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
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Volume 32, Number 6
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 22 — Education Improvement Act (continued)
Hon. G. Abbott
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation
Hon. M. Polak
THURSDAY, MARCH 15, 2012
The House met at 10:03 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. D. McRae: I ask that we resume debate on Bill 22, intituled Education Improvement Act, with the Minister of Education. Also, in Committee A estimates for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 22 — EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 22; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 10:08 a.m.
On section 13 (continued).
Hon. G. Abbott: First, to address an issue which the member for Surrey-Whalley raised last evening in a discussion. The member asked whether section 7 ousts the court jurisdiction to deal with civil and criminal contempt for the same events. We took those questions on notice, as you know, Madam Chair. We have checked with legal counsel, and the answer is no. Section 7 does not oust the court's jurisdiction for those matters.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that action.
So just to summarize, in addition to prosecution under this act, those involved in an illegal work stoppage could be subject to civil contempt proceedings, criminal contempt proceedings, proceedings before the labour board, loss of pay, hearings before the Ministry of Education teacher regulation branch and civil proceedings by other groups. In addition, there would be the possibility of not only the fines but the civil remedies or civil restitution that's set out in section 7(4).
Is that a fair summary of the array of possible consequences that face those who would engage in what the minister would describe as illegal activity?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes.
R. Austin: Hon. Chair, we were on section 13 yesterday evening. I have finished my questions for section 13.
Hon. G. Abbott: I presume that concludes our discussion of section 7, and it could be passed now, because we stood it down.
Sections 7 and 13 approved.
On section 14.
R. Austin: With regards to section 14, can the minister provide an overview of section 14 and its purpose?
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the Education critic for the question. Section 14 amends section 76.1 of the School Act, which deals with maximum average class size and maximum class size. I'm certain the critic will want to explore the details of that, so I'll leave the questions in his hands.
R. Austin: In 2006 the former Minister of Education, the member for Prince George–Mount Robson, brought in a maximum-class-size measure with a huge amount of fanfare in the House. In fact, here is what she said:
"With respect to class size and composition, this legislation addresses many of the concerns we heard in the Learning Roundtable, in our meetings with students and parent groups and, most recently, during numerous visits to schools, to school districts and, in fact, to dozens of classrooms across the province. All of our education partners have provided valuable input, and it is obvious that each one of them wants what's best for British Columbia's students."
She went on to say:
"This legislation balances many of the concerns that we've heard. There was a common view that classes in grades 4 to 7 have pressure points when it comes to class size. This legislation places firm limits on class sizes in grades 4 to 7."
Of course, the legislation also provided class-size limits in the further grades.
So my question to the minister is: can the minister explain why his government brought in those provisions in 2006 in terms of class-size averages and is now taking that away?
Hon. G. Abbott: I guess what I'd say first to the Education critic in response to his very good question is that without a doubt, the changes that were proposed in 2006 and enacted in 2006 were a well-intentioned effort to try to improve the structure of classes and the organization of classes in British Columbia. A question, and rightly asked by the critic, is: why change?
The answer to that would be, first off, that experience suggests that we should change. Experience suggests that there has been less added value from district class averaging than was anticipated in 2006.
We believe, rather than hoping for that added value by district average class sizes, instead in going to class-size cap, hard cap, for K-to-3, which is identical to the 2006 structure, and to a class maximum of 30 in grades 4 to
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12. Again, I'm certain we will have a good debate on that point, but we believe that is a better way of proceeding rather than through district class-size averages, which, in our estimation, have not added value in terms of class organization.
We have been supported in that move — strongly. We have had, repeatedly, requests from the Principals and Vice-Principals Association, from the B.C. superintendents association, from the B.C. School Trustees Association. We have resolutions with respect to a district class-size average from BCSTA as well. I guess, in another way, teachers have also expressed their concerns with respect to this regime, of which district class averages are a part, by launching now over 10,000 grievances in respect of class size and composition.
I'm certain that all parties aim to see better classroom organization and more manageable, more satisfying class organization than has been the case. We don't believe that, in this case, district class averaging has added the value that was hoped.
R. Austin: The minister said in his statement that the bill passed in 2006 was a well-intentioned effort. I just want to quote again from his predecessor but one, the Minister of Education, who is now the Attorney General. She said:
"However, I do want to say, and I want to make one thing perfectly clear: this government has always believed that class size is important. We believed it was so important that we enshrined it in legislation and took it out of contract negotiations, where often students became pawns at that table. We said, 'It's so important, we're going to make it law in British Columbia,' and we know that's important."
I would argue that the reason why we have ended up with 10,000 or 12,000 grievances, as a result of the bill passed in 2006, around class size and composition was because the bill that was passed in 2006 didn't add any resources in order to enable school districts to comply with the law.
Essentially, what was happening as a result of that legislation was that we enshrined, here in this Legislature, maximum class sizes, as the minister has alluded to, in terms of the different grades. We also said that there shouldn't be more than three identified kids with a special need, those who have IEPs or individual education plans.
But at the time there was a huge hue and cry because the resolution to that strike and the bill passed in 2006 didn't give the resources to the school system. So if there were going to be classes outside of that legislative mandate, there weren't sufficient resources to actually be able to construct those classes.
What took place over the period since '06 to now is that we have had this process kind of made almost a fool of, because principals would go to their teachers and say: "Look, I know there's only supposed to be a maximum of 30 kids in this class, or 26 kids because you've got more kids with special needs. However, we simply don't have the ability here in our school district to be able to enforce the law. Therefore, will you work with me and sign this piece of paper saying you're giving consent?"
Would the minister not agree with my interpretation of why we've had so many grievances and recognize that passing a law and then not giving the resources to be able to actually enact that has created, essentially, chaos in the school system and an awful lot of time wasted, not just on James Dorsey's behalf but on teachers' behalf, on principals' behalf, going to endless grievance meetings as a result of his government's inability to fund their own law in 2006?
Hon. G. Abbott: I wouldn't agree with that at all. In fact, if one looks at the budget that was proposed by the New Democratic Party in the election of 2009….
Just as the B.C. Liberal Party did, the New Democratic Party submitted to the consideration of the electorate a draft budget which presumably would have guided their spending in the three years following the provincial election. As it turns out, in that NDP budget was in fact $50 million less than what was actually spent by the Ministry of Education in provincial budgets over that three-year period.
I know it's always easy to say, and I know that it is always so enormously tempting for the opposition to say, "Oh, you've chronically underspent" — except, apparently, when it comes to their own budgets.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm sorry. Apparently, the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke wants to enter the debate.
The Chair: The minister has the floor.
Hon. G. Abbott: I know I've excited the member with this question, but it is a direct response to what the Education critic asked, which was: did the government underfund? Well, not apparently, compared to the spendthrift opposition, which was proposing to spend, in fact, $50 million less over that three-year period.
Again, there is no money tree here that we can shake and have unlimited resources to direct at the system.
Hon. G. Abbott: Apparently, I've excited a number of nerves here in the room, Madam Chair. Perhaps that's a very good thing.
Would it be wonderful to have unlimited resources? Of course it would. I know as a former Health Minister
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that I would have loved to have unlimited resources as well. But there are not.
Again, I guess the question really is, because this is the section we're on…. I've given the critic the benefit of what I think is a thoughtful, constructive and honest answer — which is, we've looked at district class-size averages, and we've concluded that for the cost of those two districts that have had to form, for no other reason, additional classes at a range of levels in the system, there has not been the value added there that there is from having classes constituted on a different basis.
If the member is suggesting, as per this section 14, that there is something about district averages which we've missed, I'd love to hear that, because if we've missed it, it has also escaped the attention of superintendents, principals and vice-principals, and others, including the B.C. School Trustees Association.
The member, I guess, is saying, "Well, you did something in 2006; you're doing something different now," and he's right. And it's right that he, as critic, should point that out. That's fair game. But I've given him an honest answer to the question, and I've also given him an honest answer about resources.
R. Austin: It's interesting that the minister talks about his government's budget in 2009. Of course, as we all know in this House and all British Columbians have since discovered, that budget just prior to the election in 2009 also stated very clearly, and it was repeated many times by then Premier Gordon Campbell, that it would result in only a maximum deficit of $475 million — not a penny more. Of course, a few weeks after that election that budget, presented by the government as an election budget, turned out to be close to $3 billion, and of course, as a result, we had the fiasco of the HST.
I want to just make this comment. In terms of both class size and composition, I would agree with the minister's assertion that the composition aspect of those two categories is far more problematic than average class sizes. I would agree with that. We're going to have a debate, presumably, as we go on further, around composition.
I think the minister has made some statements recently. He'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think they're very egregious statements in terms of the number of children with special needs in a class and what this piece of legislation will do to damage that.
Anyway, I'd like to ask the minister this question. This bill removes the requirement to obtain the consent of a teacher where a class in grades 4 to 7 will exceed 30. How does the minister justify removing the requirement to obtain consent of a teacher where a class in grades 4 to 7 will exceed 30 students?
Hon. G. Abbott: I know that the Education critic is a thoughtful man, so I won't belabour the point around our vigorous debate on the 2009 budget, other than to say if British Columbia was the only jurisdiction in the world that underestimated the consequences of the economic meltdown that occurred in 2008-2009…. Perhaps it's worthy of note that every jurisdiction in the western world underestimated the challenges of the economic dislocation.
It started with the American subprime mortgage crisis, which led to many jurisdictions in Europe teetering on the brink of economic collapse, as some continue to do today. Our neighbours next door — a much larger budgetary deficit than we had in British Columbia, and of course Ontario and other provinces, experiencing the same challenge.
So to suggest, as the member has, that somehow British Columbia was unusual here is entirely not the case. In fact, we did better than most in a hugely challenging situation.
In terms of the member's question about the class maximum of 30, it should be noted that Coquitlam school district, Kamloops school district and a few others have already gone to a class maximum model of 30. And with the exception of band classes and the like, there were no classes in either of those districts that exceeded 30. That is the model that we are moving to here.
It will only be in extraordinary circumstances that we see classes of 31 or 32. They will only occur where both the superintendent and the principal sign off on those classes as having appropriate learning conditions for the students within them and also where consultation is undertaken with the teacher to the effect that the learning conditions are appropriate.
