2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Volume 34, Number 3
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 21 — Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
S. Chandra Herbert
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation (continued)
Hon. P. Bell
Hon. J. Yap
TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 2012
The House met at 10:02 a.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: We will start this morning with Bill 21 in committee, Budget Measures Implementation Act, 2012. Then we would move to the cycle of second readings that I informed the House of yesterday, starting with Bill 26, continuation of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act.
In Section A, in the Douglas Fir Committee Room, we will have estimates of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation continue.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 21 — BUDGET MEASURES
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, 2012
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 21; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 10:05 a.m.
Hon. K. Falcon: For the benefit of the member opposite, as we work our way through, we'll have staff that will be coming in and out for various parts. We'll try and do that as expeditiously as possible. With that, we can move right into it.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
B. Ralston: This section is an amendment to the Gaming Control Act that creates the position of a community gaming grants manager and in three subsections sets out the role of that proposed addition to the staff complement at the gaming branch. Can the minister explain the rationale for creating the position, briefly outline the proposed duties and contrast those with previous practice?
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that these amendments transfer the duties of the general manager as they relate to community gaming grants to the proposed gaming grants manager. The amendments are necessary to clarify statutory authority. As the member opposite would know, the responsibility for gaming grants transferred from the Solicitor General's ministry over to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
The effect of these amendments is to clarify statutory authority and to make very clear, consistent with previous recommendations in the world of community gaming who exactly is the individual that has responsibility over community gaming grants.
B. Ralston: Then in the hierarchy inside the branch this proposed officer, the community gaming grants manager, would report to the general manager. Is that the chain of command that's proposed?
Hon. K. Falcon: No, it's totally separate in that there is an existing ADM that will assume the role of community gaming grants manager. That individual, I am advised, will report directly through the normal reporting chain through to the Deputy Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
B. Ralston: Just so I understand it then, there will be a separate stream of reporting for the general manager. Who does the general manager then report to?
Hon. K. Falcon: The general manager, who is still responsible for gaming policy and enforcement, is over in the Ministry of Energy and Mines. The general manager, I'm advised, reports through to the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines.
B. Ralston: In the proposed section 40.1 the minister "may set the remuneration of the community gaming grants manager." Is there a proposed salary range for the manager at this time?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the ADM will receive their current salary. So all this does is just take the same language, apparently, that existed prior to this and put it now under the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, but it will be status quo. There will be no change to the salary levels.
B. Ralston: So 40.1(4) confers the power on the proposed manager to designate deputies of the community gaming grants manager. In the vein of the minister's previous response, are these existing positions who will be redesignated with that title? Or is there a proposal to add staff to undertake those duties?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that there is no new staffing being added and that this is just status quo and consistent with what existed under the prior ministry.
B. Ralston: In 40.3 there is some description of the duties of the community gaming grants manager. Will this change, in any way, the general duties that were attached when they were performed under the aegis of
[ Page 10712 ]
the general manager? Or are these new duties that have been added?
Hon. K. Falcon: No, my understanding is that these are status quo — same as they were in the past.
B. Ralston: And 40.3(c) says that policies will be available to the public, "including by the internet or other electronic means." I take it that that doesn't change the current public access to government policy on gaming grants. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: It is the same as in the past, except that they've updated to include the Internet as one of the vehicles of public posting.
B. Ralston: Given that this officer or manager will be in one ministry and the general manager will be in another, will the appropriation for this program and the appropriation for those duties that the general manager is responsible for…? Will the requisite financial documents be changed to reflect that change in appropriation?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the dollars associated with the gaming grants, the $135 million, have been transferred over under the responsibility of the new community grants manager.
S. Chandra Herbert: I know that in the minister's speech regarding this bill he talked about how this bill will bring greater certainty to gaming clients. It would make sure that they understand how the process works.
So given that in the past there was great uncertainty, which I think is what the minister was referring to…. Of course, there were cuts in gaming but also changes to eligibility rules, making it so many organizations couldn't apply when they used to be able to. I think the regulation was…. We had film festivals, dance festivals. We're told that they were no longer community cultural celebrations and so thus did not qualify, but cowboy day festivals were regulation, did qualify as community cultural celebrations.
That was a decision, I believe, of the minister. Not this minister, I should say, made that decision. But my question to this minister would be: will this provide certainty in the sense of making sure that politicians don't get to get in there and decide cowboy days are the top-quality cultural festival but writers festivals are not?
Hon. K. Falcon: First of all, coming from the community of Cloverdale, where cowboys are held in very high esteem, I must take exception to the unintended slight of cowboy days. I'm not sure where cowboy days take place, but I'm sure it's an exceptional public event that is very deserving.
Look, first of all, I share in the responsibility that we made as a government. So we did make cuts and changes to eligibility rules around gaming grants, but we did so in a context, and the context was a global economic meltdown. I've said in the past that the decision we made caused a lot of angst. There's no question about it. I think I've publicly said that I apologize for the manner in which it happened.
The rationale and the reason behind doing so was to try and deal with a global economic meltdown of a scale and scope that was certainly traumatic to the revenues in government. So by restoring funding and putting in place the changes that have been made, we believe that this actually will provide that stability to the sector so that they have the certainty of knowing that there will not be dramatic changes or reductions in funding going forward.
We're exceptionally proud of our record of funding to the arts and cultural sector — still at record levels in the history of the province. But clearly, during the downturn, in the effort to get control of government spending, we had to make some very fast decisions, and that impacted a number of areas, including the gaming funding. I do want to acknowledge that and acknowledge the fact that that created a lot of upset in the community.
I am advised that the legislation does, in fact, separate the decision-making so that you've got a community gaming grants manager that can make these decisions. I don't want to pretend it's completely without political oversight. I believe it will operate in a similar fashion as was done in the past, but the community gaming manager, I understand, has the ability to make those decisions free from overt political interference.
S. Chandra Herbert: Well, I certainly have a number of cowboys in my family, so no slight on cowboys. And there are certainly some people who fashion themselves cowboys in my constituency. It's a little different. They might wear things not quite the same way as they do in Cloverdale.
To follow up on the question, the minister said that this would provide greater certainty so that in the future we would not see what we saw in the past — deep, deep cuts and changes to eligibility rules. I'm just curious how. How does this provide that greater certainty, given that political oversight, as the minister stated, would still be the same as it was before, when that decision was made?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the legislation and the amendments that we're seeking respond to a lot of the confusion that Skip Triplett, who headed up a review into the gaming sector, heard. Mr. Triplett heard a lot of confusion about: "Who actually makes these decisions?" "Where do I go to find out who that decision-maker is?" and "How do I find out, ultimately, what decisions have been made once they've been made?"
[ Page 10713 ]
This will respond to that by having an individual whose title makes it very clear that they're the community gaming grants manager. That is their responsibility. There is still political accountability, obviously. Every government will be held accountable for the decisions made by the community grants manager under the purview of the minister responsible.
We've committed the $135 million so that there will be security, going forward, in terms of what the funding stream is going to be. As pointed out in this particular section that we were discussing earlier, there is public reporting now, both on the Internet and through the other means that are laid out in 40.3(c). They lay out the public reporting requirements so that everyone in the gaming world can sort of see what decisions were made and, you know, judge the decisions that were made by the community gaming manager.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thanks to the minister for the answer. For me, it does not, unfortunately, go quite far enough in terms of what the community has been asking for.
Certainly, I've heard from clients of gaming all across the province. In a previous life before I entered this House, when I worked in the arts, I would apply to gaming. The minister may not be aware, but already gaming puts their information of who receives funds on line, onto the Internet.
Now, I admit that the process may change slightly, but that level of accountability is there. Certainly, when I talk to people who receive gaming funds or who are interested in receiving them, it's never been the query around: "Is it a community gaming grants manager who you should talk to, or should it be the director?" The question has been, "When we apply, will they then change the rules after the fact?" as this government did.
When we have multi-year gaming grants, will the government claim those are not commitments? Will they say, "There are commitments, and then there are real commitments," as this government did when they tried to break their word to charities? Thankfully, the government backed down and did agree that charities that receive multi-year commitments of funding should actually get the money that they had been promised, because in many cases they'd already spent it.
They had the minister show up; they received the cheque, or so they thought. It was a fake cheque, but the real cheque was not going to be sent to them without the outcry which forced the government to back down.
Unfortunately, it doesn't go as far as I think that the community wanted. They want to be able to see that there will be multi-year funding. They want to be able to see some sort of arm's-length process so that we don't get a situation where people apply and then the government changes the rules to make it so that projects which might work in their communities get money but which in other communities won't — like writers festivals or dance festivals.
Thankfully, the government did back down and agreed that arts and culture that serve adults as well as children should be able to apply, as well as environmental organizations, but there is great concern that maybe somebody else next year decides that they want to do this again. This does not provide the certainty that the community is looking for, I don't think.
I appreciate the minister's admission that the cuts went too far in the arts. However, we're not back to the level of gaming funding that we were before the government made these cuts. An admission certainly is appreciated, but the community, I think, would demand more. The report that was put forward by Mr. Triplett indicated a number of ways that we could provide greater certainty, which would go a lot further than the changes here.
I guess that I'll just go back to, again: what certainty can charities have that in the middle of a year a government might not just change the eligibility criteria after they apply? Has that issue been dealt with, with these changes? Or would a government still be able to do things that really pervert the process and make people feel that it's unfair?
Hon. K. Falcon: You know, the member has raised a lot of reasonable points. I think the challenge is that there are always, typically, more requests for dollars than there are dollars available. My limited experience in sort of watching this from afar — I've never had direct operational accountability for the ministry or this particular program — is that the staff actually do a very good job of trying to meet those demands as best they can.
The rules in place today are in response to some thoughtful recommendations that have been brought forward that I think will go a long way towards addressing the majority of the concerns that were raised. I rather doubt they will meet every expectation out there, but I do think they go a long way.
In terms of guarantees that that could never happen again, I can't speak to what the future governments in the future may or may not do. But what I can say and what I did say to the community…. I met with many groups that were at the receiving end of having changes made that impacted dollars that they were expecting, and I reminded them that these were very difficult decisions for government to make. The government was making the decisions — and a whole host of other decisions — to make sure that we got a handle on the fact that in the 2009 year in particular….
The economy and the downturn triggered by the Lehman Brothers collapse in the United States and the sub-prime mortgage meltdown had such a dramatic negative impact on government finances that for the first year in 11 years of budgeting — where every single year we outperformed our budget — that year of '09 was the
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year that we underperformed to the tune of about $1.2 billion in the wrong direction.
That was something that was causing us great angst. We felt it was very important to make sure that we rein in spending dramatically so that deficit doesn't become, in fact, even larger and so that we secure the confidence of the financial community and the public of British Columbia to know that we were managing that — even though many of the decisions made to manage it were going to have to be difficult, including the decisions we had to make with respect to gaming grants.
What I can say to the member opposite is: having had an opportunity to have a look through the changes made here, I think this goes a long way towards providing and responding to what Mr. Triplett heard while he was out doing his reviews and his discussions. While there may be some that think it could go farther, I think that it struck the right balance.
I do think that the public reporting out, having an individual that everybody knows is the individual responsible for gaming…. Many people didn't even know what the gaming manager was and whether that person was the one that was responsible for this.
