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
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Volume 29, Number 5
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Impact of poverty on children and Harlem Children's Zone
Fort Nelson schools and Rachel's Challenge program for social change
Forest industry in Fraser-Nicola constituency
The Boulders Climbing Gym in Saanich
Forest Service and forest industry conditions
Tourism development in mountain regions
Auditor General report on forest management and status of forest lands
Hon. S. Thomson
Forest industry jobs and log export policy
Hon. S. Thomson
Timber supply and mill operations in Burns Lake area
Hon. P. Bell
Delays in court proceedings in Chilliwack
Hon. S. Bond
Government action on delays in court proceedings
Hon. S. Bond
Freedom-of-information request on prevention of homophobic and transphobic bullying
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 18 — Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. N. Yamamoto
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2012
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
S. Simpson: I'm really pleased to have the opportunity to introduce one of my constituents who is here visiting us today. Susinn McFarlen is an actor and a playwright. She's currently starring in a one-woman show at the Belfry Theatre here in Victoria. Susinn plays three different characters in On the Edge, which will have you laughing and thinking about the complicated lives of women in today's world.
Last summer I had the pleasure, along with my wife, to see Susinn's play, which she wrote for the fringe festival, called Since You Left Us. It was a wonderful, hilarious story about life in general. I would hope that the whole House would welcome Susinn here today and wish her the best for a great run at the Belfry here.
K. Krueger: With us in the House this afternoon we have our legislative assistant Robert Scherf, from my pod, and our new assistant legislative assistant Suneil Karod. I'd ask the House to please make them welcome. They're a great help to us.
Hon. H. Bloy: It's a real pleasure to rise in the House today and introduce a group from the Tri-Cities area, A Chance to Choose. I've participated with this group since the beginning — about ten years now — and it gives young students a second chance. I know from meeting this group today and co-hosting a lunch with my colleagues from Coquitlam-Maillardville and Coquitlam–Burke Mountain — it was a real pleasure — that they'll have lots of success.
I'd just like to introduce them and read their names in the House: Jennifer Carver, Seka Evans, Trevor Faucher, Troy Grant, Michael Hooper, Dorianna Kallstrom, Kevin Li, Natalie Parfitt, Stephanie Polok, Jesse Ricard, Sarah Villanueva and Dylan Walker. We have some staff that have been here from the very beginning as well. Some of them: Evelyn Humphreys, Bob Lewis, Susannah Kloegman and Aman Tatla. Would the House please make them welcome.
D. Thorne: I would like to join my colleague from the other side of the House in welcoming the staff and students from A Chance to Choose in the Tri-Cities. I, too, have been involved since the very beginning — in fact, before I became an MLA — when I was a city councillor. It's a wonderful program. We always enjoy attending the events put on by A Chance to Choose, and we hope they continue into infinity. I would also like, on behalf of our side, to make them very welcome.
L. Reid: We were joined both yesterday and today by two dear colleagues of mine. Ellen Chambers and I taught together in the Richmond school district many moons ago. Our speech-language clinician, Dianne Milsom, has joined us as well. She and I spent many years in the Richmond school district. Dianne is still in Richmond. Ellen is now at the North Island College in Port Alberni. I'd ask the House to please make them welcome.
(Standing Order 25B)
IMPACT OF POVERTY ON CHILDREN
AND HARLEM CHILDREN'S ZONE
J. Kwan: A child's potential in school won't be reached if that child's family is struggling with basic needs. If you're a parent that has suddenly lost your job, your child is impacted. If you're a parent that juggles two to three minimum-wage jobs to try and make ends meet, your child is impacted. If you're a parent who can't afford to buy enough healthy food, your child is impacted. If you can't find affordable housing for your family, your child is impacted. If you've escaped homelessness by moving into a home that's infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, your child is impacted.
One common denominator with all of the challenges of these families is poverty. Teachers, community advocates, experts, support workers and families are all asking: how can we work together to end poverty? Many feel that we have the potential to tackle this inequity gap.
In Harlem they have created a Harlem Children's Zone, where they seek to eradicate poverty through education and place-based services. Their expectation for children there is one of success. The Harlem Children's Zone is a 100-square-block area of Manhattan that acts as a network for community groups and programs to ensure that a range of support services are available to children and families literally block by block.
Their originating idea was to address the problems that poor families were facing, from crumbling apartments to children falling behind in school, from violent crime to chronic health problems. Yes, a place-based approach means adequate funding to deliver programs and services. But it's about more than just spending money. It's about working together to coordinate services and make sure that a child's every need is met at the time of need.
Tomorrow members of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association will join with community members, researchers and advocates to discuss ways to work together. Teachers know that these problems need
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to be addressed and that they have a crucial role to play. But like parents, like child care workers and like community groups, they can't do it alone. Let's work together to find ways to ensure that every child has a chance to succeed, even ones that are not our own.
FORT NELSON SCHOOLS AND
RACHEL'S CHALLENGE PROGRAM
FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
P. Pimm: Hon. Speaker, I'd like to tell you a little bit about Rachel's Challenge. I recently had the privilege of visiting elementary and high schools in Fort Nelson, which is one of my northern communities, where they're running an inspirational program for social change called Rachel's Challenge.
Rachel Joy Scott was the first victim of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. She left behind an amazing legacy in the form of a challenge — to treat each other with kindness and compassion. This challenge has become the foundation for life-changing school programs across North America.
Fort Nelson schools are currently leading the implementation of Rachel's Challenge programs in B.C. and Canada. The five schools in school district 81 and an independent elementary school operated by the Fort Nelson First Nation, Chalo School, have created a Friends of Rachel Club to promote kindness and compassion within their schools and their communities.
Last year the Friends of Rachel Club coordinated several activities, including an anti-bullying poster contest, a seniors brunch and tea, and various community educational programs.
During my visit I was delighted to see students performing daily acts of kindness, such as sitting with students who usually sit alone at lunchtime, opening doors for each other and befriending new students. Students also meet weekly goals by writing letters of appreciation to janitors or cafeteria staff or just saying hello to five new people a day.
As the MLA for Peace River North, I feel incredibly proud to represent the interests of my community and my province. I'm especially proud to support initiatives like these in our schools. Fort Nelson schools deserve our recognition and congratulations for their innovative and inspirational Rachel's Challenge program.
FOREST INDUSTRY IN
H. Lali: Forestry is the largest employer and is also the lifeblood of Fraser-Nicola, providing well-paying, family-supporting jobs. The history and future of forest communities is forged by the health and sustainability of our forests. When forestry does well, so do my constituents.
Most of my family members, relatives and friends have worked in forestry. I financed my university education by working in Merritt sawmills. On some days, when the wind blows in the direction coming from the local sawmills, I can smell the sweet smell of money — lumber, bark, sawdust and wood chips, that is.
In 1991 there were vibrant forestry operations in most of my communities in Yale-Lillooet. I worked with the jobs protection commissioner and personally intervened to save sawmills. We saved 70 jobs at Lytton Lumber, 124 in the Aspen-Weyerhaeuser deal in Merritt and 240 jobs at J.S. Jones Timber in Boston Bar.
When I left office in 2001, we had eight sawmills, eight reman, or value-added, operations and a couple of dozen small-scale salvage operations. Between '91 and 2001 an additional 300 permanent forestry jobs were created in the riding. We also had 109 forest ministry personnel managing our forests in Fraser-Nicola. Forestry workers had jobs, and communities had stable tax bases.
Unfortunately, since the last 11 years forestry has been devastated by mill closures and massive job losses. Eighty sawmills and pulp mills closed, 40,000 employees out of work in B.C., sawmills in Boston Bar and Lytton closed, Interfor in Hope gone, half of the value-added outfits out of business in Fraser-Nicola and small-scale salvage operators driven out of business due to lack of fibre in the last 11 years.
The forestry service in Fraser-Nicola has been reduced by 67 percent — from 109 down to 36 employees today. In addition, 500 local forestry jobs lost since 2001.
Forestry is the lifeblood of Fraser-Nicola. Forest-dependent communities need a lifeline, not inaction and punitive policies that suck the very lifeblood out of Fraser-Nicola.
THE BOULDERS CLIMBING GYM
M. Stilwell: Climbing is one of North America's fastest-growing sports and has been short-listed as a full-medal sport for the 2020 Olympics. Canada's first world-class climbing facility has just opened in B.C. This newly expanded climbing gym also highlights a unique partnership between a volunteer-driven not-for-profit organization and a school district, because this new gym is located in a public secondary school in Central Saanich.
Called the Boulders Climbing Gym, it offers unique programs, from school-based programs to youth climbing teams as well as climbing therapy and adaptive recreation programs. It turns out that climbing is an excellent form of therapy for a range of challenges from autism spectrum disorder to stroke rehabilitation. The facility opens to the public on evenings and weekends to subsidize its community programs.
It also turns out some of Canada's top youth climbers. These climbers were training on a 24-foot wall, then
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heading to world championships, where they competed on 50- to 60-foot walls. These young athletes were literally being shortchanged, and so the Boulders decided, once again, to expand.
The $3 million facility officially opened in December, thanks to a dedicated volunteer board and funding from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as many private donors, including the Peninsula Co-op and the Gwyn Morgan and Patricia Trottier Foundation. The new facility continues to offer all of the successful programs but has added a host of new ones.
The Boulders, in partnership with school district 63, started a climbing academy that has attracted students from all over. This facility is a great example of people making the most of our public facilities through unique partnerships between schools and the communities they serve while helping everyone live healthier lives.
FOREST SERVICE AND
FOREST INDUSTRY CONDITIONS
B. Simpson: One hundred years ago the B.C. Forest Service was established. In its first service plan B.C.'s forests are described as one of the few remaining "great bodies of commercial timber left in the world which are not yet materially reduced by destructive lumbering." And a warning is given that jurisdictions which overexploit their forest resources end up putting more money into maintaining what's left of the resource than they gain from continued exploitation.
The Royal Commission on Forestry, which gave rise to the Forest Service, believed that a stand-alone service would protect B.C.'s forests from the politics of the day. The commission noted: "Forest policy that vacillates, not because fresh knowledge of forests has been obtained but simply because changes have taken place in politics, can have no value."
One hundred years ago B.C.'s forests were viewed as an inexhaustible public resource that would remain so under the wise management of a professional forest service designed to protect B.C.'s forests from both wasteful fires and whimsical politicians in order to feed a growing lumber industry.
One hundred years later we're struggling to provide mills with logs, large portions of the province no longer have any lumbering operations, revenue from forestry has dropped below the costs of publicly administering the resource, and the entire Forest Service, at the whim of politicians, has been absorbed into an omnibus ministry.
Professional foresters are now being trained as FrontCounter specialists, whose main objective is to facilitate easier access to B.C.'s natural resources.
As we celebrate its 100th anniversary, it's fair to say that the B.C. Forest Service faces an uncertain future, as uncertain as the future of the forests it was established to steward for generations yet to come.
IN MOUNTAIN REGIONS
B. Bennett: Even when opportunity knocks, a person still has to get up out of his seat and open the door. I got out of my seat last week and travelled to the Rhône-Alpes region of France, and what I learned convinces me that there is an opportunity for jobs and investment in rural B.C. communities through sustainable tourism development in collaboration with the French.
I want to report briefly today on what I learned and how we can apply that learning to B.C. First, their ski runs in the Alps are at higher elevations than ours, which means that they can provide guaranteed good skiing — good snow when people want to ski, even in the summer. In B.C. guaranteed snow at Christmas would be a huge advantage over our competitors in Colorado and Alberta.
The next thing I learned is the extraordinarily close and cooperative relationship between the resorts and surrounding communities. We were told that this was not always the case. But today local people in the Alps are positive about the overall impact of the resort industry on their communities.
The third thing I learned was how extensive the infrastructure is to transport ordinary European families up into the high mountains. You needn't hire a helicopter or be extremely young or fit to access high terrain in the Alps.
I do not propose that we commercialize our mountains in B.C. or try to duplicate what they have in the Alps today, but what's wrong with developing one or two high-mountain, iconic experiences in our province that will give our tourism industry a competitive edge? What's wrong with opening up access for ordinary people to experience the majesty of the alpine?
We have the opportunity to invite into B.C. an investment in sustainable tourism development and to create jobs for families in rural B.C. A window of opportunity has appeared. Let's get out of our seats, go to that window of opportunity and raise the shade.
AUDITOR GENERAL REPORT
ON FOREST MANAGEMENT
AND STATUS OF FOREST LANDS
A. Dix: It's wonderful to be here today. The really good news today is that I think that a by-election is going to be called soon in Chilliwack.
For several years now workers forestry experts and communities have warned that our forests and forest industry are in jeopardy because of Liberal government policies. Today the province's Auditor General agreed
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with their assessment. He said in his report that the ministry lacks clearly defined objectives. He says that the ministry's management practices are insufficient.
Does the minister accept the Auditor General's conclusion about the performance of his ministry, and what action is he going to take to deal with it?
Hon. S. Thomson: First, I want to acknowledge and thank the Auditor General for the work that he's done. There are recommendations in there that are important for us to consider. There are also recommendations in there that the ministry is and has been working on as part of our overall delivery in meeting the legislative mandate that we have within the ministry. That mandate includes ensuring that we have healthy forests and ensuring that we have a competitive industry in British Columbia.
We have published a round table, extensive work through the round-table process. We're reporting out on the progress of that round table, and we will continue to work with the industry to ensure that we meet those objectives within our ministry of a healthy forest and a competitive industry in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: The report concludes that the ministry doesn't monitor effectively. It concludes that they haven't invested in the public interest, and it concludes that they have abandoned their public responsibility to manage the resource. In short, it concludes that the ministry is not just failing in the present — 30,000 jobs lost — but it's failing in the future. I think these are, obviously, critical questions.
The minister, in his response to the report, says, "We also continue to examine approaches for management-unit-level planning as a means to establish and/or refine timber objectives and stewardship principles" — in other words, nothing. They're going to think about doing something about it.
It's a pretty serious situation when you don't know the state of the resource and you're the Minister of Forests. Doesn't that require specific action? Doesn't it require a real inventory so the government itself knows what's going on in the forests?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to be clear what we are doing with respect to reforestation: through Forests for Tomorrow, $236 million since 2005; over 200 million trees planted annually in British Columbia; over $6.1 million being invested currently in inventory work on the ground to ensure that the resources that we have get focused in the highest-priority areas for reforestation. We are making a significant commitment towards reforestation, we're continuing to do the inventory work, and we will continue to focus the resources in those highest-priority areas for reforestation.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: The ministry talks about a results-based approach, and what this report says is that they don't even know the results. I mean, what kind of policy planning is that? It is, in fact, catastrophic planning. Surely the minister will agree with me, or maybe he doesn't. But surely he'll agree with me that B.C. requires a proper inventory of the resource in order to ensure forest health into the future.
Does the minister agree with that? Does he agree with that recommendation? Will he proceed to develop a real inventory in British Columbia so again, like they have in the past, British Columbia Forests Ministers will know what the inventory of the forest is and know what the state of the forest is?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just to be clear, that inventory work is underway. What we do know: 733,000 of NSR land, not satisfactorily restocked land; 500,000 hectares of that land is the responsibility of the licensees to reforest, and 300,000 hectares, roughly, is our responsibility. The Forests for Tomorrow program is committed to do that. We have committed that that would be completed within two years — to reforest that.
We continue to do the inventory work on the rest of the land base to determine where the reforestation initiatives need to take place. But just to be clear, that work…. There are lots of numbers out there. There are lots of estimates about what those numbers are. We need to continue to do the inventory work so that we are clear what those numbers are and where the high-priority areas are for reforestation.
N. Macdonald: You know, there was a time in this province when a Minister of Forests would know the answer, and that time is before the B.C. Liberals took over. Read through the report. The Auditor General could not have been clearer.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
N. Macdonald: The Auditor General could not have been clearer. The ministry doesn't know. The ministry is degrading the forest.
The Auditor General was also clear that the government needs to establish a provincial plan that states its long-term objectives and focuses its resources in order to foster economic stability. Well, you would have thought
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that that's what the ministry was doing. You would have thought that was the job of the Ministry of Forests. And we know that a healthy forest industry needs a healthy forest. What the Auditor General has confirmed again today is that the B.C. Liberals have completely failed to do that. That's what's in that report.
What is going to finally be done by this government? What is it going to take for this government to do the right thing, come up with a plan and treat B.C. forests with the respect that they deserve?
Hon. S. Thomson: I made it clear. We're investing significantly in reforestation initiatives: $236 million since 2005 and 200 million trees planted annually. We continue to work through our seed research station and the seed farm to make sure that we have the species diversity and the types of trees that are available for the industry to ensure that we get maximum productivity in the land base when the reforestation takes place.
As I pointed out, the inventory work continues. We continue to work through to confirm those numbers. That work will continue, and $6.1 million is being invested in inventory work as we move forward with that plan. We will continue to identify and confirm those numbers, and we will continue to put a reforestation plan in place that meets our objectives, meets the objectives of the legislation, ensuring a healthy land base and ensuring a competitive forest industry in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Macdonald: You know, this is the Auditor General who has looked at this, and the Auditor General's conclusion is completely different from what the minister is saying — completely different. This has been a bungled job from the beginning. It's not the first time. This is not new. In my time as critic we have heard this again and again.
In 2009 the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals issued a report critical of the state of forest inventory with recommendations for improvement. Nothing happened after that.
In 2010 the Forests Ministry, in its own self-assessment — this is your ministry — said the inventory for three-quarters of its land base is now 15 to 25 years out of date. That's why the Auditor General says that you don't know what's happening on the land.
