2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Volume 26, Number 6
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 3 — Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. M. MacDiarmid
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 3 — Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 6 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. S. Thomson
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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2011
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. I. Chong: I call committee on Bill 3, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011.
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 3 — Freedom of Information and
Protection of Privacy
Amendment Act, 2011
The House in Committee of the Whole on Bill 3; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 10:04 a.m.
On section 27 (continued).
D. Routley: We're discussing section 27, amending section 71, records without request. It pertains to the categories and types of records that will be mandatory for proactive and routine disclosure. Some of my questions were related to how the determinations will be made around which categories of information will be released.
The minister closed debate by saying that she felt proud that B.C. is the first jurisdiction to do this. I would like to point out that there are many other jurisdictions that engage in routine and proactive disclosure: the city of Vancouver, the city of Nanaimo, the U.S. federal government. This legislation has some unique features, and we should be encouraging a move towards routine and proactive disclosure.
The types of information. The minister said that because there are so many public bodies, there can't possibly be a categorization or a consistency from one public body to another about the types of information that might be released. Is it not possible for us to arrive at an agreement that basic categories of information should be released routinely by all public bodies, including administrative salaries, business plans and documents that would be common to every organization?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: It is true that the trend toward open government is something that's spreading around the world, and there certainly are cities and countries that have already got firmly established records on this. We're the first Canadian province that's actually going in this direction, and that's what I referred to. But the member opposite is quite correct that this is a growing trend.
With respect to routine release and actually determining categories, the next amendment, which we'll get to, talks about how we're going to do that for ministries. For public bodies, we're not doing that to begin with. To begin with, as I mentioned yesterday, the expectation is that they will look at which kinds of things they will proactively disclose.
But the kind of work the member opposite is talking about we'll get to in the next amendment, which will be for the expectation for ministries.
D. Routley: One of the consistencies that I would like to be able to discover here, amongst public bodies when it comes to routine disclosure, would be disclosure by subsidiary companies of public bodies, particularly school board corporations and university solely owned corporations. Will these mandatory disclosure requirements apply to those subsidiaries?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The decision on that would be up to the public body. What the amendment says is that they must establish a category of records, but it doesn't prescribe what they would be. That would be a decision that would be made by the public body.
D. Routley: I understand that in terms of the types of records that would be disclosed, from what the minister has said and the way this amendment reads, the categories of information would be determined by the public body. But the scope of what areas of the public body are obliged to comply with this amendment is unclear.
If a school board owns a corporation doing business, for example, with an overseas school, or if a university has a wholly owned subsidiary corporation that does work on its behalf, will those organizations, as subsidiaries of the public body….? Whatever categories are required and determined by the public body, will the subsidiary also be affected and come under the scope of this?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: This amendment would pertain to records that are in the custody or control of the public body. That's the same as it is in the act today, and that will not change.
D. Routley: There were some very difficult decisions recently — the SFU decision around a subsidiary body. There's been concern expressed around that decision, and the implications for freedom of information and open government, by a wide range of advocates in the
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province, including some expression of concern from the OIPC.
I wonder if the minister or the drafters of this amendment considered that it might be wise to explicitly amend the legislation to include the subsidiaries of these public bodies, since this is a very problematic area when it comes to scrutinizing and holding to account public bodies. I'm sure that's the intent of the legislation overall. I wonder if that was considered.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I believe the member opposite refers to a gap that was created by a court decision which came out very recently. We have had correspondence from the commissioner, I believe, just a few days ago. Certainly, this amendment — all these amendments — had been drafted long before that.
We're aware of the issue, but it's been brought forward very recently. Again, the gap was created by this court decision which also was available very recently.
D. Routley: I appreciate that answer from the minister, and I consider that to be a forthright answer that acknowledges there is a gap that has been created by that decision.
Having served as a school trustee for a school board that had a corporation operating overseas…. Our school board had established a school in China, and this work and investment was carried out just before the outbreak of SARS — back in 2003, I believe it was.
That was very unfortunate timing for the board of trustees of the Cowichan Valley because of course it put a chill on travel and exchange of students. It really implicated the school board finances at a very difficult moment when it came to funding for the school board. I feel that is very relevant information to the public when they're determining whether or not decisions are being made appropriately.
Having heard this recognition of the gap that was created by the SFU decision, which essentially allows a public body to set up a subsidiary corporation and assign work to that corporation, fund the corporation, hold the records in its own boardroom, hold the meetings of that corporation in their own boardroom but not make the business of that subsidiary open to the public…. That is a really significant issue for any attempt to reach what we would consider open governance.
Acknowledging that gap, I would like to move to add the words "or its subsidiaries" after the words "under the control of the public body," and I have an amendment here that would do that.
[Section 27, by adding the text shown as underlined:
71 (1) Subject to subsection (1.1), the head of a public body must establish categories of records that are in the custody or under the control of the public body or its subsidiaries and are available to the public without a request for access under this Act.]
On the amendment.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Thanks to the member opposite for proposing the amendment. I appreciate the spirit of the amendment.
I am opposed to this amendment and will encourage members to vote against it because this amendment won't actually accomplish what's desired here. What we would need to do is look at the entire act. Just putting this into this section would not actually have any meaning, because there are other areas of the act that would have to be amended before the subsidiaries could be included. At the moment they're not covered by the act. Just inserting them into this line wouldn't accomplish what the member has requested.
The other thing is that this issue did just come to our attention through the court ruling as well as through correspondence from the Information and Privacy Commissioner about a week ago. We certainly have the intention of working with her and looking to address it, but it would require consultation and a number of sections of the act to be different.
So I do speak against this amendment. The initial conversation is already starting with the commissioner, and we're going to work in this area.
D. Routley: The SFU decision is fairly recent, but I think it was almost a year ago that that decision was rendered, although the commissioner having written to the government only a week ago is short notice of that concern. But it is widely understood by those concerned with these issues that this has been a gap that has existed for some time.
Certainly, there would be no objection from this member or this side of the House to go back and amend sections of the act that could accommodate closing this gap, because I don't see how it can possibly be avoided if we want to truly open up governance of our province. It seems to be acknowledged by the minister as a gap. It seems to be acknowledged that it's problematic when it comes to holding governments and public bodies to account.
In the spirit of what this amendment act is trying to accomplish and in the spirit of the original Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, it seems reasonable that school boards and universities and other public bodies that have set up corporations can't hide business intentionally or otherwise in those corporations.
