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 23, 2012
Volume 35, Number 2
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Gladstone Secondary students in robotics competition
Introductions by Members
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill M214 — Standards of Care for Breeders of Companion Animals Act
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Animal Abuse Prevention Day
Arts and Culture Week
National Victims of Crime Awareness Week
Vancouver International Airport
Annual beach cleanup on Quadra Island
Funding for post-secondary education
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Government response to changes to oil spill response operations
Hon. T. Lake
Government response to changes to immigrant settlement services
Hon. P. Bell
RCMP costs and negotiations for RCMP services
Hon. S. Bond
Costs to B.C. of federal anti-crime legislation
Hon. S. Bond
Forest management and forest health funding
Hon. S. Thomson
Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, Annual Report 2011
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 31 — Motion Picture Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. S. Bond
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. S. Bond
Bill 33 — Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. S. Bond
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. S. Bond
Bill 34 — Limitation Act
Hon. S. Bond
Hon. S. Bond
Bill 30 — Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. R. Coleman
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Children and Family Development (continued)
Hon. M. McNeil
MONDAY, APRIL 23, 2012
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
S. Chandra Herbert: We're joined in this place today by three guests from Vancouver–West End. We've got Angela Burghard, who was a kidney recipient 30 years ago on May 12; Jim Snell, a friend of a kidney recipient and also a constituent; and Ada Cheung, who is a kidney recipient and a founder of the Chinese Renal Association. Would the House please make them very welcome. I'm honoured to serve them as their MLA.
Hon. T. Lake: Today, of course, there are a number of people from the real estate industry here that we'll be meeting with during the day and this evening, and I look forward to that. I just wanted to personally introduce Mr. Bob Gieselman, who is an executive member of the Kamloops and district real estate board. I hope the House will please make Bob very welcome.
C. James: I have a group visiting from Sir James Douglas School today. Their teacher, Miss Olivia Aynsley, is here with her grade 5 class of 27 students and five adults. Would the House please make them very welcome.
R. Hawes: In the gallery today we have three guests from Walter Energy, which is a coal producer from the northeast — metallurgical coal that's essential for the making of steel. It's not the black stuff that burns and pollutes the atmosphere.
We have Dan Cartwright, who is the president of the Canadian operations; Eric Christensen, vice-president, environment and community affairs; and Nina Ng, who is the corporate communications manager for Walter Energy. They're here to discuss workforce issues and Ridley Terminal in Prince Rupert. Could we please make these guests welcome.
B. Simpson: Mr. Speaker, I'm not old enough to introduce grandkids in this House yet, but I had the pleasure this weekend of holding a brand-new baby in my arms. My brother-in-law Paul Havens and his partner, Sarah Jones, had a daughter last weekend. She was five days old, a beautiful little girl, Halle Isobela Havens, and I ask the House to please welcome her to the world.
J. Thornthwaite: In the gallery today I have some friends and supporters who were out on the Legislature back steps earlier on to help me with a media event introducing my private member's bill, which I will be doing shortly. I ask the House to please welcome Harriet Graham; Amanda Sather; Lisa Markin and her service dog, Rowan; Anne Birthistle, Graham Harrop, Laura-Leah Shaw, Carmina Gooch, Terry Roberge, Birthe Levie; my LA, Kellie O'Brien; and my CA, Carol Dawson. I'm sure everybody will welcome them.
M. Mungall: Well, it's a very special occasion when we have guests in the gallery all the way from the Kootenays. Today we have Paul Shreenan, who's the president of the Kootenay Real Estate Board, and we also have Jim Barber, who's the past president. May the House please make them welcome.
D. Hayer: I have a number of very special guests today. The first one is my wife, Isabelle Hayer, and my son Anthony Hayer and his wife, my daughter-in-law Sabrina Hayer.
Also in the House we have some special guests from the Fraser Valley real estate association. Some of them met with me this morning. They are Brenda Lee, Gina Cowx, Debbie Jay, Ray Werger, Deanna Horn, Paul Penner, Paul Purewal, Darcy Reddicopp, Jasbir Cheema, Chris Savage, David Foxwell and Tammy Evans. Would the House please make them all very welcome.
M. Elmore: There's a group here visiting us in the Legislature for organ donor awareness. I would like to introduce Melanie Terrett, who is joining us. She was a liver recipient in 2008, and a bone marrow recipient. She lives in Port Moody. Could the House please make her welcome.
Hon. P. Bell: I've had the opportunity to introduce this gentleman a few times before. He is one of the frequent travellers down from Prince George to join us in this House. Dennis Jackson has been a good friend and a longtime supporter. If anyone has need of purchasing a boat, a John Deere garden tractor or an RV, please see Dennis after question period. Would you please welcome Dennis Jackson.
L. Krog: Joining us here from Nanaimo today are Darcy Olsen and her children, Alexander and Lucy. I'd like the House to please make them welcome as they observe the goings-on in this chamber.
A. Dix: Hon. Speaker, I wanted to welcome two individuals who are coming today as guests but will soon be sworn in as members of this Legislature — the new MLA for Chilliwack-Hope, Gwen O'Mahony; and the new MLA for Port Moody–Coquitlam, Joe Trasolini. I'd like to ask everybody to make them welcome. [Applause.]
I'd also like, on behalf of the members of the House,
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to thank everyone who ran in the by-election — Laurie Throness, John Martin and Lewis Clarke Dahlby in Chilliwack-Hope; and Dennis Marsden and Christine Clarke in Port Moody–Coquitlam — for their contribution. It's an enormous sacrifice to run in electoral politics. All of us in this room know this, and I want the House to acknowledge their contribution as well. [Applause.]
GLADSTONE SECONDARY STUDENTS
IN ROBOTICS COMPETITION
A. Dix: Finally, because it was not a weekend in competition that was altogether great for us in British Columbia, I wanted to acknowledge that students from Gladstone Secondary in my constituency this week won and were first runners-up in the VEX Robotics World Championship in Anaheim, California. It was an extraordinary success for them. Four times they've gone down and won and succeeded and competed in those world championships, either in Dallas, Texas, or in California. They represented British Columbia and my constituency and Gladstone extraordinarily well.
Just to say to people that Todd Ablett, who's the teacher who started this program, is a winner of a national Prime Minister's award for excellence in teaching. He gave the money he earned in that award to the robotics program to support it. I know everyone would want to wish our incredible robotics champions from Gladstone Secondary congratulations.
Introductions by Members
B. Bennett: They say that for every cloud, there is a silver lining. I recognize that for Canucks fans, yesterday was a sad day, and they have, certainly, my condolences.
However, from my point of view, I come from the Kootenays, where we have the Kootenay Ice. The young man who scored the winning goal for the Los Angeles Kings was our captain of the Kootenay Ice for a couple of years. He lived in Cranbrook for three years. He's a fine young man from Alberta. I'm sure that they will do well as they go forward in the playoffs.
First Reading of Bills
BILL M214 — STANDARDS OF CARE FOR
BREEDERS OF COMPANION ANIMALS ACT
J. Thornthwaite presented a bill intituled Standards of Care for Breeders of Companion Animals Act.
J. Thornthwaite: I move that the bill entitled Standards of Care for Breeders of Companion Animals Act, of which notice has been given on the order paper, be introduced and now read for the first time.
J. Thornthwaite: This bill declares that breeders of three or more female dogs or cats capable of reproduction will be required not only to understand but to meet the standards of care in handling and breeding their animals.
Following the sled dog tragedy and the subsequent amendment to the PCA Act, which made our regulations Canada's toughest, I received inquiries about puppy and kitty mills. Given my background in zoology and passion for animal welfare, I decided to act. I've met with veterinarians and animal advocacy organizations to ensure this bill meets the highest animal welfare standards. I've also looked at best practices in animal care standards across Canada and around the world.
The bill does not target the many good and honest breeders in B.C., many of whom support my bill. This bill targets less scrupulous breeders who only seek monetary gains from the mass production of animals with little or no consideration for the animals' well-being. This bill gives teeth to enforce animal cruelty regulations and encourages greater levels of self-regulation amongst breeders.
In addition, this bill will protect prospective dog and cat owners by helping them identify good breeders. My hope is that prospective owners will now know what questions to ask people who are selling them their animals. Were my prospective pet and its parents conceived and raised in humane conditions? What are those conditions? These conditions are outlined in this bill.
This is neither an urban nor a rural issue, nor an issue exclusive to B.C. Rather, this is a global challenge. I hope that by passing this bill, other jurisdictions will follow our lead and that people will learn that it is all of our responsibility to protect animals and to hold those who think they can abuse animals to account.
I ask for your support, and 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 M214, Standards of Care for Breeders of Companion Animals 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)
ANIMAL ABUSE PREVENTION DAY
J. Thornthwaite: Yes, it's me again.
In British Columbia we believe that all animals, big and small, should be treated in a humane matter, so it's
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hard to believe that it was just two years ago that we saw a most horrific slaughter of 100 sled dogs. No, we don't like to remember that 100 loving, loyal, smart sled dogs were slaughtered near Whistler, but this tragedy could not and will not represent British Columbia's legacy of animal care and treatment.
April 23 has been proclaimed Animal Abuse Prevention Day in honour of the lost lives of those dogs, lost in April 2010. The proclamation states that preventing animal abuse is a matter of humanity and not just legislation.
I believe that everyone in this House can wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments, which is why dedicating today to increasing awareness of animal welfare is especially important. As you are aware, I just introduced legislation that provides regulations which are intended to outline specific requirements for dog and cat breeders in B.C. to ensure the welfare of their animals. I think it is very appropriate that it be introduced today, on Animal Abuse Prevention Day.
I encourage all British Columbians to reflect on how they treat their pets and other animals so that we can ensure that what happened to these sled dogs never happens again.
Mr. Speaker: Vancouver-Kingsway and the Leader of the Official Opposition. [Applause.]
A. Dix: Holy mackerel. There you go.
For over 26 years the B.C. transplant program has been saving lives by connecting patients with organ donors. The agency has overseen over 5,000 transplants, including liver, kidney, heart, pancreas and lung transplants.
We in the Legislature have been able to witness firsthand the success of this program. Our past colleague Chuck Puchmayr, the former MLA for New Westminster, underwent a liver transplant in 2009. Thanks to the generosity of the person who decided, in the event of their death, to save someone else's life, Chuck has survived liver cancer and has now returned to serving the people of New Westminster as a city councillor. He was re-elected to council this past fall.
Chuck is also back on the music scene. His band has a semi-regular Friday night gig in New Westminster, if people are in search of entertainment options.
We also have colleagues who are organ donors, such as the MLA for Kootenay West. In 2010 she donated her kidney under the living donor paired program, a component of the national organ donor registry that B.C. became part of in 2008, when the Minister of Education was Minister of Health.
More and more British Columbians are joining the MLA for Kootenay West by registering as organ donors. However, the rate of registration in B.C., at around 17 percent, is less than public support for the program, which is around 85 percent. While in recent years the number of transplants has increased, breaking new records, there is still a sizeable wait-list of over 370 people.
This week is National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week and aims to translate public support for organ donation into more donor registrations through outreach and awareness. Information on how to register as an organ donor is available on line at www.transplant.bc.ca or by telephone, 1-800-663-6189.
We can all become part of this effort. Thanks very much to all of the people who contribute by registering across British Columbia.
ARTS AND CULTURE WEEK
J. McIntyre: British Columbia inspires outstanding arts and culture, from the ancient traditions of First Nations to exciting, creative innovations in contemporary art, much of it proudly on display as we hosted the 2010 games.
This year British Columbians are celebrating the 13th annual Arts and Culture Week from April 22 through 28. It's a great opportunity to continue to recognize this province's talented artists as well as our diverse arts and cultural organizations, many of them thriving in the Sea to Sky region.
Events scheduled throughout the province will help British Columbians of all ages honour our talents. Art walks, public art projects, art exhibitions and performances featuring work by more than 20,000 B.C. artists will inspire provincewide celebrations of the arts. It's a time to highlight the social, cultural and economic value of B.C. arts as well as to remind us of the great contribution that the B.C. arts and culture sector, including the entertainment field, makes every year to the quality of life in our province.
I'd like to recognize the B.C. Arts Council, funded by the provincial government, which initiated Arts and Culture Week in 1999 to raise the profile of B.C. artists and art organizations. They play an integral role in the flourishing of our diverse talents and our cultural heritage.
I also want to recognize and thank the many British Columbians who volunteer their precious time to local arts groups in communities large and small throughout the province. These dedicated volunteers provide essential support for arts organizations of every kind. This includes art galleries, museums, theatres, orchestras and local arts councils, as well as festivals and events. Their energy and enthusiasm help create an encouraging, supportive environment for aspiring and established artists and help make arts and culture an integral part of community life.
Participation in Arts and Culture Week activities helps connect artists with existing audiences and fosters oppor-
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tunities in the arts for a new generation of creative British Columbians. I hope members of this House will join me in wishing everyone an enjoyable and inspiring Arts and Culture Week. Support your local artists.
NATIONAL VICTIMS OF CRIME
K. Corrigan: April 22 to 28 marks the seventh annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. It is a time to raise awareness about victim issues and about related programs, services and laws.
According to a recent report by Sue O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, we must do more. She says that certain themes continue to surface, including that victims need more information about their rights and the offender who harmed them, the importance of ensuring victims can participate more meaningfully in the criminal justice system and the need for increased tangible supports for victims of crime.
In my work as official opposition public safety critic, I have certainly heard those concerns from victims and from victims' families, including families of homicide victims who are trying to cope not only with the loss of a loved one but a complicated and what sometimes seems to them a justice system that is simply not set up adequately to help them.
I'd like to highlight just two of the many victim service organizations that do important work in this area. Ending Violence Association of B.C. is a resource for community-based services that support survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence, child abuse and criminal harassment. EVA coordinates and supports the work of victim-serving and other anti-violence programs and provides support and training, research and resources on the needs of victims of violence to about 200 funded anti-violence programs across B.C.
The B.C. Society of Transition Houses is a non-profit association of transition, second- and third-stage houses, safe homes, Children Who Witness Abuse programs and other groups which serve the needs of women and their children fleeing violence. I think many of us in this House have heard firsthand stories of the women who say that transition houses have been literally a lifeline for them and sometimes their children in escaping violent relationships.
Thank you to the many organizations that support victims of crime. Please, this week, make yourself more aware of victim services, and take Sue O'Sullivan's advice to take a step back and consider the justice system from a victim's perspective.
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
R. Howard: As Canadians, our humble nature sometimes prevents us from celebrating our success. However, every once in a while we must stop and applaud our achievements. One such case is Vancouver International Airport, also known as YVR, located in my riding of Richmond Centre. This world-class facility connects British Columbia with the world, and for many travellers, it is their first impression of our beautiful province.
That's why I'm proud to report that for the third year in a row YVR has been recognized by over 12 million travellers as the best airport in North America and the top airport of its size in the entire world by the World Airport Awards. This prestigious honour is the global benchmark for airport excellence and quality. It is confirmation that British Columbia is putting its best foot forward when welcoming guests from across the globe.
This is important, as we will be welcoming many more visitors. This is, in part, thanks to our government eliminating the aviation fuel tax on international travel as of April 1 in support of the B.C. jobs plan. Since the government announced plans to eliminate the aviation fuel tax, the airport has signed agreements with 22 airlines to encourage the expansion of flights to YVR and create new jobs for British Columbians.
Air travel is an important economic generator, creating millions of dollars of economic activity and employing thousands of British Columbians. Please join me in congratulating YVR in this prestigious award and in supporting its continued success.
ANNUAL BEACH CLEANUP
ON QUADRA ISLAND
C. Trevena: It's an annual event. In fact, it's been going on now for 15 years — the Quadra Island beach cleanup. No, it's not for the tourists. It's part of Earth Day activities.
The cleanup, in fact, runs longer than a day, as people start to bring chunks of Styrofoam, plastic oyster trays and other detritus to trailheads weeks ahead of event. But the focus is the third Sunday of April. That's when people go to their favourite stretches of waterfront, garbage bags in hand, and start the serious cleanup of tires; plastic trays; bottles; containers; barrels; plastic ropes; Styrofoam in all sizes, unfortunately — the residue from commercial operations, from boats and from individuals.
Sierra Club Quadra Island runs a tight operation, with pickup points at selected locations on the island. The coordinating spot and lunch stop is Rebecca Spit, where dump trucks are lined up, ladders on the side, ready to take the waste. Island contractors donate their vehicles and drivers. The ferry provides a free pass. The landfill in Campbell River provides free dumping.
It's a social time. This year one of the island's restaurants provided food and drinks for the workers who gather at the spit when they brought their garbage in.
Yesterday five dump trucks and two other smaller com-
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mercial vehicles were filled within a few hours. Half of what was gathered was Styrofoam. It's a dangerous product. It doesn't biodegrade, and if it breaks up, which it easily does, the small pieces can easily be ingested by birds and other creatures, as can the smallest pieces of solid plastic, the specks of blue or red that you glean among the tangle of seaweed.
Every year as I pick up these minuscule pieces, along with other larger pieces of waste, I wonder. And as I wonder whether it's better to cut that plastic rope from the piles of logs — which, as we have to remind ourselves, are waste themselves, broken off from booms — or just to leave them entwined, I think about what a callous species mankind really is. We're callous with our resources and with other species that share this small planet with us.
On Earth Day we do our bit for a cleanup. It's a gesture. It's not enough.
A. Dix: My question is to the Minister of Advanced Education. The minister will know that her ministry received a cut in nominal terms in the budget in February, and the consequences in the skills shortage for students and for the economy are severe. Kris Bulcroft, the president of Capilano University, which serves the minister's own area, is foreseeing the shutdown of whole programs, starting next year, and a further slowdown in the number of graduates entering the labour force.
Does the minister agree with the president of Capilano University that the impact of these cuts will be very negative for the economy and very negative for students?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let's put this into perspective. In 2011-2012 and the same for this fiscal year almost $38 million has been invested annually for operating grants for Capilano University. That's an increase of almost 27 percent from 2001. Let's not forget the huge capital investment that this government made, along with the federal government, in Capilano's new film and digital animation centre — over $16 million just from the province alone.
If we take a step back and look at what the taxpayers already invest in post-secondary education in British Columbia, $1.9 billion a year, that's the annual operating funding that this province has committed to post-secondary education, despite the economic challenges we are facing. That's more than $5 million a day.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: As I understand it, then, the minister's defence for cutting post-secondary education and skills training in a skills shortage is that they're still funding post-secondary education — period. This is the explanation. "We decided not to eliminate post-secondary education." That's the defence for cutting funding to post-secondary education in a skills shortage.
The Minister of Finance did it. He singled out, in his own budget speech — the Minister of Finance did — the cuts to post-secondary education. He singled them out. It makes no sense for an economy in a skills shortage, where we do not have the skilled labour we need for the jobs of the future.
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Has the minister responded to the letter from 25 post-secondary institutions that are voicing opposition to these cuts? They understand that they're cuts, even if the Minister of Finance does not. They understand the impact on students. They understand the impact on our economic future. Has the minister responded to that letter? And what is the minister going to do about the fact that this ministry, so central to the economy of British Columbia, is being cut in a skills shortage?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let me correct, for the record…. I'm sure the Leader of the Opposition knows this, so I'm not exactly sure what his motivation is, other than political. In Budget 2012-13 there is actually an increase to the funding for public post-secondary institutions. It's inconceivable for me to hear from the members opposite when they question the huge investment that taxpayers have made in our public post-secondary institutions.
This government inherited a desperate system after the NDP were in power. It was a desperate system. We inherited a system that was hungry for funding, hungry for student spaces. If you wanted to go to a university in Canada…. It was harder to get into a university in British Columbia than anywhere else in Canada, because it was after years under the NDP of frozen capital funding.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: The Minister of Finance bragged about the cuts to post-secondary education in the budget speech. I'm surprised that the minister seems unaware of those cuts. They have serious long-term consequences to the economy of British Columbia.
The government's own report on the labour market…. It's not, I know, in the minister's ministry, but that report says that 78 percent of the jobs of the future will require some form of post-secondary education, and there is a major gap.
Every time I meet with business leaders, they say there's a skills shortage in British Columbia. We need access. We need more people with the skills they need for the jobs of the future.
Instead, everywhere in British Columbia, but particularly around the province, there are cuts to that system. It simply does not make economic sense. It simply doesn't make sense for our future.
I want to ask the minister what she's going to do as minister to advocate, to turn around these cuts, and why she thinks it's appropriate that only her ministry was singled out in nominal terms for cuts this year.
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Only in the NDP world do you see a $9 million increase be considered a cut. In 2012-2013 there's a $9 million increase. Not only that, just last week we announced $10 million of new funding for skills training in priority areas.
Let me tell you what our record is — 32,000 new student spaces added since 2001 and over $2 billion of capital invested in this province. We made the largest expansion of post-secondary education in the history of B.C. during our term in government.
M. Mungall: The minister can play with numbers all she likes, but the fact is that cuts are happening, and she knows it. We talked about it in the estimates process. Where was she then? Where is she today?
The fact is that the Liberals have said…. They know these cuts are happening, and they said that those cuts will not impact students, that they will only be administrative. That's exactly what the Minister of Finance said when he presented the budget.
My question is: after hearing from all presidents at 25 public post-secondary institutions, after seeing program cuts, after student housing rents going up in the north and growing student debt loads, does the Minister of Advanced Education still think that her funding cuts won't impact students?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Again, while we hear negative, destructive criticisms from the members opposite, let me tell you some good news.
Let me tell you where some of that is going, the $10 million to deliver short-term training programs targeted to prepare workers for the current job market: BCIT, $932,000; Camosun College, $402,000; College of New Caledonia, $725,000; and Selkirk College — because I know the member opposite is from that region — $457,000.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Mungall: Here's what's happening on the ground. Selkirk College announced that it will be cutting second-year programs at Kootenay School of the Arts. Camosun College announced that they are cutting their applied communications program, a successful program that prepares students for jobs in today's labour market. Northern Lights College is closing geomatics engineering technology, whose graduates are needed in land development projects in the north.
The reason for such cuts is simple, and the presidents are all saying this — the Liberals' failure to adequately invest in post-secondary education. How is it that this minister continues to bury her head in the sand and fails to admit that Liberal cuts to post-secondary education are bad for students and bad for B.C.'s economy?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: Let me remind the members opposite again that this government is continuing with its record investments in post-secondary education in 2012-2013. Taxpayers are investing nearly $1.9 billion in operating a year.
Let's speak to Selkirk College. Selkirk College is receiving over $25 million. That's up from 25 percent in 2001.
Let me remind the members opposite of this — that low enrolment in some courses is simply not sustainable. Regrettably, there were a couple of programs at Selkirk College that did not meet student demand. While the low-enrolment courses may be suspended, it will allow the college to invest in areas, in new programs where there is student demand and a labour market. Taxpayers expect this.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO CHANGES
TO OIL SPILL RESPONSE OPERATIONS
R. Fleming: Last week the Minister of Environment was asked about the federal government's massive shift of responsibilities, without resources, for environmental assessments to our province. He was asked about the massive cuts to Canada's environmental protection agencies, and he was asked specifically about the closure of the centre that coordinates oil spill operations on the west coast.
In response, we got, in this House, nothing but cheerleading for these federal changes. First, the minister was confident that the province could handle these changes, saying: "We think we can do that. We are doing it now in a comprehensive and rigorous manner."
Then last Friday the minister changed his tune, saying of Ottawa's plans to remove the oil spill staff from Vancouver: "I was very concerned when I heard this…. I mean, when you're talking about pipeline projects and increased pipeline capacity, to take these guys and move them doesn't look very good." That's what he said.
My question is to the minister. Will he finally get it straight and stand up for the environmental protection on our west coast, or will he continue to say that federal cuts for environmental emergency response are somehow a good thing?
Hon. T. Lake: My words were exactly as the member said — that I was concerned when I heard that some members of the oil spill response team here in Vancouver
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were being moved. But instead of lighting hair on fire, which is what the member opposite seems to do every five minutes, we had some conversations with our federal counterparts. Unlike the member's statements that all of a sudden everything was getting dismantled, five people that are involved in the science and planning of oil spill response are being moved.
That does nothing in terms of our ability to respond to any kind of adverse event in the environment on the marine coast of British Columbia. This government will stand up and make sure that we protect the marine environment here in British Columbia today and into the future.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: Here we see the B.C. Liberal Minister of Environment standing here in the House saying nothing while the federal government replaces the Pacific coast's best-trained, on-the-ground personnel that deal with oil spill responses, and replaces them with a de-staffed 1-800 number in Montreal. That's what we get from the B.C. Liberals.
Today there is, on average, one oil spill incident per day in British Columbia. A large-scale oil spill on B.C.'s coast, like the one that the Auditor General of Canada and the federal environment commissioner say B.C. is completely unprepared to handle, would be devastating for B.C.'s economy. It would wipe out tens of thousands of jobs, thousands of businesses, and it would be left for generations to clean for decades to come.
He knows that's the risk today. The federal government is moving to take out resources that are already inadequate here in British Columbia.
My question is: when will the Minister of Environment tell British Columbians how he is standing up for their interests to strengthen and not weaken the capacity to respond to oil spills here in British Columbia?
Hon. T. Lake: If the member opposite would like to come and discuss oil spill response and how the fact is that five people sitting in an office planning and doing the science behind oil spills and the capabilities aren't actually the people that go out there on the water and mop up or coordinate a response, I would be happy to explain that to the member. Of course, maybe he's the one that wants to go out there and wipe up all of these spills.
The fact is that we have an oil spill response here that is overlapping many jurisdictions. We work very closely with Transport Canada, with the Canadian Coast Guard, with our colleagues in the state of Washington and the state of Alaska. We run drills every year to plan for any kind of response to a marine spill.
This government, as I said before, will ensure that the marine environment of British Columbia is well protected despite any kind of increase in oil traffic here on the west coast of British Columbia.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO CHANGES
TO IMMIGRANT SETTLEMENT SERVICES
M. Elmore: Recently we learned of the federal government's decision to remove control for immigration settlement services from B.C. and Manitoba, provinces that are leaders in providing the unique services immigrants need to adjust to their new home. Control of these services will now be based in Calgary.
For B.C., this will result in a loss of jobs and expertise unique to B.C.'s immigrant services. The Manitoba government has already spoken out, asking the federal government to reverse its decision, but we haven't heard a peep out of the B.C. Liberals.
Why won't the Liberals stand up to the federal Conservatives, protect the province's best interests and demand that these services are kept in B.C.?
Hon. P. Bell: Actually, I have been in discussions with the federal minister responsible about this specific issue. We're working with them in terms of aligning their priorities to the number of immigrants that come to each jurisdiction.
If the member opposite would look at the statistics, she might discover that B.C. has a pretty good story to tell here. The federal government has talked about aligning its spending in a way with the provinces that have the larger immigration populations. We are in discussion with the federal minister and the federal ministry, and I'm looking forward to a positive relationship, which we do have with that government.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Elmore: I think the minister might be confused. Maybe more in line — abandonment versus alignment.
B.C. is recognized as having a world-class model for immigration settlement services and caters to the unique needs of immigrants coming to B.C. Vancouver is the entry point for many new Canadians, and we receive more than 42,500 immigrants per year, the highest of the western provinces.
I wonder what happened to Canada Starts Here and whether the Liberals are prepared to stand up and protect B.C.'s immigrant settlement services and jobs.
Hon. P. Bell: I think I actually just heard a compliment from the member opposite. The member opposite just said that this province has a world-class model. You know who developed that? It was actually this government that developed that exact model. So I appreciate the compliment from the member opposite.
What we're beginning to see a thread of here is the
[ Page 10974 ]
relationship that the opposition believes is appropriate with the federal government. That's a relationship where they're on attack, where they're constantly fighting with the federal government. We have seen that model before during the 1990s, and we know exactly how it worked then.
This government believes in having a collaborative relationship with the federal government, and that's why we've received more than our share of federal partnerships over the years. We're going to continue to work with them, and this one can also be a good-news story.
RCMP COSTS AND
NEGOTIATIONS FOR RCMP SERVICES
K. Corrigan: I think what the people of this province want is a government that stands up for it. It isn't just RCMP compensation levels that local governments were surprised at after the Liberal Justice Minister asked them to sign a new 20-year contract. There's also a surprise bill for a new headquarters in Surrey.
Clearly, the Premier and Justice Minister were, as their colleague from Vancouver-Fraserview put it, caught off guard. The member said: "The federal government says they advised, and we as a province said we were unaware of it."
To the Justice Minister, was she unaware, as her colleague from Vancouver-Fraserview suggested? And if so, who do we believe — this government or Mr. Harper's?
Hon. S. Bond: We've been very clear that we are in the process of negotiating regarding the costs related to Surrey–Green Timbers. That has always been a separate issue from the RCMP contract negotiations. We are going to work constructively. We're going to work hard on behalf of British Columbians.
One thing we know is that when we work constructively with our federal partners…. In fact, what British Columbians want are the billions of dollars of investment, the partnerships in infrastructure, in highways and in shipbuilding contracts coming to British Columbia as a result of a positive, constructive working relationship with the federal government.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
K. Corrigan: What we have is another botched implementation by this government. The Premier said: "I'm confident that we won't see any $1 billion buildings, and we won't see any big surprises in terms of new costs. The risk of that happening in the future is much, much smaller."
