2011 Legislative Session: Fourth 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
Monday, October 17, 2011
Volume 25, Number 7
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
Pacific Carbon Trust
The B.C. jobs plan catalyst effect in Peace River
Caring for youth
Mining for jobs in Nechako Lakes
Private Members' Motions
Motion 5 — Group home closings
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MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2011
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
pacific carbon trust
R. Fleming: It's a pleasure this morning to speak about improvements that can be made to the province of British Columbia's carbon-neutral government requirements. Although it's only the first year of the new legislative requirements, the reviews are in, and I think it is fair to say they have not been terribly positive.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Is this because British Columbians' concerns about the devastation of climate change have diminished when it is so real and palpable in many regions of our province, where the heightened risks of fire, drought and flood are now part of daily life? Not at all, Madam Speaker. By all available measures of public opinion, our citizens continue to hold and share strong environmental values.
What British Columbians want are effective climate action regulations, policies and programs from government and industry. But in a province that was alone among all ten in seeing its overall emissions rise in the last reportable year, the key word is "effective." Today, by design, the sector responsible for just over 1 percent of B.C.'s total of 74 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions, B.C.'s public sector, is transferring scarce tax dollars towards some of the province's richest and biggest environmental polluters.
Public dollars that should go to alleviate wait-lists, improve learning outcomes, replace inefficient boilers or install heat pumps and solar walls at schools are instead being given over to profitable cement, gas, spa and resort companies with revenues and assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
We're still in the process of giving scarce education and health care dollars to massive GHG emitters like EnCana. Our public sector entities are being unnecessarily constrained in their own ability to plan, save and invest in projects that will green our schools and hospitals and actually lower the energy costs borne by the taxpayer.
The current arrangement may only make sense to former EnCana boss Gwyn Morgan, who now advises the Premier, but it is in fact a source of public outrage today backed up by the B.C. School Trustees Association, the research university presidents, local government and health care managers, all of whom have said that draining money for carbon offsets is hurting, not helping, their ability to be more energy-efficient and low carbon.
While the carbon-neutral government requirements are laudable in word, in practice the B.C. Liberals' carbon-neutral plan is almost entirely reliant on the mandatory purchase of offsets from a monopoly broker that they established. The reliance on offsets rather than real public sector carbon emissions reductions is something that international bodies have condemned.
The ICLEI framework, which links 1,200 cities and local governments globally, recommends that offsets should "only be used to offset residual emissions, rather than being used as the primary approach to climate or carbon neutrality." ICLEI recommends that local governments defer the purchase of offsets until major emissions reduction investment opportunities have been implemented.
Similarly, the United Nations environment program handbook on carbon neutrality stresses that real emissions reductions should be prioritized over offset purchases. These warnings went unheeded in British Columbia, and now we are hearing a united uproar from school leaders, climate experts and public administrators because the current arrangement is unfair. It is based on all sticks and no carrots and is ineffective. It fails to properly incentivize and fund carbon reduction projects in the public sector, and that is the problem, Madam Speaker.
Where did the B.C. Liberals go astray in their interpretation of pursuing carbon neutrality? B.C. required several things from public sector organizations that other carbon-neutral jurisdictions also required, but this government did it badly.
The first requirement which holds value was for the public sector to measure their greenhouse gas emissions. This is now complete, although the B.C. Liberals again forced the public sector to buy software for $500,000 that the Ministry of Labour actually owns and could have provided to everyone free of charge through open source.
The second and most important step in carbon neutrality is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is where the government got it wrong, because it skipped ramping up this stage with any meaningful and sustained focus in investing in major public building energy retrofit programs, not to mention the thousands of skilled green jobs that would have come from such activity.
Even worse, in the same year that carbon-neutral legislation was passed, in 2008 the B.C. Liberals eliminated the $115 million annual facilities grant capital fund in the school sector. As a result, school boards shelved a number of green capital projects in communities like Prince George.
Contrast this with Australia, where their carbon-neutral government program provided schools green-building
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grants and provided pay-as-you-save energy loans to achieve real emission reductions. By failing to invest in cutting carbon emissions as the key part of getting to carbon-neutral government, more than $18 million of our tax dollars are now annually leaving the public sector to buy offsets. These are funds that should be used to reduce the carbon footprint of government rather than continue to emit the same amount or more carbon into the atmosphere.
The third step, which should have occurred after aggressive emissions reduction activity, is offsetting remaining emissions by purchasing carbon offsets. Instead, the B.C. Liberals went straight to this stage, forcing public service operations into the forced purchase of offsets from a legislative monopoly that charges high prices.
Under these government rules that allow EnCana to pocket health and education funds, it also prevents the public sector from selling their own offset projects. In contrast to B.C., Ontario allows their school districts — like the Toronto school district — to sell offsets to green their own infrastructure.
The fourth step is for the public sector to report publicly on plans and actions to reduce emissions. When this reporting does become available after the baseline year, it will likely show that B.C.'s public sector is not reducing its emissions significantly but is mostly buying offsets. It will verify the policy failure that is playing out today.
It is not too late to fix things if we give supportive tools and flexibilities to B.C.'s public sector. The B.C. Liberals need to act quickly and transparently if they want to salvage credibility for carbon-neutral government. That means eliminating the perverse transfer of health and education funds to big polluters immediately.
Government should restructure the flow of offsets and allow B.C.'s public sector organizations to pool these funds and invest in greening their own outdated buildings and replace inefficient heating, cooling and mechanical systems with renewable energy systems.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
R. Fleming: Thank you for the time this morning, Madam Speaker.
Deputy Speaker: I'll just take a moment to remind members that this morning is private members' business and ask you to keep your remarks in line with the intent of that time in the House. Thank you.
J. Yap: It is my pleasure to respond to the member for Victoria–Swan Lake's statement. Thank you for that gentle reminder.
I do want to immediately address a couple of points the hon. member made in regards to this very important issue about the Pacific Carbon Trust and the whole issue of our climate action plan. The member actually did not mention that we as a government have made significant investments in energy retrofit programs in public sector facilities, whether it's hospitals, schools, colleges or universities — $75 million over the past three years invested in 247 projects around the province.
These will lead to meaningful reductions — about 37,000 tonnes of CO2, about 500 jobs created in the process and, significantly, about $12.6 million in energy savings. So this is a great success story, the public sector energy conservation agreement, part of our climate action plan and part of the carbon-neutral commitment.
Pacific Carbon Trust is a Crown corporation that is a key part of our climate action plan. This Crown corporation invests in quality, made-in-B.C. carbon offsets. The major customer is the province of British Columbia. We are the first jurisdiction in North America to be carbon-neutral.
The member is correct in saying there are a number of elements to being a carbon-neutral public sector. First of all, we measure our carbon footprint. Secondly, we make reductions throughout the system through investments in energy retrofits and other ways of reducing the carbon emissions related to our facilities and operations. Thirdly, what we're not able to eliminate — the emissions — we invest in offsets.
In 2010 British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in North America to be carbon-neutral. This has resulted in actual reductions in emissions of approximately one million tonnes.
Our government believes that it is important that part of our climate action plan is to model and to lead and to show British Columbians that this is an important critical issue, by allowing citizens to see, when they enter any public facility — be it a hospital, a school, a college or any government building — and know that they are entering a carbon-neutral facility. So this is a great success story.
The Pacific Carbon Trust is part of our climate action plan, which was introduced in 2008 with groundbreaking legislation, a commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent by the year 2020 and a further reduction to 80 percent by the year 2050. These are legislated targets that we're committed to, and we continue to work through the climate action plan, which includes the Pacific Carbon Trust.
The member made reference to some changes that can and perhaps should be made in the delivery of service, and the Minister of Environment has in fact said that there will be a review. He said that he's asked "the Pacific Carbon Trust and climate action secretariat to go and talk to stakeholders, give some thought as to how we can achieve our carbon neutrality status, and yet be able to help out the public sector with their reduction in greenhouse gas emissions."
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The fact is that two years ago there was no carbon offset market in British Columbia. Through our groundbreaking efforts, our creation of a Crown corporation that invests in quality, verifiable carbon offsets that lead to actual reductions in carbon — something which I know the member for Victoria–Swan Lake supports and his caucus supports, reducing the carbon footprint — this is actually a success story. It's one that, of course….
As we now learn, we've created a market that the Pacific Carbon Trust is a major player in and has other customers in addition to the province of British Columbia. This carbon offset market in B.C. is leading the way towards a lower carbon economy in British Columbia and, we expect, beyond British Columbia.
R. Fleming: I appreciate the member from across the way's response on this issue and that he did indeed read into the record the Minister of Environment's hesitations on how the public sector carbon neutrality requirements are playing out in communities around British Columbia. I think it is important to be fair here this morning. The policy and political problem regarding the absurdity of cash-starved schools and hospitals funding big polluters hasn't escaped the attention of some of the Liberal MLAs across the way. They've publicly expressed their discomfort.
I would have preferred to have a little more clarification this morning about how this behind-closed-doors review is proceeding with the minister and whoever else is involved there. We simply don't know. It is not being done in the light of day. Given the numbers of stakeholders who are concerned and would like to have input and would like to have constructive input so that government gets it right, I think this should be done in an open and transparent manner.
