2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Monday, April 16, 2012
Volume 34, Number 2
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Apology for comments made in the House
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 33 — Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Bill 34 — Limitation Act
Hon. S. Bond
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Impact of residential schools
Volunteerism for seniors in West Vancouver–Capilano area
Surrey rent bank
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Deltaport expansion and protection of farmland in Delta
Hon. D. McRae
Grant’s law and protection for workers
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Mediator in collective bargaining for teachers
Hon. G. Abbott
Office of the Auditor General, report No. 1, 2012, Development Initiative Trusts: An Audit of Legislative Compliance and Public Accountability Practices in the Three Statutory Trusts
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 21 — Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
Hon. K. Falcon
Bill 23 — Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
Hon. S. Cadieux
Hon. K. Falcon
Bill 26 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. S. Thomson
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Environment (continued)
Hon. T. Lake
Estimates: Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation
Hon. P. Bell
MONDAY, APRIL 16, 2012
The House met at 1:35 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
R. Sultan: In the gallery today we have a rather large number of guests. I am very pleased to introduce them, beginning with His Worship Teunis Westbroek, mayor of Qualicum Beach and chair of the Municipal Insurance Association; followed by Gary MacIsaac, who is the executive director of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
We also have four representatives of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies of B.C., otherwise known as ACEC: Neil Cumming, past president; Steve Fleck, vice-president; Glenn Martin, executive director; and Steve Bean, who is director and chair of Vancouver Island liaison. Sitting with them is also Richard Rees, who is the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia. Sitting with them as well is Don Lovell, who is chair of the Vancouver Island branch of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia.
We also have a number of people from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., otherwise known as APEGBC. I would want to welcome council members from APEG. Today in the gallery are, most prominently, Jeff Holm, P.Eng., president; Michael Isaaccson, P.Eng., vice-president; Frank Denton, P.Eng., past president; and Derek Doyle, P.Eng., who is CEO and registrar of APEGBC.
As well, we have from that association Emily Cheung, John Clague, Ana Fernandes, Donna Howes, Janet Sinclair, Gillian Pichler, Peter Mitchell, Joanne Williamson and Laurel Buss.
Finally, we also have in the gallery Renee Mulligan, who is legal counsel and policy adviser with the Ministry of Justice.
Our guests, most of whom have travelled some distance from a wide variety of organizations to join us today, are just some of the many individuals and organizations that have participated in a consultation process on reforms to the Limitation Act, resulting in a bill that will be brought forward today by our minister later this afternoon. I ask that all members of this Legislature please make these guests very welcome.
S. Fraser: I would like to join my colleague across the way from West Vancouver–Capilano in welcoming His Worship Teunis Westbroek and Gary MacIsaac. Both were attending, in my constituency, the AVICC, Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities, convention, the AGM held in Ucluelet this year and this weekend. Would the House please help me make them feel very welcome.
D. Barnett: Today in the House from my constituency I am very, very pleased to have Chief Mike Archie, chief of the Canim Lake band in the Shuswap territory, which my riding is in. Along with him are Coun. Donald Dixon; land administrator Pam Theodore; and, from Canoe Creek band, which is also within my riding, Coun. Harold Harry. He is stepping in today for Chief Hank Adam. Coun. Gertrude Harry is also here from the Canoe Creek band. Would the House please make them feel welcome.
I also have here today in the House representatives of our rural agency liquor store association. I have Trent Leggett, president; Colby Woodhead; and Annette Brausse. Would the House also please make them feel welcome.
R. Austin: It is with great sadness that I rise in the Legislature today to inform the members of the House of the death of Clifford Bolton, also known by his Tsimshian name of Soō-Natz. He died last Thursday, April 12, in Terrace after suffering a series of strokes.
Now, members of this House will recall that they were introduced to Clifford and his wife Rena at the opening of this session of the Legislature, as he was not only the father to the Lieutenant-Governor of the province, Steven Point, but also the artist who carved the jade portion of our Black Rod, made in commemoration of Her Majesty's diamond jubilee as Queen of the Commonwealth.
Clifford was not only a renowned artist but was also the father of 13 children, a respected elder in his community of Kitsumkalum as well as a political leader for many years as the elected Chief of Kitsumkalum. He was a fluent Tsimshian speaker who really valued the importance of bringing back the culture and language.
A memorial was held on Saturday in his honour, and his funeral followed just yesterday. Clifford will be remembered as an inspiration to all who knew him, and of course, we also have the legacy of numerous incredible pieces of art, mostly carvings done in wood, jade and other materials.
I would like to ask, hon. Speaker, that you send condolences to Clifford's family from all of us in the B.C. Legislature.
APOLOGY FOR COMMENTS
MADE IN THE HOUSE
H. Bloy: Earlier today I withdrew remarks that I
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made this morning in the House, and I would now like to apologize to the Leader of the Opposition for the remarks that I made this morning.
Mr. Speaker: Apology taken.
First Reading of Bills
BILL 33 — JUSTICE STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Bond presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. S. Bond: I am pleased to introduce Bill 33, the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. This bill amends the following statutes: the Commercial Arbitration Act, the Court of Appeal Act, the Election Act, the Enforcement of Canadian Judgments and Decrees Act, the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, the Motor Vehicle Act and the Offence Act. The bill also makes a consequential amendment to the Family Law Act.
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 33, Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 34 — LIMITATION ACT
Hon. S. Bond presented a message from His Honour the Administrator: a bill intituled Limitation Act.
Hon. S. Bond: : I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. S. Bond: I am very pleased today to introduce the Limitation Act. The bill will repeal and replace the existing Limitation Act and create a new, modernized act.
The act will simplify the legal regime for determining the time periods people have to start a proceeding to sue one another in the civil justice system, promoting greater certainty and predictability. This act has been long awaited by many professionals and others who have asked the government to bring British Columbia in line with other Canadian jurisdictions.
This will help to ensure that British Columbia businesses are competitive and subject to similar rules as their counterparts in other provinces. This is important as we see more and more mobility of professions across provinces. The legislation will bring B.C. limitation law in line with other provinces which have recently updated their statute with the uniform statute developed by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada.
I move the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 34, Limitation 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)
E. Foster: It is with sadness that I rise today to pay tribute to a great Vernonite and British Columbian. Last week Vernon lost a legend. Kal Tire founder and tire industry hall of famer Tom Foord passed away last Thursday, just one month short of his 90th birthday.
Over the past 50 years Kal Tire, the company Tom founded in Vernon, has steadily expanded, literally across the globe. Tom built Kal Tire into Canada's largest independent tire dealer, and Kal Tire mining tire group operates in 19 countries, across five continents. Tom was inducted into the Tire Hall of Fame and named to the Western Canada Tire Dealers Association Hall of Fame.
For some 4,600 employees in 20 countries, Tom was the best boss they ever had. He emphasized team-building and customer service. In Vernon and the North Okanagan, Tom was a local institution, and not just because he was a local boy done good.
Despite national and even international success, Tom resisted the temptation to operate Kal Tire from anywhere but Vernon. He even named the company after a local landmark, Kalamalka Lake. For most people, that might have been enough, but Tom was more than just a business success story. He was a tireless, dedicated philanthropist who wanted to give back to his community.
He was instrumental in the development of the People Place, a great service which works with non-profit agencies and finds them affordable places to operate. Tom was the driving force behind the North Okanagan Neurological Association's new child development centre. Tom also gave his time and efforts to the North Okanagan Hospice Society, the United Way, the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation and the North Okanagan Community Life Society.
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It's not a stretch to say that he single-handedly made a difference in Vernon and made it a better place to live. I hope that the House will join me not only in extending our condolences to the Foord family but in recognizing his immense contributions. Mr. Foord will be missed by all who knew him.
Tom, thank you. You truly made a difference.
J. Brar: Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh.
This month communities across the province are celebrating one of the most important religious holidays of the Sikh faith, Vaisakhi. This festival has a great religious significance for Sikhs, as on this day in the year 1699 Guru Gobind Singh Ji established Khalsa Panth, the body of people dedicated to the principles of equality, social justice, respect and tolerance.
This festival also marks the beginning of the harvest season in India. Here, as we celebrate Vaisakhi in B.C., it provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the tremendous contributions of the South Asian community and how our culture is enriched by the Sikh and Hindu faiths.
The growing enthusiasm about the festival of Vaisakhi shows how much pride British Columbians take in the tradition and culture of the B.C.'s Sikh, Indo-Canadian and South Asian communities. Vaisakhi allows all of us to come together and celebrate the South Asian community's culture as part of our province's collective heritage. It helps us learn about one another and strengthens our pride in our shared customs.
The Sikh community has played a central role in building this province and in bringing the core values of Sikhism to every aspect of our province. Those principles — equality, social justice, respect and tolerance — are key to B.C.'s future and ones we must all continue to strive for.
I want to take this opportunity to thank B.C.'s Indo-Canadian and Sikh communities for their contributions to B.C. Last week we celebrated Vaisakhi in Vancouver, Victoria and other parts of the province. On April 21 thousands of people will come together from all over North America to celebrate Vaisakhi in the beautiful city of Surrey. I welcome all of you to join us for this extraordinary celebration in Surrey. Baisakhi di Lakh Lakh Vadhai.
D. Hayer: Over the past few days we have marked some very important events: Easter, celebrated by Christians; Passover, celebrated by Jews; and Vaisakhi, celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and others. Each is celebrated in the spring, the season of new life and new beginnings. It is a time of renewal both for Earth and for faith. It is also a time for families and communities to come together to renew their purpose and to join in celebration of things they hold dear.
Vaisakhi has been celebrated in India for thousands of years. It is a national holiday in India. It is celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. It is a harvest festival, the start of the new year and a special religious day. Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi as the birth of Khalsa, the pure one. In 1699 Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth Sikh guru, established Khalsa and established that all human beings are equal.
Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians celebrate Vaisakhi at parades or at other community events. All of the South Asian community is looking forward to the hope and promise that Canada provides, and there's no better place in the country than British Columbia to celebrate the success so many of us have achieved in Canada.
Vaisakhi is also a time of tolerance, respect and honour, traditions that must be upheld. Like Easter, celebrated by Christians, and Passover, by Jews, it is a time of rejoicing and a time of reflection, a time to observe the past while celebrating the harmony and the peace in our faith.
I would like all of us in this House and this chamber to remember the significance of this important time in our lives and to join me in acknowledging all faiths and all nationalities as they observe the sacred celebrations now and throughout the year.
Mr. Speaker: Just to remind members to keep the noise level down so we can hear the two-minute statements.
IMPACT OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS
S. Fraser: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, the regional event, were held in Victoria on Friday and Saturday. I attended, as well, the hearings previously in Port Alberni. The bravest people I know bared their souls and relived nightmares — nightmares that you cannot wake up from.
Imagine, if you will, that you are six years old and there is a knock at the door and you are taken. The residential schools were designed to strip the Indian from the child, to strip you of your family, your friends, your community, your language, your culture, your pride, your spirit. In this foreign environment you are abused psychologically, physically, sexually. The residential school you are in is sanctioned by the state and by the church.
This is the product of institutionalized racism and systemic discrimination, and that still lingers. Wendy Morton, master poet, has put real stories from real residential school survivors into poem. She has given me permission from one survivor to share this today. It's entitled "George."
When I was born
My mother went to Nettle Island
Showed me to our people. She told me this.
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I grew up on River Road.
I don't want to remember those years
at residential school.
At home we didn't speak our language.
My parents knew we'd be beaten for it.
My dad hitchhiked to Victoria.
Got us out, into public school. He was a fisherman, a pile driver. Broke his back. He was always an artist.
He got famous.
I quit school in '55. Worked in the plywood mill, at the fish packers, the sawmill. We always sat at the back of the bus.
What do people see when they see us?
A drunk Indian? Nobody says it. It is hidden.
If you listen, you can hear it.
VOLUNTEERISM FOR SENIORS IN
WEST VANCOUVER–CAPILANO AREA
R. Sultan: This is National Volunteer Week. Volunteering is essential to the social fabric of British Columbia, and I cite three examples from my own riding.
Trudy Hubbard's North Shore Volunteers for Seniors is a non-profit society dedicated to promoting the independence and well-being of seniors through diverse programs. Clients are 80 to 98 years old. Over 7,500 seniors were served this past year by 3,200 North Shore volunteers who contributed well over 5,000 volunteer hours.
West Van United Church, under the leadership of Madelyne MacKenzie, runs the caring ministry. One hundred volunteers provide diverse services to approximately 150 seniors. A vivid example would be the simple act of listening and talking with a woman who was ill and isolated in her apartment.
A third important institution is Inge Schamborzki's Health and Home Care Society. Volunteers looking after seniors full-time can be subject to burnout. Inge, among other things, is in the business of providing respite care so that volunteers can take a break, be re-energized and continue their work.
I've given three examples involving volunteering for seniors, but volunteering is, of course, central to our community in thousands of other ways, from hockey coaching to staffing our many non-profit organizations.
Volunteers, we salute you.
SURREY RENT BANK
H. Bains: I had an opportunity to attend the Rent Bank Forum on March 23 in Langley. I would like to commend the efforts of Susan Keeping and Judy Peterson from Sources, formerly Newton Advocacy Group Society, for the creation of the Surrey rent bank.
Working with marginalized people who were on the verge of homelessness, Newton Advocacy staff came to the realization that the people were falling through the cracks and were becoming homeless because of a temporary setback or lack of money. After studying the Calgary model, the Newton Advocacy Group decided that this was what was needed in Surrey.
The primary goal of the Surrey rent bank was to reduce and prevent homelessness among low-income families and individuals. Families under this program could borrow up to $1,600, and individuals can borrow up to $1,200. The loan is paid back over two years at a low interest rate.
Interest is returned to the borrower upon repayment of the entire loan and after attending two financial literacy workshops. Loan repayments are reinvested in new loans to help more at-risk families and individuals.
After two years 88 loans have been delivered, increasing the housing stability of close to 300 people, including children and dependents. Sixty percent of the borrowers are women with children. The Surrey rent bank stability report shows that six months after obtaining the loan, at least 77 percent of the rent bank borrowers remain housed in the home for which the loan was given or have moved to a less expensive or better accommodation.
The Rent Bank Forum was a great success. With close to 50 participants, people attended from as far as Kamloops and Vancouver Island to learn about how the rent bank helps prevent homelessness.
Congratulations to Judy and Susan for their effort to address the effects of poverty and help eliminate homelessness in Surrey.
H. Bains: Last week TransLink commissioner Martin Crilly rejected a proposed fare increase to make up for a massive funding shortfall. He said that TransLink must instead find savings from increased administrative costs, costs that have increased by $42 million from 2006 to 2010. Crilly's report said, "Implementation of the new governance structure in 2008 appears to have contributed to this cost increase" — a governance structure change that this Liberal government forced through.
My question to the Minister of Transportation is this. Does the minister agree that his predecessor's ill-conceived plan for TransLink was a failure?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: TransLink, obviously, is facing some challenges today. I think that is fair to say. You and I have talked about that. But I hope that the member isn't saying that the governance structure worked perfectly before the changes took place, because it didn't. There were challenges within TransLink.
I've had the opportunity to meet with the Mayors Council on numerous occasions. We've talked about trying to find ways to improve the governance structure. It doesn't mean changing it completely. It means taking a structure and refining it so that it can work better and so
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that the Mayors Council can be engaged to a greater extent.
That's what we're doing. We're working towards that. They've just recently, actually, concluded a meeting where…. I'm looking forward to their response to a letter that I sent to them. We'll continue to work towards a solution and refine this so it works even better for the people that they all represent and work for.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
H. Bains: Like the previous minister, "I know best what's good for you" is the approach that didn't work last time, and it isn't going to work next time as well.
In 2007 the Minister of Transportation said this: "The current TransLink model is no longer effective." His solution was to cut local government out of the decision-making process. That only made matters worse. TransLink's own efficiency reports show that TransLink's efficiency is falling behind, while its management structure becomes more and more bloated.
I ask the minister again: will he tell us how this is a more effective way to run TransLink?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Once again, I will let the member know — and I think he's aware of this — that we've had numerous discussions, the Mayors Council and myself, looking at refinements that can take place to make TransLink and the Mayors Council work more effectively for the people that we all represent.
We're continuing those discussions. I've forwarded some solutions that I believe will help move in that direction. I'm waiting for the response from the Mayors Council. When we have that, I think we're going to be able to proceed and make some progress.
It may not be what the member across thinks should happen, and I can fully accept that. But what I can tell you is that the discussions I've had with the Mayors Council have been very good, and we're going to continue to work together. It doesn't mean that we will agree on everything either, but we will work in the best interests of the public that we all represent.
S. Simpson: The B.C. Liberal model for TransLink has left local mayors and local governments with very little control but most of the responsibility to pay the bills.
We have a situation with this minister where instead of listening to the Mayors Council, who are calling for a whole review of a governance system that has failed, he's suggesting tweaking the system by adding a couple of mayors to the TransLink board. That has been rejected by the mayors as a tweak that doesn't get us to where we need to go. The governance system has failed. It needs a complete overhaul.
My question to the minister is this. The Mayors Council has requested that the provincial Auditor General do an in-depth review of TransLink's governance model. Will the minister support that request by the mayors?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I will continue to work with the Mayors Council, as I have over the last year since I've held this portfolio. We are going to make some refinements. But so the member is clear, as I've made it clear to the Mayors Council, we are not about to blow up the governance structure at TransLink and start over. We're going to find ways to refine it to make it work better for the people that we all represent. I made that commitment to the Mayors Council, and I'm going to live up to that commitment.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: It's too bad this minister couldn't have given that advice to his predecessor, who blew up the system last time and put us in the mess we're in today.
TransLink is facing a major shortfall. The B.C. Liberals and the mayors can't agree on how to pay for it, and unfortunately, the Premier and this minister can't seem to get on the same page at the same time as to how to deal with the issues at TransLink. That's part of the problem. We have to wait to see whose message is the one that's being delivered.
Will the minister bring the local governments back to the table as full partners, not as secondary partners, to fix this transportation planning mess and get this thing back on the rails?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: As I said in my previous answer to you, Member — and it doesn't matter if you raise your voice when you ask the question; the answer is going to be the same — I'm going to continue to work with the Mayors Council. We're going to find ways to refine the governance structure that helps all of the people that all levels of government represent. We're going to continue to work at that, and we're going to find the solutions needed.
DELTAPORT EXPANSION AND
PROTECTION OF FARMLAND IN DELTA
L. Popham: Ron Emerson of Emerson Real Estate Group confirmed last week that the almost 600 acres of prime agricultural land he has optioned around the Deltaport is planned for development. This is prime agricultural land, some of the most fertile land in North America. It's an understatement to say that this type of land is important for food production. It's critical.
Does the Agriculture Minister think it's appropriate to take 600 acres out of the agricultural land reserve to use for industrial development?
Hon. D. McRae: I know this has been an issue that's been important to Delta farmers for some time. It's one
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that they've raised with me when I met with them — twice now. The member opposite, for Delta South, has raised this issue as well.
However, the Ministry of Agriculture nor the Agricultural Land Commission records who purchases land in British Columbia. At this time there has been no application, as far as I'm aware, to take the land out of the ALR. If an organization or an individual wishes to do so, there is a process there.
At this time I'm not going to engage in hypothetical conversations as to what Mr. Emerson may or may not do. There is no file before my ministry which shouldn't be, nor is there any file before the ALC.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
L. Popham: We know that Mr. Emerson is a prominent supporter and donor to the Liberals. The Agriculture Minister is supposed to be the person who stands up for farming. That means standing up for farmland even if the developer is a prominent Liberal donor. Mr. Emerson said on TV last week that the land is in the right place to accommodate port expansion and therefore is appropriate for exclusion from the ALR.
Would the Agriculture Minister put the interests of farming ahead of the interests of the B.C. Liberals and defend the ALR?
Hon. D. McRae: You know what? I am so pleased to say that I have defended the Agricultural Land Commission and the ALR during my time as minister.
I know the member opposite doesn't like to hear that this government injected $1.6 million into the ALC over the past two years. I know that the member opposite doesn't like to admit that last fall we actually brought new powers to the Agricultural Land Commission to allow them to better do their mandate, which is to preserve and protect farmland in British Columbia.
I know the member opposite is very informed that it is an independent organization that has a mandate which is not one that the Minister of Agriculture actually meddles in — unlike the 1990s and Six Mile Ranch, when the government opposite did so.
I have no problem living in a free country where people can buy land and make application. However, I have total faith that the ALC will do and fulfil its mandate, which will be protecting and preserving farmland for future generations of British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
V. Huntington: Just as an aside, I have never spoken to the Minister of Agriculture about this issue.
We now know that Kingswood Capital and the Emerson Real Estate Group have secretly optioned 555 acres of the finest soil in Canada — south Delta soil protected by the provincial agricultural land reserve. We also know that B.C. Rail has already purchased 145 acres of adjacent land pursuant to its mandate to acquire strategic port-related lands. That's over 700 acres of the finest agricultural soil in this province now on the chopping block.
The developers have advised that B.C. Rail lands are available for the proposed intermodal yard and logistics park. We also know that ministers of this government, in a meeting with the developers, were "excited" about the project.
I want to know from the Minister of Transportation or his colleague the minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation when that meeting occurred, what transpired at that meeting and what assurances were given by members of this government that they would support the wholesale industrialization of this irreplaceable farmland.
Hon. D. McRae: My apologies if I got the member wrong. I had eight hours of gruelling estimates with the members opposite, and it was asked there. If I've misplaced the name of the individual who actually asked the question, I apologize.
The reality is that the ALC is an independent organization which, I think, has done a great job in making sure that this mandate is protected. During estimates — and the member opposite, I believe, was in the room during the time — I asked the staffer from the ALC: "Is there an active file between anybody in regards to the port and this expansion?" He said no. When I asked if there had been any conversation between the port and the ALC, he said, in memory, that there might have been some conversation four or five years ago, but he had not had any conversation in the near past.
The reality is that I'm very pleased with the Agricultural Land Commission. People like Chair Bullock, the commissioners and the staff of the ALC are very confident that they will continue to do their mandate without any influence from this government whatsoever. They are charged to protect farmland in this province. They've done so very well, and because of the new dollars we've injected into them, the new legislative powers, I know they'll continue to do that job well into the future.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
V. Huntington: That's only if the cabinet of this government lets them do their job. If the only value we shared as a society was economic, we could tolerate the voracious appetite that the province, gateway and the Port of Vancouver have for B.C.'s farmland.
Most of us share values beyond the economic. We value agriculture. We value our environment, and we
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value our quality of life. But these values aren't shared by this government. Our environment, our farmland and our quality of life means so little to this government, who are willing to sacrifice so much. Not one person on that side of the House has said a single word about this attack on the ALR.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
V. Huntington: I'm going to ask the Minister of Agriculture, yet again, if he will stand up and say that he believes in the agricultural land reserve enough to defend the loss of south Delta farmlands from industrialization.
We all know there's no application yet before the ALC. What we also know is that this government has stated before that it will support…
Mr. Speaker: Question, Member.
V. Huntington: …an application to remove this land from the ALR. Will the minister stand up and say that he will publicly fight for the future of B.C.'s soil-based agriculture?
Hon. D. McRae: I'm not aware of this government saying anything such as the member opposite is trying to say in this House. You're confusing me completely.
The ALC has the statutory authority to protect farmland, preserve and promote farming in this province, and they have done so. I said earlier that obviously I support the ALC. Otherwise, I wouldn't have brought in the strengthening amendments that the chair of the ALC was very thankful for, not only to work with the colleagues around the province and farmers around the province to make sure that we got it right, but he was also more than willing to stand up and say that we did get it right when we brought in those amendments.
Second of all, the reality is the ALC gets hundreds of applications every year, sometimes up to 800. This isn't even one of them. Why? Because no one has made a formal application. So the things we're talking about today…. Well, we do have Mr. Emerson in the news. By all means, every citizen in this province is allowed to think of "what if?" I love the fact that we get to live in that province. But the reality is that until it comes forward to the ALC, that's all it is and all it will ever be.
From this stage forward I will continue to say that the ALC is a fantastic organization. I have worked hard in my year as minister to make sure it has the money, the legislative authority and the mandate to do what it should be doing in this province from this day forward.
G. Gentner: The member for Delta South asked a legitimate question. In all my years in this House, relative to the defence of the ALR, I've never heard such a wimpy answer that I've heard across the way. Maybe I should correct it as a lame-duck ministry.
Mr. Emerson stated that the ALR is not subject to federal government authority, including the port. So it's clear that this Liberal insider is trying to circumvent the provincial Agricultural Land Commission and take prime land out of the agricultural land reserve.
Once we lose farmland, it's gone forever. Will the Agriculture Minister state clearly that agriculture is a priority and tell the federal government and their friends that agricultural land will stay in the agricultural land reserve and not be used for any other reason than for farming?
Hon. D. McRae: Well, I think I've stated several times, and I'm more than willing to do it again, that actually I'm very pleased with where we've got the ALC to in my term as Agriculture Minister. I know for the members opposite that whatever we do over here will never be good enough. It's so easy to sit there and criticize, on the other side of the House, yet provide no solution time after time.
You know, I was saying to someone the other day that as a high school teacher, I just remember we went through the worst recession in 70 years. All they do is criticize, yet never offer a solution.
You know what? I'm proud to be a minister who actually does things. Let me just give you a little quote from the chair of the ALC. This is from Richard Bullock.
"I think our job is to protect farmland, and I think one of the challenges we've had over the last 37 years is a lot of folks did not believe it was a piece of legislation that was solid. I think" — and I have to take out my name here — "the Minister of Agriculture and his colleagues have put a nail on that argument. It's here. It's here to stay, and I hope people hear that message, hear it loud and clear, and let's begin to build."
If you don't have faith in the ALC, I'll tell you right now that I sure do.
Mr. Speaker: I remind members: through the Chair, please.
The member has a supplemental.
G. Gentner: Mr. Emerson says the plan to take land out of the agricultural land reserve is a question of what is good for the country. Clearly, what Liberals think is good for the country isn't in the best interest of food security.
Will the minister, again, finally take a stand on agriculture? Will he say no to his Liberal donor and no to the federal government and demand that the agricultural land reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission are respected, and will he ensure that we are not sacrificing the best agricultural land in Canada for windfall profits for those who want to flip land and make millions and millions of dollars?
Hon. D. McRae: Again to the member opposite, let me reinforce that I'm very confident that the ALC has the
[ Page 10648 ]
statutory authority to do exactly what I'm hoping it will do: protect and preserve farmland in British Columbia. I am confident the individuals, the panel members and the staff will do so.
Furthermore, let's not talk hypotheticals. There are people around this province, from the Peace River to the Kootenays to my home riding of the Comox Valley, who buy land and have ideas. But you know what? The ALC doesn't know those ideas, because until the application comes in, they do not discuss.
The port has never approached me. Mr. Emerson has never approached me, and as far as I know, he has never approached the ALC. These are conversations we can have after such an application comes forward. The ALC will have them. They will do their job. I have confidence in the organization.
GRANT’S LAW AND
PROTECTION FOR WORKERS
R. Chouhan: In November the Minister of Labour said: "I want to be clear that Grant's law, the gas-and-dash legislation that was brought forward…. We're absolutely committed to it, and there's no intent to change it." Yet over the weekend, less than five months after the minister made that statement, watered-down regulations came into effect. Grant De Patie's father, who lobbied this government for change so that his son's death would not be in vain, said: "I think there is going to be dire consequences because of these changes."
My question is to the Minister of Labour. Why is this Liberal government abandoning their responsibility to protect young and vulnerable workers in B.C.?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I want to start by offering my condolences to the De Patie family. Grant De Patie's death was a terrible tragedy, a loss that is impossible almost to speak of. It was a tragic loss of life and something that we don't ever want to see happen again in this province.
Grant's law, which came into effect some years ago, is the gas-and-dash legislation. It is mandatory prepayment of gas. There has been no change to that policy, and I think the member opposite is aware of that.
What he may not be aware of is the change that's happened in the province since that time. Back in 2007 there were over 160 gas-and-dash thefts in this province. Last year there were none.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Chouhan: When Grant's law came into effect in 2008, the Premier, who was a talk show host at that time, didn't like that change to protect workers. She called it an overresponse to a very tragic circumstance. Grant De Patie's family certainly didn't think that it was an overresponse.
To the Minister of Labour again, does she agree with the Premier that Grant's law went too far and that's why it was watered down this weekend?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'm sure the member opposite would not want to leave a mistaken impression with the public. Let me just say again: Grant's law remains. We have no intention of making any changes. This very important policy came into place after Grant De Patie's death. The policy is there. It says that gas has to be paid for in advance. There has been no change contemplated, and there will not be. Now, the member opposite is, I think, speaking about different policy, which was with respect to working alone.
What WorkSafe has done is they've added a third option. There are many businesses around the province that will continue to have a barrier or continue to have two workers in the evening, but there are other options open to them, as of the changes that have been made. This is policy that is looking at finding a balance.
Worker safety is of paramount importance, but WorkSafe also heard from small businesses around the province — businesses that are owned by families and businesses in rural B.C. that are important to those areas of the province. Mr. Speaker, a third option has been added. Very vigorously, WorkSafe will ensure that it is upheld. They are going to be making an audit of this policy.
But yes, there is a third option in place, and there's a balance here. It is very important to uphold worker safety, but it's also important to listen to these small business owners that do have a valuable role in the province.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING FOR TEACHERS
R. Austin: In Bill 22 the B.C. Liberals chose to appoint a so-called mediator to oversee a so-called mediation to address contentious issues between the teachers and the government. Days after the bill was passed, the minister announced that Dr. Charles Jago would take on this task. In addition to questions about Dr. Jago's lack of experience in the area of labour mediation, it has come to light that Dr. Jago previewed aspects of Bill 22, calling into question his neutrality on the issue.
My question to the minister is: in light of the latest blow to the mess that is Bill 22 and this government's approach to teacher bargaining, does the minister still say that Dr. Jago is the right mediator?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm appalled at the member's so-called question — absolutely appalled. I'm appalled that he would take…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
[ Page 10649 ]
Hon. G. Abbott: …an acknowledged leader in this province and this nation, a gentleman who has been awarded the Order of Canada in recognition of his exceptional work as one of the early presidents of what is now a world-class institution, the University of Northern British Columbia — taking someone like Dr. Jago and saying that he can't do this job when he has been a very capable leader at the Northern Health Authority as a chair of that board for a number of years. It is absolutely appalling that this member — I am sure as a shill for the BCTF — takes this opportunity to degrade Dr. Jago's abilities to deal with these issues.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Austin: I think the minister is not getting the point of this question at all. I was a student at UNBC when Dr. Charles Jago was the president. I have worked with Dr. Charles Jago as the chair of the Northern Health Authority. In both of those capacities he is a brilliant public administrator.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
R. Austin: My problem is not with Mr. Charles Jago in those capacities. My problem is in choosing him as the mediator in a process that's already been fixed by this government in which he has already expressed opinions around the very issues that he has had to mediate about doesn't make him an independent mediator.
I mean, let's be honest. This process is destined to fail anyway, but even so, couldn't the minister have chosen someone truly independent with some mediation experience to do this job?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm surprised that a member who is from northern British Columbia who has had an opportunity, apparently, to meet Dr. Jago and perhaps to work with Dr. Jago doesn't understand not only the brilliance, as the member acknowledges, but also the independence that Dr. Jago brings to this job. Anyone who has the slightest idea of Dr. Jago's abilities as well as temperament would recognize that he is absolutely the right man to bring the parties together in this dispute.
The members opposite can express all the cynicism they like. We need a mediator in this process that can bring the parties together. Dr. Jago can do that. We are not appointing an arbitrator here. We're appointing someone with the knowledge, the wisdom, the experience, the constructive spirit that can bring the parties together. I believed, and I continue to believe, that Dr. Jago is the right man for that job, and I'm disappointed by this cynical, shallow view expressed by those across the way.
[End of question period.]
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the Auditor General's report No. 1, 2012, Development Initiative Trusts: An Audit of Legislative Compliance and Public Accountability Practices in the Three Statutory Trusts.
Hon. I. Chong: Mr. Speaker, I seek leave to make an introduction.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Introductions by Members
Hon. I. Chong: Today I am pleased to introduce to the House a group of young British Columbians that are visiting us from my riding of Oak Bay–Gordon Head, from Oak Bay high school. The group is made up of 29 grade 11 students who are accompanied today by their teacher, Mr. Todd Evanchiew, and a number of adults. I certainly want to wish them the best of luck as they conclude their school year, but at this time, I ask that the House please make them very welcome.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: I am going to go through a relatively lengthy list of orders of the day today. We will start this afternoon in second reading of Bill 21, intituled the Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012. That will be followed by Bill 23, intituled the Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
By agreement of myself with the Opposition House Leader — the Orders of the Day that the two Whips' offices would have, would have this ordered differently — we'll be going to second reading of Bill 26, intituled Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations should we get there. Then we would go back to Bill 24, which is intituled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act.
Through this week we will go through, also, Bill 31, intituled the Motion Picture Amendment Act, which is at second reading, as well as second reading of Bill 30, which is intituled Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act and also second reading of Bill 32, intituled Energy and Water Efficiency Act.
[ Page 10650 ]
That's to let members know that those will be most of the bills that will be dealt with this week in second reading before we get back to committee. We will be at the committee stage on one bill tomorrow morning and move through these bills this week. So if you have plans to speak to them, you have the opportunity now to get prepared.
Mr. Speaker: And in the small House?
