2011 Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Volume 35, Number 5
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Correction to comments made in the House
Hon. R. Coleman
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Fire at Cranbrook heritage buildings
Sandhill cranes and marshes in Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows area
Baloch community and heritage
Deep Cove Cultural Centre
Vancouver Island Military Museum
Waiting times for children's orthopedic surgery
Hon. M. de Jong
Infection control and cleaning services in Lower Mainland hospitals
Hon. M. de Jong
Emergency services in Princeton area
Hon. M. de Jong
Government settlement with Boss Power Corp.
Hon. R. Coleman
Provincial Infection Control Network of British Columbia, Clostridium difficile Infection (CDI) Surveillance Report, Quarter 1 and Quarter 2, 2011-2012
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 23 — Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. K. Falcon
Report and Third Reading of Bills
Bill 23 — Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 24 — Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. D. McRae
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (continued)
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Hon. B. Lekstrom:
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 25, 2012
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. S. Cadieux: In the gallery today we have eight very talented and very patient women. They are Julie D'Argis, who is my administrative assistant, as well as Sheena Marshall, Karen MacMillan, Pam Chandla, Amber Minnings, Marilynn Quigley, Alison Collins and Gail Poulton, all from the ministry's correspondence branch. I rely on these ladies a great deal to help me in answering the volumes of mail into the ministry. I appreciate very much their patience in dealing with all of my edits to all of the letters, and I would like the House to make them welcome.
M. Karagianis: Today in the precinct enjoying lunch we have a group led by Lady Gloria, Queen of the Magenta Madams. For anybody who goes near the dining room, the whole room is full of beautiful red hats. I was very fortunate. They asked me down today and presented me with a hat. I've now been made an honorary Red Hat member. Will the House please welcome the Magenta Madams to the House today.
R. Sultan: There are five guests in the House today that I would like to introduce, starting with Sarah O'Connor, my eminent legislative assistant, who is not only very capable in matters legislative. She comes from a forestry and forester-operator family in Lytton. So bring your forestry problems to Sarah.
Secondly, we have Alf Trill. Alf is from Ashcroft and visiting Victoria to attend the British Columbia CUPE convention, which is holding forth. Alf and his wife were like a second family to Sarah when she attended high school. Thirdly, we have Alfreda Wescott, who is Alf's mother — down for the visit and visiting family here.
Finally, two constituents, Ian and Lynda Hignell, who watch things environmental like a hawk and are very kind to point out our errors and omissions to me from time to time.
Would the House please make these five guests welcome.
M. Elmore: I'd like to welcome and introduce four guests in the Legislature with us today in the gallery. The first person is Francisca Lustina Castro. She's a geometry and algebra teacher hailing from the Philippines in Quezon City, and she is currently the secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines.
She's here in Canada on a cross-Canada speaking tour. She just came from Halifax and has been through Montreal, Ottawa and Fredericton. She's visiting Victoria and Vancouver, talking about and advocating on behalf of the rights of political detainees and also the human rights situation in the Philippines and the campaign against privatization of education.
Joining her is Priscillia Lefebvre. She's a member of the executive board for the Canadian Union of Public Employees 4600. She's at Carleton University in Ottawa. It's her local that sponsored the cross-country speaking tour so she's been with her on every leg. They've had a great response.
We've got a couple of folks as well from the Victoria area. We've got Laila Pires, who many will know. She's the current president of the Victoria Filipino-Canadian Association and an original founding member of the Bayanihan Community Centre.
Joining her is Sid Emmanuel, who's the president of the Philippine Bayanihan Cultural and Housing Society that operates the Bayanihan Community Centre. I'd like to invite anyone here in the Victoria area on Sunday to join the regular lunches that they provide at the volunteer-driven Bayanihan Centre. The cooking will be courtesy of Laila, so it's sure to be a great lunch.
I'd please ask everybody to make them very welcome.
Hon. J. Yap: I have a number of introductions today of dear friends and supporters from Richmond. In the precincts and in the gallery today are Michael Chiu; his wife, Florence Chiu; their son's girlfriend, Courtney Stroet; Brenda Ngo; and Earl Villarosa. Also in the precincts are Bruce Rozenhart and his wife, Anita Rozenhart.
We had a delightful lunch today — this group of seven, with myself — in the legislative dining room to celebrate a very important event, which is the award that has been bestowed on Michael Chiu to be one of the recipients of the 2012 B.C. Community Achievement Awards.
We are all very proud and thankful for the work, the volunteerism, that Michael Chiu provides to the community of Richmond. He's a tireless volunteer and promoter of great causes in our community and well deserving of this honour as the only citizen of Richmond to be awarded one of the 2012 B.C. Community Achievement Awards.
Would the House please join me in offering a warm welcome to Michael Chiu and the rest of our guests who are here today.
M. Mungall: I ask that the House join me in welcoming Dr. John Meredith. I first had the opportunity to meet John when he was giving a lecture at UBC. He's known all across the country for his expertise in apprenticeships
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and apprenticeship training, and I look forward to meeting with him later today. He certainly has a lot to share, and there's a lot for us to learn in this House from him. Please welcome John Meredith.
R. Cantelon: Joining us in the gallery today are several people that I'd like you to make welcome: Marilyn Berger, Rita Roling, Benjamin Roling and Serge Haber. He's president of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver.
These representatives came to us today to present their concerns. They serve thousands of people of many different faiths in Vancouver and are working hard. They put together their concerns in, I must say, a very positive and encouraging and optimistic way as many seniors who work so hard for the community do. Please congratulate them for their hard work and welcome them to the chamber.
C. Trevena: I hope the House will welcome a school party from my constituency. We have in the gallery today eight grade 7 students, a number of parents and their principal, Cliff Wood, from the Avalon Adventist Junior Academy in Port Hardy.
Mr. Wood was very specific when he made the request to come here for question period to show students how not to behave in the classroom. I hope the House will show proper decorum for the grade 7 students, and I hope the House will make them all very welcome.
Hon. T. Lake: I'm pleased to welcome to his first question period session today a young man from Kamloops, who is an assistant legislative assistant in these buildings, by the name of Justin Giddens, the son of John and Candace Giddens — one of three Giddens boys. I understand from Justin that he is not only the best-looking but also the brightest and the best athlete. Would the House please make him very welcome.
D. Donaldson: I'd like the House to make welcome members of the Northern Development Initiative Trust who are joining us in the precinct today: Janine North, CEO, and Evan Saugstad, chair of the board. Many of the elected board members and mayors I see in the gallery, and non-elected board members.
Welcome. I heard it was a fabulous presentation to members of the official opposition caucus over breakfast, and I'm sorry to say I didn't make it. I was still in Stikine, but I'll see you next week at the North Central Local Government Association meeting in 100 Mile House. Would the members make NDIT members welcome.
D. Barnett: I, too, would like to welcome the members of the Northern Development Trust, a trust that goes from Lytton all the way north to the coast as far as our province goes. I'd like to thank each and every one of them for their hard work and recognize many mayors, regional district chairs and staff. I would ask the House to also congratulate them and thank them for a job well done.
I would also like to recognize and ask the House to welcome today the Canadian Propane Association: the president, Jim Facette, from Ottawa; members Derek Belton, Willie Stephen and Scott McFadyen.
Welcome to you, and thank you for what you do.
K. Conroy: Today I had the pleasure of meeting a group of students from Burton and Edgewood, two lovely little communities on the upper Arrow Lakes, who drove all the way here — it's a ten-hour drive to the Legislature — to tour Victoria. There are 14 students in grades 4 to 7, and they were here with some of their parents and two teachers, Ms. Tupper and Mrs. Lindsay. Would the House please join me in welcoming them to the Legislature today.
Hon. M. de Jong: Like other departments of government, the Ministry of Health is populated by public servants who are dedicated to improving the lives of British Columbians. We're joined today by a number of them. They are Sandra Cameron, Fiona Cheung, Catherine Marrie, Tish Pengelly, Amanda McNeill, Chris Bennett and Marc Woons.
They all work in the clinical care and patient safety branch in the health authorities division within the ministry. They are working on a number of quality improvement initiatives taken across B.C. that include infection control, hand hygiene and stroke services. I know all members of the House will want to thank them for their dedicated efforts and welcome them here today.
S. Fraser: Today Mrs. Weegar's grade 5 class from Wood Elementary School in Port Alberni visited. I was able to spend an hour with them today — actually a little more than an hour. We did the tour together, and then I gave them a little bit of an extended tour. The 22 students and the four adults that joined them and Mrs. Weegar had a great time. Would this House please make them feel very, very welcome.
B. Stewart: I wanted to introduce a few guests that are here today who I had the pleasure of meeting with last week from Fortis power and energy company. They are Cynthia Des Brisay, Tom Loski, Roger Dall'Antonia and Andrew McVie. I just want to congratulate them, as former minister — the innovation and some of the things they are doing around green energy opportunities and introducing that into the gas supply in the province. They are here today to share that information with members of this House, so please welcome them.
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S. Chandra Herbert: It gives me great pleasure to welcome — they're in the precincts here somewhere — my parents, and my father- and mother-in-law, Rohini and Sashi Chandra. My father, Ted Roberts, is also somewhere in or near the precincts.
They are all here to celebrate two folks who are receiving the B.C. Community Achievement Awards today. One of them, who I have some passing knowledge of, my mother, Donna Spencer, will be recognized with an award for her work in theatre and in the arts across British Columbia. As well, another person who I have a passing knowledge of. That would be my husband, Romi Chandra Herbert, who will also be receiving a B.C. Achievement Award. Please welcome them to this House. I'm very proud of them both.
R. Howard: I had the pleasure today of having a wonderful lunch in the Legislative dining room with my wife, Trudy, and my constituency assistant, Chris Chan. Trudy couldn't stick around to be in the gallery, but Chris and his family have. So we have Chris Chan; Annie Chan, his wife; and their 15-month-old son, Anson Chan. Would the House please make them welcome.
N. Letnick: We are indeed blessed to have so many wonderful guests with us. Included in that list of guests is Mr. Kirpal Boparai, the president of the B.C. Interior fruit growers industry association. He represents 800 growers generating over $130 million in wholesale revenue, $900 million in economic activity. They directly employ 1,500 person-years at the grower, packer and processor level. He is here this afternoon to have very important discussions with the Minister of Agriculture. Will the House please join me in making him feel welcome.
Hon. D. McRae: I have four guests from the Comox Valley here today. They are attending the B.C. Teachers Institute, which I think we'll learn more about in a few minutes. Today we have Sylvia Dakin, who teaches at my daughter Gracie's school, Ecole Puntledge Park. We have Sherrylyn Dittrick, who teaches at Aspen Park; a former colleague of mine, Greg Kochanuk, who now teaches at Highland Secondary; and Phebe May from Arden Elementary.
I know the Minister of Education will be visiting not only these individuals but all individuals attending the Teachers Institute today. Would the House make the four of them from the Comox Valley very welcome please.
L. Reid: In the House today, along with the Minister of Education, we are pleased to welcome 17 teachers from across British Columbia who have been selected to participate in the 13th British Columbia Teachers Institute on Parliamentary Democracy. They will be with us for the remainder of the week expanding their knowledge of our parliamentary system.
They are joined by three of their peers, who are returning alumni acting in the role of facilitators: Ms. Christine Winger, Mr. Terry Teather and Ms. Susan Noble. I trust you will take this opportunity to welcome them and to meet with them tomorrow at the luncheon hosted by the hon. Minister of Education. Would the House please make them very welcome.
D. Hayer: I have some special guests here today. One was introduced earlier today. He's talking to us about propane use in automobiles. He's Willie Stephen, vice-president of the western region for Maxquip, located in Port Kells in my riding of Surrey-Tynehead. Also here is Alnoor Teja, a Fraser Valley Real Estate Board member. Would the House please make them all very welcome.
J. Rustad: It's not often I get a chance to introduce people from my riding, but today I have Gerry Thiessen here, who is the mayor of Vanderhoof. He's down here as part of NDIT, but I just wanted to particularly point him out and say thank you for coming down. Would the House please make him welcome.
D. Barnett: I would also like to introduce a special person in my riding. I have two of them here today: the mayor of the district of 100 Mile House, His Worship Mitch Campsall, and the vice-chair of the Cariboo regional district, Ted Armstrong. Would the House please welcome them.
CORRECTION TO COMMENTS
MADE IN THE HOUSE
Hon. R. Coleman: On the rare occasion when I passionately answer a question, I might misspeak. I was advised overnight that I actually did yesterday in question period when I referred to the criminal justice branch, when I should have been referring to the legal services branch. My apology to the criminal justice branch. It was the legal services people that dealt with the issue and not the criminal justice branch.
(Standing Order 25B)
CRANBROOK HERITAGE BUILDINGS
B. Bennett: On Monday night, the same night as the terrible explosion in Prince George, my home town of Cranbrook suffered a major fire of its own.
At about 1 a.m. an alert RCMP officer on patrol, a 15-year veteran, Const. Ian Ferrier, noticed smoke and
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flames coming out of a building of our main downtown street, Baker Street. The officer immediately called it in, and the Cranbrook fire and emergency services were on the scene within minutes.
These buildings were old. The one that held OJ's Antiques dates back to 1898. The fire burned out of control for a time and devastated four historic buildings in all. Jim Cameron, local historian, says the fire was "tragic and an irreplaceable loss of Cranbrook heritage."
However, the silver lining here is that no one was injured in the fire. Arriving on the scene to assist Constable Ferrier were Const. Josh Mielkin and Const. Drew Tarala. They risked their own personal safety making diligent efforts to make the folks who were inside one of these buildings aware that there was a fire. Two shocked, suddenly awakened citizens scrambled to the roof of their building before the building was completely engulfed by the flames and then were rescued by the firefighters.
Four businesses were destroyed by the fire. To these business owners, their families and staff, I send condolences from all of us here in the Legislature today.
Firefighters did manage quite miraculously to stop the fire from spreading east to The Choice, a snow- and skateboard shop, and to the west to Cranbrook Photo, which is a beautiful, old brick two-storey heritage building and the pride of downtown Cranbrook.
In both Cranbrook and Prince George on Monday night the men and women of our law enforcement and firefighting services stepped up and did their best to keep us safe, as they always do. From all of us here in the B.C. Legislature, thank you all for what you did on Monday night in Prince George and Cranbrook, and thank you for what you do for our communities every day of the week.
SANDHILL CRANES AND MARSHES
IN MAPLE RIDGE–PITT MEADOWS AREA
M. Sather: "The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harboured cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history. When we hear their call, we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution." That is from the "Marshland Elegy" of Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.
There are 15 species of cranes in the world. The oldest of these is the sandhill crane. Every year the greater sandhill cranes return to the marshes of Pitt Meadows. Once numbering in the thousands, less than 20 remain.
A dedicated group in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge has worked very hard to see that our marshes are not bereft of cranes. Every spring the Alouette Field Naturalists are up before six in the morning to conduct a count of our sandhill cranes. The numbers have not increased, but they have held steady since 1999.
The Pitt Polder Preservation Society and Alouette Field Naturalists led the way in saving two of our crane marshes: Blaney Bog, 200 acres in size, and Codd wetlands, 230 acres in size, both of which were dedicated as GVRD parks in 2000 and 2004, with financing by the district of Maple Ridge, the GVRD, the province, Ducks Unlimited, the Land Conservancy of B.C. and Aquilini Investment Group.
The drive to create these parks was spearheaded by Annette LeBox, with memorable appearances in our living room by Luigi and Roberto Aquilini. Last weekend Annette celebrated the launch of her latest novel, Circle of Cranes. The extravaganza was attended by 200 people, including the member for Maple Ridge–Mission and the mayors of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
We will not forget our heritage. The Fraser Valley was created with magnificent marshes. The vigilance of our citizens will ensure that they remain and that the haunting call of the greater sandhill crane will be heard forever.
M. Stilwell: This week is National Immunization Awareness Week. Simply put, immunization saves lives. If not for widespread, successful immunization campaigns we would still face deadly diseases such as smallpox and polio.
Our immunization program provides vaccines that are safe, effective and free to the public. Here in B.C. we have a comprehensive publicly funded immunization program for children and adults that protects against 16 diseases — diseases such as polio, hepatitis A and B, and measles. We have recently expanded our immunization program to include a rotavirus vaccine for infants, a chicken pox vaccine in kindergarten and a routine hepatitis A vaccination for aboriginal children and youth.
Our public health experts regularly review our immunization program to ensure that it is effective and protects as many British Columbians as possible. However, for these vaccination programs to continue to be effective, it is crucial that people ensure that their families' vaccines are up to date. When the majority of people get immunized, herd immunity kicks in and helps prevent disease spreading from person to person. But if our immunization rates fall, disease rates can rise again.
I would like to take this opportunity to encourage everyone to check that their own vaccinations are up to date and ensure that your children's are current. If you have questions, you can visit immunizebc.ca, your family physician or your local public health unit.
Vaccines are safe, and the best way to prevent disease.
BALOCH COMMUNITY AND HERITAGE
S. Hammell: I spent a delightful afternoon with members of the Baloch community and would like to share a few things I learned.
Balochistan, one of the many -istans of Asia, is oc-
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cupied as a country, a strategically important location straddling the Middle East and central Asia. Through time, and often through a painful history, Balochistan has been divided and now forms part of three different countries: Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. It is a harsh region of mountains and deserts, but the resilient Baloch people have strong bonds through their culture, language and land. They have survived as a distinct community to this day.
The Baloch as indigenous people are semi-nomadic and pastoral. Their existence is based on collective and mutual interests. They have their own unique identity, like any other national group, in terms of language, art, music, morals and customs. Although the Baloch have a history of a nomadic way of life, with time they are also adapting to the modern world, as the Baloch people have immigrated to many parts of the globe. Fifty families have settled in the Lower Mainland.
The Baloch music plays an important role in Baloch culture, from wedding ceremonies to storytelling. Balochi folk songs and dance have helped to successfully preserve their rich history. The colourful and distinct embroidery patterns serve as ethnic markers, which differ Baloch from Pashtuns, Punjabis and Sindhis. Baloch men consider their women as full partners, and the Baloch women have always played a major role in their community.
This is a delightful group of people and part of our multicultural tapestry, one that we can be proud of.
DEEP COVE CULTURAL CENTRE
J. Thornthwaite: Twenty years ago I had my first daughter and second child. I was a stay-at-home mom living in Blueridge, one of the most northern neighbourhoods in the east-of-Seymour community. I wasn't paying much attention to politics. How things change. Fast-forward 20 years later.
Last Saturday night I was honoured to be invited to the 20-year anniversary of the Deep Cove Cultural Centre and treated to a night of music, art, heritage and theatre. This is very apropos, given that all British Columbians are celebrating the 13th annual Arts and Culture Week this very week.
Saturday night we were treated to a photo and video presentation from years gone by, which really got us all to thinking about how much life has changed in our little village of Deep Cove and how great the Deep Cove Cultural Centre has been and served this community over the last 20 years. Mike Jarvis, the president of the board of directors, started the mood off, introducing the North Shore Chorus and then a video montage of how it once was.
The Deep Cove Cultural Centre houses the Deep Cove Stage and First Impressions Theatre. We were provided with a little snippet of These Shining Lives, a remarkable true story of friendship, determination and resolve.
It also houses the Seymour Art Gallery, where the Artists for Kids Academy students will be profiled next month, among other collections. In fact, I'll be presenting a $35,000 community gaming grant cheque to Alan Bell next month to assist them with future events and celebrations. The province has provided more than $53 million in arts funding during this fiscal year.
Then there is the Deep Cove Heritage Society, which just received a community gaming grant cheque. Under the direction of Janet Pavlik, they will be launching Echoes Across Seymour. That will depict the last 50 years in my neighbourhood east of Seymour River, including Mount Seymour and Indian Arm communities.
Each of these organizations — the theatre, the art gallery and the heritage society — contributes to the diversity of the cultural centre in different ways. All are equally important to the community and the centre. I'm proud to have this little treasure of culture nestled right in my community and congratulate them for their 20 years.
VANCOUVER ISLAND MILITARY MUSEUM
D. Routley: I'd like to share with the members some information about a Nanaimo gem, the Vancouver Island Military Museum, which celebrated its 25th anniversary by moving to the city-owned Centennial Building in City Park. The building is under renovation, and the museum is set to reopen in July of this summer to its original mandate of collecting, conserving and displaying artifacts and military memorabilia reflecting Canada's proud military history and traditions.
The aim of the museum is not to glorify war — far from it — but to portray one important facet of history and to illustrate an extraordinary range of human endeavour. The museum stands as a reminder to all those who visit that our present freedom was obtained at considerable loss and suffering by thousands of Canadians in times of war and conflict.
The Vancouver Island Military Museum is staffed entirely by a dedicated group of veterans, who give of their time to ensure the residents of our communities have an opportunity to remember and reflect on the courage and dedication of the men and women who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP.
Upon reopening, the Vancouver Island Military Museum will partner with the Nanaimo and District Museum in the schools history program, a schools and youth history program which enables students to earn credits towards the community service component that is required for their graduation.