The reason for raising the debate this morning on this side of the House is because we do need to get things right, or we risk breeding cynicism about climate action in British Columbia. Some of the suggestions I would like to give to the member across the way to take back, since we are not able, through legislative committee or any other avenue, to participate in the discussions about how to make carbon-neutral government better….
I would ask him to consider government identifying funds and loan mechanisms that will actually help retrofit our old schools and public buildings, to consider removing legislative barriers to school boards that would help finance green project debt with future energy savings. This something that's actually being done in Alberta.
Finally, though, I think the current policy map has to be fixed, and it has to be fixed quickly. This is year 1 of "carbon-neutral" government requirements. As I said at the outset, the reviews are in, and they are almost unanimously negative about how it's working on the ground. There are climate experts and public sector leaders who want to work with this government to get it right, and the government needs to sit down and do that in the open.
I also think that the private sector should be represented in these discussions. I find it very confusing why the B.C. Liberals allowed a program that funded private sector climate investments, the innovative clean energy fund, to be abandoned in future years by the HST fiasco that has embroiled our province for the last two years. That's a program on the private side that should allow private sector emitters to buy offsets from other private sector entities, and it's on the verge of disappearing.
I also have to say, though, this morning, because it is an opportunity to say so, that it is embarrassing, quite frankly, that this Legislature does not have what other modern democratic assemblies around the world have, and that is a robust legislative committee system on climate change. It's a sad fact.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member. Take your seat, please.
R. Fleming: Thank you for the time this morning, Madam Speaker.
The B.C. Jobs Plan
Catalyst Effect in Peace River
P. Pimm: Hon. Speaker, thanks for giving me the opportunity to stand this morning and talk about the B.C. jobs plan and how it affects my riding of Peace River North — and the rest of the province, quite frankly. It is great to have a plan for what jobs are coming and how to set up your communities to handle the onslaught that you're going to be seeing in the future. I can certainly attest to that. Coming from my area, we have those issues we have to deal with now and get things ready for what could be coming at us.
We're pretty fortunate in Peace River North. We have a different problem than what the rest of the province actually has. We've got natural gas. We've got the Horn River. We've got Liard Basin. We've got the Cordova embayment. We've got the Montney gas fields. Some of the greatest shale gas plays in North America are right here in our own back yard, and we should be happy about it. I certainly am, and hopefully, the rest of the House feels the same as I do. We've also got Site C in my area. We've got mining. We've got agriculture. We've got an abundance of jobs in my area.
We've got the lowest unemployment in the province right now — 4.2 percent. In fact, that's one of the lowest in Canada, if not the lowest in Canada, right here in Peace River North, in my riding. We've got the jobs. The problem is we need people. We need people for these jobs, and this is what's going to happen as everything
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ramps up, especially with the natural gas industry. As time goes on, you're going to need more people to do the jobs that are going to come at us.
I had lots of chances to travel the province this summer. I travelled the province with the rural caucus. I travelled the province with the Finance Committee. I travelled, in my role as parliamentary secretary, to natural gas initiatives. I had lots of opportunity to talk about jobs and what we can do to help jobs; some of the issues that are out there, as we speak; and how we can help industry do what they need to do to get all the jobs put in place.
Some of the things I heard while I was travelling…. Permits have been a problem throughout the province — getting permits done, getting them done in a timely fashion. Certainly, I think this jobs plan is going to help address some of that. It's going to input $24 million into dealing with some of the backlogs on permits, and that's certainly very positive. To get a good turnaround on permits for mining, for natural gas, even for little things like putting a boat dock in the water in the Okanagan, for example, you have to have timely processes that can accommodate these kinds of matters.
Also, I heard lots about carbon. We heard the member for Victoria–Swan Lake talk about carbon. That agenda — everybody talks about it. Industry talks about it all through the province. It's certainly not going to be part of my discussion here today, but it's out there. It's affecting farming families. It's affecting industry at all different levels. Certainly, it's something that we want to make sure we maintain, a good environmental carbon agenda, and make sure that we keep a competitive environment along with it.
Let's talk a little bit about natural gas. Natural gas, obviously, is something I grew up with all my lifetime. It's been instrumental in where I live. You know, sometimes we get accused of being the northern part of Alberta, not the northern part of B.C. We certainly don't want to keep that thought, because we want to be part of B.C. We enjoy B.C. and all that it brings. We enjoy contributing to the economy of British Columbia and certainly want to continue that as we move forward.
We have great opportunities in natural gas. Take a look at the announcement just this week with the NEB opening up and the opportunities in Kitimat and Prince Rupert for the future. These are going to be great opportunities for our area. It's going to be great opportunities for the natural gas, with our abundance that we have in place now. We've got over 100 years of natural gas supply. Now we have to find out the demands for that natural gas.
We have opportunities: the pipeline to Kitimat — over 500, 600 kilometres of pipeline alone — over some of the toughest terrain that you're ever going to see. We have to make sure we get that done right. We have to make sure we get corridors put in place properly to handle that — the direction that we're going. We're going to look after and manage our environmental footprint on that process. Certainly, we've got to make sure that happens.
The jobs that are going to be attached to that…. That project, just the pipeline alone, will probably take four, five or six different sections to do that properly. You're probably talking 4,000 or 5,000 people employed in the pipeline just to bring that to fruition. And there could be three, four or five of those pipelines. We don't know for sure. It depends on how vast it becomes and how good the marketing can be done and where that leads us to.
Fort Nelson. We talked about service centres. Right now in Fort Nelson you hear people talk about the fly-in, fly-out stuff that's happening in Fort Nelson, and it's true. We've got 3,000 people living and working in camps in the Fort Nelson area. That's because we haven't looked after getting the communities set up properly and getting the infrastructure put in place so that they could actually house those folks. That's part of building the program, building the communities and making them attractive so you can attract people into your communities.
In Fort Nelson we've got a start on it. We're working hard on trying to get them to that point. There are ALR issues that you have to deal with. You have to make sure that they have land so you can actually build the communities, build the infrastructure so you can attract the people to come in to the communities and do the work for you. Those are certainly some issues that Fort Nelson is going to do.
You have to make sure you have access to the projects. There are going to be roads that have to be built to get the best accesses into the areas where the gas is coming from.
Certainly, there are some great opportunities, and the government is going to have to work on that stuff. We're going to have to make sure that you have communities that can service all the areas. When Kitimat gets their LNG, they have to be able to handle the people that are going to come. You're going to have plants that are going to have 200, 300 or 400 people working in them as time goes on. You're going to have construction where there are going to be 2,000 people working on construction and building these plants for two and three years.
There are all kinds of things that you have to make sure that communities have to be able to handle. You have to have capacity. You have to have housing, attractive communities. You have to make sure that your communities are set up to deal with the medical problems, the health problems. The educators have to be in place. There's a gamut of things that happen when you get a massive onslaught of what's going on, and that all drives jobs. All of those things drive jobs in communities.
We can talk about Fort St. John. We're so busy in Fort St. John….
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
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P. Pimm: I'd love to have way more time on that issue.
J. Horgan: I'm pleased to take my place in the debate this morning, responding to the member for Peace River North's submission that we need to do something about red tape. I heard that ten years ago when this government came to power, and apparently ten years on they still haven't figured it out. There is some irony in that. I know that it's lost on many members on that side, but we do see a bit of irony in the fact that a government that had committed itself to eradicating red tape is now saying: "You know what? We've got to do something about the red tape."
My sense is that if you want to talk about a jobs plan, as the member started, he might well want to send a couple of copies to employees at B.C. Hydro who this week, rather than receiving jobs plan notices, are receiving pink slips — hundreds and hundreds of employees in our Crown corporation heading for the door, some from the member's constituency.
We learned over the weekend that in the fish and wildlife component of the water licences, which are a part and parcel of our reservoir system here in British Columbia — in the Peace and in the Columbia — 12 jobs are being eliminated as a result of the B.C. Liberal jobs plan. I don't see how that helps the environment. I don't see how that helps keep people employed in the region the member just talked about, but nonetheless, these are the facts. Maybe if there weren't so much red tape, as the member suggests, we might well have been able to keep those jobs.
The member also talked about natural gas. He talked about LNG opportunities on the coast and the recent decision by the National Energy Board to provide an export permit to companies located in Kitimat — or proposing to put LNG in Kitimat. I endorse that. My colleagues on this side of the House endorse that facility. We've done that for some time.
I think it's also important that the member know that the notion of liquefied natural gas didn't just emerge full-born from the head of the minister or from the member. In fact, we've been talking about this proposal and proposals like it for nigh on 25 years. The opportunity has been there for a considerable period of time. When we see growth in Asia that is off the charts, we see an opportunity to fill that growth, to fill that void with our natural resources. I think that's supported by most British Columbians.
But not a blank cheque. It's not a blank cheque to drill, baby, drill, as I know the member would like us to believe. It's an opportunity for us to demonstrate best practices here in British Columbia. It's an opportunity for us to build on a mature industry — which actually took its feet in the 1990s under the NDP administration with the establishment of the Oil and Gas Commission — and our ability to take advantage of our natural resources and to now take advantage of our location on the globe in our ability to access markets in Asia.