Hon. R. Coleman: Also, Mr. Speaker, in Committee A, the Douglas Fir Committee Room, we will be doing the estimates of the Ministry of Environment, continued. Should that get completed, we would then move to the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
Mr. Speaker: If members could move off to their other duties.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 21 — BUDGET MEASURES
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2012
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that Bill 21, the Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012…
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. K. Falcon: …be read a second time now.
Mr. Speaker, an important feature of Budget 2012 is government's response to the concerns of charities and non-profit organizations about the certainty of gaming grant funding.
[D. Black in the chair.]
The 2012-2013 estimates address the funding concerns by allocating an additional $15 million to the funding provided to these organizations through the community gaming grant program.
Bill 21 clarifies who is responsible for administering community gaming grants by creating a new position within the Gaming Control Act for a community gaming grants manager. All duties respecting community gaming grants that were previously held by the general manager are being reassigned to the newly created community gaming grants manager.
These measures are consistent with the recommendations from the community gaming grant review and will maintain the integrity and transparency of the decision-making process. This government respects the important work done by charities and non-profit organizations within their communities. The additional funding and the new clarity and accountability in the community gaming grant process will provide certainty to these organizations that they will receive the financial support they need to continue their important work.
Madam Speaker, government, as you know, has maintained a net zero mandate for public sector compensation settlements for collective agreements that expired in 2010 and 2011. For collective agreements expiring in 2012 and later, government's main priority remains unchanged: no additional funding for increases in compensation.
These measures are required due to the government's current fiscal situation. But it would be wrong for the members of the Legislature to apply that standard to the public sector without leading by example. Therefore, Bill 21 amends the Members' Remuneration and Pensions Act to extend the freeze on annual compensation increases for Members of the Legislative Assembly for two additional years. This measure ensures government's wage mandates apply to everyone in government and reinforces our efforts to achieve a balanced budget, as required by law, in 2013-2014.
In part 2, Bill 21 amends several tax statutes to implement a number of the tax measures announced in Budget 2012. These measures provide additional support for B.C. families and businesses.
Bill 21 amends the Income Tax Act to create a new children's fitness credit and a new children's arts credit, which will benefit B.C. families with children. With the new non-refundable children's fitness and arts credits, families can claim up to $500 in eligible fitness expenses and an additional $500 in eligible arts expenses per child.
Bill 21 amends the Income Tax Act to remove the medical expense expenditure limit for taxpayers claiming expenses for certain dependents. The Income Tax Act is also amended to increase the dividend tax credit on eligible dividends from 9.76 percent to 10 percent.
Two income tax credits are extended in Bill 21. The book publishing tax credit is extended for an additional five years to March 31, 2017. As previously announced on September 21, 2011, the B.C. training tax credit program, which encourages employers and workers to participate in apprenticeship programs, is extended for an additional three years, to the end of 2014.
Bill 21 also amends the Income Tax Act to provide for new training tax credits for B.C.'s shipbuilding and ship repair industry. The new training tax credits will be available for eligible employers that employ qualifying apprentices in the B.C. shipbuilding and ship repair industry. These amendments support B.C.'s shipbuilding and ship repair industry efforts under the national shipbuilding procurement strategy and support marine industry jobs.
Bill 21 also amends the Income Tax Act to provide the
[ Page 10651 ]
full Film Incentive B.C. tax credit for qualifying interprovincial co-productions and amends the copyright ownership requirements for such co-productions.
Bill 21 also amends the Small Business Venture Capital Act to allow for tax credits targeted to direct investments in eligible new small businesses that are less than two years old. Budget 2012 allocates $3 million for tax credits for investors in these new small businesses. This will support up to $10 million annually in additional equity financing in the province.
Bill 21 amends the Home Owner Grant Act to provide a grant supplement for low-income veterans. The low-income veterans supplement was announced on November 10, 2011, and is effective for 2012 and future tax years. The supplement will apply to qualifying low-income veterans under the age of 65 who have served in the Canadian Forces as officers or non-commissioned members. The grant supplement will be $275 for most qualifying veterans. This measure is a tribute to the service and sacrifice of younger veterans who may now face income challenges.
The Home Owner Grant Act is also amended to extend eligibility for homeowners moving into a residential care facility. This amendment will allow homeowners who have moved into a residential facility but have not yet sold their home to claim the homeowner grant for one additional year.
The Land Tax Deferment Act is also amended to remove the fire insurance requirement for homeowners with sufficient equity and to clarify the deferment eligibility criteria with respect to leaseholders.
The Taxation (Rural Area) and School acts are amended to provide the authority for partial exemptions where the Crown is one of the registered owners of a property.
The Taxation (Rural Area) and Property Transfer Tax acts are amended to clarify exemptions in certain situations, and the Property Transfer Tax Act is amended to add a general refund provision.
The final scheduled increase to the carbon tax will take effect on July 1, 2012, and no further increases or expansions are planned at this time. The Carbon Tax Act is amended to clarify that the carbon tax will continue in future years at the July 1, 2012, rates, which are the equivalent of $30 per tonne of emissions.
Over the next year we will undertake a comprehensive review of the carbon tax and its impact on British Columbians. The review will cover all aspects of the carbon tax, including revenue neutrality, and will consider the impact of the competitiveness of B.C. businesses, such as the agricultural sector and, in particular, B.C.'s food producers.
The Carbon Tax Act and the Motor Fuel Tax Act are amended to make the obligations of collectors, retail dealers and purchasers for fuel imported by ship into British Columbia generally more consistent with the federal obligations regarding fuel imported by ship.
In addition, technical or consequential amendments are made to the Carbon Tax, Motor Fuel Tax, Family Law and Police acts.
B. Ralston: I rise to address Bill 21.
Bill 21 contains the statutory changes designed to implement the minister's budget speech. By their very nature, many of those proposed amendments are technical and will be dealt with at committee stage in a more detailed and exhaustive way. However, I do have some comments at this time on Bill 21.
Perhaps it's worth noting that there are some areas of the minister's budget speech which are not captured in this particular bill just yet.
In the budget speech the minister spoke of the B.C. seniors home-renovation tax credits, meant to be effective April 1. The budget speech said that that would be implemented by way of separate legislation, so I expect that that will be forthcoming at some point soon, given that there is some government publicity about the program and some interest in the program, understandably.
The increase in medical services premiums, which is set to take place January 1, 2013 — that increase is a scheduled 4 percent — will be accomplished by amending the regulations of the Medicare Protection Act and does not figure in this bill.
Perhaps most notably, HST transition measures are not in this bill. In particular, all the measures that are required to eliminate the HST and reinstitute the PST are not there.
The Referendum Act, under which the referendum was conducted last year, says, and I'm quoting from Referendum Act section 4: "If more than 50% of the validly cast ballots vote the same way on a question stated, that result is binding on the government that initiated the referendum."
Then the next section speaks of the duty of the government if the referendum is binding. I'm quoting from the section, and I think it is significant. Although there is some latitude given to the government, the direction of this section is fairly clear:
"If the results of a referendum are binding, the government must, as soon as practicable, take steps, within the competence of the government, that the government considers necessary or advisable to implement the results of the referendum including any and all of the following: (a) changing programs or policies, or introducing new programs or policies, that are administered by or through the executive government; (b)" — and this is perhaps the most significant — "introducing legislation in the Legislative Assembly during its first session after the results of such a referendum are known."
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Now, we were here in the fall. We're obviously in the spring at this point. Thus far, the legislation implementing the results of the referendum, a binding referendum, have not yet been introduced. I look forward to
[ Page 10652 ]
that, and we haven't had an indication from the minister recently as to when that legislation might be forthcoming. One appreciates, of course, that the legislation is a challenging drafting task and will require much discussion with the federal government and federal authorities, particularly the Canada Revenue Agency, in order to implement those provisions.
Nonetheless, the direction given to the Legislature in the Referendum Act is very clear, and it doesn't, subject to anything the minister may care to say in debate later on, seem to have been taken to heart in the sense that we're well into the spring session, and the referendum results were known last August.
Finally, I would like, then, to turn to those items that the legislation does deal with. First, I might say that the further two-year freeze on the salaries of legislators, Members of the Legislative Assembly, is something that we support and expect. Notwithstanding the constraints that we have in debate at second reading, we will indicate our support at committee stage, just so that is clear. I want to place that on the record, lest there be any misunderstanding by those who follow these things, that we support that further two-year freeze on increases for Members of the Legislative Assembly in their pay.
The budget does implement a number of measures that were mentioned in the budget speech. It is, I think, really perhaps a linguistic or semantic quibble, but the expenditures that are referred to in the child fitness and arts credit enable a qualifying person to make a claim of $500 maximum but, if the maximum is claimed, to receive a credit of $25 a child. So while the claim is $500, and the minister spoke of that, the maximum credit that can be received is $25 — both the sports and the arts credits.
Now, these mirror similar — some have called them "boutique" — tax credits that have been introduced at the federal level by the federal Tory government. These appear to mirror those exactly, perhaps an indication of the influence of federal Tory advisers in the Premier's office as the budget was put together.
Some would say that while…. I certainly appreciate that parents who have children either in community sports or who take some of the myriad of arts-related activities that children these days seem to engage in, at least some children — whether it's ballet, dance, music lessons or any of that sort of thing — will appreciate this.
But certainly, on the child fitness credit, there's a good argument that could be made that spending money that is more broadly available perhaps gives access to all children, regardless of their income level. I know there was a program — somewhat controversial, but I think the difficulties were ironed out — of contributing money to children's playgrounds on schools. This credit will inevitably favour those who have parents who are in a position to make those kinds of expenditures, although many parents do make sacrifices to enable their children to take part.
There are some organizations — such as the Right to Play, for example, which is a broad-based charity — that speak of at least one-third of children in any given population or city being unable to participate in organized sports because of the financial limitations of their families. One might wish that the tax expenditure that's made here was perhaps directed in a way that would more broadly benefit all of the community in the way that Right to Play suggests, as opposed to a taxed social expenditure by tax credit. That's clearly a political choice that the government and the minister have made. It's not one that I wholeheartedly endorse.
There are other credits in the bill — the training tax credit and the training tax credit for shipyard workers. I think those are more properly explored in the committee stage.
Broadly speaking, on the shipbuilding tax credit, since it is for recognized apprentices, that's something that we on this side support. It does give rise to questions, more broadly, about the kind of regime that one would wish for that applied to other industries as well. That's a question that we can explore at a later stage.
I do wish to deal with the issue of the enhanced dividend tax credit in a little bit more extensive way.
The basic principle of the tax credit is to avoid double taxation, in the sense that corporations pay income tax on the revenue that they earn, then, if they pay it out, if it's paid out in dividends, taxing it again might be considered double taxation. So the purpose of the tax credit is to give recognition for dividend income received from eligible Canadian corporations which has already been taxed as corporate income.
One of the policy goals of this kind of policy is what's called tax integration — in other words, to make sure that all types of income are taxed at approximately an even rate so that there's no opportunity for tax avoidance.
Now, this enhanced dividend tax credit was created, I'm told, in 2006. The ministry suggested that it did produce — it did achieve tax integration. However, since then, there have been substantial changes in both federal and provincial corporate income tax, largely by way of the decline of those taxes.
It's now, I'm advised, the case that the tax rates applied to dividend income are now lower than on wages or salaries, and the operation of this amendment will make that difference slightly greater. That's something that the minister and I will explore when we get to committee stage, but suffice it to say, at this stage I'm concerned about the impact of that particular aspect of the bill.
The other provisions, I think, are relatively straightforward — the carbon tax, the application of the homeowner grant to low-income veterans. These are, I think, things that we support, but we'll look for the details of the implementation at a later stage.
The carbon tax. The legislation is clear. It does give rise to the broader policy question of the review that the min-
[ Page 10653 ]
ister has initiated. What is clear is that notwithstanding the fact that the review of the carbon tax is barely underway, the minister and the government are announcing exemptions from the provisions of the carbon tax — most notably recently to those who operate greenhouses that grow produce. They've been given a one-year exemption — I suppose, conveniently, to take them past the date of the next election.
This is not the way to do a review of an important policy like this, to give one-off…. Perhaps, notwithstanding the idealism of the Minister of Education, one might cynically conclude that these are politically driven and are not really in keeping with a broad and comprehensive policy review.
The stated purpose of the carbon tax was an elegant simplicity in the sense that it was a broad-based tax that applied to all forms of use of carbon with as few exemptions as possible. If one begins to do individual industry exemptions, the purpose, the statutory purpose and the professed statutory purpose, of the carbon tax begins to be eroded. I'm sure that the public has an interest in this and that it should be part of a broader debate, but we'll perhaps have an opportunity to explore that at committee stage.
Finally, I would say the book publishing tax credit…. The agency that advocates on behalf of the book publishers made a fairly compelling representation at the Finance and Government Services Committee, and I'm pleased that the government has heard that suggestion. I think it's of interest to Canadian and British Columbia publishers that their efforts be recognized, to some degree, in the tax system.
With those brief comments, I would draw to a close. I should say, perhaps as a coda to my remarks, that we oppose the budget and these legislative mechanisms, notwithstanding the individual statutory changes that I've pointed to as being supported. But broadly, we oppose the budget, and we oppose this bill which seeks to implement the broad outlines of the budget that was placed before us some time ago.
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, Minister of Finance closes debate.
Hon. K. Falcon: I thank the member opposite, the Finance critic, for his usual thoughtful comments. I was feeling pretty good about the entire speech up until the very last part where he advised that he was not supporting the budget. However, I acknowledge that that probably shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
However, I would like to share, for the benefit of the member opposite, that the response in the financial community to the budget, I think, is important, at least in this House, for us to understand. Having had the opportunity to canvass decision-makers in the major financial capitals of North America over the last week, I can assure the member that the response from those, at least the segment of the population that are the ones that make the investment decisions and make the decisions about whether or not to invest capital into certain markets, was extremely positive.
The fact that we saw the major credit-rating agencies reconfirm British Columbia's position as a triple-A credit rating with a stable outlook I think is something that we can be very proud of.
The reason why that matters, of course, for all of us is that when you have the highest possible credit in a very uncertain world, it means that we as subsovereign province, as British Columbia is, in the great country called Canada have the ability to borrow at the lowest possible rates. It's kind of like if you're going to apply for a mortgage on your home and you've got the best possible credit rating. It really adds value and saves taxpayers millions of dollars which we can then apply to, of course, program spending or, in fact, paying down debt.
I am obviously disappointed in the lack of support for the budget, but I understand the real world that we operate in is a different world than perhaps what might be our considered ideal version.
However, the member did mention some other comments that I think I'll touch on very briefly because I think they are really worthy of discussion. He pointed out that he was wondering when the introduction of transition measures to move from the HST back to a two-tax PST-GST system would be coming forward. He appropriately acknowledged the massive drafting challenge that's involved. The fact of the matter is that the member opposite nailed it perfectly, because that is in fact the case.
What I want to assure the member of is that we will fulfil the obligation to get it in, in this session. But I think the member deserves to know that it is a huge challenge. I can give him my absolute word that drafters are working on this as a priority over all other initiatives right now in government to make sure that we meet that challenge of getting it in by the end of the session.
I do want to forewarn, if I will, the member opposite that it is a real challenge in this time frame. We are doing everything possible to ensure we do so. I was going to be talking to the member off line about that just to let him know that I'm not trying to do this in a way to bring in a very major bill late in the session. We are likely required, by the very nature of what the drafting process has been, unfortunately, to end up doing something quite near to that.
I want him to know he has my personal conviction and support to do everything possible to get that in at the earliest possible time that the drafters complete that drafting. I appreciate the member raising the issue and assure him that I will be giving every support to getting it in as quickly as I responsibly can. It's largely in the drafting process completely now. I don't get involved with that level of detail, as the member would know.
[ Page 10654 ]
Just to touch on something the member said with respect to the childhood fitness and arts credit program. The member is right to point out that the program is designed to mirror the federal program. Between the two of them, they provide some support to young families who have their kids involved in sports or arts programs outside of the school system. It's a way to provide, in the form of a tax credit, some support to those families to encourage them to continue to keep their kids in important arts and fitness programs that — I think all of us can certainly appreciate — are important to building a future where children get a full appreciation of the benefits of physical activity and, of course, being involved in the arts and cultural sector of our great province.
The member did point out a very valid point about the importance of funding for playgrounds. The good news is, Member, that we actually made an announcement — I was part of it — some many months ago. The date slips my mind. My recollection is it was a $9 million announcement that we would be funding a whole series of new playground ventures across the province.
Perhaps even more importantly, we have made it part of our new capital standard that every new school that is announced that will be constructed in the province of British Columbia will include playground equipment as part of that new school. That will take away the requirement to have parents have to be involved in raising money for….
Hon. K. Falcon: Thank you. I thank the Education critic for that. I do agree with the Education critic. I actually think that that's something that probably should have been in place a long time ago.
That is something, I think, that will go a long way — in fact, will deal with exactly that issue — to ensure any child at any school in British Columbia will have access to the basic fitness and outdoor playground equipment that will ensure they take advantage of the opportunity to be physically active. Certainly, that is something we will see, as these playgrounds are being constructed as we speak, across the province.
The other issues that the Finance critic pointed out we'll have an opportunity to debate at the next stage, Committee of the Whole House, so I won't spend too much time on them. I just wanted to touch on some of the key points that I thought were validly raised by the member opposite.
I do appreciate the member opposite and his caucus for supporting government on extending the MLA pay freeze to another two years. Of course, that will follow on the prior freezing of the MLA rates that has taken place for the previous two years. I do think that in public life it is important for us to lead by example. Certainly, we're not asking the public sector to undertake anything that we are not undertaking ourselves. I do think that the support of the members opposite is appreciated, in that narrow part of it.
Perhaps, in the course of committee stage debate — who knows? — we might, through the power of my oratory and the force of my arguments, be able to bring the members to supporting the budget overall and joining the otherwise rather broad chorus of support that we've seen in the small business community, the investment community, the financial community and the credit rating agencies around the world that have endorsed the budget and the direction of this government.
With that, I would move second reading of Bill 21, the Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012.
Second reading of Bill 21 approved on division.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that Bill 21 be referred to the Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 21, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Polak: I call second reading of Bill 23, intituled Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
BILL 23 — FINANCE STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that Bill 23, the Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, be read a second time.
[D. Black in the chair.]
These amendments will encourage investment in the social enterprise sector, confirm procedural safeguards that protect co-op members and make corporate registry filings more efficient. They will also streamline the appointment processes at the Financial Institutions Commission and provide greater certainty and transparency regarding the Auditor General's authority.
The most substantive amendments are to the Business Corporations Act. These amendments will allow for the formation of a new type of corporation: the community contribution company or CCC.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
A community contribution company will combine socially beneficial purposes with a restricted ability to distribute profits to shareholders. This new hybrid style of corporation responds to an emerging demand for so-
[ Page 10655 ]
cially focused investment options and will foster, we believe, social enterprise investments.
Under the legislation, a community contribution company would be required to set out its community purposes in its articles and to identify itself as a CCC in its name. A CCC will be prohibited from paying dividends above a certain rate. The rate would be established in regulations but could be limited to, say, 35 percent of annual profits — just to use an example.
On dissolution, a CCC will be subject to what is called an asset lock that will restrict the distribution of its assets to its shareholders. The extent of this restriction will also be set out in the regulations.
In addition, CCCs will be subject to a higher degree of accountability than an ordinary company. For example, three directors will be required instead of one, and the company will be required to publish an annual report detailing its social spending. Finally, certain restrictions on corporate reorganizations will ensure that payout restrictions cannot be circumvented. Otherwise, CCCs will be governed by the same corporate framework that applies to all British Columbia companies.
The most significant change to the Cooperative Association Act will strengthen the procedural safeguards that protect co-op members on termination. At the same time, housing cooperatives will benefit from new, streamlined procedures for terminating membership if the member fails to pay rent or other occupancy charges. In addition, the amendments will remove the requirement that the registrar vet a cooperative's rules and list of directors prior to incorporation.
Technical refinements to the Business Corporations Act, the Cooperative Association Act and the Partnership Act will ensure the continued effectiveness of each statute, support the expansion of on line filing for partnerships and bring consistency to the fees under the Partnership Act. Amendments will increase consistency across the statutes, remove impediments to business and increase administrative efficiencies for corporate registry filings.
This bill also contains amendments to the Financial Institutions Act and Pension Benefits Standards Act. Currently the statutory responsibilities of the public servant who runs the Financial Institutions Commission are assigned by multiple processes. The current processes make the assignment of responsibilities needlessly complex. These amendments streamline the process, enhance accountability and ensure consistency with other commissions.
Finally, the bill will revise the enabling statutes of a number of government organizations to expressly recognize and clarify the Auditor General's authority in relation to those organizations.
When the Auditor General Act was replaced in 2003, time constraints prevented the completion of consequential amendments to the enabling legislation of all the government organizations that were affected by the new act. The enabling legislation of many government organizations contains language that conflicts with the new legislation. The language provides for auditor appointment without expressly providing the possibility that the auditor is the Auditor General as provided for in the Auditor General Act. These amendments, supported by the Auditor General, will recognize the authority of the Auditor General as laid out in the act and remove any conflicting language.
I move second reading of Bill 23.
B. Ralston: This bill has some fairly uncontroversial aspects to it, but the part that I wish to address…. I don't know whether it's particularly controversial, but it certainly is novel and an innovation. I know that the member for Surrey–White Rock has spoken to some degree on this issue, and I know other colleagues are interested in the creation of what is called a community contribution company.
Many people have recognized the growth of what's called social enterprise, which is an effort in an organizational way to match the business acumen and business skills of those in the corporate world with the social objectives of those in the non-profit and charity world and bring a higher degree of business skill to the goal of achieving real benefits for non-profits and charities.
So it perhaps has a tinge of idealism to it in the sense that people hope to achieve the best of both worlds in one organizational form. That may not be possible. But certainly, a community contribution company is one way — it's not the only way — that this might be achieved.
The definition of a community contribution company is set out in the act and really requires that the company has to, in its notice of articles, have a statement that is set out further down in the statute.
"A company is a community contribution company if its notice of articles contains the following statement: This company is a community contribution company, and, as such, has purposes beneficial to society. This company is restricted, in accordance with Part 2.2 of the Business Corporations Act, in its ability to pay dividends and to distribute its assets on dissolution or otherwise."
There is notice, and this becomes important when drawing articles of a company. These have immense consequences down the road. If, for example, a non–community contribution company wanted to become publicly listed, the articles of the company can make that easier or can make that difficult, so including it formally in the articles is an important legal step.
But the debate around a social enterprise is one that has, as I've said, taken place over the last number of years. This former company will be obliged to devote a portion of its profits to community purposes. It will have restrictions placed on the distributions of its profits, and thirdly, it will be subject to greater public accountability through a publication of an annual report detailing its spending on community benefits.
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Now, the trend, certainly, in the world of corporate law and the revisions of the Business Corporations Act has been to reduce the formal requirements, sometimes called regulatory requirements. Whether this will be sufficient scrutiny of this type of organization, I suppose we'll wait and see.
I notice that although this proposal has received generally fairly positive support, broadly speaking, one group, Tradeworks Training Society of B.C., says:
"Bill 23 is on line, but the amendments to the B.C. corporations act are a little cryptic. As the release emphasizes, the model is likely best suited to innovative social enterprises…. Details will be easier understood when related regulations are published.
"Overall, the onus will be on shareholders and other stakeholders to monitor actions vigilantly. The provision for government regulation is light.
"Similar initiatives have been introduced in the U.K. and some states in the U.S. The activity in these jurisdictions has varied, and in the U.K. complementary tax policies and grant programs make for a larger-scale rollout. In B.C. a lot will depend on how foundations and venture philanthropists view the model when and if it is enacted."
Certainly, the provision for three directors is a substantial change from a single director, and the obligation to publish a report that chronicles and sets out the activity of the community contribution company will ensure a measure of scrutiny.
I suppose Tradeworks is saying that they will monitor this publicly as we go along and see where we go — whether the model is a successful one or not.
So we're supporting this proposal. Particularly, I want to note, as I did earlier, and commend the member for Surrey–White Rock for his interest in this issue. I know he has not only, I'm sure, briefed his colleagues on the government side, but he's also spoken to those of us on the opposition side and drawn this to our attention.
The other amendments that are proposed are relatively straightforward. The B.C. Co-operative Association, I understand, is fully supportive of the amendments proposed to the cooperative legislation.
The Auditor General Act. Often the possibility of using the Auditor General as the auditor of record of companies or organizations in the government reporting entity or outside is one that is chosen. If the language is clarified to make that crystal-clear, then that's a good thing, and that seems to be reflected in the support that the Auditor General has expressed for the bill.
The Financial Institutions Commission. That's something that I'll propose to address at committee stage. I'm not entirely clear from the notes that I have reviewed just what is intended there. I heard what the minister said, but I will reserve judgment until we have a more detailed discussion on that aspect of this bill.
The changes to the Partnership Act. Again, those are best dealt with, I think, at the committee stage. They appear to be uncontroversial as well.
There is an amendment proposed to the Pension Benefits Standards Act. It provides that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may appoint a public servant as superintendent of pensions and removes reference to the title of chief administrative officer in relation to the superintendent. Those appear to be administrative changes, but I will reserve judgment until we have an opportunity to discuss that further.
With those brief comments, I will conclude my remarks.
Hon. S. Cadieux: It's a pleasure to speak in the House today about Bill 23, the Finance Statutes Amendment Act. I am in support of this for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I believe that with Bill 23, we are demonstrating government's commitment to social enterprise. With the bill, we're leading the country in social entrepreneurship opportunities and providing for social innovation's growth in British Columbia. As a government, this is one of the things we can do to support social entrepreneurship and innovation in our province.
The member for Surrey-Whalley, in his comments, is correct. A community contribution company is not the only way to achieve this. It is simply one more way. Indeed, there are a number of successful organizations that are operating social enterprises in the province today that have not required this structure. But the amendments do and will provide one more choice for non-profits.
The community contribution company is a new corporate structure option that combines the traditional benefits of a corporation with social enterprise components that include provisions allowing for an asset lock and dividend cap, which make it possible to brand this new hybrid corporation as a social purpose venture. The social purpose branding structure makes it easier for these new hybrid corporations to attract social finance investment, in which there is a great deal of money waiting to be invested.
A community contribution company will be readily recognizable by both social investors and customers who want to use their purchasing dollars to support a good cause. It clearly signals that non-profits are producing highly valuable goods and services that people want to purchase and support.
I also believe that these amendments will support some of the amazing work that's already taking place here in British Columbia. We all benefit from the innovative non-profit organizations and businesses that are stepping up to solve some of society's most difficult challenges — challenges that no one organization, no one ministry and no one government can solve on its own.
This new entrepreneurial spirit is something that we certainly need to encourage. For example, this past summer I attended the opening of Quest Food Exchange in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Over 20 years ago Quest Food Exchange began as a
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group of people handing out sandwiches to people in need. After years of building and expanding on their work, they opened a low-cost grocery store this past summer. The low-cost grocery store means that people with low incomes now have better access to healthy food. People can volunteer and give back to their community in the operation. The non-profit has refined its innovative social enterprise model to become B.C.'s largest food-exchange program.
Bill 23 will open new opportunities for this organization and others like it to continue to innovate and succeed. The amendments will create a new kind of company that will be able to provide socially focused investments and benefits while also distributing profits, although more modest, to investors.
I am pleased that these amendments will open new options for non-profits and those organizations and will support those who are driving innovation in our province.
In November the Premier hosted British Columbia's first Non-Profit Partnerships Summit in Vancouver. This summit brought together over 400 leaders in B.C., from non-profits to businesses to local governments, all who were there to explore how they could be a part of social innovation. It was inspiring, definitely, to see so many people from different sectors all wanting to learn more about what they could do to make a difference in their communities and, in many cases, to hear what they were doing that was already making that difference.
It's important for government to create the space for conversation and for planning and then to take the next step and introduce legislation that sets a framework for implementation. I'm proud of the passion and incredible work carried out by the non-profit sector in our province, and I'm pleased that we're going to be able to support their work through this bill.
I'm not the only one, though, and I'd like to share a few quotes from others in the community.
From Janet Austin, the CEO of the YWCA in Vancouver: "I'm delighted to support this move to allow the creation of community contribution companies. This new corporate structure combines social and financial objectives and will provide much-needed flexibility in the emerging area of social entrepreneurship and innovation."
Margaret Mason, who is a partner with Bull Housser and Tupper and a member of B.C.'s Advisory Council on Social Entrepreneurship, is a respected and recognized national expert in non-profit and charity law. Margaret says: "I commend the province for introducing this legislation. British Columbia leads Canada in considering the creation of hybrid structures that we hope will stimulate social enterprise in the province and increase the availability of creative capital willing to invest in enterprises and looking to create lasting change."
Jim Fletcher, who is the managing director of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and a leading social financier in British Columbia and in Canada, is also a member of the council. Jim says: "I'm very supportive of this bill as a first step to bringing B.C. in line with a global trend towards more socially responsible business structures. Traditional structures are all about maximizing profit, which is a good thing in its own right, but a whole bunch of other principles and stakeholders who are important are left out. Enshrining this in legislation is a good thing."
Social innovation is about change. It helps to meet social and economic challenges and takes advantage of new opportunities.
It's not enough to cling to solutions that have worked in the past. We need to build on our past success but look for new ways to work together to meet our future demands. The old attitude of expecting solutions to come from the top down has definitely got to change in order for us to truly be able to address the challenges that face society as a whole.
We know that the best solutions come when collaboration and engagement with one another occur. Enduring social innovations involve all stakeholders in their creation. They involve individuals, families, businesses, non-profits and governments. I have been an advocate for social innovation since my time at the B.C. Paraplegic Association. Together, I believe we can raise social consciousness in B.C. and put our province at the forefront of social innovation.
Thanks for allowing me the opportunity this afternoon to speak.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have the opportunity to stand in my place and speak to Bill 23, the Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. In particular, I do want to address my comments to the community contribution company aspect of this legislation.
At the core of it, I would say at the outset that I think it's a good initiative for this legislation to create the structure and the framework for social enterprise, to create more clarity around social enterprise and about what the expectations of government are around how social enterprise will work and operate in our province and how it will be defined differently from more conventional enterprise in British Columbia.
As others have noted, I do believe the work that created Bill 23 comes not entirely but in large part from the work that has been spearheaded by the member for Surrey–White Rock around social innovation. I know I've had the opportunity on a number of occasions to speak with the member around this issue, and we've shared some good debate and very positive debate around this.
We as a caucus have had the opportunity to be briefed by the member — a number of caucus members — as we've also had the opportunity to meet with some of the community leaders who have been part of the advisory
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group around the work that's being done around social innovation and who, I know, will carry that work forward, including some fairly eminent people like Al Etmanski and Jennifer Charlesworth.
I think the work that's being done there is work that is timely. It's work that is important. I do also think it's work that requires clarity. I know that the Minister of Social Development spoke about the summit that was held a number of months ago, and I did have the opportunity to attend most of that session and found it quite interesting in terms of the comments made by a number of the participants there who are very prominent in their field.
When I spoke to a number of people at that time, they were saying: "We like the sense of this, but we don't entirely understand where it's going." I do think that Bill 23 helps a little bit in terms of providing some of that clarity. I know, again, the member for Surrey–White Rock…. In my conversations with him, he also, I think, appreciated that increased clarity was necessary.
I think more is being brought to this question of what social innovation means in the context of British Columbia and in the context of these efforts and what community contribution companies will mean in that context as well.
Probably my first experience with social enterprise and with these kinds of efforts would go back to 1967, 1968, as a teenager growing up in Raymur housing project in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. I know at that time many of the single-parent moms there created the Ray-Cam Cooperative.
A big piece of the success of that was the creation of the co-op store in the basement of a public housing project there. That store was very, very effective in providing food and employment opportunities, mostly through what was then the volunteer incentive program that was available at that time. It created opportunities for people who were on welfare, as it was called at the time, to earn a little bit more money and, at the same time, to be able to purchase food at essentially cost–plus very little.
It was a social enterprise. It did pay its bills. It obviously received support from what was B.C. Housing at the time, in terms of a very generous support around the space. But it did pay its bills, it did do its business, and it did it fairly successfully for quite a long period of time. That led, actually, to the establishment of the Ray-Cam Cooperative Centre, which is now a fairly important multipurpose community facility in East Vancouver.
That was my first experience as a teenager of what social enterprise might mean at that time. I've had the opportunity, through work in the community economic development field and the cooperative field, to work around the province with a whole range of different enterprises or concepts or ideas that would certainly fall within the context of social enterprise or of community economic development, which would be easily defined as social innovation in some way, shape or form.
The principle we have here, I think, is good. What we need to be cautious about, and this reflects not so much on this bill, is the level of….
It's not a high anxiety, by any means, I don't think, but there is a modest level of anxiety in the community, that social innovation and the notion of social enterprise and encouraging what are sometimes significant community organizations, charitable organizations, to engage in social enterprise as a method of creating new revenue streams to support their programs and initiatives, among other things, may lead at some point to a reduction in public support for the activities of those organizations.
I've heard nothing that indicates that, and I'm not suggesting that that's anybody's intention to do that. But it's a reaction that is there, and it's a real reaction: is this a download, of some sort, of additional responsibilities on those agencies, on those organizations, to begin to meet their own revenue needs through these avenues rather than having an expectation that there would be levels of public support for their programs and initiatives?
