Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2012
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
L. Reid: The Real Estate Institute of British Columbia plays a unique role as the only professional organization whose members come from every segment of the real estate community. They bring together a diverse membership of industry professionals across nine provincial chapters. Please join me and the MLA for Richmond Centre in welcoming Brenda Southam, executive director, and Nathan Worbets, this year's president.
S. Chandra Herbert: It gives me great pleasure to welcome and to invite the House to welcome a number of guests from Edmonton. I would like us all to welcome Rick and Amy Picard, and I would also like us to send a special welcome to George and Betty Bilida, the proud parents of Murray Bilida, my constituency assistant. He is very proud of you and so happy that you could be in the House today.
Please make them all welcome.
Hon. S. Bond: All of us today are cognizant of the fact that it is Prevention of Violence Against Women Week. We all understand the traumatic impact that an act of violence can have on a woman, children and families.
Today we wanted to recognize a group of people who do very important work. They are part of the capital regional district domestic violence unit. These individuals are working very hard to increase victim safety and to increase offender responsibility in domestic violence cases across the capital regional district.
I know everyone will want to welcome Kevin Lauder, a social worker with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, domestic violence unit. Christine Rand is the administrative support for the domestic violence unit with the Saanich police. Det. Const. Wayne Unger and Kailie English. She's with victim services.
Const. Tiffany Deyo; Sue Robinson of the victim services, regional domestic violence unit; Sgt. Jason Laidman; Insp. Clark Russell; Chief Const. Mark Fisher of the Oak Bay police department; Insp. Scott Green, who is the OIC, detective division, of the Saanich police department; and Virginia Treadwell, who is the team leader of aboriginal services with family service, kinship care and restricted home studies.
Please join me in first of all welcoming but, more importantly, saying thank you to a team of people who make a difference every day.
Hon. M. de Jong: In the gallery today, and I know members will make him feel welcome, is Dr. Larry Goldenberg. He is a professor and head of urological services at UBC and VGH. In addition to that, he has played a leading role as an advocate for men's health. In fact, he was in Victoria today talking about the men's health initiative.
I think members of the House are also aware of the leading role he has played at the Vancouver Prostate Centre. He has been recognized both as a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia. He is a distinguished British Columbian who works tirelessly with a team of clinicians on behalf of British Columbians.
I know the House will want to make Dr. Larry Goldenberg welcome.
D. Routley: I'd like the House to help me congratulate my stepson, Matthew. Over the weekend on the Mainland he was part of a south Vancouver Island all-star team of hockey players at a tournament. In the four games that he played, he scored five goals and six assists. During the regular season he has scored over 50 goals in less than 40 games.
Matthew is quite an extraordinary little talent at 11 years old, but this congratulation runs at odds with the constant reminder that his mom and I give to him to not take it too seriously and to develop other interests.
But in the meantime, congratulations, Matthew, for a great showing and most valuable player in the final game that he played.
Introductions by Members
R. Fleming: I want to introduce a couple of people who have joined us in the gallery today. We have Ruby Berry, who is the program director for the Georgia Strait Alliance and is one of the representatives on the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. She is joined by a friend and colleague, David Lane, with the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, who is also a CAAR representative.
Will the House make them feel welcome. They've come a long way, sort of, to be in Victoria, and it is great to have them here.
(Standing Order 25B)
SOS CHILDREN’S VILLAGE RUN AND WALK
L. Reid: I'd like the members today to hold the following date. Step out for the SOS Children's Village British Columbia Run and Walk on June 30 at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Healthy families are active families, and this year's SOS Children's Village B.C. ten- and five-kilometre run and walk and the two-kilometre family walk encourage communities to embrace a healthy lifestyle while helping vulnerable children and youth, including those in foster care.
Every child belongs to a family and grows with love, respect and security. Everyone in the community is invited to get involved on Saturday, June 30 at 9 a.m. when the beautiful, natural setting of the Richmond Olympic Oval Plaza will be the backdrop for the fourth annual SOS run and walk.
The reason we're asking today is that folks need to register. The proceeds go to programs so that kids in care can grow up in a healthy environment offering stability, hope and healing. To preregister yourself and your team or get involved in sponsorship, visit www.sosbc.org\run, or simply register at the Richmond Olympic Oval on race day.
Race results will be posted on line, and medals will be awarded.
Lace up your joggers, and join SOS walk-run honorary chair, Olympic snowboarder Alexa Loo, and honorary patrons and former Olympians Dr. Doug and Diane Clement. Take steps to give vulnerable children a chance to achieve their highest potential. As role models for healthy living, Alexa, Doug and Diane are eager to share the commitment to SOS Children's Village British Columbia, along with this year's health and wellness theme, which can promote well-being in our communities: "Every child matters; every child belongs."
LAW WEEK EVENTS
L. Krog: Chaos in the courts, known criminals walking free from a clearly broken justice system, weak Crown counsel facing superior defence counsel, justice not seen to be done. Last Saturday in Nanaimo the big, bad wolf walked free again to terrorize Nanaimo's porcine population in celebration of Law Day.
It's Law Week, and the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. branch, is hosting its annual Law Week events this week. They include regular courthouse tours; mock trials, as were held in Nanaimo; the popular dial-a-lawyer program; a fun run; other events, including a previously recorded interview with three chief justices by CBC journalist Ian Hanomansing.
Now, Nanaimo jumped the gun, but there are other events. Cranbrook, Nanaimo, Vancouver and Victoria are all participating, all with the aim to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
So I think today it's appropriate to offer our sincere thanks to the many lawyers in British Columbia, the courthouse staff, the many volunteers and organizations that have taken time to try and celebrate Law Week. An effective, functioning justice system is absolutely central to British Columbia's democracy.
As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is a wonderful opportunity for citizens to go to their courthouses, learn about the justice system, come to understand it and support it for the good work that it does.
J. Rustad: I rise today to recognize an outstanding citizen in my riding. Walter Wigmore moved to Vanderhoof in 1968 when the town was barely 2,500 people and the land was mostly farmland. He was an Ontario city boy, and he had never been west in his life. But he had just graduated with his doctor of veterinarian medicine, and he wanted to work — so much so that he was willing to start his practice in the kitchen of one of the first log cabins built in Vanderhoof.
He says: "I wanted to grow with the community because I knew I had a lot to learn." At first, he primarily served large animals — horses, cows and pigs. He has broken ribs while giving blood tests to cows in rodeo chutes. He has travelled by airplane and skidoo to remote farms, often braving extreme northern weather and dangerous conditions. He has gotten lost in a snowstorm, driven a skidoo off a 20-foot cliff, landed a plane by memory in the dark, not to mention putting 12 vehicles in the ditch, exhausted, while driving home.
To this day, Walter says that moving to Vanderhoof was the best thing he ever did. He met his wife in Vanderhoof, and they've been married for over 40 years. The couple has four children, four grandchildren, and they all live nearby in either Vanderhoof or Prince George.
Walter particularly loves the people in the community of Vanderhoof and, of course, his wild ride of a career. He has an incredible sense of humour, and with his many stories, I hope that he'll write a book to share the life of a veterinarian in rural northern B.C.
Please join me in thanking Walter for his service and in wishing him a long and well-earned retirement.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
AND PURPLE LIGHTS CAMPAIGN
D. Black: As my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake pointed out yesterday and the Minister of Justice pointed out today, this is Prevention of Violence Against Women Week in British Columbia. Sadly, one in four women in our province experiences abuse or sexual assault at some point during their lives. Yet only 12 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police.
Headlines detail story after story about violent incidents affecting women and girls, domestic violence, rape, illegal trafficking of women and children, on-line luring and homicide. Over 60 percent of British Columbians say they know personally at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. This violence can also cause lifelong emotional scars for the children who witness this abuse.
In New Westminster an initiative is underway to shine some light on these deplorable statistics. For the third year in a row, the community coordination for women's safety committee has organized a Purple Lights campaign. This idea began in King County in Washington State in 2007 and has since spread to 23 American states and at least three provinces in Canada.
From April 15 to 28 businesses and residents in New Westminster are encouraged to shine a purple light on their front porch or hang a string of purple lights in their window to send out the message that domestic violence has no place in our community. This initiative, in combination with an education campaign, increases the awareness of domestic violence and its effect upon children, families and our society.
Purple lights will be shining in my constituency office window until the 28th. But after the lights are taken out, we must all continue our efforts to create a society that's free of violence and fear for women and children.
R. Hawes: A few weeks ago several hundred people gathered at the Ramada Inn in Abbotsford to roast a community icon and to mark his retirement from the business community. Now, if you've ever attended a charity auction in the Fraser Valley — as I know you have, Mr. Speaker — you would undoubtedly know his voice. If you ever lived in Abbotsford, you probably know him. And if you've ever donated your time to a charity in Abbotsford, you probably worked beside him.
After arriving in Abbotsford in 1975, Dave Holmberg opened Bobcat Country Sales and began his incredible service to the community. Over almost four decades he's given volunteer support to dozens of community organizations and projects, including Crime Stoppers, the Abbotsford Air Show, the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce, the Salvation Army and Ducks Unlimited. Dave is currently chair of the Abbotsford Airport Authority.
When the Discovery trail was built in Abbotsford to provide community connectivity and a recreational opportunity, Dave was there with a Bobcat to lead the way. He's been active as a volunteer with both the B.C. Liberal Party and the federal Conservative Party.
Following the tragic passing of Dave Holmberg Jr., his son, from cancer in 2011, the Holmberg clan have devoted themselves to the construction of Holmberg House, a $7½ million hospice for Abbotsford. With Dave's family's leadership, this community dream is becoming a reality.
If you've ever attended an event where Dave is acting as an auctioneer — Mr. Speaker, you would know — don't scratch your nose or wave at a friend, or his eagle eye will spot you, and you'll be making a purchase you never planned. And with Dave, it won't be cheap.
Dave has retired now from Bobcat Country Sales. I suspect that between golfing trips to Palm Springs with his wife, Lee, he'll become a full-time volunteer. That's just Dave's way.
Congratulations on your retirement, Dave, and thanks for your 37 years of making Abbotsford a better place.
CAMPBELL RIVER HEAD INJURY
C. Trevena: It could happen to anyone at any time, and it would change your life: a head injury. In Campbell River there is a group that can help and does. It helps dozens of people every week, every year. The Campbell River Head Injury Support Society has recently moved to a new centre, with new opportunities.
Anyone who knew their former centre will really appreciate the amount of space they have in the former Hillcrest store on Dogwood and 9th in Campbell River, especially the people who rely on the support and who rely on the society to provide regular programming and real-life help, from dance classes, computer classes and crafts to life skills and cooking, people give advice, they receive information, and they get advocacy in how to navigate a system that may have become very complicated for them.
It's a supportive environment with the additional benefit of supportive housing. It has four apartments just right above the centre, and just behind there's a kitchen garden which is being built for cooking classes and for the community.
The organization is now looking to expand. It's looking to provide more housing on the neighbouring lot. Build it, and they will come, and they know that people do. The need for affordable and supportive housing is clear in Campbell River and in many other communities. Housing is central to a good quality of life, and the Campbell River Head Injury Support Society knows this too.
I hope that people will come visit the Campbell River Head Injury Support Society when it next has its open house, and help support the expansion of its housing.
TIMBER SUPPLY AND MILL OPERATIONS
IN BURNS LAKE AREA
A. Dix: My question is for the Minister of Jobs. We've spoken to him in advance of these questions, just to make sure that we all have the same information. The official opposition and others, I believe, were sent a copy of a draft cabinet submission around options that the government has with respect to the rebuilding of the Hampton mill, the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake.
The submission suggests that the proposals to seek adequate timber supply, fibre supply, for the mill would not be possible under current laws and would require, in fact, significant changes to allow it to happen. I wonder if the Minister of Jobs could confirm that such changes are being contemplated.
Hon. C. Clark: I'm happy to answer the member's question.
Mr. Speaker, 48 hours after the tragedy hit Burns Lake, I flew up, and I spent time with the community up there. I met with hundreds of people who were mourning the loss of the mill and worrying deeply about the loss, potentially, of family members — who, tragically, turned out to be lost. I talked to them about the importance of having hope in the future and having faith that we, if we work together as a community, can find solutions to these problems. I told them that they needed British Columbia and that we would be there for them.
The document that the member has is a document that did not ultimately go in that form to cabinet. But it does discuss many of the things that are under discussion in the community — things that need to be discussed, issues that we've talked about with the Steelworkers, with the First Nation, with community leaders and with people from across the province. These are discussions that we have to have, and it's a much bigger issue than just in Burns Lake.
When I was up there, I promised the people of Burns Lake that we would be there for them, and we will keep that promise.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: Then the Premier will know that yesterday the Jobs Minister committed to a consultation process before any changes are made to guarantee fibre supply.
The leaked document suggests…. I think the Premier suggested that it didn't go to cabinet, and that's a very good thing to learn, but the leaked document suggests that Hampton is looking for certainty around 900,000 cubic metres of fibre by the end of April. Can the Premier confirm that that is in fact their request, and will the government be providing such a guarantee?
Hon. C. Clark: I can't confirm that that is the request, although I certainly can confirm that the folks in the community have said to us very clearly that they want government's help in trying to find a new fibre supply or trying to find ways that we can replace those jobs in the community. We have heard that from members of the opposition. We have heard that from First Nations in the community. We are working very hard to try and find solutions for the people of Burns Lake.
Now, we are going to make sure we are consulting the public about these issues. They are very difficult issues to deal with. Many of the solutions are potentially controversial, but the community needs us. The community doesn't just need the government; the community needs members of the opposition on all sides of the House.
The community needs its own leaders, its First Nations leaders, the unions, members of the community, people who work there. The community needs all of us to come together and try and find what could be very difficult solutions to very challenging problems. Ultimately, that's the only way we're going resolve this.
So I'd welcome the Leader of the Opposition, the independent members and all of the people who are interested in this issue to be part of this discussion. And know this: it will not be easy to find those answers. It is going to mean we're going to have to take some bold decisions. As I said, the community needs us — but not just the people on this side of the House. The community is depending on all of us to be able to come up with those solutions together.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Of course, in order to be part of the process, one has to have access to the information. The document from the Ministry of Forests suggests specifically that Hampton Affiliates is looking for a specific amount of fibre and is looking for a guarantee by the end of April. We would be, of course, interested in the government's response to that request.
The document also suggested that the chief forester would not be able to approve such a change in timber supply and suggests, therefore, that the chief forester, essentially, be removed in authority over a 15-year period. It cites, as a support for this, a reason to do this: "The inherent uncertainty that comes with the independent exercise of discretion by the chief forester."
I just wanted to ask the Premier…. I agree with her that these issues are very serious. I went to Burns Lake, as well, for one of the funerals, and I know what's at stake there. I wanted to ask the Premier if she is, in fact, considering removing the chief forester's authority over these issues.
Hon. C. Clark: We are going to be talking to the community and talking to the broader public in British Columbia about all of these issues. I want to encourage the member, rather than just asking questions, to also offer solutions. He will have the opportunity to do that. I think the community is expecting that from all of us. People need to know that we all want to be a part of finding some solutions for this community.
I do want to pay special tribute to the member for Nechako Lakes, who has led, in a brave and very forceful way, the healing of the community in Burns Lake — $55 million for the hospital in Burns Lake that responded so bravely to the tragedy; $2.4 million for a much-needed community centre in the community; $7 million in highway improvements targeted to the Burns Lake area; a jobs fair that attracted 300 people; a dedicated man coordinating the activities of government, in Bob Clark, up there in the community; work in aboriginal affairs; work at the Ministry of Social Development.
Every ministry of government is focused on making sure that they do their bit. The member for Nechako Lakes has been absolutely vital in making sure that all of these things happen for that community, when they needed us most.
AND FOREST HEALTH FUNDING
N. Macdonald: So then, just to continue on the theme — the leaked document confirms something that the Auditor General said earlier this year, that the Forest Practices Board has said, that professional foresters have said. That is that the government has basically mismanaged the forest health crisis that we have. The document says that significant increases in funding need to be made in forest health — in this case in the northwest.
The question is to the government: why did it take the loss of this mill for the Liberals to figure out that problem, and will government commit to finally addressing the forest health crisis, not only in this region but across British Columbia?
Hon. P. Bell: Thanks to the critic for providing a copy of this document. I find it interesting, actually, because the minister's name isn't even spelled correctly in the document. I'm guessing it must have been a relatively early version of it.
The members opposite should recall where the mountain pine beetle epidemic started and the actions that caused it in the first place. I recall one of the very first appointments that I served under in 2001 was a committee that was established by the Premier of the province to look at the mountain pine beetle challenges and how we could deal with those.
We produced a report that articulated many of the challenges in front of us, and in fact, we moved forward on those actions. We established a small-scale salvage program that recovered a tremendous amount of value. We moved up the value chain from just 50 percent recovery of the mountain pine beetle stands to 80 percent of the mountain pine beetle stands. We established the beetle action coalitions, three of them across the province, and funded them with significant amounts of money that have gone on to develop cross-sectoral strategies to make sure that we've got economic diversification.
None of this is new news. It's important now — it's been expedited as a result of that very tragic fire — but this all started a long time ago in the 1990s.
The real work has to be done over the next short period of time because of the fire and the need in Burns Lake and the commitment that this government has made to the people of Burns Lake to make sure we look after their interests.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
N. Macdonald: This is a huge issue. It's much bigger than this one community, and the minister knows it. I think any member who is from that region knows that government had ten years to work on this, and here we are at this point with all sorts of issues in front of us, all of them major challenges.
Going back to the document, the document says that if forest health work that would be done as a matter of course normally is actually done, there is a massive economic benefit. But the government's response going forward is to actually cut $30 million in forest health over the next three years.
That is the direction that the government has consistently gone. The problems the government has created are here in front of us.
The question I have for the minister is: will the minister commit, going forward, to invest in forest health in British Columbia at a level that is appropriate, or is it his intention to continue on the same track and have community after community face the crisis that we see in Burns Lake today?
Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite clearly hasn't looked through the history of this file and understood the synthesis of it and where it actually started. I remember, during the 1990s, actually logging mountain pine beetle wood. That was during a time when the government of the day said: "Cold weather will come. Cold weather will kill the beetles, and we don't have to worry about it."
This government understands the immediacy of this issue. It has been expedited as a result of the Burns Lake fire. The Premier was in Burns Lake within 48 hours of that fire. She looked the mayor, she looked the First Nations chief, she looked the union leaders in the eyes and said: "We're going to be there for you."
We are going to do everything we can to help support this community. The member for Nechako Lakes, the Premier and myself have all made that commitment. That's what this work is all about.
PIPELINE PROJECTS AND FEDERAL
OIL SPILL RESPONSE OPERATIONS
R. Fleming: As of last week British Columbia now faces two major oil pipeline projects that could carry millions of barrels of Alberta crude per day across our province and within our coastal waters. This comes exactly at the same time that the federal Conservatives are massively cutting Canada's environmental agencies. They are also shutting down B.C.'s oil response centre. Unbelievably, the command centre for the Pacific coast and an oil spill on our coastal waters will now be located in Montreal.