There were zero classes over 30 in Coquitlam, zero classes in Kamloops over 30, but in those rare instances where they occur, we are looking at additional compensation to the teacher in those cases. They may take it consistent with the Dorsey arbitrations, which awarded…. In the rare instances where Dorsey found in favour of the B.C. Teachers Federation, of the over 10,000 grievances, in those cases the awards linked to prep time, which has a certain value.
So we say that teachers can have the choice of taking that additional compensation in the form of prep time if that's their wish, or in the form of contributions to their professional development fund if that is their wish, or in the form of a modest increment in their salary if that is their wish. Or if their wish is some combination of those three things, they can do that. But again, that will only be in the rare instance where that class has been signed off by the principal, by the superintendent and where appropriate consultation has occurred.
R. Austin: I don't want to again belabour the point around the 2009 budget. I take the minister at his word in terms of the challenges to governments all around
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the world. I would point out this, though. In British Columbia we were at a point of an election. I think that the government has — within all of those people who work and give it information on a daily basis — the understanding, the knowledge of the cliff that we were falling over in terms of government revenues at that time.
All I'm saying is that at an election time when Lehman Brothers had collapsed in 2008 — our election was 2009 — to make the assertion that we were only going to have a maximum deficit of $475 million was completely incorrect. Obviously, the government would have known at the time, and that's the result of having to bring in the HST. But anyway, let's move on from that.
The minister is stating that in certain school districts…. He's cited Coquitlam and Kamloops as being ones that have always had the rule of 30 maximum students and therefore have abided by that. Could he inform this House, throughout British Columbia at this point in time, how many classes in all of British Columbia have more than 30 kids in those classes?
Hon. G. Abbott: Hon. Chair, I don't want to continue the debate about Budget 2009 either, because sooner or later you'll get angry at us and call to us order around the points. I would only observe that we were in very good company in terms of potentially underestimating the impact. We would be joined by literally thousands of economic advisers around the world who, again, had some difficulty estimating the precise magnitude of what the economic dislocation would be.
In terms of the experience…. I should point out that Kamloops and Coquitlam haven't always had this. This is something that they have developed. It's in place now, and I think it's been in place for a few years. But they've been working their way towards this model. It is fully fleshed in their districts now, but it hasn't been there, for example, for a decade. It's a few years.
In terms of the numbers the member requests, since 2005-2006 the number of classes with 30 or more students has dropped by 61 percent. I think that's something like a decline from about 9,000-something to 3,000-something. It's been a very substantial decline.
Today 95 percent of classes in B.C. have 30 students or less, 99 percent of classes have 32 students or less, and the great majority of that 1 percent that are over 32 are either choir, band, drama or one of the arts areas, where larger numbers can, at least at times, be a very desirable thing.
R. Austin: This bill removes the previous consent and consultation that had to take place with the teacher. The minister has mentioned that now if there are classes over 30, so long as the superintendent and the principal sign off on that, the teacher doesn't have to. Does the minister not feel that teachers should be involved in the makeup and construction of healthy class sizes?
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his important question, because it is a very important one. What we say in this debate is hugely important in terms of not only the public understanding but perhaps how others will interpret this as well.
The model we are moving to is one which would see consultation not just on certain classes — i.e., those with a certain number of special needs students in them. The model that we will be putting in place, via regulation pursuant to section 22 of Bill 22, will be one that will see teachers collaboratively working — along with principals, vice-principals and superintendents — to see successful organization and construction of all classes.
Our view is that every one of the 520,000 public school students in British Columbia each bring their own unique set of attributes to the classroom. We don't believe it is fair, on the basis of a physical or other attribute, to say, "This child will be particularly challenging in a classroom circumstance" — again, because that's not fair.
Some of the most outstanding students in British Columbia who have generated some of the highest achievement in subject areas in British Columbia may come to the classroom in a wheelchair. Every teacher, I'm certain, would be absolutely delighted to have that student in their classroom.
So to begin the discussion by assuming that because someone has a particular attribute — and, perhaps, a special need designation — therefore makes the issue of class composition move in a certain direction is unfair, we believe, and inappropriate.
What we want to do is to move away from the Bill 33 style of classroom composition and organization, to move to a model where we deal with these issues all year round. Particularly when we get into May and June….
I'm sorry. I was having difficulty communicating, because the member keeps wanting to advise me….
The Chair: The minister has the floor.
The Chair: The minister has the floor.
Hon. G. Abbott: Thank you, Madam Chair.
We want to move to a model where these are issues in which teachers, principals, vice-principals, superintendents and, where appropriate, education assistants are engaged on an ongoing basis around the issues of class size and composition.
Again, we can get into this discussion more fully. The members opposite may be surprised to hear that there are a lot of people who are very supportive of the model that we've articulated here. It is because we're trying to
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treat each child as an individual human being and not respond on the basis of formulas but rather respond on the basis of the attributes, the strengths, the challenges that each child will bring to the classroom. That's the way we want to do this.
It is a very different way of looking at it. But if you look at the work of esteemed academics like Dr. Stuart Shanker and others, this is this kind of approach that we think will yield far better results than a formula-driven model that makes assumptions about how manageable a class will be based on the designations of the children that will compose it.
R. Austin: Does a student in a wheelchair automatically have an IEP?
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer is that in many instances where students are in wheelchairs, there will be an IEP but not in every instance. Again, it goes to the point and, I think, goes to the danger of overgeneralizing with respect to any group of children.
There is a great variety of reasons why one might be in a wheelchair. And again, it goes to the point of looking at every student as an individual and the nature of the challenge that they face, and not making assumptions about how well or how effectively they will fit into a particular class setting.
R. Austin: A student in a wheelchair who is in every other respect extremely bright would only be requiring assistance outside of the main classroom setting. I mean, that student would be doing biology and succeeding, would be doing English and succeeding, but when they go to gym, would have to have somebody assisting them to do something completely different. So I think the minister's example is not a valid one.
I would ask the minister this: is the minister making the assertion in this House that there is no difference between a child with autism, a child with a severe learning disability, a child with severe behavioural problems, a so-called grey-area child and a child who appears to have normative learning patterns? Are there no differences between these categories of children in our school system?
Hon. G. Abbott: That's exactly the point I was making. I'm not sure if the member missed it or what. We're saying that there are differences. There are not only differences between categories; there are differences between students in those categories. That is the essence of this approach.
To say that we can drive this on a formula basis does a disservice to the students that it serves. Again, if one looks at, for example, the submission of Dawn Steele, who I'm sure the members know well as an advocate in this area…. Or look at the very thoughtful submission, which I'm sure the members opposite have reviewed, from the greater Victoria district parent advisory council, a very thoughtful submission in this area.
The upshot of all that is said is that we've got to avoid looking at students as categories. We should always look at students as individuals who bring their own unique set of attributes to a classroom. That is why….
Again, let's test this proposition, because I'm anxious to hear the opposition's view on this. I suspect, when we dig a little deeper, we may actually be in agreement on what we're trying to do here. What this aims at is collaborative management of these issues in the classroom.
When I visited Prince Rupert, I had the good fortune to visit some schools where they're already doing this. In fact, in most schools in Prince Rupert they're already doing this. In the school setting the superintendent, the principals, vice-principals, the teachers, the education assistants sit down and look at these issues on an ongoing basis. They collaborate around the management.
So the member's point actually is a very good one, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Continue, Member.
Hon. G. Abbott: The member's point is a good one — that an individual who needs a wheelchair may require support at certain times of the day. What is already occurring in many schools in British Columbia is that where a collaborative decision-making process is available or where it's utilized…. Where it's part of the school culture, what you in fact see are all the educational partners — including education assistants, teachers, principals, vice-principals, superintendents — working together collaboratively to manage their resources during the course of the day so that at those points in the day where an individual might require additional assistance, they can get it.
And you know, I've readily acknowledged that we need to do more and we need to do better in relation to the education assistants that serve us in the system. We haven't built career opportunities for them. We haven't developed the skills-training opportunities we should for them.
We need to do more, and we need to do it differently. There's no question about that. That's why we've created the learning improvement fund. That's why I'm very excited about the possibilities that we can get all of the partners in the education system working together collaboratively, rather than butting heads over issues that, when it comes down to it, relate to the human characteristics of the students we're all trying to serve.
That's what we're trying to do here, and I hope that provides some clarity. Again, if we're going to fight, let's fight about the right things. I hope it's not a fight about
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collaboration and school-based teams not being the right approach.
R. Austin: Certainly, we're not fighting about collaboration here. In fact, in my previous life, I used to attend some of these collaborative meetings as an educational assistant. Lots of good work takes place in these meetings because specialists from the community, from mental health, from addictions, from everywhere can come in and work with special ed teachers, the principals and the teachers in their classroom.
These meetings do take place all around the province and have done for years. The challenge, always, when the rubber hits the road, is that at the end of these collaborative processes is the challenge of finding the resources within either an individual school or an individual school district to actually provide the services that you are collaborating around to try and find some solutions for a particular child. So we're not arguing about collaboration.
I would say this, in terms of the minister saying that there are people advocating that this is somehow discriminatory. Getting to Dawn Steele's letter, of course if one further reads Dawn Steele's letter, she is essentially saying that it is a challenge to be labelling a child. I think there are lots of professions where we have this discussion around: what does it do to label a child as they go through any system or as they go through life in general? To receive a label as an individual can be extremely harmful, but there is also a purpose to it when you are having good intent behind that labelling.
The whole purpose of assessing children with special needs and giving them categories is, in a sense, labelling them. So is the minister suggesting that we should, in order to not be discriminatory, simply stop assessing children because to give a child a category 1 or category 2 or category 3 is discriminatory to them? Surely not.
The whole purpose of assessing a child, once identified by a teacher as having any kind of challenge, is to then go to someone who has the professional skills to delve into it and to see what the challenge is for that child, and then to automatically say to the government: "Listen, we need extra resources in the school system beyond the general per-pupil student funding for this child — probably throughout their career in the education system."
We have to do that. We have to go and assess kids in order to generate those extra resources into the system.
I don't follow the minister's argument at all. What I think is happening here is…. The judge, Madam Justice Susan Griffin, when she brought her judgment down, claimed that Bills 27 and 28 were mostly there to reduce costs to the education system. I see removing this so-called discrimination around children with special needs and the scaremongering around labelling a kid as simply a recognition that this government has failed.