They do control the records. Even in the definition of the act as it exists, it seems enough. But given the decision on the SFU case, which really denied that access, that has created a huge problem that I would think the government would have been anxious to address. Here's an opportunity for us to address it, at least in part.
School boards, universities, any public body — and the minister has already acknowledged there are over 2,000
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public bodies in this province — can, based on the SFU decision, decide today, tomorrow or yesterday to set up a corporation and do business that they don't want to share with the public, either for simple reasons of expediency or less honourable reasons of wanting to hide what a public body has planned or what a public body is doing.
I can think of so many examples of local governments that might want to set up a dump operation but want to hide the financial implications of that. They could set up a subsidiary corporation to do that business. That, I think, is something that just passes the nod test for British Columbians that, yes, we have to close that gap.
This is an area where a government that says it's committed to open governance and accountability, I would think, would rush to fill that gap, and here's an opportunity for us to begin to address it.
I'm sure that the members of the opposition would congratulate and celebrate a move like that by government. I think the minister has acknowledged the gap, so why don't we agree that we can amend this section? I don't know if it's parliamentarily possible, but if the minister and the government agree, then why not make further amendments to the act that would accommodate closing that gap?
I would be the first to rush up and congratulate the minister and the B.C. Liberal government for having the wisdom to do what is obviously necessary, and I'm sure that every British Columbian would give that nod test to their government if the government were willing to do that. But in the meantime, such an obvious gap to accountability and an unwillingness to close that gap certainly fails the same nod test.
Amendment negatived on division.
D. Routley: Section 27, again, is about routine disclosure, categories of information that should be released. The current government open website was brought in with much fanfare and celebration by the government, but one example of its limitations so far is around the information on ministerial expenses.
Only the most vague information possible has been released, the monthly totals in various categories. I think what people have expected was that they could dissect that information and really examine the detail of what business has been done in the ministries.
So to find out specific information about ministries, an FOI request is still required. And since the posting of the monthly expenses and that information to the website, the data being released under freedom of information is becoming even more vague and unspecific, basically just database printouts with no details.
Can the minister comment on how her government might be seen to be using the window dressing of proactive release to actually withhold detailed information?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Certainly. I'd be pleased to speak to the information that ministries must disclose. It's in the next section, so once we pass section 27, we can talk about that.
D. Routley: I think, yes, the detail of ministerial information is open to debate in the next section, but I would suggest that also in this section records without requests and the categories to be determined are also a part of that debate.
As we examine what will be released…. Right now freedom of information are routine disclosure and the categories in the custody of a public body are a discretionary issue. It's a discretionary matter as to what will be released and when it will be released. This section seeks to establish some mandatory guidelines, mandatory categories, as I read it.
How will the passing of this section of this amendment affect the categories of information to be routinely released by ministries related to expenses?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: In fact, it won't. The place where that happens is in section 28.
Section 27 approved on division.
On section 28.
D. Routley: As the minister indicated, section 28 amends section 71.1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the "Records that ministries must disclose," and 73.1, "Recovery of personal information," and 73.2, "Court order for return of personal information."
This, along with the previous section, appears to address the special committee's recommendation No. 7, the making of "routine proactive disclosure of electronic records." What categories of information does the minister have in mind under this section?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'm just going to take a moment to state that this province, British Columbia, is the first province in Canada that is actually putting this into legislation. It's not happening anywhere else provincially. It creates the authority. It establishes the framework for categories that will routinely be made publicly available without any kind of request.
We currently are working with ministries to establish which categories. That work's not concluded as yet, but the framework is there and the commitment to actually routinely have ministries release information. That will happen, and it's going to be in the legislation. It will be in the legislation.
D. Routley: The answer from the minister indicates that it will be in the legislation, so I'm assuming she
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means that the regulations and rules that will be designed after the passing of this amendment act would describe in detail what those categories are. At this point is the minister able to say whether there will be a consistency ministry-to-ministry as to which categories will be released?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'm sorry if I was confusing with my last answer. To be clear, once these amendments are passed, then in legislation there will be the ability for the minister responsible to establish categories of records that will be routinely released so that there's a framework that will be there once we pass this amendment.
There would be some categories of records that would be routinely and consistently released. This would be done by ministerial order, not by regulation, and ministerial orders are public, so the ministerial orders that are issued will be in effect for all ministries. But it's also important to note that there will be some types of information that would be unique to a certain ministry. But the orders themselves would apply across all ministries.
D. Routley: I think this points out the difficulty of legislation that relies heavily upon regulation for its description. It's been a criticism of previous Premier Gordon Campbell's government and the current government that so much of what affects the debate of legislation is left to rule and regulation, which is done by ministerial order and therefore never to be debated in this House.
It's problematic, particularly with such a complex and technical piece of legislation that has a potentially onerous effect on a very basic human, democratic right: the right to privacy. This is a major re-engineering of what it means to protect privacy for public bodies in British Columbia.
We have heard widespread caution from groups such as Freedom of Information and Privacy Association of B.C., the B.C. Civil Liberties union, the journalists of this province and the Canadian Association of Journalists — several groups, even patient groups. The minister is a doctor. I'm sure she's aware that there are significant concerns. Yet the issues of privacy and information access are largely left up to regulation. That is extremely problematic given what we're dealing with.
I understand it's difficult for the minister to answer specific questions about decisions yet to be made, but that's where we're placed, since so much of this is left to regulation. So what type of regulations does the minister envision controlling and directing those ministerial orders around categories of information to be released? Can the minister give me a few examples of the type of information she has in mind that would be consistently released ministry to ministry?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: In fact, the framework that is established with this amendment is exactly consistent with the recommendations of the special committee, which I understand the member opposite participated in.
Specific to concerns about personal information, it states very clearly in this amendment: "The minister responsible for this Act must not establish a category of records that contain personal information unless the information (a) may be disclosed under section 33.1 or 33.2, or (b) would not constitute, if disclosed, an unreasonable invasion of the personal privacy of the individual the information is about."
Again, to be clear, there won't be regulations attached to this. It will be by ministerial order. If we were to enshrine in legislation categories that the minister would be directing at this moment, it would make it very difficult to then expand that without reopening the legislation. By doing it by ministerial order, we'll be able to add to the areas that are going to be released over time, without having to go back to the Legislature.
D. Routley: Well, another view of the same circumstance could be that this allows the government to remain overly vague and to have absolute freedom to determine for itself what is in its own interests to make routinely and proactively disclosed.
