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
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Volume 33, Number 3
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 20 — Auditor General for Local Government Act (continued)
Hon. I. Chong
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Agriculture (continued)
Hon. D. McRae
TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2012
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. I. Chong: In Section A, Douglas Fir Committee Room, we call the estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture, and in this House the continued debate, committee stage, of Bill 20, the Auditor General for Local Government Act.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 20 — AUDITOR GENERAL FOR LOCAL
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 20; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 10:06 a.m.
Section 13 approved.
On section 14.
H. Lali: Section 14 has: "Power to compel persons to answer questions and order disclosure." I'm wondering if the minister can tell the House how these…. Well, it's actually sections 15 and 16 as well, later on, but really all of these sections. How do these sections compare to the subpoena powers of select standing committees of the Legislature?
Hon. I. Chong: I believe the member asked about whether this had the same, I guess, authority as select standing committees. What it is, in fact, is the scope of authority to summon witnesses and require production of records similar to the provincial Auditor General under section 17 and other similar provisions in other acts that cover officers of the Legislature — not the select standing committee but the officers themselves who have the ability to request and summon witnesses for the benefit of doing their work.
H. Lali: Just to be more specific, I guess my question was: how do they compare? Are they powers that actually are greater than that of a select standing committee when they're going around the province and asking witnesses to give testimony on particular issues or items that are before the committee? Are these powers greater than that, or are these lesser?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I would say to the member that these are not powers that are similar, greater or equal to a select standing committee. They are powers and responsibilities that are afforded officers like the Auditor General, like other officers of the Legislature. So the auditor general for local government, for his or her ability to do his or her work, has those same powers to request information, to ask and summon witnesses to enable him or her to do the work for that. But we're not talking about a committee here. We're talking about the auditor general.
H. Lali: Then, for instance, I'll give you an example. If an employee of a particular municipality or regional district that is under question in terms of the audit that is being performed…. Then does the auditor general have the power to call particular employees? Let's say, for instance, it could be the superintendent of public works, or it could be the administrator or a staff person working for the superintendent or the administrator.
Hon. I. Chong: The short answer is yes. That is what section 14 does say — that the auditor general may make an order requiring the person to do either of the following: to either provide information by electronic means or to attend in person. Again, the objective here is for the auditor general, in the conduct of his or her work to have the audit done, to be able to have access to those records and have those records be available to be able to provide the ultimate report that he or she will be providing to the local government.
H. Lali: Are the individuals who are asked to appear or asked for information allowed to have legal representation present when they're actually giving testimony, I guess, in one sense?
Hon. I. Chong: I believe that in section 14 it really stipulates the normal practice, as I say, that an officer of the Legislature — like an Auditor General, like other statutory officers — generally has where they are requesting a person to provide information to attend in person. Generally in those situations, there's no requirement for legal counsel unless the person thought that they would need it. However, if the individual then — going to section 15 — should refuse to provide that information and an order is sought, at that point I would expect that the individual may wish to seek legal counsel.
But again, these are audits where, generally speaking, the local government, when selected, would be made aware that they have been selected at random, that the particular service would be looked at and considered. My expectation would be that the employees who are involved with that would make themselves available to
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provide that information. I don't expect to encounter problems. It's not an investigative approach, but it is an audit to look at the economy, efficiency and effectiveness, as I say, of a service or program.
H. Lali: Under this section, are people who are asked to give information afforded the same protections under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act?
Hon. I. Chong: We touched on it briefly yesterday. It does follow that the purposes under which the auditor general does receive information or is able to request information and how that is to be used are restricted, according to section 16, which is the following section. There are restrictions on the disclosure of information, how the auditor general is able to use that information — not to just take that information and use it for purposes other than to be able to compile the report that will be presented to the local government.
H. Lali: I know that under this section if a person refuses to participate in these hearings, the auditor general may apply to the Supreme Court. What kinds of penalties are envisaged for uncooperative witnesses?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, these are audits that are at random, and the local governments would be made aware. There is certainly an understanding that there would be cooperation that the local government elected official would provide for the purposes of the audit being undertaken.
I don't contemplate it, but yes, there could be an occasion where there is a refusal, in which case, if there's an uncooperative person, the auditor general would be empowered and have the ability to request an order. If the individual did not comply with that order, as is the case with other situations where people do not comply with orders, they would be committing contempt, and then that would be under the court provisions as to what would be the penalties based on that.
It then ends up in the court situation, and not the auditor general, with respect to what kinds of fines or penalties there may be.
K. Corrigan: I'm just wondering how this power in the Auditor General for Local Government Act compares to the similar powers under the Auditor General Act. Are the powers similar? Are the requirements similar? Is the process similar — specifically with regard to "Power to compel persons to answer questions and order disclosure"?
Hon. I. Chong: As I stated earlier, yes.
Sections 14 and 15 approved.
On section 16.
H. Lali: Section 16 deals with the restrictions on disclosure of information by the auditor general. One of the questions I have is: if, for some reason, the auditor general inadvertently discloses information contrary to the law, what kind of penalties are envisaged in that regard — if the auditor general puts out information publicly that is contrary to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act?
Hon. I. Chong: Section 16 is very specific with respect to restrictions on the disclosure of information by the auditor general. It is not a section that is about imposing penalties.
However, as the member raises, should there be a circumstance where the auditor general has inappropriately used information or did not follow the guidelines as required under section 16 in terms of the restrictions, that is where members of the audit council have an ability to speak with the auditor general and ask him or her the nature and the rationale for what occurred.
The audit council, as I indicated in earlier remarks, is able to monitor the performance of the auditor general. If it is found that the auditor general has acted outside his or her responsibility, that would give reason for the audit council to take more direct action with respect to the role of the auditor general.
H. Lali: I was wondering if the minister could explain the role of the audit council regarding section 16 and what kind of powers or obligations the audit council might have regarding, well, compelling persons to answer questions and order disclosure.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, section 16 is with respect to the auditor general. The member's questions with respect to the audit council are more fully disclosed in the following sections — 18 and 19.
But just for clarity, to the member, the audit council does not have the power to compel witnesses or to compel information. The audit council is not an investigative body. Rather, the audit council is responsible for reviewing and monitoring the performance of the auditor general, as you will see in section 19(1)(j). So the audit council is, as I say, not an investigative body.
H. Lali: The information that the auditor general obtains as a part of the disclosure order. What kind of access would the audit council have to that information? Or will it have any?
Hon. I. Chong: As I said, the audit council's respon-
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sibility is to review and monitor the performance of the auditor general. In so doing, if the auditor general wishes to share the information obtained to enable the audit council to understand the nature and scope of the performance audit that is being conducted, so that the audit council can better understand and monitor the performance of the auditor general…. In those circumstances, that's how information may be shared with the audit council.
The audit council would receive that information only with respect to understanding the role of the auditor general. The audit council, in seeing any of that information, must treat it, as well, on a confidential basis and may not use it for any purpose other than understanding how the auditor general uses that information, when received, in his role as the auditor general for that performance audit.
H. Lali: So this would not be a routine sharing of information with the audit council. Rather, when the annual report is done and if there is some sharing of this information required, it's only then that this information could be shared with the audit council? The second part of my question is: are there any instances under which the audit council can request the auditor general to share that information?
Hon. I. Chong: For the two questions that the member posed…. The last question — the answer is no.
The audit council. I believe he was asking whether they could request specific information, and that is not possible. That is not the role of the audit council.
With respect to information, though, that the auditor general obtains and which the audit council may review or have a look at, again that is based on the ability of the audit council to understand and monitor the performance of the auditor general.
It would be less likely that any of that information that is obtained would be asked for at the time an annual report is prepared. It would be more likely — and, again, not necessarily often, but if it were to occur — during the performance audit report.
So if the audit council is trying to understand the work and monitor the work of the auditor general, the auditor general may suggest that they understand the kind of information that he or she receives and share that with the audit council so that they understand the scope and nature of the work of the auditor general.
It's not a routine — I guess perhaps that's the best way to say it — sharing of information. I would expect it to be limited in circumstances and, generally, for the audit council to understand the performance audit report when it is prepared so that they can better understand the performance of the auditor general.
K. Corrigan: I just want to clarify that. Again, of course, we're looking forward to section 19.
Under 16(2)(c), it says: "The auditor general may disclose…a record or information necessary for the following…." That includes: "for the members of the audit council to carry out their responsibilities under this Act…."
I just want to clarify that the minister is saying that…. If, for example, the audit council is carrying out its role under 19(1)(e) — "commenting to the auditor general on a performance audit report" — would it be the understanding of the minister that it would be the auditor general who would initiate revealing the information that we're talking about in 16(2)?
Or could the audit council say: "We don't understand this. We want to have this information, and please provide it to us"? Is the auditor general then required to provide that information to the audit council, or could the auditor general say: "No, I don't think this is appropriate"? Under what circumstances would there be restrictions, and what control would the auditor general have of that process?
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated earlier to the member for Fraser-Nicola, the audit council has no ability to demand certain information that the auditor general receives in the conduct of his performance audit. So in essence, the auditor general controls, I guess, the records and the information he or she receives.
However, perhaps by way of example, typically what could occur is that the auditor general submits information and explains it to the audit council to say: "This is the kind of information I receive for which I am able to conduct my performance audit."
Or if the auditor general was not able to fully explain that to the audit council for them to understand the nature of the work, the audit council may request of the auditor general: "Well, is there information that you could share with us to help us better understand how you are able to conduct your role as the auditor general in this performance audit?"
It would be in a circumstance where the auditor general may, at the request of the audit council, determine that that may be the best way to help the audit council understand the nature of the work. But the audit council could not demand information just for the sake of demanding information.
