2011 Legislative Session: Third 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
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Volume 21, Number 7
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 8 — International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Aircraft Equipment) Act
Hon. K. Falcon
Bill 9 — Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. D. McRae
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Nurses in B.C.
Bingo For Life charitable fundraising
S. Chandra Herbert
Rights of victims
Maa-nulth First Nations treaty and accord with Tseshaht
Burrowing owl conservation
Trail Smoke Eaters hockey team
Sales taxes on restaurant industry
Hon. K. Falcon
Government tax policies after harmonized sales tax referendum
Hon. K. Falcon
Impact of harmonized sales tax on families
Hon. K. Falcon
Automobile insurance rates
Hon. S. Bond
Vancouver floatplane terminal contract
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. P. Bell
First Nations consultation on Enbridge oil pipeline proposal
Hon. M. Polak
Hon. G. Abbott
Orders of the Day
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Social Development (continued)
Hon. H. Bloy
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (continued)
Hon. S. Bond
S. Chandra Herbert
Estimates: Ministry of Children and Family Development
Hon. M. McNeil
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WEDNESDAY, MAY 11, 2011
The House met at 1:35 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. S. Cadieux: I have the pleasure today to introduce Valerie McKnight. She's here to watch question period today. She is the new administrative assistant in my office. If everyone would please make her welcome.
J. Les: Joining us in the gallery this afternoon is Mr. Alex Budden. He is the British consul general based in Vancouver, accompanied today by Ms. Amy Day from the British consulate in Vancouver. They're here for meetings with a variety of ministers and others to help foster the great relationship that's always existed between British Columbia and the United Kingdom. Would the House please join me in making them feel welcome.
P. Pimm: It's not often I get two days in a row to introduce somebody. We've all heard about the Horn River shale gas play and the benefits the province is going to see from this spectacular resource.
We have with us today the mayor of the Northern Rockies municipality, also where the Horn River development is found. I'd like this House to help me welcome him to the House for the first time to watch us in question period today — Mayor Bill Streeper.
L. Reid: My former ministerial assistant, Jennifer Burnett, has joined us today. It's not that I don't love my current job; I do. But I truly miss working with this young woman. I'd ask the House to make her welcome.
R. Howard: It is my pleasure to introduce to the House today 26 grade 6 students from Dixon School in Richmond, accompanied by eight adults and teachers Don Allison, Darryl Unger and Shale Kotarani. Would the House please join me in making them welcome.
I. Black: The last time I rose in this House to introduce my father, Stewart Black, my afternoon didn't really go as planned. However, I have taken the risk to introduce him yet again today. He's joining us. But I have advised the security of the building that should I feel in any way unwell this afternoon, he is to be escorted from the premises, and I will see him at Thanksgiving. Would the House join me in making my father feel most welcome this afternoon.
Hon. M. de Jong: Allan Edwards is a graduate-level student in the pharmacy department at UBC, and he is in the gallery today. He originally received his pharmacy degree from Dalhousie in 1998 and served his residency at Royal Columbian Hospital in New West in 2003. He also served this country with distinction as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, including deployments to Turkey and Afghanistan. I hope all members will make Alan feel very welcome here.
First Reading of Bills
Bill 8 — International Interests in
(Aircraft Equipment) Act
Hon. K. Falcon presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Aircraft Equipment) Act.
Hon. K. Falcon: Mr. Speaker, I move that the bill be now introduced and read a first time.
Hon. K. Falcon: I am pleased to introduce the International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Aircraft Equipment) Act. This legislation is necessary to implement two important international aviation agreements in British Columbia when Canada ratifies them. They are the convention on international interests and mobile equipment, and the associated protocol on aircraft equipment, which have operated internationally since 2006.
The convention and protocol established a framework for registering and enforcing security interests in aircraft equipment and an international registry. This modern, asset-backed framework significantly reduces the risks in international aircraft financing. This makes financing more available and affordable for convention member states.
To date, 43 countries are members, including the United States and the European Union. The federal government and most provinces have already enacted their implementation legislation. The major Canadian airlines are asking the federal minister to ratify the convention and protocol shortly.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 8, International Interests in Mobile Equipment (Aircraft Equipment) Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
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Bill 9 — Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. D. McRae presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2011.
Hon. D. McRae: Mr. Speaker, I move the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. D. McRae: I am pleased to introduce the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2011. The amendment in this bill provides for greater deterrence of future crimes through higher penalties. I am pleased to say that B.C. will now have the toughest animal cruelty penalties in the country, with fines of up to $75,000 and jail terms of up to two years.
In addition, we are extending the statute of limitations for offences under the act from six months to three years. We are holding owners, companies and others responsible for animals more accountable for the welfare of those animals, and there is new ability for government to regulate specific activities pertaining to the use, care and protection of animals, including sled dogs and service animals, such as dogs and horses used by police.
Hon. Speaker, I move the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 9, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2011, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
NURSES IN B.C.
D. Barnett: I have heard them described as angels in comfortable shoes. May 9 to May 15 is National Nursing Week. This week is about celebrating one of the foundations of our health care system and recognizing the important contributions nurses make. There are over 36,000 registered nurses, nurse practitioners and licensed graduate nurses in B.C. alone. My mother was a nurse for over 20 years and my mother-in-law for over 30. They gave their time, care and support to patients in both the public and private health care system here in British Columbia.
Where would our health care system be without nurses? It's been said that the constant and attentive care by a nurse can be just as important as a major medical procedure for a patient. They are truly special people. The compassion, strength, empathy and respect they provide patients on a daily basis across our province is something we should all be grateful for. A nurse treats a patient's physical health but also goes that extra mile in ensuring that people are cared for emotionally.
For this reason, I would argue that nurses are not only the backbone of our health care system, but they are the heart. So I ask the House to join me today in recognizing the nurses in B.C. and across Canada that don't require a prescription to dispense care, comfort and compassion.
BINGO FOR LIFE
S. Chandra Herbert: "B-6, I-14, N-1. Anyone seen a hot man? G-5, O-52. Oh? Oh, girl, we've got a winner. Bingo!"
For 15 years this May, the drag queens of Bingo for Life have been making them laugh, raising money for charity, celebrating drag, camp and gay folks' right to be who they are — out, proud and, after a few cocktails, sometimes a little loud.
Bingo for Life was founded at the West End Community Centre by: Bill Amundson; Michael Hornby; my predecessor, the former member for Vancouver-Burrard; and the irrepressible "tell it like she sees it, tough as nails, with a heart as big as they come and an ample bosom to hold it in" West End diva Joan-E, who continues to lead it today.
Bingo for Life next found its home at the Royal Hotel, which is where I first picked up a bingo dabber, tried to avoid the eyes of the big old drag queen looking for her next victim and got to know the love of my life, Romi, on one of our first dates.
Last year Bingo for Life broke its fundraising record, and in its 15 years it has raised over $350,000 for Friends for Life, a West End charity that provides over 60 health therapies to over 1,000 active members who live with life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancer.
There have been over 800 nights of bingo dabbers, pickup lines, wild performances and big wins. From bingo girl Justine Tyme to co-hosts Summer Clearance, Robyn Graves, Mandy Kamp and Carlotta Gurl, to the incredible volunteers — most notably Bob Sulley, who has been volunteer bingo manager for ten years — and of course the support of numerous West End businesses who donate the prizes. Bingo for Life is vogueing it up, pulling in the money and making a real difference in the West End.
I hope you will all join me in wishing them happy 15th anniversary. Bingo!
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RIGHTS OF VICTIMS
D. Hayer: I believe, and many of my constituents believe, we still have a long way to go when it comes to ensuring that the rights of the victims and the rights of the law-abiding citizens take precedence over the rights of criminals. Justice leans toward giving criminals the benefit of the doubt. Even when convicted, the punishment can seem soft when compared with the harshness of the crimes committed.
A drunk driver kills an innocent victim and gets a slap on the wrist for punishment, and recently a man with mental illness was almost granted a pass less than three years after killing his three children — into the same community where the mother of those three dead children now lives.
Violence is also often perpetrated on the most vulnerable. A young woman raped and murdered in Victoria and her body burned. A young woman and young mother, an admired school teacher, killed in Surrey by her husband and body burned. Canadians grow insensitive to the brutality of such violence.
This year we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Air India bombing — 329 men, women and children plunged to their death in the Atlantic Ocean — and two more deaths in Japan when the second bomb exploded. Most of the terrorists who hatched that plot, no doubt right here in British Columbia, still walk free. Meanwhile, families of the murdered enjoy no closure.
Rights and freedom are at the very core of this nation and across this great land. Everybody is innocent until convicted. However, many citizens have come to believe that in determining that innocence, criminals' rights should receive less emphasis.
In the balance of justice, I have come to believe that Canada must do more to ensure that the rights of the victims receive greater emphasis while the rights of the accused should receive less emphasis. All levels of government and all political parties must work together to ensure that more appropriate balance is asserted in our justice system.
MAA-NULTH FIRST NATIONS TREATY
AND ACCORD WITH TSESHAHT
S. Fraser: On April 2 I was honoured to attend an historic event celebrating the commencement of the Maa-nulth treaty. I would like to formally applaud here in this House the five Maa-nulth Nations, their citizens, their ha'wiih. These five Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations begin the journey of self-governance, finally freed from the yoke of the Indian Act. The energy and the optimism of the celebration were wonderful to see.
Another event occurred in the magnificent new Tseshaht administration building in Port Alberni only days before. This event was also of huge significance and helped make the Maa-nulth's celebration all the better. Chief Councillor Les Sam and the Tseshaht First Nation signed an accord with the Maa-nulth First Nations to recognize the hahuuthli, that's the traditional territory of the Tseshaht First Nation.
This is very significant not only in the case of the Maa-nulth treaty but also in the entire B.C. treaty process, where disputes around territorial overlaps can divide nations, communities and families.
One of the significant challenges of the B.C. treaty process has been the issue of historic conflicts around territorial boundaries of traditional territories for adjacent nations. This was certainly the case in the Maa-nulth treaty process. Tseshaht territory is located right in the middle of the identified Maa-nulth jurisdiction, but the Tseshaht First Nation was not actually part of the Maa-nulth treaty.
On the eve of the commencement and celebration of the Maa-nulth treaty, I was honoured to bear witness to the signing of an accord with the five Maa-nulth Nations and the Tseshaht. The accord brings important recognition that the Tseshaht First Nation exists within the boundaries of the Maa-nulth treaty. This is monumental, and I salute the Maa-nulth First Nations and the Tseshaht Nation, who have set an example to the rest of the province regarding the true nature of reconciliation. Klecko klecko.
BURROWING OWL CONSERVATION
J. Slater: This past Sunday I had the honour of participating in the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the newly constructed breeding facility for burrowing owls, located north of Oliver. This is one of three facilities in British Columbia. The other two are located at the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops and at Port Kells in Surrey. These breeding facilities will assist in re-establishing the burrowing owl population through captive breeding and then controlled release into artificial burrows.
The burrowing owl is a tiny bird of prey that makes its home in grasslands across North America. Unlike most owls, these inquisitive social birds live and breed in underground burrows usually built and abandoned by marmots or badgers.
To compensate for the absence of burrowing mammals, a network of artificial burrows has been created that will provide their initial living conditions. Released owls would then breed and raise their young naturally. Monitoring of the female owl during her incubation and the development of the chicks after hatching is conducted by a care team, and in most cases they are volunteers.
To date they have only seen a few birds return the next year, and it is hoped that over time more released birds and their young will recognize the B.C. sites as their home breeding range.
The burrowing owl recovery program is the first and longest sustained program of its kind in North America.
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Over the past 20 years the society, under the guidance of the executive director, Mike Mackintosh, has developed expertise and understanding of the burrowing owl behaviour.
For more information on the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. program, please visit the website at www.burrowingowlbc.org.
TRAIL SMOKE EATERS HOCKEY TEAM
K. Conroy: As we are all anticipating the coming series of Canucks games, I wanted to remind everyone that we do have other hockey champions in this province. Fifty years ago this year the Trail Smoke Eaters won the world amateur hockey championship, the last amateur hockey team to bring the title to Canada. In fact, the Smokies, as they are locally known, are the only team to win two world championship titles.
The Smokies were formed in 1926, and that year they won the Savage Cup, B.C.'s senior hockey championship. They went on to win seven Savage Cups in a row before losing to the Kimberley Dynamiters in '34. However, the Smokies regained the championship in '37 with the strongest team they had fielded to date.
In December '38 the team travelled to Europe to represent Canada in the '39 world championship. They played an exhausting exhibition schedule throughout Europe. Most games were played outdoors before sellout crowds. They crushed their opponents in the tournament, playing eight games and outscoring the opposition 42 to 1 — the Canucks wish. Their final game was in Switzerland before a crowd of 19,000 fans, and the Smokies earned their first world championship title.
Senior hockey in the West Kootenays was suspended during World War II but resumed in '45 with the Smokies again winning the Savage Cup. Through the '50s the Smokies gained momentum with a strong nucleus of local talent. They won the Savage Cup for the 15th time in '60 and then hosted the Allan Cup finals against the Chatham Maroons of Ontario, with Chatham, unfortunately, defeating Trail.
However, Chatham was to represent Canada at the '61 championship held in Switzerland. They declined. Trail eagerly accepted. The team played 20 exhibition games prior to the world tournament. They met the powerful Soviet team in the final game on March 12. The team persevered, winning 5 to 1, wearing the replica jersey I have on today. The Trail Smoke Eaters were world hockey champions for the second time, a feat not duplicated by any other community in Canada.
On March 12 of this year the community of Trail, along with the players who are still with us, their families, friends and fans, celebrated the 50th anniversary of this hockey legend and world cup win.
SALES TAXES ON RESTAURANT INDUSTRY
B. Ralston: The A&W restaurant chain reported its first-quarter 2011 results recently: significantly, a 3 percent decline in same-store sales — the first drop of its kind in 30 quarters. In this province A&W says the B.C. Liberals' HST is the cause.
Some might ask if dropping sales of Mama, Papa and Teen Burgers is families first. The burger family might disagree, but perhaps I digress.
Unless the Finance Minister agrees to respect the will of British Columbians and the referendum law, these falling sales and job losses will continue. Will the Minister of Finance make a specific commitment to restoring all exemptions to the PST, or will he admit that he intends to continue hammering restaurant patrons in B.C. no matter what?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, on this question I find myself genuinely conflicted. I could tell you that as the former Health Minister, I listened to group after group after group come and tell me about how, for certain foods, it would actually be good if we encouraged people to make other choices. Not that, you know, the fries and the soda and the hamburgers are bad, of course. It's just that there is a constituency….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: Not that there is not a constituency for hamburgers, fries and soda drinks out there. I'm just reflecting on my role as the former Minister of Health.
Look, Mr. Speaker, I think the fact of the matter is that whether that impact is a result of the international economic meltdown or whether it's a result of HST, I can't be entirely certain. But I do know one thing for sure.
I know that when you travel the world…. We've heard this argument from the members opposite — that the restaurant industry as we know it will be utterly devastated as a result of this change. Yet I note with interest that the great cities of the world, whether it's London or Paris or Rome, have a thriving restaurant sector in spite of value-added taxes that are, in some cases, almost double what the HST is.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: Well, we're not talking about London or Paris. We're talking about the A&W restaurant chain here in British Columbia and what they say is the result of the B.C. Liberal HST.
[ Page 6889 ]
But they're not alone. According to a survey of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, 87 percent of restaurants say that sales have declined since the HST was implemented in July.
Still no commitment from the Finance Minister about whether these exemptions will be reinstated when the HST is rejected by B.C. voters this summer. Yesterday his half-hearted responses to the question didn't satisfy anyone because, frankly, British Columbians don't trust him.
So let me put a plain, straightforward question to this minister again. When the HST is extinguished by referendum this summer, will the Minister of Finance ensure that all previous exemptions to the PST are restored?
Hon. K. Falcon: It might be welcome news for the member to know that in the accommodation and food sector industry, there has been, since July of 2010 up till today, an increase of 8,600 more jobs in the sector.
Now, having said that, I don't want to pretend that there may not be some elements in the fast-food sector or others that may see some slowdown in sales. I don't know. I can only rely on the member opposite's word with regard to that.
But I can tell you one thing, Mr. Speaker. We have been engaged in a listening exercise with the public of British Columbia. We were on the phones again last night in our telephone town halls. To date we have had almost 200,000 British Columbians participate in these electronic town hall meetings.
We're certainly meeting with stakeholder groups. I met with the lobbying association for the restaurant industry, and I know what the lobbying association wishes. We're listening to all the different groups out there. We're taking all that information in to look at how we can improve the HST for British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a further supplemental.
B. Ralston: Once again, no answer. This sector employs 161,500 people here in the province, the fourth-largest industry in the province, and no answer.
Forty-seven percent of B.C. restaurant owners say they cut back staff hours because of the B.C. Liberals' HST. Maybe that's why 68 percent of them say they plan to vote against the HST.
What they're looking for is some measure of certainty from this minister, which this minister clearly, so far, has refused to provide. Will the minister make a firm commitment to fully respect the wishes of British Columbians and restore all the exemptions to the PST when the referendum is successful?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member opposite continues to perpetrate the myth that somehow the introduction of the HST is going to end the restaurant sector as we know it. I'm happy to have the member sit down with a number of restaurateurs I've met with who talk about the fact that actually it's had little to no impact on the restaurant business.
The member maybe doesn't listen to the radio and listen to the individual running a restaurant on the North Shore that talked about how he was one of the strongest critics against the HST when it was introduced, but he's discovered, actually, it has not affected his business. In fact, his business is growing.
I'm sorry that one fast-food chain has seen a reduction in sales, but the fact of the matter is…. I note with interest that in 140 countries around the world — including some of the countries that are renowned for their restaurant sector, like London and Paris and Rome…. Somehow, even with value-added taxes that are much higher than the HST, they still have a thriving restaurant sector, just like we will still have a thriving restaurant sector here in British Columbia.
GOVERNMENT TAX POLICIES AFTER
HARMONIZED SALES TAX REFERENDUM
C. James: The Finance Minister has had three opportunities to answer a very straightforward question, and he refused. One thing is clear, and it certainly isn't the minister's answers. The public doesn't trust the B.C. Liberals, especially on the HST. That's very clear.
The B.C. Liberals told the public that they weren't going to bring in the HST. In fact, they put it in writing, and they turned around and brought it in. Then the government said the HST is going to be revenue-neutral. Now we find out it's not.
Well, the public is going to soon have their say. They want a straightforward response from this minister and this government. Will the Finance Minister commit today to restoring all of the exemptions to the PST when the public votes down the HST?
Hon. K. Falcon: Congratulations, Member, on your first question this session.
The member opposite continues to perpetuate misinformation on the HST, and that's unfortunate. The member says that there was never any talk about….
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'll address the revenue-neutral part for the member over on the other side heckling.
If the members would only read our budgets. Boy, it would be helpful if they just took the time to actually read the budget.
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I want to quote directly from the September 2009 budget update, where it says that the harmonization is "initially expected to be roughly fiscally neutral."
Hon. K. Falcon: Just a minute, Members, before you get excited.
"In future years harmonization is expected to result in increased revenues because the HST is a more stable and robust revenue source than the PST and will contribute to enhanced economic growth."
Then I want to take them to Budget 2010. Apparently, they never read that one either. Once again, Budget 2010 — page 101, for the members' information: "In future years harmonization is expected to result in increased revenues to support essential services such as health care because HST is a more stable and robust revenue source than the PST and contributes to enhanced economic growth."
Two budgets. They don't read them. They continue to misinform the public and pretend it was revenue-neutral when it's been clear as could possibly be in two different budgets that that is not the case. Please read the budgets, Member. It will help you ask informed questions of the Minister of Finance.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
IMPACT OF HARMONIZED SALES TAX
C. James: I'd like to inform the Finance Minister that if any of those B.C. Liberals had learned to listen, they wouldn't be in the HST mess they're in now. I don't know how many ways the B.C. Liberals can find to avoid being upfront with the public.
Let's try another few facts that the B.C. Liberals put out there. They told the public…. You'll remember this one. You all told the public that the prices would drop when the HST came in. The large corporations were going to pass on the savings to consumers. They actually said that prices would come down.