Throughout the amendment act, the minister has depended for her arguments on the opinions and consultations with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. There have been a number of places in the legislation where they've offered the option that any other information as determined by the head of the public body in consultation with the Information and Privacy Commissioner….
It seems like an obvious option here, which would allow the kind of latitude that the minister has indicated would be necessary, that in the future, categories could be removed or added but with the oversight or at least the input of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
So I would ask again for specific examples of the types of information that she has in mind. What she has given so far is a description of the scope and broadness of what that information could be, which is essentially anything or nothing, practically anything or nothing. It doesn't violate another section of the act in terms of unreasonable invasion of privacy. So can the minister give specific examples as to what she might think would be consistently, routinely and proactively released ministry to ministry?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Referring to the special committee recommendations, there are a couple of recommendations that came from the special committee. I won't read them in total, but the first recommendation
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talks about adding a new section "to acknowledge that information technology plays an important role in achieving the dual purpose of the act by facilitating the routine disclosure of general information." So that's an area that really has been addressed. And then in recommendation 7 it talks about, again, routine, proactive disclosure and to have those "operational within a reasonable period of time."
So those things really have been addressed by the framework that we have put in here. Again, the categories will be determined. We are working with ministries. The work is underway already. By ministerial order, the actual categories will be established that must be released routinely.
D. Routley: Interestingly, the minister has now referred to two separate recommendations from the committee as support for the passing of this section of the amendment. In previous sections debate around these issues, when I have cited recommendations from the committee, the minister has on occasion refused to answer those questions because they didn't pertain directly to the amendment section. So you know, I accept that reference, and I hope it'll be allowed for me if I find that occasion again.
But anyway, I'd still like to know, and I'm sure that people who are following this, and there are thousands of them, would like to know exactly — well, not exactly but more specifically — what categories of information are contemplated by government as being consistently, routinely and proactively released ministry to ministry. Not information that, as the minister rightly points out, is unique to one particular public body or ministry, rather, or another, but the basic categories that are envisioned by government. I'm sure there must be some plan or some idea of what examples could be given.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'd certainly like to wish a warm good morning to the thousands of people that are following this debate and tell them that, in fact, in the fullness of time when the ministerial orders are available, they will know what categories are coming. It helps people to stay tuned, I feel.
D. Routley: There are more people when the minister answers than there are when I ask questions. They leave when I ask questions. What the minister has said is, basically, that we need to wait for the ministerial order to have any idea what routine and proactive disclosure looks like.
If we were to go by what we've seen so far in the open government website, the indication would be that the information is going to be rather vague and non-specific. Does the minister anticipate a more specific and more detailed release of information than we currently see on the open government website?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Yes, I do.
D. Routley: When the minister says that the information to be routinely and proactively released will vary one ministry to another, what does she mean? Could she characterize that in more detail? How will the application of this section vary ministry to ministry?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I simply referred to the fact that in some cases there's work that's absolutely unique to a ministry. I will put out a ministerial order, or the minister will put out a ministerial order. Although it applies to all ministries, only one or maybe two ministries would have that type of information. I don't have an example for the member, but just given the unique nature of some of the work of some of the ministries, I could see that potentially happening.
D. Routley: Well, allow me, then, to offer an example that would require a response as to how a circumstance might be dealt with, given this amendment act. If, for example, there's a ministerial order to release a certain category of information and all ministries that hold or collect that information and would be affected are ordered to comply….
For example, if several ministries have information, and one of those ministries is the Health Ministry, and given the carve-outs for the Health Ministry so far in this amendment act in previous decisions by government, would the Health Ministry be caught under the scope of that type of ministerial order?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Yes, the Health Ministry would be covered under this section of the act.
D. Routley: So just as an extra measure of clarity, if a ministerial order is issued around routine and proactive disclosure, the Health Ministry would be affected by that directive in the same way as every other ministry?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: When this act says that it pertains to all ministries, that's really what it means. So the Ministry of Health, as long as it exists, would be impacted by this act.
D. Routley: Section 73.1 sets out the process by which the head of a body may seek to recover personal information in possession of a person or entity not authorized to have it. This involves the issuing of a written demand for the return of that information within 20 calendar days, with the threat of legal action if the person or entity fails to respond.
What type of information is the government anticipating in this subsection that sets out the process for recovery, and is this in anticipation of privacy breaches such as the Wainwright scandal?
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Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The purpose of this amendment, the significance of it, is to ensure that public bodies are able to recover personal information from an individual or an organization that has received information inappropriately. The ability to recover the information will enable public bodies to manage, mitigate and address any resulting privacy risk or damage to individuals, including the risk of identity theft.
D. Routley: Is this subsection of the amendment act in response to the Wainwright scandal?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: This provision is generally to assess a situation that does sometimes arise, unfortunately, when there's a privacy breach where an individual organization has gained inappropriate access to personal information and they refuse to return the information. So this is to address that general possibility and give direction around that. That's the purpose of this amendment.
D. Routley: Does the existing act not provide government with the tools necessary to recover information that's improperly held or held by the wrong people? I understand it does, so why is this change necessary?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: The act currently doesn't give us the legal authority to go to court. This provides some additional power, and that is the reason for putting this amendment in place. It gives us the ability and the legal authority to go to court if someone inappropriately has information and refuses to return it.
D. Routley: When the amendment describes information improperly in the hands of the wrong people, essentially, what circumstances are anticipated? Is this in the case of government mistakenly forwarding information to the wrong parties?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: This amendment covers any situation where there has been a privacy breach regardless of how it happened — any time that personal information has ended up in an inappropriate place and whoever has it refuses to return it. So all such circumstances.
D. Routley: Aside from the writing of a letter and a threat of legal action, what remedies are available to the government to ensure that the information is returned? What remedies can the government offer to people whose information might be compromised? How will the damage that's done be addressed?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: This is in section 73.2, which states that the remedy would be that "the head of the public body may ask the Attorney General to petition the superior court in the jurisdiction in which the personal information is located for an order requiring the return of the personal information."
D. Routley: When we discussed previous sections related to the ability of government to forward information to a public body or other government, the concerns that I expressed with the minister were around storage outside of Canada and the proper direction of that information, as well as consent and informing the citizen that their information has been forwarded.
This subsection is very closely related to that circumstance, in a sense. If there's the misdirection of information, how is it recovered? If such a breach occurs, accidentally or otherwise, what would be the mechanisms for not just having that person return the information, but what protections could be offered to citizens, given that information once forwarded and once breached is very difficult to pull back? It's like unringing a bell.