H. Lali: Subsection (6). "If, in the conduct of a performance audit, the auditor general considers there is evidence of the use of money contrary to the Community Charter or the Local Government Act, the auditor general, as soon as is practicable, must notify the local government and must disclose to the local government the record or information, if any, that provides the evidence."
Could the minister tell us what sanctions, if any, the
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auditor general could levy against a municipality or regional district if the evidence actually proves that there was a misuse of money contrary to the Local Government Act and the Community Charter?
Hon. I. Chong: As we've indicated, the auditor general will likely be or should be a member of a professional body and, therefore, in doing his or her work, will be bound by the professional code of conduct and their ethical standards under which he or she has their designation. As an auditor, those professional obligations will help the auditor general advise accordingly.
However, because local government council members and directors can be held personally liable for the use of money that is contrary to the Community Charter and Local Government Act, it is important that the local government members know about any concerns in that regard in a very timely way. So the auditor general, in the course of doing his work, sees that there is, as I say, money that is used contrary to the Community Charter. Under section 191, those council members or directors would be held personally liable, and therefore, the auditor general, as a professional, would be obligated to, as soon as practical, advise the local council members so that they are able to deal with the situation.
In the performance of his duties, the auditor general may come across an important obligation and responsibility that local officials should be made aware of. As I say, under section 191 of the Community Charter, that is one of the reasons why the auditor general should bring that to the attention of the local government officials.
K. Corrigan: Also under that subsection, would the auditor general for local government be restricted from or would the auditor general for local government be able to…? Would you anticipate that the auditor general would share that same information with the audit council?
Hon. I. Chong: I would not expect that to be the situation, again, because the auditor general, being a professional, would have to adhere to their code of conduct, their professional standards. As I say, in the conduct of the audit where they saw a contrary use of dollars under the Community Charter, section 191, I think that their professional standards would require that they, as soon as practical or immediately, report that to the local government officials — but not, as I say, to provide that to the audit council. The audit council has no need to be made aware of that. That is for the benefit of the local government officials because of the Community Charter.
Section 16 approved.
On section 17.
H. Lali: Section 17 provides that the government may still be held vicariously liable for the actions or omissions of the auditor general. Could the minister explain this and give some examples of such situations?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps the best way to describe this, as well, is to say that these provisions are generally the standard provisions that are provided to other officers of the Legislature as well.
An example, I think, that the member was seeking out is that if the auditor general has the ability to hire employees or contractors and if they were let go or dismissed in a manner that were to bring action against the government, those areas of liability would ordinarily continue through government — as would other officers of the Legislature, you know, have in their provision as well. That's where government will continue to still have a role with respect to the vicarious liability.
Section 17 approved.
On section 18.
H. Lali: On section 18. This concerns the establishment and appointment of the audit council and provides that the audit council actually consists of no fewer than five members. We understand that it's no fewer than five, but what's the maximum limit that you could have under this section?
Hon. I. Chong: When we took a look at the effectiveness of an audit council, like any committee, generally you don't want it to be so large and burdensome that the ability for the audit council to function is not as practical as it could be. So we did state no fewer than five persons, because we think that five as a minimum would offer a good range of experts to be on this council.
There is no maximum, no legislated maximum. But practically, in terms of a maximum, I think it's fair to say that it could be as many as nine. It could be seven.
It's about ensuring that the right numbers are there to provide for practical opportunities for those experts to be able to review the performance, monitor the performance, of the auditor general, as well as the other functions that it's required to take a look at the service plan — as listed in their responsibilities. So no legislative maximum, but can't anticipate it being a large amount, I guess, is perhaps the best way to describe it.
H. Lali: I have no problem when the minister says that you don't want this body to be large and burdensome, especially in this day and age with trying to keep costs down. I mean, that makes sense. But why have a section in here that leaves it open-ended, which basically means that the minister, on cabinet's discussions, can decide to
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add two or four more people later on? I mean, why leave it open-ended?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I thank the member for acknowledging that we don't want to have an audit council that is so large that it's more of a burden than it is a practical one. That's one of the reasons why we did not specifically put in the legislation a maximum number. It is important that the audit council be representative to be effective and, therefore, have the ability, if it is felt, to add members to make it more effective if the need arises.
As I indicated, seven, possibly nine, members would be the optimum size. You want to get a wide range of skills and expertise, as this group will be an important one that reviews the conduct and the performance of the auditor general. We could have put a maximum in, but then that could have been questioned. "Well, is that the right number? What if we need one more?" It would be forever wanting to make a change.
Definitely a minimum of five, I think, is a good practical amount, but if need arises and we needed two additional members, that would be possible.
Obviously, it would likely be an odd number as opposed to an even number to ensure that, if there were votes to be made on matters, we did not have ties in that. So five, seven, nine, I would imagine, could be the amount. But at this point no maximum amount is in the legislation, as I say, to allow for some flexibility, if the need arises, to add more members.
H. Lali: Under what circumstances would the minister add an additional two or four members? What would be the reason to actually add later on if the minimum is five and that's what you're going with to begin with? But the minister would add two or four later on — why? What would be the circumstances?
Hon. I. Chong: The member will note in subsection 18(5) that we are looking for members who are appointed as audit council to have "knowledge, skills, education or experience." Therein we list a few: "(a) accounting; (b) auditing; (c) governance of the Province; (d) local and regional governance; (e) a subject area set out in the regulations."
Five may be the right number. But as the auditor general begins his or her work and, for example, has determined that more audits that are selected at random involve infrastructure, and they felt that a person who had engineering experience, for example, who also understands some of the accounting requirements would be of benefit on an audit council, that may be where a need arises, where we haven't got the right mix of expertise on the audit council. We may request that an additional person be brought in on the audit council to provide an enhanced value to that council for, as I say, monitoring the performance of that auditor general.
H. Lali: Supposing the minister adds two or four more members, what would it do for the overall costs of the audit council? What additional costs would be anticipated by adding an extra two or four people?
Hon. I. Chong: Subsection 18(7) does indicate how members are to be remunerated. Generally speaking, they are in accordance with the rates set by regulation. I would expect that these rates would be similar to other advisory boards.
Generally, what is provided for in the regulations is a per-meeting amount of $250 and for the chair $350. We have indicated here, I believe, that there would be a minimum meeting of three times a year, so don't expect it to be onerous in terms of the amount of meetings that take place. The addition of two or four members would not add significant costs — certainly some costs, but not significant costs — because of the limited amount that is provided for.
H. Lali: Well, that's correct. If there are only three meetings a year and you're going to add two or four people, it would not be a huge cost. But if an additional two or four members were added and the audit council was meeting ten or a dozen times a year, then you are looking at a fairly significant cost attached here.
Would the additional costs for adding additional members be covered within the $2.6 million, or would that be something that would be on top of that — that would obviously increase that budget of $2.6 million?
Hon. I. Chong: While we have already passed it, subsection 9(1)(b) indicates that the remuneration and reimbursement of members of the audit council are part of the budget of this office, so it would be included in the $2.6 million that we've allocated for this year.
The member is correct. If there were more meetings than three, there would be additional costs, but again, those costs would be covered through this budget so they would have to heed the amount of dollars that are available and not have more meetings than what their budget would allow for.
H. Lali: I'm glad that the AGLG's office would be practicing prudence and making sure that if there are additional costs as the result of additional members being added on, they would be covered within the $2.6 million budget, and we wouldn't have to go back to Treasury Board for anything extra.
My next question. Could the minister please tell us…? I know there's some criteria. I know the minister said she would like to see a representative group making up the membership of the audit council. Subsection (5) lays out some of the criteria that's there. Is there anything in
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addition to that that the minister would be considering for the membership of the audit council?
Hon. I. Chong: Perhaps it's easiest for me to share with the member that the membership of the audit council for the auditor general for local government was posted. Part of the posting listed competencies, that audit council members needed to possess some core competencies, such as "…knowledge, skills, education or experience in one or more of the following areas" — and it goes on to list them.
The audit council members may also possess other competencies: "managerial consulting, such as change management and stakeholder engagement" or some experience in "human resources, such as executive search and performance management." There could be as a part of the core competencies, as well, "legal expertise and previous leadership experience" — all with the goal of ensuring that with those core competencies they do understand "governance of the province, local and regional governance, accounting or auditing," which are very important. As I say, they are monitoring the performance of the auditor general.
Those are some of the requirements. This is a public posting and is followed through our board resourcing office — how they receive applications and ensure that these competencies are considered. I mentioned earlier that if we needed to expand the size of the audit council because a subject area set out in the regulations would require, perhaps, a particular expertise — because the auditor general's office was conducting more audits, that would be helpful for an audit council in, as I say, reviewing that work — to understand some of the performance audits being conducted.
Where an engineer could be helpful, this is where we would take a look. That would be a subject area, as I say, as set out in regulation, and that's how that could be increased. But generally speaking, the core competencies have been listed and posted for people who want to be considered for the audit council positions.
H. Lali: I should know this. But I know the minister, for a number of years, was responsible for the Public Service Agency. I don't know if that's still a part of her…. No, it's not. Having said that, we've had some debates in the past several years on the Public Service Agency and the need for equity hire.
I was wondering if the minister or cabinet has given any thought that we should also be, as a part of this, looking for folks from the equity groups: women, visible minorities, aboriginal people, people with disabilities, GLBT and youth. Those are a number of areas where those are the disadvantaged groups. What better opportunity, if you're composing an audit council, to actually have that as one of the criteria?
Under subsection (5), you've got (a), (b), (c), (d), (e). Have an (f) that says "a member or members from equity groups." Why wasn't that considered, and would the minister be willing to consider that?
Hon. I. Chong: In assisting with the posting for these positions, we did help develop a matrix for the importance of the core competencies as well as request that they do consider gender balance; regional balance; diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and geography.