More recently, in November 2011, the Forest Practices Board said: "We do not have confidence that the Forests Ministry can adequately describe the current condition of managed forest or track changes in its condition into the future." It said again and again, and every time this is brought to the attention of the government, what happens? The following year — less resources, less capacity.
So the question is: why? Why has the Liberal government refused to address the forest health crisis, when independent experts and even their own ministry officials knew about these very serious problems?
Hon. S. Thomson: The member opposite is wrong in terms of the fact that we're not working on the inventory, that we don't have a plan to work with it. The Forest Practices Board work that's underway will be important, will be very informative to help us work through those plans.
As I said, $6.1 million is being invested in inventory work currently. We're currently working to assess that number. So $236 million in 2005, since the Forests for Tomorrow program, to reforest those high-priority areas.
We will continue to work. We understand the objectives of our legislation to ensure that there is a healthy forest base here in British Columbia. We continue to do that work, and we'll continue to make sure that we have a competitive forest industry into the future.
FOREST INDUSTRY JOBS
AND LOG EXPORT POLICY
B. Routley: The issues the Auditor General criticized the government about today relate to the downfall of the forest industry of the future. I want to talk today about the downfall of the forest industry today. Under this government's watch, B.C. has lost 35,000 good-paying, family-supporting forest industry jobs. This government has overlooked and overseen skyrocketing levels of raw log exports. For most of the 1990s less than a million cubic metres of raw logs were exported from B.C.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
B. Routley: Last Friday B.C. Stats released B.C. log export numbers. In 2011, 5.5 million cubic metres of raw logs were shipped offshore to be processed. This government is shipping raw resources to China. They're creating jobs with our logs. How does creating jobs in China fit with the Premier's so-called jobs plan?
Hon. S. Thomson: The member opposite may not have noticed, and maybe he hasn't read about the recession that this industry has come through, the downturn in the U.S. housing market. What we have done is develop a diversified market for this industry. What that has resulted in, in this province….
Mr. Speaker: Minister, just take your seat for a second.
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Hon. S. Thomson: What that has done…. This province has had a policy that has increased harvest levels; has increased the level of forest exports in British Columbia to $9.95 billion, up from $9.1 billion in 2010 — 7.3 million cubic metres of lumber exports to China. That's a huge increase. That's created the diversity in this province. It's keeping people employed and keeping mills open. That's the equivalent of production from 18 mills in British Columbia. That's 18 mills producing lumber destined for China. That's what is keeping people working in British Columbia. That's what's creating economic activity throughout the province.
C. Trevena: Mr. Speaker, imagine this: stacked logging trucks, nose to tail, from here in Victoria to Thunder Bay, Ontario, at least a five days' drive away. Or picture it this way, Mr. Speaker: from here in Victoria to Campbell River, where we used to have a mill — we don't have a mill anymore — 137 times there and back, logging truck after logging truck loaded. That's the true picture of an export of 5.5 million cubic metres.
It is a resource that has been squandered. It should take 100 years to grow a tree, and what do we do? We harvest them, and we ship them out of our province. We've lost 33 mills on the Island and the coast. China has seen 82 new mills.
I have to ask the minister what job strategy he really is promoting. Is this government so incapable of seeing the true picture of what exporting logs does? To the minister: when are we going to see action so those jobs stay in B.C. for jobs in B.C.?
Hon. S. Thomson: The current policy — which has log exports as part of the policy, as part of the equation that ensures harvesting takes place — ensures that people are working in the forests, ensures truckers are working, ensures equipment suppliers are working in the mills, supporting those mills.
Overall, provincially, less than 10 percent of the total lumber harvested is in the form of log exports. That is what is creating economic activity in the province. That is why we've been able to achieve the export numbers that we have that contribute the revenue to the province that funds our critical programs. That's why we've been able to keep mills open — over two dozen mills opened or reopened in British Columbia as a result of the current policies.
We will continue to work with the industry to diversify the markets, continue to build those markets, continue to be one of the leading softwood lumber exporters in the world.
TIMBER SUPPLY AND MILL OPERATIONS
IN BURNS LAKE AREA
B. Simpson: Would the Minister of Natural Resource Operations please inform the House why the chief forester cannot tell the people of Burns Lake if log supply exists to justify rebuilding the Babine Forest Products mill.
Hon. P. Bell: As the member opposite well knows, given the context of the existing environment and the mountain pine beetle challenges and the timber supply falloff that would occur if no action were taken, in fact there may not be enough timber to supply that market. What we're doing right now is very carefully working through all of the options to see what the possibilities are of ensuring that there is enough timber supply for Hampton to rebuild them, and I'm cautiously optimistic.
It is a process that will take a small amount of time — I think another six or seven weeks — but we need to do that work and make sure that when Hampton does make their decision, they make it with all of the best possible information and, hopefully, put those people back to work.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Simpson: The Lakes timber supply area, which feeds Burns Lake, has the most up-to-date timber supply review in the province to reset the annual allowable cut last July — the most up-to-date. The Minister of Natural Resources has, sitting on his desk, the most up-to-date assessment of options in that area for expanding that cut. Yet with the most up-to-date information available, this government can't answer the question of whether logs exist or not for rebuilding that mill.
That is the situation the Auditor General is pointing out. It applies to every timber supply area in the province and in particular in the mountain pine beetle zone. The issue of Burns Lake is the issue for Vanderhoof and Prince George and Quesnel and Williams Lake and all of those communities, and it needs an answer now. For the $800,000 that this government spent on its jobs strategy, we could have reinventoried the forest.
My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. Will he commit today to make sure that in next week's budget the resources are there to reinventory our forests and answer the question of when mills will close and how communities are going to have to adjust to the post–mountain pine beetle world?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite is oversimplifying the issue, because he well knows that the timber supply just in the Lakes District would not be adequate to support this mill. I'm sure that the member opposite has looked at the numbers. I know he's very knowledgable in this area.
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The issue is that we need to look at the broader region, which the member opposite does point to. So in other words, we need to think about the entire region, starting in Smithers, going to Prince George and down through the Cariboo. So the completion of the member's question in terms of suggesting that we need to figure out a fix for the broader region, I think, is quite accurate.
Hon. P. Bell: However, I do hear the critic opposite suggesting that these logs are going to China. He knows that that is dead wrong. There are no logs coming out of this timber supply area or this region that go to China. In fact, the logs out of this province are typically coastal logs, which don't represent the type of quality that this mill needs.
So I hope that the critic opposite stands up and admits that the timber supply that he's trying to pin the hopes of the people of Burns Lake on has no reflection on this at all.
DELAYS IN COURT PROCEEDINGS
K. Corrigan: Chilliwack has the longest trial delays among B.C.'s provincial courts. On average, there's a 16-month delay to find the next available court date.
On January 30, after a 51-month delay, Judge Wendy Young stayed proceedings in Chilliwack Provincial Court for a drunk-driving case. Worse, in this case the accused was first convicted, then still walked free because of the delay. Judge Young noted that "there has been institutional or systemic delay of approximately 33 months" — almost three years of delay directly attributed by the judge to a system in crisis.
At the very time, the day, that yet another criminal walked free in British Columbia, this time in Chilliwack, the government had sat for almost six months on a scathing audit that said the justice system is in a mess caused by the B.C. Liberal government. To the Attorney General: when is she going to show some leadership and act decisively to fix this intolerable crisis in our justice system?
Hon. S. Bond: As we have said continuously and will continue to say today, any stay is unacceptable. But we actually need to take a look at the broader system. Every year in British Columbia over 100,000 cases go through courts in this province. Stays represent 1/10 of 1 percent. Is that acceptable? No, it's not. But in fact, 99.9 percent of cases in British Columbia come to a conclusion. It's actually time that the members opposite had a constructive dialogue with us about how we can deal with systemic reform in a system badly in need of change.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: Well, last year we had 109 stays in this province. We have Internet predators going free; we have drunk drivers going free. That is not acceptable. It's not acceptable to the victims of these crimes.
This government likes to point out the actions the government has taken or is going to take at some point in the future. It talks about things like the hiring of new judges, but as Associate Chief Judge Gill pointed out: "The appointments have had virtually no net impact on the severe shortage of the complement." In other words, the new judges that the government boasts about are, at best, managing to avoid this crisis from getting even worse.
This case took place in Chilliwack. In fact, Chilliwack faces a litany of problems in its courts. Chilliwack — the longest delays in B.C. in child protection hearings. An average of eight months for a child protection hearing. It's intolerable. Chilliwack — the longest delays in family trials. An average of ten months of delays. Chilliwack — the longest delays in adult criminal two-day trials. An average of 16-month delays. Chilliwack — the third-longest delays for settlements and civil trials.
So again, my question is to the Attorney General. No more delays, no more audits, no more studies. When is she going to act decisively to fix this intolerable crisis in our justice system?
Hon. S. Bond: As I've said and will continue to say, any stay is unacceptable. But to the member opposite, let me share an example. Recently, there was a case that took 88 days — 17½ weeks of a judge's time. What were they doing? Discussing the admissibility of wiretap, before the case even started — 88 days. Is that acceptable to the member opposite? Those are the kinds of things that happen in stays all across the province.
Let me give another example, a recent case in northern British Columbia: 15 appearances that dealt with document applications, trial preparation, trial appearances and rescheduling — 15 appearances. Do you know something, Mr. Speaker? British Columbians expect more than that from the justice system, and we're going to talk about reform. We're going to add resources when appropriate and when possible.
GOVERNMENT ACTION ON
DELAYS IN COURT PROCEEDINGS
L. Krog: I'm glad that the Attorney General has a profound grasp of the problems in the court system that this government has created in 11 years of administration. I'm pleased she finds no stay acceptable, because the victims of the crimes in those stays didn't find it very acceptable either. But for six months they sat on a report that pointed out these issues.
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Judge after judge in this province has passed judgment on this government's handling of our legal and justice system and has come to the same conclusion: not enough judges, not enough funding, a government that has no plan, that is in the midst of another review. So if we can't count the trees, perhaps we can count the number of judges, conclude there's a problem and fix it.
I call on the Attorney General today. Can she commit to one solitary action today in this House that's going to stop criminals from walking free?
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, in the last two years this government has added 23 judges across the province. Perhaps the members opposite should just for a moment look at the fact — British Columbians should know this too — that every time a judge is added to the system, it adds up to $1.4 million. That includes salaries, administrative staff. It's up to $1.4 million. We've added 23 of those judges.
We've looked at innovation. We've looked at reform. We've looked at the success, for example, of the drug court. The drug court had 196 graduates over ten years with significantly reduced recidivism. Those are the kinds of reforms we need to continue to look at.
We're going to continue to add resources where it's appropriate and when possible. But you know what? It's time that we actually asked and answered some of the questions that have plagued the justice system for decades in British Columbia.
REQUEST ON PREVENTION OF
HOMOPHOBIC AND TRANSPHOBIC BULLYING
S. Chandra Herbert: Since 2009 when I joined this House, I've been calling for action to stop bullying against gay, lesbian, bi and trans youth. They face incredible bullying in their schools and incredible dropout rates. I have called for action from this government. The government, for the last 11 years, has been claiming they were acting — through press releases, through reviews — but through doing nothing for the students in our schools.
So when the Premier decided to announce yet again that they were going to do something, I decided to do a freedom-of-information request. I decided: let's find out what the government was actually doing. So I filed a request asking for all briefing notes, records, e-mails back and forth between the Minister of Education and the Premier, because the Premier claimed this would be the top priority for her Education Minister.
And you know what I found? You know how much of a priority this is for the B.C. Liberal government? What I got were four blank pages. That's it — four blank pages to deal with the crisis facing our youth.
So my question to the minister responsible for freedom of information: does she believe that four blank pages in response to "all records" is acceptable? Or is it just that this is how much seriousness the Liberals place towards this issue?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Certainly, generally speaking for all of us on this side of the House, and I think on that side of the House as well, we take this issue very seriously. As to the specifics of the member opposite's request, freedom-of-information requests are handled by staff according to policy that we have, and the minister is not involved in that in any way.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: We will continue this afternoon with second reading of Bill 18, intituled Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 18 — ADVANCED EDUCATION
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2011
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I move that Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, be now read a second time.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Bill 18 amends a number of statutes.
Amendments to the Architects Act authorize the Architectural Institute of B.C. to engage in dispute resolution like most other professions.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
This will enable the institute to resolve conduct complaints directly and efficiently through a process that is defined within the legislation and through the ability of the institution to create bylaws. This is important because AIBC is a self-regulating professional association, and the legislation needs to reflect its responsibilities as such.
We all know that post-secondary education plays a key role in our province's future. We want to make sure that every British Columbian has the opportunity to succeed and be the very, very best that they can be. Ensuring good jobs that build our economy and support our families is obviously our number one priority.
To help meet that goal, my ministry must ensure that accessible, affordable, high-quality post-secondary education and training opportunities are available. It means that we as a government are obligated to ensure that those
[ Page 9223 ]
who are charged with overseeing our post-secondary institutions are doing so in a manner that is fair and without conflict.
We have an opportunity today to strengthen governance practices within boards of post-secondary institutions by ensuring that board members are united in their commitment to act in the best interests of their institutions and ultimately are held accountable to students, taxpayers and all the citizens of British Columbia.
Amendments to the College and Institute Act, Royal Roads University Act and the University Act will clarify matters pertaining to the appointed and elected members of the boards of our public post-secondary institutions.
Post-secondary boards are unique. Unlike city councils or school boards, faculty members are allowed to sit on an institution's board. This will not change. We support having faculty members providing their voice as board members. By making a change that better empowers our boards, we are strengthening governance.
As a government, we are being proactive with this change because we know that conflicts of interest can happen. Other jurisdictions — Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, for example — already have legislation that better protects post-secondary institutions from potential conflicts at the board level.
The changes we are introducing will (1) add an overall duty of board members to act in the best interests of the institution; (2) specify the circumstances in which a board member elected by faculty, staff or students would be ineligible to serve; and (3) provide that through a two-thirds vote, our boards will be able to remove an elected individual who is in conflict or for reasons of his or her conduct.
Further changes will be implemented based on consultations that have taken place recently.
Provisions are already in place allowing us to remove an appointed board member, and this change will ensure quality at the board level. This gives the board the power, through a two-thirds resolution, to take steps to remove someone in conflict. Currently that power does not exist. If a person is in conflict and does not step down, the board is powerless. This is why these amendments are necessary.
Participating as a member of a board of directors is an important responsibility, and we want to make sure that our legislation reflects the importance of this role.
In addition, an amendment to the College and Institute Act clarifies that board members must elect a chair from amongst the eight board members appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. This amendment will ensure that the chair of each board is a community member. It's important to ensure that our institutions are ultimately governed by people who are not employed by the same institutions and, therefore, objective.
Other changes in this bill will make amendments to the Royal Roads University Act and the University Act to repeal provisions that permit an appointed board member of the board of governors to serve after conclusion of his or her appointment term until the appointment of a successor.
Post-secondary education in B.C. is a partnership between government, our institutions and our students. We must strike a balance that ensures that institutions are able to manage their day-to-day affairs while still safeguarding the rights of all concerned and ensure that students are getting the very best educational opportunities possible. Quite simply, we want to ensure that students have options — what and where they study and the ability to make education and career decisions that make the most sense for them.
That's why it's important for us to understand the educational choices of anyone who accesses post-secondary education in B.C., including private institutions. By keeping track of what students study and where and when they go to school, we can ensure that post-secondary education is meeting the needs for the future.
Right now there's a small but very important segment of post-secondary students whose educational choices are not captured by our regular data-gathering processes. Amendments to the School Act and post-secondary legislation will enable phased expansion of the application of personal education numbers to student records of those attending private institutions. By capturing this information, we can ensure that we have the most complete understanding of B.C.'s post-secondary student body and their choices and needs with regard to post-secondary education. It will give us a more fulsome picture of where students go after graduation.
Supporting education is a fundamental priority for this government. Over the last ten years our post-secondary system has become more accessible, more affordable and more competitive than ever before. By amending post-secondary statutes today, we are further strengthening B.C.'s position for the future and creating an environment that supports a strong economy, healthy communities and good jobs to support our families.
Deputy Speaker: I recognize the member for Nelson-Creston as designated speaker.
M. Mungall: Well, this bill is a very interesting bill. Of course, the vast majority of it is very important legislation that needed to come forward for quite some time, so the members on this side of the House are pleased to see that. Of course, these are the sections pertaining to the personal education numbers that the minister has already discussed, as well as the sections pertaining to the Architects Act. These are important pieces of legislation. We do want to see those go forward, and we are in support of those sections.
However, there is a glaring problem in this bill. That
[ Page 9224 ]
problem is summed up in sections 18 through 20, 49 and 50. So what are those sections? Well, the minister spoke mostly in her introduction of this bill about those sections, so I'll just go through them for the record and for the people who are watching at home.
Section 19 is amending section 11 in the College and Institute Act. Section 19 says: "Despite subsections (1) and (2), the Lieutenant Governor in Council may, on a resolution passed by the vote of at least a 2/3 majority of the members of the board, remove from office a member of the board elected under section 9 (1) (b), (c) or (d)" — so that's students, staff and faculty — "if the board is satisfied that the person should be removed for cause."
Section 20 amends section 59 of the College and Institute Act by adding the following subsection:
"(8) A person is not eligible to be or to remain a member of the board if the person is (a) an employee of the institution, and (b) a voting member of the executive body of, or an officer of, an instructional, administrative or other staff association of the institution who has the responsibility, or joint responsibility with others, to (i) negotiate with the board, on behalf of the instructional, administrative or other staff association of that institution, the terms and conditions of service of members of that association, or (ii) adjudicate disputes regarding members of the instructional, administrative or other staff association of that institution."