I certainly would encourage the government and the minister to provide the assurances that the government is prepared to provide, that that is not the intention and that there isn't a correlation there. It does sit out there, and it sits out there with organizations that have seen increased pressures on their funding levels and concern themselves with that.
As we look at the kinds of initiatives that fall into the context of social enterprise, of what would be community contribution companies, potentially, we see a number of different options there. Most of them have, in some form, what we would call a triple bottom line. They have an approach that looks at social, economic and environmental concerns.
They do look at community concerns. They do look at a criteria, generally, that looks at having to be successful, absolutely, as a business, and being able to be viable as an enterprise. That viability has to come in terms of their ability to generate profits and then to be able to make determinations about where those profits go. Sometimes the priority may be the creation of employment opportunities for people who find less opportunity to get into the employment areas in more conventional or traditional employment. This may create employment opportunities as well.
So there are a couple of ways that you could see profit or benefit there. But the criteria, as a consequence, needs to look at…. To be successful, these companies need to be considering community benefit and what community benefit means. I believe the success of these kinds of social enterprises, of what will be community contribution companies, also require, as much as possible — and it's not always going to be the case — the engagement of citizen initiative and having citizens play a significant role in what occurs.
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It's so that decisions are not made solely on the basis of capital and money, that they are participatory in nature, that they do have a foundation in community, that they do engage community in ways that are more broad-based, certainly, than conventional companies and, of course — as the legislation, I know, talks about — that they limit the distribution of profit and ensure that those funds, to the greatest degree possible, go back into ensuring the viability of the company and back into the community as well.
So they need to be viable. They need to have social aims that, I think, are effective. I would hope that we will see that. That will be around job creation, I would hope.
I hope that for many of these companies they'll see job creation — again, for those who, for any number of reasons, may find it challenging to get into the workforce. They'll look at opportunities that may be around training, as well as creation of jobs, but training opportunities to move people into more conventional jobs at some point, that they'll look at how they support or enhance the provision of what might be local or community-based services — and that can be quite a broad interpretation and definition of those community and local services — but that they'll support those as they move forward in the community.
To the greatest degree possible, I would hope that community contribution companies would see themselves as having a role in building capacity in a community in the way that they support initiatives in the community. Those are all context, I think, around social ownership and social enterprise.
I think, on the face of it, this legislation takes us down the road in a good direction in terms of providing clarity about what this kind of entity might look like. The comment that I guess I would make…. I know that when I look at the legislation that there's a fair amount of what happens here that happens in regulation. I accept that, and I understand that, and I think that that's probably appropriate.
The details around what the regulatory regime looks like become very, very important, I believe, to the success of this initiative, Bill 23: to its success both in terms of meeting the objectives of what is seen as social enterprise and what is defined and accepted as social enterprise in general terms and also in terms of the acceptance and credibility of the initiatives envisioned in Bill 23 in terms of the community and being accepted as a model that makes sense in the community — a model that people looking at developing social enterprise or that the community sector broadly, the community development movement, the CED movement, might see as moving forward on, that they see this as a real tool and a vehicle they can use that will enhance their work and their efforts and that has the kinds of safeguards around it that ensure it will continue to do the good work that it was initially intended to do. That's going to come in the regulatory regime.
I would hope, and I know that the principles…. I've spoken about the member for Surrey–White Rock, and I know that the member for Surrey–White Rock is keenly aware of the importance of engagement of the broader community in terms of the success of this.
Again, I've had the opportunity to attend a couple of sessions. I know he's brought some very interesting players, some of the individuals that I talked about. I know the Sauder School of Business have engaged in this as well. He's brought some very interesting players and engaged them in this process and in a conversation. That conversation, I think, needs to continue in the development of the regulatory regime for these companies under Bill 23.
It would be my hope that there will be a commitment made here by the government, by the Minister of Finance, to look at ways to produce…. I'm not sure what the proper terminology is, whether it's a White Paper or it's a discussion document. What form that takes around the regulatory challenges and the regulatory issues that are in front of making this bill as effective as it can be while meeting its legislative objectives and will allow that to go out….
Whether it's taken forward by the minister or whether those responsibilities are given to the member for Surrey–White Rock and tasked to the work that he's doing around social innovation to have those conversations to ensure that the regulatory discussion, before it's adopted, actually has an opportunity to go out in some more formal or structured or engaging fashion for a real conversation in the community with people who have a very important stake and sincere interest in this — to make sure that those regulations, to the greatest degree possible, are refined and developed in a way that works for the community, because the success of this to some degree will come by the ownership that the community chooses to take of this model.
I would hope that that will occur because I think that the framework makes good sense around these, but the detail will be in the regulatory initiative and the regulatory regime that's put in place. For that to be accepted….
What I would hate to see is a regulatory process that was less open and produced a set of regulations that could be the best-intentioned regulations in the world, but when they're seen by the community and the people on the ground on the front line that do this work, they identify a whole array or range of concerns with that that may or may not have been seen by the people who drafted the regulation and may not have been seen by the people who make the decisions in approving the regulation. It would be a shame if that was to occur and diminish the value of this legislation and the potential value of these companies.
I would hope that there would be a commitment to do that to the greatest degree possible. That may take a little bit of time, and I think that's just fine. Then the
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regulations can get put in place, because I do believe that it's important to get it right and to do this right and to take a little bit of time, if it's necessary, and make sure that works.
If that occurs, I think this has the potential to be an important and a good tool in terms of the notion of social enterprise, of social innovation, to create opportunities for those entities in the community or groups in the community or neighbourhoods or other organizations who see the opportunity to move forward with viable business opportunities that are based on supporting community values and community interests while still being viable as an enterprise.
We have a great opportunity maybe here to do this. I hope that it gets done right on the regulatory side. Other than that, I do look forward maybe to having the opportunity to discuss that a little bit in committee stage. Other than that, I would say that I do support the legislation.
G. Hogg: I think the successes that we've had in terms of being able to come together with a piece of legislation which sets the values and the principles by which we want to be able to address the delivery of services, looking at and managing the values of both the entrepreneurial nature of the marketplace as well as the service delivery models of the non-profits, is as a result of an active integration and discussions and consultation with a number of the non-profits and a number of the businesses.
In fact, in many ways, the social entrepreneurs of British Columbia have led this government to this point in time. They've led Canada in a number of the initiatives that we're taking. One of the media outlets referred to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia as the Silicon Valley for Social Innovation in Canada.
We have led the world in many cases and, as my colleague from Vancouver-Kingsway commented, there have been a number of world leaders that have been here.
G. Hogg: My apologies — Vancouver-Hastings.
G. Hogg: Surrey-Whalley, SW. Thank you very much.
What was I talking about other than Surrey-Whalley, or something equally as relevant?
As all of my good friends have made reference to, there are a number of people who have come from other parts of the world: Christian Bason from Denmark, Peter Shergold from Australia, Charlie Leadbeater from England, Geoff Mulgan from England and, out of Italy, Ezio Manzini. All of these people are looking at what's happening here and saying that we actually are in many ways leading the world in a combined piece of action and legislation.
This is the first piece of legislation like this in Canada. There are pieces that are somewhat analogous in different parts of the United States, but the steps that we are taking are providing that platform. I just want to firstly acknowledge the social entrepreneurs and innovators from across Canada who participated in this, and from around the world, but particularly those in British Columbia who have done so much in terms of the consultation.
I think the reason that we've been able to get here is because we have listened to them. We have listened to them, and they have been actively involved with the Ministry of Finance in terms of the drafting of this. They've been a reference point for those. So while comments were made with respect to the regulations, we have got to this point because we've had that active dialogue, integration of thought, that has led us to this point in time. I think the successes that we can have in the future are going to be dependent upon us having that same type of engagement and participation.
I also want to acknowledge the participation of the opposition. We've had the opportunity to meet with members of the opposition I think on three or four different occasions. I've met with a number of them individually.
I know the Innovation Council came and met with them as well, and this has been a process which I think has been based on the values of how we better provide an opportunity for services in a time where people are starting to recognize the value of having government, the marketplace and the social providers together working at what they can provide for strengths together, and we've been able to do that in a pretty unique way.
Ontario has been asking the same types of questions. Ontario is anxious to move forward. They've asked: "How do we support more innovative, effective and sustainable approaches to addressing community challenges by enabling community organizations to combine with businesses their use of methods of entrepreneurship to attract new capital and generate revenues?"
This is just a platform that starts to provide us that, but there are significant challenges that come forward as well. We want to have, analogous to this, to help us to leverage funding into it…. I believe there has to be a change to the Venture Capital Act so that it starts to define some of the initiatives that will tell us what qualifies as a community contribution corporation.
In terms of the qualification, meeting with a number of the non-profits a year and a half ago, they were very concerned about the debate that might take place, whether or not they should give up their non-profit status and move into this. Since that period of time, they've held a number of workshops through the community and social services agencies looking at that. A number of them have now come to the conclusion that this would be a better process for them, but clearly not all of them.
We have over 26,000 non-profits in the province, and probably under 1,000 have staff and reasoned budgets.
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Those are the ones that are starting to look at whether or not this makes sense to them. But certainly no one will be forced to move into this. Their entity as they exist can remain, or they can make a decision to shift into this. I think that, as my colleagues have commented, unless we have regulations that support that and that make sense to them, we will not find as many interested in doing that.
The Venture Capital Act will provide an opportunity for there to be leveraging of funds coming into it. It will allow for flow-through tax credits for that to occur. So this provides the entity, but then by allowing it to fit under that, it will allow us to have the funds which we think will help leverage this.
There was reference made to what the criteria are. Well, the criteria that currently are being proposed by the Innovation Council are a provision of home care to the disabled and/or seniors and health care services to the broader community; education of individuals who otherwise experience difficulty accessing education; services to assist individuals experiencing employment challenges and to gain employment; providing affordable housing to income-challenged members of society; promoting social inclusion by facilitating individuals' physical or mental health, age, demographic or other challenges to be self-sufficient, productive and happy members of society; and delivery of essential social, cultural and environmental services to the community.
I think that covers broadly the number of references that have been made with respect to this.
I am excited that we've come this far, but my excitement will be tempered if we're not able to move forward with the regulations that make it as effective as I think it can be and that give permission to the community to do the things that they want to do. We have to bring the next piece of change, the Venture Capital Act, to allow us to have the funding that allows this platform to work most effectively.
In closing, I just want to again extend my appreciation to the Ministry of Finance people who worked so well with the Social Innovation Council from across the province in getting us to this point in time, to the many social service providers who have been so passionate about this and the opportunities that it provides, and to the opposition for their constructive criticism and help in getting us to this point in time.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. K. Falcon: I appreciate the thoughtful comments that various members have put forward with respect to the community contribution company initiative. I do want to particularly recognize the member for Surrey–White Rock for his efforts in really raising awareness and leading the initiative to bring forward what is, by any measure, certainly an innovative response to a belief that there is a way to harness some of the social benefits and the desire out there to have corporations invest in the greater social good and to prepare and design a vehicle that will help bring about that reality.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I think certainly the Finance critic, in his comments, pointed out the importance of getting it right, and I would agree with that. It is the opportunity of all interested members as we move to committee stage debate to be able to have that discussion. The recommendations that we've put forward, we hope, will address legitimate and constructive concerns that people might have around a community contribution company arrangement.
Of course, we will be looking forward to the input of all members as to whether that meets the needs and protects the interests of taxpayers and ensures that we achieve the social benefits we believe can arise from such an amendment.
With that, I move the second reading of Bill 23.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting after today.
Bill 23, Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Polak: I call second reading of Bill 26, intituled Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
BILL 26 — FORESTS, LANDS AND
NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS
STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Thomson: I move the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act be read a second time.
This act updates a number of resource-related statutes improving both industrial and recreational opportunities in British Columbia forests. On the recreational front, we're proposing changes that will have a positive effect, keeping more resource roads open.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
There are over 450,000 kilometres of resource roads in B.C., the equivalent in length of 56 Trans-Canada Highways. These roads are used for a variety of recreational
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and industrial opportunities throughout the province.
Currently, due to third-party liability concerns, both the Crown and the company responsible for road maintenance are influenced to close resource roads after their active use ends. The proposed Occupiers Liability Act amendments will establish that any person using a resource road of their own accord does so substantially at their own risk.
This sends a clear message that the government has listened to road users who clearly favour open roads subject to use at your own risk over the current liability regime. Roads that would have ordinarily been closed but now remain open would be those with low environmental risk.
While we're making an effort to keep the resource roads open to the public, when they do have to close, it is important the proper notification is provided. Currently legislation requires that notification can be done in one of two ways: either through officially gazetting the change or publication in local newspapers. This limitation is increasingly dated in the modern world. While these options will remain available, other options could include Internet posting, signage on site or a notice board — all of which could be more successful and more cost-effective.
We're also bringing in amendments to the Forest Act which will protect the integrity of the tenure award process by requiring applicants for tenures to submit complete and accurate information. In addition, the provisions of the act which allow government or licensees to adjust stumpage rates that were based on inaccurate information have been updated to allow changes to be made in a wider range of circumstances.
We're also amending the Wildfire Act to provide additional clarity on obligations to reduce potential fire hazards when a post-harvest fibre recovery tenure is issued, typically for the bioenergy sector. Forest companies have an obligation to abate fire hazards by reducing the buildup of post-harvest debris. Previous changes have created an opportunity for secondary tenure to be issued that will allow a different company to recover this debris. This amendment ensures a continuous obligation for reducing fire hazards in these circumstances, encouraging a smooth transition between tenure holders.
This will help to increase the use of post-harvest debris for bioenergy purposes such as conversion to wood pellets. Practically nonexistent a decade ago, B.C.'s fast-growing wood pellet industry now contributes about $185 million annually to the provincial economy. Encouraging this industry will help generate local jobs, improve air quality by discouraging slash burning, and reduce fire hazards.
This bill will also make amendments to the Forestry Service Providers Protection Act and the Personal Property Security Act to facilitate the implementation of the Forestry Service Providers Protection Act. Specifically, amendments to the fee schedule of the Personal Property Security Act will allow for the collection of fees for the registration and tracking of Forestry Service Providers Protection Act liens and charges on accounts.
These fees will be nominal and similar to those charged for other registrations under the Personal Property Security Act. For instance, a typical registration fee under the act is $5 per year plus a $10 processing fee, which is what will be charged to register and track liens.
Additional amendments are proposed to ensure that the priority of existing liens on timber transported by tugboats is retained.
Together, these amendments improve key pieces of resource management legislation, supporting our integrated approach to natural resource operations and to enhancing the forest sector in British Columbia.
Deputy Speaker: Recognizing Columbia River–Revelstoke. [Applause.]
N. Macdonald: A half-hearted attempt, I'd say. Well, okay, thank you very much.
So Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, is before us. For the most part, it is trying to fix problems that the government has created. As well, there are some sections that serve as a precursor to the Resource Road Act. So it is certainly a fairly benign piece of legislation on the surface.
I want to say to the minister, as well, that my experience with all ministers has been an openness to briefings. This minister is particularly good at providing briefings and has to my colleagues and I, as well as to the independent members, on this bill and has consistently done so. In fact, the ministry has arranged, following the instructions of the minister, two briefings today alone.
I just want to say that while it is common practice and has been for a long time, certainly, this minister does a very good job making sure that the opposition has an opportunity to fully understand these bills before we move into this section. Thank you very much for the briefing.
We have, then, within this bill a number of changes to existing legislation. We have, within sections 1 to 4, amendments to the Forest Act. Section 1, then, fixes language to close a loophole in rules related to stumpage. This comes from a court case where the existing legislation was found to be wanting. As a whole, we have to be clear that compliance and enforcement have a whole number of shortcomings.
In 2002 — and there were some members that were here in 2002, when the changes were made — you basically had major licensees literally writing their own rules for managing the land. The government that they supported financially put those rules into legislation with promises that the new rules would remove red tape and lead to more jobs. The language around it in 2002 was
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very much a promise to create more jobs by removing red tape, and that simply has not happened.
As we look at this tinkering with the existing legislation, trying to fill in loopholes for a court case where the government tried to argue that it needed accurate information to set stumpage, we need to remember that in 2002, when the rules were put in place, the initiative was wrapped up in language such as "professional reliance." I think most people would agree that professional reliance is a useful goal, but you had one B.C. Liberal after another at the time talking about compliance and enforcement and implying that it was going to be rigorous in some way. The truth of the matter was that for all of the speeches that were made by B.C. Liberals at the time….
It's worthwhile going back and looking at Hansard to see what was actually promised. There were promises of jail time. There were promises of million-dollar fines. But the reality ten years later, when you look at what actually happened, is completely different. Now we're coming and we're tinkering with a tiny little part of the massive gaps in the legislation that allow basically anything to go on.
In 2002, basically, the rules were gutted. That's the reality. This piece of legislation deals with a small problem that the government is trying to fix. I mean, at the same time, I think the broader public needs to be reminded that the compliance and enforcement personnel that were supposed to be on the ground doing the work that needs to be done to protect the public interest have been downsized again and again. We simply do not have people on the ground doing the work that needs to be done, and the way that the guidelines were worded back in 2002, the rules for forestry are basically unenforceable. I'm sure the minister has heard that repeatedly when he meets with his staff.
The intention to remove compliance and enforcement on the public land back in 2002 is clear. You have this piece of legislation that's trying to fix a loophole that became evident through a court case, but overall, the lack of stewardship is really evident, and it's not just my conclusion. The Auditor General looked at 15 stewardship plans, and not to paraphrase him too loosely, if you read that, he pretty well reached exactly the same conclusion. The compliance and enforcement is just not there.
So a bit of tinkering, but ten years of this type of management has not generated jobs. In fact, there are 35,000 fewer jobs than when the B.C. Liberals took over, and it really has not generated the investment that was promised. There's some tinkering here, but I think we remember the three CEOs of major companies at the time. This goes back to 2004, before the minister's time, but there was a promise of billions of dollars of investment on Vancouver Island. That promise, like so many others, really amounted to nothing.
We have a degraded public forest, we have hydrology compromised, and we have massive waste issues that are coming home to roost right now. The minister will know that there are fibre shortages that exist now in the Interior and fibre shortages that are going to become more profound in the Interior.
We look back at this decade and consider the amount of waste that we have left on the forest floor. It is unbelievable. There was a five-year period with the policies that were introduced in 2002 with pay and leave, a five-year period that if the merchantable lumber that was left on the forest floor had actually been taken out and used, if it had been put on logging trucks, then those trucks in that five-year period would stretch from Vancouver to Halifax and halfway back.
A massive amount of waste left on the forest floor was actually good, merchantable logs that were left because the rules allowed them to be left, because compliance and enforcement that was there was removed very deliberately back in 2002, and now we deal with the impacts of that.
This court case also, of course, dealt with stumpage. This is a government that has struggled with the stumpage issue. Stumpage, as the public will know, is the amount that is paid per log coming off public lands by companies so that they can use the public resource.
The social contract that was in place…. This is going back to W.A.C. Bennett and before. The idea was that access to the public lands would be given, that logs could come off, but they were to support employment. Of course, in 2002 that social contract was ripped up, so we have instead a system that is supposed to provide a fair return on the value of our public resource.
In fact, the Forest Act still says that that should be a priority for the government. But of course, if you look back — and here again it's section 1, which deals with stumpage — in the 1990s forestry stumpage would bring in revenue of between $1 billion and $2 billion. So it was a provider of resources. And of course, as the minister would know, last year the Ministry of Forests, even though it's a depleted ministry, actually lost money.
I'm sure the Speaker would be surprised to hear how you could lose money. The cost of this depleted Ministry of Forests was greater than what we brought in as revenue, when traditionally we would bring in between $1 billion and $2 billion. Even B.C. Timber Sales, which was set up to get an accurate reflection of the value of the resource, loses money, which is incredible. So section 1 and subsequent sections, then, deal with tinkering with this system. It deals with a tiny little fix on a flawed piece of legislation and a flawed approach to our public lands.
I think the minister and the minister's colleagues would be surprised at just how little revenue we get from stumpage. Fifty-three percent of trees harvested in B.C. on public lands paid minimum stumpage. Minimum stumpage is 25 cents per cubic metre, and a cubic metre is a telephone pole. So 25 cents. Fifty-three percent of volume coming off public lands paid 25 cents per cubic metre. So when you see a logging truck coming off pub-
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lic lands, you can think that that basically is worth as much, supposedly, to the public coffers as an expensive coffee at Starbucks.
It is an incredible fact that we have a telephone pole–sized tree that may take 80 years or more to grow on our public lands, and it's given away by the government for 25 cents. Nevertheless, that's what we have. So section 1, then, does not do much, but it does touch on fixing some B.C. Liberal failings.
Now, section 2. Again, this is fairly innocuous. It allows the ministry to advertise resource road closures in a broader range of ways. I think this sounds very sensible, but in committee stage we'll get the minister on record as to exactly how this will work. The idea of using the Internet for postings of some smaller branch road closures — I mean, it sounds reasonable at the surface.
I think it makes sense to update how we do things. There was a time when everything would go into a newspaper, and that was sensible. That's how we communicated. But of course, times change. We'll get the minister on Hansard as to exactly how the minister sees the changes to notification working — okay? So that's dealing with those sections.
Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8, as I understand it, make changes based on retaining elements of the Woodworker Lien. Members will remember that changes were proposed to, I believe it was, the Woodworker Lien Act which would have very negatively impacted woodworkers in the province.
Credit for stopping those changes goes to my colleague from the Cowichan Valley. He was a longtime union leader and millworker. My friend knew that the proposed changes would hurt workers, and he put forward an amendment.
Full credit to that member for what he was able to do and, I think, credit as well to the present Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, who at the time was the Forests Minister. He accepted the amendment, and the legislation was changed, leading to the further adjustments that are needed in this amendment act, as I understand it. The minister can correct me if that's not the case.
I do want to say that we should do more of that. Almost all of the time government bills are pushed through with almost pleasure taken in the disdain shown to opposition members who offer improvements to bills. I think that's a shame. I think that this offers an example of how the House should work.
Anyway, in one case the member's amendment was accepted, and in this legislation, we're following up on that and making changes to make sure that the Woodworker Lien Act is something that is in place. It's a good thing.
A sidebar on that. I would be interested if the minister in his concluding remarks could touch on it. I know that on January 21 at the TLA meeting the Premier had said that by March 31 the solution to lien act commitments would be in place.
We know that — I think that here we're talking about the protection fund — there are three places that money could come from. It could come from the licensee, contractors or government. The Premier at the time said it wasn't coming from contractors.
March 31 has come and gone, and it's possible that it's out there in the public and I'm not aware of it. It would certainly be good if the Legislature was told, since March 31 has passed, what the minister plans to do and where the revenue for that protection fund is going to come from. Is it something that government is going to provide, or does it come from the licensees, since the Premier said it wasn't coming from contractors?
Another section of this bill deals with overlapping tenures. Because of changes made by the B.C. Liberals, a tremendous amount of fibre is left on the forest floor. Bioenergy companies want that fibre, but they cannot get access in a way that works for the major licensees.
Members who were here back in 2006 will remember that the current Government House Leader, who was then the Minister of Forests, promised bioenergy plants by the score. We were told it was going to be up and going. As the current Minister of Finance has said, this is an opportunity. Bioenergy does provide an opportunity. But what the government has struggled with is how to get the fibre off the floor and into the hands of those that would use it for bioenergy.
With the system that was put in place in 2002, that fibre wasn't coming out, and the major licensees were uncomfortable with any ideas put forward by government as to how those that were interested in the fibre for bioenergy would get it. So within this legislation, then, we have an attempt by the government to figure out how they can actually make this initiative work.
Just to point out that when ministers stand up, as they did in 2006, and make broad pronouncements about what is going to happen…. I doubt the House Leader would be the first minister of any political party to overstate what was going to happen, but it's clear that this was a much more complicated process than the minister thought at the time — or than it presently is.
Within this bill is an attempt to clarify some of the overlapping licensees' responsibilities. It's primarily around fire and if a fire were to start. It's an attempt, then, to deal with the barriers to the bioenergy sector getting access to fibre left on landings, and we're going to get into the details of that in the committee stage. I look forward to that.
Another issue — and perhaps the final issue for the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act — addresses the reduction of liability for groups that take on responsibility for a resource road. This is a prelude to legislation that is expected at some point — perhaps as early as the fall if we have a fall sitting — dealing with our province's resource roads.
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Members will remember — I think it was 2008 — that the B.C. Liberals introduced legislation called the Resource Road Act but withdrew it because of widespread opposition. The government has introduced a lot of legislation that is enabling legislation, which means that the details are not at all clear in the legislation, that the details will come later.
With the Resource Road Act as it was introduced in 2008, it was basically enabling legislation. There were so many questions the ministry couldn't answer that there simply wasn't the support for it, and quite properly, it was withdrawn.
Work has been done. The amendment here is part of that work. What it attempts to do, as the minister has said…. If a group or a business takes over maintenance responsibilities for a road, their liability is substantially reduced through changes to the Occupiers Liability Act. And as the minister has said, we have a huge number of roads out there that we have built on our public lands — over 450,000 kilometres of resource roads.
Over half of that distance is made up of roads that are orphaned or non-status roads, and they're expensive to maintain. So roads are closed. They are closed to limit liability, they're closed for environmental reasons as well, and they're closed because of the costs involved in trying to maintain them.
This section, as I understand it, then, is intended to reduce the need to close resource roads for liability reasons. The bill does not eliminate all liability to the maintainer of the road, but it does reduce it to the level that currently exists on recreational trails. My understanding — and the minister will speak to it and, I think, to a certain extent, has — is that liability is reduced to the point where the maintainer cannot, obviously, create a danger or show reckless disregard for users, but there's an understanding that users are accepting a certain risk in going on the road.
These resource roads, as anybody in rural British Columbia knows, are critically important to rural British Columbia. The government's ongoing review of back-country roads is a worthwhile exercise, but of course, as the government learned in 2008, it needs to be done properly. The government is proposing future legislation that the responsibility for use and maintenance of resource roads be transferred to entities, sometimes private entities, usually the primary user of the road.
While there's a certain logic to reducing government's responsibilities, they could restrict use of the road by other current users. So it's encouraging to hear the minister talk about the open road policy because, when we come to look at that legislation, it will be part of the concern that that open road policy would be constricted in some way.
Of course, as the minister knows, there are times when roads need to be closed and they need to have restrictions put on them, for all sorts of good reasons, but local people who live in rural areas need that done in a sensible way.
Changes in this bill presume future changes that, like I say, really need to be thought through. Within our communities in rural B.C., we all have hunters, prospectors, back-country operators, hikers, ATVers, woodlot operators and a host of others concerned about what is going to be there in the proposed natural resource road act, but that's a debate for the future.
Again we have a piece of legislation that tinkers, that does some of the small things that the government considers a priority, but I think we need to look at the context for where we are in this province and what is really needed. We face a whole number of crises that this does not address. What I would look for from the minister and from this government is some action on the whole host of crises that we're dealing with.
While the House was not sitting, the government released its forest plan which, it says, charts a path to sustainable growth. The government put forward a communication piece that was so weak that it wasn't even picked up by the media. The media and others looked at it and found nothing of substance.
While this bill that's before us is benign, what I would say to the government is that there are so many things that need to be worked on in forestry and our public lands that there cannot be this continuous series of bills that do not address the fundamentals of the problems that we have in forestry. We need some real, substantive change.
There has to be some contrition on the part of the government and a recognition that they have failed dramatically in the areas that are of key concern to British Columbians. Our public lands are our most valuable publicly owned assets. I can't say it enough to members on the other side.
I think rural British Columbians understand it. I think more and more British Columbians from urban areas understand it. The public lands are probably worth $1 trillion. If you can put a monetary value on it, it's probably worth $1 trillion. There is no jurisdiction in the world that has the opportunity that we have, and it is incredibly important that we do not squander that opportunity.
What I would say is that by any measurement, we are in the midst…. It's not just me. It's forest professionals, it's the Auditor General, and it is the Forest Practices Board. We have, for much of the past ten years, squandered that valuable resource. That's the reality of it.
What I would look for and what I need is some sign that this government understands those crisis areas and is willing to invest in the land and is willing to put in place legislation that actually addresses those crisis areas. This touches on the crisis that we have of waste. It just touches on that problem. There's a crisis out there of
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waste. There are significant fibre shortages that are coming forward that the government is struggling to deal with now and will have to deal with for certain in the Interior in the future.
That's one crisis that this bill just touches on, but there's so much more that needs to be done. There is a crisis of utilization related to raw log exports. We have had study after study. We've had Wright-Dumont. We had Dobell. The minister for the past year has been studying the issue, and still we have a record amount of raw logs being exported that are supposedly superfluous to our needs here.
In a four- or five-week period there will be a million cubic metres that were advertised as superfluous to the needs of mills in British Columbia. Well, in the 1990s it used to be a whole year that you wouldn't have a million cubic metres out the door, but now it has become regular in four- and five-week periods.
What we know is that each log that goes is a wasted opportunity, that there was so much opportunity to do more with that resource. We're up, in 2011, to 5.5 million cubic metres sent out as raw log exports. There is a crisis in the underutilization of our resource.
There's a crisis, as I have said, in the revenues that we get from the resource. There's a crisis in compliance and enforcement. There is a crisis in dealing with the challenges we have with wildfire. When bills like Bill 26 come in front of us, what we need is less tinkering, less just touching of the edges of problems. Something dramatic.
What the Auditor General asked is: "Where is the vision? What are you doing with the land? What do you see happening with the land? What's the vision?" In the time that I have been here, and even before 2005, I don't see the vision.
I never saw it as a priority for Premier Campbell. I don't think he fully understood. I never saw it as a priority, and I still don't see it as a priority. I see no vision. I see no willingness to invest in our public lands. It is the worst mistake, not only for the present — it's a huge mistake for the present — but for the future, for those that are going to follow us.
You know, we have been handed, as a generation, all sorts of opportunities. If we were doing a proper job here in this Legislature, we would be making sure that in 40 years' time, people then would have the same opportunities.
If we were doing things properly, that's what we would be thinking of, but we don't. We think short term. We think that we can just utilize the resource, use it all up, and not hand a proper resource on to future generations, which brings me to the last point. It's on forest health.
There is a massive forest health crisis, and the minister must know that. We need legislation that is going to put in place a structure so that we can deal with that forest health issue.
It's not something that will pay off in short-term political benefit, but we owe that to those that have entrusted us with stewardship of our public lands. We know for sure that there are massive problems across the Interior. We also know for sure that we do not have accurate data, that 75 percent of the land does not have accurate information, even about the timber supply. What would it take to start to get investments, start to get bills that made sure that we have accurate information and that we take forest health seriously?
I know that my time is almost up here. It's legislation that is benign. It's a little tinkering with problems that are there. We will look in committee stage as to whether there's anything that's troublesome for the opposition. I can't imagine that there is anything here that presents huge problems.
But I would ask the minister to look and provide the vision and to provide the resources to do something to deal with the whole host of major crises that we have with this area on the land, in forestry, in employment, in revenue — all of those areas.
With that, I thank the Speaker for the opportunity, as always, and I'll take my seat.
B. Routley: As I will indicate and show, I think, this is indeed just a band-aid bill that is really tinkering at the fringes and dealing with a minuscule fraction of the totality of the Liberal policy failures throughout the last decade.
But the actual bill deals with issues like revenue collection. There are amendments that I'm happy about, like the amendments that will encourage changes to fix the almost mistake on the Woodworker Lien Act. I was happy that the government listened carefully to the opposition's points on that and addressed them in at least an initial way and now are working on the final stages to remedy and ensure that the Woodworker Lien Act, which is a critical tool for forest workers all over British Columbia, is back in place.
The Wildfire Act amendments are also something that I want to go into in more detail, and also the resource road amendments to allow more public access and limit third-party liability.
I would add that in a general way — while the devil, as they say, is in the details…. We had a briefing, and I was encouraged by the work that's being done here that could potentially provide a whole host of groups and individuals throughout British Columbia the opportunity to have access in our B.C. forests, which is something that I know is a huge demand. We've had group after group even talk to us in the loyal opposition about the need for more access to some of the important areas throughout the province of British Columbia.
I'm going to come back to each of these in more detail. However, first we need to set out the framework on
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how we got to this point where we're needing to fix so many sections of the bills and exactly how we came about needing a kind of band-aid bill like this one. I want to talk about some of the changes that have led us to the point where we need to make amendments such as these to the revenue collection section — the Woodworker Lien Act, Wildfire Act and Resource Road Act, for example.
These legislative changes have really had serious consequences to forest communities throughout British Columbia. As we know, and the statistics will back us up on this point, we sit at a juncture where more than 35,000 forest workers have lost their full-time employment throughout the province of British Columbia — communities all over B.C. More than 70 mills have closed, and I think I read the list of mills that have closed into the legislative record.
That's actually just a small number in the total number of manufacturing plants that have closed over the last, say, 20 years. There was the first wave of technological change. Then there were definitely some impacts to changes in monetary policy, softwood lumber agreements and the like. But the critical thing in terms of amendments to this bill is that there have been a whole host of changes incrementally that have taken rights away from communities.
This bill is talking about trying to fix resource roads, as an example. Now, there is a public interest there. But let's contrast that with what we heard. When we went out throughout communities in British Columbia, we heard from mayors and councillors that they feel like the tools the government once had to connect our forest policy to communities are missing.
We've heard from mayors. This is not a partisan issue. We've heard in a bipartisan way from councillors and mayors about the fact that they feel that there's not the legislative authority any longer. For example, in dealing with the crisis that they're dealing with in Powell River, I heard from mayors and councillors about Catalyst and the concern….
