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
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Volume 31, Number 5
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Songwriting award recipients
S. Chandra Herbert
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 26 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. S. Thomson
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Mission Memorial Hospital
100th anniversary of Port Alberni
40th anniversary of Camosun College
Role of social workers
Response by fire departments to mill explosion and fire at Burns Lake
Deaths of farmworkers in vehicle accidents
Funding for groups participating in Missing Women Inquiry
Hon. S. Bond
Agreement on naming rights for B.C. Place
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. P. Bell
Infection cases and patient information at Burnaby Hospital
Hon. M. de Jong
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 22 — Education Improvement Act (continued)
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Advanced Education (continued)
Hon. N. Yamamoto
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 7, 2012
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
J. Les: I have the honour today of introducing special guests who join us on the floor of the House today. They are eight parliamentarians from the Parliament of the Kingdom of Norway, also known in Norway as the Stortinget.
The delegation is visiting Canada at the invitation of the Speaker of the House of Commons. They were in Ottawa earlier this week and will finish their Canadian visit in British Columbia.
I'd like to introduce His Excellency Dag Terje Andersen, President of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Norway; Mr. Per Sandberg, Deputy Parliamentary Leader; Ms. Borghild Tenden, Deputy Parliamentary Leader; Ms. Anne Tingelstad Wøien, Deputy Parliamentary Leader; Conservative Party member Ms. Siri A. Meling; Labour Party member Ms. Ingalill Olsen; Christian Democratic Party member Mr. Geir Jørgen Bekkevold; Saami Parliament member Ms. Marianne Balto.
Our guests are also joined in the gallery today by Her Excellency Else Berit Eikeland, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Canada, and Mr. Bjørnar Dahl Hotvedt, International Secretariat of the Stortinget.
Also in the gallery today are other representatives from the Stortinget, the Royal Norwegian Embassy to Canada and Canada's International and Interparliamentary Affairs Directorate.
I would like to ask all members of the House to help make our guests welcome today. [Applause.]
Hon. C. Clark: I am pleased to welcome guests today from the Alberni Valley and the central Island. Mark and Lisa MacDonald are with us, the publisher of Business Vancouver Island magazine. Mr. Graham Williamson is the president and CEO of LIFESUPPORT Patient Transport. Mike Carter is the executive director of the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Peter Doukakis is the executive director of the Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Jan Cole is the president of Ty Watson Hospice Society in Port Alberni. Bob Cole is from the Pacific Salmon Foundation and is vice-chair of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board. Darren DeLuca is from the Port Alberni Port Authority transportation committee, and Jerry Peterson is from the manna homeless ministry. Of course, as someone well known, I think, to this chamber, Ms. Paula Peterson is a tireless volunteer on behalf of free enterprise in British Columbia. I hope the House will please make them all very, very welcome.
J. Horgan: Joining us in the gallery today is an educator from my constituency in Sooke. It's Chelsea Richardson from Journey Middle School. Would the House please make her very, very welcome.
M. Farnworth: In the House today are a couple of constituents of mine, Lois and Warren Hammond from Port Coquitlam. Lois is a caregiver to her husband, Warren, who was diagnosed recently with Alzheimer's, and is over here to help educate those of us in this chamber on the importance of treatments and exactly what happens when you're looking after someone with Alzheimer's. Would the House please make them most welcome.
Hon. M. Polak: Today I have the pleasure of introducing to the House a number of guests who are here in Victoria to shed light on the issue of human trafficking. British abolitionist William Wilberforce once said: "Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know." These are individuals who have taken his words very seriously.
Maj. Brian Venables is the Salvation Army's divisional secretary for public relations and development. Deborah Coggles is the chair of the Salvation Army B.C. division anti–human trafficking committee. Naomi Krueger is the manager of Deborah's Gate, which is one of Canada's only specialized recovery homes for victims of human trafficking. Jassy Bindra is the B.C. human trafficking coordinator for the RCMP, and Todd Hauptman has been an active community leader in the fight against modern-day slavery for the past three years. Would the House please make them very welcome.
M. Mungall: Well, I am the proud aunt of two very darling little girls. They are my nieces, and they are Phoenix and Siren. They're watching at home today, and I promised that I would wish them a very happy birthday. Of course, their birthday follows their big brother's birthday just a few days ago, and that's Griffin. So happy birthday to all my nieces and nephew.
J. Rustad: I ask that the House join me in congratulating Leona West and Dwayne Joseph, who were the winners of Global TV's Dream Wedding contest. They're on their way, off to Mexico, as part of that contest. So would the House please join me in congratulating them.
H. Bains: There are a number of teachers from Surrey in the gallery today watching question period and the rest
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of the debate: Eric Newmeyer, Barbara Newmeyer, Randy Sykes, Gabriel Mattiskoo, Don Mah, Ken Jones, Peter Martin, Tim Sapruit, Amber Rainkie, Emily Gingera, Angela Thibeau, Anjoya Breda, Bapinder Mattoo and Brenda Sampson. Please help me welcome them to this beautiful place.
R. Hawes: In the gallery today is Jean Blake. She's the CEO of the Alzheimer Society of British Columbia. With Jean is Barbara Lindsay, senior manager of advocacy and public policy for the Alzheimer Society. Along with them is Dr. Doug Drummond, a geriatrician, formerly of Prince George and now in Vancouver. Patrick Tham is a caregiver for his father. With them, too, were Lois and Warren Hammond, already introduced by the member for Port Coquitlam.
They were here to talk to us today about First Link and the other things they're doing for the many people in British Columbia that are in dementia and Alzheimer's. Could the House just give them a real thanks for all the wonderful work they do on behalf of all of us and our families.
A. Dix: I wanted to join the words of the member for Abbotsford-Mission. Patrick Tham is a resident in my constituency of Vancouver-Kingsway. He and the Alzheimer Society do just a remarkable job. The stories they tell and the difference they make is moving to all of us. I just wanted to support the words of the member for Abbotsford-Mission and thank Patrick for coming and visiting with us today.
H. Lali: I don't know if she's made her way through the gallery yet, but there is a young woman who grew up in Merritt. She is the daughter of Gordon Swan, who was the government agent and mayor for over two decades and now works in Kamloops. This young woman grew up at the same time as all my nieces and nephews went through all of the elementary and high school system in Merritt.
Her name is Amber Rainkie. She is now actually a teacher in Surrey. She wrote me an e-mail a couple of days ago, which I'm going to read to you. I'm sure that all of the members in the House, especially folks from rural B.C., will recognize this. She writes: "I will always be a Merritt girl at heart. You can take the girl out of rural B.C., but you can't take the rural out of the girl." Those are her own words. I would like the House to give Amber Rainkie a warm welcome to Victoria, please.
D. Hayer: I also want to welcome 11 teachers from Surrey that met with myself and the members for Surrey–White Rock and Cariboo-Chilcotin to discuss issues related to education. It was a good meeting we had today. I think we might be meeting with some of them later on today. I met with one of them this morning at 8:45. Again, I want to welcome them here. Thank you for coming and explaining the issues.Will the House please make them all welcome, just like my colleague, who had a meeting.
R. Chouhan: Before lunch I had the pleasure to meet with two wonderful teachers from Burnaby. They not only do their teaching responsibilities, but they also go out of their way to help anyone who needs help in the Burnaby community. They are Sharon Freeman and Patti Jukes. They are here in the gallery today. Please join me to welcome them.
S. Fraser: I would like to join with the Premier in welcoming the significant contingent from the Alberni Valley and from Qualicum Beach. I would like to add to that welcome His Worship John Douglas, the new mayor of Port Alberni, and his wife, Donna. I was lucky enough to have lunch with them today. I would also like to say that I've been lucky enough to get a pin. It's a limited edition — the centennial of Port Alberni. John was able to take that right off his lapel onto mine. He's started out in his new role as mayor with flair, with energy and with style. Would everyone help make John and Donna feel very, very welcome in this House.
D. Routley: Joining us today are 23 Vancouver Island University students. They are students in the Canadian business and government relations management course curriculum. Their professor, Dana Collette, is with them. They study Canadian political environment as it relates to the business community. To them and to the guests from overseas, I would warn — as Mr. MacMinn used to warn — that question period can be heated, but there's heat and anger in this chamber so that there isn't blood on the streets.
S. Hammell: It is my honour to join the chorus and, again, welcome to the gallery some teachers from the city of Surrey. They are Linda Stewart, Christine Olson, Marianne Corbell, Nevokoski Pathakaski, Colleen Ichendorf, Rayland Geerie, Phyllis Minsky, Julia McRay, Casey Jones, Glynis Caldwell, Kevin Larkin, Amanda Hickey, Mina Dilcolcou and Christine Eurich. Will the House please make all of these people welcome.
SONGWRITING AWARD RECIPIENTS
S. Chandra Herbert: I want the House to congratulate two constituents here today, Reid Jamieson and Carolyn Victoria Mill, for winning the John Lennon folk songwriting award. We hope they go on to produce many more fabulous albums, like "Rail." Pick it up today.
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First Reading of Bills
BILL 26 — FORESTS, LANDS AND
NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Thomson presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. S. Thomson: I move that the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, be introduced and read for a first time now.
Hon. S. Thomson: Today I introduce amendments to the Forest Act, Wildfire Act, Forestry Service Providers Protection Act and Occupiers Liability Act.
Proposed amendments to the Occupiers Liability Act will reduce liability concerns arising from the public use of resource roads. This may allow resource roads to remain open rather than be deactivated when commercial activity has ceased. This will benefit recreational users and communities who wish to market access to popular back-country areas.
Proposed amendments to the Wildfire Act provide clarity on the obligations to reduce potential fire hazards when a secondary tenure is issued, typically to allow bioenergy producers to use slash and roadside debris. The amendment will ensure that communities will continue to benefit from the protection from wildfire risks that are sometimes posed by the buildup of logging debris.
Proposed amendments to the Forestry Service Providers Protection Act will facilitate implementation of the act by strengthening provisions dealing with how liens and charges under the act will be registered and tracked. Forest sector stakeholders and the Crown will benefit from the increased clarity provided by amendments to the Forest Act with regard to the submission of information on tenure applications or stumpage.
A minor proposed amendment to the Forest Act will enable more effective means of notifying people about Forest Service road closures.
Mr. Speaker, I move that the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting after today.
Bill 26, Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
MISSION MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
M. Dalton: Mission Memorial Hospital has been an integral part of Mission for nearly 90 years. Originally located on 5th Avenue, a new facility was built on Hurd in 1965. Over the years innumerable medical staff, volunteers, donors and organizations have played an essential role in the hospital's capacity to meet the health needs of our residents.
The hospital has benefited greatly through the efforts of the Mission Memorial Hospital auxiliary, the hospital board of directors and numerous service clubs including Rotary, the Elks and the Royal Purple. Not to be forgotten are the staff and volunteers at the Christine Morrison Hospice located on the third floor.
Mission Memorial has gone through some challenging times. Only 2½ years ago there was great angst in the community that the emergency room was going to be cut. The member for Abbotsford-Mission and myself had numerous conversations with the Minister of Health, Fraser Health and constituents on this important issue.
I am pleased to say that not only have the emergency services remained intact but also the hospital has announced that Mission Memorial will be a prototype for specialized health care.
In conjunction with the district, $40 million will go towards a community health centre and state-of-the-art campus of care. The 27,000-square-foot health centre will house primary care programs and services for diabetes, mental health and addictions, home health, and a seniors clinic. A 200-bed 128,000-square-foot campus of care for seniors will provide 24-hour care.
Just recently the Premier visited the hospital, met and thanked health care workers and announced the construction contractors. These new additions are great news for Mission Memorial Hospital and great news for the people of Mission.
100th ANNIVERSARY OF
S. Fraser: The city of Port Alberni is celebrating its centennial this year, and you are all invited to visit. It is fitting, I think, that Mayor John Douglas and his wife, Donna, are here in these chambers to help kick off the event.
The Nuu-chah-nulth have lived in the Alberni Valley for millennia. The non-native settlement of the region began much later. Actually, Port Alberni began as two cities. The first non-native settlement, later named New Alberni, was established in 1860. It became the birth-
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place of the forest industry in British Columbia. In 1886 a second townsite, named Alberni, was established closer to the mouth of the river as a service centre for immigrant settlers. The twin cities were born, and the rivalry began. The two towns competed for the important terminus of the Trans-Canada railway. New Alberni, being closer to the deep-sea port, won out, with the railway station being built in 1911.
On March 12, 1912, the city now renamed Port Alberni was created. The city of Alberni became the terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway and was incorporated as a city almost a year after Port Alberni. The twin cities amalgamated in 1967 to form the current city of Port Alberni.
Now, in 2012, the mayor and his wife are joining this Legislature and the city of Port Alberni in celebrating its history. The gala exhibit opening entitled "The Twin Cities Turn 100" will be showcased at the world-class Alberni Valley Museum on March 31. The inaugural event, including the proclamation, follows on April 1, and then an exciting series of events spanning the remaining year.
We invite the province and the world to join us this year, for the time of your life, in truly historic Port Alberni.
40th ANNIVERSARY OF
M. Coell: I am proud to stand in the House today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Camosun College, an important milestone in the history of one of B.C.'s top post-secondary institutions. Camosun was formed in 1972 when the B.C. government merged the Institute of Adult Studies at the Lansdowne campus with the B.C. Vocational School at their Interurban campus. It now serves 12,500 students registered in degree, diploma and certificate programs and a further 7,400 registrants in courses offered through their continuing education department.
The college has a diverse and welcoming student body. Each year Camosun welcomes over 800 aboriginal students from 50 First Nations, including Métis and Inuit groups, and 460 international students from more than 40 different countries.
Camosun has earned an outstanding reputation for teaching excellence and strives to provide one of Canada's best learning experiences. The college contributes roughly $61 million to the local economy and regional income annually due to Camosun's operations and capital spending, plus another $7.7 million generating from out-of-region students attending the college. Altogether, the local economy annually receives roughly $800 million in income due to past and present efforts of Camosun. The college is an engine of economic growth for the region.
Camosun is also home to the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, a 117,000-square-foot building that will eventually serve another 18,000 students, 1,400 high-performance athletes and thousands of greater Victoria people every year.
PISE facilities provide educational programming and sports leadership, coaching sports, science, coach and athletic development and sports medicine within a single centre. This is the first of its kind in Canada. Since 2001 we have invested $42 million in capital projects at Camosun….
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Member.
M. Coell: Would the House please congratulate them on 40 years.
ROLE OF SOCIAL WORKERS
C. James: This week in British Columbia is Social Work Week, an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the vital role and incredible contribution that social workers make each and every day in our province. This year's theme is "Celebrating strengths," a theme that is also a fitting description of the job of a social worker — building relationships, creating partnerships, and supporting and strengthening our communities across the province.
Social workers provide services in a variety of areas including health care, child welfare, community agencies, daycares, schools and universities, corrections, and public and private practices. They also make substantial contributions to social policy and research. A social worker's job is anything but nine to five.
I've seen the incredible difference that social workers can make. My grandparents and my parents were foster parents, and continuing the family tradition, I also fostered for over 20 years. Over that time, so many social workers touched our lives.
When I was just six years old, an amazing social worker named Bernice Packford arrived at our home at midnight with five children in need of care. Bernice was someone you never said no to. She continued to be a strong voice for those in need in our community through her career and her retirement, and she's greatly missed in Victoria. Bernice wore many hats, as social workers do in their job. They are advocates, teachers, counsellors, caregivers, negotiators, mediators, coordinators and so much more.
I would ask everyone in this House to offer our thanks to the many social workers making a difference, as we mark Social Work Week, and take a moment to celebrate their strengths and the many ways social workers give of themselves to make lives better for so many British Columbians.
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RESPONSE BY FIRE DEPARTMENTS
TO MILL EXPLOSION
AND FIRE AT BURNS LAKE
J. Rustad: With the visit to the Legislature this week of our professional firefighters, I thought I would add to yesterday's accolades and rise today to recognize the heroism of fire chiefs and volunteer firefighters at the Burns Lake and Houston fire departments. Every firefighter deserves our sincere respect and thanks for his or her work in the community, but the Burns Lake and Houston firefighters have recently faced an extreme circumstance that deserves a special mention. Their response to the recent tragedy in Burns Lake, at the Babine Forest Products mill fire, is an especially clear-cut example of the bravery and honour of these firefighters.
On January 20 an explosion at the mill blew off the roof of the building and led to a violent fire that trapped workers inside. Volunteer firefighters were quick to respond, fighting blizzard conditions and low visibility to reach the scene of the explosion where, to hear fire chief Jim McBride describe it, "chaos reigned supreme."
Firefighters worked all through the night in snowy, minus-21-degree weather to control the fire, and some were posted to the hospital to assist with incoming injuries. Nineteen people were injured, and two lost their lives. Were it not for the valiant efforts of these firefighters, the tragedy could have been far worse.
The Burns Lake and Houston fire departments have dedicated crews of men and women who not only put their lives at risk every day for people in their communities, but they volunteer to do so. They would say that it's just part of their training to do this, but clearly, they are an ultimate definition of selfless heroes.
Please join me in extending to them our deepest gratitude.
DEATHS OF FARMWORKERS
IN VEHICLE ACCIDENTS
R. Chouhan: Five years ago today we saw the tragic deaths of three farmworkers — Sarabjit Kaur Sidhu, Amarjit Kaur Bal and Sukhwinder Kaur Punia — in a crash in Chilliwack. A number of other farmworkers were also seriously injured in the same accident. A few weeks ago another passenger van crash took the lives of 11 workers in Ontario. These types of vehicles are commonly used to transport farmworkers and yet are known for their poor safety record.
Last Sunday a candlelight vigil was organized in Abbotsford to remember these farmworkers. There were a number of speakers, including the children of these three women farmworkers. One of the speakers was eight-year-old Avneet Sidhu. Avneet talked about how difficult it was for her to live without a mom. She hoped that no one else would ever lose a mom like this.
Mr. Punia hoped that before the beginning of the next harvest season, all steps would be taken to ensure the safety of farmworkers. His daughter also spoke there and made comments about how difficult it was for her to accept the fact that her mom was no longer there.
We all hope that the farmworkers have safe working and transportation conditions so that this kind of tragedy never happens again.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Surrey-Tynehead, I think, has an introduction.
Introductions by Members
D. Hayer: We have over 70 students from grade 5 in my riding of Surrey-Tynehead. They are from Surrey Christian School, one of the best schools in British Columbia, and they're here to learn about their government. Would the House please make them very welcome and thank their teachers and volunteers.
FUNDING FOR GROUPS PARTICIPATING
IN MISSING WOMEN INQUIRY
A. Dix: Grand Chief Edward John yesterday, in announcing the First Nations Summit ending participation in the Missing Women Inquiry, said that there has been a "systemic pattern of discrimination at the inquiry." As a result, the inquiry that First Nations, after all, helped to create in hopes of preventing more violence may not meet its mandate. A pretty serious question for the government.
I have a question for the Premier. How does the Premier intend to act in response to these words of frustration and disappointment expressed by First Nations leadership about the inquiry?
Hon. S. Bond: As we said yesterday in this House, every member in this Legislature and the people of British Columbia want to ensure that the tragic circumstances that took place do not occur again. In fact, that's why the government created not just a hearing process but a study commission process.
What that process allows is for participation in a way that does not require legal support. We believed as a government that that was the most appropriate way to include the necessary information and groups. We did, though, make a very conscious decision about providing legal support to those who were most directly impacted, and those are the families of the missing and murdered women.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
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A. Dix: The minister will know that Ms. Robyn Gervais quit the inquiry yesterday as a result of these same concerns. I just want to — because the minister refers to the families — quote from Lillian Beaudoin, whose sister Diane was murdered. She said today: "We are afraid that we are not going to get what we came for — the truth of what happened and what we can do for the future, for the women who are afraid to go to the police." She went on to add: "The impact of Robyn withdrawing is that aboriginal women don't have a voice and someone to represent them."
Now, the government previously decided not to fund support for groups that had been given standing by the commissioner. That was a decision by the government, not by the commissioner, one that the commissioner disagreed with.
I'm asking if the minister would consider reconsidering the government's decision in light of these developments.
Hon. S. Bond: This is a very emotional, troubling circumstance in our province. That's why we as a government, as I said earlier, determined that the best commission would be one where there was both a hearing and more formal process and a study commission process. The commissioner, Commissioner Oppal…. I know the Leader of the Opposition would certainly agree with his credibility, because in fact the NDP made a choice that he indeed would be a commissioner of a previous inquiry.
Commissioner Oppal is fully aware of the importance of including aboriginal voices in what is an absolutely profound and important process in this province. I am very confident that Commissioner Oppal will continue to look for ways to include aboriginal voices in the discussion that's taking place.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: I know the government didn't create this inquiry for it not to succeed. We all want it to succeed. You know, we can think back to a federal public inquiry into the Air India issues, which I think had a real effect. People who were involved in that inquiry, members of this House who participated, know that it had a real effect and provided real support for the families in question. These are important questions, and I think the minister would agree with that, so I take what the minister said with a great deal of respect.
But here's our situation. The government refused to fund groups that had been given standing and was criticized by the commissioner who said that would impede the functioning of the inquiry. The commissioner himself called government cabinet ministers, and subsequently the ministry reviewed what they were concerned was an apprehension of bias.
We have the events surrounding the departure of Ms. Gervais. We have the departure of the First Nations Summit from the inquiry. I think, as a British Columbian — I think lots of people would say this — that this inquiry, which should be the most important inquiry we've ever done, is not meeting that standard right now.
We have to do better. We can do better now. So I'd ask the minister, in light of these circumstances, in light of what happened, in light of the fact that the inquiry is not meeting that test, to reconsider decisions made by the government and ensure that aboriginal voices are fully heard at the inquiry.
Hon. S. Bond: Again, to the Leader of the Opposition, I need to remind him that in order to participate in this process, it is not necessary to have a lawyer. That's why the government created a study commission. In fact, most recently you have seen Commissioner Oppal actually change the format of the commission to allow for a panel process so that he can be more inclusive.
With respect to the Leader of the Opposition, there were additional legal supports provided. Within the more than $4 million budget that has been provided to date, the commissioner added four lawyers, including, unfortunately, the lawyer that has chosen to step aside from this process. But we should be very clear. Four additional lawyers were added to support organizations which, despite the fact that those resources were provided, chose not to participate.
Let me be perfectly clear. We absolutely want to ensure that the process has credibility and that the outcomes are provided to government by the end of the six-month extension that we've already provided to the commissioner. We fully expect that he will continue to look for ways to be inclusive of aboriginal voices.
J. Kwan: Yesterday Ms. Gervais, the former independent legal counsel for aboriginal interests, said to me that the study forum is not the answer for the First Nations community. She told me that aboriginal people want to be heard on the record and under oath, and that there should be hearing of evidence, cross-examination, finding of facts. You cannot do that in a study forum. She wondered why the police are not referred to the study forum, but the aboriginal community and their interests are being referred to a study forum.
Ms. Gervais lost confidence in the Missing Women Inquiry and withdrew her participation. Shortly after that the First Nations Summit also withdrew their participation. The First Nations Summit is of the view that "the inquiry will clearly not be able to fulfil a critical part of its mandate." Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said, "The aboriginal voice in this inquiry has been relegated to a sideshow," and that this
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is a charade of inquiry.
My question is to the Premier. Given this grave situation, what will the Premier do to salvage the inquiry now?
Hon. S. Bond: I guess, perhaps somewhat differently than the member opposite, we don't actually believe that the success of the inquiry should be based on the number of lawyers you have attached to the process.
This is a study hearing commission. It allows for individuals and organizations to participate. To be perfectly clear to the member opposite, the commissioner did add four additional legal supports. To many of the organizations, that offer was made that the legal support would be put in place. Despite the additional lawyers and the additional service provided, they chose not to participate. I can assure you that Commissioner Oppal is well aware of the importance of including the voices of aboriginal people.
Importantly, we wait for the outcomes of this commission. We look forward to receiving those. As a government, as I said yesterday, we made a conscious and clear choice to provide legal support to the families who have so tragically lost the loved ones in their lives.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Kwan: The commissioner made the recommendation to this government so that the 13 groups with legal standing would have legal representation, and it is this Liberal government that refused to grant that recommendation.
Chief Stewart Phillip said that this is not an inquiry of missing and murdered police officers. It is an inquiry of missing and murdered women.
Ms. Lillian Beaudoin lives in Ontario and has been in Vancouver since October to attend the Missing Women Inquiry. Her sister, Diane Rock, was the second-to-last woman murdered. With the departure of Ms. Gervais, she expressed sorrow for this loss and echoes the concerns that so many have already expressed — that the work of the inquiry is severely compromised.
Many of the families felt that from the beginning. The 13 groups granted standing should have been funded because they have so much to give to this inquiry.
Now that First Nations leaders have condemned the government's action on the inquiry and they have withdrawn from the process, my question, again, is to the Premier. She claims that she wants to ensure that aboriginal women's voices are heard at this inquiry. What is the Premier going to do to restore faith in the hearts and minds of the aboriginal community that there is still some value in this inquiry?
Hon. S. Bond: Everyone in this House shares the horror about what happened to women in British Columbia. That's why this government and taxpayers in this province continue to fund an inquiry that today is in excess of $4 million.
In fact, the member opposite apparently, despite my answers previously…. Four additional lawyers were provided within the commission's budget. We should be clear. This is an independent commission.
We should also talk about why a study commission is important. Commissioner Oppal travelled to seven communities in northern British Columbia. Who did he speak to? Aboriginal families and women in northern British Columbia. In fact, he travelled to Prince Rupert, to Kitwanga, to Terrace, to Kitsumkalum, to Nisga'a. In fact, the members for Skeena and North Coast spoke very passionately at those hearings.
I should point out to the member opposite that none of the people involved in those dialogues required a lawyer. In fact, almost 300 people participated and spoke of the systemic challenges to aboriginal people in this province. I would suggest that that wouldn't have occurred if we simply relied on lawyers and a formal process.
S. Fraser: Never in the history of public inquiries in British Columbia, never in the history of public inquiries in Canada has the government refused specific recommendations to fund legal counsel for groups with standing at a public inquiry — never.
The reality is that with this inquiry, 24 high-powered lawyers representing various government and police representatives have monopolized all of the proceedings in the Missing Women Inquiry. There are only two lawyers funded for aboriginal women's and community groups that have been sidelined — 24 to 2.
On Monday one of those two left, we heard. Yesterday the B.C. First Nations Summit left. That's the group that represents all treaty nations in British Columbia.
The Missing Women Inquiry now has officially no credibility with First Nations and aboriginal people in this province. What will the Premier do now to fix this travesty of justice and re-engage those that matter the most?
Hon. S. Bond: You know, it's an interesting difference between, perhaps, the view we have on this side of the House and members on the other side of the House. I think what's most important is that we find ways that give people the opportunity to participate in a process — including, in fact, members of the opposition. They didn't require a lawyer, but they went and spoke passionately.
In fact, I'd urge the member opposite. Maybe you should go and have a look at the Missing Women Inquiry website. Look at story after story after story presented by aboriginal women in British Columbia who shared their story freely in their home communities — Kitsumkalum, Nisga'a — where they were able to participate in this pro-
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cess in the communities that they live in, without a lawyer.
On this side of the House, as I said before, we actually do not believe that to participate in this process, we need to tally up the number of lawyers involved. We did make a choice. We did provide legal support to the families who lost their wives and their loved ones. That was a choice this government made.
AGREEMENT ON NAMING RIGHTS
FOR B.C. PLACE
S. Chandra Herbert: We learned today that after telling Crown corporation PavCo to go out and get a corporate naming rights sponsor for B.C. Place, a sponsorship reported to be worth $40 million, the B.C. Liberals have now backed out of the deal. Can the minister confirm that TELUS, B.C.'s largest private sector employer, spent millions on signs for B.C. Place which are now useless because of B.C. Liberal mismanagement?
Hon. P. Bell: I think that for the first time this session we've actually heard a policy pronouncement by the members opposite. Remarkable.
This has been a long-drawn-out negotiation. It is concluded with the decision that we are going to retain the name B.C. Place. We think it is an iconic feature that all British Columbians support. We are going to move on now and sell individual advertising rights throughout the stadium. That will create a significant amount of revenue. We're very comfortable with the decision. But more importantly, we know that British Columbians are comfortable with the decision.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
The member has a supplemental.
S. Chandra Herbert: The minister may find it funny that after courting TELUS for this private sector deal, spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on lawyers, negotiating teams, on fixing up B.C. Place to fit the signs and getting TELUS to spend millions of dollars on signage, which I am told is sitting in a warehouse somewhere, the minister finds this humorous. I think that's too bad, because that's not how you treat a private sector business in B.C.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
S. Chandra Herbert: I see that the Premier finds this humorous as well.
We know that PavCo's operating budget was dependent on this $40 million worth of revenue, which has to be made up somewhere. We also know that the government spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, working on this deal.
Will the minister tell British Columbians today where they will find the money and how much B.C. Liberal mismanagement has cost us all?
Hon. P. Bell: This is the same member, the very same member, that complains about the signs on the side of B.C. Place each and every day. I'm not sure whether the member opposite is now advocating for more signs on the side of B.C. Place or less signs.
What I know is that if we relied on the members opposite to figure out how to drive the economy in British Columbia, the only thing we would have is a very large gelatin plant. I'm not sure whether that would be strawberry or cherry.
INFECTION CASES AND PATIENT
INFORMATION AT BURNABY HOSPITAL
S. Simpson: Yesterday the Health Minister told the media that government was being more transparent around rates of C. difficile. Transparency needs to start with the infected patients and their families, and that is not occurring.
Jean Peacock, who is 82 years old, was in Burnaby Hospital in 2009 recovering from surgery. Her family noticed a sign on the door identifying an infection, a room with several other patients. Neither Ms. Peacock nor her family were told that she was the infected patient or that the infection was C. difficile. They were only informed when they tried to move her because of concerns about cleanliness.
