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, May 7, 2012
Volume 37, Number 1
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Surrey community appreciation event for B.C. Ambulance Service
Orders of the Day
Private Members' Statements
Ending prohibition on liquor distribution
Preserving B.C.'s pristine coastline
Capital investments in Vernon
Accessing government services
Private Members' Motions
Motion 44 — Extracurricular school activities
MONDAY, MAY 7, 2012
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
SURREY COMMUNITY APPRECIATION
EVENT FOR B.C. AMBULANCE SERVICE
D. Hayer: I would like to thank the Surrey Filipino Seventh-Day Adventist Community Church and the Surrey Seventh-Day Adventist Church for hosting the fifth annual community appreciation night honouring the B.C. Ambulance Service, the largest emergency life-saving service in Canada.
Some of the other guests and speakers at the event included Staff Sgt. Dean Scott of Surrey RCMP; assistant fire chief Steve Robinson; vice-president of search and rescue Brent Trueman; superintendent of B.C. Ambulance Kevin Urton; Nina Grewal, MP; Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt; the MLA for Surrey–White Rock; and many other special guests, including flag ceremony hosts, Surrey-Filipino Pathfinder Club members.
I would like this House to help me thank the hosts — Surrey Filipino community church pastor Ken Naidoo, Linda Naidoo and Ron Watson, Lilia Robles and other volunteers who helped to make this event very successful.
Orders of the Day
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, by agreement the member for Westside-Kelowna is taking the spot for the member for Chilliwack.
Private Members' Statements
ENDING PROHIBITION ON
B. Stewart: Good morning. I want to speak today about ending the prohibition on liquor distribution in the province of British Columbia. I want to talk about the fact that our government is committed to finding innovative and new ways to make government more efficient and to save money for taxpayers. That's why we're taking the step today of privatizing the liquor distribution services in British Columbia, which we believe can lead to improved service to wholesale customers, shorter delivery times and reduced costs to government and to taxpayers.
[D. Black in the chair.]
All of these changes mean that a private firm will be responsible for receiving, storing, ordering and distributing liquor. The decision to privatize liquor distribution services is part of a recent suite of initiatives that our government has undertaken to modernize liquor laws, save money for taxpayers and meet the needs of a changing society.
You know, the Liquor Distribution Branch is responsible for the implementation, distribution, wholesaling and retailing of alcohol in B.C. and operates 197 government liquor stores as well as two warehouses. B.C. has a mixed-model retail system, meaning that liquor is distributed throughout the province by both public and private services.
The two government-owned warehouses distribute approximately 55 percent of liquor being sold in British Columbia, but this type of service is not unique to the public distribution service. In fact, we believe that privatizing the two government-owned warehouses will improve service to the wholesale customers, cut down on delivery times and reduce costs to government.
A lot of the opposition we've heard in statements here in the House has been around the fact that this is going to mean that there are job losses and that other things are going to be changed, but that's completely unfounded. The fact is the provincial government and the B.C. Government Employees Union have reached an agreement on the package of measures necessary to accommodate the LDB employees affected by this request for proposal.
The province will continue control over pricing in the interest of British Columbians. We expect that liquor prices will be similar to existing prices moving forward. Through the NRFP process, we are also committed to protecting employees who work in the liquor distribution warehouses. Privatizing the liquor distribution process will mean that there are increased efficiencies, not job losses.
The province made a commitment that unionized employees impacted by the change will be handled according to the memorandum of agreement signed by the BCGEU and the government effective April 1, 2012. The RFP contains special conditions that require the new distributor to respect the memorandum of agreement that the province signed with the BCGEU.
This agreement will offer continued employment with the successful proponent for affected warehouse employees and options for those employees that choose not to accept a job offer with the proponent. This will protect jobs of approximately 500 employees that work in the two distribution warehouses, both in Vancouver and Kamloops. We have also made provisions in the RFP to ensure that rural areas will not be unfairly impacted by a variable delivery cost structure.
One of the things that I think when we look at these
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changes…. I think that the members opposite sometimes resist this idea that change is not good. I was looking a little bit this morning at some of the earlier reasons why we got into the liquor control branch, which, of course, has now subsequently changed its name to the Liquor Distribution Branch. But, you know, in B.C. in its wildest days there was no regulation over the liquor business. Many of the bars and saloons were open 24-7, and frankly, in the early 1900s a number of organizations, many of them religious, started to lobby on behalf of temperance and some, more aggressively, for prohibition.
So at the outbreak of the First World War the temperance movements started lobbying harder and linked the war to temperance, arguing that a minor sacrifice of prohibition would assist in the war movement. These groups became stronger during this time and started to exert strong political influence. In 1916 the B.C. government introduced a bill setting the stage for a referendum on prohibition, and at that time only men could vote. The whole issue was extremely controversial, particularly to those of European origin who considered wine to be an integral part of meals in their daily life.
The referendum was eventually held and prohibition was approved, becoming effective in B.C. on October 1, 1917. However, the provincial government did not have the constitutional power to deal with matters of interprovincial trade. So the initial ban on liquor was simply inconvenient. However, in March of 1918, under pressure from the provinces, the federal government eventually banned interprovincial trade of liquor into any province that was under prohibition.
In British Columbia prohibition was an utter disaster. Policing costs of the ban were extremely high. An exemption of liquor purchased for medicinal reasons, which could be obtained through government stores or drugstores…. This loophole served as a gigantic one. During 1919 alone 181,000 prescriptions were written by the province's doctors for $2 each. The government, which now found itself in the medicinal liquor business, sold over $1½ million of liquor in 1919.
In April 1920 the provincial government was desperate to find a way out of this mess and ordered a new referendum to try and create an alternative. The government control option was won handily, almost 2 to 1. In this regard B.C. was ahead of its time, and it was the first province to adopt a system of government control over the liquor business.
This is why we put forward a negotiated request for proposal, something to find a way that would work for all the parties, not being trapped into the past. The fact that we have had a distribution system there….
The fact is that it is modern, but it requires continued capital. It requires innovation. The fact is that things are changing in the warehouse and distribution system, just as they have been…. I'm sure when I think about the days of when every telephone in this province was really regulated through the monopoly system that we had…. Today the fact that we have carriers of all different types and sizes and shapes has meant that the telephone business hasn't changed. The reality is that the warehouse and distribution of liquor in the province of B.C. will not be changed that dramatically with the fact that we're doing something different.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to get a chance to stand and to speak to this issue of liquor warehousing privatization in British Columbia. Let's be clear about what we're talking about here. We are talking about a decision that is based on ideology and very little else. That's the reality that we have here.
We have a situation that the minister told us, at one point, was made about a week before the budget was brought in. That was his first response after we questioned him about this after the budget. That may very well be true, because we know there was no consultation with industry on this.
I've spoken to people in ABLE-BC in the private sector industry. They were not consulted. There was no consultation with the union about this before the decision was made. There was no consultation with consumers and taxpayers.
Clearly, we have asked time and again. There is no business case. There is no foundation for this. It's been done for strictly ideological reasons, and there's very little support for this in the province.
K. Krueger: Point of order, Madam Speaker.
N. Macdonald: Is he reading from notes?
K. Krueger: No, he isn't reading from notes, Columbia River–Revelstoke, because he actually understands the rules, unlike the members opposite.
Deputy Speaker: Does the member have a point he wishes to make?
K. Krueger: Yes. Of course I do.
Private members' business is supposed to be non-partisan. The member who spoke from the government side was not partisan, and I'd thank the member opposite not to be partisan either.
Deputy Speaker: Would the member for Vancouver-Hastings please continue.
S. Simpson: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I hope that won't cut into my time.
So you have a government that brought in an ideological plan with no business case, with no support from the private sector, with no support from the union.
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Point of Order
K. Krueger: I'm making a point of order, Madam Speaker. The member is being completely partisan, and that's a violation of the rules of private members' business, and I'd ask you to rule on it.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members, during private members' time members are permitted to express their opinions on policy without being partisan.
I ask the member for Vancouver-Hastings to continue, please.
S. Simpson: When you make these kinds of decisions without a business case, when you make these kinds of decisions based on not providing information that tells us what, in fact….
The member, I see, is going to pop off again over here. Maybe if he'd like to sit, I could finish, and then he could have his moment anytime he likes.
Deputy Speaker: Member.
K. Krueger: Point of order, Madam Speaker. The member is not listening to you. He is again being partisan.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I've heard your point of order.
K. Krueger: Three strikes and he's out, surely.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Vancouver-Hastings will continue. Thank you.
S. Simpson: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
Getting back to the point that I was making, there is no business case here. This is an ideological decision to do this. It's a decision where we have not, after question after question, been able to get information that tells us what the foundation is — in terms of policy, in terms of economic thinking — to allow this decision to go ahead in the taxpayers' interest. That is the question here. That is the question.
So what we have is a situation where we believe we're going to see increased costs for consumers. We are going to maybe see a reduction in revenue for government. We have asked time and again that the government provide the policy and the background research and information that they will use to substantiate the argument that this is anything other than ideological in terms of this decision. We know that we have no support here. We have seen no demonstrated support for this from outside.