In fact, I was asked by one of the dignitaries: "Who is the person responsible for disconnecting the forest tenure from our manufacturing rights?" And I said: "Well, that would be your provincial government that did that." That was one of the earlier connections. So while we've got a bill that intends to do something that is potentially good in terms of allowing people the opportunity to access resource roads, we have, in contrast, the negative aspects of people that have had their connection to their communities severed — and any links to ongoing rights.
From Catalyst, we've had — it's interesting — both management and the workers come forward. The management are concerned about the impact on their pension plan. I read with interest that the government does have some plans to do certain things. They seem to cherry-pick where that takes place.
There seems to be a hub of activity in Prince George, for example. There are other areas where there's lots of action when it comes to resource issues, but not so much in some of these areas. For example, the folks in Crofton that are being affected by Catalyst are extremely concerned about the fact that there doesn't seem to be a plan to deal with their issues.
We've got a plan to help resource roads, but a more critical issue for forest workers in communities all over B.C. attached to Catalyst is: what are you going to do as a government to deal with the issues of the day that are potentially job-threatening to those individuals, to those employees, even to former management that have had their pensions somehow questioned and potentially threatened if there is a catastrophic event like a bankruptcy? Well, they're under bankruptcy protection right now, and there's a major decision to be made shortly.
What we don't see in this bill is some real action. We've seen tinkering at the fringes. That's why I wanted to make the point that I'm backing up the fact that this is a band-aid bill.
Why is it a band-aid bill? Because some of the most critical issues of the day in the province of British Columbia are not addressed by this bill. There's a gaping hole, unfortunately, in this bill, in that it simply isn't going to help workers at Catalyst.
You know, we haven't heard any connection for…. Workers have said: "What about their connection to fibre or chip supply or logs?" I don't know what this government has in mind in those areas. Again, you hear various announcements, kind of a hit-and-miss approach — a hit-and-run approach, maybe. There doesn't seem to be any real plan to connect the dots for communities throughout British Columbia.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Again, it's great that we've got resource roads that we're working on. Resource roads, as I say…. There's the good, the bad and the ugly. This is the good. Some of the stuff that's not so good is the fact that workers, mayors, communities all over British Columbia feel abandoned by the government and by the government's policies over the number of years, so clearly, there are things missing.
I want to talk about why we have such a crisis since 2001. We look at these issues that we're trying to put this band-aid on. We've lost more than a thousand positions just within the Ministry of Forests. Of course, it's no longer called Forests and Range. It's gone through so many changes that it's hard to keep up with all of the name changes. The staff have to make sure they check their e-mails to make sure what ministry that they're working for, because there have been so many changes to the ministry.
The once proud Ministry of Forests has changed into this kind of permitting agency, but apparently, now we're going to look at the Wildfire Act, resource revenue and the woodworkers' lien.
During the past few years many of the ministry of-
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fices all over British Columbia have either been downgraded or closed. They've systematically gutted the Forest Service. It's been stripped of its capacity to properly protect, manage and conserve the B.C. forest public interest.
Again, we see these as band-aid measures, and you contrast that to these huge issues that are of critical, critical importance to the people of British Columbia. There's just a growing gap between what is needed and what we're actually tinkering away at here with this bill.
You look at the fact that oversight for the industry's activities and public consultation has been almost completely severed. We've got a government…. I don't understand that. I guess that I come as a former millworker and then represented workers. I don't get how a government could lose sight of the public interests, but we've got the Auditor General assuring us that that's the case.
The Auditor General said that in the case of the transfer of the private land portion of tree farm licences…. Yes indeed, my worst fears were realized in that the Auditor General is saying: "Yes, we've lost the ability as government to deal with this."
The Liberal government has not protected the public interest. When you look at the record, you can see that it's been undermined. Effectively, we've got a situation in the province of British Columbia where forest companies are essentially managing, with a somewhat free hand, the forests in their interests.
Now, resource roads is one of the few areas that…. Again, part of this bill that we're going to try and tinker with…. We're going to say that well, maybe in the case of resource roads…. It is true that you've got stumpage and your other payments. These companies are required to build roads. It's one of the costs of doing business. I'm sure there are some tax reductions that come along with that.
But at the end of the day, the public definitely sees that those roads are on public land, a vast resource. Even the government, in their shiny brochures, makes sure that they point out that we have this vast resource of public land. Those roads are built not just for the management activities taking place in harvesting the land, but also — it's my assertion, at least — they ought to be available for the public's use after, instead of having roads deactivated.
Again, I'm happy to see that there are parts of this that we can support. We look forward to optimistically supporting a certain section of it, with reservation that we have to ask the questions and make sure that the details are there and that we can support, once all of the detail is out on the table.
However, you look at all of the regulatory changes and the staff cuts that we have had to deal with over the number of years. What used to be the B.C. Forest Service has had so many changes.
For example — and I wanted to recall the exact names — back in 2001 we had what was called a new era. It was going to be wonderful. We were going to have this new era in the province of British Columbia, and things were going to be so good and so wonderful. We were going to have investment, and we were going to have environmental stewardship. That's what we were told.
At the end of the day, we've actually gutted the Forest Service. The compliance and enforcement folks that we were promised have been gutted, so many jobs lost.
Following up on the 2001 New Era document in 2003 was the forest revitalization plan. Now, there's a catchy name. We're going to revitalize the forests of British Columbia. Meanwhile, we continued to lose thousands of jobs. Those are the facts. More than 70 mills closed during that time period from there till this last year, and it continues that there are crews on curtailment. But we were going to have a bright future. That was the promise.
It's no surprise that workers in communities all over British Columbia know full well the truth of all of these wonderful glossy brochures. At the end of the day, they don't produce at all what this government has said they're going to produce. They were going to create more investment.
Then we had the forests for today and tomorrow. Oh boy, there's a good one. "We're going to have forests for today and tomorrow." That was in the platform for 2009. Then we hear from foresters and silviculture contractors. We discover that the government has actually eliminated much of the responsibility for managing the forests — for example, inventory, not sufficiently restocked land.
Well, if you don't have anybody out there counting it, guess what. You can come in with a really good low number because you haven't been out there to do the update on the inventory.
One of the things I'm concerned about. I've been out there myself and seen second-growth stands that are ten or 20 years of age that are dead and dying pine. I'm extremely concerned about the forest health in British Columbia. From the conflicting reports that we're getting…. Of course, we've recently had the Auditor General's report. He said some really startling things about the failure of government to deal with the forest and forest health issues.
It is necessary to be diligent in a time where…. It's critical not only to the forests of British Columbia but to our future and to future sustainability that somebody have their eye on the ball and make sure that we carry through and do what we say we're going to do.
Between 2009 and 2010 cuts to basic ministry operations were $43 million, or around 11 percent. Cuts to forest health and stewardship, replanting, research, conservation, protection, enforcement and combatting forest…. So there were actually cuts made that impacted the forests, which meant fewer eyes and ears in the forest, fewer staff, smaller budgets. Office closures mean public servants can't spend as much time out in the field.
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You know, I don't want to be just talking about the bad news. We want to talk about the potential solutions. There was some good work done. The BCGEU did a report called "Decade of Change" in May 2011, so a year ago now.
We're talking about a bill with a few band-aid amendments. Let's compare that with some of the progressive and good ideas that had been taken and put out there by the front-line workers who work within the ministry's offices — for example, compliance and enforcement folks and others.
They went out to communities of Castlegar, Campbell River, Kamloops, Prince George between January and March 2011. They asked a lot of questions. Again, these are positive, proactive suggestions, and sadly, there's nothing in this bill to address any of these good ideas.
There is the notion of resource roads. We have to give them that. But at the end of the day, there's nothing to deal with strengthening public oversight. This is one of the points that was made in the poll that was done by the BCGEU. They suggested establishing a public commission of inquiry on forests. They had other good suggestions. They had ideas to recommit to good forest policies — stewardship.
What we've got is roads and wildfire amendments and revenue…. You know, I have to talk about the revenue collection. I was quite concerned when I heard one of the reasons why we need revenue collection tightened up a little bit. Apparently, there's this issue of them doing what they say they're going to do.
Now, we're going to get to question about that in the next stage of questioning when we deal with this bill, but I'm really concerned that, at this juncture, we're actually making amendments to revenue collection.
My friend made the point. It's shocking that 53 percent of the revenue coming to the Crown from the forests of British Columbia is 25 cents a cubic metre. You can't even buy a cup of coffee for 25 cents a cubic metre. You can get a telephone pole–sized piece of wood for 25 cents a cubic metre. Think about that — all the wood loaded on logging trucks at basically bargain basement prices.
They need to reconnect communities to the forest. This is one of the points that they discovered when they were out in the field. We need to find ways….
"Review and reform B.C.'s forest tenure system to provide more local participation." We've heard that all over British Columbia. We've heard it from the workers. We've heard it from the mayors and council. We've heard it from small business owners. It's absolutely amazing to hear, even from small business owners that are connected in the forest industry that say: "Well, wait a minute. We don't have any local participation whatsoever, and so much of it is just held in the hands of a few."
How did we get to such a state that, at the end of the day, so few people are managing the public forests, supposedly in the interests of the majority of British Columbians?
Yet more and more we're discovering, when people go out in the field and actually talk to British Columbians…. That's been my experience. When you actually go out and talk to them, they'll tell you: "Whoa, we don't feel consulted at all. We are quite alarmed about issues like forest health. We're quite alarmed about issues like ramping up log exports and losing the opportunity for jobs right here in British Columbia."
This government recently came out with a new announcement — their six points of light or whatever it was — and you know what was startling, what was missing? There was no plan for any concern for value-added jobs, no plan to address the fact that we're losing jobs almost daily. They're ramping up log exports, and we're losing jobs to export, but we are, with this bill, going to talk about revenue collection. That's a good thing, but sadly, revenue collection….
I look forward to hearing how much we're getting — how much the good people of British Columbia are getting — for the logs that are being exported from British Columbia. Exactly what is the benefit to the good people of British Columbia?
I know that we've got mills right now in Nanaimo that used to run three shifts that are working on a skeleton crew, on a one-shift basis. The Nanaimo Western mill.
The Duke Point mill. I just talked to somebody this morning. They're running two shifts on the planer and two shifts in the mill, chipping a few logs. The Somass mill — running maybe one shift.
At the same time, we're busy exporting logs. For what purpose? How many British Columbians are being…? Well, they've got a number. They talk about the logging, but they also know by their own numbers that there are four to five times the jobs if you actually manufacture or do value-added here in British Columbia.
This legislation is not dealing with the critical issues. It's missing. There's nothing there. You know, it's a band-aid. It's tinkering at the edges. It's not dealing with the issues that matter to ordinary British Columbians.
I would, again, say to any folks that don't believe it that you go down to the mall and ask people. You stand there and do a poll and say: "Do you think we're doing a good thing with our export policy, ramping up exports and shutting down mills?" Just ask that question, and see how you make out.
We've got a minister…. I'm hearing from forest experts now. They're worried about what this government might do with wildlife areas or visual landscapes, and the government has discovered that there might be a shortage of wood coming. They even talk about it in their latest brochure.
There might be a shortage of wood in the province of British Columbia coming, and they know. There are reports out that say anywhere from 20 to 30 mills, which
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is startling. We could have a shortage of logs in the near term coming for B.C. mills at the same time this government is studying the problem of ramping up log exports out of the province.
It's bizarre. I mean, people must think this can't be true. Well, it is true. It's true that in part of the province right now they're running around studying where they're going to find enough logs for mills, and at the same time, they're studying about what to do about the growing number of log exports.
Do we see that addressed in this bill? No, nothing here. There's a few tinkering away at revenue collection in the Woodworker Lien Act.
I like the Woodworker Lien Act. Some of those things are okay, but it's a travesty that's happened in the province of British Columbia. All over B.C. people know that this government has abandoned working for ordinary citizens, whether it's concern about the environment or concern about issues that matter.
I want to go on, because I've only got a few minutes left to finish up on this.
Revenue collection. They're going to try and get the correct stumpage amounts. Now, think about that. That means there's some concern about whether or not we're getting the correct stumpage amounts. That's alarming to me. I'm alarmed that we have to make some changes so that we make sure we have amendments that highlight the government's failure on compliance and enforcement around revenue collection. So we have that problem.
The Woodworker Lien Act — almost completely removed by this government. Thankfully, they listened, but again, this amendment will have to be done to correct that little problem — well, not so little. It wouldn't have been a little problem if people started losing their rights under the Woodworker Lien Act to protect their wood that they had cut down and no longer were getting paid for. At the end of the day, that would have been a disaster.
Wildfire Act amendments will help the government allocate fire hazard abatement. Again, we're worried that that's going to trickle down. More and more of the cost of that is being off-loaded on communities, which is unacceptable. We want to ask some pointed questions to find out where we're going to get to.
Again, this policy seems to be highlighting the failure of this Liberal government to move forward on a bioenergy and wood waste plan. They've been talking about it and announcing it almost every other year, and still we don't have any kind of coherent bioenergy and wood waste use program — the licence within a licence. It's just almost nonexistent.
The resource road. Helping deal with the government's providing access to the public is something that is worthwhile.
I do want to close by speaking out loudly for people throughout communities in British Columbia and certainly those workers at places like Catalyst, who are concerned. You know, it's great that this government's got a few things on the table that they're working on, but it is wrong that the issues that are critical to British Columbia at this time….
To protect their jobs — to protect the jobs of Catalyst workers, for example — to deal with the issues of those workers' pensions being threatened…. There was no plan — nothing. Unless you're in Prince George or somewhere else, there doesn't seem to be any action for working people, and that's unacceptable.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak on this bill. I look forward to hearing more details as we go through it.
C. Trevena: I always find it quite sad to stand in these sorts of debates when we're not really having a debate. We get the minister giving his preamble about what the bill is about, what he wants us to try and understand from it, and then largely, it is members from this side of the House who are giving voice to their communities and giving voice to the concerns of their communities — trying, through discussion and through standing up and talking about things, to get the issues across.
What I do find very lacking is that we don't really have a debate. We don't hear the reasoned responses from that side of the House, the government side of the House, to the arguments that this side of the House puts.
My colleague from Cowichan Valley had some very valid arguments about the lack of action for communities in real need. Likewise, he's talking about what's happening to Catalyst mills.
I would like to highlight what's happen with the Catalyst pensioners. We have a lot of people, whether they've been working in management or working as workers in the mills, whose future could be at risk, who are looking for action from this government, who would like to see legislation. But they get nothing.
They don't even get the courtesy of a response through a debate explaining why nothing has been brought in under an amalgam bill like this — Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, which is a bit of an amalgam — why there's nothing there, why there is nothing as a stand-alone.
I think it's not just the fact that we get a government and government backbenchers…. Government ministers could join the debate. We see them at other times participating in debate. It's not that they just aren't there but that this could have been an opportunity. This could have been an opportunity to do so much for our forest sector, for our forest industry, in this the 100th anniversary of the Forest Service. I have to say I think it's really, yet again, a squandered opportunity.
It would be very nice to hear from members opposite about why they think this is enough, why they think that
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after 11 years of government this is all they can give to people in B.C. This is it.
We have an economy that relies on the forest sector. We have communities that rely on the forest sector. We have an environment that relies on the forest sector.
Remember when the environment was the big issue for this government — climate change, how we were going to protect the environment. Suddenly we were faced with a B.C. Liberal government that seemed to care about the environment. Even on that stand, they're not standing up and having a debate. So it's our job on this side of the House to voice the views of our communities and voice our concerns about what is in this act, what isn't in this act and what could be done.
I think that what people, whether they tune in to watch the debate, will hear…. I don't know how many people do late at night, when they really have insomnia, or how many people, if they actually read something about it in the newspapers or on social media or on the Internet, plug into it.
I think what they are going to get from this…. When we go back to our constituencies and talk about it, as I know that I do…. Whenever I talk about any piece of legislation or, in fact, what has been happening in the Legislature, I take it back to my community.
What people will see in this lack of engagement from this government — the lack of engagement from both government ministers and from backbenchers on what is so lacking here and what we could be having — is that we have a government that has effectively just given up.
Eleven years in power, May 2001, and it now just says that it's really not worth it. "We're just going to sit back and hope that nobody notices. Let's just hope that nobody notices. We've made a lot of mistakes. We've spent an awful lot of money unnecessarily — billions and billions and billions of dollars. We have wasted our prime resource, our forest sector, but if we sit here quietly, maybe no one will notice. Maybe people will forget that while we overspent by hundreds of millions of dollars on convention centres and on roofs for B.C. Place and on buying out corporate interests…. While we've done that, while we've subsidized the oil and gas industry, we have squandered the prime resource in our province: our public lands, our forest sector."
I think that can be the only reason why this government just sits back and says: "We're not going to say a word. Don't get people whipped up to speak. Don't organize any speakers. We're just going to sit quietly."
They want people to forget that what is so valuable to our province has been absolutely destroyed by this government. I say destroyed because if you go out to any forest-dependent community and go out into the bush — whether it's on the Island, up the coast, in the Interior, wherever you are — you're going to see devastation. You're going to see a level of — and I can use no other word — destruction which is unacceptable.
Whether it is the rate of harvesting…. We on this side of the House have been talking, obviously, a lot about raw log exports. We're talking about jobs and how to create economies in our communities, so we talk a lot about raw log exports and the need to keep jobs in our communities by processing our resources in our communities as much as possible. We can't do everything. We realize that. But as much as possible, let's try and process in our communities.
People are out harvesting. What we're doing instead of processing in our communities is exporting. On this side of the House we've used the example of how much was exported last year, 5½ million cubic metres. Say it quickly, and we won't notice it: 5½ million cubic metres. Full logging trucks from here, nose to tail, to Thunder Bay.
Madam Speaker, people on both sides of the House regularly drive Highway 1. I know that. They drive to their own constituencies. They drive along. They're going out for whatever. They may be driving out to the by-elections at the moment out along Highway 1 and see it. Can they picture that? Nose to tail, from here all the way to Thunder Bay. It's an extraordinary image.
As well as the rampant logging without putting investment back into our communities, there is the awareness that this is going so fast. I've talked to people in my communities who are logging, whose parents logged, whose grandparents logged, They've been proud. They want their kids to carry on logging. They're saying: "This shouldn't be cut now. It's far too soon. This should be what my grandkids are cutting, not me."
It's a wilful destruction of our resource. And it is our resource. So much of B.C.'s land is Crown lands. And when we talk about Crown lands, we're talking about our public lands that you, Madam Speaker, own, that I own, that members on the other side of the House own, that members who are next to me own, that my neighbours own, that First Nations own. This is ours. The trees on those public lands are ours. What right does this government have to squander that resource, in 11 years to kill that resource?
They have left a devastating legacy, which is why, I think, they're being quiet. "Let's not talk about it. Let's not let people know what we have left, what we're leaving," because it is going to be a very, very sad state of affairs. And it's not just us going around the province talking to people. It's not just us living in communities, seeing what happens. We've seen forest professionals talk about it. We've seen the Auditors General talk about it. We've heard time and time again that forest health is in terrible, terrible condition.
If this government really cared about the economy, if it cared about the environment, if it cared about the future…. It keeps talking about: "Oh, taxpayers' money is being used for this, and we don't want to mortgage for our kids, and we don't want them to be paying debts for-
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ever." If they really cared about the future, they wouldn't be talking about that. They would be investing in forest health. They'd be making sure that there was a land base, a healthy land base, that there would be something there for the future.
Instead, we get what my colleague from the Cowichan Valley describes as a band-aid bill. At a time when we could be talking about things which have much more value, we get a hodgepodge, a few amendments. I think it's very sad.
You know, we've got not much promise from the amendments. We are going to, in committee stage…. Again, it won't be a debate. Committee stage is a discussion. Committee stage is when we on this side of the House get to ask the minister, and the minister refers to his staff and then tells us the answers.
Unfortunately, we have a very restricted committee stage here in B.C. We don't have it like other jurisdictions where you can bring in experts, have a broader discussion, but we will be asking the minister specific questions. I think, actually, it's going to be interesting at committee stage. What is in this bill is…. There are some innocuous parts, but there are some parts that are quite concerning. I hope that we do get some answers.
I'll be honest. I'm no expert, but I can read. I can understand what I read, and I will, very hopefully, be able to ask the minister, and maybe my colleagues will also be asking the minister, what it actually means when they are changing the Forest Act to ensure that applicants and holders of agreements required to submit information to the government "must ensure that…the information is complete and accurate."
Well, this is about financing. This is about stumpage. This is about how much companies pay for the use of the resource, and only now are they being told, are we having it written in legislation, that they must ensure that the information is complete and accurate.
Surely, these are things that we would be expecting from companies who are self-reporting. Maybe this is one of the problems. These companies are self-reporting, and they are only now being told that what they do has to be complete and accurate. I would have thought that this is something that those companies should be obliged to do from the very start.
I mean, the Liberal government brought in a results-based forest code. I think the very fact that we are now having to demand from companies that what they say is complete and accurate underlines the abject failure of this.
This is just one small section. This is revenue. Revenue is important. We hear again and again: "Taxpayers — what are taxpayers going to say?" This is revenue. It is revenue from a public resource. It is a way that we pay for our public services — not taxpayers' money but public money from a public resource, publicly owned land, public trees, rate pays for public services.
The companies have clearly been allowed to get away with not giving the full information, not giving the full assessment and not paying up the full amount of money. I'm hoping that when we get to the discussion on this, the committee stage, when we will be asking the minister and his staff for full details, that we can find out how much money we as a province might have lost in this effective raping of our land base in the rapid liquidation of our resource so we can fuel the export economy.
How much money are we losing by a forest policy that has clearly failed? I think it really is extremely troubling. I know that the minister is obviously aware that we need to keep government revenues healthy. We've got to pay for our social services. We have to pay for our health care. I was not long ago sitting and listening in to the debates on the Minister of Environment's budget debate. We've got to be paying for our parks.
This is where it comes from. Part of it is not just what we as individuals or we with families pay in our taxes. It's how we raise our revenues from public resources. This government clearly hasn't actually been doing very well on that.
I'm also aware that in this act, whether a band-aid or whatever it is — sad reflection — there will be changes to the resource roads and how the resource roads work, the liability in resource roads and access, which is very important.
Again, I'm looking for some clarity here, because in my constituency — and I will speak very closely on my constituency — we have a lot of resource roads, a lot of logging roads where we share the roads with industry or where industry is no longer working, but still those roads access communities. Or we have a mix where sometimes the road…. We still have some industry or some communities there which are forest-based communities.
I know that we really do need to ensure that we are providing access, that people do continue to have access, that those roads are maintained. I'll cite a couple that are pretty highly used.
One is the road to Zeballos and then on to Fair Harbour. It's a Forest Service road. It's being used by industry. It is used by communities. There are communities out in Zeballos. There are First Nations communities both in Zeballos and on the road to Fair Harbour. You get to Fair Harbour, and that is the access to Kyuquot.
It's very important that we find ways of ensuring that that road is not just maintained, not just kept open, but is maintained and improved. The First Nations communities are growing. Zeballos is trying to attract people. It's trying to build up an economy. It's looking at ways of bringing in…. Whether it is through the new sardine fishery or whether it's through ice works there, it's trying to create an economy.
We have kids who use it to get to sporting events
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out in Port McNeill or in Port Hardy or going down to Campbell River. It's an active road.
Likewise, the road out from Holberg to Port Hardy, again, is serving a community. And then, although there the school has unfortunately closed — again, I think, a sign of the failure of this government's forestry policy, because Holberg used to be a very active forestry centre and now people have been leaving it at a very sad and very rapid rate…. That road both serves the community of Holberg and then, beyond that, a lot of places where tourists go — Cape Scott Provincial Park, Raft Cove, San Jo Bay.
These are all areas where we see a lot of tourist activity. Again, without the commitment to ensuring roads are maintained, that people are not going to be putting themselves at risk by accessing these provincial parks…. There has to be found a way to — I'd say working with communities, but the communities don't have the resources — keep these roads open. If we have these services at the end of the roads, and if we have communities on the way or at the end of the roads, we've got to ensure that these roads are maintained and are kept open to the best possible ability.
There are many other logging roads that take you into both parks and Forest Service campgrounds and so on all around my constituency, and people use them regularly. So when we have a discussion about this, I'll be listening very keenly about how it is going to evolve.
I'm also a little concerned about this, and I'm hoping to get, again, more clarification from the minister, when talking about this. It "authorizes the minister to establish a form of road closure notice…to be published or broadcast, or both, in any manner considered…to be appropriate," and how any manner considered to be appropriate is interpreted.
For instance, using social media. In my constituency that really wouldn't work because we have lousy Internet connections. We've got Internet connections but not fast enough that people regularly use social media — particularly people in more rural communities, more remote communities.
In fact, I have been pushing the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services to address this seriously and ensure that when TELUS is bringing in its high-speed Internet to all rural communities — it's 99 percent of B.C., as promised by the Premier, that rural communities are going to have real high-speed Internet — that that does include all of the North Island, that it's working with the current providers so that we do get high-speed Internet.
But I digress, Madam Speaker.
I'm hoping that on that part the minister will be looking at some of the traditional ways — newspapers, telephone, call people, put posters up, put notices up both in community centres, in community halls and in schools, places where people gather, in libraries, some of that as well as in gazettes and so on.
The member for Cowichan Valley raised something very interesting in his remarks. He raised the fact that so many people have been talking about what has been happening in our forest sector. I actually went to one of the BCGEU meetings on forestry, the one that was held in Campbell River last year. It was a really, really interesting meeting. It brought together a good cross-section of people, people who are very engaged in our forest sector — in forestry, in the Forest Service, in forestry activities, in the industry.
As the member for Cowichan Valley said, some of the very good results. I mean, those reports — I'm sure the Forestry Minister could access them if he wanted to — had some very interesting recommendations. Each group sat around, and we had very healthy debates. We talked about things, and there were a number of recommendations that the Forestry Minister — if he really wanted to start addressing the bigger problems rather than looking at a piecemeal approach — could very well take a look at this and look at some of the things that talk about the commissioner, the forest health, the stewardship, some of the very basic things that people are living and working.
These are people who literally live and work forestry. They are working within government services. They are working in the periphery. They're working with industry. They're living in these communities. This is their lifeblood.
If the minister really wanted to address some of the bigger picture, even if he brings it back in various amendment forms, in more of a…. Okay, bring it back piecemeal, but let's start addressing some of these issues. I've got to say, after a while there isn't much time. How long can you go on reducing a resource? How can you go on liquidating a resource until it is no longer there?
We all talk about climate change. I am assuming that everybody in this chamber now…. We had the government side talking about climate change a few years ago. We've been talking about it for many years. We realize the power of healthy, growing trees for carbon sequestration. We realize the fact that we need to protect our environment, to nurture our environment as well as to use it, to use our forests in the best possible way. That is only going to come if we have healthy stewardship, and we don't have that.
Could it be, in this 100th anniversary of the Forest Service, a chance for this minister to leave a legacy, to make a significant impact? We are so privileged in this House, and particularly if you become a government minister, to leave a mark, to leave something significant, to have something that in future years people will say: "Look what they did. Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that amazing? This is what that government did."
As I mentioned in my starting remarks, Madam Speaker, what this government minister is going to be leaving is a legacy, and what this government is leaving
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is a legacy of destruction, a legacy of a resource diminished — our resource diminished, our lands diminished, our forests diminished.
We have a responsibility, which I wish this minister and this government would really address seriously. We have a responsibility for the land base, we have a responsibility for the environment, and we have a responsibility for our economy. We see that.
People in my constituency see that every day. They live it; they breathe it. They look at the forest sector as the source for jobs. They see it is a source of jobs. They see it as where our communities grew from. We grew because of the forest sector. It's where we started — in forestry and in fishing. But we don't have fishing anymore. That's really gone.
Soon we're going to say we don't have forestry. We lost the fish. Look at the east coast. Look at what's happening on the west coast. We've lost that resource because of mismanagement. Now we are losing the forests, and that is a tragedy. That is a preventable tragedy.
If this minister didn't want to leave a legacy, but even if he wanted to do the work of a Minister of Forests in the 100th anniversary of the Forest Service, he would look at this bill and say: "Okay. We'll deal with this, but we're going to do something significant. We're going to do something significant for our forest base, for our forest health, for our forest-dependent communities. We're going to make sure that we are keeping jobs here in B.C., using our resource, using it wisely." But this minister has failed, and I think it's extremely sad.
With that, Madam Speaker, I'll take my place in this debate, cede the floor and wish that the minister would look at things more broadly.
B. Simpson: I rise to speak to one of my least favourite bills in the House. I know that for ministers it's as much work as well. It's an amendment act. To be fair, before I join others from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in talking about some broader forest issues, all Bill 26 is doing is, in fact, tinkering. That's what it's designed to do.
As the Forests critic for a number of years, I confronted a lot of these bills. Some of them are one or two pages long. Some of them are tens of pages long, and there is nothing worse, quite frankly, than an amendment act to try and figure out what is really going on. Sometimes it's a mere insertion of a word. Sometimes it's a deletion of a phrase. Sometimes it is, in fact, simply tidying up legislation. If a piece of legislation changes somewhere, then it has to be tidied up where it is referenced in other places.
Amendment acts in general are tinkering with the existing Forest Act. I think what the members of the opposition are pointing out, though, is that the current state of forestry and the current state of the forest acts that we've been living with for ten years now have gone well beyond any tinkering.
While this may be cleaning up some issues around stumpage, around road liability, around the Wildfire Act, around the Woodworker Lien Act, Personal Property Act, etc., we are well beyond really trying to fix and tinker with what I believe is becoming a very questionable approach to forestry in this province.
Now, the minister, as the official opposition critic pointed out, is very good about making sure that we do have every opportunity to understand what's in this piece of legislation, and there will be legitimate clause-by-clause, line-by-line questions that need to be asked about what is in this bill to ensure that there isn't an ulterior motive or agenda beyond what we have been briefed on. On the surface of it, it is addressing some weaknesses in current legislation and moving in a certain direction around road liability.
But with respect to where we're at with forestry in general, it's interesting that we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Titanic. Everybody talks about the fact that moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic….
For those on the government side that are worried I'm going to be talking about their future in May of 2013, that is not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the fact that there's another story that's not told about the Titanic and why people on the Titanic would not get in their lifeboats. That is because….
B. Simpson: No. As the member says, it's not because the cellist was very good.
It is because the brochure said the Titanic was unsinkable. They referenced a safe place, which was the brochure. "The brochure, that written piece of document, said the Titanic was unsinkable, so why should I get into a lifeboat?"
Well, I'm afraid that's where we're at just now. There's a phrase in British Columbia that we've held on to for quite some time now — actually from about the mid-1980s. That is: "British Columbia has sustainable management of its forests." People are holding on to that. Government members are holding on to that. Quite frankly, people in industry who know better are holding on to that.
I have to say that I am growing increasingly concerned that throughout this province, whether it's on the coast, where we are overharvesting old growth and getting back what is a non-commercial second-growth stand that nobody wants to harvest or whether it's in the Kootenays — because of rotation we have maturing timber in areas that are no longer commercially accessible and viable to get access to, and so people have licences for volume in a healthy forest, in a diverse forest that they cannot commercially realize — or whether it's where I come from, in the heart of the mountain pine beetle area, where we are very quickly going to run out of commercial logs.
The tragedy of that is that ten years ago, in 2002, the
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growth curve for the mountain pine beetle took a turn. It went from a normal kind of flatline, steady growth process to…. In 2002 the green attack that year went straight up. In 2002 we knew without question that this was fundamentally different than anything we had ever experienced before. We knew in 2002 that we were going to experience the death of the lodgepole pine forest in the central Interior of the province, with implications for the southern Interior and ponderosa and lodgepole there. We knew that.
From 2002 until 2012, unfortunately, this government has chosen to put lipstick on that pig. That's what they continue to do. They continue to pretend that somehow there will not be an impact on the forest industry in the central Interior.
What we have in this act is quite telling, because as members of the opposition have already pointed out, it's presumptive of the fact that we are still sustainably managing British Columbia's forests and that the government's changes in 2002 and 2003 are allowing for the continued sustainable management of those forests. I contest both those things.
It has become clear to me that that is no longer the case, and it has become clear to me that in the next five to ten years we may see the collapse of forest ecosystems throughout this province the likes of which no one could imagine — on the coast, in the southern Interior and in the central Interior.
We are overharvesting in some areas. We are underharvesting in others. But in general — and I'll speak to it as I move on here — we have neglected and abandoned the forests.
This government talks lots about jobs from those forests. It talks lots about new licences. It talks lots about increased manufacturing opportunities. What it's not talking about is the state of the forests. Why? Because it doesn't have the information it needs to speak to that.
It doesn't know what's happening on our forest land base. That's why, in the act…. I find it quite interesting — and members have pointed this out — that one of the things this act is doing is speaking to redetermination of stumpage rates.
It says in there that if there has been a determination that needs to change, the minister has the discretion and may direct a redetermination if a couple of situations apply: one, "at the time the information was submitted, the information was incomplete or inaccurate;" and two, "at the time the information was submitted, the information did not meet the requirements of the policies and procedures."
In both cases this government has been found wanting on both those things for the entire forest land base — incomplete and inaccurate information and information and reporting that does not meet the minimum requirements in standards and regulations, in both cases. Never mind some minor adjustment to stumpage — on overall forest management.
Let's speak to the stumpage issue. Members of the opposition have pointed to the 25-cent stumpage. A load of logs going by in my community gets the government ten bucks. An entire truckload of logs coming in through our town and going to the mills garners this government about $10 in revenue.