I think having it very clearly laid out, having the $135 million under the auspices of the gaming grants manager and having the public reporting out will respond to the vast majority of the concerns that have been raised.
S. Chandra Herbert: Respond to the vast majority of concerns that have been raised. I would say that's vastly overstated. I think the concerns stay strong. The B.C. Association for Charitable Gaming continues to raise the alarm about the challenges facing charities.
I think there's also great concern that the minister in one sentence, earlier in a press statement, was arguing that the cuts went too far to arts and culture and that in fact arts and culture put more money back into the economy, more money back into taxes than they take in grants. So it's a little bit confused, I think.
As well, of course, we know that gambling profits continue to rise in the recession. They were some of the only areas. That's where those profits go — to communities. That's how we expanded gambling in this province. Communities were told that if they wanted to get charity dollars, they needed to accept expanded gambling.
I know certainly that was the argument made in Surrey around a project there. I think it was probably a year or two ago. That was the argument made to council — that if they didn't accept it, the communities wouldn't see an increased take from gaming. But in fact, what we've seen is an increase in profits from gambling and a declining amount of money going to charities, which were the ones that made the case, indeed, for increased gambling. Really, they got the short end of the stick, or they did not get the respect that I think they deserve.
I thank the minister for his statements. I don't think this issue will go away, because what we saw here was that all it takes is a government that doesn't respect charities in that instance to tear it all up, to make it very difficult for all those charities. To have a gaming grants manager will not change that if this government wants to do it again.
Certainly, Ursula in the gaming branch is well known by everybody across the province, so it wasn't a matter of them not being able to find Ursula. It was a matter of this government tearing up that social contract with charities that was the issue.
Thank you to the minister for his statements. We'll continue to work on this. I understand my colleague from Surrey-Whalley has a number of other questions.
Hon. K. Falcon: Look, we obviously have to get back to the legislation. I just think at a high level we should recognize that gaming revenues were impacted by the economic downturn too. We were hit at every single level, and there is….
When you're elected, you have to make tough decisions. We could have just decided not to do any change, but we didn't want to find ourselves having to read a Drummond type of report that they received in Ontario that starts to say: "You know what, government? Because you showed no discipline on the spending side, you're now facing huge, very uncomfortable cuts across the board that you may not have any control over."
We decided that wasn't a path we wanted to take in British Columbia. That means you have to make decisions. Not all of them are easy, and this was one of the ones that….
I agree with the member. I think the arts and cultural community are extremely important in our province and never as appreciated, perhaps, as they should be in terms of the contribution they make to our economy, if you want to just look at it from a strict economic point of view — which I don't think you should when it comes to arts and culture. Nevertheless, I am a fan. I believe that the changes we've made here will go some considerable distance to responding to what we heard.
B. Ralston: The minister has referred to ministerial accountability. Of course, that's a bedrock principle of parliamentary democracy. But I just think it should be clear.... And I'm pointing the minister to proposed revision section 40.2, where it says that the minister "may issue written directives to the community gaming grants manager." And in 40.3: "The...gaming grants manager, under the minister's direction, must…." And it gives basically the broad duties of that position.
Would it be fair to say — notwithstanding that this person will be in a position to provide informed and expert advice — that these two provisions make it very clear
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that the minister will be issuing directives on policy and the minister will be directing the proposed manager in the broad areas of the management and direction with respect to the eligibility of organizations, so that the ultimate decision will rest with the minister and not with the community gaming grants manager?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is the same language that existed in the past, and it's important to understand that those are directives with respect to general policy, not specific directives with respect to specific decision-making. I think it is certainly consistent with what has been there in the past, and I think it's appropriate in terms of ministerial accountability for the overall program.
B. Ralston: Well, that's certainly a fair summary of section 40.2, but 40.3 is much more specific: "The…manager, under the minister's direction, must (a) provide management and direction with respect to the eligibility of organizations and approval of eligible organizations." That deals with individual organizations, as I read it.
Would the minister not agree that the plain wording — I assumed it was new because they're added to part 6 as additions to the statute — makes it very clear that the decisions about eligibility will be made under the direction of the minister?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, I read that and it strikes me as entirely appropriate that the community gaming grants manager, obviously under ministerial direction, "provide management and direction with respect to the eligibility of organizations and approval of eligible organizations." Those aren't specific grants. This is just what the eligibility criteria of organizations are going to be and approval of eligible organizations. So I'm not sure I'm understanding what the nature of the concern is. I think that strikes me as striking the right balance.
B. Ralston: Well, just so it's clear, what I am suggesting — and perhaps the minister can comment; perhaps he disagrees — is that the…. I'm not saying that this is inappropriate, but there was a suggestion that the minister was making earlier, I thought, that somehow this proposed manager had an ambit of independence. He's not an independent officer. He's not a statutory officer. He's administering policy that's developed, general policy by the minister, and the specific list of eligible organizations is going to be done under the minister's direction.
I just wanted, I think, since we're debating this, to make it clear to the public and those interested that ultimate responsibility for not only the general policy but the broad detail will rest with the minister.
Hon. K. Falcon: I guess it is, perhaps, a disagreement. You know, these are professional civil servants, and what is being laid out here is the fact that, certainly, there is going to be ministerial oversight and accountability with respect to setting criteria and direction in terms of eligibility — no question about that. But ministers and government will be held accountable for the eligibility criteria, etc., and will have to defend them, and that's entirely appropriate.
Again, the ambit of responsibility for the community grants manager is the specific decision-making around the difficult challenges of distributing the $135 million to the, gosh knows, hundreds of organizations that are asking for it. I have every confidence that the professional civil servants will do that and continue to do that in a manner that they've done in the past, which has, I think, been very successful, given the almost unlimited nature of the requests.
Sections 2 and 3 approved.
On section 4.
B. Ralston: This amendment sets out the obligation of the community gaming grants manager to report to the minister by submitting to the minister "a report respecting community gaming grants for the preceding fiscal year." They also, at the request of the minister, may "report on specific matters in the manner and at the times required by the minister."
There's nothing in these amendments that requires the minister to make the report public. Can the minister advise: is it the intention that this report be made public? Or is there a proposed regulation that will deal with that?
I know in other statutes…. I'm thinking specifically of one that we debated not too long ago relating to regulation. It was a very brief statute and prescribed that the report be published and tabled in the Legislature, if my memory is correct. I'm just wondering, just to avoid this kind of debate in the future, why there's no specific provision here that it be required to be made public or that there be a regulation prescribing just when it would be released.
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that this replicates previous language that existed in the past and that there will, as there has in the past, continue to be a public reporting requirement around this.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
B. Ralston: This is the proposed amendment to the Members' Remuneration and Pensions Act, which imposes the wage freeze on MLAs' salaries for another two years. I just wanted to make clear again for the record that on this side of the House we support this proposed amendment.
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I know the minister, obviously, since he's bringing it forward, supports it. But I just wanted to make the position of the official opposition on this issue clear. I don't know whether I need a response to that, but I want to have it clear on the record.
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, my only response will be to thank the member opposite for supporting that. This will take us to another two years, so that would be four years of zero wage increase for MLAs, which is entirely appropriate given the economic circumstances that we find ourselves in. I welcome and appreciate the support of the member opposite.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
B. Ralston: Section 6 amends some definitions that are set out in the definitions section of the Carbon Tax Act — "retail dealer," "vendor," "wholesale dealer." The definition is to qualify the definition by making reference to the new proposed section 1.1.
I just want the minister to confirm that that's the purpose of that amendment.
Hon. K. Falcon: Yes, it is.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
B. Ralston: This section repeals the definition of an "unscheduled rate change." Can the minister explain why that is being repealed?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is a housekeeping amendment to repeal a definition related to unscheduled rate changes. This is a fairly esoteric…. I should just give an overall, Member, because if you looked at this the way I looked at it…. I start from the position of: "What the hell are we doing here?" Once I get the answer, I feel much better.
Effectively what is happening just overall here is…. No, I was thinking back to section 6. Section 7 is a housekeeping amendment. I can provide more detail if the member wishes.
B. Ralston: Well, I don't want to be unduly peevish here, but there is a definitions section. It's a couple of sentences that describe it. It's being repealed. Is something else being substituted, or is something else being added to another schedule? Just why is that definition being…?
Obviously, the act wasn't passed that long ago — 2008. Clearly, it was thought important enough to be included in the bill at that time. I'm just wondering. Without burdening the minister with a detailed and esoteric definition, just a general indication beyond one that's given would be helpful.
Hon. K. Falcon: We don't need the definition anymore, because it previously provided us the ability to make a change by regulation. We've eliminated that now, so we no longer need the definition is what I'm advised.
Section 7 approved.
On section 8.
B. Ralston: This adds a new section to part 1 referring to "Fuel imported by ship," and there are a number of definitions — "imported fuel" and "shipment." I'll have a few more questions about shipment. But can the minister explain the purpose of this proposed amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: Member, this is something that's been requested by the business community. Amendments are related to fuel imported into B.C. by ship. What they do is transfer the obligations under the act — for example, the obligation to pay security or to levy and collect the tax. They're going to shift that from the person who is bringing the fuel into British Columbia by ship to the person who is buying the fuel before it's released by Canada Customs.
Imposing those obligations on the buyer, rather than the seller, would make the act generally more consistent with the federal obligations, and this is so it'll align with the way it works at the federal level. I understand the industry concern is that by having two different standards, it creates enormous, unnecessary obligations. It is a change that will be welcomed by the business community, and the change is limited to larger volumes of fuel to ensure that there are no risks to provincial revenues.
B. Ralston: Well, as I'm sure many are aware, the debate these days is about the export of fuel rather than the import. How frequently does this occur? Is this a hypothetical or a rare occurrence? Or is this a regular occurrence?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised it's actually a pretty regular occurrence. I just checked to see if I could have a breakdown as to what kind of fuel. We don't have a breakdown for you. My suspicion is that it's probably aviation fuel — general, normal fuel. But I don't actually have that breakdown for the member. I can try and get it if the member wishes.
B. Ralston: By shifting the business obligation to the purchaser to pay the tax, which businesses benefit by this alignment of the regulations?
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Hon. K. Falcon: It's interesting when you drill down in these things — the fascinating level of detail that you can get into quickly. But essentially, as I best interpret the advice given to me, the tax is always on the purchaser. So that does not change. What does change is it shifts the security requirement from the seller to the purchaser.
There are some securities requirements that are put into place. Those will be appropriately on the purchaser, not on the seller. Apparently, that aligns with the way the federal government does it. So it simplifies the process to one that all of the purchasers are familiar with and stops having B.C. sort of being in an outlier position by having it on the sellers of the fuel.
B. Ralston: Perhaps this is a term of art, but can the minister further explain what is meant by a security requirement? As I understand it, then, what the minister is saying is that a purchaser of imported fuel will be responsible for paying the carbon tax in the manner that's prescribed here, as opposed to the vendor, importer, being obliged to pay the carbon tax. So the security requirement that's referred to — is that a deposit? I'm not quite clear what's being referred to.
Hon. K. Falcon: I now have a better understanding here, Member. I apologize. This does get into a fascinating level of detail. The purchaser always pays the final tax. In other words, the final consumer, you and I, are always paying the tax, so that does not change.