The question to the government is: why have they not chosen to in fact put this out and have a conversation if they believe this is warranted? They've chosen not to do that. We have a policy here that we believe is going to lead to higher prices for consumers. It's going to lead, potentially, to lower revenues. It's going to create a private monopoly.
The member who spoke previously talked about concern about monopoly, and that's fair enough. But believe me, hon. Speaker, a private monopoly is a greater concern than a public monopoly, and that's exactly what we're talking about creating here in this situation. This is very concerning. It's being rushed. It's being done in a manner that is not in the public interest. We're seeing no demonstration of this being in the public interest.
I think that if the government really wants to move ahead and they really think this has value, then engage in a true public discussion about this. Take this bill off the table. Bring it back when we come back in the fall, if they think it has support.
Let's have a conversation about it. Let's see what British Columbians say about it. Let's see what people in the industry say about it. Let's see what people who work for the LDB say about it. Let's see what taxpayers have to say about it. That's the problem. We simply do not have that. This has been done in a rushed manner. It's suspect, at best, as to what's going on here, and we need to take a better look.
The member previously talked about 1915 and gave us a history lesson, which is all good and fine, in terms of the history of liquor in this province, but British Columbians are looking forward, not back. It's time to look forward. It's time to see whether this makes any sense. We don't believe it makes any sense. This side doesn't believe it makes any sense. We don't think it moves forward the discussion on how we deal with liquor distribution. So, hon. Speaker, we would say this is bad policy.
B. Stewart: Well, first of all, I want to make it completely clear that this idea that there's no consultation is ridiculous. The fact is that this process that we're using, which was introduced last week, is a negotiated request for proposal. That term "negotiated," I think, is looking out for the best interest of people that are going to be impacted — the employees, the existing operators of warehouses.
The fact is that the government is in a situation where it requires continued and further capital to be invested into the distribution system. Frankly, we on this side of the House looked at why we would want taxpayers to have to fund a system that can be run, as it is in other provinces, in a completely private situation but yet still maintain the revenue that the member opposite claims there's going to be a decrease in.
The fact is that if there's an ideological issue here, it really is the opposition, not this side of the House. The fact is that this is a competitive process open to all busi-
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nesses. We are looking for operators who bring creative solutions that streamline the distribution process, making it more efficient and effective. Interested parties have until the end of June 2012 to submit their business proposal, and that, Member, is on line just as part of the openness that we talk about on this side of the House.
Unlike the NDP, we support free enterprise in this province. We believe the private sector should have a role in providing services where they can do so more efficiently and for less.
Liquor distribution privatization is nothing like the opposition's election platform, which was going to see liquor prices rise because of the fact they were talking about reducing the markup discount that private liquor store operators would have in their stores — from 16 down to 10 percent. That would drive the cost of a case of beer in an LRS, which are 800-some stores around the province, up by $3 a case, it's estimated.
When it comes to privatizing the liquor distribution system, the opposition are once more ignoring the facts and manufacturing a problem that does not exist. The price of alcohol will not increase by privatizing….
Deputy Speaker: Member. Member, you're straying into the partisan side now. Would you please refrain.
B. Stewart: Let me quote the member opposite. "What that means, I can assure you, is that people who are buying a bottle of wine or buying a case of beer or buying spirits will pay more." That's the member opposite. In fact, it is the NDP that has a record of promoting policies that would increase the price of liquor.
According to the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, "cutting the wholesale discounts would drive the cost to small retailers up by 25 percent and would push up the case of a six-pack from $12 to $15."
I think that the opposition is opposed to our decision to allow for regional liquor store agencies that are the most cost-effective. Take many of the members here — the members for Stikine and North Coast — where, for these small communities, a rural agency is really the only way to properly service them.
G. Coons: British Columbia's pristine coastline, which is the Great Bear region of British Columbia's north and central coast and Haida Gwaii, is one of Canada's ecological treasures. It's where one of the world's last large, intact, temperate rain forests meets one of the world's most productive cold seas and some of the world's last large wild rivers.
The Great Bear is one of the richest and most spectacular water ecosystems on earth, the only place of its kind left on the planet. The Great Bear sea, which encompasses Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance, borders the coastline of the Great Bear rain forest on B.C.'s north coast. This is this second-largest intact coastal temperate rain forest left on the planet.
The Great Bear takes its name from the multitude of bears found here, including the grizzly, the black bear, the iconic Haida black bear and the white spirit bear, which is rarer than the panda.
The Great Bear is traditional First Nations territory. B.C.'s north and central coast and Haida Gwaii are the traditional territory of 12 First Nations, whose rights to this land have never been ceded. The First Nations' goal is to restore responsible resource management in their territory through ecologically, socially and economically sustainable practices. Hon. Speaker, I represent 11 of those 12 coastal First Nations on the north coast.
Endangered species live here. The Great Bear sea is home to at least 17 types of marine mammals and has critical habitat for threatened or endangered grey, fin, humpback and killer whales. Globally unique, ancient glass sponge reefs, thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago, are found in these waters and need protection, as well as an internationally recognized sea bird area, the proposed Scott Islands national marine wildlife area just at the northwest tip of Vancouver Island.
Coastal First Nations traditional territories and coastal communities depend economically on the waters of the Great Bear sea. Marine-dependent activities in these territories represent significant economic value. A report on the economic contribution of B.C. seafood and tidal recreational fishing shows that the industry agency generates $2.5 billion per year and supports more than 30,000 jobs.
For thousands of years these lands and waters have sustained the First Nations of these territories through their traditional harvesting and gathering. The Great Bear is a global treasure. It's an ecological treasure that also supports thousands of jobs in tourism and marine tourism. It generates $104 million in revenues and provides 2,200 long-term jobs.
This is no place for oil tankers. Canada does not have the ability or technology to adequately deal with a major oil spill in this region, a situation made worse by federal budget cuts earlier this year. The communities that depend on the waters of the Great Bear have consistently opposed major expansion of oil tanker traffic for decades. It's a risk not worth taking. That's why the official opposition has expressed our opposition to oil tankers through the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, and we support a federally legislated ban to strengthen the existing tanker moratorium.
These are treacherous waters, hon. Speaker. Environment Canada says Hecate Strait is known as one of the four most treacherous bodies of water in the world. In the winter months waves can reach up to eight metres,
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and waves over 30 metres high have been recorded. Yet under the proposed plan for this pipeline and oil tankers, oil tankers as long as the Empire State Building is high are expected to navigate these waters and transport toxic crude across the Pacific Ocean.
Last week we just saw the U.S. Army's Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski, which sank south of Prince Rupert in 1946 in Grenville Channel near Hartley Bay, leaking bunker oil — a slick up to eight kilometres long by 100 metres across, putting at risk the Gitga'at seaweed, cockles and shellfish harvesting. Tar balls as big as grapefruits that disintegrate at the touch are being found.
The same waters saw the sinking of the Queen of the North, which still haunts the Gitga'at with continuous upwelling and broken promises by all levels of government. These waters cannot have oil tankers on them.
The waters of the Great Bear are fed by some of B.C.'s largest wild and free-flowing rivers, including the Skeena and the Nass. Everything here is connected. Salmon reflect the interconnectedness of the sea, wild rivers and land and the Great Bear. Countless streams feed rich estuaries and are lifelines for all five species of Pacific salmon. Bears, wolves, birds and trees are all nourished by the salmon. These coastal ecosystems are completely interconnected.
The health of the rain forest absolutely depends on the health of the sea. The annual salmon run brings a rush of the nutrients back from the sea to the forest. The health of families, communities and the economy depend on thriving forest coastlines and the ocean.
In the Great Bear we have the opportunity to lead the world and safeguard this vital, pristine coastline. This is no place for oil supertankers — ones that will carry eight to ten times more toxic crude than the Exxon Valdez spilled back in 1989.
While there is a voluntary tanker exclusion zone which prohibits Alaskan tankers in designated B.C. waters, there is also a separate and distinct moratorium on tankers in the Inside Passage — a policy that has been in existence for over 40 years under eight Prime Ministers and nine Premiers.
Now, I do want to comment on the former MLA for the North Coast. Bill Belsey, who is a distinguished, knowledgable point man for the oil industry. He was the vice-chair of the North Coast Oil and Gas Task Force. He was chair of the ocean industry oil centre organization. In May 2002 he was on the task force on offshore oil and gas development that was put forward by this government.
On Wednesday, April 2, 2003, Mr. Belsey, the former MLA, said that the government of Canada recently announced they will start the process of lifting the moratorium on offshore oil and gas. The quote from him is: "The federal moratorium was put in there in 1972 to prevent oil tankers from travelling through the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, en route from Alaska to Washington State. It is not with reckless abandonment that I and the people of my riding ask to lift the moratorium."
This is from the point man of the oil industry, the ex-MLA of the North Coast that thought he was representing the people of the north coast and the Great Bear rain forest when he was not.
I look forward to a response from the other side and seeing how they feel about protecting one of the most pristine areas not only in British Columbia but in the world.