We have a situation in this province where, under the current government, we are making more money from gaming establishments than we are making from our entire resource economy — not just forestry, our entire resource economy. When you factor in all of the revenue that comes from mines, oil and gas, forestry and all of the subsidies that this government gives to make that happen, we net out less than we get from gaming. That ought to make most people open their eyes to the fact that we're mismanaging this resource and we are getting very minimum value from this resource.
It's not this minister's fault. It was a deliberate choice on the part of the previous Premier, continued by the current executive council.
But there's another value consideration here. It's not just the dollar value. Everybody knows — it's not a secret — we're being challenged about the stumpage system in the Court of Appeal under the softwood lumber agreement. It'll be interesting to see how that turns out — whether there are problems with the MPS system and whether or not we're going to have to fix that. That's not for this House to decide.
But there's another value consideration. That's the consideration of whether we're not extracting full value — not just stumpage but the full value — from that land base. That's why I do want to reference the good work that was done by the BCGEU.
I agree with the opposition members. If the government hasn't read this…. If the minister hasn't read this, I do advise it to him — for bedtime reading, of course, when he's got time.
B.C. Forests in Crisis: A Community Call for Reform. The work was conducted in late 2011, and it's a good report. It's a meaningful report, and I hope the government will not discount it because it's from a union. I think that's foolishness. Just like the opposition should not discount a report that comes from the forest industry or the forest sector or PricewaterhouseCoopers.
All of these reports have legitimacy, and they all ought to be looked at, and then, on balance, government has an obligation to figure out what the right thing to do is.
But on the value of consideration, I think the BCGEU has a very good sense of that, beyond just the stumpage consideration and fixing some problems with stumpage in Bill 26. The title for the section is: "Too Little Value Is Generated from Local Forest Resources." They state that community leaders, who they canvassed when they
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were in communities, "expressed deep frustration with the ongoing failure of both industry and government to leverage forest resources to generate the greatest possible value for local communities. Many participants felt that rather than encouraging value-added operations, government policy has emphasized the export of unprocessed or minimally processed raw materials."
That is absolutely true. They point out that "oversight of log volumes and values by trained government officials called scalers is declining." That speaks directly to the bill that we have in front of us and that we will canvass in the next stage.
"Participants worried that a lack of public oversight will open the door to more abuse of the system, leaving the public with little guarantee it is receiving fair value for its timber. In summary, community members said that forest policy changes of the past decade have not served the interests of their communities well." There's more to just the minister getting some rights and ability to do some stumpage redetermination. What we need is a redetermination of the entire value chain in B.C.'s public forests, and of course the minister knows I've been a strong advocate for the bioeconomy component to that, but it's much more than that.
We need to make sure our communities are getting value. We need to make sure that the owners of the public forests, the people of British Columbia, are not only getting value from it but they're included in the decisions about the future of the forests, and I'll speak to that momentarily.
So the value consideration is more than tinkering with stumpage and giving the ability to have some more oversight there. It comes to the question, as well, of information. As I pointed out, this requires and speaks to information that's incomplete or inaccurate, speaks to the issue of information that meets policies and procedures.
Well, this minister knows and the government knows that anybody who knows anything about what's going on in the forest is questioning whether the government has the information it needs to manage our forests.
Let me speak to the Auditor General's report very quickly — the three conclusions, and they're damning. I call this an evisceration of government, and it is. It's unfortunate the minister took advice to address it politically and not from a policy perspective. These are marching orders for this government.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
The conclusions, and there are three: The ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives. Without clearly defining its timber objectives, the ministry cannot ensure that its management practices are effective. Second, existing management practices are insufficient to offset a trend toward future forests having a lower timber supply and less species diversity in some areas. And three, the ministry does not appropriately monitor and report its timber results against its timber objectives.
The minister's response to this, with whatever advice he was given, was to say that the Auditor General was wrong. The Auditor General is absolutely right. In fact, in a report by the Forest Practices Board, the fall before the Auditor General came out, the Forest Practices Board said, when it was looking at the inventory and the results, which is a computer program, and the reports coming out of that….
The board said: "We do not have confidence that the Forests Ministry can adequately describe the current condition of the managed forest or track changes in its condition in the future." That's the Forest Practices Board before the Auditor General came out and said: "You don't have the information you need to manage the forests."
In November 2009, in this report…. I strongly advise to the minister, if he hasn't looked at it already, the Forest Practices Board report, November 2009, Biodiversity Conservation During Salvage Logging in the Central Interior of B.C., because it speaks to the heart of a significant issue sitting on the minister's desk just now, and that's the midterm timber supply in the heart of the forest.
The report on biodiversity conservation looked at whether under salvage harvesting, under the increase in harvesting in the mountain pine beetle zone, biodiversity was being protected. The report concludes that at the landscape level they're not sure that it is, but in terms of inventory, in 2009 when they went to study this, what they said was that the records were incomplete and inconsistent. That's the same language used by the minister to force somebody to do a stumpage redetermination — incomplete and inadequate.
The Forest Practices Board said that when they went to look to see if biodiversity was being protected, they found that the government's records were incomplete and inconsistent in 2009. The data is there for the minister to see that while there may be some call for rethinking some stumpage in some particular circumstances, the minister does not have the information he needs or this government needs to even comment on the state of B.C.'s forests.
And yet this government is thinking about alleviating the land base of land use values in order to get access to short-term timber supply for political reasons.
In my area the inventory problem goes even deeper. I've expressed this to the Auditor General and to two previous chief foresters and ministers. The government's inventory is absolutely inaccurate when it comes to what's happening in the midterm — stands that are 40 years down to 15 years of age, stands at 15 years of age in a harvested forest. The government comes in, looks at the replanted area and says: "Yes, you've met the requirements for the harvester to no longer be obligated to that land base. We will now as a Crown take that obligation on."
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Those stands between 15 and 40 years automatically go in the system as regenerated stands that become part of the mid- and long-term timber supply. What this government doesn't know is how many of those stands are dead, dying, burnt over, not producing. They don't have a clue.
If you drive out the Nazko Valley in my neck of the woods, in the heart of the mountain pine beetle area, I can take the minister or anybody else on the government side and show them this. There's a valley there where a fire in 2007 or so crossed the road and burnt along the valley. The valley is 15 kilometres long. You drive it. You can see it. Why can you see it? It's a forested valley. Because they're standing black pieces of wood. That's all it is. It's been like that for five years. That valley, in the government's books, is green timber. Ten to 15 kilometres along up both sides it's green timber in the government's books.
Climate change is changing leading species all over this province. The government doesn't have that under consideration. The proof of that, the proof of the bankruptcy of the government's inventory, is in the Burns Lake area and the Lakes timber supply area. That was the most recent annual allowable cut determination by the chief forester. He's not supposed to set an annual allowable cut, sustainable annual allowable cut or an uplift annual allowable cut, unless he is confident he has all the information he needs to make the projection for the next ten years.
A mill burns down. This government can't answer a fundamental, basic question: is there wood there to rebuild that mill? Proof that this government does not have what it needs to manage the forest. A little bit of tinkering around stumpage adjustments and whether or not the information for stumpage was accurate or not really — really — does not speak to what's going on in our land base.
But the real issue…. I just spent the last two weeks speaking to all of our major licensees up in our area who, quite frankly, are very concerned about this government's direction around Burns Lake and midterm timber supply. It's no surprise now.
This weekend there was a piece in the Vancouver Sun, where the head of the Council of Forest Industries agreed that the government is not doing what it needs to do to consult the public about possibilities of reducing timber supply and what some of the options are. At the same time, the executive director of the Association of Forest Professionals of British Columbia said the government is absolutely on the wrong track in what its thinking is, that it's forgotten the forest in all of its frou-frou and rhetoric around the future of the industry.
But what I'm coming to is the belief that what we really need in this House is not an amendment act. It's a new forest act. The Forest and Range Practices Act does not work. It is not working. It is leading to unsustainable practices, compounded by the fact that the government doesn't know what's happening on the land base.
I fear that we are in a situation where if we continue under the Forest and Range Practices Act, we will see the end of forestry in this province within ten years. The reason for that is that people will lose confidence in it. I don't know if the minister is tracking the Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities website, where there are already noes to the question that the minister hasn't asked the public yet. Letter after letter by professional foresters and others and associations are all saying, "No, you can't lift the land use constraints; no, you can't relax them," and the minister hasn't even asked the question yet.
Embedded in that is a lack of confidence in the government's overall direction in the Forest and Range Practices Act. Here's the B.C. Wildlife Federation. On April 12 they wrote a letter saying, "We have been hearing rumours for some time of a somewhat covert government project exploring opportunities to mitigate significant midterm timber supply shortfalls through the relaxation or deferral of non-timber objectives that call for some mature forest stand retention," etc. That's what they're responding to, but embedded in it is what I am hearing from everybody.
"First and foremost," the B.C. Wildlife Federation says, "we see little in the way of responsible government oversight at the strategic level" on our land base.
Then in closing, they say that they believe that the government "has given up too much control and direction under the results-based forest framework. We have great concern that inability of this government to provide necessary oversight and investment in the stewardship of our…natural resources has done damage to the health of our forests and the other values that are so important to the citizens of this province and our membership within the B.C. Wildlife Federation."
There is a subtext to the debate that the government has opened up or not opened up yet about midterm timber supply, and that subtext is that our Forest Act, as it is right now, is not right. It's not sustainable, and it's basically causing the undermining of our forest ecosystems.
I encountered that in the last two weeks as I went around. I've been encountering it for some time, but I've never encountered it to the degree that I've encountered it over these two weeks. It's the issue in Big Creek watershed that has been raised in question period in this House, where you have a rancher whose entire hydrology is changing. We're going to actually get a full-out, flat-out no from First Nations in that whole Anahim Lake area in the Chilcotin to any harvesting activity. That's where they're going.
They're going to actually just simply forget midterm timber supply, forget accessing more logs. They're just going to just say no, because of one thing. Nobody is managing the landscape. What this government did in 2003 was turn foresters into pencil-pushers who sign cutting permits, with nobody looking at what the implications are of that on the land base. As a consequence, we not
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only don't have good inventory; we actually don't know what's happening on the land base. That's the answer to the question that the minister is supposed to be asking here shortly about midterm timber supply.
In that November 2009 report that I referenced, Biodiversity Conservation During Salvage Logging in the Central Interior of B.C., what the Forest Practices Board found out is that at the landscape level we are allowing contiguous continuous clearcuts. We're now hearing people tell us that they drive in a clearcut for 23 kilometres — 23 kilometres, Madam Speaker, continuous clearcut. That's what the Forest Practices Board was looking at in November 2009, if that's the path we're on.
What they said in 2009…. Not only did they not have information to look at this; however, they indicate that they are not sure we're retaining enough mature timber and enough areas that have other values than timber values. It says: "Without landscape-level planning for retention" — that is, the mature forest and the diverse forest — "the amount of unharvested mature forest and the large harvest-plus patches will diminish."
Has there been a conservation uplift in the mountain pine beetle zone, along with the salvage uplift? The Forest Practices Board said: "There was no planning for or implementation of a conservation uplift at the landscape level. Opportunity remains to do so, but that opportunity may be lost without quick action." That was November 2009. There was no quick action.
Now, let me make sense out of this for anybody who is listening to this or looks at it afterwards. What it means is that the government is engaged in an exercise just now where they've asked foresters if at the landscape level…. That's the big landscape, not a cutting block or not a little operating area but on the broad landscape where land use plans say that you must have a certain amount of visual quality, you must have a certain amount set aside for hydrology and water quality, you must have biodiversity and you must have old growth — all of those things. That's what the government is thinking about relaxing in order to get access to timber that's constrained by those other values.
What the Forest Practices Board pointed to in November 2009 and what I heard clearly over the last two weeks is that this government may have already blown out, encroached and relaxed all of those values. The timber that they think might be there for the midterm to access more timber may already be gone, may already be harvested. But the government doesn't know that.
So now we're going to take the public through a very difficult conversation about whether or not we should continue to manage for old growth or make some green timber available to keep mills open now, whether we should continue to manage for stream quality and hydrology or whether we should make some of that timber available. Visual quality or make that timber available?
We're going to ask some hard questions. And one of the things that's going to happen is the government may actually find out they've already logged all those areas. They've already encroached on all of them, they've already allowed the relaxation of all of those rules, and this difficult conversation that we're going to have amounts to nothing. Why? Because the government doesn't have a clue what it's doing on the land base.
It doesn't have the inventory. It doesn't have the management regime. And quite frankly, what's happening is that under the results-based code, the government has given over too much control, as the B.C. Wildlife Federation has indicated, and it has lost the ability to manage our forests.
In that context, it is a little bit ironic that we're getting a bill that tinkers with an act that should be thrown out. If not thrown out, then seriously revisited, because I'm not a proponent of going back necessarily to a code that tells foresters what to do in the woods. But there are things unresolved — the professional reliance of our professional foresters, the role that our professional foresters play in making sure that we are managing our forests and the fact that the Forest Service under this government has all but disappeared.
I started with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic. This is also the 100th anniversary of the Forest Service. Quite frankly, it's the 100th anniversary and its demise in the same year. The Forest Service as it was intended, the Forest Service as it was supposed to be, the Forest Service as we need it to be today is gone. It's gone. And that's what's wrong.
So Bill 26 has some interesting things in it. We'll canvass it on a clause-by-clause basis. But I urge the minister…. And I know the minister is a good man who is trying to understand that large file that he's got, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
But the government has been on the wrong track for so long that we are now no longer confident — I am no longer confident — that we can actually say with surety that the Titanic is unsinkable or that B.C. is managing its forests sustainably anymore. I'm not confident in that.
M. Sather: I rise today to address Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. I think the speakers that we've heard this afternoon make it pretty clear that there's a lot of concern about the future of forestry in our province.
We know that the government launched a very different approach to forestry than was practised previously, even decades previously. As I listen to other speakers, you know, we have this sort of constant battle, if you will, or ideological differences, by and large, on this side of the House and the other side of the House around things like regulations and the value or the lack of value thereof. The government clearly launched an aggressive campaign, I
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think would be the correct term, when they came to government in 2001 to get rid of red tape — i.e., regulations.
Red tape, of course, has a very negative connotation. The understanding being that a lot of the regulations that we have today…. In this case, we're talking about regulations in the forest sector, but it certainly went far beyond forestry with this government. The thinking was, I believe, with the government, that a lot of the regulations we have today are overly bureaucratic and unnecessary and a hindrance to growth and development.
What I find interesting is that perhaps there is some middle ground, although it sometimes doesn't seem like it when we rise in this House to discuss and debate issues, but perhaps there is somewhere some common ground between the governing party and the official opposition over just what is the best approach such that we allow business to be successful, we encourage innovation, we encourage entrepreneurship.
Of course, I think that anyone would recognize that that's how our country and our province were developed, were formed — that is, the non-aboriginal part. The First Nations had a whole different culture, which we disrupted significantly, but with regard to the European civilization, it is risk-taking that helped to develop our society. Risk-taking, in my opinion, is very important — of course, risk-taking within bounds. You don't want to do things that are obviously detrimental to yourself, to others, to the government, to the forest industry, but we need that. We need people to have the latitude to be able to be creative.
On the other hand, there's a juxtaposition sometimes, it seems to me, between being creative and an overreliance, perhaps, or even a fixation on monetary value and accumulating the same. I think that sometimes for very good reasons….
Both sides of the House have very good philosophical and ideological reasons to maintain the approach they have. I think whoever you are and whatever your ideology is, it can get out of balance. I think — and that's what I'm hearing from a lot of speakers on this side of the House and the independent member that just spoke — that the government has kind of lost its way with regard to the balance picture. Forestry, maybe above all other aspects of government, has suffered as a result.
You know, the member for Cariboo North said that he wasn't necessarily in favour — perhaps he isn't in favour at all — of telling foresters how to do their jobs. But on the other hand, without some accountability…. Accountability is one of those buzzwords that gets bandied around a lot. Most governments, including the current government, use that word quite frequently.
You do need accountability. How do you get that accountability? Not only when you're talking about a public resource, because there are private forests that need to be managed properly as well, but when you're talking about a public resource, how do you get that accountability, such that you come out with the product that you want? I think this government decided back in the beginning that if you got rid of a whole lot of, in their view, needless regulations, then things would fall into place, that the forestry would be revitalized and that all would be well.
Now, it's an oversimplification to say, as we may be a little bit wont to do on this side of the House sometimes, that the demise…. And really, there has been a pretty significant downturn — let's put it that way — in forestry over these last 11 years, 12 years. We know, of course, that we had the beetle kill, which has decimated Interior forests and has led to considerable problems.
What I'm hearing members that are more knowledgable than me, certainly, about forest matters saying with great conviction is that what we've ended up with is a system whereby we don't have a good idea of what we have anymore or what we don't have, and we have failed, and are in the process of failing, to protect other resources on the land base.
Of course, there are many resources, you know, on the land base — and many uses. Forestry is one of them. It's a major one, but it's far from the only one. You have people that have grazing lands. They have cattle on Crown lands. They're walking between the trees, or — we're lucky enough to spend some time in the Cariboo — they're walking between the dead trees, by and large, although there's a variety of species in the Interior — which is nice, too, that it keeps some greenery. And the pines are growing very quickly, I might add, in many places, which is really good to see, but there are these many uses.
Now we're hearing people talk about things like forest health. That's not a phrase that I was aware of a number of years ago. What does it mean? My understanding is that what it means is that there's a whole array of factors on the land base, on the forestry base, and people talk about ecosystem services. What on earth is that?
Well, they're talking there about the value of clean water, the value of the oxygen that's produced by forests and a whole number of other values that we receive, really, for free just by virtue of living on this planet, yet which go unaccounted for in any economic or philosophical or spiritual way. There are those that say we're just missing out on a whole big piece of what's going on by disregarding these ecosystem services.
The disappointment, I suppose, for me, as well as members opposite, is that Bill 26 is, to put it mildly, not thorough enough. It doesn't encompass enough to deal with those big issues, and clearly, it isn't intended to. This is an amendment act; therefore, by nature it's limited. But then the question is: if not this bill, then what and when?
If it's true, as the previous speaker said, that the ministry really has no idea or a very limited idea of what is out there on the land base, then how can we possibly manage? We know that the Forest Service itself has been reduced considerably in its person power and its ability
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to assess what's out there. I guess it becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the forest base starts to fail and the government is getting less revenue, then I suppose there's a feeling: "Well, why do we have all of these employees if we're not getting that much money out of it anymore?"
Members talked about, you know, a cup of coffee for a telephone pole going by on a truck — which is pretty scary. Maybe it was $10, another member mentioned. But in any event, the value isn't there. I think one member said $1 billion to $2 billion at one time, and now we're just not there. There's a fear that we aren't going to be there again for a long time.
So how do we address that? Our feeling is that we do need more. The government needs to bring more forward than an amendment act like Bill 26. But I suppose, too, in the game, in the field of politics, there's always a fear in a governing party, I think, of changing course or of being seen to backtrack. That's one of the difficulties in politics, in my experience — this institutionalized inability to really change course.
I don't know if the government wants to change course, but I think the current minister is a thoughtful individual and a considered individual. I'm sure he's aware of many of the problems that are out there on the land base. But what to do about it in a way that satisfies folks that have been living off the land in a certain way…. We've talked and others have talked about things like raw log exports and how that's become an increased way of life.
There have always been raw log exports, but we're more dependent on that now. The argument on our side, of course, is that we're losing jobs with all those logs that are going offshore. I notice that in the jobs plan, which the Premier said came about largely because of the forestry issue, she talks about the need to address forest issues. But what are we going to end up doing?
So let's have a little look at the bill. One part that I do want to talk about that's of particular interest to me — and I'll get to that in a little bit — is the resource road issue. With my portfolio or critic area as deputy Environment critic, that's one that I'm concerned about.
But the bill starts off with a section dealing with stumpage and saying, to summarize, that if there's incomplete or inaccurate information there, the minister can take some steps to adjust the stumpage rate. I don't know whether that would be up or down. I don't know if it could go down too much lower and still get money for the coffers of the people of British Columbia. In a nutshell, as I understand it, it comes about as a court case, which I haven't actually looked into. So that's the first section.
Then we get on to the second section. This is the one that authorizes the minister to establish a form of road closure notice. The minister talked about road closures and keeping roads open. Somebody referred to it, I guess, as the open roads policy. But at times, also, there's going to be the closure of roads, and I think the minister talked about that, as well, in his opening remarks. In fact, a fair bit of his opening remarks was about resource roads. So there's some issue, I suppose. There are question marks about how the notice will be given, etc.
Then we move on. Well, I'm skipping a lot of the sections, but there are a couple of sections on the Wildfire Act. It talks about providing "a requirement for a person in a prescribed class of persons to abate a fire hazard." We were fortunate last year, from a forest wildfire perspective, to have a very moist and cool summer well into July even in the Interior. We didn't have the massive fires that we've had previously.
But we expect, I guess, that they will come back, and that's part of what's happening with climate change. We are getting warmer temperatures, and we're getting different regimes. It's just so totally different.
If a person doesn't have the opportunity to go off from the Lower Mainland to the Interior, it's totally two different worlds, weather-wise. We can go for weeks in Maple Ridge with hardly seeing the sun, but if you go up to 100 Mile House, hardly a day ever goes by that you don't at least see some sunshine. So they're very different.
So whereas we may be moist here, it continues to be dry there. I see the local lakes going down every year, and I understand it's been going on for ten years or more. That's a problem. That's part of the forest health problem as well, in terms of water. That's talked about in this House with the ranchers, you know, and their cattle, not to even mention — well, I will mention it — the effect it has on wildlife as well, the effect it has on not only livestock but folks that live up in that country.
Then we have sections 13 and 14 on the Occupiers Liability Act. This is in relation to resource roads. The resource roads issue is interesting, because I know that the minister would have heard lots of applications from folks about their concerns about a lack of access to public roads, by and large.
Oftentimes these roads have been decommissioned by the Forest Service in the past. They'd dig a big trench, so after they'd done with harvesting in an area, that would be largely impassable. Of course, that's changed a fair bit with the proliferation of all-terrain vehicles. It's harder to keep them out of anywhere. But still, it's difficult in some places, particularly to take in your pickup truck to go camping or hunting.
But I'm a little concerned about this move by the government. When I talk to hunters about it, I kind of hear two sides of the story. I hear frustration that they can't get into areas that they want to go into, but I also hear them say sometimes that some areas that were rich in wildlife get exploited or overexploited to the detriment of the hunting experience in particular, or the angling experience for everybody.
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What I recall is that the ministry years ago…. I don't know exactly. I know in the '90s and the '80s and the '70s the Ministry of Environment would be supportive of decommissioning these roads, oftentimes to be able to regulate wildlife harvests.
So I have a bit of a worry about it. Even in this wild and beautiful province that we have, it's getting harder and harder to find areas that are what you might call pristine. I had the luxury of going backpacking in Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park a couple of summers ago. We didn't meet anybody. We didn't see an ATV. We didn't even see any horses. That's an experience that I hope as British Columbians and Canadians we don't lose.
Not everybody wants to do that. There's hardship in it. But it's invigorating, and it's a totally valuable experience. So when we allow people to go everywhere, that kind of experience, that wilderness experience, becomes pretty degraded.
I know there's lots of conflict between guide-outfitters and others as well. So if you take, again, Spatsizi Plateau, there's hunting allowed in that park, and there are guide-outfitters that operate in that park. Yes, they fly in and out with an airplane, but they use horses by and large. A lot of it is a non-mechanized experience, so it still is a wilderness experience. So I hope that the open roads policy or the opening up of more resource roads isn't going to lead to loss of the ability to have that kind of experience.
I've heard complaints from hunters about access by water, too, in Wells Gray Park — access along rivers that were pristine and wild. Now people are flying up there in jet boats. Before, you could take your trailer in so far, and then you had to…. It was a bit of a journey. But now people are flying up there and shooting moose out of a jet boat. It's just not the same. It's just not the same deal as it used to be.
M. Sather: Well, the minister is sounding appalled over there, but I don't know. That's the information I've received. The minister thinks this is quite remarkable and impossible. Well, in fact, I understand that it's against the law, but hunting…. I used to be a hunter. I didn't do it myself, but I know that people shoot wildlife out of their pickup. It happens. Of course, it happens in an all-terrain vehicle too. So it shouldn't be anything that is a great stretch of the imagination for the minister. Nevertheless, I diverge from our current discussion.
The whole jobs plan thing is it's tied into a bill like Bill 26. Hopefully, they are tied in, and hopefully, it does make sense. The jobs plan talks about increasing competitiveness, and that's a theme that we do hear a lot with this government — increasing competitiveness. But in the forest industry what has that meant for forest workers? It may mean that forest companies are doing better than they would otherwise. I'm not sure about that.
But from forest workers what we hear a lot is that they are losing their jobs. How is that good for the average British Columbian that wants to go to work every day in the forest industry? The place where they work…. They see the logging truck going by with logs, and they work in a mill that doesn't have enough logs. There are lots of them that don't, especially on the coast. They may have tenure or not. They get some of their own logs, but they depend on other companies for at least partial fulfilment of the requirement for logs.
The theory is that if there are raw logs going offshore and they need them, they can challenge that and get those logs. But of course, in practice, it doesn't really happen that way. Supposing you're getting X number of logs from provider A and you see provider A driving by your mill and you're short and you say: "Wait a minute. I challenge those logs that are going offshore." You can do that, and then the guy phones you up and says: "You remember those logs we provided you with last year? Maybe you ought to not challenge that." So it doesn't happen very much. They really don't have access, oftentimes, to those logs — certainly not to the amount that they need.
The jobs plan says — and it says it, I think, in a couple of different places — that the government is going to look at raw log exports on the coast. That's, hopefully, a good thing, and we're looking to see some reductions. Whether it's beetle kill or not, the kind of cutting that's been described in the Interior, which is beyond massive, just doesn't permit other kinds of values, as I said.
Wildlife, for example, needs places of refuge — especially large wildlife. They can't be out in a massive clearcut. They're not going to use it very frequently because they won't survive very long if they do. They'd be sitting ducks, as it were. It's a complicated issue.
I understand that it is about forest health. But the fact that you have logs on the ground…. You know, they're still providing ecosystem services. They're still providing nutrients to the soil. When you harvest an area, even of beetle-killed wood — and I've seen the huge piles in the Interior — and then you burn them…. They have to do something with them, so they burn them in the wintertime. That's an awful lot of greenhouse gases that are going up into the atmosphere.
I think the government is trying somewhat, as well, through this bill, to provide some access for others to that wood — not only the salvage harvest but the bioenergy sector. As I understand, it's been a long discussion and a difficult discussion to try to arrive at them having some access to this wood.
If it's going to be burnt anyway, it's better that we're getting use of that energy than it just going up as greenhouse gases and warm air. If that has any effect there through this bill, then it's something that I could and do applaud.
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The member for Kamloops–South Thompson was talking about, when we talked about the raw log export issues: "Well, what about the loggers?" That is a difficult thing. And what about the truck drivers? It's true that — particularly the truck drivers, I guess — they do get some income from that, and money is money. But the bottom line is that we have to make the highest and best use of the resource. In our view, that's not the case.
On the Occupiers Liability Act. There's a part there that says: "…provides that persons who enter onto or otherwise use resource roads do so at their own risk." I suppose that's a good thing, but it's taking some of the risk, as I understand it, from the occupier, whether it's the government or, I suppose, a company.
The individual is deemed to have willingly assumed all risks. Maybe that's fair. I don't know. Whether it could get people into some considerable difficulty that they otherwise wouldn't be in…. But it's probably a fair trade-off if recreationists are going to have access to these remote roads, within bounds. I think that there's some discussion in there, too, about what the bounds are, but within bounds they have to take some responsibility for their own safety.
One of the reasons, as I understand it, why those roads haven't been opened is the liability issue. Nobody wants to be responsible for it.
I think that the bill is largely positive, as far as it goes. It fails, however, to address the considerable problems in forestry that we face today. Maybe before this session is over — or in the fall, if we have another session then — we will see additional, more encompassing legislation from the government around forestry. That would be a good thing.
With that, I will take my seat.
S. Fraser: I'm pleased to be able to take my place in the debate on second reading of Bill 26, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. Or simpler, the acronym. I don't know if there's an acronym for that, but maybe the FLNROSA Act, 2012 — a very long title. It actually takes up a fair amount of the….
The act is not actually that large. When I saw the bill was coming forward to address the issues of forestry in the province, I assumed — wrongly, apparently — that we'd be looking at dealing with some of the great problems that have been highlighted by, certainly, the Auditor General's recent report, just a month old — that scathing report on the state of forestry and the failure to manage what amounts to our most valuable resource.
I think the estimate was it's a third-of-a-trillion-dollar resource. Certainly, some estimates put it at substantially higher, depending on how you account that.
Regardless, here is a renewable resource managed for the interests of the public in perpetuity by every government since…. I think it was the '40s when the tree farm licence was put into place, where the public control and the public interest and the public benefit from the forest resource was sort of etched into the fibre — no pun intended — of this province.
I will touch on the substance of the bill as I move further into this discussion. However, I have to say that the bill does not address any of the major problems that have been highlighted by the Auditor General, the Forest Practices Board repeatedly and, certainly, other groups. The forest professionals have pointed out so many failures of the Liberal government's policy in dealing with forestry over the last 11 years.
I represent the constituency of Alberni–Pacific Rim. Certainly, the Alberni Valley has a rich history based on the forest industry. It's certainly a major part of the history of Port Alberni. It's the centennial, actually, this year for the twin cities of Alberni and Port Alberni. Their inception was 100 years ago this year. I spoke to that in the House earlier.
The history is integral. It's entwined with forestry. It doesn't matter what governments — NDP, Socred. They've all respected the importance of the forest industry in this province, and it certainly built the economy in communities like Port Alberni in forestry, built the economy of this great province.
To see the Auditor General's report suggesting that this government is the first one really to abandon the management of that resource…. The forest resource will not be and cannot be managed without some very basic premises. The first would be, knowing what we have.
I was hoping that the amendment to Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations would include addressing the critical shortfall of not being able to know what we have on the land base. The minister and the ministry are the first minister and the first ministry in the history of the province that have no idea of what we have on the land base. That isn't addressed. This was an opportunity to address that problem.
I mean, let's call it a non-partisan issue. This has been highlighted by the Auditor General, an arm's-length, objective body; the Forest Practices Board, thusly, an objective third party; and certainly the professionals that work in the industry. They've cited that 74 percent of the inventory material is inaccurate. It's ancient. It is decades old in many cases.
How we are addressing managing a resource using data that is woefully lacking…. It's impossible. Of course, the Auditor General rightly pointed that out.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
I would note though, just talking specifically about Bill 26 for a moment before I go back to the specifics of the bill…. I have to mention one. There is a section dealing with how the stumpage rate is addressed, and it actually
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refers to providing accurate information to the minister and the ministry as part of the amendment here.
Hon. Speaker, welcome, after taking your seat in this fine debate.
To suggest that we have no idea if the information is accurate or the requirement of accuracy when a cut is being planned is cause for concern. I would suggest that there will be many members from this side of the House that will be probing that a lot more deeply with the minister and his staff when we get into the committee stage of the bill and, actually, in the estimates process that is yet to come through the budget process.
Noting the hour, hon. Speaker, I do wish to reserve my right to continue in this debate, as I've only spoken for 4½ minutes. With that in mind, I would adjourn the debate until the next day.
S. Fraser moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolutions and progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:26 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. Thornthwaite in the chair.
The committee met at 2:39 p.m.
On Vote 22: ministry operations, $99,366,000 (continued).
The Chair: We are resuming the consideration of the estimates of the Ministry of Environment.
R. Fleming: Thank you to the minister and to staff for being here. We adjourned a couple of weeks ago and have an opportunity to conclude on a few things this afternoon. We appreciate people arranging their schedules to be able to do that.
I want to talk a little bit about some of the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that this government has been in discussions with the federal government about and, also, to cover a few other topics around parks and protected areas this afternoon. There are a couple of other small areas that I would also like to get the minister's comments on.
The first is the tsunami debris program. The provincial government has announced that it is sitting at a table or on a committee to discuss the anticipation and the arrival of perhaps millions of tonnes of waste that entered the Pacific Ocean after the terrible tragedy, the earthquake in Japan. The estimates are, of course, between 2013 and 2014 for regular arrivals of debris that may appear on B.C.'s coast. It is a long coastline, of course. This is something that will require, perhaps, a very significant effort that utilizes volunteers up and down our coast in coastal communities. I know that it is something that was discussed very recently at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities on the weekend.
One of the points of discussion is that there is not really any information or a plan, at this point in time, that government has widely shared from those that represent local government.
I wanted to ask, perhaps, the minister to provide a status update, whether there is a timeline in which government will communicate and begin organizing efforts with local government, with citizens and with any interested parties that may have responsibility or be able to play a role on behalf of British Columbia in dealing with this situation as it emerges.
Hon. T. Lake: I certainly recognize the challenge that dealing with tsunami debris poses, and that's why we are working with our federal counterparts in a tsunami debris task force. A coordinating committee is the proper name for that group. My assistant deputy minister for environmental protection is co-chair of that coordinating committee.
We have done quite a bit of work in terms of first steps on sort of terms of reference, working through those and also reaching out to our counterparts in other jurisdictions. As the member knows, dealing with a situation like this involves multiple jurisdictions, whether it's the international community, our partners in Washington State, for instance, Alaska, Oregon, California, through the Pacific Coast Collaborative. Also, of course, there are different jurisdictions here in Canada. We've got the federal government, Transport Canada, the Coast Guard, Environment Canada and then, of course, the provincial government as well as First Nations involvement and local communities, as the member is inquiring about today.
