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 25, 2010
Volume 18, Number 7
Hon. G. Campbell
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Glacier-Howser independent power project for Kootenays
Lions Gate Bridge
Marlborough Elementary School
Coast Mental Health and Courage to Come Back Awards
Heritage sites in North Delta area
Multiple sclerosis awareness
Harmonized sales tax and initiative petition
Hon. G. Campbell
Impact of harmonized sales tax on liquor prices
Hon. C. Hansen
S. Chandra Herbert
Overpayments to income assistance recipients
Hon. R. Coleman
Seabus services on Burrard Inlet
Hon. S. Bond
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 21 — Forestry Service Providers Protection Act (continued)
Hon. P. Bell
Reporting of Bills
Bill 21 — Forestry Service Providers Protection Act
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 21 — Forestry Service Providers Protection Act
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 18 — Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act
Hon. G. Abbott
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 18 — Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 19 — Finance Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2010
Hon. C. Hansen
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Health Services (continued)
Hon. K. Falcon
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TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2010
The House met at 1:36 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. G. Campbell: I rise today to recognize the contributions made by former Lieutenant-Governor Col. Robert G. Rogers, who passed away on Friday, May 21. He served as Lieutenant-Governor from 1983 to 1988 and is remembered for opening the doors of Government House, welcoming visitors from across British Columbia and from around the world.
He bravely served his country in World War II and participated in the D-Day invasion. He was a leader of the forest industry, the chairman and CEO of Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd. He was an officer of the Order of Canada and a knight of the Order of St. John.
He'll be remembered for his kindness and generosity. He will be remembered for his unwavering dedication to public service and public life in the province of British Columbia and in our country, Canada. I ask the House to recognize his tremendous contributions.
Introductions by Members
K. Corrigan: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce somebody who is in the gallery with us today. It is my niece Morag Keegan-Henry. She's a brilliant student from UVic who is not studying right now but was here for the day to shadow me, and I think she has had a real education. I hope the House will make her feel very welcome.
Hon. K. Falcon: Today we've got several special guests from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. May, as many members will know, is MS Awareness Month. That's why we are all wearing the red carnation: to recognize those that struggle with the challenge of multiple sclerosis.
I do want to recognize the three that are joining us here today. First is Todd Abercrombie, the executive director of the MS Society of Canada, south Vancouver Island chapter. Todd is joined by Helen Fletcher, the chair of the board for the MS Society of Canada, again the south Vancouver Island chapter. The third guest from the MS Society is Dave Doig, who is director of client services for the MS Society of Canada, B.C. and Yukon division. I would ask the House to please make these folks welcome and recognize the important work they do every day in working with those in the community that are affected by this very debilitating illness.
L. Popham: In the House today is a group of 37 grade 10 students from Claremont Secondary, here with their teacher Aaron Macri. They're here to watch question period and to see how the Legislature functions. Please help me make them feel welcome.
E. Foster: In the House today we have visiting us Alex Skultety. Alex is from Vernon but is attending the University of Victoria now as a political science student. Before moving to Victoria, Alex was an on-air radio personality when she was going to college in Vernon. She now works part-time at the Ocean, the FM station here. I'd like the House to please make Alex welcome.
C. Trevena: In the gallery today is Iliana Turner. She's here with the Equal Voice Experiences program, which encourages young women to get involved with politics. She's shadowing me as I work through the day and meeting with other MLAs as well as yourself, Mr. Speaker. Iliana, who is 14 and in late French immersion at Vic High, is a very engaged young woman who has high ambitions for a very big future in federal politics. I hope people will make her very welcome.
Also in the gallery, I have to note, is my assistant Teresa Scambler, who helps me through my chaos and works with two other MLAs on the opposition side. I hope that the House can also make her very welcome because without her, we couldn't operate.
Hon. B. Stewart: I am honoured here today to introduce some members in the gallery that have come here, a special delegation of visitors from the Portuguese Parliament visiting British Columbia for the first time. They're here because of the ancestral roots of Portuguese that have helped establish new immigrants to British Columbia and to make certain they connect with the over five million Portuguese people that are around the world. There are quite a few, obviously, in British Columbia and many of the communities that helped establish British Columbia today.
The hon. António Fernandes da Silva Braga, the Secretary of State for Portuguese Communities Abroad; as well, accompanying him are Mr. Pedro Soares de Oliveira, chief of cabinet for the Secretary of State; Dr. Pedro Moitinho de Almeida, Ambassador of Portugal to Canada; and Mr. Carlos de Sousa Amaro, the Consul General of the Portuguese Republic in Vancouver.
I'd ask the House to please join me in giving a warm welcome to this delegation from Portugal.
Hon. M. Polak: We're joined in the gallery today by a young woman named Jusdene Badh. She's a grade 11
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student from A.R. MacNeill in Richmond. She plays gold soccer, volunteers at Rotary and collects door to door for the Canadian Cancer Society. Would the House please make her very welcome.
R. Cantelon: Joining us are Doug and Carolyn Brommage. Doug is president of InSight Development, an award-winning developer of residential and commercial properties, mainly for their innovative approach to residential housing.
I'd mostly like to recognize Doug for taking the lead in the development industry and putting something back in the community. They put their money where their mouth is and took a development that was planned to be six units of social housing to 20 units of social housing. That's real commitment to community. We thank them for that, and I ask the House to join in thanking him for his accomplishments.
(Standing Order 25B)
power project for kootenays
M. Mungall: Well, during the first week of June the West Kootenay EcoSociety, the Council of Canadians, Wildsight, the Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the B.C. Citizens for Public Power are all coming together in three different Kootenay communities to talk about what I consider to be the most beautiful place in the world. Nelson's meeting takes place June 1 and, by virtue of technology, I will be there saying these next few words.
So where is this incredible place? Well, it's way out there in the back country. You'll know when you find it. The vista is sensational, and the water of Glacier Creek is cool, crisp and shimmers in the sun. You can see bear catching fish. You can hear all the birds chirping their joyous songs and view the ancient trees, and you will lose your breath to know that you are so lucky to just be there.
Now, just think of this most beautiful place in the whole world gone — gone in the name of money, for some big corporation on the other side of the country. People in the Kootenays refuse to fathom the loss of this most beautiful place. When AXOR corporation put forward its proposal for a 100-megawatt private power project on Glacier and Howser Creeks, Kootenay people said: "No thanks."
With over a thousand written submissions to the environmental assessment office, mass rallies at the Kootenay meetings…. In fact, there were more people at the rally in Kaslo than actually live in Kaslo and over 500 people at a meeting I held in Nelson when the EAO rejected the broad public's request.
The public participation is tremendous. It is positive, and it is amazing, rivalled only by the beauty that, of course, inspired it. So you can pretty much guarantee that the Kootenay people will continue to stand up for their waterways and, of course, this most beautiful place on earth.
lions gate bridge
J. Thornthwaite: On Sunday I was honoured to represent the province at the official plaque unveiling to recognize the Lions Gate Bridge as a national historic site. For more than 70 years the iconic Lions Gate Bridge has connected the city of Vancouver and the North Shore.
I cannot begin to count the number of times I have excitedly travelled across this bridge, back and forth in my commutes to UBC, visiting many of the Vancouver attractions, particularly during the Olympics, as well as walking, riding a bike and even bussing over that bridge.
Its designers accomplished a rare feat, combining strength and grace with a purpose to create a structure that has become a symbol of Vancouver. The value of the Lions Gate Bridge to the Lower Mainland could not be overstated. Over 60,000 vehicles a day travel over its deck, and even on May 5 a grey whale was underneath it. I fly on a regular basis, and with the helicopters or the sea planes over above, and I never tire of how beautiful it is.
Many others sail under it, as well, on cruise ships bound for Alaska, freighters bound for far-off ports.
The province of British Columbia works hard to ensure the bridge is maintained. Ten years ago the province undertook the enormous task of replacing the bridge deck. This past summer the ministry replaced the architectural lighting, which has graced the bridge's suspension cable since 1986, with new energy-efficient LEDs, ensuring the bridge maintains a sparkling sight on a west coast night.
I must say that my favourite improvements have been the Vancouver spirit shown by the Lions themselves that, I can only assume, took it upon themselves to sport Canucks jerseys for a very short time and the all-famous red mittens during the Olympics.
It was an honour to be at Ambleside Park to see the plaque officially unveiled, recognizing the Lions Gate Bridge as a national historic site, ensuring our Vancouver monument will be there for the future.
MARLBOROUGH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
K. Corrigan: I am very pleased to have a chance to talk today about a wonderful school in my community, Ecole Marlborough Elementary School, a dual-track French immersion and English school. At 1,100 students, it's the largest elementary school in the province, yet when you walk through the doors, it is a warm and close and welcoming community with wonderful staff, including principal Dorothy Joyce and wonderful teachers and support staff as well.
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Parents also play a very important role at Marlborough, contributing significantly to the school and its programs. For example, thanks to the parent advisory group and the school district, the new west field is available for the school and the community. Mr. Speaker, 45 trees and 1,250 daffodils were planted, and there's a new irrigation system and an all-weather walking and running area. That example set by parents and staff imbues the school culture as a caring school.
What the students see and experience they become, so perhaps it's not surprising that an active intermediate fundraising group of about 30 students called the Husky Paw Prints have raised $2,500 for Haiti relief, in addition to ongoing fundraising for Free the Children and other causes.
A couple of weeks ago the member for Burnaby-Edmonds and I were lucky enough to join the school in celebrating two special groups. One was the Olympic choir, 150 members directed by the irrepressible Geraldine Lazaruk and Kirsten Stark. It was an absolutely magical day when the choir sang at the Olympic Torch Relay event at Burnaby Village Museum.
In addition, we honoured the phenomenal achievements of the track team, which had won many of the individual but particularly the relay events at the district track meet — again, a combination of commitment from teacher-coaches, volunteers, parents and others and, of course, the commitment and hard work of the students themselves. As a lovely extra we were treated to a fabulous student ballroom dance performance. These are only a few of the great achievements happening at Marlborough School.
COAST MENTAL HEALTH AND
COURAGE TO COME BACK AWARDS
H. Bloy: This year one in five British Columbians will experience some sort of mental health disorder. Whether the illness is mild or severe, it is disruptive and tiring for the individual who experiences it as well as their loved ones. Coast Mental Health, led by the executive director, Darrell Burnham, was created to address the need for people recovering from serious mental illness. They are there to ease the transition to recovery.
Coast cooperates with communities to ensure that a person who has endured mental illness will be welcomed into an understanding and nurturing environment. They provide both direct service as well as advocacy. On May 6 Coast Mental Health raised $728,000 at the Courage to Come Back Awards. This was including sponsorship by our government and Scotiabank.
The gala dinner attracted over 800 guests to honour six British Columbians, and I would like to extend my congratulations to them: Mark Audio Ash for physical rehabilitation, Starr Peardon for addiction, Myrna Cranmer for social adversity, Theresa Duggan for mental health, Fahreen Mapara for youth, and Cindy Thomsen for medical. These individuals exemplify having the courage to come back. They have shown tremendous personal perseverance to overcome difficult circumstances. Today they are role models to others.
All of this would not happen without the unique leadership of Lorne Segal and his hundreds of volunteers. The money raised at the awards emceed by Peter Legge will provide food, homes and jobs to people across the Lower Mainland who struggle with mental illness. Thank you to everyone at Coast for their hard work and compassion.
HERITAGE SITES IN NORTH DELTA AREA
G. Gentner: This weekend along North Delta's River Road two tributes commemorate the heritage aspects of our community. In Annieville the Trinity Lutheran Church celebrated its 100th-year anniversary, while one kilometre downstream the Sunbury Neighbourhood Association had its annual Victoria Day garden party.
By the panoramic riverfront I stood in a recently excavated crater located between makeshift construction fencing. It occurred to me that I was standing on B.C. protected archaeological sites DgRr-2 and DgRr-6, respectively known as the St. Mungo and Glenrose Cannery sites.
North Delta is home to one of the oldest and most significant archaeological sites in British Columbia, evidence of a settlement that predates the pyramids, Stonehenge or the occupation of Scotland. Habitat occupied the foreshore 250 years before the red and yellow cedar came to the Lower Mainland, and their tools and ornaments were made not of wood but of stone and bone.
They were intensive fishers and fished on water where we today call Richmond and South Delta. When they first occupied this land, the ocean was ten metres below present levels. As glaciers melted upstream, the Fraser in its infancy cut its way with fresh water and silt, creating a delta with new marshlands and bogs that created berries and medicinal herbs.
DgRr-2 and DgRr-6 are recognized heritage sites of extreme importance. It is ironic that underneath the excavation lies 8,500 years of authenticity of B.C.'s very First Peoples' cultural adaptation to a changing land and climate, now ripped apart for a freeway.
MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS AWARENESS
G. Hogg: Surrey resident Jordan Sigalet had a hockey stick in his hand by age three. Since then he has won acclaim as a goalie with the Victoria Salsa and with Bowling Green University. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, and he's now playing for their development team in Rhode Island. Jordan is an
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accomplished, remarkable 24-year-old, and since 2004 he has lived with multiple sclerosis.
White Rock resident Debbie Hazlett is a wife, mother and grandmother. She and her husband are avid B.C. Lions and Canucks fans. She loves life, loves people and has a smile and a kind word for everyone. She is a remarkable person who has given so very much to so many. She has organized fundraisers, volunteered and shared the story of her journey with many people living with multiple sclerosis.
Jordan and Debbie are living with this unpredictable disease which affects vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. Its effects are physical, emotional and financial, and they last a lifetime. There is no cure. Between 55,000 and 75,000 Canadians, including 8,000 British Columbians, live every day with MS.
The MS Society raises awareness about multiple sclerosis. It engages new and existing supporters in an effort to end this disease. Every day three more Canadians are diagnosed with MS. Women are three times more likely than men to develop MS, and Canadians have one of the highest rates of MS in the world.
May is MS month in Canada, and May 26 is World MS Day. Today we wear carnations as a symbol of hope in the quest to end multiple sclerosis. We do this for Jordan, for Debbie and for each other, and we do this for the well-being of everyone.
HARMONIZED SALES TAX
AND INITIATIVE PETITION
C. James: Public anger continues to grow over the B.C. Liberal broken promise on the HST. More than half a million voters have signed the citizens' initiative.
My question is to the Premier. The public has spoken. They've overwhelmingly rejected the HST and this government's betrayal. So will the Premier take this opportunity today, honour the will of the people and stop the HST before it comes in July 1?
Hon. G. Campbell: I recognize that change is always difficult, particularly change that looks for long-term benefits for the people of British Columbia. But I think the fact of the matter is that there is a difference between this side of the House and that side of the House. This side of the House has consistently taken steps to strengthen our economy, to create jobs and opportunities across the province of British Columbia. That side of the House has done the opposite.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. G. Campbell: This side of the House understands that when you have an improvement in a tax regime that would create $11.5 billion of additional investments, thousands and thousands of additional jobs…. I think it's important for us to take action on behalf of every British Columbian in every region of this province to strengthen our economy.
We said that our economy would be stronger as we came out of this downturn. It is getting stronger. It is encouraging investments. It is creating jobs. That's the way to the future for British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
C. James: It's very clear the Premier and the rest of this government doesn't get it. It's not about change. It's about saying one thing during the election and doing the opposite after the election. This is about being truthful with the public, and the public understands that. That's why half a million have signed the petition.
A straightforward question for the Premier: if the Premier is too stubborn to stop the HST before July 1, will he commit today that if the initiative petition passes, he will finally, finally listen to the public and either call a referendum or bring in and pass legislation to stop the HST?
Hon. G. Campbell: We were very clear a year ago. We would do everything and we will do everything we can to make this economy stronger and come out of the downturn stronger. In fact, the reason that literally dozens and dozens of organizations have called for this change, the removal of the PST — the elimination of the PST and the harmonization — is because it saves small businesses and large literally tens of millions of dollars in administration costs alone.
My question to the Leader of the Opposition: when is the Leader of the Opposition going to go to that forest worker and say: "I don't care about your job"? When is the Leader of the Opposition going to go to the miner and say: "I don't care about your job"? When is the Leader of the Opposition going to go to the small business person and say: "I don't care about your job"?
We do care about their jobs. We do care about the economy, and that's why British Columbia's going to continue to build on our economic strength in the future.
Mr. Speaker: Members, I want you to take the time to listen to the question and listen to the answer, please.
The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
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C. James: I'll tell the Premier and the B.C. Liberals what is clear. The B.C. Liberals told the public during the election — in fact, they even put it in writing — that they weren't going to bring in the HST. The B.C. Liberals betrayed the public in British Columbia. That's what's true.
Three days after the votes were counted, the B.C. Liberals were in negotiations with Ottawa. They betrayed the public. The public overwhelmingly has rejected the HST, and most importantly, the public has rejected the way it was brought in.
Again, my question is to the Premier. Will he stand up today, do the right thing and get rid of the HST?
Hon. G. Campbell: This government believes the right thing is encouraging investment. This government believes the right thing is encouraging job creation. This government believes the right thing is strengthening the economy. That side has constantly been against that.
This government believes in creating a competitive tax regime that will encourage forestry, mining, energy, small business and economic growth in every single region of this province, and we will continue working on that option throughout.
An Hon. Member: How about telling the truth?
Mr. Speaker: Member, please withdraw that statement.
An Hon. Member: I do.
B. Ralston: My question is to the Premier. If the initiative petition passes, will the Premier commit today to either call a referendum or place the bill before the House?
Hon. G. Campbell: As I've said publicly, if the initiative passes, we will carry out the work as laid out in the legislation. It will be submitted to a legislative committee for their decision and their direction.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: Will the Premier commit to either call a referendum or submit the bill to the Legislature — not to the committee, to the Legislature?
Hon. G. Campbell: I am sure the member is aware of the legislation. If the initiative is successful, it will be submitted to a legislative committee, and they will make the decision on the appropriate next steps.
M. Farnworth: The appropriate thing to do is to recognize and respect the will of the people of British Columbia. With seven weeks to go, more than half a million people have signed a petition; 83 out of 85 ridings have met the 10 percent threshold.
By the fifth of July we could well have more people signing that petition than voted for the government side of the House at the last election. They all have one question and one question they want the Premier to answer. Will he respect their voice and cancel the HST or hold a referendum?
Hon. G. Campbell: I certainly will respect the public voice and will follow the legislative framework that's put in place, which says that if the initiative is complete, it will be submitted to a legislative committee for the appropriate next steps.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: The appropriate steps are either to table a bill in this House which will do what the public wants and end the HST once and for all or to go and hold a referendum because the government doesn't have the guts to do what the people want. That's what the appropriate next steps are.
My question is to the Premier. The question is clear, Premier. Will you table a bill and get rid of the HST and vote to eliminate it, or will you let the people do it for you and let them have their referendum?
Mr. Speaker: I just want to remind the member to be careful in his choice of words, please.
Hon. G. Campbell: It would be, I believe, inappropriate for the Premier to tell a select standing committee what to do. There is a piece….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Premier, just take your seat for a second.
Hon. G. Campbell: As I said, we will submit the initiative, should it be successful, to the select standing committee who will take the appropriate steps under the legislation.
Let me say that while the select standing committee is reviewing that, you may rest assured that I will be out in British Columbia, and I will be reminding British Columbians that this is about their jobs in forestry, in mining. This is about investment in British Columbia. This is about a competitive tax regime. This is about thinking about our children and their future. That's what this government stands for.
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IMPACT OF HARMONIZED SALES TAX
ON LIQUOR PRICES
L. Krog: When the HST takes effect, the government says that businesses will pass the savings on to consumers. The provincial portion of the tax on liquor sales will drop from 10 to 7 percent, but instead of passing on those savings, the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch is going to keep their prices the same.
Will the minister admit that the government is simply leading the charge on pocketing the savings and stiffing consumers in British Columbia?
Hon. C. Hansen: I can assure British Columbians that the cost of liquor at the liquor stores will not increase on July 1 as a result of the harmonized sales tax. I can also assure British Columbians that if they are enjoying a nice glass of B.C. wine at their local restaurant or a glass of cider or a nice glass of B.C.-brewed beer at their local restaurant, they will, in fact, see less tax, to the tune of about $30 million as a result.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
L. Krog: I'm glad this minister is so confident, given what the restaurant association says, that any British Columbians will be going to restaurants after this tax is brought in. But for those British Columbians who still buy and drink at home, the government has repeatedly stated that once it's introduced…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
L. Krog: …any savings will be passed on to consumers. Yet the government is leading the charge. They're the first to pocket the savings.
Will the minister admit he's wrong — tell the truth and admit there's no guarantee whatsoever to British Columbians that they're going to get any break on this — and stop the HST before it's introduced?
Hon. C. Hansen: I'd actually like to quote from a little handout from one of the local restaurants here in Victoria — a great little restaurant. It says: "First, the current B.C. liquor tax will be eliminated when the HST takes effect, so having a drink here will actually cost less." It goes on to say this: "We're also working hard with our suppliers to identify savings that we can pass on to you through HST specials that will appear on our menu starting in July."
I pay full tribute….
Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat for a second.
Hon. C. Hansen: That's an example of a small business owner who is proactively identifying savings, finding out ways that the HST is going to benefit not only their restaurant or their enterprise but is going to be a benefit to their customers as well.
S. Chandra Herbert: What we know is that the B.C. restaurant and food associations have said that the HST will cost their members up to 10,000 jobs. That's the truth about the HST, to the minister.
Shortly after announcing the HST, the Finance Minister…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member, just take your seat for a second.
S. Chandra Herbert: …suggested that a burger might cost more but then said that beer will cost less. We know that burgers are going to cost more because of the HST, but now we know that the minister was not telling the whole facts about the cost of beer.
If you go to a liquor store, the government is marking up the price, yet they claim that people will cost on the savings. Will the minister tell this House if the government actually isn't marking up the price and that somehow we've got it wrong? Or are they just trying to gouge B.C. taxpayers with yet another cost through a different hand in a different pocket?
Hon. C. Hansen: I'll repeat what I said earlier. The cost of purchasing wine or beer or spirits or other products at the B.C. Liquor Stores will stay almost exactly the same as it is now. But I'd also point out to the member that the taxes that we derive…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. C. Hansen: …whether it's the markup or whether it's the sales tax on alcohol products in British Columbia, are a pretty important part of the revenue base that the province counts on for paying for health care and education and the other social services that are so important to British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Chandra Herbert: The B.C. Liberals claimed that they weren't going to bring in the HST in the last
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election. The public believed them. Should they have believed them? No. The B.C. Liberals did bring in the HST. The government claims that, oh, they'll pass on savings to the taxpayer. Should the public believe them? No. The B.C. Liberal government won't even pass on those savings.
Do the people of B.C. want to believe this minister? Yes, they do. But they know that just about everything about the HST coming out of this government's mouth should be taken with more than a grain of salt — maybe more beer, yet they're going to increase the cost of that too.
Will the minister finally stand up, stand up in this House, tell the public why they're wrong, he's right, and why they should even believe a word out of his mouth about the HST?
Hon. C. Hansen: That's interesting coming from a member of the New Democratic Party, who campaigned on a platform to crank up the price of beer in British Columbia to the tune….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. C. Hansen: I will reiterate. If the member wants to go out and buy beer at the government liquor store, it's going to be almost the same after July 1 that it is today.
The instructions that we gave to the Liquor Distribution Branch are that the shelf price on alcohol should remain the same and should not increase as a result of the harmonized sales tax. I can also tell the member that if he would like to go out to a restaurant in his constituency and order a glass of beer, he will, in fact, be paying less tax after July 1 than he would be today.
INCOME ASSISTANCE RECIPIENTS
S. Simpson: We've now learned that the government is aggressively going after income assistance recipients for overpayments from six years ago. We know that between January of 2009 and the end of April 2010 there were less than 70 claims filed by the government. In the first few weeks of May alone we've seen over 300 claims filed.
Can the minister tell us how and when these overpayments occurred, and what percentage were government error or overpayment?
Hon. R. Coleman: It's actually 317 in the last month. The fact of the matter is that these are payments that have been made to people, sometimes under situations where they were not providing us with the right information with regards to what they're eligible to do on social assistance.
It's important that we protect our placeholder in order to collect money that was inappropriately gotten by people, whether it be by fraud or misinformation, and we will do that. There will be more that we will have to file over the next year to protect our position, because when six years expire our ability to collect disappears, and we don't want to do that. We want to protect the taxpayers of British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: We know that the majority of these people continue to be on assistance. They have little or no money to make these repayments. Income assistance, we know, is already too low. In all likelihood it will cost the government more to prosecute these small claims than they will get back in dollars.
Is it the minister's intention to either cut people off, garnish their cheques — creating even more hardship for income assistance recipients — or do what the government has done for years and years and forgive all of this? If so, why is he creating this anxiety?
Hon. R. Coleman: Surely I didn't just hear the member opposite advocate that we should allow fraud within the welfare system and not pursue those that would actually file false information or commit fraud with regards to the money they receive on social assistance.
The fact of the matter is, hon. Member, that we are pursuing what is the rightful job of government to do with regards to these. We have not served anybody any notice. We've just filed in protection of our ability to move forward. We will negotiate with people.
We are actually very good at finding long-term, very affordable ways for people to pay back money that they've inappropriately received from government through whatever means they were responsible for — if they provided false information, if they provided a false mixture of family makeup, if they did not provide the information with regards to where they actually lived, which turned out to be incorrect with regards to the shelter allowance side.
It is important that we have discipline in the marketplace because…. I would hope the member opposite would expect us to manage the system so that the people that are entitled to social assistance in British Columbia are the ones that we've saved the money for, so we can pay them.
N. Simons: The minister characterizes this as fraud and going after cheats. It's typical poor-bashing, but my question is for the minister specifically. It's not out
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of pattern. That's well within the pattern we've seen. How many of the errors, how many of the inaccuracies in these reports, were due to government error, as my friend's first question was, and how many were due to misinformation, as the minister calls it?
Hon. R. Coleman: If it's our error, we work that through and work that out with the client as well. You know that very well if you have been around the system for a while. The fact of the matter is that people have received money by virtue of them providing the wrong information to government that was fraudulent or misinformed, or people were actually playing the system.
My expectation from the taxpayers would be, I would think, that we would pursue that to collect it back on behalf of taxpayers so the people that deserve social assistance in the province of British Columbia will have the money available and the government would have the money for social assistance, health care and education rather than to someone that's decided to give us false information with regards to the social assistance they've received.
SEABUS SERVICES ON BURRARD INLET
H. Bains: The ridership on the SeaBuses on Burrard Inlet has never been higher, but now the Olympics are over. TransLink is saying that they could only afford to operate two of the three buses because of lack of funds.
In 2008 the B.C. Liberals promised that the SeaBuses would operate every ten minutes. Obviously, that is another broken promise by this government and the latest example of how this government talks a lot about public transit but would not ensure that the services that the public needs are fully accessible.
My question to the minister is this. Will the Minister…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
H. Bains: …of Transportation commit to providing TransLink with the funding it needs so that all three SeaBuses will be in operation?
Hon. S. Bond: I can tell you what this side of the House is going to do. It's going to continue with the largest expansion of transportation and transit in the history of British Columbia.
For the member opposite to stand up and ask us about transit plans…. This is the member of the opposition — and the Leader of the Opposition — who actually suggested that we not move ahead with the Canada Line, that we should go back and think about it and maybe start all over again. We're going to continue with the largest expansion in history, and the members opposite have voted against every single investment.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The member has a supplemental.
H. Bains: This minister and this government talked a lot about Olympic legacies, but let me tell you what the legacy of this government is.
Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat.
H. Bains: Everyone out there knows that the legacy that we can attribute to this government is mismanagement, waste, arrogance, secrecy and, by the way, dirty tricks during the election. That's what this government's legacy is.
Let's talk about the issue at hand, so that the minister understands exactly what I'm asking.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member, just take your seat for a second.
H. Bains: It's clear that TransLink is ready to put a third SeaBus into operation. The public has demonstrated the need and desire to use that service. It's only this government standing in the way. By refusing to come to the table, she continues to deny and deflect.
My question again is to the minister. Will the minister stop deflecting, stop denying and take some real action to ensure that all three SeaBuses are in operation at the same time?
Hon. S. Bond: We have a $14 billion plan, and just….
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a second.