But at the end of the day, the applicants themselves will need to possess some of these core competencies. Sometimes, while in ordinary circumstances you may wish to have, perhaps, as the member mentioned, youth on this, if a youth has no experience or core competencies in these areas, it may be much more difficult to look at someone who, for example, has just come out of high school to serve on an audit council — who has very limited or no knowledge of governance of the province, local government, regional governance, accounting or auditing.
It may happen, but again, the objective here is to ensure that we have those core competencies covered off. But we did indicate to board resourcing that we did want them to consider the very issues that the member has raised.
H. Lali: I mean, generally speaking, when it comes to youth, the minister may be correct. But a youth up to 26 years of age, coming fresh out of university, who was on, let's say, the university student body and had a fairly significant role — and that is governance at the university level — could still have that experience. One ought not to just rule them out. Now, tell me. Has the ad for the audit council gone out yet or not? Just simply nod yes or no.
Hon. I. Chong: Just on the member's last comments, I did not suggest that we would exclude youth, but I indicated that, for example, if someone was just out of high school with no experience, they would fail on a number of the competency areas. But as the member knows, because we both have served on councils before, we have seen young people get elected to councils as young as 19.
By the time they're 23, they could have quite the experience, and if they had applied to serve on the audit council and they met the other core competencies, they could very well be considered. I was not suggesting they would be excluded, but I would expect it would be more rare than often.
The audit council posting has already been out there. It was posted early in February. I believe it closed at the end of February with respect to people who were interested. I think we, as well, put out a news release at the time. We did try to bring some profiles for people who were interested in serving on the audit council.
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I can't advise the member at this point how many applicants there have been for the audit council, but I have heard that there was quite some interest in the positions that were there. I am not directly involved in the interviewing of the audit council members, as I've indicated to the member.
H. Lali: So the ad has gone out. Has a closing date passed on that? Yes? Okay.
Could the minister then tell me if, in the ad itself, there was any mention of diversity or folks from the equity groups — I'm not saying as a preference, but an inclusion — to be appointed as audit council members? Was that a part of the ad? If a copy of the ad is available, could we get one for the opposition?
Hon. I. Chong: This posting was on the website, and if the member requires, we could certainly send a copy over to him, but as I say, it was publicly available on the website.
In looking at it, there is nothing specific in this posting with respect to the items that the member has mentioned. However, because the board resourcing and development office is involved in this process, when they develop a matrix, especially a competency matrix such as I've indicated, what they do is use one that does consider the gender balance, the diversity, as the member has indicated, but it was not specific in the posting that was made public on the website. We will endeavour to get a copy to the member.
K. Corrigan: In the UBCM convention policy paper No. 1 from last year, on the municipal auditor general, I'll quote from page 15, wherein the policy paper that was presented to the UBCM says: "AGs" — auditor generals — "and municipal auditor generals typically make reports to the elected body of the government entity being audited…and most are also appointed by these same entities."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
I'm wondering why the audit council has no representation from the local governments who are the subject of the audits.
Hon. I. Chong: The audit council was not designed to be a representative body for a particular sector. Yes, I do understand that local governments are the ones who will be the beneficiaries of the reports that the auditor general prepares for these value-for-money audits. But again, it is not designed specifically so that they are the representative body and only that.
As I've indicated, the audit council is competency-based. So we will have a body of experts who are able to understand and represent all sectors, if you will, in order to assist with the performance and monitoring the performance of the auditor general.
However, as the member will note, in 18(6) there is a requirement that we must consult with UBCM, as an example, and persons or other organizations that we consider are representative. So all those who have representative interests may be consulted with respect to those members being considered for the audit council. But this is not specifically a council that is a representative body for local government.
K. Corrigan: I believe that my colleague will be asking questions about subsection 6 in a couple of minutes, so I won't jump forward to that yet.
The minister just said that the audit council "must be representative to be effective." How can the minister possibly say that an audit council appointed by government at the pleasure of cabinet, the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, which does not require that there is any local government representative, can possibly be representative in order to be effective?
Hon. I. Chong: When I was speaking earlier with regards to "representative," I indicated that the audit council members must be representative of particular competencies and of expertise. If she understood that to be otherwise, then I apologize. But it is not that audit council members were to be representatives of a particular sector — therefore, not necessarily of local government and not necessarily of business.
The representation that we are seeking is…. They are representative of those particular competencies and expertise, as I've indicated earlier — the necessity to have core competencies for this particular body to be able to monitor the performance of an auditor general.
K. Corrigan: I am privileged to sit on the Public Accounts Committee of this Legislature. The Public Accounts Committee is the body to which the provincial Auditor General is accountable. The provincial Auditor General is appointed by this body, which is the democratically elected body that is representing the people of British Columbia.
I'm wondering why it is that the minister made the decision to shut democracy out of this process by saying the minister is going to be the one that is going to appoint five or more people, none of whom are representative of local government — those which are being audited.
Hon. I. Chong: I would disagree with the member's comments. She's making a comparison that, while I think perhaps is easy for her to draw, is not the situation that we have before us. I have indicated that this auditor general does not report to a select standing committee because a select standing committee is accountable to this
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Legislature. The auditor general for local government is going to be dealing with local governments, not through this Legislature.
Again, I will share with the member what I shared yesterday: that the reporting structure for the auditor general aims to satisfy both independence and accountability. The independence is from the entity being audited, so it is independent from local government. The accountability is, ultimately, to the citizens.
When we spoke to UBCM, and in their policy paper, they indicated that a reporting relationship to a stand-alone board or committee could be the most compatible with local government autonomy. Their paper also identified that reporting through the Legislature was the most detrimental to local autonomy, as accountability would be linked to another order of government and not necessarily to themselves.
I know that the member may wish to rehash her comments in her second reading remarks. I understand that she and other members of her caucus don't like the way this is established, and that's fine. But again, I will say that the audit council is the body that the auditor general for local government is able to report to in terms of sharing the annual report, the service plan and, as I say, allowing that council to monitor his or her performance. That is how we have structured this position for the auditor general for local government.
K. Corrigan: Is the minister saying that when government is the one responsible for appointing all the members of the audit council…? And we'll talk about consultation, but it's not binding consultation. If government is the one that is appointing all the members of the audit council and then it is the audit council who is accountable and the auditor general is going to be appointed by the audit council, is the government saying that this is truly an independent process?
The Chair: Member, if I can draw your attention to the Blues of yesterday's debate, this issue was canvassed very extensively yesterday.
Hon. I. Chong: The independence of the audit council is important, and a number of factors will be in place to ensure that the audit council is a separate, arm's-length body. That is why the legislation does require that, as minister, I undertake certain consultations. Those consultations, as I've indicated earlier, will include consultation with UBCM and other organizations that are representative of businesses, taxpayers and local government professionals.
I may also undertake other consultations with other persons or organizations that I believe need to be consulted. I've also indicated that there is a public process for inviting applicants to the audit council through the board resourcing and development office. That posting, as I've indicated earlier, has been out in the public domain and has already concluded.
Also, audit council members will need to meet the qualifications specified in the legislation, which do require that the members have technical background in either accounting, auditing, local and regional governance or provincial governance. That, too, is in the legislation.
So the core competencies play a key role in ensuring that the audit council members are not just chosen without some regard to their expertise, their background and their competency.
K. Corrigan: I'm wondering if the minister was concerned about this being representative to be effective. I've heard the answer to the previous question on that. Nevertheless, why did the minister not choose to have the appointments made by — not in consultation with but at least some representation from — those appointed or nominated by the Union of B.C. Municipalities?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I will say to the member that there was a public process that invited all persons who were interested in serving on the audit council.
If UBCM had wished to direct what they felt were their representatives, they could have asked that those individuals apply to be considered on the audit council. If they possess the core competencies and the technical expertise and background that is necessary to be a member of the audit council, then they could well be considered for that role. But again, I will not be directing which members will be serving on the audit council.
K. Corrigan: Well, the minister may not be directing who is on the audit council, but it is going to be the Lieutenant-Governor…. It's going to be her colleagues in cabinet — which is a behind-doors process — that are going to be making the ultimate decision. That was not an answer to the question — that you're not going to be directing….
I guess that is the answer. You're just simply saying that there will be no direction.
This government has made the decision that there is no local government representation on the audit council, and I think that is unacceptable, entirely unacceptable. It was a decision that I think was probably made for the reason that the government wants to be able to control the process, to have control.
Same thing as TransLink. TransLink was a democratically elected board. Government didn't like what TransLink was doing. It was not getting its way. So it decided to do exactly this and appoint those members, private members, with no representation from local government. Is that the reason that this minister is making the decision to go this way?
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The Chair: Member, again I caution you that this issue was well canvassed yesterday. Please check the Hansard Blues.
H. Lali: I was listening to the remarks of my colleague from Burnaby, and the analogy drawn is very appropriate and pertinent to this section.
My question is…. The minister said earlier on that she wanted this body, the audit council, to be a representative group. Also, to one of the questions that the member from Burnaby asked, the minister replied that the audit council is not designed to be a representation of a particular sector.
But at the same time, when you look at the criteria that the minister has read and what's here in the bill itself, all of it seems to point to one particular sector, and that is the one sector from where this whole demand for a municipal auditor general came. Subsequently, the Premier made a backroom deal with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
When you look at the criteria, it all points to the skill set and the experience that would mean that people from the business community…. The accounting background, all of that, is what is going to be preferred.
So just like the new TransLink board that is a bunch of Liberal political appointees, you're going to get an audit council which is also going to be a bunch of Liberal appointees that are going to placate the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. This is what's happening here with this audit council.