After all, they brought in Bill 33. They recognized that children had a variety of needs and that if there were extraordinary needs of too many children in the classroom it made that classroom untenable in terms of its teaching and learning outcomes. I know the minister, himself, has spent many years teaching, although that's been at the post-secondary level.
I would challenge the minister to say in this House, if he was teaching in the K-to-12 system, as opposed to having his experience in the post-secondary system, how he would manage if he had to put up with a classroom that had five, six, seven or eight children with special needs. Surely to goodness, that would change his ability to teach the kids.
Hon. G. Abbott: Again, I know that the tendency in this chamber is to, in a very emotionally charged way, go to rhetorical arguments about the subject area that we're discussing here. Again, I want to reiterate that I believe the critic to be a thoughtful man and a well-experienced man. I'm sure that, based on some presumptions that he has heard, he is forming some conclusions which I think are inappropriate.
I want to begin with this. I have never suggested — and I know that the member could never find such a thing, because it would be an absurd suggestion — that we stop assessing children. That's simply not the case, and no one in this House has ever made such a preposterous suggestion, so I think it's inappropriate to even raise the suggestion that we would do that.
Clearly, assessment of children is hugely important. To effectively mitigate some of the challenges which children face, early assessment is hugely important.
One of the challenges that we have in the system…. We have — in the areas of professionals like speech pathologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, etc. — some challenges around the numbers that are educated at universities here and elsewhere. As a consequence, sometimes the interventions come less quickly than we would like.
That having been said, that's one of the reasons why I am excited about a conversation which we're having with the deans of education. It's about how can we take some of the graduating bachelor of education students we have in the province…. For a variety of reasons, we are educating approximately three bachelor of education students, graduating every year, in relation to one position that opens up in the system, plus we have, additionally, several hundred others from outside the province who come.
That's why I'm excited about a conversation that would say: is there a way that we can build a skills component that a graduating BEd might take on, to have them serve as a kind of paraprofessional between the speech therapist and the student? So we can try to remedy that shortage that way. That's one of the opportunities that we can build under the learning improvement fund, but it's just one of the opportunities.
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I don't want to be partisan or political here. Again, I think this is too important a discussion to descend to that level. How we manage these issues in the classroom is, I think, the one area where we can do way better in what is a good to very good education system in British Columbia. But I think that too often the nature of this discussion has been an adversarial one rather than a collaborative one. So maybe the opposition agrees or does not agree.
Currently $866 million goes to the 60 school districts in the province in the education block, having been determined by, generally, a combination of level 1, level 2, level 3 students who have been assessed and identified and have funding ranging up to $36,000. That will continue — that block of $866 million.
We have also put on the table, as part of the discussion around Bills 27 and 28, the learning improvement fund, which currently stands at $165 million and which we hope will soon be $195 million, subject to accountants and lawyers and the like working through all these important issues.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
But that body of money is aimed not only at looking at opportunities such as we've discussed with the deans of education but also the work that has been undertaken with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, who represent the education assistants, generally speaking, in the province. We're looking at ways that we can increase their contact time with students who need their support and looking at ways that we can enhance their skill base so that they might do more in the classroom and have broader roles in the classroom. I think that's hugely exciting — to be thinking of their career development.
Tragically, this is a discussion that has not occurred yet. And I say tragically because I think there are great opportunities for the teaching profession in British Columbia, as well, in this $165 million fund. We have a lot of graduates of bachelor of education programs who simply don't have the knowledge, the experience, around the very complex classroom situations that they may face.
So if we can — as we have with CUPE — look at things like how we can provide for more teachers doing more things with a stronger skill base, that's the discussion we need to have with the Teachers Federation. I'm hoping that will be a discussion that, under the guidance of the mediator, we can have. The conversation to date has been that from the TF perspective, the learning improvement fund is woefully inadequate from the quantum perspective. Obviously, we don't share that view. But that's been the sum of the discussion to date, and we need to move beyond that.
In fairness to the 520,000 kids that we're all trying to serve, we need to get beyond that. We need to get, at the leadership level, far more collaborative than we have been. And we need to empower schools and empower school districts to get to a more collaborative level around the management of these things as well.
The Chair: The member for Juan de Fuca seeks leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
J. Horgan: It's a pleasure to stand here today and introduce 50 students from Belmont high school, which will be familiar to the minister and the deputy minister. These are grade 11 students.
Regrettably, they won't benefit from the $100 million announcement for two new schools in my community, but they will be, potentially, the last kids to graduate from the old girl on Jacklin Road. Would the House please make these 50 students very, very welcome.
B. Simpson: I welcome the students to a debate that is about their peers and the working and learning conditions of both the teachers and the students in the school system. Hopefully, you have a context for what's being discussed here.
Straight-up question to the minister: what does the minister understand is the additional burden to a classroom teacher of adding an IEP student to a classroom? What additional requirements does that impose on a classroom teacher?
Hon. G. Abbott: This goes to the point which I've been attempting to make. It will depend entirely on who the student is whether the IEP…. The member apparently scoffs at that.
It's unfortunate that we talk of human beings, students, in terms of them being so many IEPs in a classroom. These are students. These are human beings in a classroom. They're not IEPs, nor should there be any assumptions made about the nature of that IEP. It depends on the student, and it depends on the student entirely.
We have a student with an IEP who has a heart murmur. As a consequence, there has to be a defibrillator on site. Does that make that student a challenge in the classroom? Absolutely not.
They're a star student, both academically and in sports. There is absolutely no reason why that student would not be welcomed into every classroom. To assume that because he or she has an IEP…. It is regrettable that there's some assumption associated with that.
That having been said, if the issue is that the student has a severe behavioural issue which causes them to,
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with regularity, disrupt a class, that is entirely a different situation.
What one needs to do in an instance like that is to see the principal, the vice-principal, the teacher, the education assistant and perhaps the superintendent as well looking at how that can be managed so that the principle of inclusion can be respected but, at the same time, the rights of the balance of the students in that class also are respected.
Again, if the member is trying to make generalizations about students with IEP, it runs exactly contrary to what we're trying to do here.
B. Simpson: If the minister thinks I was scoffing…. I'm scoffing at the line of reasoning the minister is presenting in this case.
This is the first time the minister has admitted in this House that there's a possibility of a child with an IEP that would have actual classroom management issues associated with it, that a child with an IEP — one child, alone, with an IEP — would be so disruptive to a classroom that that's all that class should have.
It's the very first time this minister has admitted that this scenario exists. Up until this point, the minister has made the case that anybody with an IEP is going to be a bright student or should be considered as a bright student. He's given the positive scenario.
The issue is: who has the right to determine…? That's what this is all about. The minister talked about teachers coming out of the education system not even necessarily having the skills to understand the complex situations in the classroom. That is what the minister's own words were.
We have classroom teachers that are experienced with this situation. What this bill is doing is removing their right to be consulted on this issue. The minister says it's not the case.
So does this bill guarantee, as we have it configured here, that teachers' rights to consultation will be protected and that teachers will have the final say on the configuration of their classroom?
Hon. G. Abbott: To answer the member's question: in every instance, in every classroom situation, there will be both consultation and collaboration under the new model. Notwithstanding the member's claim otherwise, teachers have never had the final say on classroom organization. The responsibility for this ultimately rests under the School Act with the school principal, and the school principal, if anyone has a final say, is that official. That has been the case for decades, at least, in British Columbia.
B. Simpson: The minister didn't answer my previous question. I'll come back to this line of argument. Because the minister keeps going to these more positive cases, for the classroom of a child with an IEP…. I am not…. I mean, I stand on the principle, and I said that in my speech, that the minister is espousing — that we need to accommodate every child in our education system and every classroom as much as possible and give them every resource.
What the minister fails to add into the argument as he quotes other people who stand with him on the principle is that to a person, to an organization…. They've indicated that the resources must come with those children, to make sure that those children are in those classrooms fully resourced and that every other child in that classroom can continue to have a positive learning environment that's productive for them as well. That's the missing ingredient here.
Now, the minister can point to the $866 million or the minister can point to the $164 million that they are going to add, but the community that is supporting these children is also saying that there are insufficient resources.
I pointed out in my speech in second reading on this that we have lost language pathologists. We have lost teachers that can help with the blind and the deaf. We have lost physiotherapy capacity. Teachers, while all of this has been gone, have lost the resources they need as classroom teachers to be able to ensure that a positive learning environment is maintained.
The minister didn't answer my previous question about what does it mean if a high-needs child, an additional high-needs child, is put into a classroom. Whether those high needs are in the behavioural domain or the learning domain, what it means is generally a weekly team-based meeting around that child's environment and whether it's working or not and what needs to be adapted. What it means is a modification of the curriculum. The teacher must sit and modify the curriculum for that child.
What it means is that the teacher, if there is a designated support worker — which is great; it doesn't always happen, but it is great — now has to switch into management mode to assist that designated support worker to be able to adequately support that individual. Then, on an ongoing basis, the teacher has to manage the rest of the classroom dynamics so that all of the other children in that classroom have the same opportunities and the same rights to a high-quality education as the child that is being accommodated, that comes with an IEP and high needs.
All of that is the dynamic, and that's why teachers have to have at least some primary rights in the determination if the government is going to lift the cap, because that's what they are doing. It was agreed that about three, on a general case, should trigger a more deliberate relationship with the teacher, where the teacher would have the right to say: "Hang on a second." There would be a process where they were backstopped by law, to be able to then trigger a higher degree of collaboration.
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The minister is not wrong that collaboration occurs. That's why some of us find this offensive; it suggests that that collaboration isn't occurring. I mean, the opposition critic is sitting on the list of the classroom configurations for his district, and there are very few classes that are under three on IEPs. It goes on. But to lift those caps, which is what this is doing, and to specifically give that designated authority to override the teacher in this situation, beyond the three, instead of triggering a more collaborative and a more deliberate conversation about what's happening in that classroom….
That's what is going on. Otherwise, this portion of the bill is not necessary. It's not necessary to start removing the caps — soft caps, hard caps, whatever. It's not necessary to do this bill. There is a reason for this bill, and that is a financial management reason. That's what's going on. The minister is managing the Education finances through this bill, under the guise of a principle of "every child gets a right to a classroom."
