we've spent more than $107 million in just the last five years on park capital improvements and some land acquisitions.
The member made reference to the fees for B.C. parks. The NDP government, in the 1990s, cut funding for the Ministry of Environment and increased park user fees.
The fee increase that we introduced this year will mean that taxpayers generally will still pay 60 percent of the cost of operating the B.C. parks system. Park users will contribute 40 percent of the cost of operating the B.C. parks system.
I note that the member didn't raise any questions about the park fee adjustment during budget estimates debate over a period of almost three days. He had the opportunity to do so but chose not to.
We believe that B.C. parks continue to represent tremendous value. When you compare the fees in B.C. parks, they're generally 7 to 25 percent less, in some cases 50 percent less, than comparable private campgrounds in our province.
That is why, when we first opened up our on-line booking system this year, bookings were way ahead of previous years — 10 to 20 percent, 30 percent ahead in the first five days that we opened up the reservation system compared to last year. That's with the new fee structure. People know that B.C. Parks campgrounds represent a tremendous value, and they're voting with their dollars. They're booking in larger numbers this year than in previous years to get a campsite in a B.C. park, and that's because they know B.C. parks are a tremendous value.
Lastly — I pointed this out to the critic before — B.C. Parks conducts annual surveys of people who use B.C. parks, and we continue to receive approval ratings in excess of 80 percent. That's because people do enjoy visiting a B.C. park, as do I on numerous occasions, whenever I can.
I know, Mr. Speaker, that you and I recently visited Skaha Bluffs provincial park. We were greeted by some bighorn sheep, which are also going to benefit from the new addition to that park. I know that members of the Legislature…. I've already encouraged them during my previous remarks to visit Skaha Bluffs provincial park this summer and check out the new trails that have been established there and the new access road that makes it safe for everyone.
With that, I move second reading.
Hon. B. Penner: I move that the bill now be referred to a Committee of the Whole at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 15, Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2010, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolution, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. I. Chong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:57 a.m.
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PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); P. Pimm in the chair.
The committee met at 10:06 a.m.
On Vote 27: ministry operations, $5,164,904,000 (continued).
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Hon. Chair, I'd just like to again introduce the staff who are here to assist me today. With me is James Gorman, the deputy minister; Rick Davis, superintendent of achievement; and Keith Miller, assistant deputy minister. And there may be other staff who will come in from time to time to assist. I would very much like to thank them for their help.
R. Austin: I'd just like to, for a moment, refer to the opening remarks that the minister made a week last Thursday morning, when we began the estimates process.
She said: "In Chilliwack, multiple schools have been combined under one administrative umbrella, and principals and vice-principals are sharing duties in a way that they haven't in the past." I'm assuming that the minister here is alluding to ways in which we can save on administrative costs within the public school system, something that she has been stressing a great deal.
My question is: could the minister advise us as to what measures have been used to determine the effectiveness of having principals and vice-principals responsible for more than one school?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The change that they've made in Chilliwack is actually very early on, and it would take some time before results will be known for the changes they've made there. The superintendent is monitoring things very closely. My expectation would be that if they find this is an effective model, it would probably spread. If they find it's not working the way that they had anticipated, they'll make changes.
Stepping back from that, it's clear that from school to school there are really great differences in levels of what is required from administration. We have schools with 80 students in them, and then we have schools that have 1,200 students in them. The requirements there from a principal or vice-principal would be very different.
Certainly, school districts are taking a number of innovative steps to do things differently, and we applaud those initiatives. We don't prescribe them. This is something where school districts have the autonomy to make these changes. What would work in one district might not work in another, but we certainly view it very positively when districts come up with different ways of doing things that may allow them to find some savings that they can then channel directly to the student level.
R. Austin: Has the minister or the minister's staff heard back from principals and teachers in schools that are trying the kinds of things that are being attempted here in Chilliwack, and has she heard about any drawbacks or negative comments or impacts on the school?
The second part of that question would be: how does the ministry expect principals to apportion their time if they're allocated to more than one school? How are they expected to do that?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: With respect to the member's question about apportioning time, this is not something that the ministry would be involved in, in any way. I am hazarding a guess as to how this would work.
I believe that most likely the superintendent, in consultation with the principal, would work on how that apportioning of time…. Or in fact, the principals would do that themselves and make the decisions about how they were going to spend their time. But it isn't something that the ministry would…. We would not get involved at that level. We don't administer the schools.