In the past 25 years the Vancouver Island Military Museum has amassed an incredible collection of military memorabilia and artifacts from all three branches of the service and the RCMP. The new facility situated in
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downtown Nanaimo will allow much better access from the conference centre, hotels and the cruise ships facility.
The aim is to make this museum Vancouver Island's most significant military museum, where people of all ages can come and see, learn and experience their own history. This museum has been a resource centre for veterans since its inception, and during Remembrance Week staff conduct a barrier-free service.
WAITING TIMES FOR
CHILDREN'S ORTHOPEDIC SURGERY
A. Dix: My question is to the Minister of Health. The minister will know that children who require specialized orthopedic surgeries are referred to B.C. Children's Hospital, including for the Ilizarov procedure, which lengthens a child's limbs so both legs are the same length.
This is obviously a very painful process for parents, and there's a significant delay right now — a two-year delay, in fact — for this surgery. The minister spoke to the issue outside and said that he was prepared to address the problem, perhaps by obtaining more surgery time, which I think people will be very pleased to hear who are waiting for the surgery.
The minister will know that since June of last year, staff at the hospital had been requesting the purchase of new equipment that would assist in sterilization. It costs about $100,000. Is the minister prepared to commit today to purchase that equipment? Can he provide families who are waiting for surgery more details about his plans to reduce wait times at B.C. Children's Hospital?
Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the opposition leader for the question. I am also obliged to the member's colleague from the Island, from Cowichan, who about three weeks ago brought material to my office outlining the details around a particular case — particularly compelling information, I must say, about, in this case, a brave little girl who has been confronted by some challenges very early in life.
The member has, in part, characterized some of the challenges — very complex, very specialized surgery in British Columbia. I am advised of one or possibly two surgeons who are qualified to perform the surgery — therefore, a limited capacity in that sense.
When the material was brought in by the member from Cowichan, we made some inquiries. Happily, I'm advised that the health authority and B.C. Children's now believe they are in a position to provide additional operating room time to address a backlog that includes the particular patient and also, I'm told, 17 other British Columbians who require similar complex types of surgeries.
I'm also aware, but only peripherally, of issues relating to particular equipment. I'm not as equipped today to address that part of the member's question.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: I appreciate very much the minister's answer. He'll know that Emily, the child in question, and her family are listening to question period today. I think they'll be very gratified that the minister is taking action, after the work of the member from Cowichan.
I wanted to follow up to just get the assurance from the minister if he would be able to come back to this House and report on the issue of the equipment. I think the details are obviously very important. Families are hugely invested in this question. Staff at the Children's Hospital have suggested that wait times…. The number of surgeries could be doubled if the appropriate equipment was put into place.
Would the minister be prepared to report back to not just this House but the families in question about progress being made in the coming days so that they can get some assurance, given the length of wait times, that the surgery that their children will need will be performed more quickly?
Hon. M. de Jong: A two-part answer to the opposition leader. Firstly, I will certainly continue to make inquiries relating to any of the obstacles that confront the patients and the medical teams who are treating those patients. The member, I'm sure, knows about the significant investments that have been made at Children's Hospital and continue to be made for the families of the patients and the patients themselves. They will have a more specific concern, and we will continue to look to ways to address those concerns.
Secondly, to make the point, although it is not a preferable option…. For families confronted by these kinds of waits in situations where there are only one or two qualified surgeons, in cases where the medical teams and the clinicians recommend that in the best interests of the patient we seek assistance outside of British Columbia, we are also prepared to do that. Not our preferred option, by any means, but where the best interests of the patients are served in that manner in these unique circumstances, we are certainly prepared to examine that option.
INFECTION CONTROL AND CLEANING
SERVICES IN LOWER MAINLAND HOSPITALS
M. Farnworth: Early this year doctors at Burnaby Hospital sounded the alarm about what they saw as the underlying causes of a serious C. difficile outbreak at Burnaby Hospital. The department heads at Burnaby
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said that gaps in cleaning were a contributing factor in that outbreak.
Now we're hearing of another outbreak of C. difficile, this time at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster. Two major hospitals in the Lower Mainland with C. difficile outbreaks.
What actions has the minister taken to ensure that more hospitals aren't hit by this serious infection/disease outbreak?
Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the member for the question. Well, he will know that…. First of all, to put the issue in its proper context, I want to be clear that this is a bacteria that is common in hospitals. The challenge for hospitals — for the cleaning staff, for the administration, for the clinicians within the hospital — is to do everything possible to minimize the presence and the effect.
Now, when I say it's common, that does not mean it does not have a very negative impact on the patients who contract it. That is clear.
At Royal Columbian, I can assure the member, Fraser Health has commissioned what they term the deep clean, which is designed to add an additional focus to the problem that was detected.
The last thing I'll say — and I suspect the member will get up in a moment with a supplemental — is that we track this far more closely than has ever been the case in the history of British Columbia. We are able to have this discussion about the rates of infection because we have clear data that we report on publicly, so patients will know that their hospitals are safe.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: The minister is correct that it is present in most hospitals. The issue is getting a serious outbreak erupting, and that's what we've seen in Burnaby. One of the issues is around levels of cleaning and the staff available to do those cleanings. That was identified by the heads of the department.
Now we're seeing that again, just a few months later, in New Westminster at Royal Columbian — another major hospital. So the question becomes: why is this happening? I think it's incumbent on the minister to recognize that people are concerned about getting sicker in hospital than when they first went into the hospital.
Again, does the minister not agree that with now a second outbreak occurring that's requiring enhanced cleaning, perhaps it's time to look at the procedures and investigate what's happening with procedures around cleaning in the major hospitals of British Columbia?
Hon. M. de Jong: I think it's important that all members be mindful of certain facts and that we keep this in perspective. C. difficile is present in hospitals. In many cases it arrives in the hospital with the very patient that is seeking treatment there.
Today in British Columbia — and I'm going to table the document; I can table it now or at the end of question period — we track the presence of C. difficile not just by health authority but by hospital. We track the number of patients admitted. We track the number of cases contracted, and we are showing a steady decline.
It is not an issue that is without challenges. The importance of adhering to a strict hygiene regime by patients, clinicians and people visiting the hospital is very, very important. So I'll table the document.
We are continuing with the health authorities, in this case Fraser Health, to do everything possible to ensure that the cases of C. difficile are minimized and that people can continue to access hospitals like Royal Columbian confident that they are going to receive the best treatment in a safe environment.
S. Hammell: I think it is important that we are mindful of some facts. After an outbreak at Burnaby the health authority ordered a spring cleaning, calling on staff from other hospitals to accomplish this. Immediately after the spring cleaning Burnaby Hospital again failed its cleaning audit. This confirmed what the department head said in January — that systemic problems with cleaning were a factor in the C. difficile outbreak in Burnaby.
What the minister must find out now is whether these same problems are present at Royal Columbian and other hospitals. Will the minister tell this House what steps he's taken to ensure that our major hospitals are meeting cleaning standards and that they have effective disease controls in place?
Hon. M. de Jong: Part of what the hon. member offered is helpful and even accurate. There was an audit conducted at Burnaby Hospital. We set very high standards — 85 percent, based on the methodology employed through the cleaning audit. The hospital scored 83 percent — not good enough but hardly an indication, as the member has tried to characterize it, of abject failure.
We take the issue very, very seriously. The health authority dedicates the staff and took proactive steps to bring in Dr. Gardam and Dr. Cochrane to develop a strict set of recommendations that are in the process of being implemented.
I realize the facts don't always lend themselves to the kind of political narrative that the member may want to advance. But the facts speak for themselves that the health authority and the people working in those hospitals are doing everything humanly possible to ensure that people can attend and seek treatment in those hospitals in a clean, safe environment.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
[ Page 11116 ]
S. Hammell: The facts are that C. difficile is breaking out in the major hospitals throughout our Lower Mainland. Those are the facts.
We know that the outbreak at Royal Columbian has impacted a whole host of services at that hospital. We know that the emergency room is critically backed up and that doctors are being urged to discharge people as soon as possible. We know that this will have a cascading effect on health care across the region as patients are redirected to other facilities.
What we don't know is, beyond tracking, what the minister is doing to prevent other outbreaks. Will the minister stop pretending that this isn't a serious problem and ensure that B.C.'s hospitals are safe and clean?
Hon. M. de Jong: I am holding a document produced by the Provincial Infection Control Network of British Columbia. I hope the member will accept that it is an arm's-length organization that prepares accurate information and reports that are accurate.
This is the CDI, C. difficile infection, surveillance report. It is for quarters 1 and 2 of 2011-2012. They are produced. They are publicized. They are on line. They are accessible to every member of the public.
The report says this: "Overall, the provincial rate of new CDI cases associated with the reporting facility decreased in the first two quarters, especially for those hospitals with more than 250 beds. The decrease in rate was observed for all health authorities except PHSA, where the rate increased non-significantly and for all sizes of hospitals."
Now, the report is complimentary of some facilities and indicates more work needed in others. We are providing, through the health authorities, those resources and ensuring that there is a focused effort to address the ongoing issue of C. difficile. The one thing we can't do, and that I can't do, is draw a comparative picture between what takes place today and what took place in the 1990s or earlier, because regrettably, there is simply no data.
IN PRINCETON AREA
H. Lali: Lytton, Logan Lake, Ashcroft and Princeton all have one thing in common: repeated ongoing emergency room closures by this government. This Liberal government is closing the ER in Princeton and compromising patient health, because starting on May 1, the Liberals are closing the Princeton ER from midnight to 8 a.m. four days a week.
My question is to the Minister of Health. How can the B.C. Liberals actually justify closing the emergency room in Princeton and compromising public health care?
Hon. M. de Jong: First of all, let's ensure that the facts are straight. The health authority, in conjunction with the folks in Princeton, has been working diligently to ensure that there is sufficient medical team coverage to continue to operate the emergency room. There are three physicians. Two have agreed to provide emergency room coverage. As a result, the decision was made, until additional doctor coverage has been secured, to close the ER on those four evenings when, on average, a single citizen appears for treatment, and generally in non-urgent circumstances.
The government has provided 10 million additional dollars to assist with the recruitment of physicians to rural ERs. It provides incentives to attract doctors to rural settings. Perhaps if the government the hon. member had been a part of had had the vision to actually increase the number of physicians being treated in British Columbia the way this government has, we wouldn't be facing the shortage in places like Princeton that we face today.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
H. Lali: How typically Liberal to pass on the blame to somebody else and not take any responsibility.
The Interior Health Authority communiqué says that the Liberals' interim plan for Princeton "may need to be in place for approximately one year, while longer-term solutions are sought." In community after community in my area this Liberal government is closing emergency room after emergency room after emergency room, while they wait for a year to bring in longer-term solutions.
Here's the kicker. In the same communiqué it also says that the Liberal government "intends to install a telephone at the hospital entrance so anyone arriving at the Princeton hospital will have the ability to call 911." That's from their communiqué.
Again, to the Minister of Health: how can the B.C. Liberals justify replacing an emergency room in Princeton with a lousy telephone booth?
Hon. M. de Jong: We have, as I mentioned a moment ago, created a whole series of incentives and provided additional resources to health authorities in local communities to attract physicians to places like Princeton, where the thousands of people in the surrounding area want to ensure that they have the kind of coverage that we would all expect.
But let me repeat the fact that, confronted by a temporary shortage, the health authority, in conjunction with the folks at the Princeton Hospital, has said they will close the ER for that period of time, for those four evenings — those nights when on average they receive one patient visit per night.
Now, I have searched in vain. If the member has a magical solution today for producing the physicians that we need in rural British Columbia, I'd be interested to
[ Page 11117 ]
hear it. The one thing we know with certainty is that for the ten years that he sat in government, he did….
Hon. M. de Jong: Sorry — 11 years. I've tried to forget the 11th year.
For the 11 years he sat in government, he did absolutely nothing. I realize it must be, today, remarkably embarrassing for the member to realize that during that 11-year period they did not train one additional doctor in British Columbia. We have doubled, to 256, the number of doctors we have trained in British Columbia.
Mr. Speaker: Just take your seat for a second, Member.
WITH BOSS POWER CORP.
J. Horgan: That's a lot of clapping for a phone booth, hon. Speaker.
I'll put my question to the Minister of Energy. At the start of question period the minister retracted his comment about claiming that the criminal justice branch had decided this was fair compensation. I suggest he advise the Premier of that. She made that comment on CBC this morning.
I think perhaps the criminal justice branch might be an appropriate place to go, because there has been some highway robbery here. The taxpayers are out $21 million because of the incompetence of this government.
Now, we tried yesterday to get a straightforward answer about the 21st century, the year 2012, and the responsible administration for taking an $8.7 million fair settlement and ballooning it up to $30 million. So I'm going to give the Minister of Energy one more try to (a) get the facts straight and (b) perhaps take a little bit of accountability for the biggest boondoggle on his watch. Why did we pay $21 million more than we should have to expropriate a uranium claim in the Interior?
Hon. R. Coleman: There were three evaluations done, one of them as high as $96 million and one down closer to $5 million. I get that the member doesn't like it.
First of all, he doesn't like the fact that it's normal practice in the Attorney General's department and the Treasury Board to rely on advice of counsel when they're dealing with a settlement — which they did. He doesn't like the fact that the particular claim is very complex. There were three assessments done, and he only ever wants to refer to one. He doesn't want to talk about the rest of them and how they were actually put together and how they were evaluated — whether it was on strength of claim, whether it was on the ore body, whether it was on the share value or whatever the case may be.
The member wants to ignore the fact that when all the facts were considered, legal advice to government was that we settle at $30 million. And just for the member's information, just so the member knows, as we came through this process, we actually booked, on advice from both the Attorney General and Treasury Board, $50 million on the Boss Power thing. We settled at $30 million, but in the fiscal plan we actually booked an amount that we thought might end up if we ended up going to court.
Now, I know you don't like that. I also know you don't like the fact that we actually settled the claim without being chastised by a judge for basic fraud, like you did in the Carrier Lumber case when you were government in the 1990s, when the NDP decided to flush somebody's claim.
So it's too bad. The fact of the matter is that we have a claim. It was done on the advice of counsel, and we settled it.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
J. Horgan: Well, there were in fact three assessments. There was one that the people of British Columbia paid for, and that assessment said the value was worth about $5.6 million. There was the assessment paid for by the company that didn't really want to mine uranium. They were mining for compensation, and they said $90 million — big surprise. If you've had a government that has admitted to misfeasance and that has directed public servants to not do their job, it is little wonder that they ask for the high end of the bargain.
There is a third assessment — the one that I continue to refer to, the one that the court requested and the one that the court put forward — which says that the appropriate level was $8.7 million.
I'm not plumping this up or pushing it down. I'm reading the court documents that say $8.7 million is appropriate. Only when you are bargaining from a position of bad faith, on the courthouse steps, to keep your incompetence out of open court do you settle for more than you have to.
Will the minister stand today and take responsibility for $21 million, gone, that can't go to health care, to provide services for children in British Columbia? Will he do that?
Hon. R. Coleman: He can't even get the number right from the report that he's trying to quote from. It's amazing.
You have a range up to $96 million in the possibility of the claim. You have legal counsel look at it. They negotiate. They come back with a recommendation, through the Attorney General and the Minister of Finance. They make a decision. They settle the claim. I'm sorry, hon.
[ Page 11118 ]
Member. That's how it's done.
That's not how it's done under an NDP government. Under an NDP government, it's: "Let's go flush." Let's go flush $30 million, two parcels of Crown land, 1.5 million cubic metres and have a judge say this about the NDP government in the 1990s: "It is difficult to conceive of a more compelling and cynical example of duplicity and bad faith. The words 'managing perception' may have a gloss which seems to carry with it some high purpose. In reality, it is, at least in this case, little more than a process of altering reality by concealing the truth and presenting a fabricated…story."
You're fabricating a story over there, just like you did in the Carrier Lumber…. There was a range….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members.
I'll ask the minister to withdraw that last comment.
Hon. R. Coleman: Thank you. Yes, I will, Mr. Speaker. I'll withdraw that comment and state to the member: you are not telling us all of the ranges that were in front of you. You only want to speak about one. That's your choice.
The fact of the matter is…. Don't give us any lecture about settling a claim on the advice of counsel when you went to court and flushed that much money on behalf of British Columbians in the Carrier Lumber case in the 1990s.
M. Karagianis: Well, has there ever been a worse example of bargaining in the history of this province than the actions by this B.C. Liberal government? No.
Mr. Speaker: Take your seat, Member.
M. Karagianis: Well, let's look — $6 million for the Basi-Virk payoff, $35 million write-off of the TELUS deal that we're never going to get to the bottom of and now a $21 million jacked-up settlement with Boss Power. I wonder how many surgical instruments that could have purchased at B.C. Children's Hospital.
I have yet to hear a justification from this side, from the B.C. Liberal government, on why they are squandering taxpayers' dollars in this way. Stand up and justify why you blew $21 million on the Boss Power deal instead of investing it in the Children's Hospital of British Columbia.
Hon. R. Coleman: Well, the Attorney General and Treasury Board took the advice of counsel. Maybe you should have taken the advice of counsel in the Windy Craggy case. Talk about bad negotiations. How about this? You shut down a mine. Because you have unreasonable delays, you end up in front of an arbitrator, and you flush $166 million to Royal Oak Mines. That's what you did in the 1990s.
Don't talk to us about negotiation. We took the advice of counsel, and we settled. That's what we do when we talk to the Attorney General, Minister of Finance and our counsel. We take their advice, and that's what we did in this case.
[End of question period.]
Hon. M. de Jong: During question period I referred to a document that I would table, the surveillance report on C. difficile. I'd table that document now.
Mr. Speaker: You need leave, Minister, to table that document.
Hon. M. de Jong: I seek leave to table the document.
Mr. Speaker: Minister tables the document.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: In this chamber this afternoon we will do committee stage on Bill 23, intituled the Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. We will then go to Bill 24, intituled the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012. Should there be time, we would then go to Bill 26, which is the Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act.
In the Douglas Fir Committee Room we will be doing the estimates of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Should that complete, we would then move to the Ministry of Education.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 23 — FINANCE STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 23; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 2:39 p.m.
[ Page 11119 ]
On section 1.
B. Ralston: Section 1 adds the definition of "community contribution company" to the Business Corporations Act. It refers to amendments that are in section 8. Perhaps the minister could confirm that sections 1 through 7 simply bring about changes that involve the definition that's in section 8.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct — with the exception of section 7, which involves a technical amendment, as I understand, with respect to "Unlimited Liability Company."
Sections 1 to 3 inclusive approved.
On section 4.
B. Ralston: This section is an amendment to the Business Corporations Act requiring a community contribution company — the new definition — to keep a report of what's referred to in section 8 as a community contribution report at its records office. In the past there have been some issues arise about changes to the Business Corporations Act that have made public access to a restricted number of public records of public companies more difficult.
Can the minister explain who will be entitled to have access to this report that will be held at the records office of the community contribution company?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member, first of all, is correct. This is a requirement that the community contribution company must keep copies of its contribution report at the records office. Section 6 will then require that those be available for public access.
The rationale behind that is that these companies are going to…. We're going to make sure that there is heightened level of disclosure and availability, given that part of the purpose of these companies is to provide a broader social good. Therefore, in order to ensure that that is taking place, we believe that requiring public access will ensure that there is full transparency in terms of their fulfilling the purposes of their community corporation.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
B. Ralston: This amends the requirement to keep records at a certain location. They can be moved, but it requires the company to be able to produce them on two days' notice. What would be the mechanism for enforcing a failure to produce such a report within the two days?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that it's the same requirement that exists for regular companies and that if an individual wished to make a complaint, they could make that complaint to the registrar, who, as I understand, would then order that action be taken.
Sections 5 to 7 inclusive approved.
On section 8.
B. Ralston: This section is the substantive one that involves a number of the new definitions, so perhaps I will have a few more questions on this section.
One of the proposed…. It's a new part entitled "Part 2.2 — Community Contribution Companies." Can the minister explain the choice of the definition of "community purpose" and why it is worded in this fashion?
Hon. K. Falcon: As the member may know, the idea of a community contribution company framework is the first of its kind in Canada. It is not the first of its kind in the world. They've done some work in this regard in the U.K.
The definition, I'm advised, is intentionally broad at this point — a purpose that provides a benefit to society at large or a segment of society beyond the members of the company, the idea being that we want to encourage companies and investment and support for companies that are achieving a broader public good.
I don't want to pretend that this may solve all the problems in terms of the definition or whether it's too broad or what have you. There may be more work that has to be done under regulation. The idea was to try and open it up so that areas of endeavour could include, for example, a company that may want to provide an inner-city hot lunch program or some environmental benefits in the community.
We've heard of groups out there already that do some pretty impressive work with private sector corporate support in housing the homeless, etc. These are the kinds of things that, the belief is, these kinds of companies can help encourage. It is a relatively broad definition at this point, but that's not to preclude that there may not be changes in the future to try and bring some more scope to that.
B. Ralston: Given this very broad definition of "community purpose," can the minister explain the legislative intention here as to why someone might be encouraged to choose this form of company organization, as opposed to a cooperative or incorporating under the present Society Act?