There was no transparency, as information was kept from the patient and the family. This is wrong. Can the minister tell us why anyone should have confidence in a government that allows these practices?
Hon. M. de Jong: I am clearly not in a position, nor would I speak to the individual circumstances of a patient, and circumstances that occurred three years ago.
I can today, as I did yesterday, point out the seriousness with which all individuals, all clinicians, all administrators in Fraser Health and at Burnaby Hospital take the situation; point out the steps that have been taken to ensure that there is data collected and available to the public, not just with respect to Burnaby Hospital but hospitals around British Columbia; and to again assure British Columbians and those people in Burnaby, in particular, that they will receive top-quality care in a safe environment at Burnaby Hospital.
[ Page 9865 ]
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: Collecting data on a website and making quarterly reports doesn't resolve the issue for families who have loved ones in the hospital who have been infected and who are infected at that time.
Yesterday a government spokesperson stated that affected people were being informed about C. difficile outbreaks and that this had been the practice for a number of years. Ms. Peacock and her family would tell you that that isn't true. They would tell you that they were kept in the dark and that it created a further risk for them.
Transparency on this issue is not a courtesy. It is essential to protect the patient, their loved ones and others from further health risks from this infection. To not have that disclosure be mandatory is a failure of B.C. Liberal leadership.
Will the minister ensure that every patient in British Columbia who is facing a potential infection such as this and their families will have the information fully disclosed to them and that it will be done immediately?
Hon. M. de Jong: I regret that I detect in the member's question an underlying suggestion that doctors, nurses and the people that provide care in hospitals across British Columbia are somehow conspiring to keep information from patients. That is fundamentally untrue. Fundamentally untrue.
Not only do those on the front line providing the care take this seriously, but we clearly do, and take it seriously to the extent that we have provided mechanisms for patients and their families to register their concerns when they have them.
That's why we set up the patient care quality review boards. That's why someone like Dr. Doug Cochrane has been placed in a position where he can deal specifically with cases where patients or their family believe that they have fallen victim to a gap in information or treatment. So for the member to stand in this House and suggest, as he has, that there is some conspiracy afoot to keep information from patients is, I think, reprehensible.
M. Farnworth: It's not the doctors and the health care professions we're worried about keeping information from people. The track record of this government when it comes to sharing information is what causes the people of this province concern. The fact is that Jean Peacock wasn't told, and neither was her family told.
There were 473 infections and 84 deaths associated to C. difficile — 84. Those are the facts in the report, Minister. You may not like them, but they're the truth.
So the question to the minister is this. Can the minister tell this House how many of the other 473 people who were infected with C. difficile were not told that they were infected with C. difficile?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think it is fundamentally important, while we are having a discussion of this sort, that the member be accurate in the information that they are providing. The report that the member refers to, the only report that has been the subject of these discussions, was prepared by Dr. Gardam, an internationally recognized expert on infection control.
Steps have been taken and continue to be taken. We are dealing with an older facility, a facility that was built 60 years ago. It has, in the last ten years, received $20 million in capital upgrades. That will not be enough to alleviate some of the challenges that associate on the site. Those will be alleviated when we do, as we have done in communities right across British Columbia, eliminate the three- and four-bed wards.
People in Burnaby need to know — and I will repeat — that thanks to the efforts of the doctors, the nurses, the cleaning staff and the officials at Fraser Health, they can attend at Burnaby Hospital confident that they will receive excellent health care in an environment that is safe.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: When members of the public go to a hospital for health care in a public facility, they expect high standards of cleanliness. They don't expect understaffing. They don't expect to see bugs in hospital rooms. They expect that when there's an issue, they are told about it.
When it comes to transparency, we haven't seen that from this government. Jean Peacock didn't see that from this government.
So my question to the minister is this. Will he ensure that the 473 people who were infected with C. difficile will be told that they were infected? Will he at least commit to that?
Hon. M. de Jong: It is remarkable, for me, to sit in this chamber and hear this member — a former minister, as a matter of fact — purport to compare the level of data that is available today on cleaning standards, on infection control, with what existed ten or 11 years ago, because there was virtually nothing. To suggest, as the member and his colleagues have, that patients aren't in a far better position today to assess what is taking place at hospitals — to assess cleaning standards, to assess infection rates — and for the member to suggest, as I think he has again, that C. difficile is not present in virtually every single hospital in North America is doing a disservice to the discourse that should take place around this issue.
Burnaby Hospital and the officials there — the doctors, clinicians, nurses and cleaning staff — are continuing to work to ensure that patients can attend and receive high-quality health care in a safe environment. That has been and continues to be the sole criteria and the basis
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for how we are advancing.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: In this House we'll continue second reading of Bill 22, intituled the Education Improvement Act, and in Section A, in the Douglas Fir Committee Room, we will be doing the estimates of the Ministry of Advanced Education.
Mr. Speaker: Member, if you would just allow a few members to leave the chamber.
S. Chandra Herbert: I rise to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
S. Chandra Herbert: I would like to welcome to this House David Eby. Many will know him as a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association as well as Pivot Legal Society. I would like to invite the House to please make Mr. Eby very welcome.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 22 — EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT
H. Bains: Once again, I stand and take my place to engage in Bill 22 debate. Right at the onset I will tell you that after examining the bill clause by clause, I will be standing here making arguments that we should not pass this bill.
[D. Black in the chair.]
I think there are a number of reasons that I will lay out why this bill is not a good bill for our students, for parents and for education in British Columbia. But before I do that, I just want to take a moment, and I want to thank all those teachers who are standing up for their students, who are standing up for education of our children, who are standing up to this government, trying to convince them that this government is on the wrong track.
I want to thank them for taking extra time, their own time outside their classrooms, helping our children. I want to thank them for paying out of their own pocket many of the school supplies that the children need that are not available from school or that sometimes their parents cannot afford.
I want to thank them for developing our children, our future, to become a more compassionate and more caring society. Our children are inspired by their teachers because they see them as their mentors. I think we owe a great deal of respect for all the work that they do in developing and creating a society that all around the world actually look up to — in Canada and British Columbia — and say: "Hey, there is something good going on." What this Bill 22 will do is quite the opposite.
That is a regret to say. I think we all came here — we were elected by our constituents — to do the work on their behalf and make decisions that will actually pass the test of time.
When I first got elected I realized there are so many decisions made in this chamber decades ago that we realize now were bad decisions. They were actually embarrassments. They're a blip. They are dark spots on our history, and that's not what we should be doing here.
The decisions that we make here today…. When our children and their children read Hansard and find out what went on in these chambers 40, 50 or 100 years after we leave these chambers, they would be proud of the decisions we made. I don't think for a moment that any one member in this House will make a decision knowing that the decision will not pass the test of time.
But I guess many times decisions are made for different reasons, sometimes political reasons. I think this bill here has a lot of those elements in it. It's all about politics, not very much for education. There's nothing in there for our children. Certainly, there's no respect shown in this bill for our teachers — our most valuable resource that we depend on and who actually look after our children. They develop them into better citizens when they grow up.
Instead of that respect that we owe to our teachers, which they deserve for doing a fantastic job in British Columbia teaching our children, we actually are trampling on their rights — their democratic right that we all enjoy under our constitution.
I don't know what the other reasons are that the minister and this government would bring in a bill such as this. I want to thank all those teachers from Surrey who actually are, I'm told, watching this debate today. I want to thank them because in Surrey, I can tell you, we all should be proud — and we are proud in Surrey — of the work that our teachers do.
That minimum is expected from this government. They expect better from this government than the respect they are getting — I should say the disrespect — from this government.
I just want to talk about what brought us here today. Why are we here talking about Bill 22? What are some of the reasons behind it? The government members, one after another, stand up for political reasons and say, "Well, you know, we respect our teachers; they do a good job" in one breath. In the other breath, they stand up like the member for Burnaby-Lougheed stood up here yesterday, the Minister of State for Multiculturalism….
[ Page 9867 ]
This is what he had to say about our teachers, after listening to some of the members from the Liberal side saying that we have nothing against them and that they are doing a great job. Then they go on to make statements like this. This is what he said, and it's quoted in Hansard: "I go back to the teacher that I spoke to. Ten years' specialty. He said it's impossible for him and teachers to cross the picket line. If you want to talk about bullying, British Columbia teachers union is the biggest bully in the province."
That was spoken about our teachers in this House. The member today is now wondering who said that. That was the member I mentioned, the member for Burnaby-Lougheed. He is the Minister of State for Multiculturalism. He should know what he said yesterday.
Then we go on, and the other members stood up here and said: "Well, 30 years of failure to conclude the collective agreement. How are we going to learn from that?" She went on to say: "How do we educate our children?"
A start would be to start respecting our teachers and give them the democratic right that they deserve. That would be a good start. That's how you educate our children to obey the law, respect the law. That's not happening with this Bill 22.
I will read you…. A teacher who wrote me this from Surrey. Christina Smith — she said this. It's a long letter, but I'll take parts of it:
"I purchase items with my own money for my students' use. I run a readers' workshop program that I developed with my father, also a teacher, wherein each student in my class is reading a novel at his or her reading level with questions specifically written for that novel. I purchased each of those approximately 80 novels myself, as well as over 700 novels that form my classroom library. I also purchased a cart full of non-fiction books, three class sets of novels, a class set of a Shakespeare play, the posters in my room, supplies for those students who do not have them, teaching resources, art supplies, math manipulatives and various prizes and presents for my students.
"Most of the time I don't regret any of these things. I don't regret the time spent helping my students with concepts they find challenging because when they finally get it, their eyes light up. This makes me happy.
"I don't regret the novels that I purchased for my classroom or the time put into designing my readers' and writers' workshop programs. Even students who hate reading are able to find a book they enjoy in my classroom, and even those who hate writing are a little thrilled to see their story in print in the book of their writing that I produce at the end of the school year. Their joy inspires me.
"I don't regret counselling students during my breaks or after school, because it means that there is an adult they can trust in their lives. This is something I hope and wish every child has."
This is what a teacher goes through every day. This is a story from one teacher. Talk about dedication. Talk about commitment. Talk about a bright future that we have for our children when we have teachers like that teaching those students.
Then she goes on:
"But I'm told that I'm lazy and selfish and entitled. I'm told that despite the fact that the MLAs of our province have a cost-of-living increase every year, I'm greedy to want to negotiate one in this recession.
"I'm told that I cannot be trusted to know what I need to learn in order to be a better teacher. I'm told that if one of these lessons that I plan goes badly one day when I'm being evaluated, my administrator can dismiss me, making it impossible for me to ever teach in this province again.
"I'm told that the administrator's personal choice should have more weight in hiring than my experience in education. I'm told that because I recognize that the students who were designated were designated because they needed additional support, and I desire to provide that support while making sure that the rest of the students in my class are not neglected, I'm discriminating against special needs students."
After the work that they do that she has listed — paying for materials out of her own pocket, helping students during her breaks and buying those books, 700 of them — she's told that she's lazy, greedy and selfish. How disrespectful can any government be?
In the private sector if a manager treated their employees like that, that manager would be fired. There won't be any production because those employees are not respected for the work that they do.
That's exactly what's happening with this government, how they treat our teachers. They should all be fired for that — it can't be soon enough — before they do more damage to our education, to our students.
Yes, I understand when I came here that there would be ideological differences. Yes, they want to help their friends who happen to be elites, who happen to be multi-millionaires, who happen to be multinationals.
Yes, I understood that they wanted to create two classes: those that help them, their friends and insiders, and then the rest of the province — the teachers, the working class — who this government feels are not entitled to have a good living in this province. Madam Speaker, that's not how you run the province.
Bill 22 is designed not to negotiate a collective agreement. You would think that this government…. After being repeatedly advised that their actions are illegal, after being repeatedly told that they need to do a better job, that they need to respect our laws, their own laws, the international laws and the guidelines that we work under — what do they do? In the last 11 years international labour organizations cited this government for violating international labour laws 11 times. Out of that, five times it was against the teachers, the action they took against the teachers.
That's their legacy, and then they wonder…. The last 30 years there haven't been any…. And then they talk about how there hasn't been any collective agreement. Fifty-eight sessions they said they had with the teachers. But how can you have a collective agreement when you send your negotiators with their hands tied and tell them not to negotiate a deal, when you knew right from the onset that they were there to pick a fight with the teachers for their own political reasons?
I've been involved in collective bargaining for most
[ Page 9868 ]
of my life. I can tell you what Bill 22 will do. And what this government did is a recipe for failure right from the beginning. When you walk into negotiations, two sides must walk in with minds made up that there will be a successful conclusion to those bargaining sessions. When you do that, there's one key element in that success. That is respect for each other.
What did this government do? After the first session they know that both sides bring proposals to the table. They know that's a normal process. What do they do after the first session? They go out there and start kicking the teachers. "How greedy they are. Look at the demands that they have on the table." Knowing fully well, they know that that's what happens in negotiations. You bring demands; you bring proposals. Both sides have proposals, and then you negotiate in good faith.
There's that word. There's a reason why that word is existing in all labour codes across the country or, for that matter, across the world — good-faith bargaining. There's a reason behind that. If this government ever went to that table and did good-faith bargaining, we wouldn't be here. Bill 22 wouldn't be here today. It wouldn't be here.
That's exactly what this government had in mind. They didn't want to conclude a collective agreement. They wanted to pick a fight right from the beginning. And I tell you that is very, very disappointing. In fact, it makes me angry that right from the beginning…. If you look at the history of this government, Bill 22 is another example of that history. If you don't respect your employees, don't expect the best production or the most efficient workforce.
For convenience's sake, they stand up here every day. When there are questions about hospital cleanliness or mismanaging the hospitals, right away they stand up and say, "Well, you know, the front-line workers are doing a great job" — conveniently going on their side. But when the time comes, when their turn comes, like it happened in 2000 and 2003, the first thing they did was rip up their collective agreements.
Hospital employees went through it. Teachers went through it. They ripped up their collective agreements. How can you have good labour relations when an employer treats you like that?
There were clauses in those agreements, both the teachers' and in the HEU, that existed for decades. They were legally negotiated clauses — legally negotiated by both sides. A lot of time and effort went into it. Many people made sacrifices in order to have those clauses in the collective agreement.
What did this government do? After promising not to touch those collective agreements, the first thing they did when they got elected was rip up those collective agreements — the very clauses that they said they would not touch. So how do you expect your employees to trust you ever after again?
Then, rather than saying, "Sorry that we screwed up. We shouldn't have done this," what do they do?
I want to thank the teachers and the HEU for taking this government to court and having the Supreme Court tell this government that their actions were illegal.
Again, what do they do? Rather than saying, "Yes, we were wrong. Yes, we're sorry. Yes, we will actually put those things back to make it legal again," what do they do? The court instructed them that they better fix it within a year. They gave them a year. So this is their remedy. Rather than agreeing, they show nothing but contempt, even to the courts. In my view, Bill 22 is that — the very example of that.
They will try to abide by the court ruling, and then they are bringing the same clauses through Bill 22. How disingenuous can you be? This is the record of this government.
It's all about respect. If you don't have respect for your employees, you will have nothing but troubles on your hands. The speeches here that I heard around Bill 22, and before, show and reconfirm exactly what this crowd is all about. It shows contempt and disrespect for working people.
In fact, you could hear…. When you listen to these folks standing in this House, you could see the hate oozing out when you talk about the working people and especially their elected executives. Hate for them — that's what comes out of their mouths. That's not how you treat your citizens. That's not how you treat your citizens as a government. That has to change.
You know what? You saw 6,000, 7,000…. Not only teachers. There were many other citizens of this province. They came here yesterday to send a clear message to this government that Bill 22 is draconian and must be defeated. That's their message loud and clear. We on this side of the House will do everything to see that that bill does not see the light of the day, ever.
I think it's so sad that when the Premier stands up here…. Actually, it was in 2005. This is what they said. They said in the 2005 throne speech that the government was introducing their five great goals for a golden decade. What a golden decade that was. The number one goal was the goal of making B.C. the most educated and literate jurisdiction in North America by 2010.
In 2007 this was pushed back to 2015. You don't make B.C. the most educated and literate jurisdiction in North America by kicking our teachers and trampling on their rights.
I want to talk about what, on the ground, they have done since that time, since they made that announcement. In my city we have 292 portables right now — 292 portables where students are studying, where they're forced to study.
How is that? Because since 2005 and 2006 there hasn't been a single dollar allocated to the Surrey school dis-
[ Page 9869 ]
trict to add even a foot of new classroom space. Not a single dollar was added for Surrey school students for new classroom space. Does Bill 22 provide those students any relief? No, it does not. I tell you, Madam Speaker, when you talk about Bill 22, and I'm going to talk about it clause by clause….
Deputy Speaker: Excuse me, Member.
Hon. G. Abbott: Just to advise the speaker that he should address the contents of Bill 22. He was referring to an area that has no application to this bill whatsoever and is factually incorrect as well.
Deputy Speaker: Member for Surrey-Newton continues.
H. Bains: I know there are some stats that I'm referring to in support of my argument to Bill 22, and I know that the government doesn't feel comfortable hearing those. But those are the facts. The facts are that there are students in portables in Surrey because of bad policies of this government.
On one hand, the Premier will stand up, again for political convenience…. "We're not imposing a collective agreement on teachers." But let's go through the content of this bill, and then the public can judge whether this bill is being used to impose a collective agreement on the teachers. At least they should be honest with the public when they're speaking about what the content of their bill is and what the effect of this bill would be.
They are, in fact, imposing the terms of the collective agreement on the teachers. They are. How could they go outside and say that they're not? Let me go through some of the contents that talk about what kind of collective agreement it would look like.
But they're not imposing, according to the Premier. I'd like to have any of those members, even the minister, stand up. That they're not imposing these terms once the bill is passed…. The fact is they won't be able to stand up and say that in this House. What does that tell you? What does that tell you about being honest with the public and being honest with teachers and being respectful of teachers?
Part 2 of the bill talks exactly about imposing conditions on the collective agreement. Here is section 27 of the School Act, under the School Act. This is what they would say.
"Despite any agreement to the contrary, the terms and conditions of a contract of employment between a board and a teacher are (a) the provisions of this Act and the regulations, (b) the terms and conditions, not inconsistent with this Act and the regulations, of a teachers' collective agreement, and (c) the terms and conditions, not inconsistent with paragraphs (a) and (b)" — as I mentioned above — "agreed between the board and the teacher."
They have a lot of courage to stand up and say that they're not imposing this collective agreement on teachers. Come on, anyone, stand up and tell me and challenge me on that.
You are imposing. Madam Speaker, this government is imposing….
Deputy Speaker: Through the Chair, please, Member.
H. Bains: Yes, Madam Speaker.
This government is imposing terms of settlement on teachers.
Class size and class compositions are talked about in here. I'm talking about the effect this bill would have on students in my city and all across this province.
How can a teacher be in a good teaching mode, or how can you create a good teaching and learning environment, when you are actually treating that teacher with that kind of disrespect that has existed in this bill?
They don't believe in negotiating these terms. If they were, they would be out there negotiating rather than legislating.
It looks like my time is running out very fast. I have a lot to say about this bill.
I want to say that this bill will not do a thing for our students in Surrey. There's nothing in this bill that will deal with the problems that we have with those portables.
We have the CommunityLINK program. It's not going to do anything. Surrey students are some of the lowest on a per-capita basis — 55 percent versus $200 in some of these districts.
There are many MLAs from Surrey from the Liberal side. They're mum on that, never said a word about that. How is that going to help our students? It's not going to help at all. That's why I say — and I urge everyone to defeat this bill. It's draconian.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Surrey-Tynehead seeks leave to make an introduction.
D. Hayer: Yes, please.
Deputy Speaker: Please go ahead.
Introductions by Members
D. Hayer: It gives me great pleasure to introduce 64 grade five students visiting from Surrey Christian School, which is in my riding of Surrey-Tynehead. Joining them are four teachers — Mr. Eric Fernhout and Miss Karina Wiebenga, Mrs. Karen Barkowsky and Miss Kirsten Dyck — as well as 28 parents, volunteers, who have taken time out of their busy schedule. Would the House please make them very welcome as they learn about government.
[ Page 9870 ]
A. Dix: I rise to take my place in the debate on Bill 22, the inelegantly named Education Improvement Act, which in fact, in my view and in the view of our caucus, does nothing of the sort.
The issues we're debating today have a long history in labour relations in our province and really span the time, in particular, that this government was in office. Last year in the Griffin decision on Bill 28, the judge in the case said as follows:
"The evidence that the government relied on in the hearing before me to support its assertion that class-size limits were causing hardships to students and parents was anecdotal hearsay. It was so vague and unsubstantiated that it was impossible for the BCTF to challenge it meaningfully. It would be unfair to give it any weight for the truth of its contents."
Those words of the judge speak to the core of the reason why members of the opposition oppose this legislation. This legislation and the practice of the government is not good for students, not good for classrooms, not good for parents, not good for our community and not good for teachers.
We are rising, and we are speaking against a bill that comes at exactly the wrong time in the history of British Columbia. Exactly the wrong time. This is a difficult time, in fact, in the economic history of the province. There are lots of people struggling right now, and we all understand that. Members in all their communities, whatever their partisan stripes, understand that in the community.
We understand that this is precisely the time, a time when many young people in our communities do not have the skills for the jobs of the future, when we should all be working together to make public education better. We should all be working together to ensure that grievances between each other don't set aside that goal.
Instead, what we have is a government that seems bent on confrontation, bent on not working with teachers at a time when surely we should be working together to make the public education system better. At its core, Bill 22 simply does not do that.
You know, when the decision came out last year — I think the date was April 13 — in the Bill 28 case, it reflected, I think, a decade. Certainly, that decision profoundly affects this legislation. The decision in that case reflected some of the fundamental problems with a decade of B.C. Liberal management of the education system.
Specifically, in fact, as the judge said earlier, the government made assertions to them that — frankly, at best, according to the judge — were based on anecdotal hearsay but went contrary to everything that we know.
Studies of class size repeatedly show that smaller class sizes are better for students. The government's assertion that they're not flies in the face of that. Their assertion and their weakening of even the existing provisions and the existing model that they put in place in this Legislature…. Their repudiation of that in this document, in this bill and in this legislation is the wrong path.
What happened there? On one day the government introduced Bills 27, 28 and 29, bills that of course have been the subject of negative rulings in the courts — one in the Supreme Court of British Columbia and one in the Supreme Court.
What happened on that day was the government, contrary to what it had said it would do, stripped aside provisions that didn't protect teachers per se but protected students and protected the quality of education. That's what happened.
They essentially said to teachers, with respect to collective bargaining, that you can't negotiate wages, and you can't negotiate working conditions. It's sort of collective bargaining by Franz Kafka.
They express a surprise, in this context, ten years later. They express surprise ten years later that they are failing to arrive at agreements, especially a year after their very action in the Bills 27 and 28 case, the very action that they took in that case, was repudiated in the courts. In fact, what we have is a piece of legislation that essentially, at its core, reinvigorates that system. The system that they put in place that failed is being re-established in this piece of legislation.
So we have a government that says: "One day, well, let's acknowledge this…." They are at least admitting by this legislation that what they did in Bill 33, their previous effort in this area, was wrong. They're at least admitting that they have failed, that the thousands of classrooms that are outside the limits are evidence of that failure. They are admitting that they were wrong.
The minister, although not in the legislation, says that one day, after the next election, they might negotiate class size and composition. They're saying that one day that might happen, but in this bill right here, right now, they are weakening their existing provisions.
What has been the consequence of Bills 27 and 28, and what will be the consequence of Bill 22? Well, I'll tell you.
We don't want to unfairly burden the government with its core commitments, but they did make a core commitment to make us the most educated and literate society. What has happened directly as a result of this? What will happen directly as a result of this bill? In my constituency of Vancouver-Kingsway, which has, I think it's fair to say, in Canada some of the highest numbers of English-as-a-second-language students; a community where we, I think it's fair to say, love learning and believe in learning and believe in public education…. When public education is threatened in our community, people come out to defend it, and they come together as a community to do so. This is the reality of what happens in our community.
Directly as a result of provisions like this, in the average elementary school in my community, where surely libraries should be treasured in schools, the average in my community is three days a week for a teacher-librarian
[ Page 9871 ]
in an elementary school. That is the average.
Across British Columbia — and this is more so the case. My constituents in some respects are lucky compared to some rural school districts, school districts, in fact, that often don't even have the public library support or backing or access, or access to Internet services even, that communities have in other places.
Arrow Lakes school district, zero teacher-librarian time. Haida Gwaii, 0.04. Central Coast, 0.8. Gulf Islands, 1.12 for the entire school district. Gold Trail, 1.41. Stikine, 0.5 — that's two and a half days a week for the entire school district. Action by the government; consequences for students.
So when the government again goes down this same path, again goes down this path on class size and composition, again says to teachers: "In spite of the ruling of the courts, we are going to reimpose those conditions on you…." I am telling you, hon. Speaker, it is simply not a remedy to strip collective agreements of class size and composition provisions.
They ruled, as the ruling was in the Griffin case, against the government, and then they come back and reintroduce those same provisions. That is not a remedy, and it's not a remedy that will provide any comfort to any student, any parent, any teacher in British Columbia. I think, beyond that…. I think people in the House understand this. I know the Minister of Education understands this, that at this time when public education is so important, this is the very time when we should be working together to try and resolve some of these problems together.
The option of legislation, the option of imposing agreements, the option of imposing a mediation process…. Hon. Speaker, as you know, the Premier said yesterday, referring to Bill 22, that we gave the teachers what they asked for. She said this in public: we gave the teachers what they asked for. Now, the day this legislation was tabled the Premier challenged. She said we should be debating this in this House, and that's why I'm here today to debate this in this House. I encourage her to come in and explain those remarks to the people of British Columbia.
Two weeks ago Monday, so I believe that would be 16 days ago, the BCTF applied to the Labour Relations Board for a mediator. Ordinary practice would suggest that mediator would be appointed. It's often appointed, in fact, on the say-so of one side in a dispute. In this case, the other side, the negotiating agent, BCPSEA — on the government side and on the school district side — agreed to the mediator. That was a mediation process that was intended to be open.
That was an opening, surely, for the government to avoid what we're going through right now. That is why we can surely say that the government's response to that request, in fact, was this legislation — announcing it would be coming in place and then introducing it. The government says: "Oh, you know, we couldn't have a success in that mediation process." Well, they guaranteed that there wouldn't be a success in this mediation process by doing precisely what they did with this legislation.
Surely, they have not gone down the right path here. Surely, this is not the path to success — to making our classrooms better, to developing a better relationship — when both sides express themselves open to mediation, to shut that process down and impose legislation that weakens class size and composition arrangement and imposes a so-called mediation process.
There it is in the bill. It says mediation — whose principal goal appears to be to negotiate further concessions from teachers in a process to come. Can't talk about class size and composition. Can't talk about compensation. Can't talk about anything but what the government says they can talk about within the law. How is it that's going to make things better?
How can it possibly be suggested, as the Premier did yesterday, that that is somehow in the interest of teachers, that teachers somehow should support an effort, essentially, to take away any voice they have in their classroom and some hope in the future, reflecting the court decision, that one day they might gain one. Presumably, that day will come after May 2013.
I think at its core it shows a government at the end of its mandate that wants confrontation. Teachers would not be on strike today, would not have been on strike yesterday, would not have been on strike Monday if the government had allowed the mediation process to go forward. This is their strike. They caused this to happen, and people are paying a real price for it and will continue to. It will have consequences long into the future.
Look, I knew and the government knew and the BCTF knew and parents knew that these negotiations were never going to be easy — certainly, never going to be easy after what the government had done with Bill 27 and 28. They were simply never going to be easy.
But to take this kind of action for some sort of desire to create a political wedge, some sort of desire to raise anxiety, to bring forward this legislation at this time and cut off mediation doesn't make sense. It is not respectful, hon. Speaker. It is not respectful of the public, it's not respectful of parents, it's not respectful of students, and it's not respectful of teachers.
What we are saying in this debate and what we'll continue to say is that the government has to give that opening an opportunity to succeed. They cannot continue to proceed in the same way. Their policies in 2002 they have to say — I think that the consensus is you'd have to say — have not been good for public education in British Columbia.
Fewer ESL teachers at a time, by the way, when ESL enrolment is growing; fewer aboriginal education teachers at a time when aboriginal education and the number of aboriginal First Nation students is growing in our public
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schools; fewer special needs teachers at a time when special needs education is growing; and less support in the classroom at a time of real challenges in our economic lives — these decisions by the government are directly related to Bills 27, 28 and Bill 33 and now Bill 22, this bill.
You know, I think all of us understand this, and we hear this debate often. You'll hear Liberal MLAs say: "You know, we like our teacher." People have stories. We've all been influenced by teachers in our lives in extraordinary and positive ways. I think probably every member of this House can tell a story of a teacher that's influenced them in a positive way in their life, maybe shown that things were possible for them that they didn't know were possible. But the disrespect….
The government tries to make a distinction between "teacher" and" teachers" — as if teachers didn't have the right in our province to elect their own representatives, as if teachers didn't have the right to express themselves and their views about something they obviously care passionately about. This is true for all of us, I think. It's probably true of all the members on the government side, who frequently go to events in public schools in our community, frequently support them.
Certainly, the public doesn't agree with the government, for example, on the issue of teacher-librarians and the importance of books, and the cuts that have been made and imposed because of the decisions made in Bill 27 and 28, reinforced here in Bill 22. The public, in 2009-10, gave $1.2 million to buy books in public schools in British Columbia, and the government has seen fit in that period to slash support for teacher-librarians in many of our communities that need that support most.
I think there is a disconnect here between the government at the end of its mandate and a public that wants to see our education system succeed. Teachers struggle and work and believe every day that that's possible.
A teacher from Carleton Elementary School in my riding has written to me, as many teachers have over the last number of days. Here's what she said.