The security requirement refers to the amount paid at the top of the supply chain, so the shipper bringing it into the province pays an amount equal to what is ultimately paid at the bottom. That's the security provision that is in place. What this does is just shift that requirement, that obligation, from the top of the supply chain — if you will, the shipper bringing it in — to the next level below, which would be the B.C. companies that are ultimately distributing this to the final consumer.
Whilst on the surface you may think, "Well, why would that be a benefit?" my understanding is that that is similar to how the federal government does things, and it's entirely accepted and, in fact, supported by industry that that's the appropriate way to deal with it with respect to those areas that are covered under provincial jurisdiction too.
B. Ralston: Just so I understand this, then, the security provision that's referred to is that held in a kind of escrow, and when the carbon tax is collected from the ultimate purchaser, that's released back to the importer?
Hon. K. Falcon: Effectively, what happens is that the people at the top of the supply chain pay government. So they'll pay government the amount of the tax that's going to be necessary, and every step below them then makes a payment that reimburses that level of the supply chain. And it goes all the way down to the very bottom where you and I as the final consumer are paying the tax.
All we're doing is taking out the very top of that supply chain, the requirement on the first shipper to have to make that payment, and transferring that down the supply chain to the B.C. companies.
B. Ralston: Thank you. I think I have a better understanding of that.
I'm just interested in — and this arises, I suppose, tangentially — someone who is an exporter of fuel. There doesn't appear to be in the act an obligation, at least as I understand it, for that exporter to pay the carbon tax. Is that accurate?
Hon. K. Falcon: The carbon tax, to remind everyone, is meant to tax consumption that's taking place within B.C. It never has and never was intended to apply to exports that are not being consumed in the province of British Columbia.
Section 8 approved.
On section 9.
B. Ralston: This is an amendment to section 8 of the carbon tax. The description in the statute is "Imposition of tax on purchase of fuel." This is an amendment to section 8 which adds a new subsection. Can the minister explain the purpose of that? I take it that it's related to the previous section 8 that we just dealt with, but can the minister confirm that?
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Hon. K. Falcon: The reason for the amendment is that with the transfer of obligations related to fuel imported by ship from the seller to the buyer, it is necessary now to impose the obligation to pay the tax directly to the government on the purchase of such fuels. It's really just following up a consequential amendment related to the section that we just passed.
Section 9 approved.
On section 10.
B. Ralston: These three subsections each refer to an unscheduled rate change for fuel in different aspects. Subsection 34(2) refers to "Change in tax rate and collection of tax." It proposes to repeal subsection (2). Section 35(3) also refers to "an unscheduled rate change."
I appreciate that in the definition section it was proposed to remove that definition, so I take that it's related
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to that change in the definition section. Can the minister explain the specific requirement to delete these three subsections?
Hon. K. Falcon: These are housekeeping amendments that will repeal, as the member pointed out, the sections of the act that were related to unscheduled rate changes that are now spent provisions. They're no longer going to be applicable. These provisions no longer have any purpose, so they are being repealed.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment repeals section 14(2)(c) of the Carbon Tax Act, which refers to "fuel that is purchased in British Columbia for use outside of British Columbia and is to be removed from British Columbia" and then gives a list of people who might do that. There is a proposed new subsection (c) that would substitute for that. Can the minister explain the rationale for the repeal and, then, the new proposed section?
Hon. K. Falcon: This, again, is a consequential amendment related to fuel imported by ships. The amendment ensures that the exemption for fuel that's removed from B.C. for use outside of B.C. also applies to fuel that is removed by the seller in the case of that fuel being imported into B.C. by ship and sold before it is released by Canada Customs.
It is unlikely to happen very often, but I guess I'm trying to think of…. A plain-language way to explain this, by example, would be fuel brought into B.C. with the intention of it being sold in the market and delivered in B.C., but after the fuel enters the B.C. waters the parties, for whatever reason, change their arrangement, and the fuel is delivered to a location outside of B.C. It is probably not expected to happen that often, but it is put in place to ensure that we are not inappropriately capturing a situation, though rare, that may arise.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment deals with section 28 in division 3, "Collected Taxes". It's entitled "Remittance of tax to director." It's proposed to strike out must remit the tax collected "to the director" and substitute "to the government."
I would have thought that the definition section would have dealt with that. Can the minister explain the necessity for this amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that the change from "to the director" to "to the government" is a housekeeping amendment that makes that section more consistent with the rest of the act. I imagine in the rest of the act it is referring to remittances made to the government, and this just ensures that it is consistent with the language used throughout the balance of the act.
B. Ralston: The other proposed amendment to the section is to add a new subsection (5), which the explanatory notes say: "provides that if a person collects an amount as if it were security and has not paid security, the person must remit the amount collected to the government." Can the minister explain what is meant by that description? It seems a little arcane.
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that this is put in place so that any person that has an obligation or believes they have an obligation to collect an amount as if it were security must remit that amount to government. For example, if they took in too much in the honest belief that it was moneys that were owed, they still must remit that to government. Then we've got separate refund provisions that ensure that they can be refunded those amounts.
Section 12 approved.
On section 13.
B. Ralston: This deals with amendments to section 30, which is in division 4 of the act entitled "Security." There are a number of amendments proposed here to various subsections, all of which I would appreciate an explanation of, particularly the repeal of subsection (3) that then substitutes a new subsection (3).
Hon. K. Falcon: This again is a consequential amendment related to the fuel imported by ship. Section 30 essentially provides the obligations of collectors to pay security to the government when the fuel is sold for the first time after its importation or manufacture. The security is equal to the tax payable if the fuel were sold to an end consumer, consistent with the discussion we had earlier on.
Why are we doing this? Because with the transfer of obligations related to fuel imported by ship from the seller to the buyer, we now find it necessary to clarify when the first sale in B.C. occurs, for the purposes of the obligations of the collectors to pay security to the government. We have to be clear on that obligation to pay security to government at the time of the first sale after import, and that's what this is doing. It's consequentially amending the earlier discussion we had around 6, 7 and 8.
Section 13 approved.
[ Page 10719 ]
On section 14.
B. Ralston: This section is a proposed amendment to section 36. It similarly strikes out the phrase "to the director" and substitutes "to the government." I think we have adequately covered that. Can the minister explain the proposed addition of the new subsection (2.1)?
Hon. K. Falcon: This, again, is a consequential amendment. This follows up on the previous discussion I had where I mentioned that if there is a remittance made to government, and subsequently it's determined that there needs to be a refund provided to the party, this allows for the refund of tax in cases where tax has been paid to the government when tax was not payable. So it allows to refund to collectors an amount they collected that subsequently was not payable.
Section 14 approved.
On section 15.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment is to section 37, which is entitled, "Refund of security." Similarly, it adds the phrase "to the government." As I say, I think we've had an adequate explanation of that. But there is a proposed new subsection (1.1). Can the minister explain the reason for adding that subsection?
Hon. K. Falcon: This consequential amendment mirrors the previous one we just talked about, except instead of refunding of tax, it has a refund provision for security that is paid in error. It just mirrors the same thing, except substituting "security" for "tax."
Section 15 approved.
On section 16.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment is to section 84, which is entitled "Regulations." I think proposed amendments (a) and (b) are clear enough. In section (c) there is a proposal to add to subsection (3) two paragraphs. Can the minister explain the reason for adding those two paragraphs to section 84?
Hon. K. Falcon: This provides the ability of government to set regulations that will provide different thresholds for different kinds of fuels that are imported by ship. Also, the amendments are related to fuel imported by ship, effective May 1, 2012, which ensures that industry has sufficient notice of the changes, including the volume thresholds.
B. Ralston: There is a proposed amendment, subsection (d), that adds a new subsection. Can the minister explain that? Then the concluding proposed amendment is the repeal of subsection (7) of section 84. Can the minister explain that as well?
Perhaps I could just clarify my question. Section 84 is amended in (d) "by adding the following subsection" — it's a new (6.4) — and in (e) "by repealing subsection (7)." I take it the subsection (7) being referred to is in section 84 as well.
Hon. K. Falcon: So (6.4) provides regulation authority to be able to make a retroactive regulation to be effective May 1, 2012. That, I understand, is in place to ensure that if royal assent is not provided in time as to allow that notice to be made prior to this, it will allow us to make that notice retroactively.
Subsection (7) is just repealed because we no longer have subsection 6.
Section 16 approved.
On section 17.
B. Ralston: This amendment amends the table and schedule 1 of the act, which is at…. I have page 73 of my copy of the act, at the end of the act.
It would appear to just confirm the notice given in the minister's budget speech that the carbon tax rate will continue at the same rate — at least that's the legislative intention — following the next increase at July 1, 2012, and it will continue at that same rate.
I think section 18 proposed amendment amends schedule 2 to the same effect. Perhaps the minister could deal with both responses at the same time.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct. Yes, in both cases. It confirms the carbon tax rate will remain unchanged, as of July 1, 2012. It will stay at the same level and continue to apply at that level for subsequent years.
Sections 17 and 18 approved.
On section 19.
B. Ralston: This is a single amendment to the Family Law Act, which repeals section 364(a). Can the minister explain why that's being done?
Hon. K. Falcon: Upcoming, apparently, you will see a new definition for a relative coming forward, and that is repealing an old definition under the Family Law Act. So we are going to be, apparently, coming up to the section that will deal with the new definition.
Section 19 approved.
[ Page 10720 ]
On section 20.
B. Ralston: At this point in the bill we now shift to proposed amendments to the Home Owner Grant Act. Section 1 is the definition section and amends a number of definitions. Perhaps the minister can explain the first proposed change to the definition of the "low-income grant supplement."
Hon. K. Falcon: What the proposed amendment is doing is adding some new definitions and refining existing definitions to accommodate the introduction of a "veterans supplement" and a new rule on deemed occupancy after a move into a residential care facility.
In plain language, what we are trying to do here, or what we will achieve here, is to be able to include low-income veterans that are coming from wars other than First, Second and Korean War. So we're now including any theatre of wartime activity, including Afghanistan. This is to ensure that we capture recent veterans that may be returning and that could qualify for an additional supplement — $275. In most cases it will be a $275 additional supplement if they qualify into the low-income category.
The second has to do with residential care facilities. We've had cases in the past where…. They're not exclusively seniors. In many cases they are, but it could also be a young person with severe physical challenges or what have you that requires the movement into a residential care facility.
We've had cases in the past where seniors have been required to move into a seniors care facility. They are then listing their home for sale, but the home may not sell immediately. They're thus in a position where they're in a residential care facility and lose their homeowner grant because they're no longer living at the home.
This will allow there to be a deemed occupancy for one more year's grant for those individuals so that they're not going to be unfairly penalized in being required to move to a residential care facility.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that. That's a very succinct explanation.
The next proposed amendment is to the definition of "relative," and it repeals paragraph (b). I take it this is related, obviously, to the amendments that are proposed. Can the minister explain the change that is proposed to subsection (b) in the definition of "relative"?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that in section (a) you have the definition of eligibility if you're living with a disabled individual. It lays out the definition of a relative. And (b) is essentially the regular definition. If you're not living with an individual that is disabled, that would apply. In other words, it's a child, grandchild, parent, brother or sister.
B. Ralston: The proposed amendment in subsection (c), in the definition of "spouse," strikes out the words "low-income grant." I take it that it would read, then, for either of them for a supplement, as I read it. First of all, if the minister could confirm that that's the intention. Secondly, the purpose would be appreciated.