I know that my colleagues asked the question about why there was no representation from the UBCM group or their representative body or from municipalities and regional districts. The minister has given a non-answer, so I'm not going to go in that direction.
But why is it that the criteria do not include representation from the thousands of employees that work for municipalities and regional districts? Why is it that there is no criteria that points to a direction that: "Yes, we're open to representation, perhaps, from the workforce that works for municipalities and regional districts"?
They have lots of experience in the field. Yes, they've managed budgets as well, their particular budgets. A superintendent of public works, or somebody who's in charge of parks, or folks that actually have been working for 20 or 30 or 35 years as employees, through whatever labour group that happens to represent them. But there's no such criteria pointing in that direction.
Why is it that the minister has excluded folks who work for municipalities and regional districts to have them sit on the audit council as well?
Hon. I. Chong: I want to make it clear that there have been no exclusions. The issue of representation is one that…. As I clarified, this audit council will be representative of particular competencies and expertise. This is not a representative body for any particular sector. I stated that earlier, and I'll repeat that for the record to ensure that members have heard that.
We have consulted with LGMA, which is the Local Government Management Association; with GFOA, which is the Government Finance Officers Association; with UBCM, Union of B.C. Municipalities; with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce; with the B.C. Business Council; and with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. So we have consulted with business groups. We have consulted with organizations associated with local government.
In subsection 18(5), we have stated here: "In order for a person to be appointed as a member of the audit council, the person must have knowledge, skills, education or experience in one or more of the following areas…." And they are listed: "(a) accounting; (b) auditing; (c) governance of the Province; (d) local and regional governance; (e) a subject area set out in the regulations."
If the member is suggesting that those individuals that he's listed that could serve on the audit council…. They are not excluded. They were welcome to have submitted their names. They may easily fit in one or more of these areas. They could well be selected to be on the audit council.
Again, I indicated to the member earlier that I will not be the one interviewing for the audit council. So at this point I am not aware of how many of those individuals that the member has alluded to have applied to serve on the audit council. It is an open competition.
H. Lali: It's, "Leave it up to the folks who come up and apply," yet when it comes to the business side of things, all the criteria are geared towards that one sector.
The minister said earlier on that the audit council is not designed to be a representation of a particular sector. Yet the criteria are all geared towards a particular sector, and that's the business group. The folks that actually support this Liberal government and the party come election time — that's the group that is being represented here time and time again. It's there in black and white in the criteria.
The minister keeps saying it's not her job to go out there and find people from different groups. Yet all the criteria are directed towards finding people from the business sector. The minister said they are not excluding anybody. But why are the criteria that are developed, which the minister had a hand in signing off on, exclusionist?
Hon. I. Chong: Well, the member is wrong. The areas of competency that I've listed can include members who serve in local government.
One very good example is the GFOA, Government Finance Officers Association. They are the people who work in local government. They are exactly the people that the member has indicated. They will possess accounting skills. They will possess auditing skills. They will possess local and regional governance skills. So they are not excluded. For the member to suggest that these are geared to one group is absolutely incorrect.
These are skills that are required and that members who serve in local government — members of GFOA, administrative officers, retired administrative officers — could also easily qualify for.
I know the member is determined to paint a particular picture, but I'll just say, for the record, he's wrong.
H. Lali: I beg to differ. The minister is wrong. The answer she just gave to my question that I asked further solidifies the notion that these criteria are exclusionist. That's what she's done. She's actually answered my question that the criteria are exclusionist.
Why is it exclusionist? Why are the criteria that the minister has developed exclusionist when it comes to labour groups? The minister earlier stated, two questions back, that they had a whole bunch of consultation. She rattled off a number of business groups that she had consultation with.
I would like to ask what kind of consultation the minister had with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the largest public sector union in this province and a substantial membership that actually works for municipalities and regional districts.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I remind the member that we did not just consult with business groups. I have indicated we consulted with LGMA, the Local Government Management Association, which includes people who work for local government, and GFOA, Government Finance Officers Association. We also consulted with UBCM.
The objective here is to find the persons who want to be appointed to the audit council who have particular knowledge skills, education and expertise in these core competency areas, because this will be the council, the body, that the auditor general for local government will be able to report to and have his or her performance monitored and reviewed. That is the objective of this audit council.
H. Lali: The minister continues to solidify the notion that her criteria were exclusionist. I asked the question specifically to the minister of what dialogue, what consultation she had with the Canadian Union of Public Employees. That was my question. The minister came up and rattled off, again, a number of institutions, organizations that are from the management or the business side of things — tries to say the LGMA is somehow Canadian Union of Public Employees.
That's my question. There are workers who are represented through particular unions at the municipal and regional district level, so I'm going to give the minister another chance.
Will the minister please categorically state in this House if she met or consulted with the Canadian Union of Public Employees when terms of setting up the criteria…? She said she met with a whole bunch of other groups and consulted with them. My question is: has she met with the Canadian Union of Public Employees regarding setting up these criteria and the audit council?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, to reiterate: the audit council is not a representative council of a particular sector. The objective is to have audit council members who are representative of particular competencies and expertise.
If the member suggests that someone who is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has these specific competencies, he or she was able to apply for the posting that was made available. There are people, I'm sure, who work for CUPE who have accounting skills, who have auditing skills, who have local and regional governance. They could easily have submitted their name for the appointment to the audit council.
Again, I don't know how many people have, in terms of how many people were interested in that area. I don't know if, again, there have been people from all sectors who considered serving on the audit council.
I am anxiously awaiting to find out who those audit council members are. It was an open process, and it was competency-based.
H. Lali: Again the minister says that the onus is on people to come forward and apply. When it comes to workers who work in municipalities and regional districts, they are not welcome to apply. When it comes to people from equity groups…. That's not in the criteria either.
Yet so much of what municipalities and regional districts do on a day-to-day basis affects their First Nations neighbours, and so much of what First Nations do in terms of administration of their finances and day-to-day activities affects regional districts and municipalities. Yet there is no requirement or any criteria that would be friendly towards, actually, folks from equity groups such as First Nations to be welcomed to apply for the audit council.
In environment — I mean, municipalities and regional districts care as much about the environment as anybody else, and yet there is no effort being made to welcome applications for the audit council from all of those groups.
The minister's criteria screams from the rooftops to business entities and business organizations, and says: "You are welcome to sit on the audit council." Yet when it comes to First Nations, it's not there. When it comes
[ Page 10401 ]
to folks from other equity groups, it's not there. When it involves the UBCM, the welcome mat is not there. When it comes to workers who work for municipalities and regional districts, the welcome mat is not there.
It just goes on and on. This government has designed the audit council for one purpose and one purpose only. That is for the Premier's payoff to CFIB and business entities who supported her in her leadership to become the leader of the Liberal party.
This is the backroom deal. This is the TransLink deal that was done under the Ministry of Transportation that got rid of a democratically elected body and put in political appointees. This is the political payoff to business interests because of the Premier's backroom deal that she made during her leadership campaign.
This is what's happening. I want to ask the minister: why is it that she is not extending the welcome mat to First Nations, to environmentalists, to the workers at municipalities and regional districts and all of the other equity groups? Why is the welcome mat not there for them, but the welcome mat is there for business and business organizations?
Hon. I. Chong: The member wants to make particular allegations. I know he feels he is protected within the walls of these chambers. If he wants to make those allegations out in the hallways where that protection is not afforded to him, then he should do so.
What I will remind him is what the purpose of the audit council is. Under section 19, which we're not at, the audit council is responsible for recommending to the minister a qualified individual to be appointed to be the auditor general, and also to recommend to the minister "a person to be appointed as acting auditor general," recommending the suspension or removal of the auditor general, should that be the case.
It goes on and on. I'm not going to read all of it for the record because I know we can get into that.
Once again, if the member is suggesting that people are being excluded, he's absolutely wrong. A public posting has gone out. A news release went out. Anyone can apply.
For the member to suggest that you have to go out and shake the leaves to get people to apply is incorrect. People who are interested in this position have the ability to apply. It was a public posting.
Again, the audit council is not to be representative of a particular sector of a particular organization. It is to be representative of particular competencies and expertise, which I have listed on a number of occasions now as to what those are. People from all backgrounds, diversities and skill sets, if they have these core competencies, are able to apply.
They will be competing with people who are interested in this role, and if they are successful, they will likely be appointed to the audit council. I can't make it more simple than that to the member. If he wishes to continue to raise the same questions, hon. Chair, I'll take a direction. I've answered his questions.
H. Lali: I would beg to differ with the minister. The minister hasn't answered the question. The minister won't admit to the obvious, that this is going to be a business-laden group, and the criteria is geared towards that way. If you are First Nations or an environmentalist or somebody who is a worker, you are not welcome. That is what the criteria screams from the rooftops.
The minister knows it. The minister says to me that I say things in here — that this is a backroom deal that was made with the Premier and the business groups, and now it's payoff — and is telling me to go outside to say it. I have been saying these things for years. I'm not afraid to say it out in the halls. I've said it.
Anyway, we are not going to get anywhere with the minister on this issue. It's pretty obvious. She's got her little message box, and it's not going to get out from there.
But anyway, one of the subsections under section 18 also sets out the requirements for the designation of a chair and vice-chair. Could the minister tell me: what is their pay in relation to the general membership of the audit council?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm not sure what clarification the member is seeking here. Obviously, this is an audit council. Like any committee or council, you'll need a chair. So there will be a chair that is designated, and then the chair will be able to designate one of the members to be vice-chair of the council.
H. Lali: Subsection (4) says: "An appointment under subsection (2) may be made for a term of up to 3 years" — for the audit council — "and different terms may be set for different members." Why is that in there? Why have different term limits for different members? Why not keep it all uniform and have everybody for the three or five or whatever years the minister wants to have?