Well, the Premier is wrong that there are no more surprises, because the $1 billion headquarters contract that municipalities are going to have to pay for, for the next 25 years has yet to be negotiated. There is possible retroactive pay still to come that will cost millions more, and the new agreement does not take into account salary adjustments.
To the Justice Minister and chief negotiator on behalf of B.C. municipalities: will you admit that you botched the negotiation of the contract, and will you tell us how you intend to fix this mess?
Hon. S. Bond: One thing I know we can be absolutely thankful for is that the RCMP didn't ask to build their headquarters in Burnaby, because we'd sure know exactly what the critic opposite would say.
When we negotiated the RCMP contract, we spent years working with municipalities in an inclusive way. For the first time, in fact, we had a Union of B.C. Municipalities representative on the negotiating team. We held webinars, we had seminars, and we had discussions about what we needed to do moving forward. That's why the new contract contains management tools that have not existed in British Columbia up until today.
We're going to continue to work constructively with the partners that we have on the municipal level, on the federal level, because at the end of the day, that brings far greater benefit to the citizens of British Columbia.
COSTS TO B.C. OF
FEDERAL ANTI-CRIME LEGISLATION
L. Krog: Well, thank heavens we've got a good relationship with the government, because if this is what you get from a good relationship with the federal government, think what it would be if we had a bad relationship. They take you out on a date and leave you with the bill.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Member, take your seat.
L. Krog: Well, when it comes to bills, let's talk about Bill C-10. The B.C. Liberals have consistently refused to answer the questions and have dodged the financial impacts of Bill C-10. Both sides of this House have been on record that we support things like tougher penalties for sex offenders, but we've had nothing but Liberal rhetoric from them when it comes to the financial implications.
These are legitimate questions. The question is simply to the Justice Minister. We've been promised it for a long time. Where's the assessment? How much is it going to cost British Columbians?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, that's news. That's the first time we've ever heard from the member opposite that they had any interest in supporting C-10, which actually
[ Page 10975 ]
makes it tougher on people to exploit children in British Columbia. Finally, a policy position from the member on the other side of the House.
We're going to continue to look at how British Columbia will be best positioned to manage C-10, but in fact, we all know that part of the issue related to C-10 is corrections capacity. Once again, we certainly don't have to remind anyone what the opposition critic's view was of a new facility in her riding.
Let's be clear. We are going to do everything we can to accommodate the C-10 expectations within the mandate that we have.
To the member opposite: from our perspective, maybe in good time here we'll see a budget from the other side of the House. In fact, every day they announce more money they want to spend and have yet to indicate to British Columbians where that's going to come from.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
L. Krog: Well, it may impress her colleagues to not give an answer in this chamber. It didn't impress the voters in Port Moody and Chilliwack.
British Columbians want to know what the cost is of Bill C-10, pure and simple. The minister's had months to consider the question. Stand up in this House today and tell us: what is it going to cost B.C. taxpayers?
Hon. S. Bond: Well, one thing we know is that the cost implementation of C-10 is anything but simple.
In fact, what we have to consider is crime rates. They continue to change. The good news in British Columbia is that crime rates are at the lowest they've ever been at in more than almost four decades.
We have to consider past sentencing practices. We have to look at a number of factors. But what I know is this. British Columbia is involved in the largest expansion of corrections capacity in the history of this province — $185 million in phase 1. That puts us in a better position than most other jurisdictions in this country to manage the impacts of a bill that members on this side of the House lobbied hard to see things included in, like cracking down on people who choose to exploit children in British Columbia.
FOREST MANAGEMENT AND
FOREST HEALTH FUNDING
N. Macdonald: My question is to the Minister of Forests. You have the Auditor General, you have the Forest Practices Board as well as independent experts that are all saying the same thing — that we have a forest health crisis and that this government, over the past 11 years, has failed to adequately address that crisis.
Now, we know that with Burns Lake and that region this is primarily a forest health issue and a timber supply problem that comes from that. The question I have is for the minister. We have had a decade of cuts in forest health. Why is it that the minister intends to continue with that decade of cuts — cutting, over the next two years, $30 million more from forest health? Could the minister explain the disconnect there?
Hon. S. Thomson: The issue of the midterm timber supply through the region up there is one that is not new news. It's one that we've known about. It's one that we've continued to work on and to do the timber supply analysis through that area. We continue to consult with communities, with workers, with First Nations in that community. We're going to continue to look at all those options in addressing that issue.
This has been canvassed previously. Last week the Premier and the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation clearly said that we would look at those options in a public process, and that's what we're committed to do. It's only the members opposite who would say that we shouldn't look at all the options in addressing this particular issue.
[End of question period.]
Mr. Speaker: I have the honour to present the annual report of the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner for 2011.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: I will go through the number of bills in the order that we're going to be doing them over the next few days. It depends on how fast we get through things where they go and what will be added.
We'll start this afternoon in this House with second reading of Bill 31, intituled the Motion Picture Amendment Act; followed by Bill 33, intituled the Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012; and then second reading of Bill 34, intituled the Limitation Act; second reading of Bill 30, intituled the Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act, 2012; then second reading of Bill 32, intituled the Energy and Water Efficiency Act.
When we get through those, we will move to committee stage of Bill 23, intituled the Finance Statutes Amendment Act; then to Bill 24, intituled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, in committee; and also Bill 26, in committee, for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act.
In Section A, the Douglas Fir Committee Room, this afternoon we will continue the estimates of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Should that conclude, we will then move to the Ministry of
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Transportation and Infrastructure.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 31 — MOTION PICTURE
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Bond: I'm very pleased to speak today to amendments to the Motion Picture Act in Bill 31.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Amendments to the Motion Picture Act will update terminology and modernize the act's enforcement scheme. These amendments will complete delegation to Consumer Protection B.C., the agency responsible for administration of the act since 2007.
Finally, the amendments will update language to align the act with the law relating to obscenity.
The Motion Picture Act regulates the public exhibition of motion pictures in theatres and the selling or renting of adult motion pictures to the public. Under the Motion Picture Act, all theatres, distributors and businesses selling or renting motion pictures are licensed.
Also, motion picture distributors are required to submit new releases before they are exhibited in theatres, to Consumer Protection B.C. for classification. Age-appropriate classifications and advisories ensure that B.C. consumers can make informed choices about what they and their children watch at the movie theatre. This will continue under these amendments.
Consumer Protection B.C. also classifies adult home movies that are sold and rented in the province. The regulation of adult motion pictures ensures that minors do not have access to them.
Non-adult home movies — or general release movies, as they are referred to by the motion picture industry — are not classified under the act. The Motion Picture Association of Canada has a good voluntary rating system in place for these mainstream movies, which almost all distributors participate in.
Video games are outside of the scope of the act. The video game industry has, again, a good voluntary classification system in place for B.C. consumers.
These amendments reflect the fact that the Internet is outside of provincial jurisdiction. The province does not regulate private home viewing of material over the Internet.
With these amendments, we are updating definitions and introducing terms to reflect changes in motion picture technology. For example, the term "film" is relied on throughout the current act. However, in our digital age, film is just one of many media that can capture a motion picture.
In relation to terminology in the act, I would like to advise that after recent consultations on this bill with industry stakeholders, I will be making a minor amendment to section 12 of the act to clarify the requirements relating to proof of classification for movies shown in theatres. As we move towards the digital age, we want to be clear that it is proof of classification, rather than a physical attachment to the movie, that is required. I will bring forward that amendment and request that it be placed on the orders of the day.
Currently, Consumer Protection B.C. has limited enforcement tools under the act, with only tough sanctions, such as pulling a licence or prosecution. Changes to the enforcement provisions will represent best practices by introducing progressive enforcement with less severe enforcement tools such as compliance orders, undertakings and administrative penalties.
By applying enforcement provisions from the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, Consumer Protection B.C. will have access to the same range of enforcement tools that it uses for other sectors it regulates, such as funeral services, payday lenders and travel services.
In addition, Consumer Protection B.C. will have the ability to publish information on those who contravene the act. This will not only work to deter others, but it will enhance consumer protection by allowing the public to know the actions taken against a particular business. It also follows best practices for administrative tribunals by providing transparency and accountability to decisions made under the act.
These amendments also give Consumer Protection B.C. the authority to set its own fees without ministerial approval. This will align the fee-setting model used for other sectors that the agency regulates. The fee-setting process under the act includes industry consultation and a 90-day notice period.
Further changes to the act have been made to accurately reflect the law on obscenity as set down in the Criminal Code of Canada. Once these amendments are in place, Consumer Protection B.C. will only have the authority to approve or refuse to approve adult motion pictures. Non-adult movies for theatres will simply be classified. This approach aligns with other jurisdictions in Canada.
Currently, restricted motion pictures are a subset of adult motion pictures. These amendments separate restricted motion pictures from adult motion pictures, reflecting the current reality of the distinction between the two and the way restricted movies are currently classified in British Columbia.
The amendments retain all of the protections currently in place on how adult and restricted movies are sold, displayed and exhibited, including prohibitions on access by minors. These amendments will give Consumer Protection British Columbia the tools they need to continue to effectively regulate the motion picture industry
[ Page 10977 ]
for families in British Columbia. The amendments will ensure that the act will continue to protect children and families by making sure that all movies shown in public and all adult content movies sold or rented in the province are reviewed and given age-appropriate classification and content advisories.
With those opening comments, I will turn the floor over to other members who may want to comment on this bill.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thank you to the minister for her remarks on this bill, Bill 31, the Motion Picture Amendment Act. I have looked forward to a bill like this for some time. Certainly, I've heard in the industry great desire to have some modernization around terminology in terms of how the act is worded.
A film is not the same thing as it used to be. Films mean many things these days, and so it's good to see that this legislation will go some way towards updating legislation to bring us into this current century. We're not quite there, I don't think, with this bill, but we're a good ways there. There are a couple of other changes that I believe need to be made.
But first, on what's in this bill, Bill 31. I'm certainly pleased to see that progressive enforcement, progressive discipline is being brought to bear. As Consumer Protection B.C. put it to me, if there was a movie distributor, a film distributor, a digital entertainment distributor, so to speak, in this province — if they broke the rules, they either had to pull the licence completely, which could terminate the business, or do nothing. There was not a lot of in-between.
I know there were questions, as well, around administrative fairness. So I'm glad to see that progressive discipline is being brought in here, as well as an administrative tribunal of sorts to ensure that people have the right of appeal — that they are able to be part of the process and not just on the receiving end, without any sort of degree…. Based on maybe just a misunderstanding, they would face losing their licence, whereas now, with this legislation, they should be able to retain it if it was an administrative error on their part and not malicious, obviously. Those kinds of things will have to be considered as we go forward.
I'm also glad to see that the government is doing away with the right of censorship in the sense of movies. Now, to be sure, Consumer Protection B.C. and the government have not used this right for many years. But to bring it in line with the Criminal Code as opposed to leaving it kind of a bit more amorphous, where the risk could always be that some future government, or indeed this government, any government, could…. If they didn't like the morals of a movie, or something about it they did not enjoy, they might be able to step in and say, "Delete that scene" or "We don't want to see movies about those kinds of people, so these films will be censored."
Of course, that would obviously lead to the courts, and there would be a whole process with that. To get rid of a section which has not been used — censorship — in this way makes sense. I'm glad the government has done that.
Now, we've had a range of issues in the motion picture world. Obviously, people in the wider world will have heard of the Rio Theatre, potentially, in Vancouver. I know up north in the Peace, they talk about the Lido Theatre. It's an area that's had some challenges. Here in Victoria, the Roxy. These are small, single-screen theatres trying to make a go of it. They've got big locations, so they have a lot of the rent costs, the property tax, etc. This has made it more challenging in the single-screen movie theatres in particular.
Certainly, we see that there is a bit of a change in this bill, which means that they only need one licence if they're showing general movies, rather than two — to require them to have an adult movie licence, so to speak, if they wanted to show a restricted movie which was not pornography but was European, let's say. Those Europeans make some restricted movies. Canada and, of course, North America does as well.
I think of the very popular movie Shortbus, which was restricted, requiring festival cinemas to get an adult movie licence when really it was not a pornographic movie. It was a restricted movie in the sense of its subject matter and that it was maybe more appropriate for some audiences and not others.
I'm glad to see that has happened in this bill — that we're moving to one licence instead of requiring two for people who really should only have had to have one. That certainly will help them on the business side. A small cost but certainly a cost nonetheless.
I had hoped to see in this legislation more discussion around liquor regulation and how that intersects with motion picture theatres. The minister finally decided — not this minister, the minister responsible for liquor — to do something about that through regulation, a call that we had been making on the opposition side for a number of months. We're happy to see that that has happened so that adults and indeed movie distributors would be able to serve liquor in their venues if they become licensed and if they are serving adults.
I think we saw how antiquated some of the processes were for these small businesses with this government when it came to liquor and movies, as well as, of course, the fixes the government tried, which were not all that successful until the final fix, which indeed was what we had suggested in the first place.
That, to me, just opened the window into how challenging it can be in these small businesses, how much regulation and red tape sometimes can get in the way of a desire to have a glass of red wine with a fabulous movie, how that can make it difficult even to just keep the doors open on the theatre. I think of the Denman theatre in my
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own constituency and the challenges that they are having there but how hard they are working.
When I got out and when I saw this bill, I did a bit of a consultation with movie theatres. I went out to their associations. What I was surprised to hear, though, was that a lot of people had no idea this bill was even here in the Legislature. They didn't know what it was about. And these are people whose jobs are to look at regulation and to look at how things that the government does, and indeed the market does, will affect their members. They didn't even know this bill was coming.
When I asked them for opinions — did they think it should be improved, and what could we do better? — they didn't know it was here. For me, if I'm going to try to do something that's going to affect people, and certainly I think this principle should apply to government as well…. You actually talk to those people in a wider context to get that feedback.
So I'll be happy to hear from the minister in the second stage of this debate, in the committee stage, what kind of consultation was done on this, because certainly we want to make sure that there are no errors that come up because of lack of consultation. I know there is a small amendment that the minister is going to bring, which came about rather last minute, I think — in part because consultation could, in my view, have been done earlier than at this later stage.
Now, one area which is missing in this bill and, I think, deserves further attention is around classification. As movies are moving from film to digital, we're seeing changes in formats.
My understanding, through talking to people in the film sector, is that we may have the film version of Bambi or the film version of E.T. or the film version of, I don't know, let's say a Disney movie of any kind, which in film had been classified. But then it gets transferred into a digital format to be played digitally in theatres — maybe it's even 3-D. It's the same movie, but it's digital, so it's not film. You can't hold it. It's digital.
Yet that film, to my understanding, will have to go through the classification process again. So you could have just shown Snow White on Monday in the film format, but then a week later you want to show it in the digital format. It's the same film, but now you have to pay to classify it again. That, to me, does not make a lot of sense.
I know Consumer Protection B.C. is aware of that. Certainly, I've made the minister's staff aware of that issue. I think we could potentially have some sort of solution here. Maybe it's changes in regulation, where if it is the same movie and they swear, they attest to the fact that it's the same movie that was classified as a film, then they should be able to have it classified when it's digital, if it is indeed the same movie.
There's another issue which comes out of this. If there are older movies, older films — ones that maybe were classified in the 1950s, the 1960s; films that are classic — they may not have been translated into a newer version for many years. But somebody wanting to do a retrospective of an artist's work or going back to some of those good, old-time movies just for nostalgia's sake will find that they have to go back and reclassify.
I know Festival Cinemas had some concerns around that recently. I know they worked through that situation, with Consumer Protection B.C.
In terms of red tape, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to require somebody to classify something which is the same except for the format it was in. If it was in Beta and it is now in digital…. If the movie is the same, I would think that the classification should remain the same, rather than requiring a business owner to pay a certain amount of money for every minute that they have somebody sit to watch the film to classify it.
For some of the big theatres, that may be less of an issue. But for some of the small, independent theatres, it is a real issue of costs. Regardless of if it's a giant movie house or a small movie house, we of course, on my side, want to make sure that if there's going to be a cost or if there's going to be a regulation of sorts, that it's in the best interests of everybody, that it's not just redundant and that it does not just cost time and cost money for no reason.
Indeed, for a small business, that could mean their existence, when you add that onto a whole bunch of other factors. But for a big business, it just means that there's less money that they can put into their business or indeed into their community.
I'm certainly going to be interested in definitions as we go through it clause by clause in third reading, but the bill looks like it goes a good way to modernizing the act. I hope that, through some debate and discussion in third reading, the minister can clarify for me what she thinks around this classification issue, if it's an issue that we can work out, if indeed it is an issue at all.
To a large extent, I know Consumer Protection B.C. tries to do a number of classifications for free, in particular for small festivals or non-profit groups. But the fact is that businesses are still being asked to classify things which, really, have already been classified. It's just a change of format.
I thank the Speaker for listening to me in this House today. I thank the minister for her comments. I look forward to third reading debate on this and, hopefully, improving the economic climate for our movie theatres and our small indie theatres but, of course, the big theatres as well.
What better thing to do on a hot day? Well, go to the beach; that would be for me sometimes. But sometimes when it's too hot a day, you want to go into a nice movie theatre and catch up with friends or catch up with your favourite stars and see what's going on in the rest of the world or, really, what's going on here in B.C. with our
[ Page 10979 ]
thriving film and television sector. To be fair, it has had its challenges, but I hope that we'll see more B.C. stories shared in our theatres as well. Of course, whether it's digital, film, Beta or whatever, I love B.C. stories. I hope that this act will help our theatres survive so that we can tell more of them.
L. Krog: I just wanted to rise and take a few moments, firstly, to thank the Attorney General's staff for providing a briefing on this particular bill, and secondly, to say, things certainly have changed. There was a time when every small community had its movie theatre, almost guaranteed to be one screen. When the new movie came to town, everyone was there. That kind of theatre is very rare now, struggling in many cases.
Technology has allowed us to bring the movies into our own home. The way we think of movies in the big-M sense — the Academy Awards — in some respects represents a view of the world that isn't quite in touch with the reality.
I think it's important that the government bring forward the Motion Picture Amendment Act. I think it's important to recognize that there are changes and that technology will continue to change very, very quickly and how we see movies — whether we go to them, whether we watch them in our home, how we receive them and pay for them and all of those things.
But there is still an active film culture, and I use "film" in the broad sense. Vancouver Island Short Film Festival at Vancouver Island University just a week ago last Friday had a couple of good nights. A good cross-section of Nanaimo's citizens came out to view some of the films. Some wonderful shorts, from sort of a minute and 13 seconds to 20 minutes or so, were well worth seeing.
On the classification issue, I've always taken the view that exposing people to what they may find as even the most distasteful or obnoxious remarks or film or books or whatever is probably not a bad thing. Ultimately, it teaches us about what some people have to say in their view of the world.
Certainly, our society has struggled with the concept of pornography for a very long time. I'm reminded of the line of a U.S. Supreme Court justice hearing one of the many pornography cases that drifted up to the highest court in the United States. He said, quite simply: "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it." That probably sums up the views of many people. What is beauty in the eyes of one is not in the eyes of another. What may be distasteful to some is in fact a tool of education for others.
What we do know is that it's an important aspect of our society. Anything that helps this industry and this aspect of arts and culture in this province is a good thing. But the member for Vancouver–West End has pointed out that, around the issue of trying to reclassify things again that have already been classified, surely the government can make some appropriate changes there.
There is no need to reinvent the wheel, to plow the same field. You can use all the clichés you want. But surely, do we really have to put Snow White through it again? I don't think so. Let's be clear about this. I think we all understand that simply changing the format of how that image is delivered to you and how the voice is delivered to you really doesn't change the content.
I'm hoping the Attorney General will take the comments of the opposition into account as we discuss this bill further. Certainly I, like the member for Vancouver–West End, who is much more of an expert on arts and culture than I will ever be…. We'll all look forward to committee stage and asking those probing questions that will assist the House in understanding how we are moving forward, hopefully, with this legislation.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. S. Bond: I appreciate the comments of both members opposite. I think there was a very productive discussion in the briefing session. I know that one of the concerns expressed there was the issue around old films that don't currently have a distributor. I think there is a way that we can work to some resolution through Consumer Protection B.C., looking at a way to manage through that.
I think there are another couple of ideas that we can certainly explore through the committee stage. Our intent in this bill is to modernize the act to reflect the difference that we see in the entertainment industry, so I very much appreciate the comments that have been shared. We are working behind the scenes. In fact, one of the amendments that I'll table actually was a result of some of the discussion we had with a number of groups and also with the members opposite.
With that, we look forward to committee stage in the not too distant future, and I would move second reading of Bill 31.
Hon. T. Lake: I now call second reading of Bill 33, intituled Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
BILL 33 — JUSTICE STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 33 now be read a second time.
Let's move on to some comments about what is a justice statutes amendment act. It also makes one consequential amendment. But the purpose of the amendment to the Commercial Arbitration Act is to ensure
[ Page 10980 ]
the use of a specific dispute resolution process required under a trade agreement. Related amendments to the Enforcement of Canadian Judgments and Decrees Act would ensure that the monetary costs or cost awards made under a dispute resolution process of an agreement would be enforceable in British Columbia.
These two acts presently provide for the applicability of dispute resolution processes and enforceability of awards under three trade agreements: the trade, investment and labour mobility agreement, the new west partnership trade agreement and the agreement on internal trade These amendments will provide that the appropriate provisions of these two acts would apply to any other agreements with such requirements.
At the request of the Court of Appeal, we are proposing to amend section 7 of the Court of Appeal Act to replace the current list of orders, which may not be appealed, with the power to prescribe such a list by regulation. This will codify the common-law test that is currently applied.
The amendment will not eliminate any existing right of appeal, and that's a very important factor. That is, it will not eliminate any existing right of appeal that is currently likely to be successful. In fact, clarifying the limitations on the right to appeal should actually increase access to justice, as it will clarify for self-represented litigants when they have the right to appeal.
Because of the change we are making to the Court of Appeal Act, a consequential amendment is also being made to the Family Law Act to remove an unnecessary reference in that act. The Election Act is being amended to remove the requirement for the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct a provincewide door-to-door enumeration prior to the 2013 provincial general election.
Instead, the Chief Electoral Officer will be given the discretion to authorize enumerations in some or all of the electoral districts, the enumerations made by door-to-door visits or by other means. This amendment follows a recommendation made by the CEO and will result in a significant cost savings of approximately $25 million.
I'm advised that Elections B.C. intends to conduct targeted enumerations, mostly by mail, before the 2013 election in a manner similar to what was done before the 2009 provincial election. As well, Elections B.C. works to maintain a continuously updated voters list through information-sharing with Elections Canada and through automatic voter information updates from ICBC.
We also are proposing amendments to the Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act, and that will modernize the act, bringing it in line with other Canadian jurisdictions. In particular, these amendments will enhance the enforceability of B.C. orders registered in other jurisdictions as well as reciprocal orders from other jurisdictions registered in B.C. These amendments will clarify that B.C. law is to be applied first, as our province's measures for child support already meet or exceed those of reciprocal partners.
The amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act will support driver and vehicle licensing services and consumer protection within the driver training industry. The amendments will clarify ICBC's authority to convert out-of-province driver's licence classes into B.C. classes and determine offence equivalents. As well, the amendments remove the need for parental consent by affidavit. It's key to note that — by affidavit, for a minor's driver's licence.
They also clarify ICBC's authority with respect to issuing driver training school and instructor licences and provide ICBC with the ability to immediately suspend or refuse to renew the licence of a driver training school or instructor where there is a public safety risk or for serious non-compliance issues. The amendments will also ensure that driving school inspectors employed by ICBC are properly authorized to enforce prescribed provisions of the act.
Finally, the amendments will remove outdated restrictions and provide greater flexibility respecting the issuance and the use of floater licence plates for transporters, manufacturers and repairers. Amendments to the Offence Act will clarify the wording in the act regarding the authority to make regulations, to prescribe fines for contraventions.
Specifically, the act supports the flexibility necessary for ministries with violation ticketing schemes to set fines where the amounts may differ. The amendments also clarify that if one fine is prescribed, that fine applies if it's paid within 30 days or if paid after 30 days.
With that very technical explanation, there are a number of items in the bill. Most of them relate to updating the various acts that we've noted, and I would certainly, with those comments, welcome any that the other members may have.
L. Krog: I'm pleased to rise today to speak to second reading on Bill 33. Perhaps I'll deal with what I will call the non-contentious or more technical aspects of this legislation first, before addressing what I think is a fairly contentious section of the bill.
The changes to the Commercial Arbitration Act — pretty straightforward. One could hardly argue with it. Like many of the sections of this bill, it will obviously raise a number of questions during committee stage, because some of this is fairly technical both from my understanding of things and certainly, I suspect, from many members of the public.
Around the Court of Appeal Act changes, I think that's a very good idea, what's being proposed. Anything that makes it easier for people to understand the process in the B.C. Court of Appeal is important. I don't know if my information is up to date, but certainly recently one in five litigants appearing before the B.C. Court of Appeal was self-represented.
Now, I must say that for many of us at the bar, going to
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the Court of Appeal is not a frequent experience. It is not common. Generally speaking, only people who have very contentious cases, lawyers with very contentious cases or narrow practices and/or fairly wealthy clients, are able to ascend the steps of the B.C. Court of Appeal to seek justice there. That's a rare circumstance.
Something that in fact makes that process somewhat clearer and easier, for people to understand when they may or may not have a right to appeal is an important step forward. No question about that.
With respect to the Enforcement of Canadian Judgments and Decrees Act, again, we want to ensure, quite appropriately, that if orders are granted with respect to monetary judgments or cost awards made under trade agreements of which B.C. is a party, they're enforceable as judgments. That's a fairly commonsense thing. Again, I really can't have any contest with that legislation. It'll simply be a question of trying to understand exactly how that will work.
Interjurisdictional Support Orders Act. I have spoken in this House on many occasions around the problems that arise with respect to support orders being made in Supreme Court and parties not being able to afford to go back to the Supreme Court or superior jurisdiction, if you will, in any of the given provinces in this country to try and seek a variance when there has been a significant change in circumstances.
I will certainly take the opportunity, no doubt, in committee stage to rail a little bit more about that because I think it is an issue that the governments of this country across this land need to pursue and consider.
There reaches a silly stage where people are being pursued for tens of thousands of dollars that they'll never be able to pay, and a great deal of court time and the time of public service and enforcement agencies like the family maintenance enforcement program of British Columbia gets wasted, I say with great respect, trying to flog what is, quite literally, a dead horse. There are other occasions…. Their work is certainly important. I don't discount that. It's extremely important.
What this change is talking about is to ensure that there is a legislative framework to ensure that where appropriate orders are made, they are in fact enforced. But that doesn't get back to the issue of the variance, which is the issue that I still continue to rail about and think is important for the Attorney General to consider. I know I've received assurances from time to time that she is aware of this issue and will do what she can.
I realize it's a complex jurisdictional matter, but at some point the public interest has to trump the law, if you will, in this case. By that I mean the law has to be responsive to the realities of the way Canadians live and the poverty in which many Canadians live, who in fact end up having orders made against them and who would legitimately, if they could get the matter before a court, receive justice and see a reduction or change or indeed a cancellation of arrears.
But these changes are in fact designed to harmonize the language, as it relates to residence, with similar legislation in other provinces and the Hague convention on the international recovery of child support, and that's a good thing. No civilized country should ever be a haven for nor assist those who have legal responsibilities to a former spouse or children. No country should ever assist those persons in avoiding that legitimate responsibility.
Parenting is a great gift. It's a great responsibility, and with it comes a financial obligation. It's only appropriate that British Columbia play its full role in ensuring that those who have that responsibility and obligation in fact meet that obligation in a timely way.
The Motor Vehicle Act changes, I gather, simply clarify discretion that ICBC may use to determine whether or not driver's licence classes and other offences are similar to classes here, makes some other minor changes. The part of this bill that gives me issue and gives the opposition concern is something that occasioned one of those moments in the chamber where I've said nice things about the government.
I hesitate to quote the member for Nanaimo, but back when changes were made — which were to, now, what we refer to as section 42 — I said: "I'll compliment the Attorney General. I'm delighted to see the call in this bill for a door-to-door enumeration. That is a positive step, and the Attorney General needs to be complimented for that." So I can hardly stand up here today and say that I'm pleased to see the government going back on the reform it passed just a few years ago.
Section 42 as it exists says:
"42 (1) For the purposes of a general election conducted in accordance with section 23 (2) of the Constitution Act, the chief electoral officer must conduct, by residence-to-residence visitation before the general election, enumerations of all electoral districts.
"(2) For any purpose other than a general election referred to in subsection (1), the chief electoral officer may require or authorize one or more district registrars
of voters to conduct enumerations of all or part of their electoral districts.
"(3) An enumeration under subsection (2) of this section may be conducted by residence-to-residence visitation or by another method directed or authorized by the chief electoral officer."
