2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Volume 33, Number 5
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 32 — Energy and Water Efficiency Act
Hon. R. Coleman
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Victoria Cougars hockey team
Economic recovery in Burns Lake
Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House
Saanich Neighbourhood Place
Hon. S. Bond
Government video and Kitwanga mill operations
Hon. P. Bell
Coleman Road Shingle operations and log export policy
Hon. S. Thomson
Release of media correspondence with government to Eminata Group
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Summary of Ministerial Accountability for Operating Expenses, fiscal year ending March 31, 2012; revised schedule F, February 8, 2012
Orders of the Day
Point of Privilege (Reservation of Right)
Hon. R. Coleman
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 15 — Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. S. Bond
Point of Privilege (Reservation of Right)
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 15 — Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011 (continued)
Hon. S. Bond
Reporting of Bills
Bill 15 — Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 15 — Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 18 — Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Hon. G. Abbott
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Agriculture (continued)
Hon. D. McRae
Estimates: Ministry of Environment
Hon. T. Lake
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2012
The House met at 1:35 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I have two sets of introductions to make. The first one is.... I'd like the House to welcome Lisa Silverio. Lisa works in my minister's office. She's actually a new staff member, and I'd like the House to make her welcome, as well as recognize a very special guest who's with Lisa.
This person has been with me for almost a year to keep our office organized and moving efficiently, but more importantly, she always brings a heartwarming, calm energy to our office. In the chamber today is Crystal Fonk, my administrative assistant. She has decided to move on to other things, but we won't hold that against her today. Would everyone please give my two assistants a warm welcome.
I've got another set of introductions.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd like to introduce to the House four members from student unions in British Columbia — Jaraad Marani, Lucia Orser and Ben Johnson from UVic — sorry, that's three; Jeremy McElroy and Kyle Warwick from UBC; Edward Quinlan from the University of Northern B.C.; and David Clarkson from Capilano University.
I believe both sides of the House had the opportunity to meet with the students and discuss some important issues with them today. Would the House please make them welcome.
G. Gentner: It's a great deal of pleasure to introduce to the House today Mr. Carl Strand and Teri Strand, constituents of mine in Delta North. Carl is a former business agent for the Labourers, and he was inducted into the hall of fame — or he's an honorary member — of the buildings trades of British Columbia. Carl is also president of the Delta North NDP constituency association. He is also one of two members of my outstanding election sign crew, and he has never once broken any sign bylaws. Can the House please make them welcome.
Hon. K. Falcon: Joining us in the gallery today are two great entrepreneurs and two friends of mine, Ken and Jason Armstrong. This father-and-son team oversee the Sussex Insurance organization, and I understand they're B.C.'s largest ICBC agent. I would ask the House to please make them welcome.
D. Black: Today I would like to join the Minister of Advanced Education in welcoming a group of student leaders to the Legislature today. They're here to engage MLAs in a conversation about post-secondary education and the financing of post-secondary education.
Up in the gallery we have, from the University of Victoria Students Society, Jaraad Marani, Lucia Orser and Ben Johnson; from the UBC Alma Mater Society, Kyle Warwick and Jeremy McElroy; from the BCIT association, Nicola Gardner; from Capilano Students Union, David Clarkson; and from the UNBC Northern Undergraduate Student Society, Edward Quinlan. Could the House please once again make them welcome.
Hon. T. Lake: I have some guests to introduce that are here purportedly for regional district chair and CAO meetings, although I really think they're here to see the Blazers win again tonight. We have the chief administrative officer of the TNRD, Mr. Sukh Gill. We have the chair of the TNRD, Mr. Randy Murray. Also with them today is the chair of the regional district of Squamish-Lillooet, Ms. Susan Gimse. Would the House please make them very welcome.
B. Ralston: I'd invite the House to welcome Rita Werner, who's a constituent from Surrey-Whalley. Visiting the House with her is her sister, Lana Broker, who is visiting from Edmond, Oklahoma. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. S. Bond: I want to introduce today representatives of the Law Society of British Columbia who are visiting with us. They do important work in the province, obviously, as they regulate the legal profession in British Columbia. They also protect the public interest by making sure that they set and enforce standards of professional conduct for lawyers.
We're very pleased to have the president of the board of governors, Bruce LeRose, QC, with us. He is the Law Society's first president from the Kootenays in its 128-year history.
Joining him are Tim McGee, the Law Society's chief executive officer; Kathryn Berge, QC, an elected member of the Law Society's board, representing the Victoria area; and Ben Meisner, who is a publicly appointed governor of the Law Society and perhaps more well known for his role as an active journalist and media person in Prince George. Please join me in making all of them very welcome to the gallery today.
Hon. D. McRae: Today in the gallery I have a friend
from the Comox Valley joining us. Up in the gallery is Starr Winchester, a longtime resident of the north Island
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Comox Valley. Would the Legislature please make her welcome.
M. Elmore: I'd like to welcome to the House today two classes from Sir Charles Tupper high school from Vancouver-Kensington. They're accompanied by their principal, Mr. Gill; the lead teachers, organizing teachers, Ms. Burnell and Mr. Lum; as well as a counsellor, Mr. Lee; teaching assistants Heather Paris and Katherine Olsen; as well as a student teacher, Dan Cramer.
They're concluding part of their government unit of their social studies class. I'd ask the House to please make them welcome.
First Reading of Bills
BILL 32 — ENERGY AND WATER
Hon. R. Coleman presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Energy and Water Efficiency Act.
Hon. R. Coleman: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm pleased to introduce Bill 32, the Energy and Water Efficiency Act, which will reduce consumers' energy bills and lower operating costs for B.C. businesses.
This legislation will replace the current Energy Efficiency Act and will enable administrative penalties to ensure manufacturers, distributors and retailers comply with energy efficiency guidelines; broaden the scope of energy efficiency requirements to include commercial energy systems, industrial reporting and water efficiency; and enable the minister responsible to enact regulations for technical standards.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 32, Energy and Water Efficiency Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
J. McIntyre: I rise today to ask the House to join me in honouring the life of one of Squamish's iconic figures, John Drenka, who passed away last Monday, March 19, at the remarkable age of 95.
As we speak, many are gathering today at the Squamish Valley Golf Club, which he helped to co-found, enjoying the Rotary Beef BBQ, which he helped to become so famous in town, and sharing anecdotes and paying homage to a local legend and forestry pioneer affectionately known as J.D.
It was just about a year ago that the Squamish Historical Society, on their fifth anniversary, dedicated an afternoon to honouring the accomplishments of John, launching the premiere of a film about his life by local film-maker Helmut Manzl. It was filled with uproarious stories of past adventures, mixed in with some great archival photos.
J.D.'s story was a story of logging in Squamish, going back to the early days of logging with horses, prior to machines, and his then visionary introduction of the first grapple loader and first steel spar into the valley. This is along with many stories of his business adventures with his renowned partner, Pat Brennan, with whom he co-founded Squamish Mills in 1951.
But J.D.'s contribution was not only on the commercial front. He was very engaged in community life. He was instrumental in the founding of Alice Lake Provincial Park, a major attraction in the Sea to Sky corridor. He was also involved in delivering the first municipal swimming pool, with Dr. LaVerne Kindree. In addition, John was one of the founders of the Squamish Rotary as well as a past president of the Truck Loggers Association of B.C.
Will the House please join me in acknowledging the significant contributions of John Drenka and join me in extending our sympathies to his wife, Colleen, and their seven children and their respective families. He truly will be missed.
VICTORIA COUGARS HOCKEY TEAM
M. Karagianis: Today I'd like to share with the House some hometown pride. This past Saturday the Victoria Cougars came from behind to beat the Peninsula Panthers 5 to 2 and win the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League Championship, the Brent Patterson Memorial Trophy.
The Cougars won their best-of-seven series in four straight games. They finished first in regular season play over the 48 games and ranked No. 1 in the province in the regular season. The team calls the Archie Browning Sports Centre in Esquimalt their home arena. I can tell you that my community is very proud of that.
The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League is made up of eight teams from Campbell River to Victoria. The Cougars are the only team in the Victoria area owned and operated by a non-profit society.
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The team encourages the players to apply themselves to their studies. The players all balance their hockey commitments with the demands of work and school. They are winners in very many ways.
In the past seven seasons the Cougars have placed first in the standings three times and have been in second place four times. The Cougars have made it to the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League Championship series six times in the past eight years.
They've built their support too. At the beginning the games were lucky to attract 100 spectators, but now the stands at the Archie Browning are filled as greater Victoria hockey fans have come to love their Cougars.
We're all excited for what comes next. The team is heading to Abbotsford for the Cyclone Taylor Cup, the B.C. Provincial Junior B Hockey Championship, from April 12 to 15.
I hope members will join me in congratulating them on their terrific season so far and wishing them well at the provincials in Abbotsford.
Go, Cougars, go!
ECONOMIC RECOVERY IN BURNS LAKE
J. Rustad: After the tragic fire at Babine Forest Products the community of Burns Lake is looking forward to the recovery and rebuilding for the future. The mill was a significant part of the Burns Lake economy, and we need to assess how the community will move forward in the changed circumstances.
We have already come a long way. More than half of the former mill employees are re-employed, and we are continuing to pursue employment opportunities for the remaining displaced workers. We are refreshing the area's tourism strategy and exploring new opportunities for investment and expansion.
For the past three days an economic recovery team from the Economic Development Association of B.C. has met with a broad array of community stakeholders, including local, regional, First Nations, forestry, tourism, skills training, businesses and a variety of other community members.
Based on these meetings, the team performed a SWOT analysis to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats involved in the economic transition and recovery of Burns Lake. From this analysis, the team will compose an economic transition action plan for Burns Lake with long-term recommendations for development. I look forward to their final report.
I am proud of the way Burns Lake has come together in a united effort to renew and strengthen our community. I expect we will come out of this tragedy stronger than ever.
MOUNT PLEASANT NEIGHBOURHOOD HOUSE
J. Kwan: With a little know-how and a lot of determination, it's amazing what can grow from a great idea shared by neighbours.
In 1976 Mount Pleasant residents wanted to create a hub for neighbourhood growth and social inclusion. Inspired by the British settlement house movement and with the financial help from the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of B.C., a group of neighbours started up a youth leadership program in a rented church basement.
From this humble beginning, the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House was born. The next year the fledgling neighbourhood house opened a space on East Broadway and began to develop community-oriented programming.
The neighbourhood house soon became a magnet for community activities. In 1996 the neighbourhood house celebrated its 20th anniversary by opening its current home at 800 East Broadway.
Today the neighbourhood house offers many programs, including daycare seven days a week, family drop-ins, a StrongStart program in conjunction with the Mount Pleasant Elementary School and many programs for seniors, including the Chinese calligraphy club, whose beautiful art I've been often been invited to enjoy. To meet the diverse needs of the community, the dedicated staff at the neighbourhood house run programs in some of the many languages of the community, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish and Russian.
Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, like many communities agencies, has had to meet growing needs of the community with budget reductions by funding cuts. In spite of the challenges, it's kept its welcoming role as the living room for the community. Staff and volunteers have worked hard to keep the activities of the neighbourhood house connected to the broader community.
The history of community involvement in Mount Pleasant is rich and vibrant, from exciting community festivals to active participation in neighbourhood-planning processes to programs run for the community by the community. Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House is an integral part of our community partnership.
Today, at this very minute, they are hosting their 35th anniversary celebration, looking forward to future years of connecting neighbours and building a better neighbourhood.
B. Bennett: Earth Hour is organized each year by the World Wide Fund for Nature on the last Saturday of March. The idea is that we should turn off our lights to raise awareness about climate change.
Now, perhaps some members might question why a guy whose most valued possessions are a .270 Magnum Weatherby hunting rifle and a beautiful old Ox-Head axe
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would be talking about Earth Hour. It's easy to be cynical, especially in this place.
My grandparents were turning off the lights 50 years ago probably at least as conscientiously as us baby boomers, and I'm sure they didn't feel nearly as self-righteous about doing it. It is also true that if the Earth, as some folks seem to think, is going to you-know-where in a handbasket, surely we need to do more than just turn the lights off this Saturday morning for an hour. But a symbolic nod to Mother Nature one hour a year is not a bad idea, no matter which side of the climate change hypothesis you're on.
I grew up in the country. I spent long summer days as a child building forts in the forest with my friends and getting dirty, and smelling and touching and tasting the natural world. I learned to participate in nature, to hunt and fish and to clean and eat what I caught and to use that Ox-Head axe safely before I was even a teenager. Later in my life I spent years in fly-in wilderness fishing camps.
My happiest times throughout my life, especially since taking up this particular line of work, occur when I'm outside, away from town, on a mountain or by a stream, canoeing on a lake or just walking silently on a forest trail.
This Saturday, after I turn off my lights, I will go to the Kimberley Alpine Resort in my eight-cylinder truck, and my wife and I will ride up the ski lifts powered by diesel generators. But we will also let the mountains bring us peace. We'll soak up the fresh air, and we'll thank God for all our blessings. We will remember that one of our duties as human beings is to be good stewards of the Earth, however we each decide to accomplish that.
SAANICH NEIGHBOURHOOD PLACE
R. Fleming: I rise today to talk about a valuable neighbourhood house in my community as well, a non-profit society located in my constituency of Victoria–Swan Lake. I'm referring to Saanich Neighbourhood Place.
Since 1983 Saanich Neighbourhood Place has been supporting the well-being of families, children and youth while recognizing the varied and changing needs of our community. They provide a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. Saanich Neighbourhood Place is a place that wholeheartedly believes that everyone has the right to access services, programs and resources within their own community.
With that said, families in my community and here on the south Island in general rely on the wide selection of key programming and many free services that Saanich Neighbourhood Place delivers, including life skills programs and workshops, parenting skill development courses and parenting support groups, and resource and referral information on a daily basis.
Saanich Neighbourhood Place helps mothers and fathers discover their own strengths and their own resources to develop the self-knowledge, self-confidence and self-trust that will enable them to meet the challenges they face to raise healthy, happy and very active kids in our community.
This organization is also highly respected for their longstanding food security program, which is critical for providing quality food for lower-income families in my constituency. Moreover, this organization is dedicated to cultivating awareness and initiating action around food security in our region for the long term.
The economic downturn has hit our community and many families, particularly single-parent families, very hard. Like other well-respected advocacy agencies, they have seen an increase in the demand for their services recently. It is critical and crucial that vital support services to our families and our community be maintained. That is why Saanich Neighbourhood Place is so important.
I invite all members of the House to join me in thanking Saanich Neighbourhood Place's executive director Colleen Hobson, her staff, board of directors and volunteers for the work they do.
D. Routley: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
D. Routley: Joining us are southern neighbours from the United States, a group of kids and their mother from Portland, Oregon: Susan McFee, her daughter Ashley and her sons Shane and Trevor. I just met them out in the hallway. That's why I'm late, to the Whip. We had a long discussion about the difference between our parliamentary system and their republican system in the United States, on how things work here in this parliament and what they might expect in question period.
I also, in a very unbiased and non-partisan way, informed them on which side of the House good sense resides at the current moment, so you can imagine what I had to say to them.
I'd like all the House to help me make them welcome to Victoria, British Columbia, on their visit to the B.C. Legislature.
K. Corrigan: On March 19 the B.C. Liberal government issued a release saying: "DriveABLE is in the process of being peer-reviewed." To the minister responsible for DriveABLE: why was DriveABLE not peer-reviewed by the Liberals before making it a mandatory, sole-sourced driver-testing program across British Columbia?
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Hon. S. Bond: I think all British Columbians recognize, first of all, that anytime someone, whether they're aging or not, has the possibility of losing a driver's licence, it is a very emotional, difficult circumstance for them.
For the member to suggest that there hasn't been research done on DriveABLE…. She's totally incorrect about that.
Let's be clear. DriveABLE is used in Alberta, in Ontario, in other locations in North America and in other parts of the world. In fact, Alberta adopted DriveABLE long before British Columbia did.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: Well, a third-party review of DriveABLE by leading experts in public safety at the Monash University in Australia said: "DriveABLE is more likely than the other test options to misclassify drivers as unsafe when they are in fact safe." This review came out a year before this Liberal government made the DriveABLE testing system mandatory.
Given that there was no third-party evidence to support the DriveABLE system and given that the Liberals waited until now to conduct a peer review, why did this Liberal government put a mandatory testing system in place that has a real possibility of classifying safe drivers as unsafe?
Hon. S. Bond: As I said and have said continuously in public, in fact DriveABLE is used in numerous locations around the world. It wasn't started or created here in British Columbia. As much as the members opposite would have liked to have cast those kinds of aspersions, we actually should look at the facts.
Do you know what's really unfortunate? What's really unfortunate is that individuals who end up taking a DriveABLE assessment are, in 95 percent of the cases, referred by their physician.
Now, members opposite can sit and be smug and smirk about that, but I can assure the member opposite that if there is an individual who has a cognitive impairment…. While the member opposite might want to smirk and laugh about that, what we were not prepared to do was bring seniors into rooms, like the member opposite did, and scare and fearmonger. That is unconscionable.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
K. Conroy: What is unfortunate is that B.C. Liberal testing policies are unfair to seniors. It's caught them off guard, caused unnecessary anxiety, forced them to travel long distances and spend a lot of money, only to take unfair tests that the Liberals now admit were never independently validated. Today seniors are still being forced to travel far from their home to get tested.
To the minister responsible, what will she specifically do to ensure that seniors are able to take the driving test close to where they live?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, what we did was actually took the time to look at the options for change that might need to be considered. What we didn't do was actually set up meetings, invite hundreds of seniors into the room and scare them with misinformation. That's the way the members opposite….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. S. Bond: There are over three million drivers in British Columbia. Of the three million drivers, 80,000 are over 80. Of that number, physicians refer about 1,500 people — 1,500 across the entire province of British Columbia. Ninety-five percent of them have a concern. Their physicians have a concern about their cognitive ability to drive.
All of us need to find a reasonable and respectful approach to making sure that those drivers are safe — and the rest of the drivers in British Columbia. That's why we agreed to change the assessment process. We will consider three things: the medical referral, the screen assessment and a driving test for those seniors.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Conroy: That's exactly what seniors in this province want — a respectful approach — and that's not what they've got.
The minister told this House months ago that seniors would be tested closer to home and repeated this again last week. Yet we are still hearing about seniors who can't get a driving test close to home. People from Golden have to travel to Kelowna in the winter, Oliver to Kelowna, Haida Gwaii to Prince George, Bella Coola to Williams Lake.
Since last fall the minister has been saying she's trying to sort this out, trying to be more respectful. But that's just not happening. We are still not closer to a solution. They're all empty words so far.
To the minister: will the government please tell us today what the specific plan is to ensure seniors can have a driving test closer to home?
Hon. S. Bond: What is disrespectful is inviting hundreds of seniors into a room and actually implying that hundreds of them will go to DriveABLE. That is absolutely being used for what is unbelievably crass politics.
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That's what's embarrassing, and if the member wants to stand up….
Hon. S. Bond: What we did was recognize the importance of addressing the concerns of 1,500 individuals across the province — there are 80,000 seniors — 95 percent of whom are recommended by their physician. If the member opposite thinks that's amusing….
We actually are concerned about seniors. That's why we changed the test. That's why we're going to work on adding more regional locations. But what we are not going to do is spread information and frighten seniors in British Columbia, like the member opposite.
N. Simons: If seniors are afraid or upset, it is because this government's policy is maddening, ill-thought-out and ill-conceived. British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in North America that makes this test mandatory, and the minister should know the facts.
The government implemented a policy, ill-thought-out and in a roughshod and disrespectful way. My question is to the minister. On an important issue…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
N. Simons: …such as maintaining seniors independence, what excuse can the Liberal government offer to explain such mismanagement?
Hon. S. Bond: There is an inevitability as we age that we all face the potential of challenges with cognitive impairment. The member opposite stands there and suggests that we should simply ignore the fact that physicians refer their patients to the superintendent of motor vehicles because they are concerned about their ability to drive safely.
We actually believe there does need to be a process for assessing the appropriateness of having a senior drive. Where we disagree with the members opposite is in implying that every senior is going to go to DriveABLE. That is misinformation. It is shameful, and the member should simply stop spreading misinformation.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Simons: The meetings organized are often organized by seniors organizations themselves, who have expressed in great numbers…. I've assisted the seniors in getting their voice out, and it's taken a year and a half to finally get this government to listen.
My question. The impact of losing one's licence is significant, and we all agree that we want unsafe drivers off the road. But even members of this minister's caucus have expressed equal concern as we have, because they've heard from seniors as well. It's about respect. It's about fairness.
You don't have to be patronizing — through you, Mr. Speaker. The seniors know what policies impact them. After months of serious and legitimate complaints, how come it's taken so long for the minister to even recognize that there is a problem?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, perhaps if we want to clear up the whole issue of whether or not the member opposite is contemplating the political nature of this, it would be great for the member from Burnaby to actually stand up and explain how, at this point in time, she managed to invite seniors in Chilliwack to come into a room and talk about all the problems there were with DriveABLE — Chilliwack, all the way to Chilliwack.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. S. Bond: What would be interesting to note is whether or not the member from Burnaby actually held a session in her own riding, instead of using it for political purposes in Chilliwack. Do you know…?
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. S. Bond: This is a very serious issue for seniors in British Columbia. It is horrific when families have to go through the difficult circumstances of having a loved one lose their opportunity to be mobile. That's why we listened, we looked at options, and in fact, we made changes to the assessment. That's the appropriate process that we took.
GOVERNMENT VIDEO AND
KITWANGA MILL OPERATIONS
D. Donaldson: In July the Premier showed up for a photo opportunity at the reopening of the Kitwanga sawmill. The video of the announcement is still on her government's website. Meanwhile, the sawmill shut down indefinitely in October, and the owner declared bankruptcy and padlocked the doors in December.
The Premier got her photo opportunity. But what about the workers — workers like Randy Good from Kitwanga, who was employed for more than 30 years? He got nothing. He has had to move to Alberta to find a job.
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Can the Premier please inform the Legislature what she has done since October to help workers in Kitwanga preserve their jobs or keep the mill open?
Hon. P. Bell: As the member opposite knows, that particular company went through an insolvency. However, we have been working specifically with that operation. I do think, as a result of the work of this government and the leadership that this government is showing — expanding into the Chinese market, the growth that we're starting to see in the United States market — there is an opportunity for that mill, as well as all the other mills across this province, to have a long-term future.
The member only has to look at the good work that the member for Nechako Lakes is putting into reinvigorating the Burns Lake sawmill, seeing that operation reopen. That's leadership, not what that member is doing.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
D. Donaldson: I'm quite surprised by the answer from the minister. He is from the north, and he should know where Kitwanga is. It's 300 kilometres from Burns Lake.
My answer to the first question is that government has done nothing — no action around the Kitwanga sawmill. And what a coincidence. We filed a freedom-of-information request to find out what action the Liberal government has taken to preserve workers' jobs or keep the Kitwanga sawmill open. The response was nothing — no action.
They're still taking credit for the mill reopening. The video is still there. That's an insult to the workers who used to have jobs there. To be forthright, it's reprehensible behaviour. It's what gives politics a bad name, and it's a sad state of affairs.
So instead of running from photo opportunity to photo opportunity, why doesn't the Premier actually do something to protect forest workers' jobs in Kitwanga? Will the Premier finally commit today to take real action to protect those jobs in Kitwanga?
Hon. P. Bell: You know, there is no one — no one — that knows more about business failure than the NDP government of the 1990s. Mr. Speaker, I'll tell you what leadership is.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. P. Bell: You know what? On the day — in fact, within 20 minutes — of the Burns Lake fire the member for Nechako Lakes was on the phone to me, literally within 20 minutes. I met with him the next day. He talked about the opportunities associated with Burns Lake. He worked aggressively each and every day to revitalize that operation.
This member has not once asked for a meeting with me to work with the Kitwanga operation. He chooses to make this a political issue in this House, instead of doing what he should be doing, which is the hard work as a local MLA, just like the member for Nechako Lakes is doing.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
J. Horgan: I know that my colleague from Stikine has given a geography lesson to the Minister of Jobs, but I'd like to turn my attention to the Premier.
The Premier was quite happy to stand before a camera crew last summer and pronounce jobs for everybody. That didn't happen. Does the Premier have the decency to at least remove the video from the website so that the people from Kitwanga don't have to be constantly reminded of how dismissive she is of their future?
Hon. P. Bell: You know what? Leadership is about actually working to resolve issues, not standing up and trying to make cheap political points in question period.
I already talked about the member for Nechako Lakes. Let's look at other leadership out of this side of government. The member for Parksville-Qualicum. When the Harmac mill….
Mr. Speaker: Your time, Members.
Hon. P. Bell: When Harmac in Nanaimo faced its economic challenges, the first person to call the Minister of Forests, despite the fact that it wasn't in his riding, was the member for Parksville-Qualicum. Each and every day that member pushed the issue of how we could help support the redevelopment of that operation. Today the results are obvious. Because of the work of the member for Parksville-Qualicum, we have a thriving operation in Nanaimo.
Not one of the members opposite ever came to the minister and said: "How can you support this redevelopment?" The job of an MLA is to work actively to make sure there is support in his local community. Members on that side are failing badly in that area.
COLEMAN ROAD SHINGLE OPERATIONS
AND LOG EXPORT POLICY
S. Fraser: Coleman Road Shingle is a small business in Port Alberni. It's been there for 30 years. They make quality roofing products.
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Back in the year 2000 the owners invested substantially. They were able to raise the workforce from 12 to 32. That's all at risk now. Mr. Butch Taylor, the owner, has been forced to do major layoffs. He's back where he started. He's back to 12 jobs, down from 32. He can't get fibre. Liberal raw log policy is killing his business and killing jobs in the Alberni Valley.
To the minister responsible…. See if we can get a minister responsible to stand up. How can he justify a Liberal policy that is shutting down essential small businesses like Coleman Road Shingle?
Hon. S. Thomson: We've discussed this issue before in the House to make it clear that the log export policy provides that balance. It keeps jobs and people working in British Columbia and keeps people working in those communities.
But the member opposite will realize that with the cedar shingle mill, that cedar is not able to be exported under the export policy. So the issues with respect to the fibre supply for this particular mill are not at all related to the log export policy.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
S. Fraser: The minister doesn't understand that small businesses like this mill are the backbone of the economy. Thanks to the failed….
Mr. Speaker: Take your seat.
S. Fraser: Thanks to failed Liberal forest policy, Mr. Taylor has been forced to lay people off. They can't get fibre, while truck after truck drives by with trees being sent for export. Again, to the minister: why are jobs in Port Alberni being sacrificed so that Liberals can continue to export raw logs?
Hon. S. Thomson: As I just mentioned, cedar is not able to be exported under our current export policy. The supply issues with respect to that cedar shingle mill are not related to the log export policy.
The log export policy in British Columbia is one that provides for jobs in communities in British Columbia and ensures that we have that broad range of harvest on uneconomic stands to make sure we have lumber available for domestic mills. That's the balance that's employed. That's one that we continue to work on.
Again, to be clear, this particular operation — as the previous member spoke.... If it's one they want us to look at specifically, the member is more than welcome to come and talk to us about that operation specifically, which he has not done to date.
RELEASE OF MEDIA CORRESPONDENCE
WITH GOVERNMENT TO EMINATA GROUP
C. James: For two weeks now we've heard the Minister of Advanced Education stand in this House and refuse to be accountable for a leaked e-mail from her ministry. The minister admitted the e-mail was shared by her staff with the former Minister of State for Multiculturalism. The minister admitted that the former minister leaked that e-mail to an organization that the minister is responsible for regulating.
But the big question remains: why? So my question is to the Minister of Advanced Education. No point in reading Hansard again. The minister has not answered this question before. Why was this e-mail shared with that specific minister, and has the minister herself asked her staff that question?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This issue has been canvassed in the House. In fact, my father, who is very hard of hearing, heard the questions over and over, even with his limited hearing.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I won't reread my Hansard responses. I will, though, direct the member opposite to take the time to read it herself.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
C. James: To the minister, I'm sorry her father heard the questions over and over again, because there were no answers coming from the minister. That's why the questions were asked over and over again.
This is an issue of credibility. This is an issue of trust, of ministerial responsibility. The minister said: "There are circumstances and there are times that ministers share information with other ministers." So can the minister explain just what circumstances there were that led her staff member to share this confidential e-mail?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: As I said yesterday, the sharing of information amongst ministers and ministers' offices is in order for us to operate efficiently. We share information, and our expectation is that information is to remain confidential. I'm sure the member opposite, the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill, wishes that her side of the House acted more as a team last year. This side of the
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House works as a team, and we share some information.
[End of question period.]
Hon. K. Falcon: Mr. Speaker, in accordance with section 6 of the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act, I am tabling a revised schedule F for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012. The revised schedule F reflects the changes to ministerial accountabilities resulting from the government reorganization that took place on February 8, 2012.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: In this House this afternoon we will begin by doing committee stage on Bill 15, intituled the Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011. We will then move, if we get that done, to committee stage of Bill 18, intituled the Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
Should we complete that, we would then move on to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012, in second reading, Bill 24. If we get that done, we would move to Bill 21, intituled the Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012.
In the Douglas Fir Committee Room, in Section A, we will begin with the continuing estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture. Should that complete, we would then move to the Ministry of Environment.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Deputy Speaker: The Government House Leader is rising on a point of privilege.
Point of Privilege
(Reservation of Right)
Hon. R. Coleman: I rise on a point of privilege and reserve my right, as this is my first opportunity to deal with the behaviour of the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you very much, and we'll move now to….
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 15 — ATTORNEY GENERAL AND
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2011
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 15; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 2:31 p.m.
On section 1.
L. Krog: I wonder if the minister could explain the reason for section 1?
Hon. S. Bond: In essence, it's technical more than anything. We're removing a redundant section. In fact, it's a double negative, so we're simply clarifying that.
K. Corrigan: Minister, I agree that this is largely housekeeping, but I do have a couple of questions about it. The section says that the Armoured Vehicle and After-Market Compartment Control Act is amended by striking out "Sections 4 and 5 of the Offence Act do not apply" and substituting "Section 5 of the Offence Act does not apply."
Section 4 of the Offence Act reads: "Unless otherwise specifically provided in an enactment, a person who is convicted of an offence is liable to a fine of not more than $2 000 or to imprisonment…." Just for clarification, is that redundant because there are penalty provisions in the act itself and so this isn't necessary?
Hon. S. Bond: That's correct.
K. Corrigan: But what this change does is it removes section 4 as redundant and then substitutes section 5. We'll now just have: "...Section 5 of the Offence Act does not apply."
Section 5 says: "A person who contravenes an enactment by doing an act that it forbids, or omitting to do an act that it requires to be done, commits an offence against the enactment." I'm wondering why it is that the Armoured Vehicle and After-Market Compartment Control Act requires a section that says that that section I just read out from the Offence Act.... Why is it in there to say that it doesn't apply? I don't quite understand the reason for that.