What can the government offer as assurance to British Columbians that this section of the amendment will in fact not only retrieve their information but somehow offer them protection from damages?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: To be clear, this section, section 28, pertains to provisions where information has been obtained by somebody that shouldn't have it. They're refusing to return it, and that's what it's addressing. The issues that the member opposite raises are not addressed by these amendments, but there is a part of the ministry that has as its responsibility managing and mitigating breaches. There are a number of steps that they can and do take in this situation. But to be clear, this section doesn't address that. That's not part of what this section is about.
D. Routley: Before we close out this section, I'd like to sort of circle back to the issue of the categories of information to be released. The responses to FOI requests will be considered for exemption from proactive disclosure if they can reasonably be expected to identify a third party in a recommendation, that they harm relations with a First Nation, that they harm relationships with another government, that they harm the interests of a third-party business interest. Each of these recommended exemptions, as I understand it, would have to be approved by a deputy minister, the head of a public body or a designate.
This seems to be a fairly broad way of establishing exemptions from routine and proactive disclosure. I could make an argument, based on that, that practically any piece of information might be excluded from routine and proactive disclosure. Can the minister describe to me how the decisions around what
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types of FOI requests will be exempted from proactive disclosure…?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I believe the member opposite is quoting from a policy document that doesn't actually pertain to the amendment that's before us. But again, I'm very happy to answer questions about the amendment that's before us.
D. Routley: Okay, thank you very much, Minister. In that case, how will exemptions from the categories that are being determined under this section of the amendment be made?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: We'll be guided by the act, so any orders that come forth from the ministry will have to be consistent with the act, and they'll have to be consistent with this particular amendment. I've already highlighted that, for example, information can't be released if it would constitute an unreasonable invasion of the personal privacy of the individual that the information is about. That and all other areas of the act must be followed when we determine which kinds of records, which categories of records, will be routinely released.
D. Routley: How will those decisions be made? Who will make those decisions, and what will be the flow in that chain of decision-making around those exemptions?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Again, we are already consulting with ministries. We'll be receiving expert advice from staff, and that's how the work will proceed.
D. Routley: The vagueness of what has been released so far in the open government website, and the vagueness and scope of what the minister has described would lead me to the question: why doesn't this amendment section simply list what won't be exempted, since that seems like it might be a shorter list?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I'm not really sure what more I can add. The framework is here. It's consistent with recommendations from the special committee. We will continue work that's already underway, consulting with ministries.
The intention is that categories are going to be established, that more information will be released. As far as the information that's already available on the open website, certainly there is a substantial amount of information that is there. There have been many, many trips to that website. Much of that information has been downloaded. Citizens are accessing it — substantially more information on that website than many of the other websites that were first established.
I believe we had well over 2,000, and one of the other jurisdictions that the member opposite spoke about had under a hundred subsets of data when they first opened up their website. So we are very proud. I understand that this is another area that the member and I agree to disagree, and that's perfectly okay.
D. Routley: Thank you, Minister. Since the categories of information are not like a basket of information…. "Okay, this basket will be excluded." In fact, they're more like a tube through which information will pass. So once that category is described, information will come to the attention of whoever is making that decision, and a decision will be made whether or not it goes in the open and proactive routine disclosure tube or in the exemption tube. It's a way of handling the flow of information.
In a sense, what this does offer is the opportunity for a second kick at the can in exempting information — information that could already be exempted in an FOI request if it is ordered for release. Then it would have to be considered as to whether it fits into one of the tubes or categories to handle the flow of information through routine disclosure.
That is another point, a filter point at which a government that seeks to withhold a certain piece of information, after a direction from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has been made, could further block the access to that information. Am I not correct that that's a potential way of viewing this process?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I think there is some confusion here. The member opposite is reading from area of policy that applies to FOI requests and the routine release of FOI requests. This particular amendment that we are discussing, or some of us are discussing, section 28, pertains to the minister establishing categories of records that will be routinely released.
This has nothing to do with FOI request release. This is specifically categories of information, categories of records that ministries will be obliged to proactively make available.
D. Routley: Thank you for the direction from the minister.
But in fact, this point in the flow of information is but a link in a chain. The way I understand this act, as it relates to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, is that, indeed, information that is ordered released by the OIPC could find another block at this point in the chain of release.
Am I wrong? And I'm quite prepared to accept that I'm wrong, if I am.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Yes, in fact, the member opposite is incorrect.
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Section 28 approved on division.
On section 29.
D. Routley: Well, Madam Chair, I think we are going to finish before Christmas. It was another debate between the minister and I.
This section, section 29, amends section 76 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, "Power to make regulations." It adds powers to make regulation, "respecting…written documentation that confirms that a program or activity is a common or integrated program or activity…defining any word or expression used but not defined in this Act."
[L. Reid in the chair.]
And after consultation with the commissioner with respect to personal information for a prescribed purpose, section 26(d), and data-linking initiatives, section 36.1, it provides that these regulations may provide differently for different classes of public bodies. So I would ask that the minister make it clear to me how those powers to make regulations will be applied to some of the discussions we've had in this amendment act.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: With respect to the first regulation-making power here, there has been quite a bit of debate about what a common or integrated program or activity is. The act contains existing provisions which enable greater information sharing between public bodies participating in common or integrated programs or activities, but because of the confusion around what it is, these provisions have not been utilized in the way that they were intended.
Much of the debate has centred around what evidence or documentation must exist to prove that a program or activity is a common or integrated program or activity. Potential programs to provide services to vulnerable people have been unable to move forward sometimes, as participating bodies and the Information and Privacy Commissioner have not been able to agree on whether sufficient or appropriate proof exists.
The ability to prescribe what documentation establishes a common program, integrated program or activity will resolve the issue and enable these programs to move forward as intended.
With respect to the second regulation-making power, there have been times when words or expressions used in the act have been misinterpreted or interpreted in multiple ways. This has resulted in inconsistent application of the act's provisions and in outcomes that were unintended when the act was written. This amendment will allow situations like that to be rectified in a timely manner.
If the member opposite is wondering about where this would apply, this will apply everywhere.
D. Routley: This is another case where so much of the power to define how this amendment act will affect the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and, therefore, affect the application of the law is to be left up to rules and regulations that have yet to be defined or formed.