Hon. I. Chong: The member will know, because I know he has served on boards in the past, that this is for continuity purposes so that boards have staggered terms to allow for different members to come on and others come off. Not all members would expire at the same time so that we would have to refresh the board with all new members. This will, as I say, assist in continuity.
H. Lali: My final question on this subsection before my colleague for Burnaby–Deer Lake will be asking some questions.
I asked previously why the minimum number of folks on the audit council would be five. The minister said that she has the authority to then maybe go to an additional
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two or four more members. I'm wondering if that is put in there because if the first five don't listen to government and end up actually voting with their conscience or coming out and doing their work honestly, as opposed to the political objectives of the government…. That is designed to actually put some additional members on there in order to balance it in the favour of the objectives the government wants, or the CFIB and business groups, as opposed to actually doing the work of the people of British Columbia or people represented by municipalities and regional districts.
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated earlier, the minimum of five does provide for us to have additional members included should we determine that there is a need. The audit council, in fact, may determine that there is a need to bring in someone with additional expertise that would be of assistance to the audit council and therefore, if the need arises, to allow the audit council to be expanded to a greater number.
I just want to let the member know that I'm not saying that the first audit council will, in fact, be five members. It could start with seven. It could even start with nine. Again, that will depend upon the number of applicants who have come forward — the range of expertise that they are providing, their knowledge and their skill sets, their education — based on, as I say, some core competencies.
If it's determined that there is a good number of individuals that possess a number of these core competencies and that there is a desire to have more than five and start with seven, that could very well be. But the objective here was to have at least a minimum of five members.
K. Corrigan: I just want to go back to a couple of questions similar to the line that my colleague for Fraser-Nicola was asking a few minutes ago.
The minister has said that this audit council is not representative of any particular sector and suggested that anybody could apply. But I do want to share with the minister an experience that I had in order to demonstrate the concern about the lack of democracy on this audit council.
Recently I was speaking to some ex-colleagues of mine and suggested that somebody who recently retired and had local government experience through their research work and had been in government as well would be a really strong applicant. A group of us were standing around, and we all laughed and said: "There's not even any point in applying at all, because we know that there's not a chance in the world that somebody coming from a union is going to be appointed by this government." That was the feeling.
The minister can say, "That's not possible; everybody is welcome," but the fact is we all know that this is going to be a process that is going to favour certain people.
I wanted to ask the minister. Going back to the fact that this is not representative of any particular sector — taking the minister at her word on that, that everybody can apply — and separating that from the consultation process…. The minister was mixing the two together in the answer and saying it's not representative. I do not understand why the minister thought there was an appropriate level of consultation that was done in preparing this bill — to consult with the LGMA, to consult with chambers of commerce but not consult, as my colleague has said, with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, who have a great deal of expertise.
I'm wondering if the minister agrees or disagrees that the fact that was not done sends out the message that in fact those that are in that group, for example, need not apply because we're not interested in your opinion on this legislation.
The Chair: Member, I have cautioned you twice this morning that that issue was canvassed extensively this morning and yesterday.
Section 18 approved on the following division:
YEAS — 39
NAYS — 33
[ Page 10403 ]
On section 19.
H. Lali: We'll just wait for everybody to clear out.
The Chair: No, please continue.
H. Lali: I'll just give a few seconds for the staff to have a seat.
This section 19 actually lays out in detail the role of the audit council. It sets out some of the responsibilities of the audit council, anywhere from basically looking for a qualified auditor general and acting auditor general, also recommending to the auditor general changes to the annual service plan, commenting also on the auditor general's performance audit report or the annual report or any other reports that are prepared by the auditor general.
It also provides a statement for inclusion in the annual report, considering matters requested by the auditor general, disseminating information about recommendations made in the performance audits and also reviewing and monitoring the performance of the auditor general, including with respect to the annual service plan.
This is quite far-reaching, hon. Chair. It establishes another level of bureaucracy, and this section actually details it as to the extent of what that bureaucracy is going to be. I've commented earlier that this is totally an unnecessary group that is being set up — because we have so much that is already there under the municipal charter, the Local Government Act, the inspector of municipalities, the provincial Auditor General — that this is a waste of $2.6 million. I would like to ask the question to the minister. When I'm reading from the list of responsibilities laid out here, this is something that the Select Standing Committee on Finance of this Legislature would look at.
Why is it that the government did not actually put all these responsibilities and shuffle them off to the committee of this Legislature, which meets on a regular basis? It meets year-round to look at all sorts of programs, all sorts of statements and audits, all sorts of reports. They do that on a regular basis, and they have supporting staff there as well as members from this House. Why not actually have this be done by the Select Standing Committee on Finance?
Hon. I. Chong: I've indicated to the member in my past comments that the select standing committee reports to the Legislature. The auditor general for local government is not reporting to the Legislature, and that's why a select standing committee is not in use.
H. Lali: Well, certainly, the Select Standing Committee on Finance can be empowered to do this, if the minister so chose, or the cabinet, rather than going through a political partisan route, really.
This audit council is going to be comprised of a bunch of Liberal partisans because the criteria are set out in that way. Rather than trying to meet a political partisan objective of this government, why not actually try to meet the needs of those member municipalities or folks at the UBCM or the general public or whoever it might be who feels that there ought to be more accountability?
Have this role be given to the Select Standing Committee on Finance of this Legislature, where it will be truly independent, as opposed to the partisan way in which the audit council is going to be selected and the partisan way in which the audit council is going to do its deliberations. Actually have it truly independent, and fire this off to the Select Standing Committee on Finance.
Would the minister be willing to go to cabinet and talk to the Premier and cabinet and strike up the Finance Committee to actually do what is outlined here in the responsibilities of the role of the audit council?
Hon. I. Chong: My answer is the same. Select standing committees report to the Legislature. The auditor general for local government does not report to the Legislature. Local governments are not represented through the Legislature.
I just want to be clear, hon. Chair. Under our model, having an audit council of impartial experts actually puts some distance between the auditor general for local government and both the provincial government and the local governments being audited. Unlike having the auditor general for local government reporting to the Legislature, as the member would like to have, the audit council model achieves a better balance, in terms of respecting local governments as an order of government in their own right, directly accountable to their citizens.
Noting the hour, I move committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:53 a.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. I. Chong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
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The House adjourned at 11:55 a.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); P. Pimm in the chair.
The committee met at 10:08 a.m.
On Vote 14: ministry operations, $52,314,000 (continued).
The Chair: Good morning. We're currently considering the budget estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture.
L. Popham: Good morning. Yesterday we finished off the estimates with me canvassing the ALC and the movement of enforcement and the direction that the commission and the ministry will be going. My final question yesterday was around the initiatives for encouraging farming and protecting farmland. I asked the minister what exactly the new measures would entail.
I guess I would like more of a specific answer. I found the answer yesterday to be a bit vague, considering that there has been funding issued to the ALC for that initiative. If I could have a bit more of a definition, that would be great.
Hon. D. McRae: We're talking about in terms of the proactivity — we want engagement by the chair, which we've seen, moving around the province, visiting various communities. We want engagement by the panels. The panels have members drawn from all areas of the province and, indeed, the hard-working staff of the ALC continue to expand their outreach with both communities, local government, definitely, ag advisories around the province and farming groups, whether they are formalized or not, that exist throughout the province of British Columbia.
We're basically looking for a way to break down some of the difficulties in the farming community. We're looking to improve aspects not so much with enforcement, though that's definitely a piece of it, but compliance. Enforcement is the end of the road, but compliance means just making sure best practice is followed prior to having an issue come to light.
We want to encourage education, and we want to basically encourage communities and the like to be proactive in their efforts to create and foster good farming practice in British Columbia.
L. Popham: All that sounds good. I'm wondering how exactly that would be measured. The Ministry of Agriculture service plan doesn't have any performance measures for the ALC. Why not, and is that something that you're looking at?
Hon. D. McRae: I'm sure, as the member knows, the ALC is not required to have a service plan separately but is included in the Ministry of Agriculture service plan. One of the problems we've had over the last several years is just the incredible number of applications the ALC has received — anywhere from 600 to 800 applications per year — which becomes a problem in terms of making a proactive organization become more reactive.
The strategies that the ALC is working towards include issues like encouraging local governments to engage in discussions with the ALC, in planning staff early in land use planning processes, encouraging local governments and other land use agencies to develop agriculturally sympathetic land use planning, review ALR boundaries in select areas of the province, becoming involved in major projects at the early conceptual development stage, and research and assess emerging issues that impact the agricultural land base.
With the new dollars that have been injected into the ALC, we're looking to develop these measurables from these strategies.
L. Popham: I understand that…. Page 21 of the Ministry of Agriculture service plan — the minister is trying to align that with encouraging farming, but I'm still having trouble figuring out how this will be measured. There are between 600 and 800 applications. We covered yesterday that that reduction in applications will not result in any cost savings at all. So as far as measuring the effects on the ALC, how will we know that the number of applications will be reduced and that this is actually the cause of the reduction?
Hon. D. McRae: We have no control over the number of applications that will come in, obviously. We base it on historical precedence and how the ALC was able to work within its fiscal framework and mandate. However, with some of the legislative changes that were brought in last fall, we are of the belief that there will be a lesser number. However, we cannot, with a crystal ball, predict the future number of applications that are coming in.
L. Popham: That concerns me, because the legislation was changed in order to reduce the number of applications. So I'm wondering: how will the minister know
[ Page 10405 ]
that the number has been reduced due to the legislative changes?
Hon. D. McRae: We work very closely with the ALC, and the organization and their staff is not large, as the member opposite knows. There are just over 20. However, the reality is that we can work with the ALC to get both their anecdotal and their actual number of applications coming in.