Hon. S. Bond: Without actually putting this particular clarification in there, the entire act would be an offence. We do not want that to be the case, so we're simply clarifying it and ensuring that it is very clear — the intent of the act.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
K. Corrigan: Well, just a housekeeping question on what is essentially a housekeeping section. So my question simply is: is the changing of section 13 of the Body
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Armour Control Act — which strikes out "Sections 4 and 5 of the Offence Act do not apply," substituting "Section 5 of the Offence Act does not apply" — simply doing the same thing as was the change with regard to section 1 of this act related to the Armoured Vehicle and After-Market Compartment Control Act?
Hon. S. Bond: That's correct.
L. Krog: I just want to confirm in terms of adding an offence that was omitted — no change in penalty for any offences.
The Chair: Would the member repeat his question please.
L. Krog: Just to confirm: there are no changes in the nature of the penalties as a result of this section.
Hon. S. Bond: No, there is not.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
K. Corrigan: I just want to confirm my reading of this section, which says that Section 23 of the Coroners Act is amended by striking out sections 24 to 29 of the Jury Act and substituting sections 24, 25 and 29 of the Jury Act. Is that amendment being made because of sections that are going to be later on in this bill which are going to change the numbering of the sections of the Coroners Act? Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, that's correct. We'll actually be making the adjustment to the Jury Act.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
L. Krog: I'll perhaps wait a moment for the minister's next staff to come in.
I'm just wondering…. On the face of it, this looks like something quite simple. It simply changes the period from seven days to 21 days under section 12(1).
Section 12(1) provides for the setting down of an inquiry: "If the minister receives a request under section 10, the minister must, within 7 days after service under section 10 (3) (c), appoint an inquiry officer who, subject to section 11, must hold a public inquiry." The inquiry officer must set a time and a place, etc., "not more than 21 days after the date of his or her appointment...." And he or she must serve notice of the date, time and place on various persons, etc.
I'm curious to know what is the reasoning behind this change, which is actually quite significant. It's a tripling of the amount of time involved.
Hon. S. Bond: It's really a matter of time in terms of how quickly you can get an officer to do the inquiry. Seven days is a short turnaround time, and there has been concern expressed that it's not long enough. Obviously, some of the questions that you have to deal with around the inquiry make it a very compressed time period. It's simply a matter of trying to give a reasonable amount of time for the minister to find an inquiry officer candidate, and seven days was considered to be very, very compressed.
L. Krog: Perhaps the minister can outline the history of this section and how long it's been a requirement that the minister must, within seven days, appoint an officer.
Hon. S. Bond: I'm always really proud of the staff in this ministry. To the member opposite: they anticipated that question. The Attorney General has been responsible for appointments of inquiry officers since 2003. There have only been three occasions on which the Attorney General needed to appoint an inquiry officer. It was in 2007, 2009 and 2010. In essence: rarely used, but concern, again, about the length of time it would take to find a candidate to do the inquiry.
L. Krog: I wonder if the minister could outline to the House, then…. This section or some similar section has existed and been the responsibility of some previous minister of the Crown, obviously. So I'm curious to know, again, predating…. The minister, I think, referred to the statutory change in 2003 or '04. What was the history prior to that in terms of the amount of time that was provided for?
Hon. S. Bond: I'm told that immediately preceding the Attorney General, it was the Expropriation Compensation Board and that the utilization was five times since 1998. But in terms of how long the Expropriation Board had it or who had it prior to that, we're not aware of that at this time.
L. Krog: The reason I'm raising this is that the power of government to expropriate one's private property is pretty significant. We recognize it is necessary in a free and democratic society for public purposes. No one argues about the expropriation of land — the concept — for public highways or public schools. Certainly, no one objects during wartime to having property taken for public purposes in order to support the war effort. We understand all of those things.
But in the circumstances, taking one's property never-
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theless leads to the concept of compensation. The minister has outlined that there have been three occasions since the occupier of her position became responsible for this particular appointment. There's only been three times in the last several years.
I would assume that the minister must have access to a list of persons who would be competent to undertake such activities. I'm wondering what has been the practice in the ministry in terms of the people that it would draw on for these appointments, and there have been three. Perhaps the minister could outline that.
Hon. S. Bond: Actually, there are a couple of complexities. Specifically to the member's question directly, currently there's not a really long roster of names because of the infrequency of the use. People aren't necessarily on a list that would be current. Right now there is one person and a backup basically.
But I'm reminded that part of the complexity is that during the course of those seven days, there is occasionally the need to determine whether or not an inquiry or the appointment of an inquiry officer is even necessary. That's particularly true when a highway is involved. Part of those seven days that you would have to appoint the inquiry officer could actually be taken up with sorting out whether or not the inquiry itself will proceed.
It is a very tight timeline, and I think the whole point of the amendment is just to allow a more reasonable time within which to appoint an inquiry officer. Sometimes it can be complex. An inquiry may not proceed. But if it does, some of those valuable seven days could be taken up with that first exploratory piece.
L. Krog: I wonder if the minister could give — no pun intended if we're talking about highways — a concrete example of a circumstance that would lead to the seven days being needed to determine whether or not it was appropriate. What's the kind of practical circumstance that would arise where that decision wasn't made before the notice was actually served?
The way I read this section, if you receive a request under section 10, clearly there's been a process in place already. Perhaps the minister might want to outline what that process is — why you'd be in that position that far down the road that it would take time to determine whether or not the appointment of an inquiry officer was in fact necessary.
Hon. S. Bond: We don't have as clear a specific example as we would like, but I'll use this in the attempt to try to explain what the complexity might be.
An inquiry is not available to someone if the proposed expropriation is a linear project. That would mean a highway or a railway. There may be a differing view as to how you determine whether it's linear or not. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether that project is linear, and information from the parties would be required. Inevitably, that takes more than seven days.
That's the hypothetical example that I can give the member opposite — the use of the word "linear." You don't get to have an inquiry. In essence, it would be that exploratory phase in trying to determine whether or not the inquiry moves forward.
L. Krog: I appreciate that, with my limited abilities, I can get lost in the language of the statutes. I know the minister is going to help me through this.
What I understand it to mean is that under section 10, if it's a linear development — which in a broad definition "includes a highway, a railway, hydro or other electric transmission or distribution line, a pipeline or a sewer, water or drainage line…." In other words, it's anything that's going to run over some length.
We're not talking about a square here. We're talking about a lengthy rectangle, so to speak. The section that section 12 refers to, which we're proposing to amend, refers back to owners "whose land is included in an expropriation notice, other than an expropriation notice in respect of an expropriation for the construction, extension or alteration of a linear development…." In other words — all other alternatives.
Again, if the minister could give me an example of something that wouldn't constitute a linear development. I'm hard-pressed to think of something that would fall in between. If you're expropriating land for a school, that's pretty obvious. You're not moving school to school to school. Highways are pretty straightforward.
What possible description or example would there be that wouldn't fall obviously into the category of linear versus non-linear? In other words, where the grey area could possibly be is what I'm trying to understand.
Hon. S. Bond: All right. We're going to give this as best a shot as we can to explain this. There's the potential of a pipeline being built, and it involves expropriation. There is the need for a pumping station. So the pumping station would be on a piece of land, and the person who was facing expropriation would be able to argue — or would make the argument, potentially — that that isn't linear. It is on a separate piece of property that is not directly related to the pipeline.
The argument would be that the company putting in the pipeline, or whoever is doing that, would argue that is all part of the pipeline. You need the pumping station. The debate would become whether or not that piece of property is linear or not. The company putting in the pipeline would argue that it was part of that linear development, and the person whose land was going to be taken would argue that it wasn't because the pumping station is on a separate piece of land. You can see how complex this is in terms of….
[ Page 10484 ]
The point is that, currently, it would take seven days for the discussion between the parties about what is linear and what isn't. Within that seven-day period, should you decide to proceed with an inquiry, you'd have to actually put the inquiry officer in place. So the whole point of this somewhat minor amendment is to simply extend the period of time that allows that discussion to take place and the appointment of the inquiry officer.
L. Krog: I don't wish to seem critical of the minister's example, but subsection 10(2) says: "An owner whose land is included in an expropriation notice, other than an expropriation notice in respect of an expropriation for the construction, extension or alteration of a linear development, may request an inquiry by serving the minister with a notice of request for an inquiry."
Surely, a pumping station is absolutely integral to the construction of a pipeline — an office site, a piece of property necessary to provide access to the pipeline site, assuming it's in some rural area. The definition of "linear development" includes "a highway, a railway, a hydro or other electric transmission or distribution line, a pipeline or a sewer, water or drainage line or main." In other words, linear development is very broadly defined by simply saying it "includes." It's not an exclusive definition. It's a broad definition that includes these particular items — as we always say at the law, without limiting the general of the foregoing.
So I'm trying to understand, again, from a practical perspective, what would be a concrete example of something that wouldn't be attached to a linear development that wasn't obviously a non-linear development? Again, I come back to my examples: a school site, a building site — something of that nature. I cannot for the life of me today….
I'm sure that the minister, with her able staff there, will be able to come up with a concrete example, because we're making a legislative change here. She must be able to come up with a concrete example of something that is obviously in that grey area, where anyone in this chamber could hear the example and say: "Oh yes. I'd have to think long and hard about that one" or "I'd have to consider getting a judge to decide it."
It seems to me we're proposing an amendment that increases the time from seven to 21 days because this is a real issue. So I'm assuming that, based on the previous three experiences and the expropriation board prior, there must be some concrete examples of situations where this grey area has in fact arisen, where there is a concrete example of a serious legal issue as to whether or not something is a part of a linear development or it's not, and we're not sure, and it falls in that grey area. There must be some examples.
Again, I'm asking the minister to give me one example, or perhaps in the last three expropriations there's been an example.
Hon. S. Bond: The explanation that the member opposite provided is precisely the reason we actually need the additional period of time. He and I might see the issue as very black and white around the pumping station. That may not be the case and is often not the case for the person who is about to lose a section of their property through expropriation.
The point is simply that even if it may be as black and white as the member opposite would suggest, that doesn't mean the person can't make the argument or at least ask for clarification or clarity, and that takes a process. In fact, potentially, there are people who would argue that it is not the definition of linear. So I think that we have provided an example.
I think the issue here is the amount of time that would be permissible in order to sort through whether or not there are any challenges or debate regarding whether an inquiry moves forward or not and then the ability for the Attorney to find and appoint an inquiry officer.
If you look at the rest of the country, Alberta provides approximately a 15-day time limit, and in every other Canadian jurisdiction they either don't impose a specific time limit or they're silent on the issue. British Columbia is not asking for anything out of line with what occurs in other jurisdictions. Again, it is simply to allow for a more reasonable time frame in which to appoint the inquiry officer.
L. Krog: Section 11 provides that an inquiry officer "may, by order, refuse to hold a public inquiry if, on the application of the expropriating authority and after granting both parties the opportunity to be heard considers that (a) the request for an inquiry is (i) frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith..." etc.
The way I understand it…. I'm the aggrieved landowner. I'm satisfied it's a non-linear development. It's not a linear development; it's a non-linear development. Therefore, I'm entitled to make my request to the minister in writing. The minister — and it's a mandatory section, section 12, the way it reads, and we're not changing that aspect of it — must, within 7 days, under section 10(3)(c), "appoint an inquiry officer who, subject to section 11, must hold a public inquiry."
So for practical purposes, it's really the minister making the legal decision, if you will, that in fact it is an appropriate request — in other words, that it truly is a non-linear development. Is that the correct understanding of the section?
Hon. S. Bond: Legal counsel would obviously provide advice to the minister.
L. Krog: I appreciate what the minister has just said, but I'm just inquiring. My understanding of this is that it will be the minister, with the advice of counsel, who will
[ Page 10485 ]
make the legal determination whether or not the property involved is non-linear.
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, the process would be as the member opposite has described it. There would be legal counsel that would work to provide the information — after discussion between the parties, if that's necessary — and provide advice to the minister. The minister would make the decision about the inquiry officer and the appointment.
So the ultimate responsibility is that the minister does make the appointment of the inquiry officer — but obviously, after any information needed to be exchanged or advice would be provided by legal counsel.
L. Krog: Just so I'm clear on that understanding. Once the minister has made that decision, the only out, as I understand it, is for the expropriating authority to then go to the inquiry officer, once appointed — because there's no authority on the party being expropriated, as I read section 11. The expropriating authority can then go to the public inquiry officer and ask that the request be declared to be "(i) frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, or (ii) based solely or a claim for compensation..." etc.
I take it that there's no appeal provision in the act for the landowner to say that the minister has made a mistake here. In other words, the minister has got the final say, is what I'm getting at.
Hon. S. Bond: Any other potential remedy would be the courts after that decision was made.
L. Krog: Related to it, in section 11 the inquiry officer may refuse to hold the inquiry if he's satisfied that it's "(i) frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith, or (ii) based solely on a claim for compensation."
I'm just wondering if the minister can explain: what does that mean? I thought that was the whole point of expropriation. That would be the subject of the argument. What we're really saying here is that money can't be an issue. Is that really what this section is saying?
Hon. S. Bond: To the member opposite, we'll get clarity on that. The staff that is here with me today wants to be sure before we provide that answer. In fact, it is outside the scope of the amendment. The amendment relates specifically to the period of time that we are referring to, so in fact, it's outside the scope of the amendment. Having said that, we will get clarity and share that with the member opposite.
L. Krog: In terms of the inquiries that have been held…. The minister outlined that there have been three since 2003 or 2004, as I understand it. In those cases, was there, in fact, an issue in determining whether or not the land was linear versus non-linear? Was that an issue in those three examples? Again, I come back to my point. We have a solution looking for a problem.
Hon. S. Bond: I'm advised that in at least one of the cases that occurred, one of the inquiries that occurred, there was an issue related to the definition of "linear." This is the catalyst for the change, at least part of it, not only to line up with a more reasonable time frame that exists across the country, but also there has been a challenge in terms of that definition and example that I gave the member opposite.
L. Krog: I suppose what this leads to is the sort of obvious question. The point of the amendment is to give an expanded period of time — literally triple the time — to the minister to appoint the inquiry officer. That's the concept here.
We're going to give a break to the government, in a sense, to have more time to determine whether or not inquiry officers should be appointed, and the minister's explanation for this has been that there will be legal issues around the definition of whether land is linear versus non-linear.
It begs the obvious question: why are we doing this to give the minister more time to make a legal determination as opposed to amending the statute to make it very clear what would constitute a linear versus non-linear development?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I think that the member opposite also neglected to mention the original answer that I shared. It is actually more than simply around linear. It's actually related to the fact that this is a very infrequent process, and finding an inquiry officer continues to be a challenge.
I don't think that it's unreasonable to suggest that we also want to make sure that if there is a required exchange of information between the parties, using a compressed time frame doesn't help the person who is concerned either. I don't think this is at all about giving government a break. I think this is about being reasonable, ensuring that we have the time to have a discussion, if it's necessary. We believe that, in fact, the process is not one that we consider flawed.
What we want to do is simply have more time to ensure that we can find an appropriate officer and also ensure that if there is complexity in determining whether an inquiry is necessary or available, that that time is appropriate.
L. Krog: I didn't mean to narrow this down and suggest to the minister that I was holding her up for only one example, and that is the question of making a legal
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determination. Again, it does beg the question, since that is the example that she used.
Why not expand, redefine, clarify the definition of linear versus non-linear development so that there would be less potential for the necessity of the appointment and less necessity for the time involved? It seems to me that if we can legislate certainty and avoid litigation, that's always a good thing.
I'm just wondering if we're dealing with this section in terms of allowing more time…. It is, amongst other things, to give the parties more time to perhaps come to some arrangement, agreement or settlement, but also to give the minister time to make that legal determination, which under the statute appears to be only within the minister's purview — in other words, the minister's sole jurisdiction. The minister is the person solely responsible. There's no Court of Appeal. There's no Supreme Court of Canada to go to, in a sense. It's the minister who makes this legal determination.
Why not simply expand and clarify the definitions so that they're much clearer? What this proposed change is based on is an assumption that we want to avoid problems. We know that the numbers of cases that have probably involved this definition have been fairly limited in scope, so why not change the legislation to deal with those very concrete examples that have occurred in the past when it came to the definition of linear versus non-linear?
Hon. S. Bond: I think that the concept of legislating certainty is an honourable thing. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that well. If we could legislate certainty, we would have a lot fewer complex issues to deal with, either in the courts or elsewhere.
Legal advice and certainly legal counsel that works through these particular cases was very clear that their view was the most appropriate and reasonable way to deal with this issue — by extending the timeline rather than attempting to legislate certainty. So we bring this as a reasonable alternative. We think that lining up our time frames with other jurisdictions across the country is reasonable, and in fact we think it's a fairly straightforward amendment.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
K. Corrigan: Maybe I'll just clarify my understanding that this change to the Fraudulent Conveyance Act, which strikes out the words from section 1 "by collusion, guile, malice or fraud," means that the section will now read…. This is talking about fraudulent conveyance to avoid debt or duty of others:
"If made to delay, hinder or defraud creditors and others of their just and lawful remedies (a) a disposition of property, by writing or otherwise, (b) a bond, (c) a proceeding, or (d) an order is void and of no effect against a person or the person's assignee or personal representative whose rights and obligations…"
These are the words that are going to go: "by collusion, guile, malice or fraud."
"…are or might be disturbed, hindered, delayed or defrauded, despite a pretence or other matter to the contrary."
My understanding is simply that this section is being changed in order to align itself with a decision that was made in the B.C. Court of Appeal, I believe it was. The minister may want to correct me what level the court was. It decided that those words — "by collusion, guile, malice or fraud" — were essentially irrelevant. That was in the case of Botham Holdings. I just wonder if the minister could confirm that that's the case.
Hon. S. Bond: That's correct.
K. Corrigan: For the wonderful listening public and watching public, what that essentially said was…. There was a case wherein a company that transferred some of its holdings to another company that it owned, which was a related company — transferred it for good reason, in their view — to get tax advantages. But they did it in order to avoid a court decision which said that they owed money, essentially, but that it was for a good reason.
They argued that there was no collusion, guile, malice or fraud — that therefore, although they were trying to avoid their creditors, since they did not do it with collusion, guile, malice or fraud, it was okay. Is that essentially the background and the reasoning in this case and for this section?
Hon. S. Bond: It's very straightforward. The Appeal Court of British Columbia has said clearly that motive or thought or language that was used in this act was irrelevant to the point. In fact, the heart of this issue is that someone is transferring assets and attempting to hinder the creditor's ability to get access to it, and the court simply said it doesn't matter.
What matters is that the language we were using was potentially misleading and irrelevant, so we're simply bringing this into line and saying that a transfer of assets…. Whatever the thought pattern was is irrelevant. The fact that the creditor is being denied access to those assets is the only intent necessary.
L. Krog: The Fraudulent Conveyance Act has been around a long time and not often used successfully. The creditors in British Columbia have often had great difficulty relying on it. It's a fairly expensive process. It's a second kick at the cat. You're working on the assumption, in many cases, that judgment has been obtained by default when in fact it's often not the case.
Creditors have to pursue their remedies rather vigorously and at great expense and time in the court process, then
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obtain judgment and then have to take this step with respect to making claims under the Fraudulent Conveyance Act. So I'm just wondering: in terms of this change, does this change bring our statute into…? How shall I say it? Will it be comparable to what exists in other provinces now?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, it will. We were the only province that had that language, and more importantly, we're actually going to bring it in line with what the Court of Appeal told us was most appropriate.
L. Krog: In terms of bringing us into line with other provinces, did other provinces have this particular language in place? If so, does the minister have any knowledge today about which was the last province to abandon this rather ancient language?
Hon. S. Bond: We're not certain whether or not the exact same language was used, but certainly British Columbia is the last holdout in terms of this language. Obviously, when the Court of Appeal says the language is obsolete, irrelevant and potentially misleading, I think we probably need to get it fixed, and that's exactly what we're doing.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
L. Krog: This is a change to the Judicial Compensation Act. In my understanding, the explanatory note reads that it "clarifies the operation of the section in relation to a period in which the Legislative Assembly is adjourned by changing references from days to sitting days." I'm just wondering what necessitates this particular amendment.
Hon. S. Bond: The concern is that there is some ambiguity. What the changes do is clarify the act's timelines — in particular, respecting the effective period of adjournment within a legislative session. It's very difficult to calculate the days. There was some concern that there was ambiguity. That became apparent, actually, in the last process. We're looking to make the change proactively so that in 2013, when the process is next underway, it is absolutely clear how we will count the days that are in place to actually provide the response.
L. Krog: As I understand it, then, section 6 says that the minister has to "lay the final report of a commission before the Legislative Assembly, and must advise the Legislative Assembly about the effect of subsection (3)." That says: "If a recommendation is not rejected by the Legislative Assembly within the time limited by subsection (2), the judges or judicial justices are entitled to receive the remuneration...proposed..." etc.
I take it what we're really saying here is that this is to protect the government from finding itself in a situation because of the miscalculation or calculation of days. In fact, the taxpayers, if you will, or the government will be stuck or forced to implement the recommendations that are made as opposed to being able to legislatively determine what in fact the compensation changes, if any, will be.
Hon. S. Bond: I think the member described it accurately. I think the only thing I would add is that it's also to protect the assembly's right to have the discussion and debate here in the Legislature. So it does provide that protection, as well, if you have clarity in terms of the dates. But other than that, I think the member's description is accurate.
L. Krog: If I can just ask a couple of questions around this section and its determination. This section in its entirety, section 6, which we are proposing to amend today — how long has this been the practice, if you will, in determining judicial compensation?
Hon. S. Bond: There has been a process in place that was captured previously in the Provincial Court Act in the 1990s. We're not certain if the language was exactly the same as this, but a process for dealing with judicial compensation was in that act in the 1990s.
Then in 2003 this stand-alone act was created, and the pieces relating to judicial compensation were brought into this act. They were incorporated into a stand-alone act. Previously in the Provincial Court Act…. I'm not sure whether the language was identical, but certainly the process was captured there.
K. Corrigan: My reading of the changes to the previous 6(a) and (b), and 6(1)(a) and (b), and the changes to the now 6(1)(a) and (b) is that previously the minister had to lay the final report of the commission before the Legislative Assembly and advise the Legislative Assembly about the effect of subsection (3).
It said: "if the Legislative Assembly is sitting at the date the minister receives the report, within 7 days after the date the minister receives the report." The new wording is: "within 7 sitting days of the Legislative Assembly…."
If you interpret seven days as being either seven working days or seven calendar days, it does…. The change lengthens the amount of time in which the minister can bring the report of the commission to the Legislative Assembly.
Hon. S. Bond: The primary goal isn't to extend government time. It's to give more clarity. What it does effectively is provide two additional calendar days. We believe it's a minor amendment that provides a kind of
[ Page 10488 ]
clarity, and it is not an unreasonable extension. It would technically be two calendar days.
K. Corrigan: Then with respect to the previous section 6(1)(c), which essentially becomes section 6(1)(b), previously it was: "if the Legislative Assembly ceases to sit within 28 days after the date on which the report was laid before the Legislative Assembly…." The new section says: "if the Legislative Assembly is prorogued or dissolved within 16 sitting days after the date…." I'm wondering how the minister chose to change it from 28 days to 16 sitting days.
Hon. S. Bond: Section 6(1)(c) is actually the area where we were concerned about ambiguity. The phrase we were concerned about is "ceases to sit." So what it does in section 6(1)(b) with the new wording is not intended to provide more time. It's intended to provide more clarity. Now, 16 sitting days, if you think of that, is four weeks of sitting in the Legislature, which equates to 28 calendar days. In essence, it doesn't change or extend the length of time. It's a matter of clarity.
L. Krog: Section 6, as I've stated and as is obvious to anyone paying attention or reading the statute, deals with the report of the commission, which is the commission set up under the terms of this act. It provides that the Judges Compensation Commission and the Judicial Justices Compensation Commission comprise the minister appointing two individuals; the chief judge, after consulting with the Provincial Court Judges' Association, must appoint two; and the four individuals who've been appointed under paragraphs (a) and (b) "must appoint one other individual to the commission to chair that commission."
It then provides in section 4 that if any of them cease to hold office for whatever reason — "if there is a vacancy" is the actual language used — then the person whose seat is vacant, so to speak, has to be appointed in the same manner, so it'll either be the minister's choice or the chief judge's choice or, alternatively, the fifth person, the chair.
This whole complex structure was set up to deal with the very difficult issue of judicial compensation. The Attorney General and the public are well aware of the recent letter — signed by the Chief Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court and the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court — dealing with the whole issue of the review announced by the Attorney General respecting our justice system and the independent judiciary.
From a philosophical perspective, that goes to the absolute heart of our justice system — the concept that judges are free, absolutely free, to make decisions and apply the law in accordance with their responsibilities. It doesn't get any more basic or important than that. It's the hallmark of our system. It's the result of literally hundreds and hundreds of years of decisions and governmental changes and cases and precedent and everything that you can possibly imagine.
This section, in and of itself, contemplates that the default position is that the report of the commission must be accepted unless the Legislative Assembly rejects one or more of the recommendations made in the report as being unfair or unreasonable, and (b) set the remuneration, etc. If it's not rejected, then what the commission recommends becomes, in fact, the appropriate compensation.
I guess my concern is that as we're amending this section to give clarity — and it's perfectly reasonable, and it's not an overly shocking thing to do, I suppose, in terms of some of the minor legislative changes that are made from time to time — it does draw attention, however, to something that has become extremely important, and that is the concept of judicial independence.
Now I might say for the record — and some of my friends who sit on the Provincial Court bench and, I'm sure, some of the Attorney General's friends — that I think it's a pretty good pay package. On the other hand, we expect a great deal of them. It's demanding work — determining the guilt or innocence of individuals, frequently; determining — I was about to use the term "custody," but in view of the changes to the Family Law Act which are not yet proclaimed — who will have what parenting time with children; whether or not parents have treated their children in such a way that should deprive them of their right to parent those children and have the state take over.
These are all very difficult and important matters. They require skill. Certainly in my experience, I might say for the record, the quality of the judicial appointments has improved over time. There were some judges in my early days that I thought might have required, and would have benefited from, some judicial training — certainly some training when it came to moderating their temper.
However, I think that by and large we are very well served by our judiciary, and I say that for the record in light of the comments made by others about the quality of our judiciary. Generally speaking, we are well served indeed by the individuals.
Having said all that, my concern is…. It strikes me that it might have been better to consider a change, because of the importance of judicial independence, that suggested it would have to be a pretty remarkable circumstance that would allow politicians to come to a differing determination of what fair judicial compensation would be, as opposed to accepting the recommendations of a commission.
Now, I understand that in the course of ordinary labour negotiations, often the parties don't wish to engage the services of a binding arbitration process because the results can on occasion be unfavourable to the
[ Page 10489 ]
person having to foot the bill. In this case it's no small amount of money.
We have dozens of judges sitting on our Provincial Court benches and JPs across the province. They cost the taxpayer a fair bit. Their pension benefits are quite generous, although I think my experience is that many of them never live long enough to collect them in any event, which is one of the sad facts of the pressure of the work they undertake and the nature of the legal profession generally.
It strikes me that we are in a situation where haggling, if you will, or being seen to be haggling with judges about compensation is not the healthiest process in terms of encouraging people to accept judicial appointments or to continue to act as judges in our province. It draws into question, of course, the independence of the judiciary.
I come back to my main point. It's not an esoteric topic. It is not a topic just for those who practise in the courts or who are having some involvement in it. For those who value democracy, it is absolutely fundamental because judges can rule against the state. Judges make decisions that go against the will of elected officials, if you will, and that's a pretty important thing.
We don't have to look very far around the planet to see jurisdictions where that is not in fact the case. So I'm just wondering if the Attorney General in light of the changes she is proposing today with respect to the time, which really doesn't have any significant impact on the timing, has considered a process that makes it even less likely that this assembly will ever have to make a decision about judicial compensation — that in fact these decisions should, by and large, always be left to independent commissions who will be seen to be fair.
Whatever the political fallout — if the public is not happy with the level of compensation, so be it — that is the necessary price to pay for judicial independence, which must not only be the case but appear to be the case.
Hon. S. Bond: I very much, and regularly do, appreciate not only the comments by the member opposite, but he has a great deal of experience — experience that I don't personally have. But I can assure the member opposite that in all of the questions that we are asking about the necessity for us to look at the justice system in British Columbia, inherent in that discussion is a recognition of the independence of the judiciary.
I have been very clear, in my personal comments to the chief justices and the chief judge, about the importance of that to the system of justice we have in our country. What we're suggesting here is not at all implying that there is any less recognition of the independence that judges must have — and certainly on the bench. But the Supreme Court did make it clear that in fact there is a role for the legislature in terms of judicial compensation. The Supreme Court, in essence, gave that responsibility to legislatures.
We're not seeking to change any of that. In fact, what we're asking for, I believe, is a very reasonable response to clarify time frames related to the response to the commission reports that will be presented in the Legislature.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that it is legislatures who retain that ability. It isn't that the legislatures can simply willy-nilly make decisions about judicial compensation. They have to provide rationale. They have to provide reasons for a decision that they might make.
This is not about fundamentally looking at an undermining of judicial independence. It's simply an administrative change in the time that we have to respond here in the assembly to that ability to discuss judicial compensation — again, provided by the Supreme Court.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
K. Corrigan: This change to section 8 of the Judicial Compensation Act, I believe, essentially provides the chief judge the authority to allow extra compensation for part-time judges.
What the original subsection 8(2) says, under "Salary and Benefits," is: "A part time judge's salary in any year (a) must not exceed 40% of the salary of a full time judge, and (b) must not exceed the difference between the salary to which a full time judge is entitled for that year and the part time judge's pension for that year."
My understanding of this section as it now exists is that essentially the maximum is 40 percent of a full-time judge. That, plus the pension, cannot equal more than what a full-time judge makes. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: I was doing the math there to ensure the numbers were correct, and that is correct.
K. Corrigan: I had to read the section a couple of times to make sure I understood what it was saying as well. We agree that that's what the section presently says.
This addition of a subsection (2.1) says that there are circumstances when somebody can actually make more than what a full-time judge makes presently, working as a part-time judge.
It says that the "limits imposed under subsection (2) on a part time judge's salary may be exceeded, by an amount no greater than 20 % of the maximum permitted under that subsection" — in other words, 20 percent more than a full-time judge, if you put together their present pension and the 40 percent time or just add extra time — "if (a) the chief judge authorizes the part time judge to sit in excess of the part time judge's scheduled sittings…and (b) the extra sittings are necessary, in the chief judge's opinion, to meet urgent and unforeseen needs of the court, including needs arising from the illness or injury of another...."
[ Page 10490 ]
Am I correct in assuming that what this essentially means is that somebody can work an extra 20 percent of the time, which also would mean that their salary is going to be…? Is it 20 percent of the 40 percent, or is it 20 percent of a full-time position? Maybe I'll ask that question first.