My question to the minister is: under this new part of the School Act, under this new configuration of collaboration, what happens when the teacher says no? When the teacher says, "On balance, I do not think it is fair to the rest of the children in my classroom to have this additional child added to my classroom; I say no," what happens?
Hon. G. Abbott: It's interesting. As I listen to the member opposite, I occasionally actually think that I agree with him, and then he will move from there to what I would say are some of the most cynical assumptions one can ever make about what the intention is here. I think that's unfortunate. I think that the member appears to have some thoughtful understanding of what's going on yet can't move from there to thinking about how, collaboratively, one might deal with this.
I'll start with this proposition, because this portion I agree with. Collaboration does occur in schools across the province — not in every school, not in every classroom, but collaboration does occur.
Would we like to see more collaboration? Absolutely, and that is what we're attempting to do here — to not only try to build a stronger culture of collaboration but also to backstop that additional collaboration with additional resources.
It is always tempting, particularly when one is in opposition, to think that one merely needs to shake the money tree or make any promise about additional resources. Because you don't have to actually follow through on it, it's easy to say that government has underspent or government should do more.
I know the member in question. While he is no longer a member of the official opposition caucus — although maybe that's changed today, I don't know — he certainly was elected in 2009 and would have been part of the composition of the NDP's education budget.
So just to note again, in 2009-10 the NDP budget proposed $50 million; government actual, $84 million. NDP proposed in 2010-2011, $75 million; government actual, $112 million. And 2011-2012 NDP proposed $100 million; government, a little bit less — but in the overall, still more spent by government than was proposed in the NDP's plan for education.
I guess the member would say, "Well, you know, we would have actually spent more, notwithstanding our budget," and it's challenging to know that. I suppose one way we could test-drive the proposition would be for the members opposite to release the budget that they prepared for what they anticipated was going to be the fall election in 2011. That would be good. We might be able to get some assessment of what the NDP proposed to spend in that area.
Apparently, that's not going to be released. Presumably sometime in the election of 2013 I'm sure we will see…. Yes, the member is nodding — and the Finance critic and the Health critic — that indeed, sometime during the election campaign we'll understand what the NDP proposes to spend in this area.
I appreciate that the role of opposition is to always say, "We'd do more, or we'd do different," and that's fine. They can tell me how they'd do more and where they'd find the money and what they'd do different. I welcome that. We look forward to seeing that.
Can we do better? Absolutely, we can do better. That is why we have both put in place the learning improvement fund and backstopped it with 165 million, we hope 195 million, additional dollars. That will support the existing $866 million that is in the block for this purpose.
This goes to the point that when we're looking at class composition, we need to look at every child, every student as an individual and not make assumptions based on them having an IEP or having a special needs designation — looking at them as individuals and working together as a team so that the resources are fluid at the school and at the class level and they can be mobilized to respond to the times when additional support is needed.
To me, this is common sense. The member can say: "Oh well, yes, sure it's common sense, but you're not putting enough money in." Again, I say: "Well, you know, there is an opportunity here for more dollars." We believe that all the partners ought to work together to discuss how not only the existing $866 million but the incremental $165 million or $195 million can be utilized in the system.
I think there are lots of things we could do better. No question about that. But a consultation with teachers will be a very important part of that, whether it's organization of classes or the possibility, where it's essential, that a class might exceed 30. In all of those instances consultation and collaboration will be the order of the day.
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B. Simpson: What's cynical is the minister always going to the partisan nature of the debate, to the back-and-forth around the next election. My cynicism here is based on actual work with classroom teachers and being a classroom teacher myself under the NDP administration.
To suggest that this isn't fiscal management is just, quite frankly, nonsensical. In fact, the judge in the Supreme Court said that this is about fiscal management. I mean, that's the judge's assessment of what the government was doing. So fess up. That's what's going on. It's fiscal management.
With respect to where more money is, I agree absolutely. I absolutely agree with the minister that the NDP has an obligation to say how they would do this differently and how they would fund it differently. If the minister cares to go back and read my speech, I absolutely said that there's opportunity for other money to be here, and I said that BCPSEA needs to come to the table and tell us where the cost savings are.
I think the system is administratively top-heavy. I think some of that is because of the government's requirements around accountability and around various other things where they've added administrators that are not necessary in the system. Get rid of those. Get some of the cost savings on the administrative side.
I've also challenged the BCTF. I find it inconceivable that the BCTF could suggest that there are no cost savings on their end and that they can't come to the table under the principle of net zero and suggest where they might be able to fund their own contract increase. I don't disagree with any of that.
I've also indicated that this government needs to reverse the cut to the industrial school tax. It didn't get us any jobs. It didn't keep any jobs. It was a stimulus package. It's now under the guise of revenue-neutral carbon government, for crying out loud. A cut to the school tax is somehow associated with revenue-neutral carbon tax.
So there's $230 million in restoring the industrial school tax rate over the next three years and $80 million a year thereafter. There's $13 million in stopping this idiotic charging for carbon offsets in the school system. As the minister has indicated, there's $33 million in putting the strike money back in.
So there is money to be had here. But I agree with the minister. The other parties also have to do their work and come forward, and I, too, challenge the NDP to say what they would do here rather than just fight the partisan debate and the rhetoric of this bill. So we don't dispute that.
Having said all of that, my question to the minister is…. I want to know, and I think it's fair to teachers to know, what happens in this case if they say no. Previously if they said no, it triggered a process. It is unclear in these changes what happens when a teacher says no — no to exceeding the 30 and no to having an additional child that's designated, because that teacher, he or she, thinks that it's going to be too disruptive.
So just a straightforward process issue: what happens if the teacher says no?
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his question. In terms of the order of things here, obviously teachers, as professionals, will look at classroom organization, and hopefully, through their collaboration with principals, vice-principals and, where appropriate, with education assistants, reach comfort with respect to classroom organization.
Obviously, principals are professionals as well. They are almost invariably former teachers. They bring a range of experience to the discussion as well. In virtually every instance, the teacher will work with the principal to build a classroom organization that is appropriate from a learning perspective.
We have brought to the table an additional $165 million — hopefully, soon to be $195 million — to provide additional supports to that discussion and to that classroom organization. Were there to be an instance where, at the school level, a teacher and a principal were unable to resolve these issues, ultimately, it is to the superintendent to decide to sign off on whether that composition, that organization, is appropriate.
B. Simpson: I think here's the rub. Bottom line: there isn't really a process, other than the superintendent signing and forcing the circumstance into existence.
The minister wants a clarification. I'd like a clarification on that.
Hon. G. Abbott: None of that takes away from the teachers' opportunity to launch a grievance, should they find the situation unacceptable, notwithstanding the superintendent's sign-off.
B. Simpson: Here we get into the blend of section 1 and section 2. Section 1, the collective agreement is in process, but the collective agreement is going to presume that language for class-size configuration will be in the act. So really, without language in the collective agreement around class-size configuration, it begs the question: how can you grieve something that you don't have a right to in your collective agreement?
I mean, I think this is setting us up to simply take the fight that's going on just now, around both collective bargaining and class-size composition, to the individual teacher.
Now I have to move on. I mean, there are other things that need to be done here. But I'm very concerned, and this is something that I think we're all going to be interested in seeing. I do think it strips teachers of their right to be able to say no and have a process to follow up on. I do not believe the grievance process will be able to be
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implemented under these circumstances, other than a generalized working-conditions grievance, because the caps are removed.
Having said that, though, there's another way that the government…. These are my final couple of questions. With the minister's forbearance, I'd like to ask two questions in one here, because they're related, so that I can cede the floor to the opposition members again.
The minister has indicated that some additional resources will be made available to the classroom teacher, should he or she concede to exceed the limits — either the three or the 30. My question to the minister is this, though….
That's moving collective bargaining from the bargaining table down to the classroom, to the individual teachers. Class-size composition now comes there, and remuneration now comes there. I just do not believe that is the way that we should be going. That's my fundamental belief. I think this is a recipe for disaster.
Would the minister please indicate to the House two things? One, what's the budgeted line item the government has for this? Does the government have a sense of how much this negotiation at the teacher level is going to cost them? What's the line item that they think this is going to cost?
The second part of the question is just as important. Will the school districts be provided with additional funding to cover that additional teacher-by-teacher negotiated cost?
Hon. G. Abbott: I want to take a moment to respond to some very important issues which the member has raised here.
The first is to address the first question the member raised about the opportunity for grievance and arbitration where a teacher feels that a class organization is inappropriate. The provisions which are being enacted here under section 14 have already been the subject of consideration by courts.
The court has ruled that the section 14 provisions in this act would be subject to grievance and arbitration. I'm just confirming on the record here in committee stage debate that we believe that to be the case. We believe that the court has already given direction with respect to these items being ones that can be grieved and arbitrated.
A second point. I guess it really goes to this point: do we want teachers and principals to have collaborative management of the classroom? I believe the answer to that is yes. We believe that the learning improvement fund is an appropriate vehicle to assist in that.
Again, we may have all kinds of disputes across the floor of the House about whether current resourcing is sufficient or whether past resourcing has been sufficient or whether the $165 million or $195 million in the learning improvement fund is sufficient.
We can debate that. It's a legitimate debate. But if we agree on the principle that collaborative management of classroom resources is appropriate, then that's important to recognize. Then we can go on and debate the quantum.
A third important point. The member is from a riding which actually is very similar to my own. I'm from Shuswap, and he's from north Cariboo. Cariboo-Chilcotin? Cariboo North. Okay, good. Only a few tries required to get that right, Madam Chair, but I'm not trained in these matters, as you are.
He knows, as I do, that in quite large rural districts we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where to have…. It might be a grade 4 class, a grade 7 class or a grade 10 class — that there will be occasions on which the numbers don't work out perfectly, where we have 31 kids wanting to be in that class, which we would like to be a class maximum of 30.
We wouldn't want to say to the 31st student: "No, you have to get on a bus and go to another school 30 kilometres away." We wouldn't want to do that. We'd want to have a model whereby the 31st could be accommodated. That's what we're attempting to do here — where we look at the situation and we say: "Okay, this is appropriate to learning."
This is a situation which is extraordinary, but we've had principals, teachers, superintendents, look at this, and it is a workable model. How, then, do we deal fairly with the fact that we have 31 rather than 30 in this class in Sicamous?