Sections 49 and 50. Section 49 amends the University Act in the following way: "Despite section 19, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may, on a resolution passed by the vote of at least a 2/3 majority of the members of the board, remove from office a member of the board elected under section 19 (1) (c), (e) or (f) or (2) (c), (d), (f), (g), (h) or (i) if the board is satisfied that the person should be removed for cause."
Section 50, very similar to section 20 of this bill, says that it will amend the legislation of which I'm speaking in section 23.
"a person who is an employee of the university and who is a voting member of the executive body of, or an officer of, an academic or non-academic staff association of the university who has the responsibility, or joint responsibility with others, to (i) negotiate with the board, on behalf of the academic or non-academic staff association of that university, the terms and conditions of service of members of that association, or (ii) adjudicate disputes regarding members of the academic or non-academic staff association of that university."
Now, I've read those out for members of this chamber but also for people who are watching or listening at home or in their offices or people who are going to be looking up this transcript later on through Hansard Services and don't have to go looking for Bill 18. They know the sections that we're talking about, word for word, because this will all be recorded in Hansard.
What this section does is essentially change the relationship of the board of governors who have been appointed — the members who have been appointed — with those who are elected by students, staff and faculty.
Some historical background here. In 1970 universities first had their boards of governors, which…. Actually, in Canada overall it's about a hundred-year tradition, boards of governors. So in 1970, B.C. universities got their boards of governors, and in 1994 colleges and institutes started to have boards of governors as well, to provide governance for public post-secondary institutions.
They decided at those times to include elected representatives from students, staff and faculty on equal footing with appointed members from the government so that they all had similar responsibilities and so that nobody was of a higher class, let's say, or in a higher power position — maybe another way to say it — on the board of governors.
That's the tradition. It has always worked well. There have been very, very few cases where there have been problems, and those problems have been addressed at the board of governors level. Because there haven't been considerable problems, this is not something that has come, as a problem that needs to be addressed by government, from students, staff or faculty or even the administration or the boards of governors of our public post-secondary institutions. So why are we seeing these changes?
As the minister pointed out, what these changes do, as I've been alluding to, is they change the relationship between the board members on our boards of governors in public post-secondary institutions. It gives two-thirds of the board the right to oust any of the elected members.
Now, on many boards of governors, two-thirds majority of the board just happen to be Liberal appointees. Those appointees have the ability to remove anyone who has been elected by students, staff or faculty. So the duly elected members of these organizations, these bodies, no longer have the right to sit on a board if a two-thirds majority say no.
It's equivalent to a two-thirds majority of this House attempting to oust any other member. I was elected by the good people of Nelson-Creston. I am responsible to them. I'm also responsible to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. And there isn't a person in this House who has difficulty meeting that dual responsibility — just like on boards of governors, where we haven't seen a litany of difficulties with people meeting those dual responsibilities.
But here we are, saying that for a board of governors a two-thirds majority, those who are appointed, have the ability to remove those who are elected. We wouldn't consider that for this House. In fact, we would call it purely antidemocratic. Yet the B.C. Liberal government sees this as a perfectly acceptable way to develop governance for our public post-secondary institutions. It's absolutely nonsensical.
This piece of legislation also states that employees of a public post-secondary institution may not sit on the board of governors. That means that faculty and staff associations are no longer able to choose whom they would like from amongst their members. Rather, they can only choose people who have perhaps retired or perhaps are
[ Page 9225 ]
unaffiliated with the institution — despite what the minister was asserting. She was saying that faculty members can still be on the boards, but not if they are an employee of the institution. It makes no sense, and I question if she knows what she is even talking about.
Here we are, faced with a situation where these sections are highly problematic. They are antidemocratic. They contravene the very concept of good governance that we have developed in a longstanding tradition with public post-secondary institutions, but also the very one that we're standing in right now. When you are elected by a specified body, you have a responsibility to that body, and you also have a responsibility to the organization to which you are elected. That dual function has been carried out very well, in the same vein that it has been carried out very well by members of this House.
I'm sure that the people of Nelson-Creston or the people of Vancouver-Kensington or the people of Vancouver-Langara or Prince George–Valemount would all be shocked and absolutely disgusted to find out that by a two-thirds majority vote, their representative could be ousted from this House. It makes no sense, Madam Speaker, no sense at all, that somehow what we would find completely unacceptable for this House…. Yet we are applying it to the boards of governors of public institutions.
Now, when we say that this is antidemocratic, I think it's also important to note that this section is very questionable in terms of its adherence to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, section 2(c) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically states that each resident of this country has the freedom of assembly. Yet this section is saying that faculty associations and staff associations are not allowed to associate with their representative to the boards of governors because they cannot be an employee and they cannot be associated with their executive boards. So that remains in question.
Another further point on this is that the minister went on at length that this legislation was going to address conflict of interest for board members at public post-secondary institutions. Well, this type of legislation to do that is unprecedented. It has not been done anywhere else, and it is a very odd way to approach this.
It's not just me saying that but the people who live this work day in and day out, who have been in this field for their careers. They say exactly that. In fact, Cindy Oliver, who is the president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, in talking to CHNL in Kamloops when this legislation was first proposed back in November said exactly that — that this legislation is unwarranted, and it's unprecedented across the country. She also said that her organization is going to fight it.
Well, here we are in the Legislature in February, when this bill first came forward in November. The minister has had the opportunity to meet with the Canadian university faculty association as well as the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. She has had the opportunity to meet with BCGEU, with CUPE.
She has had the opportunity to meet with students. They've all spoken to her about this bill, all telling her their opposition to it and also their complete and utter lack of understanding of how she could put such legislation forward without even consulting them.
Here's an example from the Vancouver Community College Faculty Association. It says that they were recently in Victoria…. Actually, this is a letter to the minister. I'll quote directly from this letter. "I was recently in Victoria and met with you and your deputy as part of the FPSE president's council delegation. A theme woven through all our presentations was that we wish to be authentically included in the discussion of post-secondary issues." Yet they were not consulted. There was no discussion about these types of amendments that this bill proposes with the faculty associations anywhere in British Columbia before the minister stood up and put the bill forward in the House — no discussion at all.
So no surprise when they say this in their letter to the minister: "We are at a loss as to what problem these provisions are attempting to address. Perhaps with a real conversation or two, they could have been addressed with less confrontation." That's exactly how faculty associations and students and staff associations are feeling about this bill.
They feel that this has just been thrown at them. They feel like it is a slap in the face from this government because this government assumes that they were not acting in the best interest of their institutions when they were on boards of governors. That is what this government assumes, but that is not the reality.
This government assumes that the conflict-of-interest rules that presently govern our public post-secondary institutions are not sufficient. This minister basically said that they're looking to have a fair process without conflict on boards of governors, suggesting in her opening remarks that somehow the conflict of interest is happening all the time, that there is no mechanism to resolve conflict of interest on boards. She even said that boards have no ability to remove somebody when they are in conflict of interest.
Let's look at this. Let's look at if that's truly the case. I'm looking at Camosun College's board conduct bylaw. The purpose and rationale of this board conduct bylaw is that members of the board must avoid any conflict of interest. Well, here we go. We're actually going to be talking about a conflict-of-interest bylaw that governs the conduct of boards of governors. "Members of the board must avoid any conflict of interest that might impair or impugn the independence, integrity or impartiality of their board. There must be no apprehension of bias based on what a reasonable person might perceive. Members of the board
[ Page 9226 ]
who are in any doubt must disclose their circumstances and consult with the chair."
Well, Camosun has already thought about what they would do if somebody failed to do just that, here in section B(2) of their board conduct bylaw, titled "Handling a Breach to the Code of Ethics." "When a breach to the code of ethics has been identified, the board chair will take whatever action he or she believes is appropriate based on the nature and severity of the breach. Such action may include, but is not limited to: warning, reprimand, suspension from the board." There we have it, Madam Speaker. Camosun College has the ability to remove somebody from the board if they do not disclose their conflict of interest.
The minister asserted in this House that these types of things did not exist, but here they are in black and white.
If Camosun College doesn't suit her fancy, maybe let's go to rules of the board of governors at Simon Fraser University. Here, in their rules, they have section 9. What is it titled? "Conflict of Interest." It defines conflict of interest and goes into detail of how a member of the board must declare their conflict of interest.
It even says when a conflict of interest arises so that there can be no doubt of what it is.
"A conflict of interest arises when a member's other interests may put into question the independence, impartiality and objectiveness that members are obliged to exercise in the performance of their duties. A conflict of interest may be financial or otherwise.
"It is the responsibility of a member to identify a conflict of interest to the chair of the board in writing, or verbally at a board meeting if the conflict arises without notice."
Once a conflict of interest has been declared, "the chair will determine the matters in which a member with a conflict of interest may not participate and may make one or more rulings in a particular case. The chair my seek advice from the governance committee." And of course, they make annual declarations of conflict of interest, as well, at SFU. So here we have it. At SFU they have full rules in which boards of governors must adhere to conflict of interest declarations.
University of Victoria provides another example. Section 5 of the "Procedures of the Board at University of Victoria" defines "conflict of interest and confidentiality."
"The board of governors of the university has a variety of functions to perform under the University Act. The composition of this board is complex, and it is possible that conflict of duty or interest may arise in the case of any member of the board.
"A conflict…arises when a board member exercises an official power or performs an official duty or function and at the same time knows that in the performance of this duty or function or in the exercise of power there is an opportunity to further a private interest. Further, there is an apparent conflict of interest when there is a reasonable perception that the board member's ability to exercise an official power or perform an official duty or function will be or was affected by a private interest."
So boards of governors and all members sitting on boards of governors are well aware of what a conflict of interest is and what they need to do when they are faced with a conflict of interest and the repercussions if they do not take action.
I've read out some of the rules from three institutions. I could go on all afternoon, Madam Speaker, but I'm sure that for your own interest, you'd be happy if I did not do that.
But the point is made. The point is made that this type of legislation, which is antidemocratic, which possibly contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is absolutely not necessary.
I hear a few snickers when I say that it possibly contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Well, I dare say that the members of the B.C. Liberal government are going to find out when it has to go through court, when they have to spend taxpayers' dollars defending this type of legislation — legislation that nobody advocated for, that nobody was consulted for — against a Charter challenge. They are going to spend taxpayers' dollars to do that.
They don't have the money, they say, to put into financial needs–based grants for students to make post-secondary education more affordable and to address student debt load, which, despite the minister's comments in the newspaper, is exactly what students are talking about. They don't have the money to eliminate interest rates.
They don't have the money to increase funding to address structural deficit issues at public post-secondary institutions, deficit issues that have been a result of net zero funding increases — in other words, cutbacks — as post-secondary institutions face increasing costs and yet not parallel increased funding. They are experiencing cutbacks.
No money for that, but apparently we have money to hire some lawyers to defend this type of legislation, which is not needed, which is not wanted, in court. What are they trying to prove? What are they trying to prove? Well, that's exactly what many people have been asking me. They've asked it of the minister, but she hasn't been responding.
Many people find this legislation, as I said earlier, a slap in the face. They find it confrontational. They find it unnecessary, obviously. They don't understand where it's coming from or what this government is all about, other than…. Well, it makes no sense.
We can theorize all day long about why on earth the Liberal minister would put this forward, when clearly there are other more pressing issues in public post-secondary education. Why on earth would she put this forward? We can speculate on that. But instead, let's try and convince her otherwise — that maybe she can do the honourable thing and remove these sections from the legislation, on her own, when we get to third reading of this bill. But since she hasn't been saying that publicly…. She seems to have not been listening to what people are saying about these particular sections of this bill.
Again, reminding her and this House that the vast
[ Page 9227 ]
majority of this bill is great. It is just fine. We've needed to see this legislation come forward. We're glad to see it come forward. Why on earth you would stick these sections in it is beyond us.
But I would like to take this opportunity, because the minister has been meeting with people and yet hasn't been hearing what they say. Not only has she been meeting with people, but I know that she has received over a thousand letters on this issue — people in opposition to the sections of this bill. Yet here we are in this House. She had the opportunity between November and now to have rescinded these sections. She could have done that, but she hasn't. So what is she not hearing?
Well, let me take this opportunity now, Madam Speaker, to share with you and this House and the minister what she ought to be hearing if she's picking up any of those thousands of letters that she's heard.
This letter here is from a Camosun College student, Madeline Keller-MacLeod. She writes:
"Bill 18 is an unprecedented attack on democracy, post-secondary stakeholders and the right of students to organize in many ways. Currently, faculty and staff at post-secondary institutions elect representatives to post-secondary boards of governors.
"Bill 18 seeks to undermine staff and faculty representation by taking away their right to elect presidents of those constituencies. This takes away the voice of that person who has already been elected as the best representative of their constituency group. This is a direct attempt to get rid of the voices of the staff and faculty representative, who often have the most experience and knowledge of the issues faced by both their constituency and how those issues affect students.
"That staff, students and faculty would be expected to act only in the best interests of the institution is another attack on democracy. Bill 18 seeks to intimidate student, faculty and staff representatives into no longer feeling safe representing the interests of the constituency which elected them. Bill 18 does not take away the right of stakeholders to democratically elect representatives but instead legislates that constituency representatives may not represent those who elect them.
"Bill 18 again attacks democracy by leaving the decision of who may represent constituency groups not to members of those constituencies but to the individual opinions of members of boards of governors. While a constituency representative could very well believe they are representing both their constituency and the institution, if members of the board of governors disagree, they may vote to recommend to take away the voice of that constituency.
"Even if a constituency representative is representing the best interests of their constituency over the interests of the institution as a physical entity, that is their democratic right. Neither the B.C. government nor the board of governors appointees have the right to undermine the democratic rights of B.C. citizens.
"For example, the members of the Camosun College board of governors voted last year to cut 19 staff and faculty positions. Because it would save the college money, they believed this was in the best interests of the institution. However, from the point of view of a staff, faculty or student, this is neither in the best interests of the constituency nor the institution, as declining numbers of classes and the mounting pressure on teachers to overcrowd their classes ends up driving students to other institutions.
"Classes and programs are being cut every year, literally forcing students to leave Camosun and find another place to finish their educations, and this certainly is not the best interest of the institution. We cannot forget that students, faculty and staff are the stakeholders in regards to post-secondary education. Most importantly, our Minister of Advanced Education should not forget this reality.
"Stakeholder voices need to be heard and respected, our opinions need to be taken seriously, and our concerns need to be addressed. Instead, Bill 18 threatens to take stakeholder voices away and aims to intimidate constituency representatives into accepting the B.C. Liberals' agenda of cutting funding services year after year until post-secondary institutions are no longer able to function.
"As this is the path that we are on, and as stakeholder representatives, not B.C. Liberal appointees, seem to be the ones fighting for the improvement of post-secondary education in B.C., it is apparent that Bill 18 is an attack on those who are willing to fight for the best interests of stakeholders, of institutions and of the health of our society and economy alike.
"Bill 18 is an attempt to squash the voices that are willing to stand up for what is right, the voices who are willing to admit that what the minister calls our world-class education system is actually falling apart. If Bill 18 passes legislation, it will be a disaster for B.C. post-secondary education."
That is a student writing that — she's very concerned — right here in Victoria, at Camosun College.
There are many people who are adding their voices to their opposition to Bill 18. Like I said, they have been writing the minister, and yet the minister continues to move this bill forward and ignore the very real concerns that are coming from British Columbians all across this province.
That is why I'm taking this time to share with her those voices, their concerns, so that there is no mistake that their voices are on record.
This letter here is from Brian McGibney. He is a workshop coordinator for the fine arts department at Langara College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Dear Madam Premier and Minister:
"I am writing you to express my grave concerns over possible passage of Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, specifically the portion of this proposed legislation that restricts the concurrent associations and activities staff may be involved with while serving as a duly elected staff representative to the Langara College board of governors.
"I have been employed at Langara College as a workshop coordinator, fine arts department, since 1984. In addition to my regular duties within my department, I have served on countless standing and ad hoc committees, including but not limited to occupational health and safety, inaugural member of Langara council, numerous search committees for senior positions, member of the APSES committee, member of the committee to initiate our continuing studies area and the joint labour relations committee.
"In addition, I am a steward and have served as a bargaining committee member and job evaluation rep."
So here we are. We have somebody who knows the ins and outs of bargaining, who knows the ins and outs of a relationship between a board of governors and a faculty association. He is writing with grave concerns for this bill.
He goes on:
"I am an unabashed Langaran."
I am sure it will delight the member for Vancouver-Langara that she has such a devout constituent for Langara College.
"I am both knowledgable and proud of the variety and quality of offerings we provide. I have seen so many student lives enriched and changed through the things we do here, and I could write a book."
[ Page 9228 ]
I hope he does.
"I am also so proud of the things that I have been able to accomplish in my capacity as both a steward and bargaining committee member. In the main, Langara College enjoys a cordial, respectful, progressive and effective labour relations climate, and I am proud for the small part that I have contributed to make that the norm.
"Furthermore, I am well aware and respectful of the notions of conflict of interest and confidentiality. I know which hat I wear and take great pains to keep individual responsibilities discrete.
"Given the above, you can doubtless see why I am concerned. I can only speak for what I know at Langara, and that is simply that people who are passionate about and involved in their institution will tend to get involved through the structures that allow them to do the most good.
"All major colleges in B.C. operate in an organized labour environment. Those that seek to input leadership and guidance to the organization who are not part of the excluded, non-union group will, by functional necessity, be elected or appointed union members.
"I feel quite comfortable in asserting that at Langara the current legislation and its attendant operational bylaws function well. Where there is a perceived conflict or a real conflict, I and my LFA counterpart absent ourselves from the relevant portions of the proceedings.