Hon. K. Falcon: As the member will know, this is something that has been strongly and passionately pro-
[ Page 11120 ]
moted by the member for Surrey–White Rock, in particular, and others who believe and certainly have heard a desire for an opportunity to create investments in social enterprises. There apparently is an emerging demand for ethical investment, but ethical investors want to be investing in a vehicle, a model, that they are comfortable with.
Typically, a corporate model is one which provides some comfort but also has to have additional reassurances to those investors about asset locks and requirements for community purposes to be very clearly spelled out. They don't have that same sense of comfort, I'm advised, in terms of non-profits, as an example, or in the co-op.
I must say that it is a belief. It has not been borne out yet. So in some ways, as the first jurisdiction in the country to move forward with this, we do it with a belief that this may open up an opportunity for new forms of investment into vehicles — community contribution companies, as they're described — that will help us achieve broader social purposes.
It is an untested vehicle. I acknowledge that. But I believe that there is, as I understand it, a greater comfort in having this kind of a model. This is what, I understand, we've heard from the segments of the communities — including credit unions, etc. — that believe that a vehicle like this will make it easier to allow that kind of investment to be generated into companies that are trying to do a broader social good. I can't honestly tell the member that I have any sort of evidence to point out that that will indeed happen, but that is a belief.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for his candid discussion. I'm familiar, as he is, with some of the debate around the intended purpose and, I suppose, the purpose that is aspired to. But I think it's probably useful to note at the outset some caution.
One of the considerations in choosing a form of corporate organization is typically tax considerations. Obviously — and we'll get to this in the extended definition — there are certain restrictions on this form of company organization that would not exist on an ordinary company under the Business Corporations Act.
Is the minister, at this point, in a position to advise what tax regime this will fall under? Will it be classified as a small business — one would assume net business income of less than $500,000 — and qualify for the small business tax rate? Or is it envisaged that it will fall into a separate tax category yet to be devised?
Hon. K. Falcon: There would be no special tax treatment available. These would still be operated and responsible as all other corporations that come under the jurisdiction of the BCA, so there is no special tax benefit.
B. Ralston: The definition of "qualified entity" refers to "(a) a community service cooperative as defined in the Cooperative Association Act, (b) a registered charity…." And (c) says — rather less than clear: "a prescribed entity or class of entities." Can the minister explain where this definition fits into the broader legislative scheme that we're discussing here?
Hon. K. Falcon: The (a) and (b) there, of course, are defined pretty clearly, so that if you wish to transfer assets, either in dissolution or at some point in the life of a community contribution company, you can do so to entities that have that lock in place to ensure that there's not just another way for shareholders to figure out how to get their money back without meeting the requirements and the objectives laid out in the community contribution company. And (c) is really about saying, in an abundance of caution, that if there is another form of locked-asset entity in the future that we are unaware of today or may become aware of or what have you, then we would have the ability, by regulation, to add them as a prescribed entity.
B. Ralston: I'm looking over the page at proposed section 51.911. It's entitled "Notice of articles of community contribution company." This section prescribes that there'll have to be notice in the company's articles that it is a community contribution company. But beyond that notice requirement, will there be a requirement that the articles state the community purpose that the company is set up to pursue, which will conform with the admittedly broad definition of "community purpose," as a notice to those who might choose to invest in or deal with the company?
Hon. K. Falcon: The answer to that is yes. That follows in 51.92, which states: "One or more of the primary purposes of a community contribution company must be community purposes and those community purposes must be set out in its articles." So that would provide that clarity.
B. Ralston: Given that the definition is very broad and given that the notice is required and the suggestion that something will have to be said about the purpose, is there any intention, can the minister advise, to prescribe by regulations the amount of detail? One can very well imagine, given the breadth of the definition — not wanting to be too prescriptive, of course — that a very murky and obscure definition might be possible that wouldn't provide much clarity as to what the company had in mind as its purpose.
One would hope that this form of corporate organization wouldn't be used for purposes that were less than honourable, but there is some track record in British
[ Page 11121 ]
Columbia of some corporate forms being used for that purpose.
So I'm just wondering what the safeguard is to make sure that it's clear at the outset, that there is a relatively transparent definition of the objectives of the company in a way that the public or a prospective investor might have access to that and be able to judge, and that, certainly, the public be on notice as to what its purpose is intended to be and, also, then have the ability to measure the future actions of the company against that definition.
Hon. K. Falcon: I think the member is right to raise the fact that some people — a very small, thankfully, minority of people — will try to find some ways to rip off people or find some way to get around things. There are three levels where we're trying to ensure that doesn't happen with this new hybrid company that we're proposing, the community contribution company.
The first, of course, is through the public having the community contribution reports, which are available to the public. The second is that shareholders have the ability to seek remedies that already exist and will exist under this hybrid company too. The third is the asset lock, the requirement that they're not allowed to just pretend they're doing something for a nebulous social good, because dollars invested…. There's a restriction on what can be taken out. That is, in part, to protect against the very thing that the member talks about.
However, it is one of the reasons why we are proceeding with some caution and responsibility — to make sure that we get this right. There are going to be, obviously, more consultations that will take place. We want to make sure that we progress carefully and thoughtfully down this road to ensure that we try and get it as right as possible.
B. Ralston: Looking at the section on directors and officers, section 120 of the present act, which is referred to, entitles one to incorporate a company, whether it's simply one director. That one director can also hold all the positions — president, secretary and…. There is simply one person who is the person legally responsible for the company. This is a requirement that there be "at least three directors," and in section 120 only a public company must have at least three directors.
Can the minister explain his thinking as to why the decision was made to require a community contribution company to have at least three directors? I have a sense of what the answer might be, but I think it might be useful to put it on the record.
Hon. K. Falcon: Similar to the requirement on public companies, societies and co-ops, which also have a requirement of three directors at minimum, we felt it was appropriate to do the same thing here with the new community contribution company, to ensure that there are going to be at least three people with a fiduciary obligation and responsibility to meet the purposes set out in the company's articles.
That will, I think, help negate in part the legitimate concern that the member opposite raised about an individual that may wish to run some sort of a nefarious operation. At least he will have to bring others into his scheme and broaden the web, if you will, of people participating.
I think that the higher level of accountability is appropriate in this case, as we move into these rather uncharted territories with respect to these hybrid companies. The belief is that this will put them on the same level as a public company and a society and a non-profit, etc., and I think that's appropriate.
B. Ralston: What would be the restriction, if any, upon the three directors being members of the same family — for example, a spouse, a spouse and an adult child? I'm presuming that they would all meet the requirements of section 124 of the Business Corporations Act, which sets out reasons that someone might be disqualified as a director.
In some companies there is a requirement for what is referred to as an independent director. I take it this requirement that is being proposed here doesn't require what is sometimes called an independent director.
Hon. K. Falcon: No, it does not have a requirement for an independent director, just that the three directors will, of course, have their general fiduciary obligations. It will be incumbent upon them, both directors and officers, to act within the best interests of the company shareholders and, of course, to adhere to the articles as set out in the community corporation.
B. Ralston: Sub (2) in the new proposed 51.93 refers to the requirement to match action against the "community purposes of the company set out in its articles." We had discussed earlier the importance of the clarity of the articles as they refer to a description of the community purpose.
Aside from a member of the public who might contrast the actions of the company against the articles of the company and declare themselves satisfied or not, would there be any regulatory oversight of that? Would that be something that would fall to the registrar of companies in considering whether the company could continue as a company of this type or not? Is that the proposed mechanism of enforcement, if I can put it that way, within the legislative scheme?
Hon. K. Falcon: The purpose of this section is to expand the fiduciary duties to include the community pur-
[ Page 11122 ]
poses, so beyond the normal fiduciary obligations that a director and an officer may have of a normal business corporation, which essentially would likely be around making money. This broadens that to include the community purposes and makes it explicit that there is a heightened sense of fiduciary obligation for directors and officers in this case.
In terms of the oversight that the member is referring to, it is the same that exists for all companies today, which is that there is no special regulator or individual that oversees this. Of course, every director and officer has fiduciary obligations that, if not observed, obviously would potentially expose them to legal action, etc. That would be no different in the case of a community contribution company.
B. Ralston: I'm looking at the next definition, which refers to the transfer of assets prohibited. Can the minister describe the purpose of this description or restriction on the transfer of assets? I do have some further specific questions relating to subsection (3) as well.
Hon. K. Falcon: Section 51.931 is really the lock that we talked about, the asset lock, setting out restrictions on the transfer of payments of the community corporation's dollars or any other assets. It just lays out that transfers can only be made at fair market value — for example, paying bills or providing market rates on interest — to a qualified entity like a charity, or in furtherance of the community purposes that underlie the community contribution company's key community purposes.
It goes on to point out that as a general rule no part of a CCC company's money or other assets may be paid to persons related to the company during the existence of the corporation or upon its dissolution, unless it's specifically provided for in this part or in the regulations to the part and, finally, that financial assistance must not be given to persons who are related to the community contribution company unless the related person is also a qualified entity — i.e., a charity.
These restraints that are set out and those that are set out in the next few sections really comprise the asset lock which distinguishes these community contribution companies from typical or other socially motivated companies. By becoming a community contribution company they essentially agree to tie their own hands and agree that they're not going to be using their income for non-community purposes.
The Chair: Hon. Members, the member for Maple Ridge–Mission seeks leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
M. Dalton: In the gallery today we have 60 grade 11 students from Thomas Haney Secondary School and their teachers: Chris Connolly, Jenny Godfrey, Mark Biggar, Nelly Meedin. They've come every year. The teachers have and the students, but the students do change every year.
Anyways, we've had a good time seeing the premises, and right now they are riveted in the discussion of the Finance Statutes Amendment Act, in case they're keeping notes.
M. Dalton: Riveted. Yes.
Thomas Haney is a great school. My eldest son graduated from there, and it really pioneered individualized learning in the school district. Would the House please make them feel welcome.
B. Ralston: I want to thank the member for his characterization of this debate as riveting. I'm not sure that that's the first thing that would come to mind in describing it.
I'm looking at subsection (1)(d), and I just want to be clear before I ask these questions.
I support this legislative venture, and I look forward to what may come of it. I'm just interested in probing, though, just how it might work and where there might be weaknesses in the legislation or perhaps areas that might be used for purposes other than the more noble purposes that this legislation sets out to further.
I'm looking at the restriction on transfer, but it says: "…without limitation, dividends…."
Would the minister not agree that given the definition of a dividend — it's typical small corporation internal planning to pay people by dividends, given sometimes the tax treatment of dividend income is different from the tax treatment of personal income — that's a fairly wide option to transfer the assets of the company to others if it's described as a dividend?
Hon. K. Falcon: Actually, the next section is where we'll talk about restrictions on dividends and interest, so maybe for the benefit of both of us we can go right to that section and talk about it.
B. Ralston: I think the next section is…. Just for the clarification, I suppose, of the Chair, or at least maybe I can be clear myself, the next definition is also part of section 8. This is a very extended section with the number of definitions.
[ Page 11123 ]
I think what the minister was suggesting is he would just go to the bottom of page 4 in the bill, which is still part of section 8. So I don't want to dispense with section 8 just yet. I think we have many happy hours ahead of us on section 8.
Hon. K. Falcon: So 51.94 makes the provision that dividends can only be declared with prior shareholder approval, in accordance with the regulations. That is obviously different than regular corporations. They're going to have require that approval prior.
The dividend cap, which will restrict how much they can actually pay out to shareholders, will be set out in regulations under this section, as I pointed out in second reading. Although we haven't yet determined what that level is, there will be some additional consultation. But a dividend cap will be set out in regulation.
B. Ralston: I appreciate that the minister's thoughts on this and the advice he's received is not fully formed, but is he thinking of a limitation of dividends as to a certain percentage of the company's assets in any given year, say, I don't know, 5 percent or something like that? I don't want to bind the minister to his answer, but perhaps he could just give some sense of his thinking on this issue without being definitive at this point.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is an area that I can say to the member genuinely is an area that we're going to have to have some public consultation to try and figure out what the right amount is. It may be that by regulation you…. I mean, part of it will involve consultation with the community because you'll want to make sure you have an amount that is enough to encourage people to make the investments but not, you know, too much that you dissuade from the purpose, which is to ensure and encourage the investments and do broader public social good.
In the U.K. I'm led to understand that they started out at a 10 percent return that could be allowed by dividend and have since raised it to 20 percent, so that would be a range that we could look at. But I can honestly say that we just haven't come to a decision there, and that would require a broader consultation.
B. Ralston: I appreciate the minister's candour on that point, and that is helpful. I'm looking back to the "Transfer of assets prohibited" definition. In (3)(b) it refers to…. It's a prohibition on transfer of assets "by way of financial assistance…to any other persons unless the provision of that financial assistance is in furtherance of the company's community purposes."
I take it the purpose here — and I think I have a sense of what's intended — is that if the company purpose is, for example, to give a financial benefit of some assistance, whether it's housing or clothing or some other service, this section would provide for a legitimate exception to the requirement not to transfer assets of the company. Is that a fair description of the purpose?
Hon. K. Falcon: Yes, it is.
B. Ralston: The minister has already referred to this aspect of the community contribution company in his remarks, but this is the formal definition; it's over the page. "Distribution of assets on dissolution of community contribution company."
Can the minister explain what this section seeks to achieve in relation to the distribution of assets, should dissolution of the company be required or result?
Hon. K. Falcon: The purpose of 51.95 is to ensure that those, you know, perhaps with nefarious means don't use the dissolution of a company to allow them to get access to the money and utilize it for purposes that were not the intention of the corporation.
This just ensures that upon dissolution of a community contribution company, all or a prescribed percentage of its remaining assets must be paid to the qualified entities that were described earlier — so the registered charities, organizations, that have the kind of asset locks that ensure that the dollars are going towards the furtherance of the purposes that were laid out in the original articles.
B. Ralston: The minister referred to this earlier, and we did discuss it: "qualified entities." That was back in the definition section. He has also used that interchangeably with charities. I take it that the qualified entities will be described by regulation so that there's a very clear list. I believe that's what the minister said earlier, but in this context, perhaps the minister could just confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: On the section in which we discussed this earlier, you'll recall we defined two types of qualified entities. This would be under section 51.91. There was a subsection (c) that allowed for "a prescribed entity or class of entities" which will allow us to add, by regulation, additional qualified entities that have the same considerations. In other words, they're registered charities, or they are of a nature that locks and ensures that the transferred assets are not able to be pulled out of a transferred entity.
B. Ralston: I just want to be clear. Is the minister, then, thinking that they would be added by regulation simply one by one? Or would it be a broader definition that would, say, by regulation describe a registered charity in Canada or registered with a Revenue Canada agency, and meeting those qualifications would qualify as an entity? Or is that question premature? There hasn't been a decision as of yet?
One can imagine situations where, i.e., one of these
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companies may wish to dissolve and be rolled into a charity that exists with broadly similar purpose. So I'm just wondering how that might work and if the minister's thinking at this stage is fully formed. Or is that something that will be added by regulation later?
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that it is likely the (a) and (b) will cover most of what would be entities that will be receiving transferred assets. But we wanted to, out of an abundance of caution, make sure that we had an ability to prescribe additional entities.
For example, I'm advised that under the federal tax act there may be organizations that allow the same kind of lock that charities have. They could potentially qualify. Or it may be, you know, perhaps someone will make the argument that maybe municipalities should be an appropriate place to allow for that kind of transference to take place if they're engaged in similar delivery of services that might meet their needs.
We're just trying to make sure that we have an ability to prescribe future entities that may meet that need.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that answer. That's helpful.
The next definition or reference is to section 200 of the Business Corporations Act, which entitles directors to relieve themselves of their obligation to produce and publish financial statements. This proposed section or subsection doesn't permit that. Can the minister explain that decision?
Hon. K. Falcon: So 51.951 makes sure that the ability to waive financial statements, which is available to regular corporations, will not be available to community contribution companies, because the financial statements are going to be needed in order for shareholders and the public to monitor whether the community contribution company is actually complying with the transfer restrictions that have been set out. We think that it is appropriate to deny these hybrid corporations that ability.
B. Ralston: Looking at the definition of "Community contribution report," subsection (2) sets out a number of requirements that must be contained in the report. It says: "…the following in relation to the company's most recently completed financial year."
Now, I take it…. It doesn't appear to require the publication with this report of the audited financial statement, at least as I read it. Maybe I've missed something, and the minister can correct me. But it does appear to be more a plain language requirement — that the content of what would ordinarily be in a financial statement be explained and included in the report. Is that the purpose? To be a bit broader and more publicly accessible than simply the cold print of an audited financial statement, which despite efforts at financial literacy, many people feel uncomfortable with in reading and understanding?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is a new additional requirement that will be the responsibility of those directors and officers that are a part of a community contribution company. Essentially, what it's really saying is that you've got to produce a community contribution report, and you've got to produce financial statements. You've got to show what you spent your money on, what community purposes it went towards, and this must all be publicly available.
If you have a website, it's also got to be available on the website. It can't just be in the corporate records office. If you have any web access whatsoever, which presumably virtually all of these companies probably would have, that information must be publicly available there too.
I think the issue here really is heightened transparency, recognizing that we're holding these companies to a higher standard, given that they are undertaking what is to be a broader social good.
B. Ralston: The minister made reference to publishing on a website. In subsection (4) it refers to a requirement to "post the report on the company's publicly accessible website, if any." I take it that it's a direction, not that there's a requirement that you have such a website. But if you do, you are required to do it. It doesn't create a regulatory requirement that each company have such a website. It's just that they have to use the one that they might have created voluntarily in that way. I wanted to confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: That's correct. It would be my expectation that any legitimate, credible community corporation company that is going to set up and organize would likely want to be advertising itself, at least on the web. I would think so. I'd be shocked, actually, if they did not want to have some public awareness about what they're doing.
Nevertheless, this just says that if in fact they are going to have a publicly available website, this information must be posted on those websites too. So the member is correct.
B. Ralston: The next several parts of section 8 deal with changes in articles to become a community contribution company, amalgamation that results from the community contribution company and amalgamation into foreign jurisdiction. These provisions seem allied, which create some procedure to follow, should an ordinary company wish to transform itself into a community contribution company. Perhaps the minister could just confirm the purpose there and then explain the prohibition that's referred to in the two amalgamation sections.
Hon. K. Falcon: So 51.97 provides the means by which a regular corporation or an ordinary corporation can become a community contribution company. What is unique is that it will require the prior consent of all of its shareholders. They must alter their notice of articles and its name to indicate its community contribution company status to the public and also amend the articles to adopt the community purposes. Because a community contribution company is so restrictive in terms of shareholder payouts, it does require the consent of all shareholders to do that conversion.
Now, 51.98 essentially just restricts a community contribution company from amalgamating to become a non-3C company. I'll let you ask on 51.99, if you wish.
B. Ralston: I think the minister was going to go on to talk about 51.99, and that refers to sections 308 to 311 of the Business Corporations Act. Section 308 is an application for continuation out of British Columbia. Perhaps the minister could just explain what the prohibition is and why it is here in the act.
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that two things happen here. The first is that this restricts a triple-C company from changing its home jurisdiction from British Columbia through amalgamation. That would be restricted, not allowed.
The second is that it will also ensure that a triple-C company is not able to amalgamate with a regular corporation outside of British Columbia, to ensure that they're not finding another way to sort of amalgamate the company out of British Columbia and then release those assets that are covered under the asset lock.
Section 8 approved.
On section 9.
B. Ralston: Section 9 refers to section 154(1) of the Business Corporations Act, which is in division 4, "Liability of Directors." This appears to add a legal requirement of personal responsibility for breach of the act by a director in releasing assets from the company, contrary to this proposed part of the Business Corporations Act. Can the minister confirm that that is an accurate description of the purpose?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct that this amendment would impose an additional liability on triple-C company directors if they authorize the transfer of assets from a community contribution company in contravention of the restrictions that were laid out in part 2.2.
Section 9 approved.
On section 10.
B. Ralston: This is a reference to the dissent proceedings in division 2 of the Business Corporations Act. It authorizes shareholders to challenge, through mechanisms in the act, resolutions of the company, typically that are profound in their implications for the company — the mechanism for challenging those.
Can the minister explain the specific provision that's referred to here that limits the value of shares of a dissenter in a community corporation company?
Hon. K. Falcon: This section is just ensuring that the payout to a dissenting shareholder does not constitute improper distribution by exceeding the prescribed cap. The amendment is just going to ensure that where in a normal company they may be paid out at fair market value, there is going to be a limit to the payout that will be described by regulation.
B. Ralston: My next question is on section 11, so perhaps we can deal with section 10.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
B. Ralston: This section — I'm just reading it and referring to section 238 of the Business Corporations Act — gives a shareholder in a community contribution company the right to dissent and access to those legal mechanisms if there's a resolution that changes the articles in relation to the company's community purposes. I wanted to confirm that that's an accurate description of this proposed amendment.
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
B. Ralston: This is an amendment to section 248 under the investigations section, which entitles the court — by the court, I take it that it's the B.C. Supreme Court — to appoint an inspector. Can the minister confirm that that's the purpose here — that a dissident shareholder can make an application to the court to appoint an inspector to investigate an alleged action or actions that are contrary to the company's articles or contrary to the act?