Since the legislation is implemented upon proclamation, there is very little time for input, it would appear. This seems to be, again, a rushed approach that doesn't allow for adequate debate or consideration.
Does the minister not agree that it would be helpful to have more of the detail of this bill available to us for debate? These regulations…. This section allows wide latitude to change the effect of the entire amendment act and, therefore, the entire application of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and leaves that up to ministerial order or rule and regulation.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: We've had some discussion back and forth about regulations and their place, whether regulations are appropriate or a good way to go. The member opposite and I have not found agreement, but certainly if we refer to A Guide to Legislation and Legislative Process in British Columbia, there is a clear place. In fact, the guide actually says things that should be in regulations.
Regulations are appropriate to deal with such things as procedural matters, matters that may need frequent adjustment, technical matters that involve scientific or other expertise and matters that cannot be finalized until there is some experience in working with the new legislation. Certainly, there is lots of guidance from A Guide to Legislation and Legislative Process in British Columbia as to the appropriateness and the places where things actually should be done by regulation.
D. Routley: Well, the fact that so much of the substantive issues in this bill are left to regulations is underlined by the unusual inclusion of the requirement that the cabinet consult with the commissioner before making regulations regarding sections 26(d), prescribed purpose, and 36.1, data linking. So it really points to the missed opportunity of being able to consult more fully with the commissioner leading up to this point. Now we're left with a bill that essentially leaves all of those details up to regulation.
Does the minister not agree that this section leaves us in a place where this section by itself will wind up really defining so much of what we've discussed and the real world implications of scope?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: No, in fact, I don't agree with the member opposite. In a number of places throughout this act the framework is established very clearly,
[ Page 8347 ]
and I find myself, not surprisingly, disagreeing with the member opposite.
Sections 29 and 30 approved.
Section 31 approved on division.
Section 32 approved.
Sections 33 to 36 inclusive approved on division.
On section 37.
D. Routley: Yes, on commencement, Madam Chair. I think this would be the appropriate place to discuss commencement.
The commencement of this bill occurs before the regulations have been worked out. As I've pointed out, this leaves much of the definition — much of the real-world implications of how the lives of British Columbians will be affected by this amendment act — up to the discretion of those who write those regulations.
Does the minister not agree that this is a failure, that in fact the proper place for those decisions to be made is in the Legislature with proper and full debate?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: There are a number of extremely important projects underway, things such as the government services card project and the integrated case management project, and they depend on these amendments coming into effect this year. These are ways we believe we can much better serve the needs of British Columbians.
The amendments also support government service transformation and open government initiatives. Bringing these amendments into effect at the earliest opportunity will benefit both citizens and government.
In terms of the regulations, I think there's some misunderstanding on the part of the member opposite. The areas of the bill which require regulations will not be operational until the regulations have been developed.
D. Routley: Many bills as complex as this one have their commencement set out at a date in the future. Instead, this bill is commenced upon proclamation. It just seems like such a rush.
When the minister points to integrated case management as requiring this amendment act and other data-linking initiatives already underway, in a sense she counters previous arguments about whether or not they're even affected by this amendment act.
In any case, it does add to the appearance that government is rushing to achieve its own goals around privacy protection issues, as submitted in their ministry's submissions to the special committee reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and in another sense rushing to clean up a potential mess. So much of this ought to have been in place before $180 million was spent on the integrated case management project so that things like the download of HRDC employment training program money from the federal government might have been more seamlessly handled by the integrated case management system.
The government has had two years since the work of the special committee, over a year since their report was tabled in the Legislature. We have not sat; we have not had opportunity. But the government did have those opportunities to bring forward legislation at a more seemly pace so that we could have a proper debate and that it could actually be fully scrutinized. Then more of the detail might be included here. So commencement at the date of proclamation seems unfortunate.
Does the minister not agree that time could have been better spent earlier on by bringing these amendments forward so that the commencement date wouldn't be rushed, as is the amendment act itself?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: In fact, I don't agree with the member opposite. I'd like to remind him and the other members of the House that there have been months and years of consultation that have gone into the development of these amendments; that we are incorporating recommendations, as he mentions, from the special committee not only of 2010 but of 2004; and that there's also been extensive consultation and work with the Information and Privacy Commissioner. We certainly have very much appreciated working with her.
There's been a great deal of time spent developing this package, considering the impacts of this package. Overwhelmingly, we want to pass these amendments and have them come into force on the date of royal assent because we believe that we're going to be able to better serve citizens of British Columbia with these changes. So I respectfully do not agree with the member opposite.
D. Routley: Madam Chair, I do have a question on one of the definitions. Should that be done here in this section or after this? Okay.
The final issue I'd like to bring to the minister's attention is that the definition of domestic violence means "physical or sexual abuse of (a) an individual, (b) a parent or child of the individual referred to in paragraph (a)" — these are the definitions pertaining to the section regarding the release of information about an assault — "(c) any other individual who is in a prescribed relationship with the individual referred to in paragraph (a) by an intimate partner of the individual referred to in paragraph (a)."
So given the CMA, the Canadian Medical Association, caution to its members in January around the disclosure of information…. I think it's their 13th recommendation on
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electronic records. It says: "Patients should be informed that the treating physician cannot control access and guarantee confidentiality for an electronic health record system."
This directive from the Canadian Medical Association seems to be something that could lead to a chilling of people's willingness to share information, to report. Does the minister not agree that the wide definition including sexual abuse, the way it's defined in the act, is broad and could result in a chilling of the citizen's or a patient's willingness to report issues?
The Chair: Minister, in that that section has passed, do you wish to comment?
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: Just to say no, in fact, I don't agree with the member opposite. But yes, you're correct. We have already passed that section.
Section 37 approved on division.
Hon. M. MacDiarmid: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
Motion approved on division.
The committee rose at 11:18 a.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 3 — Freedom of Information and
Protection of Privacy
Amendment Act, 2011
Bill 3, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed on division.
Hon. I. Chong: I am pleased to call second reading of Bill 6, the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2011.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 6 — Forests, Lands and Natural
Resource Operations Statutes
Amendment Act, 2011
Hon. S. Thomson: I move that Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act be read a second time.
Forestry is a key economic driver of our province and will remain so into the future. The package of amendments in this bill will assist in meeting objectives of our ministry, streamlining operations and reducing costs to industry and government and will support continued forest sector recovery and jobs in British Columbia.