In other words, in a by-election situation the Chief Electoral Officer was given discretion. An enumeration "may be conducted by residence-to-residence visitation or by another method." That method was referred to in the opening remarks today by the Attorney General, and that's generally by mail.
The proposed section, and I think it is worth reading into the record exactly what it says…. Those British Columbians who are at home and listening and paying attention to this need to understand there is a significant difference being proposed.
The proposed section 42, which is contained in section 3 of Bill 33, says: "42 (1) The chief electoral officer may require or authorize one or more district registrars[ Page 10982 ]
of voters to conduct enumerations of all or part of their electoral districts. (2) An enumeration may be conducted by residence-to-residence visitation or by another method directed or authorized by the chief electoral officer."
In other words, the discretion which formerly resided in the Chief Electoral Officer's office with respect to by-elections — to put it as simply as I can — is now being extended to cover the general election. What that means is quite simply this: the Chief Electoral Officer, between now and May 13, 2013, does not have to conduct a door-to-door enumeration.
Now, the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General, says it's going to save $25 million. I appreciate that in these difficult times…. If I could go to the Attorney General and ask her to cut a $25 million cheque for the constituency of Nanaimo that I could distribute to worthy causes and needs in my community, I would be an extremely happy member. It's a lot of money, and I don't mean to discount it. It's a lot of money even when you consider the budget of this province is — what? — approaching $40 billion annually.
In the context of a democratic society, ensuring that everyone who may be eligible to vote has an opportunity to be registered to vote and gets counted and heard from is, I think, something on which we cannot really place a price. I have used this line various times in the chamber before. It's like the Bourbon kings. They knew the price of everything and the value of nothing.
I think this is a question of value. For that $25 million, what do we achieve in British Columbia? I think we achieve a voters list that citizens can rely on, that will, even on a practical level, avoid the confusion that often arises during the course of election campaign, where people are wondering if they are on or they're not on. If they get their voting card, does that mean they're on? If they don't get it, does that mean they're off? If they don't get it, does it mean they're really off, or can they go in and find out they're on? What is, in fact, the reality?
For those of us who have worked in various campaigns, and I think that applies to most members of this chamber, how many times have you arrived at a doorstep of a dwelling or gone to an apartment building…? The HST campaign was no exception. You see the ballots stacked up for the HST campaign, or you see correspondence addressed to various people. You get a voters list that the party may provide to you. You're trying to canvass, and you see all of these people with various telephone numbers listed at a particular address, or all of these individuals.
It kind of twigs one when you're conscious of the fact you're approaching a place that's a one-bedroom apartment and discover that six or seven people, apparently, are eligible to vote there. It probably triggers something in your mind that says: "Just maybe the voters list isn't entirely accurate."
Historically in this province…. I think it's worth considering this around section 42. Until 1989 Elections B.C. conducted in-person door-to-door enumeration. Now, research back then said that that was becoming difficult and dangerous and ineffective. I understand that.
Again to come back to the practical experience of a politician, there's the odd doorstep with the odd large dog or the odd doorstep where you encounter someone who is perhaps impaired by alcohol or drug or who takes a different political viewpoint, who may not exactly welcome you on their doorstep with open arms and may indeed suggest that you get to the hereafter, the warmer part of it, a lot faster than would otherwise be the case in the normal passage of your life. That does happen, and I understand that.
L. Krog: The member says: "Never to us." All I can say is that he must be indulging in something that's available, I understand, in street corners around the province. I don't believe that of the member, so I suspect he's engaging in a bit of mirth here in this happy chamber as I discuss something which is actually, I think, quite important.
I should maybe invite the hon. member to consider coming canvassing with me in the next election. You'll get some experience.
In April of 1994 my party, then government, introduced legislation that cancelled that year's enumeration. Members of the assembly generally agreed that the existing enumeration model had become outmoded. That was 1994, so it wasn't that nasty big government — as it's always referred to by the government's side — introducing it over the opposition of the then Liberal opposition, or the Socreds, who were still kicking around then.
There was a massive change to the Election Act. I actually had the opportunity to sit on the committee that reviewed those sections over and over again, I say with great respect to Colin Gabelmann, who was the then Attorney General. I'm not sure every British Columbian or every politician wishes to say: "Thank you very much for the Election Act." It presented some challenges, I think, for all politicians and all parties.
Notwithstanding, it was a step forward and very progressive legislation. That gave discretion to cancel enumeration if the Chief Electoral Officer was satisfied the voters list was sufficiently current. Again, a great deal of power and authority vested in the Chief Electoral Officer. It is a position for which I have enormous respect, which separates us from many democracies around the world — to have an independent officer, appointed by the Legislature as a whole, being in charge of elections. I think we all recognize — those of us who enjoy the benefit of living in progressive democracies — that that is one
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of the hallmarks of a true democracy.
But the proposed changes in Bill 33, I think, raise issues with that, because it gives discretion to the Chief Electoral Officer when, I think, in fact, we may wish to provide, legislatively speaking, somewhat more direction than discretion.
In 2003 the present government introduced legislation that removed any timeline for when the Chief Electoral Officer had to conduct enumeration. Then, in 2008, the B.C. Liberals introduced the Election Amendment Act and reinstated the requirement to conduct an enumeration by residence-to-residence visitation prior to the scheduled general election. It didn't come into force until September 2009, so it didn't affect the 2009 enumeration, prior to the 2009 election.
As I quoted myself earlier, the opposition happily supported that change, and quite rightly so. We didn't support many other aspects of the bill, including restrictions on pre-campaign spending, third-party advertising and increasing ID requirements.
The 2009 enumeration was carried out by Elections B.C. through mail and targeted visits, which are not the same as a door-to-door enumeration.
A follow-up characterized it, I believe, as "achieving the highest-quality voters list in recent history," and adding enumeration cost only $2.9 million. Now, the Chief Electoral Officer submitted a report, and he recommended that "legislators consider providing greater flexibility to the Chief Electoral Officer to determine the best process for conducting enumerations."
I have no quarrel with the concept that the Chief Electoral Officer make recommendations. I have no quarrel with listening to someone who has expertise in the area. But one has to really question whether, given recent experience in the HST referendum, in the last provincial election and in the most recent by-elections, this is the right way to go.
I'm not satisfied that it is. I think we have to consider the words of the then Attorney General, in 2009, when Mr. Oppal made these comments.
"The bill also brings back the requirement of the Chief Electoral Officer following the 2009 election to conduct door-to-door enumerations prior to each election. Changes were made in 2003 to give the CEO the discretion to determine the method of conducting an enumeration. At that time, measures were also taken to provide for sharing voters lists between Elections B.C. and Elections Canada. The goal was to create the most complete and accurate voters list possible."
And these are the words that are important.
"However, it appears now that these measures are not a sufficient substitute for door-to-door enumerations. We recognize that enumerations take time and cost money, and we want to afford voters every opportunity to be registered and eligible to vote."
That was Wally Oppal.
I'm going to gild the lily a little here today, but Mr. Oppal was the Attorney General. He was the Liberal Attorney General, former Supreme Court justice, Court of Appeal judge and is now head of the Missing Women Inquiry — not exactly a British Columbian who lacks a certain respect from all political parties, a person who was appointed to the Missing Women Inquiry to be its commissioner, notwithstanding protests about the apprehension of bias.
I think we have to take his words and consider them carefully. However, it appears now that these measures are not a sufficient substitute for door-to-door enumerations.
The question that has to be asked is: what are we trying to achieve here? Where are you going to make the door-to-door visitation at the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer? Where is it going to be by mail? Is mail sufficient?
Candidly, hon. Speaker, when you are dealing with people of limited means, it is not uncommon to have them for a few months in one location and a few months in another location, and on and on it goes. I can tell you, as many in this chamber are aware and as I have pointed out from time to time, that there are parts of my constituency, certainly, where poverty is a real and obvious issue, where people who suffer from some form of mental illness and who are living in rental accommodation are often forced, as a result of behaviours arising from their mental illnesses, to move on a fairly frequent basis.
A process that doesn't conduct a door-to-door enumeration may well result in them missing the opportunity to make a choice about their government. I happen to think that making a choice about who gets to govern you is one of the most important aspects of living in British Columbia and in Canada.
I appreciate that there are many people who take it for granted, even though they may be on the voters list. I certainly have expressed publicly and privately to people from time to time my frustration with that attitude, with those who are cavalier about it.
Those who will happily take their children down to a Remembrance Day ceremony and celebrate the courage of those who have served in the Canadian forces, often in time of war or in peacekeeping, or trying to ensure that there is order in some other country so that people can in fact participate in elections…. I don't know how you take your children down there and ask them to show their support for veterans of the forces when you don't bother to vote yourself.
Having said that, if the government had brought forward a section in this bill that said we were going to fine people or sanction them somehow if they didn't vote, I can't say what the position of the opposition would have been, exactly, but I might say that, for me personally, it would have a certain appeal.
When I see a section that says you're going to give complete discretion to the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct enumerations — and that may or may not be by residence and, most likely, it would appear from the
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Attorney General's remarks, mainly by mail, in conjunction with other methods — as a way of keeping the voters list up to date, I would suggest it's not adequate, and it's not sufficient.
As much as I appreciate that the $25 million estimated cost is significant, when you contrast that with the value received, I don't think its price is too high. Their price is beyond rubies. The price, if you will, is beyond rubies and pearls — or the value, certainly.
There will be some debate around section 3, which will have the effect of repealing the existing section 42 and substituting it with the very broad and open discretion that the new section 42 will in fact grant to the Chief Electoral Officer. This is not a decision or a consideration that I have come to lightly, or members of the opposition generally, but I think we are satisfied that the proposed change is going to disproportionately have impact on vulnerable British Columbians, some of whom I've talked about today.
When you consider what the cost is versus its importance, again you have to ask yourself: "Is this a good thing for democracy? Is this a good thing for British Columbia?" Is this something we would hold up to other parts of the world and say: "This is the way we do it in B.C., and this is the best way to do it"? I suspect not.
The government, in its wisdom, has chosen not to implement other recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer in his report to government in November 2011. Indeed, he made suggestions that the government might want to consider legislative means for Elections B.C. to pursue, at least on a pilot-project basis, a variety of new voting technologies.
Now, I must say, I have enormous concerns about the concept of Internet voting. It's very interesting, and I'd love to see the greatest number of people vote, possibly, but my own party's experience with Internet voting during the selection of our brilliant new national leader, Thomas Mulcair, was in fact impacted by an attack, if you will. A cyber attack, I think, is the proper and technical term. The member for Vancouver–West End is nodding sagely and indicating to me that I've chosen the right language.
Having said that, I think there are real concerns around that, but the government did not choose to pursue that. The government instead chose to simply bring in a new section 42. I'm not satisfied it is sufficient at a time when we know that voter turnout has been diminishing quite significantly at every level of voting in this country — whether it be for the national parliament or the provincial Legislature, whether it be for municipal council or regional district boards or boards of education, where the turnout continues to decline.
I'm not sure we are sending the message, as legislators and as representatives of the people, with the new section 42 as proposed, that we in fact believe in ourselves. Surely, we believe that voting is important. Surely, we believe it is to be encouraged. Surely, we believe it should be made as readily available to every British Columbian, regardless of status and education and ability and knowledge and residence, as possible.
My fear is that this is, quite simply, a way for the government ultimately to save money, that it really doesn't have anything to do with historical studies — which may in 1989 have suggested that door-to-door enumeration wasn't the most effective thing to do — and that it has to do with something as crass as cash for a cash-strapped government.
I don't want to go over the top on this issue today, but I suspect a number of the members of this chamber on both sides took time to do some canvassing in the last couple of by-elections. I'm sure that many people have visited Chilliwack who hadn't visited it before, or Hope or Agassiz or Port Moody. I'm sure what they discovered probably gave them concern around the state of the voters list.
As we have a year and a month now before we approach the general election — that great opportunity for British Columbians to pass judgment on the government in power and the opposition-in-waiting, when they have an opportunity to determine what the makeup and composition of this Legislature will be after May 13 — surely, the message should be that we want every British Columbian, legally eligible to do so, to vote.
I don't think this bill sends that message. I don't think this bill reflects the reality of the state of the voters list in many areas of the province. I don't think it reflects the reality of modern life, where indeed…. I've talked about vulnerable British Columbians who move because of issues with their landlords and things of that nature. It doesn't also reflect the state of a modern British Columbia — where many people, who are by financial standards and by economic standards successful, are likewise moving a great deal and are more mobile than they ever were.
There are not many British Columbians who are living within five or ten miles of their birthplace anymore. That is a reality. They move a great deal. What are we going to do to solve that problem, or indeed respond to that social reality? What is it we're going to do? Are we going to spend less time, less money and less effort in ensuring the voters list is accurate, or are we going to respond to that modern reality and spend more time, to give more concern and more thought to this? I think that's the direction we should be going.
I don't think Bill 33, section 3, does that. It is going in the opposite direction. It is essentially giving the opportunity to the government, if they wish — and I'm not suggesting they would do this — to essentially starve the Chief Electoral Officer. If the Chief Electoral Officer, in his or her wisdom, as the case may be, decided on a provincial enumeration, where's the money going to come
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from when the legislation says that it's not a "must" but that it's a "may"?
If it was a must, government really doesn't have much choice. It would be pretty hard to go to the voters of British Columbia and say, "Sorry. We decided we wouldn't give the budget to the Chief Electoral Officer this year, so guess what. There's no provincial enumeration door to door. The voters list will be what it will be" — the Doris Day approach, que sera, sera.
This legislation sends the message that the government can essentially say: "Right, we're in tough times, from our perspective. That's what we think. That's what we believe. Sorry, Chief Electoral Officer. There isn't money available."
We give the excuse and opportunity for the government, if we pass this, to simply say "tough" to the Chief Electoral Officer. "We don't think that, in these fiscal circumstances, this is a priority for government, so we're not going to do it. There won't be a door-to-door enumeration."
I could be cheeky and suggest…. Forgive me, because I don't wish to try and make light of it. The Premier talks a great deal about her jobs agenda. If there was ever an opportunity to create some employment that is literally spread around the province, that would reach into every hamlet — and, indeed, arguably, in an almost literal sense, into every home — surely the hiring of the people necessary to conduct a door-to-door enumeration would be that.
Surely that would be the approach, as opposed to the new proposed section 42. That would truly spread some wealth around the province. In light of the federal government's cancellation of Katimavik — a long-respected and, I think, a very positive program that the federal Tories have chosen to kill in their, I would say with great respect, lack of wisdom — you could send British Columbians from Richmond up to Prince George or Skeena or Fort St. James.
Let them knock on a few doors and become acquainted with this wonderful province and the great variety of its geography and its peoples. Instead, we pass this. I think we know what the effect is. There will not be a door-to-door enumeration, except in very limited circumstances. There will be no pressure on the government to provide the necessary funding to ensure a door-to-door enumeration. What we will get — with great respect to the very good work of the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff — I suggest, is a voters list that is not all it could be.
We talk in this chamber constantly about hope and what we can do and what we can be and all we can achieve. I just happen to think that having a voters list that is up to date, that is comprehensive, that is accurate and that ensures with the least difficulty possible that every British Columbian who arrives at the polling booth on election day has an opportunity to vote is a good thing. It's a very good thing. I would think that this government would want to ensure that that, in fact, is what happens.
I really don't think, hon. Speaker, that you can make the argument that more democracy and more participation is a bad thing. I think British Columbians would instinctively accept the proposition that more democracy and more people voting is, in fact, a very good thing. Therefore, I am disappointed, obviously, that the government has chosen to grant greater discretion.
I appreciate that it may represent the suggestion of the Chief Electoral Officer. But our responsibility as representatives of the people is to speak on their behalf. Notwithstanding that some have been turned off by how we conduct ourselves or the negativity surrounded with modern politics or the criticism from various editorials, a majority of British Columbians still value the right to vote; believe it should be extended, not restricted; and believe in their idealistic hearts, as I think and trust that most of us do here, that the right to vote is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
Therefore, the opposition simply can't support what the government is proposing to do here, as I say, particularly in light of the fact that their own Attorney General acknowledged in his own very clear words that the various methods that were being used to complete the voters list were "not a sufficient substitute for door-to-door enumerations."
Now, I know that that was back in 2008, and in politics, as Harold Wilson said: "A week is a long time, and a year is an eternity." We're talking, basically, four years ago. But what has changed in British Columbia that makes the former Attorney General, Mr. Oppal, incorrect today?
In other words, what's happened that puts his comments in question today? How has British Columbia changed? Has the list improved that much? Has the population remained completely static? Have no British Columbians moved residences in the last four years? Have no new immigrants come to this great province? Has no one died? Has no one attained voting age in the last four years? Of course not; I'm being silly. I'm trying to make a point.
The fact is that the very reasons that led the government to bring forward legislation that was supported, with respect to that aspect, by the opposition…. The circumstances that existed then exist today.
Again, what's changed? I don't see that anything has really changed, except perhaps that this government has decided that the value of democracy is not worth a $25 million price tag. That's really what has changed. It's not the need, not the belief, not the idealism, not the evidence, certainly, that have changed. It's simply the wish of government.
So the opposition is not going to assist the government in stepping back from one of the few good things that it actually has done in the last 11 years. The opposition is
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not going to say, "Congratulations for taking a retrograde step," when in fact they've had an opportunity to take a forward step.
If they had brought in further reforms to the Election Act, and that's what was contained in this bill, or if they had brought in things to ensure that even more British Columbians turned out and voted or were registered to vote, I would have applauded them. But instead, they are turning their backs on one of those occasions when they demonstrated common sense, when they listened to the evidence, when they followed their conscience and indeed reintroduced the concept of a door-to-door enumeration.
The opposition is not going to support the government on this one. I certainly look forward to talking about the other technical aspects of Bill 33 in committee stage, but the government is not going to get the opposition's support on the proposed section 42.
S. Chandra Herbert: Well, I have been impelled to speak because of the testimonials that my colleague from Nanaimo has brought, regarding democracy and regarding the need to ensure that everybody has their chance to have their say through the voting box. Of course, we would like them to have their say all the time, in terms of how government is run. Certainly, I know many of us try to operate our own constituency offices in that way, by getting out and hearing from people daily, but in terms of this bill, section 42, I'm concerned.
Getting rid of the mandatory door-to-door enumeration, to me, strikes a bit of an alarm. My constituency of Vancouver–West End is approximately 80 percent renters, renters who often move. Indeed, between elections, we can see approximately 60 percent of my constituents have moved in some form. They may have moved within buildings. They may have moved between buildings. In many cases they move elsewhere, as well, joining other communities in British Columbia and around the world.
Of course, we also have many people moving in to the constituency. So when I get out and talk to people, they often do not know what constituency they are in. They may be new. However, they may be living there for three years and still not know. I ask them: are they registered to vote? They say, "Well, maybe. I was back in my home in Surrey," or "I was back somewhere else, so maybe I still am." Or they may say: "Well, no, I've never voted. I just graduated out of high school. How do I do that?"
I take them through the steps. Eventually they get registered. But there are many people who do not receive their voting cards, even if they are registered, because they have moved. There are many people who do not receive notification of where to go to vote because they are not registered.
Now, if they had had that opportunity of somebody coming to their door and saying, "Hello. Are you registered to vote? Who are you? What do you do here?" chances are they would register. They would know. They would feel more a part of that community. They would receive the communications about where to vote in advance, where to vote on the day of.
In my community, even though it's so dense, the voting locations are not always clear, and certainly, for communities that are much bigger, that is even less clear. So if you don't know, if you are new to the community and you don't know that people generally vote at this high school or that community centre, sometimes that's enough to dissuade somebody from voting — in particular, folks that are dealing with real challenges.
Some of the great moments of elections, I think, are when you get people who have never voted before to vote. They come out of that ballot box, they come out of that voting place, just beaming. They feel they are a part of the community. They feel they are a part of their society in a bigger way than they have been before. I think of some of the homeless folks that I've talked to who, after much encouragement, eventually go to vote.
Now, I know with enumeration, certainly, some of this issue of people not being registered is dealt with — not entirely. Certainly, sometimes through the mail or through ads or things like that, people will take it upon themselves to go do that. But if you're balancing, trying to pay your bills…. Maybe you've got the kids to feed, and you've got all these other issues that you are trying to balance in a new community that's not yours. Maybe language is an issue as well. Seeing an ad in the paper saying, "Oh, register to vote," is not the top priority that people place.
We all, of course, take this work that we do here very seriously all the time — well, most of the time. That same priority of place in our lives is not the same, of course, for our constituents all the time either, until there is some big blowup in the media and people hear about what we're doing and tell us what they think, sometimes quite loudly and proudly — which is right. But unless we have that interface between the elections people and the public in a more coordinated fashion, I'm concerned that we will be further disenfranchising people who we need to be engaging, not pushing away.
When I see language about, "Well, maybe they will do some targeted enumerations," left to the discretion…. Maybe there will be a budget for it; maybe there won't. That concerns me. Certainly, we want elections to be non-partisan in all that sense, but to do that you need a list of everybody — the most marginalized right up to the most connected — who are able to be involved in that process through being registered.
I think an enumerated voters list — one that's actually gone through and made sure it's up to date — is very important. I think of a building I went into in my community where it said there were registered voters. You went from door to door: "Oh, no. I'm an international student.
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Oh, no, I'm an international student." The whole building was rented out to international students. It was great for those students. They had a good place to live, and they were happy to be there. They were happy to go, "Oh, my MLA. What's an MLA?"
We had some interesting discussions, but they were not voters. Yet on the voters list it said they lived at those addresses. So they would have received cards in the mail inviting them to come vote in their local station, but they're not voters. And the people that should have got those cards have since moved and do not have those cards following them, do not have that registration either.
So I think an enumeration is important. I think this priority in terms of how our government functions and how our democracy functions needs to take a higher priority.
I was surprised, as this bill is made up of many different sections, that another recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer does not seem to have been followed on, which was the idea of provisional voting — so for somebody who is 16 to be able to be put on the list. They wouldn't vote, but they would get to vote when they had the opportunity, when they turned of age, but they would certainly be part of that system. That has not taken on.
Certainly, there was much excitement on that side of the House. I believe it was the Health Minister who came out saying that 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote — full stop. Not even just provisional voting, which was kind of a smaller step forward that the Chief Electoral Officer made, which was not in this bill. That would be a small step, I think, that would help get more young people voting. Of course, the wider discussion about youth voting — 16-year-olds are allowed to drive, but cannot vote — is one that I think also needs further discussion, for sure.
Certainly, there are many, many engaged 16-year-olds that I've met in my community who have opinions about what government should or should not do, and there are many 60-year-olds that I have met in my time who have no opinions whatsoever about government or any idea who they would or should vote for on occasion. So just to make sure we are clear, age does not necessarily mean desire to be involved. It does not necessarily mean knowledge of what's going on.
I thank the minister for the chance to share this concern. I certainly will be very interested to hear what specific actions will be taken to ensure that the most marginalized in our communities, those who are transient, sometimes just for employment reasons but also those who may move because of choice — they go to school for a short while and then they move somewhere else — are given the full opportunity to be engaged and, indeed, that their government welcomes them to become registered voters and into the system, which is what happens with a full enumeration, which does not happen when it's more of an opt-in, "you can if you want to" kind of approach, which seems to be the direction we're heading in.
Thank you to the hon. Speaker for listening to my comments. I will sit down now.
S. Hammell: I also rise opposed to this section of the bill. I think that we talk a lot about the turnout in this country, about how the turnout has been constantly, over time, decreasing, and that we feign huge concern over that, and we lament the fact that it is going down, not coming up.
I think that that deterioration of the vote or the lack of understanding of how many people are voting is in direct correlation with our decision not to constantly enumerate in terms of elections. I don't think, in fact, we have a clue about what percentage of any given population votes. The voters list has deteriorated so badly over time that I don't think people have an accurate understanding of how many people are in any given area that legitimately have the right to vote.
I think this is a direct result of moving the process from real engagement with the public around their registration of voting. Their ability to get out and vote in an election is dependent on them getting registered. That has been taken away from a process where people actually spoke to each other, directly, about that process.
Years ago, when there was enumeration that was done regularly, people from two different parties went out with a non-partisan person, and they canvassed the area, and they put people on the list. They confirmed for people that they were still there, that they were on the list, and they added people to the list that were able to vote.
That process has gone by the way, and we rely on all kinds of less direct methods of getting people on voters lists and, to a large extent, on people for getting on themselves.
Well, much to our chagrin and maybe our amazement in this House, people aren't consumed every day with electoral politics. They don't automatically think, when they are moving or when some change has occurred in their lives, that: "Oh, I should get on the voters list."
It's probably not even on the radar of most people that that's part of the process they should engage in. I think that in my discussions…. I was privileged enough to be part of the committee of the House that chose and re-engaged and hired a new Chief Electoral Officer. The thing that struck me most in that whole process was, to me, the lack of understanding of the Elections B.C. office of how real or unreal their voters list is. I don't think they have ever gone out and done a simple thing of checking out, say, through random audits, by going to the doorstep and finding out how accurate their list is.
They have some theoretical checks and balances on it, but after working some time in the recent by-election, I was actually quite appalled. There were whole areas that
[ Page 10988 ]
have very few people who were enumerated at all and often some areas that, in my way of thinking, it should have been very incumbent on us to ensure that people were enumerated.
One of the places that was very obvious was clearly the areas where there was a fair amount of transiency. If you had areas where people were there for a while and then moved on, obviously, that place was the first place that there would be very few people who were on the list that were still at that place. They were given voting numbers. Information was sent to a household where no one who had the right to be on the voters list was actually at that house and able to vote.
The other place that this became really, really obvious to those of us who participate in electoral politics was during the HST. I was actually shocked at the number of envelopes that went out to households and were sitting in mailboxes weeks after. People who had moved into the house didn't want to assume responsibility for a package that had been sent to someone else, had put it back in the mailbox, and they were just sitting there.
It just seems to me that this is a precious enough right that the state, having taken some responsibility to have a list, should ensure, to the greatest extent they can, that that list is actually accurate.
Another place that there was shocking enumeration done and in fact very little response, although it had been promised, was in some of the aboriginal reserves in the province, particularly in the Chilliwack-Hope area. Huge numbers of people were not on the list, and there were no attempts previous to the election — although there had been six months' notice of the by-elections — for those people to be placed on the list and to be ensured that they were part of the process.
One of the things that happens when you're on the list is that you get…. First, you're legitimate. You're legitimized by the fact that you get notice about the election. You get a reminder of when it is. You get instructions on where it is and the time of the balloting station. You are part of the process and included and legitimized through that process.
Believing very strongly in our need to engage people and to have a large percentage of our population vote in by-elections and elections and referendums or whatever processes are put in front of us as part of our role in being a citizen and part of taking ownership of our democracy…. It seems to me that as legislators, we should be particularly aggressive around ensuring that people have the right to vote and that we facilitate that right to vote through whatever processes will come up with a reasonably accurate list.
After working through the HST, after working in numerous elections myself, I do not believe that we have a process that produces a list that is even reasonably accurate. I join my colleagues. I find the fact that we have not been aggressive about ensuring that people are on the list….
I don't believe that we even have a clue, because we've not done an appropriate test on comparing who's on the list and who isn't. All we do at the end of a period where people are allowed to vote…. We look at who didn't vote by the numbers that didn't vote, and we look at who did and say: "Well the rest of the people didn't vote."
I think a whole bunch of people are on the list that shouldn't be on the list. There are people who have turned of age that are not on the list and should be on the list. There are people who have moved in and out, and neither of those people….
There are people on who shouldn't be and off who should be on. I actually believe very strongly that we should be much more aggressive in ensuring that the people of British Columbia are on the voters list and are part of that process. With that, I'll take my seat.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. S. Bond: I appreciate the comments on the bill and look forward to the opportunity in committee stage to have a more specific discussion about the issues that the members opposite have raised. I think there was a fair degree of consensus on a number of the issues.
I don't want to end second reading without some reflection on the comments that have been made over the last few minutes about the voters list. I think the members opposite need to — certainly from my perspective, and they have referenced this…. The people that they're disagreeing with on this recommendation are not the government. We have actually responded to a request from Elections B.C. to look at the process of enumeration.
We could begin to hope that if we had a more accurate voters list, it would solve all of the problems related to voter apathy. I know the members opposite weren't suggesting that of the lack of participation or the way that people choose to participate in the democratic process. That's simply not the case.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Elections B.C. has looked at the enumeration process and, in fact, finds that it is not that significantly effective — that door-to-door enumeration has not yielded a significantly improved voters list. So Elections B.C. came to the government with a series of recommendations. After thinking about those and looking at the options and, in fact, looking at what other jurisdictions do across this country, very few jurisdictions in this day actually complete door-to-door enumerations.
We should be clear that the bill says that there will still be the ability to authorize enumerations in some or all electoral districts. The enumerations may be made by door-to-door visits or by other means. In fact, there
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will be an opportunity for Elections B.C. to look at the circumstances and actually make those decisions. Government is responding to a series of recommendations that came forward from Elections B.C.
A number of things are used to update the voters list. That would include the federal voters list. There's information that's provided by ICBC. Certainly, the list doesn't sit stagnant all year long or all four years long. There is an ongoing updating process that is taken into consideration.