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I have had some informal discussions with the mayor of Tofino — obviously one of the communities that will be impacted by this more so than others.
I have had extensive local government experience and worked at the executive committee level of UBCM. Our working group for the tsunami response includes the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, and they are the ministry that has the very close contact with UBCM. So they will be in our working group and making outreach to UBCM. UBCM, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, is the group that is best suited to coordinate response among local governments.
We will be working through UBCM and keeping them informed of what we're doing — and also share our plans and ask for their input into those plans as well. Because we recognize that there are so many different levels of government that will be involved in this response, we want to make sure that we do it in a comprehensive manner and, as I've mentioned before, do it in a manner that's sensitive to the people of Japan.
Much of this debris that makes its way to our shores…. While we don't know the extent, the volume, the quality, the character of that debris, we suspect that some of that debris will be very sensitive in that it will have personal or even financial value to the people who lost those belongings in that terrible tragedy. So we'll be very sensitive to that.
We also want to make sure that we can engage the public and allow the public to know how they can respond, if they were to find some debris washing up on the shore — to make sure that it is catalogued and inventoried in a way that enables us to keep track and to ensure that we are having a sensitive and comprehensive response.
We will be working with UBCM, working with local government through the Tsunami Debris Coordinating Committee that we have set up with the federal government.
R. Fleming: I know that the minister has a background in local government and has worked with senior levels of government when he was in local government responding to emerging situations like this one. He will appreciate better than, perhaps, others that it won't take very long before the discussions move from what the response can and should look like to how much it will cost and who will pay for it.
I think those discussions are happening already. Of course, the senior levels of government are presumably bearing all the costs of tracking the movement of debris. There will be costs, one could contemplate, for things like skiffs and containers and, depending on what the protocols are, around safe handling of debris and who is handling it. There is equipment that goes along with that.
I'm wondering if the minister could clarify whether the coordinating committee has met enough times now to have devised at least a basic outline of a workplan that is including those kinds of discussions. If so, maybe he could clarify when and how often this coordinating committee is meeting and which local communities are currently at the table or who is representing their interests.
Hon. T. Lake: It's very difficult in terms of understanding what the cost will be of cleanup and management of any debris. Right now we're living in a very speculative world in terms of the information that's available.
We work very closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States. They have the expertise, working in conjunction with the University of Hawaii. They are monitoring the debris. They are the experts in how products and this kind of debris move with the ocean currents. We talk to them every couple of weeks or so. Certainly, as emerging issues arise we can contact them immediately.
There is not enough information to know how much a response like this will cost. We do, however, have subgroups as part of our tsunami committee that are working on issues like this.
One of the subgroups involves emergency management B.C., which of course is the organization here in British Columbia that responds to emergent issues, whether it's issues of weather or other phenomena, where there is a response required in terms of looking after the environment or looking after people or property. They are working with Public Safety Canada on a subcommittee of our working group, and they are looking at these issues. It's early days yet, so we're not quite sure what the implication will be for cost.
It's much like any other sort of emergent issue, whether it's forest fires or whether it's a landslide or any kind of natural phenomenon. This is very difficult to predict in terms of extent and cost of the response. As more information becomes available, obviously we will be able to fine-tune those types of estimates. But at this point it's early days in terms of trying to have those numbers available at this time.
In terms of the local government, as I mentioned, Community, Sport and Cultural Development will be working with UBCM. We have reached out to some communities, like Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, as mentioned — again, at the early stages of this process — to bring local governments into this multi-jurisdictional response that we expect will be required to manage this situation.
R. Fleming: I thank the minister for his answer. I want to build on it, though.
It looks as if British Columbia is at least half a year behind Washington and Oregon. He acknowledged that they are looking to the NOAA and other U.S. agencies that are coordinating the response to the south of us to the same problem here.
I think maybe my last question on this would be around getting the minister to comment on the import-
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ance of communication in dealing with tsunami debris. The problem was illustrated last week. We had a lot of media around large debris. There was the sinking of the "ghost ship" that occurred — an almost intact Japanese vessel that was floating and could have done significant damage if it had not been sunk.
There is small debris, which I think is going to be B.C.'s greatest problem — persistent waves of debris and its removal. There is discussion, and I don't know how well informed it is right now, about the potential for radioactive debris. I would ask the minister if there is any research available on that at this time or any conflicting perspectives on whether there are any risks.
I ask that not to needlessly alarm anyone but to say that those conversations are happening now anyway. Even though the debris will not arrive for some time, the importance now is to provide early, substantive information to the public. They're reading articles and information about it today that doesn't come from government and may have, let's just say, a varying degree of reliability to it.
My office has been contacted, and I'm sure the minister's has, requesting information. It seems that B.C. is a bit slow off the mark in providing concrete assurances and giving communities the most accurate depiction it can about what handling the tsunami debris is going to be like — even the simple message, which of course is most important, that the government of B.C. is going to be with them, behind them all the way, and do whatever it takes to keep our beaches clean.
Hon. T. Lake: I know it's the opposition's role to be critical, negative and hold the government to account, but this is a non-political issue. This is a terrible disaster that occurred to the people of Japan, with consequences that we have to deal with as a province, as a nation, as a continent and with our partners.
I know I find it a little bit distasteful that the member opposite says we are slower than other people. I have been in the media multiple times on this issue. We have set up a website on the Ministry of Environment's website, a special website and information, frequently asked questions, about the tsunami debris response.
We have links to an e-mail where people who find debris can register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States. We have talked to Ted Sturdevant, the director of ecology. I've had a face-to-face meeting and phone calls with Mr. Sturdevant, the director of ecology of Washington State. I have met personally with Anne Callaghan, the consul general of the United States in Vancouver.
To say that we are slow off the mark is absolutely ridiculous. I know it's the member's duty to be negative, although apparently under this new leadership we were going to be positive and work together. I'm still waiting for that to happen.
This government is responding with our partners, federally, with First Nations, with local government and with our international partners, to make sure that we do respond in an appropriate manner to this terrible disaster and the resultant debris that may find its way — obviously some of it will find its way — to the shores of British Columbia.
R. Fleming: I will move on to another question. But let me just respond to the minister before I ask my question about the Fisheries Act.
My response would be — and the minister should know this — that there are literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of volunteer organizations that can and should play a part, that want to play a part, that are seeking information on the program. There is nothing about politics to this at all. They're looking for answers and they're wanting to get engaged, and that's good news for British Columbia.
People who live on the coast know that they're facing a challenge, and they want to get involved. They want to do the right thing. They need the government to help coordinate that. So he's given some answers about the status of the effort to date. I will move on now and ask about potential changes to the Fisheries Act federally.
We talked with the environmental assessment office already in these estimates. They were very helpful in giving me a briefing, showing, among other things, that British Columbia is more reliant than any other province in Canada on federal resources and federal screenings with regards to assessments done here in British Columbia for industrial projects or projects of all types.
Of course, the trigger for that is the Fisheries Act, generally speaking, and one of the lead science agencies is the DFO. That could all change very quickly. Indeed the government of Canada has said it will.
The information has been out there for more than a month now about the government's plans to weaken fish habitat protection in what is the most basic and strong piece of environmental legislation and one of the oldest pieces of environmental legislation in Canada.
This is going to have a huge impact on British Columbia, potentially, both in terms of what may or may not be allowed in the future and the weakening of the potential scope of an environmental assessment in B.C. but also the resources that the federal government currently provides to inform and conduct and conclude environmental assessments in B.C. We may not have the expertise and the personnel that are provided by the federal government because they have a statutory requirement today that may not be there tomorrow.
My question to the minister is…. We have now had the B.C. Association of Professional Biology, the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution and the Canadian chapter of the American Fisheries Society all express concerns to government about these proposed changes.
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Metro Vancouver came out last week and are raising, I think, the right kinds of questions about what the removal of habitat protection from the Fisheries Act could mean for them and their programs around hatcheries and wild fish stocks. It also may affect local government in regards to stormwater management plans, which do require habitat assessments for fish today and may not legally require that in the near future.
My question for the minister on the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, because I think we recently became aware that his government was consulted and gave comments regarding this, is what British Columbia's plan is both to budget for new responsibilities that may fall to the province and to assure British Columbians that if the federal government removes fish habitat protection from the Fisheries Act…. Are they looking at legislative options in B.C. to replace that with a provincially based piece of legislation?
Hon. T. Lake: For the record, we have not been consulted and have had no advance notice of changes to the Fisheries Act. I want to make that very clear. All we have is the information that was released by a non-government organization with apparent leaks of potential changes to the Fisheries Act — I believe section 35 of the act. But we have not been consulted. We have had no advance notice of these changes. What we're dealing with at the moment is speculation in terms of changes to the Fisheries Act.
We expect to be fully engaged by the federal government should any changes occur. We will obviously be very concerned over any changes to the Fisheries Act that would result in significant adverse impacts to fish habitat.
We understand the importance of fish habitat in this province. Obviously, the ecological sensitivities of our waterways are very well understood in terms of First Nations importance, in terms of economic importance and environmental importance. Any changes that occur to the Fisheries Act….
We will have detailed discussions with the federal government and form a position based on information rather than speculation, and we will work hard to ensure that the interests of British Columbians are well represented. If there is a need to respond in a legislative fashion, we will look at that once we have information. But to speculate on leaked documents is not the business that I'm in.
R. Fleming: Well, the leaked documents have now been confirmed by ministers representing the government of Canada. They have said that the changes are pending, and they have confirmed that they do revolve around section 35 of the act, which, as the minister just said, deals with fish habitat protection and really is the cornerstone of the entire Fisheries Act, especially as it relates to the conduct of environmental assessments in B.C.
I would put to the minister that it would be irresponsible of the provincial government not to be prepared for a contingency which two ministers of the Crown federally have said is going to happen. The questions are being asked already. Other levels of government, and I'm speaking of local government, are already preparing for…. They're asking the hard questions, and one of them I would put to the minister.
He knows that the federal government has proposed bringing in new regulations that govern the discharges of municipal wastewater and will add requirements for what the contours of treatment plants will have to meet. That has been under active discussion for some time. I would suggest that the discussion has now changed because we have this added dynamic of, potentially, the Fisheries Act being changed. That could really have an impact on a lot of municipal planning that has been done so far in this community and in the Lower Mainland about wastewater treatment facilities.
There is a national timeline that has been advanced, which is creating time requirements for those local governments to meet. What is not known, though, is what the consequences of the Fisheries Act changes that are contemplated will be for that ongoing planning process. And I wonder if the ministry has begun to look at that particular problem. I know that Metro Vancouver has written to the ministry. I have not seen a response to date. It was a couple of weeks ago.
But to me, these discussions about changes to the Fisheries Act that will impact wastewater treatment plant contours and planning now have to be seen in the light of changes that could happen to section 35 of the
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Fisheries Act, and I wonder if the minister could confirm how his ministry is responding to that.
Let me rephrase the question and try and keep it a lot shorter. Local governments are operating under the assumption that there are Fisheries Act changes that deal with treatment plants, the requirements and scale, how those are built out and timelines for treatment, particularly communities that have no treatment facilities now. This has been an ongoing discussion for many years. We now have this added dynamic of changes to section 35, which may make the planning of wastewater treatment facilities quite a bit different.
I am wondering. The provincial government is taking a lead in some of the discussions around new treatment facilities and their renewal in Metro Vancouver. How has the ministry responded to Metro Vancouver? They've already raised these concerns with him.
Hon. T. Lake: Well, having approved the liquid waste management plan for Metro Vancouver last year, we are still operating under the same assumptions that they will have to meet regulations by a certain date. As I mentioned, these alleged changes to section 35 of the Fisheries Act have not been confirmed to us, so we are not changing any assumptions at the moment in terms of municipal sewage treatment. We are operating under the assumption that they have to meet requirements by a certain date.
Liquid waste management plans have been approved for the capital regional district here in Victoria and for Metro Vancouver. Until we have any indication from the federal government as to any specific changes to section 35 of the Fisheries Act, we are not changing those liquid waste management plans.
If we have any information from the federal government that has an impact on those liquid waste management plans, we would be happy to discuss that with the local governments involved. Again, this is just all hypothetical at this particular time.
M. Sather: I wanted to ask the minister some questions about fisheries, with regard to a couple of run-of-river projects. Over 3,000 pages of released documents detail repeated short-term fluctuations in water flows on the Lower Mamquam River and Ashlu Creek, resulting in the stranding and killing of juvenile fish downstream of two plants. I wanted to ask the minister: what is the ministry doing to address this issue?
Hon. T. Lake: I believe I answered this when it was canvassed in question period. The incident the member refers to goes back a couple of years. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is responsible for compliance and enforcement. I won't speak on behalf of that ministry, other than to say my understanding is that these fish strandings were reported. That ministry went back to the proponent. Changes were made. These projects the member is referring to did not go through environmental assessment. They were subthreshold.
That means that line ministries, then, are responsible for issuing permits and monitoring compliance and enforcement of those permits. It's my understanding that that's what they did. About $1 million was spent to correct the problem. Instream flow requirements are important for run-of-river projects — that enough flow is maintained in the river at all times to support fish habitat. My understanding is that corrections were made to ensure that that would continue to happen into the future.
M. Sather: I want to ask the minister…. The instream flow requirements are part of the licence that's granted with the company in order to produce power. Is that correct? The IFR is part of their duty to fulfil?
Hon. T. Lake: I will just speak from my own experience looking at environmental assessments for those projects that were above the threshold that brought them into the environmental assessment process. Instream flow requirements are the amount of water that is left in the river — that is not diverted, essentially.
It is not diverted to make power. Enough water remains in the river to support the different life stages, at different times of the year, based on the life cycle of the fish that are identified to use that particular river as habitat. It is part of the conditions of either their environmental assessment permit or, I believe, also a condition of their permit if they don't go through the environmental assessment process.
M. Sather: I think the minister has clarified, then, that whether or not they're over the 50-megawatt threshold — I know the Ashlu is 50, and I think the Mamquam was probably 50 as well — regardless of the fact that they don't have to go through a full environmental assessment, they are required, as part of the fulfilment of their agreement, to report.
I wanted to ask the minister…. He mentioned that these problems — and they are significant ones — occurred a couple of years ago. I wanted to ask him if he has gotten any more recent updates on any of these kinds of issues since then.
Hon. T. Lake: Well, the short answer is no. But I think the member is bringing up the issue of monitoring in terms of compliance with permits, with environmental assessment certificates….
I think it's a good point to bring up, because whenever we do something on the land base where government gives a social licence for a proponent to do something that alters the land in any way, we go through a very rigorous process to ensure that the environment is not adversely affected beyond a certain amount. We know that whenever we do work on the land base, there's going to be some impact on the environment. I think that's the sort of compact that we make in society. There are some trade-offs.
We set the bar at a certain level, knowing that there are positive impacts, socioeconomic impacts. There are going to be some negative environmental impacts that, hopefully, will either be avoided or mitigated. In some cases, there's compensation or substitutions that can occur.
I think it's a good point. It's a reminder that we have a tremendous obligation as government, as people of British Columbia, to ensure that when we do any kind of development on the land base, we put in place enough guidelines that are enforceable, that we have mechanisms in place to monitor, to react to any kind of situation that's out of compliance, that we have the enforcement capability.
The Auditor General did a review of part of our process, the environmental assessment process. I think that from
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that we've learned that we need to be really transparent and provide the public with the opportunity to follow projects wherever they are in their stage of development — whether it's in the application stage, the approval stage, the operational stage or even afterwards, when the project is no longer operating and is being remediated. I think we owe it to the public that they can follow that information, that they can find out what's happening with that project, what kind of monitoring is going on, what kind of compliance is going on.
I think this is the sort of contract that British Columbians expect us to have with proponents that do any kind of alteration to the natural environment. I'm not aware of any other instances. Again, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations would be the line ministry responsible for a permit.
The environmental assessment office is going to provide a greater role in coordinating compliance and enforcement activities, bringing in other ministries so that the public can be assured that no matter who is approving these types of operations on the land base, government is working together in a coordinated fashion to provide the kind of comfort to the public that we are monitoring and that we are enforcing the conditions of a permit or an environmental certificate.
M. Sather: The minister has made a very good point, I think, and that is that there needs to be transparency about what's occurring in these projects. It's the public's right to know. In fact, all the information that we do have…. The only reason we do have information is that there was a freedom-of-information request that brought this to the public eye.
What is the minister doing, what is the government doing to ensure that the transparency that he talked about is there so that we don't have to depend on an FOI request to get this type of information?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, I think it's a good question. I think it's something that we continuously need to work on. You know, in my discussions with staff…. I've said this publicly. I want to provide that information in a way that the public can access easily. So we are going to be doing some work on our environmental assessment website, for instance. We're going to do more strategic communication with the public, make it more accessible to the public.
We — this government, the Premier — have opened up data sets to the public in a way that's never, never been available before. I believe there are 2,500 data sets. A good example of this is on the weekend, when I announced increased funding and renewed funding for Bear Aware coordinators throughout the province of British Columbia. We had demonstrated to us a tracking system so that every problem wildlife encounter that occurred, whether it was reported by the conservation officers or the public, could be tracked and put on a website so that people could go and find out where there was a potential problem with wildlife.
The gentleman that's doing that project, Frank Ritcey, who's been working in the Bear Aware community for a great number of years, said it was only the provision of data sets from our open government policy that has allowed him to put that kind of information out there. We hope that more of that will come as people can access government information and unleash the creativity that data can provide for people.
We are doing that. We will have a coordinated communications plan in terms of compliance and enforcement throughout the natural resource ministries to ensure that the public is kept fully aware of what's happening on the land base.
M. Sather: Well, it's good that when there's a bear problem, the public can get information about that on the website.
So is the minister committing that when there's a problem like these that have been brought forward by these FOIs that have been received on the ramping problems — that's the lowering and the raising of the water level that has resulted in a lot of fish kills — that information will go on the government website?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, if anyone is out of compliance and there's an enforcement action, it is reported quarterly in our reporting out now. As I say, we are committed to providing, as open government, information to the public as much as possible.
Obviously, there are Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act principles that we have to be cognizant of. With that caveat, our intention is to make as much information as possible available to the public. Certainly, if there is any compliance and enforcement action, that is being made available.
M. Sather: I think that's one of the problems, though. There were instances, certainly, where these businesses were out of compliance, but there wasn't any enforcement action. So will the government then commit, though…? I mean, that's a stalemate. It's not going to help the public. If there is no enforcement, there's not going to be…. Will the government commit to bringing forward these kinds of problems? They were significant, and there were a whole range of them. It wasn't just one or two. There were quite a number of them.
So even though there is no enforcement action, will the government commit to putting the instances of that non-compliance on their website?
Hon. T. Lake: The member just said that there was no enforcement, referring to the incidents that he is referring to. My understanding is that there was, in fact,
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enforcement, and that the proponent had to spend $1 million correcting the problem.
I'm not quite sure what the member is getting at. He seems to indicate that things happen and government doesn't do anything about it. In this particular case, my understanding — although it is not my ministry, so I stand to be corrected if mistaken — is that the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, once this became known, took action and, in fact, the proponent had to correct the problem.
The intent is to make sure that people have available to them information about compliance and enforcement activities attached to a permit or attached to a Ministry of Environment or environmental assessment office certificate.
M. Sather: I don't believe there were any fines levied in any of these instances. The minister can correct me — he's the one that has the information — if I'm wrong.
The minister said that subject to privacy considerations, information can be made available to the public. Can the minister be more specific, particularly with regard to these kinds of instances? How do privacy considerations come into effect, and how might that affect the government's decision to put information about these problems on the website?
Hon. T. Lake: I regret to inform the member that I'm not an expert on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, but we do have people that work for government that understand that and can advise ministers of their fiduciary responsibility to uphold that act.
Again, Madam Chair, I would ask that members opposite perhaps narrow the scope of their discussion to the actual estimates of this ministry. We seem to be straying off into a lot of policy issues rather than talking about the financial and fiscal contents of the estimates for the Ministry of Environment.
M. Sather: The minister had made a statement with regard to making transparency and open government, and that's great. The only thing is that we need to have the follow-up.
The other thing that I wanted to ask the minister about is that he said, with regard to these projects, that there are always some problems that are to be expected. I wanted to clarify. Did the minister mean that the kinds of problems that are laid out — and they are, as I say, considerable, in my view — by these FOIs…? Is that what the minister is referring to when he said that these are kind of to be expected?
Hon. T. Lake: I did not say that these problems are to be expected. I said whenever development occurs on the land base, there will be impacts. If the member isn't aware of that, well, I guess this is news. Whenever we do any kind of development, whether it's building a house, building a dam or all those things in between, we understand that there are going to be impacts to the natural environment.
Our obligation is to make sure that we develop this province in a sustainable way. That's why we have processes in place to protect the interests of British Columbians and protect the natural environment, knowing that we're going to have some kind of impact when we do any kind of development. If the member opposite is suggesting that we do nothing on the land base — no development, never, not in my backyard, ever — then he should say so.
M. Sather: No, I'm not suggesting that. I'm just asking the minister to provide an answer to the question. So he rephrased it to say that I have said there will be impacts on the land base. So my question is: are these impacts on the land base the kinds of impacts that the minister was referring to as those that would be expected in any project like this?
Hon. T. Lake: What I was saying, Member, was that whenever we do any kind of development, there will be impacts, which is why we have processes in place that protect the environment from significant adverse impacts. The kinds of things we do are…. For instance, when we issue an environmental assessment certificate, we put conditions on that certificate. Whenever we issue a permit, there are conditions around that permit.
Our obligation is to monitor and enforce compliance on those permissions that we, on behalf of British Columbians, give to proponents to operate on the land base.
M. Sather: On the Ashlu project, one of the problems that came to light was that there were insufficient water flows over a fish ladder designed for rainbow trout. It was a serious problem. I'm wondering if the minister can tell me whether that's been rectified.
Hon. T. Lake: As I mentioned earlier, this is under the purview of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
M. Sather: Now, one of the things that regulators, as I understand, have come up against with regard to getting these projects to work in the way that I'm sure the minister would want them to — which would be without harming fish — is that they're saying: "Well, we can't raise the level of the water in the river because that's an economic hardship for us to do so." In other words, they need to maintain a level of flow in order to realize the economic benefit they want to.
The minister has been dealing with this file for quite a while. I'm just wondering: how does the minister view that? Is economic hardship a fair reason to say: "Well, sorry. We can't prevent fish kills"? How does he see the trade-off between the need to protect the fish and the need for the company to make money?
Hon. T. Lake: I won't speak to this specific instance because it is, as I mentioned, under the purview of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. I can tell you, for instance, in the Kokish River proposal environmental assessment that I reviewed, the working group spent a considerable amount of time looking at instream flow requirements.
The proponent had suggested that a certain level of instream flow requirements were satisfactory at certain times of the year to maintain fish habitat for those fish that come back to spawn. The working group said: "Actually, we don't think that's adequate. We would like higher instream flow requirements." They challenged the proponent. The proponent, obviously, would prefer their set of recommendations. The working group said: "No, this is not adequate."
I guess the answer is that the fish habitat is protected by the conditions of the permit or the environmental assessment certificate. The proponent either can do it economically, or they make a decision that no, they in fact can't, and then the project doesn't happen.
Another example is, a couple of years ago in the Nicola Valley — I believe it was the Coldwater River — where kokanee were spawning and the instream flow, because of the drought, was insufficient to support the spawning of the kokanee. Ranchers in that area were asked to stop irrigating so that we could have more flow into the stream to support the kokanee spawning.
I only know this because it happened in my general area in the interior of British Columbia, so I was somewhat knowledgable about the issue and working with a ranching task force. It was a rancher that was affected, so I kind of looked into it a little bit more. In that case, the rancher was expected to stop irrigating to support fish habitat.
That's another example of protecting fish habitat and ensuring that even those that benefit from the water, whether it's to irrigate hay crops or to produce power…. If there are flows required to protect fish habitat, flows will be provided to protect fish habitat. We have had many examples where this government has enforced that.
R. Fleming: I want to get the minister back to the potential changes to the Fisheries Act just to finish off that line of questioning. It could mean, as he acknowledged, big things for British Columbia and a significant response from his ministry taking the lead if those changes to sections 35 and 36 are put through.
For example, gravel mining in the Fraser River would now have to become more of a provincial responsibility to look at fish habitat and large-scale hydroelectric development. Even for the ones that the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows was just talking about there would be a greater onus on B.C.
Earlier in the estimates debate the minister said — he corrected me — that British Columbia actually wasn't consulted with the proposed changes that Conservatives, like Minister Ashfield, are out motivating in favour of now and suggesting will come to the House of Commons very soon. That was a new piece of information I didn't have. The minister wasn't consulted. His government wasn't consulted.
I would like to ask him if — I hope I'm getting my acronyms right — the Council of Ministers of the Environment of Canada is going to…. Surely, if there's ever an issue to convene a meeting, this would be it. Is there such a meeting planned, and if there is, what position will the minister and his government take on the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act?
Hon. T. Lake: Alberta is the host of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment for this year, tentatively scheduled for June. As we know, there is a provincial election in Alberta so things could change. We don't have a finalized date for that meeting.
To ask for our position on hypothetical changes…. As I've mentioned, I'm not in the hypothetical game. If changes occurred to the Fisheries Act, absolutely, we want to be engaged. We are interested in what those changes mean for protection of habitat in British Columbia.
Once we understand what, if any, changes occur to the Fisheries Act, we will certainly be fully engaged to understand what those changes are and, as I mentioned before, to assess the need for any legislative changes here in British Columbia that may be needed as a reaction to those changes. But until we have that information, it's pure speculation at this time.
R. Fleming: I wonder if I could direct the minister's attention to ask some questions about B.C. Parks. I don't know if he needs a minute to change staff to inform the minister.
Hon. T. Lake: I wanted to introduce Lori Halls, who is the assistant deputy minister for B.C. Parks and for the conservation officer service, and would hope that everyone here joins me in welcoming her and wishing her a very happy birthday today.
The Chair: Member — and happy birthday as well.
R. Fleming: Happy birthday, indeed.
The questions I want to begin with are around the global budget issues with parks. The parks budget has
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fallen this year. I wonder if the minister can explain why that has happened and whether he anticipates further cuts or a restoration of the parks budget during the life of the service plan. There is absolutely no movement over the three years with the budget that we're debating now. If he could just begin with that question.
Hon. T. Lake: I'm not sure where the member is looking, but actually, it's an increase of $143,000 in the operating budget, a reallocation of salary dollars from other areas within the Ministry of Environment and from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
We do actually have an increase in the operating budget of $143,000 — a 44 percent increase in the capital budget for B.C. Parks and a 27 percent increase in the infrastructure. This is the amount of money we spend in parks around the province, maybe putting in trails, washroom facilities, water treatment facilities.
I would say to the member that it's very good news for this budget. We've got increased capital dollars to invest in our parks. We've got more money for land acquisition, and we have a slight increase in our operating budget as well.
R. Fleming: I wanted to ask the minister how many park ranger full-time-equivalents are budgeted this year and how it compares to the previous fiscal year.
Hon. T. Lake: In year 2012-13, the year that we're in now, approximately 97 people are working in park ranger positions, ten of whom are regular — they work all year round — and then 87 that are seasonal. These rangers will come on stream right about now in some areas of the province. It depends on, obviously, the location in the province and the climactic conditions whether or not parks are being used extensively at that time. So it varies across parks.
In total there are 164 staff that have park ranger status. That can be park rangers, area supervisors, protected area section heads. They can carry out park ranger duties, as authorized under the Park Act.
In terms of full-time-equivalents, it's 115 full-time-equivalents. The number of seasonal park ranger positions is the same this year as it was in each of the past two years.
R. Fleming: I wanted to follow up on an Auditor General report that was done on parks and protected areas that focused on planning in the province of British Columbia.
It was a very critical audit of ministry performance on that. It forgave the ministry and linked some of its inability to update and implement plans. A significant percentage of B.C. parks and protected areas had no master planning in place, and many had one that was a decade or even two decades out of date. The Auditor General concluded that the resources were not adequate for the ministry to keep on top of the approximately 13 million hectares of parks and set-aside areas in B.C.
I wanted to ask the minister how he has responded to this audit. It's not a new audit at this point in time, but it is recent enough. I would ask him how many park plans have been updated, how many are currently in progress, and has the budget for parks planning in fact actually changed in this fiscal year to address the major concerns that the Auditor General has.
Hon. T. Lake: The ministry responded to the Auditor General's report. As the member knows, the Auditor General's office follows up on those recommendations. In fact, in October of this past year the Office of the Auditor General followed up and reported out publicly on the progress of B.C. Parks on the seven recommendations that were delivered by the Office of the Auditor General.
At that reporting time one of those recommendations was considered fully implemented, five partially implemented, and one had an alternative action taken. So I would say that we've had a very positive response to the Auditor General's report.
In terms of the number of parks that have management plans completed, about two-thirds of the 627 parks have had management plans completed. Also, of course, there are protected areas involved. There are 858 parks and protected areas that have had conservation risk assessments done, looking at high-value and high-priority conservation values and how activities may affect those.
Again, I think it's been a very good response to the Auditor General's report. We look like we are on track, in terms of the reporting out of the Auditor General, in responding to those recommendations in a way that appears satisfactory to the Office of the Auditor General. Certainly, I think there has been a lot of good work that has been done on this file since the Auditor General's report.
R. Fleming: The Premier of British Columbia used to have a lot to say about parks when she was an opposition member. On one occasion when the previous government was expanding the parks system in British Columbia, her comment was: "If government is serious about creating parks in British Columbia, they should devote some money to it." She went on to say a few years later: "Unless there is a financial commitment to manage new parks and to enforce rules on these parks, it doesn't mean very much."
Now she's the Premier of British Columbia. We haven't seen an increase under her watch for parks funding. In fact, if you look at this decade and parks funding in B.C., it's declined since 2001, as well as new parks and protect-
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ed area initiatives. What we have seen is that 14 percent more land has been set aside but that the parks system has 26 percent less funding overall. It is now about $2.23 per hectare. That's as far as the B.C. Parks budget goes. To put that into some perspective, Parks Canada manages 22½ million hectares and spends $35.80 per hectare.
I know that the minister is aware that parks funding is a controversial issue. Freedom-of-information requests have revealed staff comments showing challenges, even difficulties in showing up to work in ministry vehicles because the budgets are so thin in B.C. Parks.
He's had some time now in his position, but he's defending a budget that does not increase parks funding again. I wanted to ask him whether he agrees with the Premier's comments that the expansion of the parks system realistically requires an expansion of the parks budget. Does he agree with that statement?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, I would say that it's important to have a budget that allows a parks system to operate in a way that we can all be proud, and I would say that our staff does just a remarkable job. And I would say that we're very fortunate in the province of British Columbia to have volunteers throughout the province as well. I'm not saying that we should depend on volunteers to do all of our work for us, but volunteers in every community — as we start National Volunteer Week — are important contributors to many different activities the government supports.
I just want to take a moment, if I may, if the member will indulge me, to say thank you to the thousands of parks volunteers that we have throughout the province.
I was with the member from North Vancouver, working with some members of the Vancouver Korean Hiking Club on the weekend in Mount Seymour Park deactivating a trail that was in an area that had important values for First Nations and posed some potential safety issues for the public. It was an unauthorized trail. That's an example of volunteers coming together.
They love B.C. parks, and they want to support them. That's why we announced $200,000, over the weekend, over the next year to assist and support volunteers throughout the province of British Columbia, to develop a website for volunteers and a blog where they can upload photos and their stories about the projects they're doing. We've been able, with small amounts of money, to support them in their projects throughout the province.
Is money important? Yes, it is, but human capital is extremely important. We have such dedicated staff, dedicated volunteers.
I do want to say that if you try to bring it down to a per-hectare comparison, the parks and protected areas of British Columbia…. We have almost 14 percent of the land base in parks and protected areas in British Columbia, which is well above the United Nations recommendation. Only about 2 percent of those areas are actually touched by human activity. It's a bit, I think, apples and oranges to compare the federal government versus provincial government parks and protected areas, because there are often difficult activities that occur in those parks.
Also, when we have opportunities to bring an area of the province into a protected area — this may be through First Nations treaty negotiations; it may be that we have donations from non-government organizations or private individuals — we take advantage of those opportunities, because we may never get those opportunities again. We don't turn down opportunities to protect land in the province of British Columbia.
The member knows that there are fiscal challenges. I know the member opposite, if he were in government, would simply keep churning out more cheques to support every program in government so that our children could spend the rest of their lives paying off that debt. We don't believe that's responsible.
We believe that we have to live within our fiscal means, which sometimes means that we don't have the opportunity to increase budgets in all areas of government as we protect health care and education above all.
There will be economic opportunities, as the fiscal situation turns around, to look at more investments in the parks and protected areas of British Columbia. I mentioned that this year we are fortunate to have a 44 percent increase in the capital budget for our park system. The Premier of this province announced last year that we would remove pay parking so that it would be affordable for families to utilize the day use areas of our provincial parks. That's something that I think was very well received by the people of British Columbia.
Certainly, though, all of these decisions we make come with fiscal challenges. The member opposite would simply pour more money into everything. As the minister responsible for parks, would I like more money? Absolutely. Every minister would love more money for their ministry. But I am committed, as members of my government are, to fiscal responsibility, to having a balanced budget in 2013-14. As part of that, all ministries have to operate within their fiscal means.