With respect to your other question, I have actually done a fair amount of school touring now, and there are a number of different models. There is such diversity around the province. For example, in Christina Lake I was in a school, a small community school, where the principal was not only the principal but was also actively involved in teaching. I've been in other schools where principals and vice-principals have partly an administrative role and partly a teaching role.
They're very small schools, and in some cases, I think, the school district is managing things that way to help to allow them to keep small, rural schools open, or schools with significant declining enrolment open. Certainly, that model seemed to be working well.
In terms of the feedback, I've checked with the deputy and assistant deputies who are here with me. We haven't had feedback through the ministry on, for example, a model like the Chilliwack model. We haven't had feedback. I personally have had a conversation with, I believe, a principal expressing some concern about the sharing of administrative duties in this way.
I think when things have always been done in one way, it's understandable, if a new model is being looked at,
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that concerns might be raised and would be raised. I do think it's very important that what is happening is that the superintendent is monitoring the changes they've made in Chilliwack to see how it does work — if there are changes that should be made or if it is a model that they could actually build on.
R. Austin: I can totally appreciate a small, rural school where the principal is also teaching a specific amount of time. I've seen that often. I think that is probably a natural way to save costs.
My concern, though, in hearing you make comments about Chilliwack, is when you have a principal who is responsible for more than one building and has to leave that building to go to another one.
I guess my next question with regards to that would be: if a principal does leave one school that they're responsible for to go to do some administrative duties in another one and then gets interrupted there by an emergency — and that happens all the time within the school system — how is it possible for them to get back to their other responsibilities in their other school, if something comes up in the school that they've gone to temporarily?
My second question to that is…. If an administrator leaves a building to go and look after another school, I'm assuming, then, that a senior teacher is left in charge of the school as the administrator. I'm wondering whether the minister could comment about whether that then adds administrative duties on that teacher, who is not a principal or vice-principal. And then, does that take away that teacher's time with their students, if they are called upon to go and do some administrative duties while the principal is at another school?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: You've asked an interesting series of questions which I actually can't answer. What I can say is that the kinds of issues that you've raised would be…. Whether a principal was working in more than one school or just in one school would be the kinds of time-and-issues-management things that a principal would do all day long.
I'm kind of reminded of the work I used to do as a small-town family doctor, where I would go in, in the morning and think I was going to do a series of things, but by the end of the day, often my day had looked completely different just because of what came up during the day. And I had a team of people working with me, just like these principals would.
In terms of how this would all be accomplished, in Chilliwack or anywhere else, those would not be decisions the ministry would be involved in. They would be issues that the principal, working with the administrative team that he or she had, would solve. They would be decisions that would be made at a district or even at a school level.
R. Austin: You know, I raise these issues simply because there is a difference between, say, yourself going in as a family practitioner and finding that your day is very different from what you had planned and a school where the sole person responsible for the building and all of the children's care, at an administrative level, actually leaves the building to go to another school. It does pose a lot of challenges.
Maybe I could just end this section by asking the minister: can I infer from the minister's comments that the verdict is not in yet in terms of examples like Chilliwack, which is trying to use one principal to go to multiple schools, and that you are still waiting to assess what happens in Chilliwack to see whether some of the problems that I've identified here are insurmountable and, therefore, that we recognize that we do have to go back to having somebody stay in a school?
Can I infer that the verdict is still not in and that you haven't yet decided what's going to happen here?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The idea that a principal would be the sole person responsible in this school — I wouldn't share that view. There are a team of professionals in schools that share responsibility for the students in that school. In terms of how things are managed and how this particular model will be assessed, as I've said, the superintendent is looking at how it works.
But I really would like to stress how important I think it is that school districts look at things like this, that they don't continue to do things exactly the same way as they have done for decades, that they actually are open to modifying their systems and looking at different ways of managing things going into the future, particularly given how much technology there is available and then some of the challenges we have with schools that are not very full and that are very isolated.
I think it is very important, and I think it is necessary. It's also very positive that school districts are coming up with different ideas like this and trying things to do things more efficiently and to be able to have resources that they can then free up for the students in their classrooms.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to be participating in the budget estimates for the Ministry of Education again this year. I have a number of questions. I know that the minister's staff will be well prepared for the line of questioning I'm about to embark upon.