"As was clearly delineated in the original bill, the elected support staff rep is there to represent support staff and the greater interests of the institution and not the association that holds the bargaining certification. I fully understand and strive to adhere to that intention. I can only speculate what incident or incidents are responsible for the current proposed legislative changes, but I wish to bring to your attention what I foresee as a considerable negative, unintended consequence.
"Current board structure at Langara consists of eight appointed members, two student reps and one each of faculty and staff. Appointed board members usually bring in financial, legal, business and other skill sets and ensure that the college is adhering to the GLE and maintaining fiscal prudence.
"Student governors bring the critical student perspective. Unfortunately, given the nature of our offerings, student governors rarely serve more than two years and more frequently less. Elected governors, along with board resource staff, in my opinion are the glue and the bridge that help to get appointed and student governors inside what makes Langara what it is and, in keeping with the strategic plan, where it is going and what it wants to be.
"Again, I assert that to restrict participation of support staff or faculty on the basis of other activities will significantly impact the available cohort of engaged, informed and motivated employee governors and, by extension, diminish the overall effectiveness of boards of governors throughout the post-secondary system. I would humbly suggest that if there are discrete circumstances where the safeguards have not been effective they be dealt with on a singular basis and not be a template to fix what is, in my experience, not broken.
"As my students and colleagues will tell you, I am a solutions-driven person. I understand the need to maintain transparent, accountable governance processes. However, as my dear departed nana said, we don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
"Thank for your consideration regarding this matter.
Madam Speaker, just from this letter alone, you can see how personal this is for people. That they have been serving for many, many years and been actively involved with the institution where they work for many years and to suddenly have this type of legislation…. Well, as Mr. McGibney said, he could only speculate where it's coming from, but it will absolutely have negative consequences.
Many others have written. Here's another person from Langara College. She works in the library. This is Sara Rose, and she writes to the minister:
"Why does Bill 18 ban union activists from sitting as elected representatives on college or university boards of governors? As someone who works at Langara College, I am not aware of any problems on our board of governors resulting from having staff and faculty representatives sit on the board, even when those same people have also been active in the union or staff association.
"There are clear conflict-of-interest guidelines in place for all board members. With so many other challenges facing our colleges and universities, it doesn't make sense to me that you are spending energy worrying about phantom problems that might result from having employees with union experience on our board of governors.
"Can you please explain what the problem is? What is Bill 18 intended to fix? And why is this such a priority for you and your ministry?"
Good questions. Good questions.
Again, we have another person from Langara College. This is Jasna Sedlar, and she writes:
"I work in the post-secondary education sector at Langara College. I am a union member and am passionate about not only my college but very strongly about democracy and human rights and, in a country that is a member of the G8, very much so about post-secondary education for our children and their children and future generations.
"I would be ashamed in front of my children if I didn't try to make B.C. a better place to live, like so many people before me. Don't let B.C. go back in democracy. All voices should be heard and considered for decisions that affect us all. We can't live without everybody else.
"Can you please explain why you and your government think that I am not qualified to be an elected representative on the boards of governors? Bill 18 is discriminating against union activists, against employees and against people. It's also killing democracy in a subtle way."
This person is clearly very passionate and very concerned about Bill 18.
"One piece at a time, until we come back where we were centuries ago."
I have another letter here from a B.C. Government Employees Union…. Many of the staff keep our post-secondary institutions humming. They clean the floors. They serve us food at the cafeterias. These are important people to keep our institutions thriving, and they too have been impacted by Bill 18.
This is Liam Odell. He writes:
"I'm a BCGEU member, and I believe that Bill 18 is antidemocratic and discriminatory to ban union activists from serving on college, university and institutes' boards of governors. In fact, this legislation may well contravene our members' constitutional rights to freedom of association.
"B.C.'s conflict-of-interest legislation already contains clear guidelines regarding the conduct of members of public bodies. Union activists are no more in a potential conflict of interest as a regular unionized staff member than those who are both equally affected by board decisions. I am respectfully asking that the B.C. government withdraw Bill 18 and remove the amendments to the College and Institute Act that erode the democratic rights of their
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employees and students."
This letter comes from Nancy Forhan. She is the president of CUPE Local 2950 at UBC. She also wants to make it known in her letter that she resides in Vancouver East and is a taxpayer as well. This is her letter:
"My name is Nancy Forhan, and I have worked at the University of British Columbia for over 40 years. I am a proud taxpayer, mother, grandmother and community activist. I am also a proud member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and currently sit as president of Local 2950 at UBC.
"I am writing this to you on Remembrance Day 2011. It's especially important on this day that we reflect on the rights and freedoms our veterans fought and died to protect. One of those freedoms is the freedom of association. If passed, your government's Bill 18 would ban union members from serving on a university board of governors. As egregious, it would actually allow democratically elected members of the board to be removed by the appointed board members.
"This proposed legislation would further prohibit members of unions or associations who serve on their bargaining committees or local executives from also serving on their institution's board of governors. There is no doubt these proposed changes specifically target union representatives and erode the democratic rights of our members."
Indeed, it's hard to come to any other conclusion. I can appreciate what Ms. Forhan is saying, because these types of provisions are just not there for any of the appointees that the Liberals have put on boards of governors.
Ms. Forhan goes on:
"Given the challenges currently facing the post-secondary education sector across B.C., it's disappointing that this is the area you and your ministry have identified as being in dire need of repair. Your Bill 18 discriminates against all working people in British Columbia. It is punitive and vindictive against unionized workers in B.C.
"I would respectfully urge you to direct our province's limited resources into areas that would actually improve the quality of life for public sector workers across British Columbia and the quality of education for our students."
"I would welcome an opportunity to discuss these concerns with you or your ministry in person."
People are very affected by this, and they are very concerned and want the opportunity to tell the minister exactly what they feel and have been willing for months to negotiate with her on how better to address the concerns that she has brought up and decided to use this type of legislation to address.
This letter comes from Trina — and I apologize if I am mispronouncing Trina's last name here — Ojo. She is at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey. She writes:
"I have been informed by my union that Bill 18 bans union activists from sitting as elected representatives on college, institute and university boards of governors. I am concerned to hear this, as I believe that they should be allowed to sit on these boards of governors if they are elected to by their peers to do so.
"Will you please explain why this bill is being submitted? I am an employee at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and I am not aware of any problems that have occurred from electing staff and faculty representatives to our board, as mandated by the College and Institute Act, even when these people may have been active in their union.
"Based on my current understanding of this legislation, I believe it to be antidemocratic and discriminatory to ban union activists from serving on our boards of governors. In fact, the legislation may well contravene our members' constitutional rights to freedom of association.
"I am respectfully asking that the B.C. government withdraw Bill 18."
I have several letters here. I will continue to read many of them, but I'd like to highlight this one in particular because the minister will be very interested in where it comes from. It comes from the Capilano Students Union. Capilano University, as the minister will know, is in her own backyard, and she formerly sat on the board of governors at Capilano University.
This one, this letter here, is from the students union. They write:
"We are writing to you as a student society, speaking on behalf of the members that we represent, to express our concern about specific provisions contained in Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, and to request that your government reconsider its decision to pursue these parts of the act.
"Students in British Columbia are major stakeholders in the post-secondary education system and are responsible for a significant share of systemwide revenues. Appropriately, students are elected to the board of governors of a post-secondary institution by their peers.
"The basis of our concern is that provisions in Bill 18, which was given first reading in the Legislature on November 3, make changes to a board of governors in a way that undermines this representation. These changes are detrimental to the organizational capacity of post-secondary institutions and to the long-term quality of post-secondary education.
"If adopted, sections 19, 34 and 49 of Bill 18 would amend the College and Institution Act and University Act to allow a board of governors regulated under those pieces of legislation to remove from office any elected student, faculty or employee representative on the board.
"Our concerns with these proposed amendments are threefold. First, they are unwarranted and without any reasonable or defensible justification."
That is the determination of the students in the minister's own backyard.
"Secondly, they will undermine the representation of students in post-secondary governance. Thirdly, the act was brought to the Legislature without any evidence of meaningful student consultation.
"It is worth noting that sections 20, 32 and 50 of the act disqualify any employee from holding office who is a voting executive or officer of an association of the university with a potentially competing responsibility from those duties of the board. If the government feels that there is an issue with conflict of interest, it is best pursued through specific conflict-of-interest legislation rather than the current course of action.
"We believe that the removal of an elected board member should not be at the discretion of the board under any circumstance. Whereas students, faculty and employees are elected by their peers, their removal from office should also be at the sole discretion of their peers. The ability for a board of governors to have only certain classes of its members removed from office would result in a governance structure that has a democratic deficit and moves away from the collegial mode of governance.
"Given that the act proposes to require a board of governors to act in the best interests of
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the university, it will be more important than ever for students to freely choose their representatives and for those representatives to be able to act in the best interests of the universities without fear of reprisal. We request that the act be amended to delete part 19, 34 and 49.
"Our societies are interested in working collaboratively with the government to address any concern that they have about student participation in university governance. We strongly feel that we can come to an agreement that does not restrict the rights of students while still allowing the proper functioning of the university.
"We, the undersigned,
"David Clarkson, executive committee chairperson of Capilano Students Union
"Tara Paterson, chairperson of the University of Victoria Students Society"
So students in the minister's own backyard are expressing their opposition to this piece of legislation.
Students aren't alone. Of course, there are many people. Here we have Karen Ng from…. Well, I'm going to have to apologize because she doesn't list the institution where she's from. Let's say that she's just a general member of the public who is quite concerned about this. She writes:
"Can you please explain why Bill 18 bans union activists from sitting as elected representatives on college, institute and university boards of governors? I am an employee at Douglas College and am not aware" — there we are; it wasn't under her name, but it's in her letter — "of any problems that have occurred from electing staff and faculty representatives to our board, as mandated by the College and Institute Act, even when these people may have been active in their union."
She goes on to say that the legislation may well contravene her and her members' constitutional rights to freedom of association. She also says:
"I am respectfully asking that the B.C. government withdraw Bill 18 and remove the amendments to the College and Institute Act that erode the democratic rights of their employees and students."
I have another letter. This one is from a gentleman named Titus Gregory, and Mr. Gregory writes:
"As a former student member of the SFU board of governors, I am writing in opposition to sections 19, 34 and 49 of Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act. These sections provide that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may remove any elected member of a college or university board of governors for cause upon a two-thirds resolution of the board of governors of the institution in question.
"For decades provincial legislation has guaranteed to students, faculty and staff a say in the governance of their post-secondary institutions. I am aware of no evidence that this has caused problems. Sections 19, 34 and 49 of Bill 18 are 'solutions' to a nonexistent problem.
"Furthermore, these provisions are unbalanced, in that they provide no mechanism for removing an appointed member of the board of governors. The implication of this is that elected members — students, faculty and staff — are inherently untrustworthy, whereas appointed members are presumed to be trustworthy. I am aware of no evidence supporting such an offensive proposition.
"In my experience, all members of the board of governors of Simon Fraser University, elected and appointed alike, acted with diligence and sincerity in the discharge of their duties.
"In addition, no definition is given of 'cause.' I am concerned that institutional administrators will seek to enact codes of conduct intending to force members of boards of governors to be excessively deferential to the institutional administration. In order to properly discharge their oversight role, board members must have the freedom to act without fear that their voices may be stifled by institutional administrators.
"Thank you for considering my views on this matter."
Well, I certainly do hope the minister considered these views. It doesn't seem that way, because she's moving forward with this bill — intact, as is — without making necessary changes that would remove what are considered to be very offensive sections to people who have dedicated their careers to public post-secondary education and to the very students who are at those institutions learning so that they can contribute their new skills and their new knowledge to the betterment of B.C.'s economy.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers, of course, has also weighed in on this. They write to the minister:
"We are writing on behalf of the 66,000 academic staff represented by the Canadian Association of University Teachers at 124 universities and colleges across Canada to express concern about what we see as antidemocratic provisions in Bill 18.
"We recognize your government's desire to limit potential conflict of interest for elected members of boards of governors of B.C.'s public universities, colleges and institutes, but the provisions of Bill 18 go far beyond what might be necessary to achieve this end.
"Prohibiting leaders of faculty and staff associations from serving on boards of governors and empowering appointed and ex-officio members of boards to remove elected members of boards is a clear violation of democratic principle and practice. Not only are the proposals contrary to longstanding practice in British Columbia universities, colleges and institutes; they are also a reversal of a practice that worked well for many years across Canada.
"For more than 100 years, since the Flavelle royal commission in 1906, Canadian universities have been characterized by collegial governance structures, a recognition of the unique nature of post-secondary educational institutions, whose governance requires the active participation" — I'm going to say that again, just in case the minister wasn't paying attention; requires the active participation — "of the academic staff.
"We cannot imagine the B.C. government would want to exclude from a governance role those in whom the academic staff have shown trust by electing them leaders of their association. Nor can we imagine that your government wants to be seen to be giving the authority to unelected members of the board of governors to oust the elected members.
"We strongly urge you to amend your legislation by removing sections 19, 20, 32, 34, 49 and 50. We also strongly urge you to enter into discussions with our colleagues in the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of B.C. and the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of B.C. to craft mechanisms that deal constructively with potential conflict of interest and institutional governance, while respecting democratic principles and the unique nature of our post-secondary institutions.
"Wayne Peters, president
"James Turk, executive director"
The minister did have meetings with the Canadian university faculty associations here in British Columbia. She did have meetings with the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, and she did have meetings with student groups about Bill 18.
They wanted to negotiate with the minister, as they told
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me. They wanted to negotiate with this minister on how they can address any issues that she perceives to be occurring that have motivated her to allow for this type of legislation to come forward, because no one knew there was a problem.
Somebody in the ministry saw a problem and put this type of issue forward. They did not consult any of the people who would be impacted by this issue, which seems just a bad way to go about doing things, but it is the common way the B.C. Liberal government goes about doing things. There's no doubt about that. It's not the right way, but it is, unfortunately, the common way that this government conducts its business.
They didn't consult anybody. They just drafted this up and put it up, through this House, to the shock of everybody in the public post-secondary sector.
As the Canadian Association of University Teachers clearly states in their letter, they were shocked but willing to work with the minister to address her concerns.
She has not heard what they were saying in their meetings with her and is moving ahead, clearly unashamed of the type of legislation that is coming forward from her ministry.
Here I have a letter from the Selkirk College Faculty Association. Of course, this is a faculty association near and dear to my heart, with Selkirk College being one of the two colleges in my constituency of Nelson-Creston. Of course, College of the Rockies has a campus in Creston, and Selkirk College has a campus in both Nelson and Kaslo — two campuses in Nelson as a matter of fact — with a very active student body and a very active faculty association as well. The faculty association at Selkirk College writes to the minister, and this is the president of the Selkirk College Faculty Association:
"I am writing on behalf of my local executive as well as my members about our dismay about aspects of Bill 18, particularly the restriction of which members of the faculty may serve on the board of governors. Collegial governance is vital to the proper functioning of any institution, and faculty members have long played a unique and important role in the governance of our college. Removing any current elected faculty members of boards is undemocratic.
"Going forward, it would also restrict the democratic process as it will prevent certain faculty members from running either for the board or for a faculty association executive. Such a step will surely polarize the relationships between administrative and faculty groups at our college and for other colleges and universities across the province. We strongly urge you to consider amending the legislation before it is passed."
So here we hear again from people who have dedicated their entire careers to public post-secondary education feeling unvalued by this piece of legislation and asking the minister to reconsider these sections and to consider amending this legislation before it is passed. Let's hope that we do see that happen during the third reading of this bill.
Of course, when people dedicate their entire lives to a sector — in this case to teaching — and sharing their knowledge and their skills with future generations via the public post-secondary system, they do have an important role to play in the governance of that system. They do have an important voice that needs to be a part of the governance, and that voice does need to be on equal footing with the appointed members from this government.
But this legislation, as all of these people with, I can only imagine, hundreds of years of experience between them…. They say that will change. This legislation will undoubtedly change the relationship between the elected and the appointed members of the board, and it's not a change for the better.
I think the minister thinks this is quite innocuous legislation, but what we were hearing from the thousands of people who have expressed their opposition to this piece of legislation is that this is not an innocuous piece of legislation, that these sections are hugely problematic, and they need to be addressed with seriousness and care. However, despite all these letters, despite all these meetings, the minister clearly is ignoring the very real concerns of a large group of people in this province who have dedicated exceptional amounts of time and energy and a portion of their lives to the betterment of public post-secondary education.
Madam Speaker, we've heard many letters. I've warned you that there are well over a thousand, and I know that you must be sitting there wondering if I'm going to plan to read over a thousand letters this afternoon, but I will not do that to you. Not that every single one of those voices is not equally important to the letters that I've already read. But in the interest of time, I think we're getting the gist of what people — whether they are students, faculty, broader associations, staff — are all saying about this legislation and the deep concerns they have about its anti-democratic nature, about its unintended consequences for a problem that just doesn't exist.
I've also canvassed three institutions' conflict-of-interest rules, highlighted that they address exactly what this minister claims to be addressing with this legislation, pointing out that this legislation is not needed, pointing out that it is unnecessary, that it's duplicating things that are already being done. We've heard from many people in these letters who have said they were shocked that they were not consulted but that they would be willing to work with the minister to address any perceived issues she has — but that these sections need to be rescinded. Given the opportunity, the minister has yet to do so.
So let's hope that will change when we get to third reading. If it doesn't change, the government of British Columbia will face a very real cost in having to defend this type of legislation against a legal challenge.