Hon. K. Falcon: We already have a low-income grant supplement. We are now, of course, expanding to include low-income veterans. So rather than keep distinguishing between the two, it is easier, as I'm advised, to just use the word "supplement."
B. Ralston: Paragraph (d) adds a number of definitions which would refer to the intention of the legislation to extend the benefit of the Home Owner Grant Act to veterans of wars other than the ones that the minister referred to.
I don't think there are any questions I have. I just wanted to confirm that that's the purpose of adding these definitions.
Hon. K. Falcon: The answer is yes.
Sections 20 and 21 approved.
On section 22.
B. Ralston: Section 22 proposes to add a definition of the veterans supplement, and it's a full, fairly extensive section, "Veterans supplement for eligible residences." The minister has touched on this in his earlier remarks, but perhaps he could explain the purpose of this fairly lengthy proposed addition to the definitions section.
Hon. K. Falcon: This establishes the requirements for eligible residences for veterans, and it essentially refers to the fee simple ownership we're all familiar with — houses, condominiums and townhouses. Later, upcoming, we will have some additional forms of housing tenancy that will also apply. But this is just dealing with the ones that we're typically familiar with.
Section 22 approved.
On section 23.
B. Ralston: This may be the section that the minister was referring to. It appears to add a definition of "residential facility" for the purposes of 5.1 to 5.4 of the act. This section, 5.1, is entitled "Extended absence from principal residence."
I think the definition of "eligible person" is fairly clear. Perhaps the minister could briefly explain the purpose of — and I think it, perhaps, might be self-evident, but I
[ Page 10721 ]
think it would be worth it for the record — adding "residential facility."
Hon. K. Falcon: Yeah. This refers to the discussion I had earlier, where we wanted to support those homeowners — mostly seniors, but not exclusively seniors — who now find themselves living in a residential care facility, to which they will likely be making some financial contribution, but who are also having to pay property taxes on a home they no longer occupy but have yet to sell. This would apply for up to one further tax year to allow them to ensure that they are receiving the homeowner grant and not being overly penalized while they are attempting to sell their home.
B. Ralston: Section (b) — I think the minister has already referred to this — is a reference to an eligible person being absent because they're a resident in a residential care facility. I think the minister has made that quite clear.
But I'm looking at paragraph (c), proposed amendment to section 5.1, which repeals entirely subsection (3) and substitutes a new subsection (3). Can the minister briefly explain the differences between the repealed section and the proposed new section?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that in subsection 5.1(3), the technical changes are made to clarify references and adopt the new term, "supplement," that we discussed earlier, which refers to both the existing low-income supplement and the proposed low-income veterans supplement.
Section 23 approved.
On section 24.
B. Ralston: The proposed amendment here amends section 5.2 by repealing current subsections (2) through (5) and substitutes new subsections (2), (3), (4) and (5). Could the minister briefly explain the purpose of that?
Hon. K. Falcon: This just introduces some requirements on homeowners for the purpose of deeming occupancy in their home following that move to a residential care facility. So this sets out the rules that apply to assure that we're capturing the situations that we are proposing with the amendment. It will add some requirements for a homeowner to be considered an occupant of the home in the case where they've moved to that residential facility but they've not yet sold the home.
The requirements are that the owner must have received a grant at that property in the year preceding the move to a residential care facility. That's No. 1. No. 2, the property must have been occupied by the homeowner immediately before the absence began. In other words, it wasn't rented out. That's very important. And it cannot be rented or for rent from the beginning of the absence to the date of application for the homeowner's grant.
Section 24 approved.
On section 25.
B. Ralston: This proposes amendments to section 5.3, which is entitled "Repayment — failure to resume occupancy of principal residence." I take it from reading it that it has something to do with the recapture of the grant if a person doesn't occupy the residence after the expiration of the year that the minister has referred to. It adds a reference to residents in a residential facility.
Can the minister, if my explanation is not too torturous, confirm that it's accurate or supplement that explanation?
Hon. K. Falcon: The current provision essentially establishes that a failure to reoccupy the residence after an extended absence means that you are going to be disentitled for the grants that were previously approved. That's what currently stands.
What this proposed amendment is going to do is allow the homeowner, on an extended absence, to move directly into residential care without having to return to the home first. So it is more expansive in allowing for a situation like that without disentitling them and, I think, something that essentially says that by this amendment a move into a residential facility will be an allowable reason not to return to your home after an extended absence.
Sections 25 and 26 approved.
On section 27.
B. Ralston: Section 27 proposes a number of amendments to section 6 of the act. Can the minister perhaps begin and deal with these proposed amendments in sequence? So (a) strikes out "must be made" and substitutes language that involves discretion: "may be made for a tax year." Then (b) adds a subsection about…. I take it that refers to some of the previous amendments that have been discussed. Perhaps the minister can confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: To the member's first point, I'm advised that the drafting lawyers prefer the term "may be made" as opposed to "must be made." So it now will read: "No more than one grant may be made for a tax year" and eliminates the words "must be made." That is apparently something the drafters prefer.
B. Ralston: Well, I do recall a case where it was interpreted that "may" meant "shall," so I'm not sure it's a distinction
[ Page 10722 ]
that really makes a difference. But that's probably something that drafting lawyers might wish to discuss after hours.
B. Ralston: I didn't say that. I didn't presume that.
Looking at sections (b), (c), (d), (e) and (f), they appear to make the same reference to a tax year. Can the minister, then, explain the purpose of those proposed amendments?
Hon. K. Falcon: I understand that this is consistent with the existing approach. There's no big change here. The reason for this amendment is that the existing limitations are broadened so that each home can have only one supplement and a couple cannot receive two supplements in the same home. You could have one spouse receiving it one year, another one collecting it the other year but not both in the same year.
Sections 27 to 29 inclusive approved.
On section 30.
B. Ralston: Section 30 just adds a new 7.1, which would appear to set out all the detail concerning the proposed veterans supplement — and fairly exhaustive, in looking through it. Can the minister just confirm that that's the purpose of this proposed new section 7.1?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is the companion piece I talked about under (2.1) that would follow, which provides the same benefit for low-income veterans in certain tenancy arrangements. This builds upon the earlier (2.1) that talked about the eligible homes that we would typically think of, and this states the requirements on eligible apartments or housing units, land cooperatives or multi dwelling leased parcels.
Section 30 approved.
On section 31.
B. Ralston: This proposed amendment is to the existing section 13.1, "Access to and disclosure of records." There are a number of sections in (a), (b) and (c). Can the minister explain the purpose of these proposed amendments?
Hon. K. Falcon: The program administrators have to, by the nature of their job, collect certain information, including income, to determine eligibility of the applicant in relation to the veterans supplement. The proposed amendment restricts the use and disclosure of this information. Allowable uses are consistent with the rules for the existing low-income supplement program, so it will be mirrored and patterned on the low-income supplement program and just apply the same general principles to the veterans supplement.
Sections 31 to 34 inclusive approved.
On section 35.
B. Ralston: Section 35 amends by repealing the existing subsections (1) through (3) and substitutes a new proposed subsection (1). That would appear to simply incorporate the new definitions that have been referred to. This section is entitled "Low-income grant supplements." Can the minister confirm that that's the purpose of amending this section 18.1?
Hon. K. Falcon: I can confirm that.
Section 35 approved.
On section 36.
Hon. K. Falcon: I move the amendment to section 36 that is in possession of the Clerk.
[SECTION 36, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
Child fitness credit
4.34 (1) In this section, "qualifying child" has the same meaning as in section 118.03 (1) of the federal Act.
(2) For the purpose of computing the tax payable under this Act for a taxation year by an individual who was resident in British Columbia on the last day of the taxation year
[ Page 10723 ]
and who is entitled to a deduction under section 118.03 of the federal Act for the year, there may
b e be deducted the amount determined by the formula
A × B
A is the appropriate percentage for the year, and
B is the total of the following:
the amount used in the total of all amounts each of which is, in respect of a qualifying child of the individual for the year, the smaller of
(i) $500, and
(ii) the amount determined in respect of the qualifying child by the formula in the description of "B" in section 118.03 (2) of the federal Act
for B and included in computing the individual's deduction under that section for the year;
(b) if the individual is entitled to a deduction under section 118.03 (2.1) of the federal Act for the year, $500 for each qualifying child of the individual in respect of whom a deduction is made under that section for the year,
(3) Section 118.03 (3) of the federal Act applies for the purposes of subsection (2) of this section.
Child arts credit
4.35 (1) In this section, "qualifying child" has the same meaning as in section 118.03 (1) of the federal Act.
(2) For the purpose of computing the tax payable under this Act for a taxation year by an individual who was resident in British Columbia on the last day of the taxation year and who is entitled to a deduction under section 118.031 of the federal Act for the year, there may be deducted the amount determined by the formula
A × B
A is the appropriate percentage for the year, and
B is the total of the following:
the amount used in the total of all amounts each of which is, in respect of a qualifying child of the individual for the year, the smaller of
(i) $500, and
(ii) the amount determined in respect of the qualifying child by the formula in the description of "B" in section 118.031 (2) of the federal Act
for B and included in computing the individual's deduction under that section for the year;
(b) if the individual is entitled to a deduction under section 118.031 (3) of the federal Act for the year, $500 for each qualifying child of the individual in respect of whom a deduction is made under that section for the year.
(3) Section 118.031 (4) of the federal Act applies for the purposes of subsection (2) of this section.]
On the amendment.
Hon. K. Falcon: For the benefit of the member opposite, I am not sure if this has been distributed yet to the member. But the amendment to the bill will ensure that in cases where the credits are shared between two spouses, the enhanced amount for children with disabilities does not exceed $500. This amendment will ensure that the children's fitness and arts credits are administered in accordance with the policy intent and are consistent with the federal children's fitness and arts credits.
B. Ralston: Rather than speaking to it, perhaps I could just place my intervention in the form of a question. This is an amendment that's proposed. I'm wondering…. I take it that this possible consequence of these amendments was discovered after the initial drafting and that's why the amendment is now here before us. Would that be an accurate way of describing the necessity for this proposed amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: Our goal was to mirror the federal program, and my understanding is the federal government recommended this change to bring in greater consistency.
On section 36 as amended.
B. Ralston: We've now moved to the B.C. Income Tax Act. There's a proposed amendment which would add the following sections. I'm looking at proposed section 4.34 (1), which refers to the child fitness credit. The minister did allude to this in his opening remarks at second reading, but I'm wondering about the purpose for this. Obviously, it's designed to mirror the federal act.
As I expressed at second reading, there's a concern about the range of eligibility in the sense that many parents, unless they are in a position to spend this kind of money on eligible fees such as fees for sports, won't be able to take advantage of this, and the benefiting families would be skewed to the upper end of the income scale or, at least, to the middle and the upper end of the income scale, and a broad section of the population would not be able to have access to these child fitness credits.
I did refer to the charitable organization, very active in Surrey, as I'm sure the minister may recall. I think the Surrey city council is a very active supporter of an organization called the Right to Play, which focuses on those children who might not be able to participate in sports due to the income limitations of their parents.
So I'm seeking an explanation of the policy rationale for pursuing this approach rather than another approach that might be more broadly available to people with children at all income levels.