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct. That is an existing provision in the Business Corporations Act. What the significance of this amendment will be is to ensure that the court could order an inspector on the grounds that the affairs of the company being conducted
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under a community contribution company are being conducted contrary to the community purposes or other specific requirements that are set out under the act.
This just expands it to ensure that if they are operating contrary to the purposes set out in the articles, the community purposes, it would be a reason and an allowance to allow the court to bring in an inspector.
B. Ralston: So we're clear, this doesn't revise the requirement in section 248 to have…. The language is "one or more shareholders who, in the aggregate, hold at least 1/5 of the issued shares of a company." This doesn't alter that threshold requirement to be legally entitled to make such an application.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is correct. It does not.
Section 12 approved.
On section 13.
B. Ralston: This again refers to article 260 of the Business Corporations Act that entitles shareholders to dissent, and there is a mechanism to send a notice of dissent. Can the minister describe how this amendment changes section 260 to accommodate the new community contribution company?
Hon. K. Falcon: Yeah, this mirrors and is very similar to the section we just discussed. I believe it was two sections ago.
Section 13 approved.
On section 14.
B. Ralston: The next three sections appear to be, I suppose, very similar forms of amendments that require different types of corporations. This is what is referred to as a special act corporation that converts itself into a community contribution company. Perhaps the minister could briefly describe what a special act corporation is and why or how it might decide to convert itself into a community contribution company.
Hon. K. Falcon: The special act corporation would be a corporation created by statute — like ICBC, as an example; perhaps B.C. Hydro — companies that are set up not in the normal course of the Business Corporations Act. This is just saying that any special act corporation that wishes to become a triple-C company must contain the community purposes as are required.
Whenever I see sections like this, I always think of the drafters that are imagining any kind of possible scenario, and I think this would be one of them.
Sections 14 to 16 inclusive approved.
On section 17.
B. Ralston: This refers to unlimited liability companies. This was an amendment to the Business Corporations Act that passed, I think, a couple years ago. I remember the debate upon it. I think the idea was to create this option to coincide with what was taking place in other Canadian jurisdictions. Again, this would seem to me to be a provision that would be included out of a sense of an abundance of caution.
It's difficult to imagine that this might actually take place — unlimited liability companies converting themselves into community contribution companies within British Columbia. Is that the purpose here?
I notice that there are a number of sections that deal with unlimited liability companies. Perhaps just by way of dealing with these sections, the minister could briefly define what an unlimited liability company is and perhaps confirm that that's the purpose here.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is unrelated, now, to community contribution companies. This, I understand, is a technical amendment to require a court order for the restoration of an unlimited liability company and to allow an unlimited liability to select a numbered company name upon its restoration. This is pretty obscure stuff, but I understand it's a technical amendment.
B. Ralston: Given, I believe, that these amendments dealing with unlimited liability companies were passed a couple of years ago, is this something that has resulted as a result of litigation? Was a gap in the legislation identified by practitioners after this provision came into effect and was worked on for several years? What's the motivation for bringing this forward?
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that it was not as the result of any lawsuit. To our knowledge, we're not aware of any ULCs that have applied to make a restoration. This was apparently a gap that was identified by corporate registry staff. It's a technical amendment, and it is being put into place upon their recommendation.
B. Ralston: Perhaps, then, the minister can just confirm that sections 18 and 19 relate to unlimited liability companies, and then perhaps we can dispense with those and move to section 20.
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Sections 17 to 19 inclusive approved.
On section 20.
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B. Ralston: This is an amendment to the Business Corporations Act, section 378. It's described in the notes accompanying the bill as a consequential amendment to subsection 422(7) of the act by this bill. Can the minister explain the purposes for this amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: A new provision added by this bill in section 32 will prohibit a foreign entity that has had its registration cancelled — for example, if it's not filing its annual reports — from continuing to do business. What this amendment will do, under section 378, is clarify that a breach of that prohibition will not have the result of making the foreign entity's acts invalid. Again, it's a technical amendment.
Sections 20 and 21 approved.
On section 22.
B. Ralston: This section amends a number of provisions of section 408 of the Business Corporations Act, and there were a number of subsections in it. Can the minister explain the purposes of this amendment to section 408? It relates to the filing of records, is the description of the section.
Hon. K. Falcon: These are more technical amendments that have been raised by the registrar. In this case, these amendments are going to add some generic language to the Business Corporations Act, specific language so that the section will also apply to records filed under other enactments. This, I understand, will enable the repeal of piecemeal filing provisions that are found in the other corporate statutes and provide a single uniform repository for all of the corporate registry's filing and records maintenance rules. That's one part of it.
Specifically, it goes on that the amendments to section 408 will clarify that if a document submitted for filing fails to meet either the requirements of the enactment under which it is filed or part 12 of the BCA, it may be rejected by the registrar. A new definition of "applicable requirements" has been added for ease of drafting and reading.
This must be fascinating material for lawyers, by the way.
Hon. K. Falcon: More, more.
There's a new subsection (1.01) that would expressly allow persons to file with the registrar court orders affecting information on the corporate register pertaining to BCA entities or any other register kept by the registrar, like societies, cooperatives, etc. Allowing for the filing of a court order would provide the registrar with clear authority and direction to accept such documents.
I realize that is pretty arcane sounding, but these are technical amendments. By their nature, they can be pretty arcane.
Section 22 approved.
On section 23.
B. Ralston: Section 409 is amended, and it's a similar amendment to the one we just discussed, substituting "under this Act and any other enactment." That section refers to what is called future dated filing, and there is a definition here in the act. For the purposes of understanding what's going on here, maybe the minister can briefly explain what future dated filing is and how this amendment would affect the ability to do that.
Hon. K. Falcon: Currently future dated filings are only permitted under the BCA, the Business Corporations Act. However, it is quite possible, especially with the increased availability of electronic filings for other corporate entities, that these may be allowed under other corporate statutes in the near future.
These amendments add some generic language to the Business Corporations Act, specific language so that the section will also apply to records that are filed under other enactments. Specifically, the amendments to section 409 would ensure a uniform approach to the withdrawal of future dated filings under all corporate filing enactments.
Sections 23 to 28 inclusive approved.
On section 29.
B. Ralston: Section 29 refers to the inspection and copies of records. This is sometimes a public issue.
This proposed section amends section 416. It says: "Any person may, in the manner and to the extent permitted by the registrar, (a) conduct a search of the corporate register according to (i) the name, translated name or incorporation number of a company, (ii) the name or assumed name of an extraprovincial company, or its registration number, or (iii) any other prescribed criteria."
I believe there has been an issue sometimes raised about the access to the names of the directors of the companies and whether or not that's permitted in a search for public purposes or media inquiries. There is a wish to find out the names of directors who might be behind a given company or acting as directors. Saying "behind" is probably not the correct way to say it — who are simply acting as directors.
My understanding is that there sometimes have been issues as to whether that is publicly available. Does this
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section give the public greater access to the corporate registry to discern the names of directors and their addresses or at least a general description of directors in a way that the public might wish for in terms of greater public disclosure?
[D. Black in the chair.]
Hon. K. Falcon: I am familiar at a high level with what the member is talking about. This does not refer to that issue of access to the names of directors.
This is a technical amendment that essentially adds some generic language to the Business Corporations Act, which has very specific language, so that the section will also apply to information filed under other enactments. That's referring to the Society Act or the co-op act, as an example. It is not referring to the issue that the member opposite is discussing.
B. Ralston: The minister has referred to a couple of acts, the Society Act and the Cooperative Association Act. Are there any other acts that this will expand to, or are those the only two?
Hon. K. Falcon: It would be those enactments that come under the auspices of the corporate registry.
B. Ralston: And for those who may not be familiar with the jurisdiction of the corporate registry, could the minister perhaps…? I'm sure one of the staff could give him that advice — what acts beyond the Society Act, the Business Corporations Act and the Cooperative Association Act the registrar administers.
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised that in addition to the Society Act and the co-op act, it would include the Financial Institutions Act and the Credit Union Incorporation Act.
Sections 29 to 31 inclusive approved.
On section 32.
B. Ralston: Section 422. This is an amendment proposed to it. It deals with dissolutions and cancellations of registration by the registrar. The reference here is to a foreign entity that's registered as an extraprovincial company and provisions that would entitle the registrar to cancel its registration when it fails to perform certain requirements under the act.
Can the minister explain the purpose of this amendment?
Hon. K. Falcon: These amendments would allow a company or an extraprovincial company to file an application to suspend a pending dissolution or cancellation for a period of six months or longer if allowed by the registrar.
Expressly allowing this kind of application would validate, as I understand, the current registry practice and would allow…. Well, it would essentially validate the current practice. The amendments would also clarify that an extraprovincial company that has been struck from the corporate registry must cease doing business in the province. Hopefully, that clarifies it for the member.
B. Ralston: It's basically a provision for giving a company that may have fallen into a status that's not in conformity with the act some time to make application to bring themselves back into good order.
What the minister has said is that the practice now is to give them six months to do that. This simply incorporates that into the statute. Then it also provides an option for extending it beyond six months, presumably, if there is a good reason given or there's some legal requirement that further time be taken.
Is that essentially what the provision allows?
Hon. K. Falcon: Yes, it is.
Section 32 approved.
On section 33.
B. Ralston: This is the offence section under the Business Corporations Act, and it creates an offence that would make it an offence "to fail to comply with approval and signing requirements for community contribution reports." There is a more extended description of proposed defaults.
I suppose my question is…. There are a number of offences that are described in the Business Corporations Act. Can the minister give a sense of how often these offences are actually prosecuted?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that it's very rare. I don't have any information in terms of specifics for the member.
B. Ralston: I appreciate the legislative intent of making it an offence, given…. I don't follow these things absolutely closely, but I do keep an eye on developments in business law, depending on what's reported in the media. I'm unable to recall a prosecution under this section either.
Can the minister explain, then, why the choice has been made to make it an offence, when it's practice and relatively unlikely that there would be a prosecution, rather than giving it some regulatory force through the registrar of companies? Or is this an augmentation to
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the powers of the registrar to strike a company from the registry for failing to comply with the provisions of the Business Corporations Act?
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised, just to the member's first point, that the corporate registry will strike corporations for failure to file. They, as I understand, do not strike corporations for failure to meet the provisions set out in the offences section of the act.
What this will do, though, is simply amend the offence provisions to include the failure of community contribution company directors to fulfil their fiduciary obligations. It expands it to include the CCC directors and ensures that they publish or post their community contribution reports as well as the publication of a non-compliant community contribution report.
It goes on that it makes it an offence for a person to use community contribution companies or the letters CCC in its name unless it is, in fact, a community contribution company, a federal company or otherwise authorized to use that name. It just expands the offence provisions to include the new hybrid vehicle that we've introduced earlier in the act.
B. Ralston: Would a director of a community contribution company, similarly to a director under the Business Corporations Act, have personal liability under the Offence Act, as opposed to corporate liability? In other words, one can be prosecuted personally, as opposed to the company being prosecuted, for failure to file the report or sign it or prepare it in the proper way. Is that the intent here?
Hon. K. Falcon: If I understood the member's question correctly, there would be no additional or unique liability exposure for a director of a community contribution company. They would have the same obligations that would exist for any director or officer under the Business Corporations Act.
Sections 33 and 34 approved.
On section 35.
B. Ralston: This amends section 428. I take it that in the event of a prosecution, which admittedly is very rare, this simply would apply the penalties that currently apply under the act to the offences that are set out and added in section 33. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Sections 35 and 36 approved.
On section 37.
B. Ralston: This amendment adds to section 432 the power to pass regulations relating to many of the matters that we've discussed during our discussions of the creation of the community contribution company. I wanted to give the minister an opportunity to explain the breadth of the regulatory power.
I know he has some misgivings about expanding regulation, but this does appear to give the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council very broad powers relating to a number of the matters that we've discussed to promulgate regulations that would deal with those issues.
I want to give the minister an opportunity to perhaps describe the breadth of the regulatory power that's conferred by this amendment.
Hon. K. Falcon: I am advised by staff that out of an abundance of caution there are other regulatory-making powers that are included to provide some flexibility to deal with potential issues that could arise with this new hybrid corporate vehicle. For example, there may be a need to restrict community purposes, to the member's point earlier about ensuring that you don't have situations where you have rather nebulous community purposes.
There may have to be some real clarity around what exactly a community purpose is, to allow other transfers or to require additional disclosure in community contribution reports. This, albeit provides some breadth here, is done, as I understand, out of an abundance of caution.
Now, I'm also advised that the anticipated regulations are unlikely to be extensive — in other words, not more than a couple of pages. This allows for the ability, as we go out and engage in broader consultation, to be able to deal with those kinds of issues through regulatory-making ability.
B. Ralston: I appreciate the minister's response on that.
I think I know the answer to this, but I just wanted to confirm that it's likely that the member for Surrey–White Rock, in his capacity and given his personal interest in this file, would be the lead in terms of the consultation in seeking responses as to what might be effective regulation that would conform with the regulatory power that's conferred upon the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council by this amendment. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that this would give us the ability to go back to talk to the Advisory Council on Social Entrepreneurship, which has been very active and helpful in this manner, to talk about which regulations may be required to ensure that we try and get this model right.
Sections 37 and 38 approved.
[ Page 11130 ]
On section 39.
B. Ralston: Perhaps I can indicate that my interest and intention is to ask questions that begin at section 45, where this involves the issue, particularly — and one can imagine that this can be contentious within a cooperative housing association — where there's a decision, acting on a breach or alleged breach by a member of the association, to terminate their membership in a housing cooperative, which may result in them being evicted from a premises in cooperative housing.
That's where I want to ask some questions. I don't really have any questions up till section 45.
Sections 39 to 44 inclusive approved.
On section 45.
B. Ralston: This is a new section that's being added, and there are some further consequential amendments and more substantive amendments in 46 and 47. I've been advised that the B.C. Co-operative Association has reviewed this legislation and has no objections to it.
Can the minister explain how section 45 — it's adding a new section 35.1 — would work in terms of the mechanism for depriving a member of their membership status, which might lead to their eviction from cooperative housing? Given that this can be very divisive and traumatic for the individual concerned, and given the nature of the relations between people in a housing cooperative — very personal relationships sometimes; it can be fairly intense — can the minister explain how this will assist housing cooperatives in dealing with that very difficult issue?
Hon. K. Falcon: With respect to this section, Member, section 45, with the Cooperative Act there was an issue that has arisen where the new section is needed to ensure that some of the procedural safeguards provisions, which are established in sections 36 to 39, were not being circumvented by provisions whereby an association's rules would deem a membership withdrawn in order to circumvent the membership termination procedure.
In other words, if a member is not paying rent, for example, they would deem the member to have had a deemed withdrawal of membership from the co-op, and therefore, the member could be effectively expelled without having the proper procedures go through.
There was a court decision that validated the practice of doing so, but this amendment is necessary to close that loophole — which we really view as a loophole — and restore the legislative intent by ensuring that proper procedural safeguards are going to be in place whenever a person's membership in any type of cooperative is to be terminated. This amendment, as I understand, is particularly important in the context of housing cooperatives, as they are not subject to the Residential Tenancy Act.
B. Ralston: Can the minister, then — and I thank him for that description — describe what would be the amended procedure? He has referred to withdrawing membership. There is a reference here to serving documents and notice of the meeting upon the member. Can the minister just take us through the procedural steps that would be required for a housing cooperative to properly come to the conclusion that a member's membership and their right to reside in the housing cooperative is at an end?
Hon. K. Falcon: Just to emphasize, this only applies to cooperative housing with respect to the issue of non-payment of rent. As I understand, Member, what happens today…. I'll go through what's going to happen today, as a result of this change, and how that is different from what happened before.
There is non-payment of rent. The directors meet and make a determination that there is non-payment of rent. The directors must give formal notice to the individual that would be considered termination of membership. The member will have the ability to make submissions or to have counsel attend with them to a directors meeting to talk and make their case with respect to not paying rent.
What has changed is we've taken out…. There used to be an appeal to call the general meeting of the entire membership. This was the area that caused an enormous amount of problems for the co-ops, because of course, you can imagine that calling the entire membership together to deal with an issue of non-payment was rather cumbersome and problematic. That is why the approach that they would take was the deemed-withdrawal-of-membership approach, which was legal and was backed up by a court decision but eliminated any of the other traditional safeguards that one would want to have in place.
What is happening now is that they have the ability to come forward to make submissions to the directors. They can bring counsel, if they wish, to make those submissions. They will have an ability, of course, to appeal to the Supreme Court. They will not have the ability to call the general membership together to deal with an issue of non-payment of rent. We believe, with the support of the cooperative associations, that that is a streamlined, more effective approach of dealing with non-payment of rent.
B. Ralston: I know the minister has referred to rent, but there are, I think, what are probably subsidiary charges to rent.
It refers here to "occupancy charges or other money due by the member to the housing cooperative." I take it
[ Page 11131 ]
those are all ancillary to the payment of rent — maybe portions of utility fees or common area. I'm not sure the analogy to a strata corporation is exactly perfect, so perhaps the minister could just clarify that.
Then I just wanted to clarify that the directors meet, resolve to give notice pursuant to a non-payment of rent, and then the opportunity is to come before a separate meeting of the directors to make representations about that. If that decision is to proceed, then the affected member of the co-op has the opportunity — I think it's under section 47 — to give a notice of appeal to the association within seven days after delivery of a written notice that is required and then, beyond that, can go through the Supreme Court.
I just wanted to make those clarifications. Perhaps the minister can confirm that I've either stated it accurately or correct me if I haven't.
Hon. K. Falcon: I've confirmed that the member is correct.
Sections 45 to 48 inclusive approved.
On section 49.
B. Ralston: I can just indicate that I have no questions until we begin the new division at section 55. So up to section 54, I have no further questions. They're all amendments to the Cooperative Association Act, and they're technical amendments.
Sections 49 to 54 inclusive approved.
On section 55.
B. Ralston: This is an amendment to the Cooperative Association Act that refers to corporate mistakes. This appears to be a more substantive amendment, if its length is any indication. Can the minister explain what the purpose of that proposed amendment is?
Hon. K. Falcon: This is a technical amendment which I understand will bring the Cooperative Act in line with the court remedies available to societies and companies under the Society Act and the Business Corporations Act, respectively.
Sections 55 and 56 approved.
On section 57.
B. Ralston: Perhaps I can just make it clear that I have no questions on the proposed amendments to the Cooperative Association Act, and they conclude at section 72.
Sections 57 to 72 inclusive approved.
On section 73.
B. Ralston: This is an amendment to the Credit Union Incorporation Act. This appears to be a consequential amendment as a result of changes to the Business Corporations Act. Similarly, sections 74 and 75, I believe, are consequential amendments. Perhaps the minister could simply confirm that, and we could then deal with those three together.
Hon. K. Falcon: I can confirm that.
Sections 73 and 74 approved.
On section 75.
B. Ralston: I believe that it's the next section where there's an amendment to the powers of the superintendent of financial institutions. Perhaps I'm one section premature. Perhaps we can deal with section 75, and I'll ask my question in section 76.
Section 75 approved.
On section 76.
B. Ralston: This is, as it's explained to me, a change to the Financial Institutions Act that gives the superintendent of financial institutions, which is the senior position there, the power to determine the duties of employees of the Financial Institutions Commission.
I'm wondering what the purpose of that is and what the consequences might be to any individual employees currently employed at the Financial Institutions Commission.
Hon. K. Falcon: This is to align the practice of the Financial Institutions Commission with other like sorts of organizations. So they should be responsible for regulatory decisions, and the ADM or the superintendent of financial institutions would be responsible for their staff, just like in every other organization in government.
B. Ralston: Just so I'm clear, then. The language — the explanatory note, at least — says that it "may determine the duties of the employees." This is not meant to change the description of the actual job. It's not a classification question. It's simply a question of confirming who directs the employees and who is responsible in the, I suppose, chain of authority to supervise and direct those employees. I just want to make sure that is clear. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is exactly right.
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Section 76 approved.
On section 77.
B. Ralston: This gives the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, which is the cabinet, the power to appoint the superintendent of financial institutions. Can the minister explain why this change was thought necessary?
Hon. K. Falcon: Member, this was a bit of a patchwork situation, where you've got a superintendent who has responsibilities, two of which were done by order-in-council. Those would be the registrar of mortgage brokers and the superintendent of real estate. So two of the duties were done by order-in-council.
One was done by ministerial order, which was the superintendent of pensions, and then the last was superintendent of financial institutions, which was an appointment by the commission.
What we're doing here is having all of them done by OICs so that we have consistency and it is much more analogous to what we have right across government.
B. Ralston: As I understand, the present situation of the superintendent would be that it would be the Financial Institutions Commission. I believe the members of that are appointed by order-in-council. They would be determining the…. They would be the hiring committee, I suppose, and making a recommendation to the chair of the Financial Institutions Commission.
I believe there was a recent change of the superintendent of financial institutions. Is this change in any way related to that new hiring? The minister says it's simply an effort to have consistency across a number of the senior regulatory employees in the commission. Is that the reason? Or was there some specific difficulty that arose in dealing with what I believe was a change of the person who occupied the position?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that the approach has been taken to ensure consistency, whereby an assistant deputy minister will have direct accountability to the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, as opposed to the somewhat diffuse nature of accountabilities that was under the old model.