My question is to the Minister of Environment. How have the B.C. Liberals responded to this preposterous idea and decision by the Harper government to shut down B.C.'s regional oil spill response centre and move the operations to Montreal?
Hon. T. Lake: We understand the importance of protecting the environment here in British Columbia, particularly our coastal environment. We're working very closely with our federal government to understand any potential changes that will have an impact on oil spill response.
It is completely false to say that incident command has been removed. Incident command happens at the site of the emergency, and that will continue. In fact, the Coast Guard and Transport Canada have received additional funding this year, which will actually put more boots on the ground here in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
R. Fleming: I would have thought the Minister of Environment would have heard by now that federal employees who work on the Pacific coast on behalf of this region…. Dozens of them are losing their jobs, and the rest of them are being moved to Montreal, while the oil spill response centre shuts down.
On Friday of this week we are going to mark the second anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The United States, to their credit, learned important lessons from this tragedy. They strengthened their environmental review process, and Canada is moving in the opposite direction.
British Columbians are being asked to consider projects that bring with them significant environmental risks at the same time that the federal government is slashing environmental protections that we enjoy as Canadians. Any reasonable person understands that it makes no sense to even consider major pipelines and oil tankers while closing the Pacific coast's regional oil spill response centre.
Again, can the minister tell British Columbians how he is standing up for their interests to strengthen, not weaken, the capacity for oil spill response in our province?
Hon. T. Lake: As usual, the member opposite is forming opinion based on speculation rather than information. This a continuing pattern, rather than getting the real information. As I mentioned, Transport Canada and the Coast Guard have increased funding to increase their capability of responding.
We have an obligation, which we will fulfil, to make sure that the environment here in British Columbia is fully protected. We will ensure that oil spill response is maximized here in British Columbia and that it is at a level where all British Columbians can feel comfortable, safe and to ensure that the marine environment is protected. That is our commitment.
COMMUNITY CONSULTATIONS AND
GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR AREAS
AFFECTED BY MOUNTAIN PINE BEETLE
B. Simpson: Yesterday in answer to a question I asked about when consultation would begin on these technical reports that are before the government, the Minister of Jobs said that they would begin in the summer, that they were still doing detailed analysis. The reports indicate — they were up very briefly yesterday on the web page — that the Quesnel timber supply analysis was completed last August and that the other timber supply reviews were completed last November.
In fact, in the Quesnel review it says that any legislative or policy changes would have to be implementable by mid- to late summer 2012. In the consultation window that the minister is suggesting we're going to have, the documents say we actually have to have the decisions made.
My question to the minister is simply: can we start the consultations as soon as possible, and particularly in Quesnel, can we start them as early as next week or the week after?
Hon. P. Bell: I should just outline the additional work that would not normally be included in a timber supply review, for the member opposite. It includes looking at options such as extensive fertilization programs, conversion to area-based tenure, thinking about bioenergy stands and how that might help support incremental fibre volumes. That is the additional work that's going on. The member is correct that the timber supply review was completed in that particular timber supply area last year.
My preference, as I believe the member opposite's preference is, is to start the consultations as soon as possible. We understand the urgency around this. I set as a target, earlier on yesterday, summer of this year, and certainly, if we can move that up, we will.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Simpson: I'm sure the minister misspoke. These are not timber supply reviews. They are in addition to timber supply reviews that were already done in these areas. They're actually asking the question: where is the extra timber going to come from? The stark outcome of this is that all of these communities, regardless of what heroic measures are taken to get extra timber…. They're all going to experience significant job loss, regardless of that.
My question to the minister is this. A senior vice-president of one of the licensees in my area said that this government has to start treating the communities in this impacted area as if they've all had a mill burn down. That's the sense of urgency they have. John Allan and COFI said on the weekend: "We are running out of time."
My question to the minister is: can we get recovery teams, as was done in Burns Lake, in these communities, and again, in particular — the minister said it in estimates yesterday — in Quesnel? Can we get a recovery team on the ground, as we begin this consultation process, so we can plan for the future of those communities?
Hon. P. Bell: The recovery team that was sent into Burns Lake was sent into Burns Lake because there were 250 unemployed as a result of a fire and an explosion and the very unfortunate death of two individuals. That recovery team actually spans many, many different issues that need to be dealt with in that type of circumstance.
Quesnel's timber supply is challenged. We know it, along with Burns Lake, are the two communities that are probably going to be the hardest hit as a result of the falldown in the midterm timber supply.
I think what the member is asking or should be asking for is not the need for an emergency response team but for an expedited review of the options. I think that's exactly what we are committed to doing as a government.
Certainly, I would encourage the member opposite to try and be productive in terms of contributing specifically to that work and making sure that the community that he currently represents has the opportunity that we would all wish for our constituents.
AND FARE GATES PROJECT
H. Bains: Yesterday the CEO of TransLink announced that because of a $30 million funding gap, a number of projects will be put on hold. That included two fare gates at Main Street and Metrotown stations, two of the busiest stations in the entire system.
Today the former Minister of Transportation, the current Minister of Finance, expressed his surprise at this decision, saying: "It makes no sense to me." He went on to suggest this much: "Those dollars should be available."
Can the current Minister of Transportation explain how the mess at TransLink led to the fare gates being left unfunded — these two ones?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I said yesterday we had talked about this. I spoke with the media about it. What they've done is postponed these while the audit is going to be completed. These fare gates, I think, are vitally important to the economic well-being of TransLink. I share the concerns of people. They are not cancelled. They will move ahead.
They have always been slated to be the last two put in because of the extensive work that has to take place at the SkyTrain station itself. Those fare gates will be installed.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
H. Bains: The Minister of Finance, who messed up TransLink's governance over a disagreement with the mayors over Canada Line, is the one who's surprised today for not having funding for these fare gates. All this speaks to the chaos at TransLink that was created by this Liberal government.
Again to the minister: can he explain how this colossal lack of planning at TransLink is now leaving two of the busiest stations without fare gates?
Mr. Speaker: Minister. [Applause.]
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Thank you, hon. Speaker. There's a lot of clapping going on in here today.
As I said in my previous answer, Member, I share your concern, if the fact was that these fare gates were not going to be installed. What they've done is said — and I used the word "prudent" yesterday — that until the audit is complete that we have initiated…. And building upon Commissioner Crilly's work, they are saying: "We want to postpone this until we find the funding source that will be there for that."
I can assure the member today — and I can assure the public watching — that those fare gates will be installed, because they are a vital part of the entire fare gate policy for TransLink.
S. Simpson: Board costs have skyrocketed at TransLink. They've gone from what was about $125,000 of costs for the board in 2007 to $624,000 last year. The retainer for the chair goes from $75,000 to $125,000 in three years. The cost for directors' retainers goes from $26,000 to $40,000 over the same period, and that doesn't count the $1,200 they get paid for the meetings that they attend.
The Finance Minister tried to defend this on the radio today, calling it the cost of professionalism. My question to the minister is this. Where is the professionalism at the cabinet table that allows that to happen without this minister having a plan to clean up the mess that the B.C. Liberals created in 2007?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I'm going to relay some information to the member that I think he's probably going to wish he would have found earlier, before asking that question.
In 2007, when the screening panel which is responsible for setting the board members' remuneration was put together…. That is a board that was comprised of a number of people, and on that board was a former Premier of this province for the New Democratic Party, Mr. Mike Harcourt, a man that I think has done a great deal of work for our province.
But the difference…. And we should be clear. He's talking about the professional board that came in, in 2008. The dollar figure he is talking about does not reflect what previous boards had, because they were mayors of communities in Metro Vancouver already receiving a stipend for the work that they do. They had an additional stipend for the work they did on TransLink.
Member, what I'm telling you is the fees were set by a cross-section of people in this province, including a former New Democrat Premier in Mr. Mike Harcourt.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Simpson: I think the people of British Columbia would like to know whether this minister thinks it's okay that those fees skyrocketed, regardless of who was consulted about it, when TransLink is going in the ditch as an organization. That's the problem we have today.
Funding for services is collapsing. The fare gate strategy is chaotic at best, with the Finance Minister saying it makes no sense to him.
Admin cuts are growing exponentially across the system. We're seeing services cuts. We're seeing the mayor of Surrey saying she's concerned about cuts to services south of the Fraser. The minister's only response is: "Trust me. I'm talking about it." That's the only response from the minister.
Where is the plan for our strategy? Any plan or strategy from this minister or the Premier, because they seem to be on different pages. Where is the plan to deal with the mess that you've created at TransLink?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I think —and I will reiterate for, I think, the third day in a row — we have a world-class transit system in Metro Vancouver. We have….
Hon. B. Lekstrom: But I will not stand here….
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Once again, I'll reiterate. We have a world-class transit system in Metro Vancouver. We are going to continue to build upon that world-class system.
Are there challenges at TransLink today? Yes, there are. Are we working to resolve those challenges together, with the Mayors Council, myself, TransLink? Yes, we are.
And Member, I'm an optimist. Without question, whatever you think, I know we're going to find a solution to this that's going to work in the best interests of the public that we all represent.
[End of question period.]
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: This afternoon in this House we will start second reading of Bill 24, intituled the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012. Should we get through that, we would then go to committee stage on Bill 25, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012 and then to Bill 28, intituled Criminal Asset Management Act, 2012. If we continued, we would then go on to second reading of Bills 30 and 32.
In the Douglas Fir Committee Room this afternoon we will continue the estimates of the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. Should that complete, we would then move to Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 24 — Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. D. McRae: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill 24 now be read a second time.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed.
Hon. D. McRae: The proposed legislation addresses concerns related to the lack of an independent process to appeal decisions related to seizure and disposal of animals and lack of transparency generally about SPCA enforcement activities.
The issue of oversight for the BCSPCA is not new. It was raised by animal owners and animal welfare advocates to the Sled Dog Task Force and by the opposition during last year's committee debate of Bill 9.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
We listened to those concerns, and we are here today to present our response. We understand that the BCSPCA works very hard to improve the welfare of animals in our province. The amendments are not a reflection of their performance or dedication, which we know is tireless. But as government we have an obligation to ensure that the public understands statutory enforcement processes and that there is a recourse for decisions that significantly affect people's lives, such as a seizure of a pet or animals used in agriculture.
The amendments we are introducing today will not interfere with the BCSPCA's authority to take an animal into custody from its owner where it is clearly in the best interests of the animal, but it will provide a fair and open process for hearing from both parties involved in the decision.
We are also proposing some related amendments to increase transparency, accountability and flexibility related to enforcement activities generally.
There are four main parts to this bill. Firstly, to create a statutory appeal mechanism for decisions made by the BCSPCA related to animal seizure and destruction. This appeal function will resolve complaints in a timely manner and reduce costs to the public and to government that are associated with a judicial review, which is currently the only recourse for those wanting to appeal a BCSPCA custody decision.
Secondly, the bill enables the minister to request that the BCSPCA report on matters of public interest pertaining to the administration of this act. Such reports may be made publicly available. Those provisions will allow for greater transparency as information related to the enforcement of the PCAA can now be made publicly available where it is a public interest to do so.
Thirdly, the minister may draft bylaws for the BCSPCA for the purposes of administering and enforcing the PCAA. This authority would only be exercised if the BCSPCA could not draft its own bylaws. All such bylaws will be made publicly accessible to provide greater understanding of procedures employed by the BCSPCA. Better understanding of BCSPCA procedures could reduce the number of situations that would otherwise proceed to appeal.
Fourthly, in situations where an authorized agent of the BCSPCA is not present or otherwise not able to enforce the act, we have traditionally relied on the police for enforcement. A minor change is being made to allow the minister to appoint others to enforce the act in such situations. This provides some additional flexibility, particularly in situations where police may have other immediate priorities.
The body that will be hearing appeals under the PCAA is the British Columbia Farm Industry Review Board, known as BCFIRB. We considered the option of creating an entirely new body dedicated to hearing PCAA appeals; however, the cost of this option is prohibitive and unnecessary, considering the wealth of expert experience we have available to us in the BCFIRB.
BCFIRB reports directly to the Minister of Agriculture in matters of administration but is independent of government in its decision-making. As a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal it must adhere to the principles of administrative law. The courts have recognized BCFIRB as an expert tribunal with decisions worthy of considerable judicial deference.
I am pleased to introduce these amendments today.
L. Popham: I rise to participate in second reading of this bill as the lead, as the Agriculture critic for the official opposition.
This bill has been quite a difficult bill to navigate through, because there has been definitely two sides of the issue out in the public. There have been some concerns that the BCSPCA has with this proposed legislation, and there also have been some concerns from other animal advocacy groups.
I think it's important to review what has happened in the past when we look at making changes that will affect the future, so an overview of what has happened, basically, with the type of dispute process we've had in place between 2006 and 2012 is quite a handy reference.
Between 2006 and February 2012 there were 67 decisions made not to return seized animals after receiving a dispute from an animal owner. On average it took about 15 days between receiving notice of a dispute and the rendering of a decision by the BCSPCA.
If you eliminate the longest decision, which was 83 days — this was significantly longer than other decisions due to some very unique circumstances — and the shortest, being two days, the average time for the BCSPCA to render a decision was 14 days. Of those 67 decisions, seven owners sought judicial review to the British Columbia Supreme Court.
The time from the BCSPCA decision to the B.C. Supreme Court judgment was on average 75 days. Out of the seven decisions, all seven upheld the decision of the BCSPCA to seize the animal.
In three of the cases the judge returned the matter back to the BCSPCA for reconsideration due to further disclosure required on the part of the BCSPCA. In all of the circumstances where the cases were remitted for reconsideration to the BCSPCA, the original decision not to return was maintained and not overturned in any subsequent judicial review.
There was only one case where some animals were ordered returned to the animal owner contrary to the original decision of the BCSPCA. In that case, out of 30 animals seized, four cats were ordered returned, despite the fact that the judge deemed that the cats were in distress at the time of the seizure and were actually appropriately seized at the time.
Reviewing the history of what has happened, I think, is very, very important as we move forward with this legislation, the reason being that when you review all cases that have happened in that time period, the length of time that it has taken for these instances to proceed and to come to resolution has quite a good record.
One of the concerns that this legislation brings to myself and to all sides of the issue is the length of time that these cases could possibly take, moving it into a different type of a review process through the Farm Industry Review Board. The fact that there hasn't actually been an increase in the FIRB budget in this last budget with the Ministry of Agriculture has raised concerns, mostly because if we're adding a workload onto the Farm Industry Review Board, we are hoping that those finances would be available when needed.
I have been assured by the minister that the funds needed by FIRB are guaranteed to be there if FIRB is in need of those funds, and that's reassuring. It's reassuring, I think, to all sides of the issue.
It would be nice to see that in legislation as something that we can refer back to. I do believe that the minister is committed to that promise, but in the future if the current minister is not the minister anymore, I'm wondering if the same commitment will be there with a different minister. That's something that I would have liked to have seen clarified, but we can get into that at committee stage.
The other parts of the legislation which were…. Something that all sides of the issue could agree upon that the government should maybe consider as an amendment to the bill was the idea that the minister was able to appoint an authorized agent in a community where there may not be an agent of the BCSPCA acting. Upon discussion with the BCSPCA and other animal advocacy groups, I really felt that an amendment to this bill would be to require that person who would be appointed to have the same types of qualifications that a BCSPCA agent would have.
Currently the BCSPCA has, I believe, 63 agents that have gone through the Justice Institute for their training. I think that that's something that we could be working towards with an amendment, and I think that we could even go as far as to say that they would require Justice Institute accreditation or have equivalent qualifications.
In bringing this to the minister and his staff over the last week, I think we have found common ground there. I think that the minister is very gracious in accepting this recommendation, and I am of the understanding that this will be adopted as a government amendment. I appreciate that thoughtfulness from the minister.
The other amendment that I really do think is a matter of fairness to the BCSPCA is that when an animal is seized and needs to be housed in the care of the BCSPCA, the costs of housing that animal — or animals, depending on the case — really lands on the BCSPCA. The BCSPCA currently doesn't receive funding from the government for that service they're providing.
From talking to both sides of the issue again and making sure that people didn't necessarily think that this was a political amendment but just a matter of fairness, the ability for the Farm Industry Review Board to request an interim payment for the care of the animals from the owner to the BCSPCA would be an amendment that I also believe the minister is interested in accepting.
Again, I appreciate the cooperation that was able to be shown around this concern. I think that it's a matter of fairness. I don't think that the BCSPCA should have that strain on them, given the fact that they are required to house these animals, yet they don't receive funding from the government. I think that all sides of the issue think that would be a fair amendment, and I'm hoping that's something the minister will be putting forward as a government amendment over the next little bit.
I haven't seen the amendments that I have been advised are available and moving forward, so if the intent is the same intent that I suggested over the last few days, I would be willing to support this bill. But I would like to review those amendments to make sure that the intent is there. Those are two of the amendments that I think would allow us to support the bill on this side of the House.
There are other concerns that we will be addressing through committee stage. They are serious concerns, but we didn't necessarily put forward amendments on all of our concerns. We're hoping that in the discussion we'll have, going line by line through the legislation, we'll be able to bring these concerns up and have a valuable discussion. And perhaps, if the minister sees value in the other concerns we have, he may consider putting forward government amendments as well.
One of the concerns that I know the BCSPCA had was the availability of the minister to request a report on any part of the workings of the BCSPCA. Now, this is, I think, driven by the need for transparency.
On the legislative part of the SPCA, I think it's fair to request reports on that part of the business. But the BCSPCA is broken into two areas. One is something that falls under the government of British Columbia. The other is a charity part of the BCSPCA. They do fundraising, and they do their own campaigns.
I don't believe at this point we would have that requirement of any other charity in British Columbia — to request a report on anything that the minister sees fit. I think this would be a really great instance where maybe the minister could make a commitment that the SPCA would be broken into two parts. One of them would be required to report out as the minister sees fit, and the other part would fall under the same legislation as other charities in British Columbia.
Those are concerns that we have. As I said, we will be going through the bill and bringing up other concerns. I think those are the more serious ones, but with the cooperation that has been shown over this week I think we can probably work together to make this as strong as possible.
The intent of the bill, of course, is to protect animals and to make sure we have the strongest legislation that we can in order to avoid situations that put animals in jeopardy. I think the intent of the bill is good. I do think that perhaps, from my viewpoint, there is a lot of vagueness in the bill. I don't know if that's because it may have been rushed a little bit, but those are things we can work on together when we get to committee stage, which will hopefully be in the next couple of weeks.
Thank you for your time. We will be having another speaker at this point.
J. Thornthwaite: I rise today to give support to Bill 24, and I will explain my reasons.
First of all, just to give a bit of context as to why I'm standing here, the House will probably know that I did give notice in the fall that I would be bringing forward my own bill to do with trying to prevent animal cruelty in the province. More about that will come, but I just want to give the context with regard to my background, in my education. I was going through school with the intent of trying to be a veterinarian. Unfortunately, I didn't get in, but I did graduate with a bachelor of science in zoology from UBC.