Hon. S. Bond: We have made unprecedented investments, and the results are clear. The Canada Line numbers are exceptional. We are actually seeing people change
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their patterns to use public transit. We have the largest expansion in the history of British Columbia. The members opposite voted against every single investment, and they should be embarrassed by their record on transportation.
[End of question period.]
B. Simpson: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
B. Simpson: It's not often I get to introduce a school, especially a rural-remote school that's in the House today. The Nazko Valley School is here today. Each year they have an annual dinner where we get the opportunity to fundraise for them. My wife is still trying to convince me that winning at silent auctions and during the auction is actually not winning, because she writes the cheque. So we've given quite a bit of money to these folks. The community really supports them.
In the House today grade 7s Kady Clement and Taylor Woodward and grade 6s Marlana Alec and Colter Christiansen are joined by their teacher, Linda Kishkan. I ask the House to please welcome them.
Hon. M. de Jong: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Hon. M. de Jong: There is a young up-and-coming broadcaster in the gallery today, a grade 11 student. Jusdene Badh is here with some students from A.R. MacNeill School out of Richmond. She is a soccer star, a sports star and someone who has already found the value associated with contributing to public endeavours like Rotary and cancer causes. I hope the members of the House will make her and her classmates very welcome today.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. de Jong: I call, in Committee A, Committee of Supply — the ongoing estimates of the Ministry of Health — and, in this chamber, continued committee stage debate on Bill 21.
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 21 — Forestry Service
Providers Protection Act
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 21; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:32 p.m.
Section 24 approved.
On section 25.
N. Macdonald: We're again dealing with the compensation fund, and I would foresee this taking about a half an hour to just move through it. Many of the questions will be fairly similar once we go through.
Section 25(1) says: "…by regulation, may establish a fund for compensating forestry service providers…." Just the choice of the word "may" — is there anything significant in that? Surely the intention is that it will happen, but why the choice of "may" rather than "will"?
Hon. P. Bell: The words "may" and "will" are used depending on the nature of a particular piece of legislation. Typically, "will" tends to revolve around penalty charges and things of that nature, and "may" tends to be just an enabling word that allows you to develop the actual fund. That's the reason for the use of the word "may."
The Chair: Member seeks leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
D. Donaldson: I would like to introduce a grade 6-7 split, I think, from John Field Elementary School in Hazelton, in the constituency of Stikine and Gitanmaax as well. This is the school my children attended, and I'm very happy it's the first school class from Hazelton I've been able to introduce.
They're accompanied by their teacher, Suzanne Wernli-Roy, who taught my children as well; and by parents Henny Beertema, Pauline Rubinato and Dean Paranich, my neighbour in Two Mile. This is a trilingual school — French immersion class, English and Gitxsanimax — so I'll say hello, bonjour and ama sa. I would like the members to make them welcome.
N. Macdonald: In terms of the work going forward, the minister outlined, with the lien provisions, the groups that were involved in that. The minister talked about licensee groups as well as some of the contractor groups.
In terms of the discussions that are going to continue on defining fully the compensation fund, are those the same groups that will be included in those discussions? Is the minister considering broadening it to other groups, and if so, what are some of the other groups that the minister would be including?
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Hon. P. Bell: At this point we contemplate just utilizing the two existing groups that I defined earlier on. If at some point in the future we chose to expand the opportunities for both the lien and the compensation fund to a group beyond this initial group, that would be when we would incorporate those. These are the two primary groups that are impacted by this decision, and those would be the ones most appropriate to consult with at this point.
N. Macdonald: I'm not sure it falls under this section, but just to get a sense of the direction the minister is going. Obviously, there have been discussions to date on the makeup of the fund. There are clearly some stumbling blocks or areas that need to be narrowed so that we get agreement, but what is the nature of the fund that the minister is looking at?
There's mention later on about stumpage. There are also possibilities of some sort of an insurance fund. So what sort of a fund is the minister looking for? Can he give us the parameters that the future fund falls within right now?
Hon. P. Bell: At this point, our intent is to develop a compensation fund. The advice that we've received internally within government at this point is that a small- to medium-sized licensee in bankruptcy would leave an exposure of approximately $5 million. A large licensee, the top three or four licensees in the province, could leave an exposure of up to $20 million.
The likely outcome of this work is that that fund would continue to receive money over time to the point where there were sufficient funds held in reserve to no longer require any specific payments into that fund. Then it would be managed as a fund that would accrue interest over time. It would be done at arm's length under a contractual relationship, and it would involve the support of the two primary parties that were discussed earlier in the development of the consultation processes.
I don't want to rule out any other options because I don't think that would be fair. There may be other options that become apparent through the discussion process of the development of this compensation regime. So I just want to be clear that it could be that other options will come forward, and I wouldn't want to rule those out until we've seen what they look like. We're looking for a fund that will provide the level of protection at the most affordable cost possible.
B. Routley: Under section 25, in (2), there's: "The authority must hold the fund in trust." Then in (4) you talk about the fund "permitted under the provisions of the Trustee Act." Having been a former pension trustee and on the audit committee of the IWA-Forest Industry Pension Plan as well as at the Chemainus sawmill, I was aware that when we created an education trust, there had to be trustees. There were trustees appointed from the various groups that were impacted by the trust.
I guess my question is: because you're talking about setting up a trust and having it comply with the Trustees Act, could you give a fuller explanation of what kind of trust you would have? Would there be trustees in compliance with the act? Or are there some other ideas on how you would handle this money if it were not to be dealt with, with a group of trustees?
Hon. P. Bell: Section 25(4) simply describes the types of investments that would be made as opposed to the structure of the fund. We've left the options of how to structure the fund open for discussion by the two parties for development through that process. The actual section of the bill simply defines what types of investments may be made. Those are articulated under the Trustee Act and would have to be compliant with the Trustee Act.
But the actual fund and whether it's trustees or how that's managed would be discussed and developed as a result of the consultation process with the two groups.
B. Routley: Under 25(3) it says: "Money paid into the fund, or received by the authority for the fund, is not subject to any process of garnishment, attachment, execution or seizure under any legal process by any creditor of the authority." Could you explain the reason for that comprehensive list of things that you're not able to do with the money? Are there other provisions that affect the collection of this money that are not seen in that clause? Or is that the complete list?
Hon. P. Bell: The purpose of this section is to ensure that if whoever it is that manages this fund on behalf of the group that is intended to receive benefits from the fund were to get in some sort of legal problems, if they were facing some form of legal problems to do with perhaps some other business that they perform, the fund itself would be protected exclusively for the use of the parties to which it was originally developed. So it just simply protects the dollars in the fund.
I've mentioned before that there have been some early discussions with the travel insurance group. They provide insurance or they provide work for the travel industry. If they were to get into legal trouble as a result of that work, this piece, this specific section, of the bill would protect the moneys that were in this organization specifically targeted at forest service providers. It just anticipates that whoever is the trustee may or may not have other business interests, and the need to protect this fund for the use for which it has been developed.
N. Macdonald: This is more for background, I think. The minister talked about building up a fund to approximately the level of $20 million. That number, if I
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understood it correctly, is likely not chosen just at random. Does that correspond to where, over a 25-year period or a ten-year period, the sort of problems this bill is intended to address came to a figure close to $20 million?
Am I correct in assuming that that's why the minister is aiming for a fund that would approximate that size, or is there another reason for looking at a fund of approximately that size?
Hon. P. Bell: I may have misstated in my previous comments that that was the specific target of the fund. I used the $5 million and $20 million amounts as examples of what would likely end up being the exposure in the event of a bankruptcy of a mid-sized company.
Pope and Talbot was about a $5 million exposure. If it was a larger licensee…. I don't particularly want to name them in the House because they're all solvent and doing just fine today and, hopefully, will be doing fine for a long time. But the member will know who the top three or four licensees in the province are, and a licensee of that size could result in an exposure of up to $20 million.
The amount of money that will be necessary in the fund will be the subject of the consultations that we do with both the licensee group and the harvesting sector or the forest service providers.
It may or may not be $20 million or more — or less, potentially. The $20 million is what would be the likely exposure for the very large, the top three or four — the highest level of exposure from a single bankruptcy that you might expect. The $5 million is more reflective of a company the size of Pope and Talbot, which we have some experience with.
B. Routley: Just on setting up this trust, which is what this talks about. This may establish the act. I just want to put my oar in the water to suggest that I think all of the stakeholders ought to be putting money into the fund.
The idea, as I understand it, is kind of a self-insurance type of policy. You're going to put money into the fund, and then you're going to have a situation where people won't be caught and which will actually create cascading bankruptcies in the event of another failure of a major licensee. That seems to be the target of it. Certainly, I would think that it should be an assessment against all stumpage.
Back to the…. Maybe you thought you answered it, but I didn't hear it. It was the question of the Trustee Act. It says in (4): "…respecting the investment of trust property by a trustee." So if we're talking about a trustee, yet there doesn't seem to be an indication that there will be a trustee, is that just a notion? Will there actually be a trustee? Will this be the minister, or will it be some other person identified somewhere else in regulations?
I just would like clarity when we're talking about trustees, yet the answer I thought I heard was that there wouldn't be a trustee or multiple trustees.
Hon. P. Bell: This section is intended to require the authority to act like a trustee. It doesn't necessarily need to be a trustee, but it would have to act like a trustee. Whether or not they actually are a trustee would be the topic of discussion during the consultations with the two groups in the development of this particular fund.
Section 25 approved.
On section 26.
N. Macdonald: Again, the presumption here is that much of this still needs to be decided upon, but very clearly, with subsection (2), the minister is looking at the possibility of using additional stumpage. Maybe the minister can go through some of the tools that the government is considering.
I realize that until negotiations are finished, the minister wouldn't want to be definitive, but clearly, stumpage is one of the tools that the minister is looking at. What sorts of things is the minister thinking of there, and what additional tools is the minister considering?
Hon. P. Bell: The member for Cowichan Valley, in the previous question, commented that it was his view that everyone, all stakeholders, should be contributors to the fund. I think that generally speaking, I would agree with that statement.
This creates the opportunity for an incremental fund of some kind to be charged to a stumpage regime. We thought it was prudent to have that tool available, but there are a variety of options that could come to bear here.
I think back to my log-harvesting days and how the then workers compensation system used to work. It was something that was required of each individual person — to go in and acquire their workers compensation for a given stand of timber or for a given job. Or you might purchase it over a period of time. So
There are a variety of options. Specific to stumpage, we thought it was prudent to have that tool available to us, and that was required to have in the act.
N. Macdonald: Essentially, the plan is to set up a self-financing insurance plan. Is the minister considering having that run by an outside organization, like some sort of a private entity that would run the fund, or is it thought that that fund would always be controlled and within a government structure?
Hon. P. Bell: The actual authority, we expect, would be outside of government, as is the travel insurance fund. However, government may act as an agent on behalf of the authority to collect moneys, whether it be through the stumpage regime or perhaps some other form of payment as well. So government could act as an agent,
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but it would not be the authority. The authority would be outside of the entity.
B. Routley: Just to understand, under the definition of "contributor," it says: "…means a person in a class of persons designated by regulation to make payments to the fund." Then under 26(1) it talks about: "A contributor must make payments to the fund…." So a contributor…. It seems to be left fairly wide open — in other words, as designated by regulation.
Is there a list of known contributors at this time, or are there some that are being contemplated in regulation, or is there a committee working on this? Where is that at? Do we have an answer for who all will be a contributor to this fund? Could there be people outside the forest industry that you may have contemplated that should pay into this fund?
Hon. P. Bell: I suspect that the obvious individuals, those that benefit from the fund…. The member for Cowichan Valley earlier in his remarks suggested that stakeholders should all participate in the fund. I think that's probably a safe bet.
This particular regulation, actually, is fairly broad-reaching, as the member points out. Any individual group or class of individuals could be defined by the regulation as responsible for paying into this fund. While I suspect that the practical outcome will be much narrower, the legislation does provide for regulatory-making powers, which leaves options open to government.
Sections 26 to 28 inclusive approved.
On section 29.
N. Macdonald: In section 29 "Decision is final" is the title, then. Can the minister explain the need for this particular section and what the thinking is behind it? I'll just leave it with the minister to explain what section 29 is intended to do.
Hon. P. Bell: The principle behind this particular section is to get the decisions, particularly in cases of insolvency, out of the courts and into the authority — the authority being the group that is developed as a result of the two entities that are in consultation on this.
One of the barriers in the past around the court processes has been that that's where oftentimes these things have ended up — more often than not unsuccessfully from the perspective of the contractors. Clearly, we saw that through the Pope and Talbot dissolution. The point was to get it out of the courts and, except in the case of jurisdiction or the question of law, not having the courts go back in and have these issues appealed over and over again. So that was the intent of the section.
Section 29 approved.
On section 30.
N. Macdonald: Here again, just an explanation. Presumably the authority has yet to be defined, but maybe the minister can just explain quickly what section 30 is intended to do.
Hon. P. Bell: It simply allows the minister to designate who the authority is. In some of our earlier discussions I have suggested that we would not be opposed to considering other groups. The act may be amended somewhere down the road to meet their needs. That could conceivably change who the authority may be or who the responsible parties within the authority may be. So it just creates the flexibility to allow the minister, by order-in-council, to make that designation.
Section 30 approved.
On section 31.
N. Macdonald: Section 31(4) gives the minister, with the approval of cabinet, the ability, with written notice, to change the administrative agreement, which is what section 31 deals with. Clearly, there's a purpose to that. Maybe the minister could explain, in particular, the need for that subsection (4).
Hon. P. Bell: This section simply allows the minister to make changes to the initial authority. As an example, silviculture contractors were added to this act. At some point down the road, it may be deemed that the authority may have to change for some reason, or the persons responsible for it may have to change. It just creates the flexibility that once the authority is established, you can amend the authority.
Section 31 approved.
On section 32.
N. Macdonald: In section 32 it talks about the authority not being an agent of the government for the purposes of the administration. I just wonder: are there any obligations that would be avoided with that legal framing? Like, are there any things that if it was an agent of the government, it would be required to do but when it's not an agent, it's not required to do? If you could explain that, that would be great.
Hon. P. Bell: This section is intended to keep this entity outside of the entity or government for accounting purposes. From the perspective of generally accepted
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accounting principles, it keeps them out of the entity, which was the objective of the section.
N. Macdonald: In terms of public accountability and reporting to the public, are there specific rules in place that would make sure that the fund is clear and open for the public as a whole to judge that the funds are being used properly? Maybe the minister could just go through and explain how that openness is retained with this section.
Hon. P. Bell: The member's colleague the member for Cowichan Valley was earlier asking questions about a trustee and acting like a trustee. The fact that earlier in this bill whoever manages this needs to act like a trustee will articulate, certainly, some of the principles around public reporting and how they must behave. Also, it's anticipated that in whatever sort of agreement is established with this entity at the outset, it will also articulate the reporting requirements and public accountability functions of the authority.
Section 32 approved.
On section 33.
N. Macdonald: Specifically in section 33, it's just the one sentence: "Section 5 of the Offence Act does not apply…." Just the rationale for that, a quick explanation from the minister as to why.
Hon. P. Bell: This particular section suggests that it would be inappropriate if someone perhaps missed a specific time frame under which they were required to give notice, or something like that — that there would not be a criminal prosecution.
There are other consequences to missing those times in terms of where they might sit in terms of priority for their claims and that type of thing. But if this section did not exist, the potential for a quasi-criminal proceeding for something as simple as missing a notification time could come forward. We didn't think that was appropriate.
Sections 33 to 35 inclusive approved.
On section 36.
Hon. P. Bell: This particular section…. Government, as a result of some of the comments at second reading, has decided not to move forward with this particular section. Government members will be opposing this section or voting no to this section.
N. Macdonald: Just very much appreciated. We will certainly be supporting the government's position on this. I think it's the right way forward, so I'm very pleased to hear it.
Section 36 negatived.
Section 37 approved.
Hon. P. Bell: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendments.
The committee rose at 3:04 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
Bill 21 — Forestry Service
Providers Protection Act
Bill 21, Forestry Service Providers Protection Act, reported complete with amendments.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as read?
Hon. P. Bell: With leave, Mr. Speaker, now.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 21 — Forestry Service
Providers Protection Act
Bill 21, Forestry Service Providers Protection Act, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Abbott: I call committee stage debate on Bill 18, the Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act.
Committee of the Whole House
BIll 18 — Haida Gwaii
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 18; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 3:06 p.m.
On section 1.
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B. Simpson: Since this is an actual new act, it has a preamble to it. As an opposition member, I don't get notes with it, but we did have an opportunity to go through and talk about this one. Of course, we've had second reading. So I ask the minister and his staff's forbearance. There is some language in here and there are some concepts in here that I do think beg further explanation on the public record.
Part of that is that this act is unique, as the minister indicated in his opening statements and as we've indicated. Since the opening statements and second reading I've had a number of questions come into my e-mail box around this. It is something that is precedent-setting in many respects, and it's something that will make a lasting legacy. I think there needs to be an understanding of how it aligns with other processes in place.
Because it's a new act that has a preamble, I want to spend a few minutes on the preamble. Some of the things in the "whereas" statements of the preamble set the context for what's actually in the statement itself.
This act is interesting from another perspective in that it refers to an agreement, a reconciliation protocol agreement, between Her Majesty the Queen, as represented by the province of British Columbia, and the Haida Nation, and the reconciliation protocol is the frame for what's in the actual act. The act enables that to become the agreement between the Haida and the Queen.
My first question on the preamble is really for people to better understand the process for developing the reconciliation protocol. What was the nature of the discussion, and what was the nature of the broader community involvement in establishing the protocol that underpins this act?
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his question. I just note at the outset, here, that I'm joined by senior officials from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation — on my right, Stephen Dunn, and on my left, Robert Leece. I thank them for joining us today.
There is much history and detail behind the issues raised by the member's question. There has been, as the member knows, much history of conflict and division between the Haida First Nation and the government of British Columbia and the government of Canada. There have been on-and-off treaty discussions between the Haida and British Columbia and Canada over many years. Those have progressed somewhat but have never been close to completion.
There was a high-profile case in the early 2000s involving the Haida and British Columbia and Canada that went as far as the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada indicated that the case should go into abeyance so that the parties could discuss the possibility of a reconciliation between the province and the Haida First Nation.
Generally around 2005-2006, I guess, those discussions began. There'd been many facets to those discussions, including the ownership and management of forest resources on Haida Gwaii and many other issues involving both the management of services on Haida Gwaii and the management of resources on Haida Gwaii.
The discussion has been a complex one. But about a year ago now, I guess, in the wake of the decision by the gathering of all the chiefs in the province in August of 2009 not to proceed with any further work on the reconciliation and recognition protocol, the government recommitted to working with either individual First Nations or with aggregations of First Nations, self-identified, to look at the opportunity to reach agreements which would fall short of treaty but which would nevertheless be important building blocks towards treaty.
Just as importantly, they'd be important building blocks to a better relationship between those First Nations and the government of British Columbia and also pieces, important steps, that would help to move a narrowing of that unacceptable gap in social and economic outcomes between First Nations and other communities in British Columbia.
That really was all part of the backdrop to the discussions which occurred largely and intensively during the period from September through to December of 2009, and it culminated in the signing in December of a reconciliation protocol between the Haida First Nation and the government of British Columbia.
Just the day before, I believe — or perhaps it was the day after — we were also able to sign a reconciliation protocol with six northern coastal First Nations that are generally geographically right next to Haida Gwaii — six northern coastal First Nations who also share some economic development plans and economic development organization with the Haida.
Though there are many pieces to this, some of the flavour of what the parties are attempting to do with the reconciliation protocol is, as the member rightly suggests, captured in the preamble to the bill in front of us.
B. Simpson: I appreciate that background from the minister, but I did ask a specific component to my question, which was: how did the discussion get out to the broader community?
Again, I want to get into it a little bit in terms of traditional territory and the Haida's claims over the area that we formerly called the Queen Charlottes, or will formerly call the Queen Charlottes. For example, one of the e-mails I got from someone was the fact that…. Where was the consultation with the non-aboriginal people
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who live in the Queen Charlottes — even on changing the name from the Queen Charlottes to Haida Gwaii?
I wonder if the minister can explain what the nature of the broader consultation was with local governments and with non-aboriginal people who live in the Queen Charlottes and who will be impacted by this protocol agreement.
Hon. G. Abbott: The member is right. I neglected to answer the last portion of his question, so I'll attempt to do it this time. The discussion with the communities was an important part of the work in moving towards a reconciliation protocol as well.
Obviously, further to the direction of the Supreme Court of Canada, we were attempting to achieve a reconciliation between the Haida First Nation and the government of British Columbia, but the communities also reflected and expressed a strong interest, at times concern, around the direction of the discussions.
I know we had a very good meeting with all of the communities on Haida Gwaii when we were at UBCM last year in Vancouver. We had a long and productive meeting with the mayors and councillors from the communities on Haida Gwaii. We committed, after that meeting, to keep the local governments fully informed of the progress of reconciliation discussions.
As the member knows, I think the communities are very supportive of this agreement. That was reflected in the presence of the regional district director for Haida Gwaii at the ceremony that we had in the rotunda a couple of weeks ago. To my knowledge, the communities are all satisfied and appreciative of the reconciliation protocol.
I think, again, although it's awkward in settings where we have very intensive negotiations, it is sometimes difficult to keep parties informed of progress on a minute-to-minute basis. There's a lot of toing and froing in negotiations, but we did attempt to keep the local governments informed at every step of the progress towards reconciliation protocol.
B. Simpson: I appreciate the sensitive nature of these discussions, so I'm not presuming that the government can actually reveal everything that's going on at the table at any given time, in particular something of this nature where it is a significant shift in recognition of the Haida council, Haida government, etc.
The minister has covered off local government, but the second part of my question was about the general population that lives in the area now referred to as Haida Gwaii. Many of those individuals are individuals whose work will be impacted by some of the deals in the reconciliation act. As the minister is well aware, that's an area that has had a lot of questions about natural resource development, about the bankruptcy of contractors, about the future of some of the licensees. Some of this reconciliation protocol will end up stabilizing some of that.
Given the heightened sensitivity and the years of people being uncertain about the natural resource economy in that area, were there any efforts on the part of the government to communicate to the broader community what was going on as it unfolded? Not after the fact — I have the press release and the things that went out after there was agreement — but as it unfolded.
Hon. G. Abbott: To answer the member's question, there was no formal consultation with respect to the protocol. It would have been difficult, given the very condensed time frame between the time that the parties agreed to the protocol and the time at which it was announced.
However, I would note a couple of things. First of all, the protocol builds, and builds extensively, on the strategic land use agreement, which was the product of many years of consultation, public meetings on Haida Gwaii. The strategic land use plan is a foundation document. It was the object of many, many community discussions, and the protocol is consistent with that and builds on that foundation of this strategic land use plan.
The other thing I would note is that the government responded to every inquiry which came its way with respect to the protocol as we received them, and the protocol, it should be noted, does not take into its reach the work of the local governments. That is, relationships, etc., within the bounds of the local government are unaffected by the protocol.
B. Simpson: Given the sensitivities and the nature…. The premise for this — and we'll get into it in certain parts of the bill — is an existing land use act. The minister and I actually had a conversation about that with respect to whether reconciliation agreements were possible in other areas of the province, because that midcoast agreement is among other groups of First Nations that have come together and said that we can do this as well.
In the case of the Haida, it's clear and distinct in terms of the Haida's traditional territory and any overlapping claims. So given sensitivities and given that the government is moving in this direction, has any effort been made in any kind of fulsome fashion to now get in front of the act coming into existence, the council coming into existence, and doing some kind of education campaign in the Queen Charlotte area for the non-aboriginal residents?
Even, I imagine, the Haida Nation will take care of their own folks, but is there any way of working…? Maybe the first task of this council, or whatever the case may be, is to really set the framework so that people
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understand the nature of what is being debated here today and what will come into effect.
I know — and we'll talk about it later on — that the bill talks about a public website where the decisions of the council and various other things will be posted. But I'm just curious if that's a possibility — if there are plans in place to get out in front of this and make sure people clearly understand the nature of what it is we have in front of us.
Hon. G. Abbott: To the member's question in terms of the educational or other information that might assist the public in understanding the reconciliation protocol, the agreement is posted on the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation website. Along with the agreement in its entirety are press releases and backgrounders, which should be of assistance in assisting people to understand the nature of the agreement.
I would also note that we are in the early stages of implementation. We will be working with the Haida to discuss appropriate outreach steps in the weeks and months ahead. We have not, to this date, received any requests from organizations, communities or individuals for public workshops or additional consultation on this. We just haven't received any requests like that. Should we receive them, I certainly would see if we can try to accommodate them, but to this point no one's asked us for that level of information.
B. Simpson: That point is noted. I guess one of the things…. My experience is that you can never do enough education, especially when you're moving into new territory like this.
In my previous life I was a change management consultant. I would always advise people to do a lot more communication on the front end of things to ensure the success of whatever the change initiative was. Err on the side of more, not less, especially something like this, to give it as much foundation for success as possible. In the absence of information, sometimes you create a vacuum where people start filling in their own information, and it would be nice to nip some of that in the bud.
Moving on, then, with respect to the nature of this relationship…. It's a relationship between the council of the Haida Nation and British Columbia. I guess one of the things, for clarity, is: what is the legal standing or the recognition this gives to the Haida Nation?
It's a contractual arrangement between two entities. It's clear in the contractual arrangement the Crown's legal standing; it's not clear on the Haida's legal standing. I know bands and others have to go through some legal processes in order to be recognized, whether they're recognized under the Indian Act or a not-for-profit society or whatnot. I'm just not clear what the nature of the legal standing of the Haida Nation is in this case.
The Chair: Hon. Members, please be advised that we will move to the consideration of section 1, but we will not take the vote on the preamble until the conclusion of the bill.
[C. Trevena in the chair.]
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the best answer I can provide is that the council of the Haida Nation is a voluntary aggregation of two First Nation villages: Skidegate and Old Massett. They have come together voluntarily under the constitution of the Haida Nation. In the protocol agreement itself it is recognized that this is an agreement between the Haida Nation, as represented by the Council of the Haida Nation, and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia.
B. Simpson: Again, laws of this land are subject to legal challenge — right? We've had that for regulations and laws. We canvassed this with the First Nations woodlands licence, where I asked the minister questions around the legality of what was happening and whether or not it could be challenged. Forest and range agreements, which were its predecessor, were in fact challenged in the court, and the Crown lost that case.
Because this is an agreement technically between two legal entities, I'm just wondering whether or not the nature of the Haida Nation…. The Haida Nation — we'll get into it later on — then gets to appoint two members to a council, and the Crown gets to appoint two members of the council.
Normally, contractual arrangements — protocol agreements or whatever — are between, in my understanding, legally recognized entities. Is there no sort of legal frame other than that the Crown recognizes the Haida Nation and therefore the Crown recognizes it as having standing? Is that really what's happening here? Because the Crown recognizes it, it has standing to enter into an agreement?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think governments have the opportunity to extend recognition to entities in the First Nations world, and our inclination is to recognize them in whatever aggregation the First Nations believe is appropriate. As I noted in my first answer, the Council of the Haida Nation is a voluntary aggregation of Skidegate and Old Massett under the constitution of the Council of the Haida Nation.
Similarly, we have the protocol agreement, the reconciliation protocol, with six northern coastal First Nations who have voluntarily aggregated, and we have embraced an opportunity to sign an agreement with them as well.
I guess the final thing I'd note, in terms of any discomfort that the member may have around whether an
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agreement between the Haida Nation and the government of British Columbia might withstand some legal test, would be this. The case I referenced earlier before the Supreme Court of Canada was between the Haida Nation, which is how it's described, and Her Majesty in right of the government of British Columbia and Her Majesty in right of the government of Canada.
So I think all of that is comforting in terms of the security of this arrangement from a legal standing perspective.
B. Simpson: It's not so much my discomfort. I want to be clear about that. It's just trying to understand the nature of the agreement and the act we have in front of us. We have an obligation as opposition to try and make sure there's clarity around these things. We have had laws come in that have to be significantly amended later on or laws that have been challenged in court.
The minister's point about the legal standing of the Haida Nation in the case of the Supreme Court. You know, the court has already recognized them as an entity. I'll canvass some of my more specific questions around that as we get into it. But let me just say that part of what's happening here is that there's a formal agreement that's going to occur, which has significant implications over land.