"I admit it. I'm a greedy teacher. I'm greedy because I think that my students deserve more than $10 each so that I can buy the educational textbooks and supplies that they need in a year. Softcover textbooks cost an average of $20, while hardcover books cost about $50 each before tax. The teachers' guides that I need to use the textbook effectively cost well over $200.
"For the past three years my colleagues and I at my grade level have been purchasing 15 literacy texts each year, and we still have a few years to go before we can attain a full class set of books needed to fully cover the curriculum.
"At my school one class sends the social studies textbooks home with half the students so that they can do the homework, and then the other half get the textbook the next day so that they can do their homework. Last year one grade level in my school had enough money allocated to buy nine science textbooks and the teacher's guide to be shared between the two full-sized classes."
Yet if you go to Carleton Elementary School and you see teachers like this and other teachers, they do remarkable things. That's why it is not good enough. It is not nearly good enough to say, on the government side: "We can't do it. We can't address class size and composition in our public schools. We can't work with teachers." They ought to work with teachers, because teachers every day are working with students and making life better in our communities.
It's true of Windermere School in my constituency as well. I had a letter from a teacher named Wagner Costillo, who many on the government side will know because he's been involved in so many environmental initiatives in public education. He spends 60 hours a week to support students in the leadership program. He comes in, in the summer. We have this extraordinary community garden at Windermere School in the summer. He comes in, in the summer, and he keeps it going and maintains it.
He's an extraordinary teacher by any standard. We have an event every year on climate change in that school that he helps organize with students, where he empowers students. Hundreds of students from across the Vancouver school district come to that event, and he is an inspiration for that. He would never say that himself, but we know that to be true.
Teachers do that every day in our public schools. Simply put, they deserve better than this.
Yes, we oppose legislation that reduces protections for students for class size and composition. Yes, we oppose that, and that is precisely what this bill does. Yes, we oppose conditions in this legislation that essentially set up a mediation process that cannot succeed, that is intended to only discuss the government's issues and not the BCTF's issues, intended to use the threat of fines to impose conditions on the BCTF — intended, in other words, to use public education as a political wedge. So yes, we oppose that. Yes, we oppose people….
The right in a democracy to speak, to express their views, to express their differences — that has been found to be a right in the Bill 29 case, to bargain collectively. Yes, we support these things.
We know it's hard. We know it's hard for the government and we know it's hard for the union to come to an agreement. But we owe it to the system, we owe it to the children in that system and we owe it to the parents in the system to do better than this.
I wanted to say one other thing, one other note from another teacher in my constituency, who lives in my constituency and teaches at Tecumseh School, which is out of the constituency. She is so frustrated and is another teacher who works dozens of extra hours every week.
This is the reality. This is the practical reality of students and teachers in the system — that right now, with the economic challenges facing our province, with the challenges in our public education system, there have been reductions in other areas that have pushed problems into the public school system.
Celia Yeung says how frustrated she is, especially for ESL, LAC and special needs students.
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"I've worked in various schools — high schools and elementary schools. My students are not from wealthy homes. A good number of them have parents who are not fluent in English and are struggling to make ends meet.
"At work I voluntarily spend extra hours of research at lunch and after school to provide extra assistance for some of my struggling students. But that isn't enough. Some of them have serious learning issues for life. They need a lot more help. We need to make sure there are more resources and resourced special education teachers and counsellors available to address their many needs."
I think there is an important lesson in what Celia says and what other teachers, whose words we have spoken in the House, have said, which is that they're not giving up. They have been treated, I believe, disrespectfully over time, a disrespect established in the Bill 28 case by the B.C. Supreme Court. Yet, every day they continue to do their work and do it well.
We have much to be proud of in our public education system today. So much to be proud of and so much…. With a little bit more support, a little bit more respect, imagine what we could do then.
I said at the beginning of this speech that I thought this was the wrong time for the government to take the course that it's taking, a course of confrontation and division. We have seen, over the last number of years, a very high child poverty rate in our province and growing rates of inequality.
There's no place in which these issues are more keenly felt than our public schools, no issues that are more keenly affected by the provisions of bills such as Bill 22 than public school students, who need a public education system and need specialty teachers to allow them to achieve their dreams as previous generations have achieved their dreams.
This bill gives up on the future, gives up on the possibility of doing it better, gives up on our public schools. We will not support legislation that hurts class size provisions. We will not support legislation that hurts class composition provisions. We will not support legislation that puts an end to real mediation and imposes a disrespectful process on teachers.
That's why members of the NDP caucus, our MLAs, are standing in this debate. It's why I will be proud to vote no to Bill 22. It's why I hope that the government…. It seems, depending on who you speak to on any given day, it has a different opinion about what should happen with respect to this legislation.
I am hoping, in fact, that there is a debate on the government's side, not just a contradiction between the Premier and the Government House Leader and the Minister of Education, not just the difficulties of government management — that they're really having a discussion.
This is a moment when a government that wants to lead the province in a new direction should step back. They should step back from this legislation, which will do harm to our classrooms, and sit down and have real negotiations — take it off the table and allow real mediation to work. I believe we owe that and they owe that to our public school system and to our students, teachers and parents in that system.
In my time of working for Canadian Parents for French and working with parents to improve educational opportunities, I've visited every school district in British Columbia with a French immersion program. I saw amazing things in our public schools — people doing things that you can't believe. Teachers in places like Hazelton and Dawson Creek who are teaching young people to be fluent not only in French but in First Nations languages. It is an extraordinary thing to see these things happen.
What we do in this Legislature matters to what teachers do in classrooms. When you have a bill like this that disrespects that, it matters. That's why it would matter if the government did the right thing, withdrew this legislation, and sat down and worked with teachers on a better solution.
Point of Order
J. Horgan: Like the next guy, I enjoy having a snack when I'm listening to something that's entertaining and factual and riveting, but I do believe that popcorn is not permitted in the precinct. I'm wondering, hon. Speaker, if you could clarify that. If there have been changes to the standing orders and the executive council is now allowed to enjoy some popcorn when they are hearing a good speech, that would be news to all of us. I'd seek a ruling on that.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you for your point of order.
I think all members know that consuming food in the Legislature is not within the rules of the House.
M. Elmore: I'm very pleased to rise and speak on Bill 22 and to register my opposition to Bill 22 and also outline some of my arguments and bring forward a number of stories and experiences that I've heard from teachers, students, parents from within Vancouver-Kensington but also that I've heard from across the province in terms of their concerns with Bill 22.
I think, just in terms to gauge the reaction of the imposition of this bill…. First of all, it was certainly a very heavy-handed approach to dealing with the issue before us today in British Columbia around the teachers negotiating to renegotiate their contract.
The principles of collective bargaining are that it's a democratic right that we enjoy as British Columbians and as Canadians. It's a right that has been fought for and earned, and I think, it's a very important underpinning
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and principle of our democratic institutions in our societies. I feel that the imposition of Bill 22 really is an affront to collective bargaining, to these principles and also an unnecessary affront to collective bargaining.
Just yesterday we saw on the lawns of the Legislature certainly the largest gathering of several thousands of people, many teachers and other supporters gathering to express their opposition to Bill 22 — folks who had come from around the province. And I think that this is a reflection of how people feel that Bill 22 is an unjust piece of legislation and also a very heavy-handed approach that undermines the basic rights of teachers to bargain issues of class size and composition.
Today I'm told that there is a rally, several thousands of people, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, as well as rallies right across the province. Reports, I've heard, are that there's a lot of support and sympathy for teachers in their efforts to have a respectful resolution of their issues with the government.
Bill 22 fundamentally is an affront to teachers because, in important ways, it brings back the provisions of Bill 28. The ruling of Bill 28, I think, also characterizes the last ten years of how our education system has been undercut and undermined, and the frustration that teachers have experienced with Bill 22 — also connected back to Bill 27, particularly Bill 28.
Just to take us back in terms of the history and the record of the issue of teachers bargaining for class size and composition, it's a right that they had in their collective bargaining. But under, then, the Minister of Education — then Christy Clark as minister….
Deputy Speaker: Member, please refer to members of the House by their title or their riding.
M. Elmore: Thank you.
The Minister of Education — I believe the member for Port Moody–Coquitlam at the time — brought into the House Bills 27 and 28, which effectively stripped the ability of teachers to bargain class size and composition. The recent ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court, just this year, finding that Bill 28 was fundamentally illegal…. It had allowed the government time — a year — to bring in changes to rectify and remedy that situation.
But I think it's clear that certainly, the provisions that were found to be illegal and ruled so by the B.C. Supreme Court have…. We're seeing that being brought forward in Bill 22. So these are the concerns, the legitimate concerns, that are being expressed by teachers.
In addition to those egregious issues, the claim of the government to be addressing the concerns that the teachers have…. The B.C. Teachers Federation had requested to have a mediator appointed. The difficulty with Bill 22 is that it sets the terms of reference and it limits the role of the mediator and the terms of reference for mediation. So we're seeing a weakening, in this context, of class size rules. This is seen by many as an effort to bring a wedge and also provoke a confrontation between teachers and also between the government, which is unnecessary.
I would also ask for the Premier to take her place in the House and speak to the legislation and enter the debate. During question period she brought up the issue and concern and seemed very eager to debate issues around education and, last week, the possibility of a teachers' strike. She seemed very eager to engage in debate at that time.
Now when the debate is on the floor and we have the ability to express our opinions and our concerns, I haven't seen the Premier, and….
Deputy Speaker: Member, it's not appropriate to comment on members who are or are not in the House.
M. Elmore: Thank you.
I would look forward to hearing from the Premier on these matters, to speak on Bill 22 and the issues associated and to hear the Premier's concerns that she seemed very eager and willing to raise just last week. So I look forward to hearing those arguments and hope to hear them in the course of the debate on Bill 22.
In Vancouver-Kensington I've had the opportunity to visit all the schools, the elementary schools and the high schools, to talk to the teachers and meet the children. One thing that I've been impressed with is the dedication of the teachers, the quality of the various teachers, the librarians, the different professionals, counsellors. I think it's safe to say it's more than a job; it's a vocation for individuals in the teaching profession.
Valuing teachers and the work and contribution that they do in our classrooms….
[L. Reid in the chair.]
They go above and beyond to meet the needs of students, particularly in Vancouver-Kensington. It's a very diverse constituency. We have a very high proportion of new immigrants who are entering the school system. Also, there are challenges in terms of English as a second language and ensuring that new immigrants are fully integrated — that they are able to fully participate in their classes and also receive the supports that they need.
Certainly, in Vancouver, particularly in Kensington, there are challenges in terms of the cuts that have happened over a number of years to English-as-a-second-language teachers and also special needs teachers who support students with special needs. Those are very pressing issues and real demands and concerns.
I think that we've seen, over the last number of years, teachers really step up and apply themselves, to put in extra hours after class, to meet the needs of students, under
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what we've seen — the shrinking resources coming from the Ministry of Education.
The response that we're seeing in the public — and, certainly, in my opposition to Bill 22 — rests on the fundamentally wrong direction that the government is taking this issue. It's an unnecessary provoking of the teachers into this dispute, and it's not a way to resolve very important issues that face us in British Columbia in terms of the provision of quality education for our students.
Besides the tremendous value that teachers contribute in the classroom, I'm hearing a lot of support from students — letters to my office. I think all members are receiving letters into their constituency offices, not only from teachers but also from students and parents.
I was surprised. Last week we saw, as far as I can remember, an unprecedented mobilizing of students in support of teachers — certainly of students who have been in the classrooms over the last ten, 11 years, who've seen the chronic difficulties around underfunding and cutbacks that have happened — and showing their support, also, for public education.
We are seeing, as well, the culmination in Bill 22…. The fundamental issues that were ruled illegal by the B.C. Supreme Court are continuing in Bill 22. Under the previous Minister of Education, the current Premier, the record…. Not only was Bill 28 brought in under the watch of the then Minister of Education and current Premier, but we also saw a record of many schools closed and of quite substantial cutbacks in capital budgets and in education budgets.
Also today we're seeing the difficulty and the challenges of stagnation of graduation rates. I think these can be viewed as systemic challenges in the education system. The difficulty and the challenge in terms of resolving….
It's not only an issue of just bargaining with teachers in terms of wages and benefits. There's also the issue of the quality of education and ensuring that the government and the employer have a respectful and meaningful relationship with teachers.
Teachers really support and provide the fabric in our education system, not only teaching our students but also contributing so much to the quality of the classrooms and to really having a fulsome education experience — ensuring, if students have difficulties, that they're identified and that they are addressed. Teachers are the ones who apply themselves to make our education system function.
We're seeing, with Bill 22, the effect of undermining and eroding, I think, the very fabric of our education system and also the fundamental question and issue of the role of collective bargaining in our society.
I also have to wonder if the imposition — and, I think, the unnecessary and very heavy-handed imposition — of Bill 22 is not tied to other considerations, political considerations — to use it as a wedge issue.
We have the government lagging in opinion polls. It's just a shame, I think, that we are seeing this unnecessary approach being taken by the government — kids are really the ones who are losing — when we have the ability to negotiate in a respectful way with teachers.
Besides the teachers having expressed their discontent with Bill 22 — and, I think, rightfully so — we've seen, over the past ten years now, the impact of when Bill 28 was brought in, which lifted the ability for teachers to negotiate class size and compensation. We've seen resources brought out of the education system. It's estimated that nearly $300 million a year, from 2002, has been removed from the education system, that there is a lack of resources to the tune of nearly $300 million a year. We've seen special education teachers removed and the loss of support, particularly for students with special needs, in classrooms.
Another issue that I think is a concern and that has been raised to me is the lifting of the maximum three individuals with individualized education plans per classroom. The challenge with that provision is that the accompanying resources do not come with that to support the students in those classes.
The challenge around providing support for special needs children…. Certainly teachers and principals in schools have the abilities to manage those workloads, but generally there was an accompanying resource to support at least three individual education plans — the students who had those IEPs. With Bill 22, we see that that has been removed. The challenge is that we don't see the accompanying support being provided to students and also being provided to teachers in their classrooms to meet that demand.
Bill 28 was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, ruled unconstitutional on April 13, 2011, and struck down. The premise was that it breached the Charter right guaranteed for freedom of assembly, that that legislation — brought in under the then Minister of Education, the current Premier — breached those basic guaranteed rights to freedom of assembly through collective bargaining and that it really trampled the collective bargaining rights of teachers.
We saw that that was a very clear decision that was made, and yet we see that those basic provisions are what are being proposed now in Bill 22. It's ten years where we've gone through this process. We've seen the education system chronically underfunded; the closure of nearly 200 schools, predominantly in rural areas; cutbacks and the loss of several hundred teachers who support students with special needs, and ESL teachers. Again, in Bill 28 we see that those issues have not been resolved.
We'll see, certainly, how it plays out — this issue. Certainly, I think that teachers are speaking out, bringing their concerns. Parents are bringing their concerns. Parents are also caught in a difficult position, because ob-
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viously parents want their children to be in school and to have the best education and support they can.
But I think that many parents, particularly ones that I hear from, also recognize, respect, value and understand that teachers are standing up not only for collective bargaining rights but also to uphold and promote teaching conditions in their classrooms and, fundamentally, the environment that their children take part in, in our education system.
I have received a number of letters. They come in fast and furious to my constituency office from many constituents. I'm sure that the other members, as well, have received many letters. I'd like to share some of them and some of the feedback I've gotten from local constituents and local teachers who do a great job, in Vancouver-Kensington in particular. I have a number of teachers who live and work in the constituency.
We have a school, South Hill Education Centre, which provides a lot of support to allow students to complete their grade 12 equivalency and also provides other vocational training for students in pursuit of post-secondary education, sometimes filling in those gaps. I've attended many activities and events there. I have a letter from Brian Hobson, who is a teacher there, and also a resident. He's asking for help to raise concerns with regards to Bill 22.
I wanted to share that as a teacher in the South Hill Education Centre, he has been struggling. Certainly, he's a very committed and very passionate educator. That's one thing that struck me whenever I attended activities or graduations at South Hill Education Centre. The teachers really, I think, have a special commitment. There's a special feeling when you go there. They provide grade 12 completion courses, and they have a very high completion rate and graduation rate.
Brian Hobson shared with me that he feels that Bill 22 undermines his ability to perform his job, his vocation as a teacher, and is asking me to also speak out against Bill 22.
In addition to Brian Hobson, I have received a letter from Gloria Rocquet, who is a teacher and also a constituent opposed to Bill 22, who took the time to write and to express her concerns. In addition to teachers, I'm hearing as well from high school students and also constituents who are not necessarily parents, but they are concerned about the issues. They are opposed to Bill 22.
I have a letter from Jill Barclay, and she teaches at Dickens main school, which is just outside of Vancouver-Kensington, but her child attends Dickens Annex, which is in the boundaries of Vancouver-Kensington. I'd just like to share her letter with you. She says:
"Hello, Ms. Elmore.
"I'm writing to urge you and the NDP party to do everything in your power in opposition to this legislation. It's an attack on public education as we know it.
"As a teacher and a parent of a student in your riding, I'm very distressed. I feel that the Premier is coming back to finish off what she started as Minister of Education ten years ago.
"Teachers continue to fight for improvements in public education. We have bargained for these safeguards to quality education with past governments, in many cases trading off monetary gains in return for services for students with special needs and ESL requirements.
"I see that this government is using the heavy hand of legislation to wipe out our safeguards once again. I'm tired of feeling that the provincial government is working against us in our goal of meeting the needs of all students and protecting our public education system.
"I see nothing in this bill that will improve education. In fact, it will further decrease the morale of myself and my colleagues. I do not relish the idea of walking off the job next week, but I feel that this is my only recourse in order to stand up for my rights, my collective agreement and public education as we know it."
I think that that certainly captures the sentiment and is a very clear expression in terms of not only Jill Barclay, a teacher at Dickens main, but a familiar message and refrain that I've heard from many teachers in this dispute.
Jill Barclay cites having to endure the past ten years. Besides having the ability to negotiate class size and composition, removed for the past ten years with Bill 28, and the challenge and difficulties teachers have been facing to deliver quality education to their students, we've seen, particularly in Vancouver….
It came to a head last year, when there was a proposal to close six schools, all in East Vancouver and one in Vancouver-Kensington. We saw, really, not only the integral role that teachers play in schools but also how schools are connected into the fabric of the community and society. I attended many public hearings and met many teachers and heard from parents and students about the value of their local school to the community, the importance that it has in strengthening the community.
Also, we heard that the conditions where the six schools were going to be closed were as a result of the downloading and not matching — the downloaded costs from the provincial government and the challenges for the Vancouver school board to meet the shortfall of $18 million in terms of downloaded costs, in terms of negotiated benefits, increases in Medical Services Plan, increasing rates in B.C. Hydro costs, as well as needing to fund higher insurance requirements and also carbon offsets.
The point I want to make is that over the last ten years…. Ten years is a good window to look at. We see Bill 22 before us today. It is really a reflection of Bill 28, which has been ruled unconstitutional. In that ten years we've seen in British Columbia the challenges that the education system has faced under the Liberal government.
I'm hoping that I can hear from the Premier in terms of her thinking, her concerns and arguments to bring in Bill 22. We know that over the last ten years — besides not having the ability to bargain class size and composition; the downloading of costs; the closing of schools; losing
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hundreds of teachers, particularly special needs and ESL teachers; having to, as well, deal with that…. These are big concerns and challenges.
I'm very pleased to speak and also voice my opposition against Bill 22.
D. Donaldson: I'm happy to take my place in the second reading of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act. For those dedicated viewers who might be watching our proceedings today or perhaps reading Hansard later, I wanted to say that second reading is an opportunity to speak to a bill in general and let one's thoughts and concerns be known.
I would like to start today right away with a quote from a letter that a teacher in my constituency, in Stikine, has written to me. I quote from this letter. He writes:
"At this point I would like to pose the question: how is increased class size, lower funding, fewer resources for special needs, degraded infrastructure, reduced funding for extracurricular activities and a strained relationship going to lead to an excellent education system, as the minister continues to parrot in his education improvement bill? It doesn't."
I couldn't more succinctly say that myself, from that letter from a teacher.
It outlines why I will be agreeing with my colleagues on this side of the House in voting against Bill 22 — because it does not address some fundamental issues in the classroom for the children of Stikine and for the children of this province.
But first, it's important to know how we got to where we are today. I'll especially be focusing my remarks on the context we find in the K-to-12 public system in northern, rural communities of Stikine. As a little background on that, in Stikine, the constituency I represent, there are three school districts.
School district 87, Stikine school district, is totally encompassed by the constituency. It's 188,000 square kilometres, which is larger than the United Kingdom — larger than Scotland, Wales and England combined. There are schools in Atlin, Dease Lake, Lower Post, Telegraph Creek. These are some of the more isolated rural communities in the constituency and in the province, and each of them has schools. The school district covers the traditional territories of the Taku River Tlingit, the Kaska and the Tahltan.
There are two other districts that cover partial sections of Stikine. School district 54, the Bulkley Valley school district. That includes schools in Smithers, both elementary and a secondary school, and in Telkwa, an elementary school. There's a part of school district 82 that touches on my constituency, the Coast Mountains school district. The communities of Stewart, Hazelton, New Hazelton and Kitwanga all have schools in the public system and in the constituency of Stikine and part of school district 82.
That context is to give you an idea and members an idea that there are vast areas that these schools cover. They're isolated communities, many of them. The only community that is over 5,000 is Smithers. There are large First Nations populations in the constituency. Many times the majority of the students in the public schools are of First Nations ancestry.
Teachers play an even more prominent role because of these small populations and isolated communities and at the same time are impacted by what is happening in these communities as well. I'll get into that a little bit more in the 30 minutes I have to address this bill. There's a lot to talk about in 30 minutes, so I'll try to get through it all.
How did we get to where we are today? I think that even members on the government side of the benches would say that it's not a very good place to be. From my perspective and the perspective of people I represent in Stikine, it's a classic example, looking at the history of this government, of "You'll reap what you sow." Many problems in the education system — and I'll again be focusing on the rural context especially — can be traced back to 2002. In 2002 the current Premier, Premier Clark, was the Education Minister.
Deputy Speaker: Member, you do know the rules allow for referring to members by their riding or their title, not their proper names.
D. Donaldson: I'm sorry. I apologize, hon. Speaker.
The current Premier was the Education Minister in 2002. What she introduced in 2002 was a change to the funding formula by which school districts receive their funding. It was a move from a program- and cost-based funding formula to a capped, student-based system. This resulted in a system shortfall in education funding.
Curiously enough, after the introduction of the funding formula, it was reported on in the news media at the time, and there was a news reporter who talked about this move and, perhaps, the motivations behind the move. I would like to quote from a news article of that time. The point of this is to explain how we got here today — around the issues that Bill 22 is attempting to address, not in a very successful manner. It was a partisan move, according to this reporter.
He talks about a cabinet decision document that he was able to acquire.
"The document reveals the reasons behind Friday's move to per-pupil student funding and away from the old system known as program and cost funding. The document explains that the old formula obligated governments to meet or manage each increase in cost or each new service offered by school boards."
He goes on to write:
"With total education funding now frozen or protected, in the language of the B.C. Liberals, the document" — and this is an internal document — "warns the cabinet that given government direction that education funding will be flat over the next three years,the current program- and cost-funding formula will not work."
Again from this article:
"The ministry will be called upon to make decisions" — that's the
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Ministry of Education — "about which programs…."
Point of Order
Hon. G. Abbott: I know Bill 22 very well. There is not a reference in there to a funding formula. I'd like the member to address the principle of the bill, if he would.
Deputy Speaker: Members have enjoyed latitude, but the point is well taken. The member can bring his remarks back to the content of the bill.
D. Donaldson: Hon. Speaker, I thank you for your remarks.
D. Donaldson: I will address my comments to the content of Bill 22, which deals with issues that need to be explained and need to be discussed around the history of how we got to where we are today.
I will just summarize, then, to say that the funding formula that was introduced in 2002 has had direct consequences on rural schools. These consequences are what teachers are facing today in the classroom, which Bill 22 is trying to address and, again, not doing a very good job of it. The funding formula, when it was changed by the government — and this is around Bill 22….
D. Donaldson: It is around Bill 22. I know that the Minister of Education might object to this line, but that's because we have to look at how we got here today. He might not be very happy with it, but it was the result of the government he was part of in 2002.
School districts — rural school districts that I represent that are impacted by Bill 22 — are being forced to deal with fixed costs. No matter what the class size, fixed costs are fixed costs. There have been a number of fixed costs that have gone up over the years.
It doesn't matter how many people you have in a classroom. Bill 22 talks to the composition and class size. Bill 22 talks to the number of students that might be in a classroom. No matter how many students are in the classroom, that classroom still has to be heated. It has to be cleaned. It has to be lit. There's support staff, and there are teachers.
Bill 22 speaks to the composition of classes and talks about increasing class size up to 30 students. The fixed costs associated with that classroom — they don't change. When it comes to trying to pay for these costs, then we get into a situation where rural schools have been very challenged by the changes that were made to the funding formula in 2002 by this government.
What does Bill 22 try to address? It also tries to address class size and composition. We know, as well, that in 2002 the Premier and then-Minister of Education was proud and delighted to present Bills 27 and 28, which stripped class size and composition from the collective agreement and teachers being able to negotiate on those matters.
As it turned out, Bills 27 and 28 just last year — April 12 last year — were ruled invalid and unconstitutional in the B.C. Supreme Court. Judge Susan Griffin found…. Again, Bill 22 is trying to address what went on with Bills 27 and 28 in 2002, introduced by this government. The judge found in her ruling that the evidence that the government relied on to support its assertion that class size limits were causing hardships to students and parents was anecdotal hearsay. It was so vague and unsubstantiated that it was impossible for the BCTF to challenge it meaningfully. It would be unfair to give it any weight for the truth of its contents.
That's what the judge found just last year. This is why the current government and the current Minister of Education was compelled to try to address the judge's findings around Bills 27 and 28. He's trying to address those in Bill 22, but again — and I will get to that — I don't think in a very successful manner.
The current Premier and then-Minister of Education, when she spoke to Bills 27 and 28 in 2002, said: "I am so proud to speak in support of this bill, and I look forward to getting on with the job of building a top-notch education system for British Columbia."
Well, the bills, as I said, were found to be invalid and unconstitutional. I assume that the Minister of Education at that time didn't know that. Otherwise, she wouldn't have proudly supported the bills that she introduced.
But let's look at the top-notch education system that teachers are attempting to deal with, that's addressed through Bill 22, by looking at the reality today in the classrooms that these actions in 2002 on the funding formula and on class size and composition created. Again, you'll reap what you sow.
I just want to give a little flavour of what students are facing in the classrooms in Stikine to give an idea that this is why teachers are determined to address the situations the B.C. Liberals have created. I have a letter here that addresses what teachers are facing in the classrooms, from a teacher in Stikine. She writes:
"I want to see my students succeed. It is a provincial and district mandate to improve the success rates of First Nations students. I can tell you that to improve the education rates of my students — which, of course, will lead to higher graduation rates, better health, less jail time, more financial independence and a better future for my students, lest we forget — I need help.
"I need either qualified assistants that can work intensively with my students to give them the skills and confidence to stay in school, or I need smaller classes so that I can do it all myself. I need the learning assistance in my school to be fully staffed so we can assess kids we suspect of having learning disabilities and get them the help they deserve and not wait two years, by which time students
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are so frustrated they have to drop out of school."
This is a teacher that's outlining the need for smaller class sizes, which is not addressed in Bill 22, and really points out something that is of grave significance in Stikine around the assessment of learning disabilities in students. Bill 22 does not address these two topics in any kind of manner that will make a difference to the conditions these teachers are describing for students.
I want to paint that picture more fully in Stikine around Bill 22. This is from another teacher in Stikine. He writes:
"It is my professional opinion that the high level of frustration students are having academically is due in part to our inability to address identified needs in their individual education programs and the not-yet-identified needs of those who have not been formally assessed. The expression of this frustration is documented in our low attendance rates and behavioural concerns."
So again, the not-yet-identified students.
This teacher wrote extensively on this topic, and he describes an apprenticeship and workplace mathematics grade 10 class. He writes:
"This is a provincially examinable course and has five individualized education program students and several students who are well known to the administration team due to poor attendance and behavioural concerns. At this time I have no SSA helping in this class.
"I have provided a visual of the attendance for this class, illustrating approximately 50 percent attendance for the first two weeks. It should be noted that my observations are that attendance drops off in the second half of the semester. If this course is consistent with the long-term pattern I have observed, the success rate of these students is greatly compromised before we can even get started in the semester due to the attendance problems cited."
Bill 22 removes any limit on students who are under individual educational programs. This teacher is already facing that class that has five IEP students. He teaches a grade 8 science class, and he writes:
"This class enrols 18 students, including six students who are currently on IEPs. There is one SSA available during this class, and periodically, we can book into the computer lab and/or the library to access AT computers to do research and keyboarding, as is required on several IEPs. I've been asked by the administration to reduce the course content to reflect literacy levels, which have been identified as very low.
"I am also in the process of utilizing different textbooks than those prescribed for the course in the IRP, selecting several different texts to work from which use more basic vocabulary. Though this will not be reflected on the reporting document for this class, we have all accepted that the regular course outline and the IRP goals will not be met for this course. But we will attempt to provide students with transferable skills which will help them prepare for the science 10 curriculum and provincial examination."
Again, here's a teacher…. Bill 22 allows for a cap of 30 students in the class. He has 18, and he has six students who are currently on IEPs. So this class could go up to 30 students, and he would not necessarily get any extra help — we don't know; perhaps — under this bill. We'll find out in the committee stage the exact particulars of that.
To paint an outline of the conditions that teachers in rural areas in Stikine are facing and the reasons that they object to Bill 22 — because it does not address these conditions in any significant way — he goes on to say about that grade 8 class:
"We have completed two simple labs to date, which I have used with each age group for the past ten years, and it's worth noting that it has taken us four times as long to complete these labs with this class as I usually allot.