I've been interested in animal issues and scientific issues all my life, and I've also been interested in animals from a personal state, because I've owned a lot of animals. I've volunteered for the SPCA — done dog walks, all of that sort of jazz — in my youth, so I do appreciate the work that they do, as well as other animal groups. And there are a lot of other animal welfare groups out there.
After the travesty last year involving the sled dogs in Whistler, I think our government has acted very quickly. They developed a task force, which was under the leadership of the member for Kamloops–North Thompson. This group developed recommendations to make sure that this horrible incident would never happen again.
The act is being revised to reflect their recommendations. Some of these changes include: the toughest animal cruelty penalties in Canada, with fines up to $75,000 and jail terms up to two years; extension of the statute of limitations for offences under the act from six months to three years; greater accountability for owners, companies and others responsible for animals; and new abilities for government to regulate specific activities that relate to the use, care and protection of animals.
Since this process was completed, the province developed a sled dog code of practice and standard of care to provide new protection for sled dogs. These new measures have addressed all of the recommendations of the Sled Dog Task Force.
But as a follow-up from last year, many people have been asking me, knowing my background and my interest in animal welfare: "What can we do for other domestic animals in our province?" As I mentioned, again, I will be bringing forward a bill very shortly on that.
As well, people across the province have come to me, particularly constituents in North Vancouver–Seymour, and have also asked about the lack of an appeal process or an oversight mechanism over the agency with the mandate to seize the animals, meaning the SPCA.
I believe that Bill 24 actually addresses a lot of these concerns, but it also provides a wide range of improvements which better protect animals. And let's face it. That's what we're all here for — to protect animals.
Bill 24 allows British Columbians to appeal animal welfare allegations to an independent tribunal instead of having to take the issue to court, which is expensive, time-consuming and intimidating. Contrary to some of what has been said out there, I don't believe that this will endanger the animals. I believe that it demonstrates our government's commitment to animal welfare without placing additional burdens upon our judicial system.
The province recognizes that the BCSPCA does have an internal review process, but the amendments proposed in Bill 24 publicly codify this review. The BCSPCA will continue to seize animals that are at risk, but it will be streamlined. It can sometimes take up to three months in court. The length of time that an animal remains in the SPCA before a final decision is made can be reduced, compared to using the judicial review process. Even if it did take longer, taking a longer time to make animals safe is a good thing.
The bill also increases transparency and public trust by requiring the SPCA to provide the Minister of Agriculture with information, data and statistics related to the enforcement of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Again, this is a good thing. Accountability and transparency are good things.
The legislation allows the minister to draft bylaws that outline enforcement procedures and appoint others to enforce the act in such situations where an authorized agent is not present to enforce the act. The powers of the SPCA are substantial, especially related to the seizure of animals. We generally appreciate all the work they do. We all do. I do.
However, independent appeals have the potential to alleviate concerns — what I've heard from constituents and some other animal welfare groups — of the SPCA being viewed or perceived as being an enforcer, a judge, a jury on animal seizures and dispositions. The dual role of advocacy and authority of the BCSPCA comes with a dual responsibility for fairness and accountability. We support a transparent process for both the owners and the BCSPCA.
One of my constituents had mentioned to me…. She has actually put out a press release supporting Bill 24, and she's an animal rights activist. She brought to my attention that last year — in fact, in March 2011 — this group, which was a coalition of about 22 animal welfare organizations, had put forward a recommendation to the ministry to make changes in the laws to protect animals.
Of these recommendations…. There were several, but some of the key ones that I'll just draw to your attention — and if anybody is interested in this document, I can give it to you — are that they requested a review board and public scrutiny and government oversight.
They wanted to make sure that the records of the seizures were made available to the minister. Right now we don't know how many animals are seized, how they are disposed of — if they're killed or sold or adopted. We don't know how much is spent on investigations and seizures. There are a lot of unknowns there with regards to finding out how the animals are dealt with. I think Bill 24 does try to address that.
I'm going to read to you a little bit of the press release that this animal rights coalition group had sent to me for my interest.
"After the slaughter of 100 sled dogs reverberated around the world, government responded to the request for the reform of the B.C. Prevention of the Cruelty of Animals Act. Bill 24 is the result.
"Numerous animal welfare groups have approached provincial governments over many years asking for changes in legislation to protect animals from suffering because of the lack of control, accountability and oversight in how the provincial anti-cruelty laws have been enforced.
"Twenty-two animal groups from across British Columbia appealed to the government in a brief" — and I just gave you some of the points previous — "to amend the act and were heard. Bill 24 addresses many of the issues raised in the brief. Government has confirmed that the top priorities of Bill 24 are to ensure the welfare of animals and to provide British Columbians with an appeal process that is transparent and fair.
"The 22 animal groups requested greater accountability and transparency, and Bill 24 does this. It provides greater insight for the public into the enforcement activities."
And it provides for greater oversight by the Ministry of Agriculture.
"The 22 animal groups requested a quicker and more cost-effective appeal process, and Bill 24 provides such an appeal process that will save animal lives and ensure fair treatment."
Then their final recommendation in their press release is: "Bill 24 should be supported by everyone who cares about the welfare of animals."
I'll just address one other concern that has been brought to me with regards to the British Columbia Farm Industry Review Board. I am told that this appeal process will be complete well before the 75 days. I've also been told that currently it can take much, much longer than three months to get to the Supreme Court.
The BCFIRB gets its power from the Natural Products Marketing Act and the Administrative Tribunals Act. These two acts provide the authority for the BCFIRB to settle disputes and conduct hearings in a manner that precludes government involvement and limits appeals of its decisions to judicial reviews based solely on the points of law.
It is important to note that the BCFIRB will only hear appeals that the BCSPCA and the animal owners have not been able to resolve through their own 28-day process.
It does not cost more to go to the FIRB. It costs less, for both the SPCA and the owner, because lawyers are unnecessary, and that's a good thing. It is important to note that decisions need to be resolved fairly, not just quickly.
I've been told that it is anticipated that the BCFIRB will hear about ten to 15 appeals a year. They have a lengthy history of impartially resolving disputes and can help British Columbians with a fair and transparent option if they do not find the BCSPCA's internal review satisfactory.
It is an established tribunal with a lengthy history. There was an option to create a new independent panel, but again, it was felt that that option of a new panel would have not been cost-effective and would have needed to have learned their tribunal procedures.
Besides that, other provinces — including Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island — have all moved to some form of independent oversight for enforcement agencies. British Columbia right now does not have that oversight. I have felt that that's what the government was trying to address.
Again, the welfare of the animals is a top priority, and so is the correct application of the law.
Madam Speaker, I am proud of this government. I am proud of the way that this government has moved quickly on animal protection measures, even just in the last year.
I look forward to more good news in the coming weeks with my bill coming up, and I hope people will join me and support this legislation that truly does have the best interests of animals in mind.
V. Huntington: I am very pleased to rise today to speak on the second reading of Bill 24, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act. There are mixed feelings in my constituency, based on the conversations I've had with a number of the people in Delta, and certainly some of these concerns will be dealt with as the amendments proposed by the member for Saanich South are dealt with by the government.
As we know, the BCSPCA and many of its supporters are strongly opposed to this legislation. They worry that the Farm Industry Review Board will take longer than the current process to resolve appeals, which could result in both increased costs for the SPCA and its limited shelter space being tied up while an elongated appeal process is underway. They're also concerned that the new process could increase the workload of their officers beyond what the SPCA could reasonably afford.
We know that up to this point FIRB takes an average of six months to reach decisions on the matters it is dealing with. This is longer than the B.C. Supreme Court presently takes to hear animal seizure appeals. What is the minister going to do to guarantee a reasonable response time, one at least no longer than the court system already provides? And is this proposed new area of responsibility sufficiently different from FIRB's normal mandate that we can believe its appeal times will be shorter?
What expertise does the Farm Industry Review Board have in situations of animal cruelty? What expertise does it have when dealing with seizures and abandonments of highly distressed and abused creatures that are domestic animals and not agricultural livestock? And will the attitude toward distressed and abused animals be different because they are or are not livestock?
What I find more troubling is how this bill downloads new reporting responsibility onto the BCSPCA without increased funding. And while I fully support measures that increase accountability, the changes will also increase the administrative workload for the SPCA officers, who are already burdened by the potential increased workloads while the appeals are underway.
Without increased funding, are we going to see reductions in SPCA activities in the field? And I've heard nothing yet about the potential increases in funding the Farm Industry Review Board may need to cover their own increased workload.
This is a scenario we see too often from senior levels of government, and the downloading is especially difficult when an organization is fulfilling a mandate, a statutory obligation, that has to end up relying on public donations to fulfil its legal mandate. For the provincial government to offer the excuse that the SPCA can apply for the new envelope of gaming grant funding is not good enough. As a matter of fact, it is a shockingly irresponsible response.
On the other hand, I have heard from farmers in my constituency who are pleased with the changes. They believe the Farm Industry Review Board offers a less intimidating appeal mechanism than the B.C. Supreme Court, and they think the SPCA might be a little more careful before they try and seize farm animals.
Overall, there is a belief in the farming community that FIRB better understands the relationship between farmers and their animals. And while I'm sure it does have a better understanding of that relationship, I again must ask the question: is FIRB going to be conflicted when dealing with livestock abuses? Who will ensure that conditions society as a whole might find unacceptable are not going to be overlooked by an agency which by its very nature and mandate is sympathetic to the farming industry?
For myself, I would like to see reliable answers to the questions that linger around this legislation. Will the new appeal process actually result in shorter appeals? How many people did the government hear from who wanted to see the appeal process changed? There have only been a handful of cases go to the B.C. Supreme Court in recent years, so I have trouble believing there was a groundswell of opposition to the current process.
Did the government legitimately consult with the key stakeholder, the BCSPCA, about this idea? Or did it unilaterally decide to do something and then consult by informing the SPCA about its intentions? I want to believe the former scenario, but our general experience suggests the latter is more likely. Who is going to ensure that the Farm Industry Review Board understands its duty to protect animal welfare when an appeal from the farming community is before the board?
Overall, we have a bill whose effects are still unknown and with a degree of vagueness attached. I must say that I do look forward to committee stage on Bill 24 for answers to some of these questions and to review the proposed amendments when they are tabled.
Deputy Speaker: The member wishes to make an introduction and seeks leave?
C. Hansen: Leave to make an introduction.
Deputy Speaker: Please proceed.
Introductions by Members
C. Hansen: I appreciate the members' indulgence.
I have three constituents who have joined us in the Legislature this afternoon. They're over here from Vancouver to meet with the Minister of Agriculture to explore new ways of expanding British Columbia food product exports into China. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Mr. Kiet Loung of Adanac Seafood. He is here with his daughter Betty and his sister Cathy. I hope the House will join me in making them very welcome.
Deputy Speaker: Minister of Energy seeks leave to make an introduction.
Hon. R. Coleman: Unfortunately, the text did not get to me before I could do the orders of the day today. At the time that I was doing them, I became a grandfather for a third time. Owen Thomas Coleman was born. By the way, my middle name is Thomas, so I'm even a bit more thrilled. He's 10 pounds 7 ounces, the first child for my son Adam and his dear wife, Jodie, and born just within the last hour or so. Everybody is healthy and happy.
Deputy Speaker: Congratulations.
B. Ralston: Well, let me join, I'm sure, everyone else in offering the Government House Leader my congratulations on the birth of a grandchild — always a very happy event. I'm not able to join the ranks of those who have grandchildren just yet. At least, I don't have any that I know of.
B. Ralston: But let me turn my attention to the bill that's before us, Bill 24. I want to begin by commending the Minister of Agriculture and the member for Saanich South for the steps they've taken to resolve some of the outstanding issues that have arisen during the public discussion that has taken place since this bill was tabled.
I know there had been considerable public discussion, perhaps at a less general level, prior to the introduction of this bill. I particularly wanted to acknowledge the work of the Minister of Agriculture and his deputy who, I think, have led some considerable internal discussion on this bill prior to it coming forward.
I support the principle of the review mechanism that's proposed. Presently the possible review of a controversial seizure of animals…. These do arise, where people feel strongly that they have done nothing wrong or that their efforts to care for their animals are being wrongly impugned, and it can be a very emotional and difficult issue.
The mechanism at present is a review to the B.C. Supreme Court. Now, that is a typical administrative law procedure. Usually it's very rare that one would be able to attempt that, even in a summary way, without the assistance of a lawyer. That really does require for most people a substantial financial burden to get to the point where they can actually get their case or their review into the B.C. Supreme Court.
So the idea of moving the review of a contested seizure through the process that's set out here, where there will be a statutory effort required on the part of the agency, the BCSPCA, and the owner to attempt to resolve that issue prior to resorting to the administrative tribunal, I think, is a good and valuable step.
The Farm Industry Review Board is an administrative tribunal. At this point it doesn't have that jurisdiction and will be gaining that jurisdiction. The argument is made that, well, there's no particular expertise there in this administrative tribunal. I think, over time, that that tribunal will acquire that expertise.
The advantage of an administrative tribunal is, of course, that it's much easier for members of the public to get access — to go there themselves, to make their own arguments, perhaps with some legal assistance. But it doesn't involve the substantial legal fees and just the difficulty that ordinary citizens have in addressing legal issues in the B.C. Supreme Court. So this is a positive step.
I would remind those who suggest there isn't expertise in the administrative tribunal that there's no particular expertise in the B.C. Supreme Court in dealing with this issue. What you have are people who are obviously legally trained and who listen carefully to the arguments and make a decision based on the principles of law and the facts of the case. That's exactly what an administrative tribunal does. So if you have people of good judgment, really, the difference in the quality of the decision, I'm sure, will not differ.
Generally, administrative tribunals are used in resolving many disputes. For example, if your car is seized by police for an alleged violation of some part of the Motor Vehicle Act, there's an administrative review mechanism to have the seizure of your car reviewed. Written submissions are made, and a decision is made. It seems to me an entirely reasonable solution that the minister is proposing in this legislation — that the administrative tribunal assume these duties.
In the case of FIRB there is the added benefit that there is a familiarity and a focus on the broad outlines of the agricultural industry. The Farm Industry Review Board, as it's entitled…. Its very name suggests that, and I think it will assist them in developing very rapidly the expertise and the knowledge and the confidence to make the kinds of decisions that the public will respect.
The other issue that is raised here is the issue of ministerial authority in the statute to request a report from the SPCA on any given topic. The member speaking before me has given some examples where one might wish for reports from the BCSPCA. I don't think there's anything particularly sinister about that. In fact, I'm sure the minister will use that power sparingly and only in cases where it will directly assist the resolution of disputes of fact or to shed light on a particular public concern.
I think it's important to have the power in reserve. Perhaps the formal power of requesting and demanding it in the statutory way won't be necessary, given that the power is there. I'm sure the organization will realize that it's simply easier just to comply with the request and deal with it.
We've had debates about animal issues on a number of occasions in the House over the last few years. There's a quotation from the now Minister of Health but previously as an MLA in opposition who said words to the effect that this statute is somewhat unusual in the sense that you have the enforcement of a public statute by a private agency. Given that context, review and accountability is a little bit different than it would be if it were a public body that was enforcing a public statute.
In my view the addition of these minor powers to require a report are justified by the I think relatively unusual situation that we have where the SPCA, as a private society, enforces a public statute — that is, the protection of cruelty to animals statute. I think that is a good thing.
The member for Saanich South has also spoken of several proposed amendments and described them as a matter of fairness. I agree with those representations that she's made here today. She has said that the Minister of Agriculture has assured her that contingency funds…. As I understand it, certainly the funds would be available, should the Farm Industry Review Board require some modest additional funding in order to fulfil the new statutory mandate that's conferred upon it.
If that's required, I find the comfort in the representation of the minister. I think that's appropriate, and I'm confident that that will work well.
The other proposed amendment that the member for Saanich South has referred to is one that I support as well. It's an effort to make sure that the BCSPCA is kept whole, in the sense that any additional administrative cost that's required to hold animals while awaiting the first stage of the resolution process or, indeed, the second stage before the Farm Industry Review Board…. Again, I concur that that's a matter of basic administrative fairness, and I support those proposed amendments.
I want to indicate my broad support for the work that's been done by the minister and the critic and look forward to some of the more detailed questions that I'm sure will be posed at the committee stage, when we get to it.
Hon. T. Lake: I'm pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012. I want to acknowledge the very fine work that's been done by the Minister of Agriculture, as well as the collegial approach that's been taken by the member for Saanich South in presenting some potential amendments to improve in some ways, I think, the goals of these changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
As a veterinary professional, I've had the opportunity to work with the SPCA for many, many years. In fact, even before, growing up as a child, the SPCA was one of the organizations that I was fascinated with and had very positive contacts with as a pet owner, as a young man.
As a veterinarian working in Alberta and here in British Columbia, I can say that this organization is well respected. It works extremely well with animal care professionals.
If it wasn't for this organization, I think companion animal owners and farm animal owners throughout the province of British Columbia would not have the comfort they do have that the wellness of animals, particularly as it relates to cruelty investigations and the sad case where animals are homeless…. We simply wouldn't have the level of care that we enjoy here in British Columbia — not that there aren't challenges.
I've worked with the SPCA on many different files — for instance, the banning of using exotic animals in circus performances in communities here in the Lower Mainland and also in my now home community of Kamloops. They've been extremely helpful in making sure that we have information available to work with local governments to see a reduction and, in fact, elimination of using exotic animals in circuses in a way that is considered inhumane.
Also, they've been very helpful to me — as a local government leader, in my previous political role — in developing the dog owner responsibility bylaw in the city of Kamloops. Again, I worked very cooperatively with them and look forward every year to different challenges that we have between the cities of Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George in raising money for the SPCA, as well as the Paws for a Cause, which is the annual dog walk that we have to raise money for the SPCA.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was brought into force last year, after the terrible incident around the sled dogs in Whistler, where there was a reported incident of dogs being euthanized in a fashion that British Columbians rightly felt was reprehensible.
I remember getting the news of that incident while my family was in Sri Lanka doing some work in a community there with which we are associated to recover from the tsunami that happened in 2004. We also, as part of that group, worked with an agency over there to spay and neuter animals that are unwanted in that community. It was kind of ironic, I guess the word is, that while we were in a foreign community helping to deal with a problem like that, we learned of this terrible incident here in British Columbia.
I was very pleased that the Premier of the time asked me to lead the Sled Dog Task Force to find solutions to the situation that led to the unfortunate deaths of so many of those animals in Whistler.
That resulted in the new Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which in fact gave British Columbia the toughest animal cruelty laws in all of Canada, with fines of up to $75,000 and potentially two years in jail as punishment for those found guilty of the act. Attached to the act were standards of care for the sled dog industry. I think we've made some extremely good progress in looking after the welfare of animals here in British Columbia.
I do know that when the SPCA was given powers which are very similar, as the member for Surrey-Whalley pointed out, to the broad powers of other agencies like police forces, there was concern expressed at that time in the mid-'90s about the oversight of an agency with such broad powers. I think this legislation addresses that concern. I'm very pleased that we have general agreement in the House over the need and the fairness of the changes that are being brought forward here today by the Minister of Agriculture.