Well, in fact, B.C.'s inflation rate has gone up. Prices have gone up. The B.C. Liberals brought in the HST. Prices are up. Families are struggling. I'd like to ask the Finance Minister: how does that put families first?
Hon. K. Falcon: We've heard the NDP now quoting selectively, of course, from the independent panel report which has received broad-based applause for the fact that it was a very balanced, independent view of the HST versus the members opposite's preferred method, which is to go back to a PST or a retail sales tax. No jurisdiction in the world, by the way, is doing that. But that is the NDP's preferred approach, which is fine. That's appropriate for them to do that.
You know, the member opposite talks about us not answering questions. I've actually answered questions on the HST almost every day in this House. But we have not heard the answer to the question that the NDP have yet to answer, which is that their preferred method of going back to the PST, which will certainly set British Columbia apart in the world — that is what the Leader of the Opposition said they're campaigning on — will result, as the independent panel notes, in almost $3 billion less revenue to the provincial government over the course of two years.
So we have still not heard the members answer the question on how they're going to increase spending in every single ministry in government while at the same time campaigning for a tax which dramatically reduces revenue to the government. Still haven't heard that answer.
D. Donaldson: Here's an example of how the supposed streamlined B.C. Liberal HST process has hit a family in my constituency. The Bassetts from Smithers recently purchased a horse trailer in Ohio. When they brought it home, they paid HST on the trailer — more than $2,100. They were expecting that.
But imagine their surprise when ICBC hit them up for HST again when they tried to register the trailer. They were told they would have to make a claim for reimbursement. As Ms. Bassett said: "We used to pay once. The HST has changed everything."
Does the minister believe that forcing a rural family to pay the B.C. Liberal HST twice is a good example of a streamlined tax system?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm happy to have the member bring that information to my office to look at. But you'll recall, we had another question by the NDP on apparently another family that was under some HST duress.
It was puzzling, to say the least, because it implied that they were spending about $140,000-plus on private health care that apparently they were receiving additional HST…. I asked the members to please bring that to my office so I could have a look, and still no sign of any information from the NDP caucus opposite.
I hope this isn't going to be another situation where they allegedly have a situation, but they actually don't bring anything to our office even when we ask for that. To the member: I'm happy to look at that information. I would really appreciate it if you would actually bring it to our office so we could determine whether, in fact, that is actually the case.
Mr. Speaker: Member has a supplemental.
[ Page 6891 ]
D. Donaldson: It's this government that just keeps breaking their promises on their HST. It was going to be revenue-neutral. Now it's not. It's no wonder. They're charging people twice and then taking months to pay them back.
The Bassetts expect it'll be four to five months before they get their money back. Now $2,100 might not be much to the B.C. Liberal donor corporations who are benefiting from this tax shift, but it's a significant burden to real B.C. families.
Now is it mismanagement by this government, or is it that the minister just doesn't care what is happening in communities with the B.C. Liberal HST on the ground?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, a few things that might be helpful for the member opposite to know. The member would know that we actually brought in an additional $200 homeowner grant for folks that live in rural British Columbia. That's what our government did. The member should know that….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: I know it probably slipped the member's mind, but the member should also know that one of the things the independent panel reported out is that there will be an additional almost 25,000 new highly paid jobs created in British Columbia as a result of harmonizing the PST with the GST.
I am quite prepared to have the debate with the NDP who stand alone in believing that British Columbia should go in exactly the opposite direction of 140 jurisdictions around the world that have harmonized sales taxes and go back to a retail sales tax where nobody anywhere in the world is introducing them — including the communist countries, by the way. I find that very interesting.
AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE RATES
J. Horgan: For the past ten years we've seen increasing costs, increasing taxes on families, whether it's MSP premiums, whether it's escalating hydro rates, whether it's costs for families with seniors in continuing care. Now we learn that the B.C. Liberals want to increase auto insurance for citizens who get one single traffic violation — one single traffic violation.
One-third of British Columbians will see their auto insurance rates go up under the B.C. Liberal government, under this new plan that the minister is talking about today. Will she stand in her place today, stop the highway robbery, end it now before it starts?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, let's start with the fact that under the member opposite's reign, we had the highest personal income taxes in the entire country.
It is a concern to us. In fact, we've been very clear that we're going to put families first in British Columbia, and that's why, starting yesterday, I said that I have no comfort with assigning bad driving to a single speeding ticket in British Columbia. In fact, I have said to ICBC that I have significant concerns about the new model and, in fact, expect to sit down with them as early as tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: The minister will forgive me if I don't take her exactly at her word. The president of the corporation said in the media today that the plan was to brand one-third of all drivers as bad drivers and increase their rates not for one year, not for two years, not for three years.
Will the minister, instead of dealing with this tomorrow, deal with it right now and say to British Columbians that it's not going to happen, that it won't happen on your watch?
Really simple, Minister. That's why they put you at the big table — so you can make decisions. Do it right now.
Hon. S. Bond: First of all, I think British Columbians recognize and understand the concept that if you're a good driver in British Columbia, probably some benefits should accrue to you. I've been very clear about that with ICBC. In fact, I didn't start today; I started yesterday having this conversation with ICBC.
As I said, this government has been clear that we expect drivers in British Columbia to think before they get in a car and drink. We expect them to watch excessive speeding. But we also recognize that there needs to be a test of reasonableness in terms of the new framework for ICBC. I've made that clear to the corporation, and I will sit down with them as soon as that is practical.
H. Bains: Penalties for bad drivers already exist. So frankly, no one, including many of your side of the House, believes a word that this minister says — or any family in this province. They said earlier, the same Liberals, that the HST would be revenue-neutral, but now we know that it will rake in millions of dollars more in revenue.
Now B.C. Liberals are telling families they need to jack up their car insurance rates for even a single speeding ticket.
My question to the minister is, again: will she admit that these will go too far and that it is just another B.C. Liberal tax grab?
[ Page 6892 ]
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I'm not sure if the mike isn't working. [Laughter.]
I can assure the member opposite that I have made it perfectly clear to ICBC that we don't believe that a threshold of a single traffic ticket equates to being a bad driver and equating to increased rates in British Columbia. I've made that clear to the ICBC, so hopefully the member opposite has heard the message twice now.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
S. Chandra Herbert: The opposition has learned that PavCo has recently decided to give its handpicked operator of Vancouver's floatplane terminal, the privately operated Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in subsidies over the course of its lease to try to get them to lower their charges to British Columbians who use floatplanes.
Can the minister tell this House how much of British Columbians' money is now going to subsidize this botched P3 project?
Hon. P. Bell: We are in ongoing consultations with both the leaseholders of the particular site that the member opposite refers to, as well as the floatplane operators. I'm hopeful we're going to find a positive resolution for the benefit of the tourism industry, for commuters who use that line, and I will not negotiate that contract either in this room or in the media.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Chandra Herbert: A contract has actually been already signed with a number of floatplane operators that make up a tiny percentage of the big floatplane operators in B.C.
So my question is to the minister. Is it hundreds of thousands in rent for Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre — gone? Is it obligations to pay for hundreds of thousands in parking charges — gone, all paid for by British Columbians? Will the minister explain why British Columbians should be subsidizing a private business to the tune of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars over their term of the lease while that same operator soaks British Columbia flight users to the tune of nearly $20 a round trip?
Hon. P. Bell: It appears that the member opposite doesn't want to look for a constructive solution to the challenge that we have right now between the floatplane operators and the leaseholder of that particular piece of property.
I can tell you that this government does care about a constructive solution. We are working collaboratively with both sides to make sure that we get to a positive outcome. I'm not going to, in this room, negotiate publicly what needs to be a contract that can be constructive and provide tourism operators and commuters with an acceptable price point on their service.
S. Simpson: The minister has a responsibility to tell British Columbians whether they're going to be on the hook for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars of subsidy to this private company while they continue to pay more to fly on these seaplanes. The minister has that responsibility.
The minister doesn't have to negotiate here. But stand up and tell British Columbians whether you are prepared to negotiate away those hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars of legitimate taxpayer income from this through PavCo. Are you going to negotiate it away — yes or no?
Hon. P. Bell: There are about 400,000 people who utilize the flight service to and from Victoria and Vancouver inner harbour on a yearly basis. It is important to the tourism industry of British Columbia, to the hoteliers on both sides of the water as well as to commuters. It's important that we have a reliable service, that we have a high-quality service, and we're in the process of trying to negotiate a suitable outcome for the beneficiary of those users as we speak.
FIRST NATIONS CONSULTATION ON
ENBRIDGE OIL PIPELINE PROPOSAL
S. Fraser: Despite what the minister for oil spills said yesterday in the House, First Nations from British Columbia and all of western Canada united in Calgary today to protest the Enbridge tar sands pipeline.
So this is going to the minister responsible for Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. Will she do her job as minister responsible? Will she stand in this House now and acknowledge First Nations' total opposition, and will she defend their rights as established in the courts, in the so-called new relationship and in the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples?
Hon. M. Polak: I thank the member for the question. Of course, it is in all of our interests in British Columbia to work well with First Nations, to consult with them, as we should, and to accommodate the kind of rights and title that they have in this province.
The Enbridge project is undergoing a full Canadian environmental assessment. There are strict requirements that they need to meet in that process. This is
[ Page 6893 ]
a very long process. It will likely take years to complete, and there's a joint review panel that has asked Enbridge to provide more information. There is a process that is being followed. Part of what we follow in our commitment to the new relationship is to ensure that First Nations are included appropriately all along the way.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Fraser: That's absurd. The joint review panel doesn't have one member from British Columbia here — not one. First Nations have said no. Here's part of a statement released today by the Yinka Dene Alliance. They're a group of five nations in British Columbia that collectively hold 25 percent of Enbridge's proposed pipeline route in northern British Columbia.
"First Nations have used our ancestral laws to ban Enbridge pipeline and tankers from their lands…. Our nations are the wall this pipeline will not break through."
My question to the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation: will the B.C. Liberals show some respect for First Nations by stopping their relentless promotion and defence of the Enbridge tar sands pipeline? Or is this truly the final nail in the coffin of the so-called new relationship?
Hon. M. Polak: I would be happy to take some time later to explain to the member opposite the difference between a federal process and a provincial one, but I won't bore the House with that now. What I can tell the member….
He seems to think that somehow he can make some headway describing our relationship with First Nations as not going well. Quite the contrary. No government in the history of British Columbia has done more to improve the relationship with First Nations in this province.
As I stand here, since 2002 we have signed forestry agreements with more than 172 First Nations in the province. We now have two modern-day treaties with six First Nations, one of which the member spoke about earlier in the House today.
To conclude, we not only have seen the Yale First Nation ratify their final agreement; the K'ómoks have ratified their agreement in principle. And 84 First Nations are in stage 4, and three more are in stage 5 — complete and utter success in that new relationship that's going to continue to go forward.
[End of question period.]
Hon. G. Abbott: I rise to present a petition.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Hon. G. Abbott: This petition contains 2,755 signatures in opposition to proposed bylaw changes in the North Okanagan regional district to allow incineration in the local area.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: This afternoon in this House, we will be continuing the estimates of the Ministry of Social Development, and in Committee A we will be going to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General estimates. If they get concluded, we will then move to the Ministry of Children and Family Development estimates.
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section B); L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:31 p.m.
On Vote 40: ministry operations, $2,339,088,000 (continued).
N. Simons: Perhaps the minister could begin by introducing the staff he has with him. I want to thank them for being here.
Hon. H. Bloy: If I could introduce the staff that's with me. We have my deputy minister, Mark Sieben. We have Molly Harrington, Wes Boyd and Rich Mowles. I would like to also mention Allison Bond, who was here yesterday and who I didn't get an opportunity to introduce.
N. Simons: Can the minister let me know what the budget is for Community Living B.C.?
Hon. H. Bloy: The budget for this fiscal year is $701 million.
N. Simons: Does the minister…? Is that an increase or decrease from last year, and can he give me the last three years and projected next three years?
Hon. H. Bloy: For the year 2009-10 the budget was $717.7 million, but that included children. The budget for 2010-11 is $692.1 million, and the budget for 2011-12 is $701 million.
[ Page 6894 ]
N. Simons: I'd like to begin some questions on the pacific autism family centre. What's the status of that $20 million government commitment?
Hon. H. Bloy: I understand that the responsibility for the autism centre project rests with the ministry for housing. We understand that the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Health are also participating in the development of the programs.
N. Simons: Considering the fact that this would potentially be a residential facility or an educational facility, a facility that is dedicated to the advancement of education on autism, autism being one of the main service categories that the minister delivers, does he not believe that he has a role in this project as well?
Hon. H. Bloy: We have been participating in discussions on the project, but the majority of it is with children and will be handled through Ministry of Children and Families.
N. Simons: A $20 million commitment with probably a serious amount of funding to go for operational costs. Considering the pressure on services and resources available to families and to adults and children with developmental disabilities in this province, does the minister consider $20 million for what many consider to be a vanity project is appropriate expenditure of finances?
Hon. H. Bloy: The funding of $20 million is through the Minister Responsible for Housing, and these questions are best directed towards that ministry.
N. Simons: One of the most important issues for families with members who have autism or other developmental or cognitive disabilities is the continuity of service. I believe that when you establish a program that potentially can drain resources from one sector to another…. There is an adult component to the autism centre. It's been described in reports that have been leaked to the public. Does the minister not believe that he should be playing a role in any planning around this facility?
Hon. H. Bloy: This ministry has been participating in discussions, and this project is still a long way off. From all early indications, we expect it to be a world leader in autism research that will benefit not only British Columbia and the people here but much further.
N. Simons: Can the minister describe the various components that would be housed in this facility?
Hon. H. Bloy: It's my understanding that the programs to be delivered are currently under development. These questions are best directed towards the minister responsible for the project.
N. Simons: Well, the minister says he's involved with the development of this program, or his ministry is. We see $20 million being given by the same government that would otherwise provide services to adults and other children with developmental disabilities. Does he not believe that it's appropriate for the minister responsible for social development to be involved in decisions that allocate government expenditures for services that fall within his purview, such as this project?
Hon. H. Bloy: We are pleased to take all questions related to this ministry's 2011-12 budget estimates. The $20 million referenced is not part of that budget. This ministry staff will continue to be involved in the discussions with other ministries. However, this ministry is not the lead ministry.
The Chair: The member has heard that.
N. Simons: Presumably, the $20 million has nothing to do with Community Living B.C. or the Ministry of Social Development. The $20 million donated by friends of the former Premier seems to still be on the books. Does the minister at least know the status of the project?
The Chair: Member, this line item is not in this budget. This is the estimates for the Ministry of Social Development.
N. Simons: Thank you, hon. Chair.
The question that, really, residents of this province recognize and the ministry needs to recognize is that what the government has been saying they've been doing is trying to develop seamless transition from youth to adulthood for people with developmental disabilities and for people with autism. Now I'm hearing from the minister…. In fact, a program costing $20 million — when there's such a lack of adequate funding for people with developmental disabilities, adults with developmental disabilities — is highly relevant to his ministry.
I think it's the minister's responsibility to take an active role and determine whether or not this is the best expenditure of money when that money otherwise would be going to programs and services for people throughout our communities. Does the minister believe that it's appropriate to have centralized programs and services, rather than services spread across the province, for adults with community living issues?
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Hon. H. Bloy: As we've indicated before, this ministry is participating in the discussions led by another ministry. Questions regarding expenditures made by another minister are best responded to by that minister.
The member may wish to rephrase his question regarding the services centralized versus those that are decentralized. Ministry of Social Development is mainly decentralized and the same for Community Living British Columbia, so we would be pleased to answer any questions in that area.
The Chair: I will recognize the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast but caution the member on relevance to the item under discussion, which is the estimates for the Ministry of Social Development.
N. Simons: Absolutely, hon. Chair, and thank you for that caution. It was a friendly caution, one of the friendlier cautions I've had. A yellow card, I guess.
My question, if I could complete my concern around the Pacific autism family centre: does the minister know if there's anyone in his ministry or in CLBC that is actively taking part in one way or another in discussions, consultations, review or investigations around the development of this centre?
Hon. H. Bloy: As I have already identified, ministry staff have participated and will continue to participate in the discussions related to the development of the Pacific autism centre.
N. Simons: Madam Chair, I hope that last answer allows me a little bit of leeway in that it seems to me that the budget allocated to CLBC, at least in part, is being used to address issues around the issue I'm raising.
Can the minister tell me what involvement that is — what involvement CLBC has, in what capacity?
The Chair: I would ask the member to continue his questioning of CLBC budget items.
N. Simons: The minister just got a free ride there. That was a "penalty that wasn't called" kind of thing. However, there were a lot of questions, and a lot of people are concerned about Community Living B.C.
For those in the gallery, I'm going through the minister's budget line item by line item. I was just getting too specific there, I suppose. I think that's the ruling.
Can the minister explain the concern that the B.C. Association for Community Living has about the purported increase in the budget? In fact, is the increase the equivalent to the amount being spent on a pilot project? And can the minister describe that pilot project?
Hon. H. Bloy: The member refers to a budget increase for a pilot project. There was no pilot project last year. An increase was provided for personal supports initiatives, which is an ongoing program. This year's budget includes an increase for ongoing operations.
N. Simons: What was the increase for operations?
Hon. H. Bloy: The increase in the budget for this year is $8.9 million for ongoing operations.
N. Simons: Can the minister describe where that $8.9 million is going to be spent in operations?
Hon. H. Bloy: I'd like to assure the member across the way that 93 percent of Community Living B.C.'s budget is spent directly on providing services and programs to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. This increase is part of that.
N. Simons: Just to be clear, the $8.9 million increase is for operational funds. Was that what the minister said earlier? My Hansard isn't immediate. Okay.
Can the minister tell us how many adults are currently receiving residential services — in other words, group home or home share — through CLBC?
Hon. H. Bloy: We have 2,399 individuals in staffed residential, and we have 3,099 in home-sharing or semi-independent living arrangements.
N. Simons: Can the minister tell me how many adults are being provided with day programming? I don't know how the minister categorizes all of those, but if I could get sort of a breakdown of how many are employment, just day recreational programs or whatever categories the ministry or CLBC uses.
Hon. H. Bloy: I can give you a number in total: 7,793 individuals are using planning assistance, family support or community inclusion services — if that's satisfying to the member. I don't have a breakdown right now of all the different projects.
N. Simons: I think that it might be misleading for people to hear total numbers when provision of service actually includes planning. I think, for me, it would be helpful to know how many adults are actually using day programs that are funded by CLBC through its contracted agencies.
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Hon. H. Bloy: We can assure the member that the 7,793 amount represents services to individuals beyond just the planning function. We are happy to provide the member with a breakdown at a later date.
N. Simons: It's just that the service plan indicates that there are 13,291 adults with a developmental disability receiving supports. That's a high number. Obviously, the numbers provided don't quite add up, so maybe they're left over, as those who are in planning.
Can the minister tell me if this reflects an increase or a decrease in the number of adults being served?
Hon. H. Bloy: As of March 31, 2011, 13,481 eligible individuals with developmental disabilities were registered for services with Community Living B.C., a 6 percent increase compared to March 31, 2010, and a 35 percent increase over the last five years. The March 31 actual number was 12,715, and as of March 31, 2011, the number is 13,481.
N. Simons: Just to get to the group homes again, can the minister tell me how many group homes that represents, how many home share arrangements that represents, so I can get an idea of vacancies, etc.?
Hon. H. Bloy: We'll provide the number of share homes earlier, and we have 3,099 as of March 31, 2011. In group homes…. We have 747 group homes in the province. We will get the number of homes for home share at a later date.
N. Simons: Hon. Chair, I'm sorry. Sometimes it's like when you're playing pool, and it takes too long to take your next shot. You get out of rhythm — right? So here we are. It's my shot, and I can't remember what I shot last time. Am I high ball or low ball?
But I'm just thinking that maybe you high-balled the number in the residential services for people living in group homes, because you've got 747 group homes and 2,399 residents of staffed resources. Am I mixing up numbers or did I get the number wrong last time or all of the above? I'll wait for the answer.
Hon. H. Bloy: I would like to agree with the member across the way from me. He was correct.
N. Simons: So can the minister tell me how many group homes there were last year and how many there were the year before?
Hon. H. Bloy: Last year there were 787 group homes, and prior to that there were approximately 810. It's an estimate; we don't have that number with us.