Again, the reality is that we know what the world was like, looking back. Looking forward, we know farming is going to be a very important lens in British Columbia. However, whether it is an exclusion application, a sightline subdivision or some other issue, non-farm use, we can't control the various farmers or landowners across the province and as their applications come forward.
However, these decisions were not made lightly. They were not made solely within the Ministry of Agriculture. These decisions were made with close consultation with the ALC. I'm going to rely on their experience, their multiple years of experience, including by….
I must apologize. I have to introduce, to my right, Brian Underhill, who is the executive director of the Agricultural Land Commission who I think started working in the Agricultural Land Commission roughly when I was leaving elementary school — no disrespect there, sir. We're glad to have your experience here and the share of your wisdom and hoping that we can use these dollars to better promote farming and preserve farmland in British Columbia.
L. Popham: May I suggest that the minister considers a measurement tool, because legislative changes are quite onerous, and they do take up a lot of time. If we don't have a measurement tool in place to make sure that the legislative changes were working…. That concerns me.
We'll move on to the user fees. "Begin the transition to a more self-supporting operating model by 2013 and prepare to augment provincial funding by charging certain fees." So my first question here is: who would be the target for the new fee structure?
Hon. D. McRae: Right now we are waiting for the ALC to come forward, working with the Ministry of Agriculture, to talk about the fee structure, but it hasn't really been solidified yet. There still needs to be a whole bunch of consultation with the various stakeholders who use services from the ALC.
However, when the report does come forward it will also include consultation with the user groups, whether they be local government, the farming community or others who take part in the important work that the ALC does.
L. Popham: The transition time is starting, I would say, last November, when the legislative changes came in. When would the commission implement the first set of fees under the new structure?
Hon. D. McRae: We haven't had the consultations yet. So I think to prejudge when the fees will be charged would be premature at this stage.
L. Popham: Does the minister have any idea how this would affect revenue to the commission?
Hon. D. McRae: Currently the majority of fees were set in the ALC back in 1992. That's the baseline we work from. So to quickly do the math, that's two decades ago. Some minor changes were made to the fee structure in 2002, but I will highlight the word "minor." But for the member opposite, the fees are intended to be a cost recovery fee to address services provided by the organization.
L. Popham: Well, it clearly states that the fees would help move the commission into a self-supporting operation, so I'm not sure why we don't have any estimates on the predicted revenue that that would bring in. I don't see that in the estimates.
We've established that the reduction of applications would not improve the fiscal situation for the commission. There is no cost savings. We don't have a measurement tool, and we don't know how much revenue would be generated by fees. Given that the budget for the Agricultural Land Commission has not changed this year, I don't understand how that transition is going to take place.
Hon. D. McRae: I just want to reassure the member that the measures made with legislation and dollars and fee structure are not about saving money. It's about creating capacity of the ALC. Again, the fees will hopefully be designed, when they are completed and consultation is done, addressing cost recovery. I want to remind the member as well that we have injected the $1.6 million as a two-year transition plan and, with those dollars and during this time, measurements are, as I stated earlier, being developed that will address some of the concerns raised earlier.
L. Popham: I just would like to make it clear that the budget for the Agricultural Land Commission has not changed in the estimates. That's clear. I confirmed that at the beginning of these estimates. The budget has not changed. I do not see anything in the estimates budget that reflects the injection, but I'll be canvassing that later.
I'm going to move on to the regional panels — to "ensure greater consistency and consideration of the ALC's core values in regional panel decision-making by increasing the oversight of the chair of the ALC." Can the min-
[ Page 10406 ]
ister please tell me what the cost difference is in having regional panels versus a provincial panel?
Hon. D. McRae: We have made a decision with the ALC that having regional panels is a good practice in British Columbia. For a province twice the size of France, it is important to have some regional expertise around the table. In theory, you could have decisions being made, I guess, by one individual. I don't think that would be appropriate either.
For that reason, it's important that we have the regional panels. That's where I'm pleased to say that the $1.6 million that was brought in through contingencies last year — roughly $600,000 last year, $975,000 this year — allows the regional panels to be active in their deliberations. It also gives that transition time as they move towards the potential new fee structure which allows them to be self-sustaining.
L. Popham: Given the report by the Agricultural Land Commission chair, I don't see support for the current system right now. In fact, the support was to move to a single panel. So I'm wondering: did the minister override the chair's suggestion or recommendation for other reasons?
Hon. D. McRae: The $1.6 million that was injected into the ALC through contingencies was unexpected. With that $1.6 million injection into the ALC, the chair was very confident that both last year and this year and into transition time the ALC would be well positioned to do the work it does in British Columbia.
L. Popham: My question is clear. Is it more or less financial commitment to have a single panel or one provincial panel?
Hon. D. McRae: Conversations we've had with the chair, and I've had many conversations with the chair, combined with the legislative changes and the dollars injected…. The chair and the panel members I've met — and I've met pretty much all of them multiple times now — are supportive of these changes in the ability to do their job for the province of British Columbia, protecting farmland and enhancing farming.
L. Popham: So 2003 to 2004 up until 2008-2009 the cost of operating the commission under the regional panel system doubled. Can the minister please tell me: is it going to cost the commission more to sustain the regional panel systems, or would it be a cost savings and be more effective as a panel to go down to the single-panel system?
Hon. D. McRae: As I said earlier, cost-savings wise, it probably would be cheaper to have one panel. However, the member, in her opening remarks yesterday, mentioned her travels around the province of British Columbia. To not have individuals who at least have some knowledge that perhaps the Peace River is a little bit different than Kamloops, as it is to, perhaps, the Lower Mainland, might be disrespectful to the farming communities.
This allows, I would think, a better regional understanding of farming issues in the agriculture community that the ALC has to deal with. I think the decision to have a regional panel and system, as it has been for a very long period of time, is the right one, providing they have the dollars to do so. That's, again, why I'm pleased that the $1.6 million provided last year through contingencies allows them to do their work.
L. Popham: Given that the budget for the Agricultural Land Commission hasn't changed in the budget estimates for this year, it makes me curious why we wouldn't be making decisions to save the commission money. Does the minister feel that the recommendations that came through in the Agricultural Land Commission chair's report around the regional panel system — the very, very in-depth conversation that he had with stakeholders — mean nothing to the Ministry of Agriculture?
Hon. D. McRae: Without hesitation I will say that I have had many conversations with the chair of the ALC and with his report. Because we have changed the field with…. Although the member opposite will talk about the budget staying the same for the ALC, she will not address the $1.6 million of new money that has been injected into the ALC over the last two years nor the transition planning that allows the ALC to be more self-sufficient going forward.
If I felt that the chair was not supportive of the changes that were made, I would not have had them come forward. He is supportive. He has said so publicly; he has said so privately. If the member chooses to, she can give him a call, and she can find out where he stands on these as well. If I'm wrong, we'll talk about that.
L. Popham: What functions of the commission are being compromised as a result of the commission not being provided with an increase in its budget to cover the increased costs of maintaining regional panels?
Hon. D. McRae: I think it's fair to say that with the legislative changes and the transitional funding, the $1.6 million that was injected last year — $600,000 last year, $975,000 this year — it has not been compromised. The ALC is better able to do the work today than it was last year and the year before.
L. Popham: Does the minister feel that the issue of conflict of interest pertains to the regional panels over a
[ Page 10407 ]
single provincial panel?
Hon. D. McRae: I'm sure that's why the member was very supportive of the changes brought in, because prior to the legislative changes, the regional panels did not actually have proper oversight by the chair. The legislative changes brought in last fall for the ALC actually give the chair that oversight in case there is that conflict of interest arising. I would hope it will not, but if it did happen, the chair has the ability to make sure that there is not a situation where a conflict of interest occurs.
L. Popham: The $1.6 million that the minister speaks of is to support the regional panel system?
Hon. D. McRae: In part, yes.
L. Popham: I'm curious as to where in the estimates for this year's budget for the government the accounting for the $1.6 million is.
Hon. D. McRae: The dollars are from the Ministry of Finance's contingency vote. For more details, it would be best to canvass the Ministry of Finance.
L. Popham: Where would that money show coming into the budget for the Ministry of Agriculture?
Hon. D. McRae: It would be found in Vote 45 for the Ministry of Finance, which is contingencies (all ministries) and new programs, and it will show up in Public Accounts, which get published in July, I believe.
L. Popham: So if it's in contingency Vote 45, does this mean that this government's commitment of additional provincial funding is simply a one-time contribution of $1.6 million to the commission and not a permanent increase? I'm asking that because we've already canvassed the idea that the cost recovery structure using fees is simply to cover off the costs of processing applications.
I'm curious to know how the commission will continue on, given that this is possibly just a one-time injection. Given that the minister continues to mention the $1.6 million in our estimate debates…. I think that if I want to canvass $1.6 million and where it's coming from, referring me to the Ministry of Finance doesn't work. The $1.6 million has to come into the Ministry of Agriculture somewhere. So is this a one-time injection, and why would it not continue?
Hon. D. McRae: I never claimed otherwise. It is a two-year transition dollar amount that allows the ALC to work on the opportunity for charging fees in a cost recovery manner. However, the consultations have not occurred, and I'm not sure where that will take us. If it becomes an issue, I'm afraid that maybe I'll take all of the questions to do with the $1.6 million, and we'll talk about having the Minister of Finance answer those questions later.
L. Popham: Well, I am going to continue with the $1.6 million questioning because every answer that the minister has given me has included that, even though this $1.6 million is not in the Ministry of Agriculture budget estimates. That's what the minister put forward to me. I have stated right from the very beginning of this estimate process that the budget has not changed. So can the minister please tell me where that will show up in the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture?