I'm very proud of the work that our staff does, given that mandate. The incidents the member's referring to were from a couple of years ago. I have been fortunate to be able to travel throughout the province and visit some of the parks, talk to our park staff and our park facility operators. I'm happy to report that our parks are in great shape. We are doing a tremendous job. We are increasing our investment in the capital infrastructure of our parks this year.
R. Fleming: I appreciate, I think, the minister's speech about why he has been unable to secure new parks funding.
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He knows that this is critical. He supported, just over a year ago…. I know he didn't get his choice on who he'd like to be the leader of his party and the head of government. He supported the now Minister of Education, the new Minister of Education, who committed — and I think it was a good starting point for rebuilding B.C. parks — to a 10 percent budget lift, a $3 million annual lift to the parks. Presumably, the Minister of Environment agreed with him. He supported him. That hasn't come to pass, and he hasn't been able to convince his cabinet colleagues or the leader who did win that contest.
Parks budgets are a place that can sustain no more cuts. The minister talked and praised staff, and rightly, because they're holding this system together through heroic efforts. He also talked about volunteers.
I want to go to one aspect of volunteers that's in my neck of the woods here, in the capital region where, literally, the programming that takes place in Goldstream Park simply would not exist. It exists without a single dollar of government support, and it exists based on volunteers that run the Goldstream nature house.
The programs they provide are of tremendous importance. The salmon run viewing that is seen by tens of thousands of elementary students and people of all ages in British Columbia and that educates them about salmon is even more important now after the fuel spill disaster in Goldstream Park. It's important for people to go and see how well that is recovering.
As the minister knows, it was the Liberals that got rid of all interpretation and visitor program funding. We're the only jurisdiction in North America, other than Mississippi, that doesn't have budgeted interpretation programs. Gordon Campbell acknowledged this. He publicly committed to restoring it. He admitted that doing away with it in 2002 was a mistake. So far, nothing has come of that commitment, and he's not around anymore, of course.
I would ask the minister, because he has praised volunteers here this afternoon, whether B.C. Parks has any contracts to provide interpretation that are either direct or indirect and whether he feels that interpretation programs are in fact a valuable addition to B.C. parks and should be better supported.
Hon. T. Lake: Interpretive programs are, I think, important. It connects young people, particularly, with nature and serves to really tie them to the values that are important for us as a society. Interpretive programs, whether…. I mean, I've seen interpretive programs in different parks. I've seen them on B.C. Ferries. These are really good opportunities to engage young people and introduce them to the values that we hold dear.
To say that we don't do any interpretive programs, though…. Well, it's incorrect, because we contract with park facility operators. Park facility operators are private businesses that are contracted to run B.C. parks. Part of that experience in some of these parks is interpretation.
Park facility operators throughout the province…. Not all of them, but some park facility operators do operate interpretive programs, because they recognize that that keeps people coming back to the particular parks they are responsible for. Obviously, that increases business, and that increases the return to the park facilities operator. As an investment in their business, which is carried out on behalf of the people of British Columbia, they invest in interpretive programs.
Would I like to see an expansion of interpretive programs throughout the province or in more areas of the province? Yes, I would. I've asked staff to look at different ways that we can do this. We could do it the way governments have always done, and that's just to put more money into it, but as I mentioned, I'm not willing to sacrifice the fiscal future of my children at any cost to provide programming. But I think there are other creative ways.
We have companies that are very willing to partner with B.C. Parks. Mountain Equipment Co-op is a very good example of a company that put $100,000 last year into park celebrations around the province. I have asked staff to look at opportunities to partner with appropriate private business around the province in terms of looking at sponsorship of interpretive programs.
Unlike the member opposite, I believe there are creative ways to actually achieve the objectives rather than simply pouring more taxpayer money into a program. I think there are other ways to bring the community together to provide opportunities to achieve those objectives, like interpretation.
R. Fleming: It's unfortunate that the minister keeps calling interpretation services some kind of add-on that isn't worthy of any government support, because his government has been warned that interpretation services here on Vancouver Island are in jeopardy of not existing anymore, at least not in their current form where they are freely open and available to the public.
They can't privately finance them anymore, and the contracts they have with B.C. Parks do not compensate them to do that, to provide that service. They have been doing it of their own accord, and that can only go on for so long.
Those are the words of those that are involved in the interpretation programs, not my words. But that's fine. He has said what he has said today.
I think the last question on this section, and then some other members have questions on parks, is around whether the minister's government still has the ambition that it once proclaimed, in 2007, which was to create "the best park system in the world." That was the performance benchmark or indicator, the goal that was in the service plan just a few years ago.
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I don't see it in there anymore. It hasn't been replaced with a different goal around having an adequate or an okay park system. I wonder whether the goal itself has been abandoned or where it exists in government. I think this is the really important question: does the minister consider current funding to be adequate to meeting the goal to have the best park system in the world?
Hon. T. Lake: British Columbia has an amazing park system. It's the second-largest park system in Canada, the third-largest in North America. I think we can take great pride in our B.C. parks. Hundreds of thousands of people around the province visit our parks each year.
The member asks if I'm satisfied with the amount of funding to achieve the goal of having the best parks system in the world. Well, I think you always have to have aspirational goals. Would I like to see our park system become the best park system in the world? Absolutely, but I'm a realist. I understand fiscal responsibility. I'll come back to this, because I think it is important.
When you are in opposition, you can easily criticize the work of the public service and the government, but the reality is that you have to manage within a certain budget. To be fiscally responsible is one of the underpinnings of this government. I won't say that for the opposition, because I don't believe it is true. But it is true for this government, which means that we have to live within our means. Does that mean we get everything we want for every one of our ministries? No, it doesn't.
What it means is that we use taxpayers' money, in a way, as if it was our own personal money. We look at ways of doing things differently to squeeze as much value out of every dollar. I'll say this: our park facility operators, our park rangers and our parks staff all do their job with passion, with hard work. They are amazing people.
I've met with park facility operators, met with our parks staff. They understand that there are fiscal challenges, that every single ministry — whether you're Ministry of Environment, whether you're Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, whether you're Social Development — would like to have more money, because it makes life so much easier to do the things you want.
As a responsible government you have to make decisions about the amount of money the taxpayers are willing to pay and the amount of services you can deliver, knowing that the priorities for most British Columbians are to ensure that we have continued funding for our health care system, continued expansion of funding for our health care system as demands increase, continued expansion of funding for education and looking at other ministries and making sure that we get the best value for money that we possibly can.
When our economic situation changes, as we confidently believe it will…. Economic indicators are looking very positive for British Columbia when you compare it to any other jurisdiction in the world. Our triple-A credit rating was just reaffirmed by the two largest credit-rating organizations in the world. This will allow us opportunities in the future. When those opportunities for continued investment occur, you can bet this minister will be at the table advocating on behalf of the Ministry of Environment.
I am acutely aware of the responsibility I have as a minister, that we have as a government, to be fiscally responsible. We owe that to the taxpayers of British Columbia. I owe that to my children and to other future generations.
R. Fleming: It is becoming quite clear why the minister has failed to get any new funding for B.C.'s park system. He has just given a lecture on fiscal responsibility.
It has provided no balance or understanding for a tourism industry that provides $13 billion to $14 billion of GDP revenue to government to pay for health care and education services. Having an underfunded B.C. parks system that is losing ground to Oregon, to Washington State, to Alberta, who invest significantly more than this jurisdiction in their parks services, is a way of giving advantage to your competitors.
It's a way of seeing visitor experiences and ratings decline in your parks system. It's a way of ruining your line of business. In this case we're talking about having a parks system that has a reputation that is strong and that is an attractor for our economy.
He can't even convince himself that parks are worth it, so it is no wonder that he has been unable to convince his fellow cabinet ministers that B.C. Parks should be getting more investment, especially after the downturn in the economy…
Hon. T. Lake: Do you have a question, or are you just going on a diatribe?
R. Fleming: I think you just went on a fiscal economics lecture, so give me a chance here.
…especially after the 2008 downturn, when it became critically important for our economy to keep domestic travel and visitation dollars here in our economy and to attract as many as we could.
Other jurisdictions have invested in their parks system in the exact same years that this government has cut, in subsequent years, year after year, B.C.'s park system. That is not sustainable over the long term. That is not smart business practice.
Again, I would ask the minister: does he consider the current funding adequate to meet the goal of "having the best parks system in the world," and will he commit today to advocate for sustainable interpretation funding?
He's fully aware that those services, which are held together on a shoestring by volunteer organizations, are in danger of disappearing in many regions in British Columbia. That would be a further loss of the park experience in British Columbia and a further disincentive to use
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B.C. parks and to spend money here in British Columbia's economy.
Hon. T. Lake: It's the same old story from the NDP. "More money, more money, more money will make everything okay." Well, we have a parks system that protects nearly 14 percent of this province. We have almost 1,000 provincial parks, and we have 80 percent satisfaction from our visitors to B.C. parks — 80 percent satisfaction. For a parks system that's falling apart, that's a pretty good response from our visitors.
I'll tell you what happens when you don't have fiscal responsibility. When you look around the world and you see what happens to jurisdictions that have not been fiscally responsible…. Maybe the member opposite doesn't read newspapers telling him what's going on in the rest of the world, so let me give him an update on what's going on in places like Greece, like Spain, like Ireland, like California.
In California 70 of 279 parks had to be closed due to budget cuts. That's what happens when you don't look after the fiscal bottom line of government. This government is committed to being fiscally responsible, to having a balanced budget by 2013-14. As part of that, we have to ensure that we get full value out of every taxpayer dollar that we spend.
Will I advocate for greater investment in B.C. Parks? I already have. The member fails to acknowledge that we have $3 million more in capital funding this year and each year after that. I am at a loss to understand the member's comments about a lack of investment when it is clear that we have a 27 percent increase in the capital infrastructure for B.C. Parks. That happened because we had passionate leadership for our parks file. We will continue to have passionate leadership.
When the fiscal situation for this province improves, you can bet that I'll be there advocating on behalf of every part of my ministry, and of course that includes B.C. Parks.
R. Fleming: Land and resource management plans, begun in approximately 1993, were completed in the northern part of the province, in the Lower Mainland and here on the Island. I'm wondering what the status is of LRMPs in the South Okanagan region.
Hon. T. Lake: That is under the purview of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
R. Fleming: I asked the minister because it's something that is part of a recent decision that the minister made to withdraw the province's participation in the national park feasibility study that was occurring in the South Okanagan–Similkameen region. B.C. suddenly and unexpectedly, I think, wound down its participation in that process, and now the federal government and Parks Canada have put it on hold indefinitely, until such time as the province signals that it is interested in participating again.
I wanted to ask the minister a few questions about the national park feasibility study in this region, now that the process has been stalled indefinitely. We are talking about a body of work that is more than eight years in the making. The process was really in a sort of close-to-completion stage, and I think the information would be intelligible and useful to the public to understand the minister's decision. If he were to release documents done to date and at various stages of completion that were related to the feasibility study of the park…. I would ask him if he's willing to do that.
Hon. T. Lake: I presume the member is referring to the South Okanagan proposed national park that his colleague the member for Fraser-Nicola is opposed to and that his colleague the former Leader of the Opposition is opposed to.
That feasibility study has been done. We are working with Parks Canada on releasing that feasibility study. Those talks continue. They are heavily involved and still talking with First Nations in the area. We are talking to the federal government about release of that feasibility study, but no decision has been made at this time.
R. Fleming: Yes, the minister is correct. I'm talking about the South Okanagan–Similkameen feasibility study, Parks Canada study, which the current member for Boundary-Similkameen was a strong supporter of. So he's got that right.
He just gave an answer that said that there's a discussion about releasing the feasibility study and that it could happen in the near future. I'm wondering who is a part of that decision-making process and at what stage that discussion is. Is it something that the public and the taxpayers, who contributed resources to have the province sit at that table, can anticipate having soon?
The work was done on their dime. They're interested in the results — or partial results, depending on what part of the study we're talking about — and being able to digest the material that informed this minister's decision to get out of the process.
Hon. T. Lake: Well, Parks Canada funded the study. We contributed in-kind resources. It is their study, essentially. We are in discussion with them at the moment. I can't tell the member when that decision will be made, but our parks staff people are talking with Parks Canada about that decision.
R. Fleming: I'm going to ask the minister about his decision, because in his public comments he claimed that there was inadequate support in the region for this park.
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The government didn't release any polling information, to my knowledge, or anything that created a benchmark or a measurement of what could underlie that comment from the minister.
Has there been public opinion research and studies done in that region, in all the different areas of the region that would be near or impacted by the park? If so, would that information be available to members of the Legislature and to the public?
Hon. T. Lake: As part of the feasibility study I believe some polling was done. As I said, that's part of the feasibility study that…. You know, it's up to Parks Canada in conjunction with our parks staff to make a decision about releasing that information.
I won't comment on the studies that were done, but I will say this. There was considerable local opposition to the national park concept, reflected by his colleague from Fraser-Nicola and by the former Leader of the Opposition, whose public comments indicated non-support for the park. The member for Boundary-Similkameen has also expressed opposition to the park.
I can tell the member that we have had significant correspondence. I've met, for instance, with the B.C. Cattlemen's Association. I've been on the phone to the local stockmen's association and ranching industry organizations that are opposed to the concept of a national park. I have letters from local government leaders who are opposed to the concept of a national park. I have letters from significant private businesses in the area that are opposed to a national park. I have letters from individual First Nations that are opposed to the idea of a national park.
The national park is a grand idea, and I think all of us appreciate national parks. We are working with the federal government on a national marine conservation area strategy for the southern Strait of Georgia. I think those are great ideas. They don't fit every part of the province.
Recently, you know, a local government in the greater Vancouver area, Bowen Island, had a referendum in conjunction with their local government act. Essentially, local people said no to the idea of looking at a national park for Bowen Island. Whenever you do something that changes land use in such a dramatic way, I think it's important to have not just tepid support locally but very strong support locally.
The reality is that we were not seeing that strong support locally. I think that's why some of the member's colleagues reflected that view. It's a grand idea. It doesn't always fit. It impacts the lives — working lives, everyday lives — of people in the local area, and while others outside the area may think it's something that should be done, I think when we do something that changes the use on the land base so dramatically, that we take into account the feelings of the local population.
Now, I will say to the member, and I'm sure he knows very well, that there are other mechanisms that are available to protect the important conservation values of that area. In fact, 20 percent of that area is under some form of protection, whether it's in a provincial park, a protected area, a wildlife management area or an ecological reserve.
These are all mechanisms that can be used to protect the conservation values of those grasslands that we all recognize as important, without impacting the commercial viability of operations that occur in those areas and without impacting the lives of ranchers that have had a lifestyle that they value for over a hundred years in that area.
So to say that we're not interested in preserving conservation values is absolutely wrong. We are very interested in that. We just don't have the amount of support locally to justify changing so dramatically the land use of a large part of the southern Okanagan and Similkameen area.
R. Fleming: Well, I think it's a good idea for the minister to release whatever public opinion polling he has used to back his decision or to gauge what he describes as a lack of public support for this park to the public as soon as possible. Because what most people, whether for the park idea or against it, will agree on is that the way the process was ended wasn't satisfactory to anyone.
It has pointed no way ahead for the number one endangered ecosystem on the federal government's list for endangered species, biodiversity — the ponderosa pine ecosystem, the grasslands areas. That's why it was identified and achieved such significance. So there's no way ahead coming out of this now-orphaned process that we've been at for eight years. The minister hasn't given any today. He sort of thought out loud on what we might do, but he's got nothing to replace a discussion that was happening that involved the main players that needed to be involved.
He said that his decision was made on the basis of a popularity contest or a polling service that was available to him but isn't available to the public to judge. We do know that there is other public opinion polling on the public record that shows support for the park in the region. There's a McAllister public opinion poll from 2010. That is, by the way, before the park feasibility study gained additional supporters for that process. It's showing 63 percent of regional residents supporting a national park.
In 2009 the Similkameen Planning Committee also produced public opinion polling as part of their report. It showed that opposition to the park was less than 20 percent in both areas, the Okanagan and the Similkameen.
There was public opinion polling done by the South Okanagan-Similkameen conservation program — this is a bit older; it's 2008 — that showed a concern for the threats to that region and support for initiatives that were
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up to and including the creation of a national park.
So we're here really in no man's land after the province was able to pull the plug and Parks Canada was forced to discontinue the process. I wonder what the minister — because he has given a few examples of people in the area that were opposed to it — thinks of the 3,200 businesses that are represented by the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, who are in full support of proceeding and concluding the national park feasibility study.
He has also received letters — or should have received letters — that were signed by 233 scientists, including Dr. Weaver. I know he knows Andrew Weaver personally. That was sent to the Premier, and I think he was cc'd on that. There was also a petition given here in the Legislative Assembly with 20,000 names in support of the feasibility study.
My point is that there was significant support shown for the concept, significant support by people living in the region for the concept, to conclude the park feasibility study. He cited some selective evidence that says opposition was too strong in the region, and he won't release it here today.
So I would ask him again. He has to justify this decision because only he had the power to make it. Will he release the information that was made available to him that apparently is in direct contradiction to all the other public opinion research that we have had to date on this project?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, the member cites a lot of information from people outside of the region. While I understand the importance of the conservation values that those organizations are espousing, I have said to the member and will reiterate that there are other mechanisms that are available to protect those important conservation values.
The decision to bring this process to a halt after eight years…. People that lived in that area lived under uncertain conditions for eight years — people whose properties were going to be affected; whose lifestyles were going to be affected; whose sporting activities were going to be affected; whose very business, their livelihoods, were going to be affected. For eight years they were living in an uncertain world.
I made the decision that we did not have adequate public support so that we could end the uncertainty. Does that mean that this area would never aspire to have the full protective values of a national park? I can't say that for sure, because the future is a very long time.
I do know that at this time there is not adequate public support in the region. It may be fine for someone in Victoria to say what they think should happen in Oliver, Osoyoos, Penticton or other parts of the province. It's the people whose lives are dramatically changed by government decisions that I think need to be heard.
Those people include members of the Grasslands Park Review Coalition; members of the B.C. Wildlife Federation, members who are employed by and invest in Canadian Helicopters, members of the Southern Interior Stockman's Association, members of the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, members of the Southern Okanagan Sportsmen's Association, the Keremeos-Cawston Sportsmen Association, the South Okanagan recreational vehicle club and local government leaders that have written to me to say: "Thank you for bringing this uncertainty to an end." They have said: "We needed to move forward with the next stage of our lives. Thank you for providing certainty."
If there was overwhelming public support for this initiative locally, I would be all over this. It would be the right thing to do. But there is not enough local public support to dramatically change the land use in that area when there are other tools that can be used to preserve conservation values that we know are important to the grasslands.
I come from an area of the province with grasslands. Lac du Bois is a treasure in the Kamloops region. Protecting grasslands is important. I've worked with the Grasslands Conservation Council. We support their activities. We know how important grasslands are. But in this situation there was not enough evidence to indicate that altering land use so dramatically was in the interests of the people in the local area.
B. Ralston: I've given some brief advance notice to staff of my intention to ask a question about what's called expanded polystyrene. It's more commonly known by its trade name, which is Styrofoam.
As the minister and his staff will know, there is a regime of recycling electronic components, but the packaging, which is used to shield electronic components — whether they're stereos or televisions or all the kind of electronic gear that people buy — is usually made of expanded polystyrene.
The stewardship program for recycled materials pertains only to the electronic devices themselves and not to the packaging that comes with it. It's a very common product. People will be very familiar with it. It has a lot of uses, but in the waste stream it's notable for the fact that it doesn't degrade for approximately a thousand years or so.
I have been approached, and members of both the government and the opposition have been approached, by a manufacturer of expanded polystyrene in Langley called Mansonville Plastics, and that's what they do. That's their business. But in addition to producing it and selling it, they've also voluntarily undertaken to receive recycled polystyrene.
A number of opposition members — and I believe there was a similar tour given to members on the government side — were taken to their office yard and manufacturing facility in Langley. There's one about an acre and
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a half, which is a mountain of polystyrene. And there's really no….
They don't want to ship it into the waste stream. They're voluntarily receiving it from members of the public, but obviously that places a huge cost burden on them. There are some methods of dealing with it where it's shipped to China and broken down and then reconstituted for other products. That's not really a satisfactory solution.
So my question is to the minister. I know that some of his staff have received this proposal. I'm really abbreviating it quite considerably. What is the minister's view of the necessity to recycle polystyrene, to engage in a program to have it taken out of the waste stream and be recycled? What are the ministry's plans in that regard? Would the minister care to comment upon the value of undertaking and beginning such a program — if not now, in the near future?
Hon. T. Lake: I completely agree with the member. Polystyrene is a product that is problematic in terms of the amount of material that's out there and ways of recycling it.
I just want to mention that there is one company in British Columbia that currently does take back Styrofoam, or polystyrene, that it sells with its products. London Drugs does a great job. It was about a year ago when I rode their polystyrene bicycle that they had created as sort of a promo of their service, whereby their customers can return the Styrofoam packaging to them.
That's why we have passed a regulation that will come into force May of 2014 over packaging and printed paper. We will challenge — and have challenged — the producers of packaging to be responsible, from the production of the packaging through to the end life of the packaging. As we have with many of our extended producer responsibility programs, we have challenged the industry to come up with a program for recycling of packaging and printed paper. Polystyrene will be included in that.
We give industry a head start in order to plan. Multi-Material B.C. is the organization that is sort of taking the lead on this file. They are working with the newspaper industry, with the Retail Council of Canada, to look at a program whereby, by May of 2014, all packaging and printed paper will be recycled.
What we hope that will do is not just make it so that packaging can be recycled but will make producers of all kinds of products and the packaging think about the whole life cycle of that product and that package so that different techniques are used to design packaging, to design products, so that we have less that we need to worry about at the end of its life cycle.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
This is a way in which we are transferring the responsibility for a product and its packaging from the taxpayer to the producer and the consumer of the product and its packaging. I'm very happy to tell the member that we recognize that this is a challenge and that we have, in fact, a regulation that will come into force in May of 2014 that will lead to the full life-cycle responsibility and costs of recycling polystyrene and other packaging.
B. Ralston: Mansonville Plastics, who have voluntarily undertaken to receive recycled expanded polystyrene material from the public, have this yard that's full of a mountain of this. The minister has said that a regulation is coming into effect in 2014. I suppose the question would be: what advice would the minister offer to this company that's seeking some assistance from the ministry in terms of dealing with it?
They don't feel it would be responsible to simply dump it into the waste stream. But financially they are in a position where it's becoming an increasing burden and simply an administrative and management problem for them.
I know one of the minister's officials has met with them. I think Mansonville Plastics is waiting for some kind of response. Is there is a response that the minister is prepared to give at this time? If not at this time, then will the minister commit to crafting some kind of response in writing, within the next 30 days or so, to this company?
Hon. T. Lake: My kudos to the member for advocating on behalf of a constituent in this fashion. We're always interested to know what opportunities there are to help us manage environmental challenges. But at this time this company has taken on this product. As I say, we are working on a recycling regulation that will make it mandatory for a stewardship program for this product.
We can't do that overnight. We have to give manufacturers and consumers an opportunity to understand what that means, to develop a program. We can't snap our fingers and deal with a problem that has been a problem for many, many years — decades.
We are acting on this. Unlike previous governments, we are acting on this. I'm happy to tell the member that by May of 2014 we will have a stewardship plan in place so that purchasers of products and packaging will have a stewardship plan in place and a depot where they can return this material.
B. Ralston: So beyond creating a depot and putting in some guidelines, can the minister just be a little bit more specific about what the program will involve? Will it be retroactive in the sense that this agency or this company might have some opportunity to participate in it, to unburden itself of the collection of expanded polystyrene it has collected in its works yard?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, I can't detail what the plan will look like. One of the features of an extended producer
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responsibility program in British Columbia — which I think has been tremendously successful; and believe me, we've had lots of positive comments from other jurisdictions about "this is the way to manage extended producer responsibility programs" — is we've challenged the industries that are involved.
Whether it's electronics or whether it's oil or whether it's tires, we said to the industry: "These are our objectives. How are you going to meet those objectives?" And they come together with a plan that involves how they're going to take back the product, how they're going to recycle the product, how they're going to cover the cost of that stewardship program. It's been tremendously successful.
It means, in some cases, that there are costs that are borne by industry. In some cases, it means that there are costs borne by the consumers of that product. If you purchase tires, you spend X amount of dollars for each tire to pay for the tire stewardship program.
When these programs come on stream, you may have saved up a bunch of tires in your garage — or, in my case, some old computers and old toaster ovens or old Easy-Bake ovens that your kids no longer use — that you can now take to a depot that accepts small electric appliances. But we leave it to the stewardship committee, the organization that is responsible for the stewardship of that product, to design the program.
In most cases, Member, I can say that any material that has been accumulated — by individuals, at least — is available for return once those programs begin. But I'm not willing to commit future stewardship programs to take back all of that product that may be out there that any one particular organization has as part of their inventory.
R. Fleming: I just want to conclude on the issue of recycling regulations that are changing under the timeline of this budget service plan and the regulatory changes that government has announced by order-in-council.
I just wanted to ask about the changes dealing with packaging and printed paper. There is some uncertainty about how this will work. The transfer of responsibility from municipal collection systems to an industry-led stewardship program will be significantly different, I think. One of the things I've been hearing from mayors and councillors right now is that they are certainly delaying any purchase of fleets and infrastructure that they use to deliver curbside recycling services because they simply don't know whether they'll be in that line of business or not.
So I wanted to ask the minister if he has responded to some of the points made by Metro Vancouver. Their preference, going forward, is to have Multi-Material B.C. — or an equivalency to Multi-Material B.C., who will be the steward — have the right, essentially, on a cost-analysis basis to be able to continue in their line of business if it has a superior economic case, as opposed to the wholesale transfer to the industry steward and government washes its hands of any of that responsibility. Is there anything the minister can update myself on about conversations that he may be having in that regard?
Hon. T. Lake: Yes, that's a very good question. When you're at the early stages of a transition or a change, there is some uncertainty, and we expect that. It's happened with all of our extended producer responsibility programs, where there's some uncertainty how it is going to work, the mechanics of it and who will be responsible for what. We're at that stage of uncertainty.
Multi-Material B.C. is committed to delivering a plan by November of this year on what the stewardship program would look like. Extensive consultations occur with local governments, either directly or through UBCM.
Metro Vancouver is an interesting case, because they have a solid waste management plan that encompasses the regional district, but often the plan is delivered by individual local governments. So it adds a layer of complexity that certainly poses a challenge.
Having said that, one of the concepts, one of the options available for a stewardship program like this is to say to local government: "You're doing a great job. You'll continue to do what you are doing."
I don't want to presuppose that that will be the outcome, but I can anticipate that that may be the outcome in some areas. I can think of the city of Kamloops, for instance, that has a very well-recognized recycling program, thanks to some past very good local leadership, which I would presume they would want to continue, or potentially continue, under the stewardship program.
Those are the kinds of conversations that the stewardship program has to have with local government. They are very actively involved with that, as our ministry staff are. I don't want to presuppose what the outcome of those discussions will be, but the member suggests that this could be one of the outcomes, and I agree that that is one of the potential outcomes of this stewardship program.
R. Fleming: One of the documents out there responding to government discussion papers and of course the regulation change from May 2011 is from the Paper and Paperboard Packaging.
What I've noticed, as an observation, is that industries that will now have responsibility…. In the case where their commodities have become quite valuable, they seem to have a higher degree of enthusiasm than other industries where that is not the case.
The Paper and Paperboard Packaging Environmental Council wrote to government and to Multi-Material B.C. and provided some comments. One of the things they insisted on, to make the transition successful, is that they asked for "effective legal control over the packaging and paper products that householders" — like you and I — "put on the curbs, depots and streetscapes."
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In other words, it seems to me they're asking for a legal recognition or some kind of control that will advantage them, potentially, in disputes they may or may not have with local government. I'm wondering if that is a flashpoint that the minister can better inform the thousands of people watching this broadcast about this afternoon.
Hon. T. Lake: To the Member's mom, I'll say this: it is a challenge and, understandably, a concern. If you have a product that is a commodity that is valuable and that is providing an income stream to a stewardship program, I would be concerned that I am getting the value and not taking on an unfair burden of the cost of the program.
I think that's what the member's getting at — that whether you're dealing with newsprint or cardboard, the producers of that product are credited with the revenue stream that comes from that. In other words, they are not disproportionately burdened with the cost of the entire program and that consideration is given as to the value of the product for which they are responsible.
I believe that's one of the principles of these programs, and that is the very live conversation that's going on. We will ensure that any program developed is fair and comprehensive and that the members and organizations participating in it obviously will have a representative voice on decisions that are made by the stewardship program.
R. Fleming: One of the things that's different from this round of expansion of extended producer responsibility, the model, to packaging and print material is that — unlike paint and batteries and all of the things that were begun in the 1990s and have been continued and been added to with small appliances, etc. — we're talking about products that, by and large, in some cases are heavily diverted from landfills now.
So in fact there is stewardship. There are recycling activities going. This is not a new model that is coming into a zero percent situation. We have diversion rates in excess of 50 percent for most packaging and printed material.
Within this group there was a discussion whether newspaper should be involved or not. Newspaper, of course, isn't packaging; it's the item you buy. It is the consumer item that is consumed. Newspaper has value as a commodity, and the newspaper industry has an appetite to get a hold of newsprint.
I'm just wondering if the minister has been able to respond to some of the conflicts that may be occurring between that part of the paper and packaging sector and other producers.
Hon. T. Lake: I have met with the newspaper organization. Let me just take a step back for a second. The whole idea of the extended producer responsibility programs is to shift responsibility away from the taxpayer to the producers and the consumers of the various products. So if I never read a newspaper, why should my taxes go to recycling that newspaper?
The member is correct in that British Columbians are great recyclers. Local governments provide tremendous recycling programs, so a 50 percent diversion rate is not unusual. I would say, however, that it's not acceptable.
We have in the Metro Vancouver solid waste management plan, for instance, diversion targets of 70 percent, with an aspirational goal of 80 percent diversion. The only way we're going to get there is to transfer responsibility to the producers and the consumers of the product.
The concept is this. If the producer and the consumer are responsible for the full costs of the product, meaning the external costs…. I know the member opposite is well versed in environmental economics and recognizing the external costs to what we do. If we can recognize all of the costs and the external costs included, then there will be a huge incentive on the part of not only the producer but the consumer to reduce the amount of packaging and other material used for these products.
As we shift responsibility to the producers and consumers, I believe we will unleash the creativity of the free market system to reduce the amount of packaging and, also, the ability, the ease, of recycling that packaging. So we are transferring the costs away from the taxpayer to the consumer and, obviously, the producer as well, to take responsibility, including the external costs of that product. I think it's the right thing to do. It's a challenge — no question.
This, I think, is one of the more challenging ones that we have encountered. When we look at paint, when we look at tires, when we look at electronic goods, there have been challenges there, but I think this one is the most challenging, which is why we are following the file closely, talking to people.
We've given, I think, a good lead time to be able to achieve these objectives, and I'm looking forward to November when a management plan will be submitted to government.
R. Fleming: That's where I wanted to conclude — with the management plan that Multi-Material B.C. has to submit to government by November 19 of this year. A lot of municipal governments, I think, are waiting to see how that plan will shape up — whether, in fact, there is a true transfer of cost from local government to be solely the responsibility of the producer.
I think government has an interest in making sure that the new system is, in fact, less expensive. You have to, I think, show that when you're talking about taxpayers that you're talking about consumers as well. I realize that sometimes the taxpayer is contributing, in the existing system, to something they may not have consumed, so it's different.
But it's important for government to maintain the abil-
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ity to see whether the system overall is in fact the most efficient one, is the most cost-effective one, and that the consumer interest, which is the provincial government's responsibility, is protected.
I think municipalities are…. The jury's out. Some of the problems are being foreseen. They are being talked about. What powers does the minister have, now that he has changed the law and changed the regulation, to respond to MMBC's plan? And if it is not satisfactory, to continue to work with local governments so that…. In other words, to not approve an unacceptable plan, what are the alternatives the minister would have after November 19?
Hon. T. Lake: I just want to thank the member, the other members of the opposition and the independent members for their questions over the last several hours and before the Easter break on our ministry estimates.
The draft plan will be submitted to staff. It is important to realize that there's a statutory decision-maker, which is actually not the minister in this case, that approves the plans and that also takes in the reports each year for the different stewardship programs we have in place. They will assess the plan. With ongoing plans, for instance, they may challenge the stewardship group to add targets or objectives. But that's not the minister's direct responsibility. There is a statutory decision-maker in the ministry who is responsible for that.
It's important to understand that these plans are audited and can only pass on the true costs of the program. They're not meant for profit. It is a non-profit system that can only charge the amount that's needed to run the program. As I said, we have a very good record in our extended producer responsibility programs to date, and we expect this one, though challenging, will have the same level of success.
R. Fleming: Before the minister calls the vote on his ministry, I'll just take the opportunity to thank him and to thank staff for being here over three days that were broken up by a session break. I thank them for being able to provide answers on the record and, to their fullest potential, answer questions that a number of my colleagues had. We appreciate that and wish him the best.
Let's get out of here. [Laughter.]
Vote 22: ministry operations, $99,366,000 — approved.
Vote 23: environmental assessment office, $8,754,000 — approved.
The Chair: We'll declare a brief recess as we move on to the next set of estimates.