N. Simons: So the figures are correct that in the last year 33 group homes were closed?
Hon. H. Bloy: So 33 group homes were closed as of December 31, 2010, but for the fiscal year of March 31, 2011, 40 group homes in total were closed.
N. Simons: Can the minister tell the House how many empty spaces exist in group homes that are still open? How many vacancies are there currently in staffed residential care facilities?
Hon. H. Bloy: We do not have an exact number of vacancies. However, we operate close to capacity on four-, five- and six-room, six-bed….
N. Simons: I should assure the minister that I will not hold him to the specific wording. It is a new ministry, and I recognize that. It's an important one, and it's one that has a huge impact on families throughout this province. So I really do believe that the voices of these families need to be heard in this House, and policies need to reflect their needs and their concerns.
Clearly, closing 40 group homes has had an impact on not just the individuals in those homes but the families who have supported them, and their friends and their support networks. Can the minister project how many more group homes are going to close in the next fiscal year?
Hon. H. Bloy: There is no planned target to close residential group homes. We anticipate that there may be further adjustments on the use of group homes as a result of Community Living British Columbia pursuing its resource management policies, as stated on page 15 of the CLBC service plan — for example, "ensuring residential services are aligned with disability-related need to help avoid unnecessary placements in staffed residential resources, encouraging adults in staffed residential resources to explore more inclusive community alternatives such as home-sharing."
N. Simons: Can the minister tell me how he would suggest that home-sharing is a more inclusive community alternative than living with three friends in a group home for ten years?
Hon. H. Bloy: There are 2,260 home-shared facilities. Community Living British Columbia, like service providers in other jurisdictions, is using home-sharing as a means of increasing individual participation in community-based activities, rather than being tied to scheduled activities in the large group home setting.
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These facilities increase independence and participation in the community, based on activities then that are available in a group home setting.
Let me tell you a story about an individual — Jim's story. Jim was 47 years old when he moved into a group home. Jim came from his family home. Jim enjoyed his group home for a number of years, but over time people moved in and out, the staff was changing, and his parents noticed that he wasn't very happy. They had a discussion with Jim. He said he still enjoyed his work, but he wasn't happy at the home, especially after his best friend passed away.
Jim and his parents and his circle of friends met with Community Living British Columbia, and they decided on a plan for him. They all worked together, and they thought that home-sharing would be the best outcome.
At the second home that Jim visited, he knew that was his home. He just felt it when he walked in. He's been there over two years now. He plans fishing trips with them. He's part of the family. He's gone on holidays with them.
Community Living British Columbia offered a choice. Things change as people mature over the years, so CLBC offered a choice, and Jim chose a choice. That was shared accommodations, and I believe that Jim has a better life today.
N. Simons: I don't know Jim, but I am glad that the choice was given to him. I think that options in residential care are something that should be part of every service provision. I also think that the best options should be available.
I'm just wondering. In your service plan it says: "Contract management and oversight has been a focus since CLBC's inception. Over the four years ended March 31, 2010, annual ongoing savings from redesigning services and contract recoveries totalled over $50 million." Am I just to presume that those are savings from reduced costs for group homes, and are they being put into day program services? Or where is that $50 million going?
Hon. H. Bloy: The savings are being directed to those individuals that are primary on the requests for service.
N. Simons: How many people are waiting for residential services — currently on a wait-list?
Hon. H. Bloy: We're unable to provide a number of those requesting residential services here, but we will get that number for you. We can identify that CLBC's goal is to provide some level of service within six months, and that may include some requests for residential service.
N. Simons: Okay. The issue is that there are people waiting for residential care, and there are families that are struggling, are in crisis and are waiting for care. The minister is unable to tell me if there are any empty beds or how many empty beds there are, and now he can't tell me how many people are actually on a wait-list for those empty beds. But we do know that there are empty beds and that there is a wait-list. Can the minister explain that?
[D. Black in the chair.]
Hon. H. Bloy: Supports and services to individuals are allocated based on individual need, and in a group home setting, compatibility with other residents is essential. It is not the case that vacancies are being stockpiled. If a vacancy meets the needs of an individual based on the two interpretations that I've given, then CLBC will fill that vacancy.
N. Simons: Well, I understand that that answer was proofread three times, and I understand that the philosophy of the provincial government is to ensure that cost pressures are addressed by CLBC. That's probably why we've seen an increase and concern among resident families. We've seen a massive decrease in the number of services available to families.
In a way, it's almost like you chopped up a service and sort of sprinkled the remnants to families who, at the time, were not receiving any. We have people who are desperate in this province for care for their children — in many cases adult children who have transitioned from getting some services before they were 19 to absolutely no services after 19.
I think that it's incumbent on government to recognize that there are certain needs that were considered essential five years ago that are now considered outside of the individualized funding model.
This ministry has a lot of acronyms, but it also has a lot of euphemisms. I think the euphemism for service cuts is "service redesign." Service redesign casts a chill among service providers and families because they know that redesign, for this government, means removal of services.
We've seen group homes closed, and we've seen group homes closed without the adequate consultation with the clients in those homes, their families and their caregivers. It's built into the structure of the redesign, the structure which requires people to go to communities, do a cursory analysis of their needs and assign them a disability rating. That rating will
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be associated with a cost provided to that contracted agency.
It's anything but individualized. It's a cookie-cutter approach, and I think it is not serving families that have a member who has a developmental disability.
We see aging parents caring for their adult child at home. We see absolute burnout. We see impacts — physical impacts, mental health impacts — and they are growing, because the needs are growing in our community. The demand on service is growing, and it's untenable that the government can consider redesign as the answer, especially when redesign means capping services at the current rate.
We've seen an increase in the cost of living. We've seen an increase in the cost of practically every need that a family has over the last six years. In this particular case we've seen families needing services from a government agency, which they can't get from anywhere else, being lost.
Does the minister realize that there have been group home closures that have gone against the wishes of the families of the residents, of the residents themselves and of the caregivers who look after many of these adults?
Hon. H. Bloy: I am aware that group homes have closed. They have closed for a variety of reasons, and group homes are not closed primarily on a budget rationale. Group homes will continue to be a big part of Community Living B.C.'s model.
In the late '80s and '90s the closure of large residential institutions introduced four-bed group homes as the best-practice standard. While current thinking deems four-bed group homes to be within the community, they are still considered somewhat institutional. For this reason, an alternative to staffed residences may be appropriate for some of the people that Community Living B.C. supports. In 2006-07 found that 360 individuals were interested in exploring alternatives to group homes.
From April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011, 40 homes closed, representing 5 percent of the existing group homes and 4 percent of the residents. The 111 residents have transitioned to other residential arrangements that meet their disability-related needs, including other group homes or home-sharing — 66 to group homes, 18 to shared living, one to supported living and eight deceased.
Eighteen individuals continue to be supported by Community Living B.C. but are no longer receiving residential services. Many of the group homes that closed had two residents, and their new living arrangements will provide for more community interaction with the appropriate supports.
It is important to understand that some group homes closed due to people aging and individuals requesting different housing options in their communities. Over the years many individuals were placed in group homes who were able to live more independently and subsequently enjoyed more social and community integration. Between April 2007 and March 2011, 248 individuals residing in group homes passed away.
N. Simons: I can't imagine that the minister has visited a group home and still has the impression that they're institutional. Can the minister tell me: when was the last time he visited a group home?
Hon. H. Bloy: In my position as Minister of Social Development and responsible for Community Living B.C., I have not visited a group home. In my position as an MLA, I have visited group homes.
N. Simons: Was his position when he was an MLA the same as it is now — that group homes are institutional?
Hon. H. Bloy: I do look forward to visiting more group homes after this session is finished in mid-June. While I agree with the member that there are a variety of care models through group homes, they tend to share a commonality of scheduling activities through the course of a day — as a result of accommodating meals, staffing schedules, etc. Some do better than others at being less institutionalized.
I've already identified that group homes will continue to be part of Community Living B.C.'s service delivery. This government and Community Living B.C. have no plans to close or eliminate group homes. This is part of our model in Community Living British Columbia and will always be a part of our model.
N. Simons: Before families across the province rejoice, I believe that the minister is simply saying that he was not going to use any new model to close group homes — that in fact we will continue to use group homes but that some will close. I believe that's the minister's response, because earlier he did project that there would be future closures.
My question is: does he realize that the staffing component…? After some beds close and people move out…. They're being moved out because the contract will only pay a certain amount, based on that individual's need, based on their disability rating.
When the folks from CLBC reassess a client's disability level or ability level, they will be provided with a certain amount of money for that person's level of disability. If it means that they no longer can afford to live in a group home, it may also mean that others can no longer afford the day services.
Does the minister recognize that service reductions do not only impact on group homes but that in fact,
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day programming throughout the province has been cut back?
Hon. H. Bloy: When individuals move from a group home setting to a home share, there are services that accompany that individual to help support individual increase or inclusion in their community activities. Wherever possible, the same service provider is used.
The Chair: We'll take a short recess and reconvene in five minutes.
The committee recessed from 4:23 p.m. to 4:33 p.m.
[D. Black in the chair.]
M. Mungall: Just the other day Shelly Devito — who is a contractor with CLBC; she has several group homes in Nelson — contacted my office to let us know that she was, in fact, forced to shut down Rosemont house, which had two women residents. One woman went to a group home in Castlegar; the other went into a home share.
What she made really clear is that neither one of these women had any choice with where they were going to go or the fact that they had to move, because the house was being shut down. She felt that the word "forced" was very accurate, actually.
This stands in stark contradiction to what the minister has said, which is: "No one has ever been removed from a group home in the province of British Columbia without their explicit choice" — and choice being the key word here.
Definitely, the two clients of Shelly Devito did not have any choice. That house was being shut down. I wonder if the minister could please comment on this discrepancy.
Hon. H. Bloy: I'd like to reiterate that we do not force people to move. It's always a decision. However, I'll follow up on the specific circumstances of what you've said, and we will get back to you.
M. Mungall: I think what's important to note here is that the government is in a position of power, a position of authority. They can give notice on a contract and say that funding is no longer going to be provided and that the particular housing support service for people with disabilities is going to be shut down. That, in and of itself, is forcing someone to move.
So every single time this minister says that we don't force anybody, I feel like he is deeply misleading the people of British Columbia. In a systematic way, that's exactly what the minister is doing here, and it is shameful.
Shelly Devito again said that she is feeling like she is being threatened and that the Nelson house, which is another community home for people with disabilities, is being threatened with closure through attrition in this way.
That house provides three places for clients. Currently it has two clients and one open space, but it's not being filled, despite wait-lists in the community. This is something that we've been hearing on this side of the House from people all over British Columbia who work in community living — this attrition method of shutting down homes. That's precisely what's happening here in Nelson. Can the minister please comment on that?
Hon. H. Bloy: There are a variety of reasons why group homes close. We do not know the specific circumstances in Nelson. However, as stated earlier, Community Living British Columbia matches individuals' needs and the compatibility of the residents when considering placement options. As I committed to before, we'll look into the circumstances in Nelson, and we'll let you know.
M. Sather: Bramble house was a fine home for folks with developmental disabilities in Maple Ridge and a very strong family atmosphere. The residents used to go camping together, and they had holidays together. There were lots of shops locally that they could go to, and they had a great deal of independence.
Now some of them have been sent to quite remote areas. I wanted to ask the minister: why was Bramble house in Maple Ridge closed?
Hon. H. Bloy: I'm not aware of the specific circumstances associated with the closure of Bramble house. We anticipate that those formerly living at Bramble house are now living in other residential settings suitable to their disability needs.
M. Sather: I'm actually surprised that the minister's staff — I've been hearing this through the afternoon — doesn't have awareness of the various closures. I am somewhat surprised about that.
Nonetheless, now the minister said in this House a few days ago that everyone has had a choice of where they want to live. He then said today: "We don't force people to move; it's always a decision." I'm having a hard time understanding what the minister means here when he says: "It's always a decision." A decision by whom?
Hon. H. Bloy: You know, the decision is made. There's a planning process that revolves around the family, the individuals and the service providers. The decisions
[ Page 6900 ]
will be made based on the individual's disability needs. But ultimately, Member, the decision is made by the individual.
M. Sather: Loni Neville was one of the residents that lived in Bramble house. She has a degenerative disease that will result in her being wheelchair-bound. Now, her socialization, her medical needs were met there. And when Bramble house closed, she was forced…. I think that's the correct word, because it was not her choice. It was not her parents' choice. We've talked to the parents. They said no; it was definitely not their choice for her to be moved.
I don't know why the minister is continuing to stick with that line. Would he actually say, then, given the information that I've provided, if he wants to accept it as correct…? Would he still maintain that Loni Neville had a choice to remain at Bramble house?
Hon. H. Bloy: We don't know the circumstances of this individual or of Bramblewood house and for Ms. Neville. We will check into this for you and get back to you, but I can reiterate again that no one is forced out of a home.
M. Sather: I have to respectfully disagree with the minister. I would say, in fact, that my constituent Loni Neville was forced out of her home.
Can the minister tell me: are there individuals, clients, in group homes and community living whose assessment of their functioning level when they leave a group home is sometimes attributed a higher rating than when they were assessed in the home itself?
Hon. H. Bloy: Disability-related needs change on an ongoing basis. They require an ongoing review and assessment for an individual. The member has outlined what could potentially occur, as with other scenarios. For example, disability needs may lessen or increase.
Someone who's in a home care setting may require more intensive care and move to a group home.
M. Sather: Well, Loni has been moved to a homestay setting, and now she's going to have to move again. She's — I'll use the word — being required to move again, according to her parents, within just three months.
Now, we maintain, based on what the family said…. In fact, they say that the home is capable of dealing with the level of need that Loni has, but when she left the group home, they said she was at a higher functioning level, if that's the correct term, than what she actually was. So when she was moved to this new home, they said that it's not appropriate for her.
Why she was put in that home in the first place, I don't understand. But it appears to me very much that what is happening is that people like Loni are…. She just got this reassessment — bingo! — when she left. It wasn't a change in her circumstances. She was simply reassigned at a higher functioning level than she actually is. So they put her into a home, and now three months later she has to move.
Not knowing the specific circumstances but understanding this file, can the minister tell me, then, what other reasons there could be? Why would she then have to move again against her will?
Hon. H. Bloy: I'd have to agree with the member. This doesn't seem normal. It's something you wouldn't expect within three months. As I said earlier, we will look into it, and we will get back to you on this matter.
M. Sather: So can the minister tell me what options there are for Loni and her family, for her to be moved to another facility in Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows? What's out there for her and her family?
Hon. H. Bloy: We do not know the available options at this moment. We have committed to checking into the options available, and we'll be in touch with the individual and her family within a week.
M. Sather: Finally, on that issue, here's what Loni's mother, Gayle Morrissette, had to say about the closure of Bramble house and her daughter's situation. "It's just such a shame they closed that house down. It was a wonderful place. Everybody there had jobs, and they had lots of friends. It's just not the same as having" — and here she was referring to the placement she now has — "two or three staff and means to go to the hospital if she has to."
I appreciate the minister's comments, and I just want to know again, specifically, what he will do to assist this family.
The Chair: Member, did you put a question to the minister?
M. Sather: Yes, I asked the minister specifically what he would do to assist this family.
Hon. H. Bloy: As I've already stated to the member, we don't know the circumstances of this individual or the home, but we've committed to checking into the available services with the individual and with her family, and we will be in touch with her within one week.
M. Sather: Loni Neville's friend from Bramble house, Stephanie Kleckner, was also forced to move against her will and the will of her mother when Bramble house closed. She now lives alone in the basement suite of a
[ Page 6901 ]
private home. She feels lonely, and she feels that she's lost her independence. Her mother said the placement is not working out.
Can I get the same commitment from the minister for this family? The two families, the girls, the young women, are friends. Can I get his commitment for the Kleckner family, as well, that within one week he will contact them and assist this family?
Hon. H. Bloy: We are going to look into Bramble house, and we'll look into this individual also.
N. Simons: I think it's clear just with two examples that the minister's statement about non-forced closures does not match the reality facing families in this province. And I suppose you could have some arguments over semantics. What's a forced closure, and what is an "urged under pain of suffering" closure?
I think in the case of…. What we see now is that you have service providers who are being forced by CLBC to reduce their costs. When you have a service agency, an association or a society that receives funding from Community Living B.C., they're being told by Community Living B.C. that they have to find efficiencies. Those efficiencies are going to come out of somewhere, and that somewhere is usually in residential care or in day programs provided to individuals with developmental disabilities.
The impact of these cuts is severe, not just on the families but on the community as a whole. We have people who can't keep their jobs for as long. They aren't getting the support they need. We have people who are unable to attend day programming.
You want to talk about stories. There's one fellow in Powell River who stands by the door and waits for the lift that has picked him up for 20 years to bring him to the day program. He is no longer eligible for the day program because of the cuts that CLBC is forcing on these service agencies.
But let me point it out. It is not CLBC that's at fault; it's the government. And it's the minister's responsibility to ensure that CLBC has adequate funding to meet the needs of people in our communities — people of all abilities and, in particular, vulnerable people with developmental disabilities.
Does the minister personally think there's adequate funding to CLBC?
Hon. H. Bloy: Community Living British Columbia was created by this government with a purpose in mind: to improve supports to people with developmental disabilities through innovation, practice and increasing inclusion in our communities. Community Living B.C. is fulfilling that purpose and promise. Community Living British Columbia continues to find ways to serve more individuals with developmental disabilities and their families year after year.
I have a few examples to offer the member, to demonstrate the powerful change occurring in people's lives as a result of Community Living B.C.'s approach and the commitment of the Community Living B.C. staff and service providers.
I acknowledge that there are pressures on Community Living B.C.'s ability to provide even more services. Budgets, at the end of the day, are finite. We continue to work with Community Living B.C. on ways to maintain and expand services while managing what will always be a finite budget.
This government, though, has a strong record of supporting Community Living B.C., including significant budget increases since Community Living B.C. was established, notwithstanding an extremely challenging economic downturn, a difficult period for a government to maintain and expand services. Community Living B.C.'s budget was not cut. It has never been cut. In fact, it has steadily risen.
I can tell you that my personal commitment, responsible for Community Living B.C., is to work very hard to support all the services that Community Living B.C. provides for those individuals and their families.
N. Simons: It would be fulfilling to hear that kind of statement if it were not for the fact that Community Living B.C. was developed through years and years of dedicated work from families who have been asking for a system that met the needs of their family members more efficiently and more close to their actual needs in their communities. If you ask anybody involved in the Association for Community Living or families now, they are saying this system has not worked. Their dream has not come true.
This minister may say nice things about the whole idea of community living, but you talk about a finite budget. It's up to the minister to make a case, to say that it's important enough to increase the budget for families who are suffering. These families are in crisis. Their adult children often require 24-hour care. They're often required to provide that care under the stress of having other children in the home that have other needs.
If the minister wants to say that everything's fine — that it's a finite budget, that this was a dream and that CLBC is fine — he is dreaming in Technicolor. This is a problem that everybody in the province recognizes. Every advocacy group that isn't getting rich off being advocates for people with developmental disabilities is saying that the system needs more funding.
I'm saying it needs more funding, not just to throw money at it but because families are in crisis. It is the responsibility of government to make proper choices as to how they allocate funding, and $20 million to a Pacific
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autism family centre, which has been asked for by no one except significant donors to the Liberal Party — that is a bad choice, in my opinion.
I think that's what this minister needs to take on. This minister needs to learn his file, he needs to understand the needs of the families in this province, and he needs to make a case to his government, to his Treasury Board, to say that families are suffering out in the street. They're suffering in the north, and they're suffering in urban parts of our province. They're suffering everywhere.
If the minister is continually using an excuse for the cutting of services, then families have a lot to fear. My responsibility as an opposition member of this House is to ensure that government is held to account, and by holding the government to account on its priorities of spending…. It means government is not spending enough to ensure that families stay out of crisis.
The costs of not addressing these families' needs are significantly higher. If families can't be participant in the care of their family members and everything is left to government, that's understandable. That's untenable. But we're asking that support be provided for families so they can continue to provide the necessary support.
Three or four years ago we were seeing respite services cut for people with developmental disabilities. A few years ago we saw gaming grants cut to Special Olympics. These are people who are vulnerable in our community. I believe that we need to show as a society that we will care for those who are least capable of caring for themselves, and right now they are suffering.