Hon. S. Bond: It does not imply changes to their pension. The best way to describe this is that it allows part-time judges to sit more days. That's what this allows.
In fact, to the point of the previous discussion with the member opposite about judicial independence, what's key here is that we're not actually telling the chief judge to do anything. We're actually providing him with the tool that, in fact, the chief judge requested during the discussions around judicial compensation. So what this does is allow for a higher limit of compensation for senior part-time judges under certain specific circumstances, and we've clearly articulated what those might be.
K. Corrigan: I think, on reading it, that what it says, though, is essentially that a part-time judge can make an extra 20 percent more than the total of 100 percent of a salary, which we were talking about earlier. In other words, a part-time judge could make a maximum of 40 percent of the salary — I would assume sitting 40 percent of the year — plus an amount that would take them, if their pension was enough, up to 100 percent, and then we can add another 20 percent. So essentially, what we could have is a part-time judge who is making up to 120 percent of the salary of a sitting full-time judge. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: The new section (2.1) outlines that in fact a part-time judge can make 20 percent more than the 40 percent that's noted in (2)(a). Currently a part-time judge's salary in any year must not exceed 40 percent of the salary of a full-time judge. The new section we're adding says that the part-time judge may exceed that by up to 20 percent of the maximum permitted in (2). So in essence, it's 40 percent to a maximum of 20 additional percent.
K. Corrigan: I probably have not worded it properly. What the section now says is that the part-time judge…. The total they receive in the year, pension and salary included — if you add those two together — could be 20 percent higher than the salary, the income, that the full-time judge is making. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: We need to remember that the circumstances under which a part-time judge would be able to sit more frequently…. The criteria are very specific. Injury or illness to another judge, unanticipated resignation — there are a number of specific reasons that this tool might be used by the chief judge. It is possible that when you add their pension benefits plus the 40 percent of the salary of a full-time judge and up to 20 percent additional, they could, in those circumstances, earn more than a full-time judge if you account for their pension as well.
But let's remember that this is a tool provided to the chief judge. It is to be used in certain limited circumstances. Is it possible? Yes, it is.
Do we consider it likely or a regular occurrence? No, we don't.
K. Corrigan: Well, I'm asking the question, and I appreciate that the minister has acknowledged that the total that a part-time judge brings in could be up to 20 percent more than what a full-time judge makes.
It does seem significant because, in fact, I believe that this section was in place previously, saying that there was a limit and that there was a reason for the limit. I'm wondering if the minister knows when the section 8 that we are now amending was passed in this Legislature.
Hon. S. Bond: In 2002 the program for part-time judges was created, and that is when that would have been outlined.
K. Corrigan: In 2002, when the present government was the government, there was a section passed that thought it was a good idea to limit the amount that a part-time judge could make and essentially limit that their earnings as a part-time judge plus their pension did not go any higher than that of a full-time judge. I'm wondering if the minister could tell me why that provision, then, was put into place at that time.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, this is a fairly ironic conversation because I think if this were question period, we would be hearing about the need to add additional judicial resources. In fact, this is precisely the reaction. What is really interesting is that when the judicial compensation review was actually carried through the Legislature, the members opposite actually supported this.
We are bringing it through the Legislature because we agreed as a Legislature, as an assembly — unanimously, as I recall — that this was an important tool for the chief judge. In fact, it is a way in unforeseen and urgent circumstances…. No part-time judge gets to even be considered for this type of compensation unless the specific criteria of unforeseen and urgent circumstances are met.
If there is an unexpected retirement of a judge, if there is a sudden injury or illness — certainly, as the Attorney General, I hear about those from time to time — this allows the chief judge to have another tool to be able to address that. Do we expect this to be a regular usage? The answer to that would be no. Having said that, the chief judge asked for it, and this Legislature approved it.
[ Page 10491 ]
K. Corrigan: I certainly appreciate that we need more members of the judiciary, and we support that, but we also want to make sure that it is the most effective and efficient use of taxpayers' dollars in the way that we are filling those positions. The question is whether doing it this way is the most appropriate way to do it.
I'm wondering if the minister could tell me…. My understanding is that there have been appointed a number of retired judges who are coming back as part-time judges. Are those judges captured under this section?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, retired judges come back, and they act as part-time judges. There's a part-time judges program. Does it automatically qualify them under this section? No, because the chief judge has to determine that and has to meet the criteria that it is unforeseen and urgent needs of the court.
We think it's actually a very efficient process because it gives the chief judge the ability in certain circumstances to say: "I need to have that part-time judge work additional hours, sit for additional days." But it does not give the chief judge a blank cheque — although I'm sure he would like one, from most of the conversations I have had him.
This does not do that. In fact, it caps it at 20 percent, in addition to the 40 percent. So we believe there's an appropriate cap in place, that we have clearly defined limited circumstances in which this particular section would be applied by the chief judge.
K. Corrigan: So the part-time judges that the minister and others in government have talked about having been appointed recently to cover the gaps, really, in the judicial system…. The fact is we are, I think, 15 judges — something like that — down from where we were in 2005.
Unless the criteria that are talked about here were met — that there are unforeseen needs and urgent circumstances, essentially — those part-time judges, then, would be limited to the 40 percent time. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: That is indeed correct. In essence, a part-time judge would work up to 40 percent of the salary of a full-time judge, unless the chief judge had a set of unforeseen or urgent circumstances. He could then allow that particular part-time judge to exceed the 40 percent salary of a full-time judge.
Again, when it comes to judicial resources, we are diligently adding, where appropriate, additional judicial resources. In fact, part of the discussion we're having about justice reform in the province is really about looking at the other things that impact the need for judges and the appointment of judges. We have to look at a drop in crime rate and a number of other factors which I have articulated numerous times in the House.
This section would be used by the chief judge at his discretion when certain specific circumstances are met.
L. Krog: I just have a question for the Attorney General with respect to the use of part-time judges. What percentage of the judiciary, or judicial time involved, is used by part-time judges presently?
Hon. S. Bond: We don't have the specific percentage, but certainly, our staff can work to do that and provide that to the member opposite, as we have done with other issues in the past.
L. Krog: The reason I raise the issue in the context of this clarification, if you will, or allowance for an exception so that a part-time judge could be utilized more fully, is simply this. And it's particularly applicable in those jurisdictions outside of the Big Smoke of Vancouver, where there can be a certain reluctance for judges to start cases because they know that they're only there for a few days and then they're back to Vancouver. In other words, they're not a resident judge.
We have resident judges in Nanaimo, Prince George, Kamloops, Kelowna, Victoria, etc. But in the smaller centres a judge is there for a few days from another jurisdiction, filling in because of whatever the situation may be. It may be health. It may be holidays. It may be an increased caseload in that particular registry.
My concern — and this is an issue that can certainly be communicated to Mr. Cowper in the course of his review, and I'm sure he's already considered this and talked about it with the chief judge and other judges he may be talking to — is that we are seeing cases adjourned, whether they be civil or criminal, because judges are not in a position to guarantee that the litigants, whoever they may be — or the Crown, the accused, as the case may be — will be in a position to have his or her return in a timely way.
The last thing judges like to do is split cases. You don't like to be hearing two or three days of evidence and then six months until you hear the next part of the case. The only way you're going to be able to handle that, of course, is if you engage in having transcripts prepared. We all know that that's a very expensive proposition and leads to more costs in the justice system.
That's the context in which I'm raising the issue around the use of part-time judges. I'm wondering if the Attorney General has considered that in a general way.
What this section is really doing is giving an opportunity to the chief judge to utilize a part-time judge more effectively. But it raises the question: why is the chief judge having to do that?
Would we not be better served…? Might not the efficiency of the system and might not justice be better served generally if we ensured more full-time resident judges in the various communities that now may be being served by a significant number of out-of-town judges
[ Page 10492 ]
there to fill a specific need? In other words, might we not get cases dealt with more effectively?
Indeed, the prospect of encouraging local knowledge of a situation, I think, is always a healthy thing. I think justice must serve the communities. It might in fact lead to an enhanced and more efficient justice system. I'm just wondering if the Attorney General could comment on that.
Hon. S. Bond: As the member opposite referenced in his first question, I think that those are exactly the kinds of issues that Geoff Cowper is looking at.
I can only assure the member this — that when the chief judge recently requested additional judges, we agreed to provide those. In fact, the chief judge identified exactly where those judges were going to go. He outlined the needs that he felt were most significant, and it was appropriate for us to respond by providing the resources that he requested. We did that, and in fact, judges were appointed virtually right across the province in a variety of areas.
This is not the answer in and of itself to systemic issues in the justice system. I think what this is, is another tool to give as much flexibility as possible, fully recognizing the independence of the chief judge to deal with extraordinary circumstances. I think that's prudent. In fact, this Legislature agreed with that, and what we're doing now is simply putting in place the legislative mandate to do what we agreed to do.
Is it the answer to every issue related to judicial capacity? No, and in fact, that's why I'm very pleased with the kinds of engagement we're seeing across sectors in the justice system who are very much prepared to talk to us about what kinds of things, fully recognizing the independence of the judiciary, we could contemplate.
I think there's healthy debate going on. This is not the answer to that in and of itself, but I think it is creative, and I think it's a productive way of responding to the chief judge's concerns.
L. Krog: Just a couple of points around the section. I take it this section, the proposed amendment, is the result of a request from the Provincial Court judiciary, from the chief judge. I'm just wondering: was any indication given of how many exceptions there would likely be in the course of any given year that we would require this kind of leeway to allow for a 20 percent increase in the maximum permitted under the section?
Hon. S. Bond: Yes, it was a request of the chief judge and, again, a part of our response to the review.
I know that the member opposite is going to know this, but we did contemplate, obviously, the circumstances related to serious injury or unforeseen circumstances. But by the very definition of the criteria, it would be hard to quantify when it says "unforeseen." It's pretty difficult to quantify something that's unforeseen.
Section 7 approved.
On section 8.
Hon. S. Bond: Hon. Chair, I move the amendment to section 8 standing in my name in the orders of the day.
[SECTION 8, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
8 Section 3 of the Jury Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 242, is amended
(a) by repealing subsection (1) (p) and (q) and substituting the following:
(p) a person convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Canada) for whom a
pardon record suspension has not been granted under the Criminal Records Act (Canada),
(q) currently charged with an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Canada), or , and
(b) by repealing subsection (2).]
On the amendment.
Hon. S. Bond: The amendment to section 8 replaces the word "pardon" with the term "record suspension" in subsection 3(a)(p) of the Jury Act. It is being done to reflect the recent amendment to the Criminal Records Act made by the federal government. That was done on March 13, obviously after we had tabled this legislation. In fact, that is the amendment that we are moving.
On section 8 as amended.
K. Corrigan: There's a slight change here. It's not a pardon; it's a record suspension. Maybe the minister can just confirm, first of all, that the effect of this…. This is talking about a disqualification from serving as a juror. You know, serving on a jury is one of the very important, I think, privileges in our country and in our province. It is part of one of the very important institutions of a democracy.
While it may be true that many people do not end up serving on juries for a variety of reasons, including just the luck of the draw, the disqualification of having somebody serve on a jury is, I think, a serious matter, because it's part of our judicial system and part of our democracy. It is a privilege, as I said.
My reading of this is essentially that it's going to change the present section 3 of the Jury Act, which talks about who is disqualified from serving on a jury. Presently it says: "A person is disqualified from serving as a juror who is...." And there's a whole list, like "(a) not a Canadian citizen, (b) not resident in British Columbia, (c) under the age of majority," a member of the Legislature, and various other reasons.
Section (p) presently says you can't serve on a jury if you're "a person convicted within the previous 5 years of
[ Page 10493 ]
an offence for which the punishment could be a fine of more than $2 000 or imprisonment for one year or more, unless the person has been pardoned."
That's going to be changed to say that a person can't serve on a jury if they've been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for whom a record suspension — which would have been like a pardon, I take it — had not been granted. I have a real concern. First of all, maybe the minister can confirm that anybody who has been convicted under the Criminal Code of Canada, if they haven't received a pardon, will no longer be able to serve on juries in this province.
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, that's incorrect. This doesn't change who can serve on a jury. What it is, is clarity in wording. The concern is that if you read the old sections, it's very difficult to interpret whether or not you fit in that category. For example, a person who is being summoned is rarely aware of the full range of punishments for their convictions or their charges. The section that is the old section is now simply being clarified and categorized in the new section.
We're not radically changing the ability to have a person serve on a jury. We are simply clarifying the wording of the two jury disqualification criteria. Currently in British Columbia the disqualification criteria are noted, and we are simply clarifying the wording. Of course, we amended it to line up with the recent changes by the federal government.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
K. Corrigan: Well, the old section says that you can't serve if you were convicted within the previous five years. Presumably, under the old section — I could well be misreading this — it seems to me that if you had been convicted ten years ago, you could serve on a jury. The new section, to me, says that if you've ever been convicted, then you can't serve on a jury. I might be missing something there, but that's my reading of it.
Hon. S. Bond: Again, we are looking at clarifying the wording. In fact, the existing disqualification provisions in the act with regard to criminal convictions and criminal charges are very difficult to interpret, so we are creating a precise definition of the disqualifications. The translation of the old section is now included in the new section.
If you have been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for which a record suspension has not been granted, you will not be able to serve on a jury in British Columbia. Those are the disqualification criteria, and the purpose of the amendment is to clarify and simplify the wording of those disqualifications.
K. Corrigan: I'm sorry. I just don't get it from the reading of what's in front of me. This is for our great listening audience. The old act says disqualified from serving as a juror is someone who is "a person convicted within the previous 5 years of an offence."
It seems to me, apart from the fine part, that presently if you were convicted ten years ago for an offence, then you could serve on a jury. But under the new act, if you were convicted ten years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, when you were 18 years old or whatever, you are no longer able to serve on a jury. Is that not correct — the comparison?
Hon. S. Bond: As I said to the member opposite previously, we are clarifying the sections that outline the disqualification criteria. So if you have been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and you have not been granted either a pardon or a record suspension, you will not be able to serve on a jury in British Columbia, or if you are currently charged with an offence under the Criminal Code or Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The concern was that people who were summoned rarely would have the full understanding of the breadth of their convictions and charges and how they would fit into the old section. This is simplifying and clarifying the wording in section 8.
K. Corrigan: Would you agree that it's not just simplifying and clarifying; it is changing?
Hon. S. Bond: The changes include clarifying the wording. If you have been charged under the sections noted in (p) and (q), you will not be able to serve on a jury unless you receive a record suspension or a pardon.
L. Krog: I don't think the minister is deliberately trying to miss the point here that the member for Burnaby–Deer Lake is trying to make, but I think it's fairly clear it me. The existing section 3(1) says: "A person is disqualified from serving as a juror who is…(p) a person convicted within the previous 5 years of an offence for which the punishment could be a fine of more than $2 000 or imprisonment for one year or more, unless the person has been pardoned."
So if I was convicted four years ago of drunk driving and I haven't received a pardon, then I can't serve on a jury. If, however, I was convicted of drunk driving six years ago — doesn't matter whether I've been pardoned or not — I am qualified under the existing section to serve as a juror. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: The member has articulated the change in language. The section now reads, as I have said, that a person convicted under the Criminal Code or Controlled
[ Page 10494 ]
Drugs and Substances Act will not be able to serve on a jury unless they have a record suspension or a pardon. In fact, this language mirrors language that's in place in other jurisdictions.
L. Krog: I appreciate the minister's answer, but what we're simply trying to get her to acknowledge is what I think is pretty obvious, and it's not a tricky question. Under the existing act, the way it reads now, if my conviction is ten years old, happened in 2002, I am entitled to serve as a juror. I am not disqualified. Is that correct?
The Chair: Member for Nanaimo, can you please repeat the question?
L. Krog: Just a simple example. The existing legislation, under the existing act, 3(1)(p) — my reading of it — very simply says if I was convicted of an offence ten years ago, I am qualified to serve as a juror under the existing provision. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: Unless there has been a record suspension or a pardon, the section clearly outlines that if you have been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, you will not be able to serve on a jury. You can, however, obviously, apply for a record suspension.
L. Krog: I'm sorry. Maybe I'm not explaining myself very well. I'm referring to the existing section which is proposed to be amended. It says: "a person convicted within the previous 5 years of an offence for which the punishment could be a fine of more than $2 000 or imprisonment for one year or more, unless the person has been pardoned."
What that says to me — pretty plain reading — is that if four years ago I was convicted of theft under $200 but I've received a pardon, I can serve as a juror. If I haven't received a pardon, I can't serve as a juror under the existing provision. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Bond: The change removes the five years, and in fact the person would be required to look at a record suspension and apply for that.
L. Krog: That's the point that we've been trying to get through to the minister. This, in fact, is a fairly significant expansion of the disqualification. I'll give the minister a perfectly good and historic example: the former distinguished member of this assembly Frank Howard. Frank Howard sat as an MLA in this chamber for many years and sat in the federal parliament — a distinguished parliamentarian. He was the subject, if I recall my history correctly, of a bit of a blackmail attempt when he was a very young man. As stupid young men do…. As the minister well knows, the greater percentage of crime in a society is determined by the percentage of 18-to-24-year-old males in it.
He was convicted of armed bank robbery — I think I'm correct in that — and served three years. Frank Howard at the age of 40 or the age of 60, under the proposed change, notwithstanding all his distinguished time as a parliamentarian, if he were able to do so, would be ineligible to serve as a juror under proposed amendment.
If a 19-year-old male was convicted of public mischief, tearing down a stop sign, and then went on to complete law school, became a Provincial Court judge and retired, under this section he would be ineligible to serve as a juror. This is a pretty dramatic expansion of the disqualification of persons to serve as jurors.
Now, I could make some cute joke about: any criminal would want a jury of his peers, so to speak, to decide his or her guilt or innocence. One can understand that, you know, you're up for bank robbery, so you want 12 bank robbers. But jokes like that aside, I'm asking the minister: does she think it makes sense to expand it this broadly?
You know, we recognize in our society that people make mistakes when they're young and stupid. Some of them make them a little older. But they reform themselves, and they become productive and useful members of society. The right to serve on a jury — and I see it as a right and a privilege, not an imposition by the state — surely must be an important one. I can't understand, given the legislative restriction now — it says it has to be within the previous five years — why we're now expanding it, literally, to a person's lifetime.
I could be wrong, and the minister will correct me, but I don't believe that there's a disqualification based on age per se. It just says: "subject to a mental or physical infirmity incompatible…."
L. Krog: Yes, subject to minors.
So if I'm a 75-year-old long-distance runner who has had a distinguished career in business in the province, if I committed that act of mischief when I was 19, tore down a stop sign, under the proposed legislation I'm ineligible to serve on a jury.
Does the minister think this is, in fact, a good thing to do, given the more restrictive wording of the section? I don't disagree with the minister that if you get a jury notice and you read it and you're not the most sophisticated individual, you might not realize whether or not you fall within a crime for which you could be imprisoned for more than a year or fined more than $2,000. Most of us don't have a Criminal Code lying around the house to check.
What this section is doing is dramatically increasing the number of persons who'd be disqualified as serving as jurors. I just want to hear the minister say that she thinks
[ Page 10495 ]
this is a really good thing, given that I think she understands now what the opposition's concern is around the broadening of the expansion of disqualification.
Hon. S. Bond: In fact, I certainly understand the member opposite's point, but there is a way back to serve on the jury. That is that after three to five years, if someone has been convicted under the Criminal Code, they can actually apply to have their record suspended or a pardon granted. We believe that other jurisdictions have used a similar criteria. I certainly understand the member opposite's view. We actually believe there is a way back to being able to serve on a jury.
So it is incorrect to suggest that, in fact, this precludes jury service, but this relates to individuals who have been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, for whom a pardon or, now, a record suspension, has been not been granted under the Criminal Code.
So yes, there is a step. The person would need to apply to make sure that they have the ability to serve on that jury, but it is not about automatically disallowing them. Probably on this point we'll have to agree to disagree. I certainly respect the member opposite's view. This is about clarity. It is about consequences, and it is about…. There is still an opportunity that the individual could eventually serve on a jury.
L. Krog: I appreciate the minister's response that one can simply go and apply for a pardon, which is now called a record suspension, I suppose, but that process is often extremely time-consuming, quite onerous, can be difficult and it applies — to use the line of the member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain — whether I was an axe murderer or a person who'd been in possession of a small amount of marijuana. The process is the same in terms of the paperwork and expense, as I understand it.
It just strikes me that this is an over-the-top reaction to a problem, again, that may not exist. In other words, as I've said earlier today: are we creating a legislative solution to a problem that really isn't an issue? I just want to ask the minister: is she aware of, or have the sheriffs or anyone else given her, statistics or numbers that would indicate that this is an issue that requires this Legislature to, in fact, so dramatically expand the nature of the disqualification?
Hon. S. Bond: Again, I said earlier to the member opposite that to suggest that there's a dramatic expansion…. I don't think that's accurate, and I don't think that it's fair to this piece of legislation, actually.
Not only that, there is no ultimate end point. In fact, the person who has been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code would be required, if that is something that is important to them, to actually apply for a pardon or a suspension of their record.
To suggest that it's a dramatic expansion is not, in my view, accurate. I respect the member and his view. Secondly, it does not mean that there is a lifetime preclusion from serving on a jury. It is simply stating that, in these areas, if you have been charged and if you have been convicted, there is a step that you would need to take in order to be able to serve on a jury.
K. Corrigan: Well, first of all, the minister said that there was no change and insisted in several questions that there was no change whatsoever. Now it has been acknowledged that there is a change and that somebody who has had a conviction that is more than five years old would have been able to serve on a jury and now can't.
I do not understand why it is that somebody who could have perhaps had a conviction 20, 25 years ago, simply because they have not gone and sought a pardon, cannot serve on a jury in this province. One of the things about our judicial system and about democracy generally is that we are supposed to be treating people equally.
When somebody has done their time, they have presumably become contributing members of society. I would think, actually, that person who was now a contributing member of society and had not committed further crimes would be a desirable person to consider for a jury. They'd perhaps have a depth of experience — not all good, but perhaps somebody who has been rehabilitated and has done well in the world….
I simply do not understand why the minister, first of all, would say that there has been no change and then, when acknowledging that there is a change here, would say: "Well, the person has to go apply for a pardon." That's an onerous thing, and I really don't understand what the connection is between whether somebody gets a pardon or not when they have no longer been committing crimes and it's been many, many years. That's my feeling about it.
L. Krog: Forgive me if this appears cheeky, but if the former Premier of this province had been convicted under the Criminal Code of Canada for what he did in Hawaii, he — notwithstanding he is now the high commissioner at the Court of St. James — would be ineligible to serve on a jury in British Columbia. That is the effect of this legislative change.
I don't say it to be cheeky. I say it to bring focus to what's being asked of this Legislature today. It is a dramatic expansion, no matter how you cut it.
There are numerous individuals in this province — safe to say, thousands of individuals — convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana who would be ineligible to serve on a jury as a result of this section. Right now, if it was six years ago or five years plus a day, they'd be able to serve under the terms of the existing legislation. But under the proposed change, they would be ab-
[ Page 10496 ]
solutely and utterly disqualified unless they sought and obtained a pardon.
Moreover, we're not just dealing with convictions. The proposed change, section 8, adds: "(q) currently charged with an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (Canada)."
Let me give an example again. I think I have a certificate for medical marijuana, and there's an issue with the bureaucracy whether I obtained the certificate appropriately or not. So the officer comes in. I have a small amount of marijuana. I'm charged. I may have a perfectly good defence, but under this section, because I've been charged, until it's disposed of I'm ineligible to serve as a juror.
I have been disqualified from a right, a fundamental right recognized for hundreds of years, given to citizens — the right to serve on juries. I will have that right taken away from me simply by virtue of the fact that I've been charged. I haven't been convicted. I haven't had a trial, haven't had a hearing.
D. Donaldson: Police make mistakes.
L. Krog: As the member for Stikine points out, the police actually do, on occasion, make mistakes.
It may not affect a great number of people. I don't know that. I asked the minister earlier if she had some statistics to indicate how often this has been a problem, where people didn't understand or didn't raise the issue that they were disqualified because of a previous conviction.
Perhaps the minister can illuminate the debate by telling me: what are the numbers? Are there any real numbers that support this change? Because within the context of the people that this applies to, this is a dramatic change. So I'm asking the minister: does she have any numbers or statistics that support this?
Hon. S. Bond: As I've said repeatedly to both members opposite who are asking the questions, while we respect their views, we need to be very clear that…. To the member opposite, the old section also did include while you have been "under a charge for an offence." While there were specific criteria noted there, the previous act actually had a similar category in it. So in fact, there is a change there which removes the $2,000 or imprisonment, but while being charged with an offence was included in the old act.
To the member opposite's perspective, in fact, we are aligning this language and legislation with what other jurisdictions in Canada have in place. As much as the member opposite would like to describe this as dramatic and expansive, we do not see it that way. It is also inaccurate to suggest that people would be permanently precluded from serving on a jury.
Let's be clear about the language that is appropriate. A person has been convicted under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. They will have to make application to have their record suspended. Then when that is granted, if it's granted, they have the ability to serve on a jury in British Columbia. It lines up with the practices in other jurisdictions across the country as well.
K. Corrigan: Has the minister or the minister's staff considered whether or not this change could be subject to a constitutional challenge?
Hon. S. Bond: Language similar to this has been in place in British Columbia for almost a hundred years. Other jurisdictions, we believe, other than Saskatchewan, have language very similar to this, and we're not aware of any constitutional challenges.
But we need to be clear one more time. This does not preclude individuals from serving on a jury for their entire lives. It is, if they have been convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, if they have not received a pardon or a suspension of their record. They can apply to have that done. If they apply and are successful, they will be able to serve on a jury.
L. Krog: I appreciate what the minister has to say and that she doesn't see it as a great change. But the fact is that a five-year restriction was, in fact, I would argue, the collective wisdom of this Legislature some time ago, and I think it's collectively still the correct decision. Expanding it now to what amounts to a lifetime, potentially — because the average person may not even know they're disqualified from serving on a jury until it comes to the situation, and then it's going to be too late for them to apply for a pardon — I just think is unreasonable.
The five-year provision was a reasonable provision, and we are expanding it. We're disqualifying a number of British Columbians, indeed thousands, from a right which I think is important to them.
I have yet to hear the minister answer this question. And if she has the numbers, give them to me now. What statistics are there — or what numbers, what evidence — that say that this is an issue? How many people have been disqualified, or how many people have had an issue with whether or not they were qualified as a result of the existing section 3(1)(p)?
Hon. S. Bond: As I said to the member opposite, this is based on what other jurisdictions have in place in terms of their approach to this, the selection of juries. It does not preclude individuals from ultimately serving on a jury in British Columbia, so we need to make sure that the record is correct. In fact, they have the ability…. After they have been convicted under the Criminal Code, they have the option of applying for a suspension of their record.
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We believe — and, certainly, it's the legal advice that I've been given — that this section is reasonable. It is a reasonable limit under section 1 of the Charter, so we don't anticipate there being constitutional challenges. It is in place in virtually every province — language similar to this — in the country, except for Saskatchewan.
The view was to clarify the disqualifications and allow for there to continue to be a route to serve on a jury, which is exactly what this does. But the person, having been convicted, will have to take that step to have their record suspended.
K. Corrigan: I just want to note that subsection (2) of this section is repealed, and I believe that the dentists, chiropractors and naturopaths will be pleased that they are no longer exempt from serving on juries in British Columbia.
Section 8 as amended approved on division.
On section 9.
L. Krog: This section provides that the sheriff would be given authority to obtain a criminal records check for a juror. I'm just wondering what the reason is for this section. Has there been a court challenge? Is the sheriff not empowered to do so under existing legislation? Or is this just a matter of the ministry being careful to ensure that the sheriff has that lawful authority?
Hon. S. Bond: The member opposite is correct. We want to be sure that the sheriff has the proper authority to be able to make the appropriate checks. So he's correct.
L. Krog: Again, a question that I hope doesn't sound too cheeky: is it safe to assume that in fact sheriffs have been doing this regardless and that this section is to ensure that their activities are sanctioned by law?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, no, that wasn't cheeky at all. In fact, no, sheriffs have not been doing this. We have relied on the veracity of the potential jurors.
There is an MOU in place between the Attorney General's ministry and the RCMP. Sheriffs will require written consent from jurors in order for the sheriff to access the information. There is a protocol in place. They have not been doing it.
Sections 9 and 10 approved.
On section 11.
L. Krog: This is the provision that adds the ability to summons jurors electronically. As much as I appreciate this bill before the House to bring the film commission and all of those things up to date, because so much of what is handled now is done electronically, I'm just curious to know how one is going to be satisfied that doing it electronically is in fact effective — or that you've got the correct address. In other words, how does the minister see this particular provision rolling out in practice?
Hon. S. Bond: To the member opposite, I think we had this discussion when we introduced, or at least in his second reading comments, but this is an option for the future. We're building in the option in the future for sheriffs to issue summonses via the electronic address.
Certainly, we know that we live in a very technological world, and things are changing. We don't have a structure in place where we would see this implemented in the short term, but we want to do the work that would look at the very kinds of issues that the member opposite is talking about. Is it practical? Where would we use it?
I mean, one of the challenges we have is that there is not an extensive e-mail address database. Currently we would be very hindered in the ability to do this. But as we look at moving the justice system into a more modern era, this is an important consideration. Those are the kinds of questions we will take into consideration as we work with our stakeholders.
It is very unlikely that anything we develop in this area would be as comprehensive as the existing provincial voters list, for example, with residential addresses. This is really futuristic and looking at how we could potentially provide more flexibility in contacting jurors.
L. Krog: As much as I appreciate that the government is getting ahead of the curve…. As the minister has pointed out, when it talks about sending a notice to the last known electronic address of the juror, it's pretty hard to determine. It's not like you have a telephone directory lying around the house.
The other concern I have is that the practice has been to use the voters list, and the state of the voters list can often leave something to be desired. I have, as I'm sure the minister has on various occasions in her own political career, canvassed houses, gone to the odd apartment where you see notices from Elections B.C. addressed to seven or eight different people — and I'm not exaggerating — with different surnames, all supposedly at that last address. That would indicate that.... Chances are they're not all living in the one-bedroom apartment or basement suite. So clearly, things are somewhat amiss.
I'm just wondering if the minister has had any discussions with the Chief Electoral Officer as to the sufficiency of the voters list and, given the current and ongoing practice of using that, whether it's entirely appropriate. If so, is she satisfied? Also, what charges, if any, have been laid or summonses issued as a result of people who supposedly should have received it via mail but in fact didn't receive
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it? Or is the present practice…?
My understanding is — and I have received a couple myself — that you get it in the mail. We haven't changed our address in a long time. We're pretty safe. But there are lots of other people who don't. So I'd just like to hear the minister's comment on that and the state of the voters list.