The committee recessed from 4:53 p.m. to 5:01 p.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
JOBS, TOURISM AND INNOVATION
On Vote 30: ministry operations, $234,108,000.
Hon. P. Bell: Always an honour to be in the estimates period. I know staff have had an opportunity to brief opposition members. We're looking forward to working through the various divisions within the ministry.
It is a very broad-based ministry. I'm honoured to be the minister that likely has more critics than almost anyone else on the government side of the bench. I think there are about five or six critics, if I'm not mistaken, the last time I checked. I know there is an interest on the part of the independent members as well to canvass different issues within the ministry portfolio.
I'm hopeful that we can work through the process in an orderly fashion and conclude some of the divisions, such as PavCo and the Industry Training Authority, perhaps earlier on in the estimates period so that the folks that reside in Vancouver can go home and stay over there once we have concluded that part of the process, because I know that we're going to be here for a number of days. But we'll work through that as best we can.
The ministry is made up of probably five key divisions. Clearly, the jobs strategy. That includes international trade and marketing, the international trade division, the doubling of presence internationally. That includes the Forestry Innovation Investment account. We have a broad-ranging set of activities, both domestically and internationally, to help support and build the economy.
We released a job strategy in September of this year that focuses its efforts on eight different core areas that we believe support British Columbia's interests and help support individual communities across the province.
The innovation division has a number of different areas of responsibility, and we'll be releasing in the near future an innovation strategy that should help support the province in terms of, again, building an effective economy and supporting innovation and technology and all of the various aspects of the support in a cross-cutting way across different industrial sectors in the province.
The tourism division — a very capable group of individuals who market B.C.'s tourism industry both domestically and internationally — has done a wonderful job. I'm sure that we're going to have some time that we'll be focussing on that area.
The Industry Training Authority, responsible for providing training for different trades and technical sectors in the province, have done so aptly over the last number of years.
Then also, of course, the B.C. Pavilion Corporation, which has responsibility for both B.C. Place as well as the Vancouver Convention Centre.
[ Page 10702 ]
That is a very quick summary of the ministry and what it does. I'm looking forward to questions from the critics.
Sorry, I should introduce the individuals I have with me. My deputy minister, Dana Hayden; George Farkas, who has responsibility for all of the ministry as it relates to the accounting functions; and Shannon Baskerville joins us, the assistant deputy minister responsible for the labour market portion of the ministry.
J. Kwan: Thank you to the minister for those opening statements. The opposition welcomes and thanks the staff for the short briefing that we had a little while ago now — it seems like weeks ago actually — on the various programs within the ministry. It is true that this is a different ministry in that the setup is such that it involves many, many different areas. As such, we have a number of critics following the minister on these items.
For the purposes of the estimates debate…. I think it was last week sometime that the minister's staff had contacted me. I had sent over a list of the estimates items that we would likely be canvassing. We'll do our best to keep sort of close to the order of things. Just for the record, so the minister knows, this is how I anticipate the procedure will unfold.
Today, this afternoon, I will begin with some questions around Aveos, which is actually a fairly immediate issue that was brought to the House several weeks ago. I'd like to just get an update from the minister with respect to that. Then we're going to move into the area of small business. Then we're going to move on to the broad area that deals with the issues around multiculturalism — the PNP, temporary foreign workers, foreign credentials and so on. We'll sort of touch on that.
When we're done with that portion, we'll move into some of the more general questions around the ministry on its budgeting items and the programming related to it, particularly in the areas around the jobs plan, the economic development, the trade areas of that ministry and innovations, etc. We will then move on to more of the rural aspect of the economic development issues such as Burns Lake rural developments, and so on.
Some of the MLAs may very well come in and interject at that time with some of the local issues. I've invited them to join us as well. After that, in fact, we'll be looking at the skills training component in PavCo, tourism, etc., at the latter part of the estimates. If it works for the minister, perhaps that set of staff could come back in the latter part. Very likely we won't likely get into that area of questioning until, I would say, at least Wednesday. That would be my best guess at this point in time.
I have tried to accommodate the independents as well. I have spoken with them, and they're interested in canvassing some of these areas. We'll try to actually get the independents in at the time when we're dealing with these issues, as opposed to having yet another block at the end. They might well be repeating the same questions, which would be not the most efficient way of proceeding.
That's sort of how I anticipate the day or the days ahead will unfold. Hopefully, we can get through the estimates in such a way that is useful and informative for everyone involved.
With that, I'm going to begin with Aveos. As the minister knows, several weeks ago in this Legislature we had a moment that was rather unprecedented — that is to say, all members of the House joined in, in support of a motion that was tabled by the minister at the invitation of the Leader of the Official Opposition. The motion has since, I'm sure, travelled to Ottawa to indicate to them that B.C. stands in unison with respect to our support for the workers at Aveos.
I wonder if the minister can provide us with an update on what's happened since the motion has been brought to the attention of Ottawa and what sort of feedback he has been receiving on our request that the federal government pass and amend the act, the Air Canada Public Participation Act, so that B.C. is included in that act.
Hon. P. Bell: Thanks to the member for articulating the timing around the various questions. With any luck, we will be able to replicate that moment of harmony that we had in the House a few weeks ago throughout the extensive mandate of the estimates period. I know the member opposite is more than cooperative in her attempts to achieve that objective.
I've spoken on a number of occasions with Minister Denis Lebel. My staff have been in contact with his office, perhaps not on a daily basis but three and four days per week, working with Minister Lebel on the objective that the province has, as articulated both by the members of the opposition and the government, to have the greater Vancouver area, specifically Richmond, added to the legislation, which would provide a degree of protection to the Aveos workers.
As the member opposite I think knows, it is still a very active file in terms of the current financial circumstances that Aveos finds itself in, that Air Canada has to a degree created by its decision to have work done by other groups. The federal government is reviewing the legislation to determine whether or not it is within the spirit and actual meaning of the legislation, and we continue to work with Minister Lebel's office.
It is still a very active file. Certainly, our objective, should the federal government decide to amend the legislation, is that the greater Vancouver area would be included with the same sort of protection that Mississauga, Winnipeg and Quebec have been offered or have had since, I guess, 1988 or so. I think that's when the legislation was passed.
The indications from Minister Lebel's office says that depending on the outcome of the next few weeks, if in
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fact there is deemed a need to take the legislation to the House and subject, of course, to the timing of that legislation, he would incorporate that. In fact, he's assured us that they're comfortable with an amendment of that nature should the legislation go back to the House.
J. Kwan: When the minister says "should the legislation go back to the House," will the government be initiating that process to bring the legislation back to the House for debate and hopefully passage through the process that our federal counterpart follows?
The reason why I ask that, of course, is that time is of the essence with respect to the file. It is important for the workers in British Columbia, greater Vancouver, to have all of the options and avenues open to them to protect not only their jobs but, of course, to ensure that the opportunities for the future in the industry are enhanced. In that vein I wonder if the minister has had any indication from the federal government on when they anticipate that they might be bringing forward the amendment to parliament for consideration.
The other thing that I want to point out is that to my recollection, the federal government actually tabled such an amendment back in 2011, I believe. I stand corrected, but I believe it was 2011. The bill did not go through all the stages for passage because I think a general election was called. As such, things fall off the map, and it just simply didn't get picked up. I think really it was a technical issue, rather than a substantive issue of whether or not there was political interest in bringing this forward.
The Chair: Minister, just mindful to both about the need for legislation is actually outside of the purview of estimates. We're also talking about federal rather than provincial. I just caution you.
Hon. P. Bell: Thanks, Madam Chair, and with your permission I'll do my best to answer the question.
One of the great things about having the member opposite as critic is that she was a cabinet minister in a previous administration. She understands the parliamentary rules around legislation and when legislation would come forward and understands that even as a minister, if the minister wanted to bring a piece of legislation forward, it is subject to the House Leader's willingness to advance it and the timing and how much legislation is there and all of those sorts of things.
Minister Lebel was comfortable with the idea of an amendment to the legislation. Because of the nature of our parliamentary systems, it would have been inappropriate for him to suggest to me that there was legislation going forward or that there was specific timing around that. I'm sure the member opposite knows that.
So I think I was assured that Minister Lebel's interest was in alignment with the resolution that we collectively passed. I think there is still uncertainty about where this file will go as a result of the current insolvency environment that they're in. But our collective interests are all, I think, very much aligned. I would even point to the job strategy specifically that aerospace has defined as one of the core sectors in the ports, marine and aerospace part of the jobs strategy.
The province, the provincial government and the opposition, have clear alignment on this file. I'll continue to work with the member opposite and provide her with any updates as I'm able to.
J. Kwan: Yes, indeed. This sector, if you will, the industry and the sector, is an important sector to British Columbia, as the minister is responsible for jobs…. Aerospace is a big component of it. We're basically talking about 370-some jobs in B.C., so it's significant in that regard.
To that end, I'm not attempting to control what will happen in Ottawa on when legislation would be tabled or anything like that but rather simply to ensure that the message has been brought to Ottawa around the urgency of this. It is important. Time is of the essence. British Columbia is not in the Canada participation act at the moment. Therefore, our workers here are not protected in that way. The recourse of potential different avenues, which are afforded from being part of that act, is then limited for B.C. if change is not made.
Because things are fluid and things are happening in a different way, I always sort of prescribe to the perspective that I want to make sure that if I need to access that protection, it's there and available for the workers. That's sort of the perspective that I'm coming from.
It sounds like the federal government is interested. They're looking to see about bringing forward an amendment in the spirit of the motion that was brought forward.
I know that prior to the break, there was some interest on pursuing this matter directly in Ottawa by way of bringing a delegation forward. I know that the minister was not able to attend the committee meetings, so I wonder if the minister can share his thoughts around that.
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite is correct. There was thinking around a joint delegation going back to Ottawa to testify, as I understand it. I was unable to go and was unable to commit to going. I did offer to provide, in writing, further indications of our support along the lines of the resolution that was passed by all members of the House. But my understanding is that the hearings actually wrapped up prior to the union…. I think the opposition members intended to perhaps travel as well.
So that portion, as I understand it, has wrapped up. I'm looking forward to further discussions with Minister Lebel on the outcome of that and the status of the insolvency action as it proceeds.
I think that Minister Lebel has, also, an aligned inter-
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est with us in this area. He is very keen on making sure that this issue is resolved favourably for Canadians, for British Columbians, for Ontario workers, for Quebec workers, for Manitoba workers. Again, we'll continue to work along with him, and we stand united in our efforts to see this move forward to a positive outcome, certainly, for the residents of British Columbia that work for Aveos.
J. Kwan: Does the minister know or have any inkling on the work of the committee, and in terms of recommendations or the reporting out of that committee, what that timeline might look like?
Hon. P. Bell: Minister Lebel did not advise me of that in our most recent conversation. But given the nature of the insolvency action that's going on, I would expect that would have to be in a relatively short period of time.
J. Kwan: In the spirit of the motion, when we engage in that debate, I…. The Leader of the Official Opposition has already made the offer to the government that we would look to working on ongoing action plans on how we can pursue this on behalf of British Columbia and the workers and the industry. So to that end, I would like to continue to extend our offer to do exactly that with the minister. I think the best way forward is to show a bipartisan approach to this, in the best interest of British Columbia, the workers themselves and of course the industry for the future.
We would like to continue to explore those kinds of options with the minister to see what other actions could be taken. I know that the committee work is completed. But that said, there may still be opportunity and actions that we should consider in bringing a message to Ottawa with respect to this. I just want to extend that and to make sure that the minister is aware, and we will continue to pursue this as the matter unfolds.
Hon. P. Bell: The spirit of harmony is alive and well, and I'm looking forward to several more hours of blissful peace.
J. Kwan: It's kind of frightening, actually, in light of some of the historical moments, shall I say, in the Legislature, around this building. But on that note, I'm going to pass the floor over to my colleague the small business critic to follow up on his area to pursue questions with the minister. So I'll leave that to my good colleague.
J. Brar: I would like to start by thanking the minister for a very brief snapshot of the ministry — this very diverse ministry we have. And I would like to say a special thanks to all the staff members for doing their best to prepare the minister for the budget estimates for the coming couple of days. I also would like to say thanks to my staff members for giving me their input into this budget estimate process.
You know, keeping in mind the very limited time, I would like to verbally give you a kind of brief snapshot as to what I would like to pursue during the estimates. I would like to start with, basically, small business and the B.C. jobs plan, very briefly, and then go on to the Small Business Roundtable, small business venture capital, LiveSmart B.C., small business program, regulatory requirements, small business export, and HST and its impact, if we have any…. I would just like to probably ask some questions around those areas.
Having said that, I would like to start with my first question. It's a simple one to start with. How many small businesses are in operation in the province of B.C. at this point in time, and how many new business ventures were launched last fiscal year?
Hon. P. Bell: I can advise the member opposite that as of last year there was a total of 391,000 small businesses in British Columbia. Those are defined as businesses with 50 or fewer employees. We probably can get the information in terms of how many new ones there were last year. We don't have that right now. We'll try and get that in the next hour or so.
J. Brar: There's one thing I think that the minister and I will agree on — that small business plays a very significant role in B.C.'s economy. I think they create almost more than 50 percent of jobs in the private sector. Therefore, small business is a very, very important player in our local economy.
I would like to ask the minister…. The minister just spoke very briefly in the opening remarks about the jobs strategy and a different core component of the jobs strategy. What specific initiative is the minister taking to assist the small business community to create new jobs under this jobs strategy?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm sure the member opposite has taken time to look through the jobs strategy, and he will have noted in the jobs strategy that there are eight core sectors that we have identified as sectors where we believe there are strategic advantages in British Columbia. Each of those core sectors has many, many small businesses. In fact, most of the core sectors, arguably, are strictly small businesses.
Tourism, by and large, is smaller businesses. There are a few larger businesses in the tourism industry that would fall into the category of more than 50 jobs, but the vast majority of businesses and employment would fall into the category of small business.
Agriculture is one of the sectors that has been identified. There may be a few farms that would be over 50
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employees, but I think the vast majority of those businesses….
Technology, and particularly clean and green technologies, tends to be smaller businesses. They tend to be sectors that don't have large employment bases. The vast majority of technology businesses, I think, are about ten employees or so — in that size range.
The international education one. The suppliers to post-secondary institutions tend to be smaller businesses. While the post-secondary institution itself may be, you know, a larger structure, the suppliers to post-secondary institutions tend to be smaller, so there are opportunities there.
Forestry. Certainly, it is dominated by larger manufacturers. In fact, British Columbia has the largest, the second-largest and the fifth-largest softwood lumber manufacturers in the world. But again, typically the suppliers to the forest industry tend to be smaller businesses. I had a logging company, a trucking company, that would have fallen into the category of a small business. There are some larger contractors as well, but by and large….
The mining industry I think of as two sectors, really, not just one. The actual folks that dig minerals up out of the ground and export them internationally tend to be larger companies — Imperial Metals, Teck, those types of companies. Suppliers to them are smaller ones. But then there's the other side of the business, which is the exploration sector, which is very, very important in British Columbia — almost $500 million in exploration spending last year, a big sector. Most of those companies would be categorized as small businesses.
The gas business tends to be larger — lots of small suppliers in that sector as well.
Then finally it's ports, marine and aerospace — a mix, obviously, in those sectors.
I would argue that of the eight sectors identified in the jobs strategy, five of them would be dominated by small businesses. Maybe three would be larger businesses but with many small suppliers.
Certainly, my bias, as a person that comes from the small business community and continues to own a couple of small businesses and has owned a variety of small businesses all over the world, is to make sure that we have that very keen focus on sectors that we can compete in and that we provide the opportunities to allow small businesses every possible chance that they have to be successful.
J. Brar: Thanks to the member. Just last week I went on a tour to meet with the small business community, particularly in smaller communities. I was at Trail and Nelson and Salmo and Castlegar. I met with the respective local chamber of commerce and their membership.
Their biggest worry and their biggest question when it comes to the provincial government is that they have almost absolutely no understanding as to what programs the government is offering to assist them to be more viable, more successful, more vibrant entities and entrepreneurs to assist the local economy.
Having said that, what is the minister going to say to the chamber of commerce in Trail as to, under the job strategy, what is available to small businesses of B.C. specifically? What are those initiatives? Could the minister speak about one or two or three relating to the small business community?
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
The Chair: Minister.
Hon. P. Bell: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It's good to see you.
Thanks to the member opposite for the question. I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but I have been, I think, in virtually every community in British Columbia. The member opposite chose the one that I don't think I've actually been in. I've been in Salmo. I've been in Castlegar. I've been in Nelson many times. I've been in Atlin. I think I've been in almost every town.
I've been close to Trail a couple of times, but I actually haven't been in Trail. I actually am embarrassed to say that, because I think that as a member of cabinet, I've probably visited more communities than almost anyone else. The member opposite found the one that I haven't been to.
I was checking with my…. I should add that I've got Simone Decosse and Todd Tessier, who've joined me now from the small business division. We're just quickly going through and thinking about how the jobs plan would apply to Trail — mining, specifically around the smelter, and obviously many small businesses that would supply that particular smelter. So it's the strategy that we've employed to work with the international community on making sure that we take full advantage of our natural resource and the value-added component of our natural resources, which Trail clearly does.
The tourism sector is big in the Trail area, with ski in particular, and the opportunities associated with that. The member opposite will know that this past year we released Gaining the Edge, our new tourism strategy that identifies ski specifically as one of the areas of interest. Last year in the fall we released…. When we did our winter programming, we actually put $1.4 million, I think it was, into ski, which was a significant uplift. It was primarily targeting the Ontario market.
My understanding is there's been significant incremental activity from Ontario as a result of that. That then goes to additional construction on ski hills, for secondary homes. The member opposite will know that we've just recently advanced the transition rules for HST that will hopefully restimulate the secondary home market.
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There's a small but important niche agriculture industry in the area as well. My colleague the Minister of Agriculture has recently released the ag strategy. It is very focused on the niche agriculture business.
Finally, we've been witnessing, I think, a resurgence of the value-added industry in the Trail area, specifically as it relates to a wood furniture manufacturing facility — again, being supportive in helping them in some of their marketing efforts.
Those are some interesting ideas and things. Every community in the province is different. One of the goals that we established when we rolled out the jobs strategy was we wanted to make sure that every single community could look at the eight sectors and identify at least a few of them that they would be able to tap into and help build their community economic strategy around.
I think that's been one of the real early successes of the jobs plan. When you go into a community like McBride, they can identify a number of key initiatives that they can build on. The pilot project that we're working on in the McBride to Barriere area right now I think is a good example of that.
J. Brar: Keeping in mind the time, I would like to move on to the Small Business Roundtable. How much funds were allocated for the Small Business Roundtable for the last fiscal year, and how much for this year?
Hon. P. Bell: The funding for the Small Business Roundtable is approximately $60,000 per year.
J. Brar: I just want to make it very clear. My understanding is based on there being a $60,000 allocation last year. How much of that was spent? If the minister could provide that information.
Hon. P. Bell: The budget was $60,000, and the ministry actually spent approximately $58,000 last year.
J. Brar: How many FTEs were there to support the Small Business Roundtable?
Hon. P. Bell: There are two full-time FTEs that support the Small Business Roundtable, and their salaries are not included in the $60,000 budget that I just provided to the member opposite. However, their travel time and other associated travel expenses would be part of that $60,000 budget.
J. Brar: How many times did the Small Business Roundtable meet last fiscal year, 2011-2012?
Hon. P. Bell: There were three actual meetings held of the Small Business Roundtable. However, as the member opposite will know, I appointed the member for Kamloops. I think it's just Kamloops. Just look on your little cheat sheet there, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Kamloops–South Thompson.
Hon. P. Bell: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The member opposite will know that I've appointed the member for Kamloops–South Thompson as co-chair of the Small Business Roundtable, and he held many informal meetings around the province in the small business community. But to respond precisely to the member's question, there were actually three formal meetings held of the Small Business Roundtable.
J. Brar: Can the minister provide the locations as to where those meetings of the Small Business Roundtable took place, specifically during the year 2011.
Hon. P. Bell: There was one Small Business Roundtable meeting held in Victoria and two in Vancouver.
J. Brar: Mr. Chair, I'm a bit confused here. The minister said there were three meetings last year, and I asked the locations. The minister says there was one meeting in Victoria, and I wanted to ask about all three.
A Voice: Two in Vancouver.
J. Brar: So there was one meeting in Victoria and two in Vancouver. Is that my understanding? If the minister could confirm that.
Hon. P. Bell: Perhaps the mike wasn't on when I spoke. I apologize to the member opposite if that was the case. There was one Small Business Roundtable meeting held in Victoria and two in Vancouver last year, for the total of three.
J. Brar: Can the minister provide a brief snapshot of the recommendations made by the Small Business Roundtable members during these meetings?
Hon. P. Bell: The Small Business Roundtable report is available on the website. There were six recommendations.
A few of the recommendations are noted — not all of them: focusing on building consumer confidence and making sure that people feel positive about the economic environment that we're in; training and training opportunities for small business, advancing different sorts of initiatives that will allow for employee training; technological development and making sure that the tech development actually works in conjunction with the businesses that are working in a particular sector; continued efforts on deregulation, regulatory reviews,
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making sure that regulations are done in a way that enhances a business's ability to function but doesn't get in their way; and really trying to build the spirit of entrepreneurialism.
Those are a few of the recommendations. The report is available on the web and has all the detail behind that.
J. Brar: Was there any specific discussion in the Small Business Roundtable about the new liquor rules and about HST — particularly transitioning back from HST to PST and GST?
Hon. P. Bell: There was a dialogue around liquor rules.
HST, while there was perhaps some discussion at the periphery, was not raised as a primary topic because it was known what the outcome would be when the report was written and delivered.
J. Brar: My understanding is that there was no recommendation made, based on the comments the minister made, around the new liquor rules as well as about the transition back to PST and GST from HST.
Hon. P. Bell: The member is correct. There were no specific recommendations in either of those two areas.
J. Brar: I would now like to ask a question about small business venture capital. If the minister can provide me a little detail about the program, as to what the program is and how it's going to benefit the small business community.
Hon. P. Bell: This has been a very successful program. British Columbia businesses actually now lead Canada in access to venture capital — I think a real testament to that. Since 2001 there's been over $800 million invested in about 400 small businesses. Ninety of those businesses are located outside of the CRD and Metro Vancouver, and that accounted for about $86 million in investment and about 800 jobs.
The companies outside Metro Vancouver — this is a more important program from their perspective. About 72 percent of investment is supported by program tax credits. The actual program itself is a 30 percent tax credit to British Columbia resident investors who invest directly in the companies or in the managed funds.
That's a quick overview of the program for the member opposite.
J. Brar: I'm looking at page 18 of the service plan. Under "Strategies" the last bullet says: "Streamline the requirements and expand the resources of the small business venture capital program while ensuring it responds to the needs of regional economies."
I would like it if the minister can provide detail about what it means by expanding resources and making sure that this program is accessible to assist the regional economies.
Hon. P. Bell: There are two specific elements to the question that the member opposite poses. The first one is actually in a bill that is in front of the House. So I won't comment too much on that except to say that it's a business creation tax credit in the amount of $10 million that is in front of the House on the part of the Minister of Finance.
The second is that we have recently transferred one of our portfolio managers out of the Lower Mainland to Kamloops. Kamloops gets everything, as we all know. They seem to get all the benefits of government programs on a consistent basis. I don't see the member from Kamloops here, but let the record note that Kamloops gets everything.
We do think, in all seriousness, that having a portfolio manager outside of the Lower Mainland will help to get more money located throughout the region.
J. Brar: How many new small businesses benefited from this program during the last fiscal year specifically?
Hon. P. Bell: Mr. Chair, 135.
J. Brar: How many new jobs were created as a result of this particular program during the last fiscal year?
Hon. P. Bell: That's 584.
J. Brar: I just want to go back to the regional component of this program. Like, what is the strategy to make sure that this program is accessible to the people in smaller communities and different regions? I know that the minister has appointed a person from outside the Lower Mainland, but what actually is the strategy? What specific steps are being taken to make sure this program is accessible to the small business community outside the Lower Mainland and in different regions of the province?
Hon. P. Bell: Three kinds of key elements to the strategy. The first is to work through the Economic Development Association of British Columbia — EDABC. They represent economic development officers and other organizations involved in economic development around the province and do a very, very good job, I will say as well. They've performed very well. They've been very supportive, actually, of our Burns Lake efforts. We'll canvass that a little bit later on.
The second. Last year we held seven regional seminars around the province in different areas, with more planned for this year as well.
The third is the website that we have. We think it's being accessed pretty effectively throughout the regions and is very friendly to users.
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So three different strategies: through the Economic Development Association, through regional seminars and then our web presence.
J. Brar: We are talking about specific venture capital. In my view, it will make sense if there is a specific target for the small business community in the rural area in terms of funding allocation — that there's a commitment made by the government that we at least make sure that we commit a certain percentage of funding to the small business community in the rural area and in different parts of the province. Is there any such allocation out of this fund, or is this one…?
Hon. P. Bell: I am told that the traditional venture capital, the normal process of venture capital, sees about 1 percent of all venture capital placed outside of the Lower Mainland and about 99 percent inside the Lower Mainland. With this program we are currently at 10 percent, and our goal is to get to 20 percent outside of the Lower Mainland.
J. Brar: My understanding now is that there is some sort of allocation or target set to make sure that the small businesses in the rural areas access this particular fund. If I understand correctly, the comment the minister made is that the target set for the rural area is about 20 percent — the target this year.
I would like to ask this question as to how much funding we have allocated, the minister has allocated this year. And how much funding for this venture capital was there last fiscal year?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite posed a couple of questions there. Is it a goal or is it a hard target number? So $10 million of the $100 million fund is specifically targeted outside of the Lower Mainland and cannot be spent inside the Lower Mainland. If it underachieved, if we only placed $9 million, the additional $1 million would not go to the Lower Mainland. Getting to 20 percent, to $20 million, is a goal. So if we didn't achieve the $20 million, that money could go into the Lower Mainland.
J. Brar: My other question still remains there as to how much funding the minister has allocated this fiscal year and how much funding was there last fiscal year.
Hon. P. Bell: Perhaps I wasn't clear. There is an actual physical allocation outside of the Lower Mainland of $10 million. That was what we had last year. That is what we have this year. Then the goal is to get to $20 million this year, although $10 million is a hard number and would not be reallocated. The additional $10 million is simply an objective to try and achieve.
J. Brar: Maybe I didn't make my question very clear. I understand the $10 million funding allocated for the rural area. The goal is to go to $20 million. I understand that. Thanks to the minister for that. What I'm asking is the total funding allocation under this program this year and how much total funding allocation was there last year under this program.
Hon. P. Bell: I will have one more go at it. The total funding allocation last year was $100 million. That's for the entire province. That would be $90 million and $10 million. Although the $90 million is flexible and can go anywhere, the $10 million is hard to rural B.C. — or to non–Lower Mainland.
This year it is $100 million, but as I advised the member opposite a few moments ago, there is a piece of legislation in front of the House that is proposing a $10 million increase to the fund. Should that piece of legislation pass and become enabled, then it would be $110 million for this year.
J. Brar: How much of the fund was actually spent last year? Was it the full amount, or was there any surplus?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm advised that last year there was just under $90 million raised by this tool. I should advise the member opposite that that is based on the calendar year, not the fiscal year. That's how we track this program.
J. Brar: I'll appreciate it if the minister can provide a list of all of the small businesses that benefitted from the venture capital — as to who they are and where they were. Is it possible to get that list?
Hon. P. Bell: As the member opposite would appreciate, there are limitations as to the information that can be released due to freedom of informationand privacy legislative requirements. But we'll certainly provide the member opposite with anything that we're allowed to provide him within the constraints of the legislation.
J. Brar: I would appreciate it if the minister could briefly provide us with the information as to how these different programs apply for this venture capital and how the decisions are made to select the businesses that qualify under this program. What specific steps are taken to accept those applications?
Hon. P. Bell: It is a first-come, first-served system within the context of certain industrial sectors that are qualifying. The business, of course, has to be engaged in a legal sector and meet all the current requirements as legislated for that specific business, and that is validated prior to the entry of the company into it.
The five qualifying sectors include high-tech; value-
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added manufacturing, which would include a variety of different industries like forest products industries and so on; destination tourism; community diversification; and research and development.
J. Brar: The last question I want to ask on this particular topic…. On page 28 of the service plan, under performance measure 8, "Total venture capital invested in B.C.," it states that in 2007 the baseline was $225 million, and the forecast for 2011-2012 is $200 million. I'm a bit confused about what the minister said and what the figures are here in the service plan, which is completely different. If the minister can clarify that.
The minister said — and I just want to make it clear — that what we call the venture capital fund for one year is $100 million, and we have $10 million more at this point in time in the Legislature. I understand that. But this service plan says for 2011-2012 the figure is $200 million. I would appreciate it if the minister could explain that.
Hon. P. Bell: The answer to the question is that the measure pertains to all venture capital in the province, and the program that we have been discussing for the last ten or 15 minutes represents about 40 percent of all venture capital that is invested in the province. So there's about 60 percent outside of this program and about 40 percent inside the program.
As the member will recall, 2008 had a significant economic meltdown and, therefore, the changes. Now we see it ramping up again, which I think is generally a good-news story.
J. Brar: Thanks to the minister for the clarification.
I just want to maybe ask a real last question, this one going back to my previous question. The question I asked was: what specific steps are taken to assess applications under this program, and who makes the decision? Is there a specific body for this, or a person or individual? Can the minister provide that information — the steps that are taken and who makes the decision for the venture capital program?
Hon. P. Bell: Whether or not the company qualifies to fit in this program — that decision is made by the administrator of the program, who is a delegated authority from the minister. If the company is deemed to be qualifying for the program, then the actual investment decision is made by an individual investor, not by anyone inside or outside of government. It is simply an investment decision.
So it is the qualification of the company, if the company meets the requirements of this particular fund. That work is done by the administrator of the fund, who is appointed by the minister. The authority is delegated by the minister to that administrator.
J. Brar: Before moving to the next topic, I would like to make a request, as I said earlier, if the minister can provide a list of the small business lot that benefited through this program.
I understand the FOI process, but I would like to at least get the information, basic information as to where this money was spent, like how much in the Lower Mainland, how much in the regional area and where it went. How much money for each sector? The minister mentioned five different sectors. I will appreciate if that information is made available, at least. That shouldn't be a problem under the freedom-of-information requirements and all that. So I would ask the minister, if the minister can respond to that, that that information will be made available.
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite's request seems reasonable, and we'll do our best to comply within the structure of the Freedom of Information Act.
J. Brar: I would like to move on to the next topic, which is the regulatory requirements. On page 20 of the 2010-11 Annual Service Plan Report it states: "The government achieved its initial target of reducing regulatory requirements by one-third by 2004." I just wanted to know how many regulatory requirements were eliminated by 2004, which is one-third. What is the number of those regulatory requirements?
Hon. P. Bell: The exact number of regulations reduced during that time period was 131,354.
J. Brar: On page 18 of the service plan it claims that in 2004 there were 228,941 regulatory requirements, and it came down to 205,992 in 2011-2012, which means the government eliminated 22,949 regulatory requirements between 2004 and 2012. Is that the correct figure?
Hon. P. Bell: The numbers that we have are very close to what the member opposite has, but they're slightly different, so I just maybe could ask what document the member is referring to, just so that we don't provide incorrect information to him.
J. Brar: The document I refer to is the service plan, which on page 18 states, if you look at the number of governmentwide regulatory requirements, in 2004 the baseline is 228,941, and the forecast for 2011-2012 is 205,992. If you subtract the 205,992 from the previous figure, I came to the figure of 22, 949 regulatory requirements. That's my figure, so I would like the minister to confirm that.
Hon. P. Bell: If it's in the service plan, I'm sure it's right.
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J. Brar: Now, if we look further on that particular column, the target for 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 — for three years in a row — is zero net increase of governmentwide regulatory requirements. That's my understanding from this. Does that mean that when we move back from HST to GST and PST, when that transition takes place, that will not add any new regulations?
Hon. P. Bell: The actual wording is "net zero increase," which means if there is an increase in regulations in one area, it would be expected that ministers would find opportunities to remove regulation in other areas to end up with a number that does not increase on a net basis. It's not suggesting that there may not be an increase in regulations. It could be as a result of PST. It could be as a result of other initiatives that government takes. It just simply says that overall there should be no net increase in regulations year to year.
J. Brar: If we look at the whole picture now from 2001 to this year, as indicated by the minister, during the first three years, the government eliminated 131,354, regulations, which is a significant number. That comes close to 43,000 regulations eliminated per year.
When we talk about the next phase, which is from 2004 to 2012, the total number of regulations eliminated is 22,949. That means, basically, per year it is about 2,868, which is significantly less if you compare to more than 43,000 during the first three years.
Having said that, it seems that there is not much room to eliminate more regulations. That's my argument, based on that. Having said that, I would like to ask the minister if there is any assessment done as to how much new regulations will be put in place with the transition from the HST back to the PST and GST system. How is the minister going to maintain the zero net increase target as indicated in the service plan?
Hon. P. Bell: Noting the hour, Mr. Chair, this ministry has responsibility for measuring and counting regulations. For our own regulations within a ministry, each minister has that responsibility, and we work collaboratively across the different ministries.
Specifically to the member opposite's question, that would be more appropriately canvassed under the Minister of Finance's estimates, should he want detail around that.
With that, I move the committee rise, report tremendous progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:17 p.m.
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