The inherent conflict that exists in the protocol agreement — and it's explicit in the first "whereas" of the protocol agreement — is that the Haida say that it's their land, and the Crown says that it ain't; it's Crown land. That's part of what is interesting and unique about this relationship.
The other way of addressing that is, of course, through treaty. It leads me to the second "whereas," where it says that this reconciliation protocol represents an incremental step in the process of reconciliation between the Haida and Crown with respect to titles. I wonder if the minister could just explain what the nature of the steps going forward is and the relationship between this agreement and what it does for treaty.
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the member's very good question, and I think the member has captured the issue fairly succinctly.
What the government of British Columbia and the Council of the Haida Nation have done in the protocol agreement is essentially take their very different views of title and sovereignty on the area we're now calling Haida Gwaii and state those upfront in the agreement and then agree to park our disagreement so that we can go on and articulate many different ways that we can work together on Haida Gwaii to better the economic and social conditions of the Haida and, hopefully, to bring greater prosperity to the islands generally.
In terms of the relationship between reconciliation protocol and treaty — again, this is a very important question and one we've given much thought to — we believe that reconciliation protocol is a very strong step towards treaty but, nevertheless, falls short of treaty because of that continuing disagreement over how the issue of aboriginal title will ultimately be resolved on Haida Gwaii.
We certainly believe the protocol to be consistent with treaty, and in fact, there will be some accounting in the long term about some of the provisions. The $10 million for potential acquisition on a willing buyer, willing seller basis of tenure would be one example of where that element might form some small percentage of a future treaty.
I am glad the member asked this question, because I think it's fundamentally important. We need to find a variety of paths to reconciliation between the government of British Columbia and First Nations. If we are going to hang our hats solely on treaties, it is going to take a long time for us to begin to make a difference to all 203 First Nations in the province of British Columbia. We need to find different steps, large and small, and different paths to reconciliation.
With the reconciliation protocol with the Haida and the reconciliation protocol with the six northern coastal First Nations, with the strategic engagement agreement that came just a little bit later between six central and southern coastal First Nations — called the Nanwakolas group — and the government of British Columbia, we have some different opportunities to reach agreements with First Nations, to try to get further economic involvement by the First Nations in the resource economy of British Columbia and begin to improve some of the social and economic outcomes that continue to be a wrong way for First Nations in the province.
It's a step forward. What we try to do in every case is be consistent with what we would have in a treaty but treat all of these as building blocks to treaty rather than hanging our hat on that one final resolution of all these issues, which is treaty.
We have seen treaties, an average of about one every five years in terms of completion. That would be a slow pace to get where we want to go in British Columbia. We want to speed up the treaty process and get more successes there. I think I'm relatively optimistic that we're turning a corner on that. But notwithstanding that optimism, we need to find other ways to get there, and reconciliation protocol is one of those ways.
B. Simpson: I'm struggling myself here, because I don't want my questions to be perceived to be opposed to the direction being taken. However, we have an obligation to do due diligence around the nature of the agreement, and I want to state that for the public record.
The reason for that is that as the minister has already indicated, there is a bit of a presumption of a potential
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outcome of treaties here — the money for buying, potentially, tree farm licences or licences that are available in a willing-seller arrangement, the potential for some of the land that's involved in this, etc.
It begs the question then — and there's a reason for this question that I'll get to in another one: is the Crown not actually recognizing that by entering into an agreement with the Haida Nation, by recognizing the Haida Nation as an entity with a claim or a historical legacy…? We're now entering as the Crown into an agreement with them. There is land that has been agreed upon. There is a presumption of eventually resolving something. Are we not actually recognizing in a de facto way that there is some sense of First Nations title over the land that is coming under the management agreement?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the answer to the member's important question is this. At the outset of the reconciliation protocol agreement, there is stated right up at the front the differing views of the province of British Columbia and the Council of the Haida Nation with respect to aboriginal title and sovereignty on Haida Gwaii.
The agreement certainly recognizes the division of opinion, but the agreement doesn't go any further to defining or resolving the issue of aboriginal claim on Haida Gwaii beyond providing for those statements of the difference. That resolution is something that will likely, I think, only come with treaty. There will be much work done around the issue.
Haida Gwaii is unique in that there are no overlapping claims, as the member noted earlier. There are few, if any, places in British Columbia where one would not find some overlap in terms of First Nations claim, but on Haida Gwaii it is only the Haida that are acknowledged to have had occupancy of those islands for thousands of years. So it is a special situation. The parties are just being, I think, very frank and honest about their difference of opinion, and we recognize the differences of opinion, but the agreement itself doesn't pretend to resolve those differences of view with respect to aboriginal title.
B. Simpson: I'm on the bottom end of a very steep learning curve as I've taken on this challenge. It's quite fascinating.
I want to go back to what the minister had indicated about: how do you bridge the socioeconomic gap in the absence of treaties? It's not just that the treaty process takes a long time; it's that the majority of British Columbia bands are not involved in the treaty process now. So you have to get over that hurdle to get into treaty and then the treaty process itself. I get that.
One of the dialogues I've been having as I've gone around the province and spoken with First Nations leaders is: how do you get to what I believe the government is actually attempting to get to in not just this agreement but the other agreements that the minister spoke to? How do you address the socioeconomic gap in the absence of resolving the title issue? We need to address the socioeconomic gap more hastily than what that process is doing.
The line of questioning I've got here — and I'll move on and ask some specific questions — is just: are we not already presuming outcomes? Are we not already having to say: "Look, we get it"? The minister actually said it — that the Haida have occupancy in that region. They've got clear lines in terms of their title arguments that other bands don't enjoy in other places, with overlapping claims and having to have proof of claim and all of those things. By entering into this agreement, I guess it's just the issue of whether we are being presumptive.
Let me go on to specifics, because the minister didn't actually answer the part of the question. The minister answered the question more fully than I was asking, but there was part of it of how this fits into treaty. Will the treaty discussions continue? This states that it's incremental, so what is it incremental to? Will that continue?
The role of Canada in all this. I note that in the actual reconciliation protocol, under the definitions it defines "framework agreement" as between Haida, Canada and British Columbia. Where does Canada play a role in this, because they're not actually mentioned in the reconciliation act?
Hon. G. Abbott: So in terms of the relationship of this agreement to treaty, the reconciliation protocol is an agreement between the Council of the Haida Nation and the government of British Columbia. The federal government is not a signatory to the reconciliation protocol. For a treaty to be a treaty, of course, the government of British Columbia has to be a signatory along with the government of Canada. The government of Canada, the government of British Columbia and the Haida First Nation would be the essential signatories.
We hope and expect that treaty discussions will continue involving the Haida and Canada and British Columbia. In fact, there are discussions ongoing with the federal government about the possibilities there. A treaty agreement is one which involves land and cash principally. There can be other issues raised, and treaties are complex agreements that often involve many different elements. But land and cash, along with governance issues, tend to be the most important issues in a treaty.
The treaty agreements only proceed when, generally speaking, the federal government often has their cash component, and the province brings land. The treaty discussions proceed along as quickly or slowly as the treaty participants are able to make them happen. It's difficult to say in the case of the Haida whether there
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will be rapid movement in the wake of the reconciliation protocol or whether the discussions will continue at the fairly slow pace that they have been to this point.
There are certainly great opportunities for First Nations in treaty, and we want them to move along as quickly as we can, but we also have to be honest in noting that a treaty is probably the most important decision that a First Nation ever makes in its life. Of course, they want to ensure that the right decisions are being made.
I hope that addresses the member's question. We do think that the protocol is consistent with treaty, and we hope it will be both a building block and a stimulus to further progress with respect to treaty discussions.
B. Simpson: I appreciate that clarification. I guess it remains to be seen — the relationship between the two. Continuing on just quickly, there are only a couple of other points on the preamble, but it does set the tone for the rest.
In the third "whereas," it states that the reconciliation protocol and the new relationship are intended by the Haida Nation of British Columbia to guide joint decision-making regarding land and natural resource management on Haida Gwaii.
I wonder if the minister can clarify the nature of the term "new relationship" there, because the reconciliation protocol is an actual document. In the document it uses "new relationship" as an outcome of the document, but as the minister knows, there is a document that exists called The New Relationship. If we're going to put the new relationship document as having standing in an act, then we need to know whether that has been signed off, and so on, or whether this is just the new relationship that's referred to that is hoped to be arrived at as a result of the reconciliation protocol.
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer to the question is that it is the latter. As I'm sure the member knows, in this case "the new relationship" is not capitalized. It is not a reference to the specific document, the new relationship agreement. It is a stated intention for us to build a new and better relationship between the parties.
B. Simpson: Thank you, I appreciate that. I had assumed that because it wasn't capitalized, that might be the case, but we all know what happens when you assume something. It's better to clarify it. Thank you for the clarification.
The next "whereas" refers to a commitment on the part of the parties to further refine and develop the processes for operational-level decision-making on Haida Gwaii. Again I wonder, for the record, if the minister can clarify what the nature of that is, because there's a section in here that deals with amendments and makes changes to the act. What is the nature of that refining and developing, and what's the process?
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer to the member's question with respect to this particular element in the preamble…. It is about operational-level decision-making. There has been some work undertaken on Haida Gwaii in recent months and years with respect to how to better manage decision-making on Haida Gwaii, how to create efficient and streamlined decision-making between the Haida and statutory officials and others on Haida Gwaii, on forestry and other areas of resource management.
The solutions table, as it's termed currently, is a pilot project which will, as we discuss further refinements to it with the Haida, become the operational-level decision-making authority for the islands.
B. Simpson: I get that point. There's a table that specifically is doing the refining and developing as the management council comes together and does the actual work.
Maybe I can just clarify. So this solutions table will continue to exist and will sort of watch as this thing evolves and unfolds. We'll have the discussion of how to make it better and then feed that into — we're going to get into the structure of the management council here — the management council. If there's need for any refinements that require legislation or regulation, then that's where that would come from. I just want to make sure I understand that that's what the minister is suggesting.
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the member's question. It is important to get clarity with respect to these issues. Yes, the solutions table will continue. The solutions table will be the Haida and the government of British Columbia working on operational-level or on-the-ground kinds of issues or decisions. Approval of a permit, for example, might be something that would be undertaken at the operational level or the solutions table level.
There will be a strategic-level decision-making body as well, and it's referenced in here, which is the management council. I'm sure we'll be talking more about that. But the management council is strategic level as opposed to the operational level of the solutions table.
B. Simpson: We may have some questions to come back to with respect to decision-making a bit later on and with respect to the communications of the solution table's deliberations using that public website, etc.
The final two "whereases" get to the heart of some of my questions around legal standing of the Haida Nation. The second-to-last "whereas" — and it's in the reconciliation protocol — talks about the Haida Nation in British Columbia operating under "their respective
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authorities and jurisdictions." Then later on, the last "whereas" states that the Haida Nation will provide its necessary legal authority to the reconciliation protocol just as British Columbia is providing its legal authority to it through this act.
First off, would the minister explain what the nature of the Haida Nation's process is for providing legal authority?
Hon. G. Abbott: The Haida House of Assembly will be the legal authority in terms of the Haida and their commitment to this agreement.
B. Simpson: Again, just for the public record, does the House of Assembly then debate this, or does the government already have, in effect, assent? Or is it a special and discrete discussion, dialogue, debate that leads to a resolution of some kind so that there is actually documentation for this portion of the Crown's act which says that the Haida will give the reconciliation protocol legal standing within the Haida?
Is there a discrete decision that's made, recorded and noted in order to make that come into effect?
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer is yes. There will be resolutions brought before the House of Assembly, which will give effect to the legal commitments of the Haida under this agreement.
B. Simpson: I appreciate the forbearance of the Chair for us doing the preamble, because it doesn't get passed until later. We're now moving on to section 1, and one of the other members is going to begin the questioning on that.
G. Coons: Thank you very much, Minister and staff. Again, a very historic document before us. There's been quite a struggle over the years with the Haida and the resource extraction and the concerns that they've had with the billions of dollars that have left the islands and — to some degree, in some people's minds — not much left behind.
When we look at where we are right now with Bill 18, I see it as a symptom of honouring the Crown and recognizing aboriginal rights and title. Unfortunately, the Haida had to go all the way to the Supreme Court in 2004 and won.
Again, when we look at section 1 and look at some of the definitions, we're talking about the council. I'm just wondering what the mission or the mandate or the vision or the purpose of the council would be.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm certain the member will have further detailed questions, perhaps as we get to section 3, which begins to articulate the role, etc., of the council. I guess in summary, the management council is a body which will deal with the strategic level versus the operational level, as I discussed with the critic a few minutes ago. Its role is to provide advice and decisions in respect of five important areas of land and resource management on Haida Gwaii.
Again, I think it's probably appropriate to deal with those in section 3, but I'm happy to have the discussion here too — whichever the Chair would prefer.
G. Coons: I'm just wondering about the framework for the council and the procedures. Has that been developed yet? Is that available, say, on a public website?
Hon. G. Abbott: The management council has not been fully articulated yet. However, the basic structure has been agreed to, which involves the appointment of two Haida representatives and two government of British Columbia representatives to the council.
There will be a fifth neutral chair of the council, but the neutral chair would not always be engaged. The council may largely operate with discussions between the two Haida representatives and the two provincial government representatives. But should they have an impasse or disagreement, the neutral chair may be called upon to be the final decision-maker with respect to a dispute between the parties.
The Chair: Member for North Coast, bearing in mind that these issues are discussed in section 3.
G. Coons: Yes. As the minister referred to section 3, it gives a makeup of the council. But I'm more getting into a definition, a framework, a mandate, a vision of the council. I'm under the impression that it hasn't been formally developed yet. I'm just wondering what the time frame is for developing this vision or this framework — what the time frame for developing it would be.
Hon. G. Abbott: The detailed procedures for the operation of the council and how it will make decisions and disseminate those decisions, etc., are still being discussed. We expect that by the end of summer those discussions will be completed, and it is the aim of the parties that the management council be up and running in the early fall. I'm not sure whether that addresses the member's question.
In terms of the vision — I think the member used the term "vision" at one point in his question — I guess the best way to summarize the vision which underlies the management council is that the Haida Nation believes it's important that they have a strong voice in strategic-level decision-making on Haida Gwaii. As the reconciliation protocol was being negotiated, we arrived
[ Page 5725 ]
at the management council as the most practical vehicle for delivering on that vision.
G. Coons: Thank you, Minister. Again, the importance of this…. As I mentioned before, it's historic. It seems like we're moving ahead with this legislation with the management council in place and in legislation, and we're working on the framework for how the council is going to move forward. It hasn't been articulated yet, and it's going to be the end of the summer, perhaps.
I'm just wondering: are there any other First Nations management councils in the province or, say, anywhere across the country that you know of?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think it's fair to say that the Haida reconciliation protocol in particular, but also the northern coastal First Nations reconciliation protocol, has attracted considerable interest and attention from other First Nations in the province. We are currently in the process of seeing whether the strategic engagement agreement between the Nanwakolas and the government of British Columbia could be moved up to a reconciliation protocol status.
I think that there is considerable interest on the part of the Gitanyow and others, as well, for reconciliation protocol. But those discussions are at a relatively early stage. I think it would be fair to say, in response to the member's question, that it has generated much interest, and I suspect we will see other reconciliation protocols in the future in this province.
G. Coons: My last question on this, I think — unless there's something else to add — is…. Again, the management council is very unique, and there's an obligation on the Haida's part, as the minister said, to look at the framework and the vision they have, but also there's an obligation, I guess, on the minister's part to ensure that the public interest is taken into account also, and especially for those on Haida Gwaii.
I'm just going to move on to the next definition, then: "decision." You've got in the definitions in this Bill 18 that "decision" includes the following: establishing objectives, determining allowable annual cut, a management plan and something under 7(2), which is "heritage sites." I'm just wondering, as far as these decisions, who is making these decisions. What type of flow is there for helping these decisions to be made by the council?
Hon. G. Abbott: I just want to ask the member…. I want to be clear what the question was that he was asking. Was the question in relation to the definition of "decision," which is the second of the definitions?
G. Coons: Yes.
Hon. G. Abbott: Okay. The items referred to in the "decision" definition are all elements of the decision-making purview of the management council. All decisions of the council must be published in the Gazette, again because it's important for there to be clarity and transparency around the decisions which are rendered or provided by the council.
B. Simpson: Just some clarity under "decision," because it's interesting to have "decision" defined when you're in the process of putting a management council together. Then, as we've already canvassed, you'll have this solutions table and, of course, management decisions around what is, in effect, the essence of the agreement — shared decision-making around natural resources.
But if I understand it correctly — and I do ask the minister to clarify for me — what effectively "decision" is in this is very circumscribed. The management council is actually only meeting for circumscribed purposes, and the circumscribed purposes are why "decision" is being defined in this manner. If I understand it correctly, it's the establishing of the objectives, which we'll get into shortly; the determination of the annual allowable cut; the approval of a management plan; and, then, establishing policies and standards under another section.
Unless this is amended, it's the only reason that that council will actually come together to make decisions around these four statements.
Hon. G. Abbott: In answer to the member's question — and again, we may have the opportunity to explore this more fully — the areas where the management council will have a purview is:
"2.2.1 Implementation and amendment of the Haida Gwaii strategic land use agreement; 2.2.2 Establishment and implementation and amendment of land use objectives for forest practices; 2.2.3 Determination and approval of the annual allowable cut for Haida Gwaii; 2.2.4 Approval of management plans for protected areas; 2.2.5 Developing policies and standards for the identification and conservation of heritage sites; and 2.2.6 Other strategic level management matters that the parties delegate to the Haida Gwaii Management Council."
So to this point, those have been the areas that have been delegated to the management council by the parties. In addition to that, though, the Haida Gwaii Management Council has the following additional responsibilities.
These are the two that I think are relevant to the member's question: in 2.3.1, "Development of a comprehensive Haida Gwaii forestry management strategy that maintains ecological integrity and supports a sustainable Haida Gwaii economy, for consideration by the parties"; and 2.3.2, "Monitoring and review of the effectiveness of the solutions table."
Those are two areas beyond the five that the member previously identified where the management council may meet and monitor, review, develop and so on.
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B. Simpson: I think this is an important point for clarification in terms of how this council is going to function. If I could, with the latitude of the Chair and the minister, make sure that we are clear on this.
It's interesting. Again, in the definitions of this legal act, the term "decision" is circumscribed. The term "decision" isn't as broad as the minister just articulated it, which is referencing some of the things in the actual reconciliation protocol. And that's what I'm trying to understand. In section 3 of this, which we will get to, subsection (5) says: "A decision of the council must be published in the Gazette." Yet in the definitions section, the word "decision" is circumscribed to only four things, not other things.
So I'm not quite…. Again, this sets a legal constraint, it seems to me, around the management council that is very, very circumscribed, and I wonder if the minister can clarify if there are other uses of the word "decision."
If, for example, in section 3, where it says, "A decision of the council must be published in the Gazette," could it be a decision other than establishing objectives under section 4(1), which is the forest and range practices objectives; determining the annual allowable cut; approving a management plan, which is under section 6(2); or establishing policies and standards under section 7(2), which is the conservation and heritage component? Otherwise, "decision" has two meanings in this act, which I think makes it unclear.
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer to the important question is this. The four elements that are articulated under the definition of "decision" on page 2 of the bill are responsibilities that must be delegated and therefore are done through this provision. The other areas of decision-making do not require that delegation by the province of British Columbia.
B. Simpson: My apologies for being so specific on this, but I guess, then, the way out is that the definition of "decision" simply "includes the following." Is that where the other things that can happen…? "Decision" just simply "includes the following," and that's why you circumscribe these four. Is that correct?
It looks like I've created some quizzical looks over there. The term "decision" is in the act throughout, and what I'm trying to understand is the nature of circumscribing that term. As the minister was speaking, I realized that the definition actually says "includes the following," which means it actually is not defining "decision" as "only the following." Therefore, later on, when you talk about decisions of the management council, it can include other things too. Is that the legal kind of nature of this?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the member pretty much captured it. These four are noted because these are the four areas where the delegation of responsibilities is required, and therefore, the publication in the Gazette is required. That's not to say that other things may not be published in the Gazette, but these must be published in the Gazette because they are delegated responsibilities from the province to the council.
B. Simpson: While we're under the definition of "decision," then…. I really appreciate the forbearance to clarify that for me, because I was quite confused by it.
One of the questions that I had is…. The minister has already mentioned the $10 million towards the acquisition of forest tenures, the resource revenue–sharing. Of course, these agreements are unprecedented in their inclusion of carbon and the potential carbon economy. Then, of course, the overall intent is to address the socioeconomic gap and the social well-being of the Haida people as well as the people of the entire Haida Gwaii region.
Will that management council be the entity, then…? Is part of their decisions to make the decisions around the potential willing purchase, using the $10 million, of the resource revenue–sharing, etc.? Will this council be the entity that also makes determinations with respect to those resources, for example?
Hon. G. Abbott: The member may want to do a follow-up question on this, because I'm not sure I've captured every nuance that may be involved in the question. It would not be for the management council to decide where and when the investment of all or some portion of the $10 million might go into the purchasing of a tenure. That would be a decision for the Council of the Haida Nation versus the management council. But there may be other nuances that I've not captured in that answer.
B. Simpson: No. Fair enough, and we won't pursue that too much further. My understanding is…. Again, it's just the clarity, because when this was announced, the B.C. and Haida chief historic reconciliation protocol…. The reconciliation protocol is a part of a broader set of agreements with the Haida Nation, which includes the $10 million, etc.
I'll ask this question here because it pulls "council" and decision-making of the council together. That is, what is the administrative framework for this entity that's coming into existence, defined as the "council"? How is it going to be structured administratively? Where does that budget get derived from? Are there implications for staffing from the government or Haida? What is the administrative structure of this entity called the management council?
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Hon. G. Abbott: In terms of the staffing and administration, those are details which are currently under discussion between the province and the Haida Nation. In terms of how it will be paid for, British Columbia will pay for its own costs in terms of the administration and operation of the council.
The Haida will do the same, but it should be noted that within the agreement there is a budget for $600,000 per year for five years to the Haida for implementation. It will be their choice as to where they spend the money and how they spend the money. It might be reasonably expected that they'll use all or some portion of the $600,000 for this purpose, but that would be a decision that the Haida will make.
B. Simpson: Questions about the money are beyond the purview of this because it's not actually part of the reconciliation agreement, but I know that's part of the some of the dialogue that's going on around here. So let's move on.
In the definitions, "land" is specifically defined as including the "foreshore and land covered by water." What's the reason for defining "land" in this fashion? Is this presumptive of some activity that may occur, or was it requested by the Haida Nation?
Hon. G. Abbott: The definition of "land" which is contained in Bill 18 is intended to clarify that the agreement covers not just land but foreshore or land covered by water.
B. Simpson: I think that's self-evident in the definition. My question, though, was: is it presumptive of giving the management council, the Crown and the Haida Nation, the ability to move beyond…?
My understanding just now, the foundation for this, is the land and resource plan that exists, which to my understanding is land in its proper sense. It's the natural resources, forestry resources, on the land that is above the waterline. This extends that beyond the land above the waterline, and I'm curious as to why the extension is in here. Is there a reason for making the definition broader?
Hon. G. Abbott: The definition is intended to clarify and be consistent with current practice. There are many instances around the province, as the member knows, where provincial tenures are provided for foreshore uses and for land covered by water, interior lakes and so on.
The definition provided here does reflect our current view of provincial jurisdiction and does extend that where appropriate and, as identified, does delegate the authority over those areas to the council.
B. Simpson: The questions that this begs, because it extends over a whole other set of resources and potential resources that to my understanding — and I'm happy to be disabused of that understanding — are not currently in the foundation piece that the minister has indicated is part of this reconciliation protocol…. When we had a discussion before about both reconciliation protocols, I had asked the minister: "Well, what about trying to maybe resolve the issue of Prosperity mine in the Cariboo by trying to look at a reconciliation protocol of some kind?" It had to do with the fact that there should be a land and resource plan that exists.
That plan, I think, as the minister has already indicated, drives the true land base portion of what the management council is going to inherit, make decisions around and refine the solutions that the table is working on.
The minute you extend beyond the true land and get into the foreshore land covered by water, you open up the possibility of a whole bunch of other resources that currently don't have management plans in place, hence the reason for the questions — oil and gas exploration offshore, the marine park, aquaculture opportunities, both finfish and shellfish aquaculture.
So have there been discussions leading up to this point that the extension of the definition of land to include what is provincial jurisdiction…? I take the minister's point, if it's reconciling with other agreements of that nature. But the minister's own comments about what is the founding document for this is the true land portion. There isn't a management plan in place for the part that is now underwater.
Was there a dialogue about other future possible resources that could be made available to the Haida Nation through the management council as a result of this extension?
Hon. G. Abbott: I guess there are a couple of ways I could answer this. First, we would probably all consider it very odd if our definition of land did not include foreshore and land covered by water, because that would restrict us quite extensively in terms of some of the issues that may be engaged on Haida Gwaii. So the definition we have here is not to sort of expand. It is to try to clarify and effectively capture our current understanding of provincial jurisdiction in respect of foreshore land.
We think it's also consistent with the strategic land use plan that's in place for Haida Gwaii, and it's certainly consistent with provincial tenures on foreshore for shellfish aquaculture and other activities.
So again, the definition is not in here because of the interests that the Haida and the northern coastal First Nations have in shellfish aquaculture. It's consistent with it, but it's here because we just think this is an ac-
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curate way to define the scope of provincial authority over that area.
It is also consistent, it goes without saying, with the interests that the northern coastal and Haida First Nations have with respect to shellfish aquaculture, but that's not the reason why it's there.
B. Simpson: Fair enough. I guess we'll see how this evolves. I understand that by defining it this way it does make other possibilities exist, but those possibilities are not on the table at this juncture is what the minister is saying.
Let's move on to "management area." The minister indicated some consistency with respect to the land definition, but I would like clarification on two points under "management area."
One is where it says: "land within the boundaries of a reserve, as defined in the Indian Act (Canada)." Was there any discussion about that becoming part of the management area? The minister must know that the First Nations woodland licence does open up the possibility. If you're going to get a circumscribed area-based licence, then the First Nations have the ability to bring the reserve land into that, if they so wish. What's the nature of the discussions? Is it an explicit exclusion? Is it partly because Canada is not a signatory, etc.?
The second part of that question with respect to the management area definition, and it's just for the public record, is (c). For the record, (c) reads: "land the indefeasible title to which is registered in a land title office in the name of a person other than the Crown." Can that be more clearly described as private land, what people often refer to as fee simple private land?
The reason for asking that question, again, as I'm sure the minister well knows, is that the issue of private land and First Nations rights and title claims is a real bone of contention and a flashpoint. If the minister could just clarify that (c) is actually referring to fee simple private land.
Hon. G. Abbott: In response to the member's question, in respect of sub (a) or "land within the boundaries of a reserve, as defined in the Indian Act (Canada)," reserve lands are federal Crown lands, and as such, it would be inappropriate to include them in the management area defined in this agreement. As the member rightly anticipates, the land with indefeasible title, etc., does refer to private fee simple lands.
B. Simpson: Are there any of the lands within the boundaries of a municipality that are under question on Haida? I think the minister has already indicated and, again, for the record, that part of defining management area means the land comprising Haida Gwaii, except these three things: reserve land; land within the boundaries of a municipality; fee simple, privately owned land.
As the minister has already indicated, the Haida claim actually is, of course, over the entire area. They've got the history. They don't have overlapping claims — all the things we've canvassed. Is there land within boundaries of a municipality that then would be disputed maybe under treaty but that the Haida has agreed under this protocol to put in abeyance?
Is that part of what went on, or is it just that they're not really interested in the land within the municipal area and are more just interested where the main natural resources are?
Hon. G. Abbott: The issue of title is not engaged in this bill or in the agreement, except to the extent that we discussed it earlier, where the respective views of title are laid out at the outset of the reconciliation protocol.
In terms of sub (b) here, which is "land within the boundaries of a municipality," it is at least theoretically possible that in treaty discussions down the road, at some point there may be pieces of Crown land within municipalities that might be part of the lands assembled for the land package for a treaty offer, especially if those lands are identified as areas of interest by the Haida First Nation.
Beyond those pieces of Crown land, we can't conceive of any instance where parcels within the boundary of a municipality would come into question. Certainly, they're not engaged by this agreement. They might be by a treaty, but that would be down the line.