So we support that. We are encouraged by that, but there is work to be done. Fracking is a controversial way of releasing gas from unconventional sources. The member talked about camps in his area — Fort Nelson, people flying in and flying out. This is a significant concern for us — the challenges of ensuring we have an educated and skilled workforce.
Again, one would assume that a government in place for a decade would have been on top of those training challenges. They would have put in place apprenticeship programs. They would have put in place training programs so that we wouldn't be wanting for skilled workers at this time when there are opportunities in our oil and gas sector.
There are other parts of the province that have been left wanting. Here on Vancouver Island, if I may….
The Premier made a speech some days ago to the chamber of commerce and cited two companies. She claimed that they were local companies providing jobs and employment here on the south Island. Well, it turns out one of the companies has always has been located in Burnaby, and the other company moved there 18 months ago.
The challenge I believe we have is to not sing too highly from our hymn book about the advantages of the B.C. Liberal jobs plan but, instead, to look rationally at our resources, look rationally at our human resource needs in the long term and ensure that we continue to have a prosperous economy that focuses on environmentally sensitive projects in an environmentally sensitive way, builds on the future, builds for generations to come. That's not something that people should take credit for. That's something you should do every single day in government.
For ten years, it's my submission, those issues have been ignored by this government, and now we hear we have red tape, we have a shortage of skilled workers, and if only we could break through the morass — much of which was created by this government — if only we could train our children so they could take the jobs of the future, we'd be ready to go. That doesn't strike me as a jobs plan. That strikes me as an abdication of responsibility by this government. The sooner we get a new one, the better.
Deputy Speaker: I would remind the member he may want to take his own advice about singing from the song sheet.
P. Pimm: It's great to get to listen to my friend from across the way from Juan de Fuca. Certainly, he brings up some good points, and this might even be an area that we can agree on a little bit, in certain different things. I
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won't go too far. Like the LNG talks he had for 25 years. You know, we should keep the record straight that those were import jobs at that point in time, and now it's export jobs that we're talking about here.
We now have a capacity. We have a supply now that allows us to actually look at sending into the Asian marketplace. The opportunities that we're going to see from the advancement of the Ridley Terminals, the advancement in the terminals here in the Lower Mainland, the money that's being spent certainly to allow us to have the capacity to make this stuff happen. I think we're into an exciting time.
Certainly, when you start talking about different jobs, I can tell you right now, and I'd like to put this on record, if somebody wants a job, please come to northeastern B.C., because we've got jobs for you. We want you to come up there, and we want you to come to work — good B.C. jobs come up there. So anybody on the Island that's missing out on a job, come on up here, because we need you. We want you to move up here. We want you to be part of the northeast. We want you to be part of a good economy for the future.
We've got companies…. Right now, I can tell you, if I had 300 truck drivers tomorrow I'd be putting them to work — guaranteed. So if I've got 300 truck drivers out there, give me your names, because I want to put you to work. I would love to do that. Electricians, anybody — anything that you want to talk about, I can get you a job. Come to me if you want a job, because I can tell you, I'll be the guy that's going to look after you when it comes to jobs.
The northeast is going to drive this province, and the northwest is going to be part of that drive as well. The mining sector, the agriculture, the natural gas — we have an abundance of the product. We have opportunities. We can put it into the transportation sector. We can start looking at reducing our greenhouse gases by displacing some of the coal that's out there in the area.
When you start talking about natural gas, all of the natural gas in British Columbia…. The one coal-fired electrical plant in Alberta has more than the entire carbon emissions put out by the entire natural gas industry. It's the cleanest product that we have, and I support it and push it and will continue to push it.
CARING FOR YOUTH
C. Trevena: I'm speaking today about caring for youth, caring for our young people. When we talk about care and foster care, this being foster care month we often think of young children. We think of the babies, who are very cute, little toddlers falling over themselves, youngsters at school. But every child grows up into an adolescent and a young person, many of whom have huge difficulties. I think that while there is a lot of work done to assist young people, there are still a lot of things that we could, as a community and as a society, do to ensure that we do look after young people and ensure that their transition into adulthood is done in the best way possible.
Under our present system we look after young people until they're 19, whether it's through fostering, whether it's through families, youth agreements or other arrangements. As soon as they turn 19…. At 18 years old they've got all the support; at 19 they're on their own.
It is very interesting. We have a different view these days of what youth is. We hear people who say, "Oh, I went to work at 14; I went to work at 15," and we know our own grandparents and sometimes our own parents were doing that.
Today young people really do stay at home much longer. In fact, according to the 2006 census, StatsCan shows that 43.5 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds still lived in their parents' home, which is all well and good if you've got a stable family, if you've got a parent that you can turn to. But if you don't, if you've been relying on ministry care for your life or even just for your teen years, you have nowhere to go to.
This causes real problems. A child doesn't choose to come into care; a child comes into care because of problems within the family. Yet without the supports that we as a society could give, they often face many more problems.
It has been seen that 40 to 60 percent of young people who have been in care end up homeless, and 80 percent of them end up on welfare. They are more likely to become pregnant young or become a parent when they are young. They're more likely to enter the criminal justice system. They're more likely to have mental health problems. I think that is because we as a society haven't given the supports that we could do in that transition period, in their teens through to the early adult period — that area from 16 through to 24, not just 18 into 19. There is a longer need.
The continuum of care is a cliché that is being used more and more often. I hate to use it myself, but the continuum of care seems to be from caring for a child, really, from child welfare to adult welfare, rather than looking at how we can create young people who can contribute to our society, who have a real strength. We have a responsibility there that we are failing, I do believe.
Young people who have been in foster care are vulnerable. They have come from backgrounds where they have faced problems. Unless we can offer that mentorship and that support, there are going to be continuing problems.
I was talking to one young person, a 20-year-old, who was in foster care. She said that when she was 18, she had a social worker. She had a case worker. She had people there to help her. At 19 she was on her own. It's the switch of the light. As the 18th birthday finished….
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You know, at 18 you are there; by the 19th birthday you are finished.
If I might quote from a letter, it is a letter from a person who was also in foster care. It's been written to the minister and copied to myself. This young woman, Marie Grondines, states:
"I have struggled greatly, particularly in the last five years, to work through the abuse and neglect I suffered as a child and teen growing up. I have been through the foster care system and now find myself in a place of complete despair as I struggle constantly with all that I have on my plate."
"I have absolutely no family due to past events and a lack of a substantial support network. I face challenges with working and keeping up with school due to various overwhelming emotions that make my life more difficult than the average individual without disorders. This creates great financial difficulty for me, and I have been at a loss of what to do, as I have not family or friends to back me up."
This young woman, Madam Speaker, is advocating for herself. She is advocating for extra support for young people leaving foster care.
As I mentioned, you leave the ministry's care — not necessarily foster care but the ministry's care — at 18. When you are 19, you're on your own. The need for mentorship, the need for extra supports, the need for possibly some sort of big brother, big sister system really should be built into our system.
This is bad enough just for young people who can cope, who don't have developmental disabilities or physical disabilities. Those young people face the added problem of having had the support of social workers, the support of families, the support of school systems having plans in place. Then, at 19, oftentimes a plan is drawn up, but there isn't the support there to ensure that that plan is acted upon.
So we see young people who are extremely vulnerable left without any support at all, without any assistance to get from that state of youth into the state of adulthood at that arbitrary level of 18 or 19.
You can imagine the immense loneliness. You've had all this support around you. You've had the care of your family, of your school, of all these people around you, and suddenly you're there on your own, with maybe a plan. But will there be anywhere to implement that plan? Is that in place?
Likewise, for young people who have a physical disability, not just a developmental disability — who are looking for that extra support to ensure that they can function as part of our society, that they aren't cut off, that they aren't isolated — there are often no programs, and there is no advocacy. These young people, whether they have developmental disabilities or physical disabilities — where they have just aged out, as we call it — need some extra advocacy.
D. Horne: I have to thank the member for North Island for bringing forward this motion this morning.
I know that over the last few days both the member for North Island and I, and many of the other members of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, had a great time. Really, quite frankly, I think our eyes were opened by the children's summit, the children and youth summit put on by the representative. It's a great opportunity. This is a summit that has been taking place for a number of years now. It's something that's driven by youth, driven by young people. It's their ideas and their vision that really frame the reference and really drive forward the program.
I think that's really a key issue in all of this. You know, we can go through the statistics. One of the difficulties that we often do…. We talk about how much money we spend, how much opportunity there is and how much the commitment that we as a government have in a certain area is directly related to the amount of money we spend. I think one of the issues that the member for North Island so rightly brings up this morning is: it's not necessarily about money.
The member made the point that people are on their own. When they're on their own, they're not on their own financially. We have programs in place that provide shelter, provide food, provide the necessities of life, but do they have the support from a family structure? Do they have the support around them that allows for them to continue to feel like they're part of a family, to continue to feel like they're cared for and that they have people around them that truly have their best interests in mind?