The minister and I met on two occasions since she was sworn in to discuss overcrowding in the single secondary school in the Belmont zone of school district 62. The minister will also know that for the past five years
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the school board has brought forward what is, in fact, an innovative plan and thinking outside the box — the very issues that the minister just described in her previous answer — but they've not been rewarded with the capital dollars to realize that.
The minister will know that my constituency is the fastest-growing region in southern Vancouver Island, and we are in a crisis at this point with respect to managing configuration in the district with the elementary, middle and secondary school. The challenge is acute. She knows that, and I'm asking her today if she can advise at what point we can see at a minimum some planning dollars flowing to Sooke district so that they can get to work on replacing Belmont with two new facilities.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Thanks to the member for the question. We have had the opportunity to speak about this, and I've also had the opportunity to speak with municipal mayors about this project, and I understand that this is the top priority for the school district and also that it's well supported by the municipal governments.
What the ministry has done to date — and the member will be aware of this — is provide funding for a site acquisition of over $5 million, and there has been some additional property secured for this school replacement. I'd certainly like to acknowledge that this is one of the very few districts in the province that actually is growing, because we still are in a situation where 52 of the 60 districts are continuing to experience declining enrolment. But we are aware that this is a growing district.
That's one of the issues coming forward when we go forward with the capital plan. We understand that there is a need for new space because of the growth of the community and the growth of the student population and also because of the condition of the building.
When we come forward with another capital plan, it will be viewed in the context of the capital plan for the province. So we certainly are aware that we have, in particular, one school district with enormous growth and needs as well — that would be Surrey — and also a number of school buildings that need to be replaced that are actually in less good condition than Belmont currently. Those will be the things that will all be taken into consideration when we come forward with the next capital plan for the province.
J. Horgan: Well, the capital branch and the minister didn't allow the district to build an elementary school to replace Happy Valley to manage growth when it burned down. We had to use the same footprint. That school now has three portables on its single soccer field and more children coming.
This is not an issue that can languish any further, and I was hopeful that today the minister would have more than a recitation of a $5 million contribution six or seven years ago for land acquisition.
The board has been very creative on this. The community has been very creative and patient. I was hopeful, again, that the minister would give a time frame beyond whenever the next capital plan would come.
So my question is a direct one. When can the people in my community expect to receive capital funding — at a minimum, planning money — so that they can proceed to meet the needs of the growing district on the south part of Vancouver Island?
This is not an insignificant issue. It doesn't just affect, as the minister and her staff well know, those students entering the high school. The reconfiguration has to take place, or we're going to be jammed through with new kindergarten kids. The middle schools are chock-a-block full, and we have one high school for the whole region — one high school. This is critical, Minister, and it needs an answer today. What's the time frame?
There's a public meeting tonight on the future of Belmont. This would be an ideal opportunity for the minister to stand today and say: "We have $4 million or $5 million, so we can, at a minimum, get on with the planning so that we don't lose another year, putting our children on the south Island further behind other kids in the province."
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: These projects will be considered as part of the ministry's 2011-12 capital plan. With respect to the project planning money that the member opposite has mentioned, although there was a time that government provided planning money before projects had been approved — and in some cases, planning money was provided but the projects actually never were approved — we have not been doing things in that way for the last ten years.
Planning money is put forward once a project's been approved. So for that reason, we wouldn't be providing planning money until such time as these projects were part of an overall capital plan for government.
J. Horgan: Well, certainly, this is profoundly disappointing for the people in my community and, certainly, the children in my community.
I'm led to believe by the minister's answer that there will be no approval of any capital moneys to advance these projects, which are well-planned. The ministry's been there day after day, week after week, year after year, trying to get to a point where this can go forward. Now I can go to my public meeting tonight and advise my community that they have to wait, at a minimum, another year.
Is that what the minister is saying? Or can she give just a strand of hope to the families in Langford and Metchosin and Highlands that this government will ac-
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tually recognize a problem and take steps outside of the box that you suggest school boards get out of, to try and solve the problem?
Are we still in the same structures — no planning money, nothing for another 12 months? Is that what the minister is telling me and my community?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: As I said previously, the ministry will prepare a capital plan, and it will go to Treasury Board. That will come forward in 2011-12, our plan, and that planning money becomes available when the projects have actually been approved. So that's the situation.