The Farm Industry Review Board does have the expertise in tribunals and in these administrative processes, so I think it does provide an opportunity for those who feel that the animals they own that have been seized by the SPCA — with good intent, I'm sure, on the part of the SPCA…. It's an opportunity for the owners once the internal appeal process is exhausted through the SPCA.
Let's face it. In many cases probably those concerns have been worked out in that process, but if in fact they're not and it has to go to the second level, then rather than going to the Supreme Court — which, as the member for Surrey-Whalley pointed out, can be very expensive in terms of retaining legal counsel — an administrative review body like the Farm Industry Review Board makes a lot of sense and comes, I think, in a more accessible format for animal owners.
This board does have the expertise, I believe, to handle these types of processes. I'm confident that they will be able to do so in a timely manner. Of course, time will tell, as they take on this new responsibility. I am confident that the Minister of Agriculture and his officials will provide oversight to ensure that it is a timely process and that it accomplishes the goals and objectives that he is setting out for them.
Sometimes I think we run into situations where there are misunderstandings, and sometimes this is a matter of education for animal owners. Owning animals and having dealt with companion animals for a large part of my adult life, dealing with owners of companion animals…. I can tell you it's an extremely emotional issue when you're dealing with the health and welfare of animals.
There is a broad range of attitudes towards the welfare of animals in terms of what one person might consider normal standard of care and what another might consider normal standard of care. There are opportunities for misunderstanding in terms of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, and there are times when it's simply a matter of education and communication that solves these types of problems.
I do think that with the best intent there are occasions whereby animals are seized in which the owners feel that it was not the appropriate situation. I do believe this board will provide an opportunity for the animal owner to be heard in a fair and reasonable way and in an affordable and accessible manner to give them a voice and to plead their case.
Also, some of the other changes that are here I think are very positive. The SPCA does have a broad mandate to enforce a statute of this Legislature, and I think it's important. These changes give greater insight into those enforcement activities of the BCSPCA. It will allow the Minister of Agriculture to have the society provide information, data and statistics relating to the enforcement of this act.
I think that's a very positive thing. The more the public knows and the more that we as legislators know about how the organization is tasked and carries out enforcement of the act gives us a better ability to understand the challenges that we put in front of that organization. The challenges include how they are able to finance their activities. I think this will provide a lot of information that will be valuable to us as we sit in this House and look at the way that we support the SPCA.
It also allows the minister to draft bylaws for the SPCA to outline procedures for the SPCA officers to follow when enforcing the act, if no bylaws exist with that organization. Again, I think this tightens up the way in which an organization is tasked to enforce an act of the Legislature. The ministry will provide the resources that are necessary to do that, so it will alleviate the cost on the organization.
Madam Speaker, I won't go on too long. Just to summarize, I have great respect for the SPCA. Two of my colleagues, Dr. Jamie Lawson and Dr. Patricia Pryor, work within the organization in Vancouver and throughout British Columbia. They do amazing work. And their investigator, Ken Kokoska, whom I've had the opportunity to work with. They are amazing individuals. It is an enormously valuable organization.
The changes that we are seeing here today will make the organization stronger and will provide more information for all of British Columbia on how they enforce the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which has the toughest animal cruelty regulations in Canada. It will serve the organization well, it will serve the people of British Columbia well, and it will serve this Legislature well to enact the changes that we see here before us.
With that, Madam Speaker, I will thank the House for listening and take my seat.
L. Krog: I'm pleased to rise today to speak to second reading of Bill 24.
I don't suppose there is anyone who has ever had a pet who wouldn't suggest that on occasion they'd rather go home and talk to the dog than they would to anyone else. Animals have provided comfort to our species for a very long time. My mother used to suggest that sitting around the fire with a dog beside you probably took us back to our early days in the cave and gave us a sense of security we wouldn't otherwise have had. As somebody once famously said, if you want a friend, get a dog.
Having that said, this bill, when first presented in the Legislature, raised a great deal of concern. As usual, there were comments received by many members of the House, people expressing concern for various reasons. On one end, obviously, you have people who engage in intensive farming with domestic animals who were concerned about this. You had people on the pet-owning end who likewise expressed concern. Indeed, I just spent some time yesterday on the phone with one of my constituents who had heard a little bit about the bill and was very concerned about it.
Having said that, hon. Speaker, it's time to pay compliments to the government — to the Minister of Agriculture and to our Agriculture critic, the member for Saanich South — who have worked together to try and resolve the issues that arise from this bill. I think it's important to note that society on one hand says that they don't wish to be overregulated on many occasions, yet on the other hand everybody wants regulation for something that is of importance to them.
We are a pet-owning society. We're not just a society composed of farmers. Hundreds of thousands of British Columbians keep pets, and some of them, obviously, do a better job than others. Some people spend a great deal of money on their pets. Others who are raising them for slaughter and consumption likewise spend a great deal of money and provide care.
L. Krog: The Minister of Environment was suggesting that I was talking about raising pets for slaughter, but of course, Minister, I wouldn't be so obtuse. I am suggesting that the average head of beef cattle is not being raised for a pet, unless that may be the course of behaviour in Kamloops. I assure that him in other parts of the province, generally speaking, they're raised for consumption.
This is about, in essence, a bit of fairness. Most people do not have occasion to have involvement with the law, notwithstanding what some may say about crime rates and notwithstanding what the Tory government in Ottawa seems to believe about the necessity of getting tougher on crime when crime rates are decreasing. But most people don't have involvement with the law in any way, shape or form, either in the criminal justice system or even in the civil justice system.
N. Simons: Or lawyers.
L. Krog: Or lawyers, for that matter, in many respects, as the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast points out.
It can be quite intimidating to have involvement with a process, administrative or otherwise, where your ultimate remedy, essentially after an initial decision, is to have to climb the steps of the B.C. Supreme Court and make your case there. It's an expensive process. It is a process out of reach for most British Columbians, based on their incomes. It is a process that is intimidating in every aspect.
What the bill does is allow for something in between. What it does is allow a person who feels aggrieved by a decision of the SPCA, a unique and highly respected organization in our society, to be appealed to the British Columbia Farm Industry Review Board. That gives an opportunity to someone who might otherwise face the Supreme Court the chance to plead their case, to make their appeal without the necessity of engaging counsel, hopefully, and without the necessity of the expense and complex procedures that are required in the Supreme Court.
When I say complex, I say that with great deference to the rules changes that were made in the last few years. I think many British Columbians find getting into court now, Supreme Court, in particular, even more intimidating than it was before. What this bill does is give that opportunity to people to take an interim step that may, hopefully, resolve the issue that arises. That, hon. Speaker, is a good thing.
Now, I know there are concerns in the community from those who take animal welfare to heart, and I applaud them. They have had concerns that they've expressed in the past about the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I appreciate those concerns. But the SPCA is a unique organization, as I've said. It is an organization that I suspect many of the members, including yours truly, have supported financially from time to time, for obvious reasons. We care about the work it does. Whether we own animals of any kind, we care about the work that they do.
I think that in the view of most of the members of this chamber we take seriously the abuse of animals of any kind. There is no more an excuse to abuse an animal than there is to abuse a human being. Indeed, there are some in our society, and a growing number, who think we have got it wrong when we think of animals as being property.
Now, that's an extreme that I appreciate presents difficulty for a lot of people, and it would. I suspect most of the members in this chamber are not vegans. Whenever you talk about this issue, it seems to me it raises a great deal of philosophical issues, things that you could spend a great deal of time discussing in this chamber.
As a proud pet owner and someone who, together with my spouse, has spent more on veterinarian bills than the average British Columbian, I can assure you, I take pet ownership very seriously, to the point where our children have sometimes suggested in the past that they weren't loved as much as the cats. Then again, hon. Speaker, children are always critical of their parents' spending priorities, if it doesn't involve them first.
L. Krog: Spending their inheritance, the member has suggested. Yes, always a concern in the modern world, I suppose.
As someone who takes providing a good home for a pet very seriously, I think this is good legislation, in essence. There will obviously be questions that will arise, and I'm sure the member for Saanich South, our critic who has done a very good job to date in getting the government to respond appropriately, will be able to carry the debate in the manner that it deserves.
These are important decisions, and it is important, I think, that they, like any decision in our society, be done in a timely manner. Justice delayed is justice denied. As my principal, when I started articling many years ago, once said to me: "Just remember that when that client comes through the door and you hear their problem and you appreciate that it's actually a very small problem, it is, however, the biggest problem they have."
When an animal is seized, it is, for many people, an all-consuming issue, and it's important that it be resolved quickly. It's important that it be resolved quickly, frankly, for the purposes of the animal's welfare. So this is a step forward. It will be interesting to see exactly what the minister can say in response to the specific questions that will arise.
Overall, we have to look at this legislation and say, essentially, thank you. It will provide a mechanism that I think will be appreciated by those who have to have involvement with this process. As I emphasize and say again, being involved in any kind of process is challenging for people often not in a position to spend money, often not in a position to obtain the expertise and assistance they might need to help them through it.
Anything that keeps people out of the courthouse, as long as justice is done, is a positive thing. Courts should literally be our last resort. Forcing British Columbians to jump from a decision of the SPCA into B.C. Supreme Court always struck me as a ridiculously onerous process for British Columbians.
Today we have the opportunity to support a process which recognizes the fiscal reality, the economic realities of British Columbians and owners of animals of whatever type they may be.
I'm happy to give my general support to this bill. I look forward to committee stage to see what the government has to say and obviously, also at that point, to have time to review with interest the amendments that will be forthcoming, which will hopefully satisfy the many concerns that have been raised by our various constituents.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. Members, seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. D. McRae: I want to stand and thank the BCSPCA. In my community, as in many communities across this province, the organization works tirelessly, protecting animal rights and welfare across this great province. The work they often do is some that is very trying and can be very emotional, and they've done so with, I think, a great track record in the past.
I also want to express again, and I think that we talked about this before in other talks about the BCSPCA, the personal connection they have to my family. Our youngest cat, Stumpy, is an SPCA alumni.
Hon. D. McRae: Yes, well, Stumpy is…. Thank you very much to the member to my right. It is a great name because the cat came with no tail. It was sort of on sale at the BCSPCA. But the reality is that Stumpy is a very important part of our family. When we picked up Stumpy, my daughter, who was younger at the time, became a member of the BCSPCA and receives their newsletters on a regular basis and appreciates the work they do as well.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
The Minister of Environment, when he was talking, mentioned about, partly, how we got to this place. I wish in some ways, obviously, the events that got us here never occurred, but I am pleased that the results that came of it are making lives better for animals and animal lovers across British Columbia.
Having the highest fines in Canada, having the jail terms of up to two years I think sends a message that we respect animals in this province. We want to make sure that those who consider, basically, mistreating them realize that we do not take it lightly. So I want to thank the minister to my left, as well, for the work he did with his colleagues to help move this forward.
Also, during the comprehensive review following the sled dog tragedy, the public did raise some concerns about transparency and accountability. We are proposing these changes today to make sure that these occur.
It is something that is common with other provinces in Canada. It is something that I think will basically enhance the BCSPCA's reputation in terms of openness, and I think that is something that is going to be well received.
As well, I'm also keen that the changes will free up valuable court time and provide animal owners with a less formal and more cost-effective dispute resolution process. We know in the courts that we'd prefer, I think, to have them dealing with criminal matters when they have to, and if we can find an equivalent board that is less stressful, more timely, it will be a benefit for all involved.
The B.C. Farm Industry Review Board will begin working with stakeholders following these amendments and make sure that they act in a fair, effective and timely manner like they have done as an organization with the other disputes.
The BCSPCA has stated that the Supreme Court generally takes about 75 days, and there have been some issues about how long some B.C. FIRB appeals do take. However, some of those appeals are incredibly complex, involving issues like supply management and such. I would argue, and so would B.C. FIRB, that if they come into this appeal process, they'll be able to deal with the resolution processes much faster.
They expect to be completed, unlike the B.C. Supreme Court which takes 75 days, in less than 60 days, and hopefully, even faster than that. I have great faith that B.C. FIRB will be an excellent body to do these opportunities. As well, it must be pointed out that B.C. FIRB will only hear appeals that the SPCA and the animal owners have not been able to resolve through the existing 28-day BCSPCA internal review process.
I'm hoping that B.C. FIRB is not overly taxed by these appeal board processes. I don't think the number of appeals will be overly huge. And like the member opposite, the critic across the way, mentioned, there have not been a huge number of appeals brought forward to the Supreme Court at this stage.
As well, we've advised B.C. FIRB that we will assist them, providing some ministry resources as needed, to make sure they can do the job they're doing, and we thank them very much for being so willing.
So again, thank you for the kind words both from members of this side of the House and members opposite. It is nice to know that we can find common ground in this House and make sure we do the best for British Columbians and the animals of British Columbia.
Saying that, I move that Bill 24 be referred to the Committee of the Whole for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, you've got to move second reading.
Hon. D. McRae: Oh, I did that at the start, but I'll do it again. Sorry.
I move second reading.
Hon. D. McRae: My apologies, Mr. Speaker. I get so excited about introducing bills in the House.
I move that Bill 24 be referred to the Committee of the Whole for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 24, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. T. Lake: I now move committee stage of Bill 25, intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012.
Committee of the Whole House
BIll 25 — Miscellaneous Statutes
Amendment Act, 2012
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 25; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 3:35 p.m.
Hon. S. Bond: To members opposite: we will have the appropriate ministers here for the various sections, and we're very pleased to say that the House Leader will be handling section 1, related to the New Relationship Trust Act.
On section 1.
L. Krog: No disrespect to the distinguished Government House Leader, of course, but I suggest this might be a case, given that I'm not the aboriginal affairs critic, of the blind leading the blind through section 1.
I see the minister is ably assisted by a public servant, who I have no doubt can explain fully to me, as I'm asking this question to the minister: what is the necessity for this section?
Hon. R. Coleman: I did have a conversation with the critic before question period to walk him through this, but basically what it is, is a minor amendment to the New Relationship Trust Act. It's going to lengthen and stagger the terms of office for the new relation trust directors from two years to a three-year term. The new relationship trust board requested this change to allow more continuity in management of the new relationship trust fund and its board of directors.
L. Krog: If the minister could just explain: I assume that this is sort of a rolling appointment then? How many members on the board and how many will be…? I assume that we've got a multi-member board and that they'll be replaced on a rolling basis — much like the U.S. Senate operates. You don't elect every senator every year.
Hon. R. Coleman: Except that they roll them every two years over a six-year term, and this is a three-year term, and they basically…. It was requested by…. It's a seven-member board, by the way. So it's seven members on the board, and it was set up initially with two-year terms, and they weren't staggered. So they wanted to get them to three-year terms and have them staggered, which is pretty much standard for most of the boards within government.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
L. Krog: I wonder if he could just explain what section 2 is about. In other words, why is this requirement being removed? What's the purpose of it? Who requested it?
Hon. D. McRae: May I have a few seconds just to get my staff in?
L. Krog: I'm going to ask the question that is asked by every three-year-old when you tell them why they can't have candy, and they ask: "Why?" The question is: section 2 — why is it necessary to remove this requirement?
Hon. D. McRae: The elimination of the requirement for LGIC designation of farm income plans eliminates unnecessary review and approval processes for the ministry and cabinet.
L. Krog: The minister described it as an unnecessary approval process. I'm just wondering: is that the conclusion drawn by the ministry officials? Is that the conclusion drawn by the farming community? In other words, is this a bureaucratically driven amendment, or is this an amendment in response to public questions around this?
Hon. D. McRae: The plans now conducted under the terms are very prescriptive federal-provincial government agreements, and as such it's seen as redundancy. The federal and provincial governments have already reached agreement and approved the content of such plans, and it would be, as I said earlier, just basically a duplication of agreements.
L. Krog: If I can just ask a few more questions on this. If the governments have approved it…. What does the minister mean by that when he says the governments have approved it? Have the ministers signed off on it? Has it been approved by the federal cabinet? Is the federal government making the same kind of change legislatively, so it's going to be a minister making the decision, and that's it? How does this work?
Perhaps the minister could explain what a farm income plan is, and that might assist me in understanding.
Hon. D. McRae: Agreements require signatures from both the federal and provincial ministers, and they follow established protocols between the Ministry of Agriculture and the federal Ministry of Agriculture for negotiating at the staff level.
A prime example of such an agreement would be AgriStability, where we enter into a 60-40 cost-sharing agreement with the federal government in regards to getting dollars out to farmers in British Columbia.
L. Krog: Just so I can understand it, presently this has to be approved by cabinet. Henceforth, if this passes, it's going to be approved by the minister himself. Likewise, is the federal process changing?
Hon. D. McRae: The process won't change at the federal level. It's only us that required it to go to an OIC. This will make it easier for us to fall into line in making sure the agreements are done expeditiously.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
L. Krog: This authorizes the minister, on behalf of the government, to "enter into any agreement that the minister considers would provide for the joint participation by British Columbia, Canada or another province in a farm income plan." I wonder if the minister could give me an example of what would be covered by this section.
Hon. D. McRae: Two examples we could use would be AgriInsurance or, like I mentioned earlier, AgriStability. These two programs support and stabilize farm income and protect the producers from crop losses in an event, perhaps, like weather.
L. Krog: Given that the minister's going to be given this power exclusively now, as opposed to it being approved by cabinet, what sort of dollar range are we talking about? Is there any limitation on this, or could, in theory, the minister enter into an arrangement that involves hundreds of millions of dollars or tens of dollars or whatever?
Hon. D. McRae: Providing the program was asking for under $2 million, it would be worth just a signature. However, programs that require more than $2 million would require the minister to go to Treasury Board for approvals. So no, there are not hundreds of millions of dollars….
L. Krog: I sense a certain disappointment from the minister that he can't sign the big cheques without going by Treasury Board.
I take it this also authorizes — and I assume the present act doesn't — participation in programs that involve a series of provinces. So is it the case now, for instance, that you're only authorized to enter into agreements, under the existing legislation, that involve Canada and British Columbia? Or does the existing legislation authorize the minister to enter into agreements, subject to cabinet approval, with other provinces in Canada at the same time?
Hon. D. McRae: The answer is yes. For example, AgriStability is a program that exists across provinces, across Canada. That's a multilateral. If there was a specific program that was just B.C., it would also be allowed to be signed off by the minister.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
L. Krog: This is in respect to the Insurance for Crops Act. I'm wondering, again, if the minister could just explain why this is necessary.
Hon. D. McRae: It's the same rationale we used earlier, when we talked at the beginning of this committee debate. It will be for the three parallel acts. It's just making sure that there is no redundancy and the plans are conducted under the terms of prescriptive provincial-federal agreements.
L. Krog: If the minister could just explain that a little further. Does the Insurance for Crops Act, then, only have application if it involves a contribution by the federal government, or are there provisions that are in fact strictly within the purview of the province?