We talk about a families-first agenda. But that's really what this is all about. This is about your support network, the people that care for you. As people that are in the child foster care network become 19, that support network does vanish. In maintaining some of the friendships, the relationships that they have, the question is: how do we make sure that these people feel like they still are a part of a bigger picture? How do they have the support from people that can mentor them into the future?
We have a very good program that we put in place. It has about 700 former youth that were in care. It was established in 2008, and it's the youth educational assistance fund. What that program does is allow for children who have been in care, you know, to get additional training, to get vocational training, to attend university.
I think as you go into post-secondary education and you expand your network, you expand those people around you, and you expand those that really do care for you and that really do become part of your friends and your network as time goes on.
That's really the key to this all: making people so that they're not isolated, so that they do have support around them. Getting them into post-secondary education or into a job or having the supports of these types of things is so important. I see that's really the commitment that
[ Page 8086 ]
we have. It's something that we go on and continue to try to put in place.
One of the difficulties that I think everyone who's a member of this place really sees — or, quite frankly, we wouldn't seek election — is that things can constantly improve. Things constantly have to improve. If any of us believe that things are perfect, quite frankly, we could all go home, because we wouldn't have to improve them. I think there's always room for making things better, whether you are on the opposition side or the government side. I think working together and more collaboratively is a way to make that work and a way to care for those that need it the most.
I really see that as the real nucleus of what the member has brought forward this morning. The member for North Island talked about sort of the big brother, big sister. There are some very good programs in that area as well. But it's really the community reaching out and being part of these people's lives.
C. Trevena: I thank the member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain for his thoughts on the issue of aging out of care and the concerns there. Yes, I say that we do agree that there have to be some extra supports. I would like to question some of the assertions that the member did make, and one of them is the financial supports.
I don't really think the financial supports are in place. Otherwise, we wouldn't see so many people entering the welfare system or having trouble finding housing and finding themselves couch-surfing. I think we do need to ensure there is a better support network there.
Likewise, the education assistance fund that's available for young people who've been in care…. From what I've heard from young people who are aging out of care, there's a lack of flexibility there. It's for a fixed amount of time. They have a lot of emotional issues that they're working through, as well as trying to find the financial literacy — the dealing with trying to get a job, dealing with looking after their own home and things that, as mentioned earlier, other young people don't have to worry so much about because they still have a family network.
In the time that you're still trying to work out what it's like to live as a 19-year-old on your own, you're already burning through your first year of what is usually a four-year funding system. You haven't found out what it is you want to do, and you've already effectively wasted a year of money. I think we need to look for a bit more flexibility there.
Also, we do need to…. As the member said, the personal supports, the big brother, big sister idea…. Other jurisdictions do provide more support for young people aging out of care. In the U.K. they have personal advisers up to the age of 21, so there is a one-on-one support. There is a very intense transition planning and needs assessment. Likewise, in the United States and in Australia there are different supports available for young people aging out of care.
I'd like to just cite a report that came out a few years ago, When Youth Age Out of Care, which was written through the University of Victoria School of Social Work with the involvement of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
It's talking about the transition being a slow process. One of the recommendations is that as youth move from care, there should be a much longer transition process. This report says maybe up until the age of 29, which matches the federal definition of youth, which is 29, but I think we should definitely be looking at up to 24, to try and get that bridging going through. Special needs young people definitely need that bridge, but all young people who are coming out of care, who are on their own, do need those extra supports.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about this.
Mining for Jobs in Nechako Lakes
J. Rustad: It's a pleasure to rise to speak about mining, particularly in my riding of Nechako Lakes. My riding, when you look at the grander scheme of things, has a population of about 28,000. It's got a workforce of about 14,200 people. It's primarily forestry and agriculture and mining.
It's mining that I want to focus on because of the difference it's making to my riding and also the difference I believe it's making to us as a province.
I was presented with an interesting problem just this past week when I had an opportunity to sit down with one of the forest companies. They can't get truckers. They have a challenge. They can't get loggers. Trucking rates have gone up somewhere between 15 and 25 percent, as have logging rates, which is almost unheard of in the forest industry, especially considering that lumber prices are still down. But that is a direct result of mining and other affiliated activities that have been happening in the province.
What's happened, when you look at the mines…. We've got a $500 million expansion at Endako Mines in Fraser Lake. We've got a new mine going in, in Mount Milligan, which is almost a billion dollars being spent. A big chunk of the workforce is coming from Fort St. James supporting that project. The difference that has made throughout those communities is absolutely phenomenal.
When you look at just a few years ago, when they were struggling and going through challenges and hoping that the mine would go through, to the workforce today — to the enthusiasm and the excitement in the communities, the things that are happening — it is a complete transformation. It's that kind of a transformation that
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I believe is something we all need to be striving for, for many areas of the province.
Mines are hard to get into production. They're very challenging. It takes years to find through exploration. It takes years to develop. You've got to track an enormous amount of capital, and you have to go through challenging environmental assessment processes just to come through and be successful. But ultimately, when they come through, they're sound projects.
They meet our environmental standards, and they provide an enormous boost to the local area and the provincial economy. When you think about our health care services, our education services, so much of that is paid for because of the operations of our resource industries and particularly mining.
I think when you look at what the potential is down the road…. I've mentioned some things that are actually happening. I also want to talk about some of the potential projects in my riding. Huckleberry mine, which has been a mine that's been in operation now for, oh, close to 20 years, is in the process of going through an assessment as to whether they should do an expansion.
Mines, of course, by nature…. There's a deposit. You mine out the deposit, and the mine shuts down, but because of copper prices and because of new discoveries, there's an opportunity for that mine to consider extending its life, which is enormous for the community of Houston and throughout that area. I'm looking forward to a positive announcement on that in the coming days and weeks.
In addition to that…. I've mentioned Fraser Lake and the mining support of Endako and Fort St. James and the Vanderhoof area through Mount Milligan, and Huckleberry, which is supporting the Houston community. North of Granisle and Burns Lake there's another little project by Pacific Booker gold called the Morrison project. They're in the process of going through the environmental assessment right now. They have been working with the First Nations and have a very successful relationship now with the local First Nation.
It's a project that could come on stream in the future. I mean, they've got their challenges. They've got to be able to raise capital and the rest of those things that happen, but that would be absolutely transformational for the community of Granisle and Burns Lake because of those jobs that are in there, those jobs that pay an average of $108,000 a year. That's the average wage and benefits. It's enormous what that does, not to mention….
You know, when you think about heavy industry, mining is one of the safest industries that we have in the province of British Columbia. They've got a great safety record. They've got a very good environmental record these days, and like I say, the transformational effect it has on communities, in supporting growth and families, is absolutely fabulous.
Across the province we've seen a number of other projects. In particular, you are looking at Copper Mountain at Princeton and what that's meant for the community of Princeton. You've got, up through the Kamloops area, the new Afton project, which will be open in 2012, and what that will mean for Kamloops and in that area.
Also, when you look at an area like Williams Lake and Quesnel and throughout the Cariboo, which have a very significant impact from the mountain pine beetle, there's a great opportunity there in a mine called Taseko. Sorry, Taseko's the company that is putting forward that Prosperity mine. It's a project that…. They put forward the initial proposal. It was rejected. Some say it should have gone through; some say it shouldn't. They've changed the proposal and put that thing forward.
It now has another opportunity to get through the process and to have that transformational impact on that area, to be able to support jobs and to come on line at a time when it's very much needed because of the impact of the mountain pine beetle.
I would ask the member opposite, who's going to have an opportunity to respond, what he thinks of Taseko, what he thinks about the potential of that mine and the potential within that area.
In addition, one of the keys, really, in the opportunity to open new mines is exploration, because it takes years. It takes a lot of investment to be able to drive exploration. We've seen exploration numbers skyrocket across British Columbia over the last ten years, which is what's driving a lot of these new opportunities now to have mines.
Another question I would have for the member opposite, who, I understand, represents the area of Highway 37, the member for Stikine: how many mines does he think we should have hope open, up Highway 37? The northwest of the province has enormous potential. We have a couple of mines that are permitted, but we have a lot of other projects up there that are looking for permits.
What does he think? Does he think there's a great opportunity there to be able to have multiple mines and create that transformational change that we'd like to see in the northwest of the province?
I guess a last question I'd ask that I've asked the opposition many times and very respectfully…. Across the province we have all these projects that come forward that have enormous potential. What project — just name one, any one you want — do you support that isn't already permitted? What do you stand up and advocate for that'll have that transformational effect that supports families, that supports the opportunity to build communities and support?
D. Donaldson: Thank you for the opportunity to respond to my colleague from Nechako Lakes today in this debate. I agree with him that mining offers great opportunities for the province and for the north in particular and particularly, the northwest.
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[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I was happy to report that I took a trip recently to the Galore Creek site up in the northwest part of province, where there is a potential development. I went with the mayors of Smithers and Terrace and representatives from Stewart. We stayed overnight at the camp, and that's potentially a great project. They are looking at introducing another prefeasibility study this fall, so I look forward to hearing that — about their plans to get that mine going and put in front of the environmental assessment process.
It's great that the member for Nechako Lakes mentioned Huckleberry mine in his constituency. In fact, it benefits many people in my constituency of Stikine, as well, who work at that mine and provide supplies and services to the mine.