Hon. S. Bond: I haven't spoken directly to the Chief Electoral Officer about this issue, but we are in the process of contemplating, for example — this would be a fairly current situation for the members opposite — the whole issue of on-line voting and the use of technology and how efficiently and safely and securely we can do that. I'm not aware of charges that have been laid related to electoral issues.
I think this reflects a desire, again, as it was with the part-time judges circumstance, to look at flexibility and new approaches, to look at innovation. Obviously, anything we sought to do here would need to be done within a framework of what is safe and secure. How do we define an electronic signature? We have to discuss those things.
Again, this is certainly not going to happen overnight. We want it to be an option in the future, though, because certainly I know the member opposite….
You know, I have young people in my life, and I can assure you that traditional mail and even land lines in homes are non-existent in their world. I think it is an attempt for us to look at being creative, innovative, and we would do that in the context, obviously, of a lot of discussion, including with the Chief Electoral Officer.
K. Corrigan: Well, as we creep into the future, I certainly understand why this provision for electronic signatures and summoning is being put in place. I recently, or maybe a year or so ago, received a summons and could respond to the summons on line, which is a partial movement in that direction.
But my question is serious about what the impact is of the changes to the way that we manage to find our jurors. It goes back to the comment that I made earlier — that I believe it's very important, as part of our judicial system, that as we are gathering jurors together, they be a jury of peers.
Something I think we've learned in politics and learned in other areas of the world is that we are richer in all our institutions if we manage to find people who are truly reflective of our society — a representation of women, a representation of lifestyles, a representation of diversity, all senses of diversity in our community.
One of my concerns as we move forward is how it is that we're going to ensure that our jurors continue to reflect the diversity of our communities. Certainly, language is a barrier. I don't know what you could do about that, but language is a barrier, so we don't have diversity, perhaps, as much as we should.
With the use of electronics…. I'm concerned that if we don't continue to empanel juries, gather our juries, through the traditional mechanisms as well, we could certainly leave behind, at least for the next several years, a whole group of people, particularly seniors, who do not have e-mail. So that's the comment. If the minister wants to respond to that, that's fine.
The other question is…. Now, I haven't looked at the section, but my understanding is that there are some penalties for those that do not respond to jury duty. I'm wondering what the minister contemplates in terms of people…. You send it to an electronic address, and there is no response. How would you deal with the penalties for not responding?
Hon. S. Bond: Those are all the kinds of details that would need to be considered, but it's not unlike when you get something in the mail and it goes to a mailbox that someone doesn't check, or they don't pick it up or don't get it. It would just simply be the electronic version of ensuring that we find appropriate ways to contact potential jurors.
I appreciate the expression of concern about diversity on juries. Having said that, one of the basic principles of the selection of juries is that they're entirely random. In fact, I have learned that it's actually done by some sort of algorithm of three million names, and it is entirely random in nature. I think that we're not intending to change that.
I do certainly understand the reflection of concern about the diversity that we would like to see on juries. Again, this is an opportunity that we look to developing in the future. I think the comments are important and would certainly be considered as we move this initiative forward.
L. Krog: I do note that in the proposed new section it says: "If it appears that a person empanelled to serve on a jury is dead, has moved out of the county or is disqualified…." I'm just wondering if the minister has considered how, in practice, we're going to determine if you're apparently dead.
Hon. S. Bond: Well, I was waiting expectantly for the member opposite to refer to that subsection, because I know he brought it up in his second reading comments. It was one of the lighter moments we've shared together in this place.
In essence, it doesn't, obviously, refer to the physical state. It refers to the fact that you may send a letter or send an e-mail, and it appears that that person has passed away. It is a matter of trying to capture the fact that they've either left the country or potentially, unfortunately, have passed away. The wording may lead the member opposite to read that as in the physical sense, but it really is about notification and discovering that someone is ob-
[ Page 10499 ]
viously no longer eligible to be a juror.
Sections 11 and 12 approved.
On section 13.
K. Corrigan: I have a couple of questions on this section. I think I brought this up at second reading. The section amends section 24 of the Jury Act.
The first one is a housekeeping comment. This amendment says that section 24 of the Jury Act is amended by repealing subsection (2) and then adding the following subsection. My question is…. We now have a subsection 24(1). We have a subsection (2). If you repeal section (2) and you add subsection (3), do you not then have a section 24(1) and a section 24(3) but no subsection (2)?
Hon. S. Bond: Actually, subsection (2) would say "repealed." So (1) would be the text that's there; (3) would be the new language. Leg. counsel…. In the format that they use, subsection (2) would say "repealed."
K. Corrigan: Thank you for that — a new little bit of knowledge about how it works.
My other question is on the substantive nature of it. What it presently says is: "A person serving on a jury panel but not selected to sit as a juror is entitled to receive (a) an allowance for necessary and reasonable expenses, and (b) a prescribed fee for each day that the person is required to attend at a sitting."
That section is being repealed, and instead, we will have: "At the discretion of the sheriff, a person sitting as a juror at a trial or a sitting that takes 50 days or longer may be paid a prescribed fee for a day that the person is required to attend at the trial or the sitting but the trial or the sitting is cancelled for that day at short notice."
My question to the minister. I'm not sure how much this comes up, but are there circumstances now where people would be paid where, under the new section, people who are there but not sitting, or in any other circumstance, will not be paid?
Hon. S. Bond: I think the crux of the question is: is anyone going to lose anything, or are people going to gain something? No one will lose anything.
What this does is allows the sheriff the discretion to pay the per diem. For example, if the judge is ill…. Previously you would have had to travel in to the site of the trial in order to receive payment. What this allows is that, in those rare circumstances where suddenly a day of the trial might be cancelled, the person doesn't actually have to come to the trial site, but the sheriff can pay the per diem without that particular juror having to make their way to the courthouse.
In essence, it's an additional tool for the sheriff to make sure that people who are part of a jury are fairly compensated.
K. Corrigan: But the present provision says that a person serving on a jury panel but not selected to sit as a juror is entitled to receive expenses and a fee. Are there no people that presently fall under that section receiving a fee or an allowance?
Hon. S. Bond: I certainly confused the answer in the last section where she asked this question, so we'll get it right this time.
Section (2) is bringing it in line with current practice. Currently, since 2003, if you come to the court and you are not selected as a juror, you do not receive fees for that. You don't receive travel expenses or anything. So the member is correct. We're taking that section out, and it aligns with current practice. Since 2003 fees have not been paid.
In essence, subsection (3) adds a new tool for the sheriff to provide additional support to selected jurors, and section (2) is being removed because we haven't been reimbursing those costs since 2003. In essence, it clarifies what exists today.
K. Corrigan: The law, Jury Act, says: "A person serving on a jury panel but not selected to sit as a juror is entitled to receive (a) an allowance for necessary and reasonable expenses, and (b) a prescribed fee for each day that the person is required to attend at a sitting." Is the minister saying that since 2003 that has not been happening, contrary to the Jury Act?
Hon. S. Bond: It also says there needed to be a prescribed fee, and there was not one. There has not been a prescribed fee.
K. Corrigan: I certainly understand subsection (b), and I expected that perhaps I'd get that answer — that there is no prescribed fee. I'm assuming that there was an order-in-council removing that fee. "Prescribed," I think, means an order-in-council — does it not? I could be wrong. I'd like clarification on that.
The other part is "an allowance for necessary and reasonable expenses." It doesn't say anything about it being prescribed. It simply says it's an entitlement. So I'm wondering how the minister can explain that since 2003 an act that says that they're entitled to receive an allowance for necessary and reasonable expenses…. People who are serving on a jury panel but not selected are not getting it, contrary to the law.
Hon. S. Bond: I want to take the opportunity to clarify how the decision was made, and we'll convey that information to her. We don't have that with us at this point. Obviously, I wasn't there in this portfolio. I'm happy to
[ Page 10500 ]
provide the appropriate answer. I want to make sure it's correct, and we'll be happy to share that with her.
Sections 13 to 16 inclusive approved.
On section 17.
K. Corrigan: I just wanted to confirm my reading of this section, because it's just a few words of an amendment. It says that section 49(2) of the Security Services Act is amended "by striking out 'under this Act or the Body Armour Control Act.' and substituting 'under this or another enactment.'" In fact, if you look at the acts involved….
Would the minister confirm that the effect of this is that where the registrar already regulates the Security Services Act and the Body Armour Control Act, the amendment will essentially allow the registrar to regulate the Armoured Vehicle and After-Market Compartment Control Act? That's what I figured out from reading the sections, and perhaps I could receive a confirmation that that's true.
Hon. S. Bond: That's correct.
Section 17 approved.
Point of Privilege
(Reservation of Right)
S. Fraser: I'd like to raise a point of privilege, if that's all right. I'd like to reserve my right to raise a point of privilege regarding the response from the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations in question period today.
The Chair: Thank you, Member.
Section 18 approved.
Hon. S. Bond: Before I make the motion, Madam Chair, I would just like to express my thanks to the staff that worked very hard. I would like to thank Peter Robinson, Russ Getz, Tyler Nyvall, Neil Reimer and Fraser Marshall, all from a variety of places within the Justice Ministry or the Attorney General Ministry. I appreciate the support they provided in the House today.
With that, I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The committee rose at 5:01 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
BILL 15 — ATTORNEY GENERAL AND
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2011
Bill 15, Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, reported complete with amendment.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as read?
Hon. S. Bond: Now, Mr. Speaker.
Third Reading of Bills
BILL 15 — ATTORNEY GENERAL AND
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOLICITOR GENERAL
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2011
Bill 15, Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General Statutes Amendment Act, 2011, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Polak: I call committee stage on Bill 18, intituled Advanced Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 18 — ADVANCED EDUCATION
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2011
The House in Committee of the Whole on Bill 18 (Section B); D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 5:05 p.m.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
M. Mungall: Section 2 is changing the conflict resolution process — my understanding — in the Architects Act, and this is called a consensual resolution process. I just wanted to ask the minister if she can put it on the record why we're going to this process for the architects.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The amendments to enable the
[ Page 10501 ]
continuation of consensual dispute resolution of professional conduct complaints were actually requested by the Architectural Institute of B.C. in response to a court case arising in the context of another professional association.
The 2009 B.C. Supreme Court case of Salway v. the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. held that professional associations may not engage in alternative dispute resolution processes to resolve professional disciplinary matters without the expressed statutory authority to do so, and we are providing that.
M. Mungall: I wanted to make sure that that was put on the record, for anyone that might be curious.
In section 2, under "consensual resolution review panel," it says that this will mean that the consensual resolution review panel will be established under the bylaws. I'm wondering who will be sitting on this review panel.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: That would be members of the Architectural Institute of B.C. council members.
M. Mungall: Will it be automatically all of the council members or a selection of the council members? When you say council members, my understanding is that those are the individuals who are elected every single year at their AGM.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Yes, the member opposite is correct. They will be members that have been elected to the council. With respect to the actual makeup of the review panel, it will be a selection from the council.
M. Mungall: Then just following from that, will the council then elect like a subcommittee or…. Sorry. We actually have a panel; we have a name for this. Will the council then be electing members from its body to sit on the panel annually, or will the panel be selected on a case-by-case basis?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: That would be established under the bylaws of the AIBC.
M. Mungall: Madam Chair, actually that did finish my questions for that section.
Sections 2 to 7 inclusive approved.
On section 8.
M. Mungall: Section 8 is quite lengthy. Just so that the minister can get to the same page where I am, I'm looking towards the end of section 8. Let's go to subsections (6)(a) and (b). What this section is doing, for anybody who might be watching this at home…. I'm sure we have the excellent ratings that we always do.
For anybody who is wondering, this section basically talks about moving to an inquiry process should the consensual dispute resolution process not work out, and then offers some guidance around how that inquiry process will take place.
Here in subsection (6)(a) and (b) it excludes any of the proceedings that happened under the consensual resolution process. I'm just wondering why that is being done.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: That's a good question. If the consensual resolution process is not successful, then the process actually reverts back to the original disciplinary process that has always been in place. If that happens, then it becomes a legal process, and they have to start all over again. So it's basically a totally new process.
M. Mungall: I'm just wondering if there's any legal precedent, then, to suggest why anything from the consensual resolution process is not allowed to then be brought over as evidence, perhaps, in the inquiry process.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: There is no legal precedent for that. It is standard practice, in fact — a good practice to follow.
M. Mungall: Then moving on to the last part of subsection (6)(c), it notes that the person who participated in the consensual resolution proceedings — so I guess the person who would be the mediator, so to speak — is not able to participate as a member of the discipline committee in the inquiry process.
I'm wondering if that individual would be allowed to testify or provide evidence in the inquiry process.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: No, they would not be able to be part of the second disciplinary procedure. They have to be two completely separate issues.
M. Mungall: They would not be able to testify or to provide any evidence, so there would be absolutely no ability or no legal requirement or anything of the sort. Or is there a legal requirement that excludes that individual from testifying or providing evidence?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This would be consistent with good administrative law practices.
M. Mungall: Okay, but my question was specifically about the individual who would have acted as a mediator role in the consensual resolution process and if they are able to be called upon in an inquiry to provide evidence or testify in that inquiry.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: No.
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M. Mungall: Should it be interpreted, then, that this section specifically states that they are not to be called upon to provide evidence?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Subsection (6)(c) does make it fairly clear. I'll read it out for the member opposite: "a person who participated in the consensual resolution proceedings under this section must not participate as a member of the discipline committee in the inquiry concerning those issues."
M. Mungall: I have it in front of me. Thank you for reading it out, but I do have it right in front of me, so I can see in black and white what it says.
It says: "...participate as a member of the discipline committee...." I'm not asking if they can participate as a member of the discipline committee. I'm asking if the discipline committee can call on that individual to provide evidence in the disciplinary process. If they cannot, how is that to be interpreted, based on this clause? It doesn't specifically say that in this clause.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'll ask the member opposite to draw her attention to subsection (6)(b). It says that "the disciplinary committee must not consider the admissions made or any information provided in the consensual resolution proceedings," specifically outlining the inability for someone who participated in the consensual dispute avenue that did not work, that was not successful, to be part of the disciplinary process.
M. Mungall: I just want to clarify, though. How I read subsection (b) was that the disciplinary committee wouldn't take into consideration anything that was presented, that was during the proceedings. We already kind of clarified this. They wouldn't be able to take anything from that and apply it to the inquiry.
I'm talking specifically about an individual who has been appointed as a mediator in that consensual dispute resolution process — right? Because that's when it says "a person who participated." There is a mediator who's referred to as part of this panel — that the panel can appoint this mediator.
If I'm wrong, please do clarify that for me. I'm specifically wondering about this mediator, if the mediator can be pulled in to provide evidence of some kind.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The mediator cannot be called as a witness.
Sections 8 and 9 approved.
On section 10.
M. Mungall: Section 10 and several sections throughout this act specifically look to allow private post-secondary institutions to create personal education numbers — not that that's a problem. I thought it would be important for the minister to put on the record what exactly these personal education numbers are and how they will better serve students as well as the institutions they attend.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This section will add a new provision within the private act, the Canadian Pentecostal Seminary Act, in order to implement the use of personal education numbers at private institutions. Certain provisions need to be included within each of the governing acts in order to make the PEN process operational.
The provisions that are included in institutions' acts are accompanied by provisions included in the School Act that govern the government side of the PEN process. The provisions included in each private institution's act specify that it is only if a private institution is designated by the Minister of Education that the process will become operational, and once designated, the board of the institution must require a student to provide his or her personal education number or the personal information necessary to obtain one. That information is then submitted by the institution to the Minister of Education.
The institution may use the PENs only for the purposes specified in subsection (5) and must submit the information to the Minister of Advanced Education if requested to do so. Finally, it's clarified in each private act that the information may be shared between the two education ministers for the purpose of conducting research.
B. Ralston: This section refers to the Canadian Pentecostal Seminary. Can the minister just tell me where that seminary is located and give me some idea of what's involved in their operations?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The Canadian Pentecostal Seminary Act continues the Canadian Pentecostal Seminary as a corporation. Canadian Pentecostal Seminary is a private seminary providing graduate theological training in a multi-denominational setting for students preparing for Christian service and is located on the campus of Trinity Western University in Langley.
B. Ralston: Approximately how many students does it have?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Regrettably, we don't have that information with us.
B. Ralston: How many instructors does it have?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I don't have that information. It is a small institution.
[ Page 10503 ]
B. Ralston: Are the students full-time or part-time?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I imagine they could be both.
B. Ralston: I gather that the minister doesn't know the answer to that question either. I mean, I think it's important, when we're revising an act that concerns a specific institution, that the minister at least have some idea of what the institution is and be able to tell the public. I don't think that's too much to ask in the Legislature. So will the minister commit to get those answers by the day's end?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We don't regulate the private theological institutions. They are established by private bills, which is actually why the PEN legislation, the personal education number legislation, is so important. We'll be able to actually capture that information.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
M. Mungall: A quick similar question about Carey Hall. I'm just wondering where that is located and what type of programming that they have.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Carey Hall was established by the Convention of Baptist Churches of British Columbia. Carey Hall operates Carey Theological College and Carey Hall Residence, and both are located on the UBC campus.
Sections 11 to 16 inclusive approved.
On section 17.
M. Mungall: Section 17 begins several amendments to the College and Institute Act. This particular section puts into the College and Institute Act that the board of governors at colleges and institutes "must act in the best interests of that institution."
I'm wondering what is considered the best interests.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This section is included in the act in order to make it clear that board members must individually and collectively uphold the best interests of the institution at all times and that members' personal interests and the interests of any other community they may be affiliated with cannot override the interests of that institution.
With respect to the best interests of the institution, that would be defined by the institution's strategic plan as approved by the board. It would mean ensuring that the bylaws of the institution are upheld, that the financial goals and the strategic priorities of the institution are upheld. But again, it's to ensure that the board members put the best interests of the institution ahead of personal interests.
M. Mungall: Who, on a day-to-day basis at board of governors meetings, will define and ensure that best interests are being respected in the decision-making processes for the institutions?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: It's not one individual that would be responsible for upholding the best interests of the institution. In fact, collectively they need to ensure that the best interests of the institution are upheld, and it is a shared responsibility.
M. Mungall: What should happen if one member of the board feels that another member is not working in the best interests of the institution, as defined here?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The board would discuss, I think, any issues such as this internally. We would expect that their discussions would be guided by their bylaws and codes of conduct, and again, the expectation is that discussion would be a collective discussion amongst the board members.
M. Mungall: What, then, would happen if a majority number of the board determined that that individual is not working in the best interests of the institution?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: That is exactly why we are actually making changes to the act. If the board cannot collectively resolve the issue, we are providing a mechanism for ensuring that the board members act in the best interests, always, of the institution.
M. Mungall: I believe the minister is alluding to some of the future sections that we'll be discussing. When she says that the reason for this act…. In terms of what will happen to people who have been determined to not be operating in the best interests of the institution, I'm wondering if at this time, however, she can be a bit more specific in her answer.
Are we only looking at what has been proposed in this act, or is there another type of mechanism that the government is hoping will exist within codes of conduct of the board of governors?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We know there are processes in place to resolve issues, and some of the mechanisms are code-of-conduct guidelines and conflict-of-interest guidelines. Our intention and our hope is that boards will always look at resolving any conflicts at the board level, internally.
[ Page 10504 ]
M. Mungall: I'm just quite concerned that — without having "best interests" clearly defined, and then, with the further sections in this piece of legislation — somebody who is elected by a faculty association, a student association or a staff association may be looking to work, in their definition, in the best interests of an institution, yet the appointed members from government deem otherwise.
Based on those further sections, they would be removed from the board without a clear understanding of what "best interests" means and without a proper understanding of the process that is supposed to be adhered to, to determine what the best interests are.
I'm wondering, then — to offer some clarity and some guidance — if the minister can provide some type of example where someone has been deemed not to be working in the best interests of the institution and what they were doing that wasn't up to snuff, so to say.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: The term "best interest" is not a new concept. In fact, we're not inventing this term. This is a term that's used in a lot of other legislation across Canada. But it is a subjective term, because what is in the best interest for one institution or organization may differ from another institution depending on their strategic priorities or their terms of reference or their objectives.
The member opposite asked about an example of a situation where perhaps someone would be in violation of the best interest of an institution. Just to be general, it could be a board member who is suing the actual institution that they're serving on as a board member.
M. Mungall: Just going with that example, then, say there is a board member who is suing an institution. They sit on the board, obviously. My understanding, based on existing codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies that are at institutions already, is that person would have to recuse him- or herself from sitting on that board if they were going to sue the board.
I just don't know if that's the strongest example. I'm just wondering if there is another type of example where we might see a code of conduct or a conflict-of-interest policy not address this issue that this legislation is trying to bring up.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: In this particular section it deals with what's in the best interest of an institution. So I would respectfully ask the member to, perhaps, bring up her questions in another section.
M. Mungall: I don't understand that answer. Maybe I'll try and rephrase my previous question, then. What I'm trying to understand is, of course, this concept around best interests — who defines it and an example of when someone is not working in the best….
The Chair: Excuse me, Member, for a moment.
The minister is having difficulty hearing the question, so I'd ask members of the House to please keep their comments quiet. Thank you.
Go ahead, Member for Nelson-Creston.
M. Mungall: I lost my train of thought there.
With this section, I'm trying to understand the definition of "best interests," that people can work with. I understand that it's a longstanding term, been used in multiple jurisdictions, but it does give guidance, I think, for some other parts of this bill.
What I'm specifically trying to get at is an example of some kind that highlights what are the best interests and when someone is not doing that, when someone is not working in the best interests of an institution, and what that would then require of the board to, perhaps, address that issue.
The minister's example, I think, is not quite strong enough to provide a good example and to be something that would provide the public with a better understanding of what is meant by this.
If a board member is suing the institution, my understanding is that there are already going to be codes of conduct that direct what that board member is able to do on the board — most likely have to remove him or herself from the board. And that's something that they would have to do themselves — right? — if they are going to sue the institution.
What I'm trying to understand is, if somebody else has determined that a board member is not operating in the best interest of the institution, what's an example of that?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Again, it would be up to the actual individual boards of institutions to make that determination of what the best interest of their institution is.
That would vary from institution to institution, but generally, if a board member were to use information that they've learned from their attendance at a board meeting, and they were using that information to advance their own personal interests ahead of the best interests of the institution, that would be an example where a board member is not acting in the best interests of the institution.
Section 17 approved.
On section 18.
M. Mungall: My question on section 18 — which is that the members of the board "must elect a chair from among the 8 or more members of the board appointed under section 9 (1) (a)" — is: why has the minister decided to reduce the potential selection of who acts as chair of a board of governors?
[ Page 10505 ]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This provision is included to ensure that there is no possibility of conflict of interest on the part of the board chair by virtue of that individual's personal connections to the institution through employment or study at the institution.
Presently there is no clear restriction on a faculty or staff member who has a direct personal interest in financial decisions of the board, including those relating to collective bargaining, from serving as the chair of the board. The provision is included to support strong accountability on the part of the post-secondary boards as a whole and promote good governance.
M. Mungall: Can the minister please provide an example where there has been a conflict of interest and how it was resolved when perhaps a student or a faculty or staff member was the chair of the board?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: There is not a specific example that I would point out in answer to your question. But again, this amendment is all about good governance and accountability. Good governance suggests, as I have just responded, that somebody who has a direct interest in financial decisions of a board or somebody who has a direct personal interest related to the collective bargaining process should not serve on a board as chair.
M. Mungall: There is no example. There is no point in time in recent memory where the government has determined that there was a conflict of interest that needed to be resolved by this, when there was some kind of problem that suggested that the current way of doing things is not good governance.
The government, the Liberals, have just pulled this out of the air and have decided that they need to address this issue. I think it's really interesting when the minister talks about collective bargaining, because it certainly fits in line with what staff and faculty associations are saying about this legislation when they say it's a direct attack on them.
"No example" is what the minister has just said. I find it further interesting, because she talks about how it's good governance to ensure that the chair of the board is always operating in the best interests of the institution. Well, we just canvassed that very issue extensively for about 25 minutes with section 17, where we've already determined that it is a must for every single member of the board to operate in the best interests of the institutions.
So to single out specific people to not be able to sit on the board and claim it's because they will not be able to do so in the best interests of the institution is absolutely ridiculous. I would like to ask the minister: what problem is she trying to solve when none has been proposed to exist?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We don't always wait for a problem to occur before we deal with a situation. This is a best practice that's recognized across the country in many post-secondary institutions in Canada.
M. Mungall: Well, then if it's such a best practice that's been identified across the country, I would like to get an extensive list from the minister of all the institutions that do exactly this. And what other provinces have this kind of legislation in place?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Most jurisdictions in Canada state that board chairs are selected from the appointed members of the board. In fact, in western Canada — Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — all state that.
We can provide a more exhaustive list to the member opposite. We don't have that list with us. I did ask my staff to do a cross-jurisdictional analysis, and it appears that most jurisdictions do not allow a chair from the elected members but rather allow chairs to be only selected from the appointed members.
M. Mungall: Many boards of governors also have vice-chairs to act in the absence of the board chair. Does this, then, apply…? What happens to the vice-chair when the chair is not there? If a vice-chair doesn't exist for the board of governors, then must whoever fills in for that person also be, then, taken from the appointees from government?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: It's not required that vice-chairs be selected amongst the appointed members of the board, but we expect that the board members would take that into consideration when selecting a vice-chair.
M. Mungall: The minister mentioned the codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies at institutions and that many of them need to be upheld and that the board chair can not override those.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
I'm just wondering if the ministry can comment on whether Simon Fraser University board of governors has a code of conduct and a conflict-of-interest policy that would actually address this very issue that they're trying to solve. To ensure that whoever is the chair, regardless of whether they are staff, faculty, students or appointees from government…. Do they have those codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We are debating right now the College and Institute Act, and Simon Fraser University is not part of this act.
[ Page 10506 ]
M. Mungall: Apologies about Simon Fraser University. I got ahead of myself, looking further down into the act.
I will then ask that very question that I just did for College of New Caledonia.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I do not have the — I believe the member opposite asked for the College of New Caledonia — bylaws or conflict-of-interest guidelines with us. But I can tell the member opposite that each institution has different guidelines and bylaws.
This section, specifically, with respect to the member opposite, talks about the board chair and the eligibility of the board members to become board chair.
M. Mungall: Yes, this section does specifically talk about who is going to be eligible for board chair. I'm trying to ascertain what problem the government is trying to fix. They say that this is part of good governance. All they have listed so far is that a few other jurisdictions are doing it. Just because a few other jurisdictions are doing it…. I have not been given examples that just because they're doing it, it has proven to be a best practice.
We have talked about, as we've debated this section, that it's needed to address some discrepancy — or some failure, perhaps — in the existing codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies. If that's the case, then I want to know what is in those codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies and if the minister is aware and if she has them.
She does not have it for the College of New Caledonia, so I will ask her about Selkirk College, then.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This is a proactive approach to good governance. We don't need to wait for bad things to happen. This is an absolutely proactive approach to good governance. We see it in other jurisdictions. We're doing this to ensure that the broader interests of the community at large are protected and to ensure the independence of the chair.
M. Mungall: The minister is solely focused on the chair. She hasn't addressed issues about a possible vice-chair, if a chair is in conflict for another reason and has to abstain from a decision or perhaps is just not able to make it to a meeting.
Again the minister has failed to answer the question about codes of conduct, conflict of interest, that apparently are not sufficient at existing colleges and institutions, that require the government to step in and supposedly solve a problem that hasn't been identified, doesn't exist.
Apparently, it's a best practice in other jurisdictions. We don't know why it has been called a best practice by this government. All we know is that other jurisdictions are doing it.
Going back again to whether or not the codes of conduct and conflict of interest at colleges and institutes are sufficient, I'll ask the minister: College of the Rockies, their code of conduct, their conflict-of-interest policy — is that not sufficient to address the supposed concern that the minister has here?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This is not about board member behaviour, their conduct. Again, this section is about the eligibility of a board member to become the board chair.
M. Mungall: The very fact that this section exists in this piece of legislation shows that this is about the conduct of a chair, because the minister has specifically excluded a group of people from being able to be the chair. The student, staff and faculty representatives on the board of governors are specifically being excluded by definition of this section of the act.
I've asked her why they're being excluded. She's alluded to a possible conflict of interest. I've asked why the conflict-of-interest codes and codes of conduct at existing institutions and colleges are not sufficient. I have not gotten an answer to that.
So I'm going to ask again. Maybe then she can use BCIT, the B.C. Institute of Technology, as an example to show that somehow their code of conduct, their conflict-of-interest policies are somehow insufficient to determine whether somebody from student, staff and faculty groups is not eligible — why they will not act in the best interests of the institution simply because they're in the position of chair.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Generally speaking, employees of organizations or institutions actually don't even have the ability to sit on a board. But this government and past governments have recognized the valuable contribution of faculty, staff and students on boards at our post-secondary institutions.
What we're doing here is ensuring that there's no possibility of a conflict of interest on the part of a board chair by virtue of being part of the staff, student or faculty of that institution. We are ensuring that there is independence and a separation between the board chair's responsibilities and that of management, staff or students.
M. Mungall: First, the minister's answer basically compares apples to oranges. We're not talking about other organizations out in the communities of British Columbia. What we're talking about are post-secondary institutions who have a longstanding tradition of including valued stakeholders at those institutions on their boards, and that is students, staff and faculty.
The minister has now decided, based on no identified problem, based on practices done elsewhere…. But have
[ Page 10507 ]
we determined whether they're best practices or not? No, the minister has not answered that question. So based on no problem and just because, you know, neighbours out east are doing it, we're going to do it too.
Is it the best thing for B.C., though? We don't know that. I'm starting to question that. It definitely is not the best thing for B.C., because this just seems to be coming out of thin air.
Institutions for a very long time in B.C., for well over 40 years now, have had students, staff and faculty on their boards. Sometimes those people have served in the chair role, and they have worked in the best interests of the institution even though they were in that chair role. We've even canvassed that issue under section 17 of this piece of legislation, where it is now mandated that anybody sitting on the board must act in the best interests of the institution.
Based on the minister making the argument that the chair must always act in the best interests of the institution, this section is redundant because no matter who the chair is, under section 17 they will be acting in the best interests of the institution.
Basically, this section is saying that in a chair role, students, staff and faculty are unable to act in the best interests of an institution, and that is absolutely ridiculous. They have proven for decades that they are quite capable to act in the best interests of an institution, and when they have been in chair roles, they have done a good job. The minister has not been able to provide an example when they have not.
If the codes of conduct are not sufficient, if the conflict-of-interest policies are not sufficient, I'd like to know if the minister has an example. I've asked her about College of New Caledonia. I've asked her about Selkirk College. I've asked her about College of the Rockies. I've asked about the B.C. Institute of Technology. I'll now ask about Camosun College.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd like to correct something the member opposite mentioned. In fact, it's only recently — actually since 1994 — that colleges have representation on their boards from faculty, staff and students. In fact, it is a result of a paper that was commissioned by the former NDP government in 1993. It was the Carter Commission report which led to the changes that they saw in 1994, a year later.