I would agree that there was a dream about CLBC — that CLBC would provide the services necessary for families. I have absolutely no doubt that the people working for CLBC are doing the best they can, but the best they can is limited by a government that doesn't have vision for the future. It's incumbent on this minister to recognize what those hardships really mean in family terms, in terms of day-to-day existence.
I implore this minister to take adequate attention and adequate time to look at the budgets and to look at the restrictions. We're seeing a 5½ percent increase in demand. I'm not blaming the government for that, but if the government insists on trying to maintain a cap on funding for services, you know that services are going to be reduced. You know that the certain services…. It's going to be sprinkle and crumbs for everyone and not a piece of bread for anyone — just crumbs.
I think that the minister needs to recognize that there are ways of delivering services efficiently. There's nothing wrong with reviewing services, but involve the families, involve the advocates, and involve the people who are receiving the services themselves.
The system that's being used right now is a stealthy system. You go into communities, you talk to the person who's living in the group home, and you talk to a couple of people.
Talk to the families. Find out from the families what these individuals need. Find out from their caregivers what they need. Don't be selective in how you review the needs of the family. That is what's happening. Families are being left out. Caregivers are being left out.
Now we have the situation where people are moving to share homes, family-sharing. I think there's nothing wrong with that, but who's looking over those? Who is actually making sure that these homes are adequate? Who's making sure that for the quality of life of individuals moved from group homes to home share, they're actually living the same kind of fulfilling lives?
In the staff resources we have accreditation. You have standards; you have reviews. You have people who are professionally trained. In home share you have people who have been recruited on eBay, asking for mortgage helpers. You know, these are not the people that we are necessarily trying to recruit to look after our vulnerable adults.
Does the minister know what the difference is between the services that an individual receives in a group home and the services they receive when they're living in a home share?
Hon. H. Bloy: I want to tell the member across that I do appreciate his concern and passion on this event, and I want to assure the member that we have not seen any cuts. In fact, the budget has increased year after year. I want to acknowledge that there is increased demand for the services from Community Living B.C.
Here are some of the CLBC's expectations of home care, home share placements.
"Home-sharing is a residential option in which an adult with a developmental disability shares a home with someone who is contracted to provide ongoing support. Home-sharing may be offered by community-based agencies or directly by Community Living B.C. Homes may be owned or rented by the home-sharing provider or by the individual requiring support."
Community Living B.C. has specific policies and standards to ensure that individuals receive consistent, high-quality support in all residential arrangements.
"Policies are clearly written rules that define the expectations Community Living B.C. has of home-sharing providers in specific situations."
The following policies govern Community Living B.C.: approval of Community Living B.C.–contracted home-sharing providers, bathing guidelines, behaviour support and safety planning, complaints resolution, criminal record checks, critical incidence, investigations of abuse and neglect, monitoring of CLBC-contracted home-sharing providers, respite guidelines, standards for home-sharing.
The majority of home-sharing arrangements are provided by community agencies accredited by the Com-
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mission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, CARF, or the Council on Accreditation.
The number of individuals selecting this residential option has increased by more than 350 percent in the past 15 years and continues to show steady growth in popularity. It is the fastest-growing residential option within the province, and there are now approximately 3,100 adults who live in home-sharing arrangements funded by Community Living B.C.
Home-sharing occurs in virtually every community, either through CLBC or a qualified service-provision agency. Over 50 percent of home-sharing providers have more than 50 years experience. Many of these providers have been supporting the same individual for over 15 years.
S. Simpson: The minister talks about home shares. Well, home shares are fast becoming the only residential option for people who are in the system as we increasingly see group homes becoming less and less an option.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
As the minister will know, even in the Guide to Support Allocation now, the option of home shares is not a consideration in much of the Guide to Support Allocation. That's the reality we have.
But the minister is trying to tell us that there's no cut. The minister may want to talk about the semantics of money here, so my question to the minister would be this. We have a $681 million budget. We're going to continue to have that $681 million budget again next year and the year after, based on the current budget.
We also, as the minister knows, are expecting to add about 600 people a year over the next couple of years in terms of service requirements from CLBC. So we're going to increase the number of people who require service by about 600 people a year. The reality is that some of those people are requiring maybe $50,000, $60,000, if they're in residential care. A group home care may be closer to $100,000 a year to provide service for those individuals.
So what has occurred here — and the minister might want to check this out — is that we've seen the ministry…. CLBC might call it efficiencies. We've seen the better part of $22 million of service reductions through efficiencies. That $22 million…. It's still in the budget, but it's the money that's going to be used to help pay for those 600 people's services.
There has been a noticeable reduction in services available. We know of all of the young people coming up who we increasingly are hearing "get to wait-lists…." They don't get service.
Will the minister acknowledge that while, as he says, the budget stays at $681 million, the requirement service obligations of CLBC…? So 600-odd new people a year for the next few years. There's no new money to provide services for those people. Instead they're being got out of the budgets.
So maybe we'll start with this question. Based on average service costs — and there is an average cost — could the minister tell us how much it will cost to provide service to those 600 new people who are expected to come in to CLBC?
Hon. H. Bloy: In response to the member, you know, I can't give him a specific number. It depends on the developmental needs.
I can say that government has a strong history of supporting Community Living British Columbia, and I can say as minister that I'm committed to working and supporting Community Living British Columbia always, to provide services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.
S. Simpson: I find it remarkable that it took quite that much time to create that answer.
The reality is this: 600 people, based on what we know costs are; about $30 million to deliver services, give or take a million — about $30 million to deliver CLBC services, more or less. That's the real number. That's roughly what we're dealing with.
The question to the minister is this. He can either deny that number is in the ballpark, or he can accept that. The minister can then tell us where that $30 million comes from in terms of existing services.
We don't want to hear efficiencies. We don't want to hear rhetoric. Give us a list of what changes in terms of real services, because what we know changes is that 33 group homes close. It's about $100,000 for somebody in a group home. It's probably a little less than $50,000 to put them in a home share. That's where they find some of that money. It's reductions in respite dollars. That's where they find that money. It's reductions in day programs. That's where they find that money.
It's time for the minister to take the time to answer the question. Get your facts. You have a very capable staff there with you. Tell us where those reductions are coming from. Give us a list — $30 million, more or less.
Hon. H. Bloy: You know, the activities that Community Living B.C. is engaging in…. It's no secret that demand is growing. They are identified in Community Living B.C.'s service plan on page 15, and I want to read that into the record.
"Community Living B.C.'s planning and resource allocation decisions are guided by the literature, which indicates the best quality-of-life outcomes for adults with developmental disability result from being integrated into family and community life.
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The evolution of Community Living B.C.–funded supports and services increasingly reflect this principle.
"Community Living B.C. manages and allocates resources in a transparent and equitable manner at the local level by allocating funding to the 11 quality service areas based on demographics and regional factors; using the Guide to Support Allocation to consistently measure an individual's level of disability-related need and applying the Catalogue of Services to ensure an appropriate funded response; establishing and managing a request-for-service list to capture support requests, disability-related needs of individuals and address them in a systematic and equitable way; and implementing the Request for Service Priority Tool to consistently measure the urgency of an individual's support needs.
"Community Living B.C. staff use the following general strategies to manage resources: maintaining family involvement whenever possible; promoting employment as an alternative to traditional day services; cultivating greater community involvement and developing cost-effective, sustainable, person-focused solutions; ensuring residential services are aligned with the disability-related need to help avoid unnecessary placements in staffed residential resources; encouraging adults in staffed residential resources to explore more inclusive community alternatives such as home-sharing; assisting individuals and families to develop individual support plans that balance the use of funded supports and services with access to generic services that citizens without disabilities use, and informal supports provided by family, friends and neighbours; supporting individuals and families to maintain independence; and making effective use of small amounts of flexible funding to prevent the need for more expensive supports later on.
"The above strategies help manage the level of Community Living B.C.'s response that is required to address an individual's disability-related need. Response costs are managed through using negotiated sectorwide rates for union and non-union providers and competitive procurement processes; using standardized funding templates that help staff develop and evaluate service costs based on the negotiated rates; incorporating service levels — hours of service — into contracts with monitoring processes that help identify and recover funding for non-delivery of service; monitoring contracts and reviewing services to identify service delivery issues and underutilized capacity; and periodically evaluating disability-related needs of adults receiving service and the appropriateness of Community Living B.C.'s funded response.
"Contract management and oversight have been a focus since Community Living B.C.'s inception. Over the four years ended March 31, 2010, annual ongoing savings from the redesigned services and contract recoveries totalled over $50 million. These savings were used to fund the needs of eligible adults that otherwise would not have been addressed.
"Residential services represent approximately 65 percent of contracted adult service expenditures each year and are a major focus of cost-management efforts, including providing full information on residential options that are available to individuals, matching disability-related need to services provided and supporting individuals who choose to move into alternative models."
N. Simons: The province of B.C. should be embarrassed that the minister, to an important question, simply reads from a service plan that's available on line to anyone who wants it. Was that a reading practice?
You know, these are serious questions about important resources for people of this province, and all you've done is read a page and a half of something that everybody can have their hands on if they so desire. To me it's shocking. The minister seems not to have studied his file, despite the fact of having been in it for a length of time that would have adequately prepared the average person to at least be able to answer the simplest of questions.
I'm speaking on behalf of many families who do not have a voice, who are overworked, who are unable to manage on their own and who need a voice in this House. If this voice isn't going to come from the government side of the House, it's going to have to come from the opposition.
I cannot believe that a ministry as important as this, in a sector as important as this, has a minister who has very little understanding of the issues — relying on the agency to speak for the ministry.
The minister is responsible for providing the funding to the Crown agency, and the minister is getting his answers from that Crown agency. It's inappropriate — absolutely inappropriate.
I'd like to just go back…. It's not just about throwing money at the issues. There are ways of finding efficiencies, but I wouldn't use the word "efficiencies" as a euphemism for cuts to service, because every parent knows what that means.
It was efficiency when a parent received a letter in the mail saying that their two children with special needs were not going to camp for a week. It was efficiency when the government told Special Olympics on the Sunshine Coast that they weren't going to be able to travel anymore. It was efficiency when the group home in Powell River with four residents who'd lived together for many years were told that they were all going to spread out and have more individualized funding.
Well, I'm sorry; those are not efficiencies, Madam Chair. Those are cuts to services to our most vulnerable in our communities. Mean-spirited cuts, I might add. I think everybody recognizes that.
This is supposed to be a family-friendly government. Well, we've seen the opposite. We see evidence…. We see time and time again that, in fact, that's just a simple slogan to cover up the reality of service cuts to people in our communities who least can afford those cuts.
When you see vanity projects by Liberal donors receiving government money, you know that it's coming out of the pockets of people who could use it for efficiencies, where this efficiency is making their life a little bit easier.
I'm just sad on behalf of people who are living with family members who have a developmental disability. I'm sad for their siblings. I'm sad for their parents, their grandparents and everybody who has to take up the burden that has been left by a government that seemingly has lost its priorities, or it maybe never had them in the first place. I'm just shocked.
The priority tool that the minister referred to: can the minister tell me what the priority tool is?
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Hon. H. Bloy: The priority ranking tool is used for those people requiring service. The tool rates the level of disability related to need, and care is prioritized for the request-for-service list.
To follow on that, in the past families would approach Community Living B.C. and say: "My adult child has the same need and profile of my neighbour, but they are receiving completely different services. Is that fair?"
No one thought this was fair. The amount of service that a person received was dependent on the strength of the advocacy efforts of the family involved, local negotiations between service provider and staff, and how much money was available the year the request was made. All of these things added up to a system that was unfair, unclear and inconsistent.
In the past six years Community Living B.C. has worked hard to develop a resource allocation system that provides guidance on how to determine the appropriate supports in relationship to the person's disability-related needs. In this process, Community Living B.C. studied and talked to other national and international funding bodies on their resource allocation approaches.
As a result, Community Living B.C. developed the policy and practice guidelines that ensured that consistent practices across the province are used. This is how the tool is used for components to change.
N. Simons: Thank you to the minister for that answer. I'm just wondering: how does the priority tool fit in with the prioritization of funding approvals based on health and safety criteria? Are the health and safety criteria the overarching document that will determine how the priority tool is applied?
Hon. H. Bloy: The request-for-service list is continually reviewed for health and safety needs. Anyone with health and safety concerns is looked after immediately. In the ranking tool, priority ranking is used for all others.
N. Simons: Can the minister describe the way in which CLBC evaluates its own performance and the satisfaction of those it serves?
Hon. H. Bloy: Each year CLBC undertakes a consumer satisfaction survey. In the last survey, overall, 71 percent of individuals are satisfied with the services received from Community Living B.C.
In addition, Community Living B.C. has eight performance measures in its service plan to measure performance. All service providers receiving more than $500,000 per year must be accredited by a formal accreditation body such as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities or their Council on Accreditation.
N. Simons: It's interesting that…. I'm not going to read it, but in the service plan, the customer satisfaction, CLBC conducts an annual satisfaction survey, and managers use this result to develop plans that are identified as requiring improvement.
Accredited agencies, apparently, also provide this service. Is CLBC itself accredited?
Hon. H. Bloy: Community Living B.C. is in the process of becoming accredited.
N. Simons: I'm just going to look at some of those performance indicators that the minister just raised. There are eight in the service plan, and they're interesting. I worry that some of them are very subjective, and I question the ability to assume that they're reliable.
The percentage of individuals and families who feel well supported by their service providers, is that the 71 percent satisfaction rate that was just indicated? If so, that's below the targeted goal. I'm just wondering if the minister has any comments on that.
Hon. H. Bloy: The baseline measures in the service plan refer to specific questions in the survey. The 71 percent refers to a blended percentage of all the questions asked on the survey.
N. Simons: Does the minister have a copy of that survey that he might be able to share with us? If so, I'll just continue on the….
Hon. H. Bloy: Yes, we'll get one, Member.
N. Simons: That was so fast. If there was injury time in this, we'd be going till midnight-thirty. However, we don't have injury time, despite how we all feel.
Goal 3, "Operational efficiency." I see in that goal that one of the performance measures is "percentage of individuals receiving residential services that live in smaller, individualized arrangements." Now, to me that suggests there is a systemic plan to ensure that fewer and fewer people live in group homes and, I guess, more and more live in smaller home share arrangements. Is that an operational efficiency, and is that a performance measure of operational efficiency — the smaller homes?
Hon. H. Bloy: We can confirm for the member that the measure is consistent with CLBC's commitment to facilitate increased inclusion and individual development through individualized arrangements, inclusive but not limited to home-sharing.
[ Page 6906 ]
N. Simons: As this trend towards home-sharing continues, and I suspect that it will, one would hope that individuals who are living by themselves or in a roommate situation or in a basement suite of somebody who is a home share provider that the other services for them would be actually increased.
What I worry about is…. When you have group homes, you have scheduled activities, and you ensure that people are living their fullest potential. You have staff individuals with specific skills and knowledge, and you have access to programs and services.
When you're in a home share, on the other hand, you're living with somebody who may not have had any experience working with people with developmental disabilities. In fact, it's not a requirement.
I'm wondering if the minister recognizes that while funding for residential care is being squeezed, that, in fact, the same thing is happening in day programming and programming to employment supports as well.
Hon. H. Bloy: Any individuals that move into a home share are very well oriented, and the provider is well trained. The individual is integrated into the family, the community and community events and activities. Additional funds may be available for the individual to integrate into the community events.
N. Simons: The minister might help explain how a woman who lived in one home for 20 years was moved on two weeks' notice with one preplacement visit where one of the adult home share providers was at home. I think that the facts from the communities around the province belie the reality that families face, and I think that adequate preplanning is an issue that the minister raised and is actually one that, I think, needs to be looked at.
For that reason, perhaps the minister could provide me with the completed satisfaction survey so we can see what the results were, because there's some contradiction in the service plan as to who actually conducts those satisfaction surveys. On the one hand it's accredited external agencies, and at the other time it's external experts that have nothing to do with the area in question. So it would be nice if some openness around surveys and how satisfaction is measured would be available to the public so we could actually see whether or not what we're being told is actually a reflection of the concerns that people have.
My next question has to do with performance measures related to service excellence. The question I have has to do, actually, with a different performance measure related to individualized funding.
One of the measures is the number of people who are receiving individualized funding. Now, isn't that simply another way of saying that when a person has access to funding, for example, for respite, they send their child to a respite home maybe once a month for overnight or two nights. They may not be the direct payer for this service, but soon they find out that respite's cut, and they'll be getting $150 in order to cover the same thing, which of course wouldn't go anywhere near providing the necessary service.
Does individualized funding actually reflect something good in the life of a care provider? In fact, is it just another way of saying how we're paying for a particular service and likely how we're paying less for a particular service?
Hon. H. Bloy: I'd like to clarify what individualized funding is. Community Living B.C. services include support to help families care for individuals in their family home. Families may receive supports through contracted services or through individualized funding to purchase services themselves.
Individualized funding is a payment mechanism that is available through two options: host agency funding or direct funding. Host agency funding allows individuals or families to select a Community Living B.C.–approved host agency to administer the money allocated to them and to assist them with arranging and managing the supports that they require. This option provides individuals and families with the benefits of individualized funding but with less responsibility for paperwork and record-keeping.
Direct funding is when money is paid directly by Community Living B.C. to an agent for the purchase of supports and services. Individualized funding enables people with disabilities to use the money allocated to them by Community Living B.C. to make individual choices about how the supports and services are provided. It gives individuals more control over the decisions that affect their lives.
Individualized funding provides individuals and families with flexibility and person-centred, self-directed payment options for arranging, managing and paying for support and services. The individualized funding measures reflect CLBC's commitment under the Community Living Authority Act to make individualized funding available.
N. Simons: Thank you for that edifying explanation. I understand how individualized funding works. As an example, a family in Victoria used to send their children to Corner House, a respite provider paid for by CLBC and offering professional care, appropriate activities, socialization with other individuals with similar needs, and a break for the parents and the families, which we all understand.
When they had that removed, they were offered some money instead. That money could purchase a weekend
[ Page 6907 ]
with somebody with no skill, perhaps far from town, with no other children to socialize with, no programming. Sure, it's cheaper, but you get what you pay for.
In this particular case, individualized funding just means less money to be spent directly by the family. I understand that. They have choice. They can choose someone who is qualified and who expects to be compensated appropriately or choose somebody who isn't. That's a difficult choice for many families.
There are certain downsides, but I see it being used as a performance measure, as an indicator of success, when in fact it's the redistribution of funding — probably spread out over more people, but less of it — and really less capacity to access services that are appropriate for their child or young adult child.
I have so many questions here, and many I've been asked to put on the record for possible answer either today or in the future. My main questions have had to do with the fact that CLBC seems to be able to continually manage the same budget for more and more individuals. At some point, we recognize that that's unsustainable.
When you see a budget projection of zero increase over three years, and you see a waiting list that's, even according to ministry statistics, quite high, and you see a number of youth transitioning to adulthood, and you see aging parents losing their capacity to care for their adult children, how can that possibly be sustainable without massive cuts to the level of service being used by families today?
Hon. H. Bloy: We recognize the pressures on the system and, again, the member's concern. CLBC continues to work with its partners and community agencies to sustain a level of supports and services to as many individuals as possible.
The province has increased funding to Community Living B.C. for operations every year since its inception. In the last three years alone we've provided an additional $31 million for operations. The province has invested a total of $3.5 billion in Community Living B.C. since its inception in 2005. Again, 93 percent of every dollar goes towards services and programs.
N. Simons: Can the minister tell me how many day programs were closed throughout the province this year?
Hon. H. Bloy: We do not have a number of daycare programs that have been closed. As we're changing the service delivery model, there'll be more changes in the community that receive community and individualized choices.
Noting the hour, I move we rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:52 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolutions and progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. P. Bell moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:54 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); D. Horne in the chair.
The committee met at 2:35 p.m.
On Vote 38: ministry operations, $605,202,000 (continued).
The Chair: We're currently considering the budget estimates of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
S. Simpson: I'm here today to talk to the minister and the minister's staff about the gaming and BCLC end of her responsibilities as the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. I'll note, for anybody who's paying attention to us today, that this does not include gaming grants. We won't be talking about gaming grants today, for all those people who will wonder why I didn't ask any questions about gaming grants. We'll save that for another day and another minister.