Hon. D. McRae: Again, these are cost-sharing agreements with the 60-40 cost-sharing split — 60 percent from the federal government and 40 percent by the province. Again, it's just cost-sharing for good programs to assist farmers across British Columbia.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
L. Krog: Perhaps the minister could outline why this is necessary, apart from the convenience of it, which I presume removes this from coming to the attention of cabinet. What sort of programs are involved with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Act?
Hon. D. McRae: This will capture other non-insurance and non–farm income agreements. It's broader authority for programs not captured as insurance. For example, several years ago the province had a cost-sharing agreement with the federal government in regards to tree fruit replant in the Okanagan. That was a very specific program that was neither insurance nor AgriStability.
L. Krog: Just out of curiosity, how long has the section been in place that required the approval of cabinet? And the next question which will follow, which I'm sure the minister can answer, is: if it was so obvious that this made sense and should be done, why wasn't it done sooner?
Hon. D. McRae: This dates back to 1979. That was a great year for me and my dad. I was in grade 3.
What happened is a federal audit, either in late 2010 or perhaps early 2011, highlighted that the authority for signing agreements between the federal and provincial governments needed L-G-in-C approval, and this was not happening. We are now rectifying that discrepancy so that we can go forward and make sure the agreements are valid.
L. Krog: I'm just delighted the minister didn't bring up the '90s somehow and why it wasn't corrected then. I'm surprised he didn't take advantage of that opportunity. It must be the spirit of great conviviality and love that has been expressed in the chamber so frequently this week.
Having said that, if this has been known for as long as it has and it has only has been raised now, quite simply, given the apparently non-controversial nature of this provision, why wasn't it done sooner? I'm going to assume, of course, that there must be at least a few agreements that passed the minister's desk under this act, and I wonder if he could in his answer just outline, for instance, in a year how many agreements would fall under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Act?
Hon. D. McRae: We were signing agreements between the federal government and the province with L-G-in-C approvals up to 2004. In 2004, though I was not Minister of Agriculture at the time, the ministry was advised that the approval process was not needed. However, again, in early 2011 or late 2010 the federal audit raised the issue that this advice was perhaps weak.
We sought legal advice and are rectifying it today with this piece of amendment. However, as soon as we found out that there were some concerns raised, from that point on, all agreements signed by the federal government and the province were actually done with LGIC approval, once we were aware of any inconsistencies in advice.
L. Krog: I think I heard the minister admit the government might have been in breach of good legal advice at some point.
I take it that the real reason for these changes is because it's been discovered that — and good legal advice revealed that — the governments may not in fact have been bound to these agreements because of the mere signature of the minister not being binding on the Crown itself. That's essentially what the minister has said. I wonder if he would just confirm that.
[D. Black in the chair.]
Hon. D. McRae: The reality is, like I mentioned earlier in this conversation, that these agreements have been entered into between the federal government and the provincial government since 1979. During that course of time ministries have received different levels of advice. The reality is that when we saw the audit that existed in late 2010, early 2011, and it was advised that we did need LGIC approval, we recognized that. The agreements we entered into from that point forward required LGIC approval, and that's what we've been doing.
L. Krog: I take it from the minister's answer that the agreements having been signed by the minister involved in any specific agreement were then in fact approved retroactively by order-in-council. I wonder if the minister sought advice on that, whether a retroactive approval was in fact effective from a legal perspective, given that we are coming into section 6 here, which I was going to question him about.
Hon. D. McRae: LGIC approvals were from 2011 forward. As alluded to, section 6 will give retroactive authority. I think perhaps the member might be asking if this retroactive authority could have been brought in by OIC. The answer is no. An OIC could not give retroactive authority for the pre-audit period.
L. Krog: I think I perhaps didn't phrase the question as carefully as I could have.
What I am asking the minister is…. If these agreements after 2011 were approved by order-in-council because the legal advice said that in fact they required an order-in-council, the agreements entered into previously, which were signed only by the minister and not approved by cabinet, are still in legal limbo, possibly, until section 6 is passed. Is that correct?
Hon. D. McRae: Yes.
L. Krog: I just have a very simple question. Nobody asked for the money back, did they, at any time?
Hon. D. McRae: These answers are easy. No.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
L. Krog: So I take it from the minister's comments that section 6…. The reason for it is the fact that there has been legal advice given that the agreements may not be binding, because they weren't approved by order-in-council. They were only signed by the minister. This has gone on for some time.
I take it that there is no limitation on that. It simply says: "An agreement that (a) was made under the Farm Income Insurance Act, Insurance for Crops Act or Ministry of Agriculture and Food Act before sections 2 to 5 of this Act come into force, and (b) would have been valid if, at the time the agreement was made, sections 2 to 5 of this Act had been in force, is valid and is deemed for all purposes to have been made under those Acts."
I take it that this takes us back, if you will, to 1979 from a legal perspective, in theory. Is that correct?
Hon. D. McRae: It covers agreements from 2004 through 2011.
L. Krog: For purposes of the legislation though, my reading of it is…. Maybe the government's concern is 2004, but my reading of the legislation, section 6 as proposed, is that, in fact, it would cover any agreements with respect to these three acts prior to 2004 for that matter. That's my reading of it. Is that correct or incorrect?
Hon. D. McRae: In theory they could go back to 1979, but in the research that we've done, there aren't any agreements that are in limbo at this stage.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
L. Krog: I'm going to assume that the minister wants to have some staff here. Perhaps we'll give her a few minutes.
I wonder if the minister could just explain the necessity of bringing in this section.
Hon. I. Chong: I do have staff with me, if we do need to get into some technical issues, but I don't think so.
What I can say is that the amendment we are proposing here is to confirm current administrative practices. It will provide clear authority for B.C. Assessment to accept what we call averaged actual unit usage data regarding strata accommodation properties or leasehold accommodation properties.
The member may recall there was a change to legislation in 2008 which allowed for a split classification approach for SAPs, the strata accommodation properties. Since then, under an agreement between B.C. Assessment and government, BCA has accepted actual unit usage data in the form of the average number of days for all units in the SAP complex. This practice is consistent with the general intent of the legislation, so the amendment we're asking for today is to ensure that that is clear in the legislation.
I just will also provide for the member, if he's interested, that over the past four years while this practice has been in place, in terms of accepting the average usage data pursuant to the agreement with BCA, there have been no assessment appeals or complaints from any unit owners.
L. Krog: I think I heard the minister say something about a split assessment appeal or a split assessment authority or something like that. If the minister could just explain what she was talking about, that would be helpful.
Hon. I. Chong: What I was referring to was when legislation was introduced…. It was in 2008. I think the member may have been involved at the time. If not, what that allowed for was a split classification approach for the strata accommodation properties. Prior to the 2008 assessment year the strata accommodation properties, SAPs, were classified as either fully residential, class A, or fully business or other, which is class 6, even though they were basically operating in the same business model of renting out units for part of the year.
I believe there was some substantial work that was done and made a determination that was causing, I think, some properties that were receiving an unfair classification if they happened to fall in fully as class 1 or class 6. So the legislation at that time was changed to allow for the split classification approach. In order to accommodate that, as well, the unit owners were required to provide certain data information with respect to usage of those units.
Since that time there has been an understanding with B.C. Assessment as to what data is being provided, and I think, as I say, actual averaged data. It has been that approach since 2008, and it has been working well. But it was determined that we needed to make clear in legislation that that administrative practice is made clear in the legislation.
L. Krog: This is a very interesting area, I must say. To put it in concrete terms, and no pun intended, on condominium buildings this applies, for instance, to a strata condominium tower in which there are individual owners. It would apply also, for instance, to the project just near St. Ann's Academy, where they're selling quarter-interests in the strata units, and presumably into leasehold accommodation property such as exists with time-share condominium stratas. Is that correct? Is this how this operates?
Then I'm going to follow up with a couple of questions. If the minister could just explain to me: exactly what does this apply to in practical terms?
Hon. I. Chong: The strata accommodation properties, SAPs, are condominium-like complexes that are operated as hotels largely in resort municipalities. The individual units are owned by one or more multiple-share owners who have restricted access to the units for personal use. For the majority of the year, however, the units are available to be rented out for short-term use to visitors to that resort.
The SAPs are located largely in resort municipalities such as Whistler, as the member will know. The cities of Victoria and Vancouver also have some concentration of SAP units. They do not include conventional hotels, motels, apartments or other accommodations that are rented on a monthly basis, such as a residence. So there is a distinction. The SAPs are defined in the Assessment Act, if the member wishes to look further in the Assessment Act.
L. Krog: If I can try and get my head around this concept. So I've got an interest in a unit in the resort at Whistler — essentially a resort-like accommodation. I'm thinking there's one near Parksville. The name eludes me for a moment. Essentially, time-shares are what we're talking about.
The B.C. Assessment Authority will rely, in terms of valuing that unit for assessment purposes, on the information supplied by the owner or the manager of the complex — whoever — on behalf of the owner as to what the rental income was for that unit, I assume, versus its cost. Do they look at a net value after expenses? How does that process work? Perhaps the minister can explain it.
Hon. I. Chong: What we're really talking about here…. As I say, this change was made in 2008.
Because the split classification was provided for in 2008, it does require the owner to provide information to the assessment authority sufficient enough so they can understand what should be assessed as class 1 and class 6. Otherwise, as I say, we could have a situation where the unit is used more for residential purposes and is being classed as a business and therefore paying a higher amount for assessment than it would otherwise be.
The requirement is for the unit owner to provide that information to the B.C. Assessment Authority. They have been doing that over the past four years, since the split classification has been allowed for.
Again, the amendment here is not about the split classification so much as it is ensuring that the data that is being provided or what has been done administratively in fact can continue on by the method that was determined back in 2008.
L. Krog: My reading of section 7. It talks about, in the explanatory note: "provides that the average number supplied is deemed to be supplied in respect of the strata lot or each accommodation unit, unless the owner supplies information specific to the strata lot…." In other words, the assessment authority can rely on the average rental rate for units in the complex across the board, and if an owner is, for assessment, satisfied with that, nobody cares.
But the owner has the right, obviously, to supply specific information. Presuming that it's being classed as a commercial property, the owner has the right to provide specific information that says: "No. Really, it's more of a residential use because I'm there six months of the year, whereas most of the units in the complex are rented out for nine or ten months of the year."
Is that essentially what this section is providing for — that we're going to do an average? It's what I will call a quick and dirty method of providing for assessment, without having to go into a more extensive process of determining what is in fact accurate.
Hon. I. Chong: Yes. In essence, that is what is happening.
L. Krog: I assume, for purposes of the assessment authority…. Does this come at their request, for their convenience, or is this driven by the owners/managers of these complexes?
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated previously, the method of receiving information had been agreed upon with B.C. Assessment, the unit holders industry as a whole. So basically the change we're making here is to really codify the current B.C. Assessment practice. B.C. Assessment did request this change in the legislation, as I say, to ensure that there was not any question.
This is what has been their practice for the past number of years, and they wanted it to be clear in the legislation as to the agreement that had been agreed upon four years ago. So as I say, in essence, the agreements or the proposed amendments would be consistent with their existing practices, and there would be no impact on the current owners.
L. Krog: If I can understand this…. In fact, if I understand the minister correctly, this has been the practice for four years. This is the way they have been assessing these units, and I appreciate that there have been no appeals, but I'm going to presume that owners, by and large, must have been satisfied with this.
I throw out an example where you have a well-managed complex, where perhaps the rental use is 90 percent of the year and the personal use is 10 percent. I think everyone would acknowledge and agree that's probably a commercial use. But you have another complex that is poorly managed, where the rental occupation portion of the year is, in fact, say, 30 percent. Ten percent of the time the owner occupies it, but 60 percent of the time the place is empty.
So how does this regulation affect a situation like that? What would be the effect on a situation, as I say, where you're contrasting one which is properly managed and successful and another which is, I would argue on the basis of the numbers I have given you, a failure?
Hon. I. Chong: I was just getting clarification because I seem to recall the conversation that took place some four years ago and the reason why split classification was brought in.
The member's question with respect to whether a well-managed property versus a not so well-managed would have a difference in terms of the assessment…. There would not be a difference, because essentially these would ordinarily, if the place was vacant the entire year, fall under class 1 as a residential property. That, I guess, would be a default.
The reason why the split classification…. My understanding is that it was introduced in 2008 to deal with the fact that these were not, in essence, residential properties but, in fact, were being used for commercial purposes where the higher class, class 6, should have been applied. So it, in fact, allowed for a proper assessment of the unit being properly assessed as class 6, as opposed to going to the default of class 1 residential. It is being more clearly reflective of how that use of that particular unit is.
L. Krog: If I can put it this way. It's not the intent of the owner that's important here, because I own it and I only want to go there 10 percent of the year and I want it rented 90 percent of the year. It is, in fact, the actual level of occupation that is important.
Hon. I. Chong: Yes, that's correct.
L. Krog: And in that situation, then — just again, so I am absolutely clear — if I've got it in the rental pool, so to speak, and I'm only going there 10 percent of the year but it's my intention to try and treat it as a money-making enterprise — regardless of whether the place is successfully managed and it's 90 percent occupied commercially or whether it's 10 percent occupied commercially — I will in fact pay on the basis of a commercial assessment of that property.
Hon. I. Chong: The member is correct in that if the individual had owned the property and did not put it in the rental pool or it was failing to be rented out and there was a concern that it was a higher class, the individual unit owner can submit his or her own information to allow the classification to go more heavily slanted towards the class 1 residential.
This change that was made, and by agreement through B.C. Assessment with owners of these properties, did allow for the average usage and, therefore, the complex as a whole to be able to submit that information to B.C. Assessment, so B.C. Assessment was able to receive that as information.
We're making the amendment to the act because it was not clear that B.C. Assessment was able to receive that data for that kind of information. That's what we're attempting to do in this legislation, but not to change the ability for individuals to use the split classification that is most suitable for their particular arrangement.
L. Krog: If I can use, again, a concrete example. It's a resort accommodation. I'm on the side of the building without the view. Nobody ever wants to rent my unit. The person who owns the unit on the side has a lovely view of the mountain or whatever — the swimming pool. Who cares? It doesn't matter. It is 90 percent occupied, as opposed to my unit which is 10 percent occupied.
If I don't appeal the average or provide the information to B.C. Assessment about the average number being, in fact, unfair to me because nobody ever wants to stay in my ugly little unit, then I am stuck with the commercial rate. If I provide the information because I've got this horrible unit that nobody wants to occupy, then I get the residential rate.
Hon. I. Chong: It's difficult to take a look at every scenario, and so the example that the member provides would also have to be looked at in the context of: what is the arrangement that he would have made with the complex?
Generally, when you have one unit in a complex or when you purchase that — especially if the units are being rented out, especially in a resort, for the purposes of pooling rental income and sharing of expenses — there will be an arrangement that is made with the owner that the rental income is, in fact, pooled and the data and how it's submitted to B.C. Assessment is done on that basis.
But should there be a circumstance where one individual has a different, I guess, level of use than everyone else in the complex, the individual unit owner can still go to B.C. Assessment, provide information about his or her unit specifically and request it be assessed more towards the class 1, if that were the case.
Because it is very likely that the owner will have signed an agreement with the complex, it may be more difficult to submit separate information apart from all other units in that particular complex. Again, that would be based on whatever arrangement was made at the time of purchasing that unit with the complex, the legal obligations that are there.
L. Krog: In practical terms, is the experience of B.C. Assessment that most owners simply accept the commercial rate, or is there a significant number that in fact are arguing in favour of the residential rate?
When I say that, I'm not talking about an appeal where it's been determined. I'm talking about the ordinary assessment, where the assessment arrives and perhaps the owner goes back and says, "Look, this just isn't fair," without, necessarily, an appeal process. Is there any mechanism for them? I believe that the minister said earlier in discussion on this that there haven't been appeals per se in these types of complexes.
Hon. I. Chong: I'll try to be more clear.
The complex generally has a management firm or management company who operates the complex, and they're required to report the actual average use for the purposes of class 1 or class 6. What I indicated earlier was that there have not been any appeals or any complaints by the owners or management companies in these past four years because this was as a result of when the split classification was introduced in 2008. My understanding is that this was the way forward — this was just a discussion — and, by agreement, how B.C. Assessment would accept the information.
If an individual of the complex, though, did feel that their particular use in a particular year was so much different than the actual average use, he or she would still be entitled to provide that information directly to B.C. Assessment. Again, they may be restricted with that approach if, in fact, the agreement they signed with the complex owner, the management company…. They would have to accept the management company's data that is supplied to B.C. Assessment for the purpose of determining what class 1 is and what class 6 is. I hope that's more clear for the member.
L. Krog: If I can understand it, with this split classification…. I'm the owner, and I'm using it 10 percent of the year, and most people in the complex are using it 20 percent of the year. Maybe the average use is 19 percent or 18 percent a year in a smaller complex. I'm going to be assessed for residential taxation purposes at 18 percent, and I'll be assessed at 80, 81 or 82 percent for commercial purposes.
I see the minister nodding, and her staff. I take it, then, that B.C. Assessment is satisfied that it's getting the maximum dollar out of these complexes. If there's any concern, does the authority, I assume, have the right to do audits and go into assessments and look at books? Do they have that kind of authority in order to ensure that the taxpayer is in fact getting the appropriate return?
Hon. I. Chong: The answer to that would be yes, the assessment authority would be able to ask for more information to verify that.
Just on the last point, the member is wondering whether B.C. Assessment is getting the actual…. As I say, without the split classification, the question that could have been raised is that B.C. Assessment was allowing…. The amounts for the commercial part of it, being the business use, were in fact not being fairly applied because many of these units may have been classified, at class 1, as residential, when in fact they were being used primarily for the business side.
Again, the opportunity and the discussion that took place four years ago dealt with this situation, especially with so many units, especially in resort areas, being used for class 6 as opposed to class 1. But the default would have been class 1 as residential.
Again, B.C. Assessment is satisfied with this arrangement. They did want us to codify in legislation this practice that they have been using for the past four years since split classification was introduced.
L. Krog: I think this will be the concluding question to this. This has been the practice for four years, is my understanding from the minister's remarks earlier, so now what we are doing with this legislation is ensuring that there could be no challenge to that practice henceforth.
I'm wondering. Have there been any legal questions or challenges raised in any court or any proceeding with respect to the practice over the last four years that has, in fact, after four years of B.C. Assessment practising this way, spurred the government to bring in this section?
Hon. I. Chong: To the member's question of was there anything that spurred this, I would say no. As I've indicated, there have been no complaints with respect to this. But B.C. Assessment wanted to ensure, as I say, that this was codified in the legislation.
Section 7 approved.
On section 8.
L. Krog: I'm wondering about this section, the reason for it.
Hon. I. Chong: This doesn't significantly change anything in respect of the obligations. What it is, is clarifying how regional districts must meet their statutory obligations to notify individuals. Currently municipalities have their obligations clear, but regional districts did not. We are making sure that how municipalities notify individuals is the same in the regional districts.
L. Krog: I take it, and not being any expert, that presently if a municipality sends a notice, it's deemed to be received legally, whereas there is not anything specific — other than, I presume, saying that you send a notice — if it's a regional district.