"Is the class size and, specifically, the class composition, which includes six students with IEPs, educationally sound? No. The class size and composition of this class is not appropriate for learning and is adversely affecting the normal learning expectations for a science 8 class."
Again, Bill 22 could mean an increase in this class beyond the 18 students, and the teacher would still be faced with the same problems with no additional resources. That's what this bill means.
Finally, I'd like to highlight the overall impression that this teacher wanted to leave with this letter. He says:
"I believe the composition of these three classes" — there were more; those were just two of them — "which include 19 IEP" — in other words, 19 individual education program — "students, does adversely affect the normal learning expectations for a class and that this will inhibit students from experiencing success and the attainment of their full potential."
That is just a quick snapshot. I have many more examples of what teachers in rural communities in the constituency of Stikine are experiencing in their classrooms, what they're trying to do and, really, what the students are facing with the learning conditions in those classrooms — and the fact that Bill 22 does not address what was described here. In fact, it could make matters worse.
I alluded earlier to the vast distances and the communities in Stikine. I wanted to say that the teachers don't teach in a vacuum. They teach in the context of what's going on in isolated rural communities. The context of the conditions under which they're teaching that I've described is within these small rural communities.
Teachers aren't isolated from that. The students, especially, aren't isolated from that. So I have to talk about what the students are facing in the communities before they even come into the classroom and are subject to the conditions that Bill 22 describes, which will make matters worse.
The highest child poverty rates in Canada, eight years running now, under this government. We know child poverty means a family in poverty. So we have children coming to school hungry in many of our communities. The conditions that Bill 22 creates within those classes is just going to make matters worse.
The teachers are having to work within the context of communities. We have a growing disparity gap and the biggest disparity gap in Canada, according to B.C. Stats in a report just in January.
These are the conditions that the children are coming from. That's the context teachers must deal with, and that's the context created by 11 years of a B.C. Liberal government.
I could talk about the professional assessments. One family wrote to me about the professional assessment process that they had to go through in order to get their child identified and, therefore, under an individual edu-
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cation program. It took them eight years.
These are fully engaged parents, very active parents — eight years. They went through the psychoevaluations. They went through psychoeducational evaluations, complex developmental behavioural conditions evaluations, which are especially appropriate for children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
At the same time, the conditions outside the classroom affect what's going on inside. Their foster son, who they were doing all this for, went through 13 social workers during this period.
Those students coming into high school who have not yet been assessed…. If they haven't been assessed by grades 8 and 9, they usually get to grade 10 before an assessment occurs and before they're rolled into a modified program. "But by the time they get to us," as one teacher said, "they're frustrated beyond their depth, and behavioural or attendance problems occur."
Again, Bill 22 does little to address the assessment issue either. Let's see, when it comes to Bill 22.
I have a letter from a teacher here that I'd like to read out, regarding Bill 22.
"Please urge the government to reconsider its dishonourable actions, and encourage them to negotiate in good faith to find a better solution for students and their teachers.
"I write to you both as a parent and as a teacher. My children, in grades 5 and 12, would benefit from smaller class sizes, even though they have experienced and capable teachers. Frequently the average and bright are the last to receive attention, because so many students have greater needs, whether they are officially in a ministry category or not.
"Teachers work hard in their efforts to make all learners successful, and they deserve to be treated as knowledgable partners in creating a better plan."
That's from a teacher and a parent in Stikine, and it's urging the government to take a more considered approach than the one exhibited in Bill 22.
Bill 22 talks about negotiating in good faith and about mediation, but it's similar to the fact that this bill is called the Education Improvement Act, which is somewhat of a misnomer. Mediation is a misnomer when it comes to be applied in the sense that it's applied in Bill 22. How can you have true mediation when you are limiting the scope, the range and the topics of mediation? There are qualifications on the mediation process under Bill 22. There are restrictions.
If the government really wanted to engage in mediation, instead of putting mediation in Bill 22, with all of the restrictions, mostly from the government side — what they want to see as the outcomes of the mediation — they could've engaged in mediation before Bill 22 came into play and not had so many limitations. Now, that's true mediation.
Will Bill 22 make classrooms better for students? The conclusion, from reading through the bill and from professionals in the field and from principals and others that are associated with the classroom, is no. It's no.
I have a letter written to me by a teacher who specifically deals with students with special needs, and again we have an example of what teachers are facing in Stikine, especially around this special segment of students. She writes:
"I respond" — and this is part of her work — "to administrative, colleague and parent referrals for school-based assessments, and I complete four different assessments with each child referred to me. Depending on the results, I prepare psychoeducational assessment requests for the school district in hopes that students who struggle, and certainly have delays or challenges, will be assessed by an educational psychologist.
"We currently have more than 18 new referrals waiting for psychoeducational assessments. Only six were done last year," she says, "and none have been done yet this year. More are waiting for required assessments. Once the referrals have waited over a year, I have to repeat the school-based assessments before the child sees the educational psychologist."
It's a system that is broken because of what the government did in 2002 regarding the funding formula and regarding, in Bills 27 and 28, classroom size and composition. Bill 22 does not address the conditions that students are facing in the classroom, as described by this teacher.
She goes on to say:
"While students are waiting for psychoeducational assessments, their challenges don't go away. These students often struggle, fall behind their peers and require supports to stay in school and find success. Some of them do not stay in school, and many drop out before we are able to provide assessments. Many of them do not find success. I respond to daily requests from my colleagues and from parents to provide extra support for struggling students."
Again, Bill 22 is going to result in larger class sizes, weakened composition protections. We can go up to 30 students in some of those classes I described where, already, the teachers are struggling with 18 students and taking four times as long to complete some of the mandatory curriculum than it's taken in the past. There are no limits on the identified and designated students under the IEP, and it does not address the situation described.
What I have to say is that the government didn't learn the lessons from their actions in 2002, when the current Premier was the Minister of Education. They continue to pick a fight and disrespect teachers.
The three-day strike that is completed today, the legal strike, is firmly at the feet of the B.C. Liberal government for the actions that they've taken in the last ten years on this file and the actions under Bill 22. But most sadly of all, Bill 22 does not help the students in the classroom.
When I think of these kids and what they're facing and the impact on their future and on all of their futures, well, I find the approach that the government has taken to Bill 22 to be very, very disheartening.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
I must end up saying that I have to vote against the bill in its form that we see today, because it does not address the issues as described, as we're facing in Stikine.
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Students, as we know, must come first if we have a future in this province.
N. Simons: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to address my concerns around Bill 22. Probably no surprise to anyone, including the Minister of Education or the minister for multiculturalism or any other members, I find Bill 22 to be very problematic legislation.
I have heard very little from the government side to say why it's good legislation. I've heard many, many of the government MLAs simply complain about the fact that we're pointing out the flaws of the legislation, which is not in itself a very good argument to support Bill 22.
Let me just begin by pointing out the conflict I have, and that is that my mother is a teacher and has been a teacher for many decades. She continues to teach special education children into her 76th year. She is dedicated and committed and is an inspiration to me.
I find that — partly in thinking about her and her colleagues — I have absolutely no trouble standing here and opposing, to the best of my ability, this legislation and hoping, perhaps against hope, that government will do the right thing and withdraw this legislation and instead find ways of overcoming conflicts and division in a way that we try to teach our children to do, by talking about it.
Unfortunately, the legislation that we're contemplating today smacks of heavy-handedness. It smacks of a government that has been unable, through all the mechanisms and tools that they have, to find a solution to what was a foreseeable issue and one which they failed entirely to address or head off at the pass.
We find ourselves in this position today discussing a bill that essentially legislates teachers in a direction that many have called inappropriate, others have called entirely disrespectful, and what members on this side of the House have called unnecessary.
The issue that our province faces is a serious one, and it is not one that has any easy solutions. At the same time, I would say that just because the solutions aren't easy does not mean we should revert to the most heavy-handed one in order to get our way.
The amount of communication I've had from teachers, primarily in the last number of days, is significant. I have to just thank the teachers of school districts 46, the Sunshine Coast, and 47, Powell River, for their heartfelt words and their expressions of deep concern about the current state of affairs. They are dedicated professionals. They are committed professionals. They care deeply about the young people who come through the doors of their schools, and they do their utmost to ensure that we maintain a quality education system that we can be proud of.
Sometimes they do it despite the rules and regulations of government but they always do so with the best interests of the children and youth in their classes. It is for them that I am standing here opposing this legislation and hoping that the government will take another approach, one that does not include this heavy-handed legislation.
To my mind, we owe it not just to those teachers in school districts 46 and 47 but to every school teacher across the province, every student in their class and every parent and foster parent and guardian and grandparent that we do what is best for the students in our school system.
Our public school system requires our support, and those teachers also expect our support. They have our thanks, and we've heard it expressed by many of my colleagues. They have our appreciation. What they need is also some respect, and that respect is not illustrated in the legislation that's before us today.
Bill 22 does a number of things which seem entirely contrary to the best interests of kids. It'll affect children in so many different ways that it's hard to enumerate all of them. In the limited time we have, I simply say that legislation that pretends to end the problem is bad legislation. Legislation that covers up an issue that will not go away is bad legislation. Legislation that purports to address a real need but does nothing of the sort is bad legislation.
My responsibility as a member of the Legislature representing the people of Powell River and the Sunshine Coast is to express my concern with the legislation and say that, in its form, it is unsupportable. I know it's probably unsupportable by MLAs on both sides of the House, but I know how this place sometimes works.
I think we need more than MLAs from the government side to simply say they appreciate their teachers. Although I'm sure that's well-received among many, it does not in itself take away the fact that, on the one hand, they're getting a pat on the head, and on the other hand, they're getting hit on the back of the head.
I think this legislation is inappropriate for the time, it's unnecessary for the time, and it's detrimental for the future.
We need to make sure that our teachers have conditions in their classrooms where their skills can be put to the best use. We need to make sure that the children with special needs in their classes can learn with the fewest impediments. We need to make sure, as well, that the public recognizes — I'm sure that the public already recognizes — and that the public sees the issue for what it is. That is a government trying to make up for bad decisions it's made over the last decade, which have led us to where we are today.
They passed legislation which stripped the teachers' rights to negotiate class size and class composition. I can't imagine an orchestra conductor, who has to have 23 trumpets and the regular number of violins and violas and cellos — or celli, if I have to be specific…. The composition of a classroom is not just thrown together randomly. We expect people of similar age in the class-
[ Page 9882 ]
room. We expect children from our community in the classroom.
We expect some variation, obviously, but when we see the number of children with special needs going up, when we see the number of children for whom English is not their first language going up, and when we see the amount of support they can get going down, we have a fundamental problem.
We have a fundamental problem. That problem can only be addressed if the government recognizes that the best way to address it is to talk about it and to discuss it rationally, intellectually, maturely, and not resort to picking a fight where a fight was not necessary. I can't think of many situations where a fight is necessary. I'm no Don Cherry, but in this particular case, a fight was avoidable, a fight was unnecessary, and a fight could have been averted.
I have before me a government that chooses to make a decision which they think is in their best political interest. I can't understand that, because I thought when I was elected to this place that our responsibility was to look after the best interests of our population as well as our responsibility to ensure that the policy we put forward is good public policy.
We debate public policy in this chamber. We debate legislation in this chamber. We vote on legislation in this chamber. Many times my colleagues on this side of the House, in the NDP opposition, have pointed out flaws in government legislation. We have not only pointed it out; we've said: "This is not going to stand up in court."
Governments should not be passing laws that end up being tested in court and being thrown out in court. Once in a while it's going to happen, but here we have a fundamental problem. They did this ten years ago, and they still haven't resolved it. If that's not an indication of bad management, I don't know what is. We've had plenty of time to address the essential needs of our public school system.
I could go into this ideological thing about whether this government believes in the public education system. I wouldn't want to do so, necessarily, because there are a few members who likely do believe in the importance of the public education system, and I wouldn't want to paint them all with the same brush.
However, I think that actions speak louder than legislation, or legislation speaks louder than their statements. In this particular case, we have legislation that betrays their claim to be supportive of public education.
I think the facts and the legislation in this case are clear and have been clearly rejected by those who believe in the importance of the public education system.
I just want to make sure that people recognize the technical aspects of this bill, which essentially remove the three-IEP limit on classrooms. That is technical jargon for kids with specific needs that might exceed those of the average in the class, that require assistance, extra time, extra attention — and extra focus on behalf of the teacher.
That will now be something that's decided on without the right amount of input from the teacher and with a form of compensation that really doesn't address the fundamental fact that you will have a class with composition that makes it difficult for the teacher to teach and for the student to learn.
That's one of the fundamental problems with this legislation. Obviously — and it's been repeated, and it's been said outside the House and in the media and clearly expressed by what I believe is the majority of the public — we didn't need to get to this legislation. We could have found negotiation. We could have negotiated.
You know, as a social worker I remember where very, very difficult decisions were made that were better if they took a little longer to make. They resulted in better outcomes when one side wasn't trying to force the hand of the other.
In this case we've seen a situation where the possibility of not engaging in a fight existed — and I think still exists. But the government has chosen, in sort of a stop-and-start kind of way, to almost threaten and threaten, and then has ended up saying: "This is all we're going to offer you. This is all we're going to say is what we've decided you deserve."
That is a stripping of all sorts of rights that students have written to me about — the right to speak freely on issues of importance to them. I think that's a fundamental problem. We've created a situation — as legislators, I guess — where teachers are going to go back into the classroom and talk about the importance of talking out issues, about not resorting to…. I don't like to use the word bullying, but it's all about respect, not using disrespectful tactics against each other. It kind of saddens me.
I grew up in a province that had a teacher strike that lasted a month, and I remember, I guess, my first political action. It wasn't an ideologically based one, but it was one I felt was important at the time, as the vice-president of the student council of a fine arts school in the downtown core of the city. We organized the school to walk out, after the teachers had come back in.
I remember getting a lecture from the principal on anarchy. I also remember the principal recognizing at the time the importance of being engaged in the issues of the day — that being a learning opportunity itself.
I'm not discounting the fact that it is difficult for parents and guardians when there is a dispute between the teachers and government. But I would say that sometimes in our system, when we change things for the better, it's often after a bit of a struggle. People can think of examples for themselves, where legislation has become better or policies or attitudes, values, mores, folkways. They all change for the better when something precipitates a discussion about it.
We all see the results of some evidence of betterment in our society. I think, in this case, we have teachers who are standing up for a right, a right that the courts have said is a right that should be protected and preserved. We have a government that has seemingly been unable to address it without pulling out the big artillery. Really, I don't think that's a good lesson for our students. I don't think that's a good lesson for anyone.
Unfortunately, that's where we have arrived, I would say, because of the inability of government — or the reluctance of government, in a more generous interpretation — to address the fundamental issues that our public school systems face.
Let me just now introduce words from teachers from my constituency, who have graciously, patiently and eloquently, in many cases, expressed their concerns and their hopes for the public education system and their students. I think their voice is so important in this debate.
They're not organized around specific topics, but they are organized around the fact that we do have a bill in front of us, and more imminently in front of them, that affects their daily lives, their thoughts about tomorrow and their thoughts about the last three days.
I can only say to the teachers in school districts 46 and 47 that…. I won't say that you have to be patient, but in this case I'm hoping that patience will be a virtue, not without a fight, but I hope things do get better. I'll certainly do my part in this Legislature, speaking against legislation that I think is bad legislation.
As I mentioned, it's not just bad for the teachers and the students; it's bad for the administration as well. I want to just read a few here, and I won't identify them specifically, as I don't always have specific instructions to do so. "As a retired teacher with several decades of experience with a variety of local and provincial administrations, I am most uncomfortable with the implications of any 'agreement' that might emerge with such restrictions placed on the mediator and the process of mediation."
Which brings up the interesting aspect of: when is mediation not mediation? When is negotiation not negotiation? When is fair discussion not a fair discussion? It's when the playing field, if I may, is tilted, and when the referee may be biased, or when the lead commissioner, if that's more fair, is biased. In this case, we have a situation where it's almost like: "Well, you know, do it this way or else." That's not exactly mediation.
"Very little in this legislation gives me the assurance that we are moving into an era of improved public education." In this House we should be talking not just about keeping things the same, even, or trying to hold onto everything as it has been.
We're responsible for trying to improve where we can, make things better where we can, and nobody is talking about this current situation as anything other than holding onto something — keeping up with an education system that we could be proud of — with our fingernails.
We have a situation here where we really should be talking about how we are going to make things better. Nothing in this legislation is making things better, and that's a problem.
Here's another one, from — I'm not sure — school district 46 or 47: "Please, we are begging you." This is addressed to the minister. "Sit down and talk to the teachers. Have an independent mediator, not a government-imposed one. Don't impose the no class-size limits and no special needs limits. Our children are counting on you. We, as the people that have elected you, are counting on you." That might be addressed to me to stop the legislation. I'll do my best.
Bill 22 is a legislated settlement, not a fair mediation. Here's another one that paints a picture of the circumstances in her school.
"Every day I have to face the fact I cannot do my special education job effectively because of lack of time and resources. I leave at the end of the day feeling stressed, tired and guilty.
"I've been teaching for 23 years, and I feel sad, angry and upset about the state of the situation now. I consider myself a positive and optimistic person. Over the past few years my energies are so tapped out that I've become more negative and pessimistic.
"I'm not a political person, but I am angered that I'm not getting the professional respect that I need to run an effective program and provide the proper supports to the students and teachers in my school. In the end, the students are the ones who suffer the most.
"I'm thankful that I have amazing colleagues to work with, who are struggling along to make a difference in the lives of children we teach. We always strive to be professional and caring in our everyday encounters with students, staff and parents.
"I hope that the government will show respect to the children and teachers of this province by allowing us to do our jobs with the support that we need."
Those are sentiments that are repeated by teachers throughout the province.
I think it's important that we hear the voices of those teachers, who, in some cases, go back home to their families in the evening only to work late into the night and on the weekends, trying to make sure that they can deal the best they can with the situation that's before them.
Teaching is a vocation. It's something that people sometimes feel a calling to, where they can connect with young people and transfer knowledge and enthusiasm and excitement about the world and help them to be caring and contributing citizens of our communities. That's something that I think we owe a debt of gratitude for, to the teachers in this province.
This is another one, from a teacher who has taught in a number of different districts. This is, to me…. I felt a little reaction to this, because I know that teacher-librarians are among those in this province who have seen a decline, a documented decline in access to library and library hours and such.
"I can remember when I used to take my class down every morning to the library to exchange books and to be greeted by a librarian who would help students find just that perfect book. A library aide was present to shelve books and keep the library in good order. Students were keen to visit the library. It was the hub
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of the school. It makes me sad today to see our library closed most of the week. Our librarian now holds a 0.3 position. I can take my class only once a week."
She goes on to speak about the importance of the early years. Anyone who has been paying attention to educational developments…. Knowledge that we're becoming more versed in speaking about is the importance of the early years, zero to six, and the brain development in that particular age as well as the social development that takes place.
It's so important that we recognize that what we do now will have an impact in the future. How we treat young people today is the same thing as how we treat any growing organism. I just think it's so important that we recognize that, when we think about how we are treating our teachers, how we are addressing the needs of our teachers in the public school system.
I think again of my mother, of the dedication she has to her students. She doesn't need to continue to work, but she loves it. I think that I speak on behalf of teachers across this province when I say that I think more respect is needed. Talking is better than fighting.
Government should, I think, seriously consider this as an opportunity to take a few steps back from this legislation, to go into reverse. We don't mind hearing the beeping. I'm sure we won't, as they say, lord it over. We'll just say: "Make the right decision. Make a better decision." If you have to put off making a decision, that could be seen as an extension of a hand in friendship as opposed to a hand in the shape of a fist.
I hope, in conclusion, that members of both sides of the House recognize the importance of our public education system, the importance of respectful relationships, the importance of hearing each other and the importance of making sure that legislation in this chamber is passed with the appropriate consideration. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the time.
G. Gentner: It's usually a pleasure to stand here and debate a bill. I rise today in opposition to Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act. It should be dubbed the education destruction act.
I was hopeful. You know, you're here in the Legislature. You start to talk about the progress and the development and the future of this province of British Columbia and how we're going to set an example for our young people, but I don't see that at all after seeing the legacy for 11 years. Of course, for the seven years I've been here, it's quite obvious to me and everybody else, to many people in this province, where this province is going.
I just want to begin with the following analogy. It goes something like this. If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved, then rats are your ultimate role model. That's not to say that rats are all bad. Some are pretty smart fellows. They are adaptable, and they can feed on just about anything. But today they are feeding on our teachers.
I say it's dirty when you look at what's happened with the selling of our major assets — the B.C. Rail deal, the scandalous rail deal that even the Auditor General is still waiting for evidence on and has asked for, for some time — and the inability to come clean on the HST and the flip. This is the legacy behind Bill 22.
This is where the government is going, and it's unfortunate. People have lost control of trust in this government, and you could see it on the lawn of the Legislature yesterday, what has happened with people who showed up in discontent with regards to Bill 22.
But let me say this. This is no ordinary rat. This is a cornered rat, a rat caught in its own leghold trap. It's willing to chew off its leg in order to survive. There's even something worse: a government that is ready to fall and knows it's going to fall, Its political survival is based, when it's cornered…. It becomes a very vicious little creature.
But I will move on to Bill 22. Let me apologize for what I just said. Let me apologize to the rat, because a rat simply wants to survive. The rat knows nothing about real politics. Nothing could be as vile and utterly low as the politics played out today in the province of B.C. by a very desperate government.
Now, it's interesting. I've noticed something that's happened in the Legislature. Yesterday we had members of the opposite side talking about Bill 22, and today they're not standing up. I was hopeful the Premier would stand up in this House and lay it out, but the Premier is not here speaking today.
I was hopeful that she would, but the message box is clear. I heard it today on Global TV on the morning news. I heard the Premier standing within her message box, blaming the opposition, as though we're the ones behind delaying the passage of Bill 22 and her version of cooling off, as proposed in the bill. But it's really starting to heat up.
The message box is clear, lumping teachers with the NDP. Well, I love that. I love teachers. I'm not ashamed to say I support teachers, public education, because by doing so I support the families and the children of the province of British Columbia. That is what the NDP supports.
The strategy is to blame the NDP, yet the Premier is unwilling to come here and speak in this House on this issue. You know, it's as though we are deliberately, on this side, thwarting democracy, but standing here and pointing out our position is our democratic right. It's why we are here. Somehow expediting and ramming it through seems to be much better on that side than the sensible approach to find a solution.
The Leader of the Opposition made it very clear. Perhaps, there is need for a second look. W.A.C. Bennett was very famous on that ground. It's time to take a deep breath and be a little more rational. But, you know, let's hang on. Let's look at the government side, because they,
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too, are here to express their right to debate.
They have stood up, and maybe they, too, are going against their Premier's wish. Rather than ramming it through, we had members on the opposite side, until today, standing up. They're standing up. The Premier isn't standing up.
The Minister of Education spent considerable time last Thursday explaining the bill, which is his fiduciary duty — 40 minutes. The member for Vancouver-Langara stood up for 20 minutes — not as an MLA, she said, but as a parent. But where is the Premier?
The Premier wants to expedite this through, yet members on that side did speak. But now all of a sudden they're not, because they want to ram it through. They want to blame the NDP for doing what we have to do, and that is to stand up and represent our constituents.
The member for Nechako Lakes spent 20 minutes in this House, and he said: "I'm appreciative of having the opportunity to say a few words on this bill, and I very much look forward to listening to the rest of the debate." That's what they said yesterday.
They stood up. Nada. Not anymore. We're going to closure, perhaps. The Premier's not in this House to speak. The member for North Vancouver–Seymour spent 20 minutes, and she said: "I rise to speak on Bill 22. Just as an introduction, I'm very much honoured to represent the people of North Vancouver–Seymour, to express my love of my job…."
Deputy Speaker: Member, please take your seat.
Point of Order
Hon. M. de Jong: Point of order. The member has been here long enough to know that references to who is or is not in the House are totally inappropriate.
Deputy Speaker: Member, resume.
G. Gentner: I appreciate the words from the minister to remind me to refer to members who spoke and who may be in the House today.
The member for Parksville, Cantelon, stood up for ten minutes, acknowledging the great privilege it is to speak in this House.
Deputy Speaker: The member will not use….
G. Gentner: Interesting slip, hon. Speaker. Parksville-Qualicum — there you go. With due respect for that member, we wish that member back in all good health.
G. Gentner: The Minister of Environment said: "It is an honour, as always, to stand up in this House and speak on issues that affect all of us as British Columbians. I think that from the debate we have seen, this is a passionate subject." Fifteen minutes — wow.
They had some members on that side stand up. I'm hopeful the Premier will stand up.
Abbotsford-Mission, 20 minutes. He was here because his granddaughter was in kindergarten. Richmond Centre: it was his pleasure to take his place that morning. Yet on that side, where are they today? Peace River North: "I'd love to take my opportunity to discuss Bill 22 as well."
Will the Premier stand up like the rest of her members?
Members for Chilliwack and Surrey-Tynehead. You know, there was a real filibuster. He spent 23 minutes talking about it — talk about delaying and obstructing the bill when you have a Premier on their side who says, "We've got to ram it through," and that we're the bad guys on this side because we want to debate the bill.
The Minister of State for Multiculturalism said it was "an honour to stand up here in the House and a privilege to serve the residents of my riding." Why aren't the rest of them standing up? Why isn't the Premier standing up?
Kootenay East stood up. "I think that it's important to say quite clearly what's in the bill." Where are the rest of them? Vancouver–False Creek: "No surprise I rise today to speak."
Over 240 minutes were spent by the good members over there who decided to take the concerns of their constituents to this House. But now the hammer has come down. The hammer has come down, because we're now going to get into more confrontation, and a Premier who really is running the clock herself. It's not us.
Fourteen Liberals spoke. And you know, the Premier has the ability to extend the hours, call for debate. The Premier is the Premier. She's running the show, but for whatever reason, it seems to be the New Democrats' fault for standing here and debating the questions.
I want to say that even the leader of the B.C. Conservatives knows better on how the Legislature works. Here's what Conservative John said, for the record: "The Liberals are playing politics with education. It's obvious they are calculating that a three-day strike will turn public opinion against the teachers. By not sitting through the weekend the Liberals have chosen tactical advantage in their dispute with the teachers over the needs of students and parents across the province."
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member. Second reading debate is about the general principles of the bill. I'd ask you to keep your remarks to those, please.
G. Gentner: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
You know, the bill is a knee-jerk reaction in a gov-
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ernment that I still believe has lost its way. The Liberals, when first elected, promised that they would retain funding for education and honour contracts. But given the first opportunity, they did the exact opposite, and so the culture began.
It was with Bills 27 and 28 that they stripped contracts. The government tore up the teachers' contract in 2002. It stripped teachers of their self-governing body in 2003. It overruled the B.C. Supreme Court decision on classroom composition in 2004.
The Supreme Court struck down the 2001 and 2004 B.C. Liberal amendments to teachers' collective rights as unconstitutional but suspended the effect of that order for 12 months to allow the government to make necessary changes.
They gave the government 12 months, a year, and here we are, seven years from the beginning, seven years later in this culture of confrontation that was foisted upon teachers and the workers by this government.
Now, in a nutshell, here's what Bill 22 is all about. It's a piece of legislation used by a desperate government that is cornered and has adopted offence as its best means to defence.
I believe the bill is an attack on all workers. It takes away their right to strike for six months through a cooling-off period. It prevents them from negotiating fundamental working conditions like class size and composition.
It strips negotiated provisions out of their collective agreement again, despite being told by the B.C. Supreme Court that when Gordon Campbell was Premier and today's Premier was the Minister of Education, they did the same thing in 2002. It was a breach of the Charter rights.
It imposes unheard of fines. Can you imagine? It's $1.3 million, plus $2,500 on union officers and representatives, and $475 on individual union members per day. That's versus — let's do the math — a $350,000 fine for a Langley mushroom farm, for three deaths and two other brain-injured workers. There's a comparative.
Now, Bill 22 is a blueprint for, I believe, eroding the quality of our public education and the future of our children. It repeals the School Act limits of three students with special needs in a class. It removes the involvement of teachers in the organization of their classes by repealing the requirement for teacher consultation.
It ensures larger classes in grades 4 to 7, because it removes the previous requirement of teacher consent. It removes parent involvement in the organization of classes by repealing the requirement that the principal consult with parent councils about class size at the beginning of the school year.
It eliminates public transparency and accountability by repealing the requirement that the superintendent provide a report to school trustees in a public meeting about class sizes in the district.
Now, I believe Bill 22 makes a mockery of the Supreme Court decisions on Bills 27 and 28 — a mockery.
Finally, it sets up a phony mediation process where the government picks the mediator. It eliminates their Charter-protected right to free collective bargaining — free collective bargaining has been fought for, for well over 100 years in this province — by forcing them to participate in this phony mediation. It predetermines the outcome of the mediation by requiring that the employer's concessions on seniority, layoff and recall, evaluation, dismissal and teachers' autonomy on professional development be addressed in the new collective agreement.
Now, how fair is a piece of legislation that has given the ultimatum, the hammer, when it dispatches its own mediator to deal with the leftovers? The bill makes a mockery of the meaning of mediation.
Regarding mediation…. I'm glad the Minister of Health is here because I know that he's into classical thinking and the rest. As Aristotle once said: "All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth." Unfortunately, the Liberal government does not see it that way.
Education is also the encouragement to weigh all thoughts before acting. It is also about giving and taking. The bully tactics and phony mediation do not have to be this way at all. The Premier is now a conservative braggart. She even said that B.C. is the most conservative province in the country. Well, I want to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that if that's where the government is going, they don't even come close to the meaning of conservatism.