B. Simpson: The final definition is the actual reconciliation protocol itself, which should be straightforward, and the first part of the definition is straightforward. It indicates that reconciliation protocol dated for reference December 11, 2009, is what is meant in the act as the reconciliation protocol, with the exception that it includes an amendment under section 8 of this act at the time.
Section 8 is actually amending the reconciliation protocol. If I understand it correctly, section 8 says: "The minister, on behalf of the government, may enter into agreements amending the reconciliation protocol." The definition then goes on and says: "(a) that the amendment is published under subsection (2) (b) of this section…and (b) that implementing legislation has been enacted by the Legislature…." There's a whole bunch of other stuff, and it has to be published in the Gazette.
A couple questions around this. First, if you refer to section 8 and if I can bring it forward because it applies to this definition, has the Haida Nation signed off? It is an amendment to the protocol, and I think it's fair to ask: given that it's amended, has the Haida Nation agreed that this needs to come into the act?
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Second, it seems to give the minister the right to make agreements to amend the act without going through the management council. What's the nature of the relationship between the minister and the management council for making amendments to the protocol?
Then, third, and it's a simple one: what's the Gazette, just so that I'm crystal-clear? It's referred to later on for decisions.
Hon. G. Abbott: The reference to amendment in this definition is an acknowledgment of the possibility of amendment rather than a specific amendment. Invariably in large and complex agreements like this, the parties may, as implementation proceeds, identify some area where amendment is required. That hasn't been identified at this point, but we need to have a mechanism whereby the parties could conclude an amendment were one deemed to be necessary.
But an amendment as referenced here must be agreed upon by both parties. It is not something which the province can or should proceed on unilaterally. It would be contingent on the agreement of both parties.
In terms of the Gazette, it is the publication of government orders-in-council and, actually, acts of the Legislature, I guess, as they proceed through their steps as well. So the Gazette is the instrument that I suspect is well known to the member.
B. Simpson: Thank you. That clarification is helpful. I know this is a work in progress. We'll talk about section 8, I guess, when we get to it.
With respect to the Gazette, again, that's what I presumed it was. We get it just as an e-mail that says "Orders-in-council." It comes out most often on a Friday. It captures a whole bunch of the government's business, appointments, changes to regulation and various other things. I'm wondering, because there is a reference to a public website…. There is a reference to, in fact, in section 3, when we get into it, "a decision of the council must be published in the Gazette."
That is a very awkward communications tool. It's a tool that you have to have the patience to plow through and figure out what's going on with it, especially with respect to amendments or decisions or whatever.
Since it appears here first, I'll ask the general question. Is there any intent on the part of the government or the management council to use tools other than publishing in the Gazette to communicate decisions of the council, amendments to the protocol, the evolution of the protocol to the people who are most vested in that, in the Haida Gwaii region?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the member articulated a view of the Gazette, which I suspect has been articulated thousands of times over the past century, about what a dry, legal, technical instrument it is and not descriptive and actually not that good reading, probably, for much of the public. I would agree with the member on that point, though the council will have a website.
The two areas where there must be publication on a publicly accessible website are around the annual allowable cut and around the management plans. We fully expect that the council will have a great many other backgrounders, descriptions and so on, on their website, but those are the two that must be on a publicly accessible website.
B. Simpson: Again, because it appears here, I will pull subsection 5 of section 3 forward to where, as the minister has indicated, the two that must be published on the public website are the AAC and the management plans.
But in the section under the council and in this section, it says that the minister must publish in the Gazette amendments, which would be fundamental changes to the nature of the agreement as it evolves, and later on it says that the decision of the council must be published in the Gazette. I'm wondering why those decisions were not also….
I mean, I get that they should be published in the Gazette. That's the formal documentation of the decisions of government and a function of government. But why wouldn't it be that these must be published on the public website as well, in transparency and openness?
Hon. G. Abbott: Interesting question, and I think the answer to the question is this. It really goes to the distinction between what is legally required versus what would be appropriately provided for the edification and information of the public.
As we've already discussed, the purpose of the Gazette is not to provide background context and information. It is to provide a succinct account of an important law, regulation, rule — whatever — that has been undertaken.
The website is, therefore, important because it's there that the broader articulation of a decision — why it was made, what the implications might be, and that sort of thing — is undertaken. On the website it is required that in addition to notification in the Gazette, the AAC be explained. Any decision re the AAC must be explained because, of course, it has significance to a great many stakeholders on Haida Gwaii and, indeed, off Haida Gwaii as well.
The management plans. It's appropriate to have the publication of the management plans on the website, in addition to in the Gazette, because management plans could run to potentially a hundred or 200 pages of documentation, and that simply is unsuited to the scope of the Gazette, which is technical, legal and precise. The
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management plans are a larger document and, quite appropriately, should be on the website.
Again, as I said in my earlier answer, we've identified the AAC and the management plans as the two things that must be articulated on the website. But it is reasonable to expect that a great many elements that are involved in the function of the council will also be the subject of materials that will be presented to the public on the website.
B. Simpson: All of that notwithstanding, as I had indicated earlier, trying to make sure that this is successful — it is accepted, and it is understood — is a major communications challenge for everybody who lives on Haida Gwaii and for the government and management council, Haida Nation. I'm wondering if the minister would just take it as constructive feedback, some of the discussions that are going on, as to whether or not….
The minister is indicating that these are large decisions and large rationales — the AAC, management plans, etc. — but I'm sure there will be other decisions of the council that will also have quite a bit of background information and quite a bit of rationale as to why the council ended up deciding that. Yet, as we see in section 3 coming up, decisions of the council, regardless of size, must only be published in the Gazette. Only the decision will be published — not necessarily.
Again, just as a bit of constructive feedback, if the minister would consider talking with the Haida Nation, the parties involved, and changing this so that it is actually the Gazette and the website — so that it is full public disclosure of what's happening with this arrangement.
Hon. G. Abbott: The debates of this Legislature in respect of a bill such as Bill 18 are certainly widely followed by the parties in particular, and I am certain that all parties, including the Haida and the government of British Columbia, will look favourably on the constructive suggestions the member has made.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
B. Simpson: To the ten people out there listening, I hope you take the constructive feedback forward. I'm being too cynical, I know.
B. Simpson: My colleague says there are at least 11 now.
Section 2 is a few words for something which is actually a historic recognition. It's just interesting how things work. Again for the record, section 2 is titled "Naming Haida Gwaii," and it says: "The islands known as the Queen Charlotte Islands in the English language and Îles de la Reine-Charlotte in the French language are renamed as Haida Gwaii in both languages." This is a historic statement, taking that historical name and applying it to that area.
As we canvassed and talked about in second reading, it was named after the discoverer's lead ship, as far as I understand, so it's appropriate. The question that we're being asked as opposition….
This is a discrete decision. It doesn't have any implications in terms of land use, in terms of management planning, in terms of negotiations between government parties, between the Haida Nation, the province and Canada. It's a discrete decision, and we have individuals talking to us who say: "How did that happen without at least some form of public consultation?"
Some people are, you know…. Again, if we want this to be successful, getting out of the starting gate with some people just feeling like they were blown past is unfortunate. So I'd like to ask the minister for the public record: what was the nature of any public dialogue — not the internal dialogue but public dialogue about renaming? And how does he understand how the government arrived at making this historic determination?
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the member's question about the renaming of the islands. It is a very important part of the reconciliation act before us today. The issue of the naming of the islands has been the object of debate for decades in British Columbia, and perhaps longer than decades.
The name "Queen Charlotte Islands" came from the name of a fur-trading vessel, the Queen Charlotte, which visited the islands at some point post-contact. The islands had, so to speak, been discovered well before that. But the Queen Charlotte was a vessel that, as a fur-trading vessel, visited the Haida Gwaii islands some centuries ago.
The Haida have always believed that the name Queen Charlotte Islands was inappropriate. From their perspective, these islands have always been Haida Gwaii. Queen Charlotte never visited these islands, and probably, in a skill-testing question the vast majority of us could not even identify who Queen Charlotte was. I certainly would be among those. Others may have a more comprehensive knowledge about Queen Charlotte and what she did, but one of the things she did not do was visit the islands that were formerly named Queen Charlotte Islands.
The Haida felt very, very strongly about the renaming, and rightly so. These islands have been known for a long time as Haida Gwaii as well as Queen Charlotte Islands, and it was out of respect for the Haida that this provision was incorporated.
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We recognize that some people may feel that a renaming is inappropriate. I'm not among those. Queen Charlotte will continue in name in Queen Charlotte city, which is a beautiful small city on Haida Gwaii. But the name of the islands, effective with the passage of this legislation, will be the Haida Gwaii.
Though there wasn't an extensive current public debate around this, it has been a debate for some time, and we know there may be some different views. I think it's also our understanding and sense that the vast majority on what was formerly known as Queen Charlotte Islands welcome this name change as better reflecting the history of Haida Gwaii.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
B. Simpson: Section 3 is the section that defines the Haida Gwaii Management Council. Again, for those that don't have the bill in front of them, it establishes a council by the joint operation of a resolution of the Haida Nation and this reconciliation act that we're debating today.
It states that the council consists of two members appointed by resolution of the Haida Nation after consultation with British Columbia; two members appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, which is the government of the day, after consultation with the Haida Nation; and then a fifth entity or person is appointed by resolution of both the Haida Nation and the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.
Now, we've already canvassed that this is a work-in-progress and that there's going to be some time involved in this. I wonder if the minister, again for the record, could shed some light on how this is actually going to work in practice.
Not so much the Haida Nation. The Haida Nation is an entity to itself and, as this act recognizes, has its own jurisdiction, its own decision-making process, etc. But with respect to the positions that will be appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, how does the minister see that process evolving?
In particular, what about the non-aboriginal community in the Haida Gwaii area? They are not actually referenced in this process, so what is the role, or how will this be communicated to them as this unfolds?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm not sure I'm going to be able to really effectively answer the member's question, but I'll do my best here. There are many questions yet to be answered with respect to where the members will be drawn from and so on. In the case of the Haida Nation, it will be up to the Haida Nation to decide who their two members will be. I suppose it's likely that they will be members of the Haida Nation. That's almost a certainty, but what factors they may take into account will be decisions that they'll make.
In terms of the two members appointed by the province — that is, by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council after consultation with the Haida Nation — it is something that is still being developed by the province. At this point it's possible that one or other of the two members might be a provincial public servant. It's possible it could be a retired provincial public servant. It's possible that it might be a resident of Haida Gwaii in one or both cases.
The exact people who will be involved here — that has not been determined, and we're just beginning to turn our minds to considering who might be appropriate for those positions.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
B. Simpson: Again, the minister didn't answer the question about public consultation on this. This is where it intrigues me a little bit, because the Haida Nation has its own democratic decision-making process. I don't want to presume the outcome of that, but I think it's fair to presume they're going to go through some kind of deliberation and process, either through the assembly or some process to determine who they believe their best representatives would be.
The Crown — in this case the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council — is actually representative of the province of British Columbia but in particular in this case, I would argue, is representative of the people who live in the Haida Gwaii area — First Nations and non–First Nations people. The minister has indicated a whole bunch of possibilities and maybes and so on that appear to be making sure that the government of British Columbia as the government is represented.
But I'm wondering what the process is for doing something similar to what the Haida are doing, where we actually try and figure out how to also represent the more particular and special interests of that region in the Crown's appointments to that board.
That's why I asked the question about public consultation and trying to find out who best can represent the interests of that region on the board as well as the interests of the Crown. I wonder if the minister can answer that question about how the people who live in that region who also have vested interests, who have companies, who have businesses and have all of the things that will be impacted by shared decision-making and revenue-sharing…?
How can they make sure? Do they have to come and talk to the Crown as an agent? Do they come to the management council, etc.? But if they've got some input into the appointees, there may be some comfort that they at least had that input into the decisions of the management council.
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Hon. G. Abbott: The section references "2 members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council after consultation with the Haida Nation." The words are important here.
It will be, ultimately, a decision of cabinet who the two appointees for the province will be. We have begun, as I noted earlier, our work to try to define the features of our representatives. Among those would certainly be reflecting the broader public interest of those who might be affected by the decisions of the council. That work is beginning. It's not completed, but we will be better articulating that for the consideration of cabinet.
I guess that in some respects, what we would be attempting to do here would be much of what we attempted to do with applicants to the Royal B.C. Museum, an important institution in our province, where we try to get a variety of regional appointments, a variety of expertise, and so on. Some of that may be reflected here too.
There are probably a hundred important boards that…. The Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, or cabinet, considers the skill sets of individuals for appointment to those important boards and commissions and so on.
It is important that there is reference here to consultation with the Haida Nation. Again, hopefully, one of the ways that we ensure that public interest is engaged is by having that opportunity by the Haida to consider the merits of the appointments which we are proposing to make, and vice versa.
There isn't, generally speaking, public consultation around appointments to the many boards, commissions, etc., that are the responsibility of the province. Those are made through Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, and cabinet gives careful consideration to the characteristics of the members of boards, councils, etc., that are appointed so that they do reflect the public interest in the carriage of their responsibilities.
D. Donaldson: Thank you to the minister and to his staff for being here. I especially appreciate the staff being here, because I want to explore the term "consultation" in this regard a little bit more deeply, in section 3(2)(b). That's the section we're talking about that has to do with the appointment of two members to the management council by the government after consultation with the Haida Nation. That's what I would like to get some clarification on — how the minister would see that consultation unfolding.
The reason I ask for some clarification is that last week I was surprised to hear what the Minister of Environment believes is consultation on behalf of the government. In that regard, it was a question around some land being removed from a provincial ecological reserve or provincial park in Tahltan traditional territories, Ningunsaw Park.
When I asked the Minister of Environment about the consultation that had taken place with the Tahltan, he said: "Well, last July a letter was sent to the Tahltan with the stipulation that if the government didn't hear back by September, then they would assume that the Tahltan had no difficulties with the decision to remove that land from the provincial park."
To me, when I heard that, it kind of struck me as a bit odd, around consultation, because the courts have indicated that sending a letter by the government and not getting a reply is not adequate consultation. In fact, in The New Relationship there's a reference to a new approach to consultation. I think the indications are from this government that consultation needs to occur in a bit more of a rigorous method than sending a letter, not getting a reply and then assuming that that's approval.
In regards to this section, I'd like to ask some further clarification from the minister of whether he would consider the process of consulting with the Haida around the two members that are appointed by this government to be sending them a letter and then, if they don't hear back, assuming that the Haida would approve of the two nominees put forward by the government. Or would there be some further process that would indicate that the government is more serious about consultation?
Hon. G. Abbott: The member, in the preamble to his question, referenced a debate that he'd had with the Minister of Environment around the obligation to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate First Nations on a land base issue. I won't attempt to get involved in that debate. I'm sure it was a fascinating one but one that I missed.
I'd only say that our consultation guide in British Columbia is one that is shaped by case law. It's shaped by experience, custom and practice, and consultation obligations not appropriately met, for whatever reasons, are almost invariably the subject of judicial review. So it tends to keep all of the parties focused in terms of appropriately meeting consultation objectives.
In the case of the use of the word "consultation" here, I think it is in a less rigorous and formal sense than one would have around consultation and case law. It is about working collaboratively between the Haida and the government of British Columbia. We hope — and this is, I would say, a leap of faith by both parties — to try to work together in this way. It's never been done before. We're creating a new entity here, and we're hoping that great things come of it.
I suspect that the success or other of this agreement will in some measure be determined by the individuals who are appointed to the council. Hopefully, they're all individuals who have the ability to work collaboratively to reach consensus decisions that are reflective of the broader public interest.
The intention here is that as we finalize our names of individuals who we believe will be appropriate for the
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council, we will be consulting the Haida on their view with respect to whether the individuals contemplated are ones that, in the Haida view, could lead to the goal of working collaboratively, and vice versa. But it won't be a veto on the part of the Haida or a veto on the part of the government of British Columbia.
That having been said, this is a body that needs to work, and to work it will require individuals that are capable of collaboration. I fully expect that that is exactly what will happen. Individuals who are capable of that kind of work will be appointed by both of the parties.
G. Coons: Thank you, Minister, for clarifying that. We were looking at the two members appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in consultation. I want to look at the decision-making of the council.
Earlier we canvassed decisions and the four legislated categories, and I'm just wondering. The minister talked about the broader public interest. So the decisions that are made as far as under 4(1), "the use and management of land and resources in the management area" and under 5(2), which is "the allowable annual cut for the management area…."
The Chair: Member, does that mean you wish to move on to section 4?
G. Coons: No, I'm just referring back to the decisions that we talked about in those areas. I'm referring to the decisions in this section that the council is making and to the other one, under section 7(2), the heritage sites.
The minister talked about the broader public interest as far as beyond the Haida and going into the non-Haida. I'm just wondering: who is obligated under Bill 18 to ensure public consultation and public input into the decision-making of the council?
Hon. G. Abbott: I hope I don't complicate the member's life more with this answer than the question reflected already.
When it comes to important issues like determination of the annual allowable cut, the council and Haida Gwaii will have, at the outset, the current annual allowable cut of Haida Gwaii. I believe that's 1.2 million cubic metres. My knowledge in this area is limited, but I believe it's 1.2 million cubic metres, although I think there has been a political agreement that the annual allowable cut would be less than that. That is the AAC that is determined by the chief forester.
If there is work undertaken with respect to a possible revision of the annual allowable cut, there would be a continuing role for the chief forester in making recommendations in respect of annual allowable cut. The chief forester would be working in collaboration with the Haida as well as his own staff in respect of assembling all of the technical issues and details that would go into assembling a recommendation.
The recommendation would go to the council. It would require a majority vote of the council to consummate that change in the annual allowable cut. It would require the support of at least three members of the council to do that.
Again, presumably working in the collaborative way that we anticipate, it is likely that over time there may be some modest revisions of the AAC on Haida Gwaii either up or down, and those will be areas of decision-making for the council. The technical work that precedes that decision will not be terribly different than it is today, but it would include that collaborative role of the Haida working with the chief forester.
B. Simpson: I have a couple of questions just on this, but with respect to the sections subsequent to this, because it is a work-in-progress, I'm just going to ask some specific questions, and then we can move through the rest of the bill.
I think, by getting some leave to do the preamble, we've got a sense of what's going on. I think the minister has been quite clear that there's work to be done here. There's still a time frame for this evolving, and we accept that at face value.
As we indicated in the briefing, our only concern around all of this, based on feedback we've given, is just the absolute transparency of this whole process and, as I've indicated, the educational component to make sure that we're bringing everybody along so that this has the best potential for success.
With that as sort of the set piece for the next 15 minutes or so, then…. With respect to section 3, just one question. Again, I'm sure that the minister would have a similar answer about how you determine a chair — that it's got to be figured out and that there are some logistics there.
But it's interesting that decisions of the council are made by consensus — you know, two Haida, two for the Crown — and that if consensus breaks down, the chair then casts the deciding vote. Again, you're kind of set up — hopefully, it doesn't evolve that way — for a two versus two, at least until things get settled down, maybe.
I'm just curious whether there are any kinds of rights of appeal or mediation or something in advance of…. You've just got a split decision, and you have the chair. Would the chair play a mediator role first, before casting a vote? Has that been discussed?
Hon. G. Abbott: The protocol does require the parties to make best efforts to reach a consensus before engaging the chair, from a voting perspective, to resolve it. It might well be that the chair takes a mediating role in terms of getting to consensus, but the protocol does
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require the parties to make best efforts to get to consensus before having that deciding vote cast.
Sections 3 and 4 approved.
On section 5.
B. Simpson: The reason I let 4 go…. Again, I think the gist of the discussion there is that part of the reason for this entity coming into its existence is to try and figure out how you have shared decision-making around the forest resources.
The annual allowable cut. The minister has already answered some questions around the annual allowable cut. The question I have — in addition to the public consultation process, the due-diligence process — is on the apportionment.
How we do annual allowable cut in the province is that the chief forester does the determination. It goes out for public consultation and feedback. There's actually a public document. That's usually from the district staff. It comes back to the chief forester. The chief forester looks at other information, makes the AAC determination. Then it goes to the minister for apportionment, for the distribution, especially if the cut is adjusted, and the minister indicated the cut may be adjusted.
Nowhere in here does it indicate who has the rights to then apportion what the cut is. I wonder if the minister could clarify that. Is that the minister? In this case it should be the Minister of Forests. Or would the management council have apportionment rights?
Hon. G. Abbott: This is a very important question, so I'll take a moment to go through it.
We've canvassed how the determination would be made, and I think there's some clarity around that. So let's take a hypothetical example, whether the council resolves that the AAC increases by a hundred thousand cubic metres or declines by a hundred thousand cubic metres — that there's some variation that the majority of the council has agreed to. The council itself does not get to decide on apportionment. That responsibility for apportionment would continue to rest with the minister or with the designated statutory official around allocation.
There's a very important reason for that, as we've discussed earlier. One of the possibilities arising from the protocol is that the Haida may become tenure holders. I guess they already are, in a small way, with their community forest. But the Haida may become major licensees on the island. To ensure that there is never any apprehension of conflict of interest, the minister will continue to have the authority around the apportionment.
So if there are a hundred thousand additional cubic metres to be apportioned, it will be allocated by the minister or designated official. If there are a hundred thousand less that has to be found among the licensees, again, that will be determined by the minister or designated official, rather than by the council — to ensure that there is never any apprehension of conflict of interest by any party.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
B. Simpson: I appreciate the minister's answer, because I think that that is the root of the question in that case. Apportionment is actually the hot button, as we're going to particularly see in the Interior as we do the downsizing of the AAC around mountain pine beetle. In this case I think the minister is seeing it correctly, and it's good to know that's where it stays.
With respect to section 6, section 6 is quite interesting language. It's about management plans around protected areas and a management plan respecting a park must be consistent. If it's not consistent, it doesn't come into effect. I just found the language here quite convoluted and kind of hard to follow.
I get the gist of it. If I understand it correctly, the protected areas component of the land plans that have been made in those areas and other areas of the province are the hot button ones. The word "protected" says it all. As a consequence, this language is actually hedging and making sure that what's agreed to in the past — and I would look to the minister to sort of correct it — what's already in the plan….
If there are going to be any changes whatsoever, it's going to be done very carefully. In fact, there are stopgap measures here for making some of those changes if they don't already exist in some of the existing protected areas — Ecological Reserve Act, etc. It begs the question, then…. Subsection (2) of this says: "A management plan respecting a protected area does not take effect until approved by the council."
My question to the minister, then, is straightforward. This area in particular could have the possibility of inflaming historical issues. What is the public consultation process for this that the management council would have to go through? Because this area in particular, I think, could be a real hot button.
Hon. G. Abbott: I hope my answer gets to the heart of the question the member poses, because it is an important question. In undertaking the development of a management plan by the council versus the way these have been developed in the past by the province, our expectation is that the council, as they develop management plans, will undertake, with similar rigour, public consultation on the council-led management plans just
[ Page 5735 ]
as had been the case with the province-led management plans.
There are existing obligations to not only consult with the public but also consult with the minister to ensure that it is consistent, I presume, with the operation of parks and the boundaries of parks and all of those important considerations for the appropriate minister.
The answer I'm trying to give is one which I hope the member would take comfort in, and that is that we expect the same level of rigour on public consultation in a council-led management planning initiative as one would expect in a provincially led management plan development.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
B. Simpson: The minister talked about a leap of faith before, and to a certain degree, I think all of this is a bit of a leap anyway. It has to be looked at, and I think that given the spirit and intent of this, I would hope and don't see why the minister isn't right in suggesting that there's going to be rigour done both in the AAC determination and in these management plans. Hopefully, that is the case.
We've already canvassed section 8. Were on 7 just now, but in 9 the language is similar. I wonder if the minister could just explain putting in one piece of legislation the word "despite" another piece of legislation. This is "Heritage sites," section 7. It says in subsection (2): "Despite section 7 (1) of the Heritage Conservation Act, with the approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the council may establish policies and standards for the identification and conservation of heritage sites within the management area."
I wonder if I could just get clarification where with one piece of legislation, despite the fact that this other piece of legislation exists, we're going to do this, because it happens again in 9 with respect to the Interpretation Act.
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer to the member's question is this. The current statute, the Heritage Conservation Act, provides this authority to the minister. He or she may, with the approval of Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, establish policies and standards for the identification, conservation, management and disposition of any heritage site or heritage object owned or managed by the government.
What we are attempting to do in this bill, which amends section 7, is enable the management council for that area we call Haida Gwaii to be able to undertake those functions, those authorities, which are laid out for the minister in section 7 of the Heritage Conservation Act.
B. Simpson: I wasn't planning on doing much on this, but it introduces an interesting way…. I was joking with my colleagues here that you could write a clause that said: "Despite the Forest Act, we're going to do X or enable X." Whereas before in this, under the forest and range practices objectives in section 4, it actually says that a reference to the minister is deemed to be a reference to the council. So it actually just says, with respect to this particular act, that when it says "minister" in the original act, it actually is referring to the council, which is what the minister is saying this "despite" reference does.
Again, maybe it's academic. But it's an interesting way of doing it, just saying that despite another piece of law, we're going to do this as opposed to substituting it. I'll leave it at that unless the minister has something he wants to say to reconcile those two things.
Hon. G. Abbott: Well, in terms of the comfort the member may feel in terms of utilizing this technique to achieve the end, I think the most important words — and there are many important words in section 7 of the bill — are the words "within the management area."
We are saying that for this area we have identified as the subject area for the Haida Gwaii reconciliation protocol, within that management area we are going to substitute the council for the minister subject to the approval of Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. That, I think, is probably helpful in terms of understanding why it's there.
Sections 7 to 9 inclusive approved.
On section 10.
B. Simpson: In section 8 we had canvassed that it has to do with amending the reconciliation protocol, and 9 is another "despite." Again, I take the minister's point. It's just one way of going about it, I guess.
But could the minister just clarify? Section 10 says "Application of Offence Act" and that section 5 of the Offence Act does not apply to this act. Can we just get clarification of that?
Hon. G. Abbott: Section 10 of the act provides this benefit. It ensures that an error of the management council in exercising its decision-making authority does not result in the council committing an offence. For example, if the council in error approves a management plan that contravenes the Park Act or the Ecological Reserve Act, it will not have committed an offence under the Offence Act. It may have to remediate the decision, but it would not have committed an offence under the Offence Act.
Sections 10 and 11 approved.
[ Page 5736 ]
On section 12.
B. Simpson: That's an interesting section, because it's a whole other area I was going to canvass. Given this is a work in progress, I'm sure the answer that needs to be worked out is the whole issue of the management council and the work it's going to do on AAC, the work it's going to do on management plans with respect to liability, with respect to other things. I think that probably is a work-in-progress.
Section 12 is one of the final areas we'll canvass today. It's an interesting one, because section 12 is the repeal section, where all of this good work, all of this good intent can be repealed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. The Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council can repeal the substantive component of this act. Then, of course, fix any…. Because a good portion of the rest of the bill goes into the consequential amendments to other acts. This actually basically undoes it — gives the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council the right to repeal this, undo it.
I'm just wondering if the Haida Nation…. As they go through their process, do they have a similar repeal? Does this give rights of unilateral repeal? As you read it, it actually goes: "You're going to do all this good work. There are good intentions, there's all of this stuff, but the Crown reserves the right to walk away at any time." As a stand-alone clause, that's what it looks like. What's the intent, and is the Haida Nation doing a similar process?
Hon. G. Abbott: The ability of either party to terminate the protocol is present in the agreement. The bill gives expression to the government of British Columbia's ability to terminate in section 12 of this bill. We expect the Haida Nation, in their legislation, will have a similar provision.
Basically, it goes back to the point, which I have made and the member has made on a number of occasions during our debate, which is that this is not only a huge step forward, but it's also a leap of faith by the parties. This is going to be our best attempt to bring parties that have been at odds for decades together into collaborative management of Haida Gwaii.
I think all parties enter this agreement in good faith, but as with any other agreement or contract, there has to be a provision to end the arrangement, should it prove unworkable, which we hope, obviously, it will not. But 12(1) articulates the province's ability to terminate. The Council of the Haida, in their legislative assembly, will have corresponding legislation which will articulate their opportunity to terminate, should they find it unworkable as well.