I appreciate the comments made by members opposite. This is not about cash. It came as a result of a clearly thought-out recommendation from Elections B.C. to say that we need to look at doing this differently, and government responded to that. That's why you see this section in front of you.
Other recommendations are still before government. I'm very interested in and we've made a commitment to contemplate looking at on-line voting. Despite the comments made earlier about, "How does that work?" and "How did it work?" in recent examples, both sides of this House have had some experience recently with on-line voting in one form or another, and it wasn't exactly a smooth process in either of our cases.
Having said that, we live in a different world, and it's time for to us explore the implications of whether or not there are ways to engage the electorate. None of us in this House is satisfied that every voter who should or could be voting is.
When I visit young people in schools or speak with students in university, they aren't as concerned about the process of actually casting the ballot as what happens before you cast the ballot. They don't feel engaged. They don't feel that parties — with all due respect, on either side of the House — necessarily listen as well as they should. They don't see the outcomes of their views and their passions being expressed in legislation or in governance.
Engagement in the electoral process is about much more than the voters list. Candidly, it is inaccurate to describe this as government suggesting this is about saving $25 million. In fact, the request came to government to say: "Please, would you consider allowing us to do targeted enumerations and looking at that with some degree of discretion?"
We've responded to that, and I think that, obviously, there will be hearty debate about this at the committee stage. I think that's appropriate. After all, this is about the democratic process. Where better that we have that discussion?
But I think that to characterize — to be fair, it hasn't been explicitly articulated this way — that not having a door-to-door enumeration is the end of democracy as we know it is inaccurate. There are very few of us in this House that do not care passionately about ensuring — and it's not one side of the House or the other — that every person who has the right to exercise their franchise does it.
People around the world give their lives to be able to vote. I just don't happen to think that's tied to a voters list. It's about a whole different process that talks about engagement and listening and taking views and making sure that they're seen in people's leaders in the province and the country.
I haven't meant to overstate what I've heard from the members opposite, but this was a response to a recommendation. In fact, if you look at other jurisdictions, which we have carefully done, very few other provincial jurisdictions in particular rely on door-to-door enumeration in the day and age that we live in.
With those comments, I move second reading of Bill 33.
Hon. S. Bond: Mr. Speaker, I need to, with your indulgence, please, move that not only Bill 33 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today, but also Bill 31. If we could do both of those, I would be appreciative of your flexibility there.
Mr. Speaker: Could you do them separately?
Hon. S. Bond: I can do them however you like. I know that we skipped merrily over it in the last one.
I will move that Bill 33 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House.
Bill 33, Justice 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. S. Bond: I would now move that Bill 31 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting after today.
Bill 31, Motion Picture 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. T. Lake: I now call second reading of Bill 34, intituled the Limitation Act.
BILL 34 — LIMITATION ACT
Hon. S. Bond: I will begin to make some comments about the Limitation Act. I appreciate the opportunity
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to do so. The Limitation Act reflects a comprehensive reform of the current Limitation Act.
[D. Black in the chair.]
The purpose of the bill is to modernize and simplify the rules for determining the time periods people have to sue one another in the civil justice system. Certainly, I know that in my short tenure as the Attorney I've heard an awful lot about this matter and looking at how we try to find balance in looking at this modernization. But the objective of limitations law is to ensure the timely resolution of legal proceedings while at the same time balancing the interests of plaintiffs with those of defendants and society.
In 1975 British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact limitations legislation that set an ultimate limitation period. At that time it was applauded as leading the country in limitation reform and following the lead of other Commonwealth jurisdictions. But as we all know, there have been a number of developments since then.
More jurisdictions are adopting ultimate limitation periods, but since 1975 the trend has been to move towards shorter limitation periods. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick have all modernized their limitations law in the past decade, and discussion papers have been recommending similar changes in Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The Uniform Law Conference of Canada also developed a model statute. We looked very closely at that model statute, and we also looked at the legislation in other jurisdictions, in developing this bill.
The social and economic background, against which limitation laws must operate, has changed. With increased mobility across the provinces, it is very important that British Columbia keep up with changes to the legal environment that impact insurance products, the cost of doing business, and recordkeeping. This bill responds to calls for change from stakeholders including the building design and construction industry, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, the B.C. Dental Association and the College of Dental Surgeons of British Columbia.
We also have the benefit of recent thinking by Law Reform and other bodies. Both the reports of the Law Reform Commission of British Columbia in 1990 and its successor the British Columbia Law Institute in 2002 recommended comprehensive reform to the ultimate limitation period. Our recommendations are informed by two consultation processes, so certainly no one can suggest that we have not had a very lengthy and significant discussion about this issue.
First, a Green Paper was issued in 2007 and a White Paper in 2010. The ministry also worked with an advisory group of lawyers to review the White Paper's draft legislation. Now, there are differing views on the reforms to the act, but the ministry has tried to strike the right balance between those who are seeking access to the court system to pursue their rights and remedies, and those who are defendants who rely on the limitations law to encourage claims to be brought in a timely way.
The bill before us repeals and replaces the existing statute. It makes the law more accessible to the public by simplifying the law and by adopting modern drafting practices. It provides uniformity of limitation laws in British Columbia with those of other modernized provinces, which is all the more important in light of internal trade and mobility agreements.
There are a number of key amendments that will be of benefit to the public and to the economy. The array of basic limitation periods…. There was not a single limitation period. There were a number of them, which caused confusion, and part of our goal was to bring clarity to that particular issue. It will be simplified to create, with some exceptions — and there are exceptions — a single, basic limitation period of two years. In addition, a single ultimate limitation period of 15 years will be created, combined with a change in the model of commencement to an act or omission model.
We've looked across the country. We've looked at law reform issues and papers that have been produced, and we can assure you that there is no perfect solution here. We're striking a balance. The Green Paper suggested a ten-year ultimate limitation period, and that would be similar to Alberta. The White Paper asked for feedback, specifically on whether the ultimate limitation period should be ten or 15 years.
In trying to strike the balance between defendants and plaintiffs and to provide the most consistency with provinces across Canada, we are proposing 15 years. Limitation periods will be postponed during the time in which the defendant wilfully conceals necessary facts from the person with the claim or wilfully misleads the person with the claim about the appropriateness of taking legal action.
The running of the ultimate limitation period will be postponed during times of adult disability. This is a change from the current act, where the ultimate limitation period is postponed only for minority but not for adult disability. We are changing that. The ultimate limitation period will be postponed during adult disability as well.
A transition clause will be included that stipulates that claims discovered before the effective date of the new act will continue to be governed by the former basic and ultimate limitation periods.
As I have mentioned, this act repeals and replaces the existing statute, and therefore the benefits I've just mentioned are merely some of the important changes made by this legislation. It has been a long journey to bring the Limitation Act to the Legislature. We certainly realize that it is a matter of balance. We are trying to find that
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crucial place of balance.
Most compelling for me was looking at the rest of the country, looking at where British Columbia is positioned. We need to be competitive, and we need to consider mobility issues. In fact, British Columbia was left standing alone with a 30-year ultimate limitation period. We've recognized that it is time to move forward. I know that this will certainly generate debate, but it has been highly sought after by a number of sectors in our province — literally for over a decade.
With those opening and very preliminary comments to the content of the bill, I'll be happy to take my seat and allow other members to make their comments.
L. Krog: A busy day for the Attorney General and myself and those concerned about justice issues in British Columbia, but nevertheless, a day for deep consideration of some very serious matters.
Certainly, a brand-new Limitation Act is a very serious matter. I think there has been, it's fair to say, a general consensus that it's always good to get the provinces of Canada lined up in a way that the law is not significantly different, particularly around procedural issues, when it comes to court and the right to make claim against another party in a civil action, which is what the Limitation Act deals with.
But I'd be less than candid if I didn't also say that it does give me some concern. If you're approached on the street, you should never give free legal advice, but I have tended to do so on occasion, and I have said to people quite bluntly: "Well, in all likelihood, I think you're probably looking at a somewhat longer limitation period, but just to be safe, you better consult somebody and look at it very carefully and make sure it's not a two-year limitation period."
Certainly, the common kinds of claims commenced in B.C. courts revolve around personal injury or Family Relations Act claims, as they exist now, and claims for spousal support, child support — things of that nature. There's no limitation on children, but there certainly is in spousal support, so you have to be very careful. This is a pretty dramatic change overall.
To deal with, I think, something that's somewhat less contentious around the issue of the ultimate limitation period, I think there is certainly sympathy and understanding from the opposition around the concept that a professional person shouldn't be facing 30 years, if you will, of potential claims being brought forward.
I think the member for West Vancouver–Capilano made telling remarks in a radio interview about an individual that he was involved with whose husband passed away and who suddenly faced some enormous problems arising out of his estate because of ongoing litigation respecting his professional activities. So I'm certainly sympathetic to that.
But we must never forget that ultimately, most people who bring claims in our civil courts do so because they've been wronged in some way. Apart from, perhaps, powerful corporations wishing to silence or stifle dissent or people who criticize their logging practices or their business practices or whatever — things of that nature — generally speaking, the person who commences an action in B.C. courts has been wronged in some way, has a claim — a lawful claim, a rightful claim.
It may not withstand the judicial review in the sense that a court may well decide that it's not sufficient to warrant the damages being sought or, alternatively, that there is in fact no real cause of action, but generally speaking, people who bring claims feel they've been wronged. The courts will decide whether they have been and what measure of damages or what remedy should be available to them for that purpose.
So anything that limits — and that is exactly what a limitation act does — the otherwise lawful rights of a person to pursue a claim, I think, on principle may be seen as a bad thing, in essence. Why should someone who has committed a wrongful act of some kind — whether they mowed you down in an intersection or trespassed on your property or defrauded you of something, broke a contractual obligation…? Why should we have a system that allows them to escape responsibility for their action? That's the big question.
But we live in a practical world where we have decided over time…. Other governments, other than the existing one, have brought in this legislation. It's pretty common in western democracies that you put a limit on how long someone can expect to exercise their right to bring an action for whatever reason in the civil courts. We recognize we have to be practical.
I mean, I would like to think that most of the members of this chamber, notwithstanding how cynical a practice politics can be, have some element of idealism still in them somewhere and don't like to see the bad guys get away with it, like to see them punished or at least called to account.
So a limitation act in its very nature means exactly what it says. It places a limit on your right to bring a claim. But let's be practical, hon. Speaker. Speaking as a professional who faces the possibility, I suppose, of being sued for negligence by a client, I must admit it has a certain appeal to think that I won't have to be stuck with that liability forever.
Do I want to be carrying professional liability insurance into my 97th year if I quit practising when I was 82? Probably not. I know that perked the interest of one of the members, who was just trying to envision me at 97, I'm sure, or practising law at 82. But I wish to assure the member that I come from a family with a great deal of longevity and have no intention of giving up on anything soon — including my remarks today, by the way, lest he
[ Page 10992 ]
be under the misapprehension I'm going to be brief.
Having said that, we agree with the concept that we should somehow limit people's rights to bring an action. All right, we accept that. That's important. So a limitation act, general concept — we have to be practical. We live in a real world. The question is, I suppose, in the broad sense: is bringing us into line with other jurisdictions more important than British Columbia striking out on its own or standing apart from other provinces or where the trend is?
I mean, there are trends and fashions, if you will, that dominate and then get discarded. People realize that perhaps it wasn't such a brilliant or wise thing to do or perhaps it was silly or misguided or it produced unintended consequences or results and that maybe we shouldn't have all got into marching in lockstep for an issue.
I'm not entirely convinced, necessarily — and this is why this is such an important act — that having a single two-year limitation period for most civil claims is a good thing. I think reducing the maximum time in which to bring a claim is probably reasonable, because one has to be realistic. Under a 30-year ultimate limitation period — as some commentators and the professionals who have argued vigorously for this legislation, including the consulting engineers and others — who is going to be around in 30 years to give the evidence, either for or against, with respect to the claim?
Obviously, the plaintiff is going to be around, presumably. That's why they're bringing the claim. But I'm not so sure about the defendant or witnesses who could provide evidence. So that would breach, I think, our sense of fair play and fairness, which is one of the things that I like to think characterizes Canadian society in general and British Columbians in particular.
How long do we want to leave open the possibility that you're going to be sued? The 15 years — probably not unreasonable. Right now we've got a fair range, up to 30 years, probably a little longer than one would think is fair and reasonable. Fifteen — probably not a bad compromise. I believe that there are other provinces where in fact it's a little less. So I'm not completely opposed to the concept that we get in line with other provinces.
On the issue of the two-year limitation for most civil claims, that's where it becomes a little more problematic. And that, even in and of itself, doesn't dispose of all of the problem of the longevity of the claim, in a sense. I mean, I think the impetus given by section 6, as it stands in Bill 34, is that it says: "Subject to this Act, a court proceeding in respect of a claim must not be commenced more than 2 years after the day on which the claim is discovered."
It's an encouragement to say that you've got to bring it within a couple years. But of course, it doesn't relieve all the problems that flow from a limitation act, because you may not be aware of your rights.
We use the language "2 years after the day on which the claim is discovered." If you run me down in the intersection tomorrow and I'm conscious and I saw you and I got your licence plate number, it's pretty easy for me to determine what my claim is. I know. I hurt. But if you run me down in an intersection and you knock me out and I wake up the next day and feel pretty fine and I think it's a minor claim, so don't worry about it, well…. Two years and a day down the road a neurologist says: "You know what, Member for Nanaimo? You've got some serious neurological difficulties." I discover it on the day that the neurologist tells me I've got these severe issues. So it doesn't exactly settle it at two years, but it does give a general guideline.
Of course, everyone is a lawyer when it comes to advising someone about a problem if they, in fact, have had the same problem. There are more family law practitioners in this province than you can care to shake a stick at. Every criminal is the Clarence Darrow of the courtroom when it comes to providing a defence to fellow criminals. Everybody's filled with wisdom on these issues, but of course, the wisdom is often entirely incorrect.
So I do have a concern that there will be legitimate claims, where people are indeed aware that they have a claim, don't think about it but are aware they've got it, and in two years…. Two years goes pretty fast, and as we all know, with great deference to the members in this chamber, the older you get, the faster those two years go. When you're ten, it's 20 percent of your life. When you're 50 — well, do the math — it's 4 percent of your life.
Those are considerations when you talk about having a general limitation period that is two years. In the vast majority of cases you're well conscious of the claim. You know you've been defrauded. You know the contract has been breached. You know you've been injured. You know you've been trespassed upon. You know you've been assaulted — whatever the claim may be. You're aware that your cousin George, who was executor of the estate, disappeared with the estate funds. All of those things you're aware of, so it's probably not going to be a problem. But there has to be fairness across the board.
Now, everyone in this chamber knows that I may tease, from time to time, but I have enormous respect for the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, certainly one of the best-educated members on the government side. Even he, when he concluded that the government was excluded from certain time limits under the act, said — in reference to Sean Holman, who was conducting the interview:
"Well, Sean, here's one case where I agree completely with your comments. My own personal view is the government should be treated like anybody else. I guess the folks in the government, since they make the laws which apply to themselves as well as everybody else, had some other perspective, shall we say — understandable perspective, but not one that I consider completely fair. It's not a provision, a detailed or proposed amendment that I'm enthusiastic about at all."
I have no doubt that member, courageous as he is,
[ Page 10993 ]
will stand up in the chamber and certainly give voice to those remarks again in a more direct way — or perhaps explain himself. Who would I be to disagree with someone of his distinguished background on this point? Who would I be to question his knowledge, his intelligence, his insight and careful consideration of this issue, given that he himself has introduced, I believe at least on one occasion and probably more, private member's bills relating to this very issue around the ultimate limitation period, and certainly has been consulted with on many, many occasions by members of his former profession, who have complimented him publicly for having courage in this area? I certainly do look forward to his remarks on this particular aspect of the legislation.
Now, the government claims, quite rightly, that there has been a great deal of consultation, and that this has been the subject of a review since 2007. I'm conscious of that. As a result of those consultations, the bill has come before the House.
I guess my problem is that it is the same as it is with most legislation that involves professionals or groups who represent professionals or groups who represent a certain interest in society or a certain segment of society: did anyone do an on-the-street survey?
Did someone go out from the Ministry of Attorney General and grab the arms of 100 British Columbians, or what we used to refer to in law school as the man on the Clapham omnibus, the reasonable man, the ordinary person? Did anyone grab 100 ordinary British Columbians — not a phrase I like, but I'm trying to make a point here; British Columbians picked at random — and say: "Look, here's a proposition. Right now in B.C., if this happens to you, you've got this amount of time to make a claim, and if this happens to you, you've got that amount of time to make a claim. The government is proposing to make it a uniform two years. What do you think about that? How does that appeal to you? Do you think that's fair? Do you think it's right or just or proper? Does it meet the commonsense test?"
I'm not sure they would. Even the Attorney General, to her credit, in her remarks today said that "there is no perfect solution here." "We're trying to strike a balance," I think is what she said after that, but I wrote down very carefully: "There is no perfect solution here." I suppose — making a little joke, hon. Speaker — thank goodness for that. If everything was perfect, there would be no need for lawyers, and I wouldn't have had a decent career all these years.
So there are no perfect solutions, and the world is not a perfect place. But that doesn't negate our obligation to try and do the best. From a public policy perspective, you have to ask: is a single two-year limitation period the appropriate one?
Now, I know that many groups support this: UBCM, the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies of B.C., Uniform Law Conference of Canada, many other stakeholders. The act hasn't been comprehensively reviewed since its introduction. It's 37 years old. Now, for those of us who won't see 50 again, 37 years doesn't seem like such a long time, but in the course of a piece of legislation, it is a long time.
Since 1999 I gather Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick have also modernized their limitation legislation. Following the Green Paper in 2007, there were three years of consultation. I understand there were 290 external stakeholders that provided feedback.
Again, I come back to my point about stakeholders. They represent a certain interest. The largest sectors that responded were architects and local governments. You could argue that those who speak for local government are, as many suggest from time to time, closest to the people. They're the ones who have their ears to the ground when it comes to listening to their constituents because they're right there in the community.
I see smiles on the faces of some of the members — as if when we'd go to the grocery store somehow our constituents don't talk to us and tell us exactly what they think. I always think that we go a little overboard when we give great compliments to municipal politicians about how much closer they are to their constituents than the rest of us are. I don't think we develop tin ears when we come here. Some may argue we do.
Having said that, again: what's the commonsense thing out there? How do people actually feel about this legislation?
My fear is, because this is seen as a legal issue, that the lawyers of the province will pay attention. Insurance companies will certainly pay attention. This may mean a reduction in their income because they won't be able to sell insurance to professionals for extended periods of time, because there will be no necessity for it. The professional will know, finally, that if you reach a certain stage, you're home free. If you did commit an act of negligence, you're going to be all right. You will escape any liability for it.
The prospect of some 83-year-old professional losing everything for what was not a deliberate mistake, so to speak…. Although I suppose if it's a mistake, it's not deliberate — but not a deliberate action. Losing everything because of some busy day when they miscalculated or made a very small error that resulted in a significant loss. Maybe it's a good and fair thing that they not have to face financial ruin when they can't go back and work and recover. But at the same time, I'm not sure that the general two-year limitation, that aspect of the bill, is fair.
The B.C. Law Institute has commented, Greg Blue: "These changes will likely provide greater certainty in numerous areas and contribute to increased harmonization within Canada concerning time bars to civil claims. They draw upon the recommendations of law reform
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bodies in B.C. and throughout Canada."
Now, I must say that I have visited the B.C. Law Institute on several occasions. I am very impressed with the work they do. It is a non-partisan group. They work very hard to try and create draft legislation and papers on a variety of legal areas. Essentially, the law reform work is done in British Columbia through that organization — and others, obviously. I don't mean to discount the work of the others, but certainly, the B.C. Law Institute is a very important institute in British Columbia. I want to compliment them for the work they have done on this.
Having said that, there are still issues around whether or not we should be doing this exactly the way the government has proposed it and whether or not, in fact, we will be able to get answers to all of the questions, because this will be complex. This is one of those committee stage bills where the opposition and the government can both be driven to distraction considering the myriad of possibilities that arise from this legislation.
It will have a real impact, and I think that if there was ever an occasion where a public education program, regardless of in what form this bill is passed, was needed, this is one of those occasions. This is a significant change.
I've told people for years: "Breach of contract — basically, you've got six years." Well, guess what. That's not accurate anymore. It's a great deal less.
So we will err on the side of caution. Indeed, sometimes that caution may not be accurate either, because there are some exceptions to the rule, of course. The act doesn't apply to certain exempted claims, in section 3: "(b) a claim for possession of land if the person entitled to possession has been dispossessed in circumstances amounting to trespass…(f) a claim by a secured party in possession of collateral to realize on that collateral." I'm just quoting a few of the examples in section 3.
Certainly, and most importantly: "(i) a claim relating to misconduct of a sexual nature, including, without limitation, sexual assault, (i) if the misconduct occurred while the claimant was a minor, and (ii) whether or not the claimant's right to bring the court proceeding was at any time governed by a limitation period."
I'm not suggesting that it's all bad, but it certainly does raise a number of questions. A noted lawyer, Alan Hobkirk, has certainly raised various concerns about this. He said:
"The minute that people suspect they may have a legal claim, they're probably well advised to seek legal advice just so that they don't miss the limitation period. It's a very sad day indeed when people come in weeks, months, often years beyond the expiration of the limitation period.
"It's tighter than it was, especially for claims such as breach of contract or wrongful dismissal. A lot of people delay it, thinking that they almost have an indefinite period of time, and I think part of that's created by the confusion with so many different specific limitation periods, which will no longer be the case."
You can argue, on the simplicity side, that this is a good thing. You can argue that it provides a certain clarity. You've just got to keep in mind that two-year number — two years, two years, two years.
But not everybody is literate. Not everybody enjoys the same level of understanding and intelligence. Not everybody feels comfortable going to see a lawyer. Not everybody has the financial wherewithal to obtain legal counsel.
What does this legislation do for the challenged person who finally goes in 2½ years after their cause of action arose? You sit them down, and you tell them: "Well, sorry. Up until the B.C. Legislature passed the Limitation Act, Bill 34, in 2012…. Up until that time you had a claim, but I'm sorry. Now you don't."
Courts have striven mightily over the years, even within the confines of the Limitation Act, in various fact patterns to try and ensure that persons who were wronged still had a claim. Sometimes it amounts to a form of legal contortion, a contortion that would make the average acrobat look less than agile. Courts do that for a very good reason. They don't like to see people who have claims suffer without compensation or legal remedy.
We must face the reality that if Bill 34 passes in its present form, there will be many British Columbians — not hundreds of thousands, probably not tens of thousands; it might only be a few dozen a year — who will go without remedy. Some of those cases may be pretty serious and the damages that they would otherwise be entitled to significant.
The loss they suffer will be significant, may well be entirely and completely life-changing, and they will have no remedy. They will have no option with a two-year limitation period that commences two years after the day on which the claim is discovered.
Some may be intimidated by our court process, as many are today, and miss the limitation period. There is a myriad of ways. I have no doubt that some of the groups who were consulted, I would trust, would have raised it in response to the Green Paper, would have raised examples of cases where even limitation periods as they exist now have still meant that individuals lost rights in claims that they would otherwise have been able to prosecute successfully in our civil courts.
We are moving backward in that sense. We are shortening that time significantly in many cases and, if you will, making it harder for people to secure justice.
Surely in our society the pursuit of justice is an important thing for all of us. The opposition certainly has concerns, and there are many questions to be asked about exactly how this legislation will work, many questions that have already been raised around who it will apply to, particularly around the concerns that have been so ably raised by the member for West Vancouver–Capilano.
If individuals are to be treated in one manner with respect to a limitation period, what earthly reason could there be for not treating governments equally? The whole reason for our Charter of Rights and Freedoms — not the
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whole reason, but certainly a significant reason — is the recognition of the enormous power of the state versus the relative power of the individual.
The whole concept says that if you are charged with a serious crime, you have the right to counsel and to be defended. That the onus on the state in a criminal case is so high is a recognition of the imbalance of power between government — the state, whatever language you wish to use…. It’s a recognition of that.
The state, if they want to convict you of a crime, has to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, because the state has at its beck and call enormous resources unavailable to most individuals. I think, in fairness…. I don't mean to be too facetious about poor old Conrad Black, but even Conrad Black with his millions and millions of dollars recognized the enormous power of the state, particularly the United States when it came to prosecuting him.
Our law historically has tried to provide remedies to people. It has recognized imbalance, and a limitation period, arguably, that is shortened significantly may not speak to justice in the way we think that it should, may not reflect our values as citizens.
I am looking forward to hearing comments over the next little while. The legislative session does have an end point, May 31. I'm looking forward to ensuring that those British Columbians who are paying attention are going to take the time to correspond with myself or their own MLAs — and certainly members on the government side, the Attorney General — to let us know exactly what they think of this legislation.
Ultimately, there's a certain placing of the responsibility on victims, with this reduction in the limitation period, as opposed to the perpetrators. I think that's something we have to consider very, very carefully as we review this legislation and consider its impact on British Columbians.
Lots of questions. General agreement with the concept of the ultimate limitation period, because we have to live in a practical world. We have to consider what sort of evidence, as I said earlier, would be available when you're bringing a claim so many years after the cause of action arose.
On the two-year limitation period it will be interesting to hear the government's response to questions in committee stage, just as it will be very interesting to hear from, perhaps, other members of this chamber in second reading debate as to what they have to say about it. Are they satisfied that this is in fact good public policy? Does this advance the cause of justice in British Columbia? Or is this perhaps a retrograde step? Is this perhaps a step where British Columbia should, in fact, be marching to its own tune?
What is it Thoreau said about marching to a different drummer? "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Maybe this is an occasion where British Columbia should march to its own music. I'm not positive.
I look forward, in a sense, to being convinced by the Attorney General, notwithstanding the opposition's job to criticize and to oppose and to question, that this is in fact an improvement not just on the ultimate limitation period side of it but also an improvement on the other side of it.
I suspect, although they'd never wish to say it, some insurance companies will be considering the impact on their bottom line. There'll be less need for long-term professional liability insurance. The last time I checked, that's one thing Canada could be very proud of. Its insurance companies have been well managed and have done brilliantly, sometimes for almost a couple of hundred years, in the odd case.
They may not be too pleased with the prospect that they won't have a product to sell because there won't be a market for it anymore. As I jokingly said about myself: "I won't have to carry that insurance till I'm 97 if I quit practising at 82."
That aside, does this do the right thing? Interesting question. This is one of those pieces of legislation, although it's not going to generate great debate on principle — it's not a left-and-right issue, necessarily — that is certainly an issue for deep consideration.
It is with that that I look forward to hearing from members opposite. I suspect that the member for West Vancouver–Capilano — if I'm not breaching any rules by suggesting this, hon. Speaker — may be jumping up to explain his, I think, thoughtful and considered position, which was so well reflected in his remarks with Mr. Holman the other day. I look forward to hearing all members speak on this.
R. Sultan: The Limitation Act, Bill 34 is, as the member for Nanaimo has already so eloquently stated, a very significant piece of legislation.
Just to illustrate the significance and the long gestation period that such a significant act has had, I would draw the attention of the chamber back to the year 2002 when a previous Attorney General, Geoff Plant, set out to reform civil liability in British Columbia. With only two opposition members, this seemed like a fairly simple thing to do. The complexity of the assignment defeated even a brilliant lawyer like Geoff Plant, and he withdrew any further attempt to do so. All of that work, the Green Paper that had been issued in 2007, was put on the shelf.
Chapter 2 of this rather long story perhaps was my minor contribution in the form of a private bill suggesting a limitation amendment pertaining to certain professionals. Perhaps, possibly, this stimulated the gov-
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ernment itself and the Minister of Justice to take all of that work off the shelf and review it, issue a new White Paper in 2010, grasp the nettle and move from White Paper to legislation, which I commend the Minister of Justice for doing.
I think within our grasp is what has evaded this Legislature for ten years, and it is time that we acted. What we have in front of us today for consideration is the result, as the member for Nanaimo has pointed out, the consequence of a long journey, a journey marked by a high degree of consultation in all directions.
Over the last decade it would appear that all conceivable parties who might have a point of view on this question have had their views polled and an opportunity to have their views submitted. The result is, again to borrow a phrase from the member for Nanaimo, on the "big question" what I would term a finely balanced statute, properly positioning that fulcrum between the rights of claimants and the rights of defendants.
Let me get to the gist of this proposed new law. As has already been explained, it essentially will cap the period of time claimants can set out to prove they have been wronged from 30 years to 15 years.
Again, I am encouraged to hear the member for Nanaimo use such words, saying "as a matter of practicality" he accepts this saw-off between the rights of plaintiffs and defendants as probably not unreasonable, which I would translate as really saying it's reasonable. That certainly is my interpretation.
As has been pointed out by both the minister and the Justice critic, there are no absolute right answers in these matters. It's a matter of judgment for the legislators sitting in this chamber, advised by a decade of legal consultation. Certainly, the 30 years which prevailed and which prevails today is, I would think to most fair-minded people, unreasonable.