This will align the ADM responsibilities of the superintendent, who, as you know, carries multiple responsibilities. All will be under the purview of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council, and that is a best practice which we will be following henceforth.
B. Ralston: I suppose the apparatus of the hiring process…. Will that be administered by the public service commission in the ordinary way that senior employees might be hired, or will there be a separate procedure to engage a person for this position?
Hon. K. Falcon: There's no change contemplated in relation to the individual that is currently acting as superintendent. For future appointments, the Ministry of Finance will be utilizing the board resourcing and development office to ensure that the highest-calibre candidates are identified and selected. That will be done in consultation with the chair of the FICOM, the Financial Institutions Commission, who would be consulted on the prospective candidates. Then the final decision would be a cabinet order-in-council.
B. Ralston: Perhaps the minister can explain, then, why this wouldn't be proceeded with through the public service commission and would go to the board resourcing agency that he's referred to. I think that more typically, that's something that is used to select directors of, say, universities or colleges, rather than front-line public servants, who usually go through the public service commission.
I know that, through the Merit Commissioner, there has been some scrutiny and, I think, consistency brought to this process. So I'm wondering…. That wouldn't appear to be entirely in tune with that direction. Perhaps the minister could explain why that choice is being made, rather than going through the public service commission.
Hon. K. Falcon: The rationale behind this approach was to mirror a similar approach that's utilized at the Agricultural Land Commission in the selection of the CEO. That is where we utilize the board resourcing office to make the selection of the best possible individual.
Given the similar situation you have with the superintendent operating under FICOM and responsibilities that are rather broad — given the responsibilities for the real estate sector, the mortgage brokers, the superintendent of pensions and, of course, Financial Institutions Commission responsibilities — it was felt, as I'm advised, that going through a similar process that we go through on an appointment of the Agricultural Land Commission CEO is the best way to go with this too.
B. Ralston: Well, I don't think I'd have these same questions were it a search for the chair of the Financial Institutions Commission. I can understand the rationale for that. I'm familiar with the process to some degree at the Agricultural Land Commission, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a model that one would want to follow in every case. It seems to introduce a potential politicization of the position that I don't think is really consistent with the scope of the duties.
Clearly, what you're searching for here is someone of the calibre of a senior public servant at the ADM or dep-
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uty minister level. The responsibilities are fairly broad and intense. I'm wondering why this choice is being made.
I may be repeating myself, but I suppose I'm suggesting some dissatisfaction or disagreement with the minister's explanation. Maybe that's where it ends, but perhaps he might want to comment further.
Hon. K. Falcon: I don't know that I have a significant amount to add, to be honest, Member. Just that, as I understand, the advice I've received is that going through the board resourcing office approach to secure the hiring of a new CEO at the Agricultural Land Commission….
Apparently, they're very good at sourcing and seeking out individuals with a broad range of skills, as would be required, obviously, in an ALC-type appointment. Similarly, in this kind of a situation, where you've got a very broad range of financial capacity and knowledge that's going to be required, there's just, really, a belief that the board resourcing office is the better route to go than the traditional public sector agency approach.
I don't really have much more than that. It has worked in the past. It's not dissimilar, as I'm advised, to the hiring and the work that we do in hiring other commission CEOs. We believe that this is the right approach for hiring a superintendent in the future — of course, in consultation with the chair of the FICOM.
B. Ralston: Well, perhaps I can just close with this. It would seem to me that the point of view of the government is represented by the chair of the Financial Institutions Commission, who under the present procedure is appointed by order-in-council. So there is that particular lens there available, but to draw it more directly into the board resourcing office, I question. I suppose the ultimate test is the calibre of the subsequent appointees.
I do want to express that opinion and leave it on the record, and given the minister's response and what I've just said, I think that's really all I can say on this section. Perhaps we should move to the next one, where a similar question will probably arise.
Section 77 approved.
On section 78.
B. Ralston: I won't recapitulate the entire discussion we just had on section 77, but I take it this uses the same procedure to appoint the chief executive officer of the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation.
I suppose I should be clear. Is the minister then saying that the board resourcing office would be used to search out and select the chief executive officer after consultation with the directors of that corporation? Perhaps the minister can just confirm that.
Hon. K. Falcon: This case has some similarities — a little bit different, in the sense that the legislation is silent on the appointment of the CEO of the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation. FICOM members, in their role as directors of CUDIC, or the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation, traditionally just appoint the superintendent of financial institutions as the CEO. That has long been the practice.
The appointment of the CEO of CUDIC by Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council will bring consistency to all of the appointments assigned to the public servant who runs the Financial Institutions Commission. This change just clarifies that the CEO is accountable to government for the administrative operation of CUDIC and for the supervision of the public servants who work for the fund.
Section 78 approved.
On section 79.
B. Ralston: This section begins a number of sections — I think through to section 107 — that propose changes to the Partnership Act. So perhaps what would be the best way to proceed is if the minister could set out the broad objectives and the motivation here for these substantial changes, at least by number, to the Partnership Act. Then there may be several individual sections where I have questions.
I don't expect that this is terribly controversial, but I would appreciate hearing from the minister on the broad approach here and the reason for bringing in these changes at this time.
Hon. K. Falcon: Sections 79 through 107. These are all pretty technical amendments, Member, to the Partnership Act. They move definitions and bring consistency to the use of defined terms — like "business" or "firm," as an example — through the Partnership Act.
They provide legislative authority for the current name reservation process which is consistent with actual practice and other corporate statutes that are administered by what used to be known as the corporate registry, which we now refer to as the B.C. registry services. They allow forms to be established by the registrar, etc.
If the member has any specific questions on any of these technical amendments, I'm happy to go into more detail.
B. Ralston: I thank the minister for that introduction. There are some changes in the definitions of "general partnership" and in subsequent sections, I believe, "partnership property." Can the minister explain the significance of — it's now described as a general partnership — the changes that are set out there?
Hon. K. Falcon: These definitions exist in another section of the act, so we're moving them to this section. I understand that this harmonizes the use of defined terms in the act, improves consistency and clarity for users regarding central concepts of the act and makes the language more accurately reflect the substance of the act.
Sections 79 and 80 approved.
On section 81.
B. Ralston: I referred earlier to "partnership property." I believe what the minister was saying was that this definition exists elsewhere and is being imported into part 2 of the act. Can the minister just confirm that?
Hon. K. Falcon: That is correct.
Sections 81 to 87 inclusive approved.
On section 88.
B. Ralston: This "clarifies the requirements…that must be met before a foreign limited partnership can be registered in British Columbia." By "foreign," is it meant a partnership from another province, or is it outside of Canada?
This situation might appear to arise…. I think the partnership form — certainly, for professional consultancies or professional firms, such as law firms, accounting firms — would appear to be more prevalent in terms of international firms that seek to establish in British Columbia or in other provinces. Can the minister confirm that that's part of the legislative purpose here of this section?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that nothing substantive changes with respect to the question the member is asking. It is just changing some of the wording in later provisions.
Sections 88 to 95 inclusive approved.
On section 96.
B. Ralston: This sets out a procedure for reservation of business names. It describes…. Can the minister explain what is changing here in terms of that process of reserving business names?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, we've got some minor technical amendments here. The purpose is to provide for the reservation of business names in the act, to move the rules for name approval into regulation and to make the authority for name reservation and approval consistent with the Business Corporations Act.
B. Ralston: Perhaps I can just indicate, then, that I have no further questions on the Partnership Act, which I believe ends at section 107 — unless there's any further statement the minister wishes to make on these amendments.
Sections 96 to 107 inclusive approved.
On section 108.
B. Ralston: This is an issue that appears to be similar to one we discussed earlier. It's the process for appointing the superintendent of pensions. Can the minister explain the change that's taking place here and why he views it as necessary at this time?
Hon. K. Falcon: Again, the member is right. In this case, the appointment of the superintendent of pensions by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council brings consistency to all of the appointments that are assigned to the public servant who runs the Financial Institutions Commission. It's also more transparent than the current requirement for a ministerial order, which can be done without any of that information being published, whereas the order-in-council, of course, will be made public.
Section 108 approved.
On section 109.
B. Ralston: This 109 begins a long series of amendments that relate to the Auditor General Act and the requirement to…. What it says is that it confirms that the Auditor General may be appointed the auditor of a number of public bodies. They are as wide as the B.C. Innovation Council, the B.C. Transit authority, schools, Columbia Basin Trust. Can the minister…?
What I take these amendments to be is that unless the Auditor General is appointed, pursuant to section 10 of the Auditor General Act, it also confirms that he — in this case, it is he, the present occupant of the office — may be appointed as the auditor. It confers a discretion on these bodies to appoint the Auditor General as the auditor of these government entities.
As I understand the present practice, that's an option that's available to them, should they wish to engage his services. Sometimes the option is chosen to go outside and engage a private audit firm.
I just want to clarify the purpose. I think the single answer, then, can stand for all those amendments. I won't repeat the question for each one, providing I've, I think, satisfied myself that I understand what's being attempted here.
Hon. K. Falcon: The member is really largely correct in this. When the Auditor General Act was replaced in
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2003, time constraints effectively prevented the completion of all of the consequential amendments made necessary by the act. It has resulted in some confusion in practice.
For example, while the 2003 act states that the Auditor General has the right to go and audit, say, a school district even if the school district does not wish to have the Auditor General of British Columbia come in and undertake that audit, this is clarifying that, in fact, he — in this case, he — does have that ability.
These consequential amendments will flow through to all of the other organizations to make clear that when we're making reference to the Auditor General Act, it means the Auditor General of British Columbia.
B. Ralston: Perhaps with your leave, Madam Chair, I can choose an example from section 111 — just because they're all essentially worded the same, but it's a more familiar example.
The proposals to amend the College and Institute Act — the proposed amendment reads: "Unless the Auditor General is appointed in accordance with the Auditor General Act as the auditor of an institution, the institution must appoint an auditor to audit the accounts of the institution at least once each year."
Just to be clear, then. This gives the institution the option of appointing the Auditor General to do the audit. If they don't choose that option, then they must appoint someone else other than the Auditor General. Is that correct?
Hon. K. Falcon: I'm advised that, essentially, unless the Auditor General of British Columbia does not choose to undertake the audit, then he has the ability to do the audit — period, full stop. As an example, the Auditor may decide to do a random sampling of school districts or colleges or what have you. This clarifies that should the Auditor make that decision to go and do some random sampling, he unequivocally — in this case, he — would have the right to do so.
B. Ralston: I'm familiar with, in the Public Accounts Committee, the audit plan that's put forward. I take it and I've been advised that these revisions merely clarify the authority of the Auditor General yet make it clear that institutions that aren't selected by the Auditor General or agree to have the Auditor General….
There are occasions when the Auditor General chooses to use his power to audit even over the objections of the agency. That is clarified. But should he not either choose himself to audit the agency or be invited to audit the agency, then there's a residual obligation to appoint an auditor of the agency.
All of these amendments refer to that requirement, in different ways, for each of the individual government agencies that are referred to. I think that's probably a little bit long-winded, but I hope that's clear. I'd appreciate the minister confirming that as accurate.
Hon. K. Falcon: I can confirm that is accurate.
Sections 109 to 125 inclusive approved.
Hon. K. Falcon: The committee rises and reports the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 5:15 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
BILL 23 — FINANCE STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Bill 23, Finance Statutes Amendment Act, 2012, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. T. Lake: I now call committee stage of Bill 24, intituled Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Act, 2012.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 24 — PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO
ANIMALS AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 24; D. Black in the chair.
The committee met at 5:17 p.m.
On section 1.
L. Popham: I'm just questioning the change from "person responsible for an animal" to "person responsible." What was the reason for that change?
Hon. D. McRae: It's a technical, legal housekeeping change we decided to make. The "person responsible for an animal" or "person responsible for the animal" could be responsible for just one, whereas the "person responsible" change will allow us to deal with a group or class of animals if the situation were to arise.
[ Page 11136 ]
L. Popham: Does that change any prior case law that is on record?
Hon. D. McRae: No.
L. Popham: Does the minister foresee any confusion that would be caused by this change?
Hon. D. McRae: It just makes it easier to make regulation for classes of animals. A prime example would be sled dogs, as a group.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain the intent of the change in this section?
Hon. D. McRae: This change creates a consistent level of authority to allow or disallow a bylaw.
L. Popham: Can the minister give me an example of what would change with this legislation?
Hon. D. McRae: There are no bylaws before us now. If, in theory, one were to come forward, and if it were to be allowed or disallowed, it would require cabinet approval. This will allow the minister to do it. It was done on legal advice to make the act more workable.
L. Popham: Is there a requirement for consultation by the minister with this section?
Hon. D. McRae: I guess it would be in subsection 2(b)(6). I'm sure the member has noticed the point where it says: "Written notice of the intention to make, amend or repeal a bylaw by order of the minister under subsection (4) must be given by the minister to the society at least 90 days before the order comes into force…."
Now, I know you'll say that's not consultation, and yes, you're correct in this particular case. The notice will be given. As such, I'm sure that we'd be able to have some level of informal consultation, but it is not in the act itself.
L. Popham: For example, if there was a requirement or a recommendation by the minister to change the bylaws around an enforcement issue, how would the minister source his information around enforcement? I wouldn't think that the ministry would have those sources inside the ministry.
Hon. D. McRae: As of right now, of course, like I said earlier, there are no bylaws in question. But providing that there was going to be one coming forward, we would give the 90-days notice, and we would have some level of conversation with, maybe in this case, the BCSPCA to make sure we were working on a path that was beneficial to all parties involved.
L. Popham: Can the minister give me an example of a new bylaw or an amendment or change in an existing bylaw that could happen?
Hon. D. McRae: I'm going to give a hypothetical, because there are no bylaws. We'll just say "what if." Hypothetically speaking, we were going to craft a bylaw that would give direction on how an inspection of the premise were to occur. We would make notice to the BCSPCA. The 90-day period would kick in. We would have the conversation with the party, and that would be an opportunity to create a bylaw that would be beneficial for all involved.
L. Popham: What would be accomplished by this change that wasn't being done before this change?
Hon. D. McRae: There would be a greater level of transparency. Say, for example, a bylaw was introduced because of the processes of using the government. Obviously, there would be a greater level of awareness with the general public, which I think would be beneficial to all involved, whereas now it wouldn't happen.
L. Popham: Thank you for that answer. The 90 days that is going to be brought in around notice to the SPCA…. How did the 90 days get agreed upon? I guess my concern is: if the 90 days is too short of a time period for compliance, what would happen at that point?
Hon. D. McRae: I draw the member's eyes to the line where it says "at least 90 days," so there is no maximum. It comes down to: there will be at least 90 days. If it takes longer, it'll take until it's actually done and completed in an adequate manner.
L. Popham: If there was an extension granted, what is taken into consideration? Would it be by direction of the BCSPCA?
Hon. D. McRae: Again, it's at least 90 days. We had hoped that we'd be able to resolve most issues relatively around that period of time. Again, since we don't have a bylaw in front of us to use as a great example, the reality is that we're assuming that both parties would work in concert trying to achieve the end result, which is something that's good for the animal and the animal owner.
If, for some reason, there was a circumstance — which, again, is a big what-if — a shorter period of notice could
[ Page 11137 ]
be specified in a written notice. That's something that if it was in the public good that we were to move faster…. As such we don't really have an example. It hasn't really appeared before us yet.
L. Popham: Thank you for that answer. The reason that I'm asking about this is because through the consultations that I have done with the BCSPCA and other animal advocacy groups, the concern is that legislation or bylaws would be brought in that would be concerning to both. I can say that by working through the current legislation that we're debating right now, the concern was heightened on both sides of the issue, both supporting and non-supporting of this bill.
I think the concern is that maybe the 90 days could be extended to 180 days, or perhaps taking out the reference to a shorter notice period. I think there is some concern that this is going to maybe lead to rushed changes that people wouldn't be able to be consulted on or at least give their opinions on. I was wondering if the minister is interested in perhaps amending this section.
Hon. D. McRae: The reality is that we believe 90 days, which is the minimum before an order were to come into force, is an extension period of time. There is no desire, as I say, on the 91st day that that is the end of consultation. The reality is that if there is a very complex issue before us, we would of course be willing to work in concert with the BCSPCA to make sure that the transparency and public good is protected.
The reality is that if the two parties cannot come to an agreement, yet at the same time the government of the day believes that it needs to be brought in for the public good — or animal good, I guess — it is important to have a possible end date there. The 90-day minimum, or a shorter notice period in a specified written notice, is the way of making sure that we intend to consult and work with the BCSPCA but also that we have an end possible date to any potential bylaws.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me when the shorter notice period would be used.
Hon. D. McRae: We don't get the opportunity to revisit legislation very often. We don't want to speculate on what may come up in the future, but the reality is that we are giving the ministry today and future ministers and their staff an opportunity to be reactive to a need — again, for the public good. Again, as to what the potential could be, it's not under consideration right now. We're just giving the ministry and the minister a degree of flexibility as they go forward.
L. Popham: I understand that it would be a hypothetical situation that we'd be describing at the moment, but the shorter notice period is of concern. I guess I need to have some idea…. If a shorter notice period was given to the BCSPCA for a change that they would have to implement, which may be quite burdensome to them, and if they couldn't meet that requirement, I'm trying to understand what the consequences are.
If the minister would like to put on record that if there was a problem with meeting any time requirements, there would always be an extension given, then I'm comfortable with that. I know it's hypothetical, but we still, I think, need to have a concrete example in front of us.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Hon. D. McRae: Again, we aren't trying to put an extra burden on the BCSPCA by any means. What we're trying to do is have a level of consistency and, again, transparency. Hypothetically speaking, as we go forward, assuming that both parties are working in concert trying to achieve an end result, there would be no intent to basically to put an end result on top of the 90 days, stop at the 91st.
The reality is that because we are dealing in hypotheticals, we don't know what opportunities may come forward in the future to protect the public good or protect animals. We are giving future ministers and ministries the opportunity to react accordingly.
L. Popham: I understand that, but I think when legislation is changing, there are often unintended consequences, because we base the legislation on a hypothetical situation in the future. I think that this one may have unintended consequences, and some of them may be financial, on the BCSPCA.
Perhaps, the minister can assure myself and the BCSPCA that this would not cause them a financial burden at all.
Hon. D. McRae: The ministry has no intention of creating extra financial burden on the BCSPCA. The purpose of this amendment is to create a more transparent bylaw procedure and be more consistent as we move forward.
L. Popham: If compliance to a change period would happen and there was a financial cost to it, is the ministry considering that that would be reimbursed to the BCSPCA, as they aren't getting any funding currently for enforcement or prevention?
Hon. D. McRae: Again, this section is not about budgetary expenses. It's about creating transparency and consistency for BCSPCA and through bylaws. The what-ifs or the hypotheticals that are being asked are not before us at this stage, and we are not considering those types of bylaws.
[ Page 11138 ]
L. Popham: I understand that, but the point of my question is that the consequences of this specific change could actually involve financial cost due to compliance with a time period, especially a shorter time period.
I just want assurances from the minister that if that's the case…. I'm not saying that the SPCA would not agree with changes that may need to be made. But it still may be a financial burden for them to change their procedures, hypothetically. I don't know what else could happen, but any changes they make, including staffing, could involve a financial increase for them.
That's one of the unintended consequences, I think, of changing legislation, and I think I do need some assurances from the minister that this wouldn't be something that would be put on to the BCSPCA.
Hon. D. McRae: Myself and the ministry staff are very aware of the financial realities facing the BCSPCA, and this amendment is not about adding a financial hardship to the BCSPCA. Again, the goal of this amendment is, like I said earlier, to make sure there is transparency and consistency with any potential bylaws that may come in, in the future.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
L. Popham: This section is around reporting requirements. I think, through discussions I've had with the BCSPCA, there is a concern that they would be asked to report on the charity side of their organization, which would be unlike any reporting required from any other charity within B.C.
I think I would just like to have some assurances from the minister that the BCSPCA would not be required to report on membership lists from their charity organization or anything around any of the campaigns that they're doing internally, within their charity.
Hon. D. McRae: I draw the attention of the member opposite to 6.1(a), the clause or point that says: "report on any matter relevant to the administration of this Act or the exercise of powers or performance of duties under this Act." There is no reference in this section to membership lists or fundraising activities.
L. Popham: So the donor names, donation reporting, would never be requested by the minister?
Hon. D. McRae: The only information we could request would have to relate to the enforcement of the act.
B. Ralston: Section 7 of the act refers to some fairly broad powers of the society. It says in section 7 of the present act: "The society may do one or more of the following: (a) receive, take, hold, enjoy and manage all gifts, devises, bequests, legacies, subscriptions and donations of property that are made or given to it." It talks about acquiring and — references to property — operating public shelters for stray and seized animals and entering agreements with the government or any municipality "to act as pound keeper in a defined area in British Columbia." It would seem that the scope of sections 7(a) and (b) is very broad.