Perhaps the minister could just explain what the practice is now in terms of giving notice that the regional districts have in fact been using.
Hon. I. Chong: Currently in the Community Charter under section 248 it does provide that municipalities have satisfied their obligation to notify a person when they make a reasonable effort to do so. That is in section 248 of the Community Charter. There is no similar provision that specifies how regional districts can satisfy their obligations to provide notice. So what we're doing is providing that same obligation for regional districts as is already present in municipalities.
L. Krog: The proposed section 6.51 says: "If this or another Act requires a regional district, a board or a regional district officer or employee to give notice or to mail, send or deliver a notice, the obligation is satisfied if a reasonable effort was made to mail or otherwise deliver the notice."
I guess the obvious question is…. You know, if I put a stamp on it and I put it in the postbox…. That's the way I mail a letter. I'm trying to understand what, literally, the meaning of this section is when it says: "…is satisfied if a reasonable effort was made to mail…." If you mail it during a postal strike, is that a reasonable effort? Or if you give it to — no offence — some minion to take it to the post office box for you or you give it to a contracted mail service?
I guess I'm asking this. What's the point of having the words that say: "…satisfied if a reasonable effort was made…."? And what's the test for a reasonable effort to mail something?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I want to assure the member that this is the same wording that is provided for in section 248 of the Community Charter, so we're not providing anything new, other than requiring that regional districts have the same obligation as the municipalities.
However, I am advised that "reasonable effort" is a legal term. The member, as a lawyer, would then know what that legal term means as well. "Reasonable effort" is a legal term, and the courts would ultimately determine when a reasonable effort has been made. The amendment will provide clarity for regional districts because they will not be subject to an ongoing obligation to contact citizens once they have made some efforts to do so.
My understanding is when municipalities make some efforts to do so, that would be considered reasonable. By being silent, for regional districts it would mean that they have to continue and have an ongoing obligation to attempt to contact citizens, whereas municipalities don't have to do that. So we are making the change here to give regional districts the same obligations as, currently, what municipalities have.
L. Krog: I appreciate that the minister says this is simply bringing it into compliance with respect to the practice for municipalities, and she has indicated that I will understand what a "reasonable effort" was to mail. And that's my question.
It's rather curious language, frankly, from my perspective, and I want to know if there have been any court decisions that have guided the legislative drafters in determining what constitutes a reasonable effort. I mean, it's very curious language. Why doesn't it just say: "mailed"? I think common sense dictates…. We understand what mailing something is. You put a stamp on it, and you put it in the postbox.
Or is this to cover off situations where the individual who's the signatory to the letter, for instance, isn't actually depositing it in a postbox themselves? Is the concept to cover all the myriad ways between signing the darned thing and getting it to the individual at the other end? I mean, what's the point of this "reasonable effort was made"?
I'm just having some difficulty with this concept in terms of "reasonable effort" and why the language is necessary. Is there not, perhaps, language that simply somewhat makes more sense, as opposed to having a provision that says, you know, "This obligation is satisfied if (a) the letter is provided to a courier company or (b) it's provided to a contractor who is required to deliver government mail or is placed in the outbox in the reception area," or whatever.
I mean, using the language "the obligation is satisfied if a reasonable effort was made…." Where does the language "reasonable effort" come from?
Is this something from other statutes in Canada? Is it just that we've pulled it out of the existing practice for municipalities? I mean, where does it come from, and has it been tested?
Hon. I. Chong: Again, the member is correct. It is already terminology used in the Community Charter. We're not challenging the Community Charter. What we're doing here is saying that regional districts are to be given the same ability as what is provided for in the Community Charter.
Again, I'm advised that "reasonable effort" is a legal term. It would be up to the courts, then, to decide — as they often do. Even when you try to put things in legislation, the courts will, again, make a determination if they feel otherwise.
I am also advised that notice obligations usually specify what the local government must do to provide notice to citizens but don't specify what effort the local government must make to ensure that the citizen receives the notification. For example, some notice obligations require local governments to notify citizens by mail but do not say what the local government should do if it has an incorrect address for the citizen.
So again, Section 248 of the Community Charter, I believe, was agreed to, when the Community Charter was drafted, as to what municipalities believe, had a comfort level with, understanding that "reasonable effort" is a legal term. What has come into existence, though, is that regional districts — not having that same clarity — have requested that this be provided to the Local Government Act, which is their legislation that is parallel to the Community Charter. So that is what we're attempting to do in making this change here.
L. Krog: I appreciate what the minister has had to say, but we're talking about "satisfied if a reasonable effort was made to mail or otherwise deliver the notice."
If you deliver the notice by courier and you get the slip signed and George Smith says he received the nasty letter from the regional district official telling him he's not in compliance with the zoning bylaws, there's not much question that that notice has been delivered. But if you mail the letter to George and it's marked "return," you know, "addressee unknown" or "moved" or something like that, then is the practice now, with municipal government, to comply with the section, which is exactly the same, the minister tells me?
I mean, what is the practice? What does it mean? And/or is it covered, in fact, by regulation under the charter with respect to municipalities? Is there any direction? Is there any policy from government that says what constitutes a "reasonable effort" to mail?
Hon. I. Chong: This is not covered off by regulation. That was one of the questions that the member asked. His example he provides is, in fact, if a local government or a municipality…. Let's stay with a municipality, because right now local governments, being regional districts, don't have this.
If municipalities mailed a notice but it went to the wrong address or to a different person, then that could be what the municipality says satisfies their efforts as being reasonable. It would then be the individual who felt otherwise who would then have to take that up with the court and decide whether there was a reasonable effort. But it is the standard that all local governments can adopt.
Now if a local government wanted to say that they will send out more than one notice, send out three or four notices to ensure or to have some other confirmation, that would be up to the local government.
Right now what we have are regional districts who want to send out notice as well, who want to abide by the same, I guess, statutory obligation that municipalities have, who do not have any ability to have that determination. So what they've requested is that they at least be able to have the same standard as what is being provided by municipalities.
Again, "a reasonable effort," I've been told, is a legal term. Courts would ultimately determine whether a reasonable effort has been made. But it appears that…. I'm advised by staff that there have not been any questions with respect to that, so it's probably a practice that municipalities have had for a number of years and that has been accepted by taxpayers.
Again, if there was some problem, then they would likely go to the courts, and the courts would have to sort that out and determine whether a local government did, in fact, apply sufficient reasonable efforts.
K. Corrigan: I was interested in asking a couple questions about the change represented in section 797.3. It provides that in addition to what is currently available, which is binding referendums, now under this new section regional districts will be able to seek the opinion of electors in their regional district "on a question that the board believes affects the regional district, by voting or another process the board considers appropriate," and then in a few more subsections: "The results of a process under this section are not binding on the board."
I'm wondering if the minister can explain why this addition was made to the act.
Hon. I. Chong: Currently what regional districts have the ability to do is to hold a referendum to determine the opinion of their electors regarding a regional district service. That is it. The amendment here will allow the regional district to actually ask for broader opinions of their electorate — not just about service.
For example, if the regional district board would like to ask their electorate what they thought about the regional growth strategy, or they wanted to ask them questions about what they thought the term of office should be, those are currently prohibited. The only thing that the regional district is able to do is ask about the service.
This will now allow for broader consultation and broader input from the electorate, which we have if we live in a municipality, not in a regional district.
K. Corrigan: Conceivably then, could the regional district decide that they want to seek regional district opinion under this new section 797.31 and do that for the same types of questions that were formerly ones which would be binding under the referendum?
Hon. I. Chong: There is a distinction. As I say, currently the only ability for the regional district to seek opinion about a service question…. It can be done, and they hold a referendum to do so. But if the regional districts just even want to send out information to the electorate or request their opinions, for example, on a regional growth strategy, they are not able to do that — not able to send out a notice, not allowed to incur an expenditure to do so. Yet, they may want to seek opinions on that.
This allows them to, as I say, incur the expense. It could be the cost of a mailout or whatever other — a meeting, a town hall meeting of some sort — to have the electorate involved or engaged in to seek their opinion. Currently all they're able to do is hold and pay for costs associated with questions to do with service that is being provided by the regional district.
In today's world I think that people are looking more and more for voter input and electorate input, so I think this is a good move, especially on the part of the regional districts.
K. Corrigan: No, I certainly don't dispute that this is a useful tool. What I was trying to find out, specifically, though…. It seems clear that the answer would be yes, but just to be sure: the regional district could ask the same question that it formerly could in a binding referendum, go through that same process with this "seeking the opinion" section?
So whatever that question was in the referendum — "Do you want to privatize your water?" or whatever those kinds of questions that you could do in a referendum — you could also ask that same question under this section?
Hon. I. Chong: There is a difference in that currently if the regional district is seeking the opinion in respect of a service, that service would or could be for a specific region in a regional district, a particular electoral area, to provide service in that area. However, for this new ability or these new powers, it does require that it is a community opinion that must be sought for the entire regional district and not just a portion.
So in the one case, for a service it can be a region. When this is done it has to be for the entire region, so they may not be the same question.
K. Corrigan: Well, I don't want to prolong this. The reason I'm asking these questions is that there is, to me, a possibility that what could happen is…. For example, the board might make a commitment that they are going to seek the opinion of the voters on a particular question which is of a great deal of importance to the voters, make that commitment and it not be clear to the voters whether or not this is, in fact, something that is going to be a binding vote or whether or not this is something where they're simply seeking the opinion of the voters.
I'm concerned that not knowing that ahead of time or that not being clear might create problems, depending on what the result is. Is that possible?
Hon. I. Chong: Right under section 797.31(3) it says: "The results of a process under this section are not binding on the board."
K. Corrigan: Exactly. What I'm trying to establish and make clear is that there is no…. I want to make sure there's no possibility that this new process could in any way be mistaken for a binding process. That's why I was asking if there could be a circumstance where you would have the same question under both of the different sections — one being the referendum; one being the non-binding, opinion-seeking section — where in one case the result would be binding, and in one it wouldn't, and whether or not there could be a lack of clarity with the voters when they are providing their opinion.
Hon. I. Chong: Again, I don't think that it's as complicated as it is. I think what's clear is that because it's non-binding, it would be up to the regional district board. When they seek that opinion, they make it clear that it's not binding. There is an obligation on the board not to mislead its voters as to why they're seeking their opinions.
K. Corrigan: Well, I wonder why there is nothing that requires that to be clear in the advertising or in publishing that you're doing this. I don't think it'll be a problem, but I just worry about it — whether the information gets out. People think that they are making a decision, when in fact they're providing opinion.
Hon. I. Chong: The member will know — or if not, she probably will be informed — that currently on councils, councils are allowed to seek the opinion of their electorate. This provides that same opportunity. When they seek the opinion of the electorate, the electorate generally knows it's non-binding, or they need to make it clear that it's not. So it does provide that parallel opportunity.
K. Corrigan: Also to seek clarity, there's nothing about this new section that in any way removes a requirement of a situation where there would be a binding referendum. I assume that there are questions that regional districts have to send to binding referendum. Just to be clear, there's nothing about this section that would in any way change that requirement.
Hon. I. Chong: No.
Section 8 approved.
On section 9.
L. Krog: I wonder if the minister can explain the necessity of section 9?
Hon. I. Chong: I wanted to make it very clear why we needed to bring this section in.
Currently an electoral area director representing an unincorporated area is the representative for the area. If he or she fails to appoint an alternate, there is no ability for representation should that electoral area director not be able to serve. If he or she becomes ill, that position just becomes vacant and can leave an electoral area without representation.
What we are doing here is giving an opportunity to provide for the electoral area director to appoint an alternate and, if he or she does not do so within 60 days, to allow the regional district to do so.
There have been some situations, my understanding is, that have occurred where an area director was unable to serve for personal health reasons but could not appoint an alternate or did not have an alternate. His area went unrepresented for a number of months. This just allows for that.
Members or those who have served in office will know that if you are a municipal representative at the regional district, you actually have an alternate. Electoral area directors do not currently have that.
L. Krog: Just to confirm, right now if a regional district director appoints an alternate, can that alternate not sit in their absence because of illness? For instance, the regional director's away and out of town for a week and can't be at the meeting. Doesn't the alternate have the authority to sit, and are they, in fact, not paid for that position as well?
Hon. I. Chong: Currently, as I was saying, if there is not an alternate…. Again, these are generally the electoral area directors. If there is not an alternate and the electoral area director is not able to serve, there is no body, there is no person who can appoint an alternate. This will allow the regional districts to ensure that they can appoint an alternate for that area director, especially in cases of illness, so that the area does not go unrepresented at the regional district board.
This will allow for representation to occur. My understanding is that it has in fact happened, which is why we were asked to bring in the legislation — to prevent future situations like that.
L. Krog: I think the minister's thinking that I'm thinking this is more complex than it is.
Presently the practice is that a regional director can appoint an alternate and does indeed, in practice, appoint an alternate. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Chong: The member is correct that regional district directors can appoint an alternate, but that does not mean there are alternates appointed.
A regional district director who represents an electoral area is newly elected and doesn't realize he should have appointed an alternate. Something happens, and there is no alternate that he or she designated. The regional district board has no ability to appoint somebody in his or her place while they're going through that particular illness or family situation. This will now allow that to take place.
However, if the area director has served for a number of terms and is aware and makes sure there is an alternate in place, that's great. But that doesn't always happen, which is what we're trying to fix in terms of the remedy.
L. Krog: Just so I'm clear, and I think this is fairly obvious, right now under the act the regional director for, say, area F of the regional district of Nanaimo, once selected, has the authority under the act to appoint an alternate, and that alternate in fact gets paid if they have to attend a meeting because of the absence of the elected regional director.
Hon. I. Chong: That's correct.
L. Krog: This is, in fact, and I say it somewhat teasingly, one of the few truly patronage positions left in the province, where the elected regional director gets to pick out whoever they wish to be the alternate to gain that munificent sum they're all paid for attending meetings. I say that with a smirk on my face, and I hope every regional director in the province of British Columbia takes it in the vein in which I am saying it. In fact presently that is the practice, and that is a power given specifically to the elected regional director.
My question is: assuming this request came up through the UBCM — and the minister can confirm that, please, for me — did they suggest a process other than simply having the board appoint a person? Or was that their only recommendation as to how this problem, small as it may be, would in fact be solved?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised that it goes back as far as January 2010 at a Regional District Task Force — so through UBCM, where there is the Regional District Task Force. They did discuss this and made a determination that in making this change, the regional district should then in fact have the ability to appoint an alternate, should the electoral area director not do so. It is in fact a request through UBCM by way of the Regional District Task Force work.
L. Krog: I know that it's not uncommon in practice where a regional district includes, obviously, a major centre, a city with a council elected — for instance, the regional district of Nanaimo. The mayor — for instance, of Nanaimo — who appoints the representatives to the regional district, often goes in terms of the voting pattern. In other words, you get on the regional board if you were the leading vote-getter, and if you're No. 2 or 3 or 4 and you've got four positions, you all get to go on, which strikes me as a somewhat more democratic process than what is suggested here.
I appreciate that this came up through the UBCM, but was this the only solution proffered by the UBCM, or were there other suggestions made as to how in fact you would fill that position?
Hon. I. Chong: I'm advised by staff that as a result of the Regional District Task Force, their discussions, they did feel that in general, the electoral area director system is working, and working fine.
To his point, if you are a representative from a local council, a municipality — and I can say I have been one in the past, and I know I had an alternate — that's all determined within your local council. It's not always the highest vote-getter, to go back to the old days. It used to be you had to vote amongst yourselves who would go, and there have been cases where mayors were not sent to the regional district, strangely enough. But there is always an alternate situation.
When you're in an electoral area, as the member will know, representing area A, area F or whatever the area is, you are that only person. In the absence of this amendment, the electoral area director already has — I won't say that much power — in essence, that much authority to be the representative. If he or she chose not to have an alternate, then it does leave the citizens of that area without representation.
So the discussion was that generally, the electoral area director system did work well, and should a circumstance arise where the EAD decided to not appoint someone and then something did happen, the regional district could step in and appoint someone from that area, I would imagine, to be a representative until such time as the EAD would return to that position.
L. Krog: The constitution provises only two levels of government, federal and provincial, in this country, and municipal government and regional districts all exist as a creation of statute only. They have no inherent authority to do anything. They exist only at the will of the Crown, essentially.
I presume, without having the time to run to the statute, that if there is a death, resignation, disqualification or whatever, there is provision for what I will call a by-election now, which, of course, is costly. I see the minister nodding, so I'm going to assume that's affirmative — that there is a provision now to fill a vacancy in a regional district but that it's only by virtue of a by-election, or what I would call a by-election. Is that correct?
Hon. I. Chong: The member is correct. As with all local government representation, if the position that you are elected to was not fulfilled as a result of death or resignation and caused the position to be vacant, I believe, within a year of when the next election date was, you don't have to call a by-election. But if it's longer than a year, you do have to call a by-election. So he's correct in that regard.
If there is, in fact, an electoral area director who has not vacated his seat, who has not resigned but has, as I say, fallen ill and has not vacated their seat, they could still, in fact, hold the position and not have representation for the area.
Again, this is to deal with that. It is not a common occurrence, I have to say, but there have been some rare situations where this did this occur. I can say that I've also been approached by an electoral area director who indicated that sometimes these things happen, and without the electoral area director having the opportunity to appoint someone as an alternate, they need to request the regional district to step in and assist to do so.
I believe that this has a fair bit of discussion with electoral area directors, those representing unincorporated areas, when they have their workshops at UBCM and when they have them throughout the year, as I was advised, back in January 2010, when they discussed it at a Regional District Task Force meeting. That is one of the reasons why we have been asked to bring this forward.
L. Krog: The election of a director is part of our democratic process. They are elected. The person with the highest number of votes gets the position, and it seems to me that this, arguably, on the face of it, is a fairly straightforward section to ensure that in fact voters in a given area of a regional district have their voice heard at the regional district table.
Given that it is a democratic election, did the minister or the government consider perhaps a process that says that assuming there was an election…. That's not always the case, you know, in some rural areas. For instance, I think Maureen Young, a very capable representative in the member from North Cowichan's riding, who sits on the regional district, was unopposed.
There are elections of that nature, but assuming that there was, in fact, a contested election, did the minister consider that as an alternative to having the board make the choice? In other words, the limited number of regional directors make the choice, and presumably most of whom, indeed probably all of whom do not in fact live within the confines of the electoral area.
Did the minister not consider a process that says this is how it works? If George, who got elected to the position, has died and hasn't appointed an alternate, then we go to Sally, who is second to George in terms of votes. Did the minister consider that as a possibility as opposed to leaving it to, well, the rather small number of regional directors, many of whom may have no interest whatsoever in the interests of the region?
The reason I raise it is — and the minister is well aware of this — where I was raised, area F, was notorious within the regional district of Nanaimo, or famous, depending on your point of view, for electing people who were opposed to zoning, who were opposed to any kind of regulation, and that was the will of the people.