We know that in 2009-10 the government, through the Lottery Corporation — GPEB, I guess, at that point — dedicated about $5.2 million or so to problem gam-
[ Page 6908 ]
bling in British Columbia, which was about a half a percent of overall government revenues.
Could the minister tell us what is the expected level of funding, government revenues and funding, that will come this year in this budget to the government, and what percentage of that budget and what the overall number will be that will be invested in problem gambling?
Hon. S. Bond: The expected allocation this year will be $4.46 million. In addition to that, BCLC adds $2 million.
S. Simpson: So that will be $6.46 million in total. Could the minister tell us…? In terms of gambling revenues that come to the government of British Columbia from the Lottery Corporation, from casino revenues, from lottery tickets, from overall Lottery Corporation, how does that number…? We'll go to the total number, the bigger number, the $6.46 million. What is that as a percentage of overall revenues?
Hon. S. Bond: In the interest of saving time, because there is limited time today, the revenue is $1.1 billion, and the investment in problem gambling is $6.46 million.
S. Simpson: Could the minister tell us whether she believes that number is sufficient? I know that we saw a reduction in the '07-08 budget around problem gambling. At that point, I believe, the overall budget was reduced from $7 million to $5.2 million in that budget. It started, with the addition of this money, to climb back up again.
The minister's predecessor, I know in conversations that we had last year, talked about how people weren't accessing the money, and we had a debate about whether the government needs to do outreach to get at people around the money, to be able to access that money.
I'd be interested, certainly, for the minister to tell me what the status is now, but we know that in '09-10, of the seven provinces that have problem gambling programs, British Columbia had the lowest level of funding in relation to that.
Could the minister tell us whether she's satisfied that that amount of money will meet the needs?
Hon. S. Bond: First of all, it is correct that there was a look at the usage in terms of the dollar amount in earlier budgets. The member opposite asks if I feel that's enough. For me it's not a matter of how much money is in the pot. For me it's a matter of taking care of people who have issues with problem gaming.
If services are being provided and people are being offered services that are necessary, then that for me is the test of whether or not we have adequate resources in place. What is important to know is that for 95 percent of British Columbians, approximately, some form of gaming is not a problem for them.
I am the first to recognize that a percentage of people in British Columbia, as in every other jurisdiction, have issues with gaming. What I have been reassured about is that every person who needs help, who calls out for help, who asks for help, is being given service in British Columbia. To me that is the test of whether or not there are appropriate services in place or not.
S. Simpson: I would agree with the minister that it is about the services. The minister knows…. I'm sure that she has seen the previous reports that preceded her time for responsibility, about the failures of the self-exclusion program that have been noted through investigations done by media and others.
The minister will also know…. I'm sure she's read the reports by people like Dr. John Carsley, Vancouver Coastal Health medical officer, who criticised the government for underfunding problem gambling and responsible gambling programs in the province. Those criticisms were made in March of this year, so we know there are problems.
My question to the minister is this. If the minister is looking for the best programs, and I think that's the right thing to do, could she tell us whether the Lottery Corporation or GPEB or her ministry have at any time done a look at best practices, have done an evaluation of our programs, looked at best practices and in fact have implemented best practices? If so, could we finally get the documentation on that?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, of course they have. You know, we recognize that while many, many thousands of British Columbians choose gaming in British Columbia as part of their entertainment, for a small percentage of people there are significant issues. It is our responsibility…. I expect BCLC and GPEB to be looking for best practice, and that's exactly what they do.
We had representatives from the responsible gaming council, which is actually an external organization headquartered in Toronto, come to British Columbia twice, on two occasions, and actually work through the issues of support for people who have challenges with gaming. All of the recommendations provided by that particular group, after the evaluation was done, were implemented.
While the member opposite, I know, has not been overly supportive of voluntary self-exclusion, it is one of the things that is actually highlighted as a strength. It is not the only tool that's necessary, but it is an important one. So yes, there is regular evaluation about best practice, and I would certainly expect that to continue.
[ Page 6909 ]
S. Simpson: I'm more than supportive of voluntary self-exclusion, but I expect that when people do the responsible thing and say, "I have a problem, and I want to exclude myself," and sign the documentation to allow and ask for that to occur…. I then expect the people who are taking my money and the government to provide the support they say they will provide and in fact exclude me when, because I have a health issue, an addiction, I have a problem in controlling that addiction.
It is not a small number of people. The B.C. Medical Association tells us it's 156,000 British Columbians who have a problem with gambling, and more than 30,000 of them have a serious addiction. This is not a small number of people and should be addressed.
Could the minister tell us if, as she says, there's been some work done on this? We have seen concerns raised, significant concerns over the last year or so, around whether the B.C. Lottery Corporation is handling this file and managing it properly when it comes to problem gambling.
We saw, arguably, one of the most compelling arguments. Many of the people who lined up to oppose the Paragon casino in Vancouver lined up and opposed it on this issue of supports and issues around problem gambling, including a number of medical health officers across this province — people who understand this issue, who stood up, like Dr. Carsley, and said that this is a problem and that the government and the Lottery Corporation are not addressing it adequately.
My question to the minister is this: considering all this, has there been an independent evaluation of the Lottery Corporation's work on problem gambling, and if so, will the minister make it available?
Hon. S. Bond: Lots to respond to. First of all, I think the member opposite underestimates the responsibility that not only the members of my team but this government feel about making sure that people who have a challenge with gambling are taken care of.
To be clear, there are no wait-lists for people who require assistance. In fact, the standard is very high. Within 24 hours a person who asks for help receives a call from a counsellor in British Columbia.
While the member may want to criticize voluntary self-exclusion, we've said clearly that there are challenges with ensuring that people who choose to be excluded are actually excluded. We have new technology which is helping to do that in terms of facial recognition. We have licence plate recognition. We have people who monitor cameras to make sure that wherever possible, if a person has chosen to exclude themselves, we are improving our ability to make sure they are excluded.
In terms of external evaluation, I pointed out to the member already that we've had a group that has come to the province twice. One of the features they evaluate….
We also have a report that looks at VSE. I am positive that that report is available, and we'd be happy to share that. The recommendations have been followed.
I think it is important. I understand the member's passion about this issue. I also understand that the member opposite has never taken the opportunity to actually sit down with the B.C. Lottery Corporation or to have this discussion and express the concerns directly and have the opportunity to have some input into how this issue is managed in British Columbia.
There are no wait-lists. If people ask for help, they are provided with it. To me, that's one of the most important and definitive criterion that needs to be met.
S. Simpson: If this minister is saying she has a practice that differs from her predecessor, whose office clearly said to me that if I wanted to talk to people in the B.C. Lottery Corporation on issues like this, I went through the minister's office…. They decided if I had a meeting, and they chose to attend in the meeting.
I didn't have that opportunity to sit down with officials at the Lottery Corporation, to call them up, because quite frankly the previous minister — and I don't know what this minister's practice is — essentially said to senior officials: "You don't talk to the critic unless you go through us." I would have loved to have the opportunity, but I knew that nobody would take the phone call.
The reality is this. In fact, the voluntary program is about people putting themselves on lists and being able to then be excluded. There are real questions about whether those practices that the minister talks about work. We have looked at other jurisdictions. I talked to folks who are experts in this field, who tell me there are other jurisdictions that do this much better.
I know that the Lottery Corporation is not comfortable with some of those practices — like the Netherlands, where they use a carded system for players going into casinos, where they have identification, not unlike the Barwatch program that's used in downtown Vancouver in the entertainment strip, where they identify people in ways to keep the criminal element out.
That kind of practice would not only be helpful in dealing with problem gambling; it would also deal with one of the other issues we'll discuss in a while, which is the question of whether there's a role around organized crime.
We do have some problems there. I look forward to having that conversation, if the minister is offering it up now.
Hon. S. Bond: I think that the best way to actually solve problems and improve services to British Columbians is to have a conversation about it with the people who offer the service. I wouldn't have stood up and suggested that we have that conversation. I can't imagine why the
[ Page 6910 ]
two of us couldn't actually sit in a room. I do that very regularly with my portfolios, as many of the members opposite could attest.
I think there needs to be some perspective here that there is a mutual concern in this room about ensuring that problem gamblers are cared for. There is also a mutual concern that wherever possible, we use best practice. VSE is a very good example of that.
We are happy to sit down and learn about other jurisdictions. I certainly just had that conversation with Michael Graydon, who is here today. He is the CEO of BCLC. Sue Birge is also here. She is an assistant ADM of the gaming policy and enforcement branch.
We've had, in my limited time as minister, a number of conversations about ensuring that where there is an issue for British Columbians when it comes to gaming, we need to be aggressive and proactive and deal with it.
On the other hand, gaming is part of the entertainment of thousands of British Columbians every single day. In fact, for the vast majority of them, they don't have an issue with problem gaming. So my responsibility — and our responsibility, I think, together — is to ensure that appropriate services and protections are in place for those people for whom this is a problem. I am confident that we will continue to look for ways to improve our processes, to improve the protection for people who ask to be excluded.
Some of the statistics I think are clear. There is room for improvement. Seventy-eight percent of all VSE participants have never been caught violating their VSE commitment, so we have a 78 percent success rate. There's still room for improvement, but from my perspective, that's a pretty significant statistic.
Seven percent of all VSE participants are responsible for about 80 percent of the recorded VSE violations. Again, yes, there are a number of people for whom this is an issue. There are a number of people who self-exclude, and of that number, there are an even smaller number who actually are responsible for the violations.
We have identified those numbers. There is work that continues to need to be done, but we're happy to have that conversation. We're going to look for ways to improve the service.
S. Simpson: I'm going to move a little bit, because we are on a tight timeline here today. I'm going to ask questions that still relate to problem gambling but move away from the casinos at this point.
I guess the comment I would make just before I do is that I agree that for the vast majority of people, gaming is an entertainment. It's a recreation. They don't overspend. They know how to go in, and if they have $30 to spend, they spend $30 and go home, or they do whatever they do.
The reality is this. We know that when gaming was brought in, in British Columbia, there was a concern or an anxiety on the part of the public. That anxiety was about the government being actively involved in the gambling business. The reality is that, much like the government side, I would be the first one to say that a government on our side would continue the gambling, because the revenue is important.
As the minister says, there are a large number of people who enjoy it as a recreation, and they deal with it in a personally responsible way.
But there are issues, and the issues are around this. They are around issues related to the role of organized crime and whether they are infiltrating in some certain aspects of the industry and some other matters that we'll talk about a little bit. What we need to do is ensure that the public continues to have confidence. When these questions keep coming up in the way that they have over the past year or two, it becomes a problem. The questions were raised because of certain activities that went on. So that's the reality.
I want to ask, just around problem gambling, if the minister could tell us…. We know that one of the areas that BCLC is now moving more actively into is on line — beginning to expand and grow its on-line business. So the first question that I have is: what's the expectation of the minister about the growth of on line in terms of revenues over the next couple of years?
Hon. S. Bond: To the member opposite: I don't think I've disagreed with a single word he's said. To actually suggest that there have been issues, that the last year has brought issues in gaming…. Gaming, as I understand it, came into British Columbia about 26 years ago — something like that. I can assure the member opposite that no matter how hard we work — together, independently, or however we choose to make it — there are still going to be people saying that we're not doing enough and that there needs to be more done. What I'm going to measure is exactly what we're doing and how we're going to improve it.
There's a sense that the member wants to make this confrontational, and I'm not interested in that. What I'm interested in is protecting individuals who experience challenges with problem gaming. We've made progress. Is there improvement needed? Yes.
In terms of on-line gaming, the revenue is currently $45 million, and we expect that that will increase to $75 million.
S. Simpson: I don't have a confrontational bone in my body, and we'll just let that go.
A Voice: Retract.
S. Simpson: It's all a point of debate; everything is a point of debate.
[ Page 6911 ]
In regard to problem gambling, and the minister and her officials will know this, there have been concerns raised in regard to the notion of on line, people playing at home, people who might — and they might be a small group — have significant issues.
They could be issues that relate to this addiction or to other addictions, whether it be things like alcohol or things that would allow them to be in a state that a casino would never allow to go on if they were at a table. Officials in a casino who monitor this would see somebody who was potentially in that state, and they would intervene. That doesn't happen at two o'clock in the morning or at midnight at home with somebody who potentially has a problem.
My question to the minister. I know that the Lottery Corporation is doing work on this. Could the minister tell us: what are the programs? How does the Lottery Corporation intend to deal with those questions — to be able to identify those people who might be having that problem and be able to intervene on line in a way that allows them to stop people from getting in trouble?
Hon. S. Bond: I know that it's tempting to suggest that British Columbia is racing out the door to begin on-line gaming. That's not the reality of the world we live in. We watched British Columbians making choices to participate in illegal, unregulated on-line gaming. At that point you have the choice: you can either allow that to continue — which is completely unregulated; no one knows what's going on; it is not monitored — or you can actually recognize that people are making personal choices about the use of technology.
Whether it's gaming, ordering a book or you name it, we do it differently today. So there is significant interest and, in fact, it was out there. People are gaming on line. What British Columbia decided to do was actually put in place stringent regulation to ensure that the site is legal.
Let me give the member opposite some of the things we do. There are preset deposit limits with a 24-hour restriction on increase requests. There are cash-outs; when cash-outs are over $1,000, they are reviewed. All of the information is secure, and transactions are monitored. Players can clearly see how long they have played. They can see how much they have wagered. There is a purchase history: tickets purchased and amount spent for the past 52 weeks. Each time players log on, a geolocation check verifies that they're in British Columbia.
The self-exclusion program does not allow people to use on-line gaming. There is — and this is important to me — a BetStopper software program available as a free download for parents who want to block minors' access to gambling websites. The fact of the matter is that people in British Columbia are choosing to game on line. Previously the only choices they had were unregulated, illegal sites, so British Columbia chose to put in place a regulated, monitored system to allow people who make those choices to do it more appropriately.
S. Simpson: I guess, two comments. One is that with British Columbia making the decision to enter into this field in a bigger way…. And that bigger way started with moving the betting limit from $120 a week of total bets to $9,999 a week. I think the thing that first and foremost flagged concern for people was the dramatic increase in the amounts of money that people were allowed to gamble. I think that many people in this province would suggest that a $10,000-a-week limit on on-line gambling makes it more than just a recreational event that people go to kill a little time and enjoy themselves.
Of the tools that are available or the tools that are in place — and Minister, I might not have heard this correctly — is there a tool there at all that tracks the amount of time that a player is on in any given…? Over a week, over a month…? It tracks hours or time, frequency of log-on. Is there a point where it flags a problem if those hours get to be significant or the frequency goes up, combined with the amounts of money that people are playing?
Presumably, the Lottery Corporation has an ability to access and track all of that data. What happens when those numbers go up?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, there is a play history feature. There is also a purchase history feature. It will tell you how many tickets you've purchased and the amount you have spent over a 52-week period. The play history spans that period of time as well. There are flags that come up.
Obviously, we're not in the position of intervening directly in someone's personal choices. I can only imagine what the reaction would be should we decide to do that. But there are flags that appear that would suggest…. At a certain number of bets, for example, the flag might pop up and say: "Is it time for you to take a break?" Those kinds of things.
We are currently in discussion, I'm told, about looking at additional flags that might provide other, sort of, milestones to say: "This is what you've done. This is the amount of time." Those kinds of things. So flags do appear, but there is obviously not intervention in someone's play directly.
S. Simpson: I'm going to move to a second topic because, again, I'm watching the clock here. I know that there's an appeal, I believe, in place, so obviously if there's something going on related to the courts and things, we can't talk about it. I understand that. But could the minister, as much as possible, tell us what the situation is
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around the fines that were put in place by FINTRAC, I believe, with the Lottery Corporation and GPEB, and what the state of those 2010 fines is?
I believe it was about $670,000 around just over 1,000 misfiled reports of transactions over $10,000. I believe the Lottery Corporation has appealed that. Could the minister tell us, to the degree she can, what the state of that is?
Hon. S. Bond: Obviously, the member opposite is correct. On October 29 BCLC filed an appeal of a penalty levied by FINTRAC. It is important to note that those were administrative concerns. In fact, it will be about nine to 12 months. It is currently before the federal courts, and obviously, I'm not going to make any other comment because it is in front of the courts. We anticipate about a nine-to-12-month period before we're actually able to know the outcome of that.
I should inform the member opposite, however, that GPEB recently conducted an audit. That audit is currently in draft in terms of the results. I'd be happy to share that or make that available once it is finalized, but I can tell the member opposite that the audit showed that there is full compliance, and the final report will indicate that it is a clean audit.
S. Simpson: A while back, the minister will know, and Mr. Graydon will certainly know, we saw a CBC news report where they made the assertion that over a three-month period in the summer of 2010, two Metro Vancouver casinos, River Rock and the Starlight, were reported to have accepted over 90, or there had been over 90, large cash transactions totalling over $8 million. There were questions about those raised in the news report.
My question to the minister is: has the Lottery Corporation or GPEB looked into that matter, and could the minister tell us whether they've satisfied themselves that these were all appropriate transactions?
Hon. S. Bond: The former Solicitor General requested that a review be done. That work is being finalized as we speak. In fact, media asked me about it earlier today. I anticipate receiving it. I understand that the draft report is being finalized. It will be then presented to me. We will review the recommendations, and that report will be made public, as committed to by the previous Solicitor General.
S. Simpson: Thanks to the minister. I look forward to seeing that when the report is ready to be released.
Part of the issue around this…. And it relates to this whole question of the issue of whether there are proceeds-of-crime issues, money-laundering issues. We know that there have been issues raised by numbers of groups. It's my understanding that according to the head of the B.C. RCMP integrated proceeds of crime section, they have suggested…. This was a suggestion that was made in the Vancouver Sun in January of this year. I know newspapers can sometimes be inaccurate, but I'll take it for what it is.
The integrated proceeds of crime section, the head of that department, said: "B.C. casinos are routinely failing to flag large cash transactions as suspicious, making the fight against money laundering more difficult." Could the minister tell us whether she has a concern about that and whether she's looking at ways to deal with that more promptly?
I'll just continue a little bit. We know the information that has to be provided to FINTRAC on large proceeds, large transactions. The suggestion has been made that on those transactions…. And obviously, the RCMP or local police departments would have to be in agreement with this. Does the minister believe it would be positive that on those transactions that are going to be flagged for FINTRAC, there be a call or some kind of correspondence immediately with the appropriate law enforcement authority so that if they believe it needs further investigation as the police — and that's their call — they then can move promptly?
It doesn't do a lot of good if it's a month or two later that all of a sudden it gets back to them through whatever processes. Does the minister think that should happen, and would she be prepared to move on that?
Hon. S. Bond: Once again, I think the member opposite makes a valid point. I would assume that if we are concerned that there is a suspicious transaction that may have some implications related to organized crime…. Do I think the appropriate jurisdiction of law enforcement should be notified? Yes, I do. I think that's something that if that isn't happening, we should talk about how that happens.
I'm told that in the event of a suspicious transaction — again, it is difficult to define "suspicious transaction," because it's not about a threshold of cash; it's about what the definition of "suspicious" might be — GPEB is immediately notified. So we would have our investigators actually take a look at that immediately. It's not beyond a stretch for me to assume that at the same point you may contact or should contact the appropriate law enforcement organization. So certainly, I'll have a look at how that works.
You know, being relatively new, it's not something that I've had the time to sort of get into the nitty-gritty about, but I think that makes sense. The faster we can engage law enforcement if we're concerned…. I think that helps build confidence and credibility in the system, to say: "We're actually taking action here."
I should reassure the member opposite that I believe the review that's being done, and I haven't seen the de-
[ Page 6913 ]
tails, may also bring recommendations about this very issue, so again, we'll have another look at that.
And there are monthly meetings where the…. There is a group. It's called…. What's it called?
A Voice: IPOC.
Hon. S. Bond: IPOC — integrated proceeds of crime.
I'm sorry. I'm needing the deputy to help here.
But there are monthly meetings where important partners and stakeholders, including the RCMP, meet regularly to talk about this issue. So work is being done.
I think that it's a reasonable assumption that we should be engaging law enforcement as soon as possible if there is some element of a suspicious nature there.