Is it the minister's interpretation of this proposed reporting requirement that it does not apply to sections 7(a) and 7(b) of those powers of the society? There isn't any restriction in the way in which this is phrased. It refers simply to the administration of this act.
I would say, read broadly, that could apply to sections 7(a) and 7(b). Now, it seems from what the minister said that that is not his intention, but perhaps he can clarify that, should this issue become contentious or a cause for concern.
Hon. D. McRae: Again, in the existing act, section 7, we had subsections (a) and (c) — both not to be read again. But they're the ones that start off "(a) receive, take, hold, enjoy" and "(c) establish and operate public shelters." If they were related directly to enforcement activities, we could have an interest in that particular area. Otherwise, it would not be of interest in these changes.
L. Popham: Can the minister give me an example of a type of report that would be requested from the BCSPCA?
Hon. D. McRae: We could request reports, perhaps, in terms of data on animals seized, rehomed or otherwise disposed of.
L. Popham: Thank you for that answer.
Is there a possibility that a large number of reports would be requested? Does the minister have any plans, as soon as this legislation is passed, to start requesting reports? The reason why I'm asking that is, again, around the financial burden for the BCSPCA. A large number of reports requested over the year could actually take up a lot of staff time, and the consequence would be a financial burden.
Hon. D. McRae: We have no plans at this stage to request immediate reports or a large number of reports. It does go with the mandate of actually having increased transparency. But more importantly, though, we understand that the SPCA does very good work for the province, and we'd like to work with the BCSPCA and ensure that reports being asked for were not onerous.
[ Page 11139 ]
L. Popham: My final question on this is: if the reporting was causing financial burden, could the minister see any way of reimbursing the BCSPCA for those services?
Hon. D. McRae: We don't see a large number of reports being asked for, and like I said earlier, we're not really contemplating any at this exact time. So we don't really see it being a financial burden to the BCSPCA.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain the intent of this change?
Hon. D. McRae: What we're doing is we're codifying existing practice. The SPCA now is required to make sure the pet owner is aware that a review process, the 28-day period, is a possibility, and the individual can then make their decision.
L. Popham: I've had a lot of questions through my consultations around the four-day period that a pet owner would have to come and get their animal. How often does it happen that the animal would be destroyed at the four-day mark?
Hon. D. McRae: At this stage, this is current practice within the organization. We have no stats on this particular practice. However, in theory, based on reporting requirements, we could potentially ask for such stats to be given out in terms of a report. Again, this is dealing with abandoned animals where the owner is either unknown or an owner is very difficult to contact.
L. Popham: In the case of an abandoned animal or a seized animal, in the case where a BCSPCA agent wasn't available and — the new term — an "authorized agent" was used, how do we know how the animal would be dealt with — as far as where it would be held, how long it would be held? Do the same rules apply outside of the BCSPCA jurisdiction? I think there is a little bit of confusion around what would happen, say, in a smaller town that wouldn't have a facility.
Hon. D. McRae: I guess the question opposite, if I may be so bold, is quite speculative. We have no intent to authorize an agent at this time. This section is about the basic BCSPCA 28-day period when the animal review is underway.
L. Popham: I do think that in order for a review or an appeal to happen, we do have to take into consideration that — I'm going to refer to upcoming sections — the word "society" has been replaced with "authorized agent." So in the case where an animal is seized under section 10 or 11, there wouldn't be any authority to sell, dispose of, etc., an animal under section 17 or 18, as it seems as though that authority vests only in the society, and it wouldn't actually give an authorized agent those same terms.
Hon. D. McRae: Perhaps it's our fault, but I'm a little confused. As I answer, maybe we can work our way through this. When the member opposite sees the word "society," that's referring to the BCSPCA. When we see the words or terminology "authorized agent," it could be an authorized agent of the BCSPCA or of the Minister of Agriculture.
L. Popham: The authorized agent would still have the abilities given under sections 17 and 18?
Hon. D. McRae: We put in sections that require that a review of the decision may be requested in both cases, but other than that, no changes have been made to 17 and 18.
L. Popham: In the case of an abandoned animal, how is a person notified that they have four days to claim their animal?
Hon. D. McRae: Notification is dealt with under section 19, and we've made no changes to section 19 in this amendment.
L. Popham: But given that the four days are referenced in the section, I'd like to know how that notice is given.
Hon. D. McRae: Under section 19, we note that includes means of notice such as mailing, publication in a newspaper or posting in a conspicuous place. This suggests that actual notice is not required. What the legislation contemplates is that all reasonable efforts will be made to give actual notice.
B. Ralston: Some of the advice that I've received, fairly or unfairly, ascribes to the SPCA a minimal compliance with section 19, which is the form of notice. What I'm told sometimes happens is that the notice is not mailed. It's just posted somewhere on the property. There's no real requirement to prove service, as one would do, legally, in delivering a legal document.
I think the concern is raised because, in the view of some, the notice given to destroy or sell or otherwise dispose of an animal is very important notice, and people have the sense, in some cases, that this process is being treated too casually and leads to animals being destroyed
[ Page 11140 ]
when people didn't get adequate notice.
I appreciate that the minister says that section 19 isn't going to be changed, but there is a process under new section 20.2 which refers to days of notice. I suppose the concern here is in subsection 17(b)(ii): "may, no earlier than 4 days after giving notice, destroy, sell or otherwise dispose of the animal."
If giving notice is not defined, other than in the way that's set out in section 19, and there is no requirement for proof of service before proceeding with the step of destroying the animal, injustice can and does result.
It's not clear in the language that's chosen, after the words "4 days after giving notice." Under section 19, is giving notice simply mailing something? Mailing by Canada Post is somewhat archaic in some ways, but does that constitute notice — simply putting something in the mail with no proof that it ever arrived? Is that deemed to be adequate notice for the purpose of this section?
If so, I think many would agree with the observation that this may work an injustice. There is real concern that I've heard on this issue of whether the notice that is proposed, particularly when it's so short…. It's only four days. It's very difficult to be assured that people whose animals are seized and who want to avail themselves of the appeal provisions are indeed advised, one, where their animal is, and, two, that there is an appeal mechanism.
I'd like the minister to explain what is meant by "4 days after giving notice" — what situations would comply with that — and hear his view as to whether he regards that as adequate and fair notice.
Hon. D. McRae: We understand the points raised by the member opposite. During the course of the construction of this piece of legislation, we discussed this issue with the BCSPCA. Our understanding is that they did not wish to see it changed at this time. This act has been around for several decades, and it has not come up as a significant issue in the past several decades. As such, we did not contemplate changing it today.
B. Ralston: I can understand, at least on the advice I have.... I don't want to appear unduly antagonistic, but certainly some of the advice that I'm receiving — contrary to, certainly, what the BCSPCA may say or the position that they may take — is that adequate notice is not given.
Since this section is being changed to include the notice to the person whose animal is seized.... That is, indeed, the very purpose of this amendment, the very commendable purpose of this amendment — that it's creating a legislative mechanism to review that decision.
Section (b) includes notice of the right of the owner of the animal to be advised of that under section 20.2, that they have access to a review mechanism and then, ultimately, if it should go to that point, to refer the matter or appeal to the tribunal. So there is an important new aspect to the notice. Yet the same — I would say archaic — provisions pertaining to notice still apply.
I'm concerned. I'd like the minister's response, if he is prepared to acknowledge this point. Perhaps he isn't, but I'm going to put the question. Is the minister satisfied that notice simply by…? The words of section 19 are that the notice "must be in writing and (a) mailed to or served personally on the owner." So it's not a requirement of personal service.
Is the minister saying that notice by simply putting a letter in the mail, addressed to the person, is satisfactory notice, without any proof that the person received it — indeed, any proof that the person received it within the four days where there's a prohibition against disposing of the animal?
One can well imagine, if that's the case, a situation where notice is simply mailed and it doesn't arrive for five or six days — given that sometimes, with Canada Post, these things happen, though I know they would claim that their on-time delivery rate is higher than that by a long shot.
But let's suppose it doesn't arrive. The four days is expired, the animal is gone, and the person hasn't even actually received the notice. Can the minister not acknowledge, or would the minister not acknowledge that certainly, if you're an animal owner and you want to avail yourself of that review mechanism or that appeal mechanism, not getting the notice until after your animal is potentially destroyed is a real injustice? I would think that the minister would want to avoid that situation.
So I'm looking for the minister's response to what I've said, with the hope that he understands the point and may wish to consider some other options rather than proceeding with this section in exactly this form.
Hon. D. McRae: I'm sure the member opposite also notices that the four days refers to animals that are abandoned or if the owner is very difficult to get a hold of. Perhaps he or she has no fixed address or has moved and gave no forwarding address.
Other than that, if the owner is known, there is a 14-day period. I understand that Canada Post does its very best to deliver mail as best it can, but 14 days is, I think, a reasonable period of time to receive a letter.
However, it is to be noted, too, that the BCSPCA prefers to serve notice personally, rather than use post, whenever possible.
B. Ralston: Perhaps I can try this a different way. Would the minister consider that under the new powers that are added to his jurisdiction in section 2 of the amendment of subsection (6), he could promulgate a new bylaw that would prescribe the manner in which notice
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was to be served?
Clearly, I think the minister is acknowledging — and again, he can correct me if I'm wrong — that the notice provision may be inadequate and unfair. I'm looking for a way to work with the minister and suggest some avenues that might enable him to meet the objective that I'm referring to.
So I'm wondering if section 6 would give him those powers. Or alternately, whether the proposed section 6.1, which we've already discussed, would give him the power to request a report on the manner in which notices are served and the relationship between that and the date at which animals may be destroyed or disposed of in another way.
Would the minister be prepared to consider either of those two alternatives as a separate avenue for achieving the same objective — that is, making sure that someone has the notice of their animal being deemed abandoned and having the opportunity to be aware of that and appeal it, if they so choose, before the animal is destroyed?
Hon. D. McRae: The very short answer is yes. This is an example where we could request a report from the BCSPCA in terms of how many animals have been in these circumstances. In theory, we could then go down the path of crafting a bylaw prescribing how this would occur. Yes, a prime example of what could happen in the future.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me why there is different legislation for abandoned animals and seized animals?
Hon. D. McRae: An abandoned animal can be seized, and an animal where we have the known owner and is in distress can also be seized.
L. Popham: So is there any difference in the legislation between abandoned animals and seized animals?
Hon. D. McRae: I guess an animal is seized if it's coming into custody, and an abandoned animal has no owner and then, I guess, is in arguable distress. An animal that is in distress but owned would also be seized, but again, they both would result in them coming into custody.
B. Ralston: The proposed new sections 17 and 18 draw a distinction in the length of the notice period. The minister has referred to this earlier in our discussion. Subsection 17(b)(ii) says: "may, no earlier than 4 days after giving notice, destroy…." That's the society. In "Disposition of animals in distress" there is: "may, no earlier than 14 days after giving notice, destroy, sell or otherwise dispose of the animal."
Can the minister explain the rationale between the four-day notice for an animal that's deemed to be abandoned — and there is a definition of "abandoned" in the act presently — and an animal deemed to be in distress?
Hon. D. McRae: The four days and 14 days obviously already exist. The BCSPCA uses the shorter time period, especially when they want to rehome an animal that has come into their possession. The 14 days is often used when the BCSPCA knows the owner and they want to give the owner a last reasonable chance to take action to be able to maintain ownership of that animal in question.
B. Ralston: Well, there is a definition in the present act, section 10.1, of "abandoned animal." There is no definition of "distress." There's something that's described in section 12 as "critical distress." I suppose the difficulty with having two different time periods rather than having a single one is that then it depends on how you categorize the situation of the animal, whether it's in distress or whether it's been abandoned.
It seems that in some cases there might be some overlap. It's not immediately obvious what the distinction is, and given that there is no definition of distress in the act, that seems reasonable to assert.
So why wouldn't the act simply have one period — the longer period, which is more favourable to the owner — of 14 days and be done with it? It's certainly simpler to administer, because you don't have to make that distinction, and it's probably fairer, because it's longer.
Can the minister acknowledge that the difference between an abandoned animal and an animal in distress may be unclear, and therefore —I think, in the view of some — the society may default to the shorter notice period rather than the longer one?
Hon. D. McRae: Subsection 1(2) defines "distress," I think, at the start of the piece of legislation. We discussed "4 days" to "14 days" with the BCSPCA. In our conversations with them, they felt it was not in the animal's interest. They would like very much when an animal is abandoned to re-home it as quickly as possible to give it the best opportunity to recover.
B. Ralston: Well, I appreciate the minister's response. I know that he has considered some amendments that have been suggested by the member for Saanich South. I think he has reviewed those and very generously plans to bring those forward later in this debate.
I'm wondering if the minister would consider, given that we are fairly close to the adjournment hour…. We will likely continue this debate on another day. Would he be prepared to consider an amendment to this section to change the "4 days" to "14 days"?
He doesn't have to answer now, but he could consider that overnight, at the very least, because we won't be
[ Page 11142 ]
back to finish this until, at the earliest, tomorrow morning — at least confer with his staff and make a decision as to whether he's prepared to consider that as a reasonable position to adopt in dealing with the act at this time.
Since, as the minister knows, opening up an act happens relatively rarely, and the legislative calendar is sometimes crowded — although not so crowded these days — and it's difficult to get to the Legislature in these sorts of matters, would he be prepared to consider that, have that discussion with his senior staff, and advise the House tomorrow morning?
Hon. D. McRae: I respect the member opposite. He has a very good mind. I will consider it overnight, but I do have some concerns — "4 days" to "14 days" would incur a considerable cost on the BCSPCA, one that perhaps has not been fairly analyzed yet. I'm not saying no, but I am very leery of potential costs we would incur on the BCSPCA.
The Chair: If it is the wish of the members, we'll stand down section 4 and reconsider it tomorrow and come back to section 5.
On section 4, Saanich South.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me what would happen if an animal was seized by an authorized agent that was appointed by the minister? My question is: would section 17 apply?
Hon. D. McRae: The answer is yes, but that's something that we have to consider. If we're going to use an authorized agent in the future, how would that potential situation resolve itself if the authorized agent was doing his or her duty and they did seize an animal? That would have to be taken into account when making that decision, if or when you were to authorize an agent to act on behalf of the BCSPCA.
L. Popham: I understand that the minister believes that section 17 would apply to an authorized agent?
Hon. D. McRae: Yes, it applies to the animal seized.
Section 4 stood down.
On section 5.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain the intent of the changes of section 5?
Hon. D. McRae: The amendments to section 19 track the changes to sections 17 and 18 by striking out "on the owner" and substituting "on the person to whom notice must be given."
L. Popham: Why was that change made?
Hon. D. McRae: In section 18 the animal may not be seized from the owner; it may be seized from someone other than the owner.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me the intent of this section?
Hon. D. McRae: This change provides latitude for an appeal to consider the total amount of costs required to be paid. Without a requirement that costs be reasonable, the appeal would be limited to confirming or denying the amount set by the BCSPCA, which would be very restrictive.
L. Popham: What would the results be of this change?
Hon. D. McRae: With these changes…. Well, actually, under the existing situation, the appeal could only be a yes or no in regards to the cost. Now we have the opportunity that the society may require the owner to pay all or part of the costs with or without conditions, so there it gives a bit more flexibility in regards to the appeal process.
L. Popham: Why did the minister choose the term "reasonable costs"?
Hon. D. McRae: I love this answer. I'm not lawyer, so this is for the member opposite, perhaps. There are two words that make me chuckle in the legal world. I can't believe that "reasonable" is a legal term, but it is. It's accepted in the legal community, just like the word "stuff" is as well.
L. Popham: Is there a definition of reasonable within this act?
Hon. D. McRae: It is what an average person would consider reasonable in regards to the circumstance.
B. Ralston: Is this motivated by some concern that, in the past, costs have been inordinate and unrelated to actual costs, or is this just a matter of legal precaution?
Hon. D. McRae: Legal convention.
L. Popham: Has the minister considered setting rates out by regulation so that they could be amended from time to time?
[ Page 11143 ]
Hon. D. McRae: With discussions, we don't believe this would be in the best interests of the BCSPCA for a number of reasons. For example, costs of caring for an animal could be different based on various regions of the province. It could also be based on the actual animal itself and the level of distress it's in. It would be very hard to make sure we captured every circumstance there. Lastly, sometimes we would not be able to keep current with, perhaps, the needs and costs that would be incurred. This allows us to have the most amount of flexibility.
L. Popham: From what I've been told, the Alberta prevention of cruelty to animals statute actually has a precedent for doing this. One of the reasons around this is that it eliminates a lot of time when there are disputes around cost of care, and that may affect the appeal process with BCFIRB. Has the minister considered that?
Hon. D. McRae: If we were to put it into regulation of some sort, it would be simpler, but it would not necessarily meet the test of reasonable — again, dealing with a wide variety of animals and the large province of British Columbia. It may not be in any party's interest to be supportive of that.
L. Popham: Can the minister foresee any disputes happening around the lack of rate setting and any disputes that would be considered because of the term "reasonable"?
Hon. D. McRae: One of the issues is that there are bound to be disputes over the cost, but that's what the appeal process is there to resolve.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
Hon. D. McRae: I move the amendment to section 7 standing in my name under the orders of the day.
[SECTION 7, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
20.4 (1) If, at the time of receiving a copy of the filed notice of appeal under section 20.3 (3) (a), the society has custody of the animal that is the subject of the appeal, the society
(a) continues to have custody of that animal, and
(b) unless section 12 applies, must not destroy, sell or otherwise dispose of that animal until the board makes a final determination of the appeal.
(2) If subsection (1) of this section applies,
(a) the owner of the animal remains liable, under section 20 (1), to the society for the reasonable costs incurred by the society with respect to that animal
(b) the board, on application by the society and at any time after the society receives the copy of the filed notice of appeal, may require the owner of the animal to pay all or part of those costs.]
On the amendment.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain the amendment, please?
Hon. D. McRae: The proposed amendments to section 7 enable the board, upon application by the society, to require payment of costs attributable to the care of the seized animal for the time it is in the custody of the SPCA during the appeal process.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain the intent of this amendment, please?
Hon. D. McRae: If the animal is in a prolonged appeal process — and the key word here, I want to say, is "if" — BCFIRB can assess an interim cost order against the person responsible for said animal.
L. Popham: I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the minister for the conversations that we had prior to coming into committee stage. These were suggestions that I had heard in my consultation process — from the BCSPCA and other animal advocacy agents and people who support this bill.
The idea that the BCSPCA could have had costs that were unfairly put on them by a long appeal process or any appeal process seemed to be a question of fairness. That the minister considered the suggestions we made and now is putting them forward as an amendment is very appreciated by this side of the House, and we very much support this change.
Hon. D. McRae: I would like to thank the member opposite as well. We are in the business of acting in the best interests of animals and animal owners. I think it was brought forward with good intent, and it was a good suggestion. I thank the member opposite.
L. Popham: Can the minister tell me any other changes that would apply to this section?
Hon. D. McRae: This is the only amendment, perhaps, in the section, but this is the area where we lay out BCFIRB as the new appeal board for this act.
L. Popham: Can the minister explain why the Farm Industry Review Board was chosen for the appeal process?
Hon. D. McRae: It was believed — I sincerely believe so — that BCFIRB is an experienced tribunal board. It is able to deal with complex cases. With conversations with BCFIRB, we have confidence that they have the capacity and the ability to oversee this.
[ Page 11144 ]
L. Popham: I have some more questions, actually, regarding BCFIRB. Given that BCFIRB has a budget that's in place, is there any promise of any more funding for BCFIRB to take part in this review process?
Hon. D. McRae: There are discussions underway currently between the ministry and BCFIRB to determine how best to resource an increased workload. At this time it's very difficult to predict how many appeals might be heard, but we are expecting it to be less than 15 per year. We'll continue to work with BCFIRB to make sure they are not unduly taxed.
Noting the hour of this day, I'd like to rise, report progress and seek leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:53 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. T. Lake moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:54 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. McIntyre in the chair.
The committee met at 2:44 p.m.
On Vote 43: ministry operations, $806,921,000 (continued).
H. Bains: I guess we will begin where we left off last night. I think the area we were covering was the MOU signed between the minister, the Premier of the government and the mayors — and how that's progressing, I think, in a general sense.
The minister, by way of background, suggested yesterday that he will be waiting until the end of August to get that report, the efficiency report that will be commissioned by the minister. If efficiencies can be found and if there is that $30 million available through those efficiencies, then that will be enough to carry on with those projects that are put on hold.
I think my question is that if those efficiencies cannot be found through this review…. There are some question marks. Considering that this is the third review being conducted, where are you going to go any further? There are some questions about that — whether you can or will able to come up with some efficiencies.
TransLink has already said: "Hey, yes, go ahead and do it, another one, but you may not find $30 million." Nevertheless, if the money is found, according to the minister, then that money will be available and those projects will be put back on track.
The question I have is…. And many people out there would have it. If you cannot find $30 million, then the minister stated yesterday that they would go back and talk to the mayors based on the commitments made in the MOU or other discussions and that you would try to find different sources of revenue.