I'd like to point out Huckleberry began commercial operations in October 1997. Similarly, another mine south of the member's constituency, Mount Polley mine in the Williams Lake area, began commercial operations in September 1997. What do these have in common? Well, the NDP was in government in both of those instances and brought those mines into fruition and on line.
Unfortunately, the story of the last decade has been a story of lost opportunity by this government because of their failed actions, especially in the investment climate area. Those mines that I mentioned were brought on line when copper was 65 cents a pound. Now copper is averaging almost $4 a pound, and still this government over the last ten years has lost out on opportunities.
Why is that? It's because of a failure to create a proper investment climate. That's not just me saying that. The Fraser council…. Help me out.
Some Hon. Members: Fraser Institute.
D. Donaldson: Fraser Institute. Thank you, hon. Members on the other side. I like to quote from them, and that's why I sometimes forget who they are.
The Fraser Institute brought out a report last year. Out of 72 jurisdictions, around creating an investment climate for mining in B.C. globally, we were ranked last because of the issue of aboriginal rights and title. So again, a decade of inaction on that front has resulted in many lost opportunities.
We just met with a group two weeks ago, the First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining. Members of that community are part of the Lake Babine Nation, amongst other bands and organizations, and that directly relates to the Mount Morrison mine that was mentioned.
They put on a symposium, "The Future of Mining in B.C.: Cooperation, not Conflict," at the University of Victoria two weeks ago. Not one government representative from that side of the House showed up, and they made mention of that several times because they tried to get a representative out.
Under those circumstances how are we going to ever address the notion, the idea, of the social licence that's required to get the kind of investment and the kinds of mines open that my colleague refers to?
I'd also like to touch on training. That's been a lost opportunity by this government. If we want local jobs for local people, then we need the proper training. Northwest Community College serves the member opposite's constituency as well as mine. They haven't been able to get core funding for their School of Exploration and Mining — an award-winning school. This is a school that needs core funding in order that local people can take advantage of the local jobs.
Dease Lake in the northern part of my constituency hasn't had a post-secondary program in there for a year and a half. It's been closed down because this government has not been able to address funding issues there.
You might want to talk about the opportunities, but talking about opportunities means that we have to take action. This government, on the investment front and on the training front, has not taken the proper action required for local people to take advantage of the local jobs.
Just to conclude, we on this side support projects that go through a proper EA process and pass the social licence test. Unfortunately, both of these processes are broken under this government, and the people have no trust in those processes or this government to fix it. Taseko is a great example of the inadequacies of the environmental assessment process in B.C., a process that was gutted by this government in 2002.
J. Rustad: I want to thank the member for Stikine for his comments and his response. I was unfortunate. I did not hear a project that he would support that hasn't already been permitted. It's also unfortunate that he once again comes out and says that if it goes through a process, then they'll consider supporting it, but they don't bring any real support to the process.
Here's the key. The member talked about the challenge in terms of getting mines open. It takes a long time and a lot of exploration. There's kind of rule of thumb. For every $100 million in exploration, you have an opportunity to see a mine get through the process. Here we had, back in 2001, about $29 million in exploration. It would have taken five years of just an exploration budget to even find the potential for a resource to be able to move forward. That is the difference between today, which is now $341 million, up significantly from where it was….
Going forward with this stuff, the opportunity to attract dollars, the amount of investment that you need to drive and the confidence that you need is critical. You cannot come out with a process and say it's wrong
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before it has even gone through the assessment process, because if you do that, you destroy the confidence, and you destroy that ability to be able to attract the training. Unfortunately, I just gave the member opposite a chance to change that perspective, and he refused to bring it forward.
The member talks about training, and I'm glad he did, because in Smithers they're doing a great job with training. That's something that has come forward, that the mining industry has put dollars towards.
I want to close, though, because I started off talking about the benefits in my riding and the things that we're seeing and the opportunities. Mining across this province is $7.1 billion. It employs more than 60,000 people, direct and indirect, in terms of those jobs. With the wages and benefits that come in here it is absolutely phenomenal what we're seeing in support.
The member talks about confidence in the industry. Maybe he should go talk to Teck, who just came out and announced a $500 million expansion for the Highland Valley project to keep that thing going. Maybe he should talk to the company of Thompson Creek, who is driving those investments, or Imperial, who wants to drive.
There is so much excitement and opportunity in this province as part of our jobs plan. We're moving forward with new investment in the ministries in there to deal with the backlog, to drive those opportunities, to drive the potential for mines to be open and to have those jobs in this province.
Mining has an enormous potential. It has always been part of our history in the province, and it will continue to be an important part of this province going forward, building communities and building strong families.
Mr. Speaker: I just want to remind members that private members' statements are meant to be non-partisan in nature. I just want to remind people for next Monday when it comes up.
Hon. M. Polak: I call Motion 5.
[Be it resolved that this House urges the Government to immediately halt the closure of group homes in British Columbia.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, unanimous consent of the House is required to proceed with Motion 5 without disturbing the priorities of motions preceding it on the order paper.
Private Members' Motions
MOTION 5 — GROUP HOME CLOSINGS
N. Simons: To repeat the motion: "Be it resolved that this House urges the Government to immediately halt the closure of group homes in British Columbia."
For those listening at home or in the gallery, we're talking about group homes that are provided for people with developmental disabilities to live as inclusively in our communities as possible.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
When our institutions for people with developmental disabilities were closed in the '60s, '70s and '80s as the world became more cognizant of the fact that we had a potential to include people in our communities and recognize the contributions that all people make to our societies, we said that our institutions were anachronistic.
We needed to move people into our communities, and we did so by creating a network of homes where people in groups of three, four and five lived together in a way where they became best friends. They were peers. They were participants in events together. They participated in day programs. They attended work programs together. They lived as a family in a group home with people who knew how to care for these individuals, who knew what their needs were — what their medical needs were, what their social needs were, what their emotional needs were, and physical needs. It was a system and it has been a system that has served people with developmental disabilities extremely well in this province for many years.
As recently as three years ago the government introduced what was called the residential options review. At that time concerns were raised by community members about this attempted closure of group homes, to move people from these homes into a less expensive model called home share. Home shares are similar to a foster care system where you have parents who have maybe a family of their own, and they have room in their home to allow for another person to live where they will be supported.
I would like to point out that in some cases home shares are the perfect system to care for people, and there are wonderful home-share providers in this province. But what recently has happened is that the government has decided that the cost of group homes is too expensive, and they would like to move everybody they can into a home-share situation. You know, the residential options review obviously did not result in enough adults deciding to move willingly into home-share situations, so the government came back with what they called the guide for service allocation.
For those who aren't familiar with the sector, this is a guide where social workers go around the province and assess the disability-related needs of individuals. They figure out what the specific needs of these individuals are, and they put them on a rating scale, one to five in terms of needs, with certain flags. So you could be a person with a four and two flags, or you could be a
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three with one flag. Not to overcomplicate it, it assessed people on a rating scale, and the government associated a cost with each one of those numbers.
When agencies that run group homes were told that their budget allocation would be reduced because they didn't have enough need in their client base, then group homes started to close, and men and women living together in a supervised and well-managed home suddenly found themselves — in some cases, after 25 years of living together — moving apart.
Now, government promised that the families of these individuals and these individuals themselves would be consulted, and they would be discussing plans with them. They said that nobody would be forced from their group home. They said that repeatedly, on the record — in the House, in the estimates, in the media, to the parents — and we have seen the opposite occur.
We have seen families stressed while they watched their adult child forced from a home they've known and loved into an unknown, into a situation that is new and is challenging and is contrary to what the government has promised.
What is needed right now is for the government to stand and say clearly that the group home closures without adequate consultation was a failed policy. We've seen the chaos in Community Living B.C. and in the Ministry of Social Development. We've had four ministers over a year, a lack of direction, secretive policy implementation, and the result is suffering families. If the government accepts this urge to stop the closure of group homes, then we can deal with the overall bigger problems in Community Living B.C.
I hope the government recognizes and realizes that this is a time to impose a moratorium on the closure of group homes, and I look forward to hearing the comments from the government.
K. Krueger: I thank the member opposite. Everyone knows his dedication to the people he's talking about, and his service and career before he was elected to this House.
I want to congratulate the minister. I think she is absolutely the right person to be heading up the Ministry of Social Development — very intelligent, very highly motivated, a very able representative, in this case, of the adults who are the most vulnerable in British Columbia.
I can vouch from my brief experience of four months in the ministry that she works with an absolutely superb civil service, including the people who work for CLBC. They have all the right motivations. It was thrilling — more than gratifying, thrilling — to work with them. That includes the CLBC staff, managers and the board. There have been some administrative stumbles, and they have not shrunk from saying so. The chair, Denise Turner, and her board had identified some issues that needed addressing. I met with her a number of times, and I met with her board. They are working and were working very hard and quickly to deal with these issues.
One of the challenges that they have faced was the government's realization that there were many, many adults with disabilities in British Columbia who were not aware of the services available to them and were not aware of the superb work that CLBC has been doing for thousands of people. Government directed CLBC to ensure that people gained awareness, and they were encouraged to apply if they had disabilities and had need of those services. They have responded, many of them, and that added significant numbers to the workload.