One of the recommendations in that report, in the NDP government–commissioned report, was that the chair be independent and that the chair be selected from the appointed members. The government of the day decided not to follow that recommendation. This government has decided that good governance will be proactive, and we're making those changes now.
M. Mungall: The decision was made in 1993 not just based alone on the report that the minister mentioned, but also there is a longstanding tradition throughout Canada dating back about 100 years. In B.C. it started in the 1970s with universities. So the correction that the minister is making is not necessary.
But based on that, the minister brings up that this was started for colleges and institutes in 1994. She has yet to mention an example. I'm assuming that she doesn't have an example at this time, yet again. If she does, please do correct me on that one, if she can still provide an example between 1994 and today, 2012, where there has been a problem when students, staff or faculty have been a chair of a college or institute.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: We have 11 colleges and three institutions. If the member opposite — and I believe she's going to — lists every single institution and college with respect to the same question, I'd like to save the member opposite's time. It will be the same answer every time.
We are being proactive. We don't wait for problems to occur. We are implementing what is considered to be good-governance guidelines. Ultimately, we're ensuring that the board chair has independence from the management of the institution.
M. Mungall: First, let me just highlight for the minister opposite. In my question around the specific codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies at the institutions I've already mentioned, I'm looking for an example of where these codes of conduct are somehow insufficient to address the concerns the minister said she has had and that are the very impetus for bringing forward this section of the legislation.
In my hands I have the code of conduct, the board conduct bylaw, at Camosun College. The second section, part 2, completely addresses conflict of interest. There is conflict of interest and how to handle it, there are guidelines, there are definitions, and there is enforcement. This is a very robust policy. Everything the minister has shared with me right now, shared with this House, is addressed in this policy.
So I am completely at a loss to understand where the problem exists, when she fails to provide an example, when she says that they need to work in the best interests of the institution and somehow students, staff and faculty are not able to do so. Yet here it is. The very bylaws that provide guidance to the boards on how they're supposed to conduct themselves, including the chair, are right here. It is quite robust.
The minister is saying that she's going to provide the same answer — that this is the best practice that they've somehow identified. We don't know how that is. She has gone on about how only appointed members can be independent when they are chairs.
So my question is: is discriminating against students, staff and faculty the best policy for this government?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd just like to correct for the record, to the member opposite. I don't believe I ever said that I had any specific concerns with any of our college chairs in the system. I wanted to make that point. In fact, our college system and institutions are quite well run and well governed. [Applause.]
Thank you to the member for Surrey-Whalley for appreciating our post-secondary system.
Again, I think the member opposite and I will disagree on what we consider good governance. This side of the House believes that there needs to be an independence between the chair and their personal interest, if they have one, at the institution — if they're an employee or a student.
M. Mungall: If the minister feels that all the chairs who are currently at colleges and institutes are doing an exceptional job, then why is she singling out certain people to not fulfil that role? Where's the problem?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I will repeat the answer, again, that I gave to the member opposite. We are being proactive. We don't necessarily wait for problems to occur before we suggest changes. This is a practice that is common in Canada.
Again, we are preventing the situation that an individual may be placed in, as a conflict of interest, if they are an employee of the institution or studying at the institution — eliminating that possibility of that conflict of interest taking place and allowing only the appointed members to be eligible to be appointed as chair.
M. Mungall: We've identified that this piece of the legislation is redundant, that it doesn't solve an existing problem. The minister says that she believes it's good governance. Of course, it was recommended, she mentioned, in 1993. The government of the day decided not go with it, and time has shown that that was the right decision to go with. So why is the government, why is the minister, deciding to bring this forward now?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This is one of a series of amendments we are making to legislation. With respect to the timing, this is the opportunity to make the change to the eligibility of the chair. This particular amendment should not be looked at in isolation.
Section 18 approved on division.
On section 19.
J. Horgan: At 5:55 we were handed nine amendments from the minister, without notice, one of which is an amendment to section 19. I would ask the indulgence of the Chair and the House that we stand down on section 19 so the opposition has adequate time to consult with stakeholders and ensure that these amendments are consistent with other parts of the bill.
We would proceed, then, to section 20 for the remainder of the day and other sections that are not affected by amendments that were not brought to our attention before — well, within the past hour.
I would also add, hon. Chair, it's very difficult, as you know, running a committee when you're getting information in big blocks without notice when ample opportunity was given. We knew we were going to be debating this bill today. The order paper is available. The Clerk's office is always attentive to these matters.
It strikes me as quite unprofessional to drop these down at five to six on a Wednesday night.
The Chair: Thank you for your submission.
Hon. G. Abbott: We agree to stand down the section.
Section 19 stood down.
On section 20.
M. Mungall: Here in section 20 we have change again to the College and Institute Act. What this does is say who is allowed to be voted in by students, staff and faculty. I'll just read it.
"A person is not eligible to be or to remain a member of the board if the person is (a) an employee of the institution, and (b) a voting member of the executive body of, or an officer of, an instructional, administrative or other staff association of the institution who has the responsibility, or joint responsibility with others, to (i) negotiate with the board, on behalf of the instructional, administrative or other staff association of that institution, the terms and conditions of service of members of that association, or (ii) adjudicate disputes regarding members of the instructional, administrative or other staff association of that institution."
What this means is that anybody who sits on the board of the staff or faculty of a college or institute is not eligible to also sit on the board of governors.
What's interesting is that this actually breaks a longstanding practice of the board of governors representative for faculty and staff to have a position also on the executive of the local faculty and staff association so that they provide a liaison role between the duly elected representatives of that association and the board of governors as well, so that there is a good communication, so that there's a good relationship and that they're doing their job effectively in the best interests of the institution.
So my question to the minister, then, is: why break this tradition?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: This provision guards against the
[ Page 10509 ]
conflict of interest that results if a faculty or staff member of the board is effectively representing both the institution and the union or association at the same time. As a participating member of the board, a faculty or staff member would be in a position to be privy to information that may be of benefit to them personally and could in turn be used against the institution during negotiations concerning terms and conditions of service, salary and benefits.
M. Mungall: Madam Chair, I am noting the hour, so this will be my last question for the day. I'm just letting the minister know that.
My question, however, was…. The government is choosing to break a longstanding practice of having a liaison role when someone is a member of a board of governors and they're also a member of the executive of their staff or faculty association. This has been a common practice for many institutions, so I'm just wondering why the government has decided to break with this practice.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I'd like to remind the member opposite that we value the participation of faculty and staff on our boards, our college boards. In fact, there are very few people that would be deemed ineligible to sit on the board.
I'll draw the member opposite's attention to the specific voting members of the executive of a union or association who would be negotiating with the board on behalf of their association or union and who would not be eligible to be sitting on the board. As well, there's anyone who adjudicates disputes regarding members of their institution, representing their faculty and associations, who would not be eligible to sit on the board.
For all other faculty members and staff members, their participation on the boards is very valued.
I move that the committee rise, report progress and request to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:51 p.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 resolutions and progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. G. Abbott moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:52 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); D. Horne in the chair.
The committee met at 2:37 p.m.
On Vote 14: ministry operations, $52,314,000 (continued).
L. Popham: As we continue today, I'm wondering if the minister has brought in the information I was requesting about the honeybee industry.
Hon. D. McRae: As a matter of fact, I believe I have. If it's to the member's pleasure, I will read an abbreviated version of each question and the answers that we have for each. If there is a question that we have missed or you need clarity at the end, we can recanvass those. Some of these questions we answered yesterday, but we'll make sure we go through this and be as clear as possible.
How many bee inspectors does Agriculture have? We have six bee inspectors. Our allocated estimate of full-time-equivalent hours, annually, according to the number of beekeepers/colonies and distances of the inspection areas is a total of 1.3 FTEs. In addition, we have an individual who administers the legislated beekeeper/apiary registration system and website custodian for a total of 0.7 of an FTE.
Where are the individuals located? If you wish the names, I can give you the names, but I'll give you the locations. We have one individual who covers Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands; one individual who does Powell River district and the Sunshine Coast; one in the Fraser Valley; one in the South Okanagan; one in the West and East Kootenays; and one who covers North Okanagan, Columbia, Thompson and Cariboo regions.
Question 3 was: why are there no inspectors in the Peace River, Central Okanagan or the Kootenays? We've covered that the Central Okanagan has two inspectors, one from the South Okanagan and one from the North Okanagan.
It is important to remember that the total fruit pollination business of the Okanagan has remained static or
[ Page 10510 ]
even declined because so many fruit orchards have been converted into vineyards and housing developments over the past number of years.
We have a longtime apiary inspector, for 27 years, covering the Kootenays, and because of his retirement plans, we are in the midst of appointing an excellent replacement.
The Peace River used to be the most important honey-producing area in British Columbia, with as many as 20,000 colonies in the '70s and '80s, back when I was in elementary school. However, since then the weakening of honey prices, increased operating costs and higher colony mortality has led to a decline of colonies to less than 5,000.
Even during the last years that the apiculture program had an inspector in the Peace, most of the large commercial beekeepers didn't need or wish to access the ministry's extension services. There was only an incidental requirement for inspection for the purpose of obtaining a Bee Act permit, which would authorize the beekeepers to ship their colonies to other provinces or other parts of the province.
Clearly, from a management perspective, we correctly concluded that a dedicated apiary inspector for the Peace could not be justified, regardless of program resource availability.
Question 4. You asked: are bee inspectors doing winter studies? Apiary inspectors are hired on a part-time basis, a seasonal basis, and work on an as-and-when system, according to the service requests made by the beekeepers in their inspection areas.
The ministry offers an excellent beginner beekeeping course that will be explaining what bees do during the winters, and disturbing the bees during the winter will harm them, in many cases.
Where are statistics in regards to the apiary industry being held? We compile production statistics every year and post them, when we can, on our website, which I'm sure you have access to. If you wish a link to the website, please let me know, and I will give that to you later. We also compile inspection data about bee diseases and pests that were reported during the beekeeping season. When we can, we also post this information on the website.
Question 6. You asked: "Where are those diseased bees and bee combs being sent, and where can we get that information?"
When colonies are found diseased, the inspector advises the beekeeper what and how to control the pest, depending on the nature of the pest and severity of the infestation or infection. Depending on the disease, samples may be taken for further laboratory analysis. In extreme cases, the inspector will order the destruction of the affected equipment through burning or burial.
They have asked me to please remind…. Please note that beekeepers have never paid for receiving government-supported inspection visits, and neither do they pay for any laboratory diagnostics that may be applied to submitted samples. B.C. agriculture is the only province in Canada that offers a full range of diagnostic services to its beekeepers, including DNA and RNA analysis through the PCR, which is at no cost to the beekeepers.
Question 7. Why aren't AgriStability funds available to beekeepers in British Columbia? The AgriStability program is available to B.C. beekeepers, but many have made a business decision not to enrol.
I think that covered the questions that you asked. If you would like, when we leave these chambers, I will leave you the copy of the words I just gave you. But of course, they're in Hansard.
L. Popham: It seems as though the Ministry of Agriculture is kind of getting out of the B.C. bee business. The decline in the beehives and bee colonies in the Peace River area would be something that I would be concerned about, because that would mean that most of the beekeeping is probably done across the border in Alberta. Why is the ministry not supporting a resurgence of the beekeeping in that area?
Hon. D. McRae: I remind the member opposite that I did read the statement that the beekeepers didn't need or wish to access the ministry's extension services. I'm sure if they felt that with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture their industry could have grown, they would have been making those asks.
If the member opposite is aware of individuals who are needing assistance but who are unaware of or unable to access our extension services, please make sure either they contact my offices directly or through her. She can pass on that information to the ministry.
L. Popham: That actually wasn't the answer I was looking for. I'm wondering why the Minister of Agriculture isn't fighting to bring the strength of that region back.
Hon. D. McRae: You know, I'm very proud that this province has over 225 land-based commodities. They are private enterprises, and as such, when we have the ability to support them, we try to. As well, it is important that they reach out and ask for the services if they think it will help grow their business case.
L. Popham: Is the beekeeping industry, or the honey industry, covered in the B.C. Agrifoods plan?
Hon. D. McRae: One of the problems and one of the great advantages of producing this document, especially the actual print or the on-line version, is that we do believe we actually hit very good targets. In our conversations with sectors, though the member opposite says
[ Page 10511 ]
different, we got very positive feedback.
One of the problems we did know is…. Because we have the 225 land-based commodities and the hundred species of fish we harvest in the oceans, we didn't really wish to come across, when at all possible, as not picking winners and losers in this document. Every commodity, both inland and in the ocean, is value to British Columbia. The 21 key areas that we're looking for…. We're hoping the bee industry, like every industry, will look through this document and see where there are opportunities for both them to work with us and us to assist them growing their industry.
Yes, you might be able to look through the document, and other than finding a picture of some agriculture in the classroom — individuals, young students wearing their beekeeper outfit on one of the pages — you will not see a lot of direct reference to honey. But you also see the industries in here that support them as well, like the tree fruit market in the Okanagan, for example, which is obviously very important and needs a healthy bee sector.
Again, it is a private industry, and we look to work with them in partnership to help them grow their industry. The best thing they can do is continue to have a good relationship and communication with the ministry, to be aware of what we can do for them and what services are out there — and also make relationships with other industry sectors.
L. Popham: The minister references that the beekeeping, honey industry is a private industry. Is that different from the other industries referenced in the agrifood strategy?
Hon. D. McRae: No.
L. Popham: It's my understanding that most agricultural businesses are private businesses. Is that the minister's understanding?
Hon. D. McRae: We would encourage all groups that if there is a concern in their industry, please…. We would like them to contact our staff. Our staff are located around the province of British Columbia — in the Peace River, in the Okanagan, on Vancouver Island, in the Fraser Valley and many places in between. They are also able to definitely be talked to on the phone. If there is a concern that they wish to have, either as an industry or an individual, it is important to contact a staffer and see what support services are available.
Yes, they are private. That's one of the things that is very important about British Columbia. We have great entrepreneurs in this province, some with very large, complex operations. Some are very fledging and starting out on very small acreages and just want to farm for lifestyle, but also there are those who wish to grow their sector into a full-time farming venture. It is nice to know we have that complete spectrum of agriculture industry in this province.
L. Popham: The comments and the reference to the honeybee industry being private industry are basically irrelevant, since they all are. But this is my question. The B.C. agrifood strategy growth, which is an agriculture plan for British Columbia, has actually left out one of the key parts of agriculture, which is pollination. Is that correct?
Hon. D. McRae: It's funny. When we had our consultation with the sectors right before we released it, one of the criticisms of the document mostly was around how come their product was not featured more prominently in the document.
You know, I think it's fairly obvious to most individuals. I know the Ministry of Agriculture staff, from maybe one of the junior ranks all the way up to the deputy minister, know how important the pollination services are to B.C. agriculture. The reality is we weren't able to get all 225 sector commodities in here. It would have been a document that would have been extensively longer. I do also apologize to the garlic industry, because I believe there is no picture nor mention of garlic as well.
L. Popham: Well, I sense that that answer is somewhat sarcastic, but I'm going to move past it. I think leaving the B.C. honeybee industry out of an agrifoods document is quite surprising and means to me that this is not so much an agrifoods strategy for growth plan for British Columbia but a glossy pamphlet with a large picture of the Premier and the Minister of Agriculture.
Anyway, if the minister does have a commitment to the honeybee industry, and if somebody from the honeybee industry were to call the ministry up, does the ministry have any discretionary funds to help this industry? If so, where would I be able to find that?
Hon. D. McRae: If anybody has any specific questions, if you wish to either have the industry call the office, by all means, or if you yourself have one in particular, we could address it. It's quite a range of permutations of potential answers for this one.
L. Popham: How much money is in the budget for the honeybee industry?
Hon. D. McRae: The Agriculture budget or the agrifoods strategy?
L. Popham: How much money is the Minister of Agriculture committing to the honeybee industry? Yesterday the answer was $300,000, which is equivalent to the amount that the minister is spending on international
[ Page 10512 ]
marketing. How important is the honeybee industry to the idea of marketing products that take pollination such as cherries and blueberries?
Hon. D. McRae: Like the member opposite referred to yesterday, yes, we said we spent about $300,000 a year on the honey industry. But we also have, I'm sure member opposite is aware, an international recognized biennial bee masters course which has been in existence since the 1950s. We offer introductory beekeeping courses at different locations every spring. We also try our best to make sure our apiculture program continues to provide as many services and support to the beekeeping industry as possible.
Other things can happen, as well, that also support the bee industry — for example, opening up the China market for cherries. That's a $10 million increase in dollars coming into the cherry industry in British Columbia because of that market access. Every single one of those cherries will need a bee to assist in its production, and for that reason, too, it also gives opportunities for beekeepers to grow their businesses in areas like the Okanagan. So there are advantages there as well.
L. Popham: Was the beekeeping industry invited to the table when designing the B.C. agrifoods strategy?
Hon. D. McRae: All staff in the Ministry of Agriculture were involved in the creation of this document, and Paul van Westendorp, the bee specialist in the Fraser Valley office, was definitely a part of that. We also made sure we had input from various other groups in the design, including the BCAC. But again, there are a large number of agriculture commodity groups in British Columbia.
L. Popham: It seems strange that the B.C. apiarist, the provincial apiarist, would not have pushed for a place in the B.C. agrifoods strategy.
If somebody were to call up the B.C. apiarist and ask for help or ask for funding to do a study on honeybee disease, maybe somebody from Vancouver Island who wanted to monitor the disease profile here, would there be any money in the budget for that?
Hon. D. McRae: Regardless of the industry, and in this case we're talking about the bee industry, if an individual or organization were to come forward with an ask, we have several options available. The Investment Agriculture Foundation is potentially available. There are also opportunities maybe, perhaps, through Growing Forward. The reality is that without knowing the ask, it's hard to guess at what pool of money might be available, if any.
However, there are a couple of other issues I'd like to raise. Right now we are leaving Growing Forward, and we are going into negotiations was the federal government for Growing Forward 2 in the near future. The federal government will be having consultations, hearing input from industries, all industries that wish to partake. And the same with the province.
As well, I'm sure many members of the apiary industry are also part of BCAC. They are obviously the lead organization for all farms in British Columbia, and they do a very good job advocating for their members. I know I've watched an area that's very dear to the member opposite, the organics. They seem to have actually, in the last year, been playing a more prominent role in BCAC, which I'm pleased to see.
It's very important for the bee industry, with their concern, to contact either BCAC…. And again, if they wish to meet with me directly, I'm more than willing not to just go to them during their AGM and talk to their members, but I'm also more than willing to entertain them in my office here in Victoria when we're in legislative session or visit them at their convenience as I try to travel around the province and visit the various sectors and regions.
L. Popham: This will be my last question on bees. Does the minister know if the disease profile on Vancouver Island has changed over the last year since the quarantine was lifted unexpectedly?
Hon. D. McRae: The disease profile has not changed, according to our bee expert.
L. Popham: How many FTEs does the Ministry of Agriculture currently have?
Hon. D. McRae: FTEs are budgeted at the corporate level, and I'd please ask the member opposite to direct FTE questions to the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services at the appropriate time.
L. Popham: Does the Minister of Agriculture not know how many full-time employees work for the Ministry of Agriculture?
Hon. D. McRae: FTEs are budgeted at the corporate level. I'll ask the member opposite to direct her questions to the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services.
L. Popham: This is part of the budget for Agriculture. Can the minister please tell me how many FTEs work for the Ministry of Agriculture?
Hon. D. McRae: FTEs are budgeted at the corporate level. Labour and Citizens' Services is the ministry you should canvass that with when they come up for their estimates.
[ Page 10513 ]
L. Popham: It may be budgeted at that level, but the minister should have an idea how many FTEs work for the Ministry of Agriculture. It's not a complicated question.
Hon. D. McRae: You're right.
L. Popham: What's the answer? Is that honestly…? They're not covered under the Ministry of Agriculture budget estimates?
The Chair: The member may not like the answer. The minister has answered the question. Does the member have another question?
J. Brar: I think this is a very legitimate question to ask. These are the estimates. The member is asking a question about the particular Ministry of Agriculture. There is a set expense for that ministry, and there is a set number of people working in that ministry. I think this is a very legitimate question to ask, and the minister should respond to it.
Hon. D. McRae: The members opposite are looking in the blue books. FTEs are not reported in the budget document.
J. Kwan: Maybe I can try this with the minister. Perhaps he could tell this House what programs are in the Ministry of Agriculture and who the staff are that deliver those programs. Could he name each of those staff and how many hours they work within those programs one by one?
Hon. D. McRae: In Vote 14, under "Total salaries and benefits," the members opposite will note there is $25.494 million devoted towards salaries and benefits. Vote 15, which is the ALC, total salaries and benefits are $1.531 million.
J. Kwan: That's not the question I asked. I asked the minister: in his ministry what are the programs which he delivers under that ministry that he's responsible for, and who delivers them? Could he name the staff that delivers them, and how many hours do they work? Perhaps we can then figure out how many FTEs actually work in his ministry — a basic question that the minister should actually have knowledge about.
Hon. D. McRae: Well, the members opposite may not enjoy the answer. FTEs are budgeted at the corporate level. Questions such as this are designed to be asked towards the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services.
J. Kwan: Well, let's start from branch by branch. Let us ask this question. How many staff work for the minister at his executive branch, in his office? Maybe he can name the staff and how many they are and how many hours they work. Maybe he could tell us that to begin with.
Hon. D. McRae: I have a feeling I'm not going to be received well with this answer. But again, I'll say our staffing budget, with benefits, in the minister's office is $393,000. But FTE issues are budgeted at the corporate level. They should be directed to the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services, and that will be my answer many, many times.
J. Kwan: I've been here since 1996. I've done many, many sets of estimates. I have never seen a display such as this, where the minister wouldn't actually provide an answer to a basic question around how many FTEs actually work within his ministry. He may say and refer that to a different minister.
A minister who is actually good on the job would then endeavour to say: "I'll find out the answer for you, Member." That's what I've heard in the past with ministers who want to be cooperative, who want to be open, accountable, transparent and provide the answers.
So it is rather shocking that this is the kind of display that I'm seeing here today. I don't want to waste time here. That's not the purpose of the estimates. The purpose of the estimates is to get at information that will be valuable to British Columbians. Clearly, the minister is not interested in providing answers to basic questions that he should be aware of in his own ministry.
Hon. D. McRae: Thank you for your opinion. I've also spent much of the last seven hours, yesterday and the day before, answering questions that are not directly related to the budget. I have been very forthcoming.
Yes, I'm sorry I have not appeased your questions here. But they will be answered by the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services, because FTEs are budgeted at the corporate level.
J. Kwan: I'll close with this. It seems to me that the minister should actually know the folks that work for him, program by program, branch by branch, and how many folks actually work with him in that ministry. After all, he is responsible for the delivery of those programs. He may say, technically, that it's not a question within his purview in this ministry. But practically, the minister should endeavour to find out his portfolio.
L. Popham: Maybe I'll try to educate the minister. From what I can tell from public accounts, the equivalent FTEs are probably around 341. Back in year 2000 there were 516. So can the minister confirm those numbers and the drop in employees in the Ministry of Agriculture over the last ten years?
[ Page 10514 ]
Hon. D. McRae: I know the member opposite is passionate about agriculture, and I also know she probably is aware that the ministry has actually gone through some transformations.
In 2001, I believe, though I wasn't in government, it was Ag, Lands and Fish. It then became Ags and Lands, and now it is Ag. We are no longer responsible for the lands portion of the ministry, as it was back in the day, which was a substantial portion of the ministry.
The fishery, obviously, we canvassed yesterday with the Hinkson decision. A good portion of fish responsibility now resides with the federal government. When it comes to fish farm tenure, that resides now with FLNRO, as do the ranching elements for the ranching community of British Columbia, which has a number of staff and resources devoted there.
So to say that the Ministry of Agriculture does the exact same job today in 2012 as it did in 2001 would be unfair and misleading.
L. Popham: It sounds to me like the minister has some idea how many FTEs work for the Ministry of Agriculture. Can the minister confirm: are there more or less than 341 employees?
Hon. D. McRae: Well, it's going to be an enjoyable time.
We are talking about going forward. We are talking about next year. We are budgeting $25.493 million for Vote 14 for salaries and benefits. For the Agricultural Land Commission, which is Vote 15, we're budgeting $1.531 million. However, if there are questions to do with FTEs, they're budgeted at the corporate level, and they should canvass the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services.
L. Popham: Let's talk about Growing Forward. "As the initial $533 million Growing Forward program reaches an end of its five-year term in 2013, the province is already negotiating with the federal government to ensure the next agreement provides B.C. producers with the supports they require."
Does the $533 million represent federal funding or joint federal-provincial funding?
Hon. D. McRae: Funding between the province and the federal government.
L. Popham: What percentage is the provincial funding?
Hon. D. McRae: It's 40 percent.
L. Popham: What's that number?
Hon. D. McRae: The contribution from the provincial government is $221 million.
L. Popham: How much of the Ministry of Agriculture's budget is dedicated to fulfilling its percent commitment?
Hon. D. McRae: A good question, and one that's complex. That's why it took so long.
Percentage-wise, we're looking at approximately 50 percent, maybe a little less. There are some other factors that actually enter into this — for example, the AgriStability trust account, which is outside of the agricultural budget, and the production insurance account, which is a special account.
I don't blame the member for not particularly liking this answer. I would invite the member opposite…. If she is willing, I could have her sit with the deputy minister or the appropriate assistant deputy minister to make sure that we are spending some time and making sure she gets a fulsome understanding of where the dollars are spent. But at this stage, we're going to go with the just under 50 percent.
L. Popham: I would enjoy sitting down and being walked through that. So I'll take the minister up on his offer.
From my calculations, though, my understanding is that the provincial share would be 40 percent, or equal to $42.64 million. Can the minister confirm that?
Hon. D. McRae: Like we said earlier and like the member said, there is a 40-60 percent cost-sharing. The federal government does 60; we do 40. For that percent, you are correct, and the math you worked from there is as well. However, there are the accounts that sit outside, like I just mentioned — the AgriStability trust, the production insurance account — which don't make it a simple 40 percent.
That's where, if it's possible, we'd be more than willing to sit with you and explain that that's why it does skew the numbers slightly higher, as we said, than what you were asking.
L. Popham: As I've watched the Ministry of Agriculture over the last few years, I think I believe that the ministry is becoming more and more dependent on federal dollars for program funding. Can the minister point out where in the budget the federal contributions under the Growing Forward agreement come into the province?
Hon. D. McRae: Again, we're talking about going forward, not looking back. We did bring the data from last year. Last year the contribution, for the federal government, was $10.129 million. Today in this budget, in the line item which is under "Growing Forward", Vote 14, it is $10.130 million. So a change of about $1,000.
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L. Popham: Because of my concern around the dependency on federal funding for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, I guess I'm a little bit concerned around the federal budget announcement this week. If we could just look at the "Agriculture science and policy" line of Vote 13 on pages 22 and 23 of the Supplement to the Estimates.
The total of all expenses, including salaries and benefits, operating costs, government transfers and other expenses, comes to about $20.625 million. Of that proposed expenditure, the ministry recovers $10.654 million or 51.6 percent of the total. It seems that there would be quite a huge impact on the ministry if the federal dollars weren't forthcoming in the budget.
There's been no public announcement, as far as I know, around the funding or an agreement in place. I guess I'm just wondering what would happen if that money didn't come forward.
Hon. D. McRae: I'm sure, like all Canadians, I'm also keen to see what the federal government budget will be, announced today as well. Yes, the federal government is an important partner with British Columbian agriculture. Negotiations are underway between this province and all provinces and the federal government in regards to the next round of Growing Forward. As to what the impact will be, that's speculation right now. Until we have the actual data and agreement in front of us, it's hard to guess as to what the impact will be.
L. Popham: But under the circumstances, the minister must have a contingency plan if those funds didn't come forward. Is that not true?
Hon. D. McRae: The agreement won't expire for another year, so we're going to actually just wait to see the budget today.
We'll talk to the Ministry of Agriculture. We'll have our negotiations. Our staff is in very good communication with the federal government because we realize it's an important partnership. When we realize well in advance the impact, if any, that the federal government budget will have, we will act accordingly.
L. Popham: But if that money didn't come forward…. I mean, it's the Ministry of Agriculture. The philosophy around agriculture is kind of planning ahead. So what would the ministry do if it didn't receive those funds, now that it's completely dependent on those funds for its operating budget?
The Chair: Could the member actually rephrase the question. Questions that require the minister to speculate or use hypothetical are actually out of order.
The Chair: Sorry, Minister. Yes, I asked the member to rephrase the question.
Hon. D. McRae: Okay. Thank you.
L. Popham: I was asked not to ask questions that speculate. But I've been having trouble asking questions where information that should be current — not speculated on but actual fact — such as how many FTEs are in the Ministry of Agriculture.
My colleague is here. We'll be moving on past the estimates for the budget for Agriculture. I have a couple of questions that should be fairly easy to answer.
Within this year's estimates, does the minister see any funds or any movement towards supporting a private member's motion that's on notice in the House regarding bringing back the standing committee on agriculture into the Legislature?
Hon. D. McRae: Good question, but I think it's one…. It is a good question. I encourage the member opposite to talk to the House Leader in the opposition and to have that conversation with the House Leader of government and see what resolution can be acquired between those two individuals.
L. Popham: I have actually written a letter, every single year since I was elected, to the Ministry of Agriculture asking if the ministry would stand with me in requesting the Standing Committee on Agriculture to be brought back. So I guess I'm just wondering if the minister would be in the position to do that.
The Chair: Member, it is actually not within the purview of the ministry for a select standing committee. Could I ask that you rephrase the question.
L. Popham: I'm going to rephrase the question so it pertains to the estimates. Would the minister see that the budget allocation for what he receives, being the Minister of Agriculture, would allow him time to support a standing committee on agriculture in the Legislature?
Hon. D. McRae: If the two House Leaders were to come to an agreement that having such a committee was needed, we would find resources within the Ministry of Agriculture to make it happen.
The Chair: Member, I remind you, a committee of agriculture would be a committee of the Legislative Assembly, which would be a budget of the Legislative Assembly, so I'd ask you to rephrase the question if you wanted to ask again.
L. Popham: I'll move to another question. I think that's a fairly basic question. I would hope that the Minister of
[ Page 10516 ]
Agriculture would find enthusiasm for my question and be glad that there would be some sort of ability to work together. Apparently that's just a difficult question for the minister to answer.
I'll ask another simple question. How much did the B.C. Agrifoods: A Strategy for Growth document cost in whole to produce?
Hon. D. McRae: We printed 500 copies of the agrifoods strategy, which cost $3,000 dollars. There are 250 flash drive copies available at the cost of about $1,800. Of course, it will be available on line, and there is the little bar code at the back which people could use to access.