My question is: what are the timelines? How long are you going to take to come up with the $30 million, aside from the efficiencies, if the efficiencies cannot be found? That's where I want to go, because people have been waiting since 2010 — that's the time, September 2010, when that MOU was signed — to look for the short-term and long-term funding sources. We're still sitting here talking about it.
I think that's a fair question on the minds of people who make south of the Fraser their home. They were hoping, the way things were going, that they would finally see those projects — extra buses and increased public transit service in their region — but now they don't see any end to it.
Can the minister suggest if he has already considered some timelines to find a funding envelope, which is needed to put those projects back on track?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: We canvassed this yesterday, and we will go through it again. When we began this process…. As I said, I've served as the Minister of Transportation for roughly one year now and began meeting with the Mayors Council about that long ago.
We made a commitment. There was no funding source at that time for the Evergreen line or the Moving Forward supplement. The federal government had committed $417 million; the provincial government, $583 million; and the Mayors Council had committed $400 million but
[ Page 11145 ]
didn't have a way to raise the revenue.
We entered discussions. We landed on the request from the Mayors Council that said they would like to have a two-cent-per-litre fuel tax increase. As well, they entertained a time-limited property tax while we worked together to find both short-term and long-term funding solutions.
While we were working on that, there were comments and requests by a number of mayors, some from south of the Fraser River. They said, "We aren't going to entertain any new funding sources until we have an efficiency audit," so that when they go to their public if the need is to request more dollars from the public, in whatever form that may take, they can be assured that TransLink is run as effectively and efficiently as possible.
That's where we're at. That's what's changed — the request for the audit. Again, I'm optimistic that the efficiency audit can find savings. What those savings will be and what the number will be, I can't speculate. I'm going to wait until that's completed by the end of this summer.
Should the $30 million be found, I think the public will be extremely happy and look forward to the continuation of the Moving Forward supplement. If it isn't, I will reiterate my commitment that I've made to the Mayors Council and to you yesterday.
I made a commitment that I would continue to work with the Mayors Council to find both short-term and long-term funding sources. What we're referring to is not just the Evergreen line, which is fully funded at this point, but the Moving Forward supplement in the future. We all know there's a great deal of capital infrastructure needed for TransLink in the future, and we're going to have to find options for how to fund that.
Again, I think we're going to be able to do this. The issue — there was a time-limited property tax as well as the two-cent-per-litre fuel tax put in there. That was on the remote chance that we couldn't, in the time frame we had, find funding sources. I'm an optimist; I think we can. But if not, and we have to continue to work through that, that's what the time-limited property tax portion was for. Again, I'm an optimist. I'm hopeful that the time-limited property tax will not have to be implemented.
H. Bains: The fact remains, Minister, that we are now moving towards the property tax portion kicking in, because that portion is supposed to start in 2013-2014. We're sitting here almost the middle of 2012, and now we're talking about till the end of August trying to find some funding through efficiencies. If you cannot find efficiencies, that….
My question is exactly what I already said — the timelines. If you cannot find efficiencies or enough money through the efficiency report, then you are starting all over again. The question is: do you have enough time to avoid property taxes kicking in? If you have, what are the timelines? How are you going to move closer within those timelines and come up with a funding source, which is needed to avoid property taxes kicking in?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: We've canvassed this, Member, a number of times. You know, you're very speculative, and we're looking to the future. We have an efficiency audit at the request of the Mayors Council. I think we have to be very clear. We were in discussions, and a number of mayors from the Mayors Council made the statement that they did not want to entertain…. This was while we were in discussions. At the point we were entertaining those discussions together, they came out and said: "We would like an efficiency audit before any new funding sources are implemented."
I think the public, it's fair to say, have concurred with that. I concur with that. It was a good idea, and I give them full credit for that. The Premier, our government, made it clear that we also concurred. We have initiated a full efficiency audit. It is going to be initiated very soon and completed by the end of the summer. If it finds the money, then we will not have to worry and communicate any more on the short-term portion.
We will have to continue to sit and have dialogue about what the long-term funding sources are. If the money is not found or if a portion of the money is found, I will then have to continue my discussions — not start over, but continue my discussions — with the Mayors Council on what options are available. But I can't speculate at this point, Member.
I can't be any clearer on my answer than that, and if you continue to ask the same question, you'll get the same answer, Member.
H. Bains: I guess we're not going to get the answer. That's the answer.
I think it is a legitimate question. And the mayors…. If I was one of them, I would be now thinking: "Well, we're talking about August to find money through efficiencies. Fair enough if they can find it, but if they can't, my property taxes are going to be used now to pay for those projects." That's what they're thinking.
Unless we can give them some timelines that, come August — that's one timeline — if you find money, fair enough. If you can't find money, you have to have some other timelines after that to find additional revenue to avoid property tax being kicked in to pay for it. That's the question, Minister.
If you don't have a timeline to go along with that, fair enough. You could tell us this. But I think that's the kind of information they will be looking at. If you were the mayor, you would be looking for that kind of assurance — that by a certain time the revenue source will be found and our property tax portion will not kick in for the next two years. That's what they're looking for.
[ Page 11146 ]
If you cannot give that assurance, then I think that's what you need to tell us. If you have some timeline in mind to avoid having that property tax portion kicking in to put those projects back, I think that's what they'd like to hear.
I will just leave that with the minister one more time to see if you have that.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: With all due respect, it will probably be a very similar answer. As I said, we have on many occasions met with the Mayors Council. We went down the road of discussing the need for short-term and long-term funding sources. We were in those discussions, at which point — your question may be better directed to the Mayors Council — a number of mayors on the Mayors Council made their intentions known that an efficiency audit was needed before they would entertain any new funding sources.
I think that was a wise move. I concur with the mayors. I used to be a mayor. If I have to go to the public to ask them to fund services, then I certainly want the people I'm going to for that funding to know that the organization they're giving money to is run as efficiently and effectively as possible. So their request makes a great deal of sense.
The commitment: come the end of summer, which will be no later than the end of August, we will have the efficiency review completed. If the money is found, we're all fine on the short-term funding. I will still continue my discussions with the Mayors Council on long-term funding solutions for future projects.
If it is not found, then I will sit down…. Unless the member…. I think he's probably been involved in negotiations. I have. I've never seen somebody say: "On Thursday at two o'clock we know we're going to have an agreement." It is a discussion that's ongoing.
But I do want to point out that for the time-limited property tax we are referring to here — for the public that are watching — it is around $23 per household on average. I've had some people that I know in the Lower Mainland talk to me and say: "Gosh, what is this?" You know, I think there is a misconception. Anytime you hear about an increase, I think people first of all think the worst. That's sometimes part of our nature. They go: "Gosh, is it a hundred? Is it in the hundreds?" It's around $23, on average, per household.
I'm hopeful we can achieve the results that we need to achieve for funding without going to the time-limited property tax. That will all depend on, first of all, what takes place and what we find out through the efficiency audit — whether we even have to continue those discussions for short-term funding. If we do, my commitment is that I'll be at the table with the Mayors Council as quickly as we can, and we will sit down and work towards a solution.
The Chair: Member, I think it fair to say you were bordering on repetition.
H. Bains: Thank you, hon. Chair. Yes. You know, that applies to the minister's side more so than on this side, because I'm trying to find some answers here.
The Chair: Yes, that's also fair to say, Member.
H. Bains: All right. I guess we're not going to get the answer as far as the timelines are concerned.
The mayors should be aware that failing to come up with any new revenue through efficiencies, chances are that the taxes are going to kick in to pay for those projects if you're going to have those projects. That's what the minister basically has left us with.
I want the minister to know the reason why there's so much nervousness on the south side of the Fraser. I had a meeting with the manager, Dinwoodie, of the city of Surrey. He gave me some numbers. They weren't surprising, but I think the number speaks volumes.
He suggested that south of the Fraser, as far as the service on a per-capita basis is concerned compared to the Vancouver side, you're looking at half of the service. The way he put it was that on a per-capita basis, per person living in the region, there is a one-hour service available south of the Fraser. On the other side it's 1.9 percent, so almost double on the other side.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
My friend from CAW gave me these numbers, and I think they coincide. Patrick O'Connor, who's a great activist and a great proponent of having better public transit, said that if you look at the populations of Surrey, Langley, North Delta and White Rock, they combine for 678,000 people. It's 475,000 for Surrey; 131,000 for Langley; North Delta, 52,000; White Rock, 20,000 — for a total of 678,000.
The buses that serve that total population…. He was talking about the a.m. rush hour. So 145 conventional buses leave the Surrey depot and the other depots around there, and there are 20 community shuttles, for a total of 165. When you divide that out by population, it comes to about one bus for every 4,100.
When you compare that to the other side, to the ratio of population to buses in Metro Vancouver, in the TransLink service area it's equal to 1,900. So it's almost double the hours of service that are available. If we are to bring it on equal terms, the service that exists on both sides of the river, you're talking about 357 new buses.
I think that shows the real need for having extra service and how underserved that region is. Any further delay is causing nervousness, and for good reason. That's why I'm pushing this issue a little more than I should.
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Mayors have to make the decision and the councils have to make the decision on how the land use decisions are being made. People are waiting to make some decisions — where the properties to be purchased are and how the densification is going to continue along the transit routes. All of that, basically, is put on hold because of lack of funding. I just want to leave that with the minister so that he understands the seriousness of the issue.
I want to talk to the minister about the announcement that was made about what was called gateway 2.0 just recently. When you look at the announcement that was made…. It's $25 billion in additional investment. Even those who don't follow the government announcements were wondering what this minister and this government were talking about. Most of that was from the private sector, and a lot of that was already announced.
Then there was $700 million of new money from the government, but there were no details, no specifics, on where this money would be spent and what the timelines were. There is an announcement, but no details are coming forward.
I ask the minister now: what are the details surrounding the $700 million? Where is that money being targeted — for what projects? What are the timelines?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Your question on the $25 billion. We've been very clear. The vast majority of it is private sector investment. We made the announcement of $700 million on trade corridors. We have begun to roll out those announcements.
Just about a week ago we were in Prince George to announce $200 million for phase 2 of the Cariboo connector. We will be rolling out additional announcements on trade corridor routes as part of that $700 million.
The member will know that $18 billion, roughly, of that $25 billion refers to the LNG. When we talk about it, people have said: "What's that got to do with transportation?" Virtually everything, actually. I work and live in the area where the natural gas is produced and processed, and then it will be shipped. It will be through pipeline corridors, road infrastructure and so on.
The other — there is investment of over about $3.8 billion to increase bulk and container terminal capacity at our B.C. ports. There's about $3.1 billion in major rail and road capacity, as well, as part of that number you've talked about.
I do want to just go back to your previous line of questioning, though, to make sure that we are very clear, Member. You indicated that I said to the mayors, or I would be indicating, that the property tax would be implemented. I want to be very clear, not only to yourself but to the members watching and the public. That is not what I said.
There is a time-limited property tax. Should the ability to not find the short-term funding solution in the time frame, it would have to be implemented. Again, I'm an optimist. I think it can. I will leave it at that for you, Member.
H. Bains: I acknowledge that that's not what the minister said, but that's the message in what the minister said or didn't say.
Anyway, coming back to this, I understand this $25 billion, but much of that money was…. There are some projects that were already undergone, and they were even completed in some cases. Nonetheless, that's not what I'm targeting my questions about, because that's private money.
I'm talking about $700 million, and my question to the minister perhaps should be this way: do you identify projects first through consultation with all the communities and different areas and the needs of this province, as far as the transportation needs are concerned, and then put the dollar value to it?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I will start with a clarification, Member. You said these are reannouncements. None of the $25 billion that we're in discussions about now has anything to do with the $22 billion of the first phase. Just so that we can start from that.
The $700 million that is part of the government's funding that is going into this…. As I said, we have just announced $200 million of that on a primary corridor, which is called the Cariboo connector. It is the four-laning from Prince George to Cache Creek. It is now in phase 2. That's what this $200 million is. The other $500 million that you're referring to will be rolled out based on trade corridors that are primary trade corridors in this province.
How do we come up with that? Our primary issue is safety, without question, in the Ministry of Transportation. Everything we do is looked at with a safety lens on it for not only industrial traffic, but the men and women and the families that work and live in British Columbia are a primary focus for us as well.
We do cost-benefit analysis on the projects, and we find out where and what benefit we have, what the return will be. And when I talk about return — safety again. I will make this very clear. I know the member shares this. Safety is our primary focus when it comes to transportation in our province, and we're going to continue that focus.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could tell us if the minister knows and has identified all of the projects that will be funded with the $700 million.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Just before I answer, I'd like to introduce a couple of my staff that have joined us for this portion. Joining us are Kevin Richter, who is my assistant
[ Page 11148 ]
deputy minister of the infrastructure department, as well as Lisa Gow, who is the executive director of the Pacific gateway branch.
You asked: "Have we determined what that money will be…?" Yes, we have, Member. As I said, $200 million of it has been rolled out already in an announcement. I know the member will probably be very happy to join us at future announcements as we name the projects. They have been determined, and we will be rolling those projects out in the future.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could tell us when the Cariboo connector project that was announced was initially identified?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Just going back, Member, this was phase 2 that we've talked about here. Phase 1 of the Cariboo connector — which, again, is the four-laning from Prince George to Cache Creek — was announced on April 11, 2005. Work began immediately. That coincided with our initial gateway program.
Phase 2, the projects that were announced at the announcement just about a week ago now, were really locked down over the last year. The engineering work, all of that work, had been completed, which allows us to move forward on phase 2.
H. Bains: As I read from the minister's answer, the previous answer, you would identify projects and then put the value and dollar value to them. Then you announce them as the time comes. My question to the minister is…. All the projects have been identified that will be paid for with the $700 million. Now there's only $500 million left. Have all those other projects been identified?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Yes, we have identified the other ones, Member. We will be making announcements on each and every one of those. It will be good news for British Columbians and all of us.
H. Bains: This is how I take this. The projects have been identified. The dollar value is linked to those projects, but you won't tell the public what those projects are and where those projects will be.
Isn't this, Minister, the government's attempt to use $700 million of taxpayers' money for electioneering, going into the election? There's only less than a year left before the election. The Premier and government want to announce as they get closer to the election, and they're telling the public that we will be using your tax dollars to make announcements leading up to the election.
Isn't that going to add to the cynicism that exists with the public about politicians and government — that they are not upfront with what they are doing for them and how their tax dollars are being used?
Now, I don't label this against the minister or anybody here, but I think it is appalling that the government will go to this length and use taxpayers' dollars to the tune of $700 million for electioneering.
If it was only for the benefit of the people, if it was only to improve the infrastructure and transportation, then you would announce those projects — they have been identified; you know what they will cost — so that people would have some hope that "yes, in my area, those projects are coming with our dollars." But no, the government is choosing to electioneer, using the taxpayers' dollars.
How would you tell the public, who are funding the $700 million…? You're saying: "We know where we're going to spend your money, but we're not going to tell you right now. We will tell you as we get closer to the election."
Hon. B. Lekstrom: It's an interesting question. I've been in elected office since 1993. I've studied government for, certainly, all of that time, if not a little before. I served as the mayor of Dawson Creek during the term of the previous New Democrat government in the 1990s, and there is no difference as to what we're doing here.
Governments plan. We put budgets together. We have projects, and in most cases — with all due respect to all governments — there are usually more projects than there is money available to fund them. You pick your priorities.
There is nothing here about electioneering. This is about governing. Otherwise, I think the member would be slagging his own government of the 1990s and governments before that — decades before. This is about setting a budget. This is about putting priorities. Then governments move forward and make those announcements. That's exactly what we're going to do here.
H. Bains: "Just because someone else did it, we're going to do it as well." I don't think that will go very well with the public out there.
This government actually got elected on a promise that they would be the most open and transparent government in the history of British Columbia. What we have found, with this answer and with this announcement, is another example of anything but a transparent or open government.
Anyway, we continue on with what goes on, and the public will continue to raise questions about how we do business.
I want to go into that announcement. There's also, as the minister mentioned, $3.8 billion for increasing container terminal capacity at B.C. ports, including a previous $50 million commitment to Deltaport road and rail improvements. Can the minister advise us: this $3.8 billion — is this new money? Is this government money, or is this private money as well?
[ Page 11149 ]
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, you asked about the investment of the $3.8 billion. I will step through this. The Roberts Bank terminal, $2 billion investment — none comes from the government.
Maybe just to clarify as we go through these questions and answers. We will invest in things such as roads that will benefit that.
The next one on the list is the Delta terminal road and rail improvement project, a value of just about $300 million. The government will have $50 million into that. That is our asset. We will deal with that.
There is also the southern corridor coal capacity requirement investment. We have nothing in there. The Ridley Terminal's additional capacity requirement — zero from the taxpayer there. Northern mineral capacity requirements — again, nothing from the taxpayer or government. The Canpotex potash terminal — nothing.
H. Bains: If I get this correctly, out of the $3.8 billion, there is only $50 million that's government money, which was previously announced?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Out of the $3.8 billion, the government of British Columbia has $50 million invested in that. Now, there will be two ways that the member will pursue his questioning: "Is that enough?" and "How could we do this?"
I think what it says is the private sector recognizes that we have an environment in British Columbia that is open for investment. We need to continue to have that kind of investment. I don't think there is any greater opportunity on the west coast of North America than what we have here in British Columbia.
It will take not only the proper investment climate to be created in our province but the private sector to have faith that they can invest and get a return and create jobs, and that's exactly what's happening here in British Columbia.
H. Bains: One more question on that. Is that $50 million already spent, or what portion of it is spent if it is not completely spent?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: None of the $50 million has been expended. The port is presently doing the engineering work right now, so that work is ongoing. Obviously, once they kick off, the money will be expended.
It is important to note, though, that the numbers we're talking about, the global numbers, certainly have been made possible as a result of our government enshrining the Ports Property Tax Act, extending it a way and making it a permanent bill in our province.
I think it has allowed, as the member recognizes…. When you're looking at investments in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars, people are looking for certainty when they make those kind of investments. I think the people of British Columbia can be proud of what's been created here and what the opportunity is and what the future holds.
H. Bains: The member for Delta South is very anxious to ask some questions from her area. I understand that. We will be moving into the South Fraser perimeter road soon, but not right now.
I think I still have a few questions — sorry to do this to you — on TransLink. I'm going to go back to the Evergreen line. Can the minister advise us what the projected total budget is for the Evergreen line as we stand today?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The total capital is $1.4 billion for the Evergreen line.
H. Bains: Is there any anticipated change of scope of this project from the original scope?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: No, the scope has not changed on this project.
H. Bains: Can the minister advise us about the timelines. When is this line expected to be in operation fully?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The RFP will close by this fall. It is a four-year buildout. Consistent with what we have talked about over the term of this project, it is a four-year buildout, so late summer of 2016 is when we expect this to be in operation.
H. Bains: How does that compare to the original date that was announced?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The original intention was to have this project completed late 2014. The government of British Columbia had their money ready. The government of Canada had their money ready. There's been a significant delay.
We canvassed those questions earlier on the Mayors Council coming up or TransLink coming up with their share of the $400 million they'd committed. That's been the delay.
H. Bains: If I recall last year's debates here, I believe that at that time the minister gave us a 2015 completion date. Now we're talking about another year's delay. But I think it's important for people to know that the completion date has moved at least two years, as we stand today.
We are talking about late 2016. I'm not even sure if that date will stand, not knowing that the RFP hasn't been
[ Page 11150 ]
closed yet and the contractors will be coming in. But that's the date we could go by — late 2016. That would be fall 2016, as the minister has said.
My question is: RFPs are closing around what date? Is there a date on it?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: We expect to award the contract in early fall of this year. Again, it will be a four-year buildout, as I said last year. Obviously, the delay has been finding the funding sources, working with the Mayors Council to find that source of funding.
It is a multistage process. Obviously, a complex project — a $1.4 billion project. Very significant in any terms, whether it is this project or any other. So it will be the early fall. We will award the contract, and it's about a four-year buildout. We do expect late summer or early fall of 2016 for the project to be up and operating.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could lay out the process from RFP to construction starting. How many contractors will be involved? In what area? Perhaps I could leave this question at this time also — whether these contracts are fixed-price contracts.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I will step through. There are a number of steps here, Member, as you have asked. The RFQ originally was put out in July 2010. There were seven respondents. It closed in September of that year. Out of those seven respondents, three were short-listed. Those three were EL Partners, Kiewit-Flatiron and SNC Lavalin.
We issued the RFP to those three qualified proponents in November 2011. We will receive the technical submission, because it is a multistaged approach, in April — this month that we're in. That will be before us in June. We will get the financial submissions from each of the proponents, and then the evaluation stage of those submissions will begin. It is a design-build-finance, so a fixed-price contract will be there.
H. Bains: The last three companies include SNC Lavalin. Considering the controversy that is surrounding that company, does the minister consider that the company still qualifies to stay in the game, or is the ministry taking a second look at it?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, that is why we have such an in-depth process. I'm very confident in the integrity of our process, and they will do their work on that. I know there's a lot of speculation out there at this point on what's going on. But we will and I will reiterate my full confidence in our process on what is going to take place as we evaluate each one of these, I guess, contractors as they return their documents.