To illustrate, I was trying to think back — as a registered professional engineer, as a matter of fact — to what I did 30 years ago that might in fact still result in a lawsuit. What was this member for West Vancouver–Capilano doing in 1982? Well, I've had such a mixed up career that it took me a while to reflect as to what particular job I was leaving and going into.
I recall that I was leaving the Royal Bank of Canada, where I was undoubtedly guilty of creating some tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars of loans for the energy sector, not all of which proved to be as gold-plated as I had suggested they were at the time. Perhaps that could be cause for claim for not really exercising proper judgment or perhaps improper professional skill from 1982. I'm still vulnerable. I hope nobody picks up the suggestion. Perhaps the Royal Bank is not listening to the debate this afternoon.
Or as I interpret the current law, if something I did today was found to be faulty in the eyes of somebody, that person has another 30 years to bring an action against me.
R. Sultan: No doubt. As the members are prone to point out, we make mistakes almost every day we're in here, in their eyes.
What would I be doing in the year 2042? I may still be running for office, at the rate I'm going. Even I would admit that 30 years brings, as the member for Nanaimo again has reminded us, problems of memory, recordkeeping, availability of witnesses. That's the reason we have statute-of-limitations acts in other contexts, and nobody seems to feel that's unreasonable.
I commenced this particular private quest of mine, prompted, frankly, by my own self-interest, shall we say, in being a member of the engineering profession. I suggested a private bill which would apply only to engineers, architects, accountants and dentists. I must admit, as a politician, to being influenced by the quick calculation that there were 50,000 such professionals in British Columbia. I suspect they're more inclined than the average person to vote, so that's a nice little cohort to try to do something for.
The engineers have all of the problems that have been alluded to. Maybe the risks they've incurred in their practice are, in fact, not insurable. Or if they are insurable, they're not affordable. Indeed, I've heard of solo practitioners in particular who decide getting liability insurance will only attract litigation, so they go ahead in life uninsured.
We have already heard, also, from the member for Nanaimo, who repeated the anecdote I told the eminent Sean Holman on the radio yesterday morning about my assistant Patti, who married an architect around 1990. He died eight years later. His estate wasn't probated before Patti herself died. What a mess that was, tied up in litigation that was perpetual. So there are elements of fairness here.
The dentists came in. I hadn't expected to hear from the dentists, but they explained that they have to keep all those plaster casts they've made of your mouth for 30 years. The dentists are one of the great sources of business for people in the storage locker business around town. If you open those lockers up, you'll find all sorts of plaster casts of your mouth in there, stored forever because they have to consider all possibility of litigation for 30 years. They thought this was not fair.
The Minister of Justice has made an eminently reasonable proposal, in my opinion. It's not everything all the people I've consulted with asked for, but it's a pretty good saw-off between balancing the rights of the respective parties.
Putting on my economist hat for a moment, I would point out that liability is not without its own expense in the economy. For example, municipalities came out of
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the woodwork. I hadn't thought they would be so fervent on the subject, but they have real problems. People are sued because they tripped over the sidewalk which had a crack in it, and so on. They thought this was a great piece of legislation because they insure. And guess who pays the insurance premium? It's the real estate taxpayers of those communities.
So risk has its cost. We should not assume that these liabilities do not have their penalty. They're covered sometimes, but at a price.
The other people, though, that the government, in its wisdom, included in the net of those who will now have better-defined liability aren't just these professionals — who, let's face it, by and large lead a pretty good life, despite the risks they are incurring — or the municipalities, who don't seem to find it very hard just to add a few points to the real estate bill every year.
Certainly, they don't seem to have much hesitation to do so in my neck of the woods. It's the others who are just ordinary people — the plumber, the electrician, the small contractor, the renovator.
The bill as written applies to everybody. It's not just for the professionals — not just for the lawyers, not just for the engineers — and not just for the municipalities. It affects all persons, and that's certainly, I think, the way it should be.
There are safeguards built in, as the minister has pointed out and as the member for Nanaimo has confirmed; namely, the disabled are not subject to some draconian cutoff. Nor are those who have suffered sexual assault and exploitation when they were younger. We have the case of this hockey coach who is being slapped on the wrist for sins that sound pretty bad to me.
For those who need an extra measure of protection because they didn't know, or perhaps they were too young or just aren't people who regularly consult their attorney, safeguards have been built in. I commend the Minister of Justice for doing that.
Finally, we have this episode that the member for Nanaimo was so rude as to bring up — namely, this radio interview I gave to the famous Sean Holman. I believe it was Sunday morning.
Now, I have to offer a word of explanation. I was told to get ready for an interview at nine o'clock in the morning. So at eight o'clock I'm up there. I just got out of my shower. I'm about to shave. The phone rings. I thought: "Oh, that's probably my sister."
It's Sean Holman's producer: "Are you ready to go? You're on the air in five minutes." I didn't have a stitch of clothing on. Thank God it was only radio.
So I sat there for half an hour. I didn't even have a towel. I plead distraction from fully comprehending the point that I was making about the government looking after its own.
Let me elaborate on what I should have said to Mr. Holman. B.C. has taken a responsible approach. We have distinguished between those government organizations that are self-sufficient and those that are taxpayer-supported entities. For example, commercial Crown corporations will operate under the same rules as the private sector — an important point.
For those organizations that provide programs and services on behalf of all British Columbians, we have recognized it is different. If someone doesn't pay their medical service premiums, we don't deny them health care. Those organizations don't have the commercial levers to refuse to do business with a non-paying individual that the private sector does. Yet it is also important that the government is responsible for eventually collecting those premiums in order to be financially responsible. Most other provinces have taken a similar approach.
I rest, fully clothed, my case.
To conclude, I strongly support Bill 34. I think it is the reasonable balance that Geoff Plant failed to find but, with lots of diligence and lots of help from her friends, our current Justice Minister has. I recommend this bill to this Legislature.
B. Ralston: I rise to offer some brief comments on Bill 34. I want to deal with a couple of what I think are the key issues in this bill — the reduction in the ultimate limitation period, the attempt to make two years the ordinary limitation for most claims and some additions to the exemptions in "Exempted claims," in section 3.
The reduction in the ultimate limitation. I think we've had good debate by the member for Nanaimo and the member who just finished as to the purpose of reducing the ultimate limitation. I understand and I appreciate that the Trial Lawyers Association, at least some of their members, are concerned about what they perceive as an infringement upon the rights of those who may have a claim at some point in the future.
As the member for Nanaimo has said, there is an effort in this bill to strike a balance. At the committee stage we will explore just how successful the minister was at striking that balance. But it is clear, in a number of professions, that in order to defend a claim or a potential claim, there is a recordkeeping requirement which can be very onerous.
Of course, 30 years is a long time, so there is a requirement to keep files, to keep notes, to keep models, to keep designs — in the case of architects or engineers. There is an economic cost for maintaining all of those records in a form that they are not simply a summary, but in a detailed form such that it would enable a person, if called upon, or a firm, in the event that the individual member is no longer there, to defend successfully a claim of negligence.
It is the case in some building defects that they may not become apparent for some time, so that economic cost
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is built into a lengthy limitation period. I appreciate the motivation that the member from West Vancouver has spoken of to reduce that length of time. He does make the point that 30 years is a very long time, understandably. He gave an example of casting his mind back to what he might have been doing 30 years ago, and I'm sure many of us, in considering his remarks, have posed a similar question to ourselves.
I think it is striking just how long a time span that is. One would note, parenthetically, that in the case, for example, of public-private-partnership agreements, many of those are 30 years. I attended a conference in Toronto where the opening speaker, talking about the 30-year length of many of those agreements, had a disco ball and began to play, I think, a Bee Gees song which was popular back in the early '80s.
So 30 years is a really long time, and I think what he was trying to illustrate is just what can happen over the course of those 30 years and how unreasonable it might be to, again, have a contract that was that long — the problems that arise in administering such a contract and, indeed, envisaging what might happen in the course of 30 years.
One can only add to that energy purchase agreements, which are sometimes as long as 40 years. There are inherent risks and problems that the member has, I think, successfully illustrated in relation to liability, ultimate liability, over a period of 30 years. Similarly, there are problems in those type of contracts, but perhaps I digress somewhat slightly.
I think it certainly is reasonable, on first blush, to reduce the ultimate limitation period to the period that is suggested in the bill. I will adopt the comments of the member for Nanaimo in his generally supportive but somewhat skeptical approach, which will be explored later, in committee stage.
The effort of this bill to make two years a standard limitation has some merit in the sense that there are…. I remember studying law, and upon being called to the bar, one of the things that the Law Society issues you is a book with the Limitation Act and limitation periods, because it is a source of claims against lawyers who may do what is called "miss the limitation period" — in other words, not initiate a legal action within the time that's specified.
I can remember reading through it with some mild apprehension — or maybe by the time I got to the end, growing apprehension. It is somewhat confusing, in the sense that in a number of statutes there are different limitation periods. One is expected to be knowledgable, if you practise in certain areas, of the effects of those limitation periods on the right to bring a claim. Certainly, that was something that the Law Society was most concerned that its members be aware of.
An effort to standardize that, to make it a standard limitation, has its advantages, although that may mislead people into thinking that shorter limitation periods don't, in fact, exist. Certainly, under what was the Municipal Act and now the Local Government Act, there was — I believe it's still there — a six-month limitation period on giving notice of a potential claim to the affected municipality. If you missed that, that was basically your claim. It became statute-barred.
There were special concerns in administering limitations from the perspective of someone who wanted to initiate an action. Special caution was required. I think the effort that's placed here may not be supported by some in the legal profession, particularly those who advocate for plaintiffs in the sense that the effort to standardize may, in fact, turn out to be more confusing than helpful. We'll perhaps hear further from those people at the committee stage. I know there has been some comment made that is not entirely supportive, but perhaps we'll deal with that in more detail at the committee stage.
The other area that I support and recognize as a useful improvement to the act is the area of exempted claims. It was Attorney General Colin Gabelmann who brought as an exemption to the Limitation Act the right to bring a claim for sexual abuse. Rather than be limited by the ordinary limitations of the act, there was an unlimited right to bring a claim for sexual abuse, just given that often those who may have had a claim were people who were either told or made to feel that they could not bring a claim. They were threatened physically or mentally, weren't aware of their rights, and at a certain point, only after decades sometimes, became aware, either through discussion with others or sometimes through therapy, of their ability to pursue such an action.
That was a change that was made some time ago. That is codified in section 3. Again, there are some additions to that and refinements of that definition, which I think are good and useful changes to those forms of exempted claims. There is a definition relating to a claim. I think it's section 3(1)(k):
"a claim relating to assault or battery, whether or not the claimant's right to bring the court proceeding was at any time governed by a limitation period, if the assault or battery occurred while the claimant (i) was a minor, or (ii) was living in an intimate and personal relationship with, or was in a relationship of financial, emotional, physical or other dependency with, a person who performed, contributed to, consented to or acquiesced in the assault or battery."
That is, in my view, a very comprehensive definition and describes the problem that some may find themselves in, and it preserves their right to seek a form of justice through the civil courts.
I think that is a useful addition, and I commend the minister for expanding the list of exempted claims. I think that's generally positive.
With those brief comments, I will conclude my remarks.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the min-
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ister will close debate.
Hon. S. Bond: It's been a very entertaining afternoon in some ways, as we've talked about the Limitation Act. Certainly, I don't know about members opposite, but there were some visuals that I think we could well have done without, although I absolutely so very much appreciate the member for West Vancouver–Capilano and his candour with us here in the Legislature.
On a much more serious note, I do very much want to thank the member for West Vancouver–Capilano, who has tirelessly looked at the possibilities for this act, who has probably worn the carpet out on his way to my office to make sure that we were trying to strike the appropriate balance. I think there's room for much discussion as we go into committee stage. I appreciate the comments of the members opposite.
From my perspective, we talk about engaging and getting information and feedback. There probably hasn't been a more thorough process than this one. We've gone through a Green Paper. We've gone through a White Paper, where hundreds of people and virtually anyone who wanted to comment could.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
In fact, the White Paper clearly outlined the path we were going to take with the bill. It is about balance, and the member for Nanaimo has walked through a number of issues that we will certainly discuss in more detail in committee stage. But it is about finding balance.
One of the concerns we have with a 30-year ultimate limitation period is that we want to make sure that we don't have stale evidence. We want to make sure that when a case is being looked at, it's being judged according to the standards that were accurate at that time. The longer we move away from that, the more difficult it is to actually look at that case in a relevant way. So I think there is much, much evidence that tells us that moving the ultimate limitation period to 15 years is a very practical and important step.
I've pointed out, as well, other important statutes, model statutes that have been created, that we looked at in terms of making sure that British Columbia is in line and competitive. While the member for Nanaimo suggested it's not so bad, necessarily, that British Columbia is out there on its own, I think that's true in certain areas, but to be double the period of time that other jurisdictions are using probably means it is time we actually made some changes. That's what this work represents.
The major part of the discussion appears to be the discussion around the basic limitation period of two years. One of the things I think it's important to point out is that currently, personal injury claims already have a two-year basic limitation period, so in fact some of the items that were referenced are already under the two-year basic limitation period.
What we want to do is encourage people to act on their legal problems quickly and prevent stale-dated claims. The juggling act here has been trying to balance that, find that fine balance between plaintiffs and defendants, and figure out where British Columbia is best positioned.
I think that there has been important discussion today about the Limitation Act. I appreciate the comments that we've heard. I know we'll hear further discussion of that during committee stage. All in all, I sense a general agreement with some movement, and there may be some debate, particularly about the basic limitation period.
With that, I appreciate the comments, and I would now move second reading of Bill 34.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 34 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting after today.
Bill 34, Limitation Act, 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. I. Chong: I call second reading of Bill 30, intituled Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
BILL 30 — ENERGY AND MINES STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. R. Coleman: I'm pleased to present Bill 30, the Energy and Mines Statute Amendment Act, for second reading.
This bill amends four existing acts. The first amendments are to the Clean Energy Act. The Clean Energy Act requires B.C. Hydro to achieve certain standards to achieve electricity self-sufficiency and to provide direction on what that means and what those measurements would be.
[D. Black in the chair.]
The provincial government's review of B.C. Hydro last year identified a need to review this policy, given market changes and changes in power and how the whole grid has changed in North America. We welcome the recommendation, and this bill makes those changes.
The amendments will redefine electricity self-sufficiency by eliminating B.C. Hydro's requirement to acquire an extra 3,000 gigawatt hours of insurance energy by 2020. It will reduce B.C. Hydro rates. It will also be able to be managed better, to be reduced, so increases for British Columbians…. They can continue to have the
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lowest electricity rates in North America. These changes are important, given the changes in the marketplace. It changes what we want to have as the new definition relative to self-sufficiency.
The next set of amendments is to the Oil and Gas Activities Act. These changes are primarily focused on third-party activities that are done near a pipeline. Examples of activities happening near pipelines are major highway construction or new road signage. Those types of work would be done near the pipelines, and this provides the authority to create general rules for those activities to be added to the act. Redundant permits, as a result, will not be necessary.
The amendments will make provincial approvals for federally regulated pipeline projects more efficient. Even though federal pipelines are regulated by the National Energy Board, the province needs to approve things like the use of land and water and harvesting of timber.
Amendments to the Utilities Commission Act follow that which will give British Columbia Utilities Commission power to levy administrative penalties for non-compliance. The current penalties date back to 1980. The amendments will increase the penalty from $10,000 to a maximum of $1 million. It brings British Columbia in line with other Canadian and U.S. commissions and ensures that utilities, natural gas marketers and others comply with the act.
The last two minor amendments are proposed for the Strata Property Act. These amendments ensure that the strata corporations report financial information to members in a timely fashion and also that financial statements must be audited and sent to strata lot owners within four months of the fiscal year-end. The last amendment allows the government to regulate when a new strata corporation must prepare for the first depreciation report.
I am pleased to put these amendments before the House. I look forward to the members' comments from the opposite side of the House and from our side, if there are any.
As we go through this, I'm glad to close debate at the appropriate time.
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to be on my feet debating Bill 30, the Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
I have mountains of material here. I was going to avail myself of the good work of our parliamentary interns, who dug up mountains of quotations from members on the other side who implored the opposition to support the notion of self-sufficiency back in 2007 when it was part of the B.C. Liberal energy plan. They were so committed to this that the throne speech in 2009 again called on us to wake up and recognize that the only true course for rational people would be to support a policy of buying more power than you need at prices that are three times the market rate.
That was the B.C. Liberal position. They urged us…. I've got the member for Peace River South; the member for Richmond-Steveston; my good friend the member for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky; of course, the member for West Vancouver–Capilano. Kootenay East was up a couple of times. Nechako Lakes had a motion on a Monday to make the point, as clear as he could possibly make it, that self-sufficiency for electricity supply in British Columbia was the single most important thing we could do to protect our economy.
Well, what a difference a couple of years make. I know that it would be unreasonable of me to gloat. It would be unreasonable of me to draw attention to the words of the various members that I've just listed for you. So I'm only going to restrict my quotations to a few members. Certainly, the current Minister of Energy would be one of those, as well as the former minister, now the venerable senator, Hon. Richard Neufeld — who on April 8, 2008, said to me: "Well, let me tell you, by 2015 if we aren't really close to self-sufficiency, we're in trouble."
Now, what would that possibly mean? "We're in trouble," for those watching at home, is parliamentary language for: "We're just making this stuff up because our friends in the independent power sector need to have a market for their high-priced power."
What we've got as a result, as the minister said, is the Clean Energy Act, which was tabled in 2010. It passed using closure, so we didn't have an opportunity to go through clause-by-clause debate. I'm comforted that we are four and a half weeks or five weeks away from the end of this session, so we will get to look at the details of Bill 30 at third reading. I'm fairly confident of that.
But we didn't get the chance in 2010. It was actually May-June of 2010, when the government passed the Clean Energy Act, which was then Bill 17, with closure — no debate on the substance of the bill, just on principle stage, which is what we are doing right now.
I find it interesting. The Minister of Energy said that his government ordered a review in 2011. That would be one year after passing, with closure, the Clean Energy Act. One year is approximately 12 months, as you know, about 365 days unless you are in a leap year — which we weren't in 2011, I'll just say for the record, in case people are thumbing through their calendars.
It took just one year for the government, which had put their reputation on the line with respect to energy policy, back in 2006, again in 2007, in a throne speech in 2009 and then the Clean Energy Act in 2010, and 12 months after that we had a review.
Three wise people, three deputy ministers, all of them without any background in energy policy, came to the conclusion that the policy was in fact wrong-headed. That's when my opposite number, the Government House Leader and the Minister of Energy, said the following. In response to a news story which said that the government was going to renege on its position with respect to
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self-sufficiency, the minister said: "You just have to say we maybe swung at a bad pitch here."
Now, that's interesting in and of itself. I like sports analogies. My friend from Columbia River–Revelstoke brings them up each and every day. But swinging at a bad pitch suggests that someone was throwing a hardball at you. What happened here is that we're playing T-ball. The Liberals set the ball up on a T, and they said, "We're not going to debate this," and the Minister of Energy, mighty Casey, came to swing at the bat, and he missed the ball.
The result has been, just in the next four years, $1.28 billion in unnecessary expenditures — $1.28 billion from the good managers on the other side with respect to energy purchase agreements. How did we arrive at that number? Well, let me tell you.
Through the independent power projects plan that the B.C. Liberals brought into force in 2006, B.C. Hydro has been required through clean energy calls, through standing offers, to purchase power from independent power producers within the borders of British Columbia. At the 2008 clean call the average cost of energy was $120 a megawatt hour.
What we've done is we've looked at the market price for energy during 2011-2012. It was about $40, according to the Minister of Finance. And I'll have to take him at his word, and his forecasters, that $40 a megawatt hour was the market rate — published in the budget documents, published in 2011, again in 2012 and forecasted out to 2015.
If we take that $120-a-megawatt-hour average price that we are paying for independent power produced within the borders of British Columbia to keep tight to our energy self-sufficiency policy — which was, as the minister said, really a bad pitch from the B.C. Liberals to themselves….
You look at the $120 a megawatt hour on about 3,000 gigawatt hours of energy in 2012, 3,800 gigawatts in 2013, 5,000 gigawatts in 2014 and up to 6,800 gigawatts in 2015 — because we've locked into these contracts. We have entered into 20-, 30-, 40-year energy purchase agreements at three times the market rate for energy. All for what reason? To meet some arbitrary self-sufficiency number, which was, as the minister declared, and I agree, a bad pitch. A swing and a miss.
What's the cost of that? It's $196 million this year, $236 million next year, $361 million the year after that, and at 2015 we'll round it up to $500 million. What does that all add up to? It's $1.28 billion of money spent that we didn't have to spend — because in 2010 the B.C. Liberals said that we are going to reach self-sufficiency by 2016. I would call that more than a bad pitch or a swing and a miss. I'd call that a travesty — an absolute travesty.
We had the dominant position in North America with our reservoirs in the Peace country and in the Kootenays. We had what they call market power. We were able to hold our energy and sell it when it was valuable, and when it wasn't valuable, buy on the market. That's what Socreds did, that's what New Democrats did, and that's what Liberals did the first few years of the 21st century.
Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, they decided to give away energy opportunities on rivers right across British Columbia to their friends and their benefactors, their financial supporters. The end result for the next four fiscal years is $1.28 billion in expenditures that we don't have to make.
Why do I know we don't have to make them? Because we're amending the very act that made it so. Isn't that something?
Now, the minister said at the start of his remarks that there was a review done by three deputy ministers, and the conclusion was reached that self-sufficiency was a bad idea. We're going to do away with it.
But what does that do to rate increases over the next number of years? How are we going to deal with that? So $1.28 billion in unnecessary energy purchases that we can't get out of. We signed long-term contracts — unnecessarily, against the urging of the opposition.
I urged the government in 2007 that they were on the wrong track. If you need to buy power from private power producers, make these small micro-hydro projects that were not economically feasible to B.C. Hydro but made sense to communities. That's what we talked about. That's what Mike Harcourt talked about in 1995 when he introduced the policy to buy micro-hydro in places that were off the grid, involving First Nations communities. Commonsense stuff.
At no time did Mike Harcourt or the New Democratic Party in the 1990s, or even in this century, ever advocate setting up a parallel generation system, a private generation system, at three times the market rate. That's what the B.C. Liberals did, and the costs are coming home to roost for ratepayers right across British Columbia.
How do I know that? Well, over the past three years we've had 36 percent rate increases on our hydro bills, another 7 percent April 1 of this year, another 7 percent again next year. All of this after we told the B.C. Utilities Commission in Bill 17…. The former Clean Energy Act, section 7, exempts about $12 billion worth of projects from oversight by the B.C. Utilities Commission — the smart meter program, the northwest transmission line, Site C, a whole host of projects that the former Premier wanted to get through before he headed off to London. All those projects were exempt from Utilities Commission oversight.
Adding insult to injury, we also set up in the Clean Energy Act a system whereby B.C. Hydro was obliged to aggregate private power and then sell it in the export market. Now, if you are an aggregator, usually you try and get a whole bunch of stuff at low cost and sell it at a profit. Not so in B.C. Liberal–land. Instead, what B.C. Hydro was told to do was aggregate a whole bunch of expensive
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power and "sell it for whatever you can get." That's what happened. We're out $1.28 billion as a result of that policy.
Now, the minister is going to get up at the end of this debate, and he's going to say: "Ah, that guy doesn't know what he's talking about." Well, I'm afraid I do, because I've been watching and observing energy policy as a critic in this Legislature since 2006.
Every year throughout estimates, every year throughout debate, I have encouraged the government to be rational about how they deal with B.C. Hydro. Allow the corporation to do what it has done so very, very well since W.A.C. Bennett started it back in the 1960s. That is, allow them to use their resources to the benefit of all British Columbians. That's common sense. That's not ideological. That's common sense.
That foundation of public power in British Columbia set us apart from our neighbours in the United States, in Alberta, Saskatchewan — almost right across the country. We had this dominant position because of our reservoirs.
The B.C. Liberals gave it away. They absolutely gave it away for ideological reasons. They didn't care much for B.C. Hydro because it was a public company. "Let's open it up to the private sector."
As you know if you listen to CKNW, the former Premier's brother is on every morning saying that lefties and unionists don't know what they're talking about. "Listen to us. The private market will free us all from the shackles of trade unionism, and suddenly everyone is going to be making money, electricity is going to be free, and we'll be dancing in the streets."
Well, as with all things that are too good to believe, hon. Speaker, as your parents told you when you were a youngster and I'm sure you told your kids as you raised your family, if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't worth following. I know, when I'm looking at hair replacement programs on the television late at night that I'm probably not going to proceed with those. It's too good to be true.
Hon. P. Bell: You've got lots of hair.
J. Horgan: I appreciate that.
The minister across the way is going to say we thought we were on a good patch here. We thought that we were on the right track.
The reality is that in 2007 with the energy plan, then in 2009 with the Speech from the Throne and then, of course, with the Clean Energy Act in 2010, what the B.C. Liberals did was kept digging. They kept digging.
My parents told me, as you did with your children: "If you want to get out of the hole, stop digging." I am grateful, I have to say, to the current minister for recognizing that he took a bad swing, for recognizing…. Twelve months after they shut down debate on the Clean Energy Act because they didn't want to hear from me and my colleagues about the challenges they were creating with this wrong-headed policy, you have to give them credit for recognizing the error.
Will the minister, in closing this debate, stand and agree with me that $1.28 billion worth of energy purchase agreements signed by the B.C. Liberals could have been avoided if only they'd listened to the B.C. NDP? If only they'd listened to the opposition, we wouldn't be out $1.28 billion in energy purchases that we don't need.
Just to recap, $120 a megawatt hour for all these small IPP contracts, $40 a megawatt hour on the market. I don't know about you, but it seems to me that that doesn't make any sense, and I am delighted that the Liberals have awoken to that fact.
The other amendments in Bill 30. I heard the minister refer to amendments to the Oil and Gas Activities Act, and I'm delighted to have another opportunity to amend the Oil and Gas Activities Act. This will be the fourth time that we've amended the Oil and Gas Activities Act. That does speak to a group of people that can't quite get it right the first time. But try, try again, as they say.
I remember when the second round of amendments came through. Of course, regrettably, we weren't able to look at those in any detail because — yes, you guessed it — the government of the day used closure to pass that bill as well. The Oil and Gas Activities Act amendment, round 2, didn't receive the scrutiny that we could have given it. Then of course we did, on the third try, get an opportunity to go into committee stage and discuss the details of that.
As I said, if we've got five weeks left, I'm fairly confident that we'll get a chance, at committee stage, to take another look — the fourth time as the critic — into the Oil and Gas Activities Act.
Other issues in the bill, with respect to the National Energy Board and how the Oil and Gas Commission can interact with the NEB, are a bit worrying at this stage with two pipeline proposals, one before the NEB and another one coming.
Oh, my friend from Nechako Lakes is going to join me in celebrating the end of self-sufficiency. I rejoice at that. Do enjoy your time here, hon. Member.
The NEB is looking at one pipeline. They're going to be looking at a second one within the next 12 to 18 months, and I am anxious to understand why it is that the government is bringing forward amendments that will impact the NEB in this legislation. We'll get a chance to look at that as time goes by.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Before I give the floor to some of my colleagues to talk about the changes that we've been calling for with respect to self-sufficiency for four years and that have now been agreed to by the government, I also want to bring up another element that's not touched upon — in fact, it is referred to in the act — and that's Burrard Thermal.
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Now, Burrard Thermal is a contentious issue in the Lower Mainland. Our newly elected colleague or colleague-elect, Joe Trasolini, will be joining us in the Legislature after the final count as not just Joe Trasolini but as the elected member for Port Moody–Coquitlam. He will have something to say about Burrard Thermal, I'm sure. As a former mayor, the revenues that came to the council of Port Moody from B.C. Hydro were significant.
The role of Burrard Thermal is quite misunderstood. However, I think it's important at this stage of debate, the principle stage of the bill, to talk a little bit about why Burrard Thermal is important.
This will come as no surprise to rural members of the Legislature. Absent any other alternatives, if there's a power outage, most of the rural members would have a generator or would have a neighbour that has a generator in their backyard. When the lights go out, when the power is down, you fire up the generator, and you're able to continue on with your life in a more or less uninterrupted fashion.
That's the role and function of Burrard Thermal. It's not a baseload plant. The New Democrats didn't. The Liberals didn't. The Socreds did to a certain extent in the latter part of the 1980s, but that was as a result of their desire to use Powerex, the trading arm of B.C. Hydro, to sell power when it was expensive and to use Burrard Thermal as a cheap source of baseload supply. The B.C. New Democrats didn't do that. The B.C. Liberals didn't do that.
But what Burrard Thermal is there for is some certainty, some guarantee. When the power goes out in the Interior, whether it's an outage on a transmission line or in those critical drought conditions that are spoken about in this act and that, certainly, resource economists and planners at B.C. Hydro live in fear of — those low water years where you're concerned about the cost of electricity and how you're going to be able to use your reservoirs to meet demand — Burrard Thermal was there for planning purposes, 5,000 gigawatt hours of energy that you could count on in a pinch.