R. Sultan: Who would dispute the motion of the member for the North Coast when he calls for preservation of B.C.'s pristine coastline and the great bears and all that go with it? Certainly not I. We all agree on his goals but not on his method for achieving it — banning all tanker traffic.
Pete McMartin of the Vancouver Sun newspaper happened to write about this on Saturday:
"Last year Jock Finlayson…gave a talk in Parksville…. After the talk an elderly woman approached him…and said: 'I just want…you to know that all of us…are totally opposed not only to the Enbridge oil pipeline…but to any oil tankers on the coast.'
"'And so,' Finlayson continued: 'I said to her: "Do you own a vehicle?" And she said: "Of course." And I said: "Well, how do you think the petroleum got to Vancouver Island? Every drop of refined oil isn't getting here by pipeline. It's being ferried or shipped or barged."'
"To that," McMartin continued in his column, "Finlayson said, the woman had no reply. The conversation had reached an impasse. The woman depended on oil but was against its transit. That the disruption of its transit might affect her life had, apparently, not occurred to her."
McMartin went on to ask:
"Is Vancouver that woman…? The city's 21st-century green image — and that's what it is, an image — doesn't include the hard realities of an oil-based economy…. The presence of Suez-sized tankers…is too jarring to co-exist with our bike paths, our LEED-standard architecture and our image of ourselves as an urban paradise. We are pretty and clean. Big oil is ugly and dirty. It should find another date."
End of Pete McMartin's column.
So we can substitute Great Bear rain forest for LEED architecture and kayaking for bike paths and apply Pete's remarks to the north coast. Pretty it is. No oil, please. But what is the hard reality of tanker transit in harsh, dangerous, rock-littered, stormy marine environments? No mariner would confuse Hecate Strait with the balmy Mediterranean.
Well, as a matter of fact, Canada has a lot of experience with high-volume tanker traffic in what is possibly an even more challenging environment: Newfoundland. The north Atlantic in winter — unforgiving coastline, rocks and reefs, narrow passages, traffic lanes close to shore, icebergs. Transport Canada has analyzed 25 years of oil spills data, crude and refined, for Newfoundland. Except for fishing vessels, there have been few accidents post-1985.
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Extrapolating actual history in busy Placentia Bay, the predicted frequency of small spill events is about one a year. The predicted interval between large spill events ranges between 200 years for crude and 2,000 years for refined product. The most frequent culprits in Newfoundland belong to the fishing fleet, not the tanker fleet.
In truth, we're all on the member for North Coast's side in terms of his goals. Another Exxon Valdez would be too horrible to contemplate. I am confident that with diligence and special care, the north coast, as well as Vancouver, can be both pretty and a good date.
G. Coons: I thank the member for West Vancouver–Capilano for his comments. Pretty it is. You know, that is pretty significant coming from this side of the House.
It's the most pristine region, one of the last pristine regions in the world. It's the heart and soul not only of northern British Columbia and the coast but of the whole province and of Canada. I believe that, if the member says we are all on the same side, perhaps his government should listen to the Union of B.C. Municipalities that resoundingly passed resolutions opposing tanker traffic and pushing for a federal legislated ban.
They should listen to coastal First Nations and their opposition to tanker traffic on the coast. The Coastal First Nations, the alliance of First Nations on the north and central coast…. As I mentioned before, I represent 11 of those 12 First Nations. They have a declaration saying that tar sands oil will not transit their waters.
We have the city of Prince Rupert, the city of Terrace, Kitimat, the villages of Queen Charlotte, Masset, Port Clements, the Central Coast regional district, the Queen Charlotte regional district — all opposed to tankers on the coast. If we all have the same goal and end, let's get and push for a federal energy policy, Member. Let's move forward on that.
British Columbians 3 to 1 support a permanent ban on tankers through our pristine northern areas. From everywhere we hear that there is not a moratorium. It wasn't until 2005 when Enbridge got arm in arm with the provincial government and the federal government to massage the message, saying there was not a moratorium.
But scientific reviews — three of them — and an expert panel said the restriction on tanker traffic should be maintained. Natural Resources Canada said the same thing. The Royal Society of Canada, the expert panel, says the same thing — that we need to have that restriction on tanker traffic. That is why this side of the House, along with the majority of British Columbians, the UBCM, First Nations, communities, are pushing for a legislated ban on tankers going through our pristine waters.
It is interesting when we look at what we want to protect and what we need to protect. I was in Bella Bella, and a grade 6 and 7 class e-mailed me. I just happened to be there. They wanted to say: "As our representative, if there are going to be oil tankers, can you make sure they don't go through the Great Bear rain forest?" I got in the SMART board, and I got the map. I got the Great Bear, and I got where the tankers are going, and the class determined that they will have to go through this ecologically rich, diverse, pristine area.
Their decision was that we need to stop tankers, and this side of the House agrees with that.
CAPITAL INVESTMENTS IN VERNON
E. Foster: It's always a pleasure to rise in the House and brag about my hometown, my area, Vernon — not only a great place to live, but it has become a great place to do business.
Over the last few years, even let's say the last decade, the private and public investment in the Vernon area has been extensive. I spoke a few weeks ago in the House about the passing of a great British Columbian, businessman Mr. Tom Foord, the founder of Kal Tire, and the legacies that he's left to our community and certainly to our province.
One of the great legacies for our area is that he has kept the company that he founded in Vernon, in Vernon. You know, Kal Tire's invested…. I'm just going to go quickly through a few of the private sector investments.
Kal is in the process of completing the construction of their new corporate headquarters, a $13.5 million building in Vernon — 250 corporate staff and room to grow. It's a great facility. Tom could have put this facility anywhere in Canada. He's in 20 countries. He could have put it in 19 other countries, but he chose to keep it in his hometown of Vernon.
Tolko Industries — which is one of the major players in the forest industry in Canada, therefore the world, and a Vernon company — just invested a few years ago $15 million in a new corporate office right in the heart of downtown Vernon. Again, Tolko, a major player — they have 4,000 employees. They could have been anywhere in western Canada. They could have been in Vancouver. They could have been in Calgary. They chose to stay in Vernon.
The law firm Nixon Wenger — 23 lawyers, 56 staff — just finished a new building — $5.2 million, right in downtown Vernon. Chartwell Seniors Housing completed about a year and a half ago a big, big expansion to Carrington Place seniors home — $6.7 million.
Again, these companies could go anywhere they wanted to go. They chose to be in Vernon. For a community the size of Vernon, this is a pretty impressive list. I know to the folks from downtown Vancouver and the big cities that some of these investments would be the price of a lot they'd have to buy, but in the smaller communities outside of the Lower Mainland, these are major, major investments in our communities.
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Ask them why. I have. I said to Mr. Thorlakson, the recently retired chairman of the board and the president of Tolko…. We have an opportunity. They've got a major operation in Kelowna. They're in Williams Lake. They're in Prince George. They're all over Alberta. "Why did you choose Vernon? What did we do right to make you build your building here?" Because it's important.
He said: "Well, it's our home. It's a great place to do business. We've got a lot of employees here." Those are the things that we need to convince people of to keep them — certainly in our province, not just…. I mean, in my particular case I'm talking about my hometown.
This is a friendly business environment. That's why these people are here. If it's not a friendly business environment, Kal Tire, Tolko would have taken those millions of dollars and they'd have taken them out of the province. They'd like to do business here.
From the public sector side, since 2001 the province has invested $16.2 million in the Vernon school district. That includes $165,000 for 11 classroom conversions to full-day kindergarten. Two of the major projects that I've been involved in…. I was at the sod turning for both of them.
One was Coldstream Elementary School, which officially opened in 2011. I was there for the sod turning shortly after I was elected in 2009. So 375 elementary students plus 20 kindergarten spots — a $13.6 million investment in that elementary school. It's a school site that started over 100 years ago with one small one-room school, and this new school is right on the same piece of property — a great investment in our education.
Vernon secondary school, which I was pleased to take part in the sod turning, is under construction. Hopefully, they'll be ready for students by January of 2013. Madam Speaker, $42 million invested in a brand-new high school for the 950 students.
Bill Turanski, who's the chairman of school district 22, chairman of the board, spoke about Coldstream Elementary School: "A new, greener Coldstream Elementary will be of tremendous benefit to students, the Vernon school district and the Coldstream community." The Vernon secondary school, built to LEED gold standards, meets the latest seismic standards.
Also, a major, major component of the construction was wood, under our B.C. Wood First policy.
E. Foster: Wood is good. Great wood fans on our side of the House.
A few minutes south of Vernon we have UBC Okanagan — a major investment by our government.
Health care. We were fortunate enough to see the opening of the new Polson Tower last October. That's a $180 million investment, a partnership between the local hospital district and the provincial government through Interior Health. New operating rooms, new emergency, new maternity — massive investment. Talking to the professionals that work there, they're just thrilled.
A week and a half ago, with the Minister of Health, I was fortunate enough to make the announcement that the two top shelled-in floors of that hospital will be completed, and the work has already started on the planning of what those two floors are going to look like. Again, speaking to the professionals who work at that hospital, they're just thrilled about the investment.