B. Simpson: Just a couple of quick closing comments, because the rest of the bill is some housekeeping and various other things. We made it clear at the outset that we support the spirit and intent of that. I want to make that statement again.
The questions that the members and I from this side had are part of our due diligence as an opposition, but we wish the government and the Haida Nation all the success to make this possible and potentially a template and a framework for other ways of addressing the socioeconomic gap that exists in fostering economic benefit for all of the people who live in the Haida Gwaii.
Having said that, I want to make it clear that we are happy to play whatever role we can in that. The area is represented by one of our MLAs. He is in that area with some frequency, and we would like to continue to play a constructive role in making sure that we can participate in the success of this venture in the future.
Sections 12 to 22 inclusive approved.
Hon. G. Abbott: I want to thank the members for their constructive questions and comments here today. I've much appreciated their role in what I think will be regarded as a historic debate. So that's much appreciated.
I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 5:56 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 18 — Haida Gwaii
Bill 18, Haida Gwaii Reconciliation Act, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. G. Abbott: I call second reading of Bill 19, the Finance Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2010.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 19 — Finance Statutes
Amendment Act (No. 2), 2010
Hon. C. Hansen: I move that Bill 19, the Finance Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2010, be read a second time now.
[ Page 5737 ]
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Bill 19 implements two significant tax initiatives announced prior to Budget 2010 and a number of minor administrative and technical amendments to various statutes. The Income Tax Act is amended to implement the B.C. interactive digital media tax credit as announced on February 3, 2010, and in Budget 2010 as well.
The introduction of this new credit, when combined with the earlier enhancements to the provincial film tax credits, recognizes and supports the convergence that is taking place within the film, the television and the increasingly important video game and animation sectors.
These sectors contribute over a billion dollars annually to the B.C. economy, and they generate literally thousands of jobs. The amendments provide a tax credit of 17.5 percent to qualifying B.C. labour costs of B.C. employees engaged in the development of interactive digital media products.
The term "interactive digital media," which includes video games, refers to digital products that are developed to inform, educate or entertain individuals and that provide the information in at least two of the following forms: text, sound and image.
Corporations will be eligible for the tax credit if their principal business is developing interactive digital media products or if they provide qualifying services to another company that develops such products. Given the nature of this industry and the design of the program, eligible corporations must register with the Commissioner of Income Tax to qualify for the credit.
The introduction of the B.C. interactive digital media tax credit is an important, measured step in support of the continued growth and development of this important industry in B.C. The tax credit, coupled with B.C.'s other advantages, including a highly skilled and well-trained workforce and an attractive location, will continue to foster B.C.'s competitiveness worldwide. The interactive digital media tax credit program will begin effective September 1, 2010.
The International Financial Activity Act is amended to expand the types of international businesses that qualify under the program. The International Financial Activity Act was originally introduced to develop Vancouver as a premier international financial centre by attracting international professionals, head offices and capital to our province.
Bill 19 expands the program to include international investment in the growing clean technology, carbon trading and certification, and digital media distribution sectors. The expanded program will attract new international investment and create high-quality jobs in these sectors and further strengthen our position in the global economy.
To more accurately reflect the broader scope of the program, the name of the act is changed to the International Business Activity Act. This program also helps qualifying international businesses attract and encourage international specialists to work in B.C. through a time-limited personal income tax benefit.
Bill 19 makes several enhancements to this part of the program, including the expansion of the types of activities for which the specialists can be registered, the inclusion of certain executives as specialists eligible for the program and a change to the five-year refund schedule to provide a larger incentive in the first two years of the five-year benefit to encourage international specialists to move from other countries to British Columbia.
Bill 19 makes the following technical amendments as well. First, the Income Tax Act and the Logging Tax Act are amended to reflect federal income tax changes and to allow for the sharing of income tax information for the purposes of administering the Forest Act.
The apprenticeship training tax credits are amended to ensure that the availability of the credits is consistent with the policy intent of the program, and amendments are made to allow the B.C. Commissioner of Income Tax to revoke a film tax credit certificate where it is subsequently determined to be ineligible.
The International Financial Activity Act is also amended to clarify various qualifying international financial activities and the tax refund calculation.
Bill 19 amends the Land Tax Deferment Act and the Personal Property Security Act to enable an owner who is deferring property tax on a home to add a spouse to title without having to first pay off the outstanding deferred taxes and interest.
The Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2010, is amended to ensure that the longstanding requirement under the current homeowner grant program for homeowners to pay a minimum amount of property tax in support of the services they receive will continue with the introduction of the northern and rural homeowner benefit.
Finally, Bill 19 amends the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act and makes consequential amendments to other acts, including the Social Service Tax Act, to transfer the administration of TransLink's parking tax to TransLink effective July 1, 2010.
B. Ralston: The minister has just enumerated quite fairly the principal features of this bill. I want to make a couple of comments on some aspects of this bill at second reading, but I think the bulk of the debate will likely be conducted at committee stage in view of the fairly technical nature of much of this bill.
The new provisions for the B.C. interactive digital media tax credit are provisions that the opposition wel-
[ Page 5738 ]
comes. Indeed, our leader, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and the member for Vancouver–West End — the critic for this particular area, arts and culture — called for the implementation of such a tax credit in advance of the announcement that the minister made and in advance of the budget.
This is the emerging area of convergence within the sector. It's particularly active and draws creative and innovative talent to the sector. While mindful of engaging in a subsidy war with other provinces, certainly there was a danger that without some movement by the province, the future of this sector in British Columbia wasn't as good as it might otherwise be. Given what this bill includes and the announcements that have been made, we on this side of the House are prepared to support it.
Some of the other questions that the minister has alluded to are, I think, ones that we will pursue at committee, particularly the transfer to TransLink of the parking tax. This comes as a result of the implementation of the harmonized sales tax. It has certain implications for TransLink revenue because it is a potential source of revenue for an organization where revenue is obviously — as much as any other organization, but perhaps more — valued. So there will be some pursuit of that at committee stage.
The land tax that enables a homeowner to add his or her spouse to title without having to terminate an existing tax deferral agreement and pay the deferred taxes seems reasonable. I'm assuming that that would be consistent with other creditor legislation where it would not constitute a preferment if there is a foreclosure or a pursuit of an individual owner for debt, given that the original owner would remain on title and their interests could be pursued or it could be the subject of creditor-debtor proceedings. But again, that will be, I hope, clarified or at least confirmed when we come to the committee stage.
I do want to, though, discuss in a bit more detail the proposed revisions to the International Financial Activity Act or, as it's proposed to be renamed, the International Business Activity Act. The original act was the product of the government in the 1980s. I believe Mr. Couvelier at that time was the Finance Minister, and it was introduced then. It continued in existence ever since, although it has never achieved the ambitions that I think were initially held for it at the time that it was first introduced.
I've met with Mr. Flexman, who is the chair or the CEO of the organization, and Mr. Bozzer, who is the chair of the board, and they have expressed their wish to expand the effectiveness and the scope of the activities of this particular organization.
Now, with a view to pursuing that end, the government directed a preparation of a report by what's entitled the Vancouver International Financial Sector Steering Committee. The report is called, somewhat less than poetically, Phase 1 Report of Recommendations. I want to refer to that report briefly in my remarks.
The amendments that are proposed here propose to expand the scope of this act beyond simply international financial institutions. The hope was that this act would incent or encourage international financial institutions with rebate of the B.C. portion of corporate tax, and some rebate of personal tax for key personnel would encourage them to locate in British Columbia. That's the basic framework that's been set up.
I think Mr. Flexman just gave me, in a meeting some time ago, an example of the treasury department of a German chemical company. They were located in New Jersey — about eight personnel. They were persuaded to relocate to Vancouver that portion of their treasury operation, and they did move to British Columbia, having considered the implications of the legislation. As far as I understand, they're still here. So that was the goal.
Now what is proposed in these amendments is to expand that focus on the financial sector more broadly, and I think it's fair to note…. I don't think this is any surprise to anyone that's examined the issue. As Mr. Bozzer and Mr. Flexman have said, the focus on financial institutions, notwithstanding the occasional success, has not really yielded much of the promise that was at least anticipated or hoped for back when this act was brought into play.
It would seem that the one conclusion that one might draw would be that the tax regime itself was not a sufficiently strong motivating factor to encourage businesses to locate here. One can well imagine that there are other decisions, and in fact, academic and business studies confirm this. There are other factors that go into a decision to make a location either of a business unit or of a headquarters in any given place in the world, particularly in North America.
Certainly, for international financial activity focused outward — notwithstanding the geographic positioning of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland and, indeed, of British Columbia and notwithstanding some of the attractive features of locating here — financial institutions of the type that are sought have not located here.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Indeed, in discussion with my colleague the Finance Minister's previous colleague, the former Finance Minister, the anticipation was that the combination of this and removing the corporate capital tax would lead to, particularly, Asian-based financial institutions locating here. I believe there was some thought of one organization locating here, but to date there hasn't been a rush — again, because the decision to relocate is based, I think by all accounts, on factors other than the tax regime.
[ Page 5739 ]
These revisions propose to add new areas of growth in the economy to the regime. I want to express a note of caution. Perhaps this is something that we will pursue at committee stage, but when one looks to the economy and areas of growth, the assumption seems to be made that growth is not possible in these sectors without the kind of tax policy that is imagined or envisaged in this particular legislation.
The report that was prepared does give some indication of that and some comparisons that I think some might find startling, in the way in which they're expressed. I'm looking at page 11 of the report, where there's a table which compares the international income tax rate.
The rate that's referred to for Vancouver, it says here, is the reduced rate on corporate tax and with the envisaged federal reductions in corporate tax compared to a number of jurisdictions around the world. The footnote here is…. The Vancouver example refers to "a corporation carrying on qualifying international activities from a base in British Columbia." I believe these are the same figures that have been selected in the legislation that we are debating.
The combined international income tax rate in Vancouver would be 16.2 percent. In Beijing it would be 25 percent. So we would be more competitive than Beijing in this scheme. Hong Kong's tax rate was 17.5 percent — again, more competitive than Hong Kong. Seoul was at 35 percent, Singapore at 18 percent and New York at 39.9 percent.
Now, the logic that seems to be being pursued here is that having a lower tax rate than Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul is not only desirable, but there seems to be an assumption that that will lead to decisions to locate here that would not be made otherwise, even if this jurisdiction was competitive with Beijing, at 25 percent.
Now, that's a position that I think many in the province would find startling, and I'm not sure that the case has been made that that is necessary or even likely to produce any results, given what's taken place in focusing on international financial activity over the same period of time. Given that focus of having a lower rate than Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul, does that herald a policy direction, particularly a new policy direction from the government? I think many would find that that's surprising and startling.
Secondly, what is the consequence for the British Columbia economy, given that other jurisdictions to the south of us or elsewhere in North America have far higher rates? One can well understand the desire to be competitive as a North American jurisdiction, but to be more competitive than anywhere else in the Asia-Pacific, given the kind of country that we are, given the kind of social support that we provide relative to other countries, seems to be an interesting policy choice at the very least and I think one that would demand further discussion, particularly when the scope of the international activity centre is being broadened to areas of potential growth for the economy.
One hears from many — certainly from the mayor of Vancouver, for example, and from the Minister of Small Business and Technology — that the area of clean technology is a potential growth area where British Columbia might have a considerable advantage. Is that a wise policy choice to attract all that industry, if one assumes one can, and promise those particular companies a lower corporate rate of corporate taxation than Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul? Is that what's necessary to drive this industry forward?
Certainly, I'm not aware of any other North American jurisdiction that has made this conclusion about what's necessary to advance this industry. Beyond clean technology, this would add carbon trading, digital media distribution — again, vital areas of potential growth in the economy — and they would be attracted here by that particular rate of taxation, presumably.
In addition, what the scheme also envisages for the first two years, for certain designated personnel who would be employed by these companies, is a hundred percent rebate of personal income tax — again, a very sweeping rebate. One wonders, and I suppose this is something that we'll pursue in committee stage, whether that's a comparable offer that's made in other jurisdictions and whether it's, again, necessary or desirable for this jurisdiction to make that kind of an offer.
The income tax rebate is for personnel earning in excess of a hundred thousand dollars and is set out in the supporting material that it would be a hundred percent rebate of personal provincial income tax in the first two years, 75 percent in year 3, 50 percent in year 4 and 25 percent in year 5.
Now, the report itself does say — this is in reference to digital media tax activity, but I think the proposition is a general one: "Tax subsidies are ineffective in the long term because companies are prone to move more footloose operations to the lowest-cost jurisdiction." The report does go on to say: "Rather than participate in a downward spiral of interprovincial competition, B.C. should differentiate itself by targeting upstream activities and middle management or executive positions, which are inelastic to movement."
I think there's an acknowledgment of what is the obvious — that if you attract footloose industries that are attracted here by the tax regime, they're inclined to move or more likely to move to where they get the next better offer. The suggestion, I think, that management personnel are…. Those are the words that are described in economic terms as "inelastic" to that. Many companies, I think, don't have much hesitation in directing personnel, if the head office moves or the business unit moves, to move with the business unit.
[ Page 5740 ]
Again, I'd be interested in exploring with the minister that particular statement that's made in the report and the general proposition that's advanced here. There is some suggestion in the report that there have been some modelling studies run using the multiplier effect from the British Columbia Statistics organization. Again, I think it would be helpful to understand what the policy objectives are here which are being striven for.
Those are the comments that I wanted to make at second reading. I note that we appear to be concluding this debate for today, so with those remarks at second reading, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my remarks.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier closes debate.
Hon. C. Hansen: I thank the member for his remarks. There is certainly material that we will be able to canvass extensively in the committee stage discussions.
With that, I move second reading of Bill 19, Finance Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2010.
Hon. C. Hansen: I move that Bill 19 be referred to the Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 19, Finance Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 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 progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. G. Abbott moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 6:24 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF HEALTH SERVICES
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); H. Bloy in the chair.
The committee met at 2:36 p.m.
On Vote 37: ministry operations, $14,612,943,000 (continued).
The Chair: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the Douglas Fir Room. We're doing the budget estimates on the Ministry of Health Services.
A. Dix: Whenever the minister reads that number, I think we have a pretty wide berth there, actually — a wide berth to ask a few questions.
We were talking before the lunch break about the minister's favourite topic, the HST. We were discussing the decision by the government to instruct the health authorities to reimburse private care homes — I think it's the case, and the minister will clarify this — that have subsidized beds, including care homes that are assisted-living care homes. I don't think there's any distinction as to the category. Maybe the minister can clarify that.
We were discussing the issue of the government making the care homes whole with respect to the HST. I want to ask a further question about care fees that is related to that.
The minister will know that on January 1 the government increased fees in long-term care principally by when the fee increase is fully put in place. I believe $53½ million is the total. Just as an example — and this is the example the minister uses, so I'm sure he won't be offended if I use it: someone earning $22,000 a year would see an increase of approximately just under $2,000 in the annual fees they pay.
I just wanted to ask the minister specifically about this, because this is now a fairly old announcement. It's one that he made last year, so it's not a prospective announcement. It's an announcement that he's already made. I want to ask the minister, in fact — just to give the example of the senior who pays $2,000 more a year and is making or getting in pension and other income approximately $22,000 a year — whether the $2,000 paid by that senior will be returned to the care home to provide care for that senior as an increase in per-diem rates?
Hon. K. Falcon: So two parts to the member's question…. The first was with respect to the HST and would there be a distinction made between assisted-living and residential care rates. There is no distinction made. I want to clarify that for the record.
The second has to do with the issue of the residential care rate changes. The member is correct that we did institute changes that now align the amount that people pay, which is now aligned to the level of income that those particular seniors have, such that 25 percent of individuals will see no change or reduction in rates, while
[ Page 5741 ]
75 percent will see an increase, and that increase will be dependent upon what their income level is.
I do think it's important to recognize that this is for what we typically classify as the room-and-board costs associated with residential care. Of course, 100 percent of eligible health care costs will continue to be covered. That does not change, and government will still be subsidizing 90 percent of individuals, on a room-and-board subsidy basis, that are in residential care.
Nevertheless, we felt that it was appropriate to bring about that rate change, such that all of those dollars — and that was the commitment we made and what the member references — will be returned to the residential care sector in the form of improving care and safety quality for those individuals that are in residential care facilities.
That will largely, though not exclusively, be covered through increased staffing levels. It will also depend on the facility. For example, there may be facilities that are already providing a very high level of patient care that is appropriate, and that's great if they are, but there may also be others that are not providing a high enough level of care, and that would require some additional investment, and the dollars will be available for those kinds of investments.
A. Dix: I may have missed it, so I just wanted to be clear. I know that some funding letters have gone out to care homes, although I suspect that most haven't. With respect to this year, is the minister saying that there will be an across-the-board increase by health authorities in per-diem rates as a result of the rate increase paid by the residents in long-term care?
Hon. K. Falcon: Health authorities will be required, as I mentioned, to use the increased revenues raised to directly improve care. Those will be things like increasing the hours of client care provided to clients, hiring more nursing and care aide staff to provide more care to residents, addressing higher care needs of clients now being admitted to facilities, or providing rehabilitation staff to support the more complex care needs of clients now being admitted.
I am advised by staff that what is happening is that health authorities are all submitting plans on how they're going to be investing those dollars within their respective health authorities within the residential care setting. It will not be done on a per diem basis. It will be done on the basis of need and requirement based upon the assessment that they undertake in their health authorities.
Once they've completed those assessments, they'll submit those plans to ministry staff. We'll review them to make sure they're consistent with the direction, which is that all the dollars will go back into their residential care sector to improve care outcomes for seniors. I understand that that process is now underway.
A. Dix: Have any of those dollars actually gone out so far? I mean, it's always a challenge. I think the minister will know this. One could say, in fact, that the $6 million going to care homes to pay for the HST could come out of that money soon, as well, since money isn't really strictly designated. It all comes in and goes out. Has any of that money gone out?
What the minister is really saying is that a senior who is paying $2,000 a year more in their care home may see no improvement in care at that care home. Am I to understand that a care home's per diem won't be affected?
Unless they get some sort of special grant out of this fund the minister seems to have put together for this money, a person in a care home who pays that $2,000 extra may see absolutely no benefit directly from that. The system would see benefit but that senior would not necessarily see any benefit at all.
Hon. K. Falcon: The fee, as the member knows, was just implemented on January 1. It's being phased in over two years, as the member would well know. The goal is to have those fees go towards those facilities that, upon review, are not receiving the increased level of care that the province and the government would expect. In most cases, as I pointed out, that will require and mean that there will be additional staff hired to meet the higher levels of care that would be provided.
I think that it is fair to say, Member, that the dollars will go where they are needed. The dollars won't…. You know, if a facility is already meeting a high standard, has a very high level of staffing and is doing the job and meeting those standards, then, obviously, the health authority wouldn't put money into that facility if it's not required. It will be put into the facilities where probably the higher care requirements are so that they can increase the staffing levels and ensure that there's a uniformly high level of care at all of their residential care facilities.
A. Dix: I guess, then: directly, will there be any increases in per-diem rates for care homes this year?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised by staff that the way this process works in practice is that the increased fees that the clients are paying in their facility will get paid as they normally would. What will happen is that if that facility is one of the ones identified in the plans that are submitted by the health authorities as requiring additional investment — whether in equipment or in staffing levels to meet the higher standards — then they will be able to retain those dollars and utilize them for those express purposes.
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If that is not the case, then those dollars would go to the health authority, and the health authority would be redirecting those dollars towards the facilities that do require additional investments. The goal is to ensure that there is as uniform a standard as can possibly be had at a high level to make sure there's that high level of standard applied consistently across the health authorities in terms of residential care.
A. Dix: So that I understand this, as the minister knows, there's actually great variety in rates paid — the combination rate, the daily rate that a facility will get, which is, as the minister has said, in most cases a combination of the money they receive from the government or the health authority and the money they receive directly but from the resident.
Is the minister saying that the way that they're going to address this is not to…? I'll just do it as a for example. I mean, the minister will get a list. He'll get the whole list — I'll get part of a list — of per-diem rates paid, say, in the Fraser Health Authority, and he'll see dramatic differences between the amounts that one care home and another on that list is paid per patient per day.
Historically, that was because there was a significantly greater variety, I think it's fair to say, than there is today in the acuity levels at care homes. There are some care homes that had very different levels of care. Now we're seeing a rising across the board and, maybe it's fair to say, a flattening out of acuity levels — right? — such that the Vancouver Island Health Authority a number of years ago did some flattening in the Victoria area of per-diem rates.
I guess, though, the question I had is: under ordinary circumstances…? And I understand that a care home would not receive…. Even though I think it's fair to say that all care homes would face inflation — and there's inflation in health care that's significant and that we all acknowledge — an ordinary care home would not see an increase in the total per-patient money it gets from patients and from the government.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member correctly points out one of the realities in the residential care setting, which is that there is not as much variation among the kinds of clients that you see…. There still is variation, but it's not as significant as it would have been even five or ten years ago.
One of the challenges has always been that you have operators saying: "We should be getting more in a per diem to look after these clients." Of course, government is saying: "Well, it depends on what kind of client you've got."
I've met with many, many care providers — I can assure the member opposite — as I'm sure the critic has too. Typically, when we have these discussions with them…. I also remind them that there can sometimes be a tendency to want to take the easier clients. The more difficult ones that cost more money to look after are sometimes the ones that aren't particularly welcomed with open arms in every facility.
One of the issues has to do with how clients are assessed. We have brought in a new assessment tool earlier this year called the interRAI assessment tool that is based on international best practices to appropriately assess a client and the level of care that they're going to require so that you have a universal standard being applied in British Columbia.
At the end of the day what we are hoping to achieve with those additional dollars, though, is bringing up the care levels in some of those residential care facilities that have less care hours being applied to those that are under their care and bring them all up to the same higher level.
We are now, in recognizing and acknowledging what the member opposite is saying, which is true…. That level of complexity is starting to become pretty much even. It's not like it was, even as I say, five, ten, 15 years ago where often there were people in the residential care settings that really shouldn't have been there. That's one reason why we are constructing and building different levels of care, assisted living being one of them, for people who need some supports but not total support.
Within the residential care sector, though, there certainly is an acknowledgment that the folks that end up in residential care facilities, generally speaking, require a much higher level of care. What we wish to achieve is to have those standards improved at those locations which are not providing today that higher level of care, typically in staffing. Though, as I said earlier, it's not entirely a staffing issue alone, but that would be a major part of it.
We want to make sure that they are lifted up to that same higher level so that there's uniformity in terms of the quality of care that is being provided in the residential care sector.
A. Dix: Just directly to the minister, then: what would be wrong, I'd ask the minister, in publishing per-diem rates and the very hours of care standards that the minister has referred to?
Hon. K. Falcon: The short answer is yes. Our goal — in fact, the clear objective of the ministry — will be that upon the full implementation of the residential care rate changes, all the per-diem rates and the hours of care and the standards of care at facilities will be made public.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
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I will say that with one small caveat, which staff have cautioned me about, and that has to do with for-profit facilities. There may be issues around whatever rights they may have as private companies in the release of information. With the, I think, legitimate proviso that we have to work through the issues that may be a bit unique on the for-profit operators, the clear goal of the ministry is, yes, that information will be made public and available.
A. Dix: When the minister's referring to the for-profit facilities, he's principally referring to those beds that are not subject to public subsidy. Many of the other beds effectively have a form of price control on them, if I'm right.
What the minister is proposing, then, is to essentially do something that appeared not to have been done when the Ombudsperson report came out, which is an acceptance of the principle of having a website or having publicly available material, where all of this information, from care standards to per-diem rates, will be published by the Ministry of Health or by the health authorities about the care homes in their region.
Is that the goal, then — to meet, essentially, that test that was set out in the Ombudsperson report?
Hon. K. Falcon: The Ombudsperson came out with a report on seniors care. As the member would know, it had a number of recommendations. Included in that was a recommendation to have all of the information with respect to seniors available on one website that would be available for easy comparison. Now, that was one of many recommendations. Many of the recommendations have already been acted on. For example, the bill of rights — we passed legislation with respect to that last fall — and the new residential care regulation, which took effect last year.
With respect to the on-line nature, what we have done is we've launched a seniors portal in the province of British Columbia in the spring to provide a one-stop shopping location for seniors with all the information on programs available for seniors. We agree with the direction of the Ombudsperson's observation that information for seniors regarding care and care options and information about residential care facilities is uneven across the province. There's room for improvement, and we're committed to doing that.
I will say that two of the areas that I think are important are, for example, having inspections on facilities being available on line to be publicly inspected, and having consistent information across…. Government is great at providing information, but often it can provide it in a way that is meaningless to people in the sense that there's just so much information. Unless you're an expert at sleuthing through that information, it generally can be a real challenge. We want to make sure that that information is provided in a manner that's understandable and easily followed for those that are looking to the seniors portal for that information.
One of the areas of challenge, of course, is that for the information to be valuable, it also has to be up to date. That means that on some of the information, it would require all of these care facilities being required to provide that information on a regularized basis such that it can be updated on the seniors portal and be available for seniors. That is a more challenging aspect of it.
But as I say, we are working with the association to try and figure out how we can bring about those changes in a manner that will work for the residential care sector in the real world and also for government and seniors.
A. Dix: I just want to be clear. It's always terrible when you get an answer you like, and then you ask a supplementary question and the answer gets worse. I just want to be clear.
I just want to quote what the minister said when the Ombudsperson's report came out. Again, we'll consider the source. I'll let you consider the source, Minister. The Health Minister likes the idea of a seniors care website, but he disagrees with Carter's idea to include funding information on the site.
I'm quoting the minister: "It would be very misleading in the sense that if you saw higher rates being paid at one facility, you would say: 'Naturally.' You would think: 'Oh, good. There are more dollars going into that facility,' when in fact the dollars actually go to the level of complexity that is being delivered in that facility."
In other words, he's making the argument, but making that as an argument not to make that information public, that the public would fail to understand the complexities of these questions. Naturally, I had a different view, I think it's fair to say, and thought that the public could be trusted with that information.
Has the minister changed his view, and essentially now believes that funding information should be on the site? Is that a change in view? I'll assure the minister that I won't be going out with any kind of thing saying that the minister has changed his mind. I just want to clarify that the minister's view has evolved since he responded to the Ombudsperson's report.
Hon. K. Falcon: No. First of all, I don't have any problem ever being accused of changing my mind if new information comes along to suggest that changing your mind is the right thing to do. But actually, I would continue to agree with the comments that I made earlier.
That has been part of the reality that even I, as a relatively knowledgable consumer, would look on a website, and if I saw a higher per diem being paid in one facility over another, I might come to the logical conclusion, "Well, that's got to be a good thing. That must mean there are better levels of care in that facility," when it could
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be — and likely is, in fact — a very different situation, where it just means that the level of complexity of care in that facility is such that they are receiving higher per diems for the higher level of care that is required in that particular facility.
The advice I was given by my staff — and to be honest, it seemed and still seems reasonable — was that to put that information out there without any basis of context wouldn't actually help an informed public, wouldn't actually be able to allow people to say: "Well, now I know I'm making a much more informed and better decision as to where to put my loved one."
What we are trying to do, and the reason why I committed earlier on in the discussion I had with the member to…. Once the residential care rate changes are fully implemented, we will be endeavouring to get all of that information available on line. Why? Because what we are doing, in cooperation with the health authorities, is identifying those residential care facilities that require a higher level of care, which is primarily, though not exclusively, provided through the form of increased staffing levels.
We want to ensure that we provide the resources to those facilities in the form of those rate increases being passed along back to those residential care facilities so that they are able and required to actually invest in improving the level of care that's required.
We will get to, fully implemented, a state where most of the facilities have largely similar rates that they're receiving, because the level of care, I think, has evolved to and continues to evolve to where, by and large, the kind of care, the complexity of care, is getting relatively standardized in the residential care setting — not perfectly standardized but, increasingly, more standardized.
A. Dix: I want to move on to a few questions. Generally, here we're dealing with questions that touch all of the health authorities, and we'll get into specific questions by health authority.
I wanted to ask the minister about a question. The minister was seeking earlier some help with ways that he could improve the efficiency of the health system, and I'm always prepared and willing, the minister will know, to provide that assistance.
I ask the minister about the health benefit trust. As the minister will know, Vancouver Coastal Health did an extensive business case for change. I'll just read to the minister some of the conclusions. The health benefit trust may be an example of an organization that used to suit the needs of the health care system and suited us well.