Hon. D. McRae: The $1.6 million is not in the base budget for the ALC. It will show up again in Public Accounts in July as a contingency spent for the ALC as it goes forward.
L. Popham: The Ministry of Agriculture estimates process involves looking at the budget for the Ministry of Agriculture for the coming year. Is the budget that is presented by this government for the Ministry of Agriculture a false budget?
Hon. D. McRae: No.
L. Popham: So where is the $1.6 million for the Agricultural Land Commission showing up in this budget?
Hon. D. McRae: On page 45 of the blue book we have the base budget of $1.974 million for the ALC. On page 165, under "Voted Appropriations," Vote 45 — contingencies (all ministries) and new programs, there is an estimation of $300 million to be spent. So $975,000 of that $300 million will be to the ALC.
L. Popham: So when we're moving through the estimates and looking at this budget, how can we approve the Ministry of Agriculture budget, given that $1.6 million is missing?
Hon. D. McRae: The $1.6 million is not base funding. It is in other appropriations and is in the government's fiscal plan, which will be approved later on this year.
L. Popham: Does the Agricultural Land Commission fall under the Ministry of Agriculture budget?
Hon. D. McRae: Yes. Vote 14 is ministry operations. Vote 15 is Agricultural Land Commission. I'm also pleased to say that Vote 45, which is contingencies and
[ Page 10408 ]
new programs, will also include in the coming financial year $975,000 from the Ministry of Finance through to the ALC.
L. Popham: Well, I'd like to put on the record that I'm going to have a hard time approving this budget, given that $1.6 million missing from the Ministry of Agriculture budget, if the Agricultural Land Commission falls under the Ministry of Agriculture.
I would like to have an update, a status report, on each of the eight recommendations contained in the ALC review.
Hon. D. McRae: Just for the record, this year it will only be $975,000, not $1.6 million. Of the total $1.6 million, the $625,000 was approved last year in the budget.
As for the eight recommendations from the ALC chair's report, I guess my question to the Chair would be: is this relevant to the budget?
The Chair: In answer to that question, we are definitely straying into policy in that direction. So just be very careful along that line.
L. Popham: I actually do think it falls under this vote. The reason is that the Ministry of Agriculture references the $1.6 million of funding going towards the ALC to encourage farming and to protect farmland. These action items, recommendations, would fall under that.
I believe it falls under the $1.6 million that the minister is alluding to, so yes, I think it does fall under this vote. Can the minister give me a status update on the eight recommendations?
Hon. D. McRae: Well, the member opposite doesn't seem to always like my answers. I think the best thing in this particular case may be to actually canvass the ALC itself and ask the staff and the chair for the progress report.
The Chair: Member, we will go back to the original ruling. This is definitely straying into policy.
L. Popham: Thank you, Chair. I'm canvassing the budget for the Ministry of Agriculture. The first recommendation says: "The ALC has to have sufficient funding and resources to enable it to undertake targeted reviews of the ALR boundaries to ensure that the ALR is more accurate and includes land that is both capable and suitable for agricultural use." The key words there are "have sufficient funding and resources." So as far as I can tell, that's part of the budget. If the minister would please answer my question.
Hon. D. McRae: The ALC is acting on all of the recommendations from the preparer's report. I also wish to remind all members and people listening that the ALC is an independent organization, and the transitional dollars, the $1.6 million, will allow it to do its work.
I also want to bring to light that as a result of the legislation from last November, the ALC is now able to increase enforcement within the ALR. It is going to place a five-year moratorium on repeat applications. It will begin a transition to a more self-supporting model by 2013 and ensure greater consistency in consideration of the ALC's core values in regional panel decision-making by increasing the oversight of the chair of the ALC.
L. Popham: How much of the $975,000 is going towards addressing these recommendations?
Hon. D. McRae: All of the $975,000 is going towards the ALC to address issues raised in the chair's report. I'm looking forward, as well, to the Auditor General coming out and reviewing the efforts made by government, the ministry and the ALC to better do its work.
L. Popham: When will the Auditor General be coming out with that report?
Hon. D. McRae: It's an independent organization. It'll be in the Auditor General's purview.
L. Popham: How does the minister know that the Auditor General is doing a report?
Hon. D. McRae: I just said I was looking forward to it. I do not know when or if the Auditor General will decide to do this.
L. Popham: Is the minister going to be reviewing the work of the ALC?
Hon. D. McRae: One of the things I'm very pleased to say is that our office has great communication with many organizations around the province. One of them is the ALC. Whether it is talking directly to the chair myself or whether it is having staff talk with ministry officials, we are in constant communication, seeing if things are going and progressing in a timely manner and seeing how we can support.
L. Popham: How is the minister measuring the progress on the eight recommendations?
Hon. D. McRae: In June the ALC provides a report to the ministry. I'm looking forward, in the June report, to getting a status update as to progress being made on the issues raised.
L. Popham: At that point in time will the minister be
[ Page 10409 ]
going back to cabinet to request more funding for the Agricultural Land Commission?
Hon. D. McRae: No. The answer is no at this time. We are still a long way away from this fiscal year. Obviously, it will start on April 1, and June will be, well, three months later. At this stage we will continue to review, especially, aspects like the potential fee being charged for cost recovery by the ALC. Hopefully, they will move towards a self-supporting organization that works for the ALC and works for the farmland of British Columbia.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me how the $650,000 was used last year?
Hon. D. McRae: The spending by the ALC will be included in the June update that we will receive, and it will be made public. For the member opposite, it was $625,000, not $650,000, from last year.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me, of the $625,000, how much of it went towards enforcement?
Hon. D. McRae: I was under the impression that we were having discussions about the coming year's spending, not last year's spending. However, if the member opposite wishes to have details of the spending done in the previous fiscal year, it will be in the June report that will be published by the ALC in the next several months.
L. Popham: I was under the impression that the minister quotes $1.6 million, which would include the $625,000. So the minister does seem to be willing to discuss the $625,000.
The idea of the commission becoming self-sufficient and standing alone from the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture is worrisome to me. The Agricultural Land Commission is critically important to this province. The agricultural land reserve was one of the best land use tools developed as far as protecting agricultural land. The worrisome part for me in this budget is that there is no commitment to bring further funding through.
The $1.6 million should be in the Agricultural Land Commission budget. It should be an annual commitment until the time that the commission reaches the goals that the minister vaguely refers to. There have been no specific commitments as far as how we are going to become self-sufficient. The reduction of fees is not going to bring money into the Agricultural Land Commission. So can the minister give me an idea why he is confident that the commission can become self-sufficient in such a short period of time?
Hon. D. McRae: At this stage I'm confident because of the discussions I have had with ministry staff, with the chair of the ALC and with the staffers who work in the Agricultural Land Commission. However, these dollars are and were transitional dollars. As we move forward, I do not wish to predict too far into the future as to the needs of the ALC and the report or the consultations that will exist in regards to the fee structure.
L. Popham: The minister doesn't have to look too far into the future. He can look into the past and just look at a recent auditor general report that specifically talked about the underfunding of the commission. The commission has been underfunded — underfunded so much that it could not fulfil its mandate. That's a crisis with the Agricultural Land Commission. That puts our agricultural land reserve into crisis.
The issues that I have seen due to the underfunding are not just in the Fraser Valley or in the Peace River. They're in small areas of the province as well. The underfunding has hit every single part of this province as far as the inability to protect farmland properly.
My concern is that the province does not value the Agricultural Land Commission in the way it should. I would like to know if the minister feels that the funding for the Agricultural Land Commission should be an annual injection.
Hon. D. McRae: I'm pleased that my predecessors valued the ALC enough to actually encourage and ask the chair of the ALC, Richard Bullock, to write a report — a report that I thought was done very well, very thoughtfully and with consultation around the province.
I'm also very pleased with that report being published and the government action from that report, both legislative changes that have given the ALC stronger legislation to do its good work and, as well, the transitional dollars that will allow the ALC to maintain its base budget and also move towards a more self-sustaining cost recovery organization. Again, I don't want to presuppose the consultations that will exist, perhaps in the coming months, about the fee structure.
L. Popham: The idea that the legislative changes were going to allow for better protection of farmland is something that I'm questioning. Can the minister tell me how the legislative changes and the budget this year for the Agricultural Land Commission help solve the problem of fill dumping on agricultural land?
Hon. D. McRae: I'd like to comment on some of the legislative changes made last year, in the fall of 2011. The changes did allow for more capacity of the ALC to carry out compliance and enforcement. This extra capacity includes being proactive to work with local governments across the province of British Columbia.
[ Page 10410 ]
We also now have enabling legislation to deputize bylaw officers in municipalities. We're also pleased, though not part of this piece of legislation, that we have the potential to access 100 FLNRO staff to assist the ALC with their compliance and enforcement issues.
L. Popham: How many FTEs are working in enforcement under the Agricultural Land Commission?
Hon. D. McRae: It is interesting to note that in the 1990s there was no dedicated C and E staff for the ALC. In fact, the C and E staff were first brought in, in 2007. Now there are two.
Before, however, C and E still was a part of the Agricultural Land Commission. It was just done on the sides of desks using the existing staffers, but we now have two specialized individuals to help coordinate C and E and run C and E across the province.
M. Farnworth: Could I just ask that we not use acronyms, for those of us not as well versed in the issues as the minister and the critic? The full names of organizations would be really helpful for members sitting around the table, as opposed to just saying "C and E." Just a friendly….
The Chair: Thank you very much for that.
L. Popham: The interesting reference from the minister to the '90s seems a bit off base to me, as he was already chastising me for bringing up last year's estimates. So that doesn't really fly.
Does the minister believe that the legislative changes have strengthened the ALC, and does he believe that the ALC is at arm's length from the Agriculture Ministry?