L. Popham: But how much was the budget as far as the time the employees invested in this document?
Hon. D. McRae: Approximately five or six staff worked with a good chunk of their professional time on this document over the last two or three months. But as well, it's hard to quantify completely. Like I said earlier in the estimates conversations, we did draw on expertise from various staff members across the ministry, whether it is a bee specialist or someone who has expertise in the tree fruit sector. That's harder to quantify.
As well, we also want to remind members opposite that the actual stakeholder groups, the private sector, gave up their time, which is also money, of course, to assist in the creation of this document. It's not just government dollars that went into doing this; it is also the private sector.
Furthermore, our goal, which I think all British Columbians would be very appreciative of, is that we're trying to grow the agrifood sector from $10.5 billion annually to $14 billion in five years. This document gives us the framework and the action plans going forward, and we have had the support of industry as we have laid this out — that this is a plan that actually has great potential. They want to see if they can work with us on this project and make sure that they can grow their sector within the whole agrifoods framework.
L. Popham: I have loads and loads more questions, but I think our time is up. I'm sure the minister is thankful for that. As we draw to a close, I will state again that the disappointment over the Ministry of Agriculture budget for this coming year falls in line with the disappointment over the last ten years. I don't think that this government actually values agriculture. I think the minister has fought for some funding just to ooch by.
As far as the B.C. agrifoods strategy document and the new plan for agriculture in British Columbia, it has not been clear through this whole estimates process how the ministry is actually going to grow our food strategy, our food sector, our farming sector. I have heard a lot of vague answers.
The specifics on the actual budget lines — I think the minister was unable to answer for me in a comprehensive way. The last B.C. agriculture plan was presented, and most of it had no commitment to funding. Again, we see another document with no commitment to funding.
It looks great, but it's an empty document. We may be able to have the idea that we're going to grow our local food market by using Twitter and Facebook, but I can see that hasn't worked since that was announced. That's part of the strategy that I read in the agrifoods guide, and that may be free, but sometimes you get what you pay for.
So with this estimates process ending, I'll thank the staff for the time. I know that it's an excruciating process. I thank the minister, and that will be it. [Applause.]
Hon. D. McRae: Thank you very much for the applause.
You know, as a high school teacher by trade, I've taught socials 11 for 15 years. One of the key components of that, though, at the federal level is teaching government of British Columbia. I will compliment the members opposite for doing what they're supposed to. Their job is to keep government basically to task, making sure that we're doing good work and criticizing when they see fit.
However, like oppositions do constantly, seldom will they be supportive of government action. Even when they are supportive, I have noticed in the last three years in the B.C. Legislature that they will speak against a motion for many days and then vote in favour of it — but criticize it along the way. So I'm not overly shocked that we did not receive a rounding support from either the critic for Agriculture nor her colleagues over the last eight hours.
Now, I have a feeling that…. The critic opposite says that there are many questions to ask. I will remind the critic opposite or any member of the opposition that if there are questions that they do have for Agriculture, our staff are more than willing to ask and answer.
When you look through the list of questions and letters we received from the members opposite over the last 12 months, which I believe is in the range of about eight, we have answered those eight letters to, I believe, good satisfaction. Again, the offer is always out there to the members opposite that if they have questions they would like further clarity on, either write a letter and we will respond formally to that letter, or if you wish to have a briefing on a particular issue, we will do that.
Most importantly, I think I am in a very, very happy place. The world of agriculture is in a new renaissance. There is no doubt in my mind. The population of British Columbia looks at agrifoods in a way that very few other jurisdictions in the world look at it. There is a pride for the food that we grow in this province. There is pride for the products that we produce with the primary agriculture in this province.
We have a combination of a domestic market and an
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international market which allows our growers…. An example could be a cherry grower in the Okanagan who…. On Vancouver Island, where I live, when the cherries come into ripeness, the residents are keen to see it. And you know what? The residents of China also are keen to see these products.
There is an opportunity for individuals, whether they live in the Peace River or they live in the Kootenays or they live on Vancouver Island, to take their products and sell them to the domestic market and the world. We know the market will grow because the consumer will demand it in British Columbia. That is without a doubt. We know they want it because British Columbia has high-value, good-quality products that have a great, great reputation in this province.
We know as well, if you look in restaurants across this province, they recognize this as value as well, as we see restaurants and their menus doing more and more efforts to promote B.C. product, because they know the residents of British Columbia see the value there and will celebrate it.
When people come to our province, they want to celebrate. Whether it is wines from the Okanagan Valley or whether it is cheese from Vancouver Island, they want to celebrate the food that we grow here and hear the stories of agriculture, because they are good stories. They're stories that actually provide employment. They provide a quality of life in rural British Columbia and in urban British Columbia.
I know that the world of agriculture in this province…. Even though our land base is very small — 5 percent of the land in British Columbia is arable — land is in production around this province. There is land that is under production. Plans like the agrifoods strategy will encourage individual farmers and farm families to bring their land into the highest production levels possible, which will be a long-term benefit for British Columbians and for the world.
The world's population will demand more protein. Our oceans can provide that. Our grazing lands can provide that as well. I look forward to seeing us by 2017 not just achieve our goal of having 14 billion of agricultural dollars coming in this province for our food producers and our primary producers; I look forward to it exceeding this.
I know our population will do so to do their part. I'm pleased that the staff in the Ministry of Agriculture has done a phenomenal job over the last three days in these estimates. They have worked very hard in the agrifoods strategy, they have worked very hard for the agricultural community of British Columbia, and they have worked very hard for the residents of British Columbia.
I would argue that the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture is the strongest of all the ministries of the government of British Columbia, and for that reason, I express my extreme, unadulterated thanks for them in their efforts.
With those words, I look forward to a great year in B.C. agriculture. They made more money last year than they did the year before. They're going to move forward and have a better dollar value amount as they go forward. Let's make sure we celebrate B.C. agriculture every day in this province.
Vote 14: ministry operations, $52,314,000 — approved.
Vote 15: Agricultural Land Commission, $1,974,000 — approved.
The Chair: This committee will take a short recess.
The committee recessed from 3:51 p.m. to 4:06 p.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
The Chair: Again, I'd like to bring back the Committee of Supply, Section A, back to order. We will be starting our estimates for the Ministry of Environment, so I'd like to call on the minister to move Vote 22.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT
On Vote 22: ministry operations, $99,366,000.
The Chair: Minister, do you have any opening comments?
Hon. T. Lake: First of all, I'd like to introduce some of the staff members that are with me today. On my right is Anthony Danks, who is the executive director of the strategic policy branch. To my immediate right is James Mack, who is the head of the climate action secretariat, and to my left is Shauna Brouwer, who is the assistant deputy minister for corporate services.
I'm pleased, again, to have the great honour and privilege of standing before the members of this House to debate the estimates for the Ministry of Environment. The prosperity of our province depends on an open, positive leadership, and it requires a government that makes fiscally responsible decisions and supports economic growth in an environmentally sustainable manner.
I am proud of the B.C. jobs plan and the Ministry of Environment, because we are showing the world that we can promote economic growth while protecting our environment. In a province with such vast natural resources, striking that right balance just makes sense for us here in B.C.
The Ministry of Environment's total budget is tabled at $120.171 million and the budget of the environmental assessment office is an additional $8.754 million. This money pays for the important services we offer throughout the province, and all of the work we do is so that British Columbians can continue to live in a healthy, sus-
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tainable environment now and into the future. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to highlight some of that great work today, and again tomorrow.
Our province is and will remain a leader on climate action, which we will be discussing today. We have a revenue-neutral carbon tax, the first of its kind in North America. We are also North America's first carbon-neutral government.
Over the following year we will continue to deliver on actions in our climate action plan and play a pivotal role in helping to shape the government's strategy for the green economy sector.
Our environmental assessment office has the critical role of conducting thorough and timely environmental assessments of large, complex and economically significant projects. During this period of slower global economic growth and with $35 billion in potential capital investments for projects currently undergoing an environmental assessment, this job is as important today as it has been at any other time in the past.
Additionally, we are improving the air we breathe with an expanded wood stove exchange program. We're building a modernized water act that responds to current and future pressures.
We're encouraging more volunteers and region-specific capital projects in our parks and protected areas, and leading in product stewardship and recycling by working with our partners to expand the number of products that B.C. collects and recycles. These are just a handful of the examples of the very important work that the ministry takes on.
In all of its work the ministry is committed to closely and openly working with many of its partners including British Columbians, stakeholders, local governments, First Nations and other jurisdictions.
Before we would begin, I'd like to, again, take the opportunity to thank all the staff at the Ministry of Environment for their hard work over the last year and continued dedication as we move forward.
I think I'd just like to take a moment to recognize the public servants we have here in British Columbia, not just in the Ministry of Environment but in all ministries, for the great work they do on behalf of British Columbians. Their performance and their dedication to their jobs is outstanding.
With that, I will take my seat and welcome questions from the members opposite.
R. Fleming: It's a pleasure to begin estimates this afternoon and carry on tomorrow to ask a number of questions of the minister and to have the assistance of his staff to provide answers.
I want to begin by thanking all of the ministry staff that are assisting the minister through this process and who assisted me as the critic for Environment in advance of estimates in preparation for them, both from the ministry and from the environmental assessment office. It was very helpful to have information that we requested answered in advance of this afternoon.
I think I just want to make a few general comments at the outset, and then begin this afternoon by talking about issues within the government's climate action agenda.
What I want to say, I think, in general about the budget, to start off this set of estimates for this ministry, is that I think it was a concern to many observers, and not just the opposition, that when the Finance Minister presented his budget speech some weeks ago in the House, there were very few, very scant references to the importance of this ministry in the government, and to the environment generally in terms of a vision for the province.
When the contents of the budget were examined, particularly in regards to the Ministry of Environment, one began to quickly see why. In fact, there was very little good news for this ministry, if any. It has taken a back seat and, in the words of some observers, become a second-string ministry in government.
It is a deep concern for me and, I'm sure, for the minister himself that that is an impression that is being talked about openly in the public realm today, because it certainly is not reflective of the values British Columbians place on the environment and the way that they see the environment as integral to the development of a modern, strong and sustainable economy.
Since the last budget previously was tabled, we have a new Premier who has unfortunately made a number of statements in various media opportunities suggesting that there is a view and a false choice, a false dichotomy in British Columbia today that you can't have jobs and a healthy and strongly protected environment — that it's jobs or the environment.
That is a view that I think fell out of favour and was on the losing side of debate that we've had over many, many decades, but it's a view that unfortunately is at the very pinnacle of this government today. That is probably why in this budget we have seen some things, which we will be asking questions about through this process, that I think are of concern to British Columbians.
Overall, this ministry, of course, is being cut by a million dollars. There is a 20 percent cut in the climate action secretariat. We'll be talking about them this afternoon.
The funding for climate action, the coordinating body, the secretariat throughout government, now sits at $4.1 million in total. The budget for the climate action secretariat in 2008 — when the government announced the so-called green budget, announced new pieces of legislation and an emphasis on climate action, and a number of green government goals — was $11.2 million. So we have a cumulative 73 percent cut in annual funding for the climate action secretariat.
There is no new money in this budget for parks and protected areas. There was a very muted celebration for
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B.C. Parks' 100th anniversary last year. A lot of park user groups around the province of B.C. have had considerable grievances about the state of some of the parks and parks infrastructure in B.C. Their voices went unheeded in that centennial year. Again in this budget, we see that parks continue to be underfunded — some $10 million less in the budget than 2001 levels, when this government came to power.
There is also no new money in this budget for environmental protection, for environmental sustainability, for conservation officer service or the environmental assessment office. We will be asking questions about why that is the case and asking the minister's opinion.
Clearly, the budget is at odds with what the Auditor General's office had to say in December of 2011 and what many industry groups, mining companies and environmental stakeholders have pointed to, which is that they feel the funding levels and the capacity of the environmental assessment office are not what they should be to ensure that environmental assessments in B.C. are both faster and stronger in terms of ability to complete them.
That is curious — that the environmental assessment office's budget would be frozen this year. In 2010-2011 the office managed 76 development applications, with a combined investment potential of $31 billion into the economy. Of course, the government has, since that date, introduced the so-called jobs plan, which calls for faster approvals by various permitting authorities in the province of British Columbia.
Well, you can't do that without increasing the capacity, both the human capacity and the expertise and, of course, the resource and funding capacity of the environmental assessment office. But in this budget funding is frozen for the EAO.
When one looks at various climate initiatives that relate to energy conservation — for example, the LiveSmart program…. This is a program that has had fits and starts and sudden deaths throughout its illustrious yet short history. In this budget the LiveSmart program, which the government at one time said it was very proud of and renewed on a three-year basis, will end and die in the second year of the service plan. So a budget of $18 million for LiveSmart is cut, and the entire program, presumably, is eliminated one year from now.
That is a curious occurrence, and we'll certainly have questions about why homeowners and small businesses who want to and are doing energy-efficient upgrades will be unable to have incentives in place for them soon.
I think where we will start this afternoon is on the climate action agenda. So 2012, the first year of the service plan, is a critically important year. It's the first interim target year to achieve greenhouse gas reductions of 6 percent. There is a further interim target year in 2016, and then, of course, the legally binding year to show greenhouse gas reductions by 33 percent over 2007 levels, in 2020.
This is a test year in terms of measurement to see how the province has been performing with the work that they have done, with the legislation they have passed and the strategy that they have been adhering to, to achieve an interim target. We look forward to hearing how the performance is going and what the minister can say about reaching those goals and those targets. There are now eight jurisdictions in North America that have carbon pricing schemes and more on the way.
This is encouraging news, I think, for British Columbia when you look at government's interest and extensive travel earlier this year on official business trips to the Asia-Pacific. When you look at the emerging powerhouse economies in South Asia and in Asia, we are seeing those economies grow and chart a course for greater prosperity based on heavy investment and attention in the green economy.
One looks at the activities of South Korea, where 3 percent of GDP is directed by government into expanding the green economy. Whether it's the five-year plan that China has recently released on renewable energy or the cap-and-trade regional systems — five of them now, in China — these are examples of countries that we seek to expand business with that are pricing carbon and implementing innovative R-and-D investments into green technologies. Those are the ones that we hope to partner with and, to be honest, that we are competing with.
That is why it is so disappointing that in this budget…. While other jurisdictions are leaping ahead and putting a particular emphasis, in British Columbia we see a winding down. There is a stark drop in interest since 2008, when government waxed enthusiastically about tackling climate change, to four years later, looking at the sum total of initiatives that it has taken and, of course, looking ahead to the years where it will be accountable for achieving targets that are put into law. Those are my comments at the outset, and I again thank staff and the minister for their time in this process.
I will ask some questions, maybe beginning with the climate action secretariat in the ministry. The first question I wanted to ask the minister about the climate action secretariat is why the budget was cut this year. In reviewing the service plan that the minister presented last year, where it projected three years out, there were no such cuts to the budget of that secretariat. This is a significant cut of 20 percent, given the relatively small size of the budget. Of course, since 2008 when the so-called green budget was introduced, it's a cumulative 73 percent cut to the secretariat.
To the minister: first of all, why was the budget cut, and what is the implication in terms of full-time-equivalent reductions that staff that secretariat?
Hon. T. Lake: I think it's important, firstly, when we
[ Page 10520 ]
are making comments that are on Hansard that they be accurate. I just want to say that I've never heard the Premier say that we can't have a robust economy and not protect the environment. I would question that comment from the member opposite. He also said there's no new money for parks. I would point him to the 44 percent increase in capital in the budget for parks.
Again, I thank the member for endorsing the policies of carbon pricing that this government has been a leader on, unlike the member opposite, just a few short years ago, who wanted to axe carbon pricing in the province of British Columbia.
It is encouraging, when you are leading on a file, to see other jurisdictions following. We look forward to them catching…. Well, I don't think we do want them to catch up. We want to always be leading, but it is helpful when the rest of the world is starting to catch up with the leading policies here in British Columbia.
As far as the budget for the climate action secretariat, there is a $1 million reduction in STOB 67, which is "Informational advertising and publications." This is a request from government communications and public engagement for a reallocation of these funds to other marketing priorities in government.
So there are no FTEs or loss of FTEs associated with this. This is money that was not required for informational advertising and publication with the climate action secretariat. As stewards of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars, the money, if it's not used and can be better used in another ministry, then of course we're going to do that.
Again, I just want to point out to the member, in terms of total budget, when you look across North America, in fact around the world, you see governments everywhere having to cut fiscal spending because of the outstanding deficits and debts that are being chalked up around the world, leading to financial uncertainty.
Here in British Columbia we believe in fiscal accountability, in controlling spending. There are no real reductions in the budget to the Ministry of Environment, once this $1 million is accounted for in terms of the advertising and publications.
R. Fleming: I think that the minister needs to listen to the Premier a little more carefully. Very clearly she said, when she took the unprecedented act of attacking the federal government, and the then federal Minister of the Environment, to turn down the Fish Lake Prosperity mine application on the advice of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency….
She called that a "dumb decision" and said that employment was more important than the environment in that case and that the minister's rationale for turning down the application, which found it was an unacceptable application, didn't matter. That's only one occasion on which the Premier has offered that view, which I think is a relic viewpoint from another era.
I think it's a concern because, as I mentioned at the outset, we are dealing with an Environment Ministry budget here that shows that it is, in fact, no longer a priority — or even a pretend priority — that it was several years ago.
He's also quite wrong to characterize the opposition as being against carbon pricing. He knows full well that the opposition favoured having an extensive North America–wide cap-and-trade system. That was what we supported in 2008. That's the direction where North America was heading at the time. We had a brand-new Obama administration that was working with Congress. We had several pieces of legislation in Washington that would have brought that into being.
The situation has changed, and he knows that the opposition has been very critical of him and his government when they have been moving sideways on their own carbon tax since the 2009 election. He knows that the position of the opposition is in favour of carbon pricing. We think that's important.
It's important, I think, for British Columbians to know that political parties represented in the Legislature all believe in carbon-pricing schemes as an important tool to achieve carbon reductions into the atmosphere. In some political jurisdictions that is not the case. There is a debate going on that is extremely unhelpful in terms of progressing on climate action.
Back to the secretariat budget. I want to ask the minister what activities the climate action secretariat is going to have to reduce or discontinue working on because of the cuts. Are there recommendations that the climate action secretariat has made that can no longer be implemented because they have less money to work with in their area?
Hon. T. Lake: I can't help but wonder how increasing the carbon tax every year is going sideways. Seems to me when you increase something every year, that's going up, not sideways. However, the question is: with a million dollars from advertising and publications no longer available to the climate action secretariat, what things will they do differently? The answer is nothing, because that money was not needed for that STOB last year in the climate action secretariat.
R. Fleming: I wanted to ask the minister if British Columbia at this point is on track to meet the interim targets contained in the 2012 GHG emission reduction legislation and if the climate action secretariat has updated the climate modelling available to government that could give an accurate forecast and prediction of what the emission totals will look like at the end of 2012.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
I realize that 2012 as a reportable year will come significantly later, when the verified numbers will happen, but I would presume that he is advised accurately on how the province is expected to perform. If he could just tell this committee here this afternoon whether he believes the province is set to achieve the 6 percent reduction that is in the interim year target.
Hon. T. Lake: In terms of our targets for 2012, obviously, I don't need to tell the member opposite that until we measure, we don't know what 2012 will look like. As the member stated, we will have that information. It always comes in a lag the following year.
I can say that the estimate for B.C.'s 2009 greenhouse gas emissions was 63.8 million tonnes, which was a 3.2 percent decline relative to 2008 and a 2.1 percent decline relative to 2007 levels. Certainly, early on we've seen some progress in greenhouse gas reductions, despite the fact, I would note, that we were at the early stages of carbon pricing at that time, and obviously, behaviour of industry and individuals changes with an increasing price on carbon. So even in the early years when the carbon price was relatively low, we did see significant declines.
In terms of our targets and our modelling, we said in our climate action plan when it was released that with the actions that were to be implemented — and we are on track doing that at the moment — we would be about 73 percent to meeting our targets for 2020, and we have not any reason at this point to change that.
Of course, the information that comes from the 2012 reporting year will be valuable in helping us with the metrics to determine the progress that we're making and whether or not, out to 2020, that would be still on the 73 percent line or higher, lower. Of course, that will be the subject of great debate at that time, I'm sure.
R. Fleming: I asked the minister if he had an update and if he had projections on the sum total of initiatives that the government has taken to determine whether they think they are on course or off course on the 6 percent by 2012. He just repeated that the time that the reportable year will come into place is well after 2012. I know that. But has he received advice on whether the government believes they are on course to achieve it now — we're in the year 2012 — and whether they believe there will be a 6 percent reduction over 2007 levels achieved this year?
Hon. T. Lake: As I said, from the information we have to date from 2009, we have seen a reduction. At this point we have no metrics that would indicate that we are off target in terms of the 73 percent, based on the climate action plan.
R. Fleming: The federal numbers that looked at 2008-2009 emission levels, which the minister has just quoted, attributed the decline in B.C.'s greenhouse gases entirely to market declines in natural gas drilling activity at that time. That was the reason attributed by Environment Canada for B.C.'s temporary reduction, and it was described that way. Does the minister have any numbers of target achievements that he anticipates will be achieved in the major emission sectors: industry, transportation and the industrial sector?
Hon. T. Lake: I don't know how you characterize something as a temporary reduction until you measure again to find out if it's in fact still decreasing in terms of greenhouse gases.
As the carbon pricing increases, we expect the behaviour of industry and of individuals to change. I think everyone knows when gasoline prices go to $1.40, $1.50 a litre, people change their behaviour. They will take transit more often. They will perhaps car-pool. They will perhaps buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. We have also encouraged people to consider the purchase of clean energy vehicles, such as electric cars or plug-in hybrid cars.
Industry, we know, has made significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, it's in their interest to do that because they are paying $25 per tonne of carbon dioxide that they burn.
As we see that price go up, we see behaviour changes. There is every indication and expectation that we will continue to see a reduction in greenhouse gases simply because, for individuals, for organizations, for businesses it makes sense to reduce the amount of fuel they are using, which will result in GHG reductions.
R. Fleming: One of the things that is going to help change people's commuting habits, for example, and their carbon footprints in their daily lives is the buildout of transportation infrastructure that allows people to make commutes in their daily lives available.
Indeed, the government introduced a transit plan in 2008. It is currently $5 billion behind schedule. It was a key component of climate modelling assumptions that government presented.
I just wanted to ask the minister: with the B.C. Transit plan stalled, how many millions of tonnes of emission reductions do we need to make up, that were originally part of the climate assumption modelling the government used?
Hon. T. Lake: The use of transit, obviously, and efficient transportation networks is important for British Columbians and is an important way of reducing fuel use. So it's surprising that the member opposite voted against the Canada Line, for instance, which takes about 100,000 cars off the road every day in greater Vancouver. Anyone who has used the Canada Line really enjoys it and knows that it's a great way to get around. We do expect people to.…
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R. Fleming: I wasn't even an MLA then. It was 2004.
Hon. T. Lake: The member says that he wasn't an MLA at the time the Canada Line was voted upon, but I'm sure many of his colleagues were there.
The fact is that the transit plan would…. You'd have to canvass the question about the transit plan with the Ministry of Transportation. We do not have data that would suggest the numbers in terms of the original plan versus where we are in the plan.
The member is suggesting that if there's more transit then, obviously, achieving our greenhouse gas-reduction goals would be easier, and I certainly agree.
I know from my colleague the Minister of Transportation that he's working hard with Metro Vancouver and TransLink to work through some of those issues in terms of the funding required to support transit in the Metro Vancouver area. That's why this government has supported funding for the Evergreen line, which will be an important part of that strategy.
R. Fleming: The minister mentioned a couple of minutes ago the climate action plan and that the sum total of the recommendations gave government a road map to achieve 73 percent of the target that it needed to legally achieve by 2020. In other words, there was a 27 percent gap with government's climate action plan. They tabled that plan anyway and said: "We'll find ways to achieve the 2020 target later on."
They appointed something that was at that time called the Climate Action Team to look at the gap, the deficiencies in the government's own climate action plan, and make additional recommendations about how you would mitigate carbon, get it out of the atmosphere and comply with the law.
To my knowledge, government hasn't been doing very much work on that. There were over 25 recommendations submitted by the Climate Action Team that were over and above what government said it was going to pursue in its climate action agenda.
Of course, some of the central pillars in the government's own climate action plan have now faded away. There will be no regional cap-and-trade program. The minister has signalled that B.C. will not participate or has put it off for the very indefinite future. There are other things that have occurred, too, where government has not fulfilled commitments.
I wanted to ask him, given that he has cut the climate action secretariat's budget again this year by another $1 million: where is the planning coming from to address the gap that was originally there in 2008 — which government was aware of — in its plan, and to re-establish how we're going to meet the law, which the government passed several years ago, by 2020?
Hon. T. Lake: I want to reiterate, after the member's comments about a million-dollar cut, that that $1 million was unused last year for its purpose, which was advertising and communication, so it will not affect the way in which the climate action secretariat does its job in this current fiscal year.
Also, the member mentioned the regional cap-and-trade system that was contemplated by British Columbia. When the climate action plan was developed, it was predicated on anticipation of other jurisdictions moving forward at the same pace as British Columbia. Leadership is one thing, but followship is necessary in order to be able to implement things like cap-and-trade.
While we are working with the Western Climate Initiative and our partners in California, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba, particularly, and staying very much informed of the actions of Quebec and California, in particular, we think it's very important that we do move in a way that makes sense to British Columbians and that is done in a thoughtful way, because we have what those jurisdiction don't have.
We have a revenue-neutral, broad-based carbon tax. It's extremely important, as some climate change economists will tell you — I can quote Dr. Mark Jaccard, for instance — that we don't put at risk a very, very important, effective and well-recognized policy like the carbon tax to enter into another type of mechanism without having an extremely high expectation of success.
The member spoke about President Obama and the possibility of a North America–wide cap-and-trade system. In fact, Canada was ready to integrate with a cap-and-trade system if that were to happen. That was the expectation back in 2008. Things have changed for other jurisdictions. While others are starting to look at carbon-pricing mechanisms, British Columbia is still head and shoulders above other jurisdictions on this policy.
While we will continue to look at ways and mechanisms to help us accomplish our goals, we are extremely vigilant about protecting a policy that we have in place right now, which not only proves and allows the action to occur that we expect — that's the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — but also provides tax cuts for other parts of the economy, whether it's individuals, businesses, small businesses or corporations, allows for assistance to low-income people in the province with their carbon tax payments and assists rural and northern homeowners through a property tax supplement.
Again, it's extremely important that while we look at some of those possible actions to help us increase the effectiveness of our climate change policies, it's important that we don't put at risk the pillar of our policy, which is the revenue-neutral carbon tax.
R. Fleming: I want to ask the minister, in connection again with the climate action secretariat, if they coordin-
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ated for him amongst his cabinet colleagues the compilation of the government's natural gas strategy, which references heavily the LNG potential in British Columbia. Did the minister play a role in the compiling and eventual publication of that plan, which government released, I think, about four or five months ago?
Hon. T. Lake: Yes, we played a very important role. With the first two phases of our LNG strategy, British Columbians will be very proud to know that it will be the first jurisdiction on the entire planet to compress natural gas using clean and renewable energy. That's the role we played as a ministry in the liquefied natural gas strategy.
R. Fleming: I think the minister knows that the plan does contemplate the use of hydroelectricity and renewable energy for two of the plants. There are five that are referenced in the government's jobs plan for LNG between now and 2020.
The Minister of Energy and Mines explicitly said that they will probably have to use a natural gas pipeline to power the plant to create LNG for other contemplated facilities. That is a concern. I agree with the minister that there is a potential here for us to get it right, to compete with the Australians and maybe even achieve an LNG premium if our LNG product from British Columbia can prove and demonstrate that the carbon content of it is significantly lower than in other jurisdictions.
But we won't be able to do that, depending on whether the plan is followed or later amended, or whether there would be a policy requirement, for example, that all LNG that is processed in British Columbia is done so with clean sources of electricity. It's incredibly energy-intensive.
Therefore, to use natural gas in that processing plant production would have incredible greenhouse gas emissions effects.
Now, leaving LNG aside and the export terminals and plants that would process it, natural gas, through innovations in the shale gas drilling technologies that are now in use and the opening up of new deposits and shale gas plays in British Columbia, has created a business and investment interest in British Columbia.
Those are things that carry with them significant process emissions in B.C. I know that the minister has received expert opinions showing that this is going to add significant amounts of megatons to the annual emissions of the province of B.C., whether it's on a slow, medium or aggressive industry time horizon.
I wanted to ask the minister if he has looked at the addition of perhaps six to 12 megatons of new emissions from the natural gas sector and what that will mean for the other sectors in B.C.'s emissions profile, in terms of how we achieve the legislated target in 2020.
Hon. T. Lake: In our liquefied natural gas strategy we have made it clear that to the greatest extent possible, the compression of natural gas into liquefied natural gas will occur with clean, renewable energy. From what we know now, that means the first two will be able to accomplish this — the first in the world. But we will certainly make every effort to do that with the ones that come on stream after that.
I just wanted to thank the member for again endorsing the production of clean, renewable energy. We know in that part of the province, where the compression will occur, that many First Nations communities look for economic opportunities through things like run-of-river projects that produce that clean, renewable energy.
We know there is a project proposed by B.C. Hydro for Site C to produce clean, renewable energy. So I'm glad to hear the member say that he supports the leadership role of compressing natural gas using that clean and renewable energy, particularly in that part of the province.
We are not just going to be satisfied if the first two are electrified. We will hope that we can do more than that, and work is being done on how we can achieve that.
In terms of the process emissions — no question that as natural gas activity increases, there are emissions associated with the production of natural gas that need to be considered. Again, we will make efforts to electrify the Horn and the Montney to reduce the amount of emissions associated with natural gas.
We are looking at carbon capture and storage as a possibility. Certainly, I've heard from some of the companies involved that the geology of the Montney, particularly, lends itself to carbon capture and storage. As that technology is used elsewhere…. The Gorgon project in Australia is a good example, where it's been mandated that there's carbon capture and storage. The technology is coming along. We know that in Alberta and Saskatchewan they are working on this technology as well.
So we are working with industry to look at the possibility of using CCS as one method of reducing the emissions associated with any increase in the natural gas production.
Also, I want to mention that the government of Canada is working on a regulatory approach to the oil and gas industry. They are in conversation with industry on how that would look. But again, with federal regulations coming into play, that certainly will play a role in natural gas process emissions as well.
R. Fleming: I wanted to ask the Minister of Environment if he supports extending the scope of the carbon tax to include process emissions. The budget that he is supporting here this afternoon says no to that. That was originally contemplated in the climate action plan of government. This service plan does not support that. I wanted to get his personal view on whether he thinks
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the province should be moving towards putting a price on carbon emissions that come from the processing of natural gas — process and venting emissions.
Hon. T. Lake: Well, the climate action plan of 2008 contemplated a cap-and-trade strategy in which the largest emitters would move to a cap-and-trade strategy, which would capture those process emissions.