I think the way to do that is to…. I appreciate and I respect the member's views around why he finds this inappropriate, but to me it is respectful of the teaching professional that they can decide, consistent with the Dorsey arbitration, that they want to take additional prep time. That's fine with us. That's great. Or they can decide that they want to take any additional dollars and put them into their professional development fund — again, a totally appropriate decision for them as a professional to make. Or if it's more appropriate, they could take it as a modest salary increment, or they could take it as a combination of any three of those things.
Again, we can certainly have the debate around whether that's right or wrong. We think it's a good approach, and we think it is not only pragmatic but also respectful of teachers as professionals.
I guess a final point. When we talk about incremental cost here, we don't actually believe, based on the experience of Kamloops, Coquitlam and several other districts, that there will be incremental cost. Coquitlam has been able to manage with zero classes over 30. That's one of the largest districts in the province. Kamloops, which we both know well, is bigger than both of the districts that we serve. Their experience is comparable. The only classes that are over 30 in Kamloops are band and related arts-type classes. So it is possible to do this.
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I think that while it's a new model — and, undoubtedly, there will be bumps and wrinkles, as there have been in any other attempt to try to put this in place — we are optimistic that given the professionalism of all the educational partners, we can make this work.
N. Macdonald: Maybe just to get back and get an answer. I was curious about the last question. I was looking for an answer there too. I think what the minister does, again, is an example of anecdotal hearsay — right? You lay out a scenario, and it's exactly what the judge — looking at what was done with Bill 27 and 28 — said is anecdotal hearsay. So you lay out a scenario that you can't actually place as a real event.
Okay, the question was: if the minister is going to put more resources in — the figure of $5,000 for classes that are over 30 — where does it come from? Is that something that the school district or the school…? Many of the schools are school-based funding. Do they have to find that themselves, or is this additional money that the minister anticipates providing?
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his important question.
The member began his dissertation with the claim that we were working from anecdotal hearsay. That is not so. We are working from several years of experience in the Coquitlam school district, the Kamloops school district and other school districts that have gone to this model with success.
I cited the case of Coquitlam, one of the largest school districts in the province. It had zero classes over 30. Kamloops had classes — they were band classes and the like — over 30, but they were able to manage within the model. So it's not anecdotal hearsay. It is the actual experience of school districts.
The member cited a figure of $5,000. I'm not sure where he got that. The figure for a grade-4-to-7 class, where this theoretically could occur…. The additional compensation per student would be around $2,500 per student, and for secondary classes it would be about $300 per student in those rare instances where classes larger than 30 might be necessary and where they are signed off and consulted on, as we discussed earlier.
To put it in perspective, for all grade-4-to-7 classes across the entire province of British Columbia, there were only 60 that were over 30 in the last school year. So it is unusual.
The Vancouver school board. I think their budget is somewhere in the range of $450 million. Their estimate of the incremental cost around this piece, assuming they're not able to get all within 30…. We think they probably will be able to, with the additional flexibility that's here. Even a conservative estimate would be a cost, perhaps, of $50,000 for this function. That is not even a rounding error on a budget as large as Vancouver school board's.
In every case there are additional dollars that are going to school districts, which will assist in this. But this is not something that we believe will be a cost driver. This is good classroom organization.
Noting the hour, Madam Chair, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:55 a.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. D. McRae moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 this afternoon.
The House adjourned at 11:56 a.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); P. Pimm in the chair.
The committee met at 10:09 a.m.
On Vote 11: ministry operations, $34,753,000.
The Chair: Minister, do you have an opening statement?
Hon. M. Polak: I'd first of all like to recognize the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations and introduce some of my staff who are with me today.
To my right is Steve Munro, deputy minister. Behind me we have Peter Walters, assistant deputy minister of
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strategic initiatives; Charles Porter, assistant deputy minister of negotiations and regional operations; Neilane Mayhew, assistant deputy minister, corporate services for the natural resources sector; and Ken Armour, executive director, intergovernmental and community relations, partnerships and community renewal division.
We finish with that last bit and begin by saying that partnerships with First Nations are truly a vital part of the B.C. jobs plan and have the potential to create major economic benefits and, of course, new opportunities across British Columbia. Last September the Premier committed B.C. to achieving ten non-treaty agreements with First Nations by 2015.
Six months later we have concluded three such agreements, including a reconciliation protocol with the Nanwakolas First Nations and a land use plan with the Kaska Dena. I'm very confident that we can meet and surpass ten agreements by that deadline.
With that, I suppose we can begin.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister and her staff. I also wanted to acknowledge the traditional territories, or Coast Salish territory — Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. I also would like to acknowledge your staff. Your staff have been very helpful to me not just in this process approaching estimates, but also they have been available. I have seen them at a number of events, and they've always been friendly and willing to talk and answer questions. I just want to thank you all for that.
I would like to make comment just in reference to the minister's opening statement. I would note that jobs and partnerships are very important, but that is not — I just wanted to say on the record — what it is all about. I mean, that's not the only thing in dealing with aboriginal relations and reconciliation.
There are social justice issues and such that I think are just as important — in many ways, more important. I know the minister probably doesn't disagree with that. She was being quick and expedient so we can get on to the business, and I appreciate that.
If I may, I'm going to stick to some fairly high-level stuff to start, and then I'll have some more specific questions as we get into this. I'm going to jump around a little bit, if I may, just to start with, on a few issues that I have need for some advice on. It may span, as many of these things do, more than one ministry. It may be just on the perimeter of the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. So if you could bear with me on just a few questions that sort of travel to different places for a moment.
I would like to begin with the B.C. First Nations health governance changes that are underway. The aboriginal health authorities…. Of course, there has been some devolution from the federal government. I know it's a tripartite agreement, and I know that it's in the process of being developed now. I'm not sure what role the ministry plays, if anything, or if the Ministry of Health plays more of a role.
I have the broader brush of information on it. But can the minister just give us a breakdown of what we're doing provincially, how it affects us with the provincial delivery of health care, how it spans with INAC and where we're at with that? I can't even find the numbers on that. What money is involved? Where is it coming from?
Hon. M. Polak: It is a new development on the scene in British Columbia. I have to inform you, though, that we have no budget for that in our ministry. We also have no formal role that we play in that process.
S. Fraser: Thank you to the minister for that. Good answer. I know it's being worked on right now, as far as how the aboriginal health authorities would…. I don't know if devolve is the right way — or evolve. This is in no way a rhetorical question. Do we have any idea of the consultation role that's being played through First Nations to develop this aboriginal health authority model?
Hon. M. Polak: That would actually be far better canvassed with the Minister of Health. The discussions that are taking place are entirely between the federal government and the Ministry of Health and the First Nations health council.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I'll probe that, I suppose, with the Minister of Health when those estimates come up, although it is curious that this ministry plays no role at all there. It just seems to me that even in a peripheral way, there would certainly be some role for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation.
Allowing some autonomy for things like health care and education for aboriginal people and First Nations in the province would certainly be in keeping with the mandate of this ministry, at least at a 10,000-foot level. I am surprised that there is no active role for the ministry. But thank you for that. I'll just move off that, and I'll try to follow up with the other ministries.
Just in general on the budget, I would note that in 2012 it's pretty much a status quo budget for First Nations and aboriginal people. Status quo budgets are often a little bit lower than the status quo because, of course, costs go up.
Considering the disproportionate needs — socioeconomic needs and other needs — of First Nations in the province, a status quo budget is…. Maybe the minister has had some similar reaction. There's some disappointment there amongst First Nations and aboriginal leaders about not recognizing that disproportionate level of need. Progress needs to be made, and status quo won't allow more progress.
I note the leadership council has had funding cut for
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their meeting schedules over the last few years, and that hasn't been addressed. Losing time to meet with First Nations leaders I think is a setback in many ways. It's not even status quo; it's a setback.
The minister probably doesn't have any authority to get more money. But can she just explain how she plans to address the disproportionate needs of aboriginal people with a budget that's status quo or arguably less than it was before because of the costs and the realities of the economy?
Hon. M. Polak: I will say off the top that we don't believe that our ministry's ability to negotiate meaningful agreements with First Nations is compromised in any way. One must remember that when we do reach agreements with First Nations, that money is then requested from Treasury Board. It doesn't come out of our base budget.
In terms of the work we do with the First Nations Leadership Council, we have provided them with $350,000 this year. In fact, we have funded the First Nations Leadership Council to participate in new relationship and transformative change accord discussions since 2007. That total, to date, is about $6.8 million, and the funding has varied over the years depending on what initiatives are underway. In fact, the funding to the First Nations Leadership Council has always been linked to initiatives that we've undertaken with them.
The largest amount, for example, was allotted during a time when we were just in discussions around the larger reconciliation and recognition agreement or legislation which, of course, did not end up going forward. That amount was minimized during the time after that, when the First Nations Leadership Council was more or less in a year of reflection and seeking a new mandate from their chiefs.
So we continue to work with them. It does not hamper our ability to engage with them, to discuss with them. We intend to do that fully.
This really comes down to your question around the potential impact on very many needs out there in First Nations communities, which we certainly recognize actually does relate to the role of our ministry within government. It is the job of line ministries throughout government to be working to meet the needs of First Nations communities and those that are on and off reserve, in their role in their respective ministries.
Our ministry becomes involved when there are issues that are related under section 35 — consultation, for example, and rights and title. But more broadly, our ministry does not play a role in any programs that are delivered to First Nations, so it is not reflected in our budget, and there's no impact of costs rising with respect to any kind of programmatic budgeting that would take place in line ministries.
S. Fraser: Thank you to the minister for that. I would note, though, that $350,000 for the leadership council for consultation and meetings, talking….
The issues haven't gone away. I would suggest the landscape has changed somewhat, but certainly the need to meet and discuss issues of importance, like closing those gaps that we talked about earlier, is still there. To diminish the funding seems like a step backwards. I mean, that's less than $117,000 per member of the leadership council.
So the summit will get $117,000 or $116,000-something in total for a whole year to meet and discuss important issues dealing with treaty and this ministry. Similarly, for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, $116,000 is a big drop. It's a big drop. The minister talks about recent history and changes.
I mean, it's a big drop from the decade previously. Even in the '90s there was more money available for these organizations that do such great work. I don't want to leave the Assembly of First Nations out of that, as the third piece of the leadership council. This does represent a significant drop. I don't necessarily need a comment back on that.