Hon. D. McRae: Yes and yes, other than the fact that we do vote on…. I believe it was Vote 15 for the ALC appropriation. The ALC, I would argue, operates at arm's length.
L. Popham: Is the minister confident that the members of the government, the Liberal government, are on board with the vision of the minister when it comes to the commission being arm's-length?
Hon. D. McRae: I believe we're talking about estimates, about the budget coming forward, not policy or politics.
L. Popham: That might be the case, Minister, through the Chair. But the budget increase that the minister refers to for the Agricultural Land Commission was put in place to help strengthen the Agricultural Land Commission, so I think that the question that I asked is relevant.
Is the Liberal government on board, completely on board, with the idea that the Agricultural Land Commission and the money injected into the commission is there to strengthen the Agricultural Land Commission and to protect agricultural land?
Hon. D. McRae: I guess the best way to say…. Government or cabinet approved the dollars going to the ALC in terms of the $1.6 million, but the government of British Columbia and the private members on the B.C. Liberal side voted in favour of the legislative changes at the end of November.
L. Popham: I'm thinking that the minister is inferring that everybody is on board. I don't believe that all members think that the commission is arm's-length. I'm in receipt of a letter that was drafted by two Peace River MLAs regarding some changes to the ALC and the ALR.
Apparently, there has been a letter detailing eight areas for potential delegation. It includes proposals such as permitting proper amount of land for urban expansion; allowing automatic subdivision along creeks, roads or other topographic constraints; allowing expanded industrial use within the ALR; allowing homesite severance of ten to 15 hectares per quarter section.
The letter, which I will read out, goes as such:
"As you are aware, the two Peace River MLAs have been working with area residents, groups, the Agriculture Minister and the chair of the Agricultural Land Commission to see if there is some common ground in the Peace River regional district to address possible changes that would help process ALR applications….
"One tool available to regional boards across the province is a delegation agreement. The delegation agreement would transfer duties from the ALC to the regional district.
"On March 2, 2012, the two Peace River MLAs met with a group of local stakeholders to discuss common items that could form a basis of a delegation agreement for the Peace River regional district. The list of stakeholders accompanies this letter. The following items were discussed.
"Permit communities proper opportunities to expand and allow for special consideration if a parcel is of great benefit to a community's future plans.
"Lessen restrictions to allow subdivisions around homesites for farm family members and succession planning for purposes of approximately ten to 15 hectares per quarter section parcel of land.
"Allow subdivisions on land that is non-farmable because of creeks, railroads, roads or any other topographic restraint that prevent proper farming practices.
"Allow subdivisions on ALR lands which have low agricultural potential based on poor soil ratings.
"Expand industrial uses on ALR lands to accommodate non-farm uses that could enhance agriculture and allow approximately ten to 15 hectares per quarter section to provide flexibility.
"Reinstate the quarter section standard-size agriculture parcel, allowing sections and half sections to be subdivided down.
"The subdivision rules established in the delegation agreement should also apply to non-ALR lands."
Once I received this letter, I did make some calls. It seems as though two members of the government are trying to push for less control with the Agricultural Land Commission. In fact, they would like a release of land out
[ Page 10411 ]
of the ALC control into regional district control under a delegate agreement. My concern with this is that there's no audit of the delegation process.
Can the minister tell me how this strengthens the ALC and protects farmland?
Hon. D. McRae: Again, I don't think this relates directly to the budget that we're moving forward the following year.
I will say that the delegation agreement is something that I have talked to the chair about — not these particular details, by any means. The reality is that the province of British Columbia, being as large and vast and varied as it is…. There are delegation agreements that exist in the province, and they may be the right vehicle for a region or an area to undertake. However, this is a discussion that happens between perhaps a local government or a First Nations group and the ALC, and the work will be done, I guess, between those two bodies.
The other thing is…. I think that perhaps in the future the member opposite may ask about the oversight for these delegation agreements. Again, with the $975,000 coming forward from contingencies, it allows the ALC to better work on its oversight of the existing delegation agreements and perhaps give some strength and some support for future ones if or when they may come into effect.
L. Popham: But it is concerning that the letter states that the minister is working with this group. The Minister of Agriculture, two MLAs and the chair of the Agricultural Land Commission are working together. So how does this reinforce that the ALC is arm's-length?
Hon. D. McRae: It doesn't say that I'm working there. It says: "…the Agriculture Minister and the chair of the ALC, or Agricultural Land Commission, to see if there is some common ground in the Peace River regional district…."
One of the things I have been very impressed with about Chair Richard Bullock, especially since the dollars were injected into the ALC from contingencies, is his ability to travel the province visiting areas from the Okanagan through Vancouver Island and the Peace River, dealing with agricultural issues as they arise in the various regions of the province. If there is an opportunity, as we started earlier in these conversations today, with ag stakeholders or local governments to see if better agricultural practice can occur, I am glad that he is out there having those discussions.
As to the potential agreements that may or may not be reached in the future, that is purely speculation and, again, does not apply to the budget process as we go forward.
L. Popham: But the issue is how arm's-length the commission is. The idea that the minister, the chair, these groups and two MLAs are working together…. It seems quite odd that changes that would take control from the ALC and move it into a regional district to a delegation agreement…. Delegation agreements have not been audited in the past. We have no idea how these delegation agreements actually work.
How does that jive with the idea that the commission is arm's length and that the legislation that was passed last November is making the ALR stronger than ever? It doesn't make sense to me.
Hon. D. McRae: One of the pleasures I've had as Minister of Agriculture is travelling the province and visiting various regions of British Columbia. One thing that I come across as I travel British Columbia and visit various stakeholders in the regions — be they landowners, be they producers — is that everybody believes that their issue is separate from everybody else's, and that they are distinct in British Columbia in their needs and their desires.
The delegation agreement is a tool that was brought in about 15 years ago to allow for some addressing of regional inferences. If there is an interest in an area to have a delegation agreement, I want to make sure, as minister, that they are aware such a vehicle exists but that the agreement is between the ALC, which is independent, and that particular regional government or First Nations group.
It is not between the Ministry of Agriculture, and I think it would be a disservice to the people of British Columbia if the Minister of Agriculture did not explain the tools that the citizens of this province have available to them to make decisions based on their land use.
L. Popham: Is the minister spending his time going out and talking to communities about moving from control of the ALC into a delegation agreement?
Hon. D. McRae: Not very often, but what happens is when I visit a local area, it's amazing who you bump into. I will talk to anybody and everybody I can during that time.
If someone raises a concern that, perhaps, they believe their regional area would be better served by having more control…. You know what? The delegation agreement is a potential vehicle that could be used. That key word is "could be used." Then I encourage them in the next breath to contact the ALC and engage in those discussions to see if there is a potential for some agreement to be reached.
As for the discussions, I'm not involved in those ones whatsoever.
[ Page 10412 ]
L. Popham: When is the last time a delegation agreement was audited?
Hon. D. McRae: Right now the ALC has begun an audit of the Fraser–Fort George delegation agreement.
L. Popham: How many delegation agreements are in place around the province?
Hon. D. McRae: Three.
L. Popham: The audit that is about to take place — where are the funds for that audit coming from?
Hon. D. McRae: The Agricultural Land Commission through Vote 15 has $1.974 million. We have also injected, from contingencies, $975,000. That global funding will be used, amongst other things, to do the work of the ALC including working with delegation agreements.
L. Popham: Are all three of the delegation agreements going to be audited?
Hon. D. McRae: Yes.
L. Popham: When will that happen?
Hon. D. McRae: As I stated earlier, it is an independent organization. I do not tell them when to audit their delegation agreements. However, with the dollars available to them and the interests of the ALC, I will let them work within their mandate and their resources to audit these delegation agreements at their purview.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me exactly what delegation agreements are in place?
Hon. D. McRae: There are two in the East Kootenay regional district, and there is the one in Fraser–Fort George.
L. Popham: When were those put in place?
Hon. D. McRae: The Fraser–Fort George delegation agreement was entered into in the year 2000. The East Kootenay regional district's two delegation agreements were entered into approximately within the last five years. We don't have the exact number right in front of us at this exact second. However, the information is made public on the Agricultural Land Commission website and is there for all to see.
V. Huntington: Is there not a delegation agreement between the ALC and the Oil and Gas Commission?
Hon. D. McRae: Yes. I'm sorry. I was referring to the delegation agreements between local governments and the ALC. You are correct. There is one between the Oil and Gas Commission and the ALC.
V. Huntington: I'd like to explore that agreement, if the critic doesn't mind giving me a bit of time. What are the terms of that delegation agreement, and was money transferred from the ALC to the OGC to enable it to perform that delegated function?
Hon. D. McRae: With all due respect — and I know this may not be taken in the best of light — all this information is available on the Agricultural Land Commission website. The details you've asked are there. We are talking about Budget 2012-13. The information is readily available, and if it's not what you're looking for, by all means we'll provide.
V. Huntington: Thank you very much for that. What I would like to explore perhaps a little more, then, is whether or not the ALC has ever audited the OGC's delegated powers and to what extent the ALC retains any oversight role at all in the amount of land that the OGC is enabling non-farm use on.
[The bells were rung.]
Hon. D. McRae: I'll answer quickly.
The last audit for the Oil and Gas Commission was in 2009. However, for the member opposite, both parties — the ALC and the Oil and Gas Commission — are now re-examining the agreement in place and looking for some ways to modernize it and deal with some of the current issues they're facing.
The Chair: Noting the bell, we'll take a quick recess till after the vote.
The committee recessed from 11:39 a.m. to 11:50 a.m.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
Hon. D. McRae: Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress on the Ministry of Agriculture and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:50 a.m.
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