Hon. K. Falcon: A couple of points. The first is that in introducing this children's fitness and arts tax credit in the budget, we were, of course, trying to mirror and piggyback on a federal program to provide even greater impetus to encourage parents to have their kids involved in physical fitness and arts activities outside of their school programs.
I certainly acknowledge, and the member is correct, that it means that you have to pay tax to receive the benefit. So by the nature of the program, you would potentially exclude those that do not pay tax and therefore would not be eligible to receive the benefit. I acknowledge that. However, it is, thankfully, not the only thing that we are doing to deal with, particularly, the issues around childhood fitness.
As I mentioned the other day in response to the member's thoughtful comments in second reading, we have also introduced a very significant grant provided through the Ministry of Education for the construction of playground equipment in schools across the province. My recollection was that it was about a $9 million grant that will be shared across the province to ensure that we have playground equipment in every school in the province, regardless of income level. That is to deal with the very real inequity of some jurisdictions having an easier time raising money than others, and I think that should be obvious to most.
But we have also made it part of our capital standard now in government that anytime a new school is being constructed in the province of British Columbia, it will also include a fully built-out playground to ensure that the children can benefit from the physical activity that is associated with having a really great playground in every single school.
It's something I believe in very strongly, and it's now a
[ Page 10724 ]
policy of government. So of all of the schools that we've announced recently — for example, in Surrey alone, over $100 million of new schools — every single one of those schools will be constructed with the full playground equipment, which I think is positive.
There are also a number of other initiatives that we have in play. To encourage mandatory physical activity in the schools, for example, is something that not only is beneficial to the kids' physical well-being but also to their mental well-being. It is very clear. All the emerging science evidence of brain development demonstrates that physical activity has a correspondingly positive impact on brain development and capacity to learn and retain information. That will continue to be a priority of government.
I think that the member is correct to point out that the particular program, because it mirrors the federal program, does only apply to those families that are paying income tax.
S. Chandra Herbert: I'm curious about the arts tax credit. I know that some people have said that $25 will pay for half a piano lesson. That was what some suggested the arts tax credit would do for a family.
My question is: what studies, what reports has the minister done on the provincial side here for the tax credit that would show that this $25 at the end of the tax year would incent more families to bring their children to arts practices, or is this just a reward for people who are already doing that?
Hon. K. Falcon: Well, I think the answer is that the member is being much too pessimistic. The reason we mirrored it with the federal program is it's $25 per child, per credit. When you combine that with the $75 credit that's provided by the federal government, you're now at $100 per child, per credit. Between both of those programs, you now have a benefit for families of $100 per child, per credit.
I believe that may not entirely cover the cost of some programs, but it provides some assistance to parents and speaks to families that are trying to get their kids involved in art activities and know that the federal and provincial governments are providing some dollars to encourage and help support that activity.
S. Chandra Herbert: The question I had was: what studies, what analysis has been done to suggest this would incent people to do this, or was this just money for people already doing that? If the minister could respond to that, I would appreciate it.
In previous questions to other ministers and this minister, it has often been stated that there is no money for arts. "We're not able to fund this. We've got a deficit. We can't do that."
A number of people in the community have asked, "Why go this route?" rather than support the arts — as the minister was saying he'd like to do earlier — through investments in gaming, through investments in the B.C. Arts Council and those kinds of areas, where they can be assured that it goes to everybody regardless of income — if that was the kind of program the minister was interested in.
Hon. K. Falcon: I think the short answer is that — and I confirmed with the minister responsible — the level of support to the B.C. Arts Council is at the second-highest level ever in history. Of course, my recollection is that we provided about $100 million to the Renaissance Fund to continue to spin off dollars in perpetuity for the benefit of the arts and cultural community.
I can't point to any studies, Member, candidly, as to answer the question in a manner that might give the member some comfort. But what I can do is share at least some of the feedback that I've heard from members of the public that appreciate the fact that government is providing some support to help them ensure that their kids can stay or take part in arts and cultural and physical fitness activities.
With that, I move that the committee rise, report progress and seek 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. I. Chong 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
JOBS, TOURISM AND INNOVATION
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. Thornthwaite in the chair.
[ Page 10725 ]
The committee met at 10:07 a.m.
On Vote 30: ministry operations, $234,108,000 (continued).
Hon. P. Bell: Very pleased yesterday with how the dialogue was going and looking forward to further collaboration and harmony as the day goes on today.
J. Brar: Thanks to the staff members and minister for what you would call the extraordinary cooperation here for the estimates debate. I would like to continue my questioning about the small business area. So if the minister would like to call the staff members.
In the 2010-11 Annual Service Plan Report it states, on page 9: "Ministry staff worked with staff of the Ministry of Energy and Mines in the design and release of the LiveSmart B.C. small business program, raising the profile of green technology business opportunities. The Small Business Roundtable was consulted during the design phase of the project to ensure it would meet the needs of small business."
My question on that one to the minister is: can the minister provide a description of the LiveSmart B.C. small business program — as to what the program is?
Hon. P. Bell: If the member opposite has any questions specific to the actual program itself, I would suggest that he canvass that under the estimates of the Ministry of Energy and Mines. Our role in it was a consultation process.
The Small Business Roundtable was consulted and provided advice to the Ministry of Energy and Mines in the development of the program, but the actual program characteristics would be more appropriately canvassed under the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
J. Brar: My understanding is that this ministry is not involved in the delivery of the program. It's called LiveSmart B.C. small business program. As far as the delivery is concerned, there's absolutely nothing that falls under this ministry.
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite is correct.
J. Brar: I will move to another topic with that. One of the recommendations made in the Action Plan for Small Business: 2010-2013 is to promote mobile business licences, as indicated on page 6. I think the intent here is to make it easier for the small business people to basically have one licence and operate the business in different municipalities. I think that's the intent.
I would like to ask what actions have been taken on this particular recommendation and if the minister can provide some updates as to where the program is and what the success of this program is.
Hon. P. Bell: The mobile business licence is one of the elements of our plan to help support the small business community. It provides for intermunicipal licensing that reduces red tape and allows businesses that move between a variety of communities to do so in a way that doesn't require multiple licences.
Originally, the project was piloted in the Okanagan-Similkameen in 2008. Since then it has been adopted by 19 different communities across the province. We are in discussions with a significant number of additional communities which have expressed interest in taking advantage of this program as well.
J. Brar: Are there any targets set for this year as to how many more communities we want to bring under this program?
Hon. P. Bell: The goal for this year is to bring an additional two intermunicipal licences. Certainly, if we can exceed that goal, we'd be very happy.
J. Brar: I would like to have a better understanding of this program, as to how it works. Does this program involve a particular business sector where you can have the licence and operate in different municipalities? Or is it blanket, where if two municipalities agreed under this program and any licence issued by those two municipalities can go either way? If I made that clear.
Hon. P. Bell: The way the licence structure actually works is that it is a business licence that allows any mobile business to move between any of the 19 municipalities that are registered in the program to provide their services.
I will give the member opposite two examples: one that would qualify, one that wouldn't qualify. A stationary restaurant that provides services only through a specific location would require a licence just in that single municipality, and they wouldn't qualify for this type of mobile business licence.
But a caterer who has mobile equipment and takes its products and caters across a wide variety of different jurisdictions could qualify for a mobile business licence, and then that caterer would be able to provide services in any one of the 19 municipalities that fall under this particular licence model. Then, as the licence expands, they would qualify for an expanded number.
That doesn't mean that they may not need health permits, as an example. If they were doing business in two different health authorities, they may require multiple health permits or other forms of permits. But as far as the business licence goes — for mobile businesses, typically…. I use the catering example only because it shows an
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example of one that would qualify and one that wouldn't qualify, both in the restaurant-type business or food service business.
Typically, contractors — you know, plumbers, electricians, those sorts of things — would be the types of individuals that would qualify for this type of licensing regime.
J. Brar: I would appreciate if the minister can provide a list of the eligible business ventures that would actually qualify for this mobile business licence. My understanding is that there must be some sort of list as to what businesses qualify under that program.
The last question I want to ask is this. The taxi licence, for example. I know it's a bit of a different question for this program, but the taxi licence is very similar to the description given by the minister about the kind of licence where you get a licence and then you can be mobile in different municipalities. Has there been any consideration given for the taxi licence under the mobile business licence program?
Hon. P. Bell: Out of the 19 agreements, there are six different sub-areas that each have individual agreements. Each of those six groupings of communities has its own list of businesses that are eligible. So I'd ask the member opposite…. If he wants more information, that really rests with each of those individual municipalities. We don't hold that information inside the ministry.
On the taxi. That's actually a good example, because a taxi does require multiple licences. They require a business licence, they require a taxi licence, and then there will be, I think, other forms of regulatory requirements likely for them as well.
The business licence — if they fell in one of the 19 qualifying communities, if it was one of the accepted uses within those jurisdictions — could be used across multiple jurisdictions. But the taxi licence, I believe, still prescribes the operating area which the cab can operate in.
I'm not an expert in this field. The Ministry of Transportation, I believe, regulates taxi licences, but I am of the belief that taxis have operating rights only within certain geographic zones. That would likely be written in on the taxi licence. The business licence is different and would allow them to operate in other areas.
J. Brar: I will move on, keeping in mind my length of time allocation here. On page 8 the 2010-11 Annual Service Plan Report states: "…the establishment of the peer-mentoring networks in Nelson, Duncan, Oliver, Osoyoos and Castlegar." I would appreciate it if the minister could provide the updates on the success of that program, if there are any.
Hon. P. Bell: The peer-mentoring network was provided through a funding envelope that was provided to the leadership management development corporation. That work has been ongoing. There are reports available, and we will retrieve those reports and provide them to the member, perhaps before the end of day but certainly in the next short period of time.
J. Brar: Thanks to the minister. I hope that report will include how many businesses benefited through this program and what the next step is, if there is any, for the expansion of the program, building on the success of the program. I think this is a good program. I hope there will be a next step.
My next question. One of the recommendations made in the Action Plan for Small Business: 2010-2013 was to develop a small business export strategy to assist small businesses to expand into national and international markets. I would like to ask the minister if there is any strategy at this point in time or if it is still in progress as to where we are with that, because that was one of the recommendations made in that report.
Hon. P. Bell: The strategy is still in development. We expect that it will be released in the next three or four months.
The elements of the strategy relate to a supplier program, working with small businesses so they can access the international community as suppliers in an export-based environment, a detailed sector analysis to provide information to individuals and how they can expand their export opportunities.
The doubling of the international trade offices is clearly one of the important elements of it. Then we have business accelerators in Bangalore, Shanghai and one in the U.S.
I recently had a colleague approach me about helping a small business that manufactures boats in British Columbia. That's actually going to be an interesting one to look at and see what we can do. They have a market in Korea that they're interested in, and we're going to see how we can help support that particular company.
So it is under development and expected to be out in three or four months. The key elements really revolve around supporting those individual businesses and identifying the key market opportunities that exist for them.
J. Brar: I will certainly wait for the report. The minister said that in three or four months that strategy should be out there — right?
The next question is about credit card practice. There are a lot of small businesses out there that make complaints about credit card practice — as to how fair and just that practice is to them. It becomes hard for them sometimes to deal with the credit card payments.