The government has increased the budget for CLBC every year since 2005 and increased it again just recently. But the services are being spread across more people, so when people do the simple division, sometimes they say that we're spending less per client. Well, we have a whole lot more clients than we did before with CLBC.
So we gave that direction, and we're glad the people have responded. Now there are 13,600 adults with disabilities in British Columbia who are being served from a $710 million budget. Yet there are people waiting for services, because there are many more. CLBC has to prioritize who gets services first, and I believe that very consistently their prioritization is on health and safety considerations.
There is also a factor that in this day and age people have choices, many choices, and they know about them. Institutionalization is not the choice of some people. Some people who have been in group homes choose other alternatives. Group homes are the answer for some people, but not for everybody.
I met a number of people, researched a number of cases, and I'm always involved personally when constituents ask me to be, in my own home riding. I encourage all members on both sides of the House to do that, because sometimes things are not what they appear, and sometimes people who are close to the problem have become so deeply enmeshed in it and so worn out that they are not always thinking about or aware of other solutions.
There was a case that I became familiar with, while I was minister, of a man who had been in a group home for 15 years. His best friend in the group home died of natural causes, and he no longer was happy there. He took a home-share situation, and the family that took him loves him. They take him camping. He had never been camping before. He developed a taste for French cuisine. He has a whole new life, and he's very, very happy there.
There are still 635 group homes in British Columbia. Some have closed because they had no more clients and nobody applying to come to them. But people are aware — families are aware, and the clients themselves are aware — in this age of the Internet of a whole huge range of options.
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There has been a fair amount of dwelling on the negatives in the public debate recently with regard to the CLBC. I can vouch they are great people, the civil service, and Social Development is a wonderful civil service. I attended the opening of a brand-new group home in those four months that I was minister built by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia, just a beautiful place.
So there are still people moving into brand-new group homes, but there are many people opting for other things. The ministry has a budget of well over $2 billion to deal with its clients. It has the responsibility, the ministry does, to lead government's response to the needs of disabled people across government — 17 ministries, while I had the job.
They are the most vulnerable adults in British Columbia, and we need to speak with respect of their problems when we know of them, as individuals and as a group. The inflexibility of a moratorium on the closure of group homes when some have reached the end of their natural existence as a building or as a home…. That inflexibility is not one of the solutions we should be looking at.
C. Trevena: Madam Speaker, I'm speaking in favour of the motion to urge the government to immediately halt the closure of group homes in British Columbia.
It was interesting listening to the member opposite, who actually does admit in his divisions that there have been cuts in CLBC. There are more people using the services of the CLBC, and less money is available for each individual, which I think in most people's terms would equate to a cut.
The member also talks about giving people choice. I think in what we keep hearing about a families-first agenda, the real choice would be allowing people to stay with their families in the group homes that they have established.
Over the last several months and years there have been 65 group homes closed. That's several hundred people who have had to leave the place where they have lived with the support. As the member said, and as I think we all in this House are very aware, these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The group home situation, as my colleague from Powell River–Sunshine Coast described, is a small group where people live together, work together. This is the family base for those people. This is the place of security for them. This is the place for their development. With the closure of a home, their family is being broken up. Their family is being disbanded. The reason it's being disbanded is simply one of cost.
I say simply one of cost because if we really do value where we are, what we're investing in, in our society, we invest in our people. We ensure that we are giving the supports needed to our people — that we are looking after all families, no matter what their makeup. If the families are in a group home and that sort of setting, that's where we should be giving that support.
There was a report a while ago by the Community Living Action Group which found that 90 percent, nine out of ten, residents in group homes didn't want to see a change. They wanted to stay there. They thought this was a good way for them to live.
The closure of group homes in the way that it has been going is very troubling, and there have been a lot of people who have been analyzing this. One of the concerns is that it is likely to be violating the principles of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
We are signatories to many UN conventions, and we should be responsible in that way and realize that everybody has rights and that everybody has the opportunity to ensure they can live in the way that they are going to be safe.
So why have we seen the closure of group homes? It's cost savings. Let's save money. Let's save money for people who don't usually have an opportunity, don't have a voice to listen to. So if we are going to be investing in other ways of looking after people, let's do it more cheaply. That's what I hear from the government side.
Yes, there are the family situations, and for some people that works. But for many people it can also be very precarious. It can leave people very vulnerable, in situations where they aren't going to get the support, the cohesion and the life they deserve, and the life they need.
I think that when we are looking at the adult fostering system, the adult roommate system, we've got to be exceedingly cautious. Unless we have it completely right, I think that we should be making sure that we are keeping the homes open so that people aren't being pushed into a situation that might not be safe.
I think what we're seeing here is just another example of putting a dollar figure on people's heads. These people are simply too expensive, and these families are too expensive, for this government to look after.
I hope that the government looks at this seriously and supports this motion to put a halt on the closure of group homes in our province.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member and recognize the member for Parksville-Qualicum.
R. Cantelon: Madam Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak to this issue.
Certainly, a society is going to be measured by how it looks after its most vulnerable in the society. That has to be the standard to which we aspire to hold ourselves.
I want to first acknowledge the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast. He's been often very, very emotional
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and energetic and passionate about the things I know he holds so clearly in his heart. I want to acknowledge today that he spoke in a very measured way, which tells me how seriously…. When a man who follows these issues so passionately speaks so levelly and logically about this issue, I want to acknowledge that.
Certainly, it is an issue that we all, both sides of this House, share, in looking after those who are the most vulnerable in our society. And we have done much, and we've made much progress, and there's been much to do as we move from institutionalizing — almost warehousing — people to now offering an array. And we're expanding that array of options with families and with people with disabilities. It's a good thing, and we're moving in the right direction.
A good friend of mine, his brother moved out here not long ago, about a year ago, a young man with disabilities. He came because his mother, whom he lived with, had passed away. I went to him, and I said to this young man: "I'm sorry to hear about your mother."
I was quite shocked by the answer. He said, "I hate her," because she never let him out. She kept him in his house. Maybe there was shame — I don't want to impute motives to his late mother — but for whatever reason she felt he was best cared for within the house, within the household, and he was kept there. He was quite anxious to get out.
Then he came from Ontario, and I cast no aspersions onto the Ontario system. I think it was a personal situation. He came here and lived with his brother, and then he discovered Community Living and some of these outreach services they had offered to him. His life changed, and his demeanour changed. He became more fulfilled. I think this fulfilment is really something we all strive for.
It's not just a matter of warehousing them or even keeping them in a home or a shared residence, or whatever it might be, but to encourage and to offer facilities so that every person in our society can fulfil themselves to the extent of their capabilities. Now this gentleman has moved out. I'm honestly not sure whether he's in a group home or a home share, but he cut that final tie with his family, and now he's embraced living on his own.
I want to salute, too, the many corporate people we have supporting this, that encourage the development and the employment of people with lower standards of abilities and that encourage them to fulfil themselves by making a contribution in the workforce and earning a living. Certainly, even if it's a partial living, they're encouraged. Their dignity, their sense of self worth, their fulfilment is increased. That's an important aspect of the entire Community Living package.
I'd like to take particular note of the tone of the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast. He didn't say, "I demand," as he has often done. He didn't stand and pound on the table. He said: "I urge the government to make this change." I think in doing so he recognized — and I, too, understand — that there is no quick, simple solution. We need to look at that as one of the solutions. I would submit, Madam Speaker, that we need to look at other options as a solution.
This isn't about numbers. We can quote the numbers, but I think the numbers aren't appropriate when you're dealing with human suffering and concerns. We have increased the budget for CLBC. We recognized lately that we had to top that up some more, and we did, to try and reach the most urgent cases. We're attempting to do that. Still more needs to be done, and I don't disagree that we need to look at the situation. I think all members on both sides of the House would support this — that we move forward and address these urgent concerns.
The needs are changing. I think this is clear. Medical conditions are changing. People are staying healthier thanks to our health care system, living longer in these homes. People are being diagnosed earlier with developmental disabilities and, again, are living longer. So we need to move forward, we need to adapt the services that we provide, and we need to have these discussions with Community Living.
As the member on this side mentioned, there are many dedicated civil servants in the system working hard to improve the conditions for everybody. I think that's what members on both sides of this House would want us to see — to move forward expeditiously to meet the needs of these many people.
S. Simpson: I am pleased to rise to speak to this motion. The member across the way who just spoke talked about numbers. Well, the reality is this. Of the 13,600 or so people that are registered with CLBC, over 2,800 of those people are receiving either no service or less services than they require, based on CLBC's own estimates. That's the reality. That's the people we're dealing with. There are many out there in the community who would say those numbers are even larger, and that's the challenge we face today.
The members over there talk about choice in terms of group homes, and I would agree with the critic for Community Living B.C. when he says that there are many excellent home shares. Home shares are an appropriate choice for a number of people, but they are not appropriate for everybody. They are not the choice of everybody.
There are many, many people who have been in group homes and have been forced out of those group homes not by their choice, not by their family's choice but simply because they've had their allocation of resources to get services reduced to the amount that they could no longer stay in those group homes. That's the reality of the situation.