S. Simpson: I appreciate the minister's comments. I do think that, ultimately, how you set thresholds…. Maybe law enforcement helps to define what thresholds, because they are the experts. They may tell you it's about whether it's cash or something else. It's this amount of money. It's this kind of transaction. They probably know best, in some ways, what that is — along with the casino operators.
These are experienced people. They've seen a lot of money pass through their hands, and they probably have a pretty good sense, as business operators in that field, of what sounds good and doesn't.
I would urge the minister…. I'm glad that it goes to GPEB, but the minister may want to look at a condition on the casinos, because most of this moves through, and that an obligation on the casino is if they receive something that hits whatever the threshold is of police and others, they have an obligation to call the police, as the casino operator, immediately and say, "We have a problem" or "We have something for you to consider" — to say: "Here's what's happened. It's your call now whether you think it's important or not." Then law enforcement will do what they do.
One other question in relation to this matter. The minister's predecessor, back in January of this year — I believe they were on one of the talk shows on CKNW — said: "I'm told that we are the toughest and probably the best in Canada, by people who are inside B.C. and out, with regards to our gaming rules in British Columbia."
That was in reference to this question of dealing with organized crime and making sure that we're on top of that issue. That was the comment.
My question here is: has there been some kind of comparative analysis done that the minister was commenting in regard to? The suggestion from the quote is the minister had received information that gave him confidence when he made that statement in the media. So my question is: has there been that kind of analysis done, and could it be made available?
Hon. S. Bond: There isn't a formal document or a set of papers that would identify that. But I'm told that we belong to an interprovincial organization that regularly discusses best practice. In the course of that work that we do together, B.C. has been…. I can only give the member opposite anecdotally the fact that British Columbia does this very well.
One of the things that I'm told marks British Columbia is the fact that we regularly look for best practice. We're prepared to make changes. The other comment that is made — to the member opposite, and this might give him some confidence — is that we do have the strongest legislation around gaming in the country.
That would be the backdrop of the discussion, but to the question and to the point, there is no formal document. Those comments were made as a result of the regular participation and work with other lottery corporations across the country.
S. Simpson: I would wish that there was some kind of analysis done that would allow that to be…. Anecdotal is what it is, and all of us are held with some suspicion as politicians when we're anecdotal in our information, regardless of who we are. So it would have been good, certainly. I know that folks who certainly are way more strenuous than me — not on this side, but in the public — on the issue of gaming and who talk to me often are pretty vociferous about these issues.
One of the issues that has been raised to me, and I'll ask this. I believe that earlier this year the Lottery Corporation sought permission from the province to allow casinos to accept direct money transfers from overseas and to be allowed to do that. Concerns have been raised about whether that creates other potential concerns related to this question of money laundering and the fast and free movement of money. Could the minister tell us whether, in fact, the province has made a decision, has responded to that, has approved that, and how…? Well, we'll start with that question.
[N. Letnick in the chair.]
Hon. S. Bond: Directly to the member opposite's question, GPEB has not been asked and has not granted that opportunity.
S. Simpson: Just so I'm clear. There's been this conversation that's been referenced and we've heard about. There have been no formal requests made yet, so the Lottery Corporation presumably would make this request on behalf of their clients. The casinos have not
[ Page 6914 ]
made this request of GPEB, though it may still be in some consideration?
Hon. S. Bond: The member has it correct. That's right. The member has that accurately described. B.C. Lottery Corporation would have to request GPEB to make that consideration. No formal request has been made, and therefore, nothing has been granted. I can assure the member opposite that there would be a very significant look and discussion about that.
S. Simpson: I understand that if it hasn't been made, then it's not official. Could I ask the minister whether it's her understanding that the Lottery Corporation is considering…? I assume it's a request from the casinos to the Lottery Corporation. That would be my assumption — that the casinos would want that opportunity. I am assuming the ask has come…. Maybe I'll put it this way. Have the casinos asked the Lottery Corporation to advance this yet?
Hon. S. Bond: I'm told that there has been a discussion between the casinos and B.C. Lottery Corporation. There's been discussion, but it has not resulted in a formal request to GPEB.
S. Simpson: So it's at that phase where now the Lottery Corporation is considering whether they think it's appropriate to move the request to GPEB. Fair enough.
In the structure…. I've had this discussion with the minister's predecessor. One of the concerns that I have is the notion of having the Lottery Corporation as the promoter of gaming, and rightly so, and out there representing government interests, engaged with the casinos, promoting growth in the industry, and receiving a significant amount of money that comes back to pay for all kinds of government programs there. That piece is there.
Then we have gaming policy and enforcement, who have responsibility for regulation and oversight of the industry — and of the Lottery Corporation, for that matter. The question is whether it puts the minister in a difficult place to have both of those operations sitting with one ministry?
I've made the comments before, and I do believe, quite honestly, that GPEB quite appropriately belongs with the Solicitor General as an appropriate place. But I'm not so sure that the Lottery Corporation shouldn't be in Jobs, Tourism and Innovation or someplace, because it's doing a whole piece of other work there. I don't know where it places appropriately — but to separate them.
I know there's been criticism, for example, in other sectors. When you put somebody in an inherently difficult position of having to promote, rightly so, on one hand and then maybe draw the reins in on the other hand with the same person. Isn't some healthy tension, maybe, between members of executive council a better way to go in terms of how that all works?
My question to the minister is: has she thought about that? I'd be interested in her view of whether she thinks that's problematic. I don't want to suggest for a minute that people aren't doing their jobs. But just structurally, does she see that as problematic?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I've only been there, you know, less than two months. I think what I have recognized is that there are very clear lines drawn in legislative mandate. There are clear rules about that. There is a role for enforcement and policy, and there's a role for BCLC. There's also a role for the minister, making sure that she knows exactly what her responsibilities are and how that is managed by a Solicitor General.
My early impressions are that I don't hold a concern at this point that there needs to be a physical separation into two ministries, because in fact there is a clearly defined separation that needs to be adhered to by both B.C. Lotteries and GPEB — and by the minister in fact. So I don't have a level of discomfort with that.
I should point out, though, that Premier Clark did make some changes. The member opposite referenced that at the beginning of his comments. In fact, gaming grants have now been moved from this ministry and now are located in another ministry. So you know, I think there was a look there about how that fit, and a change was made.
I guess to reassure the member opposite, at this point I certainly don't feel a level of discomfort because both organizations are clearly bound by a very distinct separation that is laid out in the law.
S. Simpson: The minister spoke earlier about the review, the audit that will be completed or is in draft stage but is ongoing right now. It's looking at a number of these questions — not this specific one but questions related to crime, to money laundering, to a number of things there.
The question I would have for the minister is: is that review, in addition to looking at programmatic things or particular initiatives, as we've talked about, looking at any of these structural questions to provide advice to the minister on questions like do we need a greater separation — GPEB, Lottery Corporation — in terms of jurisdiction?
Hon. S. Bond: That was not included in the scope of the review.
S. Simpson: Maybe just to save me asking some other questions about this, could the minister tell me whether
[ Page 6915 ]
it would be possible…? Obviously, I'll await the report, for when the minister has an opportunity to get a final report and review it and make a decision to make it a public document.
Would it be possible to get some information on what the scope of that review was, so I know the context of what is being looked at?
Hon. S. Bond: Not having asked for the review, it's hard to sort out what was asked for, but what I am reading is that in January the former Solicitor General ordered a review of anti-money-laundering strategies employed at B.C.'s gaming facilities. The review is intended to determine what anti-money-laundering policies, practices and strategies were in place and to identify any opportunities to strengthen the existing anti-money-laundering regime.
The review that we're waiting for from that perspective is very much focused on anti–money laundering, looking at whether we need to make improvements and any gaps we may need to close.
S. Simpson: To follow up on that a little bit, because I think that's fair enough. It's a little bit limited, but it's a legitimate review to do.
Could the minister tell us who is involved in that review? Presumably it's GPEB; it's others. Is law enforcement directly involved in that review?
Hon. S. Bond: The review is being conducted by the ministry, not by GPEB. GPEB itself is being reviewed as part of that process. In essence, we have a person outside of this part of the ministry doing the review. The RCMP were interviewed, and a number of stakeholders were also included, including service providers. From what I am told, there was a fairly broad group of interests involved in the review.
S. Simpson: I appreciate that some of this is pretty new to the minister, and she's learning as we go, along with me. I accept that she's pretty new on this particular file.
Could the minister tell us…? Two questions. The first one is: who's doing the review?
Hon. S. Bond: The review is being conducted by the director of the civil forfeiture office. He is conducting the review. I have every confidence. I have certainly seen his work with civil forfeiture, and it's pretty outstanding. He is responsible for the review. I have been briefed very recently, in the last week or two, suggesting that the draft is being finalized. I certainly expect it within the next couple of weeks.
S. Simpson: I think one last question specifically around this matter, or maybe I could get the minister's comment on this. If it's part of this review, I would be interested to know that. I know in other jurisdictions, in terms of the security on site at casinos, we have a mix of that. In some jurisdictions that security is provided directly by the casinos themselves, and they hire a company to do it, or they hire directly. They have their own infrastructure, and they deliver the security that would handle this.
In other cases, I believe, they probably…. I'm sure that they're paying for this, but law enforcement is playing a more direct role, or there's an external body that provides security or the security direction at the casino levels on this.
I don't know what is the best model, and I'm not going to suggest that I do. But has there been a look, or is this review looking at whether security delivered directly by the casinos themselves — answerable to them on this matter versus the more external role for security — makes sense? Or is there some evaluation of that being done?
Hon. S. Bond: I'm at a bit of a disadvantage because, obviously, I haven't seen the final report and wasn't there when it was actually commissioned. So I don't know what is in the report. Having said that, I'm advised that there was not a specific request or a direction to look at that particular issue. I don't think that means we should preclude a future discussion about the model of security that's used. I don't want to overcommit today, because I need to understand the implications of that.
So this report, I'm told, would not necessarily specifically have looked at it. There may have been some general discussion.
Having said that, I do know this. Security in a casino is a pretty important part of integrity and credibility. I'm hopeful that as we have these discussions into the future, the industry itself recognizes the importance of making sure that British Columbians have confidence that there is appropriate security and there are measures in place that give the gaming industry more credibility.
I'm not opposed to some potential future discussion, but the information I'm given at this point leads me to believe there won't be a specific reference to this in this report.
S. Simpson: I have had some discussion with some of the B.C. leadership of some of the larger casino operators here. I have had conversations with them and talked through some of these issues a little bit, not as much as I would like, but a little bit. Obviously, they're looking after their business interests, and they have a high amount of confidence in their ability to do what they do, and I wouldn't expect that it be any different.
[ Page 6916 ]
But I do get the sense that they understand the sensitivity of their industry and that they need to be open to these things, as we've talked about. A critical piece of this, for the government and the province of British Columbia as the ultimate trustee of this industry, is that we have to have public confidence in this, and it moves around a little bit.
I'm going to leave that issue because we are going to work the clock here a little bit. Just in regard to the most recent situation with Paragon in Vancouver — not so much the decision to not move Paragon forward. The minister will know. She was in the House at question period yesterday or so, when there were questions asked of her colleague who's responsible for PavCo as to what discussions, if any, were had prior to the request for expressions of interest with the potential operator Paragon. The minister responded to that that they were quite informal, as they talked to a number of people. That was the answer.
I would have a similar question here in regard to the Lottery Corporation. Did the Lottery Corporation have conversations with Paragon about the potential for the application that was rejected by the city of Vancouver, and when did those conversations happen?
Hon. S. Bond: I'm told that the only discussion that took place was a conversation that was factually based about the ability to transfer a licence to that location. So there was no involvement in terms of the pending size or the discussion about what might go there. There was a factual discussion about the ability to…. In the event of a request for the transfer of a licence, is it even feasible that that would happen? The information was provided that yes, that would be possible — so an exchange of information and a straightforward request about that.
S. Simpson: Would that kind of discussion of a licence transfer have included a discussion around…? I think the proposal that went forward was about not quite but almost triple the size in terms of numbers of machines, tables, those things. When you talk about transferring a licence, I'm assuming the licence has some connection to the size of operation. Would it have included asking whether you could add all of these extra tables and machines in?
Hon. S. Bond: I am assured there was no discussion about the size or tripling the size or anything like that. The discussion about that took place after the RFP process was complete.
S. Simpson: I thank the minister for that. Just so I understand how the process works. I'm not sure that I fully…. Just so I get how the process of getting to a casino works. So a company comes to the Lottery Corporation or whoever, whether it's them or whether they have to go through GPEB, and says: "We want to put a casino in community X." They get some idea that yes, there might be an available licence there.
There's a proposal. They get the proposal. At that point, then, do they sit down with the Lottery Corporation or the appropriate authority after that RFP is done and say, "Okay, we want X amount of machines," and the Lottery Corporation says, "You can have this many," and somewhere they find a place where they agree? Then that proposal, once they have scope and scale, goes through the municipal development process. Is that what happens?
Hon. S. Bond: It's clear there was no discussion prior to the RFP other than the ability for the service contract — I used the wrong word; it's not a licence; it's actually a service contract — to be moved. That was the discussion that took place.
Following the RFP, there was a discussion about the casino being part of a much larger proposal. In essence, this wasn't about moving a casino. It became part of a much larger proposal that included a casino. That's an important distinction. The casino represented about 14 percent of the entire proposal, I'm told.
In fact, no discussion prior to the RFP other than what would be a fairly routine question: "Can we move our service contract?" They create an RFP, and at that point there was discussion about this being part of a complex. But other than that, no discussion related to size or any of those other questions.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thank you to the minister for taking these questions. I just wanted to ask the minister if she could list for estimates how much is currently being paid out in facility development commissions and how much is being paid out through accelerated facility development commissions.
Hon. S. Bond: We don't have the numbers available, but we're happy to get them. We'll make sure that Mr. Graydon gets that information, and we'll be sure to share it with the member.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thank you to the minister for that commitment. I wrote the comptroller, who then wrote B.C. Lottery Corporation, over a month ago requesting that information, and I have so far received no reply. I'd hope, given that the minister has now committed to this, that B.C. Lottery Corporation will actually get me that information.
The question that I have is…. Given the facility development commission structure and the AFDC structure, compared to Alberta — Alberta doesn't have
[ Page 6917 ]
such a structure, yet for a number of their casinos they actually pull in a greater percentage for the provincial government than we do here — I'm wondering: does the minister think that structure needs to be reviewed?
Obviously, taxpayers will wonder why we're spending for car parks and show lounges when we can't fund education and health care. I'm just wondering, in some cases, what the minister thinks about that structure — when Alberta doesn't have it, yet they bring in more for taxpayers.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Hon. S. Bond: I know the member opposite is going to roll his eyes, because they always do, but the fact of the matter is that the model was designed under the NDP government.
We have continued to operate under the model that certainly at the time was considered to be fair and appropriate. It is an investment model. The member opposite is correct. It is a commission, so it is based on revenue. It is a percentage of that revenue, and it is designed to guarantee that ongoing investment continues. The model was put in place in 1997. There has not been a decision to move away from that. In fact, it is a commission-based system.
S. Chandra Herbert: No, I didn't roll my eyes. I've been taught that I shouldn't roll my eyes, because it's rude. I ask a question, and I hope for a good answer.
The question I have is…. There were the FDCs, which were put in, in '97. I know the reasoning at the time was that we needed to upgrade from community bingo parlours and smoke-filled rooms to nicer settings.
I believe it was in 2006, though I may be wrong on the date, that the government then brought in the accelerated FDCs. What I don't understand is why Alberta, which doesn't have such a structure, doesn't have government revenue going towards building show lounges, car parks, hotels, etc., yet makes more money in their casinos for government revenue. Why are we still doing today what we were doing then, yet Alberta doesn't do that and seems to do better than we do here? Any thoughts on that?
Hon. S. Bond: We are continuing a model that was put in place in 1997. Obviously, the member opposite's team thought it was a good model in 1997. I'm the last person who would be concerned about reviewing models.
I think considering the concerns that are regularly expressed by both members opposite…. The reason that Alberta does better than British Columbia is because they have a growing video lottery terminal business. In fact, they're sprouting up everywhere. In fact, we heard earlier about concerns about people being able to game on line in their homes. In Alberta you can go into a bar and actually use a video lottery terminal.
So the reason they're doing better is because they have VLTs sprouting up everywhere.
S. Simpson: We just have one or two more questions, and then we'll be done here.
This is a business-related question. What we've seen in the business — and mostly it's the casino side of the business — is pressures. I know that I've looked at those businesses and into sectors that have, largely, slot machines, which seem to be the engine behind the casino businesses — the slot machine. I look at the racetrack in my constituency. It hasn't met its projections. It's got maybe within 60, 70…. It hasn't got there.
I believe the Edgewater one hasn't met…. What we've been seeing, actually, is probably that those places like the River Rock, the new Villa — the ones that offer entertainment, food, beverage and all the pieces — seem to be doing all right and meeting their targets in terms of revenue. There's greater pressure on the others.
That leads me to the question: has the Lottery Corporation looked at the issue of saturation? Is there a point where it just doesn't make sense to be putting more slot machines, more tables, into a region or an area because we're just spreading the dollars thinner rather than new dollars?
I know there's talk about tourism business, but the reality is we're not going to bring a lot of tourists to Vancouver to gamble. They might gamble while they're here, but they come for a whole lot of other reasons. That's not the primary reason they come to Vancouver.
Has the ministry, the Lottery Corporation, looked at the question of saturation?
Hon. S. Bond: The decision around whether to expand or how to deal with growth is very much based on a business case proposal. I'm assured that there is a monitoring of the market. There is a sense of whether or not growth is necessary or possible, and the corporation manages the growth. I'm told at the moment that certainly, in the bricks-and-mortar side of gaming, there's not a sense that there's going to be an expansion, or a significant expansion.
S. Simpson: This will be my last question, and then we can vote these estimates.
Just so I'm clear with the minister…. I understand that this isn't absolute and that things could happen. We know that there still might be a decision in Vancouver around a relocation of Edgewater at its current size or maybe a modest increase. Who knows what will happen? I know that door is left open, and it will be what it is.
So is the minister saying, with that noted obvious exception and maybe some small pockets in outlying areas
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that currently don't have facilities, that the expectation is that in the major markets — Lower Mainland, valley, south Island — we're not looking at any more expected growth of casinos, necessarily? Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. S. Bond: The anticipated growth over a three-year period that I think is reflected in our service plan is about 3 percent. To provide a more accurate response, we at this point have no other major facilities planned.
Obviously, we've made a commitment, in the situation with Vancouver, to work very collaboratively with them. The Vancouver city council did, as the member points out, leave the door open for a relocation.
That's typically what happens, I'm told, with B.C. Lotteries. It's usually a request more around relocation and upgrading of a facility. But at this point there are no other major facilities planned, and expected growth would be about 3 percent over three years.
Vote 38: ministry operations, $605,202,000 — approved.
Hon. S. Bond: Perhaps before I move Vote 39, I want to thank the member opposite for his questions. I know that he's had an ongoing and very passionate interest in this.
I think it would be most productive over the next several months if we sit down and have a conversation about some of the ideas and the concerns. I think it would be important to engage BCLC in that. I think we share many, many similar views about the importance of taking care of people in terms of problem gaming and a number of other issues discussed today.
I want to thank the member opposite. I think we could sit down and have a conversation and have some of those discussions.
Vote 39: Emergency Program Act, $14,478,000 — approved.
The Chair: The committee will take a five-minute recess. We'll reconvene with the Ministry of Children and Family Development shortly.
The committee recessed from 4:11 p.m. to 4:16 p.m.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
CHILDREN AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT
On Vote 20: ministry operations, $1,330,591,000.
The Chair: Minister, do you have an opening statement?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I do. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Before we get started, I'd like to take a moment to introduce the ministry staff here that are joining me today. We have Stephen Brown, our deputy minister, to my right; Derek Sturko, the chief operating officer, to my left; and behind we have Craig Wilkinson, executive financial officer; and Doug Hughes, who is the assistant deputy minister, Interior region, and also the new provincial director of child welfare. Other staff will come and go throughout the afternoon, and I'll introduce them as they arrive.
As you know, I've been Minister of Children and Family Development for only about two months now, but in that time I've been able to meet many of the dedicated staff; community partners; and most of all, the children, youth and families that we serve and support. I have to say I'm tremendously honoured to have this portfolio and to have responsibility for a ministry which carries out critically important work in the protection and support of some of the province's most vulnerable individuals.