The B.C. Liberals in the Clean Energy Act in 2010 took that planning ability away. Why did they do it, hon. Speaker? Again, it wasn't because it was a good idea. They did it so that it would force Hydro to buy more power than they needed. Where are we going to get it from? Well, the B.C. Liberal energy plan said that you could only buy power within the borders of British Columbia, only power generated by private sector producers.
This was another concession, another sop to the private power industry. We're going to say Burrard Thermal doesn't exist when everybody knows that it must. We say that we're going to buy more power than we need because we're under this notion that somehow self-sufficiency will make us better people, if poorer people, in the process. It was bad policy, bad resource economics that has led to us abandoning any useful purpose for Burrard Thermal in terms of planning and preparing for those critical drought years and also raising the bar on the amount of power we had to buy from the private sector.
As I said at the start…. If our old friend Barry Penner were here, he would be heckling me right now about how the NDP started the IPPs in the 1990s. Well, it's not entirely true. The Socreds started it, but the NDP carried it on. It was five- or ten- or 15-megawatt plants — small micro-hydro, not massive water diversions like Toba Inlet or Montrose or the proposal of 1,000 megawatts at Bute Inlet. Those are big deals. Those are big-ticket items.
Small generation facilities in outward areas where you don't have access to the grid — that makes a lot of sense. New Democrats support that; Liberals say they support that. But what we got instead was unnecessary purchases at a time when power prices were going into the tank.
The minister said, when he took on the job, that we were in a different world, and I agree with that. We were in a different world in 2007, but the B.C. Liberals failed to recognize it. That was the problem. We were getting more gas out of the ground than we could possibly get to market, and now the result is, as we all know, a glut in the North American natural gas market. The result of that is that our customers in the United States started building natural gas plants. There's a lot of gas, it's cheap, we can create electricity, and we were driving down the price of electricity.
Instead of the world that was envisioned by the B.C. Liberals, when they introduced their Clean Energy Act and introduced their policy of self-sufficiency, of a price going this way and a marketplace that wanted so-called clean and green energy, what we got instead is a price going in the other direction. Our natural gas, which was used to create that glut of gas, is also now creating a glut of electricity.
One of the arguments that my good friend from Nechako Lakes always used was: "Oh, you like to buy dirty power; you people buy dirty power." Well, you don't get a label on your electron once it's created. Once it's on the wire, whether it's coal or gas or hydro or wind, it's just an electron. You can't determine, when it arrives at your light socket, whether it was created from a clean, green source or not.
One of the things that I tried to get across to our brothers and sisters on the other side — I know they don't like that, but colleagues on the other side — was that Bonneville Power Administration, one of our partners, one of our main competitors in the electricity market in the Pacific Northwest and right down the west coast of North America, have an obligation under the environmental protection act in the United States to move water through their system at certain times of the year for what they called the fish flush, whether it's to get the smolts to the mouth of the river or to provide enough water or get
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the spawning salmon up the river.
When they do that, the price of hydro power drops to the floor. You can't give it away; it's virtually that cheap. That's clean, green, hydroelectricity. It's not dirty coal from Alberta, as my friend from Nechako Lakes was always kind to remind me. It was clean, green power created by water through hydro turbines.
The other phenomenon that we've seen over the past number of years, and again it speaks to the minister's earlier point that we're in a different world, is the advent of wind power south of the border. There's a glut of wind energy now. So we've got wind and we've got hydro that are driving prices down at the same time that we're selling our natural gas to combined cycle plants. The end result is a $40-a-megawatt-hour annualized price. We're paying $120.
I'm delighted that the minister has decided, in his wisdom and the wisdom of the current government, that they're going to step away from that. But I would like to know, when the minister closes debate, if he's going to give us an answer and the people of British Columbia an answer as to why we're paying so much for our hydro now.
He did say that we have amongst the lowest in North America. That is true. It remains the case.
J. Horgan: I don't know how I'm being too generous.
J. Horgan: Oh, we're generous. I thought that I was being too generous. Perish the thought. I wouldn't want to do that, hon. Member.
I'm hopeful that he'll explain to us where we're going to find the $1.28 billion to pay for the power that we don't need, that we'll have to get rid of on the open market. We're going to have to sell into that very market that I'm talking about that's got an abundance of natural gas power, an abundance of hydro power, an abundance of wind. Then there are still those neanderthals that are burning coal in Alberta to create energy rather than taking thermal coal, as we do, and creating steel for our emerging markets and for our own domestic market.
Those are the challenges that we face. This is a big deal. My friend from Capilano knows it, because he's heard me, and he shakes his head quite often when I make this case. I'm curious as to whether or not my opponents on the other side who called me a madman for five years are going to vote against their government in recognizing that the official opposition has been, for the past half decade, correct and the government has been wrong.
I very much look forward to the voting record for my friends from the various constituencies around British Columbia who have stood in this place and brayed and brayed about the importance of self-sufficiency — how it will be the salvation of our clean, green energy sector; keeping rates down; creating jobs. On and on it goes.
Next four years — $1.28 billion. I know the Minister of Finance would love to have that kind of cash for other purposes, but we're going to be buying expensive power with that money instead of putting it towards health care, instead of putting it towards education, instead of managing the deferral accounts at B.C. Hydro that have grown like fungus over the past ten years of B.C. Liberal rule. Instead of managing the books at B.C. Hydro, we're going to be piling on more debt.
The last point I'd like to make if I could, before I end my remarks, is that we are amending the Clean Energy Act which, as I said at the start, we did not debate in detail back in 2010 when it was introduced and then passed by closure.
It would have been an opportunity for the minister to do something about the debacle which is the smart meter program here in British Columbia. I know it's not part of the bill, and you'll be certainly within your right to call me to order to speak to the substance of the bill, but this is a principled question. It's the principles of the bill that I'd like to touch on.
If we're going to open up the bill that we didn't get a chance to debate in detail, why wouldn't we also look at some of these other issues, like exempting Site C from oversight of the Utilities Commission? I think that's something that the Utilities Commission could well do. I think that's something that the people of British Columbia would have some comfort in.
Every time you've got an opportunity to have a third party validate your decisions, you're on a good wicket. But the smart meter program — exempted. A billion-dollar expenditure — exempted. Unease within the general population, concerns about health, concerns about privacy, what appears to be an increase in consumption without any real reason for that to happen — those are concerns that citizens have.
They're certainly bringing them to my office. My colleagues are hearing from them. I'm fairly confident that members on the other side are hearing from their citizens, as well, with concerns about the smart meter program.
The best way to get that debate out of here, where it's he said, she said — opposition says one thing, and the minister says another — is to take it to an independent third party, people who understand the resource and who understand the sector, and allow them to take a look at it. If we're going to open up the Clean Energy Act, which I support, we could have done a whole bunch of other things as well.
I'm glad the government is acknowledging that self-sufficiency was a wrongheaded idea, a bad swing at a bad pitch, but I think we could have done a whole lot more. I know that when the government changes in 12 months,
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we'll certainly be opening up this act and taking a good, hard look at it.
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to the rest of the comments today.
R. Sultan: It gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill 30, the Energy and Mines Amendment Act, 2012. This bill has several dimensions, as has already been pointed out. For example, it addresses operational issues arising from the Oil and Gas Activities Act. It also amends the Utilities Commission Act, further empowering the B.C. Utilities Commission in its regulation of electric system reliability and natural gas marketing.
But setting these issues aside, I will focus on the most important feature of Bill 30 — that is, allowing us to change the definition of "self-sufficiency." Bill 30 and associated regulations will amend the Clean Energy Act, which received royal assent in this Legislature not quite two years ago. The Clean Energy Act compelled British Columbia's utility industry to achieve electrical energy self-sufficiency according to a particular measure of self-sufficiency defined in the act.
The goal here was one of prudence, and I'm all for prudence. I'm not embarrassed about having advocated for prudence, despite what the member for Juan de Fuca has said.
Despite living as we do in one of the most energy-rich geographical entities in the world — most notably, when we consider hydroelectricity — British Columbia had lost its self-sufficiency. We became dependent on foreign electricity imports to make up for our domestic supply shortfalls.
These deficiencies stem from a failure to invest in new capacity in the decades before this present government took office. Even though a properly maintained hydroelectric generating plant is essentially an eternal asset, clearly, creating such assets was not on the priority list of the previous government and the other party. I believe that's unfortunate, and B.C. Hydro has been playing catch-up for the last decade because of what I would call willful negligence.
Meanwhile, measuring the degree to which we actually lost our self-sufficiency can be a challenge. Every day, every hour and every second, electrons flow back and forth across our borders as Powerex, the B.C. Hydro trading company, trades energy with American customers as far away as California and beyond. It's a very active market. Powerex deals with a complex of large American utility customers stretching right across the United States that are very efficient, interconnected and savvy.
They're different from the way we do business up here in British Columbia in four significant ways. Unlike British Columbia and Canada, these American utilities are part of a national grid. Unlike British Columbia and Canada, these American utilities have tariffs which are staggered by peak and off-peak levels, grids which are segregated by baseload and shoulder and peaking capacities and by distribution grids which are smart-metered.
Up here, egged on by the member for Juan de Fuca, we're still trying to convince people that smart meters won't cause them personal harm. Our cousins across the border don't believe it.
Thirdly, unlike British Columbia and Canada, these American utilities have the benefit of trading their individual utility supplies and carbon credits and debits into a truly national marketplace — a marketplace that contains all of the incentives, penalties and efficiencies that one great big competitive national market demands.
Finally, prices change from hour to hour. It's a dynamic environment and an environment in which British Columbia is tiptoeing — albeit, in my opinion, with excessive caution. It is costing us — businesses, industries and families — daily.
As we trade into this tough competitive environment, our self-sufficiency — the net of annual electrical energy exports and imports — can be defined in a dozen different ways, all of them perfectly defensible. But what is less arbitrary is the measure of our capacity to generate electricity, although here we run up against the variability of our water supply.
When it snows and rains, our ability to store water in our reservoirs and release it to generate electricity when we need it goes up. In dry spells our capacity to do so goes down, which invites either gas-fired generation or purchasing from the U.S. grid. The receding ice fields will add their own dimension of variability.
Authors of the Clean Energy Act chose to define self-sufficiency in terms of British Columbia's capacity to generate electricity under the very-worst-case conditions — low reservoir levels, low snowpack in the mountains, colder weather at high altitudes reducing the glacial melt, and less precipitation in our mountains and valleys. The act, therefore, established the most pessimistic measure of our capabilities and the largest measure of our capacity shortfall.
Consider our shortfall in generating capacity in the context of the legal requirements of the Clean Energy Act — these requirements being to achieve electrical self-sufficiency, which the member for Juan de Fuca has talked about at length; to conserve energy and to reduce the expected increase in demand for electricity by the year 2020 by at least two-thirds; to generate at least 93 percent of the electricity in British Columbia from clean or renewable resources; to build the infrastructure necessary to transmit that electricity; and finally, to use and foster the development of British Columbia's innovative technologies that support energy conservation and efficiency and the use of clean or renewable resources.
Now, these are all laudable objectives. In practice, however, the issue quickly became one of cost. The cre-
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ation of additional capacity to satisfy such criteria entailed production costs several times the current cost. Should that production capacity not be used, it would be uneconomical to sell the surplus energy into the U.S. grid and very onerous for the B.C. consumer to pay for the unused energy. Especially as B.C. now looks to develop a competitive cost structure to support its export basket to Asia, such self-sufficiency would be economically defeating.
Bill 30, being debated today, will redefine self-sufficiency. The new definition is based on the recommendations, indeed, of the team of deputy ministers which conducted last year's special B.C. Hydro review. The law and regulations will now require B.C. Hydro to plan for self-sufficiency under average water conditions instead of under historically low water conditions.
As noted above, a major motivation for the change in definition is to assure lower consumer, retail and industrial prices for electricity. The deputy ministers' B.C. Hydro review found that this simple change in language could result in rate increases up to 8 percent lower by 2016 and 20 percent lower by 2020 than would otherwise be the case. I strongly support such goals, even though one consequence will be to dampen the large and enthusiastic response engendered by the Clean Energy Act from the independent power producer, IPP, sector.
The IPP's trade association, Clean Energy B.C., estimated that the 27 projects in B.C. Hydro's Clean Power Call represented 3,800 person-years of employment during construction and $3.8 billion in investment across the province.
They also pointed out that some 125 First Nations groups in B.C. — almost two-thirds of them — are directly involved as owners, equity investors and partners in the clean energy sector. However, these projects clearly presented electrical energy to B.C. Hydro in a radically different economic environment, at selling prices significantly higher than British Columbians have learned to enjoy.
The impact of Bill 30 on the typical established IPP is moot. I conclude that this amendment to the Clean Energy Act by itself will not impact the IPPs materially, as at the very low water conditions originally envisaged would not have cost the typical run-of-river IPP any revenue. They generally don't have any reservoirs, and thus would not have revenue bases during a lengthy drought season.
There are also those who advocate that incremental electrical energy supply should simply be achieved through greater reliance on natural gas–fired turbines. British Columbia has untapped hydroelectric potential in abundance. It also has untapped natural gas in abundance.
Mr. Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the B.C. Business Council, pointed out that our enthusiasm for renewable energy — hydro, wind, biomass — comes at the expense of the natural gas industry. As gas supply soars and gas prices fall, our North American rivals will be increasingly attracted to gas-fired, turbine-driven electrical energy supply and to LNG supply contracts to markets offshore.
I believe the natural gas market will be able to absorb this increase in supply. We seem to have entered an extended period of low prices for gas, inevitably impacting the continental electrical energy supply decisions.
Let me just interject that there will always be those consumers who wonder why we would consciously avoid importing energy when it's available at lower cost than from B.C. The member for Juan de Fuca has chosen worst-case gaps in that price scenario — as, in his shoes, I would do as well. But it's a bit unfair. The grid must be efficient, though, we all agree. If the Energy critic feels like he's entitled to gloat over that reality, well, gloat away.
Where does Bill 30 leave the future of the IPP sector? It's hardly been ignored in this province. B.C. Hydro has been purchasing power from smaller renewable power companies since 1988 — prior to the change of government in 2001. Let me repeat that. Prior to the change in government in 2001, B.C. Hydro already had electricity purchase agreements with 26 projects either in operation or moving towards operation. Presumably, that's in that basket of higher-cost supply that the Energy critic referred to.
Under our current government, 38 clean renewable projects have come on line. IPPs now provide approximately 14 percent of our total domestic requirement, and I see no compelling reason why that percentage will not continue to grow modestly. In considering our supply alternatives, all the options must be on the table. I think that we should be able to generally agree on that.
The IPP sector and B.C. Hydro already offer ambitious menus to choose from. In choosing from those menus, we should not overlook the brownfield possibilities which may be inherit in our consideration of the Columbia River treaty, which is up for renegotiation. Of course, as I've already emphasized, the efficient grid also puts imported power on the table.
To the extent that Bill 30 loosens the arbitrary constraints imposed by legislators on B.C. Hydro in 2010, it should now allow both our public and private electrical supply industry to respond to British Columbia's expected growth in electricity demand in a more flexible, efficient and effective manner. It will encourage diversification of the electrical energy resource base while better addressing our environmental, social and economic requirements.
I see Bill 30 as enabling us to better meet the electrical energy load growth in our future, driven by the large investments proposed in mining and LNG, which are both critically dependent on access to competitive baseload
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energy supply in large quantities. Electrical energy load growth will be further driven by continued population growth attracted by British Columbia's relatively buoyant and optimistic economic climate.
This growth climate has been fostered by the policies of this government, which in a world of economic upset has given British Columbians a relatively unscathed economic performance. Meanwhile other countries, if not continents, struggle to deal with perplexing distortions in their economic profiles, further enhancing British Columbia's comparative energy advantage.
I am pleased to support Bill 30.
N. Macdonald: I join the debate on the Bill 30, the Energy and Mines Statutes Amendment Act. The sections of the act that I'd like to deal with are the sections that most of the members have spent most of their time on, which are the so-called self-sufficiency requirements in the so-called Clean Energy Act.
What we have today is…. The B.C. Liberals are dumping those. They're doing it because it was something that was poorly thought through, and it will be interesting to see which other members from the B.C. Liberals choose to stand up and actually speak.
There sure were a lot of experts two years ago on the B.C. Liberal side. I suspect that there are a lot fewer of them that are going to stand up and speak today, because really what you have is Premier Campbell wasting a vast amount of government money. It was first with advertising about the supposed need to buy private power from private river-diversion projects, these IPPs.
Members will remember B.C. Hydro commercials. They spoke of a crisis, a supposed need that was entirely contrived by the B.C. Liberals. It was entirely contrived. It was not factually based at all, and it was done to rationalize the private power agenda that was essentially the raiding of the wealth of our publicly owned Crown corporation, B.C. Hydro, by private interests. That is what was going on.
Not coincidentally, those private interests were very connected to the B.C. Liberals. These private interests financed the B.C. Liberals, and individuals moved between these companies and B.C. Liberal patronage appointments in government very easily, back and forth. Some members say that this was an ideological thing. It was cronyism. That is what drove this agenda — cronyism.
It has driven so many of the initiatives that years later…. In this case, it's only taken a couple of years before the damage is evident to everyone. In other cases, in forestry or B.C. Rail, it takes a while longer to get to the truth of it. But it only took two years to see how confused this policy was and how destructive it was.
These private power companies even set up a fake citizen group called B.C. Citizens for Green Energy, and they paid an individual…. I forget his name now. There were a number of them. Was it Sanderson? It was a gentleman that would write letters to the editor and put out press releases. In the old days we used to call this an AstroTurf group. It was a fake grass-roots group.
In the Golden Star, when we would have community meetings and people would meet and talk about the issue, all of a sudden there would pop up this letter from North Vancouver or somewhere from this individual who was supposed to represent a grass-roots group that didn't actually meet or do anything else — an AstroTurf group that the industry funded.
The claim was that B.C. Hydro was buying dirty electricity. The member that spoke before me has the same claim — that somehow we were buying dirty electricity. Now, we buy electricity constantly. We buy it from Washington when the price is right, and we buy it from Alberta.
I'm beside Alberta, and I come from the region that produces a good percentage of the electricity that the people in the Lower Mainland and across British Columbia use. But we're beside Alberta, so we're familiar with what's going on there. The term was used and was used again that it was dirty because it was from coal-generating plants in Alberta.
Now, that claim is a problem for two reasons. First, B.C. mines a huge amount of coal. It has very high-quality coal that is used in the production of metals, primarily in China. Whether coal is burned in Alberta or China, it has an impact on climate change — right? It doesn't fundamentally matter where it's being burnt. The fact is that B.C. is a jurisdiction that is pro-coal in the fact that there is huge money to be made and that governments are going to use coal. We are going to export it, and we know that it's going to be burnt. So this government, the next, in actions if not in rhetoric, is by necessity going to be, to a certain extent, pro-coal.
Secondly, B.C. Hydro will buy Alberta coal-generated electricity as long as we can. Our dams, as the critic has so clearly laid out, like Mica and Revelstoke, can ramp up electricity, or they can cut it back and save water in minutes. That is the huge advantage that we have.
The price of electricity in the western North American grid constantly fluctuates. During high demand B.C. opens up the dams and produces as much electricity as possible, because there is a high demand, and that means high prices. So if you're in Revelstoke, at certain times of the day — and this is usually between 3 p.m. and 8 or 9 p.m. — below Revelstoke dam, below Mica dam, the Columbia River goes full out, when we can make money with those dams operating at full capacity.
At two in the morning the river is incredibly diminished, because during that time we can buy energy, from Alberta primarily, for pennies on the dollar because the price is low. So we save up the water for when we want to use it at a high-price time, and we buy Alberta power.
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Alberta has these coal-generating plants that cannot ratchet up or go down, so there is a production of power at 2 a.m. in the morning, and they will sell it for a very small amount. There is no way that any B.C. government is going to pass that up, because you make huge amounts of money doing that. That's how the system works, and that is how the system is going to continue to work as long as we have the opportunity.
It was always very disingenuous of B.C. Liberals to stand up and suggest otherwise. It was never going to happen. Around this whole debate there was one piece of misinformation after another, always trying to distort the realities. The realities, as I said, always had to do with an agenda of cronyism. It never had to do with good public energy policy. It has taken only two years for that to become absolutely clear to anybody who follows this story.
The clean energy plan, then, was never about the environment. It was all about greenwashing, the privatization of our B.C. Hydro wealth. The cost to ratepayers is being felt now, and it has become a political problem for the B.C. Liberals now. I'm sure they wish it would be a political problem after the next election, but it's in fact a political problem now, and that's why this legislation is here now.
Former Premier Campbell has walked away. He's off to London, and we wish him all the best. But the current Premier is left trying to get out by reversing the phony self-sufficiency provisions and by hiding the true fiscal state of B.C. Hydro using deferral accounts. The Auditor General has condemned the B.C. Liberals' sleight of hand, but as usual, that office is ignored, so those deferral accounts are being used.
The conservative estimate of the transfer from B.C. Hydro to private power companies between 2012 and 2015 is $1.28 billion — $1.28 billion in a very short period of time. This bill is an "oops." The previous speaker from the government side — a very eloquent oops. But it is a $1.28 billion mistake. It is incompetence on steroids. It's something that we've become used to with this government.
It starts because this was never about the things that the government said it was. It has never been about the environment. It has never been about the public interest. So all these decisions mean that ratepayers are going to be paying more. I mean, added to it are the smart meters — again, a billion dollars. All of it means that ratepayers will be paying more.
That it is a poor idea when three things happen. First, the government cannot debate it in the House and has to use closure. That's a pretty good sign you're on the wrong path. Second, when a government has to avoid the B.C. Utilities Commission, and on each one of these initiatives, they make sure there is no independent voice on whether it's a good idea or not. Third, you have to be able to come into communities and make a convincing case to people on the ground, and this government was never willing to do that with this initiative.
I can remember Barry Penner. He was invited to Revelstoke. He was invited to Golden. He would come in, but he was in and out, and then he would phone the local paper to say he was there. That's what he would do. He was in and out. He was invited to come to a meeting, and he would come in. He would then phone later and say: "I was there. I've got a picture."
Members on the other side are laughing. He would actually have a picture that he would send to the newspaper. "Here's me beside a stream in Revelstoke. It's proof I was there" — in many ways classic Barry Penner. We love him here. But that was classic Barry Penner.
But if you cannot do those three things — if you cannot debate it in the Legislature and win the debate, if you cannot put it in front of the B.C. Utilities Commission, if you cannot go to a community that will understand what you're talking about and make the case — you're on pretty shaky ground. Here we are, two years later, trying to fix a $1.28 billion mistake, and that's only part of the damage that has been done.
I do want to say that it's something that I was quite proud of — that this initiative, as well as others related to the private river-diversion projects, was rejected in Columbia River–Revelstoke. That's something I'm very proud of.
I think part of that reason is that we come from an area that deals with these sorts of projects. There is expertise — B.C. Hydro personnel, people who understand the system. Certainly, they added to the discussion that the community had. I think that rural communities like this are unique, perhaps. Maybe not. Actually, maybe it's true in urban areas too.
People are passionate about land use decisions. When you're talking about the privatization or changes on a stream for a narrow private interest as opposed to the broader public interest, people take that very seriously, and they inform themselves.
We had meeting after meeting. I know that following what I have to say, we're going to have the member for Nelson-Creston. The size of the meetings that she organized and she participated in…. They were huge. It was the same in our area. People want to have a say in what's going on, and they rejected this initiative, as members here should have if they had actually listened to the debate. They rejected it in three ways.
First, people in Columbia River–Revelstoke — in Golden, Invermere, Kimberley and Revelstoke — recognized that the private power river diversions, these IPPs, were bad business for B.C. Hydro. The proof of it is here today. It was bad business.
It would take the public wealth, and it would diminish it. We have only begun to see the degradation of B.C. Hydro that this initiative has caused. They recognized
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it as something that was transferring public wealth into private hands, and they saw that that was wrong. It is wrong. It was wrong.
Secondly, they knew that the environment was being degraded. They knew that. The Ashlu itself is just one example where they have killed off fish. There is no compliance. There is no enforcement.
There is also the idea that you would have the cumulative impacts of a huge number of these projects going on. They recognized that — that environmentally these were problems.
We should be thankful that the economics of this initiative are such that many of these private power projects are being stalled. We should be thankful about that, because it's not only economically good for us. Secondly, for the environment, it's good.
The third part the people in Columbia River–Revelstoke rejected was from Bill 33, which was the Ashlu bill that robbed rural British Columbians of the ability to decide whether our rivers should be privatized or not.
B.C. Liberals, I would say, are consistently seen, and properly so, as antidemocratic. You look after the group that funds you, but for people in rural British Columbia who want a voice, that voice is consistently taken away through legislation here that the members vote for consistently.
Whether it's land use decisions like Jumbo or the privatization of our rivers — it doesn't matter what it is — it seems that the B.C. Liberals want to remove our rural voice. When you do that, you make poor decisions, because our experience is that the wisdom sits in our communities. There is tremendous expertise, and if this place was working properly, that expertise would be respected and you would see it in the decisions that we make.
What I can say is that people in Columbia River–Revelstoke and people in communities across this province were right about this, and we see the government admitting that failure today. We see it. It costs too much. It was a waste of money — $1.28 billion wasted. People in Columbia River–Revelstoke organized petitions. They organized rallies, there were movie nights, and they wrote letters to the editor. For all of those, I just want to say that I'm really proud of what they did.
I also want to say for the critic…. I would invite anybody who is interested in this issue to look back in Hansard at exactly what the critic said on every piece of legislation that dealt with the IPP issue. On every single one of the assertions that the critic made, he has been correct. Repeatedly, the B.C. Liberals have been wrong.
That comes from the starting point that it was always misrepresented as to what the true agenda was, that private power agenda misrepresented as being an environmental agenda when it never was. It was always about cronyism.
Now, one of the members across the way said something about COPE, about COPE organizing meetings. I just want to say how much I appreciate the work COPE did. COPE did come out to communities and did provide their perspective and provided information, and it was really appreciated. I think that was a key part of people understanding what was going on. So COPE did their part.
From our area we had Rafe Mair. Now, Rafe Mair is a very interesting personality. He certainly drew a lot of people to this discussion and brought in a number of people to hear what was a passionate and informed speech. We had Joe Foy and the Wilderness Committee. We had individuals that would make videos. All of those combined to have a community discussion.
If the government says, "Well, that's a one-sided discussion," I mean, the offer was out. We sent letters to the minister and said: "When you accuse us in the House of being one-sided…. Well, come and talk to us. Come and make your case in our community that this was a good idea." If you cannot go to a Golden or Revelstoke and make the case that this is a good idea, you probably do not have a good idea. This legislation, which is a retreat from what two years ago was the best thing that could be done for the B.C. economy, other than the HST…. I forgot that was the other best thing you could do. Then you cannot convincingly make the case that there was a one-sided presentation. You were invited.
The government could have come and chose not to because they didn't have a case to make, because people could see through all of the propaganda, all the money spent on advertising, all of the AstroTurf activity by the B.C. Citizens for Green Energy. They saw through it, and they saw the truth, which is that this initiative was fundamentally wrong-headed and destructive.
I also want to thank some of the local groups — Wildsight, Council of Canadians, rivers at risk — who did a ton of work, and two academics. Knowledge is power, and since we're talking about power policy, I just want to talk about two individuals that were helpful to me: Dr. Shaffer, Lost in Transmission, and his ongoing work — hugely useful, a very credible individual who put his effort towards this; and Dr. Calvert, who produced the book Liquid Gold, which is a fascinating and useful read, and as well, the work that he's done. So academics played their part as well.
Now, this is a day where we're trying hard to not gloat or to appear in any way like we're revelling in a victory, but I want to say that on this issue it feels like a victory. It feels like people young and old fought hard on the issue, and it feels like a win today. That's a wonderful thing. We had people standing up for what they knew was right, taking on what must have at some point seemed insurmountable. Today is the start of where it feels like people have been victorious.
I mean, we now have become a bit used to that. We've had the HST, where people took on the government and
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defeated them. We're still waiting for the government to actually act on that, but I'm sure it'll come at some point. Nevertheless, the people have had a good day here today.
I just want to say, finally, as we move towards wrapping up, that the government often talks about the '90s. I just want to say that in our area, some really good stuff happened, and the critic played a big part in it.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The Columbia Basin Trust is one of the things that people of all political persuasions in the Kootenays talk glowingly about. It is a tremendous gift to the people of the Kootenays and to the people of British Columbia and a model for going forward in a whole number of areas. I know a number of people involved with it, including our critic, and I had the pleasure of walking through the Brilliant dam as it was under construction. It since has come on line near Castlegar.
Columbia Power was also a creation of the '90s and did a number of projects that are benefitting that area not only with the employment that was provided in those projects but by producing good public energy.
Now I see that the Speaker is in place, and that usually means there's an expectation that we would continue with this debate. The Speaker always, out of etiquette, would remind me what he wants me to say, and I'll do that.
N. Macdonald: I would move adjournment of debate.
Mr. Speaker: Did you want to reserve your right for tomorrow?