It is felt in the communities. It is felt by the leadership council. It is felt by the summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the Assembly of First Nations. It's a problem in their eyes, from what they've told me.
I can't believe that the minister hasn't heard similar concerns. Could she possibly just inform this chamber: has she had the discussions with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip or Ed John or Jody — anybody? Shawn Atleo, the national chief? Has she had any discussions about these cuts and that they are a problem?
Hon. M. Polak: First of all, I just want to differentiate. The member mentioned treaty discussions or discussing about treaties as part of the mix. Certainly, that topic does get covered now and again when we are in discussions with the leadership council, but I want to be clear that treaty discussions take place separately and are funded entirely separately. It has no relationship to this. I am sure the member knows that. I just wanted to make sure that was on the record.
It's important to note that the First Nations Summit also receives additional funding with respect to its role in the B.C. Treaty Commission process. With respect to the leadership council, again it is important to note that the range of funding that the leadership council has received over the years is directly reflective of the types of initiatives that they're involved in with government.
At times when development of different projects was more intense, the amount has gone up. At times when there is less direct intense activity, the amount has gone down. I do also think it's important to note that at a time when we are struggling to find the budget for many dif-
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ferent initiatives across government, given the difficult economy, it is a mark of our respect and the importance with which we take the discussions we have with the leadership council that we have found the $350,000 for them.
We continue to discuss with the leadership council the role that they can play not only through our ministry but also directly with others. Here again, it's important to note that the funding that the leadership council receives from our ministry is not the only funding support they receive in order to work with government. For example, through their wellness council, their forest council, their First Nations mining council, they receive funding support from other ministries that are connected with those activities.
So we certainly believe that meeting with the leadership council is important. I have been meeting with them regularly. Other ministers have been meeting with them with respect to specific issues in their ministries, and I know that they have had engagement with the Premier's office as well.
We will continue to do that. We recognize it's a productive relationship and an important one. We do recognize that we need to support their ability to participate with us, and we do that, as I say, through various initiatives. This year's funding of $350,000 is substantial when one compares that to other initiatives within our budget.
S. Fraser: Well, it's all relative, I suppose. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, I would suggest, before the leadership council was created, which is a tripartite council in its own right…. Just the one group got far more than the $116,000 that is currently available to meet and discuss important issues with the province.
Again, the minister didn't quite answer the question. I'm sure she has heard similar concerns from members of the leadership council — that there are insufficient funds to dialogue appropriately for the multitude of issues that are before us today.
They have not diminished in any way, and the gap has not closed in many ways — the great gap between aboriginal people in the province and the rest of the population. I guess I'll leave that as a comment.
Getting to the budget itself, I did note that it was a status quo budget, but there are two changes that do stand out. So I'd just like some clarification on the record, if I may.
The 11 percent decrease in the funding to the first citizens fund, the special account. Can the minister inform just how that works, where the cut came from, why it happened? I know that that first citizens fund special account is a different sort of animal, but if you could give me just a Coles Notes version of why we saw that cut, what it might mean to the fund and how it's delivered.
Hon. M. Polak: This is not a reduction, in the true sense of it. It's not a cut. The first citizens fund actually was increased by government in terms of doubling the net value of the fund from $36 million to $72 million in 2001. But this is a fund that generates revenue, and funding is provided to different groups as a result of the revenue that comes in.
Right now what we have had to address is that low-interest rates have resulted in a decline in the revenue. The first citizens fund revenue is used to support a number of different initiatives. The only impact will be on the First Peoples' Heritage, Language and Culture Council. Again, it's not a cut from government. It is a reduction in revenues as a result of ongoing low-interest rates.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. The reality is that it does, on the ground, feel like a cut when your revenue has dropped. I guess it goes to showing some of the faults in a revenue stream that comes from this type of fund. We are kind of the victims of the market, to some extent, and record low-interest rates certainly would be reflected in a lower take for….
I suspect that also is being felt by the friendship centres. The minister is aware, of course, that I believe it was $30,000 a year used to be from the fund going to each of the friendship centres, the 23. Now we're up to 25 friendship centres, I think, in the province. In Surrey and Prince Rupert there are new friendship centres open.
The portion of funding that came out of this fund for friendship centres would be…. It's pretty much dropped to $25,000 because of that lower-interest-rate return to the fund. Am I right in the ballpark on that?
Hon. M. Polak: I should just say that while the member opposite may have concerns about the manner in which the first citizens fund operates, it has been in place since 1969, and it's operated that way all the way through. So we've made no changes to that. This has been consistently applied since that time.
In terms of the friendship centres our ministry, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, provides part of the funding to friendship centres to the tune of about $1 million per year. Two years ago we had to drop that amount slightly, and that was again as a result in dropping revenues from the fund. It wasn't a cut from government. It was, again, how this fund operates.
We have maintained, since then, the funding for the friendship centres — the member is right — at approximately $25,000 per friendship centre.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that, and thanks for the confirmation. I will be questioning further on friendship centres. I wasn't prepared to do that at this moment, but I guess I could.
I think I'll stick with my general game plan, and I'll be
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asking some questions, certainly, around off-reserve aboriginal strategies and friendship centres at length in a bit, later on today.
The other change, then, that we saw was an increase. We've got the clean energy fund business fund account. It's had a 59 percent increase, and it looks like it will continue to go up in subsequent years.
Could the minister inform me what this increased targeting is? It's the only increase that I could find in the budget for 2012-2013. If the minister could just edify me about that.
Hon. M. Polak: The First Nations clean energy business fund, of course, was put in place with an initial investment of $5 million to foster investment on the part of First Nations in the clean energy industry. We're excited that we're starting to see projects move beyond just capacity funding but also now to equity stake in some projects.
The reason that you see an increase, and you will see a projected increase over years, is not a result of more government funding into the base fund. It's because the fund receives revenues from a portion of the revenue that clean energy projects generate to the province. This particular item not only represents an expenditure, when we give out and award funding to First Nations projects, but it also generates revenue back to government as clean energy projects get underway and begin to generate revenue — whether it's for water licences or water leases, and things of that nature.
That's why you see increasing amounts of money, because we anticipate that there will be growth as these projects develop in increasing numbers.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I get it, although I've got questions from that. I'm not sure I understand.
Revenue generated from water licences, etc. I mean, there's certainly some revenue generated from water licences, but not a lot, not a big amount of money. So that being used as an example, I'm not seeing…. I mean, if we're talking about….
Hon. M. Polak: It wasn't an exhaustive list. It was just….
S. Fraser: Okay, but independent power projects and such certainly have…. I mean, there's a cost to them on the other side, as with anything. There's a cost for B.C. Hydro to purchase. I mean, there's no real profit developed through some of these energy projects.
I just don't understand. What would the increase to this fund be based on? What portion of revenue to the province would that be based on? Wouldn't it be countered by the cost to the province, say through purchasing agreements from B.C. Hydro?
Hon. M. Polak: In its simplest form, it is generated as 50 percent of incremental new Crown royalties from clean energy projects. Really, for further detail, though, one should discuss that with the Minister of Energy and Mines in their estimates. The manner in which this is all generated and distributed is governed by the Clean Energy Act, which, of course, is under their ministry. We simply administer the First Nations clean energy business fund.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that, and I'll pursue that with the minister of Energy and Mines. It's good to see an increase in any section of this budget, so I'm not complaining. I'm just curious about it.
I'm going to go right into treaty. I'm mindful that we have used up almost an hour here, to a very high level. We have, I'm assuming, the rest of the day. I think that's what I was told. I'm hoping that we have that amount of time. I know I have some colleagues….
Hon. M. Polak: I know we have all of today.
S. Fraser: That's wonderful. Still, we have to be fairly quick. I appreciate that the minister and her staff are being quite expedient in answering, so thank you for that.
I guess I'll go into treaty, so just a question. How much was spent on treaty last year?
Hon. M. Polak: Can I just clarify…? Do you mean by the province of British Columbia, or do you mean overall?
S. Fraser: Treaty negotiations from the province.
Hon. M. Polak: From the province, thank you.
The only discrete and direct negotiating cost from British Columbia with respect to treaties is what we fund the B.C. Treaty Commission with, which is our share. The feds, of course, contribute as well. Our share is $4.14 million.
With respect to the costs of treaties to First Nations, the federal government funds 100 percent of the loans that support negotiations. Our ministry's core business, of course, is negotiations. We don't differentiate between treaty negotiations and negotiating other non-treaty bilateral agreements, because we would be doing the same work whether or not we had the federal government involved in negotiating treaties. We would still be negotiating bilateral agreements with First Nations.
We don't differentiate between treaty discussions and non-treaty discussions. In fact, I think it would be next to impossible to do so, because it's the same negotiators
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around the same tables with the same First Nations, in many cases.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that.
Okay, so $4.14 million to treaty, but that isn't treaty. There are agreements outside of treaty that would be captured in that. Do I have that correct? I just want to get this correct. I have got some confusion here. Please bear with me, and the minister, hopefully, will be able to clear that up.
Hon. M. Polak: The B.C. Treaty Commission is the venue through which the federal government and the provincial government negotiate treaties. They are exclusively involved in negotiating treaties. They have no involvement in negotiating any non-treaty agreements. We meet regularly between the treaty principals, those being the B.C. Treaty Commission hosting a meeting between the First Nations Summit, the province of British Columbia and the government of Canada.
S. Fraser: So the bilateral agreements that you were talking about would include what? Again, just to clarify for me.
Hon. M. Polak: The province of British Columbia negotiates agreements between individual First Nations, and sometimes groups of First Nations, that don't include the federal government. Those would include strategic engagement agreements, forest consultation and revenue-sharing agreements, economic community development agreements for mines and economic benefits agreements.
In addition to that we also negotiate bilateral agreements called incremental treaty agreements. However, they are somewhat different in that there is an expectation that the federal government will cost-share once we get to the point of final treaty agreement.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that clarification. I guess that will take me into sort of the next section here.
I've been dealing with treaty. There has been some confusion. I know we had a change of leadership. We have a new Premier. She's been in for a year yesterday, the anniversary. But early on she came out with some statements that seemed to be….