The ministry and the provincial government are optimistic about the future of our forest sector. On a week following the announcement of $200 million in investment by Western Forest Products on Vancouver Island, creating a thousand long-term jobs, it's important that we continue to ensure that we take measures to support the sector.
The natural resource sector will benefit from proposed amendments to the Forest Act to increase coordination and extend the terms of tenures used by the energy and mine sectors to cut timber.
The bill proposes to extend the length of term for master licence to cut from five years to ten years and to extend the term for free use permits from one year to five years. Both of these tenures are used by the oil and gas and mining sectors in cutting timber for their activities.
These amendments reduce the need for multiple permits and licences to be issued for the same mining or oil and gas operation. This reduces cost and workload for both government and industry.
Bill 6 also acts on requests from woodlot holders and the Federation of B.C. Woodlot Associations. Woodlot licences are usually small parcels of private land combined with much larger areas of Crown land. The average area of private land in a woodlot is only 108 hectares.
B.C. woodlots aren't managed by major licensees in large forest companies. Most woodlots are operated by individuals and families. Many of these operators are getting on in years. Some would like to scale back their forestry operations by removing their private lands while still practising sustainable forestry on the Crown land portion of their woodlots.
Bill 6 proposes an amendment to the Forest Act that will give woodlot owners more flexibility in managing their assets. This will help them in transitioning to retirement as well as estate planning. Any request from a woodlot holder to remove their private land would be advertised with an opportunity for public review and comment. Like any other private land owner, the future use of private land from a woodlot would need to keep with local government bylaws and zoning.
Other minor amendments to the Forest Act will enable direct award of fibre supply licences to cut and access wood residue and logging debris. This will support the growing wood bioenergy sector.
Also, good information and solid data are more important than ever for proper management of our natural resources. Proposed amendments to the Forest Act and the Foresters Act will ensure that reliable, high-quality
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timber-cruising data continues to flow to calculate stumpage fees.
Proposed amendments to the Foresters Act also give the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals more flexibility to deal with membership fees, quality assurance and continuing education programs.
Finally, proposed amendments to the Resort Timber Administration Act will further solidify that one land manager approach to natural resource management. Resorts will only have to deal with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations when it comes to Crown timber issues, including Crown timber on private land within a controlled recreational area.
Combined together, these amendments are a significant step in streamlining the administrative processes, supporting the integration of service to the sector and will continue to lead to our support for the forest sector.
I look forward to the comments and the response from the members opposite and from the colleagues on this side of the House. Thank you very much.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
N. Macdonald: Bill 6 is an amendment act to the existing legislation with regards to the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. I want to talk, in second reading, in general terms about forestry, as the minister has done, and then more particular about elements of the bill.
The starting point, I think, for any discussion on forestry has to be recognition of the overwhelming failure of B.C. Liberal forest policy since 2001, just to frame what we have here. In a time where we really need to see leadership, where we probably needed to see leadership for the past decade, what we get is, again, a minor set of amendments to existing acts rather than anything that deals with the substantive issues that are there.
Let's look at the record that we have since 2001. First, there is a crisis that has been created with regards to forestry jobs. Since 2001 we have lost 35,000 private sector forestry jobs — 35,000 family supporting jobs lost.
One-quarter of our public sector jobs have been lost. Forestry offices that we used to have in places like Invermere, Kimberley, Golden — across rural B.C. — have lost many of the jobs that we used to have there. So one-quarter of the public sector jobs gone under this government's watch and over 35,000 private sector jobs.
One of the ironies is that when that so-called Jobs Minister was Minister of Forests, over 17,000 jobs were lost. That's Statistics Canada. Those are real statistics that you can point to — 17,000 jobs lost.
It goes beyond that, of course. With these jobs being lost, we also lost our manufacturing base. Depending on your definition of manufacturing facilities, we lost between 55 and 70 manufacturing facilities in this province, facilities that communities depended upon. So that is one part of the record.
There is no question that there is a forestry jobs crisis. There is also a revenue crisis. If you go back into the 1980s and the 1990s, forestry generated for the provincial coffers about $2 billion a year. It seems unbelievable, but we now lose money on forestry. The Ministry of Forests costs more than we are able to generate from the public lands. Even B.C. Timber Sales, which was set up to get a fair market value for B.C. wood, loses money. So we have a revenue crisis.
It's not surprising. There's no question that there are challenges, but over 50 percent of the wood harvested in B.C. was for minimum stumpage. Minimum stumpage is 25 cents per cubic metre, and a cubic metre is a telephone pole. So for a truckload of logs coming off provincial land, over 50 percent of the time a truckload would cost you less than an expensive latte from Starbucks. So it's no question that we are in a revenue crisis as well, and all of this begs for action from the government.
We are also in a forest health crisis. We do not have accurate inventory. We have massive swaths of public land. There's debate about how much, but even the minimum that the government asserts is an incredible amount that is not satisfactorily restocked. The work has not been done on the land the way that it needs to be. This is public obligation. These aren't private companies that haven't done their part; they actually do their legally required work. This is the provincial government that has chosen not to invest in our public lands the way that they need to.
We have huge waste issues that the government is still, after three years, struggling to deal with. Part of this legislation, part of this bill, is still trying to figure out how to get overlapping tenures. This government decided that they were going to change the rules in 2003, allow waste to stay in the forest, and there it stays. There was a five-year period going back, I think, up to 2010, where if you took all the waste that was left behind and put it on logging trucks, those logging trucks going end to end would stretch from Vancouver to Halifax and half the way back. So we have a waste issue.
The government struggles to figure out how to deal with these things, but many of them are self-inflicted wounds. Much of what has happened that is so disastrous for forestry communities, for forest workers, for the general public of British Columbia are predictable outcomes of B.C. Liberal policies stretching back to the so-called revitalization plan, which has been a massive failure.
They have created the problem, so you ask yourself: where is the fix? It certainly does not come with Bill 6. Bill 6 is a tinkering, as much as anything else. Now, what we need is substantive legislation, not just tinkering. We were told that this would be a busy legislative session. It has not been. It has been pretty light.
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After ten years it seems that of the initiatives that were tried, many have proven to be failures, and the government is out of ideas. I think there's no question we have talked about the things that we think this government should do and that we have committed that we would do. The first would be to get higher utilization out of the resource itself.
It used to be that we were world leaders in manufacturing. We still have that capacity and that ability, but we have raw log exports which were at a record high in 2010. We find out that it's doubling. It's doubling in the same period for 2011, up 207 percent. So we are taking good-quality wood that should provide employment here in this province. It used to, going back to the Social Credit, going back to NDP governments, when that was the focus of government — instead being sent off to create jobs in China.