S. Hammell: Minister, you were in Surrey last week, and I understood you visited K.B. Woodward, which is a LEED school, and East Kensington — I think it's East Kensington — where there was a seismic upgrading announced. Is that correct?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The seismic announcement was made at Halls Prairie Elementary in Surrey.
S. Hammell: Minister, did you visit any of the schools that have more than 11 portables on them or any of them that have more than ten portables? We have A.J. McLellan, Cambridge, T.E. Scott, Hazelgrove. Those are elementary schools with more than 11 portables.
These also have over nine portables. We have Earl Marriott, North Surrey, Semiahmoo, Guildford Park, Clayton Heights, Fraser Heights, Kwantlen Park and Panorama Ridge.
All of these schools have nine or more portables on them. Did you visit any of those schools?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Certainly, we spent the full day in Surrey last Monday, but I've had meetings with the school board previously, and ministry staff has been working very closely with this school district.
This school district stands out amongst all of our districts — and I know the member is well aware of this — with an amazing increase in number of students in Surrey, the most rapid growth by far and away of any of our districts. Enrolment in the last five years is up by over 4,000 students, 6.9 percent increased enrolment, and in ten years, actually, nearly 9,000 new students in this district. So it's really very different than the other districts.
I'm certainly aware of the numbers of portables that are currently in schools around Surrey and the district. We spent some time talking about that on Monday, but the issue's been raised before. As I have mentioned, ministry staff have been working closely.
There has been constant building every year in Surrey, and we've tried to keep up, but we have not been successful. Government, over the last ten years, has invested over $200 million, including new schools, replacements, additions and some seismic upgrading as well.
What we're doing now is working closely with the staff of the school district toward their capital plan, what their priorities are, and that will go forward into our 2011-12 capital plan. We're also looking specifically at the issues of portables.
One of the things we discussed is how the capital plan that's addressing the needs for space for full-day kindergarten will actually help in Surrey. That plan is not quite complete, but shortly we'll be making an announcement, and that will make a difference in Surrey as to the number of portables that they have there.
S. Hammell: We all work with basically the same numbers, and we operate in a historical context, which all of us live in. In fact, the district of Surrey has been growing for 20 years. It's not just a year or five years or ten years. The growth in this area has been phenomenal over years and years, so this is not something new.
The historical record is out for everyone to see. In 2003 to 2006 the ministry announced six projects for district 36 and three site acquisitions, and basically, nothing has been done since. There has been some additional seismic upgrading but no spaces added for the students that have been coming ever since 2006. There have been no new spaces.
The added burden Surrey carries is that every single one of the portables that has to be bought has to be bought out of operating costs. So you not only house your students in facilities that are inadequate; you then penalize the operating budget by buying the buildings out of the operating budget. To date there have been no new spaces funded since 2006.
May I ask the minister…? Can she tell me: if a miracle happened and there was more funding for actual new spaces announced in a capital budget this year, how many years would it take for those new schools to be built?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: First, I'd like to acknowledge the point the member opposite has made about the portables and the capital costs. When I met with the school district last week, this was one of the things that we spoke about. Actually, we had already taken steps to do this, but I informed them that the ministry is now working with their staff to see what assistance we can provide for these costs, so how we could manage this differently.
I understand that the portables are currently being funded out of their operating costs, and I have assured them that we are looking at that to see how we can work together to change that.
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With respect to new spaces that are available, the member opposite has said that there has been no new space and no work done other than seismic. So I thought that I would just, for the record, mention a few things. In 2006 Cambridge Elementary School was completed. This is a 400-student-capacity school with 80 kindergarten spaces, and that was an $8 million investment on the part of government. In 2006 also there was the Panorama Ridge Secondary School, which was a new 11,000-capacity school. The total cost was $26.8 million.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
Also in 2008 Pacific Heights Elementary was completed, which was a space for 80 kindergarten students and 250 other students, and that cost was $7.7 million. Also in that year Chimney Hill Elementary was completed. That was a capacity increase so that instead of 300 students, 525 could attend that school, and that was $2.9 million.
Additional space that year in White Rock Elementary was a replacement and a rebuild of the school so that it could accommodate 80 kindergarten and 400 students, and the total cost there was $10 million. Then in 2008 Rosemary Heights Elementary was completed with 800 kindergarten and 350 student capacity, and that was a $10.8 million cost.