As you can imagine, any regional district found — and I think in fairness they often did find — the representative from area F to be a thorn in their political sides. And they would have been quite happy if the opportunity had arisen under the terms of this provision to appoint someone who was — how shall I say? — more agreeable when it came to political decision-making.
So that's my question to the minister. Did the minister consider that in order to reflect more appropriately the democratic interests of the constituents in an area that, in fact, you would go to that second-place finisher as an automatic presumption of the person to be appointed by the board, for instance?
I mean, you could still vest the authority in the regional district, but they would by statute be required to go to the No. 2 finisher — or if that person were unavailable or unwilling to serve, that you went to the No. 3. But at least the person being appointed would be from the regional district, that area, and in fact would have at least presumably received some vote and support from the electors in that area.
Hon. I. Chong: I want to make it clear that currently an electoral area director can appoint an alternate who is not someone who even ran for office. When I indicated that at the discussion at the Regional District Task Force, the directors having the discussion felt that generally the electoral area system was working well, that they had the ability to make the determination who the alternate would be. It was for that reason that we did not interfere further in suggesting that it should be, other than the fact that if they don't appoint someone, we would allow for the regional district to do so.
As I say, the member raises what I think some would say is a valid point. But currently, even when you have a position that becomes vacant on a municipal council and there are eight councillors and somebody moves away, it's not the ninth person that gets a seat. They hold a by-election anyway. So it's not as simple, unfortunately, as we would like to make it.
So respecting what the electoral area directors have said, that they have the ability, if they chose, to appoint someone who they felt they would work closely with who would represent them while they were absent…. We wanted to further ensure that we respect the ability of the regional district to find someone to fill that alternate position, should in fact the electoral area director fail to appoint someone. We're just trying to ensure that there is someone in place.
This provision does require that they do appoint an alternate, but there was never a time frame. So it does move that further along and, therefore, allows after each election all of us to know much sooner who that alternate is. I think that would bode well for the board, knowing that individual going forward.
L. Krog: The minister's comments obviously beg the next question. She herself has acknowledged that right now you have this situation — I did refer to it as a bit of patronage — where the elected director gets to pick their alternate.
Admittedly, it may not be seen as a particularly remunerative position, and it may not be seen by many as a particularly important or powerful position. Nevertheless, the ability and the authority to appoint the alternate director lie solely with one person.
Now, I don't think I have to tell the members of this chamber that there was a period in English history where we had something we used to refer to as rotten boroughs, where you might have a very limited number of electors who would do the right thing and appoint the right person, so to speak.
And you know, parliament moved wisely to abolish that system, and I'm sure some of the more erudite members of the chamber will point out the various bills that led to the essential abolition of that system, but I think we're talking in the range of — I don't know — 180, 200 years ago, roughly, of the Reform Act. Whatever. It doesn't matter.
I guess my point is: if the government has gone to the trouble to prepare these provisions which enable the regional board to appoint whomever they wish, how is this an improvement over the present system, which the government apparently has no interest in correcting, whereby one elected person gets to appoint — directly, or indirectly if you come to this through a municipal council; I understand how that works — and has the authority to appoint one person, their choice, to an otherwise democratically created and elected body?
Did the minister not consider that perhaps it was time to deal with the issue of how an alternate was in fact selected? I appreciate…. Obviously, the regional directors probably love the system — no offence to them. I mean, if I had the authority to appoint someone to a position, I think I'd probably rather enjoy that.
You know, power does go to one's head over a period of time. I'm sure regional directors enjoy that authority, and I'm sure that the vast majority of them appoint competent, able, thoughtful, caring individuals — who just might happen to be of the same political stripe as them. Nevertheless, that authority is given to them.
It just strikes me that if we're looking at remedying what the minister tells me is a very small problem…. My indication from the minister today, through her remarks in this chamber, is that it's a very small problem that doesn't happen very often but that it is an issue. Sometimes elected directors don't appoint an alternate. Therefore, the regional district is forced into a situation where they have to hold a by-election. It's an expense to the taxpayers. I understand all that. We want to avoid that.
Nevertheless, if we're remedying that problem, is there not, perhaps, some way of also remedying what some may see as a problem, which is this continuing authority in a regional director to appoint their alternate? In other words — and I don't mean it in an unkind way — you could arguably say it circumvents the democratic process. Certainly — and I touch wood as I say it — if I dropped dead in this chamber, no one gets to appoint someone to fill my position.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Nobody could replace you.
L. Krog: I am so touched. I am so touched that the Minister of Transportation has chosen to honour me with those remarks, with a heckle of that quality. The minister is absolutely right. We are all irreplaceable, Minister — all irreplaceable.
Having said that, it just strikes me that if we're remedying this very small problem, what does the minister have to say about the possibility of an alternative system for the appointment of the alternates to the regional district? We all want our voices to be heard, but why should we legislatively give that authority to one elected official only?
Now you could argue it's an improvement, in a sense. By allowing the board, at least you've got a few people to make the appointment now, but they are not the electors of that area. I mean, the whole point of having electoral areas is that there is a voice from those people….
L. Krog: Oh, the minister is getting impatient. He's not even up on the firing line today. In any event, the electors now are the only people who have the ability to pick the regional director. It is the electors of that area, their democratic right, given to them by statute.
So why is the minister not proposing a system that enables them at least to have some say in that process?
The suggestion I've made is that where you have an election — and it won't apply always — that at least it go to the second person on the ballot, or something of that nature, as opposed to simply confining the appointment to what is an otherwise elected position to a board of people, probably none of whom, in practice — certainly if they represent an area — are going to live inside that electoral area?
Hon. I. Chong: As I indicated in my comments earlier, the Regional District Task Force had discussions with respect to this. They felt that the electoral area system generally worked well.
As I've indicated, currently the authority does rest with the electoral area director to appoint an alternate. This was not about removing that authority that he or she has. What the member suggests, in fact, does change their authority. This was not what they wanted. Maybe the member wants that, but I can tell you that that's not what staff heard they wanted.
What we are doing here is ensuring that the electoral area directors need to appoint an alternate within a specified time period, being 60 days, so that we know who that is. If they don't appoint an alternate, it does require the regional district board to appoint the alternate. What this amendment will do, it will make it very clear to all of the electoral area directors out there that they don't get to have a pass right now on not appointing someone.
For the majority of those who do appoint someone as their alternate, that will continue. But for the very few that don't, if they don't choose to appoint someone — which they get this authority already and have had for a number of years to do — then the regional district would do so.
So I would imagine that everyone who is currently an EA, who in the past has not specified who their alternate is, will do so. Otherwise, they know that that authority…. It may be considered as their one bit of power that they have — that they not feel it be stripped away from them.
The member suggests: "Why did we not consider a change?" It was not a change that was requested from us. We just wanted to ensure that, in fact, an electoral area would be represented by a director in the unlikely situation where that director is not able to serve or represent his or her area.
Again, we're not trying to add more to their authority. We are simply trying to fulfil the purpose of representation for the area.
K. Corrigan: Is somebody who represents an elected area, an elected area director…. Are they required to live within that area?
Hon. I. Chong: Like municipal councillors and mayors, the answer is no.
K. Corrigan: I actually think it would be a good idea to require people to live within their boundaries, but that's another whole issue.
K. Corrigan: I'm talking about local politicians — absolutely. I'll give you an example. We had a school trustee, the last time I was on the school board, who lived in Richmond and had no connection with the municipality at all. But anyway, that's a separate thing.
Did the minister consider having in this very specific case, in this unusual case, somebody that is appointed…? In order to make sure that they are representative of the area, did the minister consider requiring that the person who is selected — if this process is going to happen — by the board selecting somebody actually live within the boundaries of the electoral area?
Hon. I. Chong: We are not trying to interfere with who or how someone should be appointed as an alternate. We are simply ensuring that an electoral area director does appoint an alternate to ensure that the area does not become unrepresented in the event that they are not able to fulfil their obligations. That's what we're just trying to do here.
Section 9 approved.
On section 10.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
M. Sather: So now we start part 4 on environmental amendments, and I believe that runs right through to the end of the bill.
Section 10 is regarding the Environmental Management Act, and it's talking about section 22(2) of the Environmental Management Act.
Just so folks have some idea, that's a section that has subsections that use just about every letter in the alphabet. It goes up to y. It covers a lot of subjects, but they're primarily things like biomedical wastes; recyclable materials; waste management facilities; regulating and imposing requirements and restrictions regarding use, supply, storage, transportation; burning of materials derived from land clearing, land grading and tilling; tanks used to store petroleum products; waste reduction and prevention.
It's quite a wide range of important factors, I would think, that are being regulated. In addition to all of those — as I say, it goes up to "y" — the bill adds, under section 10, that section 22(2) is amended by adding z(i) to the lot, which says: "that permits or approvals issued to persons conducting the industry, trade or business or carrying on the activity or operation to which the regulation relates are cancelled."
This is some capacity, then, to make these cancellations of permits that wasn't there before. Is that correct?
Hon. T. Lake: The minister has the ability to cancel permits individually. This gives the minister the ability to cancel groups of permits, as we move sector by sector, substituting codes of practice for permits. It allows for a group of industries to be regulated in a manner that is consistent around the province in terms of a code of practice rather than individual permits.
Although the authority…. There are some industries that still will be regulated by individual permits. But this provides more flexibility to have a code of practice for a certain sector of those industries that are regulated under the act.
M. Sather: If I understood the minister right, then this legislation provides power to cancel a whole lot of permits all at once.
As I understood him, the purpose of that was to replace that lot of permits with codes of practice. Have I got that right?
Hon. T. Lake: That is correct.
M. Sather: Can the minister explain then: how is a code of practice different than a permit?
Hon. T. Lake: Permits are individual for a certain operator, whereas a code of practice provides a consistent set of regulations for the entire sector around the province.
M. Sather: A consistent set under the codes of practice. Is that more like where the ministry sets the bar, if you will, sets the parameters, and then the industry has to meet those standards and report their progress on doing so, or lack thereof?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, the code of practice can contain any number of different standards, depending on the industry that you're regulating.
What we're trying to do is have a consistent set of regulations across the sector. Some of the permits that have been issued in the past reflect outdated practices. Yet the permittee has the ability to hold on to that permit, even though we're trying to move that sector to a greater level of environmental protection.
This gives us the ability to raise the bar, if you like, and have a consistent set of regulations across the province. So the old permit that was given out in a different time — when environmental protection, perhaps, didn't have the same standard — can now be taken back, and the new code of practice will be substituted in its place.
M. Sather: Can the minister, then, give a kind of on-the-ground example so that we, the House, can understand better what would be achieved?
Hon. T. Lake: An example is the concrete industry. This regulation was enacted in 2007. About 130 permits are still active, and only 70 plants are authorized by the regulation, so ideally, we would like to have all of those plants under this code of practice.
Right now we've got this dual system of regulation. Some are holding on to their permits; others are coming under the code of practice. We would rather move everyone over to the code of practice to provide consistency and to better reflect the higher standards of environmental protection in 2012 than may have existed at the time of their permit receipt.
M. Sather: Does this, then, make it more manageable for industry — you mentioned the concrete industry, for example — to conduct their business? It's a standardized code of practice, and the minister had mentioned that there are some outdated regulations. In what way does…? I guess everybody, then, is more or less using the same methodology, if I'm understanding it right, rather than…. In the past was it that business A might have a different regulation to do the same thing than business B?
Hon. T. Lake: Yes. Essentially, the member is correct. Permits were issued on a one-off basis.
As I said, today we are trying to reflect a higher code of environmental protection. When we changed to regulations for concrete plants, for instance, in 2007, we hoped that all of the concrete plants would give up their permits and go to the new code of practice.
Some have been hesitant to do that. They want to hang on to what they know, which is that permit they've always operated under. What we would want to do in this example is move them all over to the code of practice. But before doing that — I mean, we don't want to surprise anybody — we would do extensive consultation with the sector involved and give them fair and adequate warning that we are moving over to that new regulation for everybody before we were cancelling any permits.
Each sector will be different, because it's a risk-based approach. Some sectors, in fact, will continue to have permits. We will be consulting very extensively with those sectors that we want to move away from permits onto the code of practice and give them adequate time for input back in to us and for their changeover and their submission — or their surrender, if you like — of their permits.
M. Sather: One of the things that has come up in my community — and perhaps, I'm sure, in others — is with regard to cement. I'm glad the minister brought that up, because I kind of wondered how this worked. There's a problem — it appears to be a problem, anyway — with some of the fill that's being placed, in one case in my constituency, on agricultural land. It has a lot of large chunks of cement in it.
In that case — where a site is being demolished and prepared for some new use and the fill is transferred, say, to an agricultural field, or it could be elsewhere — would there then likely be…?
First of all, maybe I should ask the minister: would someone now…? A trucking company that's hauling that fill, which sometimes includes large amounts of cement — do they have to now have a permit to do that?
Hon. T. Lake: We do have a soil amendment code of practice. If you were doing something in terms of amending the soil, then you would have to adhere to that code of practice. If you were depositing hazardous waste, for instance, then you would currently need a permit to do that.
M. Sather: Would cement be considered a hazardous product?
Hon. T. Lake: In almost all circumstances, no. But there could be circumstances…. If there's anything added to the cement, then obviously, that would change the character of the cement, and it could be considered hazardous. But in most cases, normal cement would not be considered hazardous.
M. Sather: I think I'm getting a better understanding of how it works, hopefully. In this case, then, the trucking companies are operating — or will be operating, I guess, after this legislation passes — on a code of practice. Would that be right?
Hon. T. Lake: The production of the concrete is under a code of practice. What the member is describing is removing concrete from one area and placing it in another area. That is currently not under a code of practice. If the material is considered hazardous in any way, then a permit would be required. If the material is being used to amend the soil of a certain area, then it would fall under a code of practice.
In terms of just depositing concrete from one place to another for storage or just in terms of getting rid of it, currently that is not covered under a code of practice. But it could be something that could come under a code of practice in the future, if the ministry or industry felt that was something that needed to be addressed.
M. Sather: Replacing the permits with codes of practice — is that part of the government's mandate, I guess you'd say, to cut red tape?
Hon. T. Lake: It's part of the government's mandate to increase environmental protection. Does it make it more easily administered? I would say that the answer to that is yes.
Administering individual permits. If you can imagine having hundreds and hundreds of permits to manage versus a set of regulations, a code of practice…. It's much, I think, easier to administer the code of practice than individual permits. But in almost all cases these codes of practice are at an elevated level of environmental protection, versus permits that were issued in kind of a different realm historically.
M. Sather: Under (z)(iii), again…. It says all those things the minister can do. The above we've already discussed, and then: "providing…(iii) for a prorated refund of, or credit for, fees paid in respect of those permits or approvals." I'm not quite sure what that means. Could the minister just clarify that for me?
Hon. T. Lake: Permittees pay for their permit on an annual basis, so if the permit were to be cancelled and replaced with the code of practice and there were six months left on the permit, they would be refunded half a year or half the value of the permit.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
M. Sather: This is also regarding the Environmental Management Act. Section 11. The note says: "protects the government and the minister from actions for compensation for damages resulting from the cancellation of a permit or approval by regulation."
I'm wondering: as it stands, before this legislation, can there be now, then, legal proceedings for damages resulting from cancellation of a permit or approval by regulation?
Hon. T. Lake: The minister has the ability to cancel a permit currently and implicitly is protected from legal action in that regard. When we were contemplating this legislation, the advice was just to make that explicit in the legislation — to say that the minister is not liable for damages and compensation when permits are cancelled.
Our understanding, and the way that it has worked previously, is that there is no legal ability to challenge the cancellation of a permit, but because we are doing this sort of en bloc and moving to codes of practice, we wanted to make sure that was explicit in the legislation.
M. Sather: Then, can I conclude from that that there haven't been any successful legal proceedings against a minister for cancellation of a permit?
Hon. T. Lake: The officials that I have helping me here today report that they do not know of any circumstance in which compensation was awarded for cancellation of a permit. I presume, though, that people would have the ability to try to challenge that, but our understanding is that it is not payable. Again, we're just making it explicit with this addition.
M. Sather: So the kinds of permits, what they're for, we talked…. For example, the minister brought up the example of cement. Are these permits also for resource extraction?
Hon. T. Lake: No, the Environmental Management Act is about discharge, essentially, not extraction of resources.
L. Krog: Just a few questions for the minister. This section provides that: "No compensation is payable and no legal proceedings for damages lies or may be commenced or maintained against the government or the minister in respect of the cancellation of a permit or approval by regulation."
I read that to be an absolutely prohibitive clause that says: "Look, if the minister goes ahead and chooses to cancel a permit, you cannot sue the government for any compensation."
What permits does this apply to? Can the minister give me…? I'm sure there's more than one. What kind of permits does it apply to?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, there's a number of…. Again, this is about discharge, and it could be discharges into the air, discharges into water. You know, it could be sewage, or it could be industrial discharges — a whole host of components that are discharged into the environment that have to be approved by the ministry.
L. Krog: Just so I'm clear: this applies only to what most of us would think of as pollutants or discharge. It applies to no other kinds of permits that are granted by the Minister of the Environment.
Hon. T. Lake: Only permits issued under the Environmental Management Act, which is about pollutants and discharges, as the member indicated.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
M. Sather: Section 12 is also with regard to the Environmental Management Act. Section 138(2) of that act is amended by adding a paragraph. And 138(2) is somewhat similar — it's very lengthy also, just like the other section of the act, section 22, was — and it similarly provides the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, i.e., cabinet, with the authority to cancel permits and approvals by regulation.
So it sounds pretty similar to section 10, at least. Can the minister just tell me what the difference is between this section and the other?
Hon. T. Lake: Thank you, Member, for the question. The difference is that the minister has the power to enact codes of practice, whereas the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council has that same power with regulations. So this is giving the ability…. For those permits that were issued by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, it gives the LGIC the power to withdraw those permits as well. So it's just parallel power that the minister has, depending on the type of regulation or code of practice involved.
M. Sather: Okay, I think I've got that. But just to be sure: it's simply the same powers that were given to the minister that are now given to cabinet, and cabinet passes regulation. So that's simply all there is to that.
Hon. T. Lake: Yes, essentially, it just is, again, giving the parallel power to the LGIC. If the LGIC was the body responsible for the permit, it gives them, that body, the ability to withdraw those permits. If it was the minister, then the changes earlier give the minister that power. So it is, again, just the parallel power.
Section 12 approved.
On section 13.
M. Sather: Now we move from the Environmental Management Act to the Park Act. Section 13 says: "The definition of 'conservancy' in section 1 of the Park Act…is repealed and the following substituted: 'conservancy' means Crown land established or continued as a conservancy under this Act and…."
I believe that originally it didn't have the word "continued." Can the minister explain to me what it means that it's continued under the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act?
Hon. T. Lake: Thanks to the member for the question. A continuing conservancy refers to an already established conservancy that continues to be protected but is changed in some form. For example, a conservancy may be established by an order-in-council under the Park Act, and at a later date these conservancies may migrate to a schedule of the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act.