As I have said, every effort should be made to reduce emissions, whether they are through combustion or through process emissions, and I've mentioned some of the ways in which that can happen. Now, whether you are putting it in the ground or whether you are taxing it directly, you are pricing carbon. So do I support a carbon pricing mechanism? Absolutely.
Just recently at the GLOBE conference we heard industry support carbon pricing across Canada. The question of: do I support putting a price on carbon? Absolutely. I always have. There are different ways in which to price carbon.
As the member has eloquently said today, his strategy or his party's strategy for pricing carbon was a cap-and-trade system rather than a carbon tax. I would say that there are different ways of pricing carbon, including the process emissions phase of the CO2 emissions.
R. Fleming: I think what the minister has described, though, really is that the carbon tax in British Columbia does not apply to all parts of the economy in terms of greenhouse gas–emitting activities. It does cover stationary combustion. That's true. But it does not cover process or venting emissions, and that's a huge part of the emissions portfolio in B.C. that does not have a price on carbon.
The climate action agenda of government originally incrementally set out a contemplation that the scope would be grown. I think the last suggestion I've seen is that approximately $200 million of revenue is missed by government annually for failing to include process emissions in the scope of the carbon tax. That's money that could potentially be put into carbon-capture-and-sequestration technologies, for example, and the R and D that would make that happen.
I want to ask the minister — because he didn't say whether he supported expanding the carbon tax, as originally contemplated by his government, to include process emissions — how he expects to get this industry, the natural gas industry, to reduce its emissions levels when we have a lot of development pressures. We know the pressure is going up. The emission levels are going to go up significantly. This is already an industry that contributes over 20 percent of the total emissions in the province.
How is he going to move that industry to a practice where they, for example, sequester carbon and store it underground? That costs money. Companies will do that — and executives from Spectra Energy told me this just yesterday — if there is a price signal on carbon that makes a business case for doing it, or if government passes regulations that mandate them to do it. I don't think that's likely.
There is no price on carbon for these emissions right now in British Columbia, and I want to ask the minister if he thinks that expanding the scope is something that will help drive investment to CCS technology and reduce emissions in the natural gas sector.
Hon. T. Lake: I did say that I do support pricing of carbon, but I did say there are different mechanisms to price carbon, one of which is carbon capture and storage. That comes at a cost to industry. We have supported initial studies on carbon capture and storage here in British Columbia. But it's important to note, and I mentioned this before, that when you have leadership, you need followship. The expectation was always that other jurisdictions would follow British Columbia's lead and price carbon.
Certainly, I agree with the member's statement that industry, if they have a level playing field, will react. That's the free market system. If you put the right signals in place, they will respond. There are some companies that build in a carbon price per tonne for all of the projects that they plan to do.
However, the concept of a level playing field is important, because in this world we know that money moves quickly. If we are not on a level playing field with other jurisdictions, we risk the opportunity to develop an industry, to continue to keep the industry here in British Columbia if we get too far ahead of other jurisdictions.
Do I favour pricing carbon? Absolutely. Are we working with other jurisdictions, like Alberta, which has a $15-a-tonne carbon price after 100,000 tonnes a year, I think it is. But they don't have the combustible carbon tax below that level.
Are we working with those…? The minister of Alberta and I have had conversations about this. Certainly, through the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, we have an opportunity to encourage other jurisdictions to have a carbon-pricing mechanism that creates that level playing field so that we can move ahead together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
R. Fleming: I'm still not getting an answer to whether the minister wants to expand the scope of the carbon tax, the comprehensiveness of it in British Columbia, so that it includes process emissions. These are a significant source, and this is what we have to deal with in order to meet targets, in law, that the government has to meet.
So my question is — to go back to looking at the minister's answer just now: if he doesn't favour expanding the scope to cover process emissions, but he believes that industry should be motivated to sequester its carbon so that
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we can have industry solving the problem that it's creating and the pressures on the atmosphere in terms of emission standards, then what means is he going to pursue?
Is he recommending that there be regulations gradually brought in — that companies must sequester so much of their total emissions, by regulation? He's not wanting to do it with the market mechanism, which is the carbon tax. If we had the carbon tax applied to those emissions, they would have an incentive. They don't want to pay that tax, so they will invest in facilities to store it and then not have to pay the tax.
That's the question I asked the minister, and he didn't give me an answer on which route he favours — regulation or expansion of the scope.
Hon. T. Lake: I don't know how much clearer I can be in terms of being in favour of pricing carbon. In terms of process emissions, we have already spoken about some of the initiatives that are currently ongoing in terms of the federal government regulations that are being discussed.
I also want to tell the member, and he's well aware, that the Finance Minister has indicated that we will do a review of carbon tax policy, and that review will ask those kinds of questions.
I guess as a British Columbian I can inform that carbon tax review, but I think it's important to hear from British Columbians, ordinary British Columbians, and I will be doing a Twitter town hall on this in the near future to listen to regular British Columbians, to listen to industry, to listen to environmental organizations and find out what the state of play is in British Columbia regarding a carbon tax policy.
I think that whenever you have a policy…. We have said this on a number of occasions. When you're leading, it is important to evaluate, see if the objectives are being achieved, see what other perhaps unintended consequences occur. I think it makes good sense that when you have such a major policy, to review that policy, and that is what the Finance Minister has announced.
I'm looking forward to that review and to listening, as I mentioned, to a broad spectrum of British Columbians on carbon tax policy as it pertains to the natural gas industry, as it pertains to transportation, as it pertains to the building code and all of the other aspects that are involved in the production of greenhouse gases.
R. Fleming: I want to ask a different question than this. But maybe the minister, when he answers, can give us the hashtag, especially for all of the thrilled viewers back at home following this debate this afternoon so they can participate in his carbon tax review town hall — a little free advertising courtesy of Hansard this afternoon.
Again, I just want to stay on this point, though, with the minister, about the scope of the carbon tax to cover process emissions. The scale of this is incredible for government to grapple with because the minister is really one of the most accountable people in the government for achieving the 2020 targets in everything he does in years leading up to that. We're four years into the plan, so we're already one-third towards that date, which is coming down the track.
The pressure from natural gas alone…. This is an industry that we want to succeed, that we want to brand as clean, and we want to be able to manage the carbon that comes from building out and further developing natural gas. But we need to get the policy mix right if we're going to do that. There is so far nothing in this budget that shows government is going to incent the industry to deal with the problem they're creating for everybody in British Columbia that has to play a part in meeting the overall provincial targets that are legal now.
I want to go back to the minister. I spoke with Spectra just yesterday, so the conversation is fresh in my mind. They're recognized as a leader, even by the international panel on climate change, the UN body, for sequestering carbon. When you look at the scope of their CCS technology now, it covers less than 2.5 percent of their emissions. They emit six million tonnes a year, and 150,000 of it is stored annually. The natural gas sector in B.C. is something like 13.3 megatons.
We're trying to get the province from 65 down to 44 by 2020. That's not very far away. If we add six or ten more megatons from the natural gas industry alone, how do you square that with the climate action plan of government? This is a very, very big challenge, to give it an understatement, and this must keep the minister up at night.
How does he deal with his counterparts? His colleague the Minister of Energy and Mines said that we're going to be creative and we're going to be aggressive about these things — acknowledged that it is going to add hugely to the annual emissions of the province of B.C. But he must have some ideas how we're going to do this. This is a very, very significant challenge.
Hon. T. Lake: The member is quite right. There are some nights that I lay awake due to gas. But it may be some other type of problem.
"We want it to succeed," is what the member said about the natural gas industry. I think all British Columbians see the natural gas industry as a B.C. advantage. He mentioned that there was nothing in this plan to help the B.C. natural gas industry succeed. I would just point to the LNG strategy that we referenced just a short time ago, that the development of LNG will be a boon to this industry in terms of the ability to move gas into Asian markets.
I want to note, as the member is well aware, that that natural gas going into Asian markets, displacing higher carbon-intensive fuels like coal or oil, will help global reductions in CO2. As we well know, the atmosphere doesn't
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recognize borders, and so while we don't abdicate our responsibility for our own targets, we do like to think that we are helping out globally with the export of natural gas.
More than just using natural gas in Asia, we are encouraging the use of liquefied natural gas here in British Columbia, as well, particularly as a transportation fuel. We know that Westport technologies have developed the ability to take Cummins diesel engines and power them with liquefied natural gas.
The Ministry of Transportation has indicated a willingness to look at LNG as a source of fuel for retrofitting ferries and for new builds of ferries. Those are all ways that we can help the natural gas industry succeed and are ways, too, of reducing other forms of greenhouse gas emissions, other carbon-intensive fuels, with replacement of those fuels, both in Asia and here in British Columbia, with natural gas.
Is it a challenge to achieve those targets, Member? Absolutely. It actually does keep me awake at night sometimes thinking about how we're going to achieve those targets. I think that's a fair statement. If we didn't have stretch targets, they'd be easy to hit. But these are stretch targets. They're aggressive targets, and I'm proud that we have set those targets. Working through an expansion of the natural gas industry and meeting those targets is a challenge. We are working closely with industry to meet that challenge.
At this stage I don't have an informed opinion as to whether we will get there. We will look at the numbers. We will look at the strategy as it develops in terms of the LNG plants that are produced. As the member knows, commodity prices for things change quickly. At one time we had $8 a unit for natural gas, and I think today it's about $2.20. All of those factors will come into play in terms of the activity in the natural gas industry. Do we want them to succeed? Absolutely. Are we working hard to meet the challenge along with industry? Absolutely.
R. Fleming: There was an estimate done by organizations that are looking at the government's natural gas plan and their climate action plan and looking at the projections for the increases to carbon emissions that an expansion of the natural gas industry will create between now and 2020 — using government's numbers. They looked at what it means for the rest of the economy, for the other sectors, if B.C. is still going to hold to the target to reduce greenhouse gases overall in the province by 33 percent.
Transportation, agriculture, homeowners, local government, manufacturers: all of those industries and sectors and activities would have to achieve something like a 50 percent reduction by 2020 if the government is going to hold to the overall targets that it set out in law.
I want to ask the minister if he sees a scenario where…. If the natural gas sector is not adequately incentivized, if the policy mix isn't done right by government and the new carbon emissions are coming on stream because of the buildout and the further development of the natural gas sector, what's going to give? Is government going to look at how it regulates the natural gas sector and try to project meeting the 2020 targets? Or, as the minister has been asked by others, is government already contemplating changing the legislated targets that it has on greenhouse gases in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, I mentioned some of the actions that we hope will assist in meeting those targets. I mentioned earlier the electrification of the Montney basin, which B.C. Hydro is working on at the moment. The member mentioned Spectra and other companies that are looking at carbon capture and storage.
We haven't yet talked about the forest carbon offset protocol that has been developed here in British Columbia, which will lead to reforestation opportunities, particularly in the mountain pine beetle–affected areas of the province, and sequester carbon. Those are things that I think will help us.
In terms of the study itself, I don't have the study, so it's difficult for me to comment on it. I don't know what kind of modelling they used. I'm not sure what assumptions the study was based upon, so I really can't comment on that.
I mentioned that these are some of the actions we are taking. We have no plans at this point to change the targets that are legislated. We have a reporting year in 2012. That date, of course, will be very informative in terms of benchmarking how we're doing with our plan.
B. Simpson: Just a couple of quick questions for the minister on some points that he has raised to date. The member for Delta South and I spent last week up in Peace River. The member and the Chair hosted a portion of that. The minister raised Site C in the context of the government's climate change agenda and as a green source of power.
One of the questions we were asked up there on many, many occasions is: where is that power going to? The minister actually referenced that. It has been sold initially to deal with household loads because of population growth, then sold again to electrify the Horn and other areas of the natural gas industry, then sold again to the people up there to electrify the LNG plant. The minister has mentioned all of those things. I know the people up in the Peace would like to know: which is it?
That's overselling that power a significant amount of times. The folks up in the Peace feel that they deserve to know what the government's intention is with that incremental power if it comes on stream, especially since it's going to be a very, very expensive source of power at the end of the day. The minister raised the question. I'd like to know: what is the government's intention for that
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incremental power from Site C? Is it households? Is it the Horn? Is it LNG, or is it something as yet to be determined?
Hon. T. Lake: Certainly, I would say to the member that the Minister of Energy would probably be able to answer that question for him. As we know, electrons are passed around the province, and we don't track each electron.
The point I was making was not that those specific electrons from Site C would go to power the compression of natural gas. What I said was that clean, renewable energy was something that I was happy to hear the member opposite, the opposition critic, endorse. I didn't specifically say that those particular electrons were going to be used for compression of natural gas.
B. Simpson: I guess my point is that yes, while electrons can be moved around the grid, there's incremental power capacity needed for the government's industrial agenda. B.C. Hydro has stated publicly, after that agenda was out there, that there's simply not enough power in the grid to deal with that. But as the minister has indicated, it's not his file.
However, my reflection back to the minister and his colleagues is that there's a lot of consternation up in the Peace, because they would like to know what the government's agenda is for that incremental power so that they are more able to make a decision and to engage in the public consultation process in a meaningful way.
Moving on to a follow-up on the Environment critic's questions, the minister has indicated carbon sequestration through the forest carbon regulations, etc. The minister must know we're talking about a minuscule amount of sequestered carbon under that program. I think it's looking at 100,000 tonnes in the early stages, and it won't ramp up very much at all. So we're not talking about a large increment there.
I was on CBC Daybreak North with the minister, talking about the carbon tax, and on that program the minister stated categorically that he agreed with what I was saying publicly — that 20 percent of emissions that come from that sector ought to be looked at very, very carefully by government in terms of how we manage that.
The minister talked about the free market system, and industry will move. But industry will move — and again, the minister used the same terms — by regulation or by pricing, and right now we have neither. We have neither regulations over governing that source of GHGs, nor do we have pricing on it. So that's what the Environment critic is getting at. How do you move in this direction?
My question to the minister is a straight-up question. What is the actual tonnage? The minister indicated that about 20 percent is clear, discrete, associated with emissions that come from oil and gas production. What is that tonnage on a per-annum basis in B.C.'s total carbon emissions?
Hon. T. Lake: In 2009 the greenhouse gas emissions estimate for British Columbia was 63.8 million tonnes, so 20 percent of that would be about 12 million tonnes. Our estimates are that there are about 11 megatonnes that are associated with the process emissions of the natural gas industry.
B. Simpson: Again, that's outdated information. That sector has grown substantially between now and then. It's coming off again, and it will wax and wane, but certainly, it has experienced growth. So you're looking at 11 megatonnes, as the minister indicated, not captured.
The minister said on Daybreak North that the questions were: "Should they be covered? Should the money from that be put into a fund that they can help innovate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?" As the minister knows, I'm proposing that's one way to address some of the issues in the Pacific Carbon Trust.
That's one way to address Pacific Carbon Trust, but we're coming up with that. But before we move on to Pacific Carbon Trust, I do want to say that 700,000 tonnes of offset purchases in the public sector capped and, in many cases, double-taxed against 11 megatonnes not captured at all, no taxes whatsoever…. The Pembina Institute estimates that 75 percent of the net growth in the province will come from that sector, and the minister is dancing around whether the government is actually going to address that or not.
I guess my question to the minister is: what's the time frame? What's the time frame in which the government is going to decide to get some control over those emissions by either regulating them and requiring carbon sequestration; by taxing them and making that available as an innovation fund of some kind, which is what Alberta does; or by some combination of pricing and regulation to make sure that those emissions are controlled so that the government can meet its legislated targets in 2020, 2050?
I'm asking specifically: what does the minister believe is the time frame for making that decision rather than it just continuing to kind of wander off into the future, and we might get to this or not get to it?
Hon. T. Lake: I wouldn't characterize it dancing around. I think we have issues here that are difficult challenges. I want to commend the member for the ideas that he has put forward. I think it has been a great contribution to the discussion, as the Environment critic has done as well.
I think we all need to put our heads together to figure out how we are going to solve the problem of meeting our targets. It is a big challenge. Part of that challenge, a big
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part of that challenge…. The member said that pricing will move the industry, and he's right. The pricing will move the industry out of British Columbia if we don't have a level playing field. I think that's important.
As an environmentalist, someone who's very concerned about greenhouse gas emissions…. Certainly, we could advocate to have a playing field that is not level, that the competitiveness becomes an increasing concern for the industry. That's why we're working hard with other jurisdictions, why every time I get together with other environmental ministers from other jurisdictions, when I get together with industry, I talk about the need to move forward together on carbon pricing, whether it's by regulation, whether it's by other market mechanisms like cap-and-trade or tax.
I think, personally — and I said this — the conversation should include a discussion of those market instruments and other jurisdictions. In terms of when that will happen, I mentioned that the Finance Minister is, in fact, conducting a review of the carbon tax policy. We will use that to inform the process, moving forward, in terms of all of the questions that are being asked over the type of instruments that we will use to help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
B. Simpson: Sorry, I can't help myself, and the Environment critic is letting me jump in for one more on this.
I applaud the minister for recognizing that there are many people who are trying to have at this. I think we do have a desire. I certainly would like us to see the government be successful, whether it's this government or a change of government, in achieving targets in a way that actually still continues to grow our economy, and that's no mean feat.
The minister has indicated, as part of the back-and-forth, industry can move. I meant move in the direction of reducing GHGs, and of course he's playing with the words of moving out of our jurisdiction. But the reality is….
I'm getting this from the pulp sector. I'm getting it from the cement sector. I get it from the mining sector and got it from the oil and gas sector. Right now there's a high degree of uncertainty in British Columbia about where they're going with this.
That uncertainty can also be something that chases away investment and doesn't allow companies to make long-term decisions about B.C., because they don't know where we're going. Are we in or out on some cap-and-trade scheme? Are we going to do pricing? Are we going to do regulation in pricing? I certainly heard that up in the Peace, and I've heard it from the mining sector as well, etc. So the minister has reflected back to the carbon tax discussion. I think the public thinks that's about the next thing to come into the carbon tax, etc. — not about whether it expands it or not — if that's the case.
Again, does the minister have a sense of the time frame? What is the timing of this, and when does he think the government will be making a decision so we can start to give some certainty to investors about where B.C. is going to go on its carbon policy?
Hon. T. Lake: I wanted to correct the record in terms of the contribution of greenhouse gases by the natural gas industry. The natural gas industry is estimated to produce a total of nine megatons of greenhouse gases. Of that, 5.4 megatons are covered by the carbon tax, leaving 3.7 megatons that are not covered. These are the process emissions that are currently not covered. I just wanted to correct the record on that — not 11 megatons uncovered; 3.7 megatons that are uncovered at the moment.
In terms of when, I think the answer I gave before is that until we do this public review, we don't know when. That's why we are doing a review — to get the comments from British Columbians whether they be in industry, whether they are regular consumers.
I don't believe that we are going to restrict the conversation to whether we should continue to increase the current carbon tax. I think the conversation is wide open in terms of the whole policy. I think that's what British Columbians expect when they're having a conversation on government policy — that they're able to give their thoughts into government and government will act upon it.
We know that the Finance Committee that went around the province heard from a number of people on the carbon tax, which is one of the reasons that we're doing this review. So I think to prejudge the outcome before we have that listening exercise would be wrong and even prejudging the timetable at this point — certainly not something I can do. The Minister of Finance will be leading that discussion.
R. Fleming: I want to talk about the Pacific Carbon Trust in a moment, but there's just one item from the climate action plan that maybe now is as good a time as any to ask the minister about. That is sales tax exemptions that used to exist before the government got rid of the PST and suddenly and swiftly transitioned the province to the HST.
There were a number of green sales tax exemptions that covered an array of products. Many of these were outlined as a centrepiece in the climate action agenda in 2008. These would cover things like Energy Star appliances, green-build windows and door products, insulation products, high-efficiency furnaces, heat pumps, as well as an array of zero-emission vehicles.
Those were all given a 7 percent discount as a way to help consumers go green and, when they were renovating their homes, make the case for energy savings through the combination in some cases of ecoEnergy grants from
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the federal government. But the sales tax discount would be able to give the homeowner the ability to make the case for energy savings paying for the investment that they wanted to make, which would benefit, of course, B.C. Hydro's corporate targets on energy efficiency and help everybody in British Columbia with lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, those programs were dumped when the HST came into being. The people of British Columbia have spoken through the referendum. The HST is gone. This government is going to have to transition back to the provincial sales tax. But I have seen nothing in this budget that restores the PST exemptions that were part of the provincial sales tax regime we used to have in British Columbia.
I want to ask the minister: are those exemptions coming back? Can consumers expect to have again what they lost in the whole HST debacle as green sales tax incentives with the PST's return?
Hon. T. Lake: As the member…. Well, if he doesn't know, I will inform the member. Some programs were limited life span programs. The clean energy vehicle program that we have brought in, for instance, is a two-year program, not contemplated to go on forever. Many of these types of programs are there for a limited time period to spur the early adopters of technology to action and then, hopefully, others follow.
I can't speak to all of the programs that the member referenced. I would say, though, that the Minister of Finance would be able to answer those questions. That is not the purview of the Minister of the Environment. But the Minister of Finance has said that we will go back to the PST system as we knew it.
Now, again, keeping in mind that some of those programs were limited life span programs, it's my understanding that the PST exemption on hybrid vehicles, for instance, was a program that had an expiry date. But I will again refer the member to the Minister of Finance for specifics about those programs.
R. Fleming: I'll definitely have questions for the Minister of Finance on some of these specifically — which rebates and what, if any, are returning. I think the concern is that the Minister of Finance hasn't always said that the PST will go back to exactly what it was. I think opposition members are keen to share with their constituents what exactly those comments have meant.
As it pertains to the climate action plan of the government, one of the pillars of helping British Columbians contribute their share was to make their living spaces and, in some cases, their vehicle use more low carbon and their carbon footprint smaller to help government achieve these targets. It was the PST items that were specifically seen as a key part of the strategy in the 2008 climate action plan. There are several schedules that boast about the array of exemptions, that talk about it.
The minister is correct. There was a pretty decent takeup rate on those programs. But the concern is that they will disappear. We're having a tough recovery, especially in the building sector. This is an ideal time to jump-start an energy retrofit renaissance in B.C. to get the takeup rate there once again. So long as we remain in this uncertain time of the HST…. My point is that once we get past that and reintroduce the PST, those items presumably should reappear because they were a central part of the climate action program of government.
The plan — that purple book, which I don't have on me — highlighted it in several sections. So again, to the minister, surely he's had those conversations with the Minister of Finance about how much it will help by reintroducing the PST to bring in those sales tax exemptions for green products. There were literally hundreds of green products that received a sales tax discount.
Hon. T. Lake: Well, again, I would have to refer the member to the Minister of Finance for specifics. To reiterate, some of those programs were always intended to be limited life span programs to spur behaviour change, to encourage early adopters. Then of course it would get taken up by others.
Of course, that plan didn't talk about electric vehicles. We have seen a new plan — $18 million spent on clean transportation initiatives, including the B.C. clean energy vehicle program, a program which has been very successful to date.
This is a program that encourages the original manufacturer-made vehicles, such as plug-in hybrids, full plug-in electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, compressed natural gas vehicles. Those weren't in the 2008 plan. The technology has changed. We are using funds to encourage people to adopt that technology as well as the infrastructure required for plug-in stations around the province.
The SCRAP-IT program has been funded to help take the older, dirtier cars off the road and reduce greenhouse gas emission.
So while the member laments the expiration of some programs, I would just point to new programs that have come to take some of their places. Again, the LiveSmart B.C. program, administered through the Ministry of Energy, is another program that still has current funding that helps to reduce home and business greenhouse gas production.
R. Fleming: I will follow the minister's advice and go to the Minister of Finance, then, on some of the follow-ups there. I hope he won't try this again on me, though.
I want to ask about LiveSmart B.C., which another colleague of his has a hand, of course, in administering. But again, information and resources must surely be provid-
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ed by the Ministry of Environment to inform LiveSmart B.C. It is also mentioned in the service plan of this ministry. So I will try to ask the minister about LiveSmart.
I think a lot of people were surprised to see that in year 2 of this budget it is eliminated again. This is a program that has operated in fits and starts under this government. It's a program that has had a good problem to have: it's been quite popular with applicants. Many applicants have had trouble with the administration of the program, but the interest has never been a problem in accessing LiveSmart.
I wanted to ask the minister.... LiveSmart is, again, a flagship program that this government points to, whenever they like to, about how they're helping people invest in their homes and make them more energy-efficient. In year 2 of this budget it disappears entirely again.
Did the Ministry of Environment inform the government overall in terms of how unwise it would be to eliminate LiveSmart? It is, again, listed in its climate action plan as a key to help British Columbians contribute their share to reducing greenhouse gases in B.C.
Hon. T. Lake: The LiveSmart B.C. program was renewed until 2013. As the member stated, we've had different iterations of LiveSmart B.C. Of course, as the economic situation changes, government looks at these programs and makes decisions based on how to best use the limited number of dollars available to government to supply all of the services that people of British Columbia expect.
Whereas the program is funded to 2013, there is always a possibility of a renewal of any program, so that discussion will certainly take place, I'm sure. It is a very popular program. It does encourage people to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
I would say there are other actions too that are helpful. The Minister of Finance has brought in provisions that allow utility companies to help finance some of the energy-reduction initiatives by homeowners through a pay-as-you-save program, where you can essentially have the money to put in a heat pump, for instance, and then pay-as-you-save on your utility bill through the utility company.
There are lots of different iterations of programs. Some of them have limited life. Some are renewed. I think government always should be evaluating the programs to see how effective they are, see what the uptake is, if the outcomes are realized. Any responsible government will be willing to look at those programs — if they're successful in meeting their outcomes, continue to support them; if they're not meeting the outcomes, then look at ways of changing programs to create the expected outcomes.
R. Fleming: I think the minister makes a good point. Although his government is contemplating scrapping and eliminating LiveSmart in 2013, things can change. Programs can be renewed, and in May 2013, for example, there could be a very big opportunity to continue LiveSmart or supersede it with something even better and more ambitious in that year.
From his Ministry of Environment website, under the mandate section, there is a reference to the climate action secretariat being a key to providing information and resources through LiveSmart B.C. So there is a suggestion that the link is quite direct between the climate action secretariat and LiveSmart in terms of developing the strategy and, in the words of this mandate document, sharing the "vision of opportunity and action in our communities, businesses and homes."
Is that something, a line of business in the minister's ministry, that is going to cease because we're, of course, debating a budget that eliminates LiveSmart?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, certainly Ministry of Environment, and particularly the climate action secretariat, informs policy that spans different ministries. It is absolutely the case that we think LiveSmart B.C. is an important program, that the climate action secretariat helps inform the policy development for LiveSmart B.C. We coordinate with other ministries and help to champion green initiatives in all the ministries.
Yes, absolutely. Are we proud of LiveSmart B.C. and the role that the climate action secretariat and the Ministry of Environment plays in it? Absolutely. Ultimately, it's a program of another ministry, but we certainly advocate the types of actions or outcomes that we hope will come from these different programs.
R. Fleming: There are a number of things under review all over government. They are usually in areas that have generated some controversy. The minister has mentioned the carbon tax review this afternoon, and we'll ask about that in a little while.
One of the things that has apparently been reviewed and completed was a review of the Pacific Carbon Trust. That was done after a lot of discomfort by school boards and health authorities and other public sector organizations that were forced to contribute offset payments that were then going to fund projects in the private sector. Some of these were resort hotels. I think EnCana and some of the largest polluters in British Columbia were receiving, in essence, funding allocations that were there for health, education and other public services.
That, as the minister knows well, was a problem that I think goes beyond optics, but one that certainly did cause some people to scratch their heads and write to him and make suggestions to government.
He said that he was going to examine and review that. Apparently, that's been done. I'm just wondering if the minister has completed that review, whether he would make it publicly available and when we can anticipate
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Hon. T. Lake: We have done a large engagement with stakeholders that are part of the carbon-neutral government, and of course, Pacific Carbon Trust is part of that. I think there are British Columbians who've expressed concern with a policy that…. Again, when you lead on a policy, you always should be willing to review it, and that review is nearing completion. There will be some action taken in terms of the issues the member references, but I'm not at liberty at this point to say when that will happen other than it should be coming relatively soon.
R. Fleming: That is such a precise term. I don't know what to take from the minister. Perhaps he can expand upon when, in the rest of the world's calendar, "relatively soon" might approximately be.
The review, he has said, has been an extensive consultation with stakeholders, which is interesting. Maybe he could, before tabling the contents of the review, at least let people see who has been a part of the privilege of being asked to give their views on that review. That would be helpful if he could do that sometime during this set of estimates.
I want, though, to ask a few more questions about what options might be considered under the review and how the minister feels about them.
The controversy, as I mentioned, with the Pacific Carbon Trust and the carbon-neutral government legislation of this government, is that public money, public dollars, are seen to be transferred to some of the largest emitters. I think there have been some concerns with specific projects that were funded by corporations that looked like they were funding things that would fall into the category of additionality. So there have been questions raised about the veracity of some of the projects that were being funded.
But really the point that is hardest for the minister to refute, I would think, is that public sector leaders were saying, "We want to take responsibility for our emissions, we want to lower our energy use, and we want to be able to have a reasonable chance of bidding into projects through the mandatory fee," which they're forced to pay. That is not the case and contemplated in the legislation. That's something that the minister has recognized in interviews that I have read with him as problematic.
My question for him is: is that something that's going to change? Will the public sector be able to retain funds and fund projects to lower the carbon footprint and, therefore, the levies that they have to pay annually to the government?
Hon. T. Lake: The carbon-neutral government policy is to encourage, and not just to encourage but to mandate, government operations and those public sector organizations to be responsible for their greenhouse gas emissions.
We heard the member for Cariboo North and the opposition critic talk about price signals and how that motivates an industry. It also motivates public sector organizations, and the price signal is important. In fact, the price signal on greenhouse gases through carbon-neutral government has resulted in actions that have saved millions of dollars in terms of energy costs for public sector organizations.
The notion of paying for a tonne of greenhouse gases that you produce and using that to offset a tonne elsewhere in British Columbia…. These are British Columbia–based offsets, and we could have a discussion about the types of offsets. I think we've heard from many British Columbians on that. That's, again, part of the conversation that we've had with the public and with the stakeholders involved, the public sector organizations that are affected by the mandatory payment of offsets to Pacific Carbon Trust.
We've done other things along the way that the member has not identified, such as the $75 million in the public sector energy conservation agreement which encouraged public sector organizations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it also was leveraged to a total of $110 million over the life of that program. So not only did we have $75 million over three years, which the member fails to mention…. Even though that program has now expired, which is something that has been a concern for the groups in the public sector organizations involved, it did result in greenhouse gas reductions and real energy savings.
School districts, for instance, that would pay $100,000 into Pacific Carbon Trust are actually saving $200,000 a year from some of the energy-switching initiatives that occurred through the public sector energy conservation agreement. While they may be paying $100,000 in payments to the Pacific Carbon Trust, they're actually saving $200,000 because of the action they took. Those are savings each and every year.