Now I'll just read from this report, which is a public report, so there's nothing dramatic here. It says:
"The health benefit trust" — in this case, it was from Vancouver Coastal Health — "appears to have little interest in treating Vancouver Coastal Health as a customer. It's not offering a merit system, whereby Vancouver Coastal Health has a strong cost incentive to reduce LTD costs. The Vancouver Coastal Health has the expertise to negotiate its own supplier contracts for services. Overhead costs associated with the health benefit trust can be reduced and/or eliminated."
On and on it goes, and in summary:
"The health benefit trust has outlived its usefulness, being an organization that was established when the health services for B.C. were much more decentralized and did not possess the HR benefits and disability management expertise currently in place."
On top of that, I'd like to ask the minister if he agrees that perhaps the wealth management side of the trust…. The trust just hired a new CEO at, presumably, some cost. On the wealth management side of the trust, having that money separately managed than, say, moneys that are managed by the BCIMC right now seems to be and could be seen as a duplication.
I wanted to ask the minister whether he's reviewing — in light of what's happened at Vancouver Coastal Health, where they've made some changes and actually improved outcomes — whether in fact it may be a time to bring at least the rehab component into the health authorities. Vancouver Coastal has been ahead of the others, I think, in this regard. I don't think the other health authorities have gone….
Does he think that there's a role here anymore for the seeming duplication on the wealth management side that the health benefits trust seems to represent?
Hon. K. Falcon: The health benefits trust, for the benefit of those viewing audience members who are rapt at attention watching our stimulating debate, is a not-for-profit that essentially processes health benefit claims for employees in the health sector. The member is correct that there is a new CEO, and actually there have been new actuaries that have been put in place at the health benefits trust, and they are reviewing their investment policy.
I wouldn't want to speculate on the outcome of that review, but certainly one of the options I imagine they would be looking at would be the very one the member suggests, which is the possibility of piggybacking on the B.C. Investment Management Corporation's portfolio as opposed to having a separate investment portfolio.
I imagine that that will form an important part of the review that's being undertaken by the new CEO and the new actuaries and that they will look at their own performance and their portfolio, gauge that against competing options and look at what is in the best interest of the members.
A. Dix: I guess principally the groups involved are the health authorities. I guess the question is: does the minister agree with me that that seems to be an unnecessary duplication? We've got an organization that essentially adds, you might argue, $30 million in administrative
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costs. And you know, then there's potentially the costs…. I mean, I don't know if you were to get rid of the health benefits trust in some fashion whether you would get rid of the role of Great-West Life. I doubt it.
I think there would continue to be utility in using an insurance company, but not necessarily Great-West Life. I don't know if that contract has been put out to tender for a long time, but Vancouver Coastal Health is making some changes subsequent to the audits it did. I haven't read these audits, but I believe that I've seen the audits for Interior and Northern Health that haven't made changes.
The minister has suggested he'd be leaving that to the health benefit trust to decide. But doesn't he think this is a good idea, a good way, in fact, to save money in the health care system and maybe to improve, as well, the results on the rehab side?
What's happened in the last few years…. I think these are kind of crucial questions with respect to long-term disability. When you have skill shortages in health care, the need to get people back to work becomes, I think, even more of a priority than it's been before. I think if you look at the review, you see fundamental inefficiencies in the process that's been set up.
I'm wondering if the other health authorities will be proceeding with changes in their process in dealing principally with LTD in the same way as Vancouver Coastal Health and whether the minister just agrees with me that having duplicate wealth management people in government doesn't make any sense.
Hon. K. Falcon: First of all, with respect to the exceptional work that Vancouver Coastal has done in dealing with issues around employee attendance at work and reducing some of the leave challenges that they were facing and also long-term disability improvements that they've made…. They are, in fact, sharing that information, and the other health authorities are actively working with Vancouver Coastal to ensure that they can also learn from what….
Coastal did share that innovation and the benefits of some of those changes that have been quite dramatic, but that is separate and different from the work that the health benefits trust is involved in, which is essentially just processing payments under the health benefits that workers receive through the claims process that's undertaken.
On the issue of the wealth management side, I do, as I said before, think that if there is evidence that things could be done differently and be done better, that certainly is something that I would very much welcome and support.
I know that the new CEO just started a month ago, so I think that the new CEO and the new actuaries are probably very quickly getting themselves up to speed. I am advised that they are reviewing the investment policy as one of the priority areas they're looking at, and they will recommend whatever changes may be necessary to provide the best possible investment returns, which of course would support the benefits for the members and the member employers of the health benefits trust.
A. Dix: It does remind me a little bit, though, of the old saying that turkeys don't vote for Christmas and that there may need, in fact, to be a review above that level. I mean, the health benefits trust…. It's presumably in the interests of the organization, the new CEO, to maintain control of the investment side, and it seems to me on the face of it that you'd have to make a pretty strong case not for moving it to the BCIMC, but actually against moving it to the BCIMC in that sense — those investments.
If you have confidence in the BCIMC, you'd have to make a pretty strong case that somehow this investment side is better than the general and for government, and if you could make that case strongly you might want to fold the BCIMC the other way. I don't know.
In any event, I want to go through another thing that applies to all the health authorities and that the minister and I have been discussing a little bit in the Legislature as well, and that is the issue of MRI wait times. The minister didn't agree with me in the House but agreed with me in the media that current wait times are unacceptable. Those wait times are now as long, according to the Ministry of Health, as 20 months at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
I guess my question to the minister…. First of all, for starts, because it's always good to get a baseline of data, can the minister…? Let's just go do a little tour of the province. What are the current wait times on Vancouver Island and in the Interior Health Authority for what one would describe as non-urgent but medically necessary MRIs?
As the minister will know, and the minister might want to comment on this, until the cuts that were made in September — or the reductions or the reallocation or whatever term the minister prefers to use — both the IHA and the Vancouver Island Health Authority put regular updates on the wait times for MRIs on their website. That ceased when things got worse, as if bad news should be kept from the public.
In any event, we're here in estimates together today, and I wanted to ask the minister — since the Ministry of Health provided to Mr. Nagel of the Surrey Leader the information on Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health — whether he could tell us, just for starters, what the wait times are for medically necessary MRIs in Nanaimo and in Victoria.
Hon. K. Falcon: Yes, Member, I have commented on this both in question period and publicly. As I always attempt to do, I try to be very upfront and honest with the
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public about the situation, both the opportunities and the challenges as I see them.
So let me start by putting some facts on the table that differ, not surprisingly, from the characterization that the member opposite has provided, so that we can at least have some context around the discussion.
First of all, not surprisingly, since 2001 not only have we seen health care expenditures in the province rise by close to 90 percent, but we have also seen the number of diagnostic procedures increase dramatically, and that includes MRIs. As I pointed out in the House, there were nine MRI machines in the province of British Columbia when we first got elected in 2001, and today there are 24.
In fact, in Fraser Health, the area that I represent, there was exactly one MRI machine, and it was not at all uncommon for folks from the Fraser Valley to have to go to Vancouver to receive their MRI scanners. The good news is, if my memory serves me correctly, we now have five in the Fraser Health region, with an additional one being added to the new out-patient hospital — the $240 million hospital that is being built in Surrey very close to the Surrey Memorial Hospital to deal with the issue of increased pressures.
Having said that, the natural question that the members of the public may ask is: "Well, Minister, how can it be, if you've gone from nine MRI scanners to 24, that the number of scans that have been completed in the province is up 170 percent and there are still wait-lists? How is that possible?" Well, it is not only possible, but it is happening not just in British Columbia but, indeed, right across the country.
I do think that it is important to recognize, as the Canadian Institute for Health Information, CIHI — I simplify by using their acronym, CIHI, but it's a highly respected organization, as the member opposite knows — has pointed out that while there are benchmarks in terms of wait-lists for a number of surgical areas — in fact, they noted that British Columbia scored number one in every single one of the benchmarks that have been set — the one area they did identify as being a challenge in Canada was benchmarks for MRIs.
One of the reasons why it's a challenge is that very few provinces actually report on this information. Where the provinces do report, they actually use different measurements, which makes it very, very difficult to actually do any kind of comparison.
Now I will say this. I am absolutely happy to work with CIHI and the other provinces to try and put in place some form of measurement, similar to the kind of measurement standards that we've put in place for the other surgical procedures — of which B.C. was ranked number one in the country — on MRIs, if the provinces are capable of figuring out the appropriate way of doing that.
But here, I think, is the most important thing I can say to British Columbians, and that is this: if you do require an urgent diagnostic in whatever form, whether it is an X-ray, a CT scan or an MRI, you will receive it in British Columbia, and you will receive it promptly.
Where there are wait times…. In many cases, arguably, wait times that are of great inconvenience for members of the public are for, as the member opposite pointed out, what are described as non-urgent, non-acute medical issues. That doesn't mean they're not important to the individuals waiting. They clearly are. But one of the issues that we are grappling with in the ministry is the fact that we have done so many tens of thousands of more MRIs, and there's still this huge demand. We have to look at the appropriateness of the referrals that are being made, too.
That is increasingly something that is being looked at around the world. There has been work that has been done by some very credible sources, including, in fact, the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Their Health Care in Canada 2009: A Decade in Review report, page 67, pointed out that there actually is no direct correlation between increased diagnostic procedures and improved health outcomes. This is one of the awakenings that we are becoming more and more aware of.
There's also the Healthcare Quarterly in 2009, volume 12, issue 4: "Appropriateness: The Next Frontier in the Quest for Better Access to CT and MRI." That was dealing with that exact issue — that the appropriateness of referrals for MRIs also has to be examined to ensure that the referrals themselves are appropriate and sensible in terms of the medical needs of patients. That is not to say, though, that even with the appropriateness issue dealt with that there will still not be some challenges. We're looking to deal with those challenges.
Now, the member talks about a reduction. I've heard the member say publicly — incorrectly, in fact, and I do want to correct it for the record — that before the election we did more, and then after the election there was this reduction — as if this was a grand conspiracy of government to undertake additional MRIs and then suddenly stop doing them. In fact, that is not the case.
The Lower Mainland Innovation Fund was announced in 2007. The point of the Lower Mainland Innovation Fund was to undertake test pilot projects on the delivery of elective surgical procedures and, in the case of MRIs, seeing whether we can do additional MRIs, increase productivity and improve outcomes by trying to do things differently.
Now, that resulted in additional MRIs being done. That is true. That's why we did the test pilot project: to determine whether we could actually learn something from trying to do things differently. In Vancouver Coastal, for example, they had centralized booking. They tried to operate very efficiently. My understanding
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is that they were able to reduce the unit costs of delivering those particular MRIs. They were able to improve, at least partially, I understand, productivity in terms of delivering some of those MRI services.
That is a good thing. That is not something that we are to be apologetic for. Only the NDP would look at a test pilot like that — that was undertaken by the province to try and drive better results — and use that information to change the system and say that when the test pilot came to an end, this is now a cut in health care.
Well, that is so ridiculous that I don't even know where to start. If that was true, then government shouldn't do anything differently. We should never do a test pilot. We should never try anything because we must be fearful of the opposition saying: "Well, when you stop a test pilot, it is now a health care cut." That is ludicrous at so many levels that I don't know where to begin.
What I will say is that the test pilots that we undertook, under the Lower Mainland innovation program, were extremely helpful. They helped guide us in terms of how we were bringing in patient-focused funding to better deliver elective surgical procedures in the province of British Columbia. The information that we acquired as a result of the test pilots undertaken for the delivery of MRIs will also inform us as to what changes we might be able to make to deliver better outcomes.
Having said all of that, I do have to say that one of the things that we do need to look at is evidence — evidence in terms of the relationship between increasing investment and diagnostics and what that's going to mean in terms of health outcomes. As I say, the information is very mixed, at best, in that regard. I pointed to two examples, the Healthcare Quarterly and CIHI, but there are legions of others. If you google MRI appropriateness, you will find lots of information.
A. Dix: What is ludicrous is accepting 20-month wait times for medically necessary MRIs, as they do in Abbotsford. That's ludicrous. The Minister of Health should be speaking out for those people. That's what is ludicrous.
What is ludicrous is 18-month wait times at Royal Columbian Hospital. That's ludicrous. Someone needs an operation. They've got to wait 20 months for an MRI before they get on the surgical wait-list. And the minister is bragging about the surgical wait-list results? That's ludicrous. But what is ludicrous is the answer to that question.
I asked a specific question. Let me help the minister, because it's right there on the website. September 2009 — the Vancouver Island Health Authority was including this information on its website. What did it say? It's 24.7 weeks in September in Victoria; 22.5 weeks for MRIs in Nanaimo. That's the last. It's still waiting there. They were adding it every three months, and then they stopped providing the information. Why? Because the information was an embarrassment to this minister and this government. That's why they did it.
January — what do we know? January, we know: 11-month wait time in Victoria and 14 months in Nanaimo. The question which launched the last lengthy dissertation from the minister, his last soliloquy, which was a very specific question: what are the wait times in Victoria and Nanaimo this month, in May?
Hon. K. Falcon: First of all, I want to emphasize something. I know this is an issue that the member gets very excited about, and it is an important issue. But I do think it's important to stress that if you have or require emergent or urgent medical care and that requires a diagnostic in British Columbia, you receive it and you receive it quickly. That includes MRIs.
We are talking about non-urgent diagnostic procedures with respect to MRIs. One of the challenges, as I mentioned to the member, is with the data. The member, I think, quoted some data from VIHA. He was implying it had been up for a long time — I can't recall — but my understanding is that the most recent data they provided was in February. That's what I understand from staff.
The problem is that you have, and you had seen, different measurements being used in different health authorities. CIHI correctly points out that this is the challenge with diagnostic data. There needs to be a uniformity of the data so that the information being provided can be understood by the public and consistent across the country.
We entirely support that. Just as in the surgical wait-list data that is provided right across the country and that all governments are held accountable for, including in British Columbia, that information has been posted. As I pointed out, CIHI pointed out — as did the Wait Time Alliance, which is made up of doctors from one end of the country to the other — that British Columbia is number one in terms of wait times for those procedures.
With respect to MRIs, one of the things we want to do is develop a data collection and -reporting system that can be utilized in a way that provides consistent, reliable, up-to-date and valid information to be able to make comparisons. We are not there. I acknowledge that, and I think that that is something we have to improve on. We're doing a lot of work on that right now. I do think we have to do a better job.
Clearly, it is a challenge when you've gone from nine MRIs to 24 MRIs, where you've gone from 30,000-something scans in 2001 to well over a hundred thousand scans now. There is still a challenge, still pressures. This speaks to the importance of bringing innovation to the table and trying to figure out how as a government we
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are going to deal with some of these challenges. That's exactly what we're trying to do.
A. Dix: What are the wait times for Nanaimo and Victoria?
Hon. K. Falcon: I understand that the information is available on the website. The member may have it already. For Royal Jubilee and Victoria General Hospital for non-urgent, routine MRIs, the wait is 179.7 days. That's six months in my math. For Nanaimo Regional General, it's 181.7 days. That is, again, for routine, non-urgent procedures.
Obviously, if you have an urgent procedure, you get it virtually immediately. They have different categories, which is one of the challenges. You've got urgent, semi-urgent, routine and non-urgent.
A. Dix: The information available on the website says 11 months in Victoria and 14 months in Nanaimo, but there you go.
I wanted to ask the minister, then, if he would care to share the information in the Interior Health Authority — that would be Penticton, Kamloops, Kelowna, Trail; those communities — and in Prince George so that we'll have the full range of information from the health authorities, including the information provided by the Ministry of Health with respect to Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health.
Hon. K. Falcon: The information that I have, I am advised by staff, is that at Kelowna General the non-urgent elective MRI wait is nine months. At Royal Inland Hospital the non-urgent elective wait is ten months. At Penticton Hospital the non-urgent elective MRI wait is ten months.
Again, I stress to emphasize that this does not in any way deal with the issue of appropriateness of referrals and the issues that have been raised in some very significant medical journals and studies. But it is one of the reasons why we are going to take a look at the issue of appropriateness of referrals to ensure that we can identify the correlation between better health outcomes — if, in fact, that is the case — and increased diagnostics for non-urgent routine procedures.
That's one of the issues, and as I say, the studies are suggesting, in fact, that there may not be that correlation and that governments need to look very carefully at the whole issue of appropriateness, which we will.
A. Dix: While the minister is studying that, he may want to review the appropriateness of having people waiting 20 months for a medically necessary MRI, because all of these exams, all this diagnostic work meets the standard of the public health care system. We're not talking about full-body scans or vanity scans. We're talking about medically necessary care. I would assume that if people's lives are in jeopardy and they're in a hospital, they would get a scan. I don't think it's an excuse, necessarily, for outrageously long scans.
On the issue of transparency, back when VIHA was regularly posting this information on its website…. As I say, in January they said it was 11 months in Victoria, 14 months in Nanaimo. They provided that information to the public, but on their accountability page, on their website, their last posting was September. What they said, and what they said was pretty simple, was that wait time for MRI scanning measures time waiting from the receipt of the physician's request until the time the scan is done.
Interestingly, that is the same standard being used by Ontario, which is attempting to meet the standard set by the Canadian Medical Association, which is 30 days, as the minister will know, for what he calls a non-urgent but medically necessary MRI. They're trying to meet that standard. If you go to their website — and I would be happy to share the URL with the minister — you'll see, in fact, that wait-time information available in Ontario. And what standard do they use? Well, the same as VIHA for posting it on its website.
So what we're asking, it seems to me, is not unreasonable. In other words, what we're asking for the government to do is to provide the same information that the government of Ontario does. Now, it so happens that wait times in those areas that are posted in British Columbia are dramatically longer than they are in Ontario, and that's a fact; dramatically longer than they are in Alberta, and that's a fact.
If you're waiting in pain for an MRI, if you require an MRI prior to getting access to surgery, then that is an incredibly long wait time. The minister referred to the election. The fact is that the government and the health authorities did a significantly larger number of MRIs prior to the election, leading into the election, than they did the year leading out of the election, even though there's no evidence that people need MRIs more in an election year.
I just say this to the minister: these are unacceptably long wait times. I don't think it's reasonable to say that a 20-month delay at Abbotsford Regional Hospital would ever be acceptable for a medically necessary procedure. I wonder if the minister agrees and whether he would agree with me that the government should follow Ontario's lead.
Hon. K. Falcon: With respect to the member's conspiracy theory about MRIs being done because of elections, again, it's completely false — unless, of course, we were smart enough to undertake that in 2007, which was a pilot project under the Lower Mainland Innovation Fund
[ Page 5749 ]
and which has provided very important and valuable information to government not just on the use of delivering additional MRIs and trying to do it in a way that improves productivity and gets more people through the system for the same dollars but, in fact, on a whole range of elective surgical procedures.
We received very valuable and important information which can inform us and help us as we move forward to deal with some of the challenges in terms of wait-lists associated with non-urgent MRIs.
Member, I guess at some point you do have to ask a fundamental question. I mean, in Fraser Health from '01 to the '09-10 period we saw an increase of MRIs of 536 percent, in Interior Health of 339 percent, in VIHA of 158 percent, in Northern Health almost 500 percent. You know, there's no shortage of lots of additional MRIs being undertaken. There is simply no shortage. It has gone up very, very dramatically, and in spite of that we still have wait-lists — in some cases wait-lists that even for non-urgent medical procedures, I would acknowledge, are certainly less than acceptable. I don't have any problems saying that.
What I will say to the member is that we are actually going to try and improve and make changes to the delivery of MRIs based on lessons learned as a result of some of the work that was undertaken in the Lower Mainland innovation projects so that we can inform changes in the system that might drive better outcomes without just hurling more money into the health vortex, without demanding higher and better results that will improve productivity and ensure that we drive better outcomes.
I don't know what percentage increase the member would be happy with — 400, 500, 600? — and what additional dollars the member would suggest. If he's suggesting just put it in and ask no questions, I'm interested in that. I don't think it's the right way to go.
What we are trying to do is make sure that…. In spite of the triple-digit increases that we have been undertaking in MRI scans, there are still challenges. We need to try and learn how we can — with the dollars we're already putting in, record dollar investments in MRI scans — try and drive better results that work for patients, including particularly those awaiting non-urgent MRI procedures at whichever health authority they may be part of.
A. Dix: Just a further question for the minister. He didn't provide the information for Trail. I believe the MRI machine is in Trail. I may be mistaken. I think it is. Not in Cranbrook but in Trail.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the MRI wait for non-urgent procedures at Kootenay Boundary Hospital is 12 months, and I'm advised that it is also 12 months for non-urgent MRIs at East Kootenay Regional Hospital.
A. Dix: In 2006…. This seems something for me to reflect on, but I had just become Health critic, and we raised an issue around the use of MRIs in public hospitals for pay. At the time St. Paul's Hospital was doing that, contrary to the knowledge or the wishes of the then Minister of Health, the member for Shuswap. Eventually, the hospital and Providence were fined, and in fact, that was seen to have violated both the Medicare Protection Act, I believe, and the Canada Health Act.
In a letter that the minister has received from Mr. Woodward, he suggested using this time. As the minister will know, when you add, for example, MRI machines at Peace Arch and at Burnaby, it may make the appointments more convenient — at a fundraised cost to the communities of $4 million — but if you maintain the same level and number of MRIs done, what you're doing is creating a whole bunch of unused capacity.
I'm wondering if the minister has any views on the suggestion by Mr. Woodward that that time be used or sold. It seems to me that that's illegal, but since the suggestion was made and we're talking about MRIs, I thought I'd take this opportunity to ask the minister.
Hon. K. Falcon: First of all, I do want to take the opportunity to recognize and thank the commitment that Kip Woodward has been making, not only as our prior chair of Providence Health Care, responsible for a number of health care facilities in Vancouver, including St. Paul's Hospital, but also as the current chair of Vancouver Coastal Health.
Mr. Woodward is an individual of some prominence in British Columbia history, and certainly prominence in a very positive way. I might point out that he has served and continues to serve as chair of both those boards at no remuneration from government. He does not accept remuneration. He does it for absolutely no cost. I want to recommend and commend Mr. Woodward for his public service and the great work he has done.
Again, on the issue of MRIs, as I've said to the member, I don't in any way back away from the challenge. One of the challenges is exactly what the member pointed out — that often these MRI machines in some cases get fundraised in communities and provided to health authorities, but the real cost of this equipment is operating them.
It is the most extensive ongoing cost, and that's one of the challenges in the system. How do we, with the increased dollars that we're putting into diagnostics and the increased investments that are being made, going from nine MRIs to 24 and from 30,000 scans to over a hundred thousand scans in the space of just over eight years…? How is it that we can try and drive more procedures for the existing dollars we're putting into the system?
[ Page 5750 ]
In other words, how can we improve productivity in the system to drive better results? That's what has really engaged my attention and support. It's one of the reasons why staff is doing some work to not only try and see if we can't develop a better, more consistent and reliable data collection that will be able to provide that information and share that information with the public….
We will try and do that, consistent with ideas and recommendations coming out of CIHI and in cooperation with the federal government and our provincial partners, but we're not waiting for that process. That process may unfold and it may be a positive thing, but we are working on our own to try and provide consistent, reliable and valid information for all patients that are waiting for non-urgent MRI procedures.
At the end of the day, that is work that is ongoing and work that continues. As I've said from the beginning, and I made reference to this at the time when Mr. Woodward brought forward a number of innovative suggestions to government…. I thanked him. I welcomed the information he was putting forward. I challenged all chairs and, in fact, all interested members in the health business — in or out of the health business — to bring forward ideas to this minister and this government.
We recognize, as a government, that in an era where a $2 billion increase in operating funding over a three-year period is still not enough, and you will have people like the critic opposite or others saying: "No, we must have more, and government must invest more.…"
I'm always interested in those comments. I certainly understand how people want government to spend more on every conceivable service and make sure it costs them absolutely nothing. But there's also a bit of a brake there, because people often don't want to pay and contribute more taxes towards paying for those services. I think it's important that we recognize that.
One of our challenges in health care, and in this ministry in particular, is to recognize, first of all, that we are doing a very good job in delivering outcomes — number one in the country in virtually every measurable outcome. Whether it's cancer mortality outcomes, whether it's wait times for elective surgical procedures for cardiac, for hips, for knees, for cataracts, British Columbia is leading the country, and I'm proud of that.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
But clearly in the area of MRIs, we are not doing as good a job as we ought to be doing for non-urgent MRIs, and I have challenged staff to look at how we can try and improve that. They are engaged in those discussions right now, and I hope that we will get some good ideas to come forward to try and deal with this challenge.
A. Dix: See, I think what we should do is…. On the first question, the first try, the minister should just give whatever answer he wants, and on the second try — it's an incentive-based system — he might consider answering.
Does he reject that proposal to sell, in public hospitals, MRI time that isn't being used right now because the government isn't funding that time?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, look, as I said before, I actually welcome all suggestions on how we can deal with these. That doesn't mean that I accept all the suggestions that are brought forward, but I welcome and, in fact, encourage suggestions to come forward to government.
The member points out that one of the challenges is that often this equipment sits there unutilized when perhaps we could be providing additional services, diagnostics. Well, that is a challenge, because often that involves overtime, it's significantly more expensive, and I'm advised by people that work within the system that that can challenge the system in many ways,
What we have to do — and what we've focused on — is say: let's focus on how we can improve productivity within the system to try and deliver more MRIs for the dollars we're already investing to see whether we can't get more people through the system while, at the same time, look very carefully at the appropriateness issue. Right now it is extraordinarily easy for medical professionals to make a referral for an MRI. The issue is: is that appropriate?
As I mentioned earlier to the member, these are some of the issues that have been raised in some very thoughtful and important studies from groups that are well respected, that are challenging governments and health providers to look at the issue of appropriateness, because there is not necessarily a correlation between increased diagnostics and increased health outcomes. That's why we have staff looking at that whole range of issues.
A. Dix: Well, you know, it's always interesting to ask specific questions about specific proposals and get the same non-answer repeatedly. I would think that a minister who sees himself as a straight talker would not…. These are fairly straightforward, easy questions that have been answered for a long time in health care, and I'm just asking them. The minister doesn't want to answer.
He kept referring to a CIHI study about overuse. That's not what the CIHI study is. The CIHI study is wait times. That's what the CIHI study is. The fact is that at least the CMA study shows B.C. tenth in Canada in wait times of MRIs before these reductions were made. With respect to overtime, I just invite him to review when the new MRI at Peace Arch Hospital is used and see that often it's shut down after noon, I believe, on a day.
The minister doesn't want to answer the question about the use of MRIs in health care except to say that
[ Page 5751 ]
he invites suggestions, whatever that means. So let me ask the minister a question about surgeries and elective surgeries. As the minister has confirmed in the Legislature, the number of elective surgeries was cut last year in the Lower Mainland health authorities, and it appears that the budget is going to be cut this year. The minister said that the original cut was intended to be over two years.
Can the minister tell us, with respect to Fraser Health first, how many overall procedures, surgical procedures, were done in 2009-10 and, particularly, how many elective surgeries? Obviously, what are called emergency surgeries are ones that simply have to be done. How many elective surgeries were done in 2009-10, and how many does he expect to see in 2010-11?
Hon. K. Falcon: Staff are trying to gather that data. They haven't got it right now. As soon as I get it I will share it with the member.
One thing I do want to emphasize, though, is that we are moving to a different world in terms of health care funding. It's not going to be the world that the member opposite is entirely used to, which is that of block funding being provided. Of course, the nice thing about block funding, I imagine, if you're an opposition critic, is that you can look at the budget for elective surgical procedures at the beginning of the year and try and make an estimate of how many surgical procedures would be undertaken by the end of the fiscal year.
The difference now, with patient-focused funding, is that there will be, for example, in the '10-11 year an additional $80 million that will be utilized to the different health authorities for elective surgical procedures under patient-focused funding. But they will realize those dollars if and when they are providing a high level of service efficiently for the folks that are looking for their elective surgical procedures. It will be done on the basis of results.
That, of course, was the lesson that came out of the test pilots that we undertook over the last two years through the Lower Mainland Innovation Fund that suggested that we can drive additional volumes with very high-quality standards built in upfront and increase patient satisfaction, doctor and nurse satisfaction, staff satisfaction, while at the same time, as I say, driving more volume for the dollars that we've invested in those particular procedures.