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That comes back to the comments that the critic made about the guide for service allocation. This is a guide that was developed who knows where, but it's a guide that, for example, says: "We will look at a snapshot of somebody's circumstances today. We will not look at their history, nor will we allow you to look at what their future might hold. We look at today."
Now, how absurd is that? For somebody with a developmental disability, you're not going to consider their past, you're not going to consider the circumstances, and you're not going to consider how their current situation — whether it be a group home or other programs — might have, in fact, improved their lives as you measure their situation today and you look at where they might be in the future. It was a document that, sadly, looked a whole lot more like it was about budgeting than it was about meeting the needs of people and choices of people.
I know that members on this side — every member, almost, on this side — has heard from families in their communities who are anxious and desperate about their loved ones, and I am convinced that I could go member by member, almost, on that side and get the same stories in a private moment.
There are stories about constituents who are coming and saying: "I don't know what's going to happen to my loved one because they're 17, they're 18 and they're aging out. They're with Children and Families today, and in six months they'll be with CLBC, and I don't have a plan for them yet" or "We're caring for our loved one. We have some respite services, but we need more. We need a couple more days a week to make this thing work."
Or they're being forced out of a group home, and that's not what they want. They've been there ten or 15 years. They want to stay in their group home, and they're not having that choice.
I'm sure that members on that side, just like members on this side, are hearing that day in and day out. The reality is this: we have to stop these closures for now. And the other reality is that we have to recognize what's happening. This service is in trouble. CLBC is in trouble. We had a minister removed a couple of weeks ago largely related to this question. We had the CEO of CLBC fired on Friday because of these issues.
It's time to look at that organization — an external review to look hard at that organization and get to the solution. Does it involve resources? Absolutely there's a need for resources, but there are other things going on there. I know as well that I've spoken to people involved in CLBC directly. I know others have, who raise those concerns from the inside and say: "We need to have a look at this organization." And that needs to happen.
While that's happening, we need to take the advice of the critic for Community Living B.C. here, halt these group home closures, halt what's going on here, take a hard look. Because I would agree with members over there who said that all of us care about our most vulnerable citizens. All of us care about the developmentally disabled in this province. All of us know that we cannot fix our challenges on their backs. I know that.
We need to halt what's going on, take a good look at this, solve this problem now and move on, but we are not doing that with the way we're going today. I understand the realities behind not getting supported, but I would hope members would support this motion.
I would hope members on that side would go back and talk to the Premier, talk to the minister, talk to their cabinet colleagues, and we can find a way to resolve this. This issue needs to be fixed, and it needs to be fixed now.
N. Letnick: Just to acknowledge what the previous speaker said. It's true. We all care for people with developmental disabilities. We all meet them in our offices. We meet their families. We listen to their stories. I remember the Start with Hi program just last year. It was in one of my shopping malls back in Kelowna, and I had an opportunity to work with people with developmental disabilities on just simply saying hi and talking about their issues. That was a big move forward.
Also the Special Olympics. We had a fundraiser in my community where they had to achieve a certain goal, and to do that they would jail people. I was one of the people that got jailed. I had to call around and get people to bail me out. So I'll make sure I add a few members opposite to my Rolodex for that purpose for next year.
When we achieve a certain goal…. They offered a shaving of the head — not that they had far to go with my head. But still, it was a great way of participating with people with developmental disabilities. But I digress.
So here's what I've learned over that time. I've learned that these are wonderful, humble people who don't fall into one-size-fits-all. As one of them told me, they don't have developmental disabilities. They have diversabilities because they come in all shapes and sizes and all have different needs.
Prior to '85 we protected people with developmental disabilities by isolating them in institutions. From then to now we care for them mostly in smaller staff facilities, and today we are finding ways to support people with developmental disabilities so they can live and participate in the communities where they live.
Even though some group homes have closed over the past few years, the number of people living in group homes has increased, and I think we have to make sure we state that fact. Halting the closure of group homes is at best an ineffective measure to a complicated challenge and, worse, may threaten the well-being of the very people we're trying to help through the misuse of resources and, in some cases, where there are health or safety issues that are discovered.
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There are times when the owner of a home chooses to close the home themselves. There are other times the home is near empty because people die or move to other group homes that better suit their needs. Forcing the home to stay open while vacant or near vacant is a precious waste of resources that could be better used to serve other CLBC clients or them themselves in other situations. Sometimes the needs of an individual change, and their current home is no longer suitable.
No organization is perfect. CLBC has acknowledged that mistakes were made in respect to consulting the families early in the process of changes and moves. I'm not standing here to defend them. Change is a very difficult thing for anyone, in particular for people who are vulnerable. CLBC must do a better job, and government agrees.
The Minister of Social Development met with many of the groups who have concerns with CLBC and told the media, I believe last week, that there are some challenges in the system at the moment. CLBC has acknowledged that there have been some mistakes made in how they have handled some of their relationships with families and that communication needs to improve.
The recent funding increase of nearly $9 million will help CLBC provide new and additional services to approximately 540 people, who will be prioritized based on greatest need. These actions taken last week to give CLBC more resources are a good start.
The decision by CLBC to find a new CEO more in line with the board's vision was also necessary. Last week the CLBC board chair said: "The board has a vision for the evolution of the organization which will require new leadership to move it forward." But it'll take a little time to find the right person with the right fit.
I know that when I had the privilege of being chair of the hospital board in Banff, I had to fire a CEO and find a new one because our vision of the board changed. It takes time. It doesn't happen overnight, to get the person on the ground and running.
Placing CLBC in a group home straightjacket during this time of leadership change will not serve the needs of the people with diverse abilities best. Yes, the process towards group home closures should take much more time as necessary and be done right, with the best interests of people with developmental diversities at heart. But to place a moratorium on all closures is the wrong approach.
It's the wrong approach for those who want to ensure that the CLBC's evolution is driven by the community and will result in good-quality individualized support for all persons with diverse individual developmental needs and their families.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to the motion.
J. Kwan: I rise to speak to this motion that my colleague the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast has tabled, which we're discussing. The motion, just to be clear, says that the "House urges the Government to immediately halt the closure of group homes in British Columbia."
We have to think about why this motion is here. Why are we talking about this? What led to this stage? The fact is that so far, 65 group homes have closed across the province of British Columbia, and more are coming. For months now members of the opposition have been talking to family members and self-advocates who have been impacted by the closure of group homes.
Now, the government would like to say that nobody is being forced out of the group homes. But I don't know how else to define it when a family member and a resident of a group home are told that their home is going to close, that it's going to close on this date and that that's what's going to happen.
Then they say: "But we're going to consult with you." But how is that going to erase the fact that they are, in fact, being forced out of their group home? And that is the reality of many families. They're thrown into chaos. They are in tremendous stress. In fact, some families are in crisis mode because of that.
The government says: "We all care for you, and we respect you, and we're going to listen to you." If the government was going to do that, then the government would, in fact, support this motion. In fact, the government would halt the closure of group homes and stop to think for a moment, to talk to the families, to the residents, to the advocates and the front-line workers, because they have the solutions, and then come forward with the best options.
People talk about options. Then come forward with the best options in conjunction, in consultation, in collaboration with the families and the residents and the front-line workers. That would be a solution.
We're not talking about putting a moratorium on the closure of group homes forever. Maybe we need to do that in terms of further group homes, but maybe not. But I argue not, and the opposition doesn't see that the closure of group homes would serve the needs of British Columbians. Why do we say that? Because we know that there are at least 1,200 other people waiting for a group home right now in the province of British Columbia. If, in fact, there's no need for a group home bed, then there wouldn't be a wait-list — would there? You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. The math just doesn't work out.
In the meantime, while you have 1,200 people waiting for a group home bed, the government says: "But we should close group home beds. We don't need them anymore. Those beds are sitting empty."
Do you know why they are sitting empty? They are sitting empty because the government refuses to fund them,
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not because there's not a need for the beds. There's no money to run these beds. That's why they're sitting empty.
The government says that some of those group homes need to close because people are aging out of those group homes. Well, I know of group homes where residents in that group home are being forced to leave that group home because that group home is closing, not because they're aging out, not because the facility is antiquated. It's a purpose-built facility for people with developmental disabilities and their needs.
They are being closed because of budgetary constraints. That's why that's happening. It's not because there isn't a need for it. It's not because the families want to have different options. It's because the government refuses to listen to the families, and it's driven by a policy decision of funding cuts. That's where we're at.
We talk about — we as a society — wanting to care for the most vulnerable. And so we should. We have a responsibility for that, and we show the rest of the world how well we manage and how well we do that job when people judge that on how we treat those who are most vulnerable. Forcing people out of group homes — people with developmental disabilities — is the wrong thing to do.
Many of the families of people with developmental disabilities are aging themselves. I talked to a mother who is in her 80s. She finally thought that she could rest in peace because her son is in a group home and is well placed and living happily. Then lo and behold, she got the news to say that that the group home is going to close, and the enormous stress that she's experiencing is beyond words. That's the reality of what's happening with the government policies today.
CLBC is in crisis. It's causing families to be in crisis. Untold stress is being experienced by the family, and that needs to stop.