Now, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators has said publicly that they will support a legal challenge of this bill because they believe that it is anti-democratic
[ Page 9232 ]
and contravenes their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. BCGEU also agrees. The president of BCGEU, Darryl Walker, is quoted in a press release saying: "If enacted, this legislation would remove our members' constitutional right to freedom of association." He goes on to say: "The government cannot use conflict of interest as an argument either…. Conflict-of-interest legislation already regulates members of public bodies, and union activists are no more in conflict than regular union members who may sit on these boards."
The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. The acronym is FPSE. Cindy Oliver, the president there, has said: "It is more than just an affront to our democratic rights; it's a full-on attack of our freedom-of-association rights that are spelled out in the Charter. We don't need to have another protracted battle at the Supreme Court to tell the Premier she is wrong, but if that's the only option available, that's where this proposed legislation will take us."
Should the minister refuse to take the opposition to this bill seriously, should she refuse to put her efforts in addressing the problems that exist within the sections of this bill — sections 18, 19, 20, 49 and 50 — she could very well be faced with the decision to be spending taxpayers' dollars on a legal battle.
She repeatedly says — and other members of this government, including the Premier, repeatedly say — that we just don't have the money. On this side of the House we say that we need to put money into financial needs–based grants for students. They say no, that's not possible.
We say on this side of the House that we need to address interest rates for students on their student loans. They're facing, on average, a $27,000 debt load after a four-year program. That's a tremendous amount of debt for any young person to start off their life with. We say: "Let's address the interest rates." They say — and the minister was quoted along these lines: "Well, that's just not what students are talking about." Students are talking about the need to address tuition and tuition increases. Last year in a press release coming out of the ministry, students were told to just drink less coffee.
So we don't have the money, apparently, in this province, according to the B.C. Liberal government, to address any of the top-of-mind issues in public post-secondary education, but we do have the money to pay lawyers to defend sections of this legislation for a problem that no one in the sector has identified. This is ridiculous. This is, in fact, the very picture of ridiculousness. To suggest that we don't have the money to address student debt but that we have the money to pay lawyers to defend pieces of legislation that don't address any real problem in this province is ridiculous. No problem: "We've got the money to deal with this." A real problem: "Sorry, folks, not interested. We don't have any money." I don't think it's a matter of money. I think it's a matter of will.
When I say that it's a matter of will, I think that in fact we've hit the nail on the head of why this piece of legislation exists. I think we've hit the nail on the head. The minister has been quoted in the Victoria Times Colonist in speaking on affordable post-secondary education. When reporters were asking her what she's going to do about student debt load, in reference to the February 1 Day of Action for student groups across the country and all over British Columbia — I myself was in Kelowna at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus at a student rally there talking with students about what were their top-of-mind issues around public post-secondary education, and they were, of course, tuition, affordability, debt load, grants — the minister's reply to that and to what students are saying, when she spoke with the Times Colonist, was: "For me, it's not where it's best, I think, to put our efforts."
It's not best to put her efforts into addressing mounting student debt, unaffordability and, along that same vein, deficits at colleges and universities, budgetary problems at colleges and universities, infrastructure deficits at colleges and universities. This is not where she's going to put her efforts. Rather, the minister has decided to put her efforts here on an issue where there was no lobbying, to the best of anyone's knowledge, in the public post-secondary sector, whom I've heard from.
I've talked with many, many people, including the executive director for the B.C. colleges association — their organization, which is called B.C. colleges — including the university administrators. Very much like the minister, I have toured all over this province speaking with students, faculty and administration at our public post-secondary institutions. I've managed to get to 20 schools so far. Many of them have multiple campuses, so I've been able to get to several campuses for one institution as well. None of them say that they were advocating for this type of legislation. So who knows where it was coming from?
Before introducing it, this government, the B.C. Liberals, did absolutely no consultation whatsoever with anybody in this sector. Making sure that this type of legislation goes through is where the minister is going to put her efforts, but not addressing the top-of-mind issue for students, and that is student debt and reducing the interest rates on student loans. In my opinion, it's a bizarre choice, and it certainly isn't a choice that I would make.
It's a very bizarre choice that this is where she is putting her efforts and where the B.C. Liberal governments are putting their efforts on this important issue of public post-secondary education, especially at a time when the government has put forward its B.C. jobs plan with very little mention of the important role that public post-secondary plays in developing the skills in our labour force for the jobs of the future.
We know from the B.C. government's own studies that
[ Page 9233 ]
80 percent of jobs by 2017 are going to require some level of post-secondary education. We know that; 80 percent of jobs are going to require some level of post-secondary education. Is our labour force ready to fulfil that right now? It is not. Only 67 percent of our labour force has a post-secondary education — only 67 percent — so there is a discrepancy there.
That means we need to support people getting into post-secondary education so that we can address the jobs that are going to be open because of attrition and because of new jobs coming on line. Two-thirds of those jobs that are going to be opening up by 2017 are because of attrition. We know that's going to happen. Another third is predicted as a result of new jobs coming on line. So we know that we need to have an educated workforce. We know that.
We know that to support people getting into post-secondary education, we need to ensure that it is affordable for all income levels. We know that it needs to be accessible. We know that it needs to be available to students and prospective students, and we know that in this province right now affordability is at a crisis level for many, many families.
We know that we are shouldering students with incredible debt once they graduate, to the point that they are going to have difficulties in participating in the broader B.C. economy. They can't afford to get cars. They can't afford to do other major purchases like buying a home because they have such an incredible student debt load. We need them to make those types of purchases to keep our economy thriving. They can't do that.
The B.C. Liberals are setting up this province for a crisis, for a failure, when it comes to public post-secondary and their funding of it and student debt load. But that is not where the minister is putting her efforts when it comes to legislation and work in this House.
Instead, where she's putting her efforts is into pieces of legislation that have not been lobbied for, that address a problem no one has identified and that have had absolutely no consultation with the people it is affecting. It's a bizarre decision indeed, a very bizarre decision, and no one in the public seems to understand why on earth it's being done. But it's being done nonetheless. The minister is not offering any accountability as to why she's making the decision she is in terms of where she's putting in her efforts.
That is a huge disappointment to every single British Columbian, to every single student, to every single person who has dedicated their lives to the education of future generations of British Columbians. It is unfortunate that it is happening. I truly do hope that the minister has heard all of the letters and that other members of this House have heard the words and the voices and the concerns expressed in the letters I read out.
I hope the minister has taken the time to sit down and look at the thousands of letters she has received, to contemplate the points that have been made in the meetings she's had with the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators, with Canadian university faculty associations, with administrators in institutions, as well as the student organizations.
I hope that if she does take that time — I'm sure she will; I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt that she will take that time — she will reflect on these sections and recognize that they are actually problematic and that she is creating a situation that can have long-term negative impacts for the governance of our public post-secondary institutions and that she'll be open to rescinding these sections of Bill 18 during third reading.
With that, I will take my seat and give the floor to another person. Before I do, I just want to make note that this is the longest speech I've ever delivered in this House — an hour and 23 minutes.
M. Mungall: I appreciate the members opposite and their encouragement for me to continue on, and I could. I have many, many letters.
Maybe one for the road. This one is from a faculty member at BCIT — Tracy Willcock. She is also a PhD candidate, so she's a faculty member and a student. She writes:
"I am employed in the post-secondary education sector at BCIT. I'm a BCGEU union member and have chosen to take an active role in my workplace and in my union.
"Can you please explain to me why your government thinks I'm not qualified to sit as an elected staff representative on the board of governors? B.C.'s conflict-of-interest legislation already contains clear guidelines regarding the conduct of members of public bodies. Union activists like myself are no more in a potential conflict of interest as regular unionized staff members, who are both equally affected by board decisions.
"I believe that the legislation is antidemocratic and discriminatory — to ban union activists from serving on our board of governors. In fact, the legislation may well contravene my constitutional right to freedom of association."
She goes on:
"I am respectfully asking that the B.C. government withdraw Bill 18 and remove the amendments to the College and Institute Act that erode the democratic rights of their employees and students."
So that was one for the road — just replying to the encore that I received from members opposite.
With that, I have come to an hour and 25 minutes. In my first term that is the longest speech I've delivered in this House. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and I look forward to hearing the comments raised by my colleagues in this House.
Deputy Speaker: I will advise members that reading letters in their entirety does not fall under Erskine May. The suggestion is: quotation or extract from particular letters.
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R. Sultan: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to comment on Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, which received first reading in this House on November 3.
Just to summarize the act, it will amend five provincial statutes — the Architects Act, the Royal Roads University Act, the University Act, the College and Institute Act and the School Act. But as the member for Nelson-Creston has pointed out, it really boils down to three topics, two of which are important but perhaps not as contentious as the third. They are the School Act amendment, which would assign PEN numbers to private post-secondary school students; the Architects Act, which would empower alternative dispute resolution as a means of resolving differences within that important professional association; and finally, the main topic of the debate in this House to date on Bill 18, the issue of the governance of publicly funded institutions of higher learning.
So let me comment on each of them in turn, perhaps in the length that the degree of contention warrants. The School Act, assigning a personal education number or PEN to all post-secondary private school students. Why is this deemed necessary by the government? It sounds somewhat technical, and it is. But I would perceive that with the influx into the private post-secondary sector in British Columbia over the last decade or so, which continues, the issues of who is attending, where they are from, how they are performing and what their plans are for the future are a rather critical demographic, labour and advanced-education planning issue.
I believe that stimulated by the jobs plan, which the Premier talks about frequently and our minister of labour and technology and tourism…. The government's plan is in fact to stimulate further post-secondary foreign student attendance at our shores, as it is indeed one of our excellent specialties. Of course, not all of these students are going to end up in our public universities. Many of them will probably end up in the private post-secondary sector where, frankly, our information as to exactly what's going on, I suspect, is not as great as it should be and certainly inferior to our knowledge of what's happening in the public sector.
So by the simple act of asking each student applying to adopt a number, we begin to have some means of tracking what's happening, and should it allow us to manage both private and public post-secondary education better, I think that measure will.
Turning to the second main feature of this omnibus act, the Architects Act, I will read the synopsis here. Amendments to this act will authorize the Architectural Institute of B.C., otherwise known as AIBC, "to engage in full consensual dispute resolution of professional conduct complaints as alternatives to full inquiries."
[D. Black in the chair.]
Furthermore, these amendments will ensure that agreements reached through consensual dispute resolution can be enforced in the same manner as those ordered by the disciplinary committee of that society.
While the field of architecture is certainly prestigious and important, I think the impact of the principle being enunciated here is worth emphasizing across all the professions. The professions are becoming more complicated, and livelihoods are becoming dependent on ever-higher degrees of advanced education. There's an increasing diversity of credentials being presented by people who want to practise these increasingly complicated professions.
So the management of the professions in this province, as elsewhere around the world, is becoming more complicated. And with issues of competence, a sensitive matter within any profession, contention is bound to arise. "How dare you say I do not know how to design a window on that office building. I'm going to fight that charge." And so they do, because their livelihood is frequently at stake.
This results in disputes. They can end up in court, and sometimes they do. We have come to understand in recent days in this House the degree to which our courts have been expensive, delayed, staffed with people sometimes with their own agenda. It's a rather expensive and not very efficient alternative for dispute resolution.
Or as I personally experienced in my own profession, executive can seek remedies within the government asking them to, in effect, impose bylaws upon all of their members from Victoria on down — a very top-down solution — and give the executive of these associations the bigger hammer to enforce competence and discipline. At first blush perhaps not a bad idea, if as in my case you're talking about professional engineers.
We're reminded of the importance and, in fact, the lives that are at stake by the recent collapse of some bridge work — the falsework, I think it's called — under the Port Mann bridge, which brings to mind the collapse of the falsework under the ironworkers bridge with the death of a dozen or so ironworkers. I met one of the survivors, as it happens, last week in my riding. That falsework, that engineering better be done properly because in many cases, if it's not done properly, human lives can be sacrificed.
If that is indeed the stake in some of these professions, one need only turn to the health professions. I'm looking at the member for Vancouver-Langara, who is probably one of the most highly trained health professionals we have in British Columbia. What on earth are you doing wasting your time in politics, may I ask?
Government does not have the knowledge and competence to govern her profession. Only her peers can do that. If peers are going to administer peers, arguments, personalities or contention will arise. Are we going to run to the government and sort it out? I don't think so.
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We shouldn't, although it sometimes happens. Are we going to run to the courts? Heaven forbid. It's up to the peer-driven, self-governed organizations themselves, and I think alternative dispute resolution in that context makes a lot of sense.
I could talk about the importance of self-government in our professions as an aside. It would be drawing in extraneous issues, except to say that I think we give insufficient attention to the maintenance of healthy self-government in our self-governing institutions. I have said already that the government itself is incapable of doing so and, frankly, I don't think should even try. So much for the Architects Act and its broader implications.
Let's turn to the portion of this act which is in many ways the most controversial, and we certainly heard — what was it? — an hour and three-quarters of impassioned attack on some of the points made in Bill 18. The four points of particular interest affecting three of the acts involved in the college and university area are: one, the amendments will clarify matters pertaining to members of the boards acting in the best interest of the institution. Imposed upon them is the obligation to act in the best interest of the institution — section 17.
Second point — the chair being elected. The stricture being imposed here…. I can understand why elected members drawn from faculty and students really think this is quite detestable — that this provision would prevent the possibility of an elected board member serving as chair of the institution. But those of us who have served on various boards in other contexts see the merit.
If we're going to have a board of directors at all, I think the purpose in part is to keep an eye on what's going on at the operating level. So to have the chair drawn from the operating level is sort of undermining the whole purpose of having a board in the first place. That is a restriction that would be imposed under section 18.
Third important principle is the power to remove members. This has really got the dander up of many members of college and university boards, and I can understand that. Mechanisms under section 19 will be put into place to allow for the removal of an elected member from the board for reasons of his or her conduct or conflict of interest if a two-thirds majority of the board resolves to have the elected member removed.
Now, elsewhere the legislation refers…. In section 49 — if the board is satisfied that the person should be removed for cause. For cause — an important qualifier. What is cause? Well, I think common law and other regulations have unravelled the meaning of that word, and obviously this particular statute doesn't attempt to redefine what is well tested in law already.
But it isn't as though we don't like the colour of your hair or your skin or you're asking rude questions. I wouldn't think that would be deemed to be for cause. Rather, it would be some outrageous behaviour that is bringing discredit to the institution of the board. I'll mention some episodes of that in a moment.
Finally, board eligibility. Individuals will not be eligible to become board members if they're employed by the institution and — big, important "and" — are a voting member of an executive body of an instructional, administrative or other staff association responsible for negotiating with the board on behalf of their association or which adjudicates disputes concerning members of their association.
As has already been pointed out, this would bar from board eligibility those who, by virtue of their assignment within the union, as it were — otherwise known as the faculty association in the university context — are expected to negotiate with the board. To simplify it, you can't be a member of the board if you're going to, as part of your job, negotiate with the board because that would be — big word — conflict of interest.
Now, that's the gist of the legislation, and the issue, in part, as to the merits of this four-point clarification or modification — or you might say restructuring of board eligibility — revolves around this issue of what is in the best interest of the institution. When we act in the best interest of us, are we acting in the best interest of the university? It's one way of phrasing the question of conflict of interest.
If I'm doing something that's in my best interest, am I therefore automatically doing what is in the best interests of the institution? If I'm acting outside there on the sidewalk in my best interest, am I automatically doing something in the best interest of British Columbia? Well, I don't think I'd get very far with that with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
Unfortunately, relistening to the reasonable sample of the 1,000 letters that the member for Nelson-Creston received, it seemed to me that there was a common theme running through many of them, that namely there is no such thing as conflict of interest, and certainly if there is, it doesn't apply to me. I couldn't help thinking there's a historical parallel here.
Several centuries ago in the palace of Versailles, a famous French king, Louis XIV, declared famously: "L'état, c'est moi." I am the state. France is me. It's a bit of a stretch, but I see some of the same mentality. His confusion of his own interests with that of the people and of the nation, of course, and his failure to identify his own personal conflict of interest led to a rather messy ending, as you all know. I think it was in the Place de la Concorde or something where they…. That was the end of Louis XIV.
We MLAs understand conflict of interest. We have our nose rubbed in it every year when we submit our conflict of interest report. My colleague for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky has to not only reveal her own interesting portfolio but that of her husband. It made mine look a little pale by comparison. I was envious.
That is something that we accept as the price of being an MLA, that if we have a conflict of interest, at least it's out there for everybody to look at. The commissioner keeps a sharp eye on us.
In advanced education, despite what the member for Nelson-Creston suggests, conflict of interest is hardly absent from the boards of governors of our universities and colleges.
Let me read some excerpts from some research that I did. I asked around to say, well, is this…? Because over and over again she said: "What's the problem here? What's the issue? Has anybody actually raised an issue?" Well, they have, as a matter of fact.
Here's what one senior university person told me. "We've got an elected faculty member on our board who is also the officer of a union. He's a member of the union bargaining team, and he participates in negotiating terms and conditions of the union contract on behalf of the union while serving as a member of the board." Well, that's step 1 in a conflict-of-interest situation, it seems to me. But it gets more interesting.
Here's another, a different college. An elected member of the board serves on the union as an officer. He was actively involved in the decision to file a lawsuit against certain members of the board and the institution. They were doing a labour suit. So here's a member of the board, and he's triggering a lawsuit against the board. I would say there's a hint of conflict in that behaviour.
During the time of that action the individual engaged in rather outrageous behaviour — at least as this person viewed it — and didn't comply with board policies. He sort of fed fuel to the fire with lots of inflammatory comments to the media and press concerning the labour situation at that particular college.