Now, the government has said the balance is wrong. But what are they going to do about it and when? When are we going to get some action on raw log exports on the coast? I think almost half of the wood that is harvested is going off as raw logs. All of it is knocked down, branches taken off, put in a boat, and off it goes — as if that's the best we can do. That's the most imaginative use of that resource. We've been clear. We think there should be legislation that deals with those issues.
We continue to lose our industrial base. You know, the member from Campbell River…. It must be so frustrating to be in a community where the government has given up on having manufacturing in what should be the perfect place for manufacturing. There is energy supplied. Back when it was a Fletcher Challenge mill, they did some pretty innovative stuff to make sure that mill would have power. It's a beautiful harbour. They watch as log booms go past that community. What is done there in terms of manufacturing? There's nothing. This government has let it all go.
What we have said is that there should be job protection legislation. There is no question, from my experience, that's a model first put in by the Social Credit that worked, which at least allowed you as government to try to go forward and protect jobs rather than just letting 35,000 go with no effort at all to protect them or to create new jobs. So you look for legislation that might deal with that.
We have, as I said, a forest health crisis that we have told government they should deal with, which we have committed as the NDP that we would deal with. We know there are investments in inventory that need to be made. If we're serious about looking after our most valuable asset, we would invest to know what is out there. This is an asset that is worth a trillion dollars — $250 billion in timber assets — and yet we don't even know it's out there.
We don't even invest enough to have accurate inventory. We do not do silviculture work. We don't do the replanting that we should be doing. We don't do any of these things properly, which we would do if we were serious stewards of the land.
An NDP government would commit to doing that, and an NDP opposition would push this government to do the right thing and make those investments and do the work that needs to be done so that we are passing on the opportunities that we were handed, so that future generations could benefit like we have from the good work that has been done in the past. But you don't see that in this bill.
So when we need a forestry plan, instead what we get is essentially a communications plan. The central theme of that communications plan is to misrepresent the reality rather than to actually do the hard work that is needed. We hear some of the numbers, and it's repeated. I would suggest that when numbers are used, especially by the Premier or by ministers responsible, they lay out where the numbers come from, rather than leave the impression that something is happening that really isn't happening.
I have seen so many announcements where ministers or the Premier is talking about 27 mills open. So you go to the library and ask to get the media context — do a media search. "Find me those 27 mills; go to the forestry website; show me those mills" — and you find about 24.
But the reality is that while 24 have reopened, in that same documentation, in the period the Premier is talking about — that year and a half — you find some other numbers. If there were 24 mills and pellet plants that opened, there were also five permanent closures and 18 temporary closures. So are you really talking accurately about some miraculous recovery? As even the minister said, you aren't. You're dealing with, essentially, the status quo.
Now, I don't underestimate the challenges that are out there. Our main market is the United States. What has happened there is hugely problematic for us. I don't care who is in charge; it is a big problem. We were losing jobs before that market collapsed. Remember 2005. The bubble had yet to burst. So we were losing jobs then, but now it has well and truly created problems for us and for any government in the future.
You can stand up as the Premier and minister and try to create an illusion of something different, but the reality is that there are not the mills opening that the minister talks about. There's really a need for ideas, not trying to shift the reality — not trying to create a false reality. We need solutions, not what is happening.
The destructive part is if it's only a communication plan, then we have a government that is more concerned with the appearance of doing something rather than actually doing something. You know, the Premier and the minister were talking about Western Forest Products reopening mills, and the Premier talked about Ladysmith,
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Duke Point, Nanaimo. But when you actually look at what is happening at those mills, they're skeleton staffs. The reality is that once a mill is closed for two years, then unionized staff have to be paid severance.
These are mills that would normally employ a lot of people. When you come back with a skeleton crew of 16, essentially what is going on is that the company is trying to make the argument that they've reopened the mill and don't have to pay severance. So that's what's happening.
The government knows that. The government hopes that nobody is going to look into it, but it is a misrepresentation of the facts that we need to deal with. We have crises in forestry that are real and need to be dealt with, with a forestry plan, not a communications plan.
We are not going to go, I hope, for the next year and a half in this constant campaign where announcements are made that have nothing behind them, which do nothing for people in forestry communities that is real, where I have to have workers phone me up after an announcement and say: "Hey, do you want to know what really happened? Do you know what's really happening?"
The ministers know this, and the Premier knows this, or they should know it. So give us the facts here in this Legislature. Give us the plan, and then we will work with you, as we have always offered to do as an opposition, to find solutions in forestry. Even the talk about 60 new jobs in Nanaimo for the head office…. They moved the head office. The 60 jobs used to be in Duncan. Then they moved them to Nanaimo — still the same 60 jobs in the same proximity.
To stand up and talk about a thousand jobs — really? Where? WFP first talked about the $200 million in a letter in February 2011, but it was contingent. If the U.S. market picked up, which we hope it will; if there was security around fibre, where there are issues that need to be figured out in Vancouver Island…. Those are big ifs. All they were really talking about was $20 million that has to go in for maintenance of the existing infrastructure.
That's the only fact we have. The rest is like so many other promises that have been made. You know, on Vancouver Island there was a promise of a billion dollars. I don't know if members remember that — a promise of a billion. It was going to be invested if certain things were done, which the government did do. It gave all sorts of benefits to these companies, but the billion was never spent. It was zero. Given that, you can see how an awful lot of workers phone up and say: "Yeah, show me, before I believe you. Show me. Where are you going to invest?"
Could this company point to where the investments were going to be? No. So it was these photo-ops. I guess I'm saying it's something that you do when you have no idea of what to do in practical terms.
I suppose an amendment act that fixes some shortcomings is a useful thing. There's no question there are elements of this bill that are supportable. The bill itself first makes amendments to the placement, for instance, of some definitions — not anything huge. As we go through the bill, we are of course — as we have an obligation to do — going to be testing the bill in all of the areas that are presented and see if government can make the case for the changes that they're proposing with the bill. The obligation sits with the government to make the case.
As I said, section 1 deals with definitions that I understand already exist but are being moved in their location to the front of the Forest Act. That seems fairly straightforward. We will have the minister put on record exactly what is taking place and the purpose. Like this, many of the sections are seemingly fairly straightforward.