I know this is a federal issue, but one of the recom-
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mendations made under, again, the annual report of the Small Business Roundtable was that the government — it will still be the federal government — make credit card practice more fair when it comes to the small business community. I would like to ask the minister if the minister has taken any steps on that recommendation made by the Small Business Roundtable.
Hon. P. Bell: There's been no action taken on this recommendation yet. The reason for that is because credit card companies, as a result of lobby efforts on the part of the small business community, have in fact taken some voluntary actions that have been deemed to improve the environment in which they're operating in. So that has been what has occurred so far.
J. Brar: The other question I wanted to ask is about the small business tax cuts. You know, we did have a bit of discussion last year on this one. Last year I asked the minister as to the commitment this government has made to bring the small business tax cut to zero, and the minister was quite committed at that time that the government remains committed to that and will follow the timetable given by the government.
So I would like to ask the minister today as to where that commitment is. Is the government still committed to bring it down to zero, or is there any change in that policy?
Hon. P. Bell: As the member opposite will know, tax policy is under the purview of the Minister of Finance and would be better canvassed under those estimates.
J. Brar: Being that this is the minister responsible for small business, I think there must be some discussion with the Minister of Finance and this minister, particularly because that deals with the small business community. Has there been any discussion between the minister and the Minister of Finance on this issue?
Hon. P. Bell: This ministry certainly provides advice to the Minister of Finance in terms of what opportunities we may see for the small business community for other tax policy, but tax policy clearly is under the purview of the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance is the one that makes those decisions. If the member wants to canvass that, I think that's appropriate. It would be just more appropriately done under the estimates of the Ministry of Finance.
J. Brar: The last question I want to ask is about the HST. We know now that the HST actually has been defeated through referendum by the people of B.C. We are in the process of bringing the old PST-and-GST system back. I don't know how much time it's going to take.
Under the previous system, when there was a PST-and-GST system, at that time the small businesses used to get, to the best of my information, about $2,400, maximum, to collect PST on behalf of the government. So my question would be: when the government brings back the same system, will the government restore that incentive which was available to the small business community under the previous PST-and-GST system?
Hon. P. Bell: While I would like to be in a position to be able to answer the member's question, again, it clearly falls to the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance, which is reconstructing the rules currently around shifting back to the PST-GST system. On the chance that I would be inaccurate in providing my response to the member opposite, I prefer that he canvass that under the estimates of the Minister of Finance.
J. Brar: I would certainly like to ask the minister…. These are two very important issues, when it comes to the small business community and the viability of their businesses, whether we're talking about small business tax or we're talking about the tax collection incentive which was available to the small business community under the PST-GST system.
I understand the policy will be shaped by the Minister of Finance on this one. But this minister plays a key role to provide advice to the Minister of Finance on this issue, because the role of this minister is to support the small business community to be successful in the province of B.C. So I would like to ask the minister what recommendation this minister has made to the Minister of Finance on these two important issues that face the small business community of B.C.
Hon. P. Bell: Typically, recommendations of this nature would come through the cabinet process, and this is held under the confidentiality requirements of that process. Further submissions could go to Treasury Board with regards to different sorts of incentives or programs that would be helpful to the small business community.
I'm really not at liberty to provide detailed information with regards to those sorts of confidences, so I'm unable to answer the question. What we do do, particularly, is take the Small Business Roundtable recommendations, work through those and advance those through to the Minister of Finance. Then in consultations with the chambers of commerce, the boards of trade and the CFIB, other organizations take their advice and provide that through to the Minister of Finance as well.
It is a pretty broad-ranging group of programs and efforts. But because of the complications of cabinet and Treasury Board confidentiality, I'm not sure that I can provide that level of detail here.
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J. Brar: I would like to just say thanks to all the staff members for their support in today's estimate process. With that, I will end my part of asking questions. The member from Vancouver, my colleague, will stand up now to ask.
J. Kwan: I would like to canvass some questions in the area of multiculturalism, PNP, temporary foreign workers, etc. While we wait for the critic to join us shortly, I will begin with some of my questions around foreign workers.
I wonder if the minister could advise on the role which his ministry might have played in relation to attaining foreign workers — in providing, potentially, training or support to foreign workers in British Columbia. If there is a role which the minister plays in that, could the minister advise what role the ministry plays?
Hon. P. Bell: We may have to go back and forth a bit on this. I'm not sure I clearly understood the question.
The provincial government does not play a significant role in the temporary foreign worker program. That's administrated by HRSDC. If there were specific training requirements, typically those are provided by the employer as part of the contractual relationship. The province does play a more significant role in the provincial nominee program.
From the sense of the question, I don't think that's what the member was asking about. I think it was more specific to the temporary foreign worker program. With that specific program, typically when an employer chooses to bring in temporary foreign workers, the training responsibilities fall to the employer.
J. Kwan: Yes, I'm interested in if there is any role which the ministry plays in providing financial support to any of the employers in providing training to foreign workers that are here in British Columbia.
Hon. P. Bell: I just need clarification on the question. The temporary foreign workers is one discussion; foreign workers is a second discussion. If the member opposite could just clarify for me which she's referring to, that would be helpful.
J. Kwan: Well, the question really will roll in later to temporary workers as well. I'm interested in what role the ministry plays, given that the jobs agenda is in this minister's portfolio and that, to my understanding, there are some workers that are not domestic workers here in British Columbia and to whom the ministry provides some funding in supporting what I would broadly call foreign workers. They're not necessarily temporary foreign workers in the sense of the word as the minister is defining it — vis-à-vis the federal relationship and so on. It's just a broad term that I'm using in that context.
Hon. P. Bell: The description around foreign workers, I think, is a bit complex. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll define foreign workers as non-Canadian citizens who may be resident or who are resident on a semi-permanent or permanent basis. Temporary foreign workers are individuals, typically, who have work visas and who are allowed to stay as residents in British Columbia for up to two years. The two are different.
The foreign workers, the first category of individuals who are not here simply on work visas but are here on other forms of visas, we do provide a wide variety of programs to — Welcome B.C. But virtually all of the programs that are available to any citizen in B.C. are available to those sorts of workers.
Temporary foreign workers, who are individuals who are here typically for a maximum of two years, do not qualify for any of those programs. There is no programming that is available to those.
Again, that's because they come over for a specific job. The employer, as part of that contractual relationship, is expected to provide whatever training is necessary for those workers.
J. Kwan: In the ministry's role, the minister advises that there are a number of different programs, then, that are being provided to assist British Columbians who are permanent residents, British Columbians who are citizens, individuals who are not on a temporary work visa but are resident here in some way. They have access to those programs.
Could the minister list what those programs are? Let's just start with that.
Hon. P. Bell: I'll provide the member opposite with some of the programs that are offered under Welcome B.C., but there are other programs, as well, that people will qualify for.
Under Welcome B.C. there is English language training for adults, Skills Connect for Immigrants, labour market information, referral services, foreign qualifications recognition, engaging employers, workplace-focused language training, settlement and information services, vulnerable populations, immigration portal, welcoming communities and EmbraceBC.
So that is under the Welcome B.C. category, and then there are other programs as well. It's a fairly lengthy list of different programs that are available. If the member would like more detail, we can certainly provide it to her. That's a sampling of some of the programs that are offered.
J. Kwan: Sure. Perhaps the most efficient way to do it is to get the list of programs that the minister offers under the different areas within the ministry and a short
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summary of the purpose of the program, how much is invested and who qualifies for those programs. I think that's probably the most efficient way of doing it.
I'm assuming that Welcome B.C. offers a variety of programs, as well, in that context. Am I right in assuming that?
Hon. P. Bell: The programs that I just read out are the Welcome B.C. programs.
J. Kwan: My apologies. I meant B.C. Works.
Hon. P. Bell: B.C. Works is administered by the Ministry of Social Development and would be better canvassed under those particular estimates.
J. Kwan: I wonder: in the range of programs that are being offered, is it divided up on a sectoral basis — that is to say, programs that will provide support to individuals in, let's say, the mining industry or sector, the forestry sector, as such? Or is it just a broad base in terms of training and employment preparedness for individuals?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm assuming that the member opposite is still referring to immigrant-based programs, and the answer is both. There are sector-specific programs, and there are programs with general application. So there are both types of programming available.
J. Kwan: So in the information that the minister's staff is going to provide to me, could they also divide up those programs on a sectoral basis in relation to the industries?
Hon. P. Bell: We'd be happy to do that.
J. Kwan: In terms of temporary immigrant workers, is the ministry involved in any way in encouraging the supply of temporary immigrant workers into British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: The ministry does not make any decisions relating to temporary foreign workers, but we do provide advice to the federal government, and we do work with employers to determine whether or not they meet the criteria that are articulated in the federal act.
So we're not a decision-maker in the process, but we help facilitate the process on behalf of the business that is seeking to bring in foreign workers if it's deemed to be in the best interest of the industry in the region.
J. Kwan: Could the minister advise us…? In terms of the advice that he provides to the federal government, what advice has he provided in the categories and numbers of immigrant workers that B.C. might be requiring?
Hon. P. Bell: There is, I think, a point of differentiation. We provide two levels of advice to the federal government.
First is more broad-based advice that identifies sectors that may be facing shortfalls of employees for specific skill sets. They aren't necessarily related to any given business. The advice is more of a broad-based advice, and then the federal government uses that as they see fit in terms of small applications from companies that are looking for just a few temporary foreign workers to fill the need.
The second is for major projects when there is a larger project in a specific skill set that there is a shortfall available in, and in those situations we will work with specific proponents who are coming forward and looking for a decision on the part of the federal government that is more broad-based.
I think the question that the member opposite asked was: could we provide her with a list of those sorts of activities that the ministry takes on? We will provide that list to her, assuming I'm correct in my assessment of her question.
J. Kwan: Yes, thank you very much. I would appreciate that.
In terms of the major projects that the minister refers to, could he advise if there are any active major projects that the ministry is working on right now where he needs or foresees a need for temporary immigrant workers to be part of the workforce in realizing these major projects? If he could provide a list of what those projects are, I would appreciate it.
Hon. P. Bell: Because of the nature, often, of the projects that are under review, the bulk of the information is confidential until the project has been announced or until the work has been completed, at which point we are able to disclose the information. So I'm unable to provide the member opposite with a list of current active files. I will be able to provide her with a list of the files that we have worked on.
As we continue on, the files that I'm unable to disclose information on today I will be able to disclose information on once that work has been completed. But there is a period of time where confidentiality remains necessary in order to protect the interest of the private proponents.
It does all become public eventually. Eventually isn't a long time. It just is that upon the completion of that work and the announcement of it is when we are able to make that information public.
J. Kwan: So the minister will provide a list of those projects that he has worked on. But for the ones that are now underway, information will be forthcoming, I gather.
Okay. Let me just ask this question. Broadly speaking,
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then, for these types of major projects…. Presumably, workers would be identified to be needed for these major projects. Some of them, presumably, are workers that would be hired locally. Am I right to assume that some of those workers for these major projects would be hired elsewhere and that the workers supplied would be and would include temporary immigrant workers?
Hon. P. Bell: I'm not sure I understood the question, but I will do my best to respond to what I think I heard.
An employer, prior to being considered for an application for temporary foreign workers, would have to demonstrate that they have done everything they can to hire local workers and would only be allowed to hire temporary foreign workers should they be able to demonstrate that that due diligence has been done and that there is no source of workers on a local basis.