The conservancies have continued to be protected, but the legislation by which they have been established has changed. It is a little bit confusing the way we move these around. It's essentially continuing the protection over the conservancy, but it's now moving, perhaps to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, when it was enacted under the Park Act.
M. Sather: Then some conservancies have moved to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act. Is that correct?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, all conservancies fall under the Protected Areas of B.C. Act, but they can be added to. If we wanted to add an area to a conservancy, we could use the Park Act to do that. That's a continuation of the conservancy. What we're doing here is basically a housekeeping change to update the definition to parallel the same definition of park that occurs in the act.
M. Sather: The Protected Areas of British Columbia Act. Something I was curious about, when I was looking at it, under schedule D…. I think there is some reference to this later with regard to the schedules for conservancies, anyway.
I counted 148 parks under schedule D. Is that all of the parks in British Columbia? Are they all under schedule D of the Protected Areas of the British Columbia Act?
Hon. T. Lake: Most of the parks come under schedule C of the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act. There are a number, as the member mentioned, under schedule D, and there are a very small number that are listed under the Park Act. These are ones that were created through order-in-council.
M. Sather: Well, I'm always trying to figure this business out about the parks, whether they are D or C or B or A, or whatever. Why are some under schedule D? I know this is a bit of an aside, but if the minister can indulge me, why are some under D and the other ones under whatever other letter he used — was it C, or B?
Hon. T. Lake: The difference is that some parks were created and allowed existing uses. For instance, there may be grazing leases or something like that in a park. Schedule C and D pertain to the class A parks, the highest level of parks.
Schedule C comprises most of the older parks, those that were established before 1995, as well as some since 1995 which do not require the provisions of section 30 in the Park Act, which grandfathers those old uses.
Section 30 in the Park Act allows some of those pre-existing uses to continue in a park. There may be an area where you want to create a park, but as sort of a concession, I guess, you'd say, "Well, we're going to invoke section 30 of the Park Act, which allows you to keep your grazing lease," because we don't want that to be the spoiler, if you like, to creating this park.
M. Sather: I'll just leave it at that. I think that's a good section, though, to have, because I know that we do have those grazing leases in some of our parks. On the one hand, it's kind of like: "Oh, what are cattle doing in the park?" On the other hand, if you can't get the park other than by doing it that way, then it's worthwhile.
Hon. T. Lake: I agree.
Section 13 approved.
On section 14.
M. Sather: This is the Park Act again, and it authorizes the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council "to enlarge a conservancy or consolidate two or more conservancies established or continued under the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act."
Can the minister just explain why there is a need, for example, let's say, to consolidate two or more conservancies? Has that been done? Where has it been done and why?
Hon. T. Lake: Again, this is an attempt to try to parallel the language in the Park Act. In the Park Act there is an ability to extend the boundaries of any park or to consolidate two or more parks through the LGIC or through an act of the executive, through the OIC process. This is an attempt to parallel that same language.
To our knowledge, in past history we have not had to consolidate two or more of the conservancies. Again, it's trying to just parallel the same language so that we have consistencies.
M. Sather: The next bullet under the explanation says, "Restricts to enlarging or consolidating conservancies the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council's authority in respect of conservancies established," and so on.
I'm not clear. What is that saying that's different than the first bullet?
Hon. T. Lake: I just want to clarify if the member asking how 8 is different from 7. Is that the correct number?
M. Sather: No, it's just the explanatory….
Hon. T. Lake: It essentially says that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council can add to the area but not otherwise affect the area. It has to be done by an act of the Legislature. So whereas the LGIC can enlarge an area, to reduce an area would have to be done by an act of the Legislature.
Section 14 approved.
On section 15.
M. Sather: Another section dealing with the Park Act. This one is somewhat similar, I guess. It "clarifies that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council's authority under section 7 (1) of the Act applies only to parks, conservancies and recreation areas established under the Park Act."
Can the minister explain to me what that means?
Hon. T. Lake: This is a housekeeping amendment only, just to clarify that this provision of the Park Act only applies to parks, conservancies and recreation areas that were established under the Park Act. It does not apply to class A parks and conservancies established under the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act.
Again, it's just housekeeping. There are no policy changes reflected in the new wording.
Section 15 approved.
On section 16.
M. Sather: Section 16 also has to do with the Park Act. This one is perhaps a bit more interesting, if you will. According to the explanatory note, it "eliminates the requirements for advertising an intention to issue a park use permit…."
Why would the government want to do that — eliminate the requirement to advertise the intention to issue a park use permit?
Hon. T. Lake: Again, this is an attempt to sort of update the legislation to reflect current practice. Right now, a park use permit option or opportunity can only be advertised, or must be advertised, by newspaper. We found, obviously, today that that may not be the best way to reach the audience that you are trying to reach.
Allowing the ability to apply for a park use permit through web-based advertising, through social media provides us with much more flexibility and greater reach to ensure that those who would be interested in applying for a park use permit are notified.
M. Sather: It says: "Subject to this Act and only on receiving the prescribed application and administration fees, the minister may issue a permit, on the terms and conditions the minister may specify…." I may have missed some of the minister's comments there. This is discretionary, then, I am thinking.
I guess I should ask the minister: was it the case, then, previously or is it the case now that the discretion isn't there? He may issue a permit. Is it now that he or she must issue a permit?
Hon. T. Lake: No, nothing really changes in terms of what the minister is allowed to do. The minister may issue a permit today and may issue one under this change as well. It just really changes the way in which the permits are advertised and received by the minister.
M. Sather: I think that was the piece. I might have missed some of the comments from the minister previously about the advertising of the issuance. I recall from reading before, in second reading, that currently putting a notice in the newspaper is the way it's done, as I understand it. I know sometimes they are kind of buried in the back of the newspaper, and people don't necessarily see them.
I think the minister's intention now, the government's intention, is to use electronic means to make these notifications. I'll check if that's correct. If so, will there then also be notifications to newspapers, or will it just be strictly electronic?
Hon. T. Lake: Essentially, in the past, as I mentioned earlier, newspaper advertising for commercial recreation permits…. That was the only type of permit that had to be advertised, and it had to be newspapers. But there are other types of park use permits. This gives us the ability to include those. That said, we have to basically advertise all park use permits, and this gives us the ability to include those. That said, we have to basically advertise all park use permits, and it gives us the flexibility to choose the type of advertising by ministry policy.
That could be newspapers, if we feel that's the best way to get that information out. Today, obviously the ministry website would be a resource that most people interested in doing something in parks would be familiar with and would look to for notification of opportunities for park use permits. It may involve social media or any number of other types of advertising vehicles.
M. Sather: The minister mentioned recreation permits. I know a few years ago there was a bit of a furor, I suppose one could say, about lodges in parks and the creation of more lodges in parks. That would be a recreation permit, I'm assuming.
Is it the government's intention — I don't know if "ramp up the campaign" is the right phrase — to encourage more lodges in parks, such as seemed to be the condition? I think it might have been before the minister was the minister, but he will probably know what I'm referring to.
Hon. T. Lake: The member is referring to our fixed-roof policy. I remember, before I was part of government, that that did cause some concern. The fixed-roof policy is not being changed, and that's available on our website.
The changes we see here aren't meant to change policy direction, other than to say that the way we advertise opportunities in parks is being taken from a newspaper advertisement to ministry policy, which could involve a whole different host of ways of advertising. But in terms of what we're advertising, the opportunities haven't changed. The policy over those has not changed as a result of the changes here.
M. Sather: Also, the amendments eliminate the requirement to obtain the approval of a committee before issuing a permit. My understanding now is that you do have to go through a committee. I think it's a committee of three, if I've got it right. I wanted to ask the minister why that change was made.
Maybe I'll start with this question: who are the folks that are on those committees now? For example, I understood that it would oftentimes be a park employee. Is that correct?
Hon. T. Lake: This is an attempt to take sort of a risk-based approach to decision-making. Currently, the regional director, the area supervisor and the operations section head have to approve a whole wide range of permits. It could be an outdoor education program, or it could be a heli-skiing operation.
The level of risk and impact on the park can vary from very, very minor to fairly significant. What we are saying is rather than have a one-size-fits-all approach with three employees parsing every permit, we use a risk-based approach so that the lower-level, low-impact can be done by sort of a lesser screening than a high impact, which would have much more scrutiny placed on it.
That policy will be developed on a risk-based approach. It will give us much more flexibility and reduce the amount of bureaucracy involved, particularly for the very, very low-impact activities that are involved in some of the permits.
M. Sather: Would it be the case, then, that a heli-ski operation would still require the approval of a committee?
Hon. T. Lake: In that case, probably it would have a higher level of scrutiny than we currently have. We would develop a policy that says that if you're going to do something like a heli-skiing operation, you would bring in…. It could be avalanche experts to give you some advice, and a much higher level of screening than we actually have available to us now.
M. Sather: In the case of the lower-risk-level activities, who would give the approval now, then?
Hon. T. Lake: Those sorts of things would fall to the regional director. Again, these are professionals that have been working in the particular area for a long period of time and are familiar with those types of low-level activities that occur in many different parks.
M. Sather: Subsection (3) says that the minister may require that "the public be provided with an opportunity to review details and provide comments to the minister in respect of the proposed permit." Now, I guess that is referring to the notification that the minister has already discussed. Is that what it is? Or is it something more like a chance for a public meeting, or something of that nature?
Hon. T. Lake: Again, we're talking about sort of a risk-based approach. If an activity was contemplated for a park for which a public competition is held in respect to that permit, the minister has the ability, then, to ask the public to provide comments on that activity. It's just a way of ensuring that activities that may have a higher impact on the park have the opportunity to have some public input as to the appropriateness, I guess, of that activity.
M. Sather: Could the minister give me an example? A real one would be good. If there's not a real one…. I'm sure there are, though. What would that look like, then? Is there an example in the province that the minister or his staff can think of where this kind of consultation has taken place? Just so I can get an idea of the scope of it.
Hon. T. Lake: An example is Assiniboine Lodge, which is in Mount Assiniboine Park. This is an historic building. There was a competition to operate that lodge in Mount Assiniboine Park. That's an example of, you know, going out for an RFP to operate that lodge. That would have been advertised to the public and comments received as to, I guess, the impact that they thought that might have on the park.
M. Sather: Section (3.3) says: "The minister, in a permit, may waive payment of amounts referred to…." Is that the case now, that the minister may waive payments of amounts? Or is this a change from…? How is it different than what we have now with regard to the payments?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, apparently, it is not a change. The minister may waive fees if there's reasonable justification. Some examples. For instance, if there was an officially induced error so that a permit had to be reprocessed, that might be one example.
Sometimes forestry work has to be done to remove a safety hazard along roads or trails. You know, if you get fallen trees or, perhaps, diseased trees that have to be removed. They would require a park use permit to go in and do that work. Obviously, we wouldn't want to charge them to have a permit to go in and do the work that is making the park safer, or where associations are providing services and/or infrastructure that benefit a park.
We just launched a volunteer strategy, for instance, so groups can go in and do small projects in parks. We don't want to have to charge them for a park use permit to do the work that's benefiting the park on behalf of the public.
M. Sather: Madam Speaker, I think my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake has a question or two, or more, on this section.
K. Corrigan: I just wanted to go back to the issue of requiring or not requiring advertisement in the paper. Just for clarity, as the law now exists, "a permit may not be issued to authorize the offering of goods, services, accommodation or equipment for sale, hire or rent to the public" unless there is advertisement in a paper.
What the minister has said is that there will continue to be advertisement of some type, but it's not going to be in the legislation. I'm wondering why that is.
Hon. T. Lake: It's because it could vary from circumstance to circumstance. It may be appropriate to advertise some types of permits just on the website, for instance. It may be preferable for another type of permit…. As we were talking earlier in the discussion, there are different levels of activities that occur in parks and different levels of impact on the parks.
With something that is higher-impact, you might want to do a much different type of advertising than you would for something that is kind of routine. People who are always interested in those opportunities check the website regularly, and they know about those things, whereas something that is, again, open to a public competition and an RFP process may require a different type of approach to advertising.
K. Corrigan: Well, it concerns me a bit, because essentially what it does is it takes…. Although the minister is saying that this allows flexibility, which I respect, in terms of how it's advertised, essentially it doesn't require any advertisement whatsoever. So there is the potential there — is there not? — for an offering of goods and services, for a permit, to go out that potentially will not have any kind of advertising whatsoever?
The Chair: Member, are you referencing 16(3.1)?
K. Corrigan: Well, there are two sections, Madam Chair. There's 16(3.1). I'm referencing the old act as well, which is section 20(3), which is now…. There are two different situations.
The Chair: We've canvassed the advertising piece fairly extensively.
Hon. T. Lake: I don't think the member was present when we talked about the commercial recreation permits. Currently the notice of intent only pertains to commercial recreation permits. So that's the only obligation there is at the moment.
What we want to do is be able to open up all of the opportunities to an advertising policy. Again, it would be flexible, based on policy that will be developed — in consultation with our stakeholders, of course. It essentially will allow different levels and different approaches to advertising that make it clear, too, when public consultation is required.
As I mentioned earlier, the higher-impact activities that are contemplated in a park would now have the ability to be advertised in different ways and also make it clear to the public when we are seeking public consultation on those types of opportunities that are being presented to different operators.
K. Corrigan: I appreciate that, and I think I did hear most of the earlier discussion.
But my concern here is that, while I understand that there is flexibility, we also have a situation where, under subsection (2), the minister "may issue a permit…with or without a public competition." Is there not, under this bill, potentially a situation where an application for a permit to do something in a park could, No. 1, not be advertised and, No. 2, be done without any kind of public competition?
I appreciate that the minister is saying that is not the intention, but is that not possible under this act?
Hon. T. Lake: I appreciate the member's question. As it stands now, the minister could do that for permits other than commercial recreation permits.
What this is intended to do is ensure that where we have a competition, for instance…. A competition is generally done where there's an exclusive use given to a particular proponent. So where we have a competition, we would want to engage the public in consultation and get the public's view on that potential use of a park.
As I said, through policy, we'll develop different levels of advertising, based on the various levels of impacts that different activities would have on a park.
K. Corrigan: I was wondering if the minister could tell me, under this subsection (2), as well: if there is a situation that does not have a public competition, how does that square with this government's signing on to, for example, TILMA, which now includes Saskatchewan as well? How does that square with the determination of the public to introduce competition and require competition for municipalities, for the province, for other levels of government? Does that not contravene the requirements of TILMA?
Hon. T. Lake: A good example, for instance, would be where you have a volunteer group that needs a park use permit to go in and do some work on a trail or to build a particular structure. You wouldn't want to have that group enter a competition in order to do that. It's not meant to give exclusive rights — you know, for a large resort in a park.
It's meant for the occasions when there's a low-level use. Often, and I mentioned it before, it could be clearing some trees that are presenting a safety hazard. You need to be able to give a permit in order to go in and do that. It doesn't seem sensible that the minister should have a competition to enable that to happen.
K. Corrigan: But under this bill would it not be possible…? I'm sure it wouldn't happen, but would it not be possible for a permit to be given for a large resort without having a public competition and without having any kind of advertisement, theoretically?
Hon. T. Lake: The existing power of the minister is to do the same thing. A permit can be issued with or without a public competition. But policy of the Ministry of Environment and the parks division is, if you have an exclusive use, to have a competition. Also, procurement policies of the government would hold us to that level of public competition.
K. Corrigan: Maybe I wasn't listening as closely as I should have when the minister talked earlier about those areas that would have required advertisement previously. I'm not sure about public competition. The minister referred to commercial and recreational situations. Could the minister clarify which of those situations require competition now and which require advertisement?
Hon. T. Lake: Under the existing legislation the only types of permits that required a notice of intent or advertising were the commercial recreation permits. Many other permits — particularly those, for instance, that were for less than a year — didn't require competition, didn't require advertising.
What we're trying to do is enable, by policy, advertising of all park use permits, and of course the type of advertising would vary depending on the type of permit. Where we have exclusive use, we would have a competitive process, and where we have a competitive process, we would, therefore, ask the public's input into the type of use that's involved.
K. Corrigan: So that's notice. And would the minister clarify, then, under the present act, what is required? What types of situations require a public competition?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, these are uses that are sort of higher-impact — major operations, if you like, and exclusive opportunities. An example would be a park facilities operator. The business that essentially runs all of the camping areas of the park, the day use area of the park, would be considered an exclusive use, and that would go through a competitive process.
K. Corrigan: I'm sorry. I wasn't sure. Presently, is that policy, or is that required under the act — for those large-type uses?
Hon. T. Lake: The competition for exclusive use is by policy in the previous legislation and remains by policy with the changes to the legislation as well.
K. Corrigan: The public competition for exclusive use…. Would that include something like a large resort? How do we define what is an exclusive use?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, I mentioned the park facilities operator as an example of exclusive use, but again, the Mount Assiniboine Lodge in Mount Assiniboine Park is another exclusive use.
Essentially, there's only one type of business that's operating in that park, whereas some non-exclusive uses might be kayak operations, whitewater rafting operations where there may be more than one operator operating in a park.
K. Corrigan: So just to be clear. If there is the possibility of more than one operator, then there probably won't be a public competition, but if there's only going to be one operator, then there will be a public competition.
Hon. T. Lake: That is the way it is now, and that will be as it continues by policy, yes.
K. Corrigan: I'm wondering if…. Using the example of a rafting operation or kayaking or something along that line, is that unlimited? An unlimited number of operators can come in? I'm thinking of the situations where there is no public competition. Then how is it decided who does and doesn't get the opportunity to do that?
Hon. T. Lake: As I mentioned earlier, there are three people that sit on a committee right now to approve these different permits — made up of the regional director, the area supervisor and the operations supervisor. They vet these at the moment.
What we're saying is we want to move to a scheme whereby there's a different level of scrutiny and approval process depending on the level of impact on the park. So for a volunteer group coming in to do some work on trails, then probably just the regional director would make that decision. If we're having a heli-ski operation that wants to do some sort of operation in a park, that would involve a much higher level of scrutiny and a different kind of decision-making process would occur.
K. Corrigan: Through these questions, I'm just trying to ensure that there is transparency in the process and, as well, that the spirit of fairness in terms of public competition, competition for the ability to do something in a park, is respected.
I know we're getting close to the end, but maybe as a final question on this section…. I'm wondering if the minister could just give me a quick rundown of the types of permits that are permitted. I'm thinking of things…. I want to make sure, for example, that mining is not a permitted use, drilling and so on. What are the types of things — obviously, not an exhaustive list but the areas — that we're talking about here?
Hon. T. Lake: I would note that game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not allowed in parks. Resource extraction, logging, mining activities are not allowed in parks.
Now, I did mention earlier that there's section 30 of the Park Act, which does recognize pre-existing operations, so maybe a grazing lease — relatively low-level sorts of activities. Mostly what we are talking about are sea kayak tours, guided back-country hikes, camping, rock climbing instruction, big game guide-outfitting, angle guiding, some concession stands, businesses offering equipment for rent. But no, we don't strip-mine our parks.
And noting the hour, I move the committee rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:55 p.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 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:56 p.m.
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