It starts with the motion that my good colleague the critic on this issue has tabled in this House. Calling for a moratorium is the right thing to do. It is time to stop and to reflect and to see what we're doing and how we should be proceeding. Let's begin by respecting the families and taking away that stress from them. Stop the closure of group homes.
R. Hawes: I'm going to start by talking about a couple of my constituents — a man in his 70s with a wife that's slipping into Alzheimer's. They have a 50-year-old developmentally disabled child. They've looked after that boy for 50 years. Now, they get three days a week of respite for the boy, but the father has said: "I can't look after my wife. I have a heart condition that has started. I can't look after the boy and my wife. I need two more days a week of respite, and I think I can cope."
He was told that there is no availability of more service for him, so he's facing the heartbreaking choice of giving up his son to care, which is going to cost more. I have a little bit of trouble understanding the rationale there.
A single mother, whose 19-year-old daughter is aging out, worked while her daughter was going to school, but now she has been told there is no service available. This girl, who I met with, needs 24-7 care. The mother was told: "If you have to give up your job, I guess you have to go on welfare." That's not right.
I met with a family with a son who is in his 20s and who is over six feet tall and weighs 240 pounds. He has become violent. The family had to give him up into care, and they put him in a home share. He lasted two weeks and became violent in the home that he was placed in. He needed to go into a group home. It was a fight, a real hard fight, to find a space for him. Definitely, he has to be in a group home.
CLBC was originally set up with parents and self-advocates as a big part of developing both the mission and the vision, and that stresses choice, if you read the CLBC website. In this House we heard the previous minister and we also heard the previous CEO of CLBC say that no one gets moved without it being their choice, without them agreeing. But we know that that hasn't been what has been happening.
This motion, I think though, is just a little overly simplistic, and that's why I have a little problem with it. This is a very complex problem.
We've got a lot of parents that have looked after their kids for their whole life, and these parents are now approaching maybe 80 years old. They have to turn their kids over; they can't look after them anymore.
So it's not that there's no…. Home share might be quite appropriate for them. There's a much bigger problem here.
To me, if the motion were more like a top-to-bottom examination of CLBC, which included the parents and the self-advocates that originally set this up…. The second part of that should be that we immediately move — because that's going to take time, to do that examination — to provide service for those needing it, appropriate service, which to the greatest extent possible honours both the vision and the mission of CLBC. That's what we need to do. We need to give those families that today aren't seeing hope…. We need to give them hope, and we need to give it to them now.
In the over ten years that I've been in this Legislature, there's no issue that's caused me more loss of sleep or more concern for those most vulnerable people. We need to act now.
M. Sather: It's my pleasure to rise to speak to this motion to place a moratorium on the closure of group homes. It's so totally disingenuous of the government to say that no one is being forced to leave their group home. They know that that's not true, and they shouldn't say it.
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I want to talk about one of my constituents and the experience that she had in being forced out of her group home. She had two assessments, one in July of 2010 and one just six months later in January of 2011, with the aforementioned Guide to Support Allocation tool. Here are some of the things they said about my client. Note that the higher the score you get, the more need you have.
Under "Meeting routine personal care needs" in 2010, "Independently completes few or no routine personal care tasks, level 4," but in January, "Independently completes many routine personal care tasks, level 2."
"Making day-to-day decisions." July: "Requires regular guidance to make day-to-day decisions independently, level 3." January: "Independently makes all decisions about routine daily matters, level 1."
"Safety within the community," a most important factor. In July: "Requires full support to safely access the community, level 5." That's the highest level you can be assessed at. But in January: "Requires minimal or intermittent support to safely access the community, level 2."
"Community participation." July: "Independently participates in some activities outside the home, level 3." January: "Independently participates in all activities outside the home, level 2."
"Complex health needs" — July, "Requires full support to manage complex and persistent health needs," but in January, "Requires minimal or intermittent support to access complex health needs."
"Complex risks and actions." In July: "Requires full support to keep self and others safe." But in January: "Requires only regular guidance to keep self and others safe, level 3."
In other words, over the period of six months my constituent's assessment went from a 3.9 to a 1.9 — a miraculous change in six months. This is what this government has been doing. This is what they're doing to disenfranchise my constituents and other individuals with similar needs throughout this province from receiving services, and they should not stand in this House and presume to mislead any of us by saying that no one is forced to leave their group home.
Now, I talked to my wife about this. She said: "It makes me want to cry when I hear what's being done." We all should want to cry, and the government should want to confess, quite frankly, that they have not been telling the truth about these folks being forced to leave their homes.
G. Hogg: Thank you to the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast for bringing this issue forward today. As I reflect on some of the issues that I've heard from both sides of the House, I am in agreement with most of the things that are being said.
I have learned some of the most important lessons I've learned in my life through the developmentally disabled people who have been a part of my life, who've helped me to understand what it means to live in a world that is compassionate and caring and consistent and understanding. I continue to receive a phone call about once every two days from one of those friends, who reminds me of the importance of us not looking at these things from a totally rational perspective but from a very humanitarian perspective, a very emotional perspective.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I think both sides of this House, for probably over 30 years, have ensured that British Columbia be on the forefront of services to the developmentally disabled. Both sides of this House have made important decisions to ensure that we deinstitutionalized — and we're one of the leaders in deinstitutionalization — and that we developed programs that were consistent with the best interests and best needs of those involved with Community Living.
When CLBC was put together, I had the privilege of meeting with many parents and families who were expressing a desire to have a different service delivery model, one that wasn't so specifically tied to the paternalistic or hierarchical nature of government. They wanted to have an arm's-length engagement where they were a part of the co-creation of the development of policies that were in the best interests of their children and of their families and the values that are reflected in that and the legislation and the policy that grew out of it, talking about support for families making their own decisions, respect for the important role of families and friends in people's lives, and moving to individualized funding models.
The individualized funding models mean that there is a specific funding model that caters to the nuances and needs of an individual and family, not a decision that is made in a much more macro sense.
As a former line worker, I found that I was often bound by policies that didn't allow me to specifically respond to specific needs of individuals, of families, that didn't allow me to have a sensitive response to the needs of those families. And I think that while I agree with the direction and the intent of this motion, my concern, as I reflect back to my days of making those decisions and being involved in them, is that if I were back in that position again, I would not have the ability to make decisions on a case management principled perspective.
We want to have staff who have the moral will to do the right thing, the moral skill to determine what the right thing is, and the resources and support to be able to make those decisions. I think that is, for me, the way that we can best respond to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, ensuring that we have confidence in our staff.
There have been some decisions made which give us all cause for concern — perhaps more than cause for
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concern. I think that some of the specific examples that have been given are reflective of hitting our core values as a society and hitting them in a way which I'm not comfortable with and which I don't think anyone in this House is comfortable with. An understanding of that, I think, is oh, so important as we proceed.
So while I share the concerns and the expression of the issue, I don't think the remedy is to lock to an outcome. I think the remedy is to ensure that the resources are there so that our staff, who are working day to day with families and with individuals, have the ability to make their professional judgments, judgments which are so important in dealing with everyone, but particularly so important in dealing with the developmentally disabled.
You need to have the flexibility as a line worker to develop a case management plan that responds to the individual, to the family and to the community. You need to be engaged in a process for doing that.
I totally get and agree with the concerns being expressed. I think the remedy is one that's going to have to engage a much more flexible way of responding to it. It requires some resources to do that, requires some flexibility for the line staff to do that, and make good decisions which respond to the values that we want to reflect as a society, the values we want to express as Canadians and as British Columbians, and that will allow us to get back into the forefront of the delivery of services that successive governments in this province have put us in.
So while I support the concern on the issue, I don't support the remedy that's coming forward. I think that we need to have a remedy, and I think a number of people have expressed what some of those remedies might be. I hope that we come up with those remedies very quickly.
M. Karagianis: Listening to the comments from both sides of the House this morning, I rise to support the motion that's been put forward by the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast. I was particularly struck by the comments of the member for Abbotsford-Mission, who clearly outlined exactly the kinds of stories that we are hearing on our side of the House and that are really the impetus for this motion.
The system is failing families. Whether we want to equivocate on how that is occurring and to what degree, it is failing families, and there is no question about that. We have all heard those stories. Both sides of the House are discussing that this morning.
You know, I have a family that asked me about the common sense of government and said: "Why is it that government can spend billions of dollars on a new roof for a sports arena but can't spend any dollars to help my child aging out?" It's 1,200 people on a wait-list for group homes and 2,800 admitted individuals waiting for services, either underserved or receiving no services.
So when families look at the priorities of government and say, "Why, on the one hand, can they spend unlimited amounts of money on infrastructure, but they cannot provide basic services for the most vulnerable?" it doesn't make sense, and the families feel that the system is failing them.
I would say that given the supportive comments from many members of the other side of the House today, I don't understand why we wouldn't be able to pass this motion and support it as one solution for the current crisis that families are facing. It is one step forward to support this and halt the closure until more work can be done. Members on both sides of the House have admitted that that is what needs to happen, so I would urge both sides of the House to support this.
M. Karagianis moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. M. Polak moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:58 a.m.
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