In 2009 the Clayton northeast area elementary school site acquisition. That acquisition was a $3.8 million investment. Hazelgrove Elementary is a new school that was completed in 2009 with space for 80 kindergarten and 400 other elementary students, and that was $12.9 million. So significant space developed year after year.
There are a number of schools that are also under construction today. The Woodward Hill Elementary should be ready for September of 2010. That's a new school and is a $14 million investment.
Now, with respect to how long does it take for a new school to be built, the responsibility for managing and delivering capital projects actually lies with the Surrey school district, and they are excellent in their ability. They stand out, in fact, amongst the school districts in their abilities to manage and deliver these capital projects. They really do an excellent job. They're highly skilled.
They have an excellent team there, and in the past they have planned and built a new elementary school in 18 months. They've done that in the past, and I don't think there would be any reason to think it would take longer than that today. Secondary schools do take a bit longer with more intensive planning, and that might be more in the order of something like 30 months from planning to completion.
S. Hammell: Minister, thank you for that information. Actually, you make my point. None of those buildings that you listed were actually funded. They were opened. I understand things take a lot of time to build and that, therefore, you need the funding envelope well ahead of the actual time that the school opens. There was no new capital in 2009, no new capital in 2008. There was a single capital in seismic space upgrade, buses, of $10 million for school districts 36, 43 and 39 in February 2008. There's no announcement in 2006 of capital. So the buildings you announced were in fact funded prior to 2006.
I just understand. This is not a blame game. I know the school district is very good at producing a school, but they need the capital money to do so. They need the capital money now to open up a school. You say 18 months. It seems the record is a lot longer than that, and they need the money to do that now.
I'll ask maybe two or three questions around this capital and the portables issue, and then I'll ask one more question on the LINK funding. Then I would like to cede the chair to other people, because this is taking a bit longer time than I had anticipated.
In closing around the portables, it's great to hear that the ministry has heard the argument that taking portables out of operating costs is inappropriate, and it's penalizing the kids in that district just because they happen to be a growing district.
The other place that I would ask that the minister look at is the whole issue around the carbon footprint. You cannot reduce your carbon footprint if you are continually adding portables. Half a billion dollars from this district goes back to the carbon footprint initiative. So you give and then take away, and you're taking away largely based on the expansion of portables.
My understanding is that the district has also raised this issue with you, and they want some relief in the $500,000 that has been budgeted as an expense for the carbon footprint initiative.
I'll move right away to my last question. I'm sure you anticipate this question also from Surrey. The last minister has promised twice to colleagues, and I'm now picking up this torch around CommunityLINK.
I don't think there is any example in any ministry that is so appallingly unfair as the funding for CommunityLINK. There is no rationale. There is no way of justifying the fact that on a per-capita basis — given the demographics and the comparison of students between Vancouver, Surrey, Burnaby, Victoria — Surrey gets a paltry amount of money for the CommunityLINK program compared to others.
I mean, Minister, I can go into it step by step. I can go over the demographics. I can go back to the fact that it has been acknowledged that this is unfair. So my question is very direct. What are you going to do about it?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I would just like to take a minute to correct the record.
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When I was speaking about Rosemary Heights Elementary, I mentioned that it had capacity for 800 kindergarten students. It's actually 80 kindergarten students. That was the school that was completed in 2008. And Panorama Ridge Secondary is actually an 1,100-capacity school. So I misspoke in those two cases, and I apologize.
Just with respect, though, to what has happened since 2001-2002, I would like again to stress that there has been a total investment of $204 million, which includes the completion of eight new schools, five replacements, 14 additions and two renovations, along with 13 seismic projects. So there's been ongoing work, with a project of one kind or several kinds being completed in all of those years.
I don't have the total number of new spaces that have been developed since then. We didn't want to take the time to add them up, but we certainly could do that.
With respect to the CommunityLINK program, as the member knows, this is a highly valued program. We've provided over $51 million to boards of education, and last year Surrey's share of the funding was $3.8 million.
The CommunityLINK program is a program that has come through various different ministries and didn't start out with a formula of any kind. It was sort of a patchwork of different programs that ended up becoming the CommunityLINK program, so the history is actually diverse.
We are aware that there are concerns about this and that we need to do something to revise the way that we apportion this funding, so we've taken steps over the last while. There has been a specific CommunityLINK working group, and there has also been the technical review committee. They have given us advice about CommunityLINK.