Third point. Again, there's a board member who is a member of the union and actively engaged in representing his members, which, of course, is his democratic right. Believe me, as a former union man myself, I believe in unions. They are very important institutions. We should not weaken unions. They're important.
But this guy was actively involved in a lawsuit against some members of the board and the institution during and after the labour dispute when he was also on the board. Now get this. He served as legal counsel on behalf of the union at the time when this all took place, and he continued to act legally on behalf of the union after the term of office.
Final example. Well, it's more of the same. Union member, board member, leaking lots of information to people outside the senate despite his undertakings for confidentiality — misleading information, damaging information to other stakeholders in a negotiating context.
So you might say, as I've already repeated and picked up some hint of this in the letters received, that: "Well, I'm just doing my job. I'm a member of the faculty, and the university is the faculty. L'état, c'est moi. We're one and the same. How can I be against myself?" I'm not sure if society sees it quite the same way, however.
The question was raised whether this is in fact an issue elsewhere. Many other provinces in Canada, I'm told, have addressed this situation through legislation, contrary to what the member for Nelson-Creston suggested. For example, the Post-Secondary Learning Act of Alberta has legislation stating that elected members of the board who are voting members of the executive body or an officer of an association may not be elected or remain a member of the board.
Manitoba has recognized this conflict through a provision of the labour code of Manitoba. Likewise, Dalhousie and the University of New Brunswick have legislated policy to address the issue. Other institutions have collective agreement language that basically states that faculty elected to the board may not be members of the faculty association while serving as a board member. I could go on.
We have a rather outrageous — well, certainly, newsworthy — current episode making its way through the headlines of our smaller town newspapers in British Columbia of a board member of one of our colleges who, according to the press, is suspected of armed robbery. I'm amazed any newspaper would print an unsubstantiated allegation such as that, and I would emphasize that he's not been proven to be guilty of anything. But there he is. They even put his picture on the front page.
So to suggest that it doesn't happen to any organization…. I mean, I've been a member of organizations with their share of crooks and malfeasors, as I'm sure you have, so this is not extraordinary. But to suggest that there's no recourse against such a person — and that is the problem today that this legislation hopes to address — is to ignore reality.
Furthermore, it's said that this is very unbalanced. Of all the letters read by the member for Nelson-Creston, I was proud that maybe the most balanced, I thought, was the one written by a member of the student association from an institution dear to my heart, Capilano University, and like many others — in fact, I would say maybe a third, as many as a third of the ten or so she read — strikingly eliminated any request to eliminate section 50 from what is a plea to the Minister of Advanced Education to amend this legislation before it goes any further.
But several — not the majority, by any means, of course — failed to mention section 50, which is this conflict-of-interest clause. Now, I don't think that was by accident. They realize that there's an issue here, clearly. Furthermore, the member for Nelson-Creston read…. As part of her argument, she said it's not a problem because it's already been taken care of.
Well, that's kind of a two-edged sword. It's not a problem; it's not an issue. But if it is an issue, it's already being taken care of by the institution itself. You can't stand
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on both sides of the argument, it seems to me. It's either not an issue…. I think it is.
If it is an issue…. Okay, maybe some institutions such as Camosun have dealt with it with some internal bylaws. SFU has certainly given it a good try. But why inhibit this Legislature from passing legislation affecting all institutions if it's a good idea for those two, as the member for Nelson-Creston pointed out?
To wrap up, we can't really argue against the conflict-of-interest argument, at the same time saying: "It's such a good idea, we've done it already, so go back to sleep." It is important.
And the final point I would make before I sit down is that I trust, in considering this legislation…. I wrote this out; it was so important to me. I trust that members opposite will suppress their instinct for solidarity with their brothers and sisters on this one and support Bill 18. Or are we going to see another example of approving organized labour — at taxpayer and student expense with steely resolve and determination and discipline — negotiating with itself?
D. Donaldson: Thank you for allowing me to take my place in the debate on the second reading of Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act. Of course we know that second reading is to speak generally to the bill, which I will do, and I look forward to the committee stage of the bill as well.
There are sections of this bill that need work, and as my colleague the education critic has pointed out, some sections need to be dropped, especially the ones around composition of boards — sections 18, 19, 20, 49 and 50, which I will get into a bit later. It's because they're undemocratic. The minister has decided to take a heavy-handed approach, and it's an overreaction.
It's not well-thought-through, this bill, and there are unintended consequences. I will get to more detail on how it's not well-thought-through, this bill, and more detail on the unintended consequences. But generally speaking, it's focused on the wrong issue. It's focused on board composition rather than on the training needs that, especially, the colleges provide.
It's no wonder it's focused on the wrong issue, because the Premier's job plan, which the minister is following, is woefully inadequate on the training aspect. So the minister is just following the direction of the Premier on introducing this bill, which is wasting time on a wrong focus, on board composition rather than on what people really want in my area and in the north and in the province generally in rural areas: increased training opportunities.
The sections that I mentioned already in the bill…. Unfortunately, they leave the impression — and the B.C. Liberals, the government side, is insinuating — that college boards are not acting in the best interests of the institution.
The words that the Minister of Advanced Education used in introducing this second reading were "best interests," and "ultimately, are held accountable." These are words that give the impression that her government does not trust college boards. Honestly, it's a trend that has been noted, a trend that was even just in evidence in the bill we debated previously, Bill 20, the Auditor General for Local Government Act, where this government left the impression that they don't trust municipalities.
This trend continues in the legislation that this government has decided to introduce and decided to focus on. It's around who they don't trust.
I'd like to talk a little bit about specifics in the bill. I'll start with section 20, which deals with ineligibility for board membership.
Section 20 deals with ineligibility for board membership and specifically adds criteria that makes a person ineligible to be a member of the board of an institution if they are an employee and a voting member of the executive body of, or an officer of, an instructional, administrative or other staff association who has responsibility to participate in collective bargaining or dispute resolution activities.
Again, the insinuation and the words used by the minister were "without conflict," although we don't have a great deal of evidence that there is conflict of interest that this clause is trying to address. I would also propose that this section…. It deals with simply one type of board member, employees of the institution. There are other board members, of the colleges in particular.
I will really direct many of my comments to the college system, because I worked in the college system and that's what I'm most familiar with.
In college boards there are also appointees. This government appoints a certain number of board members. So my question to the minister would be: well, what about the appointees? If she is so concerned about the potential conflict of interest with employees, as is stated in section 20, what about the appointees?
I'll give a for instance. For instance, if a B.C. Liberal Party executive member is on a board of a college or a university, should they be ineligible? One could imagine there's potential conflict of interest there. Should they be ineligible because they're a member of the executive of the B.C. Liberal Party and have been appointed to a college board? There's a situation that is not addressed. Section 20 only addresses employees.
I'm just using this as an example. I'm not suggesting that because a person is a member of the B.C. Liberal Party executive that they should be ineligible to be appointed by this government to a college board. I'm not suggesting that. But I'm just using it as an example about how wrong-headed this approach is, and especially in section 20.
I'll give another example. I was on municipal council
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for 10 years. There were many times when there was potential conflict of interest. We'd been trained at UBCM seminars about conflict of interest and potential conflict of interest, especially the perception of conflict of interest. So if there were circumstances that that could possibly happen, we would step out. As a councillor or as a mayor, you'd step out of the debate and not vote in the issue.
You know, I've known mayors who have been employees of unions, employees of companies and employees of organizations that were union members, and I've also known mayors who were CEOs and presidents of businesses. They both were able to decide with guidance from precedent when they should step out of a discussion and when they should step out of voting on a certain issue.
What I don't understand is why this government isn't taking this same approach to work with colleges and universities around this potential conflict-of-interest issue — if there is one, and how widespread we don't know. We've heard a few examples from the previous speaker. I'm not sure if those are examples from the last two decades or examples from all over the province or how many of these examples are actually pertinent.
But why not take the approach as government to work with the colleges and universities. If there aren't procedures in place or rules in place, then develop…. Like our education critic has pointed out, at Camosun College and SFU there are guidelines around what conflict of interest is and when a board member should declare those in writing or orally and when they should step aside.
This approach, to put this in legislation like this, is draconian, it's antidemocratic, and it's not addressing board members as fully formed, responsible adults. I mean, these are community members. The minister, in introducing the second reading of this bill, talked about community members. What she left out was respect for community members in that they will be able to make, with guidelines, these decisions around whether they're in a potential conflict of interest.
What I would encourage the minister to contemplate is to treat boards of colleges and universities as a democratic body and not as a pawn of the minister, which this bill really infers — that the members need to be appointed and need to be controlled by the minister and by the government. So that's section 20.
Section 18 of the bill is another section that has the hallmarks of overcontrol. It's regarding the appointment of the board chair. Section 18 adds a new section requiring members of the board of an institution to elect a chair from among members appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.
In other words, there are members on a board of a college — the one I'm most familiar with is Northwest Community College — that were appointed by this government. Then there are ones who are elected and come from different parts of the community. Now what this bill and what the government's intent is…. They're not just concerned about controlling the board. They're also concerned about controlling who chairs the board. According to this legislation and according to the way it reads right now, the chair of the board can only come from the appointees that the government appoints to the board.
This is an example, and I want to use this as an example of the unintended consequences. Perhaps the minister hadn't fully thought through the implications or wasn't properly advised on the implications of this section, but here's an example of the unintended consequences.
Northwest Community College has a representative from the First Nations Council on the board. Now, the First Nations Council is something that Northwest Community College has created. In 1996 the board of governors created the First Nations Council. I'll quote from what their mandate is: "To provide a process of direct consultation with First Nations communities in the college region with the intended outcome that feedback would provide direction in the strategic and operational planning of the college through a policy framework."
So the First Nations Council of Northwest Community College has a large number of members, perhaps up to 20, representing all the different First Nations interests in the Northwest Community College region. They get together and decide, elect amongst themselves, who's their chair and who will be, therefore, their representative on the board of governors of the college.
They got together, and they chose a chair. Their chair is Adrian Carlick from the Iskut Band Council, and now he sits on the board of Northwest Community College representing the First Nations Council. Under this legislation he would not be able to be the chair of the board.
So you have Adrian Carlick, who's got the knowledge — he's got the experience; he's got the expertise — and this government is legislating against him being able to ever become the chair of Northwest Community College's board because he wasn't appointed by this government. He was on the board, and he is on the board, because he is the chair of the First Nations Council.
Can you imagine the loss to not just the Northwest Community College board but other boards of colleges and universities around the province who have this quality of person on their boards, who potentially, right now, could become the president of the board? And in this case, it's an under-represented, in society generally, segment of society who could become president of the board of Northwest Community College.
He could then have influence provincially and sit on other committees, and yet this legislation, because he was not appointed by the government, disallows him from becoming chair of the board of Northwest Community College.
I think that's just a terrible waste of human potential, and I hope that it was an unintended consequence of
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the government drafting this legislation. But unfortunately, it seems to be just due to some need to control every community process, and that's what this bill seems to be about.
Robbing communities of representation on the board, people who have in-depth knowledge of community issues and needs, is inherent in the sections that I've described in this legislation. It kind of harkens to the impression that the minister knows best about what boards should be considering and therefore what colleges should be doing.
But you know, the minister doesn't know best. It's community people that know best. It's demonstrated that she doesn't know best because she's putting priority…. She's using the energies of her ministry to focus on the composition of boards of colleges — who is eligible and who could become chair — when instead she should be using those resources to focus on the fact that we have a lack of training provided, and it's due to no focus by this government on training through the college system.
For instance, in Northwest Community College the school of mineral exploration has no core funding. Year to year they have no certainty whether they will be able to continue, and that creates great uncertainty for staff and for students. Yet we're in a region that holds such great potential for mining and for jobs associated with mining.
If the minister would just focus on issues like that, rather than the need to control boards, then we would likely be better off in the areas as far as the training aspect goes.
The trades budget for Northwest Community College has been cut back. There's another aspect that could deserve and does deserve more focus from the Minister of Advanced Education, rather than being concerned about who is on the board and what they might be doing when there are already mechanisms in place to address potential conflicts of interest. We still haven't seen evidence of whether it's a widespread problem that needs this kind of heavy-handed approach.
One other example where the focus demonstrated in this legislation is not the most important priority, according to the people of the north and people I represent, is in post-secondary training in Dease Lake. Now, Dease Lake is at the epicentre of the potential mining boom in the province.
In fact, Adrian Carlick, the fellow I mentioned before, is from a community just a matter of an hour south of Dease Lake, from Iskut. If you recall, he will be the one that could never become the chair of the Northwest Community College's board under this legislation, because he was an appointed First Nations man. He wasn't appointed by the government.
So in Dease Lake…. This is a solution that wouldn't require the government to spend money, but again, it's the lack of focus, of focusing on supposed board and governance issues rather than the real issue of training. Dease Lake was without post-secondary presence for 18 months when Northern Lights College pulled out and there wasn't any backup plan.
What has happened is the Ministry of Advanced Education has insisted that Northern Lights College reassert their presence in Dease Lake, and they're doing that now. But they're issuing this direction regardless of whether it's feasible or not. Obviously, Northern Lights College didn't think it was feasible for themselves to be in there and pulled out in the first place apparently due to a financial decision.
Now this minister's ministry is saying: "Get back in there." Instead, they could be encouraging and fostering a partnership between Northern Lights College and Northwest Community College to address the training situation in Dease Lake, a situation that was untenable in the first place, according to Northern Lights College.
But instead of spending time, spending the ministry's human resources — not necessarily funding in this aspect but human resources — on important training issues in a community like Dease Lake, the minister is using her resources and the resources of her staff to attack board governance structures without making the case that such a heavy-handed approach is necessary.
I'm going to conclude my comments. I realize they were quite short compared to previous speakers, including speakers from the government side. But what I would like to say is that this is a real overreaching, heavy-handed approach in the sections that I mentioned in this legislation, and it really seems to be an irrational need to control what's going on at the board governance level.
In a sense, that could be construed as patronizing, that local community people do not have the ability to work on boards without knowing when they might be in conflict of interest or not. It's antidemocratic, and as I've said, it's the wrong priority.
We need more of a priority on training. That wasn't properly addressed in the so-called jobs plan so that local people have the best opportunity for local jobs. That hasn't been properly addressed in the Ministry of Advanced Education by this minister.
It's the wrong priority to be focusing limited resources on this issue at this time. I look forward to the minister taking into consideration the thoughtful comments that the education critic has provided from people in the communities, which I've provided and others on our side will provide in this debate in second reading, and making changes so that in the committee stage we can see changes that are going to be positive in the sections that we've described and see those changes come about in the third reading of the bill.
I thank you very much for allowing me to speak today, hon. Speaker.
J. Thornthwaite: I rise today to give my support for Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act. As this act encompasses four provincial statutes, I'll talk briefly about each one separately.
First of all, the Architects Act. Amendments to this act will authorize the Architectural Institute of B.C. to engage in a consensual dispute resolution of professional conduct complaints as alternatives to full inquiries. Other professions do this; my colleague from West Vancouver–Capilano had mentioned his profession. I understand that the architects are in support of this, and so am I.
The other ones that have had quite a bit of discussion today are the College and Institute Act, the Royal Roads act and the University Act. I have an interest in this because of my background in school board.
These amendments do not change the composition of the institutions' boards. We recognize the value of everyone on these boards and the hard work they put in on behalf of all post-secondary students. However, in contrast to school boards, faculty members are allowed to sit on boards of post-secondary institutions. So the change in this act will strengthen their governance so that elected members will be treated the same as appointed members. This ensures that the possibility of a conflict of interest on the part of all board members is reduced and that there is a mechanism for addressing conflict of interest should it arise.
Right now there is no provision to remove an elected member of the board. When the act is passed, if it is passed — if two-thirds of the board vote to remove that member with cause, and that's key, "with cause" — then that person can be removed. Currently, only an appointed member can be removed.
My colleague from West Vancouver–Capilano also brought up the case that's actually in the news now in Kamloops with regards to a TRU student. This person is in a bit of trouble with the law, as he had mentioned. He was elected last December as a person on the board of governors and senate of TRU. But as I said, he's in a bit of trouble with the law right now in two different cities. One is mine, and the other one is in Prince George. Right now there would be no way of removing this person from the board. With this act, there would be a mechanism to remove the person from the board if two-thirds of that board agreed to do so. So I think that that in itself is a testament.
The other part of this act that I'm in support of is the amendment to the School Act, and this is just an extension on the usage of the personal education numbers for students that will be expanded to private institutions. This will capture information for the Ministry of Advanced Ed that they can use to ensure that we have the most complete understanding of B.C.'s post-secondary students. This will give us a better picture of where students go after grade 12, how and when students continue their education, and how we can best plan student training needs.
Madam Speaker, those are my remarks. I'm pretty sure mine are the shortest. But I just wanted to give you my shtick on this support of the bill, and I thank you very much.
B. Ralston: I rise to address Bill 18, the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act. I propose to direct my comments to proposed amendments to the College and Institute Act and to the University Act.
I've listened to some of the debate, and I also reference through Hansard the comments of the minister explaining the rationale for introducing these amendments to these two statutes. It's suggested that it's required to add an overall duty of board members to act in the best interests of the institution, decide when certain board members are ineligible to serve and also provide that boards will be able to remove an elected individual who is in conflict or for reasons of his or her conduct.
Now, regrettably — and we've heard a bit of this in the speech just past — the rationale for these amendments seems to be based on what I would describe as anecdotal evidence. The minister certainly didn't reference anything in her comments giving a specific example of where there was a legislative impediment to removing someone from the board who was convicted of an offence, or even giving an example, aside from what I would describe as something close to gossip, about someone who may have been on a board and may have been a member of a faculty association, yet participated in those decisions that might have touched upon the collective agreement of the faculty association.