Other sections, such as section 4, are more problematic. Even in remarks that I've already made, I've talked about section 4, and the minister alluded to it. Section 4 allows private land that is currently held as part of a woodlot to be removed, yet the public lands are still retained as a woodlot.
I am told — and the minister said it again today — that this is a section supported and in fact promoted by the woodlot association, but my understanding in talking to members is that it was not without controversy, even within the association. Now, I think everyone here would agree that woodlots are run by an awful lot of very good people. Certainly, in my area the woodlot operators that I know are people that have shown tremendous commitment to what they're doing. I know that speakers on the opposition side that follow me will talk about some of the background of woodlots and will go in greater depth into philosophically what they think that woodlots represent.
There's no question. Everyone would agree that these are good people — very often families, very often people that have done remarkable work with the land that's available to them. But there is an obligation to view any changes through the lens of what is in the public good: how is the public interest being served by what is being put forward here?
And we are going to use committee stage — which, thankfully, this session we seem to be using. The last two years every major piece of legislation, by the way, was rammed through without bothering to go through the committee stage. We have a committee stage, and I guess we're going to use it. So we will have the opportunity for the minister to make the case why what is being proposed in section 4 is in the public interest. We know why people want it — just like WFP wanted private lands out of tree farm licences. Like, I get that people want it, but we are here to look after the public interest. So I would be looking for the case to be made by the minister that this is in the public interest.
We then will also be asking questions about policies surrounding the proposed changes. The minister alluded
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to some policies, such as the length of time that woodlot operators would have to have spent as woodlot operators before they would be able to do this. How is the minister actually going to handle these various proposals? So we will be looking for those details, even if we choose to oppose what the minister is putting forward here, which I think depends upon the case that he makes. We still need to have on the public record his description of exactly how it's going to work, especially if it's policy, so that it is there to judge in the public record.
We will also, as I say, be looking at clarification on the process for the minister deciding when private lands may be removed. I understand that my independent colleague will be introducing an amendment to clarify some of those points. But if the government cannot defend this section as being in the public interest, then the opposition will not support it.
The proposed changes have to be seen, I think it's fair to say, in the context of what happened with the removal of private lands from tree farm licences allowed for corporations near Port Alberni, Jordan River and in the Kootenays. I think this House will remember that the Auditor General condemned government for a giveaway that compromised the public interest.
The intention of the TFLs was that the private lands were put up, with an agreement to manage them to provincial standards, and in return the companies would get access to huge swaths of public land in perpetuity. The government chose to end that relationship with absolutely no public good, according not to me but to the Auditor General, who studied it and said what everybody knew — that it was compromising the public interest. Removing private lands from woodlots must not compromise the public interest in a similar way, in my view and certainly in the view of my colleagues.
Now, there are also sections that deal with professional certification — changes to the way the association representing professional foresters operates. So we're going to be looking for explanations from the minister.
We also have changes, my understanding is, on the bioenergy tenures which overlap existing tenures. This has gone on for about three years — my memory of what has taken place — trying to figure out how the fuel that is there in the forest that could be used for bioenergy will be used through proper tenure systems.
It used to be that all wood would be pulled out and would be there for other operators, who didn't want the prime timber, to possibly do something like use it for bioenergy, but with changes. The next part was how to figure out how to do something with waste.
The government has struggled with that. They've created a problem. It's been three years since they said that they were going to deal with it. They really haven't, but you have within this bill, it looks like, things to do with bioenergy as well.
There are changes to the length of time for cutting permits related to the oil and gas operations as well as mines, and we're going to seek explanation on that and get that on the record. That's sort of an interesting one, in that these are huge areas that are actually cut. There's a tremendous amount of wood that comes off almost permanently or certainly for an extended period of time.
There are a lot of questions about how that is managed by the ministry responsible. The explanation that the minister has given — certainly, he will be making the case, and I would look for him to make a convincing case — is that by doing this, there are savings and that it is rational and the public interest, again, is protected.
There are a number of sections that allow the minister to assign staff rather than what you find in a lot of the legislation, where there are prescribed public servants that are supposed to be doing things. We have seen that in past legislation. The explanation has always been that with the ministry changing so often, it does not make sense to have a prescribed person, because titles change. The idea that we've been presented with in the past is that these positions, the people responsible, would be assigned simply by the minister, and obviously, that means lower staff. In the past we have not raised concerns with that sort of issue, but we'll look to see what the minister says.
We also have the administration of cutting of forest lands and resort areas. It's coming back to the Forests Minister and away from the Minister of Tourism. Let's be clear about this. It's basically fixing the mistake from a couple years ago. It was sort of odd to put it to the Ministry of Tourism in the first place. This seems to be recognition that that was a mistake, and it's back with the ministry responsible.
As is often the case, there are a wide range of amendments to existing acts. The minister and I would agree that forestry remains our most important industry. Where we disagree with this government is we see a need for action. We see a need for a forestry plan. What this government chooses to do instead is come up with a communications plan.
We have noted with concern the crisis of employment, the jobs that we have lost in forestry. We have noted with deep concern a crisis in forest health that we would expect a competent government to be dealing with — one which this government has not dealt with.
In the past there have been calls for a functioning bipartisan forestry committee. I still feel the complexity and the importance of forestry and the obvious challenges in forestry would be well suited to committee work. But over the past six years when we have called for that, we have been rebuffed repeatedly, and we've been asked to
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tolerate continuous failures without the ideas that people give to us to bring forward being seriously looked at.
I do look forward to the committee stage. As always, I want to thank the minister's staff for the briefings and for the minister always finding time to deal with issues privately. That's something that, of course, you would expect, but my co-critic and I certainly appreciate that the minister has always provided staff and has always made himself available for briefings.
We look forward to committee debate. You will find this side of the House actively ready to participate on any forestry measure that is brought forward. As I said, if government was willing and able to deal with the serious issues that are out there, rather than simply tinkering with the issues in front of us, we would be supporting that as well.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
As I've said, the idea that we would go a year and a half with basically a series of campaign announcements that have no substance is worrying, indeed, to those that depend upon forestry in their communities.
I see that my time is up. I see, as well, that we need to move on to break. So with that, I would move that we would break for lunch. I'm sure there is a proper way of saying it.
Mr. Speaker: Move adjournment of debate.
N. Macdonald: Thank you.
There, after six years….
N. Macdonald: This is not a first, but certainly….
So I move adjournment of debate.
N. Macdonald 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 11:55 a.m.
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