I will quote for you another little anecdotal thing that I like to quote. I suppose that of all people, I never thought I'd do this. But in the spirit of conservatism and in the spirit of how conservatives are going to deal with education…. Perhaps this is Bill 22. Edmund Burke, known as the ultimate conservative, on occasion had wisdom, particularly on the need to compromise. He said to his fellow conservatives: "All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter. We balance inconveniences. We give, and we take." Edmund Burke.
A conservative is telling you — basically, this is a group over here that wants to lead the way in conservatism — how you negotiate contracts to barter and negotiate. But this government is desperate. It wants a hammer. It doesn't want to go there. Frankly, the bulwark of democracy is based on the premise of an equitable public school system for all, for everybody. But now it is so broken that the only option is a political one, and our children must suffer.
I want to begin a little different discussion here with the kids in North Delta, the young people. My children went to North Delta. I have a daughter who was very successful in the '90s. She's now a professor of anthropology
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at the University of Florida. I don't know if those same opportunities are here today.
On Friday afternoon, March 2, a number of North Delta high school students came to my office with placards, with a petition of 406 fellow signatures. What was remarkable to me was that this group was truly organized. They came together within a couple of days. They also care for their community, and they were involved with petitions. Many of us think that the younger people really are no longer engaged, but I was quite taken with the fact that these young people were willing to come to my boardroom and tell me exactly what they thought.
I received a letter signed and attached, which was all agreed to by the 406. I'll quickly read to you parts of it.
"We are writing to ask you to support and represent us by taking our petition to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This petition has signatures from the students of North Delta Secondary School who support B.C. teachers and believe their voices should be heard. We believe B.C. teachers deserve what they are asking for as we sing for their hard work and efforts on a daily basis.
"Our teachers consistently give their 110 percent and work tirelessly, often on their own personal time, to provide us with quality education. They go above and beyond for us and truly help mould us into young adults. They prepare us for life beyond high school and are helping build the foundation of a secure future for us as individuals but also for British Columbia and the province."
They go on to list what the teachers are doing, and they go beyond the call of duty. I said earlier it was quite remarkable to have that discussion with those students. Others came to me. Her name was Blossom, a youth parliamentarian, a remarkable leader. She told me that she sees the work teachers do, and Canada should be proud of teachers and take them seriously, and so should the province.
Sanjeev said: "Our teachers have always been there for us. We support them, just like they support us." Prabhpal said: "Teachers deserve more than they've been getting. Education prevents poverty."
Aranpal said: "Our teachers have been there since day one for us. Why does the B.C. government not support them? Our charter allows us to have peace and peaceful strikes. Why should our teachers lose their rights?" Droke said: "Smaller classes will be better for all students." He went on to say that teachers have rights.
Aditya said: "I support teachers because they have educated us, which will help us in the future." The president of the student society of North Delta Secondary School said: "I believe that our teachers go beyond the call of duty. They taught us, 'Submit my life with lessons,' and we as students will also do whatever possible to support them. As student president, I'm here to represent the whole school body."
On and on it goes. These were the young people that came to my office. We came back on Thursday night, and there they were. I have one last letter I want to read out. Hopefully, I have time to talk a little bit about what I'm receiving from teachers. I've got ten minutes. Yeah, that's pretty cool.
"To Whom It May Concern:
"What has occurred over the course of the last year, especially last weeks, has moved me to speak up about it. I am a 16-year-old grade 11 student. I have been following the action around the teacher-government negotiation decisions, and what has happened recently has led to a great deal of frustration and emotion for myself and my peer group.
"As decisions are carried through, it's disheartening to watch as a helpless minor who, along with friends and family, is being affected and will furthermore be affected by the careless actions being performed. As a high school student, I am almost powerless in what transpires in government, yet as an educated person I have common sense and knowledge. The glaring truth lies before me. The poor decision-making I have seen has made me so frustrated that it has led me to want to reshape my career path so I can be involved in government in my future years so nothing like this will ever happen to public education for my own children."
Well, there's something to be taken to the bank, hon. Speaker. The pain inflicted upon young people's future is forcing them to become political. And in the NDP we welcome that — reluctantly, because hopefully they'd go for a higher GPA. But they know they've got to have the fight of their lives, their future, and it's not going to rest with this government.
I go on to quote.
"Teachers' dedication and love are what propels me to continue to have enthusiasm for school. Anyone who has common sense is able to figure out that if the conditions get better for the teachers, as a result, the students reap the benefits. It's a symbiotic relationship. You put money into schools; you will see the improvements in students' achievements. The two go hand in hand.
"If we are so keen on improving education and the lives of children, as I hope the government should be, then why is it that things essential for success in schools and classrooms are being stripped away? One of the most striking things about Bill 22 is that it outlines that there is no limit to how many special needs students can be in the classroom."
Sixteen-year-old Natasha. And I can go on. It's a brilliant letter. I have many other letters I could quote.
She goes on to say:
"I quote the Minister of Education: 'There's no reason'" — which is what he said — "'to assume, on the face of it, that a child with a designation is going to be any different or any less manageable in a classroom situation than a child without a designation.'"
That's what he said.
She goes on to say:
"This statement, the bill itself and the lack of a conscience and action in the majority government is appalling. Education is the foundation of success and the future, and if we cannot properly provide that, then how exactly do we propose to be a functioning society?"
Kudos to a 16-year-old.
Now, I want to talk briefly about teachers. I'm getting lots of caseworks on the oversize and the overcomposition of classes in Delta. I won't use names because there is a fear of whistle-blowing.
One teacher of grade 4 at a specific school, with 24 students and four IEP students — she is having a very difficult time because of one particular high-needs student — currently has 12 hours of EA time allotted to her class. But she reports that that is nowhere near enough. There is also an EA who comes in occasionally but not
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on a regular schedule.
The student has a brain injury and uses a SET-BC computer, but the computer programs need to be loaded, and the text has to be entered manually, which the teacher has been doing, but because of that take-away from the other students, the class is suffering.
Another teacher has told me she currently has three classes which are above class-size composition limits. She's currently very concerned about two of her classes. Both classes she has described as a very dangerous environment where teaching and learning take a back seat to class management and dangerous-behaviour minimalization.
Another teacher is currently teaching English 300 with 30 students, with four IEP students. She is concerned that both her classes…. Her grade 11 class has one EA who is assigned to a particular student and who does not give much general support. She says there are very good students and very weak students in a class that's too full to be able to provide enrichment for remedial help.
Another casework. Another teacher is currently teaching apprenticeship workshop math, and she has 28 students with six ministry designations. And her block A class has 28 students with five ministry designations. She is finding it very difficult and is stressed out to the max.
Another one talks about, in foods — with blocks, learning disabilities — and this has been going on…. The foods room is literally too small for the class size. There are not enough seats, and it is in desperate need of renovations, including painting and new countertops. There's a lack of working equipment, including one stove that needs replacing. In addition, there are mice in the room, which are currently being exterminated. They keep coming back. She says that she has safety concerns about these classes and that there are simply too many students to be able to give individual attention to those who need it.
Now to wrap up. Quite recently in the Vancouver Sun we had a professor, an instructor at UBC, who talked about collective bargaining and the law.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
The bottom line here today is that when it comes to respecting basic labour rights, this province has slumped down the list of condemnation for any government in North America. We've seen what has been going on in United States, whether it be Wisconsin, Texas or the red states. But where we see these types of violations starting to stomp on the basic, accepted labour standards of British Columbians, it's time to get concerned.
Our collective bargaining social contract — it's been here for some time — has been eroded ever since this government was formed in 2001. Our reputation as a province, as a place to do business internationally and, of course, across the nation, I think, is in question. Frankly, this legislation is simply embarrassing.
When it comes to labour laws, no other jurisdiction or government in Canada has abused their legislative power more than the B.C. Liberals. In fact, B.C. is now at the bottom of the class in North America in terms of respecting workers' rights, and Bill 22 clearly shows the intent of this government. It has been seen in violation and condemned by the United Nations. The freedom of association principles have condemned it — they condemned Bill 94; they condemned Bill 18 and, of course, Bill 29, which was the ultimate embarrassment — and they're going to condemn this Bill 22.
Of course, it was ripped apart by the Supreme Court of Canada, which brings me to Joel Bakan, who teaches law at the University of British Columbia. He said: "The B.C. Liberal government is poised, once again, to violate the legal rights of workers, this time with Bill 22, which, if it becomes law, will prohibit teachers striking and limit their collective bargaining rights." What a record. What a legacy.
He goes on to say: "It is those very same restrictions that the government now seeks to reinstate with Bill 22, a disturbing disregard for such a recent judicial declaration that they are constitutionally invalid."
But once again we see: "Bill 22 also flies in the face of Canada's international treaty obligations. On no fewer than ten occasions, half of which have been concerned with teachers, the Freedom of Association Committee of the United Nations International Labour Organization has found the B.C. Liberal government to be in breach of labour treaties."
He went on to say: "In a recent report concerning legislation similar to Bill 22, the committee noted as particularly problematic the tendency of this government to legislatively prohibit strikes, impose rates and working conditions, circumscribe the scope of collective bargaining and restructure the bargaining process." Well, hallelujah. That is the state of the province of British Columbia.
H. Lali: As I gather my notes here in preparation for my speech, I take my place on Bill 22, hon. Speaker, and I'd like to tell you right at the outset that I will be voting against Bill 22, this education destruction act. I will be supporting students, teachers and parents, and education, by opposing this heavy-handed approach that this Liberal government is so used to actually doing on a continued basis. Now they're into their 11th year of the attack on teachers and on workers.
Now, I want to start off by saying that this attack on teachers and education by the B.C. Liberals is reprehensible. I mean, year after year they go on the attack and try to denigrate the 40,000-plus teachers, who do a fantastic job as part of the educational system to try to make it one of the best — if not the best, then one of the best — edu-
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cational systems in the world, which is publicly funded by the taxpayers of British Columbia, who send their hard-earned money to Victoria on a regular basis.
But you know, the B.C. Liberals may not want to recognize the great work that teachers do in our communities and in our schools. Teachers, educators, enter the profession. They go to university. They get their degrees.
Some of them get their bachelor's — of arts or science or fine arts — and then get an educational certificate after that, a teaching certificate. Others go through the bachelor of education program. Many, many teachers have gone and got their master's degrees, and there are even some who have gone further to get their PhDs.
That's a pretty lengthy commitment, whether it's a bachelor's, a master's or a PhD degree that they do. It's a lengthy commitment, not to mention the amount of money that they spend to actually get themselves certified so that they can go into the school system to teach.
We value teachers. On our side of the House we value teachers. We value the work they do. How often it has been that people when they grow up, when they become adults, many, many years later, even members of this House — I've done it myself, and I know my colleagues and some of the colleagues across the way as well — will go back to their old alma mater and go visit their favourite teacher, because that teacher made an impact.
Sometimes your parents may not be able to get through to the student, or family members or friends, but somehow a teacher finds a way to connect with a particular student, where others have failed. It is the students who learn from these teachers who go on, in many cases, to greatness. They want to go back and seek out that one special teacher amongst many — the one that really was able to get through and reach out, to make a difference in the life of that student.
That scenario repeats itself hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of times over when students go back to talk to their favourite teachers — to let them know, to tell them that they value the advice that they gave them, that they value the education that they gave them in school. It was what they taught them.
It was what they shared with them in the way of advice or a good hint or charting them in a specific direction or helping to chart them in a specific direction that ended up leading that particular student, after they went off to college or university or a trade or whatever profession they went off to, to go back and seek out that special teacher or two and to tell them: "Thank you very much for actually having the time to sit down and talk to me." Having the compassion, taking time out to care enough, amongst dozens and perhaps hundreds of students that they will have taught throughout their careers and actually taking the time to sit down with that one particular student to help them chart out a course in life or to give them that piece of advice that straightened out that child, that student, so that they could go on to get their education, go on and actually work in a meaningful capacity to better improve their own life….
That's the kind of connection teachers make with students on a daily basis. That's the kind of thing that we should be cherishing and we should be honouring. It's the kind of care and attention that teachers have.
I mean, with the amount of money they spend to get their education and the intelligence that goes along with it to be able, day in and day out on a year-to-year basis over many, many years, to actually sit there and study books and write tests and go out and try to pass exams, to go out and work in the summer to finance their educations — so that they can go on to become teachers and expound their knowledge to other students when they are in the school system or if they are teaching in the college system — and with the amount of time and energy and money they spend to do that, they could quite easily take another fork in their careers.
They could say, "We're going to spend that much time and energy and money to get ourselves an education and train in something else whereby we can go out and we can actually earn tens of thousands of dollars and perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars," and actually fill their own pockets and build a big house or create a business or employ many, many people. There are many things they could do, because they have that intellectual capacity. They have that energy. They have that drive to be able to do that.
Somewhere along the line, those folks who go on to become educators that teach our children decided that they were not going to do that, that they were going to go out and get a degree in education so they can actually go into the school system to share the knowledge that they've learned, share it with the students that they're going to be teaching.
You have to wonder why they did that. Did they do it because they were greedy? Did they do because they thought in education, when they were teachers, they were going to get piles of money? No, hon. Speaker. They could have done that elsewhere. They could have gone into business. They could have gone into a whole lot of other fields. There are a lot of doctors and lawyers and engineers and other folks who have gone and spent a lot of time, energy and money to get themselves an education so they can actually make a good buck.
I don't hold anything against that. I think that's great. There are so many people who are involved in running our economy and running our businesses — that supply our food and our clothing and everything. That's all great. But they didn't do that. They didn't go off to go and do a profession, to go get a profession, get educated for a profession, where they could have made a lot of money.
They entered the educational system because they care. It's because they care. Teachers care about our students
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that are being taught. I have two in university. They went through the entire school system in Merritt. I have a little one that's in grade 3. These teachers were there because they care, and they still continue to care, about the kids that they teach — be they in kindergarten or be they in grade 12.
Even after those kids leave the K-to-12 system, they still come back. They can always still come back, whether it's a year later or two years or five or ten years later, and often find their favourite teacher and go back and talk to that teacher, because they were able to connect with them, if they had any kind of a problem, to be able to help them solve the problem.
That's how much teachers care. That's how much they stay in contact with those students. It's because they care. They have compassion. They care about their students. They care about the education and the futures of those students. Teachers care about the communities that they live in because of all of the extra time they put into activities such as dance classes or sports or getting involved with an arts club or a community club. It's because they care. They care about students. They care about their community.
They care for the parents of those students as well — those one-on-one interviews with parents, where you can have an honest dialogue between a teacher and a parent to either tell the parent that their child is doing a great job or to sit down and talk to the parent and say, "well, here are some areas where the child, perhaps, needs a bit of improvement," or if there are any problem areas that they can together, as parents and as teachers, help to solve those problems for that student so that they will get better grades. Perhaps there might be a behaviour problem or something.
That's the kind of connection that teachers have with students, with parents, with the community at large. They do it because they care. We ought to honour that. All of us in this House — New Democrats and Liberals — ought to honour that.
I must say that this Bill 22 does not do that. This Bill 22 that is presented by the government fails on almost every count because it doesn't do that. This bill is an affront to teachers, education, students, communities and parents in this province. It just goes to show you how out of touch this Liberal government really is when it comes to the future of our children and the education of our children and the issues that parents, teachers and educators actually go through.
This bill does not do that. It has been brought in by a Premier and a Liberal government who are out of touch. They are out of touch with reality. They are out of touch with the needs of teachers and of students and of education in general in the communities.
For 11 years now, you've seen all these massive cuts in education, all throughout the system. We've had almost 200 schools closed by the B.C. Liberals in the last 11 years. If they would only go out and actually talk to people in the classrooms….
When you talk to teachers and other people about what this bill really actually means, they'll tell you. It just seems to me that since the new Premier, who used to be the Education Minister and was vastly responsible for the destruction of so much in education we held dear…. The closing of schools. It was 134 schools that the Premier, when she was Education Minister, closed — and the cuts to education, for special education, for aboriginal education in our schools and for English as a second language — along with Gordon Campbell. She was the Deputy Premier.
Since becoming Premier she has tried everything. She has tried to do everything to try to raise her image and raise the image of the B.C. Liberals in the polls. Nothing works. Nothing has worked. Everything she tries fails. This is a government that is out of touch. This is a party that is out of touch. They're looking for something. They're desperate.
It reminds me, actually, of an old Madonna movie, not a very good one at that as well. It was many, many years ago. I think it was her first movie, compared to Evita, which came a lot later, which was actually a lot better. Anyway, starting out, it was a bad movie. It was called Desperately Seeking Susan. That was the name of that movie.
Where the similarity comes in here, to this place, is you've got the Premier, who has been desperately seeking trouble. That's what she's been doing. She's been desperately seeking trouble, because she's been looking for some sort of an issue to hang on to, to find an issue that might float her in the polls, and then they can go on to an election. She's looking all around to see who she can pick a fight with.
When the Premier was in opposition, she was used to fighting all the time, and opposing. When she became the Minister of Education, she was out there fighting with the teachers and opposing, and closing schools, left, right and centre. Then she became the Minister of Children and Families, and at the same time there was a wholesale destruction of that ministry that took place. The largest cuts to the Children and Families Ministry took place under the Premier when she was the Minister of Children and Families.
Then she was out for a while, a radio talk show host. Loved to oppose anybody that came on as a guest. She went on the attack — attack — and always tried to ask all sorts of pointed questions, which is fine for a radio talk show host.
But somewhere along the line she forgot that she is now the Premier of the province and should be actually listening to the people of the province of B.C. and bringing forward those ideas and pieces of legislation that are going to benefit the people of British Columbia.
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Unfortunately, I don't think the Premier, the new Premier, has gotten out of that mould of opposing and fighting and opposing and fighting, because that's how she feels most comfortable.
All of a sudden, the brain trust in the Premier's office and the Liberal Party…. Somewhere along the line they imagined: "We need an issue." They must have watched that bad movie of Madonna's, Desperately Seeking Susan, so they decided to do a remake of it: "Desperately Seeking Trouble."
And you know what, hon. Speaker? They got trouble, and that trouble is a self-inflicted wound. That's what the Premier had wanted. The Premier had wanted trouble, and now the Premier has got trouble. She's got trouble on her hands. Still, the B.C. Liberals and the Premier stand up. They want to blame everybody else. They create this trouble….
Deputy Speaker: Member, can I invite you back to the contents of Bill 22?
H. Lali: Bill 22 is an attack on teachers, hon. Speaker. They want to blame. We've heard, in defence of Bill 22….
You've got this B.C. Liberal government blaming teachers. It's the teachers who are bad guys. "Oh, it's the B.C. labour movement that are bad guys because they're supporting the teachers." They're the bad guys. "Oh, if it's not the teachers or the labour movement, it's got to be the NDP." We heard the Premier say that. I think she said that last night. The Premier said that last night. "It's the NDP. They're the bad guys. They're the ones who are supporting the teachers, and the teachers are the ones that are out on strike" — not admitting that the Premier herself brought in this bill, while she was the Education Minister.
Desperate Premier. It's this desperate Premier who brought in this bill and picked a fight with the B.C. Teachers Federation. But they want to blame others.
I must say that for somebody who likes fighting that much, the Premier, who likes fighting that much…. I wonder where, in terms of being on this bill, the Premier is. We haven't heard from the Premier. You know, the Premier's attitude we talked about. She likes to fight. She's a feisty person, and she picked this fight. As soon as the fight has been picked, in terms of Bill 22, where is the Premier on Bill 22? We're not hearing from the Premier.
She's got this belligerent attitude. On day one, when this bill was introduced last week…. Every member in this House knows that when there's a bill introduced, you're not allowed to speak on the contents of that bill until the bill goes to second reading and then third reading. Then you can talk about it. So we had a question period question. I know the soon-to-be Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, had some very important questions he wanted to ask — and other members of the House as well — on specific issues that had nothing to do with the bill or education, but other equally important issues that we were trying to hold the Premier to task on.
Instead of answering questions related to other issues, the Premier got up and said: "I don't know" — this is the most important day of the Legislature — "why the Leader of the Opposition won't stand here and debate with me where the Leader of the Opposition stands on education and Bill 22."
That's what she said. She wanted a fight, and of course, the Speaker had to rule her out of order a couple times for not knowing that she can't speak to the contents of the bill because it's before the House, and it has not been properly introduced in the way that it's supposed to be given a couple days before it comes back. She wanted a fight. You could just tell.
I could just see the faces of the Liberals on the other side. They were just trying to hide, trying to grimace. They were going, "Oh my god, what's going on here?" because she wasn't debating the issue. She wanted a fight. She was ready to fight. She wanted to fight so badly. She wanted us to talk about Bill 22 when there were so many other important issues of the day that had to be talked about.
But where is the Premier now? Where has the Premier been ever since that initial statement on day one? I think she's gone into hiding. None of us actually see her making comments. How come the Premier isn't speaking on this particular bill? She won't speak on this bill. B.C. Liberals stood up — a few of them, about a dozen — and some spoke for ten minutes. Others spoke for five minutes, a couple spoke for a couple — whatever the amount of time, not their 30 minutes.
But all of a sudden they've gone quiet. If they like this bill so much, how come they're not standing up here trying to defend this bill? And how come the Premier won't speak on this bill? Has a muzzle, you know…?
I know the member for Kamloops-South Thompson has been quietened down. There's been a muzzle put on him and on other Liberal members of the House. But the Premier wanted this fight. The Premier orchestrated this fight. The Premier won't debate the bill anymore.
It reminds me of the American election a few years back with George Bush Sr., and the big question was: "Where's George?" That was the question: "Where's George?" Well, the question here is: where's the Premier in terms of speaking on this bill? Why won't the Premier speak on her bill? This is her flagship. She wanted to fight, but nobody on the Liberal side is standing up to defend their own bill.
We know this is an attack on teachers. I tell you, hon. Speaker, the BCTF are telling us what this bill actually stands for. They say the "b" in Bill 22 stands for bullying. That's what this government is used to — bullying people roughshod, no democracy. Remember what happened when it was 77 to two, just two members of the House that were NDP and what they had to face? The "i"
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is to intimidate. That's what the B.C. Liberals like to do — intimidate workers every time. HEU workers, teachers — you name it. They go after them.
The "l" — well, I'm not allowed to use that word because it's unparliamentary. But there's another word I can use in its place. I can't use the "l" word, but it's obfuscate — not actually coming out and saying what has happened in reality but trying to put forward some sort of a smokescreen, something different. But it means the same as the "l" word — obfuscate.
And the final "l" — legislate. They want to legislate everybody back to work and the teachers. That's what Bill 22 stands for. Yup — bully, intimidate, obfuscate, legislate. That's what this bill stands for.
I want to read into the record some letters that have been written here, in no specific order. They're from teachers. I'm not going to read the names of who they are, because I want to be able to protect the identity of these teachers. There's no whistle-blower legislation, so you never know when the Liberals might go after these people.
Here's one. It says:
"Dear Members of the B.C. Legislature:
"I cannot begin to express my anger and frustration with this government's latest heavy-handed tactics with B.C. teachers and the blatant disrespect for the work we do. According to the Minister of Education" — who they name here— "'When adults can't reach a respectful agreement on things, it is always students who pay the price.'"
From the Globe and Mail, February 23, 2012. That's what the Minister of Education said.
The letter continues:
"Let me remind the minister and his colleagues that students have already been paying the price for this government's blatant disregard for the children of this province over the last 12 years. According to the First Call: Youth Advocacy Coalition, the child poverty rate in British Columbia has risen from 14½ percent in 2008 to 16.4 percent in 2009, a shameful legacy this government likes to hide behind such catchphrases as 'Families first.'
"Education funding as a percentage of government spending has dropped to 15 percent of the total budget in the last decade as well. If we're not putting government resources into reducing childhood poverty and improving learning conditions in our classrooms, how can one claim to put families first?"
This Bill 22 doesn't even support the B.C. Liberals' so-called families agenda.
Here's another teacher who has written. It's from Lillooet, and it's addressed to myself.
"As a voting member of your community, I would like to take this short time to express my disgust with Bill 22 that is trying to be rammed through parliament this week. This bill is intended to strip teachers from their democratic rights. Canada and British Columbia citizens require the right to be able to stand up for what is right and fight for fair working conditions and fair wages for the work they perform.
"I understand that times are tough economically, but the times should not be reflected in such a dramatically heavy-handed bill. As a voting person in your community, both my wife" — and he names the wife — "and I implore you to vote down Bill 22."
You know, it's just no respect is shown for teachers. No respect. Earlier I talked about what teachers mean to us.
Here's another one, from a female teacher from a Lower Mainland elementary school.
"I am writing to you on the eve of Anti-Bullying Day to say this government is bullying teachers. When I watched the Premier" — and she names the Premier — "and other members of the government on the news in their pink shirts, I felt sick at the hypocrisy. The leaders of our province are setting a poor example to the youth in their dealings with the BCTF.
"The Liberal slogan is 'Families first,' yet I don't know how many families can afford not to have their children in public schools. By underfunding and making cuts to public education, they are not standing for families or children.
"Teachers have been picking up the slack, which is the direct result of these cuts, for too long. If teachers were to take the things out of their classrooms that have been paid for out of their own pockets — with money they can't even write off on their taxes, I might add — classrooms would be bare.
"It is time to start funding things that all members of this province will benefit from. I could not afford to go to the Olympics; nor will I be seeing a game at B.C. Place. By having better-educated young people, we are giving them a chance to better themselves and this province, to move it forward into the future.
"I stand here as a teacher completely demoralized. I feel disrespected and unappreciated. The government does not seem to think that the teachers of this province are important. To be honest, I think the government owes us an apology."
That's what they're saying.
Here's one from a concerned citizen:
"A mediator whose hands are fettered by preconditions mandated by a law passed by only one side out of two sides in a dispute is not a mediator. He or she is essentially a puppet of a government that is willing to use and subvert the mechanisms of democracy to impose an authoritarian structure upon a segment of the provincial population.
"This is the lowest form of politics and is reprehensible in a free and democratic society. A person who has taught political science is likely to be well aware of this, and they would be right to consider such an action abhorrent."
A couple more letters. This one is from a teacher in Merritt, a female teacher who's written to myself.
"The provincial Liberal Party has put forth a bill, Bill 22, with the stated intention of ending the teachers' strike. My feelings about what this bill means for the state of education in my province aside, this bill eliminates the teachers' right to strike as part of their bargaining process.
"The freedom to collectively bargain and to peacefully protest in the form of a strike, if bargaining does not make progress, are fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians in section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part 1 of the Constitution Act.
"As a Canadian citizen, my rights and freedoms are very important to me, and with a provincial election coming in the next year, my decision on which party to vote for will hinge upon which party I feel is most likely to defend the rights of British Columbians. I urge you to consider opposing this bill on behalf of your constituents who value their democratic rights and freedoms."
Earlier I mentioned what a relationship between a teacher and a student is all about. This is from a female teacher who's not in Merritt anymore. It's addressed to me. She taught two out of my three kids.
"I had the joy of teaching both your children" — and then names my kids — "in French immersion, Français langue 12, at Merritt Secondary School. Your children were some of my first students in my teaching career, and they are, to this day, two of the most memorable students I ever had the joy of teaching.
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"It was just this past Christmas that I had coffee with" — and then names my daughter here — "at one of the shops, which her and I arrange every Christmas to catch up, a tradition for her and I."
I talked earlier about the relationships that teachers and students form.
"It is students that make me work hard. It is students that give me the biggest paycheque I could ever have. It is students that make my job rewarding. Now, after having taught them both over three years ago, I am currently teaching at a school in the Lower Mainland. I am fearful of what this Bill 22 will do to my classroom. The implications it will have on my ability to provide the best education for each and every student…."
Deputy Speaker: Thank you, Member.
H. Lali: In closing, I would like to state that I will be proud to actually oppose Bill 22.
R. Chouhan: Before I start my remarks about this bill, Bill 22, I want to thank my staff. For the last few days both Laarni and Caitlin in my constituency office have been receiving so many phone calls and visits from the teachers, the students and the parents who came and saw them and talked to them about the devastation that this bill would cause on the public education system in British Columbia.
Bill 22 is titled as the Education Improvement Act. I think the true title should be confrontation enhancement act. That's what this bill does. There is no improvement, but there's lots of confrontation in this bill that the government has introduced.
It's a disgrace in this day and age that a government in a democratic country chose to adopt this kind of method rather than negotiating in good faith, rather than bringing the parties together. It has shown a clear contempt for the whole system of collective bargaining. Rather than bringing the parties together, rather than working with them to make the public education system better, this government is doing the opposite.
This government is taking every step possible in its power to make sure that the people do not have any respect for democracy, their democratic institutions, because democracy the way the B.C. Liberals have been practising it is not the way it should be.
Bill 22 creates division. In fact, it is so hateful towards the teachers…. That's why every single member of the NDP caucus is speaking against it, and that's why every single member of the NDP caucus will be voting against it.
The Liberals, blinded with this hate and contempt, have forgotten their responsibility — their responsibility towards the students, responsibility towards the teachers and responsibility towards the parents. The same lack of responsibility was reflected in Bill 28 when that was introduced in 2002. Again, what we are seeing here is reflected here in Bill 22.
Bill 28, when it was introduced, was done without any consultation with the teachers, without any regard to the fact that in a collective bargaining process, you must meet with both sides. Rather than doing that, it was just simply…. You know, the government decided that, no, there is no need for it.
As a result, Bill 28 was challenged. It was challenged in court. It went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Madam Justice Susan Griffin, in her decision, found that the then Minister of Education, the current Premier, and her colleagues had trampled the collective bargaining rights of teachers by legislating away class sizes and other protections in the labour contracts and by doing so without consulting teachers in the slightest beforehand.
Madam Justice Griffin said: "The government consulted fully with the employers before passing the legislation over at least a seven- or eight-month period…. Internal government documents indicate that at least some government officials expected that the teachers union would be very opposed to the legislation. The government has not offered any explanation as to why…it could not also have consulted with the B.C. Teachers Federation about the intended legislation."