The province has invested $2.3 billion in capital investments over the last while. As you are well aware, we made some significant announcements last week. This is an impressive record, fostering business-friendly climates, which has encouraged this kind of investment in my hometown. Make no mistake. I am extremely grateful to the private sector investors that have invested in our community. Their investment reflects the confidence they have, which the provincial government has and will continue to create an environment where they can succeed.
M. Farnworth: My colleague across the way, the Minister of Jobs — from Prince George, I might add, not Vernon — asked me not to burst the bubble. You know, in listening to the statement, I initially wondered: "How could one burst this bubble?" I mean, Vernon is a beautiful place in the Okanagan. It's a wonderful community. It's not Kelowna. It's a nice place. Kelowna is nice, but Vernon has a more small-town….
M. Farnworth: Nothing. I said Kelowna was nice, but Vernon has more of a small-town feel. It's not quite as large as Kelowna. Vernon is a beautiful place with a lot going for it. There has been a lot of private sector economic activity there, like in my own community of Port Coquitlam. The member has rightly pointed out some developments that have been taking place in the private sector, which are good for Vernon and which he is rightly proud of. I think that's great, and it's hard to argue with that.
But I think what you also have to do is look at the other side of the equation. In his remarks I think there are some points that he or the government needs to address. That's around the role of government in the public sector in providing some of the services that private sector relies on when they make a decision to expand and when they want to encourage their employees to relocate or to stay in Vernon, as in other communities.
One of the things that companies look for is a good-quality health care system. The member has made much about the expansion at Vernon Hospital. The announcement has been in place, despite a significant number of years in which the community has been campaigning
[ Page 11554 ]
for this expansion at the hospital and concern that the government was dragging its feet and not moving fast enough.
The member is talking about the accomplishment of the government, making an announcement to open up the two floors in Jubilee Hospital in Vernon — that this is great news. To a certain extent, that's something that I guess he is pleased about. But the key is to make sure that it actually follows through and it's not like so much that this government has done in the past. It is an announcement. If that's all it is, then that's not going to benefit those companies that the member has been talking about. They want to see those health care facilities up and functioning, not just announced.
The government has also got to address some of the challenges. It's not just about capital. It's also about operating. It's also recognizing that one of the key problems in the Vernon area, and in other areas of British Columbia, is around seniors care and residential care.
There is a shortage of residential care beds in the Vernon area. The result of that is that you have people in acute care beds in the hospital who shouldn't be there. That causes delays. If that's what happens when the two floors are open, without there being residential care beds in the Vernon area, then you're not going to see a significant improvement. Health care professionals — doctors and physicians — have already made that clear in the Vernon area. They want to see that addressed.
So while the member can make all the announcements he wants to, if those vital services aren't along as well, then you're not going to get the improvement that you hope to see. I hope that the member recognizes the importance of that.
If you address that issue, then truly you will be creating a much more complete and holistic system where the services provided by government complement the private sector investment, which will result in a better community for all — as opposed to what we have seen too much from the government, which has been announcements but not always the follow-through that the public expects and the follow-through that the private sector expects.
That is, I would say, one of the shortcomings of this government. We've seen it not just in Vernon but in other areas as well. I can give an example from my own community of Port Coquitlam in the Tri-Cities, where we have been waiting more than ten years for the Evergreen line to be built. There was announcement after announcement after announcement, and nothing ever really happened, and it's starting.
With that, I take my place. I look forward to continued comments from the member for Vernon-Monashee.
E. Foster: I appreciate the comments of the member for Port Coquitlam.
E. Foster: I actually do. I do appreciate his comments, because we know he's a very sincere gentleman, and there is no question about that.
I would speak to his mentioning of the recent announcement, especially, about the shelled-in floors, and I totally agree with him. We have budgeted in the 2012 budget for those two floors to be built. The planning has already started, and we've discussed….
Yes, I know you find that amusing, but if you don't put the money in the budget, you can't do the work. We're moving forward with it.
A little history lesson. I know one of the members from the other side spoke about history this morning, but one who does not learn from history does so at their own peril. So just a short history lesson.
I'm not going back to the '90s here. I'm going back to 2006, when I sat on the hospital district board, the North Okanagan–Columbia-Shuswap hospital district board. When the provincial government, through Interior Health — we were doing the planning at that time for that tower.
The provincial government came to us and said: "We need to shell in two more floors." We had to sit around and discuss whether that was a good idea. We decided to fire the money in. When they came to us at the time, they said: "We're projecting that it will be 2014 when we need those beds." They were right about everything other than the projection, because they did fall a little short on that.
We've been working on trying to figure out how we were going to fill those two floors in for quite a while. There's certainly been a lot of support from the community. I've supported it from…. It's one of the perils of being a small-town mayor and then ending up in this place. You have to back up what you said when you were the mayor and you were pounding your fist on the desk and so on. I have been very supportive. I was really happy that we were able to find the money to do that.
To your comment about operating, you're dead right. If we don't find the nurses and we can't find the techs and the doctors, it's going to be really difficult.
I just look at the record that we've had over the last ten years in health care and education, in the public sector, certainly in my riding but right across the province. We've seen huge investments from the public sector money in my riding over the last ten years. We just went through a bunch of them, and we're going to have to go through them again.
To your comment that the announcement doesn't have a lot of value without getting some dust on the floor and some nails in the wall, you're absolutely right. We will follow through on it.
ACCESSING GOVERNMENT SERVICES
M. Mungall: In beautiful downtown Thrums…. Where is that? Well, it's actually in the constituency for the member for Kootenay West, but it's not far from the border between our two constituencies. So in beautiful downtown Thrums you will find Kalesnikoff Lumber. They have a very large mill site there, and on the driveway into that mill site there is a sign, and it's there quite regularly. "Hiring. Apply on line." The way to get a job there is to apply on line. So can you imagine…?
M. Mungall: I see the Minister for Jobs, Tourism and Innovation is wondering what the website is. Perhaps he's going to be looking for a new job himself.
However, could you imagine the surprise for somebody who might be from Salmo or from Kaslo who often has to hitchhike rather than drive past on the highway because transportation is very difficult in the area? There are very few opportunities to get on public transit. There's only one bus a day, and that is the result of some hard fights by the citizens in the area.
So if you're on the bus or if you're hitchhiking from Salmo or Kaslo, and you see the sign, could you imagine your shock when you get back to your community if you don't have Internet at home and go to the public library and find that those computers with Internet access are no longer there?
That's actually exactly what is happening, because the federal government has decided to cut $515,000 from its community access program, and that means it's shutting down 135 community access program sites. What these sites do is provide Internet access in community locations like public libraries, so that people who do not have Internet at home have a free location where they can go and access on-line services, like applying for jobs, like applying at Kalesnikoff Lumber.
For Salmo, what this means is that now they are experiencing a cut from the federal government, 9 percent of the budget, 9 percent of the Salmo Public Library's budget is now being cut. That is incredibly significant. In Kaslo it was a mere $3,700.
The amount of money that's being cut might not sound like a lot, but the bang for the dollar that we as a province received from the federal government for these sites is incredible.
I'll read to you an excerpt from a letter that was sent to the federal government by Kay Hohn, who's the chair of the Salmo Public Library, and she describes what people do with those community access program computer sites.
"In our small community, which is relatively poor, public access computers allow those who cannot afford a computer or Internet connection at home to become part of the digital world. Through public access computers some of our most disadvantaged citizens can check out job and education opportunities, apply for work, apply for government programs, do income tax returns, find information, research topics of interest, communicate with friends and family, write articles, letters, read for pleasure and on and on."
No surprise. So much of what is done today in 2012 is done on line. Very few people write letters home to family members any more. We write e-mails instead, or perhaps we Facebook. All of this requires on-line access.
The only way to apply for employment insurance is on line. You can't pick up a phone. You cannot go to an office and apply with paper. You have to do it on line, and if you are in Salmo, you have one bus a week to the Nelson Service Canada centre. If you are in Kaslo, you have one bus a week that leaves at one point in the day to access the Service Canada centre in Nelson. Otherwise, you have to find your own way of transportation, and if you don't have a car, that means you're hitchhiking, which is highly unrecommended, because it's not a safe mode of transportation.
Today they can do that type of application on line, but once this cut comes in, they will no longer be able to. What is that going to mean for British Columbia? When someone cannot apply for EI, for example, they go without income. They go without income.
Some 70 percent of the determinants of health are social, and income is right in there. If someone cannot afford food, if they cannot afford shelter, if they cannot afford electricity, if they cannot afford to heat their homes, they become sick. Then they have to go to a hospital. That impacts a huge budget item for the province. For merely $3,700 a year in Kaslo, that could have been prevented, because somebody would have had access on line.
What is so disappointing is that as this downloading occurs in this program, it's not the only part of the federal government downloading. There are multiple areas in which the federal government is downloading and hindering people, British Columbians, from accessing services here in British Columbia. I think a really good example is the moving of immigration offices to Calgary. Calgary is not the epicentre for immigration. One of the epicentres in Canada is Vancouver. But we're losing our immigration office to Calgary. It makes no sense.