[N. Letnick in the chair.]
It's also a ministry which has the responsibility for an array of programs, including child care and early childhood development, which strengthen tens of thousands of families and communities throughout British Columbia, supporting them and taking advantage of the great job and training opportunities which exist in our province. These program areas are too often overlooked, and they are crucial to improving outcomes for children and families and essential to helping support families to participate fully in their communities.
We know that good jobs are the foundation of strong and healthy families, and job creation is a priority of this government. Under the government's new vision of family first, the ministry continues to move forward along the path laid out in Strong, Safe and Supported: A Commitment to B.C.'s Children and Youth, the action plan which guides and informs the work that this ministry does each and every day.
This direction reflects the ministry's commitment to the recommendations put forward in the Hughes review. It also reflects the shift in child protection services occurring across many other jurisdictions, away from a narrow, individualistic, crisis management approach toward a much broader approach aimed at supporting overall child and family well-being.
It's an approach which addresses risk as a part of a continuum of care, grounded in the collective strengths of children, families, their communities, beliefs and traditional practices. This shift is shown under the five key pillars of prevention, early intervention, intervention and support, aboriginal approach and quality assurance.
Key to this direction is a strong focus on the development of a consistently applied, strengths-based approach
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to child and family assessment, planning and practice that supports and strives for better outcomes for vulnerable children and youth and their families.
This approach focuses on a shift away from mainly focusing on addressing the immediate causes of the problems towards gaining a better understanding of individual family capacity and strengths that can be built upon to reduce or prevent risk. In essence, it's really viewing the child and family as potentially active partners in bringing about change. This, in fact, is a very traditional approach, which aboriginal people have used successfully for generations.
Situating child and family protection services in community development practice; strengthening and using the broader community capacity to better support, care for and protect vulnerable children, youth and families in B.C. This means taking a look at what child, youth and family resources are available in any given community. For example, community or cultural centres, family resource centres or schools can all offer broad-based family support.
Finally, developing a broader continuum of practice across prevention, early intervention, crisis management and intervention. Over the past year the ministry has continued to make progress in making this shift in how we support children and families, with the longer-term goals of creating better outcomes for children, youth and the families we serve. Key actions include the continued and expanded use of family support, mediation and family group conferencing. More than 3,500 of these alternative approaches took place in 2009-10.
A strong focus on aboriginal service delivery change includes reconciliation work and an increased focus on supporting First Nations, Métis and other aboriginal peoples in developing, delivering and evaluating service approaches based on their culture and traditions, approaches which build and strengthen their community capacity to care for their children.
The ministry has also continued to work on other key service delivery areas, such as support for early childhood development initiatives, streamlining and improving payment to autism service providers, and working with out-of-home care providers to explore ways to improve care to children and youth who we are responsible for.
The ministry's key actions for the coming year focus on ensuring two strategic areas — a strengths-based approach to child and family assessment, planning and practice; and aboriginal service delivery change — to ensure that they become more fully embedded into ministrywide practice across the province and are underpinned by a strong quality assurance system.
Certainly, important and successful shifts in practice are already apparent in the communities throughout the province, including the expanded use of family support, mediation and family group conferencing.
With the development and implementation of the integrated case management system by the end of 2011-12, we will take another important step forward towards strengthening service to children, youth and families. This system will play a key role in enabling the implementation of our enhanced child and family assessment, planning and practice approach on a ministrywide basis.
Once complete, the ICM system will replace outdated technology, providing better, faster service for clients and improved efficiency for staff while enhancing information-sharing and privacy. It will enable and support the ministry's strengths-based approach to practice change not only for child welfare but also for the key work being done to support children and youth with special needs, mental health challenges and those in the youth justice system. Across all these service lines, the ministry will continue to explore ways to increase its focus on prevention and early intervention.
While several hundred practitioners are involved in the phase 1 developmental phase, phase 2, set to go live April 2012, will affect upwards of 3,000 MCFD staff, service providers and delegated agencies throughout the province.
Aboriginal service delivery will continue as a key priority area for the ministry. We know that aboriginal children and youth are historically overrepresented in B.C.'s child welfare system, and we are committed to supporting First Nations, aboriginal and Métis people as they design and develop models of service delivery that reflect their unique culture, traditions and beliefs. More than 100 First Nations, Métis and urban aboriginal communities are currently engaged in this work, and I look forward to continuing to support them on this journey of historic importance.
A new quality assurance system that applies to all services within the ministry and reflects a clear commitment to consistent, open evaluation and accountability will incrementally be implemented. This approach forms the foundation of continuous improvement for the ministry.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development's budget for 2011-12 is status quo, but our commitment to meeting the needs of children, youth and families remains strong, and our work continues to move forward.
This year the budget has been realigned to reflect the key work of the ministry under the five key pillars of Strong, Safe and Supported. Those are: prevention, early intervention, intervention and support, the aboriginal approach and quality assurance. The addition of two areas, support to practice and executive and support services, means a change in the way that the ministry records its spending, which ultimately will provide a
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more accurate accounting of direct program spending by separating out administrative spending and overhead costs.
I want to point out that despite this shift in our reporting — and I do understand that this may present some challenges during the debate — there have been no service reductions. Certainly, I'm happy to clarify the budget realignment to the member opposite, if you so require.
The Premier's vision of families first really does have an incredible resonance for us. It's a platform that reflects the work the ministry staff do each day and our firm belief in the inherent strengths of children, youth and their families and the capacity of communities to embrace and support those who are most vulnerable. It also speaks to the cross-ministry partnership and involvement that we have, about keeping the faces of children, youth and families front and centre in the policy we craft, and in the decisions that we make and the work that we do.
Before we begin this debate, I want to take a moment to thank our ministry staff and our many, many valued partners. They are an exceptional group of committed, caring professionals. And despite the inherent bumps along the road, they have embraced the change the ministry has undertaken because they all know it's the right thing to do. As minister, I'm deeply appreciative of the support of this truly remarkable group of people, and I'm honoured to work with them.
Now I'm happy to take any and all questions.
C. Trevena: Thank you, Minister, for the preamble.
I'm going to keep my remarks very short because we do have limited time. As the minister has said, we have a very important ministry to be discussing with a very large budget, and we have very little time to have a complete analysis.
I just wanted to touch on a couple of very quick areas. I think that we're all agreed that this is a hugely important ministry, touching on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our province. Ensuring that they have a very good start in life will mean it's better for everybody in the province.
There are obviously some very fundamental differences in the way that the minister's side of the House and our side of the House approach this, I think, specifically on child care. We have a different approach there. We'd like to see a more intensive move into a child care plan. Also, we think that one of the recommendations put forward many times by the Representative for Children and Youth would be very useful, which is a poverty reduction plan which would help everyone in this province and would really deal with a lot of the problems that the ministry faces.
I want to go straight into it because we do have limited time. I wanted to ask the minister first off…. She mentions that this is a status quo budget. It's what we've heard time and again throughout the last few months.
I just wanted to ask the minister: how can we have justification for a status quo budget not just for this year but for the next three years? We're talking up to 2013-14, with the same level there. And how are we going to be dealing with the necessary increasing needs over the coming years?
Hon. M. McNeil: Thank you for your question. I think one of the things that we're having to do…. In the fiscal reality of today, there are challenges with the dollars. We have to be…. The beauty of what's happened with the movement forward to changing how working more, realigning more with the pillars is that we have an opportunity to examine how it is that we're moving forward.
We're looking at ways to optimize the dollars, looking for efficiencies, obviously. Redesigning it in the five pillars has helped. We're looking at where we can…. It's really about the critical front-line areas and focusing in on there and also the cross-government work that we're doing. I do believe the families-first lens that we're putting on things will make a difference as well. We'll be able to work together across ministries to make sure that we are looking after our critical front lines and keeping focus.
One of the other things, I think, is in the way where the changing practice is looking at things as a broad continuum of care, so looking at not just the one individual child, but also looking at the families and working with the families. It's already starting to make a difference in the caseload numbers. I think that's one of the differences that we have. We're looking at things through a different lens.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for the answer. On specifics, I think if I might just pick up on that. It's something, a theme, that I think we'll be going through for much of, at least, my portion. My colleague will be discussing child care specifically. The caseloads and the needs of the families and the needs of the communities obviously run through this, and I will have some questions as we go on.
I did want to just start off the afternoon with looking at some of the figures and some of the changes that have happened to the ministry — I think everybody is aware that over the last few years the ministry has undergone quite a lot of changes — and whether that's resulting in reduced costs, as the minister implies that there is more streamlining. I also would like to go through a little bit of that in a moment.
Just picking up on what the minister is saying — that there is a matter of streamlining. We're seeing a decrease
[ Page 6921 ]
in intervention and support, which is one of the pillars, and I wondered if the minister could explain just what that is. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank her staff for giving me a briefing the other day, which actually explained what the different pillars were and showed how the last year's figures matched this year's figures. So I thank you for that.
As I mentioned at the time, I wanted to get some of these answers on the record. So if you could explain why we're losing money over the three years on intervention and support and also on support to practice.
Hon. M. McNeil: Thank you for the question. My understanding is that it's really in the support-to-practice area where the dollars have moved. They've actually, in the realignment, been moved to the other pillars to properly reflect where the actual service delivery is. So it's actually taken from administration and put into practice.
C. Trevena: There is the "Intervention and support" — a decrease there. If the minister could explain that — again, over the three years.
Hon. M. McNeil: Thank you for your patience. I'm learning this as well, as you are, as we're just getting more into it.
Really, what this is a matter of…. If you look at the lines between intervention and support, it's down slightly. They've moved more into the early intervention and the prevention, as we are being more effective in some of the practices.
What it really is, is a realignment and out of intervention and support. As we're getting fewer needs there, it's going back into early intervention and into prevention.
You'll see the adjustments, but they're all by…. For instance, in intervention and support it really is only — what? — $200,000 down, but then, as you notice if you move up, you see the other numbers reflecting an increase.
C. Trevena: I just wanted to compare with the minister. I'm looking at the resource summary table in the service plan, and the area where I see an increase is actually, between 2011-12 and 2013-14…. Quality assurance is where the big increase goes, which I understand, and I would like….
Actually, maybe this is the opportunity for the minister to explain just what the quality assurance is. I understand it's making sure that things are carried out properly, but that is where the big increase is.
Hon. M. McNeil: The quality assurance line, from what I see, as you do…. I've now got the same sheet that you have. It does do an increase. What I've been told is that this reflects the integration of integrated case management. So as the different phases of the integrated case management come into play, that's what these increases are. It's all about that.
What that's going to allow us to do is obviously provide better and faster services to the clients, with improved privacy features — really allow the sharing of information that's going to have a huge impact on our children and youth.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister. I have some questions on integrated case management. I'd like to come back to those. If I can work through a few of just the specific figures, and then I'll come back in more global.
One point that the minister raised is the fact that we've got a flat budget, that there is going to be less need because of a different way of working, the implication being, as I understand it — I might be reading this wrong — that the caseload is going to go down for the ministry because it's going to be working in a different way.
This was when you were talking about the fact that the budget isn't going to go up for the next three years. I just wondered what the basis for that is, seeing as that we know that the number of children and youth are increasing, and those in the most vulnerable communities are also increasing, just from statistics.
Hon. M. McNeil: One of the things I mentioned, I think, in my opening statement was along the lines of how we are changing practice by not just dealing with an actual risk but looking at the family as a whole, working with the family through mediation, through the family group conferencing. All of these things are making an impact. What it does is it helps you get involved with children at an earlier stage. It's early intervention. It's prevention.
What is happening there…. Obviously, as you move down into intervention and support, the supports and the costs in child in care are far more costly. What we're trying to do is focus on the family as a unit and make sure that the work that we do is more along the prevention lines and the early intervention.
I think one of the numbers…. If you look at the numbers of children in care over the last ten years, we have actually gone down 20 percent. In ten years it's gone down from 10,474 children in care to 8,373 in 2010-2011. What I have been informed is that it's looking like the trend will continue to do that. That's one of the things that I think adds evidence to the way that we are looking at the family as a whole and making sure that we can keep these practices ongoing.
C. Trevena: On the global figures, one of the questions I have…. I know that the ministry provides grants
[ Page 6922 ]
to various organizations, and I believe that there has been a significant amount going to aboriginal and other organizations for different contracts, different projects. I wondered if the minister has a list of those and if the minister can also explain how they are allocated.
Hon. M. McNeil: Can I just clarify with the member opposite that she's talking about contracts versus grants? Is that correct — just the contracts that we have?
C. Trevena: I would like to know from the minister, actually, if we can have the breakdown of both the contracts and the grants with the organizations. I'd like to know how they are ascertained. What sorts of consultations occur to decide where they're going to be going?
Hon. M. McNeil: One of the things that we have been doing in the ministry is really working on the early intervention. The early intervention strategy, as I said, is really about supporting families and supporting healthy communities so that they can help themselves, as well, and be part of the partnership.
One of the aboriginal supports that we do is at the community level, so then they can work with their families in a culturally sensitive way. We have a number of contracts.
I do want to give you an example here. We're presently involved with more than a hundred First Nations communities and working with them so that we can help them focus on developing capacity within their communities on how to best protect their children and families.
There are currently 16 indigenous approaches underway, and the work is focusing on designing and developing supports and services based upon their culture and traditions, as well, within their respective communities. Each one is different because of this. That's, I think, one of the strengths the programs have.
A good example would be the work that we're doing with the Stikine First Nations in northwest B.C. Their initiating change project is using a grass-roots community approach, focusing on renewal of traditional support systems and the integration of these supports within existing services.
Examples include renewing community language fluency as a way of reclaiming culture and traditions to strengthen the family ties; developing family support circles, one of the things that is really helping to redevelop traditional family decision-making practice; in order to reduce the need, then, for ministry intervention, developing interagency partnerships, including with the RCMP, to help them combat drug dealers and bootleggers.
Another is to establish and renew community support groups to create clothing exchanges, home visits for expectant mothers, child-minding services both before and after school, and then the renewing of traditional self-sufficiency practices, like reclaiming and teaching hunting and trapping and the various other practices that they have.
All this is to say that we see the aboriginal people develop and deliver effective, quality services to their children, and it really is…. The process is ongoing, but I think it's in the right direction. Certainly, we can supply to you the list of contracts that we do have. It's my understanding that there are no grants.
Hon. M. McNeil: There's one grant — okay. We'll have an explanation.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister, and I'd appreciate having a list of the contracts and the explanation on the grant. I'd also like to know whether these are listed in the budget under the aboriginal planning and community initiatives or if they are elsewhere in the list.
Again, I would like to thank the minister and her staff for giving me the detailed breakdown. I realize that it does say "preliminary" on the detailed breakdown.
Hon. M. McNeil: Again, learning very quickly on this one. All of the dollars that you're talking about are within pillar 4, which is the aboriginal approach — the dollars that are in that line there. As I said, they were given out in contracts, and I can give you that information.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
However, what I am told is that one of the contracts is with the aboriginal friendship centres. They then, in turn, through an early childhood development initiative, did issue grants out. We have the listing there that you'll be able to access.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that. My last question on this for the time being is: how were those contracts awarded? What sort of RFP system was set up for them?
The Chair: Minister.
Hon. M. McNeil: Oh, you've changed. Thank you, Chair. That's how involved I am.
I am hoping that I get this right, because it is an interesting initiative and something that I think we should be very proud of, working as we have been with the First Nations to make sure that they are able to put together the supports that they need.
It's my understanding that what happened is that as a government, we work together with the First Nations
[ Page 6923 ]
government, if you will. They came to us. They asked for help in how they can put together programs to strengthen their families, strengthen the supports within the communities through a variety of programs. So it was really almost government to government, government to First Nations government.
They came with different programs. They had a committee made up of aboriginal, Métis and urban communities. They got together, and we discussed with them the various programs and developed programs that they felt would — as in the Stikine that I mentioned to you earlier — do something that would work for each one of their communities. That's how the contracts came about with them. Again, we will work with you to get you a list.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that, Minister, and thank you. I look forward to having the list. If I've got questions after seeing the list, if I can come back to your office and go through them, I'd appreciate that.
Just working through some of the various budget heads: quality assurance. We touched on quality assurance when I had the question about the increase. The minister mentioned that that increase is because of the integrated case management. I wonder if the minister could explain why the increase is going to grow from $15 million or so this year to the $25 million. What is it that's going to make it cost so much? When it's supposed to be going live next year, why the increasing costs?
Hon. M. McNeil: From what I'm understanding here, the biggest increase is when we…. As I mentioned earlier, we've gone from several hundred MCFD staff using the system in phase 1 to now, gearing up to phase 2. When it goes live, April 2012, there'll be upwards of 3,000 — not only staff but also partners — working together. From what my understanding is, these are the system operating costs, as they go up as more people go on line with it and as it increases in application.
I think one of the things that really should be noted here is what this is actually going to be doing. It's not only a long overdue technical upgrade, but it's obvious that it's going to really modernize an information system. From what I understand, it's merging quite a few systems together so that there will be a much better way of information-sharing.
I did a tour up in Nanaimo a couple of weeks ago, I guess, and spoke with one of the MCFD offices and talked to them about ICM, because they have been involved in it, as well, as one of the smaller pilots. One of the things they've said is that they're really looking forward to it coming on and more of them using it because it's going to allow them to really have more time to be able to spend on the front line where they really want to be, and that's with the youth and families.
It's a technology upgrade, but it's more than that. It's actually making the system far more efficient so that the delivery of services that are vital to the thousands of British Columbians that use it will really…. The capability will be upped completely.
So this is actually an increase. It's an increase of more people coming on line, and it's really the system operating costs on a system that really will make a difference.
C. Trevena: I thank the Minister. Will the costs continue to increase, or will that be it? Obviously, you're going to get to a certain number of staff who will be using it.
The other point — because I'm very aware of time, and I have a lot of things I'd like to get through today as well — is…. The minister mentioned partners, and I know it's going to be the social assistance ministry that will be working on it. I wondered what proportion of the budget MCFD is putting towards ICM and what is coming from the partners within government to pay for it.
Hon. M. McNeil: There were two questions that you had asked, and I'll answer them in that order. The dollars, as you noticed, do peak, from what I understand. They go up, and they peak in 2012 and 2012-13 and '13-14. Then after that they gradually go down. So there will be the peak as most people are getting on. As I mentioned, phase 2, I believe, goes live in 2012, and then it keeps going as more people are on it. Then after three years it levels off.
With respect to the cost, the entire capital budget sits with the Ministry of Social Development — the build, if you will. After that, once it goes live, each one of the respective ministries will…. They'll assume their own costs after that.
C. Trevena: Does the minister have a projection of what that cost is going to be in the coming years for just the running of it?
Hon. M. McNeil: Thanks for the question. I'm learning a lot. One of the things that I've just discovered — we have over 54 systems right now in play in Children and Families that we work with. As ICM ramps up, and as you see it ramping up over 2012-13, '13-14, as you gradually go, you'll be dropping off some of these systems.
They'll be getting out of play as the new data is uploaded into the new system, ICM. So that will be happening along the way. But from what I've been told, the net new costs will be in the magnitude of around $3 million to $4 million a year.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that, and I too am learning a lot. I think we're both new to the ministry.
[ Page 6924 ]
My last question on ICM is the issue of privacy. The minister mentioned that privacy is important, and I wondered what the Privacy Commissioner had said about the use for the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Hon. M. McNeil: With respect to the integrated case management and the involvement of the province's Privacy Commissioner, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, we have been working with the Privacy Commissioner all along, throughout all the different steps that have happened so far. We are continuing to conduct privacy reviews with their office, and it's my understanding that a comprehensive security privacy plan for the project incorporates all of the best practices and addresses all of the security and privacy at multiple levels throughout the entire project.
There is a full privacy impact assessment for phase 1, which is actually posted on the ministry's website and was completed prior to implementation. We've been working with her all along, and the process has included extensive consultations with the government's chief information officer and the Attorney General as well.
The ICM team has consulted with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on not only the privacy design but reviewed the privacy impact assessment with her as well. It's my understanding that she will be involved and a privacy impact assessment will be completed for every phase of the ICM project as well.