They would then be considered for eligibility under a temporary foreign worker program which is administrated by the federal government. The federal government would make that decision.
I think that the notion of local workers always first priority…. Consideration for temporary foreign workers only comes after all of the local people have been provided any opportunity possible.
J. Kwan: Who's responsible for the training of these workers for these major projects? Is it the private proponents, so that the private sector then pays for all the training? Or does the ministry have a role to play in that?
Hon. P. Bell: The member didn't say whether she was talking about temporary foreign workers or other workers. The answer is different between the two. If it is a temporary foreign worker, then 100 percent of the responsibility rests with the employer. If it is a non-temporary foreign worker or a resident worker, whether they be foreign or Canadian citizens, then there are programs that are available.
It may be a shared program. It may be where some of the cost is covered by, as an example, the Industry Training Authority. Some is covered by the employer. It may be something where the bulk of the cost is covered through a government program. It may be a situation where the bulk of the cost is covered by the employer. So it's a variety of different circumstances.
There are public resources available to fund training if it is a permanent worker, whether it be a Canadian citizen or a non-Canadian citizen that's permanently resident in Canada. If it is a temporary foreign worker, then there is no programming available through the provincial government to them.
J. Kwan: The minister mentioned about shared programs. I'd be interested in getting the information from the minister on what those shared programs are or where the funding is split — presumably between the ministry and the private sector as somebody in the industry.
What are those shared programs? What are the dollars made available from the ministry side, and what are the dollars available from the partner in the program? And who gets to access these programs?
Hon. P. Bell: That question may be more difficult to answer than it seems just at the outset because there is a wide variety of programs where there is shared funding. I'll just use as an example the Industry Training Authority, which provides funding for workers — either Canadian citizens or non-Canadian citizens who are permanently resident in Canada — for portions of their training. Portions of their training are done through the business, university and college programs.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
The question the member asks, I think, is more complex. To provide a fulsome answer…. It would be difficult to not leave something out that gets missed because of the wide variety of programs that are available.
If there was a specific area that the member was interested in, it might be easier to provide a fulsome answer. But on a broad basis, I think it'll be very challenging to make sure that we get all of the information accurately. We could certainly provide examples, if that's sufficient for the member, but to make sure that we cover every single program, I think, would be very difficult.
J. Kwan: I'm particularly interested in two sectors: the forestry sector and the mining sector. Maybe we could narrow it down to what programs exist in those two industries and see what is being done. Maybe that would help.
I'm also wondering: does the ministry currently provide any funding to workers that are now overseas? In other words, do we provide training dollars, for example, to train up workers that are now overseas?
Hon. P. Bell: I think that's helpful that the member points to two specific sectors, mining and forestry, and we'll do our best to pull together the different sorts of programs. Again, I just know, as previous Minister of Forests, there is a wide variety of programs, but we'll do our best to get as much documentation as we can on that.
In terms of training provided abroad, the member opposite didn't use the words "temporary foreign worker" in her terminology, so I'm assuming she's referring to the other pool of citizens. I've already identified that we don't provide any training for temporary foreign workers, and that would be with them either abroad or domestically.
For other workers, I'm a little cautious in just simply answering no to the question, which is kind of the
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immediate answer that would be obvious — that we don't provide training to people abroad who are either Canadian citizens or non-Canadian citizens resident in Canada.
I think of, as an example, our Forestry Innovation Investment offices in China. I'm certain that some of those staff that work for the province of British Columbia through FII probably have some training programs that they take on an individual basis that are funded. So there may be a few things like that.
As a general rule, there is not kind of a broad-based training initiative available in other countries for Canadian citizens or non-Canadian citizens who are permanent residents here and abroad for some other purpose, other than perhaps a few minor anomalies. Generally, I would think it would be around employees of the government of British Columbia or funded employees who maybe don't work directly for the province of British Columbia but are funded through that process and it's deemed that they need some additional training in order to accomplish their objectives.
B. Simpson: Just a few questions on the same theme. I just want to clarify the minister's comments around this and see if he can clarify for the public record. As far as he's aware, then, there is no concerted training program for temporary foreign workers in China, specifically around helping them to meet the safety requirements in camps so that they have level 1 first aid and all of the WCB requirements in place. There is no such program for that?
I have heard that a contract has been let; a company is working. They're looking at up to 4,000 Chinese workers that will be pre-prepared to come over here to work, whether in the oil and gas fields or on major coal projects or whatever the case may be. Could the minister confirm for the record that as far as he's aware, there is not that level of advanced training being done for temporary foreign Chinese workers in China right now?
Hon. P. Bell: The previous questions that I responded to pertained to government-funded programs, provincially funded training programs. And as far as the representatives that are here from the ministry…. That is accurate information. There are no government-funded programs.
It would be prudent for a company that wants to apply for temporary foreign workers and bring them into Canada to prepare those workers prior to entering here. So it could be that there is a private company that is using their own fiscal resources to provide training to Chinese-based citizens in this circumstance.
In the event that they are approved to come to Canada through the federal government processes, they would then be ready and understand British Columbia–based labour laws, WorkSafe rules, all the different training requirements, because any temporary foreign workers that come to British Columbia have to operate under the same rules that any other employees would operate under.
If there is a program of that nature, it is not funded through this ministry and, to the best of our knowledge, not funded by the provincial government. But it would not surprise us to discover that that program is being offered through the private sector, in the event that they do qualify to bring employees over.
B. Simpson: Just a point of clarification from the minister. The minister initially said that, as far as he was aware, there was no government funding, and then clarified that by saying "no provincial government funding." Is the minister aware if there is a federal program that's funding that kind of advance work over in China?
Hon. P. Bell: No, I'm not aware of any federal government funding. When I reiterated "provincial government," it was just simply to reinforce our area of responsibility, but I'm not aware of any federal government programs either.
Again, I'm a little cautious about what I say, because there has been extensive work done — on the part of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Advanced Education, colleges and universities, school districts around the province — to create partnerships where there are other sorts of educational programs going on. But I don't think that's what the member is pointing to.
I think it's specific to the mining industry and, I suspect, specific to underground coal mining, because that's kind of the most common area of interest right now. Again, there's nothing from the provincial government and nothing — that we're aware of, certainly — from the federal government.
B. Simpson: It's not just for coal mining. It's oil and gas and other ventures where we have a government that seems to want to extinguish all of B.C.'s mineral resources in a very short period of time, as well as oil and gas, as well as LNG, as well as to expand forestry.
I think the minister must be aware…. Everybody is telling him we don't have that workforce. And where we do have a workforce misalignment…. The government's Finance Minister popped up and said: "Let's move income assistance recipients up to the Peace." We have a geographic misalignment — certainly, when I was up in the Peace, I heard it loud and clear — that industry up there, in conjunction with government, was looking at addressing with temporary foreign workers, whether they'd be from Mexico or China.
But specifically with regard to China, the numbers that are being bandied about are quite large, and the minister is on the public record — at one point, at least, attributed to the minister — that he doesn't have any issue
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with large numbers of Chinese workers coming over to work the coal mines in the northeast. So has the minister had direct contact with any Chinese companies in his trips to China about a large wave of temporary foreign Chinese workers coming over to work those coal mines in the northeast?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite refers to very large numbers, so it's hard to kind of understand what that is. You know, I'm sure each individual has a different view in terms of size. What I can tell the member opposite is that there is a company called HD Mines that has applied for and, I believe, received an allocation of 112 temporary foreign workers. That is a significant number in my view. I don't know whether that is deemed in the member opposite's view to be large or not.
In most of the discussions I've had with the different Chinese mining companies, really HD has been the only one that has pushed the issue of temporary foreign workers. At the last meeting I had, they were interested in expanding beyond the 112, but I don't think it was by more than perhaps another 100 or so.
Again, there is a criteria and a process which they must go through in order to qualify for that. We're supportive of that process as being properly testing whether or not those jobs are able to be filled domestically — either by British Columbians, by local residents, by the broader-based British Columbians or by Canadians from other provinces as well — which is always the first priority.
I'm not sure where the member saw it and if it was a quote or an attribution. I am not in favour of large waves of temporary foreign workers. I do believe it's important that we are open to immigration and to temporary foreign workers. I am supportive of that but only on the basis that the first opportunity always goes to the local residents of a region. The second opportunity goes to non-local residents but other British Columbia–based residents for the job opportunities. The third opportunity goes to other Canadians, not B.C.–based but other Canadians. After that I think it is appropriate to open the door to either temporary or permanent foreign workers if that's necessary in order to drive our economy.
If there is an attribution that is different than that, in the public realm, I'd be interested in knowing that, because it's not my position.
B. Simpson: To the minister's specific question back at me, it's a 14 February 2012 attribution in a Tyee on-line article entitled "Will Chinese Labour Dig B.C. Coal?" It's attributing something that the minister had said the year previously.
The main point that I want to make is that you've got the government's industrial strategy driving an agenda that far exceeds B.C.'s own labour force. So while the minister indicates that there's a way to step this so that British Columbians get pre-eminence, it really comes to the question of how quickly do we want to get our natural resources into the market, and do we do it in a way that exceeds our ability to have British Columbians benefit from that with direct jobs. If you overdo oil and gas, if you overdo mining, if you have all of this coming on stream at the same time, then you butt up against the fact that the labour force is not there.
In the same article that references Steve Hunt, which calls into question whether or not the Chinese expertise that the minister had referenced in his comments is the kind of expertise we want here…. The Chinese, on a regular basis, have significant fatalities, mine collapses, etc., and thousands of workers are killed on an annual basis over there.
So my question to the minister, to sum up all of this: is there one strategy in terms of making sure we do due diligence — that British Columbians have first priority — to make sure that when they put out a job that they actually put the real wage that should be there and not a wage that makes sure nobody touches that job so that they can make the case for temporary foreign workers?
The flip side of it is what Alberta is dealing with, and it's my question to the minister. What is the government doing to take a look at the Alberta situation from 2007 that is still ongoing today, where a company from China was found to have 53 safety violations, two Chinese workers killed? And on the investigation in that particular case, we find out that the Chinese workers were not being paid as the Alberta government was told they were being paid. They were being paid a nominal camp fee, but they were not being paid what they were supposed to be paid. And Sinopec, in this case, tried to challenge the Alberta court system's right to prosecute them in Alberta.
As a consequence of that kind of activity, Manitoba and other jurisdictions are looking at specific legislation to protect temporary workers in these circumstances, to ensure that those temporary foreign workers are fully protected under the law and that they have the rights to the payments that they should be getting and the rights to workplace safety that they should be getting as well.
He seems to be suggesting that there's all of this due diligence being done around when and if we bring temporary foreign workers over. But as other jurisdictions are finding out, there's another piece of due diligence, and that is to make sure we have the legislative framework to make sure those temporary workers are fully protected under the law.
My question to the minister is: are we looking at what other jurisdictions like Manitoba are doing to ensure that those workers are fully protected?
Hon. P. Bell: I think the member opposite asked four questions, but before I respond to that, I have to comment on the Tyee article. I should have known that that
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was perhaps where the member opposite was stooping to for his research department now. Even the Opposition House Leader was chuckling when he heard it was the Tyee that was being quoted. I wouldn't put a lot of faith in that particular publication.