Madam Justice Griffin continues: "By passing this legislation without so much as consulting with the BCTF, the government did not preserve the essential underpinning of collective bargaining — namely, good faith negotiations and consultation."
It's important that, although this decision is very long…. It's 103 pages. I read some parts of it. It's important that we repeat some of the quotes from Bill 28, from that decision about Bill 28, because hopefully, somebody will pay some attention to this so that we learn some lessons. Hopefully, by learning some lessons, the government will withdraw Bill 22.
One of the outstanding issues before the court was the issue of class size, as I had mentioned earlier, and class composition. The judge also talked about the teachers and teachers' contributions, why it's important to have them be a part of this whole process. It says:
"A teacher's work is done both inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers must prepare lessons and learning materials, assess individual student progress, arrange special assistance for students in need, perform administrative tasks and marking, and meet outside of classroom hours with students and parents to discuss learning outcomes and disciplinary issues.
"Increases in class size not only impact the management of the classroom; they also result in a greater workload. These effects are compounded the greater the number of special needs students integrated into the classroom and the fewer the supports from non-enrolling teachers."
Again, the issue was so important to deal with.
The judge carried on:
"The number of hours of work required of a worker to perform his or her job is one of the most fundamental of working conditions. I Health Services, the Supreme Court of Canada referred to the typographers' strike of 1872, calling for a nine-hour work day, as initiating legislation which marked the beginning of the era of tolerance and protection of workers' organizations in Canada….
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The Canadian Trade Unions Act of 1872 protected workers from criminal prosecution for conspiracy based solely on attempts to influence the rate of wages, hours of labour or other aspects of the work relation."
Collective bargaining and bargaining rights are not new phenomena. We have seen from this decision and from the history of Canada, over and over again, that workers do have that right to negotiate a fair collective agreement. But we are seeing today that the B.C. Liberal government has a totally different view. They don't care. They have displayed nothing but arrogance and disrespect for the teachers to negotiate a fair collective agreement.
At the same time, if you want to learn a lesson, we have to also talk about Bill 29. Bill 29, as we all know, was an attack on fundamental rights of health care workers. And when that happened, I was personally involved with it. I was the director of collective bargaining for the Hospital Employees Union when, in 2002, that bill was introduced.
Prior to that bill's introduction the opposition leader at that time, Gordon Campbell, came and met with the Hospital Employees Union. We recorded his interview, and we published his interview in the newspaper that we have. It's called the Guardian. In that interview, Mr. Campbell said that he would not attack the workers' rights. He would not take away the negotiated provisions of the collective agreement of the health care workers. In fact, when Bill 29 was introduced, the opposite happened.
That bill was also challenged. Again, that was also taken to the Supreme Court. Millions were spent, and the decision of the court was that the government must put back those provisions in the collective agreement and also pay for those workers who had lost their jobs. But it was too late for thousands of health care workers who were victims of the impact of Bill 29.
I have taught collective bargaining for 18 years. For 18 years in my classes I have taught my students that whenever you have the opportunity to go and participate in the collective bargaining process, when you have the opportunity to represent your members at the bargaining table, go to the bargaining table with an open mind and with flexibility. If you go to the bargaining table with a closed mind and with one agenda — that you are not going to move, that you are not going to change your position — then it's a farce. Then that process cannot work.
You know, Bill 22 does the complete opposite of the established norms of collective bargaining — having an open mind, flexibility. What we are seeing here in Bill 22 is that the government is displaying its complete rigidity. It's not showing any amount of flexibility — that it's willing to meet the other party and negotiate a collective agreement in good faith.
Bill 22 is talking about appointing a mediator. The mediator that is appointed under the terms of Bill 22 would have a mandate to seek concessions. That's not how you do mediation. Mediation is not done like that. Mediation is to bring the parties together, seek out what their issues are and try to find out if there's a middle ground.
Bill 22 simply displays to the public that the government is not willing to achieve stability in public sector bargaining. What they're trying to do…. If the government were serious at all, if it had wanted some stability in the public education system or in public sector bargaining, it could have used a number of provisions in the Labour Relations Code of B.C.
I was a member of the labour board, also, for ten years. I have done many, many mediations a number of times over the years. There's one provision in the Labour Code. It's 79(2).
The government could have appointed an industrial inquiry commission. It says that the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services "may appoint an industrial inquiry commission to maintain or secure labour relations stability and to promote conditions leading to the settlement of disputes."
All of those tools are available already. The government does not have to table a draconian piece of legislation like Bill 22. If they were really interested, if they were sincere, in order to reach a settlement, they could have used these provisions already available to the government. They could have brought in somebody from outside, a real mediator, with this kind of mandate to create stability and promote conditions leading to settlement of the dispute.
What we have seen is totally the opposite. The B.C. Teachers Federation applied for mediation 16 days ago. Rather than engaging in that process, rather than going to the labour board of British Columbia and participating in that process, the government introduces Bill 22 — which, again, is going to cause so much damage, if it's passed, to the public education system and to the relationship between the teachers and their employers for years to come.
How could you blame the teachers for not trusting this government, Madam Speaker? The teachers have seen, over and over again, that kind of attitude being displayed by this government, the kind of contempt that this government has displayed, the kind of disrespect this government has displayed. There's no credibility left.
The B.C. Liberals…. If they really have any concern to negotiate a free collective agreement, I would urge the Minister of Education and the Premier and the entire B.C. Liberal caucus to withdraw Bill 22.
Now, when we're talking about teachers…. Teachers not only — as I mentioned earlier, as I quoted from Justice Griffin's decision — just simply teach in the classroom. They go out of their way to help not only the students but also to help their parents. I have seen that over and over again in Burnaby-Edmonds.
In Burnaby-Edmonds we have a huge, diverse population of students. In one school alone, at Edmonds Community School, over 68 different languages are
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spoken, which itself causes a huge challenge for those teachers — a big ESL population.
It's not only that people come from different parts of the world, but also, in the Burnaby-Edmonds area, we have the highest number of refugee children whose parents have come to that part of British Columbia, and they have chosen to stay there, to live there, because they have found there's lots of community support. But when their children go to school, they have realized their teachers don't have the ability or time or the tools to help those refugee kids.
As a result of that, we have another challenge. Many of these refugee students come from a background of a war zone or from a country where they were never, ever able to go to school. When they arrive in Canada, they're placed in a class which, according to their age, they don't fit but that's where they have to be. Out of their frustration, because they don't fit in, they drop out.
When they drop out, some of them end up on the street and are grabbed by some criminal elements in the community. In order to help those students, I have worked with the teachers at the Stride School, at Edmonds Community School, Byrne Creek School, the Burnaby board of education and the police force itself, all of us trying to work together to make sure that these kids have some help so that they will get education and they become good citizens.
The pressure on the teachers is so much and there are so many special needs kids in each class the teachers are having that they are unable to help these students in a very effective way. It's causing a huge amount of problems, and it could cause a huge amount of problems in the future.
Many of these children, when they go to school, go hungry. Teachers have another challenge — to make sure these students have some food in their stomachs. They go out and contact and work with community organizations like the Fire Fighters Charitable Society, the Tzu Chi Foundation and other community organizations to get some food for them so that they at least are not that hungry, so they can learn something.
I have seen these teachers working outside of their school hours not only in the evening but also on the weekends. Many of the activities that have been organized, which take place on the weekend…. Teachers come there. They're not bound to do it. They don't have to do it, but they feel obliged. They feel so connected, so close to these students who need help, hoping one day they will learn enough skills so they can become good citizens and be contributing citizens of Canada. The teachers I have seen are not only helping students but also helping their parents.
Several times a year we conduct community cleanups around the Edmonds-Kingsway area. Teachers come and participate there. They contact parents; they work with students. They encourage students to participate in these kinds of community activities, so they learn what the community is all about. They go beyond the call of duty.
The teachers are the backbone of the public education system. They work hard, they're dedicated, they're compassionate, and they're committed. That's why the public education system in British Columbia has become the envy of the world. What steps is the B.C. Liberal government taking to keep it that way?
In fact, what we are seeing now is that Bill 22 is going to be sending a message across the world that we really don't care about it. All we care about, really, is to control our teachers. We tell them that they have no right to negotiate a collective agreement. We are going to tell them how it's going to be.
When parents in other parts of the world see the kind of education system we currently have, that's why they would like to come to British Columbia. I have had the privilege to work with and meet with these parents many times over in the last many years. They hope to have a chance for a better future for their children. That's why they come to Canada. That's why they come to British Columbia.
I met with one parent from one of the African countries, and she has six children — single parent. There's no means for her to own a house or even rent a bigger house. So she is in a housing complex which has only two bedrooms. The children go to one of the schools in the neighbourhood.
When the teacher found out the kind of difficulty this parent was going through, the teacher arranged for other community leaders and community organizations in the area to come and meet with her and other parents like her so that they can have some money for clothing and food. They had nothing. That's what teachers do.
I'm sure Burnaby-Edmonds is not the only area where teachers work like that. They do the same thing in every community. These parents have a dream. These parents work hard. Sometimes they work two or three different jobs in order to put some food on the table for their children.
Many of these parents are also professionals. Before they came here, they were teachers themselves. They were professors; they were engineers; they were doctors. Because of their difficulty to get their credentials recognized in Canada, they end up doing other jobs. Some of them drive taxis. But they're not afraid of doing it. They're proud of being in Canada, and they work hard to make sure that their children have a better future.
So much for the families-first agenda of the B.C. Liberals.
These parents, many times, depend on teachers. They depend on teachers so that the students, their children, can get a better education, so that they can be better citizens. But the teachers are unable to provide the help that
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these parents are hoping for, because of the size of the class and because of the composition of the class.
Many times these teachers are unable to speak or address the issues or the challenges these students have, because there are so many students who are seeking their attention. Teachers are feeling frustrated because they can't help the parent to fulfil their dreams.
These teachers deserve our respect. If we are really interested in showing any respect for the education system, for the teachers and their service to the community, I would ask the government to withdraw Bill 22.
I have received literally dozens and dozens of letters from teachers, which I'm unable to read today because of time constraints. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity later on to talk about the contributions these teachers have made and the effort they have made to send me their messages.
As the Minister of Education has said, it's important that we have a debate on this issue. But how can you have a debate when only the members on one side of the House are speaking? The other side is not even participating in this bill debate. We have seen earlier that some members of the B.C. Liberal caucus spoke. They made short speeches, for maybe five or ten minutes, and now they're not even talking about it. That's not the very good, constructive debate that we would like to have. How can you even tell the public that we are engaging in consultation and debating this issue?
Bill 22 is nothing but an embarrassment, Madam Speaker. No other jurisdiction in Canada has ever treated teachers with so much disdain and contempt. Again, in my closing remarks I urge the government to listen to the people of British Columbia. I ask the government to withdraw Bill 22, and I'll be voting against it.
L. Popham: Today I rise in the House to voice my opposition to Bill 22.
I represent Saanich South on Vancouver Island as the MLA. I'm not standing today as the MLA for Saanich South, necessarily. I'm standing to represent a different constituency. That's the constituency of parents in British Columbia. I don't speak for them today. I'm standing with them, as I'm a parent myself. I'm a parent of my son, who's in grade 8 in the public school system.
I have watched my son navigate his way through the public school system under a government that has underfunded public education. I've watched as he has needed to have assessments done for the style of learning he needs to do, and I've watched him on a wait-list for five years to get that assessment.
He got an assessment in grade 5, a personal learning plan, which has helped him, although the resources there are a struggle as well. I don't think my son deserved to wait for five years on a list.
He learns differently, but he's incredibly smart. He's intelligent. He has a way of thinking that astounds me. He can look at a map of a complicated LEGO or a puzzle, and that's it. He knows it. He never needs to refer to it again, and he can build incredible things.
His teachers believe that he has the mind of an engineer, but he wasn't able to learn the way that was presented in his classes. Up until grade 5 he waited on a list. I think my son deserved more than that. I think my son deserved the type of attention that he needed to fulfil his potential earlier on.
As a parent, I was extremely frustrated and saddened to see him struggle. We supported him at home, but the fact is that I sent him to a place every day where his teachers did the best they could under the circumstances. Even getting on that list and getting assessed put him into a situation where, admittedly, the resources weren't there. It saddened me as a parent. I fought — and I still fight very hard — for him, as an advocate, as his mom. He's a wonderful kid.
When I stand here in the House today, I know…. There are two letters I've chosen, from my constituency, to read. They're coming from parents who have the same feelings about their kids. It's quite emotional and moving, because as I read their letters, I can picture my son in their letters.
One of the problems I see today, and yesterday, is that the Premier of this province hasn't stood up to address Bill 22. There has been no address by the Premier. It makes me wonder if there's fear, because the Premier knows that the public support for this bill isn't there. It makes me wonder if the Premier has thought it out. It makes me wonder if the Premier has read the bill. It makes me wonder why the Premier hasn't stood in this House and defended her actions, because as far as I'm concerned, as a parent in British Columbia, the Premier of British Columbia will go down in history as the enemy of public education.
It saddens me that we now have a government that's not standing up to defend their actions. It's insulting, and it's embarrassing. When I go back to my constituency and talk about how the government sat down…. They didn't rise up. They didn't take the opportunity, which was given to them by the people of British Columbia, to speak for 30 minutes each. They're not representing their constituents right now, because if they were, they'd be standing up and reading letters, as we are. There's no way that the government MLAs have not received the same feedback that we've received.
The public education of our children is one of the most important responsibilities of the provincial government. It's an important responsibility, yet anyone who surveys the scene right now and over the last two days will see empty classrooms across this province, parents scrambling to find things to do for their kids, while supporting the teachers, and teachers feeling so disrespected and so mistreated that they aren't teaching.
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The government must take responsibility for this debacle. If they don't want to take responsibility, they need to stand up and explain themselves, defend their actions. They have been given 30 minutes each by the people of British Columbia. It's a gift that we were given as MLAs, to use this chamber for debate, and the government sits down. It's unacceptable.
I have two letters that I want to read. The first one comes from a kindergarten teacher in Saanich South, and it's actually a letter that's addressed to the Minister of Education.
"To the Minister of Education:
"Welcome to our school. Thank you for teaching my class today. I believe you will learn a lot from your day in kindergarten. Before you begin the day, there are a few bits of information I feel obliged to pass along to you so that you can personalize each child's learning to the best of your ability.
"In order to balance your day, you will need to begin at 5 a.m. At this time I recommend a morning workout. It's important that your fitness level is adequate to maintain the stamina required to meet the strenuous demands you are about to face during your day in kindergarten.
"After your exercise, I advise you to go to your computer. You will need to respond to the numerous parent e-mails that have come in overnight. Also, this is an effective time to send out your newsletter, the one you prepared last night. Next, when preparing the daily writing journals, please keep in mind that Olivia needs extra-large print. David can only manage two lines, Sarah needs a green dot to show her where to start, and Janine uses Braille.
"You must now get yourself dressed and ready, despite how demoralized you may feel inside due to the ongoing labour dispute. You must look professional. However, keep in mind that you will need to lead the class, dig some soil samples at recess and mix the paints for tomorrow's art lessons.
"En route to school please stop off at the market for lemons and baking soda for science. Typically, I would request that you turn in the receipt for reimbursement, but my $100 classroom account from our PAC was spent on clay and ribbon for a Christmas project, so you'll have to use your own money.
"At the school please put the chairs out and wash the tables with disinfectant. There are three children with anaphylactic allergies in the room, and we want to make sure we start the day without incident. If a child goes into shock while you're with us, please administer one of the EpiPens found in a safety pouch. If you're not sure how to perform this life-saving medical procedure, then you'll be required, on your lunch break, to watch a video and spend some time with the health nurse, if it happens to be the one day of the month she checks in at our school.
"Once the children arrive, there are a few details you should keep in mind. Amanda requires the sisal cushion on her chair to help with her hyperactivity. Please seat Dan facing away from the window, as he'll cry when he sees his mom walking away, because his family has recently separated. He will need lots of your counselling today. Please do not seat Shane and Abbey close together, as they cannot manage together. Shane's asthma pump is also in the safety pouch.
"Hayden will not enter the room with other students. He will wait for you to come out before the day begins. He requires a conversation of encouragement and some specific sensory integration movement therapy before his body feels calm enough to start the day. Make sure you do this with him right outside the classroom door so that you can keep a sharp eye on Dylan.
"Dylan has juvenile diabetes. Recently her blood sugar levels have been very unstable, and she could slip into a coma with very little warning. I attended an after-school training workshop to learn how to read the signs and symptoms of such a state. Vigilance is critical, so while deep-breathing with Hayden, be sure to have Dylan in full view.
"I typically see Dylan and Andrea together. Following a neurological insult, Andrea is now very fragile, and her prognosis is unclear. She has many learning delays, and moves and works at a weakened pace, but it should be okay today. She has not had a seizure in about a year.
"Sadly, there are no funds available for her to gain support this year. You must make all the necessary adaptations to her work and keep a close eye on her health. She usually needs to lie down twice per day. I have brought my daughter's blanket and pillow from my home to school for her to do so.
"It is also helpful to seat Isaac closest to the washroom, as he loses his bowels. If he misses, he has a change of clothes in his cubbyhole, and his wipes are there as well.
"Once he is cleaned up, you can call the custodian to help you clean the washroom. However, if it's after 2:00 p.m., the custodian will have gone home, and you will need to change him yourself and clean the washroom by yourself. But please make sure that while doing so, you do not lose view of the other children.
"Follow the day plan I have laid out on my desk. It is a very detailed and engaging plan. "Fairness" and "using our words" are the overall themes. I prepared all of the necessary material for you last night after the PAC meeting I attended.
"The EA for Marcus will come in sometime during your lesson. Recently she's been ill, and there's been no replacement. However, if she's back with you today, the schedule of her breaks and meeting times are on the bulletin board. Try to carry out all the oral language components while she's in the room. Marcus is non-verbal and relies on her prompts to communicate with his classmates. Oh, during teaching times, Hayden will need to sit at your feet, and Bernice may lick your pants. But don't fret. This is common.
"I'm sorry all the activities are on pink paper today. Our operating budget is depleted, and we can't afford white paper, but you'll get used to it.
"Please make sure the children wash their hands with soap before snack and lunch. Disinfect the tables after every eating time. You'll need to launder this in your own home afterwards. Please check all lunches for peanuts, seafood, kiwi, eggs, strawberries. These foods are not allowed in our classroom.
"If Hayden has a meltdown at lunch, he will calm down if you swing him or play Snakes and Ladders. Once calm, you can take him outside to meet his classmates, and you may still have time to use the washroom before the bell.
"After school wait with the students to be sure they are picked up by their parent or guardian. Please review the court-ordered statements found in my red file before the children are picked up.
"Also, Isaac's mom often falls asleep at home. You may need to call home to wake her up and tell her it's time to pick up her child. It takes about 30 minutes.
"Thank you" — to the Minister of Agriculture. "Have a great day. If you feel overwhelmed by the diverse duties of the day, try to recall the pride you once felt in being a public school teacher. Capture each smile you receive in your memory bank. That five-year-old's smile will be the only thing that will motivate you to do it all again tomorrow."
That's an incredible, incredible letter from a kindergarten teacher in Saanich South.
As I read this letter today, I could picture my own child in amongst that classroom of kids. I thought to myself: "What could I add about my own child? Make sure you tell Kye he's a good kid and he's doing well, so that his confidence is good, so he wants to return to school the next day."
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That's what I would want for my child. I think that's what every parent wants for their child — for there to be time to acknowledge that your child is a special person in the education system. My child is a special person. I know that the teachers did their best, for the last eight years, while he's been in school. But I know that they're strapped for resources.
When decisions are being made around the teachers and around our public education system by the Liberal government, I don't know if they're picturing our kids. I don't know if they're picturing kids at all. I think they're picturing numbers.
It makes sense that way to this government, but they're not looking at the future. They're not considering the future. Our kids are the most important thing in British Columbia.
I have another incredible letter that I'm going to read, but I have run out of time today. I'd like to reserve my place, and noting the time, I now move adjournment of debate.
L. Popham moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolution, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. P. Bell moved adjournment of the House.
Deputy Speaker: The House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:48 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. McIntyre in the chair.
The committee met at 2:42 p.m.
On Vote 13: ministry operations, $1,971,938,000 (continued).
M. Mungall: I'm going to pick up where we left off yesterday evening. The member for Delta North was asking a question about land sales under Kwantlen Polytechnic University, specifically wanting to know where the revenue from that land sale would make its way — wanting to know if it would eventually end up into general revenue, if it was retained within the ministry or, alternatively, if it was retained within the institution so that they could use that revenue for their purposes.
I would like to come back to that. I already got some comments, from people who were watching at home, about the minister's response. She said: "Future use of the funds would be considered upon request for ministerial approval for the disposition of the property as required under the act."
You can probably imagine that the person at home wanted to know what exactly that means. Not everybody speaks legalese, and definitely not even all MLAs speak legalese and what is written down in our legislation. I'm just wondering if the minister can clarify if the money from land sales by any institution…. Kwantlen provides a specific example, but I'd like to move this to a more global question around the province.
With land sales from any institution in the province, does the revenue from that land sale remain within the institution or in the ministry, or does it go to general revenue?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: And I agree. Sometimes we do speak a bit of legalese, but we do it, frankly, to be clear. So I will further clarify.
What we will do is we will review the dispositions on a case-by-case basis. But generally and historically we have seen the funds actually reside within the institution. Again, we will review each case as it's presented to us, but ultimately the revenue, for the member opposite, will be reflected in government's bottom line.
M. Mungall: I'm wondering if the ministry has identified any lands that were previously targeted or currently on the books of post-secondary institutions — if the ministry has identified any of those lands for sale in the upcoming year, and if those lands are part of the $706 million that the province expects to gain in revenue from the sale of lands.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I said this, I believe, yesterday, as well, so I'll just repeat it. The release of assets for economic generation is a project of Treasury Board, and questions should be directed to the Minister of Finance during their estimates.
M. Mungall: Okay. Well, then we'll move on. In its report, in the 2010 prebudget consultations, the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services recommended that the government "investigate the merits
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of and issues related to using the higher education price index" — which is known as HEPI — "model versus the consumer price index in regard to post-secondary funding allocation adjustments."
Now, we know that institutions have been receiving stagnant funding, that in essence, their funding hasn't had even consumer price index increases. Nevertheless, HEPI is something that's used in some jurisdictions in the United States. It was a recommendation from the Finance Committee. So what has the minister done to investigate the use of HEPI here in B.C.?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: HEPI is a volatile measurement, regrettably, and it doesn't provide much certainty for students. What we have done to keep tuition fees low is to maintain our 2 percent cap on our tuition fee increases.
M. Mungall: Just wondering how the minister has come to the conclusion that HEPI is volatile. I'm guessing that there has been some analysis done. If so, can she be a bit more explicit on what was done.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: A couple of years ago the ministry worked with our institutional partners and established a working group to analyze HEPI. The outcome was the volatility of HEPI as an index to use.
M. Mungall: Can the minister further explain why they have determined it is volatile? My understanding is that HEPI and tuition are not necessarily related unless the ministry decides to deregulate tuition again and then tell institutions to use HEPI in order to adjust for their…. Anyway, the point being that a tuition cap does not seem to be related to the issue of whether or not we use HEPI versus the consumer price index to acknowledge the cost increases at post-secondary institutions.
Tuition is a separate type of policy. What we're looking at is to make sure that we're measuring cost increases at universities and colleges and institutes in a more accurate function. Some of the research that has gone into this very issue has identified that the higher education price index is more accurate than using the consumer price index.
The minister says work was done, and the conclusion was that it is volatile. So if the minister can please just explain why "volatile" was the conclusion.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I would be happy to share those findings with the member opposite at a later date. The work was done a couple of years ago, and we don't have access to that information right now.
M. Mungall: Great. I will be sure to follow up with the minister about that, then. Hopefully, she can share with me the very report that they don't have at this time.
Moving on, then, to my next question. I'm wondering if the minister could please indicate where she and the ministry believe there are discretionary spending reductions to be had at our public post-secondary institutions that will not affect front-line programming. We had some allusion to that in the budget speech, but of course, I would assume that the ministry has some very specific places where they want to see reductions happen.
Let's start there, with what the ministry and the minister do believe are places for those spending reductions that apparently will not affect front-line programs.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: What we're doing is we'll be working with our partner institutions and looking at collaboration, partnerships with all the institutions that we have in our system. There's an incredible buying power that we need to leverage.
If we can consolidate that buying power, not only are we expecting that it'll result in lower costs to purchase, perhaps, equipment or services; it actually may result in an increase in the quality, especially for some of the smaller institutions that currently don't enjoy the purchasing power that some of the larger institutions currently receive.
M. Mungall: Then, is the ministry expecting that all spending reductions will be able to be dealt with simply by shared purchasing agreements?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The answer to the member opposite's question is no. We'll be looking at other areas where we can achieve some savings or efficiencies and looking at innovative ways to deliver post-secondary education. We currently have over 2,000 courses delivered on line, something that we hadn't conceived of a decade ago. Those are being delivered at much less cost than traditional manners.
The one thing I don't want to do is prejudge how we will realize some of the savings and efficiencies, because we actually are working with our institutions. Many of our institutions have already come up to the table and said they have identified some savings, and they're looking at identifying best practices amongst the institutions.
That process is ongoing, and I don't want to prejudge the outcome. But the initial answer to your question is no. It's not just looking at leveraging an increased buying power.
M. Mungall: What I am understanding, then, from the minister is that there's one area that has definitely been identified, which is shared purchasing agreements and buying power. The effectiveness of that is debatable.
I've heard many people within a variety of ministries who were told: "Oh well, now you're going to be able
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to…." So for instance, Cranbrook and Nelson. "You're going to have a shared purchasing agreement in this ministry, and that's going to save you money."
The conclusion, many times, is that it actually hasn't done what it is supposed to do. Whether that's going to be truly effective — I think the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding certainly isn't finished yet.
What I'm hearing too, from the minister, is that that's the one place that's been identified, that there's no other place that's been identified, although that differs from what the Minister of Finance was saying in his budget speech when he alluded to travel and various other administrative costs. Clearly the ministry, or at least the Ministry of Finance, has an idea of where cost savings are supposed to be rendered. Does the Ministry of Advanced Education have the same opinion as the Ministry of Finance?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yes, we do share the same thoughts as the Minister of Finance. But we also aren't just solely considering areas in administrative savings. Those savings in administration will actually vary from institution to institution and region to region. We recognize that.
We are not identifying individual institutions and looking at individual institutions specifically coming up with X amount of savings. This will be done collaboratively within the system.
M. Mungall: If the ministry isn't then just looking at administrative savings, then I'm wondering if the minister considers reduced hours for counselling services, increased wait times for financial refunds, delays in awarding scholarships and decreased library acquisitions to be discretionary spending that would be places that institutions can reduce their budgets.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We've been very clear — not if reductions or changes in the way we deliver services or education or programs through our institutions will negatively affect student services.
M. Mungall: What does the minister, then, suggest to Northwest Community College, which is running a $1.7 million deficit right now and has layoff notices to 32 employees who are all of one program, which likely will mean that there will be program cuts? What has the minister, then, said to the College of New Caledonia that's looking at a $1.8 million deficit? They're looking at having to do similar actions.
Vancouver Island University — they're at a $2.4 million deficit. Camosun College is at a $2 million deficit, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University is at a $1.3 million deficit. That's just what we have currently on the record.
I've been, obviously, in conversation with Selkirk College in my area. They're experiencing financial difficulties. There are changes that are going on within their programming, and possibly, individual classes might have to be cut. I mean, that's programming that's going directly to students.
So the minister says that they don't want to see any program cuts, and yet they're telling institutions that they need to reduce services, not just in administration, the minister says. So which is it?
Is it: "We're just going to reduce administration, and we'll work with you on that over the year"? "We're going to tell you there are going to be cuts, and we'll work with you after it rather than before"?
There is already a funding crisis. There are already deficits. Or is the minister saying that she's actually going to be funding post-secondary institutions so that they continue offering the programs on the ground to students?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I think I need to state for the record a correction from the member opposite. I did not say that we were going to achieve these savings through a service cut to students. We have made that perfectly clear to our institutions. But what we are doing….
The member opposite raises a good point. She listed off some institutions that are having some financial issues, and our ministry staff are actually working very closely with those institutions. It's exactly the reason why we are looking at how programs are delivered, at administrative costs, to ensure that we are maximizing the value of the huge investment that taxpayers already make in post-secondary education.
What we're doing is looking at perhaps realigning services or programs, courses for institutions to better meet the student needs, to better meet the community needs and to better respond to the labour market needs of our regions. I know this will be a great opportunity for our institutions to work with the community, work with business and work with industry to look at innovative ways, to look at more effective ways of delivering programs.
I know that members opposite hate the idea of actually changing how we do something, but this is a huge opportunity for us to make sure that our institutions are being responsive to the needs of the workforce in British Columbia.
M. Mungall: What "members opposite," therefore members on this side of the House…. We don't hate change. What we hate is the use of the word "change" and the concept of change to actually mask a reduction in services and a reduction in programs for students. That's what we don't like on this side of the House.
On one hand, the minister says there will be no service cuts, but then she goes on to say that they will be realigning services and programs. I will let the people at home and the students watching today judge what that actually means. The minister talks about how they will
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look for a reduction in — and what we've heard from the Minister of Finance — discretionary spending.
So I'm going to ask the minister, again: can she please define what she considers, then, at universities discretionary spending — and colleges and institutions. We don't want to forget them, as well, since most of them are in debt.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'm not sure that the member opposite's correction was heard, but most of our institutions are not in a deficit position. They're actually quite well-run generally, and we're quite proud of that — the fiscal management that they have done.