First of all, we had the treaty commissioner come forward with quite a stark warning about the treaty process. The quote was that if we can't fix the process, "it's about time we faced the obvious. It isn't going to happen, so shut 'er down…. Victoria needs to recommit to treaties rather than simply working toward short-term solutions in First Nations communities. Lasting reconciliation can only be achieved through a treaty." That's from the treaty commissioner.
The response from the Premier was, and I'll do a couple of quotes here: "I think First Nations' and government's relationship has matured enough that we no longer have to see treaties as the be-all and end-all of every negotiation." "We have stopped saying that we're going to wait for economic development until we get to treaties." Then, and this is the same month, November of 2011: "I absolutely am committed to the treaty process — absolutely. I met with Sophie Pierre and the Treaty Commission just the other day. The minister, who is doing a great job, by the way…." I'll just throw that quote in there for the minister. Hopefully, it will gain me something.
So we have the commissioner saying that we have to fix the treaty process or we would have to shut it down and that lasting reconciliation can only be achieved through the treaty. We have the Premier saying, "No, no. We can go other routes," suggesting we do other routes, and then saying that she absolutely is committed to the treaty process and that she has met with Sophie Pierre, the commissioner.
This has led to a lot of confusion, certainly amongst First Nations and others in the province, so can the minister clarify just what we're doing? Are we committing to the treaty process? Are we taking a parallel path? Are we splitting our resources? How is this all affecting any kind of reconciliation?
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
Hon. M. Polak: First, a word about the treaty process and what, we believe, is increasing momentum within it.
I know it is tempting to look at and examine the treaty process from its inception till now. The more proper analysis, in my view, is to look at it from Tsawwassen till now. The reason I say that is that Tsawwassen was the first agreement negotiated under the B.C. Treaty Commission, and I think there's a very strong argument to be made that resolving that final agreement paved the way in terms of the complicated language that must be developed, in terms of finding our way through governance structures and implementation to achieve others.
I think the evidence is there, in that we now have ratified treaties with seven First Nations, including, of course, the first urban treaty with Tsawwassen and the first multination treaty with the Maa-nulth treaty. On October 21 we initialled the final agreement with Tla'amin; we now have 84 First Nations in stage 4, negotiating an agreement-in-principle; and we have two negotiating tables that are at stage 5, negotiating a final agreement. I do believe that it's fair to look at the progress being made, as measured from Tsawwassen until now.
Nevertheless, one of the things that the Premier recognized in the throne speech, and the comments that the member opposite has quoted reflect these, is that we certainly are unequivocally supportive of the treaty process,
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not only in British Columbia but of the federal government and the Treaty Commission.
In fact, Sophie Pierre and I on separate occasions made that clear to the Senate committee that is currently discussing the matter in Ottawa. That has also been the subject of discussions we have had amongst the parties in terms of celebrating the 20th anniversary of the treaty process and of recognizing the need to revitalize that and maintain the momentum that we have now gained.
I want to use an example, though, for the member to describe how it is we see these non-treaty agreements fitting into the work that we do. We certainly recognize that treaties are the final way of resolving land and title issues between First Nations and the Crown. However, given the time that it takes in many instances, we are anxious, as are First Nations, to see benefits on the ground for First Nations sooner than waiting for a final agreement.
We believe there are advantages for that with respect to building toward treaties. I will give you a good example. Right now the Ktunaxa are in the very advanced stages of agreement-in-principle negotiations that will eventually end up in a final agreement.
We believe wholeheartedly that the work we've done in finalizing a strategic engagement agreement that helps them to build governance capacity as well as the negotiations that are underway with them around an economic community development agreement have helped to provide building blocks that have assisted in achieving where we are at with them in treaty negotiations. Indeed, on many occasions those agreements that have been reached bilaterally can then be folded into what results in a treaty at the end.
While we recognize the caution from Commissioner Pierre around ensuring that non-treaty agreements don't take away from the treaty process, nevertheless we believe that the evidence is there to show that it assists us in maintaining momentum for First Nations. It's very difficult for First Nations leaders to keep the momentum in their communities when they continually have to return to their community and remind them that benefits will not flow from a treaty for perhaps another ten years. Instead, if we are able to put some of those benefits on the ground early, it maintains the interest of the community in pursuing a treaty and, we believe, can build towards the final agreement.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. Well, the minister covered a lot of ground there. I guess the leadership issue, a new Premier, unequivocality…. Hansard can tell me if that's a word. But there has been equivocality, equivocating, or whatever Hansard will put in the Blues here. This is where we're getting some confusion.
Again, I've got a quote from the Premier in June of last year: "On my watch we will continue to move forward. My government believes that treaties remain the most comprehensive approach to building relationships between our governments." Well, that's unequivocal.
Then fast-forward to November: "Lots of First Nations are fed up with waiting for economic development, and frankly, so am I. We have to find other ways of getting there sooner." So you've got unequivocal support for a process to move forward, and then at the same time you've got a statement saying that the process is not working and that we have to find other ways to get there sooner. There's where the confusion is. It's certainly confusing for First Nations.
What kind of direction does the minister get from the Premier when the public messages are so contradictory?
Hon. M. Polak: I don't believe that the messages are contradictory. I believe the two stand together. You read the Premier's unequivocal statement of our support for treaties and the position that treaties hold in our approach.
In terms of her comment around the First Nations becoming fed up with waiting for economic development, that is pretty much what I was getting at in my last answer — to say that if one is going to wait only for treaties, if treaties are the only tool toward unleashing that economic benefit for First Nations, then First Nations must wait, in many cases, a considerable amount of time for that benefit.
Through working with bilateral agreements, these non-treaty agreements, we are able to advance that benefit to First Nations sooner. We believe the result of that is not only increased economic opportunity for First Nations quicker but that it also eventually constructs the elements that will make up a treaty.
S. Fraser: Fair enough, but I mean, there was a warning from the Auditor General in the 2007 report saying that going down the path of these one-off agreements can be to the detriment of the treaty process itself.
I don't want to put words in her mouth, but Sophie Pierre, the treaty commissioner, basically said that if we do not put extra effort into the treaty process, the process will suffer. She has warned that we need renewed focus on the treaty process. This is following the 2007 Auditor General report, which was critical of the economic deals outside of the treaty process.
I'm not suggesting that there aren't any other processes that can go alongside the treaty process. Certainly, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs members are not in the treaty process, so obviously, that has to happen. I guess there is some confusion about how resourcing will be used.
The expert advice we're getting from people like Sophie Pierre, the commissioner, the Auditor General…. There doesn't seem to be any consistency following through with the ministry in how they're handling negotiations. The minister has to know this. Reconciliation can't be just
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about economic development.
The briefing that I got from the ministry staff…. It was excellent by the way, and it was very informative. It's largely about the approach to reconciliation. Almost all of the approach to reconciliation, as far as the ministry briefing is, is to deal with economic development.
For instance, if you are a nation somewhere in the province that has, at this point in time, no resources that are sought after by some company, something that has a market value that's currently desired, those nations simply have nothing to offer, or they may be left out. You might be creating winners and losers in these one-off agreements. If a nation is sitting on a mining potential say, for instance, or it has forestry potential, there might be economic development, but if you're focusing….
It seems to me that the ministry is focusing more and more on economic development as the solution. That doesn't address the justice issues. That doesn't address self-governance issues. It doesn't address closing the socioeconomic gap in communities unless they have a desirable commodity.
Does the minister not see where the advice has been going? To divert effort into one-off agreements with nations is creating potentially winners and losers and is anything but reconciliation.
Hon. M. Polak: I certainly agree with the member that this can't all be about economics. However, just because the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation isn't engaged directly in the work of supporting socioeconomic programs, social justice — all those types of things — doesn't mean that government doesn't do it, and we certainly attempt, as government overall, to work alongside our fellow ministries in supporting the work that they do as well.
I should also point out that when it comes to the types of social supports that are needed in First Nations communities, the economic component is clearly a means of supporting those types of programs. For First Nations who are able to develop a strong economic base and a strong governance base, their opportunities, then, to advance their social goals are greatly enhanced.
We certainly believe, again, that treaties are by far the most comprehensive way of addressing those things. Nevertheless, the fact that our ministry focuses on issues more closely related to rights and title doesn't mean that as a government we don't pay attention to the work that must take place around the socioeconomic conditions that are many times very, very poor on First Nations reserves.
I will give you an example of where some innovative approaches have resulted in not only benefits in terms of economics but also benefits on the ground in terms of the socioeconomic conditions, and that would be in the northwest of British Columbia, the work that government has undertaken with the Kaska, the Taku River Tlingit and the Tahltan. Those three First Nations have come together with government and signed a groundbreaking agreement around child and family wellness.
The work that has been undertaken there certainly has assisted in the work that the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation has conducted in its negotiations around land use planning and other economic benefits, shared decision-making agreements on the ground with those same First Nations. So the two can work in concert in spite of the fact that our ministry is primarily focused on the aspects that relate to land and title.
With respect to the cautions coming from the Treaty Commission as well as the Auditor General, again I will reiterate that we do believe as a government, together with the federal government and also with the B.C. Treaty Commission, that treaties are the best way and the most comprehensive way of resolving, once and for all, land and title issues with First Nations.
However, while we take that caution, it is about making sure that these agreements are linked in some way to the future development of treaty. We take that caution seriously, and we very much endeavour to ensure that the bilateral non-treaty agreements that we are making in fact are constructed as elements that can eventually take us toward treaty.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. All right, a slightly different tack then. The minister has mentioned the importance to re-energize the treaty process. I think the Premier used the term "breathe fresh life into it."
Fair enough. I don't disagree. I think that the process — the commission, if so — hasn't been able to evolve as it should with changes in case law, the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. There are a number of things that have happened over the last decade that should have affected and informed the process, and arguably haven't.
The minister has suggested that things need to be done to energize that — and, I would suggest, to update the process, to make it in keeping with decisions that we've seen in the courts repeatedly.
I don't see any resources for doing that. I've heard the words of doing that. How will the minister be working to re-energize or breathe fresh life into the treaty process and the commission and its role — with what resources, if there's nothing being budgeted for that process?
Hon. M. Polak: Certainly, we share the concerns that many have expressed around the need to revitalize the treaty process, especially in its 20th year of operation, something that we want to be celebrating rather than it drawing us down.