This year, in addition to the block-funded budgets that are being provided to the health authorities, there will, of course, be $80 million, and then next year there will be an additional $170 million of available funding through patient-focused funding to reward those health authorities and facilities that provide the highest possible standard of service for the patients.
A. Dix: Well, on the list of non-answers we've had, that's one of the shorter ones. I guess that while the minister's staff looks for that material, I'll go to a shorter question, then, that the minister may be able to answer.
He'll recall, fondly I'm sure, the estimates that we had last November. I asked the minister specifically about issues around bariatric surgery, and I know that the minister met with people. Bariatric surgeries are done almost exclusively on Vancouver Island, the minister will know. He'll also know that last year those procedures were cut by 60 percent, and this translated into wait times of up to six years.
The minister said at the time…. We had a good exchange about it. We had a discussion, and the minister expressed a willingness to look at that issue, to look at the decision to reduce the number of bariatric surgeries in that way. I'm wondering if the minister, having looked at it, can let us know what their plans are for this year.
Hon. K. Falcon: Subsequent to our last discussion six months ago I haven't got too much new news on this to inform the member of, sorry to say. We have asked the Provincial Health Services Authority to take a look at this on the basis of whether a provincial program is a better way of trying to deal with this so that there can be some uniformity in terms of how the procedures are delivered.
For the members of the viewing audience, this is access to bariatric surgery, surgeries that are provided for those people who are extremely obese and are looking to have a surgical procedure done. There are various ways they can be undertaken, but essentially it's a gastric bypass.
The hope is that it will result in them losing weight as a result of having this gastric bypass surgical procedure undertaken. It's not a guarantee of success. I certainly did meet with one of the surgeons in VIHA — one of the two, I believe, that provide the surgical procedure. I'm advised by staff that the wait time — I'm not sure where the member got his six years — is 18 months to two years. Of course, the surgeons are responsible, I understand, for independently setting their wait times.
VIHA made a decision, and the decision VIHA made was that when they looked around at the range of surgical procedures they could provide, they would be providing fewer bariatric surgeries and providing more of other types of surgical procedures.
One of the issues that I mentioned to the doctor and some of the patients when I met with them is…. We canvassed a discussion earlier on about the importance of prevention programs to deal with issues around obesity. I believe that at a high level what we need to do as a society is to have the kinds of prevention programs that stop or retard people from getting into a position where they
[ Page 5752 ]
find themselves at a level of obesity where they require a government to provide a surgical procedure, to provide a gastric bypass.
You know, I think that what we want to try and drive in the health care system are the kinds of prevention programs that will get to young kids early on so that we can try and sort of deal with some of the behaviours or lifestyle issues that may result in issues around severe obesity. That is a big challenge not just in British Columbia but right around the world and, certainly, in North America.
We are dealing with that on a number of fronts, as you know. We've got a Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport that invests in the Action Schools programs and invests in a number of programs that encourage healthy eating, that try to drive down the levels of obesity in society. We do know that British Columbia is a leader in the country, at least, in terms of the results of having the healthiest population in the country. But having said all that, we still have challenges, and we still need to deal with those challenges.
Upon PHSA reporting back to government, I will be happy to share that information with the member opposite. I will hopefully have some more detailed information on how we think we might be able to deal specifically with bariatric surgical procedures on a go-forward basis.
A. Dix: I've heard, in public sessions, medical officers of health advocate, in fact, these procedures. I recommend to the minister a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the question and just the point. This seems to be, if we want to get to the financial point, that the procedure…. We're talking about a very small category of people who would be eligible or would benefit from such a dramatic procedure.
The procedure, in terms of avoided health care costs, has been shown in organizations which manage health care costs in a very specific way, HMOs in the United States, to in fact bring about a significant payback. So I don't think we're talking here about the broad issue of obesity or a solution to the broad issue of obesity in the population.
I have met people, and the minister has met people, who have been waiting for five years for this procedure. I'm told by the surgeons involved that the wait times are six years for the procedure. They've said so specifically, and I can send over the quotes from them, and they would know. I think all of us would say that these wait times are extremely long, and we've met people in these circumstances who would be helped by this.
Certainly, there are other health conditions which they are also being treated for, I'd say to the minister. So not acting and having long wait times and not providing services in this case does lead to higher health costs.
One of the problems, as the minister will know, in bariatric surgery is that almost all of it — I think 99 percent of the procedures — is done here on Vancouver Island by the Vancouver Island Health Authority. I want to just be specific: when was the Provincial Health Services Authority given the assignment to review bariatric surgery? Were there any terms of reference to that, and when does the minister expect a report back?
Hon. K. Falcon: No, this was a discussion between senior staff in my ministry and the PHSA to have the PHSA look at this, because the Provincial Health Services Authority is responsible for programs that are delivered provincially — like the renal program, the transplant program, the cancer program in British Columbia. We felt that in the issue of bariatric surgery one of the challenges we face is that the majority of the procedures done in B.C. are essentially done by one surgeon, Dr. Brad Amson, who I met with.
It is difficult to build a provincial plan around a single surgeon. One of the things we wanted to do was make sure that PHSA took a look at this and, even at a high-level basis, came back and advised us as to whether this might be a program we would consider for a provincial-level delivery of the service.
As I say, it is the case that Dr. Amson — a very skilled surgeon, by the way…. There is Dr. Amson and, I think, one other surgeon that provide the overwhelming majority of bariatric surgical procedures, so it may be that a provincial program overseen by PHSA might be a better way of dealing with this.
There were no official terms of reference or anything. It was more that PHSA will take a look at it and determine whether or not bariatric surgical procedures would fit into the provincial nature of the PHSA and the programs they deliver.
A. Dix: I think that the minister would acknowledge that a 60 percent cut would by definition dramatically increase wait times. That occurred about ten months ago, I believe. Dr. Amson is the one performing the surgery, and essentially, as the minister noted, he is the provincial program, because people are coming from across the province to Vancouver Island to deal with that.
I guess my question to the minister is: aside from this, is the minister saying that for those patients waiting for bariatric surgery, there's no hope this year for any action that might restore to Dr. Amson some of his surgical time so that he could perform these procedures and start dealing with the consequence of the reductions we've seen over the last year? I think everyone would agree they have dramatically increased wait times for the surgery.
Is there any process other than the one the minister has talked about, any suggestion or any hope for those patients other than some hope that maybe one day —
[ Page 5753 ]
possibly, maybe — the PHSA might take an interest in the issue?
Hon. K. Falcon: I guess the short answer is that I don't have any particularly positive message in terms of myself directing VIHA to do anything differently. I think that VIHA, as every health authority, is always challenged with the fact that they don't have unlimited budgets. In VIHA's case, their budget is increasing by almost 20 percent over the next three years. In spite of substantial increases, they still have challenges. They made a decision that they would reduce the number of bariatric surgeries they were doing in favour of doing other surgical procedures.
You know, I think that the meeting with Dr. Brad Amson, at least in my mind, did raise the issue, even in spite of the challenges. I know that Dr. Amson is working with another surgeon — and I apologize; I forget the individual's name. But one of the concerns that staff immediately advised me of was the concern about building a provincial program around a single surgeon. As Dr. Amson is working with this other surgeon, I think that helps reduce the concerns around building a provincial program around one or two surgeons.
I think that the answer, at least in my mind, is that if VIHA and Dr. Amson are providing surgical procedures for folks from around the province — which, in fact, they are; Dr. Amson is clearly the go-to person for undertaking bariatric surgical procedures — then it's fair to ask the question of whether or not this ought to be a program that is delivered on a provincial basis similar to the way we deliver other programs.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
I'm sorry to say I don't have that answer for the critic nor for those individuals who are awaiting this surgery. I know that that would be very important for them, but the moment I do have a report back, I will engage in a discussion with staff to determine whether or not moving forward with some kind of provincial program, likely built around the work that Dr. Amson is doing here in VIHA, is the way to go forward in dealing with these.
You know, I do want to rise to the defence, too, of VIHA. I recognize that in an era that we operate under where you've got health authorities dealing with budget increases that are at minimum 15 percent over the next few years and sometimes more, depending on the health authority…. In spite of that — and you would think that those levels of increases would engender widespread applause and support around the province — the reality is that even with those levels of increases, which are record levels, there is still a challenge in trying to provide every service to every British Columbian that all British Columbians wish to see.
As a necessity, VIHA has had to look at their surgical slate and make decisions about which procedures will be undertaken in their surgical slate. They did make a decision to do less bariatric surgeries and redirect those towards providing other additional surgeries. It is very, very difficult, I am sure, for them to make that decision because you will no doubt frustrate one group of patients — those on the bariatric waiting list — and perhaps you'll find another group of patients that are happy to see that they're going to be receiving additional surgeries.
This is one of the challenges of managing in an environment, in an economy, where we saw world capital markets dramatically melt down. We saw huge changes and hits to the economy both in British Columbia and around the world. We have tried to manage our way through this with significant increases to the health care budget, in spite of the world economic downturn.
I'm proud of the fact that we made those choices, that in this government we decided we would spend significantly more, even given the economic situation taking place. The moment I have more information on this subject, I will be happy to share that with the member.
R. Fleming: I just wanted to ask the Minister of Health a couple of questions while we're speaking on the Vancouver Island Health Authority. The first question is around harm reduction services in the greater Victoria area.
It was 2008 that this community and the approximately 2,500 intravenous drug users that are registered and participate in and use harm reduction programs lost the opportunity to have a fixed-site needle exchange where not only could they exchange dirty needles for clean needles but receive a range of nutrition programs and basically be in touch with those that are working and managing diseases like hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS.
As I mentioned, it was 2008 — the closure of that centre. The health authority has not reopened a fixed-site needle exchange. They have stated that it is a strategic priority to do so, but again, it's been two years and no such action has taken place. Currently they're relying on a much-reduced mobile needle exchange service that just does not have the comprehensive coverage and ability to provide preventative health benefits like the proven centre did in its previous location on Cormorant Street.
My question, simply, to the minister is: can he give this committee here at estimates debate some assurance that the health authority is indeed working on this, that it is included somewhere in the service plan — because I can't see it in his ministry's service plan — and that the health authority will indeed restore
[ Page 5754 ]
that service and look at multiple locations, including public health units, to distribute clean needles and to help save lives and prevent the spread of disease in our community?
Hon. K. Falcon: This indeed has been a challenging situation, I think, for VIHA. In fairness to members of the community, the member was right to point out that the Cormorant Street fixed-site needle exchange was closed primarily due to a huge amount of public backlash about the kind of people that were being, they felt, drawn into the area and some of the crime that took place in the area.
Certainly, I think VIHA tried to listen to the community and recognize a legitimate concern while at the same time trying to come up with alternative policies that would still deal with the important harm reduction aspect of the needle exchange program.
I understand that they are working to provide the needle distribution at a number of public health offices throughout the region, recognizing that all of those with addiction problems don't come from one area. They're actually generally in many communities in the greater Victoria area, so they want to make sure they provide that needle exchange option in public health offices throughout the greater Victoria area.
I know that in Victoria they are still providing needle exchanges at two fixed locations. One is the Cool Aid Society, and the other is on Cook Street — 1947 Cook Street. But they continue to work with the stakeholder groups and meet monthly with AIDS Vancouver Island, the Victoria AIDS Resource and Community Service Society, the Society of Living Intravenous Drug Users and PEERS to try and deal with this issue.
It is a challenging issue, I have to say, and not just in Victoria but in many communities. I do think education is a really important element here. We do have to educate the communities to understand that addictions, unfortunate though they may be, exist in virtually every community in the province. Providing appropriate harm reduction services to those that have addiction challenges is, I think, an important responsibility of government.
I recognize that there is a large contingent out there that view it in a little bit of an "anywhere but my back yard" kind of approach, and I don't think that we should be dismissive of that. I think that we should recognize and understand that those feelings are real, but that we need to ensure, as I think VIHA is trying to do, that we educate communities on the importance of these programs in reducing hep C and reducing the transmission of AIDS, which does have significant financial impacts at a minimum — not to mention the impacts it has on people's qualities of life if those transfers are not appropriately dealt with.
I don't know if that's a helpful answer to the member. I've tried to reflect the information as I recollect in terms of where VIHA is on that account.
R. Fleming: Thank you for that response. I think that the general comment that you get in greater Victoria is that the health authority has taken a couple of steps backwards in recent years and has yet to take a step forward in terms of its harm reduction strategy. There has been a lot of good talk and commitment. Some of the things the minister mentioned can, at best, be described as being in progress but yet to be accomplished, even after many commitments made not only to mayor and council but downtown business associations and to user groups themselves.
I think it's fair to say, too, that the Cormorant Street facility operated for many years largely free of controversy or conflict, and it was only after the operating grants for the service provider were cut — that formerly paid for a night shift and the ability to supervise and, if need be, move the user population on after hours — that that facility became an inflamed situation for many of the adjoining residents. Most of them believed that they could have no confidence that VIHA would restore those cuts, and they became supportive of litigation to evict AIDS Vancouver Island.
That's where we've been. I think we're most interested in where we are going. There was a recent report — and I want to ask the minister for his comments on that — that was in the media. VIHA was looking at combining an addiction out-patient service — which is of course a population that has committed to getting off drugs and is desperately hoping to secure counselling services to avoid drugs at all costs — and mixing that service with a needle exchange replacement for Cormorant as a new fixed-site centre.
I want to ask the minister — because the addiction-recovery community thought it was an extremely bad idea to mix those two distinct services and to possibly tempt those that are off drugs and in various stage of recovery to become involved in drugs again — whether the health authority has indeed scrapped that plan, because it was very poorly received.
Hon. K. Falcon: I apologize, Member, for taking a little time on this. It is an issue I am familiar with but not expert on — a little bit because this comes under Dr. Perry Kendall and generally is more a little bit of a Healthy Living and Sport type of issue in terms of the appropriateness of the harm reduction practices as undertaken by VIHA.
I am led to understand that when VIHA announced their policy back late last year, they were going to be using their distributed method of trying to get the needles out into various aspects of the community, including public
[ Page 5755 ]
health units — where, as the member correctly points out, mental health and addictions service are also being provided. I think the member correctly points out that some of the stakeholders groups suggested that this is a wrong-headed approach.
I understand it's not a new model, that in fact it's an expansion of what was already being done with harm reduction supplies being provided through some VIHA public health units — Victoria, Campbell River, Port Alberni and other venues — apparently for some time.
I'm just going by a note, Member, that was provided to me.
Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has successfully made harm reduction supplies available at their public health units and other locations for over five years — so apparently not a new practice, certainly in the Lower Mainland.
The distributed model of harm reduction supplies is recognized as a best practice, as it improves access to supplies for users while also increasing the number of places where users can get clean supplies, reducing the pressure on any single distribution point.
Having said all that, I do recognize that it is not something that apparently is being warmly embraced by all the stakeholder groups. Certainly, they should make their concerns known to the health authority.
I know there are at least, I think, monthly meetings that take place between the health authority and many of these stakeholder groups involved in the harm reduction initiatives. That's probably the appropriate forum to raise those issues and determine whether indeed those best practices that have been undertaken elsewhere apply to Victoria, and whether that's appropriate that they continue in that fashion.
R. Fleming: I thank the minister for his answer. I know the health authority has said that decisions are pending in late June or in July. I don't think it's considered best practice in this health authority or in others to be mixing populations of active drug users who are engaged in harm reduction strategies to manage their addictions versus people in various stages of being clean and off drugs. Even seeing a former dealer or the sight of a needle can be a trigger point that would lure somebody back on drugs, and those are the concerns that have been expressed.
If it's for purely budgetary reasons that they would look at sharing an office space — and in this case, I was referring to 1250 Quadra — I think I would have to agree with those in the addiction community who have said that would be a poor decision.
I want to move on, though, to the Oak Bay Lodge and Mount Tolmie lands and those seniors residential care facilities and ask the minister about the proposed land sales of those publicly owned and managed facilities. There is a moratorium on selling school lands in the province of B.C. that came into effect not too long before the election. It had been controversial. A number of school districts had been selling school sites and school lands as a way to fund short-term operating deficits that they faced.
Now it appears that health authorities are engaged in a practice of selling residential care facilities, in particular, and lands that they own in order to plug holes in short-term operating deficits. I say that is problematic for a number of reasons, but primary among them is the aging demographic that we're facing. Already Victoria enjoys the largest proportion of octogenarians of any metropolitan area in Canada, and it would seem to be something that would give pause to the health authority before they sell sites that they now own.
If you're looking at the rates of property that they would have purchased many decades earlier than today, assets they have that they couldn't hope to replace in the real estate market of today when they will need them in the future down the road, that demographic is only getting larger — the proportion of not only 60-to-80-year-olds but over 80. The capacity of the health authority to plan and build residential care facilities seems to be diminishing by the sale of lands and therefore options in future years to build new and/or replacement facilities.
I want to ask the minister a question. There was a notice, a press release from the health authority the other week that a proponent had been announced on the redevelopment of Mount Tolmie and Oak Bay Lodge. It's a very vague press release that only says that a contractor has been identified, but it does talk about the options of, again, selling these sites — Mount Tolmie and Oak Bay Lodge sites — and distributing the new bed allocation on one or more sites.
If the minister could confirm that the health authority is proceeding, even in the wake of both Oak Bay and Saanich councils being adamantly opposed, with the sale of those two health care sites and if the RFP that has been awarded contemplates the use of private land being acquired by this new proponent.
I'm curious to hear the minister's response on this, but it seems to me crazy to compensate a new private operator who is now buying private land in this market and compensate those costs instead of redeveloping or building on other public lands that we own in this region. The minister is not a stranger to this issue, but I want to hear an update from him on the pace and proceeding of those land sales.
Hon. K. Falcon: Just before I get to the Mount Tolmie and Oak Bay Lodge thing, I thought I would further provide some information on the needle exchange and harm reduction discussion we were having previous to this member. I think the member might be interested.
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I'll refer the member to a letter to the editor written to the Victoria Times Colonist on March 19, 2010, page A11, by Mark Haden. Mark Haden is the clinical supervisor for addiction services with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. He has worked in alcohol and drug programs since 1984 and has published articles on drug policy issues in The Canadian Journal of Public Health and The International Journal of Drug Policy.
Obviously, I won't read the whole letter into the record. I will read a relevant section that I think might be of interest to the member and perhaps to constituents who worry about these sorts of things. I'll just quote in part from the letter, if I may.
"My experience is that multiple health services can be offered in the same building successfully and that linking needle exchange and addiction treatment can be beneficial. In Vancouver we have successfully integrated harm reduction services into the Pacific Spirit Community Health Centre without any of the problems that have been suggested in the article."
That was an article in the Victoria Times Colonist talking about the fears, many of which have been enunciated by the member opposite.
It goes on:
"Our health clinic sees parents come in with babies, youth come in for speech and language services, and people with addictions come in for counselling and needle exchange services. All of these groups use the building without any problems. Our speech and language parents and youth have never complained or shown any distress, and no addiction services client has ever blamed their relapse on being 'triggered' by the needle exchange service or signs. All staff hand out needles without issue.
"We've witnessed very marginalized clients come to access our needle exchange and then get connected to addiction recovery services and do well. Perhaps the reality is different than the article suggests. Perhaps people who use our needle exchange service are triggered by seeing the door opened to recovery. When they are ready to take that positive health step, they know us already and that we welcome them."
Just a thought in terms of the issue of harm reduction and some of the legitimate challenges that it invokes. I think what VIHA is trying to do is follow best practices. Evidently, in Vancouver that is something that is working very well. Hopefully, that will lend some comfort, I think, to folks in Victoria.
With respect to Mount Tolmie and Oak Bay, I think the first thing that has to be emphasized and that I think sometimes gets lost, at least in the debate as I've witnessed this…. It seems to be a debate about land, and really, what we are talking about is the health authority trying to find a way to enhance services for seniors. So we start with the challenge of two facilities: Mount Tolmie and, of course, Oak Bay Lodge.
Both are older facilities with structural issues. For example, Mount Tolmie, I understand, cannot see the use of overhead lifts being installed because of structural issues. Those are important not only for dealing with the patient but for staff and reducing injuries and challenges for staff that are trying to work with patients.
What VIHA has done is go out to the health marketplace and said: "We want somebody that is capable of coming back and delivering brand-new facilities with all the latest and greatest features for seniors in our community." That's exactly what they are trying to do. VIHA is, I understand, now at the point where they have selected a lead proponent — the Baptist Housing Society.
The Baptist Housing Society is well known and, I understand, had a very excellent reputation in providing care on Vancouver Island. They are working with the Baptist Housing Society on a process that is expected to culminate in project agreement later this spring. That will, of course, engage project details and locations, etc.
But I think it is important to point out that the priority for the health authority is not to be a landlord. The priority for the health authority is to deliver top-quality, high-quality health services. The use of that land is not going to change. The use of that land will continue to be the delivery of seniors services for seniors on Vancouver Island.
I am actually excited about this. I think it's encouraging that they've selected what, by every description I've heard, is an excellent lead proponent in the Baptist Housing Society, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the result of that is.
I can tell you that the additional units that they are looking for will be, as I say, state-of-the-art units that will have all of the benefits that one would expect in a state-of-the-art facility that is looking after loved ones, particularly seniors, though not exclusively seniors.
N. Macdonald: The question I have for the minister is about Norm Gagatek. This is a young man that was struck down by a stroke that left him entirely paralyzed. His partner Kim, his friends and family, Columbia Valley firefighters have fought to assist his recovery. He has two young sons and a life ahead of him, but the quality of that life comes only with treatment.
Now, I first raised the issue with regards to Norm Gagatek when the speech pathologist was being removed, and there was deep, deep concern that that would be a devastating cut for Mr. Gagatek and would impact negatively his recovery. Subsequent to that, the community and the family fought very hard. The result was a placement in a facility in Alberta that the minister would be familiar with — the Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury, and that's in Ponoka, Alberta.
It's a facility that works with stroke victims and head injuries. B.C. is paying for this currently for Mr. Gagatek. It is a unique service — unique to B.C. and Alberta, certainly.
Four months on, Norm is sitting up. He can eat liquefied food and swallow. He's laughing again. He can say his sons' names. He played a video game with his sons just a matter of weeks ago. This is a dramatic, dramatic change. I saw him approximately a year after his stroke, and he could only lie on his back. You'd see motion with
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his eyes but an inability to communicate. So there has been tremendous progress made.
The key part here — from his family of course, from his young children, from the community — is an insistence that the treatment must continue. And so the question for the minister is: will he assure Norm and his family that the placement at Halvar Jonson Centre for Brain Injury in Ponoka in Alberta will continue?
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member for the question. Member, I must say that staff don't have sort of an up-to-date profile on Mr. Gagatek. I am encouraged to hear that he's receiving some excellent care at the Halvar Jonson facility. Brain-injury patients are some of the most challenging patients to deal with.
Halvar Jonson — I do know of that facility, because I've seen it come across my desk before in other cases of patients that are receiving care though the slow-stream approach that they use, which is to try and get patients to a stage where they will be ready for active rehabilitation services that can be provided back in their community or wherever is appropriate for the individual.
I'm really encouraged, and I really commend the member for staying up to speed in the case of this particular family, because I can't imagine how difficult it must be for the wife and children of Mr. Gagatek to try and be supportive and hopeful as he works through this process. But I'm really pleased that dramatic improvements are being made.
What I can tell the member is that the position of government in cases like this is that they will stay and they will receive the services for as long as is necessary until the health professionals make a determination that it would be appropriate for the individual to return to their community. The community and the health authority would be responsible for making sure they have got an interdisciplinary team that would be in place that would be able to handle the next phase of rehabilitation and care for the individual.
I am trying to get more information on the specific case for the member if I can, but at a high level that's how brain-injury cases are generally dealt with.
A. Dix: Perhaps what I might propose to the minister with respect to the issues around surgeries and numbers and so on is that perhaps we'll start first thing tomorrow on that, because I'd be asking questions about other health authorities as well. Then he'll have the information, and we'll have a fairly short debate on that question.
Just a very specific question to the minister about the situation at Royal Inland, and then we'll be joined by some of my colleagues from Vancouver Island.
As he knows, there have been serious issues around sterilization of hospital surgical equipment at Royal Inland Hospital. There has been a longstanding understanding among senior officials, from Mr. Ramsden, the former CEO, to Dr. Halpenny on down, that there's a requirement for a new sterilization suite at Royal Inland. Sullivan Healthcare, which is doing the review in the wake of the most recent incidents, is in fact arguing that the sterilization department should be replaced.
I'm wondering if the minister agrees with that recommendation, and if there's any timeline for the Interior Health Authority to respond to that report.
Hon. K. Falcon: As the member knows, this is a very important subject, which has caused great concern in Kamloops and surrounding areas as a result of challenges that they've had in the sterilization department at Royal Inland Hospital.
It has perhaps been complicated by the fact that there's also a criminal investigation underway by the RCMP looking into what are allegations around tampering that apparently is alleged to have taken place, which would be tampering by someone doing something like that on purpose. That is, of course, the source of a criminal investigation, and that has obviously created a great degree of consternation from the Health Minister on down.
However, having said that, I do think that, obviously, that review will continue. But one of the things I can say is that it's one of the reasons why — as I've mentioned, and the member and I have covered this in question period — we've started instituting annual audits, which were not being done prior to our forming government, so that we can look at the state of sterilization departments and determine whether or not improvements or investments need to be made.
As I mentioned at the time when the Sullivan review was announced as an external review, in addition to the internal reviews that were being undertaken by the Interior Health Authority…. I indicated at the time that it, of course, would be my expectation that recommendations made by the external report would be recommendations that would be followed.
My understanding is that that report is now going to the Interior Health board, and the board will look at that report. I know they're taking it very, very seriously, and I commend them for that, as are the staff not only at Royal Inland but at the Interior Health Authority.
Those recommendations will then be reviewed by the board and brought to the ministry, and we will have a very quick discussion about how we can make implementation of those recommendations.
I would caution the member, though, that if the member is going to support one recommendation that the member is apparently aware of, having to do with a capital investment…. I would presume that the position of the member opposite, the Health critic, would be that he will be supporting all the recommendations that will be
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made in the report. I think if the member is prepared to say that on the record, that would be a helpful thing.
A. Dix: Well, will the minister table the report?
Hon. K. Falcon: I now enjoy the enviable position of saying that I don't recall hearing the member respond to my question as to whether or not he is going to endorse all of the recommendations of the report. I would hope that the member would.
Hon. K. Falcon: Apparently now it's only when he sees them, but the member was asking me about one recommendation in the report.
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, the member was asking me to make a commitment based on a report I have yet had the opportunity to see. But the member was referring to one aspect of the report, asking the minister to make a public commitment with respect to that one aspect.
All I am suggesting is that if the member wishes to have the Health Minister make that commitment of support, I would hope that the Health critic is also courageous enough to say he accepts that whatever recommendations are made in that report, he will also be supportive. That's all I'm asking of the member. If he wishes me to make the same commitment, I would just ask the member to endorse that commitment.
In terms of the report being made public — absolutely. I will commit to table the report and make it public.
A. Dix: Unlike the minister, sometimes I get sent these reports and get an opportunity to comment on them.
We're here in estimates. He says the IHA has the report. Will he table it while we're in estimates so we can have that discussion?
Hon. K. Falcon: Look. No, of course not. That would be irresponsible. The report is currently being reviewed by the board. It goes through a process. I've just stated on the record that of course I will table the report once it's gone through the review by the health authority board. Once it's presented to government, I commit that I will make that available and publicly available, as we should, and as I would hope the member would support.
Look, Member, we're all interested, at least on this side of the House, in not trying to make a political issue out of this but actually trying to solve what is and has been a challenge at the Royal Inland Hospital. It's been a challenge complicated by the fact that there are allegations of intentional tampering that have also taken place, and that has been a challenge.
One of the reasons why they perform annual health audits at Royal Inland and have performed annual health audits is that those audits have made recommendations in the past, and those recommendations have been implemented by the health authority. That has included capital investment. It's included additional staff resources.
They now have an external report to complement the internal audits that they've undertaken. That external report, as I say, has apparently made a number of recommendations. The member apparently is familiar with one of them. I am familiar, from media reports, with one of them too.
The member is asking me to make a public commitment, and I have said publicly before that I do believe that whatever recommendations come out of that report should be implemented. I am simply saying that the member should know that when that report is publicly tabled, I am going to be of the complete expectation that the member opposite will support all of the recommendations in the report and won't just try and cherry-pick the ones that the member likes and other ones that he may not like.