There's a diversity of opinions about what we should do going forward, how we should change the formula and how we should change how CommunityLINK funding flows to districts, and we haven't got agreement on that. We're continuing to work on it.
There's also a cross-ministerial component, in that part of what happens through CommunityLINK is nutrition programs; 26 percent of the funding currently goes to nutrition programs. And there are a number of other programs like this that come from other ministries, so we're now looking at the CommunityLINK funding in the context of other programs that may do the same things. But I do acknowledge the point that the member has made about this program.
D. Thorne: I just have a couple of questions, actually, of a financial budgetary nature that I wanted to ask before we're finished today, since we're only going for another half hour or so.
In looking at the total provincial budget and going back a few years and looking at the K-to-12 education share of the provincial budget, it's easy to see that the share of the budget is a diminishing share. Going back to '91-92, the K-to-12 education share was 26.36 percent. Then going to 2001-2002, it was down to 19.67 percent, and in 2009-10 it fell to 15.34 percent. I think if you look at that, it's a significant drop each time.
I'm wondering how the Ministry of Education and the minister can justify such a significant drop in the prioritization of education in the total provincial budget for British Columbia.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Using the numbers that the member opposite has provided, it's interesting that in the decade from 1991 to 2001 the proportion of the investment went down by about 6.6 percent. And that was at a time when enrolment actually was increasing, except for toward the end of the decade, whereas in this last decade, where there has been a steady decline in numbers of students, the amount has actually only gone down by about 4 percent.
I think there's a clear explanation for why the provincial funding, this change, has happened. There's been a tremendous demographic shift in British Columbia. It's not unique to us, but it's more so here, I think, than almost anywhere else, where the proportion of our total population…. Our population overall in the province has increased dramatically, but our school-aged population has declined very significantly, as the member knows. In the last decade alone our funding is up by $1.3 billion, but we actually have 56,000 fewer students.
The other thing that has happened with the demographic shift and with changes in the way that we manage health, with technology driving costs, is that our total investment in health has gone up substantially. When the population shifts so that there are far fewer school-aged children and far more people who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even up into their 90s, they do require more investment in the area of health. And that is something that we have done because it's necessary. It's necessary for us to invest more in health care, and we've done that.
We haven't increased our investment in education as well, but as a proportion of the total government spending, without doubt, the demographic changes, the aging of our population and the demands of our health care have caused this shift to occur.
D. Thorne: My final question around the Education budget is around the funding to private education, which has become a larger percentage of the Education budget in the last few years. Since the budget of 2005-06 independent school funding has increased by 34 percent of the total budget, while public education funding has increased by only 13 percent. I'm just wondering: what would be the reason for this pattern?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The number of students attending our public school system, as the member knows, is down by about 56,000 students in the last decade. In the independent schools their enrolment has risen from about 60,000 students in 2001-2002 up to a little bit over 70,000 students in 2009-10. Their enrolment has actually gone up by about 1.7 percent annually.
Growth in the number of students is one of the reasons that the funding has gone up, but the other is that in 2006-07 the decision was made by government that for students who had special needs there would be a full funding supplement provided to independent schools when they had students with special needs attending.
Back in 2001-2002 special education grants were about $5.5 million, but last year they were actually $28.7 million, so a significant increase for students with special needs who are attending independent schools. So two things: one is the growth in the actual student population, and the other is the special needs funding.
K. Corrigan: For the minister I have a few questions about Olympic costs associated with this ministry. Given the time, what I would like to do — because the answers may not be readily available — is just read these questions in and hope that the minister will provide the information at a later time. There are about four or five of them, and I would ask that the minister answer one of them at the very end.
Last week on May 14 the Ministry of Citizens' Services released a short report or news release on the volunteer loan program. In that report it was listed that there were four people from the Ministry of Education that took part in the volunteer loan program. My question with respect to that is: what was the cost associated with those individuals? It was not broken down by ministry what the costs were.
My second question was that same news release also indicated the total cost to government of the employee loan program or secondments — so as opposed to the volunteer program, the secondment program. In that portion of the news release it said that the cost to government was a total of $3 million, but there's no breakdown of what the costs to the various ministries were.
My question for the minister on this is: what was the cost to the Ministry of Education of the secondments to VANOC, and how many people were associated with that?