At the end of the day, the question is: who is going to pick up the tab? Who is going to pick up the tab for this downloading of services? Is it going to be the provincial government? Is it going to be the people of British Columbia? If so, who is speaking for us?
B. Bennett: Good morning, and thank you to the member for her statement. When I saw that the title of the member's statement was "Accessing Government Services," I made the silly assumption that we'd be talking about provincial services, British Columbia services, but it seems we are talking mostly about federal services. Let me say that I stand with the member, united with her. The federal government should restore those lost services immediately.
[ Page 11556 ]
But let me say a little bit about provincial services, which I would suggest is more germane to us here in this provincial Legislature. The member talked about Internet — people being able to apply for jobs, people being able to access information needing Internet.
This government has made great efforts to provide connectivity around the province, including the Kootenay region. In fact, the Kootenay region, under something called the Columbia Mountain Open Network, was one of the first regions in British Columbia to form a partnership with TELUS, with the provincial government and with local government to connect some of our smaller communities.
All of our communities in the Kootenays now have a hub and have the capacity now, even the small ones, for a private provider to do the house-by-house and business-by-business hookup. We are working towards Internet connectivity. We are going from a goal that we established of having 93 percent of the population connected, to 97 percent, and we will go to a goal soon of having 100 percent of British Columbians in a position where they can connect to the Internet.
That is far ahead of any other province in the country. It is something that this side of the House is very proud of. It is important, and particularly important to the people who live in places like the Kootenay region.
We have a lot of mountains in the Kootenays, a lot of narrow valleys that are hard to get in and out of. We have invested a lot over the last 11 years in our highways, but nonetheless, it is still difficult. There's a reason why it takes 12 hours to drive from Cranbrook to Vancouver. When you look at the map, it doesn't look like it's that far, but of course the roads go back and forth through the mountain valleys and through a few passes.
The need for Internet in rural B.C. is obviously important in lots of different ways, and I agree with the member on that. I would point out, with respect, that when we signed the most recent contract with TELUS that will enable us to achieve that 100 percent connectivity, the opposition voted against it. I should also say….
B. Bennett: Really. They voted against it.
I would also like to say that through that TELUS contract, we are not only creating connectivity in terms of being able to access the Internet for people in small communities and people who live not in a community but out in the mountains. We're also working with TELUS to expand cell coverage in British Columbia.
I know that in my case in Kootenay East there's an area that goes down to the U.S. border, down to Montana and on the other side Idaho. It didn't have cell coverage. It was an area that people like to recreate in. It's called Lake Koocanusa.
Some folks came forward a few years back and said: "You know, it's not safe to not have cell service in this area." There are a lot of people coming in to recreate from Alberta. A lot of folks who live in the Kootenays recreate in the area. In fact, one gentleman did actually have a heart attack and almost died because of a lack of cell service and not being able to get the paramedics there on time. So TELUS stepped up and actually put a tower in and provided cell service to that area.
They're going to be doing the same thing in areas of the Kootenay region, including the member's riding, to create cell service in places where we don't have it. It's a public safety issue. In the middle of the winter if you slide off the road somewhere between Salmo and Creston, it would be a good thing to be able to call somebody.
Government is well aware of that, and with this new contract with TELUS, we'll be able to address those cell coverage deficiencies. In the 11 years that I've been an MLA, in terms of access to government services, we have far greater access to health care, far greater access to education and social services than we did before.
M. Mungall: I don't know if all of my constituents would agree with the final statement from the member previous about how access to health care is so much better. I know that in my area in terms of access to health care, it's something that we've been fighting for, for the last ten years since most of the services were moved to the Trail Hospital, as it's our new regional hospital.
I think it's important to note that when the member previous interpreted my statement as being one of a focus on federal government services, that's not the case at all.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The point I'm making is that this Internet access allowed people who do not have Internet at home to be able to access a wide variety of services, and that access had a positive benefit for British Columbia and for this government.
A good example…. I use the example of EI. Let's talk about some of the services that the provincial government provides. For example, if a student going to a private institution in any rural community — as there are many — had a complaint or wanted to learn more about that institution, the only place to get information from the Private Career Training Institutions Agency, PCTIA, is on line.
To get their phone number and so on, you've got to go on line. Especially if you're in Salmo, you don't have the phone book for Burnaby, where their office is, to make a phone call. You've got to go on line to find out what their phone number is.
That's just one example of somebody now being denied access to provincial government services simply because they don't have Internet at home, simply because they
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live in one of the communities where there are 135 sites being shut down by the federal government.
The question is: when this type of downloading occurs, where is the provincial government in standing up for British Columbians? It is incumbent upon the government of British Columbia to speak out, to say that these types of cutbacks, this type of downloading, are going to hurt our province.
It's going to hurt people living here, and it's going to have a negative impact on our economy. People around this province, including Salmo and Kaslo, when it comes to their community access program, are wondering: where is the Liberal government on this issue?
Hon. I. Chong: I now call private members' motions.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, unanimous consent of this House is required to proceed with Motion 44 without disturbing the priorities of motions preceding it on the order paper.
Private Members' Motions
MOTION 44 — EXTRACURRICULAR
R. Hawes: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to stand and move the motion:
[Be it resolved that this House supports B.C. teachers' and parents' right to provide volunteer extracurricular school activities to students without fear of intimidation or job loss.]
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Let me start by saying that the B.C. teachers union, the B.C. Teachers Federation, has made it very clear that extracurricular activities are volunteer work by teachers and have nothing to do with their employment contract. They're completely voluntarily, yet the union has deigned to say that all of those activities should be withdrawn by all teachers. Their volunteer after-school time or even during their lunch hours…. Their volunteer private time is being dictated to through the union.
I try to imagine another labour union anywhere that would tell its members during a dispute with the employers: "Withdraw all of your community support or your community volunteer work or your work with children to punish someone" — and I guess in the end it's the children — "because we want to show somebody that we're not just united but that we're going to try to ratchet this up to make people settle with us." That doesn't happen.
When we talk now about intimidation, Susan Lambert, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, has basically said that teachers could make their own decisions on whether they wanted to do volunteer time with kids, or if they choose to continue, there could be some sanctions taken against them. It's very cloudy.
I want to make it clear that by withdrawing services to kids, extracurricular work with kids, especially now, there's going to be a lot of kids who have worked all year on sports or on music programs or on arts programs, who are not going to be able to deliver that which they have worked the entire year on. Those activities will build memories for life.
Many of us here, through our school time and through high school, have memories of the work that you did during the whole year on some activity. Then you got out and performed, and whether you won or lost, you remember that activity. In fact, for many of us, we won the track meet and we scored the winning touchdown in our minds, even though in reality it may not be. But memories over time tend to get much more….
K. Krueger: Self-serving.
R. Hawes: Well, not self-serving. I think that what they tend to do is get much more elaborate as we talk to our kids and grandkids about how great we were.
Anyway, what I wanted to say was, in terms of intimidation…. Let me give you a few quotes. President Derek DeGear of the Nanaimo teachers union said that teachers could lose their union membership, which means in British Columbia that they lose their job if they volunteer on their own private time.
Let me give you a quote. "There are several avenues that could be taken if some teachers choose to continue offering voluntary services, and that would be up to the BCTF. The BCTF could decide to publicize the names of the teachers or even withdraw their union membership, which is needed for them to teach." If this is not intimidation….
The BCTF is saying that's not really part of it, but they could, though, publish the breach. They could serve a warning, reprimand the member or withhold payment for them going to any union functions. There are a number of things they could do.
I have talked to many teachers over the years who really know and who feel intimidated by the B.C. Teachers Federation, who have been threatened with withdrawal of their membership for various activities that they want to do in their own time. That's just reprehensible.
Kids should never be used as pawns in disputes between adults. That's the cardinal thing. No right-thinking person would ever say that kids should be used as a pawn in a labour dispute or any other kind of dispute between adults.
I want to congratulate the teachers who have stepped out and said, "No, I'm going to continue working with
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these kids," who have continued to say: "In my volunteer time with kids, that's my time. I'm going to continue doing what I've always done, because I care about kids." I also want to say shame on those teachers who say we are going to use those kids as pawns.
I hope the opposition will join with us in looking after the kids of this province by saying this intimidation is reprehensible.
N. Macdonald: I look at this motion, and it's something a little ridiculous, coming from the B.C. Liberal members who voted to fine teachers and their organizations literally millions of dollars if they stand up to an imposed contract. Then the member comes in here and talks about intimidation. It is just a completely ridiculous assertion. It's a ridiculous assertion.
Look, this motion is the B.C. Liberals in a complete free fall. They are floundering around, looking for some sort of a wedge issue. Their latest attempt is to get out there and to try to villainize teachers. Let's be clear on this. They are willing to risk dividing teachers. They are willing to risk dividing teachers and parents.
I worked as a teacher, and I worked as a principal. When I was a principal, there was a day of action that was going to take place. I told my staff, "Whatever you do, you need to all do the same thing," because when you're trying to run a school, you need cohesion. "You need to be together as a school. You need parents, and parents need us."