S. Fraser: Hello to the minister and your staff. Thanks for being here. I've got so many issues, but I've tried to distil it down to three different questions, three different sections of my riding — Alberni–Pacific Rim, central Vancouver Island. So I've got one for the west coast, one for central Alberni Valley and the other for the east side of the Island, the Oceanside area.
I'll start with the centre, if I could. It's regarding the new residential care rates. The minister put out a notice — I think it was in October — announcing the new rate system in the Alberni Valley. Fir Park–Echo Village is where I'm hearing the concerns — their residents there, families of the residents that are in Fir Park–Echo for long-term care. There are 130 beds in Fir Park–Echo Village.
Now, the minister has stated…. I think I've got the quotes right. He said in his notice that the new rates, acknowledging that they are increasing for 75 percent of the residents at Fir Park–Echo Village, will be used to support ongoing improvements to the residential care system and that the government is continuing to provide increased funding to support our citizens in quality facilities. Certainly, Fir Park–Echo Village is one such quality facility.
The cost increases to some of the residents have been high. I'd like to know where the improved, increased services and the improvements to residential care…. We haven't seen that piece of the equation. None of the funding has hit the ground in Fir Park–Echo Village, yet
[ Page 5759 ]
certainly the government has already levied some fairly big increases on the residents there.
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member for Alberni–Pacific Rim for the question with respect to Echo Village. Just for the benefit of the member, the Health critic and I were canvassing issues around this earlier, but I also recognize that you didn't have the opportunity to be involved and be present when that happened. So I'm happy to revisit some of these issues.
I think the most important thing I would say, first of all, at a high level is, as I canvassed with the Health critic, that what we have committed to do when making the changes to the residential care rates…. Again, to summarize the changes, what we are doing now is making sure that those changes are predicated on an individual's income so that people will pay in proportion to what their after-tax income is.
In fact, residential care clients are paying up to 80 percent of their after-tax income towards the room-and-board costs. The provision we put in place was that we would ensure that every resident would have a minimum level of at least $275 available a month after all the payments they're making for the residential care setting, which would be the highest level in Canada.
Now, the $53.7 million is the amount, I think, that is raised by the change in the fees, which saw 25 percent of residential care clients see a reduction and 75 percent see an increase predicated upon how much their income is…. We committed that all of those dollars would go right back into the residential care system. Primarily but not exclusively, it will likely go into increased staffing at facilities because what we are endeavouring to do is make sure that we have a universal high standard of care being provided at all of the residential care facilities.
Increasingly, what's happened over the years is that the kinds of individuals that are presenting and living in our residential care facilities — generally speaking, though not exclusively — are complex care individuals. That is becoming much more consistent now, whereas in the past, particularly before there were alternative housing options available like assisted living and the home care supports that are now provided, it was often the case that individuals would find themselves in residential care facilities before they actually needed that level of care.
The evidence showed that was deleterious to their health outcomes. In fact, they often did not do well when they went into a setting that provided an overabundance of care or a level of care that they're not necessarily availing. That is a very different situation now.
In the case of Echo Village, I wouldn't be able to speak specific to that location, because I just don't have enough information. But what I can tell the member, generally speaking, is that what will happen is that the health authorities are going to be submitting plans to the ministry that will identify how and where they're investing those additional incremental dollars that they will be receiving back into the residential care setting where those dollars will go.
Generally speaking, what they will do is put those dollars into the facilities that have a lower level of care being provided to the residents. As I mentioned earlier to the Health critic, if it is a facility that already has a very high level of support services, it's likely not a facility that will see additional dollars. But if it is a facility that requires additional services, then it will see additional dollars come to that facility. Those will primarily — as I say, not exclusively, but primarily — be additional staffing support in care aides or nursing staff or rehabilitation staff or whatever the case or the need may be in that facility.
The rationale behind all of that is to ensure that all of the facilities are raised up to that higher level and that they will all be at that higher level, recognizing that it will be the appropriate level to deal with the increasingly consistent level of complexity that we are finding in the residential care setting.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I don't envy the minister in trying to use that argument for the increases to 75 percent of the residents in these facilities, because many of these residents, as the minister knows, have some big challenges — dementia, Alzheimer's in some cases.
Whereas most British Columbians have limits on rent increases, some of our most vulnerable seniors are faced with a dramatic rate increase in some cases. I don't believe you're going to get much buy-in with that argument, but I don't have time to take that one further.
In the case of Fir Park–Echo Village, we've already lost a secure wing there. That happened over a year ago. The pink wing, they called it. Some of the more complex care, the secure care — we lost that.
These increases, just in Fir Park–Echo, by my calculations work out to about 130 beds. The fee increases, by the new formula, represent over $170,000. It doesn't sound like a lot in the big scheme of things, but it's just for Fir Park–Echo.
A final question on this, because I have no more time: will we be seeing this level of support, whether it's for staffing — maybe in the staffing, so they can return to some secure care, or other types of staffing that's necessary? That $172,000 increase — will the residents be able to see that reflected in near-future increased care?
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member because I know there is limited time, and it's sometimes frustrating. Don't ever be afraid to contact my office separately, if you want to try and get more information.
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The short answer is: it depends. It depends on what the current level of staffing is at that particular facility and whether that level needs to be raised up to the new higher standard that the health authorities will be expecting and requiring of a residential care provider. I can't specifically comment with respect to Echo Village, because the truth is that I just don't know.
We are in the process of receiving those plans from the health authorities. What we have said to the health authorities is that we will require every dollar of new incremental revenue that's generated as a result of the residential care rate changes to be plowed back into the system to raise, as I say, the level of care standards in the facilities that need to be moved up to the higher level of standard, which would include increased staffing levels.
I appreciate what the member says about making the changes. These are never easy changes to make. I know that when the members opposite were in government, they had to make those changes twice in the decade of the '90s. Those were not easy changes then, either. I am certain of that.
We do think there is an element of fairness here that does meet the test. That test, ultimately, is fairness. The fairness is that people will pay in accordance to the level of income that they have, not unlike the Fair PharmaCare program.
We also built in a hardship provision such that if for whatever reason there are unique circumstances that do not reflect the reality of an individual or an individual family situation or a patient situation, then the health authorities do have the benefit and the ability to utilize that hardship provision to provide additional relief to those individuals.
But at the end of the day, I do think it's important to say that even with these changes, we will still be subsidizing the room-and-board costs for 90 percent of the individuals in our residential care system. These are not, as the Canada Health Act would say, medically necessary provisions of services. We continue to provide all of the health care costs — 100 percent covered by government.
We are simply here talking about the room-and-board costs of someone being looked after and having a place to live. Paying towards their room and board, in accordance to their level of income, strikes me as entirely fair and appropriate — though still, I realize, an unwelcome change for anybody that, of course, is at the paying end of that equation.
We have tried hard to do that in a thoughtful way that meets the reasonableness test, and I hope we have achieved that.
[H. Bloy in the chair.]
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I will take him up on a further discussion on this at some point.
The Tofino Hospital — there are many issues there. There's work being done through VIHA and the community groups, and I applaud that work being done.
As the minister might know, the Tofino Hospital represents more than just Tofino. It's Ucluelet. It's area C. It's all of the Nuu-chah-nulth communities of Clayoquot Sound and some 10,000 to 20,000 tourists on an August day — so the size of a small city.
I have many issues to raise. I don't have time, so I'll just go. We lost obstetric services in the Tofino Hospital. Can we get that back? That's a big blow to the entire area, and it's not fair to the residents who are pregnant and trying to give birth close to home.
There are already enough challenges with transportation to Tofino hospital for many Nuu-chah-nulth people, and also moving away from the west coast takes them away from their family.
Hon. K. Falcon: What I can tell the member is that in a situation like this, Tofino Hospital, a ten-bed facility that has, I understand, 3.5 FTEs in terms of general practitioners, GPs, doctors….
These are very challenging issues, but this is one where the evidence is actually not very challenging. It's pretty overwhelming in the sense that it is not a best practice to provide a full suite of service at every facility in the province. This is a challenging issue to accept, but it actually is something that is very true and very much supported by evidence.
For example, even doing routine pregnancies at a hospital and routine deliveries, if the physicians involved are not doing a certain volume of obstetrical procedures, then that is a challenge in terms of delivering the best possible results for patients. If something goes wrong — because even in routine pregnancies you can have things go wrong — believe me, you want those individuals and those patients to be treated at a facility that is doing sufficient volume that they've got the expertise and the capability to deal with those situations very quickly and very promptly and very effectively.
This can be a challenge. Even in the Lower Mainland, where you have higher populations, there are still settings that do very low volumes that raise real concerns in terms of what is appropriate practice and best practice for dealing with obstetrical cases.
So I would say to the member, without having the detailed information of the decision that was made, that it is actually a decision that I think, on balance, I would be supporting — probably very supportive of.
I think what I could tell the member is that there would be lots of strong evidence as to why that is actually in the best interests of those mothers who are coming in to receive obstetrical services — that they want to have those services at a facility that is doing sufficient volume that they're capable of dealing with the things that go
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well but also the things that can occasionally go very wrong even in routine pregnancies. So I wouldn't hold out hope that that's something that would return, because I don't think evidence would support that.
S. Fraser: Your predecessor coined the phrase: health care where you need it, when you need it. This is a loss of service on the west coast. There's a baby boom happening in Nuu-chah-nulth communities and in the community of Ucluelet, and this is a big loss. This is not an improvement by anybody's assessment. I don't have time to go into that now, so I'll just agree to disagree.
Parksville-Qualicum, Oceanside area. Last question dealing with the proposed…. They've been waiting since 2001. They've done the work. The community is there. The organizations on health care have done the work on what's needed for their community, a catchment area of close to 50,000 people. No primary care, no urgency care within 40 minutes. It's either Comox, Nanaimo or West Coast General in Port Alberni. This is some of the oldest population per capita in Canada.
What's being proposed through VIHA — a request for proposals out there — is not in keeping with what the community determined was their needs. Basically, they're proposing a private clinic, a walk-in clinic with limited hours, which could never provide urgency care or, in many cases, primary care or palliative care or diagnostic care — well, maybe.
But most of the key issues don't appear to be in this model that is being proposed, and the concern of the citizens of Oceanside is grave that we're going to accept something that will be substandard, and we'll never get the quality public health facility that they deserve.
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member for the question. This is an issue I have some familiarity with. I've had the opportunity through the MLA from Nanaimo-Parksville, who has worked very closely with the task force that was put together, and the local mayors of Parksville and Qualicum as well as the regional district of Nanaimo…. They have really been great partners in putting this together. So I do have some recollection.
In fact, I met with many members of the task force. I don't think you could probably put together a finer group of people, more committed and dedicated to ensuring that they have first-class health care in their area. I do think it's important to recognize, Member, that the new primary health care and urgent care centre that was called for as part of the expression of interest was something that was built upon in consultation with the health care task force that was put together, and they have worked very cooperatively in doing so.
I think the issue the member may take some issue with is that there is not a requirement for in-patient hospital beds. That is something that, yes, there has been a bit of a disagreement around the edges on, but the statistics actually do not support the inclusion of in-patient beds.
The evidence and the statistics based on usage and based on what is taking place in the community and what is projected to take place support the model that they are moving forward with. Certainly, we very much appreciate the collaborative work that has been done with members of the task force, particularly with the chair, Mayor Ed Mayne of Parksville….
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm sorry?
The Chair: Please direct all your comments through the Chair.
Hon. K. Falcon: We have appreciated the important role that they've played. I do think that it is important to recognize that on issues like this, you…. And I think VIHA has done a very good job of working very closely with the community partners to try and move forward on a proposal that will meet the needs of the communities, built upon a foundation of evidence, based on health care usage in the communities and the area.
While there is a disagreement on the need for in-patient beds, I do think that the evidence supports the position that VIHA is taking and is trying to take in moving forward what will be, I think, a very important part of the community.
The final point I'd like to say about this I think is also really important and worth stating, and that is that primary care and looking after folks in the community is actually a very important shift that we are trying to move towards in the provincial government in the delivery of health care.
Historically, the model has been one of looking after folks in acute care settings like hospitals and in-patient care beds. That is a very expensive way of looking after individuals. It is not necessarily the smartest way of looking after individuals. Obviously, some will require acute care, but what a proper, community-based delivery of care can do is look after folks, monitor their conditions — particularly those with chronic care health conditions — such that you keep them from presenting at emergency departments and requiring those in-patient care beds.
That is certainly a shift that we are moving towards in British Columbia, and it is something that we will continue to move forward. What is taking place here is entirely consistent with that direction, which is supported by just ample evidence right around the world in terms of the best way to deliver care for individuals.
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C. Trevena: I'd like to follow on with the minister, if I might, from some of the issues my colleague from Alberni–Pacific Rim has been talking about.
One is the lack of gynecological facilities and the access to health care. The north end of my constituency — the Mount Waddington area, Port Alice, Port McNeill and Port Hardy and going up the islands — haven't had gynecological facilities for some time.
Many women, for their first birth, will go to Campbell River or to St. Joseph's in the Comox Valley for ob-gyne work. My colleague from Alberni–Pacific Rim was talking about the need in the Oceanside to access hospital care, and one of the nearest hospitals is St. Joseph's.
The minister is very well aware of what's happening at St. Joseph's. We've raised this in question period, and my colleague from Alberni–Pacific Rim and I have written to the minister about the planned closure of 18 acute care beds at St. Joseph's.
There is a real concern in the community, not just in Comox Valley but, I know, around the whole north Island and other areas as well. The whole team of the intensive care specialists in Campbell River Hospital have written to the minister expressing their concern about the closure and the impact it's going to have on care right across the north and central Island.
There has been a bit of a reprieve in timelines, but I would hope that the minister could give some assurances that he would feel comfortable in stepping in on this issue. They may not seem like many, and I know that there is a move towards primary health care, but those 18 beds are not just used for people in the Comox Valley. They're used for the north, central and west coast of Vancouver Island.
Hon. K. Falcon: There are two issues that the member has addressed. The first is around the issue of obstetrics. Again, I think this is sometimes a challenge for folks throughout the province, but I think it's very important that we look at and learn very carefully from what the evidence tells us. And actually, what the evidence tells us is that it is not necessarily appropriate or even wise to try and provide all kinds of health care services at every facility in the province.
This is important because, particularly in the case of obstetrics, you want to ensure that the individuals providing that care have been doing a sufficient volume of cases that they are practised and readied for when a situation is not routine, as can happen even in cases that you would assume would be routine deliveries.
I do think that it is often the case that the for best interests of patients, it means that they should go to a facility — it may be a regional or tertiary care facility — to receive those services. That is entirely appropriate and, certainly, entirely supported by evidence. I do want to be really clear on the record that it is not the position of this minister nor this government that every single service should be provided at every single health care facility in the province. That is not appropriate, nor is it wise, nor is it, in fact, following best practices.
In terms of the issue at Mount St. Joe's, we have canvassed that. The good news is there are not 18 beds being cut. That is just simply not the case. In fact, as I have said before and as I said in the House, the number of acute care beds at Mount St. Joe's in 1992 was 125. By the end of the decade, when we got elected in 2001, there were 109. That was the only time in which there was a reduction in acute care beds. Today there are still 109 beds at Mount St. Joe's.
What has changed is what has changed at Mount St. Joe's and other hospitals. They are taking the individuals that are being ready to transition into residential care settings — primarily senior citizens, though not always; they're sometimes referred to as bed-blockers in the system — and what they're doing is congregating them together in a ward so that they can be looked after with appropriate care. And that appropriate care does not require physicians or registered nurses. Those individuals can be appropriately cared for by care aides and LPNs in many cases, and that's what they're doing at St. Joseph's.
It has created, certainly, a fuss — we recognize that — as it has in every hospital that has moved towards this approach. But it is entirely consistent with managing the resources that they have in a way that makes the most sense. But there continues to be the same number of acute care beds at that hospital as there was in 2001. I do think it's important to point that out.
Will it require a different staff mix? Yes, it will. That's what the upset is about, because obviously the registered nurses involved aren't happy about finding that there's going to be a requirement for less RNs at that facility. I think what VIHA has made clear is that they are very comfortable that they will be able to relocate all of those RNs within the system because, after all, we do have a shortage of registered nurses within the system.
Even with the substantial increases, the 37 percent increase in nurses trained and brought into the system under our government since 2001, we still have shortages. Through the appropriate collective agreement provisions, of course, I understand that VIHA is confident they will be able to find new positions for all those individuals in the VIHA health system.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for his response. I think there is clearly a disagreement between the minister's view that it's a matter of managing resources and the view of the medical profession — the doctors, nurses, health care workers — as well as the view of the community, who see it very much as a loss of services for the whole community.
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St. Joseph's does cover, as I mentioned previously, not just the Comox Valley but a huge swath of the central north Island. The demographics of Comox Valley have changed quite considerably since 2001. We now have daily flights in from Edmonton on WestJet. We have a number of people who have moved to the area. We have a very vibrant ski resort in the area. I'm sure the minister is aware of all of those, which have created the changes.
I would hope that the minister does read the letter that my colleague from Alberni–Pacific Rim and I have written to him and that we can find a time before the deadline that we can sit down together and try and work out a solution that will work best for the medical community, for the needs of the whole community and for the people in our respective constituencies.
I am very aware that I have other colleagues who want to talk about issues in the Vancouver Island Health Authority area, so I will move on to another concern. That is something that I've mentioned to this minister and his predecessor, which is the potential new Campbell River hospital, which also plays out with the Comox Valley.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority has said this is going to be a priority, so I'm looking for assurances from the Minister of Health that it will be a priority when it comes to capital dollars and going to Treasury Board in the fall so that it can appear in the next budget.
Also, one of the areas in the building of the new Campbell River hospital is a commitment from Vancouver Island Health Authority that there would be approximately 40 new long-term-care beds built in the community. There has been some discussion of some beds already being built. That's at Evergreen, one of the private seniors homes. There are new beds at Evergreen, but those are all private beds. It's a very good facility, but the facility owners could not get a contract with VIHA to make them into any version of public beds.
I'm looking for some assurances from the minister that there will be a real commitment to building those 40-plus long-term-care beds before the hospital goes ahead but that at the same time, there will be an equal commitment from the minister that there is from VIHA that we will get money for the new hospital in the next budget round.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member asks about the state of the proposed hospital. The member is correct. We received a concept paper from VIHA with respect to building two new hospitals, one in Campbell River and one in the Comox Valley. This is an issue that the MLA for Comox Valley has been deeply involved in, and I recognize the contribution that the member has made in bringing this to my attention on virtually a daily basis.
What I can say and what I said to that member is that this is indeed an important priority for government. We have asked VIHA to move forward with the preparation of a formal business case, which will be brought forward to the Ministry of Health Services as soon as they are responsibly and reasonably able to do so. The moment we get that, then we will do our bit in terms of going out and making sure that the provincial government comes forward with its portion of the capital required.
I can tell the member that this is a very important priority for us. We have, since 2001, invested over $5 billion now in new capital. I can tell you that when I get the opportunity to visit some of these capital projects…. Whether it's the tripling of the Vic General emergency department that I toured through or whether it's the new Royal Jubilee Hospital tower that's under construction, these are truly state-of-the-art projects.
The addition of two new hospitals to encompass the care for patients on the north Island is a very important priority for this minister and for this government.
C. Trevena: I'm very pleased that it continues to be a priority. It was a priority for the previous minister. I realize that we raised it very vociferously in the community, and the community has been very strongly behind it for many years now, so I'm pleased that the minister is on board with this.
I wanted to know about one of the things that were needed before the Campbell River hospital goes ahead. There was a commitment from VIHA that there would be approximately 40 new long-term-care beds in the community. As I've mentioned, we have the issue where Evergreen has long-term-care beds. It's not as many as needed, and they are private. They couldn't get a contract with VIHA.
I understand this model for long-term care, but I wanted to see where those 40 beds would come and what time frame we're looking at. There was a guarantee that this would come before the new hospital, but we don't want to slow the hospital down.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised by staff that that is part of the proposal. Of course, it would form part of the business case that is being put together on the two-hospital project.
B. Routley: Thank you for the opportunity to ask a couple of questions. In the Cowichan Valley seniors are waiting in their homes for residential care placement. All of the publicly funded residential care beds, as of the last report that I had, are full, and there are waiting lists.
There's an ongoing crisis in the emergency room at the Cowichan District Hospital, with OCP-5 status on a regular basis. Emergency patients are suffering the indignities of health risks, lying on gurneys in corridors and being in the immediate vicinity of patients who are
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quarantined behind a curtain, if you can imagine that. Elective surgeries continue to be cancelled because acute care beds are full, and in some cases seniors are waiting in these beds in the hospital.
We heard a lot about what's been going on in the province, but obviously, I'm extremely concerned about what's going on right there in the Cowichan Valley. The fact that far too many seniors…. We've got, in the Cowichan Valley, a rising number of seniors. I'm sure that the minister is aware that our area, our region, is being hard hit, if you like, by large numbers of seniors moving into the region. It's a particularly attractive part of British Columbia, and that's a good thing. But on the other….
A Voice: Second most attractive.
B. Routley: Yes, second.
I would ask the minister for his response on this crisis in seniors care. I would add that ever since Cowichan Lodge we've gone from crisis to crisis. We first had the Cowichan Lodge fiasco. Then we had the replacement facility, Sunridge. Suddenly all of the staff were let go, shortly after they unionized. Then we have Cerwydden, where they've got this kind of revolving-door approach to seniors care. It is absolutely unacceptable to the people of the Cowichan Valley that we should have such a tenuous situation for seniors care.
I think that there has to be a real accounting for what's happening — clearly, the crisis in the hospital. It all seems to relate to the seniors care crisis. I would like to know if the minister has any plans now or in the future to deal with this crisis in seniors care.
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member for Cowichan Valley for the question. First of all, I certainly would have to take exception to the member's description of a crisis. There are always challenges in health care, and I think we should acknowledge that probably for as long as there are governments and Health ministers, there will be challenges in all aspects of the health care system. But I would certainly not describe it as a crisis. I suppose that could have be an apt description ten years ago, but it certainly wouldn't be today.
The reason I can say that with some degree of confidence is that I can point out to the member that since our government got elected in 2001, we've actually added over 13,000 units of either brand-new units of seniors housing or dramatically rehabilitated units that now include all the latest in terms of lifts and equipment, and independent private rooms in most cases, which are very important for the dignity of our seniors.
In fact, on Vancouver Island we've added over 1,460 additional beds since 2001. To put that into perspective for the member opposite, that is actually more than the government — in fact, the NDP government — added in the entire decade of the 1990s.
I do think that progress has been made. It is evidenced, in fact, by one statistic that most people out there that are waiting for care…. Let's understand that indeed there are folks that are waiting to move into residential care, but the most important statistic they're probably looking at is how long it's taking.
The good news is that when I first got elected in 2001, the average wait time was up to one year and today it's about 90 days, on average. That is an average, so it will depend, obviously, on different areas of the province. But certainly, it is a reflection on the fact that there has been a massive investment of billions of dollars into the senior sector to build this kind of range of housing for seniors.
I do think it's also important for the member to know that that range of housing is important too. There used to only be one kind of housing, which was residential care. Now there are other options that reflect the fact that not all seniors require the same kinds of services. Some require some assistance in living on their own. That's why we have invested and built significant new assisted-living facilities, and that's why we also have residential care facilities for those that require more complex care needs.
Have we arrived at the final destination, and are things out there perfect? They certainly are not, but I think the member would acknowledge that an investment of almost $2½ billion on home and community care last year alone for seniors, which is an increase of over 50 percent from 2001, is a pretty good start.
I think the member would probably recognize that it takes continued and ongoing investment in both private and public options available for our seniors, because most seniors want choices. We are doing everything we can to work within the challenges that we have, with a massively increased budget and massively increased investment, to deal with the reality of an aging population.
I do also think, as a final point, that it is important to point out that not every senior requires nor desires residential care services. Our obligation as government is to make sure that for those that do require and/or desire residential care, we do everything we can to ensure that those additional housing units are provided as quickly as we reasonably can build these sorts of facilities.
B. Routley: Thank you for the answer, although certainly for the seniors that are waiting in the Cowichan Valley, I'm not sure that that's the fulsome answer they would hope for. I'll move on to another matter, because I know there are a number of other people that have questions.
I'd like to bring to the minister's attention, if he hasn't heard already, Brendon Meyer. His 20-month-old son went to the Cowichan District Hospital on Saturday
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night and was then transferred to Victoria General. He had a seizure. As you can imagine, any parents with a 20-month-old having a seizure would be very distressed about this and hoping for good-quality health care. When their son was transferred to Victoria General, they were told that they couldn't do any procedures, the tests that they wanted to do.
It's my understanding that testing was either ECG, electrocardiogram, or some other procedure that they wanted to do on the weekend. They were told, "Oh, we don't do those on the weekend," and because it was a long weekend, there was nobody around to do the procedure. So they sent these parents home with their young son, and he was released.
On Sunday, while they were at a barbecue in Chemainus, he had another seizure. The same process again. They went to the Cowichan District Hospital, then to Victoria General Hospital. They were told that they were going to try some medication, this medication for epilepsy. It almost sounds horrific that somebody could be experimenting and trying medications out because they couldn't do the proper tests on the weekend.
Anyway, they were going to try this medication for epilepsy. They were told this at nine o'clock, and then they didn't give the medication until after 11 the next day, due to some fax machines not working. Again, this is what the parents were told: "Well, the fax machines aren't working, so we can't do this either."
You can imagine the stress on this family with this 20-month-old son. His very life could depend on the outcome of all of this action, or lack of action, taking place.
His question to the minister…. He makes the point that he pays his premium every month. He'd like to know from the minister: why isn't this testing available or set up for emergency situations like this? Why would parents find themselves being told that these kinds of tests can't be performed, even in an emergency time? Why would they be shut down and not available on the weekend?
The Chair: Minister — and noting the hour. Committee A will rise at 6:10 this evening.
Hon. K. Falcon: First of all, let me start, certainly, by extending my sympathies to the Meyer family. I can't imagine as a parent of a young child just how traumatizing it must be anytime you have to take a child of 20 months for medical care and all the angst and stress that that would involve.
I was asked this question earlier because I understand that they did contact the media. The media asked me about it earlier in the hallway, so I can tell the member for Cowichan Valley what I shared with the media. That is, I was advised that actually this patient required an ambulance transfer after presenting at the Cowichan Hospital.
As the member pointed out, the patient was immediately transferred in an ambulance with a nurse escort onboard to the Victoria General Hospital. On arrival at the hospital, the young child was immediately admitted to the pediatrics ward, where blood work and other appropriate tests were immediately undertaken.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority emphasized that at no time — at no time — was this child denied appropriate treatment. On Sunday, I understand, the young patient was assessed by a physician, and the physician, based on that assessment, agreed to a discharge of the patient.
The physician advised the parents and the family, I understand, that if there were any further medical issues of an urgent nature, they were to return to the hospital for further care; otherwise, they could return on Tuesday to receive the EEG test that the member references. I understand that there was a medical issue that did occur, as the member opposite points out, and the family and the child did return to Victoria General.
Look, Member, I think it's important to recognize that according to the health professionals, the EEG, first of all, is not a priority, urgent diagnostic that is necessary. They have never, I understand, provided those diagnostics on weekends. They do it during the week. That's why the physician, upon doing an appropriate and full assessment of the child, discharged — appropriately, I understand, according to the advice I've received — the child into the family's care and recommended and scheduled an EEG for Tuesday for the family to come back.
I have been advised that that is exactly the appropriate kind of care that was provided to the Meyer family. I certainly want to extend my sympathies to the family. I know that this is always a stressful time, and it would be no different for the family.
I certainly want to extend to the family my best wishes for the child in the hopes that the child fully recovers from the medical issues that the family has unfortunately had to deal with.
The final thing that I would just point out to the member with respect to the other issue we were talking about — residential care beds in the Cowichan Valley…. I thought I would just let the member know that in 2001 there were 242 beds available in the Cowichan Valley. Today there are 351, which is a 45 percent increase in the number of residential care beds. While that means that not everyone will get one immediately, I think that even the member opposite would have to recognize that a 45 percent increase in the number of beds is certainly a good step in the right direction.
Chair, with that, I move we rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:09 p.m.
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