That's a bit surprising, because in fact these institutions all have codes of conduct and board conduct bylaws that they govern themselves by. My brief research on some of these…. I'll give you some examples. Camosun College has a board conduct bylaw which they govern themselves by. They have a code of ethics. It says, and this is probably axiomatic to any board:
"Each member, regardless of whether he or she is elected or appointed or is an ex officio member of the board, has the responsibility first and foremost to the welfare of the institution and must function primarily as a member of the board, not as a member of any particular group.
"Members of specific constituency groups such as faculty, staff or students may bring forward to board discussions the views of their respective constituency; however, in deliberations and voting they shall always act in in accordance with the best interest of the college as a whole.
"Board members are expected to act at all times in good faith and with honesty and due diligence."
Those are the general provisions. I think that really applies to any board, and that's probably not a surprise.
There's a part that deals with conflict of interest. This is again Camosun College:
"Actions taken in the course of performing duties as a board member shall neither cause nor suggest the reality or perception that the member's ability to perform or exercise those duties has been or could be affected by private gain or interest. All board
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members shall ensure that personal financial interests, assets or holdings are not in conflict with any decision or any other matter that may be heard by or acted on by the board. They shall remain…. Personal employment is not dependent on any information or any other decision that may be heard by or acted upon by the board."
They do make an exception for student members, in the sense that "student members" — I'm reading — "are not considered to be in conflict on issues related to fees and charges paid to the institution by students, and may engage in the full debate and vote on these issues."
It gives the chair some guidelines for handling a conflict of interest:
"The board chair will examine the agenda with a view to determining potential or real conflict of interest. If the board chair believes there is a conflict-of-interest situation, the chair will advise the individual involved of the real or potential conflict."
There may be provisions for the board member to absent themselves. There may be a discussion by the board.
If there's a breach in the code of ethics, the board chair, and this is the board chair only, "will take whatever action he or she believes is appropriate based on the nature and severity of the breach. Such action may include but is not limited to warning, reprimand, suspension from the board."
There's an appeal, and on appeal, in the case of an appointed member they may request the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to remove the appellant from the board.
There is a very extensive code at this particular institution, and I'll look at a couple of others as well, that deals with these issues. So the suggestion that somehow there isn't a proper process taking place at these boards, that there are no guidelines, that there's not a recognition of conflict of interest or that, as somehow one member on the government side was suggesting, members who were members of a trade union or a staff association were voting on their own contract…. That would clearly be prohibited by these rules, and the board chair has a duty and an obligation to deal with that.
The reason that there are such few examples — the minister put forward none, not a single one, nothing — and that we rely on anecdotes from others is because there are no real instances of this. If there are, let's have them out in public. Let's have them on the floor of the Legislature. Let's go on the radio talk show, because that's the flavour of the day, and let's expose these alleged conflicts.
I dare say that there are none. These boards function very well. This particular piece of legislation — I don't know where it comes from or why the minister is advancing it. It will, I think, probably do some damage to the way in which the boards operate because it will generate bad feelings and an atmosphere of mistrust, and that's not good for the proper functioning of any board.
But under the College and Institute Act, section 9, a board is composed — and this is the present section — of eight or more members appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. That's legalese for the cabinet. The cabinet appoints eight, and that's a clear majority. There's one person on the faculty of the institution and elected by the faculty members, two students elected by the students, one person who's part of the support staff and elected by the support staff, the president and the chair of the education council. That's a total of six.
One might well expect that the appointed members clearly have a majority, and it is a minimum of eight so there's an opportunity in the legislation that's permissive to have more than eight. There are other members on the board who represent different parts of the institution. But clearly, they're instructed by the code of ethics at Camosun, for example, to put their personal interests aside and act in the interests of the board as a whole. They're forbidden to decide on anything that directly affects the terms of their employment.
So where is the problem? Where is the problem? Vague insinuation, an attack on people who happen to be members of trade unions and might hold positions of office in those trade unions. But other than that, that's about it. Again, an unnecessary piece of legislation, a solution in search of a problem, relying on anecdotal evidence that the minister herself can't even bring forward in her second reading speech.
Perhaps at the committee stage she'll offer these allegedly egregious examples and outrageous conduct that these amendments will deal with, which the boards of directors, the codes of ethics, the collegial atmosphere that runs most of these institutions haven't dealt with. I'll look forward with interest to what the minister has to say at committee stage.
Maybe in this session we'll actually get to committee stage instead of having this rammed through on closure like we usually do when the B.C. Liberals are sitting in the Legislature. Most of the bills in the last number of years have gone through on closure. They really don't like debate. They don't really like committee stage. That's very clear from their actions in this place, and their actions certainly do speak louder than words.
But let's look at other boards. Let's look at the B.C. Hydro board, for example. There are people on the Hydro board…. This was discussed in estimates on Wednesday, May 9, with the minister. A Hydro director is a member of a law firm, and one of his partners at the law firm is a chair and a significant shareholder in Finavera Renewables, which has a substantial contract with B.C. Hydro. Was this Mr. Drance, who's a Hydro director, removed from the board? How was that conflict of interest addressed? Billions of dollars in that contract. No. He recused himself. In other words, he didn't participate in decisions that affected the clean energy call and anything that might be related to the area of business.
At the B.C. Hydro board, if there is a conflict, it's good enough. The minister defended the appointee to the board as a man of integrity, and I certainly don't dispute
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that here, but that was good enough. That was the legal mechanism. Have that person recuse himself from those decisions and participate in the rest of the dealings and the business of the board. Good enough for B.C. Hydro, but not good enough for Camosun College.
Maybe the minister will be able to explain that at committee stage. Maybe she'll explain why there's one set of rules for Crown corporations and Liberal appointees to Crown corporation boards, and there's another set of standards when it comes to someone whose only interest in the institution is the fact that they work there and are concerned about the future of the institution and they do not participate in matters dealing with the collective agreement of their own terms of employment.
They want to participate in other decisions of the institution. No, they can't do that. That's prohibited for them. But for Mr. Drance…. He can step aside where his financial interest is concerned, but where anything else is concerned it's good enough for him to continue on the board. Does one smell a double standard here? I think so. I think so — an ill-thought-through amendment.
Let's look at the rules of the board of governors of Simon Fraser University. The suggestion is made by one of the members here, a Liberal member, that a member of a faculty association would be on the board negotiating with themselves. That's clearly not the case. Let's look at the rules of the board of governors of Simon Fraser University.
In the section called "Conflict of Interest," 9.6: "When a person is elected to the board who is or becomes a member of the executive of an SFU union or bargaining unit or a member of an SFU negotiating committee, that person will be excluded from any committee or board discussion of labour relations or compensation matters."
Good enough for Jonathan Drance on the B.C. Hydro board. It's in the rules of SFU, the manner in which they conduct their business. Yet, oh no, we need an amendment here. We need to bring down the legislative hammer to try and solve a problem that doesn't really exist.
Let's have a look at the University of Victoria — again, a very extensive code of procedures of the board that guide their deliberations and their conduct. Naturally, there are conflict of interest and confidentiality provisions. They say…. I think this is rather insightful — understandably. Universities are complicated places to govern. This clause acknowledges that.
I'll read 5.1 of the procedures of the board at the University of Victoria. The board of governors is constituted as described in part 6, sections 18-34, of the University Act. "The board of governors of the university has a variety of functions to perform under the University Act. The composition of this board is complex, and it is possible that conflict of duty or interest may arise in the case of any member of the board."
Then they go on to identify what should be done if a board member identifies a real or apparent conflict. "Further, there is an apparent conflict of interest when there is a reasonable perception that the board member's ability to exercise an official power or perform an official duty or function will be or was affected by the private interest." They have to make full disclosure.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
There's a procedure to be taken after disclosing the conflict. They may ask the board's permission to address the board briefly. They may excuse themselves. They must not take part in the discussion of the matter or vote on any questions in respect to the matter and must not attempt in any way at any time to influence the discussion of the voting of the board on any question relating to the matter giving rise to the conflict of interest. They go on to specify some exceptions.
"5.4 With the exception of matters potentially affecting a board member's terms of employment" — and that is a conflict — "voting on matters which will have an effect on a broad group — students, staff, faculty — by a member of that group is in general not a conflict of interest. For example, student members of the board may vote on issues dealing with tuition fees. If a board member is in doubt about whether he or she or another member of the Board is or may be in conflict of interest, the board member should discuss the matter with the chair. The chair may rule a board member to be in conflict of interest with an issue before the board."
There are sanctions for breach of confidentiality. They have to sign an annual statement disclosing any real, potential or apparent conflict of interest, acknowledging that they have read and understood the board procedures on conflict of interest and so on.
So there is a fairly exhaustive procedure for board members to follow in terms of declaring conflict, real or apparent, a mechanism to deal with them and a strict prohibition against voting on anything that affects one's terms of employment.
The objections that are raised so casually here by government members, with a $42 billion budget and the powers of research that they have and the 126 people in the communications department and God knows how many in research…. That's the best argument they can come forward with here — completely and totally fallacious; completely and totally wrong. Really unfortunate. The minister, I hope, at committee stage will defend this particular bill. But so far there doesn't seem to be any basis for it.
Frankly, these particular amendments are unnecessary, unsupported by any evidence, any argument, and are completely contrary to the lived experience and the reality of what's going on at college and university boards with their codes of conduct, their extensive mechanisms for dealing with conflict of interest.
So those sections of the bill I certainly will be voting against. I look forward to the committee stage, should we ever get there, to hearing the minister's justification for
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these draconian amendments to statutes that are functioning perfectly well.
K. Conroy: I, too, rise to respond to Bill 18, which has some acceptable legislation in it. I think the changes to the Architects Act…. It's interesting. It has been requested by the Architectural Institute of B.C. But the other changes that I find concerning — the ones that amend the College and Institute Act, the Royal Roads University Act and the University Act — weren't requested by the very people that it affects, which is an interesting concept.
These amendments would ban certain institutions' employees from serving on boards of governors, prohibit elected board members from serving as chair and allow the board to remove the elected board members by a two-thirds majority vote.
Now, I want to talk about the college in my constituency, Selkirk College, and how this legislation will negatively impact it. Selkirk is represented by both myself and the member for Nelson-Creston, as she mentioned. Actually, it's also represented in the Boundary country by the member for Boundary-Similkameen. It's a large area that this college covers.
Selkirk began in the hearts and minds of citizens who shared a common vision of providing access to high-quality post-secondary education in the West Kootenays. Selkirk's roots can be traced back to 1964-65, when discussion and community forums culminated in a regional vote in favour of funding British Columbia's very first regional college.
The official opening of Selkirk occurred in the fall of 1966, when the classes — although it was temporary — were in old bunkhouses provided by Celgar, the local pulp mill. They had been used when the mill was being built.
The community was ecstatic about the new community college. Local students could now do their first two years at Selkirk as opposed to leaving the community to go to the Lower Mainland, and they could actually do some post-secondary education right there in our communities.
I know my husband was among the batch of the first charter students in the arts program. He went there for a few years before he went to the University of Victoria. My mom was also a member of the charter class. She enrolled in a Russian language course that was offered to the community, because it was truly a community college, one that had the concept of both post-secondary education as well as educating local adults to continue upgrading their learning opportunities.
Selkirk was named for the local mountains — Selkirk College, Selkirk Mountains. They surround the college. It's an incredible sight. Those of you that have flown in to Castlegar are well familiar with the respect and awe that we grant to the Selkirk Mountains. The Minister of Education is well aware of that airport.
This main campus sits on the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers. Again, it was the very first college ever opened in this province as a community college. Many of our trades programs that are in continuous operation in this college began in 1964. That facility then was called the B.C. Vocational School, the Nelson branch. It was the very first institute in B.C. to do the trades training. It officially became part of Selkirk College in 1975.
Now, at the highest level, Selkirk College is governed by a board of governors, just like all colleges in this province. In '94 this board adopted the policy governance model to guide its operation. Under this model the board focuses on issues and activities that the board considers its responsibility and depends on the president and staff to deal with all operational matters. Therefore, while the president is responsible for day-to-day operations, the board's governance focus is on the long-term vision and purpose of the college. I think that bears repeating: the board's governance focuses on the long-term vision and purpose of the college.
What this legislation does is it eliminates a key voice in that process. It takes away the potential opportunity for faculty, staff and students — all key members of this organization — from having a voice when developing the long-term vision and purpose of the institution they attend or work at. Selkirk is the West Kootenay–Boundary region's only post-secondary institution, and I know as a local person and as an alumni student, we're really proud of Selkirk's 46-year history of success for learners in our community.
Now, I think that the board members take their governance role very seriously. I know that just a few years ago, 2005, they adopted a best practices framework. They thereby renewed their commitment to effective policies, practices and public disclosure, and every year they go through the same process. They review their strategic foundation mission, they look at their value statements and strategic directions of the college, and if required, they adjust these to meet changing needs and times, as they differ. Again, we have to ask….
This is really important work that is being done by the board, and it needs to be done with the voices of students, faculty and the staff, who have contributed to the college's development since the early '60s. Their voices need to be there when the college board is determining these visions.
We're very lucky at our college. It works well. The board members work together; they work in collaboration with each other. It's interesting that they have eight appointed board members that are appointed by the government, and they are appointed from our community, the wide community. They have one elected staff member, two elected student body members and one member elected from the faculty members.
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What the legislation will do is allow the board with a two-thirds vote to remove elected members from the board. So we have eight appointed members and four elected members. Those four elected members can be removed from the board with the vote of appointed members — appointed by the government. So what the government…. It seems like it's an attempt to subvert democracy, by including this amendment in this legislation.
Now, it says that board members must act in the best interest of the institution, and if it's deemed by this vote of two-thirds of the members that the board is not doing so, a board member can be removed by an order-in-council. Well, when two-thirds of the board is appointed, it again begs the question: where is the democratic process?
The concerns that board members might not act in the best interest of the institution is really rather insulting to the hard-working, committed volunteers who are board members. I don't know too many people who get involved with organizations like local colleges without wanting to ensure the best interests of that institution are paramount.
I did have some input from various folks in the community. One that summed it up for me was:
"It seems to me that the act is going against a history of faculty being able to have representation of their own choosing, being involved in the running of the college at the board level. It also appears to presume that faculty association executive members, because of their obligations as executive members, will not act in the best interests of the institution.
"This certainly goes against the spirit of a collegial model of running an academic institution. The ability of the majority of the board to gang up and get rid of a minority board member through a two-thirds vote also appears to be a way to stifle discussion and dialogue at the board level.
"In a democratic system of choosing a board rep, surely it should be up to the voters, rather than the government-appointed members, to decide whether the representative is acting in the best interests of the college. Presumably, too, any difficult board member could be voted off in this way, including the faculty, staff or student board representative."
There's a question. Shouldn't those members who choose their rep — the members who democratically elect their rep from amongst themselves, from amongst their body of peers — be the ones to decide if they are being appropriately represented? Shouldn't they be the ones to say yea or nay to whether their board member is representing their interests at the board and representing the entire interests of the institution at the board?
Now, it's interesting what they demand of board members at the college. There are personal attributes that they ask for, that they insist that board members have before they even consider coming on the board. We're talking about high ethical standards; integrity in professional and personal dealings; appreciation of the responsibilities to the public; able and willing to raise potentially controversial issues in a manner that encourages dialogue; flexible, responsive and willing to consider others' opinions; capable of a wide perspective on issues; ability to listen and work as a team member; no direct or indirect conflict of interest with the member's responsibility to the organization; strong reasoning skills; able and willing to fulfil time commitment required to carry out the responsibilities; and a commitment to continuous learning about the organization and relevant sector or industry.
All are competencies that are expected of the board members, all things that we think people should have before they sit on a board. But it begs, again, the question: the conflict of interest or…? You think people that have these types of skills are surely people that should be there, that are relevant to their choice by their peers.
It's interesting that the board…. When they do their strategic visioning and forward-looking, it comes from all members of the board. And they value the input from the college students. The students were telling me that they take seriously the decision of who is going to sit on the board — the person who has the time and the ability to be able to work on the board, to work with people, to be able to fully carry out their commitment to the board. They take it extremely seriously and make sure that the two reps that they elect to the board are there and are able to carry out what is necessary to be on a board.
It's interesting at Selkirk. They say that even though previous board experience is not required, it is important that candidates understand the roles and responsibilities of a member of a governing board and have the necessary experience and demonstrated skills to enable them to contribute to board decision-making and oversight. All the elected people I spoke to said they take this very seriously. They want to ensure they can be an active, participating member of the board and that their issues are discussed and debated, that everybody has an opportunity to air their concerns.
Now, the other interesting thing is board members have to have a real time commitment. This isn't just a fly-by-night thing you can do on the side of your desk — especially when you look at students that are going to school, carrying on with their post-secondary education. You've got faculty members who are teaching. I know board members that are representative of the staff also have many commitments in the community. But they attend local college functions. They are continually out there and about in the community, representing the community.
I think it just speaks of hypocrisy to take away that voice, to say that we know better, the appointed members know better, that these elected people don't know what they should be doing and we should eliminate them from the board. It just speaks of hypocrisy.
When you look at at the commitment expected of the board, it's really hard to believe that those board members, anyone, would enter into it without a great deal of
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respect and commitment to the organization. I think due process is considered for anybody that is chosen.
Again, I know they take this very seriously, this responsibility of ensuring that they have people on their board who wouldn't have a conflict of interest, who wouldn't be suspect for not seeing through the best interests of the organization, of the institution, that are at the forefront of all their decisions.