N. Macdonald: I think there are only two minutes left, as I understand, so I'll pass on to the next speaker. But I thank, as always, the members for the opportunity to speak and for your patience with me.
N. Macdonald moved adjournment of debate.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. I. Chong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:24 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
CHILDREN AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. McIntyre in the chair.
The committee met at 2:35 p.m.
On Vote 16: ministry operations, $1,333,291,000 (continued).
The Chair: Good afternoon. We're in the process of reviewing for consideration the estimates of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Hon. M. McNeil: If I may, Chair, there were a number of outstanding questions from last Thursday. I do have the answers now, if I might be able to read them.
The Chair: Yes, proceed.
Hon. M. McNeil: I want to take the opportunity to go back and answer the questions so that there isn't the delay that there could be. There were four specific questions.
The first is the number of staff vacancies on the front line and the number who are on both short-term and long-term sick leave. In the vacancies, the number of staff vacancies changes, obviously, throughout the year. On April 20 the number of vacancies for front-line staff was 52 out of 2,300 positions, which is approximately 2.26 percent.
With respect to sick leave, the number of staff on sick leave is different every day. We can tell you that the average number of sick days a front-line person took in the '11-12 year is 13 days per year, and 60 percent of the staff take five days or less per year, and 10 percent of the staff take more than 30 days per year. I have a few other figures, but I'll give it to the member directly.
The second question was with respect to supports for families in the poverty plan. The question specifically was: "Can the minister guarantee that if specific families, for instance, receive a stipend to attend whatever planning session they need to, whatever community session they need to, and they are receiving welfare, that that stipend won't be clawed back?" We have discussed the issue that the member opposite raised on Thursday concerning supports for families on income assistance who may be participating in the poverty strategy sessions.
We can confirm that the Ministry of Social Develop-
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ment is supportive of the intent of the poverty initiative and will work closely with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to ensure that families on income assistance have the opportunity to be supported to participate and will not have their income rates altered as a result of the supports offered to facilitate their involvement.
The third question was: how many child protection cases are before the courts, how many are being delayed, and what are the lengths of those delays? The most recent information available is from 2010-11. In that time period there were 1,552 child protection cases in the Provincial Court. In the last five years 93 to 95 percent of child protection hearings met the statutory requirement of occurring within seven days of a child being removed. The scheduling of child protection hearings is within the authority of an independent judiciary.
MCFD and the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General do not have the authority to determine the scheduling of the matters. However, the judiciary does take the considerations of the courts into account when scheduling matters. There are four main reasons why MCFD would be making an application to the court in child protection matters. They are removal of the child, supervision order, temporary custody order, continuing custody order.
In those circumstances, when we're working with a family, there are no court delays in returning or planning for the child. If a family wants to use the court process, which is their right, this may also result in a more lengthy process.
We're working with the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General to try and resolve these delays. In most circumstances, we would work with the family to resolve the issues through the use of mediation.
A strong focus for MCFD over the past year has been the use of collaborative planning and decision-making processes, like mediation and family group conferencing. The number of family group conferences completed has increased from 59 in 2008 to approximately 1,500 in '11-12.
The final question was if we could provide a breakdown of aboriginal services and expenditures. The overall budget for '11-12 was $96.9 million. The 2012-13 aboriginal services budget remains the same as it was in '11-12. The categories and expenditures are as follows: the delegated aboriginal agencies, $78.1 million; aboriginal community services, which include the indigenous approaches, $8.208 million; the aboriginal provincial agency support, $4.566 million; ECD, $5 million; and reconciliation, $1 million — for a total of $96.874 million.
C. Trevena: I'd like to thank the minister and her staff for coming back so quickly with those answers. It's really very helpful. It saves having to sort of dig around and write lots of letters later on.
I'm going to go back just very briefly to the poverty reduction strategy that we were talking about at the end of last Thursday. I had a couple of questions, having read back through the transcript and having had time to think about it a little more. Then we're going to move on through the list of the questions that I had given staff advisement of.
I think it's just going to be three wrap-up questions for the poverty reduction plan. I know the minister mentioned to me off the record about the provincial council. I wondered if she could confirm on the record who will be appointing the advisory council and their thinking on who will be on it.
Hon. M. McNeil: The current thought is that the appointment of the provincial steering committee for the community poverty-reduction strategies would probably be late summer into September. The reason for that is we want to get the seven pilots on their way so it becomes clearer how each of the seven is going to be approaching the initiative.
As to who will be appointing it, I am working with my colleagues on a list. I know that the Premier has expressed great interest in this and has offered to make the personal phone calls to each one of the people that we are looking to appoint.
Obviously, I won't be in a position to name any names, but the type of people we're looking at are senior people within the business community, preferably those that have businesses that really go around the entire province — that really understand the province and the differences between rural-remote, urban and metro. So someone from the business community.
We're looking for someone from some senior non-profits and also from agencies such as — again, these are just names thrown out there — the United Way or the Vancouver Foundation — people that have a true interest in the issue of poverty.
C. Trevena: I just wanted to clarify, as well, that when we're talking about the community poverty consultants, I got…. Again, reading back through the transcript and trying to figure it out, we're talking here that the community poverty consultants are going to be internal ministry hires, likely from the region, on a 0.5 basis. I would like confirmation that I'm reading this correctly, that although they haven't been appointed yet, they are going to be internally appointed. Because they are internal hires, will that 0.5 be effectively from their salary, so they're getting paid exactly the same as they would be if they were, let's say, working out of whatever community?
Let's say they're Prince George. They work in Prince George. They happen to get hired on as a poverty consultant, but instead of doing 100 percent of time in one job,
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they're going to be doing halftime in one job and halftime as a poverty consultant at the same rate of pay. Also, how are you going to backfill that half-time job?
Hon. M. McNeil: The answer to your multiple questions is yes. These will be internal hires, most likely from the regions and on a 0.5 basis. Yes, they will be at the same rate as they are currently being paid. Yes, we will backfill the positions as required.
C. Trevena: I think this is going to be my last question on this area at the moment.
While I'm cognizant of the minister saying that there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach, I wondered, in thinking about this — and I know she's very enthusiastic about this — how many families are going to be included in each area, if she's got an idea about that; and whether there is any sort of criteria for choosing the participants.
How is the minister actually looking at the engagement of people on the ground? Also, if there is an idea of how many families in each area, if there is also an idea of how many families would be a maximum or a minimum to make this worthwhile, in her perception.
Hon. M. McNeil: The whole idea behind the community poverty-reduction strategies is that it's a partnership. The provincial government and MCFD are not going in and setting the criteria.
We're working with our other partners within each of the regions. They include, as you know, the UBCM, the healthy communities committee and also the municipality, the non-profits in the regions and others that make up this committee.
They're all great questions. They're ones that I think each one of these communities is going to be tackling. They are going to be setting the criteria that work for that region. They're also going to be working, again, with a small group of families. Then from the lessons found within those families, they will expand it outwards — all great questions and all questions that the committee will be dealing with, setting the criteria.
Again, we're one of many partners. We'll be working with them, and we'll have a better answer as the discussions move on.
C. Trevena: When the committee is having this discussion, will there then be a standardized approach across the province rather than, as the minister has previously been saying, this sort of "not one-size-fits-all, and it's going to be modified for each community"?
Hon. M. McNeil: I guess the best way to explain to the member opposite is that this is actually not a program that we're going into. It's a process that each community will do. Each one of these…. First off, they're different sizes, but they're also at different levels. For instance, Surrey, which is one of the seven, is in the process of launching their poverty reduction plan. Obviously, they'll be starting at a different level than, let's say, Stewart or Port Hardy will.
Each one is at a different level, if you will. Part of the process over the summer will be for the committee to say, "What are we already doing, and where are we at?" and then move forward from there.
Again, it's an exercise that…. Although there will be, probably, some standard criteria that may work across the board, there are going to be other places where the community starts at a different level; therefore, we'll be looking for different sets of criteria.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for the answers. We're going to move on now to the domestic violence office. I've got a few questions about that.
It's obviously something that has been…. It's very central. I think there are a lot of people looking for a lot of answers. I know that the minister has now appointed an ADM specifically for the domestic violence office. I wondered if the minister could tell me how much is committed financially to the office.
Hon. M. McNeil: The estimated operational costs for the provincial office of domestic violence are $878,000.
C. Trevena: Is that money coming from MCFD's budget line, or is this coming from other budget sources as well — other ministries?
Hon. M. McNeil: We've actually requested funding from the government for the domestic violence unit.
C. Trevena: So this $878,000 is a virtual $878,000. It doesn't exist in the ministry's budget line yet.
Hon. M. McNeil: The budget for the provincial office of domestic violence is not in our current budget because the budget had already been done, but the request is in to government.
C. Trevena: So there's a request for $878,000 to government for the domestic violence office, but the ministry doesn't have it yet. But the minister has appointed the head of the office, filling in one of the vacant ADM roles. Was I correct on that?
The Chair: Minister, and just a general reminder to both, through the Chair.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, Chair. Thank you very much, Chair. And through to the member.
We are currently charging the ADM position against a
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vacant position, as you had mentioned, but we are asking for net new funding of the government. We're confident that we will get it, but we're just working through the process, as you do with these types of requests. But next year the budget will be actually built into our base budget.
C. Trevena: Through to the minister, just again, clarification. This year there is no money for it. The minister is hoping for $878,000 from another revenue stream from the government. Next year we are faced with exactly the same flatlined ministry budget, and therefore $878,000 will have to be found from somewhere else in the Ministry of Children and Family Development to fund this office — assuming that $878,000 is enough to fund this office.
Hon. M. McNeil: No. The request that we have of government that we are confident on for this year's budget of $878,000 is to be funded from government general revenues. But next year, going forward, the funding will be a lift to our budget from this year.
C. Trevena: Could the minister…? The minister is confident that the ministry will get this money. What sort of time frame is the minister working on in request for the funding and in getting the office actually established? The announcement came about two months ago now, I believe, so I wondered where we are in getting it up and running.
Hon. M. McNeil: As I mentioned earlier to the member opposite, we are confident that the funds are going through the process, the ask. We expect an answer within the next two weeks.
Further than that, the actual office was announced March 1 and became operational March 26 with the addition, as you know, of the new ADM. We are in the process of advertising the positions for the remaining staff. We're drawing up job descriptions, and we'll be recruiting very shortly, but we do have some other staff that are actually working at the moment, and we are underway with our action plan. As you know, the commitment was made to the Representative for Children and Youth that we would have an action plan ready by the end of July.
C. Trevena: Hmm, I'm intrigued. Here we have a promise to have this office but still not the guarantee that there is the money. There's still an expectation to have an answer within the next two weeks. I think that's a little troubling, because there has been a lot of emphasis on this. As the minister says, there was the commitment to the representative and, I think, to everybody in B.C. that we were going to be serious about the issue of domestic violence and tackling domestic violence.
While it's all well and good to have announcements in reaction to horrific cases, unless there was that absolute guarantee and assurance that the money was definitely going to be there, I think it's very problematic — to have the thought that it might just be one of these things that suddenly isn't a government priority, that it's somewhere that money doesn't come, that this was announced without knowing that there was going to be that financial backing.
I wonder if the minister could explain and let me know how many FTEs there are going to be. Will they all be employed by MCFD, or will some be under the Solicitor General or the Justice Minister?
Hon. M. McNeil: As Minister of Children and Family Development, I absolutely do not see this as problematic. Government has made the commitment to establish a provincial office of domestic violence. The Premier has said so, as well, in addition. We have appointed the ADM, as you know, someone that has a very good background and not only has spent 19 years with MCFD in the field but also has spent the last seven years in the Representative for Children and Youth office and is very understanding of the situations with which she now will be dealing.
We had her come on March 26. What she's done in that time is talked to the other ministries. She's talked to those in the sector — some she knows of and others — so that she could come forward to the Ministry of Children and Family Development with what she actually needs. That's where the $878,000 has come from.
We are moving on it, and I'm very pleased with how quickly we've been able to move forward with this initiative. There will be a competition for the positions that are open. They will be open to individuals in the sector as well as across other ministries. But once hired, they will form part of the MCFD staff.
With respect to the numbers of staff. Again, you know of the one ADM. There'll be one director. There'll be one manager, and there will be five other staff, for a total compensation of $760,000. In addition to that, they're expecting around $46,000 in travel expenses, office business expenses of $22,000 and contracts of an additional $50,000. That gives the total of other expenses at $118,000, bringing the total to $878,000.
C. Trevena: Does the minister see this office…? We're talking about a very few people for what I'd say is quite a large problem. Does the minister see this office in a coordinating role, a training role? What does the minister see this office actually doing to stop domestic violence?
Hon. M. McNeil: The new office is a permanent lead for government which will be focusing on strengthening the supports and services already available to children
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and families — and, if need be, additional to the families that are affected by domestic violence.
The role, actually, of the office will be one of coordination, not only across the other ministries for all of the great work and the programs that are already there but out into the sector as well. The new office also is going to build on the action already taken, including the establishment of the Family Law Act, so the incorporation of partner abuse in our child safety assessment and the strengthening of our child protection policy, including the need for collaboration with service providers, probation officers and other professionals.
What the office is…. One of the key action items and next steps in the fall will be to develop a comprehensive rolling provincial plan that's going to continue to strengthen the response to domestic violence by improving the coordination and collaboration across government and the community stakeholders. The plan will be ready for full implementation in early 2013.
K. Corrigan: I'm wondering if the minister could clarify, then, whether programs that are currently in existence are going to be moved over to this ministry. I'm thinking, for example, that what is now the Justice Ministry is where some of the programs are, and some of them — when you're talking about transition houses — are in Housing.
I'm wondering if the minister can explain what programs are going to be administered and actually funded through this new office? And how much of the total of services that are going to be funded through the office are in domestic violence programming?
Hon. M. McNeil: Currently there are absolutely no plans to change where the programs are being done, be it within Justice and Attorney General or within Housing for the transition houses. But that's not to say that in future…. There may be some changes when the domestic violence office does its full review, if you will.
Early indications that we've had from out in the sector are that there is not an interest to move any of the current programs but rather to ensure better coordination. That's exactly what the provincial office of domestic violence is being set up for. It's going to provide ongoing leadership and accountability for all of the province's domestic violence policies, programs and services, just to ensure that they're being done and delivered in a unified and effective way.
K. Corrigan: For clarification. The programs that are presently administered and delivered through other ministries are going to stay there. What is the total amount committed to programs related specifically to domestic violence that are within the ministry now, if any? I'm not sure.
Hon. M. McNeil: Currently the quick answer would be none in MCFD. Within our whole role within child protection work, much of it is in areas where we are there where there is domestic violence. We're there to provide programs that actually support the families. We are aware, obviously, of the results of domestic violence with respect to children and youth, but as to direct programs, no.
Having said that, while we were discussing with the Representative for Children and Youth, following her report on Schoenborn and discussing domestic violence and the establishment of the provincial office, it was felt that the provincial office, the oversight role, would best fit within the Ministry of Children and Families.
C. Trevena: Just following on from my colleague's questions. In 2010 the government had a domestic violence action plan. Where does this office work in relationship to that plan, which was, at that time, supposed to be the government's answer to domestic violence? Now we have this as the government's answer to domestic violence.
Hon. M. McNeil: The 2010 domestic violence initiative that the member mentioned in her question — the government did follow through on that. But what the Representative for Children and Youth in the Schoenborn report, in her recommendation No. 2, was calling for was a systemwide implementation plan and a sustained focus to incrementally close any of the gaps that might be within domestic violence programming.
To that end, that's what we are now doing with the establishment of the provincial office of domestic violence. In fact, by September 2012 we have asked that they complete an extensive in-depth mapping of all government policies, programs and services related to domestic violence and all domestic violence programs and services in communities throughout British Columbia.
This involves a wide range of work, including detailed documentation of legislation, policies, programs and services across all government ministries. It also involves examining the training curriculum in courses that are offered to a wide range of professionals in government and community-based services. As I mentioned earlier, over the fall that will then form part of the development of a comprehensive rolling provincial plan.
C. Trevena: The minister has just mentioned that it's going to be doing an assessment, find out what's out there, and looking at training. A couple of quick questions and comments.
The ministry in the past has talked about that there have been 700 staff trained in domestic violence. The Schoenborn report cited the fact that domestic violence was clearly an issue and that people on the front lines didn't really know the various levels, various regulations,
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what they should be doing in certain circumstances — that there were big gaps there.
We are dealing with an issue that has an immediate need. What time frame are we looking at for training, and are we looking at training for all front-line staff and delegated aboriginal agencies?
Hon. M. McNeil: As you mentioned that we already had been working on training various staff, and we continue to do that. This is not something that is waiting for anything. The more we can train staff and give them better tools to do their jobs better….
What we have…. The Representative for Children and Youth did identify within her report some gaps and areas that she felt should be moved forward on — not just recommendations for us in MCFD but also for the Ministries of Social Development, Education and Health.
Each of these ministries is working and going to come back with action plans specific to their ministries, before the end of July, to form part of the action plan that will be shared with the representative on July 31. Also, they will be actionable for September 2012, as we had mentioned, when we will have the comprehensive rolling provincial plan.
She's also, though, as the new ADM for the provincial office of domestic violence, working with us on an ongoing basis to take a look at the policies and the training programs that we have. So there's constant feedback that we're getting in that regard as well.
C. Trevena: I'm following up, again, from my colleague for Burnaby–Deer Lake and the relationship with the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General's office.
One of the proven ways of dealing with domestic violence is through domestic violence courts, and I wondered whether the office being established under the Ministry of Children and Families will have the suasion to work with the Attorney General's office to establish domestic violence courts or whether it will be working more specifically on issues that are related to the Ministry of Children and Families.
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
Hon. M. McNeil: Thank you, Chair, and welcome.
As you know, the discussion on domestic violence courts was part of the Schoenborn report. It was recommendation No. 7, and it's my understanding that Justice and Attorney General will be looking at this as part of the overall justice review that they will be doing.
Having said that, the ADM of the provincial office for domestic violence, as the provincial lead on domestic violence, will be engaged with this ministry, as well as other ministries doing work with respect to domestic violence, while they do the work that they'll be doing.
I think it's important to mention that, again, this is the provincial lead for domestic violence. It is the provincial office of domestic violence, so this ADM will be involved in any of the work being done by the provincial government, certainly, and giving advice as well. But at the end of the day, they report through to my deputy minister and to me as the minister responsible.
C. Trevena: So if the ADM wants to develop and evolve the domestic violence court system and grow that, the ADM would be working with the Ministry of Justice but then reporting back through the MCFD structure. If it's just a coordinating office, that's the way it would work.
Hon. M. McNeil: The role of the ADM for the provincial office of domestic violence — she will have the opportunity to engage and give advice and input, and will be very much involved in giving input, which will be taken into account by the various ministries responsible for the program being discussed. But I guess at the end of the day, these issues will all become part of the broader discussion as a government on how to respond to the overall issue of domestic violence.
C. Trevena: That does beg the question of whether that means the government is still looking for a lot of answers. I wanted to move on.
We have a number of the programs that really help in domestic violence — provided they're provided by the agencies at the community level, not provided through the ministry. But these are the ones that really do help on the ground, like Children Who Witness Abuse, the support services for women.
In, I'd say, nearly every community that I've talked to — the agencies in the communities — there are wait-lists for these programs. It causes huge problems. If you've got the Children Who Witness Abuse program, you don't want to have to wait six months so they can get counselling for maybe six weeks. You need to have something more structured and more ongoing, which I would suggest is part of a complete domestic violence strategy. I think it was highlighted by Schoenborn, and it would be highlighted by any provider of a Children Who Witness Abuse program or other community-based programs.
I know that in certain areas there are children on wait-lists. I know of one where there were 30 children on a wait-list with Children Who Witness Abuse, which doesn't help with domestic violence. I wondered how the minister is going to integrate these sorts of front-line realities with the five-person team, headed by a director and an ADM, in Victoria or Vancouver?
Hon. M. McNeil: The member opposite raises some good points. I think that, for me, one of the absolute benefits of bringing into the role of ADM for the provincial office of domestic violence a person with the expertise and background that she has is that it's really a huge value to us.
As you know, she spent 19 years with the ministry but then has spent the past five years with the Representative for Children and Youth. She was actually the lead investigator for the Christian Lee report and the Schoenborn report. And the benefit of that is she really does understand many of the issues.
But one of the issues that the Representative for Children and Youth pointed out was that there are pressures in various places around the province, as you discuss. I know that my deputy minister has actually met with a variety of folks in the sector who have also raised some of the same pressures and the point that there needs to be consultation with them in any of the action plans that we move forward with.
So the new ADM will be doing that. She'll be doing the mapping, as we've said — in-depth mapping of all government policies, programs and services around the province. This will help form part of her action plan going forward.
As far as the concern that this will all happen in Victoria, no, the contracts and programs are still going to be out within the regions. The discussions with them that will happen will form part of the action plan.
C. Trevena: I realize that it will still be in the regions and that the executive is in Victoria. The issue is that we have large wait-lists for the Stopping the Violence counselling, Children Who Witness Abuse. This is not a way to be dealing with domestic violence. There seems to be…. You've got the executive in Victoria, working. You've got a huge need on the ground. Whether the two will actually meet…. I think that's a statement rather than a question.
K. Corrigan: I just have one question. The minister has stated a couple of times now that by September 2012 there will be a complete mapping of all programs and services in B.C. related to domestic violence, and then there will be an action plan that will presumably come out of that. Will that mapping of the programs and services in B.C. be made available to the official opposition and the public? Will the action plan be made available to the public?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes. The answer is yes. The mapping will be available. Also, the comprehensive, rolling provincial plan that will be developed and moving on in September to December will be available to the public.
C. Trevena: I just want to wrap up on domestic violence with, I think, again, a statement that the minister, if she wishes, can respond to. It's something that is very significant. We've seen two reports from the Representative for Children and Youth about domestic violence and the impact. There is a lot of need on the ground. There is a huge…. There seems to be a gap in many services. There seem to be many gaps in many services.
You can look at other jurisdictions about what they're doing to deal with this. Ontario has been working very hard on this for a long while, whether you're looking at domestic violence courts or the supports right on the ground for children or women on the ground.
What is of great concern on this side of the House is that it is still an unfunded office. It's an office that has an oversight role. We've seen another very important office — the office against the trafficking of persons, that was established under this government — to be dismantled. We're very worried, given the record, if there will be sustained funding and commitment to actually make this work and not just have it as a flagship, flavour-of-the-month office.
With that, Mr. Chair, I am going to move the questioning on to something that for many people will seem much more mundane, but I think it's also very important, and that's the integrated case management — the new computer system that is being used both in MCFD and the Ministry of Social Development.
We know that work began on ICM a few years ago, but I just want to know: when did the Ministry of Children and Family Development get involved in the ICM plan?
Hon. M. McNeil: We don't have the actual date, and we can certainly get it for you. But the feeling here is approximately three to four years ago, in the initial planning stages of ICM.
C. Trevena: What was the cost for the purchase and implementation of ICM to this ministry and the cost of the software to this ministry?
Hon. M. McNeil: For the integrated case management, the actual capital costs are borne by the Ministry of Social Development. With respect to the shared operating costs, for MCFD the total '11-12 budget is $9.6 million, and it breaks down into two components: training, and then the system support and maintenance.
C. Trevena: Just to clarify, so that I don't waste too much time on this, if I proceed and ask a lot of questions about the cost of ICM, will the minister be referring me to the Minister of Social Development throughout and just refer back to this figure that the minister has just given me? I don't want to waste too much time on proceeding with a line of questioning that she'll not be able to help me with.
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Hon. M. McNeil: That was a very smart way to proceed. If the member opposite would like a briefing, we can certainly arrange that with the Ministry of Social Development. That would probably be the best way to proceed.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister. I have had a briefing. It was very useful. We didn't nail down all the costs.
We on this side of the House are very concerned that the costs have skyrocketed over since the first RFP went out to today and what it's going to look like in the future. We have been trying to find out that information. But if the minister won't be able to help me on it, that isn't going to be a useful course of action.
The minister says that there is money for training, and there's money for ensuring that it keeps functioning. I wonder if the minister could explain what sort of training has been provided to MCFD staff, particularly the social workers in the regions, on ICM?
Hon. M. McNeil: The ministry certainly benefits from the experience and knowledge of our own staff to help plan and design, test and train on ICM.
We recruited 16 curriculum writers from program areas in the regions to write training material, which took approximately four months; 41 child and family service trainers, two autism trainers, one medical benefits trainer, and six child care subsidy trainers — approximately three months for that; and 17 subject matter experts, which were front-line practitioners who participated in planning, testing and working in the training command centre. Vancouver Island contributed six staff. North contributed one staff. Coast-Fraser contributed ten staff. There were none from the Interior.
With any new system, you recognize that there are going to be challenges posed by learning a new technology while staff continue with their day-to-day jobs. It is something that I have heard. There's also a learning process in terms of what training works and what doesn't work for different people in terms of their comfort level with learning new systems.
I recognize that for most of the folks that I have spoken to, although they say change is tough, it's a system that they depend on. They realized there was a need. There was no question that…. It's replacing 64 individual databases now. There are a lot of complex…. It was just too unwieldy, if you will. So the ICM — they totally understand where they're heading with that. But it is change.
We have provided staff with a variety of supports to learn the new system, including e-learning, instructor-led training, local supports and training materials. So 4,100 staff have received e-learning, while a subset received a blend of e-learning and instructor-led training. A subset was made up of all team leaders, approximately 320 people — front-line practitioners, 320 of those — and an administrative worker.
E-learning. Each model in the e-learning took about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. In total, e-learning ranged from about nine hours to 14 hours for completion. Some staff, depending on their computer literacy, took longer to complete the e-learning. It was available for four months — January till the end of April.
Instructor-led training was delivered to around 1,600 ministry and DAA staff. Approximately 184 transactional folks received the instructor-led training, and those are folks in child care subsidy, autism funding unit and medical benefits. Child and family service team leaders, again, and the front-line practitioners and administrative staff — we talked about those. And then approximately 450 additional ministry staff received instructor-led training as well.
C. Trevena: How much did this training…? There was obviously a lot of training taking place in various ways. It wasn't all going out of the office to learn. How much did this take away from the front-line workers' ability to work on the front line — away from their caseload time?
Hon. M. McNeil: As I mentioned earlier, the e-learning was approximately anywhere from nine to 14 hours, depending on the level of comfort with computers by the staff member. The number of hours per person for the instructor-led training was approximately 24.5 hours per person or approximately 3.5 days.
C. Trevena: Did the delegated aboriginal agencies also receive training? And are they actually using ICM yet, or will they be in the next phase?
Hon. M. McNeil: The training is for those delegated aboriginal agencies that are providing full child protection services. They're getting the training. The total number of DAA staff who received the instructor-led training are, on Vancouver Island, approximately 20; coast Fraser region, 81; Interior region, 40; and north region, 38. That is the number of those that have had instructor-led training.
C. Trevena: Will the contractors, the agencies on the ground, be eventually using ICM? If so, will that also include specific training for them, or would it just be the same sort of training that has been provided for?
Hon. M. McNeil: We are actually discussing throughout phase 3 how best to bring in the contractors, and it's our intention at this time to bring them onto the system in phase 4. As for the training, we are incorporating feedback that we're hearing now about the training we've just done and we are continuing to do. I guess that you learn as you go in what's the most effective way to train. All of
[ Page 11018 ]
that will certainly impact how we do the training for the contractors, but it's not until phase 4.
C. Trevena: When it does come to the contractors implementing ICM, who is actually going be paying for it? Will it be the contractors, out of their budget, or will it be the ministry paying for it?
Hon. M. McNeil: My understanding is that each one of the contractors has their own system. What we will be talking about, as part of the process, would be how their system would then interface with ICM. Certainly, that interface will be paid for. We will pay for that.
I think as far as the training goes, once we have that done, then we will have to determine the training moving forward. We'll assess the scope and scale of the training required at that time. But certainly, it'll all be part of the contract, so it won't be an additional cost to the contractor.
C. Trevena: I'll follow up with that, I think, closer to the time that we're getting this in to the contractors, rather than being hypothetical — again, very aware of the time. I wondered if the minister could tell me whether….
Right at the beginning of the estimates debate, we were talking about the changes in approach of the ministry. There was significant change between, to be honest, the two deputy ministers — the preceding one and the present one. I wondered if there was any impact on ICM because of the change in the approach on assessment — the different approaches within the ministry there are now.
Hon. M. McNeil: I think the question was more: "Has there been a change in the approach with ICM between the two deputy ministers?" I think the best way to describe it is: yes, there has been a slight shift with the new deputy minister. There has been a tighter focus on the core assessment tools needed for the child protection but certainly, with respect to the process and how it moves forward, not a significant change, no.
C. Trevena: Was there any impact on the system's functionality with this? Or is it that whatever approaches and assessment tools we use, the front-line worker still has the same process to follow, no matter what? It's the same boxes to tick off and the same fields to go into. Or is there any impact on the system's functionality?
Hon. M. McNeil: The ICM has a different functionality. The old system was a DOS base and this is more of a Windows base. Basically, the new one is more fluid and less linear, so it is different in that respect. It's easier, obviously, for — I'm sure — some of the younger staff, as they are used to it. It is a change, but it's a change that was absolutely needed in order to bring the technology change up to 21st century.