My next question is about tickets for the Olympics. I noticed from the report on tickets that was released a few weeks ago that the minister had attended a figure-skating ice-dancing event — the cost of that ticket was $548 — and attended a women's ice hockey semifinal game, and the cost of that ticket was $400.
This is the question that I would like if the minister could answer now. I noticed that it was listed that the minister was hosting at both of those events, and I also noticed that the people who also received tickets for that event were a variety of people.
I'm wondering if the minister could tell me how it is that the minister would be hosting, for example, Magma Energy Corp., which I understand is a geothermal company, and some of the other people that were being hosted. What was the process? And why was it that that was seen as a strategic move for the minister — to be hosting those various people that received tickets at the same time as the minister attended?
All the rest of it I'd be happy to receive in writing, but if the minister could answer that one now, it would be helpful.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: To the member: she's correct. I did attend the two events that she mentioned. I also attended, on behalf of government as representative, a victory ceremony on February 14 and another victory ceremony on the 25th. At the one on the 25th I also hosted some guests.
The guests that I hosted at these various different events — and I was very pleased to do this during the Olympics as a senior representative of government, participating in the celebration and interacting with various different groups — included, as she mentioned, representatives from Magma but also some representatives, some leadership, from the Four Host First Nations and some people who were part of the London 2012 Olympics planning program. I participated as a representative of government, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to do that at the Olympics.
K. Corrigan: I'm just trying to understand, because particularly the ice hockey game…. How did it work with various ministers? I would have thought that the Minister of Education would not be the ideal person, for example, to be hosting Magma Energy Corp. On that date I think by far the most guests were Magma Energy Corp. I'm wondering why it is that the Minister of Education would be the person to host them.
I think, finally — because I know that we're hoping to get a few more questions in — I would also like to add onto that an invitation, yet again. I know there has been a formal invitation from the member for Burnaby-Edmonds and me for the minister to come and visit the Burnaby school district. I believe there has been a written invitation coming from the Burnaby school district, as well, requesting that the minister visit.
Considering how progressive, cutting edge, efficient and effective I believe the Burnaby school district is with the expenditure of education tax dollars, and considering some of the challenges that it faces, as well, when the minister is talking about looking for new ways to be effective in education, it would be a great visit to make.
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I'm wondering why the minister has not had a chance to visit the Burnaby school district as of yet.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Member, thank you very much, again, for the invitation to Burnaby. I am really looking forward to touring the Burnaby school district and meeting with the school board and seeing some schools. I've heard really good things about Burnaby. The legislative schedule has been fairly demanding, and it's been quite difficult to find time to tour schools. But the end is in sight, and we are looking forward to getting there.
With respect to the events that I hosted, again, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to be a representative of government. The issues…. Things like our environment and our relationship with the next hosts of the Olympics would be things that all ministers would be interested in and engaged by.
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to host the groups that I did, including the Four Host First Nations leadership. It was a very positive experience, the Olympics, in many ways, and I was pleased to have a chance to participate on behalf of government.
R. Austin: Noting the time, I'm going to ask three or four questions, which I'm just going to put on the record, and then maybe the minister can get back to me in writing.
It's been several years now since the school planning councils were legislated into existence, so the government has had some experience with this model. I would like to know if the ministry has conducted an analysis of how SPCs are functioning across the province.
I'd also like to know if there's been any feedback from the education partners regarding their effectiveness. By that, of course, I mean any feedback from superintendents, boards, principals or indeed teachers.
Also, I've heard through my travels that SPCs often look as though they're duplicating PAC committees, and that's making extra meetings for both administration and for parents to come together. I'm wondering whether the ministry is thinking about returning back to just using the PAC model.
Finally, I'd like to know if the minister would commit to reviewing the SPC requirements and that they consult with education partners and agree to accept their advice in finding a better way of ensuring constructive dialogue about various school goals.
If I could get answers to those, along with…. I believe that last week I asked in writing for a document letting me know what the total cost of BCeSIS is and the breakdown of those costs in that thing. If those could come back to me, I would really appreciate it.
Lastly, I would just like to thank James Gorman, Rick Davis and Keith Miller for their efforts in helping the minister to answer all these questions.
It's wonderful to see you all here. Thanks very much for all your hard work.
Vote 27: ministry operations, $5,164,904,000 — approved.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I move that the committee rise, report resolution and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:43 a.m.
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