One of the things that the member opposite talks about is liquidating natural resources. I completely reject that concept. That is not the case of what the province doing. In fact, I think we are being very judicious in our strategy around building the economic wealth in the province.
The important piece of that equation…. While the member refers or somehow suggests that the only economic benefit that accrues to anyone is a small amount of wages paid to these workers when they arrive in the province, in fact the royalty regime, the overall GDP effect of the transportation impact, the port impact, any of the value-added processes, all accrue to the province and are what help pay for health care and education.
I think that one has to look at the overall impact. I'm quite proud of the strategy that we advance. The member and I may see that differently, but certainly, I'm of the view that the strategy that we're employing to build the provincial economy is a good one.
The member opposite should know that all of the rules that apply to a regular worker in British Columbia also would apply to a temporary foreign worker. British Columbia has one of the more robust processes that is available.
One of the members opposite, the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke, is suggesting a problem that was created a couple of years ago through a silviculture camp. The reality is that problem would have occurred regardless of whether it was a temporary foreign worker or a British Columbia worker.
The rules are robust. It is, I think, generally accepted that we have some of the best labour laws across Canada. If the member opposite wants to get into a detailed debate about labour laws, I'd suggest that he does that under the estimates of the Ministry of Labour and Citizens' Services.
The member also suggested that one of the ways you could skirt the federal rules around temporary foreign workers is by posting a job at a very low wage rate and saying: "We didn't get any applications, so therefore, there aren't people to fill that position."
That's not accurate. In order to substantiate or defend an application to the federal government for temporary foreign workers, the job has to be posted at market rates, the given prevailing market rates in the area. Otherwise, the application would be rejected.
The final piece and, I think, the actual question the member was referring to…. He was speaking about Alberta and an issue with regards to temporary foreign workers in Alberta — in the spirit of harmony, we were doing really well, critic — referring to this specific Alberta program, and I think that the sense that we have is that our labour laws are robust.
However, that all said, I would not be the appropriate minister to canvass on that issue. That issue would be covered under the estimates period that will be coming up for the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services.
J. Kwan: Thank you very much for that detailed answer from the minister.
Let me ask this quick question to the minister. He mentioned earlier that in giving advice to the federal government, part of the approach that the minister takes, of course, is to talk to people in the industry, people in the various industries, to see where the labour skill shortfall might be. I'm wondering if the minister can provide information around the folks that he has consulted with and where they anticipate the labour skills shortage may be in the province of British Columbia.
Then, related to the training aspect of it, what plans does the minister have in ensuring that we train up workers in those areas so that we can, in fact, provide the workforce to meet the demand?
Hon. P. Bell: I think the member has moved on to a different section, so I just want to confirm that we're done with the temporary foreign worker or foreign worker issue.
I think where we're moving to now is more ITA-related — labour market programs, workforce round tables, those sorts of things. So maybe I'll just try and reaffirm if the member still has some questions specific to foreign workers or temporary foreign workers or multiculturalism, because I think that the question that the member just asked is one that we'll do a staff swap-out on and bring in some other folks that have that ability.
J. Kwan: Fair enough. I was trying to sneak that one in, as we're sort of on topic around foreign workers. If we're looking at foreign workers coming in, presumably, it would be tied into the local workforce and where the shortages are, etc.
Anyway, I will park that for later, because I know my colleague here — the critic for immigration, PNP, etc. — does have some questions. So I'll yield the floor to her.
M. Elmore: I'm planning to ask a few questions on the provincial nominee program and then also ask some questions on multiculturalism.
Just to start, I was wondering if the minister can tell me: what are the numbers of applicants under the provincial nominee program and then, also, the numbers of, more broadly, applicants under temporary foreign workers?
Hon. P. Bell: The limit that the federal government has, or the authority that the federal government has provided us in the provincial nominee program, I think the member opposite will know, is 3,500 annually. I'm advised that last year we had 4,300 applications and approved 3,500 of them. The additional 800 would be considered, perhaps, in the future. Some would have been rejected.
In terms of the temporary foreign worker program, again, these are individuals who are temporary foreign workers, international students as well. So it is a significant number. In 2011 there were 69,942 temporary foreign workers and international student permits issued.
If you look across the country, Ontario had the largest share with 35.6 percent. B.C. was second with 23.3 percent, and Alberta was third with 19.4 percent.
M. Elmore: Thanks for the answer. I'm just wondering if the minister anticipates a change to the provincial nominee program with the recent decision of the federal government to relocate management of immigrant settlement services out of B.C. and into a Calgary office — a super-region office out of Calgary. If the minister anticipates any changes….
Hon. P. Bell: I just want to correct the record. I advised the member opposite that there were 69,942 — a combination of temporary foreign workers and student visas. It's actually 69,942 temporary foreign worker permits. An additional 66,556 international student permits were issued. I just want to make sure that the member has that number.
The announcement made by the federal government last week — the settlement services — does not affect the provincial nominee program. Those services are delivered differently. We are in discussions with the federal government to better understand the decision and how services will be delivered in British Columbia through the Calgary office.
M. Elmore: For clarification, just so that I'm clear, the 69,000 number — that is the current stock. So that's the complete number of folks under temporary working permits. In addition to that, the international students are the 66,000. So the total is — what? — 130,000 or something. Okay. Great. Thank you.
In terms of the impact for the provincial nominee program, the other aspect I wanted to inquire about was if the minister is having discussions or advancing or requesting the federal government to increase the cap for the annual limit every year — increasing it from 3,500.
Hon. J. Yap: It's my honour to try to answer this question for the member opposite. As all are aware, I recently had the opportunity to chair a task force looking into economic immigration — which covered the PNP program, as the member knows.
In regard to the levels, the province has requested of the federal government consideration for an increase to 5,000 under the PNP for 2012 and 5,000 in 2013 and, for 2014, an increase to 6,500.
M. Elmore: It has been canvassed a little bit earlier in terms of some of the challenges faced by temporary foreign workers coming into British Columbia and having access to services. It has been raised to my attention, particularly for temporary foreign workers coming in under the lower-skilled categories.
Often there are difficulties with language. Because of their temporary status, they're quite vulnerable to exploitation or facing discrimination. So I was wondering if the minister or the minister of state, maybe under the discussions with the task force, discussed providing services for temporary foreign workers.
Currently there's, I think, a service gap. We're seeing these increasing numbers — nearly 70,000 coming in as temporary foreign workers. Technically, they're not able to access the immigrant settlement services because they're not permanent residents. Some of the service agencies are setting up ad hoc clinics — a one-day-a-week kind of thing — in Metro Vancouver, initiated by the city of Vancouver.
But there's a need, particularly for foreign workers in rural areas outside of the urban centres, to have access to services and to get help with the myriad of questions and concerns that arise with their employment and with their status and those types of issues.
Hon. J. Yap: To advise the member opposite with regard to temporary foreign workers, they are not eligible under federal government guidelines for support under the settlement services. However, under Welcome B.C. and Work B.C., information is provided, translated into multiple languages, to provide the information on worker rights to foreign workers, so they are able to access that information. We do encourage employers to provide services to their workers, including temporary foreign workers.
M. Elmore: Yes, I'm familiar with those programs offered. I'm making the case that it's inadequate in terms of the need of temporary foreign workers. Often the services are available on line, and the services are translated. For example, in Alberta, which has the third-highest…. They trail us in terms of the numbers of temporary foreign workers that come in. Also, Manitoba has a more proactive approach.
Alberta has set up a hotline, a 1-800 number, so that temporary foreign workers, regardless of where they are across the province, have the ability to access that service to ask questions — that kind of thing. Alberta has also set
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up a couple of service centres in some of the larger areas, where workers can go if they have questions, to help and assist with their issues and concerns. That's, I guess, my comment on that.
Just to go back, I was wondering…. Do you have a breakdown of the categories that temporary foreign workers come in on? The global number is 69,000. Do you have a breakdown in terms of the specific programs — high-skilled, low-skilled?
The Chair: Just a reminder — through the Chair.
Hon. J. Yap: To the member opposite, the breakdown for 2011 is as follows: information technology workers, 375; live-in caregiver program, 5,381; low-skill pilot program, 1,806; a category called NAFTA, 3,106; seasonal agricultural workers program, 3,099; international experience Canada, 29,458; and the category called other TFWs, 26,717. All of that should total up 69,942.
M. Elmore: Some of the categories, particularly the high-skilled category, have a route to apply for permanent residency as temporary foreign workers, and under the provincial nominee program, they're tracked for permanent residency. The issue that often is a big challenge for temporary foreign workers is not having access to a pathway to permanent residency.
I was wondering if the Minister of State for Multiculturalism will also be recommending for all categories of temporary foreign workers to have a pathway for permanent residency.
Hon. J. Yap: To the member, the challenge here is to provide a pathway, as she correctly identifies, for those temporary workers who are described as lower-skilled, or they're semi-skilled workers.
We actually do have, through the PNP, a category that does focus on an entry-level or semi-skilled category of workers. There are 22 occupations. These cover, generally, areas in tourism, hospitality, food processing and trucking, as examples, and in total represent about 15 and up to 20 percent of PNP.
Again, the goal here is to provide a pathway for semi-skilled or lower-skilled temporary workers to have the opportunity to apply for permanent residence through PNP.
M. Elmore: Thanks for the answer.
Is the minister of state referring to the pilot project for low-skilled? Is that now a permanent program? I understand that there are 22 occupations that are eligible in the low-skilled category to access permanent residency through the PNP. What proportion of that, relative to the total number of occupations…? For example, how many are excluded? Is it 22 out of 100, 22 out of 25?
Hon. J. Yap: The pilot that the member refers to is the northeast pilot, which covers the Peace region, which is, as the member knows, the hub of great economic activity and a very serious labour shortage. In fact, the unemployment rate is under 4 percent, so it's basically full employment in the northeast. This pilot is specific to that area and expands the number of categories, job classifications, from 22 to 150.
To answer the other part of the member's question, the 22 that we referred to previously was established in 2011 and is permanent, but for the pilot, we are making available up to the full 150 semi-skilled and lower-skilled worker positions.
M. Elmore: Just to qualify. I know that previously under the provincial nominee program, there was a pilot. It was referred to as a pilot project for low-skilled applicants who previously did not have an avenue to apply for permanent residency.
I believe it was a one-year pilot project to allow certain occupations in the hospitality and also the food service sector if they held a managerial position. For example, if they were a manager at Tim Hortons or McDonald's or in a hotel, they were eligible to apply, if their employer sponsored them, for permanent residency, where previously they were not.
I understand that that program was extended for another six months. So my question specifically is: has that program been made permanent in terms of pathways for those workers, No. 1? Then, No. 2, with respect to the northeast pilot project, am I correct that…? There are 150 categories of jobs, classifications of jobs, and there will be tracks for all of those for permanent residency. Am I correct in understanding that?
Hon. J. Yap: To be clear, the previous pilot, which covered the 22 occupations, includes occupations that are non-managerial, non-supervisory, and are generally referred to as semi-skilled, lower-skilled, entry-level positions. Now that is a permanent situation. That was made the case in September of 2011.
With respect to the northeast pilot, the 150 occupations cover the full range of semi-skilled and entry-level work positions. It's a two-year pilot specific to the northeast region, given the worker shortage that they're experiencing now.
Hon. P. Bell: Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report substantial progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:49 a.m.
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