So again, it's working with her and her office closely to make sure that we have got a very secure system. But combining 54 into one is also another thing where some privacy and the work done there will itself be a more secure system.
C. Trevena: Thank you, Minister. So I would take that as a yes, that the Privacy Commissioner is involved and is not too concerned about it at the moment but will continue consulting.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
I just wanted to move on a little bit to the ministry, I guess the management side of it, the executive side of it, "Support practice" — and a bit of the current structure of the ministry. Just if I can ask the minister straight up how many assistant deputy ministers there are in the ministry and if we can have just a quick snapshot of their job descriptions.
Hon. M. McNeil: We have one deputy minister, as you've met here today. We have an associate deputy minister, who also happens to be the chief operating officer. Then we have seven ADMs — one for aboriginal policy and service support, one for quality assurance. Then we have four regional ADMs — one north region, one Vancouver coastal and Fraser region, one Vancouver Island region and one Interior region. Then we have an ADM for policy and legislation. Then we also have a senior executive director for provincial services in youth and justice.
I can get you this list, if you'd like it.
C. Trevena: If I might ask the minister: so it's seven ADMs plus all the other ones that you've just mentioned?
Hon. M. McNeil: No. Of the seven, those are the ones.
C. Trevena: Those are the seven. Those are the ones — right, thank you very much.
How many regional directors are there?
Hon. M. McNeil: I understand there are five.
C. Trevena: Of those, how many are for the aboriginal side? My other one is: looking at senior management, how many senior executives are there across the board?
Hon. M. McNeil: Could you ask the question again, please?
C. Trevena: It's good exercise, this up and down.
Of the regional directors, how many are aboriginal? And just generally at the senior executive level of the ministry — if I could get a figure there for how many senior executives there are.
Hon. M. McNeil: I will go through it here, but I think if you want to have a more fulsome explanation of the org, we can do that at another time. Just further to your question, the executive team that I mentioned earlier has the deputy minister, the associate deputy minister and then the seven ADMs. Of those, one works on aboriginal policy and service support.
The executive directors within each region. Of the five regions, there are two executive directors within each, so that's a total of ten executive directors. Then we have five people who are focused on the aboriginal agenda.
C. Trevena: Thank you, Minister. I'm just trying to think — from a meeting I actually had in the minister's office when we discussed this slightly, when we were talking about something else, and from my own area. In the team in the North Island, as an example, we've got the quality assurance side, and then we've got somebody working on the financial side and somebody working on the program side.
[ Page 6925 ]
Where would they come in to the management team? Are they regarded as part of the management team, or are they regarded as a regional team?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that within each region we have the ADM for the region, but then we have a regional executive director. We have an executive director of practice. We have a director of quality assurance and a director of aboriginal policy and service change.
C. Trevena: The question I'm sure the member is expecting next is: how many front-line social workers are working for the ministry?
Hon. M. McNeil: As of December 31, 2010, there were 2,610 social workers. That number varies as people come and go, but it's generally around that area — so 2,610.
C. Trevena: Does the minister have any breakdown of average caseload for each social worker?
Hon. M. McNeil: We're going to have to work on some numbers for you, because it varies depending on the service line. There are different service lines, as you know. There's child welfare. There's special needs. There's mental health and all the different service lines, so it does vary. If we just focus on child protection, the average is around 25 to 30. But again, that varies throughout the province as to different regions. But again, we can get the numbers for you.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister. I'd appreciate those numbers. It would be very helpful.
As I carry on going through the breakdown of ministerial and ministry staff, I notice that we have again a provincial director in the ministry, which is…. The Representative for Children and Youth did recommend this in her last report and has recommended it before.
The representative in her last recommendations asked for the role to be re-established "in order to support a more effective process for case reviews, to avoid conflicts of interest and accountability and to drive more effective organizational learning." Is this the job description of the present provincial director?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes. As you know, there was the reappointment of the provincial director of child welfare, and I'm pleased that he has joined us here today. This position is going to further build on the existing quality assurance practices within the ministry, and it's a direction that helps us support our drive to further enhance practice and quality assurance in each of the regions.
The new director is going to act as the central point of contact and accountability for child welfare issues and also provide oversight to the child welfare practice and quality assurance.
You asked where that's…. It's been captured, actually, in the designation letter that has been signed.
C. Trevena: Will the provincial director be having oversight for investigations when there is a death of a child who has been in the care of the ministry?
Hon. M. McNeil: The provincial director of child welfare is designated for all sections of the Child, Family and Community Service Act. Obviously, a critical incident or death of a child is included in that. There is a process that we follow. So the short answer would be yes.
C. Trevena: My last question on this — and it might be a personnel issue, so you might not be able to say. In introducing the director you mentioned that he is also an ADM responsible for a region. I wondered if there was going to be a specific director for the province eventually appointed who isn't doing two duties.
Hon. M. McNeil: At this stage, no. It's not something we're looking at, but we'll be keeping an eye as time progresses.
C. Trevena: As I'm sure will the whole community be keeping an eye to make sure that things work through.
I'd like to go back a little bit to the minister, I guess to her predecessor, and to what has been happening in the ministry in the last couple of years and just want to talk while still on staffing. The former deputy minister…. It's been announced the other day that Lesley du Toit received more than $337,000 in severance pay. I was wondering if the minister could tell me how much merit pay Ms. du Toit is eligible for.
Hon. M. McNeil: This issue is not a ministry-specific part of the ministry's accountability, but it would be better if it was addressed to the Public Service Agency.
C. Trevena: I appreciate the minister's straightforwardness on that so I don't have to go through a lot of different questions. But I did wonder if the parameters for merit pay in a ministry such as the Ministry of Children and Family Development were set within the ministry and, if so, what they would be. How do you assess merit for the job of deputy minister?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that there are criteria and elements that go into such contracts. Again, that's best addressed to the Public Service Agency.
[ Page 6926 ]
C. Trevena: The estimates for the ministry which includes the Public Service Agency have closed now. It was Citizens' Services. I wondered whether the minister could pass this information on to me separately or through that, because we won't have the opportunity to ask that minister these questions until next year. It is something that's happened very recently that there is interest in.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I can do that.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that. Going on to, if I might say, some of the legacy of the previous deputy minister, the reorganization that the ministry underwent over the last few years and the evolution of the various pillars that you're still working for — the idea of Strong, Safe and Supported and the CAPP and so on…. I wanted to ask the minister… I mean, she has been citing this as the way forward for the ministry.
To be honest, I'm a new critic. I've been trying to update myself, looking at the website, talking to people and just trying to come up to speed with this. I have seen no advance on plans and ideas and where we're going to go with this back to…. The last one I got for the mapping of it is July 2010, for the big map on how it's all going to be implemented. The last ops plan update for Strong, Safe and Supported is back to March '09.
I'm wondering, from the minister, whether this is still going to be the framework — whether this is still something that the community can expect to see as the way forward for the ministry — or if there's going to be another go-round on making things work.
Hon. M. McNeil: Over the past year the ministry has continued to make progress in making a shift, as we've mentioned earlier in my opening remarks, in how we actually support children and youth and the families with the longer-term goal of creating better outcomes, obviously. A key focus of this coming year is to see these changes take hold across the whole of Children and Families, a goal that'll be helped with the introduction of the integrated case management system toward the end of the year.
One of the things I'd like to be able to expand on is some of the key actions that are already underway, which included, as I mentioned, the expanded collaborative practices such as mediation and family group conferencing. More than 3,500 of those have already taken place in '09-10. We've seen the number of children coming into care continue to trend downward to about 8,400 today.
The strong focus, as we mentioned, of the aboriginal service delivery change, with an increased focus on supporting First Nations, Métis and other aboriginal peoples, to help them develop and deliver and evaluate service approaches based on their cultures and traditions. As I mentioned, we're currently working with 100 First Nation communities in developing child- and family-serving models.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
The new quality assurance system. That's one that we've noticed really is, as we apply it to all the services, helping us to better understand how we actually are impacting youth and children, and how well practice is meeting standards and principles — and whether or not the staff are receiving the best support, supervision and training.
You mentioned the provincial director of child welfare. I think that is going to further strengthen accountability.
The new integrated case management system. As we've said, as that gets underway and as we get closer to the full implementation in April 2012, that's going to make a huge difference in how we are able to share information with each other.
The introduction of a new child and family service practice framework to front-line staff and community partners. It's going to capture some of the key evidence-informed practices to help improve both the experience and the quality of our services to children — again, by taking this broader approach to how we support overall child and family well-being.
I think what would be really helpful, both to you and to me, is if we try and arrange a briefing maybe sometime in June. Once we get underway and we've established a footing in the ministry, we could then sit down and chat about some of the things that we're moving forward with. I think that would be very helpful.
C. Trevena: I agree with the minister. It would be very helpful to have the briefing. Because of the time frame of both of us starting, as minister and as critic, and going straight into estimates, it has been a little unfortunate.
My question to the minister was that there has been no…. Well, there's been no update on line. I'm assuming that the minister is saying that there is an update, simply through practice, of the Strong, Safe and Supported and of CAPP, I believe it's called. All of this, because it's being used, is where the update is happening. Am I correct?
Hon. M. McNeil: Again, we're actually sitting here chatting and saying that the member opposite has raised a very good point. We haven't kept an update. You know, I think that one of the things we're chatting about…. We're so focused on getting action on the ground and getting on with the job that we haven't made sure that it is updated. So we will be making sure that's corrected.
[ Page 6927 ]
C. Trevena: Just to be quite honest, the reorganization over the last five years hasn't been well received either internally, from people within the ministry, or from the community.
I'm wondering what the ministry is going to do to meet two, I think, very real needs. One is for some continued stability so that the ministry isn't going through yet another reorganization but a real effort to make sure that what is very confusing, I think, for many people and somewhat esoteric…. In fact, it has been described by, if I might quote, the Representative for Children and Youth as leaving "fundamental questions of what exactly the transformation exercise is intended to accomplish" and leaving "a considerable degree of confusion and frustration…around the transformation."
What is the ministry going to do to make this something that, as I say, both allows for the stability within the ministry, stability for the people who need the services but make it actually a system that has a real life — a real-life being?
Hon. M. McNeil: First, I would like to say to the member opposite that I recognize that when you're doing change or making changes, it takes work. Change is complicated. But it's also, in this case and in the way we're moving forward, very important work, because we're talking about a ministry that delivers and deals with some of the most vulnerable folks in this province. I think it's very important work and something that I'm taking very passionately.
I have recognized, in my six weeks on the job, in the travels that I have done and the meetings that I have had that there are things that are really working, and that is with respect to the work we're doing with families on prevention and early intervention and dealing with the mediation, as I've mentioned, and the family counselling. Those are the things on the ground that are really, really working and wonderful.
I also noticed in my dealings with many of the aboriginal groups…. Again, I went up-Island a couple of weeks ago to Kw'umut Lelum in Nanaimo and met with them and have met with others. I met with the B.C. aboriginal friendship centres yesterday.
The feedback I'm getting and the warm welcome I'm getting really, I think, demonstrate to me that a lot of work that's happened in the last couple of years has been very well received. The relationship is really, really very strong, and I look forward to moving it forward even more.
But there are things that we're doing together, and they realize that we are respected — that it's a respectful partnership and that we are working together very, very well. Quite frankly, it's a fundamental shift in how MCFD has been working in the past, and I think it is strong.
I myself — and, I know, the new deputy minister — very much want stability. We very much want to work with the folks, make it actionable on the ground. That's really important, because I think that's when you get better outcomes.
I do have to say that in meetings I've had with many of the MCFD offices — and I've tried my best to get around to as many as I can — it's very well received. We're being very well received. They are very glad to hear the message that we are looking for stability, that we are moving forward and that we are making things actionable. They're very proud of the work they have done, and they should be. They do incredible work each and every day. I can't tell you how much I am impressed by what it is they are doing.
I also wanted to say a couple things. I've had some significant meetings with the Representative for Children and Youth. She actually was the first person I called when I got this ministry. We've had many discussions. In fact, two weeks in we signed a protocol together.
She was very welcoming of the work that has been done recently and of some of the things that we've already happened to achieve together. We are working very closely. I value that relationship, because I think, in the end, that we both want the same outcome, and that's for stronger children and youth and stronger families and communities.
I also had the opportunity yesterday to meet with Mr. Ted Hughes. I have to say that it was delightful to meet with him, especially after I had read his report in detail. So much of this ministry…. Often when you read, you read about his report, which led into Strong, Safe and Supported and the reinstatement, as you know, of the Representative for Children and Youth and a provincial director.
The comment that he made to me right off the bat was that he was absolutely delighted. He was delighted with the work that's been done, especially over the past year. He thinks that the ministry is on a good track. It's doing well.
He was very impressed with the relationship that we have with the Representative for Children and Youth. He met with her last week and mentioned that she's very pleased with the actions that we are moving forward with. He thinks that things are really going well. In fact, he felt that his work had been done.
I was very pleased to hear that. I myself feel that we have a ways to go, and we obviously need to work together. But we've got some great plans. Working with all of the staff, getting the integrated case management in place and continuing with the five pillars, I think that we're going to get there. It's a lot of work. Change is complex. But I'm quite delighted, as the minister, to see how far we've come and where we're heading.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for her response. In the Hughes report — which, as she quite rightly says,
[ Page 6928 ]
is almost the foundation for everything that has been happening in the ministry for the last few years — there were 62 recommendations made. In the representative's last report on November 29, 2010, she evaluated 27 recommendations, and 11 of those she said were unsatisfactory.
The minister mentioned that Mr. Hughes was saying that his job is done. I wonder if the minister could tell me how many of the recommendations she feels are complete from his report.
Hon. M. McNeil: I think one of the things that are important to note is that a lot has changed since 2006 and since the report was written. The report was an impetus for making change within the ministry. I think that's really what is important — that the ministry has moved and has acted on recommendations. There's a lot that has happened since that time, and I think it's that impetus and where we are now that move us forward to the future.
I think one of the things that I've chatted about, not only with the representative but also with Mr. Hughes…. The consensus is that we're in a good place and that we need to continue the way we are moving — the way that the pillars are set up, the approach that we're using across a broad continuum — to make sure that we're not dealing with just the one-off situations but that we're looking at the families and communities as a whole. That will make a difference.
I think what I'm hearing from both of them and from the staff and how people are feeling is that the Hughes report was significant. It made a big change. It effected a big change within the ministry and the way it does its business, and we're moving forward from there.
C. Trevena: I take it from that that the ministry isn't going to be specifically implementing any more of the Hughes recommendations?
Hon. M. McNeil: In my discussion with Mr. Hughes yesterday — and I know that my deputy has met with Mr. Hughes as well — there is the feeling that we have implemented the recommendations, and we use them going forward as a lens to make sure that we continue to move forward in the direction that he had planned.
There is a comfort level, and in fact, he's very pleased with the progress that has been made and the direction that the ministry is heading in. I think that is of value to all of us.
C. Trevena: So I ask the minister again. The specific recommendations, the 62 recommendations, some of which were implemented, and the 27 re-evaluated by the representative last fall, where there were 11 regarded as incomplete or not satisfactorily completed…. The ministry will not be acting on any of these that are incomplete. The ministry will just be working with this in the background rather than working on specific recommendations.
Hon. M. McNeil: It is my understanding that the last report you have from the Representative for Children and Youth was actually written with data that…. They stopped collecting the data that's within that report in July of 2009.
Since that time the ministry has continued to take action on the recommendations. It is a joint consensus between the staff at the representative's office and the ministry to stop tracking now and to move forward. Certainly, that's the impression I got from the Representative for Children and Youth. She was very happy with where we're at.
But having said that, I think it's really important that we continue to use the recommendations as a lens as we move forward with our decisions. I think that's an important thing that we should always be doing to continue to make progress.
C. Trevena: Without belabouring the point, because obviously the ministry isn't going to be implementing any further of the recommendations or tracking them, I just wondered if the minister could tell me how many of the recommendations she believes have actually been completed out of the 62.
Hon. M. McNeil: In the Hughes report that was issued back in 2006 there were 62 recommendations, as you mentioned, of which 41 were addressed to Children and Family Development. Those 41 recommendations covered a variety of categories, including aboriginal child welfare, decentralization, quality assurance, modern approaches to child welfare and information-sharing.
Working over the last — gosh, what is it? — five years, the Ministry of Children and Family Development has determined that they have, in essence, done all of the Hughes recommendations, that they have been implemented as they've incorporated their change in the five pillars approach and Moving Forward.
We are working with the Representative for Children and Youth to produce an annual report card which will monitor our adherence to the spirit and intent of the Hughes review, and the first annual report card is scheduled to be released in late 2011.
I think what is really important for me, anyway, is my recent discussions and my current discussions with the Representative for Children and Youth, how she feels about the progress of Children and Family Development. We've chatted about it in detail and the
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comfort level she has with how we have our structure, with working together on an annual report, the relationship between not only the deputy minister's office but the minister's office and her office. She feels very positive moving forward, and I think that was also validated with my meeting with Mr. Ted Hughes yesterday.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister, and I look forward to seeing the report card.
On other recommendations that have come out, I'm also very pleased to see that there is a much better relationship between the present minister and deputy minister and the Representative for Children and Youth than previously. I think that it's going to be very helpful for everybody in B.C., particularly those who need the services.
When I did my preamble, very briefly I mentioned that one of the issues where we differ from the government side of the House on our side of the House is looking at a need for an anti-poverty plan for the province, because I think that a lot of the problems that are seen by the ministry are rooted in poverty.
We hear time and again the problems of child poverty. That's family poverty. B.C. does have a lousy record on child poverty and has had a lousy record on child poverty for the last seven years. There is no denying it, and some of the most vulnerable children could slip through the cracks.
The link between poverty and the ministry, and poverty and child deaths was brought up by the representative in her report of January of this year, the Fragile Lives report. That came out with seven recommendations, one of which has been filled by the representative. Six others have June report-back target dates for the representative. I wondered if the minister could give me an update on where we are with this report and the status of those recommendations.
Hon. M. McNeil: You know, I think this is an area where we do agree in that we all want to reduce poverty. I think it's important, but I think the reality is that for low-income families, they really benefit from actions. I think that's really important.
I think it's important that we recognize there has been a dramatic decline. For the fifth year in a row, we have seen a decline. In fact, it's now at its lowest rate in 30 years. It has come down 46 percent — the poverty rate. I think that shows that we're making a difference. We're making progress, and we're going to continue to do so.
But I think what's really important is that our efforts to strengthen the economy at the same time create jobs while also providing targeted supports to low-income families. That's what works, and I think that's important.
I think of actions such as increasing the minimum wage, so that a full-time employee will make an additional $4,000 annually. I think of the HST tax credit of up to $230 annually to support low-income individuals. There are 1.1 million British Columbians receiving that.
Creation of new affordable housing units. I think that's important. There have been 15,000 since 2001, with an additional 4,200 currently underway. Rental supplements. I think rental supplements are very important. Those are being provided to thousands of families. I think eliminating and reducing MSP premiums for over 215,000 low-income families is huge. I think the fact that we actually have the lowest provincial tax rate in Canada for low-income families is huge as well.
Again, I think we've added 335,000 more jobs over the past decade, which is huge. I think the best thing we can do for poverty is to create jobs. A family that has a job is in a much better position.
I think our actions have worked. They're working. They've reduced the poverty rate since 2003 by 46 percent. It's now the lowest since 1980. That shows that the actions are working, and I think that's what's important for low-income families.
C. Trevena: I asked the minister about implementing any of the recommendations from the Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems report from the Representative for Children and Youth. I didn't need to get statements of what the minister thinks may or may not be helping. I disagree on what the minister said, on what is helping, but we are studying estimates of her ministry, and part of that is this report from the Representative for Children and Youth.
I wanted to know from the minister whether her ministry has started work on the other six recommendations that have been put forward on the issue which I think everybody in this room is very aware of, the issue of infant deaths and the infant deaths linked to poverty. There were six specific recommendations here. I wonder if the ministry has done any work on any of them.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, we have been working on the recommendations. We are formulating our actions. The report is not yet complete, but we are actually working with the staff from the representative's office on notifying them of our actions. We expect the report to be done in June. But I'm very willing to sit down with you and talk about that as well. I think that would be a good discussion to have.
Chair, I move that the committee rise, report resolution and completion of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General and progress on the Ministry of Children and Family Development and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:47 p.m.
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