Now, these are very difficult days for public education. The B.C. Liberals across the way have seen to that. The B.C. Liberal members must know the damage that they are doing.
The latest attempt to bring divisions into the school to serve some — and let's be clear — narrow self-interest is fundamentally wrong. This motion is fundamentally wrong. The B.C. Liberals know how dysfunctional they are. They are just a rabble right now with no cohesion, but the work that they do here is nowhere near as important as the work done in a school. It is nowhere near as important as the work done in the school.
You have teachers that need to teach. They need to keep children safe. They need to nurture. We're talking about what is most important to us. I would suggest — there are grandparents here — that you ask a parent, or you can ask your spouse, about when they first dropped a child off to kindergarten. You ask what they felt at that time. The most important person that they had was the child, and they were turning it over to an institution. They were turning it over to a teacher. That institution had to work properly.
I can tell you as a teacher and as a principal that the political motivation for this — to divide teachers and to divide parents from teachers — is beyond the pale. You should not be doing it. There is some representative of the Canadian arm of the Republican Party sitting in the Premier's office that's telling you to put this motion forward and risk the destruction that it causes.
So go ahead, stand up and have your say, but it is beyond the pale. You are doing damage, as you have for the past ten years, to the B.C. public education system, and it is fundamentally wrong.
If there were members who thought for themselves on that side, they would look at this resolution, look at this motion, and realize how contemptible it is to put this forward, to hope to divide teachers, to hope to divide parents and teachers for pure, narrow political interest.
The sooner the election comes, the better. It is not only me who wants rid of this group. It is the people of British Columbia. The sooner there's an election, the better.
J. Les: I wanted to take just a few minutes this morning. When I saw the motion that was coming forward, I saw it as an opportunity to stand up for the children of British Columbia, because the people that are being hurt by the actions that are going on in our education system today are the children of British Columbia. It is wrong….
Deputy Speaker: Members. Members. I'm having difficulty hearing the member who has the floor.
J. Les: I think we should perhaps lower the temperature a little bit in the House this morning. These are pretty important issues that we're talking about.
As members of this House well know, I have 15 grandchildren, and the education of those grandkids is pretty important to me. I have a six-year-old, for example, who's in grade 1 this year and just the other day got his first report card. He has gone all of that time in grade 1, which I think many people would agree — and certain members of this House are teachers — is a pretty formative year for kids as they're going to school. Now, happily, he's doing very, very well. But it certainly was strange to go through almost all of the school year without a report card for my grandson.
That's just one example, one of the effects that we've seen. Now that we've moved to another stage — we're in mediation now with the teachers union — you would think that everyone on all sides would cool down for a while and allow the mediation process to proceed. But no. Apparently, now the union has decided that there is to be a ban on volunteerism.
What people do with their private time in their own way ought to be their own business and ought not to be the stuff of a union edict. I really don't understand why volunteering by teachers ought to be banned.
With the threats that have gone with that, as the previous member has already pointed out, you have teachers associations, such as in Nanaimo, for example, openly
[ Page 11559 ]
threatening the loss of membership in the B.C. Teachers Federation. That is wrong. That is a demonstration of bullying, the very thing that we should not be demonstrating in front of our children.
I would hope that people would just back off and allow the process to continue. There's a mediator in place. There's a mediation process there. It's time to stand up for our children and determine what is fair.
Sure, there is legislation now in place that provides for zero-and-zero for the teachers of this province. The teachers came off of a contract that gave them a 16 percent increase. Other public servants right across this province have also had zero-and-zero in their most recent contracts, so the current situation is nothing less than fair.
It has been democratically determined in this House. All of those issues that are still open to mediation can still be broadly discussed in the months ahead, and I hope that there will be some successful resolve. But in the meantime, let us please quit hurting our children. It is wrong, and ought to have no place in the province of British Columbia.
C. James: I want to start by using some of the previous member's quotes. He said: "Right now in the education system we should back off. We should stand up for our children. We should lower the temperature." Well, this motion does anything but. If the government wanted to show some leadership, they would build a relationship with teachers in our province. That's what would improve things for students in our province.
The previous member on the other side talked about students remembering extracurricular activities. Well, that's very true. Students do remember extracurricular activities. They remember the extraordinary teachers who gave their time and energy, in addition to their job, to provide those activities for students. That's what they remember.
They remember those incredible moments — my children included, and now my grandchildren included. They remember those teachers who took that time at the end of an incredibly busy day, at the end of many stressful days, to provide the extra time and energy.
Both my children learned to ski through extracurricular activities. Skiing isn't a big part of our family's lives. They had the opportunity to do that because of extracurricular activities, because of a teacher who took the time to provide that extra support to their students. That's what teachers do in our province. Despite the lack of leadership and support from the government on the other side, teachers provide an incredible learning environment for our students in British Columbia.
I find it extraordinary, after we've gone through what we've gone through, with the government bringing in a bill picking a fight with teachers…. Instead, what we see is the government continuing that debate and that argument.
Just think if we were here in the Legislature this morning and we had a motion that came forward that talked about how we could better serve students with special needs in our province. Think about bringing forward a motion that talks about how we could improve educational outcomes for aboriginal students in our province. Think about if we brought forward a motion that talked about how we could strengthen our school libraries, about how we could actually talk about defining B.C.'s education plan.
I sat through some of the estimates for Education with the minister, and I heard the minister talking about money they've put aside to advertise B.C.'s education plan, the new individualized learning.
Well, I think we could have used our time and energy, instead of picking a fight with teachers through Bill 22, in talking about how we could work together with teachers to improve our education system. That's how we're going to improve our education system.
I feel incredibly grateful that I've gone through the public school system. My children have gone through the public school system here in British Columbia — and my grandchildren now. I feel grateful for the incredible job that teachers do. When I take a look at what this government has done to damage the relationship, to pick a fight, to make it more difficult to bring people together in our education system…. Nothing is more important than building a strong education system that provides opportunities for every student in our province.
That's what will build a more equal province. That's what will get people out of the cycle of poverty. A strong education system is critical to a strong economy, and what do we see? We see the government on the other side ignoring all of those facts and deciding instead that maybe it's to their political benefit to pick a fight in the education system. Well, we don't believe in that on this side. We believe in building those relationships.
It will not always be easy. I sat as a school trustee for 11 years. We've had differences and difficulties, but if you respect the people on the other side, if you provide respect for the job that teachers do in our province, then you can move ahead on improving the education system for students and do right by British Columbia's students.
Yet we don't see that. We don't see any sign of that, and this motion is one more example of a lack of support coming forward by the B.C. Liberals for our education system — a lack of support. I find it extraordinary that we're not here debating strengthening our public education system, that we're not here debating supporting teachers in our province.
R. Cantelon: We heard earlier from the member on this side of Derek DeGear's position with respect to allusions that there might be recriminations for members
[ Page 11560 ]
who broke ranks with the union. I know Derek well. I've had regular annual meetings with Derek as the president of the local teachers union, and I've found him quite a reasonable person. And Kip Wood, the past president, put the motion forward which was adopted by the teachers.
Here we have some quite reasonable people doing things that would seem to say: "We want to punish the teachers." What's interesting, though, is that Derek completely recanted that. He realized he was overstepping the bounds of his authority, in terms of interpreting the rules of the teachers union, and withdrew.
I think what's more telling is the fact that both he and Kip decided they'd had enough. I'm not going to impute motives, but they clearly said that the stress of this position of putting themselves between the teachers and the students and the parents was enough.
I concur with those who say it's not working. I think in our discussions with Derek, we had some very workable solutions. One of their biggest concerns was post and fill, and that can be done at the board level in an amicable way with a model that will work for the entire province.
When the member opposite, as a former principal, talks about cohesion and talks about narrow self-interest, I was kind of wondering what cohesion means. I put the question to him. Does cohesion mean we obey the rules and we don't obey the rules by the BCTF, and does cohesion mean we don't do extracurricular? If that's the case, I would not support what he's saying.
Does narrow self-interest mean the narrow self-interest of supporting the goals of the teachers union within the teacher — that that must be of supreme importance? Then I don't support what the member opposite says.
I think we need to work together. Obviously, the situation right now is bad. In Nanaimo one of the biggest events of the year is at the Port Theatre. It's a beautiful facility that seats 800.
We do the annual awards for children for achievement. It's not just for the students, but the students are the big benefactors. It's for the parents; it's for the siblings; it's for the teachers. The teachers take great pride in extolling the achievements of these students as they receive their awards, their bursary awards. It's a wonderful moment, and it's shared by all the other students.
You hear in the crowd…. It seems a little out of place, because it's a fairly structured kind of semi-formal event — as formal as anything involving a bunch of high school kids could be, which is to say not all that formal. You hear these whoops and cheers from the fellow students as their friends get awards.
So they all take part in this, and they all look forward to this. It's a great event. This is their graduation year as they move forward to new challenges. This kind of achievement and these kinds of awards are inspiring to them. It gives them hope and expectation of moving forward to the next phase of their career.