To that end, we take that so seriously that I recently
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travelled to Ottawa. A significant part of our discussion with many people in Ottawa — the government caucus of British Columbia MPs, meeting with the Senate committee, meeting with individual MPs, meeting certainly with Minister Duncan, with whom I have a good working relationship — was around opportunities to revitalize that process.
I think I should mention that at the recent principals meeting the discussion again was around some of the things that are causing a drag on the treaty process — specifically, the issue of loans to First Nations. There are many First Nations who are experiencing situations whereby their debt load after negotiations is going to be higher, potentially, than what their cash transfer from the federal government would be. That's a federal issue.
Mandates from the feds are also a challenge in terms of the timeliness. Of course, one of the overarching ones for British Columbia right now is the federal government policy of not negotiating anything to do with fish in treaties while the Cohen Commission continues its work and, indeed — potentially, when it finishes it's meetings — while the Cohen Commission then produces recommendations and while those are followed up on with government.
Those are some big stumbling blocks for us as we attempt to revitalize the process, but the principals are discussing it. In discussions in Ottawa and at the principals meeting — the talks we've had with the federal government — we are working to encourage them to take some new opportunities that we see.
We believe that there would be value in the federal government becoming more directly involved in the incremental treaty agreements. We also believe that there would be advantage to getting to land and cash offers earlier in the process. There are a number of innovative ways that we can suggest and have suggested to the federal government by which we think we can breathe some new life into the treaty process. But there's no question that all three parties are very interested in working hard to do that.
With respect to the capacity of the ministry to respond to changing legal contexts, that is in fact the core work of the ministry. You won't see a separate line item for it. We review upwards of 20 significant court cases, both from British Columbia and around the country, each and every year, and we are constantly revising mandates and revising approaches as a result. It is part of our core, everyday business that we conduct as a ministry.
S. Fraser: Thanks to the minister for that. I guess I'll focus down, narrow down, onto several treaties that are either completed or in the treaty process.
To segue from the minister's last statements about the commission. For instance, specifically, it's quite clear that there's a requirement, a desperate need, for the commission to have a meaningful role in conflict resolution.
Boundary issues are always going to be there. We know that. Some in this system believe that we shouldn't go above stage 4 — that's certainly been a landmark before — without addressing the boundary issues that are often associated with different nations and their seeking their land selection.
In the case of the Yale treaty, which has yet to be ratified at the federal table…. The deputy informed me in a briefing that maybe we'll be getting that this session from the feds. Hopefully, that will be good for the Yale.
But the controversy caused, as the minister must know well…. The Yale treaty, which we in the opposition also support…. We support nations that are engaged in the treaty process in good faith. We vote in favour of those treaties. I did raise the issues around this treaty, certainly, as we discussed the treaty in the Legislature — the Yale treaty.
The problems for Stó:lō. I'm not talking about, necessarily, the Stó:lō nations per se — Stó:lō Nation, Stó:lō Tribal Council or individual Stó:lō bands — but there are issues around access to the river. These are historic family ownerships of access points to the river.
We're here in sort of the ivory tower, and negotiating treaty may be happening to some extent there. But those Stó:lō nations…. Everyone in the valley knows who owns these access points. They are historical. Everyone knows that it's such and such a family that has had drying racks here for centuries at this point of the river.
Those issues were not reflected in the Yale treaty, and it's causing quite a bit of controversy from, certainly, the family groups that have had traditional ownership of those sites. Ownership. I don't mean it in deeds and title. I mean in historic precedent.
What failed to happen, in my opinion, in the treaty process was that it didn't take into account use, agreement of use and respect — the historic stuff that has been there for millennia. That was missed in the treaty process.
Can the minister comment? Are there any resources…? Will there be any capability or capacity in the treaty process for the Treaty Commission to engage in meaningful conflict resolution mechanisms — to have the expertise and the capacity to deal with that so that you're not pitting nation against nation in treaty? It should be something that all can celebrate.
We saw the last-minute salvaging of that with the Maa-nulth treaty and the Tseshaht First Nation, for instance. They came to an understanding just before the final ceremony for the implementation of the Maa-nulth treaty. Here we haven't seen that reconciliation between the nations when it's regarding the Yale treaty.
Will the minister comment on…? Doesn't she agree that this is a process that we've seen has caused problems because of a lack in the Treaty Commission of having the capability or the resources to address these conflict resolutions?
[ Page 10263 ]
Hon. M. Polak: I'll speak to the Yale specifically and then to the broader issue. With respect to Yale, I would disagree that the recognition of the dispute is not reflected in the treaty. We canvassed that extensively in the development of the treaty. Certainly, there are provisions in the treaty to ensure that there is always access.
However, we do recognize the dispute. There are current discussions. We are supporting the B.C. Treaty Commission as they assist in facilitating those discussions. We are hoping to see a mediated discussion begin in April, which of course we all hope will resolve the matter.
In terms of what we are doing generally, we certainly are supporting the B.C. Treaty Commission initiative as they become more involved in overlap issues early in the process.
We also have begun to utilize agreements such as incremental treaty agreements and, in particular, strategic engagement agreements, as they provide us with the tools to resolve disputes around overlapping territory ahead of treaty discussions or in parallel with them. The nature of those agreements is that they allow us to have the discussions that more clearly define the territories of First Nations.
So there are a number of tools that we are using, and we are certainly hopeful that they will prove to give us some greater success in resolving these issues between First Nations.
S. Fraser: I think mediation is appropriate, and thanks for that. There's nothing worse than seeing communities, often families, split up on these issues, and every effort must be made.
Again, the need to acknowledge history in developing the treaty…. It's not always reflected in the books, so there has to be more effort to accommodate that. That's about respect for all sides. So hopefully, the mediation…. I will cross my fingers that that will be a successful thing, that all will be able to celebrate treaty and that we will avoid conflict there in the future.
One other specific question. I'm going to have to go fast here because we are going to be running out of time. The Maa-nulth treaty, one of the two that are implemented…. Now, this was raised at the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting, Alberni-Clayoquot regional district. The minister is nodding. I've been an advocate here. At the time, the directors came to look for capacity-building, you know, financial support in redesigning the entire regional district makeup to incorporate Maa-nulth Nations, which everyone wants to do, everyone wants to see done.
I've been led to believe that there's some progress there, because originally, there were going to be no resources for the Alberni-Clayoquot regional district. I would suggest that not only for the Alberni-Clayoquot regional district directors is it necessary and important to have those resources, because they were not at the treaty table….
They want to get it right the first time. This may have great implications for the rest of the province and other regional districts and governments that have First Nations that are embarking in the treaty process, for them to be able to work cooperatively in the future.
Will there be resources for the Alberni-Clayoquot regional district to redesign the body as it is to incorporate the Maa-nulth Nations that wish to join, and will that be something that's reflected provincially as treaties, hopefully, unfold in other jurisdictions?
Hon. M. Polak: I first want to acknowledge that this really is a good-news story. We have the Huu-ay-aht and the Yuu-tluth-aht First Nation seeking to join the ACRD. Of course, they aren't required to do that for ten years after implementation of their treaty, so we want to acknowledge that they have worked very hard at this, as has the regional district. They've all been very positive about wanting to work together and join together, so it really is a success story for those who have any concerns about how First Nations and local governments can work together. Here's a really good example of the positives that occur when they do.
We recognize that it is a challenge, though, that is presented to the regional districts and to First Nations when they are attempting to put these relationships together. As a result of that, we have decided to put together a tool that we believe we can utilize in further situations of this nature as well.
I met with the Huu-ay-aht on February 27. They were very pleased with what we've come up with, as is the regional district, and that is we now have an RFP that is out. It's valued at about $50,000. That's not for us to provide a grant to them but rather for our ministry to hire a local government expert for British Columbia to work with Maa-nulth and the ACRD, and they will come together and develop a toolkit for future districts and treaty nations.
So we see this as something that will work for us in the long term as we seek to implement more treaties that we see coming down the road, and again, the regional district and the First Nations all are very pleased with the result of our plans.
S. Fraser: I, too, am pleased. Thank you for that. Excellent. That's exactly what's needed. That capacity will be something that the other municipalities will be excited about too.
With that, I'm just going to give up my place here, as the time is running out. The member for Victoria–Beacon Hill has several questions that I'd like to let her get in before we recess for lunch.
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C. James: Thank you to my colleague the critic. Just a couple of questions for the minister. I heard the minister start off by saying that a large portion of the focus for the ministry was jobs, employment and economic activity. I just wondered if the minister could tell us whether there are any strategies or dollars within her ministry for aboriginal training or employment.
Hon. M. Polak: Now, some of these may be stretching it in terms of whether they are in fact related to training. The bulk of that is handled through other ministries. We have some peripheral involvement.
There is the aboriginal business and entrepreneurship skills training, or BEST, and that is a budget of about $85,000; the business loan program, which is $1.4 million. The business advisory centres — that's a budget of $300,000. I don't know if you want to…. This does sometimes relate to training — the B.C. Aboriginal Business Awards at $30,000.
C. James: I understand, as the minister said, that most of those initiatives around training would be involved in other ministries.
I guess my other question to the minister would be: with the Finance Minister making his statements around the new employment initiatives that are partnerships between the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, is the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation involved in any of those discussions around the initiatives of getting people off income assistance and into jobs, particularly in the north?
Hon. M. Polak: No, we have no involvement in those discussions.
C. James: I understand that the Finance Minister has just made his comments over the last couple of days, but I wondered if the minister sees any role for herself or for the ministry in those initiatives.
Certainly, if you're talking about jobs in the north…. There is a large portion of aboriginal communities in the north, more so than in the Lower Mainland, and a large rate of unemployment when it comes to the aboriginal community. Does the minister see any role for herself and for this ministry in influencing the direction of this new initiative that hasn't been developed or defined yet?
Hon. M. Polak: The initiatives being discussed are income-based, not ethnicity-based, so I don't see any particular role for our ministry.
However, I do want to say that one of the ways in which we contribute quite directly to the opportunities for training and employment is through the non-treaty agreements that we've discussed earlier. Very often that results in the opportunity for industry to then not only develop but contribute to training opportunities, very often very directly, in First Nations communities.
Industry now is more and more seeing the opportunity to employ First Nations as an answer to many of their skills-shortage problems. I do want to acknowledge the role that industry plays in that and also the bilateral agreements.
Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress on the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:44 a.m.
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