I do want to refer to one of the letters, from just a part of it, of the local Selkirk College Faculty Association, from the president — just a portion of it. I think it hits the nail on the head. He says:
"Collegial governance is vital to the proper functioning of any institution. Faculty members have long played a unique and important role in the governance of our college. Removing any current elected faculty members of the board is undemocratic. Going forward, it will also restrict the democratic process, as it will prevent certain faculty members from running either for the board or for a faculty association executive. Such a step will surely polarize the relationships between administrative and faculty groups at our college and for other colleges and universities across the province."
He goes on. This was one of the probably thousands of letters that our critic referred to that were sent to the minister. The minister, I'm hoping, has read all the letters, looked at the issues that the people were raising, and said: "Yes. This is an issue."
I think it's imperative that she relooks at the legislation and brings forward appropriate amendments so that democracy at the college level boards is not circumvented by this bill, so that the board members at places like Selkirk College can be confident their voices will still be heard, that the student body knows their voices will still be heard at the college level.
I, too, have concerns about this part of the bill and hope that the minister will amend it, because I can't support that part of the bill. I look forward to committee stage where I hope the minister does bring forward amendments or can explain maybe why they think that this has to be such an issue at this time, when there is such an outcry of people who have obviously not requested this, unlike the architectural board, but have said that this is not what we see as in the best interest of colleges and universities at the board level in this province.
For that reason I will not be supporting these amendments and hope the minister sees her way clear to bring forward ones that will look at democracy for the province.
H. Bains: It is an honour and privilege to be back here in this House and to talk about issues that are important to our constituents.
I'm here today, standing to speak on Bill 18. There are some serious issues with Bill 18. That's the reason I decided to stand up and make my voice known — especially sections 18, 19, 20, 49 and 50. Serious problems.
I want to talk about how I had some experience before I got elected in 2005. I was appointed in 1993 to the board of Kwantlen University, the board of governors. From 1993 till 1999 I had that privilege to serve on the board of one of the finest institutions, I would say, in the province.
This is the institution that has four campuses, serving Richmond, Surrey — two campuses — Cloverdale, Langley area. I tell you, the experience I had on that board and meeting with some of the finest people I think was one of the best parts of my life.
This is the time, after I got appointed in 1993 — I think it was Bill 19, if I'm not mistaken — that the government of the day brought in that legislation allowing faculty members, students and support staff to participate on the board.
Of course, they were elected by their peers. I can tell you the expertise and the ability those folks brought to the table was unmatched. Yes, there were appointed board members like myself. They represented the community that the college served. They represented different sectors of the economy that the colleges were to serve, to make sure that they had programs to deal with those immediate needs of those communities. Along with that, the faculty members, students and the support staff sat with us.
You know, in six years I've never found myself that anybody in there…. A lot is being made here by the Liberals that there's a conflict of interest if they sit on the board because they somehow will be making decisions that are only helping them. Well, let me tell you, there is legislation that governs all those board members, then and now.
We had our internal guidelines, codes of conduct developed by our board. Not once did we have an issue where there was one member who would insist that they wanted to sit through a piece of decision-making where we had to take an action — never. So where is the need for this legislation? Who is asking for this?
I can't find any reason, either listening to the minister or the other Liberal members on that side or anywhere else, where there's any need or demand to make these changes. So why, then, are we sitting here, bringing in those acts and that legislation, especially 18, 19 and 20? The only thing…. I thought through: what would be the reason behind all of this?
You know, going back to the history of this government, to 2001, the very reason that actually pushed me to run for this position was their disrespect for the working people. That is clearly again shown through this act, especially those who dare to belong to a union, especially those. Go back to what they did to HEU back in 2001-2002, and then move, fast-forward to today, this bill. What is the reason for saying that the only elected members of the board, elected by their peers, can be removed by a two-thirds majority of that board?
Appointed members can also be in conflict, but there are guidelines dealing with that as well. Why not put a section in here to remove those by a two-thirds majority? Do you know why not? Because those are appointed
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by this Liberal government. They can be in conflict. No one's going to touch them. But those who dare to belong to a union, who elected their representative to represent their interests on that board to make that institution work better, somehow that is not good for this bunch here on the other side.
I firmly believe, through my previous life, that people who produce the product or deliver the service are the best people to bring the expertise and skills to determine how to make that organization more efficient. Who better than a faculty member to talk about issues in the classroom? Who else can talk about those issues better than a faculty member or a student or a support staff member who has to deal with and provide the support to those two entities?
Those are the people because they are the ones who will be delivering the service. They know what it takes. They know where the flaws are. But like these Liberals have always said: "We know best. We'll tell you what's best for you." That's how they have run this province for the last 11 years, and that's exactly what they are doing through this bill.
In this day and age, I just fail to understand why, because of such an ideological block they have, out there they continue to beat up on the working people. Is this going to make those institutions or universities work better? I think not.
When an elected member representing one of those bodies is sitting through a board meeting thinking that this thing is hanging over their head —"If I say something wrong here, if I take a position they may not like, I'm going to get removed" — how effective is that member going to be in participating in real debate that is needed to make that institution better for our students?
At the end of the day it's all about students. It's about our future. How are we going to train our students, who are going to run our economy to make this a better province than the province they have inherited from their parents? We are tying their hands just because, ideologically, we somehow believe in some things. That's what the Liberal approach is to any policy issue in this House that I have witnessed since 2005. I experienced before that, since 2001, what they've done through Bill 29 and Bill 28.
So I have some serious issues with this legislation. Again, there is an eligibility test here under section 20. Those who are leaders in representing faculty or students or support staff cannot be on that board. While the executive members of the college can be on that board, the leaders of the community they are serving can't be on that board. I just don't get it. I don't get it. When there is no rationale behind what they are doing here, you can only come to your own conclusions on why they're doing this.
I think our role here in this House is to make lives better, to make policies that are going to run this province better than what we have inherited here from our forefathers. So I think by going through with this, because of the ideological block that Liberals have, in this House they continue to come with policies that are damaging to our democratic institutions.
I would say this: if we are going to make our colleges and institutions run better, then we'd better make policies that are strictly dealing with that issue rather than having our own ideological obsession that somehow we are going to make a decision that is going to reflect to our audience out there: "Hey, we are again bashing the unions. You can continue to support us and continue to provide us the funds we need to win the next election." It seems to me that's the kind of approach the Liberals have taken time and time again.
Here are some of those people who are affected — what they have to say about this. Darryl Walker, the president of the BCGEU, said: "They" — the Liberals — "say that the regular union members can serve on college boards but that union activists are specifically prohibited. If enacted, this legislation will remove our members' constitutional right to freedom of association. The government cannot use conflict of interest as an argument, either. Conflict-of-interest legislation already regulates members of public bodies, and union activists are no more in conflict than regular union members who may sit on those boards."
You can't say it any better than that. The regular union members have the same interest as their leaders. You are saying that they can be on the board, but because you have elected somebody to represent you, to run your union, they cannot. It does not make sense.
Here's Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators. This is what she has to say.
"We don't need to have another protracted battle at the Supreme Court to tell the Premier she is wrong, but if that's the only option available, that's where this proposed legislation will take us.
"What makes no sense at all is that the faculty representatives on the boards of governors have been a long-established part of collegial governance that has operated in post-secondary institutions across Canada for over a hundred years."
Again, who is asking for this legislation? Nobody. There's so much being asked of this government to make things better for students, especially to deal with student debt, and the minister is saying: "Well, that's not what I'm going to spend my time on." But that's what this government needs to pay attention to.
These are the students who are going to run our economy in the coming years. These are the students who will be making us competitive in the rest of the world. And here we are, burdening them with debt — the highest in the country — and the government says: "That's not where our efforts are going to be." It just shows the wrong priorities of this government.
The president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers has this to say:
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"We recognize your government's desire to limit potential conflicts of interest for elected members of boards of governors of B.C. public universities, colleges and institutions, but the provisions of Bill 18 go far beyond what might be necessary to achieve this end.
"Prohibiting leaders of faculty and staff associations from serving on boards of governors and empowering appointed and ex officio members of the board to remove elected members of the board is a clear violation of democratic principles and practices."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Again, those are two or three sections of this legislation that are really troubling. And where was the need for this? I fail to understand. I carefully listened to the minister. I carefully listened to many of the other members of the B.C. Liberals who spoke on this bill in favour. But none of them came up with any convincing argument or reason or rationale to justify sections 18 and 19 of this legislation. No one.
This is David Clarkson and Tara Paterson. They are representatives of the Capilano Students Union. This is what they have to say:
"If adopted, sections 19, 34 and 49 of Bill 18 would amend the College and Institute Act and the University Act to allow the boards of governors regulated under those pieces of legislation to remove from office any elected student, faculty or employee representative on the board.
"Our concerns with those proposed amendments are threefold: (a) that they are unwarranted and without any reasonable or defensible justification, (b) that they will undermine the representation of students in post-secondary governments and (c) that the act was brought to the Legislature without any evidence of meaningful student consultation."
So here we go again. The people who are running our institutions, people who are working day in and day out to make those institutions more efficient and work better for our students, are all saying that this is wrong-headed legislation, that it is undemocratic. There's no justification behind this.
What is the reason for bringing this piece of legislation in here? I know I could go on for a few more minutes, but there are my colleagues who want to speak on this as well. But I want to say that at the end of the day, sections 18, 19, 20, 49 and 50, in my view, are undemocratic and draconian, and that's why I will not be supporting those parts of this bill.
R. Fleming: I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill 18 this afternoon and to say a few things in this debate about, I think, the controversial aspects where I will aim the focus of my remarks.
I think others have spoken to and the minister has motivated well on the changes in this bill around the Architects Act, which was well consulted, which was developed over time and in actual fact stands in direct contrast to the other parts of the bill, which were done in secret without consultation of those affected parties in the legislation. Those are the sections of the bill that deal with changes to governance of our college and university systems here in British Columbia.
Others have asked questions at this stage of debate for the minister to explain where the motivation is coming from, where the interest is coming from, because the university presidents were asked…. For example, the president of the Research Universities Council of British Columbia was asked, "Was this your idea?" by various stakeholders that are now having their democratic representative rights curtailed. "No," came back the answer.
Other stakeholders were asked whether they were motivating it — for example, the association representing the presidents of B.C. colleges. No, it wasn't them, came back the answer.
In other words, it didn't come back from any representative of administrations in colleges and universities, any of the associations that work with government in this sector, in this ministry. So where did it come from?
That's a question that other members have asked as well. I want to ask it myself. It has not been answered at this stage in debate, and we're on second reading of legislation that is going to change a model of governance that has served British Columbia for decades, which is in the mainstream of how universities and colleges are governed across Canada, which is in our tradition, which is in the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada — how their bylaws are typically developed.
Elected representatives by faculty, staff and students are not to be interfered with by the ministry. I want to comment on that, because in searching for an explanation as to what motivates government to make these changes, there were some interesting comments that came from the presidents of these institutions. They actually felt that these changes will be harmful to the way board dynamics occur in British Columbia.
Instead of apparently whipping into line unruly elements at colleges and universities, which we have not heard any evidence of, what it will do is create a two-tier board structure where the OIC members are given powers in their majority, their two-thirds majority, over the one-third minority of elected representatives from the campus.
To have a healthy, functioning board — and these are comments from university and college presidents that I have received — you want to minimize the differences, to the greatest extent possible. You want to have the board working as a team. You want the sharing of perspectives at this administrative board level to put the interests of the institution first, and that means building trust, working together, sharing responsibility for decisions that have to be taken. By and large, that is the culture at colleges and universities in British Columbia.
Now, you throw in this bombshell and dangle it over board members, create new distinctions and divisions on the board, and you're going to potentially upset a relationship of very well-governed institutions in British
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Columbia. And why? Again I go back to the why. The minister and the ministry have not motivated why this is of any urgency. So I would like to see that question resolved, because what we have had evolve in British Columbia at our colleges and universities are administrative divisions that have worked incredibly well.
On the academic side it has been left to senates and, at the college level, education councils to make decisions around curriculum and those matters that are purely academic. The financial, strategic and administrative decisions have been dealt with by boards of governors and boards of directors at the college level, and that is a system that has worked well.
Conflicts at boards are well managed. You talk to any board members, and that's the opinion you will typically get. Other members and the critic for Advanced Education highlighted the reality on the ground at campuses in B.C.
Board members are covered, in their relations with one another, by policies on conflict of interest. They have guidelines on in-camera rules for decisions which include recusals where there is a conflict of interest. They have codes of conduct that each member abides by and is governed by.
Of course, the various acts of legislation that are being amended here have responsibilities that are clearly outlined for those board members. Then, of course, colleges and universities have legal counsel that are available to board members, where if there is a dispute where one board member thinks the other is in a conflict of interest, legal counsel can be sought to give an opinion on that matter.
That's how it works today, and it works incredibly well. So the bigger question is: why is this government ratcheting back democracy on campuses? I think that's really what this debate is about.
It is incredibly arrogant for the government to come to institutions that are working well, that are founded on a basis and understanding that they are institutions of free inquiry and provide incredibly valuable training services and services to the knowledge-based economy that is part of British Columbia's prosperity and tell them, "This is how you will be governed now," and that the minister's powers are being enhanced to dismiss board members. What is that about?
Bear in mind that this is coming two years after this government eliminated democratic traditions at UBC and the other major universities in British Columbia that had a democratic feature, and that was elected chancellors. We used to have elected chancellors for over a century in British Columbia, and that was gone by this government. They did use closure in that instance on that bill, which will interest my colleague the Finance critic, because he has cited that habit that is well established as a pattern of how this government operates.
I would like to speak to a couple of sections of the bill. If I could leave aside the main issue that I've been speaking to for a moment and deal with what I think is a missed opportunity in this bill. That is to talk about the World Trade University for a moment.
There is a section here that amends what I would call, perhaps, an orphan piece of legislation, since there is no World Trade University in British Columbia, although they were given a free campus in Chilliwack and all kinds of government support.
I think it's fair to say that the World Trade University didn't end well, I don't think. It ended in embarrassment for this government — that the principal behind this so-called institution in fact had no links to the United Nations, which was claimed; had no legitimacy from international bodies that it claimed to have accreditation from; had no business plan; had no financial backers. Yet it had the full, unqualified support of this government and even a stand-alone piece of legislation to allow it to exist.
When I say this is a missed opportunity…. We have the act, the World Trade University Canada Establishment Act, being opened up in this omnibus bill to deal with the provision of personal information. Well, I say it's a missed opportunity because what should be done is that that thing should be repealed. It should be wound down. It was part of a well-demonstrated episode of fraud, which is shameful in British Columbia.
The warnings came from within the sector. Government didn't do its homework. Why have a piece of legislation still sit out there for an institution and title which is utterly meaningless, will never be developed and should be put to bed and wound down once and for all?
The minister can perhaps highlight to us why she chose not to take that course of action. But really, I think the question is, on these governance issues, misguided as they are…. The question for the minister is….
There are additional questions, and they are really about this. Why is she, why is the ministry, wasting time on upsetting something that is working well, that has been demonstrated for decades to be working well, instead of dealing with some real, persistent problems in post-secondary education that others and our critic have spoken to this afternoon in debate?
That's the question, I think, that British Columbians would want their legislators to be talking about — not fixing non-problems and making things worse, like these sections of this bill will do, but asking the questions about why British Columbia still, in this day and age, has one of the worst-supported university-based research-and-development sectors. And how does that contribute to lower economic productivity than this province should have?
Why isn't the minister asking — because she's in charge of this ministry — why British Columbia has the
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worst system of graduate scholarships in Canada and how that fails us as a province to contribute to the recruitment of top research talent at the graduate student level and to attract faculty to come here and set up shop in British Columbia and be part of an innovative economy? Those are the questions that should be asked.
She should also be asking, on the training side, why it is that British Columbia today, in 2012, has a completion level in trade apprenticeship programs that is 50 percent lower than our neighbours in Alberta, a province with a million fewer citizens than B.C., when at one time and before this government came to power, Alberta came to us to study our apprenticeship system and we were the leaders in that kind of trades training. She should ask herself those questions.
The Auditor General looked into that. He asked some of these questions, and government has never adequately responded.
While she's at it, the minister might want to dust off a report that was delivered to one of her predecessors not that long ago by a good friend of the government, the former Attorney General Geoff Plant. He got well paid to look into British Columbia's post-secondary sector and to project forward and to see where it needed to go, and he delivered a report called Campus 2020. Does anyone remember that over on the government side? There were some thoughtful recommendations in there…
Hon. G. Abbott: Very thoughtful.
R. Fleming: …as the minister says.
He recommended primarily that British Columbia fix its broken student aid system and develop a strategy to correct some deep-seated problems in B.C. — namely, incredibly low participation rates for low-income students in British Columbia and those from aboriginal backgrounds. That was something, he said, that should be fixed, or it would cause further problems that are societal going forward.
That's a good recommendation from Geoff Plant, and it's one that successive ministers, including this one, have failed to do anything about. So why doesn't the minister go back, look at Mr. Plant's report, blow the dust off the cover and come back to this Legislature to talk with all members so that we can have productive time debating how we both might work together to improve the post-secondary education sector in real ways to enhance the opportunities, the skills and the prosperity that flows from advanced education?
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
That's what we should be talking about, instead of talking about legislation that will take us backward; that will increase more conflict on campuses, where it doesn't exist today; that will curtail the democratic rights and traditions of the post-secondary education sector for colleges and universities. Get rid of those provisions at this stage. Withdraw them, and then maybe we can talk about what advanced education really needs.
C. James: Noting the hour, I reserve my place to speak, and I move adjournment of the debate.
C. James moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 5:49 p.m.
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