That is all gone. Not this year. This class won't have any bright memories. This class won't have that moment standing in the Port Theatre in front of their friends and relatives, saying: "I did something. I'm worthwhile. I'm a good person. I can succeed." That is gone and gone forever.
R. Cantelon: Those are the kinds of memories that have been robbed by this dissension, which is encouraged by the member on the opposite side that is talking right now, encouraging this division. That's the problem.
Deputy Speaker: If I might take this moment to remind members to make their comments through the Chair.
G. Coons: I rise to speak to this motion put forward by the member for Abbotsford-Mission. I did read it, and I'm a bit confused, where it says about "B.C. teachers' and parents' right to provide...school activities to students without fear of intimidation or job loss." What do parents have to do with intimidation and job loss?
I think this motion put before us is reprehensible. I think it's here to divide and inflame the issue. It's outrageous that this government doesn't acknowledge that they got the public education system and teachers and students and support workers in this position to begin with, with Bill 27 and Bill 28 — unconstitutional bills that just destroyed public education over the last ten years.
You've also got to look at Bill 22, a radical assault on teachers and their profession. Bill 22 was bullying legislation, and the fines are punitive in the extreme. It's a clear attempt to intimidate teachers. This government doesn't realize or doesn't acknowledge that they're the ones that got public education into the situation we're in right now, which is not working.
Now I'll get into a bit of information for the member, a bit of homework. If the member had looked at the teachers' action plan and had gone to the teachers member guide, over 200 pages, which has a code of ethics…. That side of the government really doesn't understand code of ethics. It's got fair, respectful motions in there, resolutions to disputes.
Under 44.20 of the collective strategies, what ends up happening…. It's not the BCTF that determines strategies. It's teachers, individual teachers in every community of this province, working hard for students and to make this public education system better, contrary to what this Liberal government has done in the last ten years.
Now, under the code of ethics of the BCTF, in the members' guide…. If the member for Abbotsford-Mission had
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done his homework, he'd know that if there's an issue with this action plan, a member takes it forward to the local president, and the president takes it to the field officer of the BCTF, who looks at a voluntary resolution. If a voluntary resolution to the complaint cannot be done, then it goes to a judicial council, which is a fair screening of the code of ethics agreed to by every teacher in this province to make education better — not what this government has been doing in the last ten years.
There's a screening panel that looks at it, and if it goes to the hearing, they could do sanctions, which is just to publicize a breach — a warning, a reprimand. But again, there's an appeal process.
Again, this government takes this issue and is using it as a political tool to divide public education and to reach their full goal of pushing the private schools.
Now, I'm noticing my time here. I guess what I want to conclude with…. I had a nice letter from a coach that was printed in the North Shore News. I think members on the other side should read it. Maybe I'll send it to you.
The president of the B.C. Principals and Vice-Principals Association says that school culture has been eroded this year by the dispute between this government and the teachers — not the BCTF, the teachers. The teachers are working hard in every region of this province. "There's no sign there's a resolution at hand, and if it continues for another year, the negative effects will be long term and profound.... A respectful, workable solution must be found...to protect the long-term viability of public education and to continue to give students the opportunities they need."
Where we are right now is because this government has enacted legislation that has eroded public education, has been destructive to the whole system and has intimidated teachers.
D. Barnett: I support this motion, and I think all members should re-read the motion. We're talking about….
Deputy Speaker: Excuse me, Members.
D. Barnett: We are talking about students, we are talking about youth, we are talking about the future, and we're talking about hope. We are talking about issues here that I don't believe the opposition understands.
I would like to go back and read some information that I have and that I know is correct. I'd like to read the opposition's record back in the '90s.
Sadly, no one knows where they stand on the teachers union's actions. It is time for the NDP to stand up and tell their union friends what they really think about the withdrawal of extracurricular activities. The NDP have always sided with unions, putting their interests over the interests of students. The NDP feel the teachers union should run schools, rather than parents and elected school boards. They would remove teachers as an essential service.
In fact, in the 1990s the NDP did just that, in 1992, when they scrapped the essential service legislation for education. The 1990s NDP were unsuccessful in negotiating even one agreement with the BCTF since provincewide bargaining began in 1994.
Parents play a key role in encouraging, facilitating and organizing kids' extracurricular activities in their children's schools. The NDP put their big-labour backers ahead of parents' right to volunteer. They stood by in the 1990s while unions prevented parents from volunteering.
The NDP have repeatedly opposed measures to provide stability for students taking part in extracurricular activities. In the 1990s the NDP Volunteers Minister and Education Minister did nothing while CUPE actively prevented parents from coaching sports, volunteering in their children's schools and stopped parents from doing things like sorting library books and serving lunches.
We have some of the best teachers in the world in the province of British Columbia. Many of my friends are teachers. Many of my friends also are very concerned about what the BCTF is imposing upon them for their volunteer work. What a sad, sad province we would live in if the rotarians and the Lions and the parents and the seniors all stopped volunteering because some union said: "You can't do it. If you do, we are going to impose restrictions upon your family."
This has to stop. What are we teaching our children? Not the right thing. Volunteerism is the best thing that could happen in our schools.
D. Barnett: You know, if you don't want to volunteer, you don't have to. It is your choice, but that should be your choice, not the BCTF's.
For those who wish to volunteer, good on them. Those that don't, don't have to. Leave the opportunity to those that choose to. But when a union can impose sanctions upon people who are volunteering their own time, their own energy and their own effort to pave the way for the youth of our province, it is a sad, sad day.
We must all stand up and support this resolution.
K. Corrigan: I rise also to speak on this resolution, which says: "Be it resolved that this House supports B.C. teachers' and parents' right to provide volunteer extracurricular school activities to students without fear of intimidation or job loss."
I am tremendously interested in the public education system. I was a school trustee in my district — district 41, Burnaby — for nine years and a chair for two years.
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The reason I became involved in politics was my intense interest and passion for a strong public education system.
I volunteered as a parent in the schools with my four children — hours and hours every week, year after year, for probably around 15 years — and on the parent advisory council and on the district parent advisory council. So this is a passion for me.
It is critically important at this point that we preserve the integrity of the public school system. I believe that it is very unfortunate that this motion is being brought to this House right now, when we are at such a critical time in terms of supporting our public education system and retaining the trust of the public, of parents, of teachers and of students in the public education system. I think it is most unfortunate, because what this does is like poking the teachers and poking the parents to try to create more upheaval at a time when what we need is healing. And we need trust at this point.
We have gone through a very difficult time with Bill 22. We have a lot of people in the system — teachers — who are feeling hurt. They're feeling like the government is deliberately attacking them and doing everything it can to make this relationship not work. I think it's very unfortunate that that has happened. This is simply another move by this government in order to create dissension and wedges within the ranks of everybody in the school system — not just the teachers but also the parents, the administrators and everybody else involved in the system.
I think that it's a most unfortunate and most unstatesmanlike type of motion to bring. It shows a real lack of maturity by this government to bring a motion like this at a time when things are so critical and we are trying to resolve very serious issues in the education system.
I know that this is a difficult time for teachers. I know that parents and teachers…. I mean, let's be honest about it. Many are struggling. Many are struggling with the fact that extracurricular activities are not being offered, because both the parents and the teachers are so dedicated, so professional and so caring about these students in the system and know how much those extracurricular activities mean to those students.
That's why — year after year, day after day, month after month — teachers do volunteer to do the extracurricular activities like track and field at this time of the year, all the different music and arts programs. They do a wonderful service for our students.
So yes, this is difficult for many teachers and parents. But what it does come down to is respect for teachers. I certainly said that when I was speaking about Bill 22.
The teachers are desperate to get a resolution. They feel that they have been treated badly by this government. They are trying to get a resolution, and this is one tool that they feel they've been pushed to do.
They have very few opportunities, little that they can do, to oppose this government and to represent their workers, represent their profession, given the way they've been treated by government. They feel forced into what they have done.
I think it's very unfortunate that we have a government that, at a time when things are so critical and should be being resolved…. Instead, what we get is a government that has decided that it's going to bring a motion like this to this House and try to make it worse, rather than do the healing and do the work that needs to be done to resolve the issue.
M. Dalton: I do want to speak to this motion and support it.
First of all, I do want to express my appreciation to all teachers and all parents who are involved in extracurricular activities. It's an absolutely integral part of the education process.
Academically. We know that students that are involved in extracurricular activities and sports do better academically. There are the health benefits. We know that for students that are involved in school sports, a larger percentage of them continue with sports the rest of their lives. Those are the long-term health benefits.
Civic engagement. We are concerned about students, young people, being involved in political processes. Well, this right here gets them engaged, involved, and it helps as far as civic engagement.
School culture and spirit. Extracurricular activities, sports, are just a key component to this. I know that the superintendent in school district 42, my school district, says right now that she knows it feels flat. There's a big difference. The school spirit — it's just been deflated.
I do want to also say this as a public school teacher. I taught for 15 years in public schools.
The role of the parent volunteers. About six years ago this government brought in the Protection of Volunteers Amendment Act, which allows parents to volunteer for a school. I know that in my various capacities in teaching, whether it be as a teacher-librarian…. We had parents helping out, whether it be with books, distribution, working in fairs — whatever it may be. That really helped.