C. Trevena: I understand that, Minister. I was asking specifically about ICM and whether there had been any change in the functionality, as we're looking at different assessment tools — whether there were any delays in the introduction and whether the staff was still able to go through or whether there was any problem in actually using the system as is, since we've had a change in direction now.
Hon. M. McNeil: There was one delay to the activation of the ICM practice environment. It has been delayed until December. It had nothing to do with the system but everything to do with the training and making it easier for staff to get one part done before they then go into another part. So it was more to do with a training delay — to spread out the training so it was easier on staff, if you will — and less to do with the system.
C. Trevena: I think sometimes it would be easiest to sit around a table and try and get these and to have the ability to explain my questioning and the minister's answer, without having quite so much formality. I think we've got there.
I have two more questions on ICM for the time being.
In the annual service plan it states that ICM will "improve our ability to share information" and free up time for social workers to spend more time with their clients.
In the end we are just talking about a computer system, whether you're doing it through DOS or you're doing it through a Windows-based one with tick boxes and you're typing in information, you're still talking about a computer system. Why should just the filing of information and data management mean improved services on the front line and more time with clients?
Hon. M. McNeil: I think the best way to describe it is that it is more than just a system for one group of users. It's the ability to share information amongst the various different groups, users, if you will. As I mentioned, there had been 64 different databases. Well, what this allows is one. The ability to be able to not have to go into various systems to get the information you need — that's what is going to be the big bonus of the system.
I think the best way to describe it is that it's a similar situation to PRIME — when PRIME was brought in, in policing, back almost a decade ago. The ability for the different agencies to be able to talk to each other makes a huge difference. It makes for better decision-making because you have all the information that you require at hand.
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C. Trevena: My final question, Minister. It does go back to the cost of ICM, given what the ministry says is the ministry's costs. I wonder if the minister can confirm that we are still talking about the cost for the system for MSD and MCFD to be $182 million — whether that is still the cost. And if so — and the minister should have an awareness of this because it has an impact on her ministry — whether it does include the software purchase.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, it is my understanding that the overall cost is $182 million. I think if you want to get into the detail of the software and all the other, it's best if we arrange, as we said, the briefing with the Ministry of Social Development.
C. Trevena: So the minister also understands that the $182 million is not including the software component of this.
Hon. M. McNeil: I think it best if we arrange the briefing with the Ministry of Social Development. It's my understanding that the total cost was $182 million. I think it's best if we let them have those discussions with you.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister. As I mentioned right at the beginning, I've had the briefing. So we'll be proceeding to try and find out in other ways how much it is actually costing.
I'm going to move on now to the next item on the list, of the many items that we're going through, which is the residential review and some issues around that — and the issue of group homes.
Residential review has been underway for some time, a bit like the strategic plan. We're going through the budget cycle but not being able to see the residential review. I wondered: would the minister tell me, through the Chair, when it's going to be tabled, how much it has cost and why it has taken so long?
Hon. M. McNeil: As you know, the residential review is a joint undertaking with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and also with the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. It started in the spring of 2010. First reports were received in the summer of 2011. The draft recommendations were also received in the summer of 2011, at that time, and actually were included in the operational and strategic plan in late fall.
The final report is drafted, and it is hopefully to be released in late May. The contract with the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. was approximately $135,000, and then add to that MCFD staff time as well.
Why it took a long time is that the report and the recommendation are really the result of consultations with over 600 people, including foster care givers, ministry staff, contract agency staff, aboriginal service providers, other community partners and youth. As well, information was gathered from research, literature, other jurisdictions and previous ministry initiatives.
C. Trevena: What is the budget line for residential services this year?
Hon. M. McNeil: The budget line for this year for residential services for children in care is $190 million.
C. Trevena: It took the minister's office some time last year to break down that figure for me. I finally did get a copy. I wondered if the minister could just make matters easier this year and just tell me now how it's broken down, and also the potential impact of the changes that are going to come from the report that still hasn't been published, although it has been worked on for the last two years.
Hon. M. McNeil: I do have the numbers, and I can give them to you. Totalling up the $190 million, as I said, the breakdown is…. In foster care, general, it's $105.503 million, and foster care, special needs, is $3.665 million, for a total of $109.168 million for foster care. Group care is $58.847 million, and group care with special needs is an additional $21.911 million, for a total of $80.758 million. Between the foster care and the total group home it's $190 million there.
As to the answer to your second question, we are confident that we can make headway moving forward with the recommendations within the existing budget.
I have a list of things that we could talk about, and I'm very willing to be able to share it with the member now. But I think that in the interest of time, I could do a briefing with her, if the member would like.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister. It would be very useful to find out what's in the residential review. I have been asking for some time to find out what's in the residential review. It's very well saying that it's in the strategic plan, but we've not seen the strategic plan either. It would be useful to know that.
I don't know what information the minister is considering sharing now or in a briefing. If she could explain that, then I'll come back to my specific questions.
Likewise, we've got limited time. We've got a lot of areas to cover. If this isn't germane, she can just give me the quick headlines on it, and then I have questions on the figures just provided.
Hon. M. McNeil: The residential review report highlights four key themes: achieving permanency, strengthening foster care, delivering accessible residential services
[ Page 11020 ]
and working more effectively together as a sector in developing and delivering improved services for children in care.
Specifically, over the coming six months the ministry will design and develop three-year regional resource plans based on projected demand for foster care and group care services; provincial coordination and support services built around the campus and outreach capacity of the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre to provide tertiary consultation, support and intervention services; as well as increased across-regional coordination and training.
A local hub service model will be implemented in each of the local service areas built around an integrated care and support team that will recruit, support and monitor kinship, youth, foster and group care providers working with children and youth in care. The hub model service features will include provision for local consultation, coordinating shared relief, training and support networks, and crisis response.
In addition, over the next six months we will design and develop a strong focus on increasing the use of therapeutic foster care services, realigning and grouping staffed group care services, moving away from the one-off child-specific contracts to a system of group care linked at the community level with foster care and to the local care and support team.
Then, finally, incrementally increase support and services for youth transitioning from care aged 19 to 24 based on maximizing lifelong family, community and cultural connectedness and stability. There will be a focus on supporting youth to achieve age-appropriate educational and employment outcomes as well as healthy physical and emotional development appropriate to young adults.
I can go into more, but I would certainly suggest that we can offer the member opposite a briefing on this.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for her offer. When we finally get the report, that would be very useful. It does help clarify a few things for when I'm asking subsequent questions — the hub model and moving from the one-offs, which I think everybody would agree has been seen as very problematic.
The total budget line that the minister gave me is a drop from last year. We had $124 million in foster care last year total. Now it's down to $109 million. That includes $105 million to $116 million for regular and $3.6 million to $8.8 million last year for specialized foster care. Similarly, for group homes there is quite a significant decline. I wondered if the minister can explain these two declines. It's surely not a decrease in need.
Hon. M. McNeil: Staff informs me that actually the budgets have not gone down. They do apologize for the numbers they had previously given you, but what's happened now is that guardianship has been pulled out of this budget. In fact, the guardianship number is not there anymore.
Again, it boils back to what we discussed on Thursday and the whole presentation issue, the chart of accounts. They've pulled that number out from the numbers, but apparently it has not gone down. The deputy minister has informed me that he would be able to give you the new numbers.
C. Trevena: I'm a little confused. The minister has read the numbers. The numbers that I'm citing here — I'll go through them again.
It's broken down into foster care and group homes. This is last year's budget. It doesn't mention guardianship anywhere. It says "foster care," and it says "regular foster care," which parallels the regular foster care that the minister just gave me; "special needs foster care," which parallels the special needs foster care that the minister just gave me. Then we have a separate section, group homes, which parallels what the minister just gave me. And then regular group homes and special needs group homes. It doesn't mention guardianship anywhere in that.
I wonder if the minister can clarify what was missing last year, perhaps, that would somewhere in here be guardianship and isn't guardianship now.
Hon. M. McNeil: The staff has informed me that they'd be very willing to do a line-by-line with you on these to reconcile. What I've been told is that guardianship was one of about 20 accounts or lines within those four sections. It has now been broken out, so it has been pulled out. That's the difference. The staff is willing to go through it with you line by line.
C. Trevena: Can the minister then tell me whether the amount for foster care and group homes has actually gone up or stayed the same? If it has stayed the same and will be staying the same for the next three years, given the changes that are happening and given the numbers of children that the ministry is dealing with, does the minister think this is adequate?
Hon. M. McNeil: With respect to this line, the part of the budget that you were asking about, the regular foster care has stayed the same. Regular group care has stayed the same. Foster care for special needs has stayed the same, but the group care, special needs, has gone up slightly.
The second part of the member's question was: do I think this is adequate? There's no doubt that the ministry's budget is for difficult times, but what I do want to say is that a status quo budget does not necessarily mean
[ Page 11021 ]
a status quo budget for the ministry or for the children we serve. We are strongly focused on working hard to optimize the resources — to do, in fact, more with what we've got. This means that we have to explore innovative ideas and innovative ways to deliver the services, as I mentioned in my opening statement.
Some of the ways that we're looking at it are: we've taken steps to improve management information systems so that we better understand workload demand and resource allocations. As we committed to the select standing committee, this work will be ongoing over the coming two years as we continue to improve the systems.
We're also turning our attention to working with staff to streamline and prioritize the tasks and processes that staff currently undertake through the use of lean tools, so that time can be better used to focus on meeting the needs of the clients we serve, while also having space for staff development and a strong focus on ensuring a good work-life balance for the staff.
We'll also bring the same level of thinking to the contract review process that will be completed over this spring and summer in collaboration with the full involvement of the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. We're strongly hoping that these processes will focus on optimizing the use of our resources better so that we can do the things that we can for the children and youth.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. There's no question. We know it's not going to be easy within the existing budget, but we really strongly believe that, by working with our partners and our staff, we'll be able to improve the way we use the dollars that we have.
Our expectation is that when the economy and provincial revenues improve, our work will provide us with a solid business case for future net new investment. We have to realize the difficult times we're in, but we also have to make sure that we're doing the best with what we can and more with what we can.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for reading from her briefing note. I expect a little bit more. I think that we are….
As the minister is aware, it is one of the most important ministries in government. We've already discussed two areas where there's extra work, where we haven't even any guarantee of any extra money from the ministry — both the poverty reduction, where the minister is not looking for any extra money, and the domestic violence office, where we're still hoping there's going to be extra money. We are at the moment discussing…. We're not talking about the lean management system. We're not talking about staff training. We are talking about residential services.
I'd like to ask the minister…. As provided for at a request in last year's estimates, which were, I believe, back in last April or May, I had a meeting with her staff — I think it was at the end of February, beginning of March — where I got some of the answers that I'd asked for. I appreciate that, and I appreciate her staff's time. It took a little while.
It was the list of group home locations. Under the list, I have two questions. In a number of areas it just says: "Individual." These are obviously not foster families, because there are many more foster families than are listed here. These are group home locations. I wonder why it just said: "Individual running the group homes." I also would like to know from the minister, while some of these are clearly not-for-profit, how many of these group homes are for-profit organizations.
Hon. M. McNeil: There are a couple of answers. I think there were a couple of questions that you had asked.
First off, the list of group home locations that you were given…. Staff inform me that due to a misunderstanding of the privacy rules, they only put in "individual" rather than put the name in. But we understand that we can now provide a new list, and we're able to put in the name. I've asked them if they could rerun it and do it by tomorrow. They've said, yes, they would.
Now, on your second question. I think what I've got here are contracts all in total with MCFD, not necessarily broken down as you had asked. But based on a ministry and internal survey of the top 100 contracts for '11-12, approximately 93 percent of the ministry-contracted agents are not-for-profit, based on the total dollar value of the contract.
If you go down into the for-profits contracts, of the top 100, there are seven for-profit agencies. Of those seven, three of them do group care. Three of the seven for-profit agencies of the top 100 provide group care.
C. Trevena: Would the minister identify the three?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes. The three are Axis Family Resources Ltd., at $2,951,490; Hollyburn Family Services, at $1,676,605; and W.J. Stelmaschuk and Associates, at $1,334,462.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister and appreciate the fact that she'll give me the fuller list, that her staff will get the full list by tomorrow.
With the change in the model that is going to be brought about through the residential review, this will likely mean a change in contracts. I wondered how the ministry is going to deal with the changing in contracts if we move away from the one-off model to a hub model and group model — how the ministry is going to deal with established contracts with these providers.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
[ Page 11022 ]
Hon. M. McNeil: There are a couple of things that we've done. What the ministry has done is tried to renew most of the contracts just to one year while we proceed forward. The second thing we're doing is an analysis of the current contracts at the local area level and explore with the federation, work very closely with them, as to how we can move forward to link some of the contracts in the new hub model — again, working with the federation to ensure that we do what's best for the kids.
There are a number of approaches we can do to do that, be it a formal collaboration between the providers; establish cooperatives through shared services; do it through mergers, acquisitions; or, if needed — again working with federation — to provide notice and retender.
C. Trevena: I'd like to look at the contract issue. I'm intrigued that the minister is saying one year.
I'd like to focus a little bit on the incident that happened a year ago in Taborview. In fact, it was literally a year, end of April last year. I understand that the provider in the Taborview incident, which obviously the minister remembers…. It was the tasering of the 11-year-old.
I understand that that provider had a 15-year contract. I wonder if the minister could confirm that, and if that is not the case, just put on the record how long the contract was for and if the contract is still in existence.
Hon. M. McNeil: Staff here advise me that they believe it's a five-year contract, but we will verify that with you.
The Chair: This committee will take a very brief, not-longer-than-five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 5:10 p.m. to 5:12 p.m.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
C. Trevena: I wondered if the minister could tell me the value of the contract and the opt-out clause of the contract.
Hon. M. McNeil: We'll have that shortly. We've just asked for it.
C. Trevena: In the meantime, I wonder if the minister could tell me whether the ministry has finished its review of the incident, whether it has held an investigation of the incident and the outcome of that.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, the review of the Taborview incident has been completed. As a result of the review, a number of steps have been taken providing additional staffing and training. A second child protection worker has met with each of the youth living in the Taborview resources, and none expressed any concern for their safety or apprehension about remaining there.
In addition, additional managers were hired to increase supervision, and training is being provided to the staff. In addition, social workers are visiting the premises twice a month.
Youth have been provided with information about their rights as well as information about how to contact the representative, should they have any concerns. Staff have also been instructed to work closely with the Representative for Children and Youth to address any concerns she has and ensure she has all the information she needs around this issue.
The ministry does continue to work with Taborview in order to identify gaps and service needs for the youth and to strengthen the collaborative planning through ICM.
The director from Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre also completed an assessment of the services being provided to the youth and recommended he continue to reside in the resource with these additional supports that have been provided by the ministry and Taborview.
Our task now is to ensure that the children and youth keep getting the level of care that is required by each of them.
C. Trevena: I was going to make an assumption, and it's never safe. Is the contract still in the same hands? The same individual has the contract?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes.
C. Trevena: That is Jordy Hoover. I have a figure of the contract being approximately $3 million.
Hon. M. McNeil: I believe the staff is still awaiting the answer. So perhaps we could move on to something else, and I'll get it as soon as I can.
C. Trevena: That seems a wise approach, Minister, since we're running out of time here.
I just wanted to know whether the ministry has an injury and incident report for group home providers — when an incident happens, that is — and again, in the interest of time, whether the minister tracks how many injuries there have been in group homes that are contracted by the ministry?
Hon. M. McNeil: The provincial director of child welfare reviews and monitors all reportable circumstances reports, which are completed by front-line staff in a variety of critical incidents involving children and youth known to MCFD.
The answer to do we track…? I would tell the member opposite that yes, we do track. It also forms part of a critical incident report which is reviewed by the region and by the provincial director of child welfare. It then
[ Page 11023 ]
goes to RCY — the Representative for Children and Youth — and also to the Public Guardian and Trustee.
C. Trevena: At what stage does the ministry stop tracking and start acting? When is it that the ministry would say there have been enough questionable instances, or instances in a certain place or in a certain area, that it's time to take action?
Hon. M. McNeil: The answer would be…. Well, in essence, they never stop tracking. Depending on the critical incident and severity and frequency, it is a judgment of the regional manager, who can intervene at any time when anything happens, but also with oversight from the provincial director of child welfare.
C. Trevena: Can the minister tell me how many incidents have occurred in group homes over the past year?
Hon. M. McNeil: I'm informed by the staff that currently that information comes in by child and not by resource. It's the way the system currently works. So we can only do that, break it down by resource, if we do it manually. We can get information to her, but it would be on the total number of reportables for kids in care. So we can get that. As part of our ongoing commitment to improving, and with ICM, quite frankly, we'll be able to do that, but we're not yet able to do it at this time.
C. Trevena: How does the minister, then, know what's actually happening in certain homes, if it's done by child and not by the location?
Hon. M. McNeil: The answer to the question is that there is ongoing case monitoring done in a variety of ways.
First off, we expect the local oversight by the individual social worker to ensure they are watching the children they are monitoring. If they need to bring up anything, they will.
Second, team leaders and managers inside the regions automatically receive reports. So if they see anything that triggers additional investigation, they will do so as well.
Also, the third, and I think that's…. If there are three incidents reported with respect to any one child, to one child's case, it automatically triggers a review by the provincial director of child welfare. Then, when doing that, they'll look at the other children within the resource to see if they have to expand the investigation.
C. Trevena: I'm still waiting for the response on how the minister ends a contract if it's deemed to be inappropriate, which I would like before we wrap this up.
I just wondered if the minister could tell me if the province has specific standards for the location of group homes?
Hon. M. McNeil: I think I'm going to ask for further clarity on the question you just asked. But before you do that, I'd like to confirm that the Taborview contract is valued at $3.6 million per year for five years for a total value of $18 million. I can also confirm that the notice period for Taborview is one year, because it is a five-year contract. Normally, if it's a one-year contract, it's a 90-day notice period.
C. Trevena: Is it usual to have just one-year contracts? I know, in the transition, that the minister has said that it's going to be one-year contracts, but is this the way the ministry is working? Are RFPs going to be for one-year contracts?
My previous question was the specific location — if there are standards for where the facility is, whether its proximity to…? There were reports, for instance — whether it's the Taborview one or others — of being close to liquor stores and so on. So where there are actual specific guidelines that providers have to meet for that….
My final question on this. I think, just again, in the interest of time, if I might beg indulgence on this. Actually, I'll let you work on that, and I'll just work out my question, so carry on.
Hon. M. McNeil: There were two questions asked. First, you said: "Was it normal for them to be one-year contracts?" I think it's important to note that currently MCFD has a wide range of practices with respect to contracts: one year, three year, five year. But this is something we are looking at through our contract management review located within corporate services, to look at how we can get some consistency.
There's a discussion that has to be had and that we are having: what is the right term? It's a fine line between balancing, perhaps, a need for change but also a need for consistency as well. What is right for the child? They are doing a discussion on that. It's something they're doing within the contract management review. They need to have further discussions on that.
The second question you asked was with respect to: are there standards for locations? Staff has informed that there are no standards, but as a result of the residential review, this is something that we're certainly going to be looking at by the fall. So there'll be more coming at that time.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister.
I am going to move on now to issues of youth justice. I know there have been changes in the youth justice system over the last little while, the consolidation, effectively,
[ Page 11024 ]
of female youth justice in Burnaby. I just wondered if the minister could confirm just how much money was saved by that consolidation and how many FTE positions were saved as well.
Hon. M. McNeil: As the member knows, MCFD is widely recognized as having the most progressive and effective system of youth justice services in the country. For instance, there has been a 75 percent decline in youth custody over the last 16 years. B.C. now has the lowest per-capita rate of youth in custody in the country.
In turn, the number of youth in custody has dropped to the point where the overall occupancy for youth was only around 64 percent, and of that, only around 52 percent for girls. So in response, this allowed us to make some changes on how we improve the way we serve the youth in the province.
These savings that you mentioned, in total, are approximately $2.5 million gross, and $900,000 of that will be put towards enhanced youth justice programs. This year $1.2 million in savings will go towards children and youth with special needs, but on an annualized basis, it'll be approximately $1.6 million a year.
You asked about the number of FTEs. There is a reduction of 25 FTEs. Of that, two are manager positions and 23 line staff.
C. Trevena: Will any of the money that is being used in youth justice — not what's going to children and youth with special needs — be going to diversionary approaches in the north?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes. There will be $250,000 allocated for community-based alternatives for youth, specifically designated in the north — in particular, Prince George.
But what we are going to be doing is going through a consultation with community stakeholders, including the aboriginal stakeholders, to ensure that what those alternatives are, are well-thought-out with the community.
C. Trevena: So the minister is confident that they will be culturally appropriate alternatives.
The Carrier-Sekani have been very concerned. Talking to them as recently as Monday of last week, they say they have requested a meeting with the minister about this. Will the minister attend a meeting with them?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I actually met with a couple of members from the Carrier-Sekani last week when I was up in Prince George. They were at one of the forums I was at, and we did discuss it. In fact, they gave me a couple of letters and have asked for a meeting, and I have agreed that I will meet with them.
With respect to the changes that were made, the RCY — Representative for Children and Youth — will be monitoring the changes on an ongoing basis. Beginning in May, the McCreary Centre Society will be conducting a year-long independent evaluation of the changes and services for the girls. So there will be ongoing monitoring.
C. Trevena: If the monitoring finds that it doesn't work for the communities in the north, what will the ministry do?
Hon. M. McNeil: I think the best way I can answer that for the member is to basically say that we are doing this ongoing monitoring, it will be done for a year, and we'll evaluate it at that time. We do have the ability to re-review if need be, but we're pretty confident that this will be an improvement in the system for female youth in custody. It was not a decision that was taken lightly. There was a lot of thought that went into this.
I think one of the things that is important to note in the facts is that in the 11 months between April 1, 2011, and February 29, there were 46 days when there were no girls in custody in Prince George and a further 43 days when there was only one girl in custody. One of the things, as it was described to me, was that there is a feeling of isolation for these female youth. I think the best way I can say it is that for me, the bottom line is: what's best for these female youth? What is the best that we can do to make sure that they get the rehabilitation that they need?
C. Trevena: I'd like to read to the minister…. She must be aware of this case in Prince George of a 15-year-old girl recently, where the judge stayed sentencing because she was in breach of her order and she would have been sent, under the new regime, to Burnaby. The judge found this completely inappropriate and, if I might quote, said:
"In short, she is exactly the vulnerable young First Nations female who needs structure and consistent rules. Further, removing her from her community and family supports is exactly the opposite of what should be occurring to her. Even if the hope of reuniting with her family is fraught with difficulties, this plan is far preferable to taking her out of Prince George for 'budgetary reasons'."
It goes on.
"One has to wonder about a provincial youth justice system withdrawing facilities from northern youth, especially given the principles set out in the preamble to the Youth Criminal Justice Act" — which says, as it goes on, that it "commands respect" and "fosters responsibility."
The judge continued:
"It is inconceivable to me that those charged with overseeing the care of these young women could possibly believe that it is in their best interests to be sentenced to a term of custody that would see them removed from their northern communities and transported south…. I find that carrying out that sentence would be completely disproportionate to the offences committed."
I wonder if the minister could comment on that.
Hon. M. McNeil: To the member opposite, it would
[ Page 11025 ]
be inappropriate for me in any way to engage in a discussion where I would question the decision of the judiciary.
What I think is really important to note is that the reality is about half the girls formally admitted to Prince George and Victoria were already being transported from other communities. They were already long distances away from their families. There were three facilities — one in Victoria, one in Burnaby and one in Prince George — but it was a provincewide facility, so any girl from around the province would be heading to those communities. The changes we've made here actually decrease the amount of travel time in confinement for girls committed to custody from outlying communities, and I think that's really important to note.
However, there were some concerns expressed, and we did make changes based on the concerns that we heard. We have made arrangements so that girls in Prince George and Victoria will not be held in police cells overnight pending transport to Burnaby. Instead, they'll be held in the youth custody centres for brief periods when same-day transportation is not possible. Having said that, when same-day transportation is possible, that will be done.
Female youth in Prince George who are remanded to custody for a week or less will continue to be held in the local youth centre, but girls from outlying areas will be flown to Burnaby from the nearest airport, instead of regional hubs, to further reduce the length of time spent in transportation.
Again, I think these are…. It's a good decision. Having said that, we will be monitoring it for a year, and we'll have the ability to re-review if necessary.
C. Trevena: In the re-review, again, looking forward, if this has not worked out — if the representative turns around and says it hasn't worked, if the McCreary Centre has done its studies and found that it hasn't worked — would the ministry be re-establishing the existing facilities?
Hon. M. McNeil: If there is a clear case made after this year review that it was not working…. The existing facilities are staying. This is an operating capacity change, not a physical capacity. The physical capacity is still there. What we would need to do is recruit staff. But at the moment we are going to wait and see how it goes.
We're confident that this is a good decision. We're able to bring the girls together, so there's less feeling of isolation and more gender-specific rehabilitation. Again, it's what's best for these girls.
C. Trevena: Was there any consideration of actually using the money, instead of diverting it to CYSN, for expanding services for youth in the justice field throughout the province?
Hon. M. McNeil: Because of the significant drop in the youth justice system — as I said, it was operating at 64 percent occupancy, even less for girls — we had the ability to take a look…. We did, as I said, reallocate approximately $250,000 to the north.
We also had the opportunity, with the savings from this low occupancy, to take a look across all six service lines at the ministry and really take a look at the where the greatest need was. In this case we felt it was with children and youth with special needs — CYSN.
However, having said that, we will continue to look at our need and see where best we can serve the children and youth of this province.
C. Trevena: My final question on this…. I think the problem is it's the perception. Youth justice is often some of the poorest young people in the province, often aboriginal. Take a lot of money away from them and put it to another sector…. As well as the real questions about decision-making, there is the perceptual issue.`
I wonder if the minister could tell me — my final question on this — the number of youth who are on remand in prison and the percentage of those who are aboriginal.
Hon. M. McNeil: The average of youth in custody between April 1, 2011, to February 29, 2012, is an average of 102 in British Columbia. Of those, 46 percent are aboriginal.
C. Trevena: I know we're rushing on with time. I'm going to move on to children and youth with special needs, if you need to change staff, Minister.
Here, it's the shifting of the financial resources. Children and youth with special needs get an extra $8 million. I wonder if the minister could break that down. I'm particularly interested in whether there is a specific budget line for autism, whether there is one for FASD and if there is a breakdown for the different areas within children and youth with special needs and how that money is being delivered.
Hon. M. McNeil: In the foundational programs, early years services, $407,000; in supported child development, $291,000. That's a total in the foundational programs of $698,000.
In the family support programs. Support services, children and youth with special needs is $450,000; and in program delivery, $47,000; for a total of $497,000 for family supports programs. In special needs children in care, in the group care special needs, as I mentioned earlier, $28,000.
In specialized provincial services, medical benefits, $2.24 million; in nursing support, $2.894 million; deaf and hard of hearing is $9,000; in autism, $2.26 million;
[ Page 11026 ]
for a total in the specialized provincial services of $7.403 million.
Those three lines add up to $8.626 million.
C. Trevena: Minister, I wondered if there is any…. We've got the special budget line for autism. We've got the budget line for deaf and hard of hearing, which as the minister…. I'm sure she's been to the institute over in the Lower Mainland. It's quite interesting, and it's definitely a different language rather than a disability. It's very interesting to see that.
I wondered whether there is a budget line or any consideration of a budget line for other specific areas. I'm thinking particularly of FASD.
Hon. M. McNeil: I think the member opposite raises a good point, one that we are looking at in the distribution. It seems that autism is there, and FASD is one. We want to make sure that we look at all of the programs and look at them with the same eye. There is a line item for FASD, the key worker program. It's currently at $5.1 million.
C. Trevena: How does that…? I mean, we've got $2.26 million for autism and $5.1 million for the key worker program. I wonder if the minister could explain how that works out.
Hon. M. McNeil: Again, it's a good question that the member opposite raises and one that I know we've had discussion about within the ministry. I think autism spectrum disorder…. There is a policy, and there's research to back up what interventions are needed. We simply know more. There's more that we can do, and we know where we're going.
With FASD, it's not as clear. It's still emerging, but it is something that you've brought up and that we recognize as something that we need to do a better job of taking a look across the various special needs and making sure we can fill the need.
C. Trevena: I think that one of the issues is when we're getting designation of FASD as well as then providing the service, which is something we might be able to get into tomorrow, but I'm not sure we're going to have the time.
I wanted to ask the minister whether there is a figure for the number of children with special needs that are on wait-lists at ministry offices around the province. I have heard of at least one office where there are 190 children with special needs on a wait-list. I wonder if the minister can get that information for me — if not tonight, for tomorrow.
Hon. M. McNeil: I think what I'd like to be able to do is understand — wait-lists for which service? We have it broken down into various different areas. So it would need clarity on the question, but we can certainly get you the information that you require.
Noting the hour…. First off, just before I do this, I do want to thank the staff for their support here today and also the member opposite.
I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:19 p.m.
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