So while there are some concerns with the policy, which we are willing to take into account, we are looking at the policy and, as I mentioned, in the relatively near future will table recommendations for that policy.
R. Fleming: I think we're hitting a theme here this afternoon, which is that the minister has been referring to programs that the government has had that are expired — whether we're talking about LiveSmart which is going to be gone in the life span of this budget, next year; the green PST exemptions which are gone; and the PSECA investments in the public sector. Those have all expired too.
What remains in this fiscal year — and in four days, the next fiscal year, presumably — is the irritant of the Pacific Carbon Trust being levied on schools and hos-
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pitals and going to giant emitters like EnCana. We had a discussion earlier this afternoon about process emissions, which aren't covered by carbon pricing in British Columbia. The largest emitters are getting money from cash-starved school districts and hospitals that are struggling to provide services that the public expects.
That is something I know the minister has made comments on. He's aware of the absurdity of some of these things that get funded from these entities, and he's obviously been concerned enough to put this review in place.
So I would ask him: does he see, at the end of this review, a situation where the public sector may be able to be…? The Pacific Carbon Trust may transform more into a model like the U.K. Carbon Trust where greening public sector activities is funded by a carrot-and-stick model, where the levy is there, but the chance to recoup and invest with those moneys back into lowering the carbon emissions and making the operation more energy-efficient is a fundamental part of the program.
That's missing today. It's a model I think would be better for the province of B.C. He's heard it from education leaders and health care administrators. I'm wondering if that's something we can expect as an outcome of this review.
Hon. T. Lake: First of all, it's important to understand that the Pacific Carbon Trust is under the purview of the Minister of Finance. I'm not trying to avoid the issue, because certainly our ministry informs that policy, and we work with the Ministry of Finance in terms of the development of that policy.
I also just want to mention that while some offsets that the member refers to did go to corporations, others went to conservation projects. In fact, the largest single offset purchase in North America, I believe, was the Darkwoods project in the Kootenays.
When the member says the absurdity of having public sector organizations take responsibility for their greenhouse gas production…. Again, we'll point to the real savings in greenhouse gases, No. 1, and the real savings in money for these public sector organizations that have been incentivized to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, with the carrot being the public sector energy conservation agreement and the stick being the payment into the Pacific Carbon Trust.
We have seen real changes. We could talk about specific projects, like the Delta school district and the community energy program that was developed there. We can talk about the use of LED lighting and upgrading of boilers in the Kamloops-Thompson school district. The member conveniently ignores the real savings that have occurred to those cash-strapped, as he calls them, organizations. They're coming out with real savings despite having to make a payment.
Now, are there better ways of administering this type of program? I think there are always better ways of doing just about everything government does. That's why we are reviewing this. We have talked to stakeholders. We are in the middle of developing some potential options. I will be happy to share that with the member and the public when those go through the full discussion in government.
I will say this. I do appreciate the comments from the critic and from the member for Cariboo North on this issue, because I think it's important. This isn't about politics. It's about getting the outcomes that we want. I share their belief that we should be leaders in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and I want to make sure this policy continues to improve as it evolves, as it is very much a leading-edge policy in North America.
R. Fleming: I think the problem is that as it is currently configured, we have thousands of school buildings, for example, in British Columbia — elementary, secondary, middle schools — many of which are horrendously energy inefficient. We only have dozens of projects that we can point to where energy retrofits have been done. We need to address the thousands of school buildings that remain. This program, the Pacific Carbon Trust, doesn't seem to incentivize and help get energy retrofits off the ground.
Unlike a program where…. If the school district was paying into a fund and had a chance to develop an energy-saving program and get the money back to actually do the physical work and align it with other grant programs government has — for seismic retrofits and those sorts of things, which would be an efficient use of taxpayer money — that would be a good outcome of this review. I don't know what will come out of this review, but I would hope that those sorts of things are going to be righted.
Maybe when I read the transcript later…. I think there was enough in there to be encouraged by the minister, although if he would betray a little bit more bias in agreement with those of us who are speaking on this side, that would be even more encouraging.
I want to talk about local government carbon neutrality, because that began January 1, 2012 — this year. It is a different setup. It is about municipalities having to demonstrate carbon neutrality, similar to the schools and hospitals and the public service organizations we've just been talking about, but they are able to configure how they offset their emissions activities in a very different way. In fact, it's a way that school districts and health authority leaders have been asking permission from the government to be able to do.
Regional districts and local governments are going to be able to avoid, if they want, using the Pacific Carbon Trust. They are going to be able to put their offset purchases not into purchasing offsets from multinational entities that are large emitters and large polluters. Avoiding
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that spectacle, they will be able to source offset projects within their own municipality, if they wish, or as a consortium of other municipalities.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
The details are just emerging. This is something that the Union of B.C. Municipalities demanded from government, kicked up a fuss over and secured. There is already a different model that the minister's review could take note of, and it's the one that just came into effect six weeks ago that local government is a part of.
I guess the question to start with is to ask the minister if he thinks that allowing municipalities to purchase offsets from sources other than the Pacific Carbon Trust is appropriate.
Hon. T. Lake: If I didn't think it was appropriate, we wouldn't be doing it, I suppose. The difference is that we are the government of British Columbia, and we take responsibility for our greenhouse gas emissions. That is what makes us a carbon-neutral government.
When you get to local government, we have 180 of 189 local governments that signed the B.C. climate action charter. They were committed to working towards carbon neutrality. We recognize that it is perhaps more difficult for a regional district, for example, to achieve carbon neutrality in its operations in the same way that a provincial government can.
We've worked with the Union of B.C. Municipalities. As a former local government elected official, I certainly can understand some of the challenges they have outlined to us. But there has been great leadership out there. I can point to Mayor Mike Bernier and the city of Dawson Creek, for instance, that has its own $100-a-tonne fund. For every tonne of greenhouse gases, at the end of the day, that they're producing in the operations, they put $100 into a fund which is used to reduce greenhouse gas through different projects in the community.
I commend local government leaders that are taking action like that. We know that there are many examples around the province of local governments being real leaders in climate action.
We have provided a framework called Becoming Carbon Neutral, which provides options to local governments to invest in practical and credible greenhouse gas reductions.
As we work with local governments, we will certainly not be afraid to steal some of those great ideas that will come from unleashing the creativity throughout the province in local government. As we look at the carbon-neutral government policy in British Columbia, we will, as I said, steal and borrow and take any of those sorts of ideas that occur on a local government level as well.
R. Fleming: I think what the minister had heard from local government leaders and the reason why we see carbon neutrality administered completely differently than in public sector organizations of the province is that the cities were demanding credit for what they were doing. The minister hinted at some innovative things that are going on in local government, and there certainly are many of them.
For example, I know that Metro Vancouver was insistent that they be given credit for their considerable investments in waste diversion and other areas around curbing landfill greenhouse gases. That's where they want to be able to use the levies that are charged to them in their own corporate operations to improve and then actually invest in projects that are going to lower carbon emissions and, therefore, lower the need for offsets to be purchased year over year.
That is not the case in hospitals and health authorities, as the minister knows. He in fact is quoted as saying that he expects that we'll see some sort of fund within the Pacific Carbon Trust that's dedicated to schools, to hospitals "so that the money comes back to them to help reduce their carbon footprint."
My question to the minister…. He's overseeing this review. I know it is not complete yet, but he's made his view known, and we now have a different model at the local government level. I would ask him if what is good for local government — isn't that good for schools, hospitals and other public sector organizations?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, as I mentioned, we will always look for examples of ideas that can help us achieve the outcomes that we would like to have for our provincial government operations and the public sector organizations that are funded through the provincial government.
Carbon-neutral government is, I think, a model of behaviour that hundreds of thousands of British Columbians get to see every day in terms of their interaction with hospitals, schools, universities. It underlies the importance of taking responsibility for emissions on a corporate level as well as a personal level. I presume the member supports that idea of leadership and taking responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions.
The fact is that by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, money is saved on energy. At the end of the day, creative ideas are incentivized through the methods employed through the carbon-neutral policy that result in real savings to schools, to hospitals, to universities. Those savings occur each and every year when the energy bills come in.
B. Simpson: Just a couple of questions to continue on the Pacific Carbon Trust. What the minister has just indicated at the end of his answer there really gets to what is fallacious about the whole structure. The minister is indicating that the public sector somehow gets savings from buying offsets, which is not the case.
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That's the point. The savings from buying offsets go to the private companies that can use public money to actually reduce their GHGs, while the public sector doesn't have the money to continue to reduce GHGs the way they did when PSECA had money.
That fund ran out in 2011. We've got now two budget cycles where there isn't that money. The minister indicated a carrot-and-stick approach. It is now all stick and no carrot, because there isn't money in PSECA. The minister and I have had these discussions.
Part of the improper structure of the Pacific Carbon Trust is that that public sector is less than 1 percent of B.C.'s total emissions while, as we have already canvassed, we've got huge amounts, 20 percent, of B.C.'s total emissions and processed emissions not even captured. The minister has stated that publicly.
Secondly, you've got the situation where this money is coming from operating budgets. It's coming from operating budgets that are given by government to the public sector to deliver a public service — surgeries, schools, classrooms with teachers in them.
When that money is clawed back, it is clawed back from the fund which they're held accountable to. In a world of net zero, on an education budget that's flatlined over the next three years, in a time of fiscal constraint — that's the fundamental question. I know the minister knows this. That's the fundamental question.
Is the intent worthwhile? Is the execution of that intent appropriate? Do we need to actually — and I've already stated publicly it would be my preference — abandon the whole carbon neutrality, because it really doesn't accomplish much? You could actually reduce the public sector to zero and still not do anything to truly achieve the objectives that the government has in 2020 and 2050, because the industrial strategy that they have will blow that out.
So in terms of the carrot-and-stick suggestion that the minister has indicated, if they're going to stick with the Pacific Carbon Trust as it is currently structured…. As I said, it's all stick just now, because it's all purchasing carbon offsets. There is no PSECA anymore to provide the carrot to continue to enjoy the savings the minister indicates they can enjoy by actual GHG reductions.
The Pacific Carbon Trust is accruing cash in retained earnings. It has about $28 million in accrued earnings just now, $32 million by 2012-13 and $35 million by 2013-14.
I know we have to canvass the finances around this trust in Finance, but would the minister support seeing some of this money…? It doesn't require regulatory change. It doesn't require anything except a letter from the Finance Minister to say: "We want X amount of your accrued earnings to come back, and we're going to refresh PSECA." So we're going to restore the carrot with some of those accrued earnings in the Pacific Carbon Trust.
I canvassed in the last estimates with Finance that the lion's share of that money is not required for the operations of the Pacific Carbon Trust going forward. They should be self-sufficient in each year going forward, so these accrued earnings could be put in PSECA, and I ask if the minister would support restoring the carrot by taking some of the money from the PCT and putting it into PSECA.
Hon. T. Lake: First of all, I want to just comment on something the member said, that the public sector, the provincial government, is only 1 percent of emissions. I think the member said 1 percent — less than 1 percent of emissions in British Columbia. Therefore, why would we bother really worrying about it?
It seems to me that British Columbia is about 0.04 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. So by extrapolation, we shouldn't even worry about any greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia if that's the attitude that the member is advocating we take.
If people aren't responsible on an individual and corporate basis, how do we expect anything to happen? It's the same for any environmental initiative. It starts one person at a time, one organization at a time.
I think the member perhaps misinterpreted what I was saying about savings to the public sector. When they are incentivized to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions knowing that whatever is left over has to be accounted for and paid into the PCT, when they are held account able, they are incentivized to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
How do they do that? By saving energy. That is also an operating cost, Member, as you well know. So the savings in energy are real savings in operating costs.
The member talks about the public sector energy conservation agreement running out and therefore there is nothing else that they can do to help. But the fact is in education, for instance, that they are facilities grants that are given out every year. Many of those facilities grants are used for this very purpose and, again, end up with real savings to school boards.
So in terms of the idea of using retained earnings through the PCT, I would say that the Minister of Finance is responsible for that. I listened with interest to the member's debate last year on that subject. As I say, it's something that I think is part of the conversation. When we talk about revisions to this policy, then we will see how much a part of the conversation that actually is.
B. Simpson: So that I'm not misunderstood or misrepresented, I'm not saying: "Don't worry about it." I'm saying that the worry should be directed at the industrial emissions that currently are not captured. We've got an industrial strategy that will completely obliterate the government's goals and targets for 2020 and 2050.
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As I've indicated to the minister already, there is inside the Pacific Carbon Trust structure…. Less than 1 percent of emissions inside of the public sector don't have to be reported to the Pacific Carbon Trust. If you use that logic, then the less than 1 percent in the government sector, in which they're clawing back operating funds, is simply not going to get this government what it needs in 2020 and 2050. So the minister isn't indicating whether he would support retained earnings coming there or not. We'll take that to the Finance Minister.
But here's another issue in terms of the double standards that the Environment critic is pointing out. It's the double standard of the municipalities having a whole different scheme and not being forced to buy offsets through the Pacific Carbon Trust, and the double standard of having a large portion of B.C.'s emissions and a growing sector of emissions not even captured under the carbon tax, and yet schools and hospitals and health authorities are taxed.
In the case of the health authorities, though, they are double-taxed. They are taxed on their fuel, and they are taxed on their offsets. In a conversation I had with a carbon tax expert, he asked me to repeat that to him a number of times, because he just finds it absolutely bizarre that we would tax them on the fuel and then tax them again, through the offset charge, on the emissions from that fuel.
I wonder if the minister could comment on that. Is it possible to at least give the health authorities the kind of rebate that the school districts are getting so that at least they are not double-taxed for carbon, when you've got a large sector of the industrial economy that isn't even taxed at all?
Hon. T. Lake: Again, I would refer that question to the Finance Minister, who is responsible for the policy.
We were talking about the different programs that have been in place to help with the public sector organizations like hospitals and health authorities, which the member references. Annual energy savings that came from that PSECA program, which I think the members opposite agree was a successful program, leveraged $75 million. It was there over three years, and it ended up leveraging about $110 million.
The annual energy savings are about $12.6 million, so taking that over ten years, that's almost $130 million of savings and annual greenhouse gas reductions of 35,600 tonnes.
The difference between the provincial government and local governments is that we are responsible for provincial government. We are not directly responsible for municipal governments and their operations. We encourage them to take part in finding ways to become carbon-neutral through the climate action charter.
In terms of hospitals and the incentive to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, I'm sure that all of us would agree that if we could reach up to a money tree and find a great big superfund to help with this type of thing, we would all welcome that. Perhaps in the future such a tree will be found. But we have to be very fiscally prudent, and we want to ensure that the demands of the budget are met.
Again, I want to just point out that the policy has resulted in real savings to the public sector. So while the member says that they're being taxed twice and this comes out of their operating, it's also true to say that there have been real savings — $12.6 million annually, each and every year — in utility bills for the operations of those public sector organizations.
B. Simpson: I think the superfund is probably called a lottery — you know, that $50 million that somebody just bought on their own. I have to laugh when the minister mentioned it, because in a fiscally prudent situation that's the whole point.
The health authorities last year had to pay $5.5 million in total for carbon forgiveness and paid approximately $5.5 million in total for carbon tax. So when the minister talks about, you know, it's a fiscally constrained period of time, you bet those health authorities are sitting there saying, "We could use $11 million to actually deliver direct services to patients," which they're funded to do with that money. So that's the issue.
The minister talks about the incentivizing and all the savings, but the minister is going back again to the savings that they got from the carrot, from PSECA. The carbon offset program is a pure cost to them that actually in many regards steals from their ability to do what they were doing under PSECA.
You have to incentivize this. Everybody knows that. You've got to give them the carrot, some additional coin that when they make a decision to invest, they'll go that extra bit and move into the highest possible technology, best practice, etc. Removing that carrot just means that all they're doing is bearing the cost. So it's a bit disingenuous, because the last two years that carrot has not been there, and it's just now the cost.
The municipalities are also given a credit for their carbon tax. The school districts are. Health authorities are not. And the minister is indicating that I have to take that to the Finance Minister. But the minister is the one doing the review or engaged in the review.
A straight-up question to the minister, because it's getting late in the day: will the public sector organizations who are captured under the carbon-neutral government be cutting checks to the Pacific Carbon Trust again this year? Yes or no? Are they going to have to cut a cheque to the Pacific Carbon Trust to buy offsets?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, I've already said that the review is in process. The decision is also in process. So the member will have to wait for that decision.
[ Page 10536 ]
B. Simpson: So one last question. I'll try on this, because it does go to our legislative calendar here. Can any changes be made to the Pacific Carbon Trust without changes in legislation? Again, this is a dialogue I've had ongoing with the minister both publicly and in conversations we have had.
I have a bill before the House on carbon-neutral government. But the way that the Pacific Carbon Trust regulation sits just now…. And this does rest with the climate action secretariat. They own the regulatory framework around the Pacific Carbon Trust. The Minister of Finance owns the financing and is the shareholder for it. But it is specifically excluded from purchasing offsets or getting money from the Pacific Carbon Trust if you're part of a mandatory program. So you cannot get money by regulation from the Pacific Carbon Trust.
In other words, the government cannot flow money back to the public sector because they're part of a mandatory program. It states that in the regulation with respect to the Pacific Carbon Trust. The $25 a tonne is also legislated, and the carbon-neutral government is also legislated. So can the government do what it wants to do without substantive changes to legislation?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, as I mentioned, the review is in process. It's hard to speculate on what mechanisms would be needed before we had a result of that review. But the member himself has indicated there are some mechanisms that are available without legislative changes.
R. Fleming: I thank the minister for his comments here, although he wasn't as definitive as he has been in his comments in the press.
He has suggested here he doesn't want to prejudge the review, but he was perfectly willing to say — and I'll quote it at length here — and this is the minister's voice: "I think generally what we'll see is some sort of fund within the Pacific Carbon Trust that's dedicated to schools, to hospitals, so the money comes back to them to help reduce their carbon footprint."
He said that he would like to see an outcome which this side of the House would like to see too. But he's saying something different today. I think that's unfortunate, because Hansard is a wonderful opportunity to say yet again something on the record that is clear.
But I think the points that the member for Cariboo North just made and that others have made are…. With the school sector, essentially what we have is this situation where we have schools under the net zero mandate under considerable financial pressures to meet budgets, where government is out of compliance with its own class-size and composition laws.
The financial pressures are tight. I don't have to list them out again here today. Any member of cabinet knows that full well.
We've literally got a situation where schools that can't replace textbooks…. The district administrators are finding money, and it's ending up in the hands of EnCana, whose emissions could be captured by regulation or by other means. That's a situation that shouldn't continue.
If the money was to stay in the school sector, instead we could have those students who are going without textbooks actually be involved in energy management projects to lower the carbon footprints of the schools. Think of the skills they would learn. Think of what kind of knowledge they would gain about sustainability and about energy management for the future of our province. That's the opportunity that is being missed.
I think that unless the minister has anything further to say on that, I want to move, for the time being, from the Pacific Carbon Trust to ask him about the carbon tax review that he was speaking of earlier today. We still didn't get the hashtag, by the way, so this is his chance to come back to what the hashtag is for the big carbon tax review tweetup that's happening. I'll let him put that on the record.
I wanted to ask just some basic questions about the parameter of the carbon tax review and whether the review will be conducted independently outside of government by consultants or by a third party that stakeholders and others that pay the carbon tax have agreed upon.
Hon. T. Lake: Just to comment on the school boards and the funding for schools. The education budget is $5.4 billion a year. The school boards paid $4.5 million into the Pacific Carbon Trust, so about 1/1,000 of the budget. I just want to put that into perspective.
I think the member, quoting my remarks in media…. Would I like to see public sector organizations have a fund through which they can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions? Absolutely. The question is: where are the mechanisms whereby that will happen? Perhaps as part of this carbon tax review we will see ideas on these sorts of questions that we all recognize as challenges.
That's the challenge of managing $40 billion a year. It's how to use that money in the best way possible and achieve the outcomes that you would like to achieve.
In terms of the structure of the review, the member will have to canvass the Minister of Finance, who is the lead government minister in charge of the review.
R. Fleming: I want to ask the minister about the carbon tax review, because I assume he's playing a significant role in its conduct. How the information that's gathered will be interpreted will be something that I would presume he's involved in.
I want to ask him about the terms of reference for the carbon tax review. From the statements that I've seen from government so far, the only thing I know that sort of constrains the conversation is that the carbon tax will neither go up nor down.
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I think that's interesting. Of course, that's significant — the decision to cap the carbon tax in 2012 so there are no further increases, as a departure from the government's climate action plan. They had contemplated increases to 2017 and then possibly beyond that. So that has been a change.
The carbon tax review. If it is as broad-ranging as the minister hopes it is going to be, I just want him to maybe give us an idea of how the table is going to be set for that discussion.
I've already heard that whatever you think of the review, it's going to be premised that the carbon tax will neither decrease, nor will it increase any further. Can he elucidate on what other parts of the terms of reference exist for this review?
Hon. T. Lake: I will say it is not the purview of the Ministry of Environment in terms of that review or the terms of reference. I am asking all British Columbians to participate in the review and to let us know what they think of carbon tax policy. I think that's not necessarily part of the official review conducted by the Minister of Finance.
Obviously, I think, from my point of view as Environment Minister, a full and open dialogue about this policy is helpful. It's helpful for everybody. So he'll have to ask the Minister of Finance in terms of the terms of reference and the strict structure of the review and the timing, because that is under his purview. But in the meantime, I think it's a healthy dialogue to have about the carbon tax and the outcomes that we hope to achieve, the consequences of the policy, the expected followship that in many ways has failed to occur in other jurisdictions.
Those are the questions that I think a lot of people are asking, and those will be, hopefully, part of the conversation — at least informally, if not formally — as part of the carbon tax review.
R. Fleming: I wanted to just continue on, though, to see what the minister will discuss on this review, because he has been promoting the conversation and has said that he wants British Columbians' views about how they would like to see the carbon tax policy evolve in years forward.
Indeed, the Premier of British Columbia has said not too long ago that she agrees with the opposition's often-made point about one of the flaws of the carbon tax and that she agrees that the door is open to using carbon tax revenues to fund public transit and other green infrastructure that will lower carbon emissions in B.C. In other words, it's moving away from revenue neutrality to making the tax revenue-positive and directly funding public transit. That's a quote from the Premier from May of just last year.
So I would like to ask the minister again, with regards to the terms of reference: is it going to be part of the invitation for public commentary for the public to look at the deficit that the carbon tax is contributing to in the province of B.C.? It's some $200 million a year. It is not a revenue-neutral tax, as the minister knows. It's a revenue-negative tax that is hurting the treasury by $200 million a year right now. That is scheduled to decline over time.
But it's something that is very difficult. When you look at a province that is in deficit right now, that has propped up a budget by including all sorts of wild targets like selling $700 million of land and assets in year two of this budget to give the illusion that it is balanced…. Surely this would be one of the areas that the minister would be most eager to see corrected. When the carbon tax is underachieving what it was supposed to have been, and it's not even revenue-neutral…. It's contributing to the province's deficit. Is that something that British Columbians are going to be asked to give their thoughts on?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, the revenue neutrality of the carbon tax is something that in policy, obviously, we would like…. Had predicted would happen…. It's very hard to follow dollar-for-dollar with tax reductions versus carbon tax. Of course, the amount of carbon tax paid will change based on the amount of fuels used in the province.
Presumably, the member is advocating an increase in taxes to achieve that neutrality on a dollar-for-dollar basis. There are only two ways that could happen — increase taxes on personal income, corporations, small businesses, or increase the carbon tax. So I presume he's talking about advocating a tax increase.
The Premier has said she's open to ideas. I think that is a quote that the Premier has said. There has been lots of talk about carbon tax money being used for green initiatives. If it's used for green initiatives without incremental increases in the carbon tax, that certainly wouldn't be revenue-neutral, which means other taxes would have to be increased to make up the difference.
All of these things have a cause and an effect. For every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. Those things have to be weighed, but that's, I think, part of the conversation British Columbians are having, and I think it's a healthy conversation to have.
R. Fleming: I think the minister should read the budget again, because even his own government…. Perhaps they're influenced by — I don't know — the Occupy movement, or something like that, but they even contemplated a 1 percent increase to the general corporate tax rate in B.C. as a deficit reduction measure.
My question was about the carbon tax as it is today. It's contributing to the province's deficit. It is not revenue-neutral. It is revenue-negative. It is not revenue-neutral.
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The government promised it would be, and it's contributing to the deficit problem that the government is into.
Again, on the terms of reference, I want to ask the minister if he can explain a few things. I would think that he would be involved in setting the table for this carbon tax review because it's a central part of the climate action plan. Has the minister set out any discussion or any measurements, and can he share them with the committee this afternoon, that would inform the discussion for the carbon tax review by evaluating whether the carbon tax to date has been effective at achieving greenhouse gas reductions in B.C?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, we earlier talked about the reductions we saw in 2009 and 2010. Some of that is attributed to a decrease in economic activity. It's hard to…. I mean, you can't possibly show how much of that is related to economic activity directly. You can extrapolate and make that assumption, perhaps, but until we get more data from later years…. When the 2010 data and the 2012 data comes in, then we will know.
Especially, as I mentioned, as the carbon tax has increased, then you expect the expected outcomes to start occurring at a more rapid rate, as the price signal makes its way through the market. Again, that's all part of the conversation. Are we having the kind of outcomes that we expected to have?
One of the outcomes we expected, as I mentioned earlier, is that other jurisdictions would be in the race with British Columbia to be leaders on the climate action file. We've seen the world change a lot since 2008 when the climate action plan came into effect. We've had a worldwide recession. We see jurisdictions that have perhaps reprioritized their policies based on the harsh economic realities.
British Columbia, through that time period, has continued with its climate action policy, has been heralded in the Los Angeles Times, for instance, in The Economist for that policy and has been documented in the coverage from those publications as having some effect on greenhouse gas reductions, as our figures have also shown.
Do we think we are achieving some of our goals? Absolutely. Do we think we are going to get all the way there? Again, that's something that's perhaps too early to tell. We are still committed to those goals, however.
R. Fleming: The question I asked the minister was two-part. One is: is the ministry informing the carbon tax review that the Ministry of Finance is doing by at least setting a discussion paper or something out there that can inform comments from the public that are being invited, which gives them some performance indicators as to whether the carbon tax is working?
The minister said it's difficult to look inside B.C.'s emissions annual reports and know, because there have been economic downturns and other things that may be assigned responsibility for the slight blip that we have seen in the year that he cited where emissions went down. There must be some other indicators out there. We could look at the volume of fuel sales, for example. We could look at how consumer activity at the pump is being influenced.
We could look at things like whether mode shares on transportation are being changed and whether investment is being made into…. More-fuel-efficient vehicles, for example, are actually related to the carbon tax.
I think that story is not getting out there, if it is in fact being achieved by the carbon tax. Those are the kinds of things that should inform a proper carbon tax review that is going to look at what the pricing levels are, what they could be and at what level you get certain benefits from….
Hon. T. Lake: Certainly, as a member of the executive council and Minister of Environment, I will be having input into the review of that policy. The member makes some very good points about some of the metrics that would help inform that policy review.
Some of those metrics will be clearer later this year when we have the update of our greenhouse gas emissions profile, probably around June, and also an update on our progress towards targets. That kind of information, those kinds of metrics, certainly will be helpful in informing that policy review.
R. Fleming: I want to shift slightly, because we're running out of time before we rise and report progress this afternoon.
Something else that is in the climate agenda of government is regional adaptation. We've been talking about carbon mitigation all afternoon, but I want to ask about adaptation — in other words, what government is planning and doing for climate change that is happening here and now and in decades into the future.
There are pressures, for example, with sea level rise and with drought patterns and glacial melt and all of those sorts of things that are going to change life for people living in different regions of the province.
There has been a fund, a regional adaptation collaborative that the government has supported, that has worked with the Fraser Basin Council and with other regional organizations. It did receive money from Natural Resources Canada that was matched in kind by ministries, local governments and First Nations, as well as NGOs. The initiative began in September 2009. It runs through to 2012.
I guess I wanted to ask the minister, first of all, how much funding has been provided in this budget for the regional adaptation collaborative by the province of B.C. and whether, in the second year of the service plan, this initiative will be like so many others we've talked about this afternoon, and it will expire.
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Hon. T. Lake: The member brings up a very good point. Obviously, we want to mitigate climate change, but we will have to adapt to the effects of climate change. We do have a British Columbia adaptation strategy, Preparing for Climate Change. We have done a number of things.
The climate action secretariat is responsible for coordinating the overall government approach to adaptation. That focuses on sustaining and enhancing regionally relevant climate science and decision-supporting tools — collaborating, as the member mentioned, with other levels of government as well as the private sector and civil society to enhance B.C.'s resilience to weather and climate.
I would point out to the member that over $94 million went to form the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions — many, many interesting studies and meetings, public events held by PICS on the adaptation theme.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations managed the Future Forest Ecosystems scientific council research program. The climate action secretariat did partner, as the member mentioned, with the Fraser Basin Council and Natural Resources Canada to complete the regional adaptation collaborative. That was a $9 million effort to advance decision-making on climate adaptation.
We are working with the federal government to secure funding to continue on with that effort. We understand that the government of Canada plans to spend $150 million over the next five years to help Canada adapt to climate change. So obviously we will be working with our federal counterparts to develop more strategies to help us adapt to what we are seeing in terms of climate change throughout British Columbia.
R. Fleming: I think the importance of climate adaptation is evident in so many parts of British Columbia now. When one looks at, for example, the commodity food price index and how that has doubled in the last 20 years…. For a government that claims to have an interest in putting families first, it's critical that, you know, the agriculture sector, for example, be ahead of the curve in terms of planning and looking at how it can help mitigate those costs to families and for basic food items that are essential to life.
The minister said in his answer — it wasn't a direct answer — that they are waiting upon the federal government and signals as to whether this collaborative initiative is going to continue. I would ask him, then: is his answer that the province's funding is contingent upon the federal money being there, or is there actually money committed by the province of B.C. in this three-year service plan that will continue so that climate adaptation planning can be done in the regions of B.C.?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, we are dedicating resources to climate adaptation. I mentioned the $94 million that went into the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions. In fact, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture are collaborating with industry and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions to assess the risks as well as the opportunities for the agriculture sector in B.C.
I was a little puzzled when the member mentioned the commodity food price index doubling over the last 20 years — I think he said. He made a comment that made it sound like the province of British Columbia was responsible for that. I'm not quite sure how that is connected or if it makes any kind of connection. It seems a little bit strange.
There are dedicated resources in the climate action secretariat. We have four full-time equivalents that work on adaptation strategies. So that's an ongoing commitment that's made each and every year through the climate action secretariat.
Noting the time, I move that the committee rise, report resolutions and completion of the Ministry of Agriculture and report progress on the Ministry of Environment and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:49 p.m.
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