Also, when I did school trips, parents were there helping out with the kids. Also with sports. They're just an integral part of schools and for students, as far as benefitting them with regards to extracurricular activities.
I know this stands in contrast to the NDP, which actually choked out volunteerism inside of the schools, so I think this is important. I'm glad that we have parent involvement right now, because it is making a difference even now with those extracurricular activities that are going forward.
My experience. I was not only a public school teacher, but I was also a BCTF union rep. From the inside…. I got to go to the assemblies. I did work on behalf of teachers and saw things such as year-round salaries being intro-
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duced in my school district and other things that I was involved in.
What became very clear to me was that the BCTF union leadership is really interested in political activism, about having one party in, and that is not this government. That's what it's about. That is the whole agenda.
I remember a meeting I had with the BCTF union president. It was at a supper meeting with other reps. This was prior to the 2005 election, and it was Jinny Sims. We discussed…. I brought it forward. I said: "You know what? We need to advocate for kids and teachers, but let's keep partisan politics out of it." She said: "Yes, yes. That's what we're going to do." Well, that isn't what happens.
As we went forward into the 2005 election, every day I remember posting and distributing flyers essentially attacking the government and essentially supporting the NDP. So I decided: "This is ridiculous. I am resigning as a union rep, because it is about political activism." And that is the case today. It is political activism that is happening.
Now, we shouldn't be surprised. Well, for one thing, Jinny Sims…. Where is she right now? Well, she ran against the member for Vancouver-Kensington for the NDP nomination and lost. Then she ran for the NDP in Surrey and is now a Member of Parliament. We have that. We have another member, David Chudnovsky, who was also a president of the BCTF, and he was a member right here. And I would not be surprised one bit to see Susan Lambert.
This is political activism. This is about getting teachers very upset and frustrated, and that's this whole process. Why is it that we've had over 150 agreements with public sector unions but we don't have it with the BCTF leadership? They are misinforming the teachers. They're upset.
I want to say…. I hope that teachers will follow through and realize what the BCTF union leadership is doing.
L. Krog: I'm pleased to rise in this debate this morning. I want to confess a certain bias here. My wife, the first few years of our marriage, taught. My mother was a teacher, my great-grandfather was a teacher, and my sister-in-law just recently retired after 35 years in public education.
I'm not entirely surprised by the attack levelled by the member for Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows on the BCTF as being, often, headed by people who are sympathetic to the New Democratic Party. It's not illogical that the party that stands for social economic justice would be — how shall I say? — supported by people who teach.
If history has taught us anything, it is that great move towards democracy and progressives and radicals throughout history that has created the society we live in today, in which we have a public education system, as opposed to a system of education which is only available to those who can afford it or is provided through charity. Public education is one of the great hallmarks of our civilized society.
I'm troubled this morning by the choice of the government, because it is the government's choice to put this motion forward. It's not the member for Abbotsford-Mission, with great respect, although I'm sure he's a very powerful member of that caucus. The reality is that this is a government choice to put this motion in front of the House today.
We have just gone through a period in this province where the government pushed through legislation that put the teachers back to work; so narrowed the conditions of the mediator appointed by the legislation that it makes the process a joke; has engaged in bringing in legislation that, as the member from Golden pointed out, potentially levies millions of dollars of fines. One would have thought this would have been a morning to talk about something that was perhaps a little less provocative — a little less provocative.
What is it that the Bible says? "As you sow, shall you also reap." That's not the exact quote.
Essentially, this government has created this horrendous battle with our public educators. Then, after nominally winning the battle, at least in this Legislature — by bringing in Bill 22, by putting the teachers back to work, by forcing conditions on them which were unpopular…. Indeed, when it came to a teachers' strike, it managed, I think, to drive up support for the teachers past 50 percent for the first time in British Columbia history and now brings forward this motion. To do what?
What is this going to achieve this morning? It is gasoline on a fire. One of the most ridiculous statements I heard from the other side was the member for Chilliwack, when he said: "…to stand up for the children of British Columbia…." Eight years in a row the highest rate of child poverty in Canada, and that member says they want to stand up for the children of B.C.
I want to say to the government side that if you want to stand up for the children of British Columbia, then fund public education appropriately. Recognize that the rate of autism in our school system is rising and rising. One in 50 male children who go to school now have identified autism and require significant assistance.
Recognize that our classrooms are our future. Recognize that our children are our future. But don't bring motions into this House that are unnecessarily provocative, that continue to drive a fight into the public education system, which every thinking member in this chamber and every thinking British Columbian acknowledges is the future of this province.
We will not compete with the Chinas, the Indias, the Brazils and the Russias on the basis of environmental standards or wage standards or labour standards — all right? We are a progressive society. The only way we will compete is if we have a solidly well-educated populous, and that is through public education. So we should be defending public education in this chamber this morning, not attacking it with this entirely unnecessary and
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provocative motion that the members on the other side chose deliberately to bring forward.
You won. You got the teachers back to work under a scheme which most British Columbians believe is repugnant and dictatorial. So maybe it's time to just sit back and focus on some solutions — to talk about, maybe, a motion that supports public education in general; maybe a motion that supports increasing funding for those kids in our school system who have special needs; maybe a motion that supports what we believe to be the future of our province, which is our children, and that maybe stops attacking teachers.
Just for once abandon your historic Social Credit roots that had a nasty streak of anti-teacher in them, which we saw year after year, and support public education.
Deputy Speaker: I will once again remind members to direct their comments through the Chair.
J. Rustad: I'm pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this motion.
I just want, before I get into the bulk of my comments, to comment on something that the member for Nanaimo just said about this motion being provocative and divisive. How can "provocative and divisive" be used for a resolution that talks about supporting teachers and supporting their rights to volunteer and to work with students and for the improvement of their education and for the improvement of students? How can that be divisive?
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
How can it be divisive to say that they should be able to do this without fear of intimidation or job loss? How is that something that is divisive? How is that something that is provocative? That should be the norm. That should be the accepted. We should be celebrating those sorts of things in this House, not thinking of them as being something that is a problem even for discussion.
I want to quote from Susan Lambert, president of the BCTF, from CKNW, April 20, 2012. "The code of ethics also says that we act in each others' interest. We act as a collective, so there is recourse for individual teachers who feel that their colleagues are not acting in the collective interest to take complaints to the local level and for the locals to address that."
In a separate interview on that same day with CBC there was a question that was put to the president of the BCTF, saying, "Look, this is primarily designed to impact students," and she said proudly: "Absolutely."
When you think about the education system and the extracurricular activities and the extraordinary work that teachers have done, it's phenomenal. I've been to so many classes. I've talked to teachers. I've talked to students. I've seen the difference that those little extras can make in the system.
There is no place better than in our school systems for the evidence of how you can truly be able to shape and help a student become a good citizen, to become a member of our society that's contributing. And those little extras are what are so significant.
But it makes me wonder, when you think about extracurricular activity. Teachers are paid to teach the curriculum. If something is extra-curriculum, it's volunteer. It's outside of the mandate of what they're paid to do.
So how is it that the union has the power and strength to say to somebody that they cannot do something, when it's not even part of the mandate within the teaching of the education system? And then to use threats to force teachers to be able to comply with that — I find that totally and completely unacceptable.
I had a group of students who wrote me letters recently from an activity that they were involved in and created. They went off on their own, and they drove this. It was an activity from the Sowchea Bay elementary school, in the Be Seen Be Safe project that they did. It is something that they're very proud of. They went forward, and their teachers supported it fully, regardless of the fact that there was the dispute that was going on.
The principal supported it. The parents supported it. The whole community supported it. It became something much greater within the community. And for those students…. I had a chance to meet with some of them and talk with them just recently. They saw the value of what they did. They saw the value of being able to participate and to work as a group and what they could actually achieve.
I would argue that that lesson is something that will stay with them all their life, far more than virtually any other lesson that they were taught throughout the education system. And it was through the volunteer extracurricular activities that those differences were made.
If you think, once again, about what this motion is talking about, it's supporting teachers, supporting things going forward. If this is the way that the BCTF wants to act…. One of the other members mentioned about how this is the most democratic group and organization. If it's democratic, why on earth would it be using threats?
If it really wants to go down this road…. Do they really want us to start talking about the right to work? Is that where they want this thing to go? I mean, I don't think we should be going there, but good gosh, sir. We need to be thinking about what is right for students, not taking activities that, in the quote of Susan Lambert, "absolutely will be impacting students."
So as we debate, as we've debated many times in this Legislature, about education and improving the education system, I want to engage with the teachers in the province. I know that they want to engage with me. I have had many conversations with them.
We need to go forward, to look for ways beyond this relationship issue that clouds and poisons our educa-
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tion system. But this motion speaks to the heart of what we need to be doing, which is supporting teachers, supporting the activities, supporting extracurricular activities and being able to do it without fear.
J. Rustad moved adjournment of debate.
Hon. I. Chong moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:58 a.m.
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