Again, we're going to be working with our institutions to realize some of those savings. It's going to be done very collaboratively. We're not identifying individual institutions and asking them to provide X amount of savings. It will be, again, looking at best practices.
One of the things that we have looked at is something that has been taking place quite successfully in Ontario. What they've done is, with respect to the buying power, using the larger buying power of either government or institutions as a group….
This is, perhaps, a list, potentially, of source contacts that we'll be looking at: natural gas–purchasing programs, toner and cartridge and related services, commercial printing, employee uniforms and chef clothing, laboratory and science supplies, AV and educational equipment, office supplies, classroom furniture, custodial supplies, copying paper, multi-functional devices and printers, energy audits, desktop technology, SMART boards, long-distance and local phone services, copiers, toner, courier supplies, classroom furniture renewal, software. The list goes on.
Now, again, these aren't discretionary. These are areas where we think that perhaps there could be a savings, where we can maximise the value of the huge investment that taxpayers already make in our post-secondary system.
M. Mungall: Well, I'll leave it to people who are following this debate to determine whether the ministry has satisfied them at all with their answers regarding where the spending efficiencies will supposedly be rendered.
I think that institutions have been pushing back. They're starting to talk about the effects of long-term stagnant funding on them. Of course, we see some with deficits. We see jobs being cut at institutions. I mean, this is at a time when we're supposed to be expecting job creation from the government, but we're seeing job cuts. This is obviously going to impact our need for a post-secondary-educated labour force in the future.
I know I'm not satisfied, but we do have to be cognizant of time, so I'm going to move on to my next question about funding.
I'm looking at one of the many budget letters that went out last July to the post-secondary institutions. In this letter, I'll quote: "The province of British Columbia Budget and Fiscal Plan for 2011-12 includes a post-secondary education sector forecasted surplus of $73 million. It is critical to the province's fiscal plan that this sectorwide surplus be achieved."
Now, to read the rest of the letter, it doesn't offer any suggestions or any rationale for this surplus. I guess in the first place, what is the rationale for having a surplus come back to the ministry?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: First of all, we don't tell our institutions to run a surplus. This is the forecast that they've provided us, and the $73 million is actually the collective forecast that the entire system has projected. That's a $5 billion system. Taxpayers support this by an investment of almost $2 billion with annual operating grants, but the entire system is $5 billion. When you put that into perspective…. The $73 million can be considered, frankly, a rounding error when you look at the $5 billion that's required to run our post-secondary system.
I'd like to remind the member opposite that typically, our institutions actually do run a surplus, so this is nothing new. While any surplus is actually reflected in government's bottom line, the surplus remains with the institutions, and they're able to use their surplus within the fiscal year.
M. Mungall: Clearly, not all institutions are running a surplus, because we have several institutions that are now faced with deficit. So how is this just an accounting error, then? Asking institutions…. Well, I mean, it clearly states that there is a forecasted surplus of $73 million. Yes, that might be a small percentage of a $5 billion budget, but I have no doubt that out of that $73 million it would cover all of the colleges that are currently running deficits and laying off staff and possibly cutting programs.
If the minister could delve into this more, please, and explain what this surplus is and if it was achieved last year and how they can allow for a surplus at the same time when there is stagnant funding going to institutions.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd like to correct the member opposite. The $73 million surplus I did not refer to as an accounting error. This surplus is projected by our institutions collectively when they each provide their annual forecasts. It actually amounts to a $73 million surplus when we put all their plans together.
I just want to remind the member opposite that the $73 million projected surplus is not funds that the ministry has access to. It's funds that will stay, a surplus that stays within the individual institutions to use as they wish during that fiscal year.
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M. Mungall: If this doesn't come from the ministry, then why does the letter say "the province of British Columbia Budget and Fiscal Plan?"
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Our individual institutions' financial results are consolidated into government's fiscal plan.
M. Mungall: The letter further states, though: "It is critical to the province's fiscal plan that this sectorwide surplus be achieved." So however it's achieved, I'm wondering if it was achieved for 2011-12, this past year that's associated with these budget letters.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Our third-quarter forecast indicated that we actually are on track to realize a surplus. But at this point we haven't closed off our books to understand what the actual final results will be.
M. Mungall: Is the ministry, then, aware of how these surpluses are being achieved? If it's all within the institutions, I imagine the institutions are reporting back, since it's part of the budget letters. So how are these surpluses being achieved?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The results vary from institution to institution. As you mention, there are some institutions that are in a deficit position. Just for the record, our ministry staff does work with those institutions, and they actually need permission from us, from the ministry, to run those deficits. We're working with them to ensure that they have a plan to move out of deficit.
Typically, the surpluses are generated because we actually have quite well-run post-secondary institutions that are quite fiscally responsible and prudent managers of taxpayer funds.
M. Mungall: The minister has acknowledged that we have some great institutions which are managing themselves in a way that generates a surplus. The minister says that they're being well run.
I would say that those that are generating deficits are not necessarily poorly run. Actually, I would suggest that they are strapped with a difficult situation due to multiple years of stagnant funding from this government, and they have different realities than perhaps some other institutions. For example, Northwest Community College has nine campuses. Just the travel between those campuses makes it incredibly difficult.
A similar situation at Selkirk College. They have multiple campuses, and they have to address the needs of those multiple campuses, which is very different than Langara community college, for example, which just has the one campus. I don't want to highlight any particular institution for being a poor financial manager because they are running a deficit in the current funding climate that they are in.
Nonetheless, going back to this surplus, I'm looking for something more specific than what the minister has offered in this debate about how these surpluses are being generated.
[C. Hansen in the chair.]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Our institutions are autonomous bodies and, as such, have the ability to direct resources as they see fit. Thankfully, our institutions are, like government, quite prudent fiscal managers and have built in some conservatism in their projections for revenue and, as well, have contingencies in place for unexpected issues that may come up.
Some of the surpluses may be generated because the contingencies aren't used. Some of the surpluses may be generated because they've attracted, perhaps, research grants that they didn't expect. But again, it's difficult to answer this question because we have so many institutions in our system. We'd really have to look at this on an institution-by-institution basis, and with the 25 that we have in the system, this is more of a general answer to your question.
M. Mungall: Is the ministry, then, budgeting this similar surplus, or increased or decreased levels of surplus, for this upcoming budget year?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Just as a reminder, we actually don't budget the surplus. The surplus is a result of the financial forecasts and plans of our institutions. When we accumulate the budgets and the forecasts from all our institutions, for the year 2011-12 it came to a figure of $73 million. But we do not budget for this surplus. This is a number that is the result of our individual institutions reporting their fiscal plans.
M. Mungall: Well then, let's just clarify that, because what it says in this budget letter is: "critical to the province's fiscal plan." So the province in this letter, on paper, is taking some type of ownership and some type of responsibility for these surpluses. Is it just that the ministry is unable to determine what the surplus amount will be for this upcoming budget year, so therefore they don't know if they will have a surplus amount for this upcoming budget year, or is it some other reason that the minister is unable to provide information about a possible surplus?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: For clarification, when the member opposite refers to the upcoming budget year, I hear 2012-2013, but the $73 million surplus that the system would generate is with respect to the budget year 2011-
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2012. So just for clarification, which fiscal year is the member opposite referring to?
M. Mungall: I'm wondering, for the budget year 2012-13, if the Ministry anticipates that there will be another one of these surpluses — these systemwide surpluses. The minister said that it's something the institutions generate, that it doesn't come from the ministry, but in this letter it's clear that the province is taking some responsibility for these surpluses. So I'm wondering: what does the ministry know about possible surpluses for the upcoming budget year of 2012-13?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The system has reported, and we have now aggregated the surpluses for the budget year 2012-13. The system is reporting a $48 million projected surplus.
M. Mungall: The minister has already said that when the system projects this surplus, the majority of the money stays within the institutions. I just wanted to be clear that none of this surplus is remitted back to the province.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: It's not the majority of the surplus. It's all of the surplus that remains within the institution to use within the fiscal year that it's being reported in.
M. Mungall: I just want to focus a little bit on some of the things — again, funding levels — in the system. Capilano University, my understanding, receives the lowest per-student funding amount, at $6,933. This is compared to the provincial average of about $10,000. I'm just wondering if the ministry has done any analysis or any review of the funding allotments for each institution to determine if there is, indeed, equity in the system.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The funding formula hasn't changed for a few years, and we haven't actually looked at that recently. But what we have done…. Aside from record investments in post-secondary education year over year, we have also provided significant funding for programming in priority areas. So this is additional funding provided to institutions over and above what they are provided for, for their FTE count.
What we do is look at areas where we know there's a shortage of that particular skill or profession — for example, nursing, doctors, radiographers. Those are the types of programs that we will invest additional funds in and have them delivered at our institutions.
We have, for example, something called essential skills training in the workplace. We announced $1.5 million, which will give 450 people across B.C. access to this program. In December we announced a $13 million investment in employment skills access initiative training. That will give almost 2,500 people in the province access to group training programs, tuition-free.
Another example. In December we announced a program. It's a $3.4 million investment for a new medical radiography program.
In Prince George we announced last year a new physical therapy clinical program. It allows 20 physical therapy students each year to complete most of their clinical placements in northern and rural B.C.
Those are examples of some of the additional funding we provide to institutions, over and above the FTE annual operating grant, to help B.C. address our needs for those skilled workers — and, in some cases, in particular regional areas in B.C.
M. Mungall: Well, this just leads me to wonder…. What I'm hearing from the minister is that they're putting in funding for additional programs above the FTEs and that they're clearly targeting specific programs that address some labour market needs.
The minister also was saying earlier that there will be no service cuts but that there will be realignment of services and programs to fit labour market needs. What I'm seeing is that the government is targeting specific funding for programs that fall in line with the identified labour market needs.
The minister has also rightly pointed out that there is a certain level of autonomy that institutions have in developing programs. So I'm just wondering: where is the line between incentivized programs that the ministry is putting forward for a certain class of on-the-ground programs?
I noticed I was saying the word "programs" twice, but I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Where's the line being drawn between institutions' autonomy and government's influence in program development for labour market needs?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: There is definitely a balance that is required in working with our partners, our partner post-secondary institutions. As the member opposite did mention, we do need to respect their autonomy. But one way that we have to influence the types of programming that are offered at our institutions is through the government letter of expectation. That is where we clearly articulate government's priorities.
In the government letter of expectation we do expect all our institutions to work very closely with the region, with their municipalities, with the community to ensure that the institution is meeting the labour market needs as well as the requirements to train appropriate people for specific skills as well as, obviously, meeting the needs of the students.
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M. Mungall: I'm going to move on to capital spending. The past two years the Standing Committee on Finance has recommended in its report on budget consultations that the annual capital allowance for public post-secondary institutions to carry out minor capital projects, to do maintenance and to deal with the increased…. Well, I was going to say increased future maintenance needs, and I already said that. But I guess what I really want to highlight here is that there is a lot of maintenance that needs to be done.
We know that with the cutbacks that have been dealt out to the public post-secondary institutions, they've really been struggling as a result. They have some infrastructure deficits.
A case in point on the extent of these infrastructure deficits was felt at Camosun College not that long ago, just a little under a year ago, when an instructor went to open the window — they don't have air-conditioning in that classroom — and the window fell out. Had it occurred just a week before, it would have fallen onto the students lining up for the bookstore — about 3,000 students lining up for the bookstore. I'm sure the minister appreciates how devastating that would have been if that accident had happened a week before and had harmed anybody.
So considering that this is going on and that it can't all be fixed in one year, which would reflect the increase in the annual capital allowance for this year…. What we see in the following year, 2013-14, is a sharp reduction in the capital plan budget. This year it has been augmented from last year, which was $140 million. This year it's $143 million, so it's a 2 percent increase. Next year it's going to be a 6 percent decrease, and then in 2014 we see a larger jump, to $183 million. Why do we have this decrease in 2013?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This is actually a very, very good story. From the numbers that the member opposite identified — $141 million, going to $143 million, going down to $135 million and then going up to $183 million — it looks like there's a fluctuation and a decrease. But this is actually an accounting issue with respect to the timing of when existing projects are completed and falling off the books and the timing when new projects will be recorded on our books.
Going forward, we do see an increase in capital. There is $462 million over the next three years in capital provided by taxpayers. Of the $462 million, $260 million of that will be for routine maintenance. This follows on a very successful past few years, where the federal government allowed us to match federal dollars with provincial dollars in the knowledge infrastructure program. That was a very successful program for British Columbia.
A total of $520 million in the last couple of years was provided to renew old buildings, build new buildings and have some energy efficiencies built into some existing buildings. There were seismic upgrades.
I think the provincial contribution to that in the last couple of years is $257 million of that $520 million. That's almost a half-billion dollars invested into our institutions, a considerable amount of capital — in fact, over $2 billion in capital investments since 2001, which represents over 1,000 projects in British Columbia. That is a record investment for capital in our post-secondary institutions in British Columbia.
M. Mungall: Just a point of clarification. The minister is just referring to funding going to the annual capital allowance, not to the global capital budget.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The figures I just mentioned are actually in addition to the annual capital allowance.
M. Mungall: What I have here in the budget and fiscal plan for 2012-13…. In the line item for post-secondary education on capital spending, which is different, in my understanding, from the annual capital allowance…. This is the money that goes into building new buildings and acquiring various infrastructure that we need on our campuses.
For 2011-12 the total was $779 million. Then we see this year, and we see a reduction of close to $100 million, coming in at $688 million. We see further reductions heading into 2013 and 2014, and then a very small bump — still a reduction compared to the 2011-12 levels — for 2014 and 2015.
I was mentioning earlier the infrastructure deficit that campuses have. I mentioned the falling-out window, which I think is the most extreme example of what's going on, on campuses. There is no doubt that campuses have identified where their infrastructure deficits are, especially those that have buildings that haven't really had any major upgrades since the 1960s and 1970s. Those buildings are getting older. We also have commitments that are still going. I think the most notable example there is the Surrey SFU campus.
I'm wondering why the ministry has been putting these projects on hold and will be putting them on hold even longer, considering this cut in the capital spending.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Again, this is actually a very good news story. We have 262 million new dollars to provide for the rehabilitation and maintenance of our existing facilities.
What we have been doing in the last year, the last several months, is working with our institutions on a facility condition index. That will help us, once it is finalized — and that will be done shortly — target the $262 million investment, or funds, available to the priority areas identified by the facilities condition index. For the mem-
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ber opposite, that is a report that will analyze the various facilities, buildings that we have in the post-secondary system.
I believe it is the same facilities condition index, or audit, that is being used in the health care sector, as well, to determine where the priority areas are — buildings and facilities that require some rehabilitation. Again, it's an audit; it's not a report. It's just an audit of all our facilities.
M. Mungall: I want to applaud the minister and the ministry for doing that type of audit and doing that type of work. It's definitely needed. There's no doubt about it. The minister can probably express the same thing that I do when going to all the campuses. You can see that there are definitely different priority levels for several of the buildings and the facilities throughout the province. So I do want to applaud the ministry for doing that.
However, the minister was talking about $262 million, and what I'm talking about…. Maybe we are talking about the same thing, but I'll let the minister clarify that, if that's the case — or, if it's not the case, to clarify it.
It's on page 33 of the budget and fiscal plan for 2012 to 2015. It's a clear line item. It just says: "Taxpayer-supported, Capital spending." For post-secondary education, it shows that there are cuts. I'm just wondering why those cuts are there.
I think this is particularly significant, because we have institutions saying that they need to expand their facilities if they are going to accommodate an increase in international students. If there is actually a cutback in capital spending, then institutions are going to be strapped in their ability to do that expansion to accommodate this government's goal of increasing international students. So I want to know specifically about this decrease.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let's be really clear here. If you look at the capital investment from '11-12 to '14-15, it is a $1.8 billion capital investment. That's huge. But I also need to point out to the member opposite that those numbers include both the government capital as well as the capital that institutions generate on their own.
It is incremental capital. So unlike the operating grant, capital when it's invested is incremental. In that three-year period we're looking at $1.8 billion of capital.
Capital requirements actually ebb and flow through our system. It depends often on the ability of an institution to actually absorb some renovations or to remediate buildings or be able to take that on. Various institutions are at different stages with respect to requiring new buildings or renovations, and some of the changes from year over year just reflect that reality.
M. Mungall: The reality, as far as I know from speaking with administrators at public post-secondary institutions, however, is that they are identifying an extensive infrastructure deficit. Frankly, I'm a bit concerned about that and what it's going to mean for the public's assets. Of course, part of that is not just the existing assets but the facilities that we need, to expand seats and so on, so that we can meet labour market demands. We've been talking about that a little bit here this afternoon.
It's no doubt that the government has put forward a goal for increased international students, and that is going to require new spaces if it is going to be true that domestic students will not be displaced by the increase of international students. So any of the spaces that are going to be for new international students are going to have to be new student spaces, and we're going to have to be able to accommodate that. That's going to require some capital investment.
What we have here…. I appreciate what the minister is saying, that there are ebbs and flows and changes from year to year and that you might have a much larger project one year at UBC and a smaller project at Selkirk College the following year. However, I have to keep in mind this goal of increasing student spaces so that we can accommodate an increased level — a large increased level — of international students.
With that in mind, I'm quite concerned to see the capital budget, the taxpayer-supported portion of that, decreasing from 2001 and 2012 levels. So again, I want to go back to the minister, and I guess this is the question that I'd like to ask. How are we going to be able to accommodate increased international students if we don't have the money to build the spaces for them?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let me remind the member opposite over again that $2 billion of capital has been invested into our post-secondary institutions since 2001 — again, a record investment for post-secondary institutions — and $257 million provided by the taxpayers of B.C. for the KIP projects, which was matched by the federal government.
Then in this next three-year budget we have $462 million over the next three years to rehabilitate and expand the infrastructure at our post-secondary institutions. I have a list of institutions and the capital that has been committed to our institutions since 2001. I'll give you an example.
At BCIT since 2001 there have been 18 projects, and Advanced Education, the province of B.C., has provided over $56 million; at Camosun, nine projects for a contribution from the province of $15 million; at Capilano University, almost $23 million; at the College of New Caledonia, over $36 million; College of the Rockies, almost $25 million; Douglas College, $44 million; Emily Carr University, almost $6 million; the Justice Institute of B.C., seven projects worth $12 million; Knowledge
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Network, $2.7 million; Kwantlen Polytechnic University, $78 million; Langara, almost $45 million.
I'm only halfway through the list. There is a grand total of a thousand projects in the last decade, representing over $2 billion of capital that was used to expand or enhance our post-secondary system. I actually have 25 pages of projects identifying each of the thousand projects that were carried out.
I'd be pleased to provide the member opposite with the details of the huge investment that we have made, not just in the last ten years but reminding the member opposite of the $462 million in capital provided over the next three years.
M. Mungall: I'm not asking about what the ministry has invested in, in the last ten years. There's no doubt that it is incumbent upon the Ministry of Advanced Education to put taxpayer dollars into equipping our post-secondary institutions with top-of-the-line facilities to ensure that our students have the ability to learn in a modern environment. But what I am asking….
I'm not asking. I would like to know where the $462 million over three years is coming from, because what I am looking at…. I've cited the page number and cited exactly the numbers that I'm looking at and that I want some explanation for, because this is the document that was available to me and this is the document that's available to the public.
I am looking for an explanation of why the reduction from the 2011-12 number of $779 million to this year, of $688 million, to next year, of $548 million, and then the following year, with a small bump but still a cut compared to this year, of $561 million. I'm asking for an explanation for this. I'm also asking in the context of: how are we going to accommodate an increase in seats for international students if we are not going to fund the capital expenditures necessary to do that?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I actually find these numbers a little bit confusing as well and oftentimes not reflective, perhaps, of how we might do something in our households in terms of budgeting.
I'll just remind the member opposite that the numbers the member quoted — the $141 million, the $143 million, the $135 million and then the $183 million — are actually rolled into the figures that you see on page 33. Those numbers actually include the institutions' capital that they generate on their own. As I mentioned, these numbers fluctuate because of…. Actually, what happens in reality is that some projects end, and some projects begin. It just depends on when the projects end and when they start up again — when it's reflected in the fiscal years.
Again, it's a huge commitment to capital — $462 million over three years. The numbers that the member opposite is looking at include the institutional capital that they generate. If the member opposite were to look at page 35, a couple of pages in, there is a more robust description of the table on page 33.
H. Bains: I would like to draw the minister's attention to my hometown, the city of Surrey. This is, as the minister would well know, the fastest-growing community, I would say, in Canada and probably the most diverse community in Canada.
We have two out of the four campuses of Kwantlen Polytechnic University located in Surrey. I was very fortunate to serve on the board in the 1990s at the time when Kwantlen actually grew from a college to a university college and now to a polytechnic university.
Now, the challenges that we face in that city, as a growing community…. We have the lowest participation rate in all of B.C., and coupled with that, the community continues to grow to the tune of over a thousand new citizens every month. Also, Kwantlen is facing a $1.3 million deficit from their last budget. When you consider inflation, when you consider growth, when you consider the lowest participation from that region in post-secondary education and, further, a 3 percent cut over the next three years to universities and colleges in this budget, I think the minister would agree that that is a recipe for failure as far as our youth are concerned.
Other than extending already inefficient apprenticeship programs, there's no new money for skills and training. There's no support in this budget for students who, as the minister well knows, face the highest average debt in the country — $27,000. I think all of those, considering….
I fully understand the tough times that we are all going through. But when you're looking at a community that is growing, a community that is already facing challenges, wouldn't the minister agree that special attention needs to be provided to Kwantlen Polytechnic so that the students that are coming out of high school have a post-secondary education institution where we can give those students an opportunity for skills and training to meet the challenges of the new economy?
I would ask the minister what other areas Kwantlen Polytechnic is expected to cut in order to meet the demands of their growing community.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I apologize for taking so much time to respond to the member opposite. What I wanted to correct for the record is a comment the member opposite made with respect to student debt. Our numbers indicate that the average student debt is $21,000 — not $27,000. We are in the middle of the pack, fourth or fifth in Canada. I know the member opposite said something different, so I just wanted to clear that up.
With respect to Kwantlen Polytechnic University, I've
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had the opportunity to visit a couple times, and I must say that it's an institution that you must be very proud of. It's very well run and definitely running at capacity.
I'd like to reassure the member opposite that we are very aware of the growth in Surrey and in that area, and we will consider future investments in our post-secondary institutions in the Surrey area as our financial picture improves.
But I'd just like to remind the member opposite that Kwantlen Polytechnic University has actually received an increase of 41 percent since 2001 in their annual operating grant. That's quite a considerable increase in their annual operating grant. Just as a reminder to the member opposite, in Budget 2012, the next fiscal year, there actually will be no reductions in the annual operating grant that's being provided to Kwantlen Polytechnic.
Again, a reminder to the member opposite of the almost $1.9 billion that taxpayers are investing in post-secondary education in British Columbia annually for annual operating grants.
H. Bains: Thank you for the answer. But all of the independent reports and the calculations clearly say that B.C. students' average debt is $27,000. I don't know what numbers the minister has and where she gets them from.
But regardless of getting into that argument, I want to get back into some of the questions that I asked of the minister. The minister, on one hand, is saying that there will not be any reduction in this year's grant. But the minister also full well knows that there is a higher demand, because of the growth in that community, on that university to provide more spaces and accommodate those students' needs.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
Not only that. We have the Cloverdale campus. By the way, I must mention to the minister that that land was purchased during the time that I was on the board. It was, I think, farsighted, shown by Kwantlen at that time. I think it was a great location.
But again, the students in that region are waiting to get into trade schools, trying to get more skills and training. But inflation alone, as you know, Minister, will eat up the sum of the budget, and they will be in deficit again. So they will be forced to cut some more programs.
That's what the concern is of that community, and that should be the concern of the minister, because ultimately she is responsible for providing opportunities to our students for post-secondary education — skills and training especially.
So if there's an inflationary cost attached to their budget, and there's a higher demand — you know, two things put together — you are talking about more resources for that region for that particular university, and the minister is telling us there are none available. She has not given us any date, any timeline. When can they expect to have additional resources from this government, so that those students' demands and needs are met?
Perhaps I could ask the minister, again: how do you address that issue? Growth on one side — the fastest-growing community. There's a higher demand for post-secondary education, and the budget remains stagnant. That is a recipe for failure, as I've said before.
Many of the students only have that much window when they are at that age and that stage. When that window is past, they have passed that opportunity and lost that opportunity. I think that is not providing service to our students, in fact, looking at our future and meeting the needs of British Columbia as a province to meet the needs for skills and training that many industry sectors are, right now, saying there are shortages of.
How does the minister explain to my community, to Kwantlen Polytechnic University and those students, that there's no money coming, although you have a higher demand, and although there's a need for more skills and training all across this province?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'm going to reiterate what I said in my previous answer to the member opposite. Yes, we are aware that Surrey is a rapidly growing area. Further investments will be considered in the context of our own economic fiscal situation in British Columbia. I wish that we could predict or project what the world will look like in the next couple of years.
The global economic uncertainty continues. I'm unable, as most of us are, to predict exactly what our fiscal situation will be. But what I can tell you is that we are asking our institutions to work together, to be innovative, to be creative, to be collaborative, to look for those partnerships in order to save some money in administrative costs. We canvassed this about an hour ago — the various ways that we will be asking the system to work together to look for those efficiencies.
But what I will draw the member opposite's attention to is the $13 million investment that, again, a couple hours ago, we did canvass. This is for a new skills-training program. In the Kwantlen Polytechnic area there is a program for low-voltage security data wiring. It's an eight-week training program that offers the skills people need to enter the low voltage industry. That's additional funding that we've provided, on top of the annual operating grant to Kwantlen.
We've also provided funding for professional communication for internationally educated health professionals. It's a 14-week program, and it provides foreign-trained health professionals with the communication skills they need to obtain employment. We've also provided a four-week program. It's for building services workers, and it offers the necessary skills for entry-level
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employment in the building services industry.
Again, I could provide more detail to the member opposite on each of these programs. That's just part of the $13 million investment that this province has made in new skills-training programs in British Columbia.
N. Macdonald: As the minister will know, East Kootenay region is served by the College of the Rockies. The college is establishing innovative programs to meet the needs of residents who want to stay in the region to receive skills training. One such program is the primary care paramedic, or PCP, program.
This program was established in Cranbrook because there are many people in the area who were willing to pay for and attend the course in Cranbrook. Those who were interested in taking the training felt confident that they could find employment that required this level of training. Having access to the program within a few hours drive is the only way that they could upgrade their skills.
The minister will know that a series of complications has resulted in the ministry requiring the College of the Rockies to discontinue this program. Many students who are ready and willing to pay to attend the course are now not able to receive the training they have chosen.
So my question to the minister is this. Why are people in the Kootenays, who are confident that they can find employment as primary care paramedics, being denied the opportunity to take this training when there is a local educational institution and educators who are able to provide the training?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd like to just point out that the Ministry of Advanced Education works quite closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the health education programs are delivered and are aligned with the human health resource priorities in the province.
I also would like to remind the member opposite that the Justice Institute of B.C., JIBC, is the only fully credited public post-secondary education institution in the province that actually receives government funding to deliver paramedic training. Regrettably, the College of the Rockies provided some training last year, I believe, and they were actually not approved and not accredited to provide that training.
Having said that, the Ministry of Health, though, is looking at reviewing the role and the function of paramedics and the demand for paramedics in the Kootenays as well as provincewide. Once the forecasted demand for the paramedics and the training needs are identified, we will determine the best delivery method in light of the demand for primary care paramedics in the province, in line with the overall ministry objectives.
N. Macdonald: A couple things from the answer, then. The idea that the minister has focused on the Ambulance Service…. In the past, I think the minister has talked about the seats being decided by the needs of the B.C. Ambulance Service, and I guess while the primary employer of PCPs is likely the B.C. Ambulance Service, it is by no means the only employer.
In fact, there has been a lot of recent promotional material sent out by the Justice Institute that features paramedics in training who clearly state that they intend to work in industry, not just the B.C. Ambulance Service. I hope that that would be one thing the minister would consider. The minister has highlighted using the Justice Institute, which I'm sure comes with a tremendous reputation, but it's not a program that is really available to those that are in Cranbrook.
While the Justice Institute provides programming, it doesn't in Cranbrook, and I think that from the response of students, we can clearly see there is a need, since enrolment and interest in the College of the Rockies program has been so consistently high. For most students enrolling in PCP, they require a program that is flexible, like the College of the Rockies was offering, and in the region so that they are able to continue to work at their EMR jobs.
Finally, I think you had mentioned the Ministry of Health, and I know that they are looking at what a job will look like in the B.C. Ambulance Service in the future. I guess nothing really that I can see seems to be happening on that file. I think it was almost two years ago that we were told that that work would be done, but in talking to people within the Ambulance Service, it just doesn't seem, certainly in the Kootenays, that we are hearing that the work that needs to be done is being done. So the wait for that seems problematic. I guess the question, then, is….
The College of the Rockies developed a program that met the requirements of students who are willing to pay to upgrade their certification to the PCP level. Being able to work at the PCP level makes it more feasible for rural residents to continue to work with B.C. Ambulance Service or to gain employment with industry, keeping in mind the need for skills training in fulfilling what has been called the jobs agenda.
Will the minister make a commitment that every effort will be made to resolve the issues that are keeping these Kootenay residents from accessing this valuable program at the College of the Rockies?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll just repeat, to the member opposite, what I mentioned earlier. Ministry of Health is undertaking this comprehensive review of the requirements for paramedics in the Kootenays. What we are not doing is looking just at B.C. Ambulance Service. We are looking at all the labour market data and ensuring that any organization or group or community that requires some form of paramedics in their community will be….
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That will be included in the review.
The outcome of that review will guide us in determining whether it's appropriate for us to mount a program in the Kootenays.
G. Coons: Thank you, Minister, for being here today to answer some questions.
Coming from the north coast, Northwest Community College — I'm sure you're quite familiar with that — is a key component of our community. We have a lot of low-income, a lot of First Nations students. Basically, 50-percent-plus First Nations students go to Northwest Community College, and there are some issues with the funding there. I'll get into that in my second question.
Right now I just want to look at tuition fees. Per-student funding is lower than it was ten years ago. Student debt is about $27,000. Tuition fees have increased. The student grants program has been eliminated. And I'm quoting the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. It says that the student debt in B.C. is $27,000 — that's what I'm using that from — and they're saying that when it's compounded with interest, B.C. students will pay almost $35,000 to the government. So it's pretty significant.
Again, the repayment system that we have for both federal and provincial loans seems to punish those with the least amount of finances. I come from an area with lots of students and families from low-income backgrounds. They have to borrow the most in order to pursue their post-secondary studies, and again, graduate with even higher debt loads that they have to pay throughout the life of their loans.
So I'm just wondering. And the minister actually…. I think there's a quote somewhere out there where she said that "student debt is really a good debt to assume." I'm just wondering if she still thinks that student debt is a good debt to assume, and what is she actively doing to alleviate the high debt rates our kids have in British Columbia?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I think that an investment in post-secondary education is the best investment that somebody can make, because it's an investment in yourself. We also know that students who have completed some form of post-secondary education will earn $650,000 more over their working lifetime than somebody who doesn't have post-secondary education. That's quite significant. So yes, I do believe that investing in post-secondary education is a fantastic investment, and the return on it is quite clear.
I'd like to correct the member opposite, because I've heard this number mentioned twice now. The average debt for B.C. students is $21,000, not $27,000. The $27,000 number comes from, apparently, a millennium report that was produced in 2009. The latest data that we have — and we will make that data public — is $21,000.
The member opposite talked about some of the repayment systems. I did mention yesterday, to the member for Nelson-Creston, about a couple of our programs that we have for students. One of them is the loan reduction program, and the other one is the loan forgiveness program.
The loan reduction program is available to students. I believe it was about 21,000 students last year that were able to receive an automatic reduction on their student loan.
I'll give you an example of the loan forgiveness program. There was a nursing student with two children who wanted to go through a nursing program at Thompson Rivers University. I apologize to the member for Nelson-Creston, because you heard this story yesterday, but it's a good example of what taxpayers are doing for students.
This is a woman who has two children, and she decided that she wanted to study nursing at Thompson Rivers University. She had made available to her $47,000 in student financial assistance. That, obviously, wasn't just for tuition. It was for accommodations, transportation, child care and, of course, food. That enabled her to complete her education. Because of the number of people in her family and the income she was receiving, the taxpayers immediately reduced her student debt by $2,000, to $45,000. That was done automatically. She didn't have to apply for that.
And because she chose to work in Merritt, as a nurse, where we know it's an underserved region, the taxpayers forgave one-third of her loan for the first year that she was there. Because she worked there for a second year, taxpayers forgave another one-third of her loan. And because she stayed there for three years, her entire loan, the balance of $45,000, was forgiven by taxpayers.
Those are the types of programs that help, first of all, students who have assumed some debt, but it also helps communities attract people with the skills that they need to match their labour market shortages.
G. Coons: Yeah, I look forward to the data — I'm sure the students I represent also do — to confirm that they don't owe $27,000, and actually it's less than that. I guess we'll have to compare the Millennium Scholarship Foundation figures with the ministry's.
Again, when students hear the minister say that the government borrows money for student loans at prime minus 1 percent and then turns around and charges prime plus 2½ percent…. It seems to be a real issue — that the government is using students as a cash cow. There's a real concern out there.
My last question is just going back to Northwest Community College, up in the north. It has a huge deficit, up to $2 million. There have been staff pink slips given, potential devastating cuts to programs hitting many low-income students and First Nations students. I'm just wondering what the minister is going to do to ensure that
[ Page 9910 ]
Northwest Community College has the necessary funding to meet the skills shortage and the training that's necessary in the north.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I actually will correct for the record again an error I made last year in estimates, where I said that government's cost of borrowing was prime minus 1. I've corrected that a couple of times. It actually is…. The government's average cost of borrowing is about 5 percent, which is pretty close to what students pay.
Perhaps what is interesting…. We have now figures from last year. Taxpayers covered $54 million of interest payments for students, and we recovered $38 million from students, so if you look at the difference, that's actually the amount that's subsidized by taxpayers already.
With respect to Northwest Community College, I was there last year and met the new president, Dr. Henning, and I'm pleased to say that she's been working with a ministry team and with the community that she serves. They're in the midst right now of confirming with the community the priorities. So what is it that the community needs, and how are they going to respond to the community needs?
I think one of the things that they're looking at is realigning those priorities, and that will, yes, result in some changes.
Just for the member opposite, we noticed that there were 70 sections being offered at Northwest Community College with less than ten people in them. In some of those classes they only had two to five students. We know that model isn't sustainable, and we are working very closely with Northwest to look at how we can help Northwest Community College better deliver the training that the community needs.
Some of the new skills-training program, part of the $13 million that I've previously spoken to, has come into Northwest Community College — over $400,000 for construction trades helpers and labourers. This is an eight-week program that teaches the skills that are needed for entry-level employment in construction. Again, this is over and above the FTE annual operating funding that's provided.
Over $300,000 has been provided for a heavy-equipment operator foundations and technical training program. This is a 17-week program that teaches the skills needed for employment in the resource and construction sectors.
Finally, there has been about $257,000 for a value-added carpentry skills–plus program. This is a six-month program that has been developed in partnership with a First Nations community and that includes the Industry Training Authority–recognized carpentry foundations pre-apprenticeship program.
Those are some of the ways that taxpayers are supporting the north in providing training for much-needed skills in that area.
M. Mungall: We'll continue on this vein around student aid, but before I go there, I want to just make sure that I have the time to cover off a question around the tuition revenues projected in the Budget and Fiscal Plan document. What I see here is an average increase of 5 percent in tuition revenues from 2005 going to 2015, an average 5 percent increase over a ten-year period, and in the last few years particularly — this budget year and the upcoming two budget years — a little bit above a 5 percent increase.
Of course, the minister knows that there is a tuition cap of 2 percent, so I'm wondering what accounts for a 5 percent increase in tuition revenue to the province.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Thank you to the member opposite for looking at this. In fact, these are the types of questions that are really good to ask.
It does appear that our tuition has increased by 5 percent, but if you look at the numbers that are in the budget plan, it includes not just the tuition that we receive from domestic students. It includes tuitions from other sources as well. The increase also reflects just the volume of students. We're getting, actually, a lot more students through the system, and that represents the increase as well.
I will commit to the member opposite that we are still committed to our 2 percent cap on tuition fee increases.
M. Mungall: I was just genuinely wondering if that was the case — if it was increased students or if it was an increase in international students. Normally, I would have just left it alone and assumed that, but then this situation at North Island Community College has arisen, and this is what led me to want to question the minister on that. I'll just give the backstory to the minister and to the folks watching at home. I'm sure we have incredible ratings today.
The situation is that the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of B.C., which is the body responsible for certifying practical nurses in this province, recently changed their training requirements. As a result…. It's not just North Island Community College. Actually, all the colleges who provide licensed practical nurse programming are going to have to adjust their programs to reflect the changes that this college has put in place for the education of licensed practical nurses.
What North Island Community College has done recently, as a result of its board of governors meeting, is amend its bylaws on tuition fees to allow for, first, a 25 percent fee increase on all new upper-level courses offered after August 15, 2011. Sorry, this wasn't recently done by the board of governors. This was done last year. The board of governors has now approved a 25 percent
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fee increase on all new upper-level courses. That doesn't seem to jive with the 2 percent cap.
Additionally, for the licensed practical nurse program, students are now facing up to a 65 percent increase per credit not just on new courses but even on some of the courses that already existed in the program.
What North Island Community College is saying is that they recognized this not as an existing program they were making changes to but an entirely new program, so that allowed for them to increase tuition above the 2 percent. The reason why they're doing that, according to the Comox Valley Echo, is that the provincial government has not provided further funding for the program to reflect the changes that the college has put in place.
I'm wondering, with this in mind, if the ministry has essentially left loopholes so that programs are not, indeed, meeting the cap of a 2 percent increase but rather being allowed to put in place this increase — what's happening at North Island College, a 65 percent increase for this program and, also, that they're going to be instituting a new rule of a 25 percent fee increase in all new upper-level courses.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We actually canvassed this yesterday. Just to repeat for the member opposite, and perhaps to clarify a comment that the member opposite made. The member opposite suggested that all new upper-level courses were subject to a 25 percent tuition increase. I want to make sure the member opposite realizes that is specifically for any new licensed practical nursing programs. It's not a general statement that can be made. I want to make sure that the member opposite recognizes that it's directed at the licensed practical nursing program.
Almost 80 percent of the old licensed practical nurse program has changed. I mean, they've added so much more to this program. This was actually based on requirements of their profession, frankly. The expectations from the public, when you're concerned about health care standards, have also increased. That justifies the increase. It's an entirely new program.
I'd like to remind the member opposite, and I mentioned this yesterday, that our ministry seldom actually approves increases in tuition for programs. We set the bar very, very high. It has to be a substantial, significant change to a program for our ministry staff to actually approve an increase in tuition.
Excuse me, Mr. Chair. Could I ask for a five-minute recess?
The Chair: The committee will recess for a few minutes.
The committee recessed from 5:11 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
The Chair: Seeing that everybody is back, the Chair will resume the estimates for the Ministry of Advanced Education.
M. Mungall: One final question, I hope, on tuition and funding levels. In the service plan we see a reduction in the FTEs from last year, where it was 206,320, to this year, 201,307. I'm just wondering why we're seeing that decrease at a time when we actually anticipate, and we've had, growing student enrolments in the province, and if this FTE number reflects international students as well.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The student spaces, the FTE that the member opposite was referring to, does not include international students. There has been a softening in demand for apprenticeships and technical training. That has been due to the downturn in the economy. We haven't had the registrants or the employers, who obviously partner in the apprenticeship system, take up interest as we have seen in the past.
M. Mungall: I understand, then, that the reduction is solely a reflection of a reduction in apprenticeships. Is that correct? Yeah.
Okay then, I'll move on to bringing back the student aid staff members. My first question. The total non-repayable student aid — my understanding is that it's $78 million. So I'm wondering: of this $78 million, how much of it is targeted for the seven available upfront grant programs that the ministry offers?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: What I will do is read off the upfront grants, just in case we've made a mistake in the totals. But the total we have is $28.1 million for upfront grants. I'll just read them off, just in case. There are so many zeroes in these.
The nurses education bursary is $1 million. The B.C. access grant for students with a permanent disability is $2.25 million. The disabled student grants are $800,000; the supplemental bursary for students with disabilities, $600,000; the student society emergency aid fund, $100,000; adult basic education student assistance program, $5.7 million; Passport to Education, $12.004 million; provincial and district scholarships, $5.63 million. That should total $28.1 million.
M. Mungall: My understanding is that this $78 million, which is the total for non-repayable student aid, is actually a 22 percent reduction since the 2008 levels. I'm going through the service plan, and I come across this in the strategies listed on page 18: "Work with stakeholders to eliminate barriers for persons with disabilities and those from lower-income families."
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So I'm just wondering how a reduction in upfront, non-repayable grants falls in line with this strategy.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The member opposite is quoting some numbers that included an investment by the federal government over a ten-year period which ended, actually, in 2009. The member opposite quoted levels from 2008. This program ended in 2009. It was the Canada millennium scholarship program, and that was a $37.1 million annual contribution. That contribution or investment by the federal government was actually used and moved to our loan reduction program. That's the reason for the discrepancy in the numbers.
M. Mungall: The minister has moved that funding from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. That ended in 2009, so the minister is talking about moving money from a grants program to a loan forgiveness program. Is that correct?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: In 2008 there was a $37.1 million contribution from the Canada millennium scholarship program that was in our loan reduction program. That program ended in 2009.
M. Mungall: Can the minister then tell me how many students are being supported or aided with the non-repayable student aid available from the seven grant programs?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Despite our best efforts, we actually don't have the numbers for all of the students that were aided by non-repayable loans, but we will get those numbers to the member opposite.
Let me start with the student loan reduction program — 21,000 students. For the loan forgiveness program, 302 students. For the assistance program for students with permanent disabilities, 520 students. For the B.C. Access Grants for students with permanent disabilities, 1,735 students. For the learning disability program, 215 students. The nurses education bursary, 500 students. Adult basic education, 8,500 students.
What we don't have numbers for are for the Passport to Education and for the scholarships. Those numbers are actually quite huge, but we will endeavour to get those numbers to the member opposite. I think it will just take too much time out of the estimates to do that right now.
M. Mungall: I thank the minister's conscientiousness around time. I appreciate that, and I look forward to getting the numbers.
Before I ask my next question, I thought I would just let the minister know, in case she wants to relieve any of her staff — who, unfortunately, are probably providing the bulk of our ratings right now — that it's 5:30. I thought they might want to get home to their families.
We're going to focus mostly on student aid and, if we get an opportunity, a little bit on the ABE programs and on graduate student recruitment and retention. So if there is anybody that none of that falls in their purview…. If the minister wants to let them go, I leave it to her to do so. Okay. I think the advertisers might pull out, though, Mr. Chair, with our lower ratings.
On to more serious matters. Pulling a quote from…. I just want to make sure that I quote accurately. Anybody who has been watching all day long might notice the shuffling of paper. November 20, in the North Shore News, the minister said: "The studies that show that if you increase the grants up front, completion is even less."
I did a little bit of research on this issue and found that the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which has wrapped up its work, did an incredible amount of research on this very issue. They're citing a lot of other research as well, going back to 2003. This is what they had to say about that issue, in the article Price of Knowledge: Access and Student Finance in Canada, released in 2007:
"It appears that receiving need-based student assistance in the form of loans or grants can improve persistence. At the same time, students whose financial aid package is not adequate to cover the actual costs of studying or who accumulate high levels of debt are less likely to complete their studies. This suggests that within a financial aid package, the non-repayable grant component…is the key component in encouraging persistence."
That's what they found in their research — quite the opposite of what the minister said.
Further, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, in their submission to the review of the Canada student loan program in 2007, also found similar to the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation in terms of grants actually aiding persistence. This is what they say:
"There is a growing body of international evidence that suggests that loans do little to improve access for those from low-income families. By contrast, there is strong evidence that grants increase the likelihood that a student from a low-income family will both start and complete a program. Other studies show a correlation between high levels of student debt and low completion rates. In Canada students who borrow more than $10,000 dollars are only half as likely to complete a program as those who borrow less than $1,000."
Since I can't find any studies that suggest that grants inhibit persistence and completion rates, I'm wondering what studies the minister is referring to.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We don't have with us, or I don't have with me today, the report that I was referring to and that we based some of our policies on, but we will get the report to the member opposite shortly.
What I will say is that I do agree with the member opposite that grants do increase access to post-secondary education, which is why we've targeted, as I've listed earlier, some of the programs to increase access, in particu-
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lar for students with disabilities. We also have aboriginal programs and bursaries to increase access for students that are from aboriginal communities, First Nations communities. That is working actually quite well.
What we have done is we have taken what we consider a balanced approach to student financial aid. We do have some upfront grants, but what we have focused on are the back-end loan reduction and forgiveness programs.
I've just found out a stat that I actually didn't realize. It's quite an incredible stat. Because of our student loan reduction program, which is a reduction that students automatically receive annually while they're in school…. And we identify students with high loans. The student population who have received reductions — 98 percent of those students who have received loan reductions are actually still in school.
Again, what we're looking at doing is to ensure that we see the students actually not only access post-secondary education but complete their post-secondary education. We're finding that the students who actually get these loan reductions…. We understand, as the member opposite has mentioned, that students with higher student loans will be in higher default of student loans or will not complete their education. So what we've done is introduce the student loan reduction program, and that appears to be working actually quite well.
M. Mungall: Is the student loan reduction program, then, only for students with a high debt load? And then what is the determinant? What's the baseline debt load to determine someone eligible for the student loan reduction program?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Again, I apologize for the delay, but there are sometimes a lot of numbers that we have to calculate.
The fund that is available for student loan reduction is $39.338 million. That's a fixed amount. How we determine what a student will receive each year is based on the number of students that actually receive the student loans and then the debt that they incur. Just as an average, students receive about $1,500 a year of automatic reduction to their student loan.
To make that clear, I'll just give you a couple of examples. A female student with two dependants enrolled at Northwest Community College for three years borrowed $28,891 in B.C. student loans and $22,635 in Canada student loans, for a total loan of $51,526. She received a loan reduction of $18,071 from B.C. That brought her student loan down to $10,820. That's a 63 percent reduction in her B.C. student loan and a 35 percent reduction in her total indebtedness — the total of what she owed.
Another example is a female student enrolled at UBC for two years borrowed $9,460 in B.C. student loans and an additional $17,060 in Canadian student loans, for total loans of $25,520. She received a loan reduction of $5,947 from B.C. That brought her B.C. student loan to just $3,513. That's a 63 percent reduction in her B.C. student loan and an overall reduction of 14 percent in her total debt.
M. Mungall: Going then to the loan remittance program and determining who will be eligible for loan remittance. My understanding in looking at the data on that is that loan remittance is targeted based on a labour market determination. The minister has told the story twice now of a young woman up in Kamloops who completed her registered nursing program at TRU, and of course we know that nurses are one of the occupations in our skilled labour market shortage.
I'm just wondering. For any other loan remittance, is that the primary qualifier — that someone has graduated from a program that the province has identified as in high labour market demand?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This is actually confusing. I believe the member opposite, when she referred to the loan remittance, was referring to the loan forgiveness program. The examples that I just gave are actually from the $39 million loan reduction program.
The loan forgiveness program — that's the nursing student who chose to work in Merritt — yes, is based on moving or working in an area in British Columbia that's identified as having a shortage of a skilled worker. We have identified those. There are criteria. But we've identified the specific skill that's required and also the region.
M. Mungall: I want to, then, take it to the review of student aid, the student loan review that we've canvassed several times in question period and that was brought up in the media.
Even on this side of the House we've done an FOI. For the public who are watching this, the result of that freedom-of-information request was a $3,000 price tag. Of about 5,000 pages of documentation, most of them would be severed. That's what we were told. We did not pursue getting a bunch of severed documents.
There are people who don't understand what that means, but they understand it on the TV shows when they show a person receiving a document which is all blacked-out. That's what that means, when it's severed.
So we opted not to spend $3,000 for blackened pages, yet there's no concrete confirmation that this review has taken place. My first question to the minister is: has this review taken place? In the service plan it sounds like…. I'm reading: "Undertake a comprehensive review of student financial assistance programs." It's in their strategies. So it sounds like it hasn't taken place yet, even though the deadline that we anticipated, based on the minister's
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commitments in the media, was last fall.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The student aid review was an internal review, and a huge amount of work went into it. There are literally thousands of pages of work. My offer to the member opposite is that we will cull it down to a reasonable package, and we welcome you to come in and review the work with our staff.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
M. Mungall: I thank the minister for that, and I definitely will take her up on that offer.
Just going back to the service plan, then, where it does say: "Undertake a comprehensive review of student financial assistance programs." I'm wondering: is there going to be another review? Especially since the minister said there was an incredibly comprehensive job already done, what's up next? What is this service plan referring to?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The student aid review has two phases to it. The first phase, which we've looked at, looked at the administrative aspects of StudentAid B.C. and the efficiencies and improvements we can make to StudentAid B.C. What we did was we focused on processes and service improvements. One of the outcomes is the modernization of StudentAid B.C. It will have quite a new face and has actually already changed considerably.
This first phase report actually did help us access an additional $392,000 of capital to make those improvements to StudentAid B.C. or to student financial assistance. In phase 2 of the review, which is coming up, we'll be looking at the policies with respect to student financial assistance.
M. Mungall: I'm just wondering what side of the line there, between phase 1 and 2, the issue that private post-secondary institutions have been grappling with…. I recognize your staff member from StudentAid B.C. because I attended the presentation that she did at the BCCCA. The Chair might remember from yesterday that we had fun with all the acronyms within this ministry. She gave a wonderful presentation at that conference back in October.
So I'm just wondering whether that would have been in the first phase or in the second phase, because it seemed to have a bit of an administrative component as well, not necessarily just dealing with the financial side of things.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I actually would like to take the time to introduce Victoria Thibeau. Victoria is the executive director of StudentAid BC and has been doing a wonderful job in her role. I'm pleased that the member opposite had an opportunity to sit in on the session that Victoria had with BCCCA.
The question the member opposite asked is a good one. What we did in phase 1 of the student aid review is look at the administrative processes that are in our institutions right now. We did that to ensure that the information received on their programs that they delivered was accurate. We wanted to make sure that we were providing adequate funding for our students in order to ensure that they were able to complete their studies.
In phase 2 of the student aid review what we'll be doing, as we mentioned, is looking at policy. In this respect, we'll be looking at how we determine which programs and institutions will be designated to receive StudentAid B.C. That, again, all ties into the quality assurance framework that we are looking to expand and improve.
M. Mungall: The review…. Noting that it is quite extensive — the minister mentioned thousands of pages — I'm just wondering if that review was initially begun when she was appointed to the ministry or if this has been a review that's been going on for more than a year, because you've been in the role for a year.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This review was initiated by my predecessor. It was underway prior to my assuming the role.
M. Mungall: I'm just wondering if the minister can, then, confirm that it would cost roughly $34 million per year to eliminate interest rates from student loans. My understanding, in speaking with a member of our press gallery here in the Legislature, was that was what the ministry told him. I just wanted to confirm that.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yes. It's approximately the number.
M. Mungall: Last year I did ask the question of how much the government — what their interest rate is on borrowing money for student loans. The minister said at that time that it was prime minus 1.
I since have received a letter from the former deputy minister, and the minister also mentioned this today, that the average government borrowing rate is about 5 percent. But that is the overall average government borrowing rate — is my understanding. So I'm still wondering, specifically: for the money that is borrowed for student loans, what is the interest rate on that particular line item?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The member is right. The average cost of government borrowing is around 5 percent. What we don't do in government is differentiate our borrowing cost, whether we borrow for capital or whether we
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borrow for student financial assistance. That's the answer that I, regrettably, have to provide the member opposite.
If the member opposite would like to canvas this further, I would recommend that the member opposite ask the Minister of Finance, during estimates, that question in more detail. But that's as much information as I have to offer the member opposite right now.
M. Mungall: Fair enough. I understand that management for student loan B.C., in terms of the actual dollars and cents of it, is over at the Ministry of Finance. So I will ask that question there.
My next question, though, is about the average interest relief amount. I'm just wondering what that is.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The average interest relief program is actually housed in the Ministry of Finance. So I would recommend that the member opposite canvas the Minister of Finance during his estimates on that specific program.
M. Mungall: So would I also go to the Ministry of Finance to ask for the budget for transfers to students for interest relief and the number of students who get interest relief, as well, and any comparisons to previous years?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yes.
M. Mungall: I've now got so much time to ask many more questions, then.
Well, this does go to a policy that perhaps the Ministry of Advanced Education addresses, then: what their plans are to address increased demand or applications for interest relief since the budget has been frozen to 2014.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Again, with respect to the interest relief program, I would ask the member opposite to canvass the Minister of Finance for those details.
Having said that, we are aware that we need to ensure that the burden of debt for students is manageable, so one of the policies we have is the 2 percent cap on the increase in tuition, keeping tuition affordable for students. We also have, as we talked about previously, the loan reduction programs. We have the loan forgiveness programs. We have an interest relief program as well.
We're also being very proactive. We're asking our post-secondary institutions to work with the business community, to work with the communities to ensure that there is easy transition from the post-secondary sector into jobs. Co-op programs are a great opportunity to do that.
I'll bring to the attention of the member opposite, because I found this quite interesting, that 68 percent of the student financial assistance that's provided to our students is actually used for living costs. Those are accommodation, food, child care, transportation. That's 68 percent of the costs of going to school in British Columbia.
What we have done is created seven new universities. That increases the access and the affordability for students in British Columbia.
Obviously, it is costly to attend university in the Lower Mainland. But with the new Thompson Rivers University, Capilano University, University of the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island University, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Emily Carr University of Art and Design and University of British Columbia Okanagan, we have made it easier for our students to access education, made it more affordable. In a lot of cases they can stay at home to live instead of coming down to the Lower Mainland.
I should add that UNBC was also created for the people in the north.
M. Mungall: I don't know if in all of that I actually heard an answer to the question around the policy on interest relief. The minister did mention it. I did hear the words "interest relief" in there. I'm specifically looking at the policy and what the ministry's policy…. If I'm redirected to the Ministry of Finance, fair enough. I'll ask the question there.
I'm specifically asking about the policy in terms of application. When there's a certain amount of money set aside for interest relief and it's based on, say, last year's total applications and this year the total applications are far greater than last year as a result of increasing debt loads onto students, what is the policy in terms of determining who will be eligible for their interest relief out of all the applications?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The interest relief program resides with the Ministry of Finance. I can tell you that with respect to the policy, it does reside with the Ministry of Advanced Education. The interest relief program is actually demand-driven. Anyone who needs it will receive it, so it's actually open-ended.
M. Mungall: Great. I thank the minister for that answer.
Again going to the service plan around student aid, one of the things that it says, one of their strategies…. In objective 3.3 the government says: "Provide financial planning and loan repayment information to students and their families to ensure that they are better informed about available resources and their loan-related responsibilities." I assume that this is part of the rollout and what all the increased expenditure for information systems is about. I assume that, and I wonder if the minister can clarify that.
My other question involves…. One of their strategies is to invite public participation in conversations about the
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post-secondary education issues that matter to students and their families. I'm wondering what exactly this will be. Is this, again, a reflection of some of the work that they'll be doing on line, or is there going to be a broader public consultation process around this?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The member opposite referred to the service plan and how we are helping students and families make informed choices about education and career options. The member opposite also mentioned the $392,000 that we're using to support the modernization of StudentAid B.C. We're doing this to help students and families. We want to ensure that the knowledge of what the career opportunities and the education opportunities are for the students and the families are made available and easily accessible.
We're also looking at improvements to allow the student financial assistance to be more easily accessible, and that's using more modern web methods. So again, it's just modernizing StudentAid B.C.
Generally speaking, our approach to engaging our stakeholders and students and families on policy issues is going to be reflected in the approaches we're taking to increasing, expanding and strengthening our quality assurance framework and the engagement that we have actually undertaken and will continue to take.
A great example of the way that we have been engaging our stakeholders is in the new…. It's actually almost complete — the aboriginal post-secondary education framework. The spirit of the engagement and the work that we did with our stakeholders, our First Nations aboriginal post-secondary educators and students, certainly informed policy decisions that the ministry made.
But we are also looking at using all the different channels to communicate, not only through direct discussions but also using all forms of media, including social media. That's the approach that we're taking.
M. Mungall: Great. I want to move on to a few questions, in the last 15 minutes or so that we have, on adult basic education. As the minister knows, this is an incredibly important first step for many people going back into post-secondary education. Their first step is to get their Dogwood, which is available through the adult basic education programs.
There have been quite a few changes at many institutions around the ABE programming. The minister mentions the aboriginal student plan that they're putting together. ABE will, I have no doubt, play an important role in that, because the largest student population or largest demographic in ABE are First Nations. So it's an important program for our aboriginal students.
My first question is: what is the total funding allocation for ABE, and how does this compare to previous levels, dating back to 2009?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Mr. Chair, I again apologize for taking some time to respond.
The responsibilities for adult education actually are with the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Ministry of Education, so when we total those numbers up, it's $136 million. Of that, $87.8 million is from Advanced Education.
M. Mungall: I was hoping to get a comparison, but I'm noting the hour, so maybe I will just write the minister for that comparison to previous years, just so I can get in a couple more questions.
One is…. We know that schools have a wait-list. Some post-secondary institutions have a wait-list for the ABE programs. Some have cut the number of seats to only offer spaces to the level for which they receive funding from the provincial government. Others…. Most notably, I'm hearing from the Camosun College students union, which has noted at Camosun College where they've reclassified some of their previous ABE courses and are now charging tuition for those courses.
So there have been many shifts and changes within ABE to address the fact that the demand for ABE is much greater than what the ministry has been funding for. Without debating that point, I'm just wondering if the ministry has looked into this matter and is conducting any type of review or analysis in determining whether or not the ministry can begin to fund to the level of demand.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I do apologize. I did not answer the question initially, which was, first of all, the adult education funding, whether it had changed year over year. It's the same level of funding that was available the prior year. So that's the answer to that question.
The target funding hasn't changed. For those students who actually require financial support to get some basic education, there is the ABESAP. That's the adult basic education student assistance program. That helps students with their living costs, their transportation costs, and child care costs as well.
With respect to Camosun and charging for adult basic education programs, what Camosun is doing is they're charging for programs where the individual actually gets a post-secondary credit. As a result, the actual cost to the individual is actually less than had they not been part of the adult basic education program.
So it's an interesting program for Camosun to deliver, where the program is articulated. They're able to transfer the credits that they receive in their programs and have it recognized in the post-secondary system. That's where
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there are incidents where you will see individuals being charged for adult basic education.
M. Mungall: My actual question was if the ministry is doing any analysis to compare their funding levels with the actual demand for adult basic education. However, I will gladly write the minister and ask that question in writing, because I'm noting the hour, and the day has come to an end.
I want to thank the minister and all of her staff for being a part of the budget estimates debate and all the information that was able to be garnered by this side of the House during this debate. I appreciate all the time that the staff have put in awaiting their opportunity to support the minister and appreciate, like I said earlier, the ratings bump that they gave this estimates debate.
With that, I have concluded my questions, and I will pass it off to the minister to wrap things up.
Vote 13: ministry operations, $1,971,938,000 — approved.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I move the committee rise, report resolution and completion of the estimates of the Ministry of Advanced Education and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:47 p.m.
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