H. Bains: I think the public would expect a better assurance from the minister than that. At the end of the day, if one of these contractors is the successful bidder, and then during the process of construction something happens with that company…. You know, especially when you are going in with your eyes open that there are some controversies, there are some issues with that company…. That the taxpayer will not be left holding the bag — that's the assurance that the taxpayer will be looking for.
How would you protect the taxpayers in the event that this particular company or any of the others fall through, by insolvency or getting into hard times financially, and can't carry through? What assurances are there? I would be more concerned about this particular company because there are some issues that people have read in the media about this company.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Again, I go back. We have a very, I think, in-depth process. But you said: what assurances do the public have that they wouldn't be on the hook if something happened? As I said, there are no guarantees regardless of who a company is, or what the project is, that something won't happen. The assurance I can give the member is that we have financial instruments that will be built into this not only for and during the construction but also warranties following the construction.
So if something isn't operating the way it should or was contemplated, the taxpayers are fully looked after. They do not have to worry about having to all of a sudden realize that if there is a challenge with whoever the contractor is, they would be on the hook in the future. Those financial instruments I talk about fully cover the taxpayer.
H. Bains: I want to move now to the fare gates. Can the minister tell us: what is the total cost of fare gates as of today?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The fare gate portion…. There are two. There are the fare gates and the Smartcards that go with this. The fare gate portion is $100 million. The fare gates and the Smartcards combined is $173 million, of which $40 million comes from the provincial government, $30 million comes from the federal government, and the remainder will come from TransLink.
H. Bains: Wasn't the original estimate $171 million combined?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The number I have always dealt with is $173 million. If the member has other numbers, I'd gladly sit with him to have a look at that and see what we could find out for the answer to the question you've raised.
H. Bains: I think I will locate the announcements made in the past. I thought they were $170 million or $171 million, but I'll check into those myself. My question is: what is the completion date for having fare gates and the Smartcard project complete?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The stages for the fare gates. From mid-July of this year, 2012, to January 2013 installation of the fare gates will occur. From January to May of 2013 there will be rigorous testing of the system, including user-testing. Then from May to August 2013 the fare gates will become operational but will be locked so that customers can continue to use the FareSaver tickets as well.
Those are the three stages. Just to go through that again for the member: mid-July of this year to January, the fare gates will be installed. January to May of next year, 2013, they will be tested. From May to August 2013 the fare gates will become operational.
H. Bains: So for people who are looking for answers, it will not be before August 2013 that they will be operational. Is that what the minister is suggesting?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: August of 2013. The fare gates will be fully operational at that time.
H. Bains: Can the minister tell us…? We're talking about $173 million today on fare gates, which includes turnstiles and Smartcard technology. Was there any business case prepared by TransLink, by the ministry, by anybody, suggesting that there is a business case to invest $173 million and what the benefits would be? Was there any report done? Was there any business plan or business case investigation conducted?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Let me start, Member…. The discussion we had just previously on: was it $170 million, $173 million or $171 million? I will save you a bunch of time, Member. I've just found additional information. So $171 million is what it was, not $173 million. Thank you for that.
Now, there is a business case, obviously, for the fare gates. It's built. But one of the key issues — and I think the member would agree — is it's not just about fare evasion. We see people get on the SkyTrains without paying the amount that they should. I think all that does is drive up the costs for the law-abiding citizen that actually pays for their tickets. It will deal not only with the fare evasion issue but also security and safety, I think it's fair to say.
A lot of people travel that system. I have the opportunity to travel it on a regular basis when I'm on business. When I'm going over to visit the Mayors Council, for example, I ride it. But security and safety are very primary issues that I think the fare gates will help, as well as fare evasion. And yes, Member, there was a business case.
H. Bains: Can the minister tell us who conducted this report, if there is a report available?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, I don't have that information with me. I will get you that information and get it to you as quickly as I can.
H. Bains: I guess perhaps the minister and the staff may know that a report was done, my understanding is, by…. It was commissioned by TransLink a few years ago. I was just asking if there were any new or additional reports done. But that report, in my understanding, suggested against turnstiles because there was no business case. That was their internal report that they conducted.
I'm again asking the minister…. We're spending $173 million. I'll talk about $173 million versus $171 million in a minute. I think the issue is that we are spending that much money, $173 million, but we don't have a real in-depth analysis done — the benefit-cost analysis.
What will be the benefits by spending $173 million? How would this money be returned, and how long will it take? Or are we going through speculation again? Are we going through because the previous Minister of Transportation, who I love to talk about, made one trip to London and decided that we need turnstiles and ordered that there should be turnstiles at a huge cost?
I don't deny the fact that they do serve a purpose, which is the issue of security and safety of the passengers. There is no doubt about that. It will, hopefully, keep out those people who are not wanted or shouldn't be at the platforms, who hassle women and sometimes mug people. I think if it would help to keep them away, there is a huge benefit to the public. There's no doubt about that.
Also, the fare evasion issue perhaps could be reduced. I don't know whether it will be eliminated, but the minister or TransLink needs to assure people that that's what we're looking at. It will eliminate…. Or is it going to reduce fare evasion, and by how much? I think the public needs to know because when you're looking at…. We are going to the public, time and time again, over every project that we need to pay for, and the public is saying, "Well, you're spending a lot of money, but you're not telling us what the benefits are," rather than saying that, yes, it's a safety issue. They understand that part.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
I think they expect better from a billion-dollar corporation or entity and their government — that their tax dollars are spent prudently after a thorough analysis is conducted and the benefits are identified. Then decisions are made to spend taxpayers' dollars. I think that's what I'm looking for, because the people are watching.
[ Page 11152 ]
People are waiting for some answers. They need to know what analysis was conducted — who conducted it and what the results were — which compels us to spend this $173 million.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: To the member: you asked if there were any others. I'm not aware of any other reports or analysis done from the original. That analysis and that work was commissioned by TransLink, obviously some time ago. I will offer to the member, if you're interested — I know this wouldn't be the time to do it — a full briefing, if we wanted to sit down with staff, going back to the original part.
Fare gates are obviously a best practice used around the world. I think members of your own party have actually looked at that scenario and gone around, whether it be London — I think you talked about, Member — whether it be Hong Kong, Paris, Chicago, Montreal.
They do play, I think, an important role not only for the fact that it will level the field so that we don't have people not paying their fares and getting on these units but for security and safety, without question. You mentioned…. Whether it be somebody hassling a young lady, or an older woman, for that matter — or mugging or harassing — I think this is going to go a long way.
Will it completely eliminate fare evasion? Member, I wish I could say that to you. I don't think that would be a realistic comment from myself or anybody else at this point — whether it be the TransLink turnstiles or whether it be any of the other areas I've talked about. There is always a segment of our society that will do their best to try and get around the law.
H. Bains: I guess, yes, I would love to see if we could get the briefing on the business case analysis.
Also, the minister mentioned $173 million compared to $171 million, so we are talking about a $2 million cost over the original budget. Is it?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, I was wrong. It wasn't $173 million, so we haven't had an increase to $173 million. The number that you referred to, $171 million, is the correct number.
H. Bains: All right. Thank you. Let me ask a few more questions on this. I understand that. Just for the record, I guess, here, for the public to read some of the answers to these questions. Is it anticipated that the fare gates will reduce costs for TransLink?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Probably two sides to this answer, Member. Part of that will come through the briefing that we have committed to give you. I think there will be that. You asked: will it generate revenue? I certainly think that through fare evasion being taken down, that will mean more money in the pockets of TransLink.
Right now there are numbers out there in the $18 million…. We've heard different numbers. I think it could be even far greater than that. People have speculated on that. Again, I don't want to speculate on a specific number. Any time you can put a system in that deters and doesn't allow the fare evasion that's taking place today to stop, that is going to be a savings to TransLink.
H. Bains: What would be the effect on jobs? Would it add any jobs? Or will there be any reduction in jobs as a result of this fare gate system going in?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, that is really an operational question that would be certainly better directed to TransLink. It is not my organization, per se, the way it goes. So again, I'm going to ask the member…. On something like that, I don't want to speculate and put a number out. Will it or will it not impact jobs? Will it create jobs? Certainly, I would encourage the member to engage with TransLink on that question.
H. Bains: I think it is only fair, because when we are talking about those employees, they are also taxpayers. They are part of the taxpayers who will be funding these fare gates. I think they deserve to know from the minister that…. "You are spending my money, and you are involved. At the end the buck stops with you." They need to know what assurances there are that there that won't be any job loss or if there is going to be a benefit in that area of creation of more jobs. But if you don't have the answer, fair enough. I think we'll move on.
The next question. We have talked about this before, and it was canvassed in the media as well. Two stations will not get their fare gates at the same time, and they are delayed or put on hold. Main Street and Metrotown — as the minister knows, those are the two busiest stations. I think there needs to be a justification for not installing fare gates at the same time when the rest of them are being installed. What is the justification? What is the real reason for not installing fare gates in those two stations, the two busiest stations in the system? I think people need to know that.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I just want to go back to the previous question that you'd asked about jobs, Member. I think you do know this. We have always had open discussion between each other. As the minister…. I won't even use myself. The Minister of Transportation does not run the operations of TransLink, so I do want to be very clear on that.
You talked about Main and Metro. It was always the intent from the onset that those would be the last two stations to have the fare gates installed. The reason is that significant upgrades to the station itself have to take place.
[ Page 11153 ]
I would concur — and, I think, the majority of people would concur — that it would make very little sense to put in fare gates and then go back and tear them out to do the renovations that are needed to the station.
I can assure the member that those fare gates will go forward. They are on temporary hold until the short-term borrowing that we talked about earlier in our discussions today is resolved. Again, I'm more than optimistic and confident that that will be resolved in the time frame necessary. But to be very clear, these have not been cancelled. I have had some people indicate to me that they thought they were cancelled. They're put on hold, but they will move forward.
H. Bains: I think the minister knows that there are four stations, actually — they are in the same situation; they were identified in the Moving Forward plan — that need upgrading: these two, Main Street and Metrotown; and New Westminster and Surrey Central. New Westminster and Surrey Central will get their upgrade, and they will get their fare gates.
I think the question is…. If that explanation was for all four stations, then people will say: "Yes, that probably makes sense." But they're questioning that two of the stations that are also in the Moving Forward plan to get upgrades are going to get the upgrade and fare gates. But for these two, we're saying that, well, we need to do the upgrades, but we don't have money for them. I think that's where the confusion is.
How do you differentiate that those two will go ahead? They need upgrades, they were part of the Moving Forward plan, and they will get their fare gates at the same time. Why can't we do it on these two stations if you could do it on the other two?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, again I guess we're broaching over into the operational side, for which TransLink makes these decisions. I don't anticipate that the member's asking me to call TransLink and tell them to cancel New West and Surrey. I don't anticipate that that's the question.
It was always that the two you've referred to — Metro and Main — would be the last two. They made that as an operational decision. Why they made that decision and not to put New West and Surrey Central, you would have to ask that of TransLink.
Again, I want to be very clear so there is nobody watching right now that…. I know there will be hundreds of thousands watching our debate, Member, as they're glued to their televisions. These stations, Main Street and Metrotown, will be going ahead.
This is not that they have been cancelled. I want to be very clear on that. I think the member concurs with that. They have been put on a temporary hold until the funding and the internal audit is completed, at which time, as I said, they will go ahead. It is a funding issue, and they wanted to ensure that their funding source was secured before they carried forward with those.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could then assure those hundreds of thousands of people who are watching — in the minister's words — that those two stations will be completed within this $171 million envelope, that there's no new funding needed in order to complete the project for those two.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: What I can assure the member is that the $40 million contribution that the provincial taxpayer has given to this will be no more than that. Again, you're asking an operational question, of TransLink: will it be completed within the $171 million? Our contribution is $40 million. The federal government's is $30 million. That is a fixed amount. It will not cost the B.C. taxpayer more. I would encourage the member…. That question would be better directed to the operations at TransLink and their system.
H. Bains: I fail to understand why this question would not be the minister's responsibility to answer when we talk about other projects where government has certain portions of those projects and other governments have certain portions of the project, and the minister is willing to stand up and say: "Yes, that project will be in the budget, and it will be on budget."
On this one here we are talking about $171 million. A portion of that comes from the provincial government. I think it's only fair, when we are talking about finding efficiencies before any new money is spent, that this is also another question they need to have the minister answer: whether they would be expected to come up with more money to complete the fare gate project.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, as I said, I won't speak for the operations of TransLink. I would encourage you…. But the $171 million — maybe for this we can get an understanding. In the $171 million that we're referring to — these two stations that you're talking about are included in that figure.
H. Bains: Now I would like to move to South Fraser perimeter road. I think I would just like to ask a few questions. Then my colleagues would like to ask a few questions, themselves.
Can the minister confirm the total final cost today of that project?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I will maybe start by introducing Geoff Freer, who has joined us for this portion. He is the executive director, gateway program, South Fraser perimeter road, and does a tremendous job, I think, for all
[ Page 11154 ]
The price and the cost, South Fraser perimeter road: $1.264 billion.
H. Bains: Let me ask this question. Since the project was announced, can the minister advise this House if the scope of the project has changed?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: There have been some slight scope adjustments in a positive way. Agricultural enhancements have been dealt with through irrigation enhancement to the system. There are environmental enhancements as well. Road alignment has moved the road even further from Burns Bog. There have been drainage improvements in the scope from the original — such things as that, Member.
H. Bains: But also in the original plan — the minister could correct us — there were a number of overpasses that were considered and were part of the plan, and now they will not be. It will be controlled intersections, by way of traffic lights. Is that correct?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: There were two contemplated interchanges, both Sunbury and Tilbury. I think the member would be aware of that. As we worked forward, the traffic modelling indicated at this time that they would not be necessary, based on all of the data that was there.
I will tell the member that the land is available and purchased. The preload work is done. So in the future when those are needed, they will move ahead.
H. Bains: I would suggest to the minister that perhaps because of the escalating cost of the project, those two were eliminated. Can the minister deny that?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: We talked about the two interchanges. The only one that was contemplated originally, or being thought of at the beginning, was Sunbury on that, not Tilbury, although they both are there. As the work progressed and as the traffic modelling showed, it was unnecessary at this time, Member, so to put it in didn't make sense.
I think you have to look at traffic modelling, and you have to do what's in the best interest. That's what we've done here.
H. Bains: Were they not part of the original budget?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: It was contemplated in the preliminary project design of these. A project of this magnitude, as you move forward on it…. Obviously, the traffic modelling indicated that at this time it wouldn't be necessary, so you look at trade-offs.
It goes back to what we talked about before. We had agricultural enhancements, environmental enhancements. You try and weigh those out under the budget. I want to be clear that it is all within budget right now. Those are decisions on a project of this scope and magnitude that are made on an ongoing basis.
H. Bains: What were the cost savings by eliminating these two projects?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, I do want to go back, just to be very clear. You indicated both of these projects. There was only ever one in the preliminary project, and that's Sunbury.
The savings were more than used in the environmental and agricultural upgrades we did on this project. The savings that you refer to on this, on the preliminary project dollars, were more than offset with the investments we put into enhancing the agriculture as well as the environmental issues I talked about earlier in our discussion.
H. Bains: If the minister could put some numbers on this. There would be savings on eliminating this one project, the minister says.
Then there is the cost of the environmental enhancement and agricultural enhancement part. Can the minister put numbers on what the savings were by eliminating this project? What were the additional costs in the other two enhancements that the minister talked about?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: In the preliminary project design there was a notional allocation in the range of $20 million, Member, for this. That money not being used…. I want to be very clear, though, that the land is there. It is preloaded. That money was then spent in the upgrades that we talked about, the agricultural upgrades and the environmental upgrades.
H. Bains: So it's a wash. It's $20 million savings here and $20 million cost on the other two upgrades.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: There was an investment, in both the agricultural and environmental upgrades we talked about earlier, of greater than $80 million, so certainly more than the $20 million notional allocation for the Sunbury.
H. Bains: To put those numbers in perspective, it's $80 million to upgrade an environmental enhancement area and agricultural enhancement. That cost is $80 million, and there is a $20 million savings from eliminating this project, the overpass. The net additional cost would be $60 million to the overall project by having these three
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projects, which we've taken.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: All of this is accomplished within the budget number of $1.264 billion. So the member taking the $20 million and then the greater than $80 million we've invested in both the agriculture and environmental enhancements…. It all falls within the $1.264 billion number.
H. Bains: Yes, I get that. What I'm looking at are the numbers and whether this affects the overall, and the minister says it is within the $1.264 billion. Was there any other change of scope in the project since the original announcement?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Going back, we've talked a bit about the scope changes. Obviously, environmental scope changes and agriculture enhancements were part of it. There have been some minor alignment changes as part of that. In a project of this magnitude — and I certainly think the member has looked at projects of this size before, whether it be in our province or elsewhere — you would see those kinds of changes occur.
These are also respective of the, I think, extensive public consultations that took place as well — what was heard — and, obviously, are a response to some of the issues that were brought forward by the public.
H. Bains: I was just trying to look at some of the budget numbers and how these changes in scope affect the overall budget.
What I've heard is that the environmental and agricultural enhancement projects cost an additional $80 million plus and that there were some savings that were realized by eliminating this one project, to the tune of $20 million. That will leave us a net extra cost of $60 million.
When I'm looking at the numbers now, 2010 and 2011, the minister confirmed that the total project would cost $1.145 billion. Now we are talking about $1.264 billion. Those are the numbers that the minister gave me last year as well.
We're talking about $119 million in additional costs since 2010 and '11. Even when you consider those changes in scope, those three different areas that we talked about, there shouldn't be more than a $60 million change in the overall cost.
My question to the minister is: how have we gone from $1.145 billion to $1.264 billion, even if you plug in those numbers that brought some changes to the tune of $60 million?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: A very in-depth question and a very in-depth answer about to come when we're dealing with these.
The $119 million that you talk about, on the difference between the numbers that you referred to…. I'll go back. Part of the answer is what we talked about and canvassed before. The agricultural and environmental enhancements account for a good portion of that. There was also the interest during construction, or IDC, which previously was accounted for corporately. It was felt that it should be transferred to the project itself. That is part of the $119 million.
Then there are contract innovations, which are such things as to save money in the longer term, you go to…. I'll give you an example of asphalt. A stronger asphalt mix, for example, on the front end gives you better durability and longer life, which saves us money in the long run.
That's the difference between the two numbers, which accounts for the $119 million.
H. Bains: When we were originally told about this project, wasn't all of that considered at that time — that long-term benefits would be greater by going a certain route versus using, perhaps, a different kind of material where the numbers would be lower?
Minister, I think it's a bit confusing, to say the least, that we cannot put numbers on different aspects of this project. Clearly, it shows that at minimum $60 million is unaccounted for when it comes to additional costs added to the project.
As I see it, from 2010-11 to today, these numbers represent a $60 million cost overrun. If that's what it is, I think the minister should say that.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The member will be aware we canvassed part of this last year — the number. There is no $60 million overrun. I want to be clear on that.
The $1.264 billion was the 2010 number. What we have done, as I think I have laid out as clearly as possible, is the environmental enhancements, the agricultural enhancements — there's drainage involved in that — and all of that.
I went back to the changes we made before, the innovation that we expect of all our contractors when they do work for the government of British Columbians — to be innovative in their approach, to look at what they can do to actually save the taxpayer money. In this case it is in the long term very similar to purchasing something of a lower quality on the front end. Traditionally, you're out buying something relatively quickly. If you purchase a better quality, traditionally it lasts longer. That's what has been done here through the innovation.
H. Bains: I have a couple more questions on this. What this minister is explaining is poor, bad planning in the beginning. As we go along, we'll fix it, and it will cost extra money to us to fix it. I mean, you would think that with a project of this magnitude, you would think through all
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of those issues that the minister is identifying today — long-term savings versus initial costs.
Also, I want to remind the minister that at the time the projects were announced, the government said there would be minimum damage to the Burns Bog, minimum damage to the agricultural land. Now we are talking about an additional $80 million in order to do those two things.
You would think that when the original announcement was made, it would encompass those two projects that the minister is identifying today at the additional cost of $80 million. As it wasn't, the announcement that was made originally was misleading, to say the least.
I also think to suggest that we need to improve the quality of the project now at additional cost is the reason this additional cost is coming. It also reflects the poor planning from the beginning on the part of the government.
Nonetheless, I will suggest I will move on. Maybe the minister could suggest or tell us what the final completion date is and whether that date would be the completion of the entire project or if the project is coming in stages.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: A couple of things. I'll go back to your original comments talking about poor planning. I think it's incumbent on any contractor we utilize in this province that if they have enhancements they can bring forward that are in the best interests of the taxpayer, I will entertain that every time, Member.
The other thing you talked about in the original intent or proposal was the enhancements to Burns Bog and the agriculture. I agree. What we're talking about, though, in our discussions is that these are ones that went much further than those original. That was through a response to the public input that we received. So just to be clear on that.
Then you went on to ask when it will be open. East of 136th, which is from Highway 1 — December of 2012 is the date for that opening, that portion. It will be done in two stages. Then west of 136th will open in December of 2013.
H. Bains: My colleague from Delta North would like to ask one or two questions. I think we're asking for a five-minute break, a recess.
The Chair: All right. This committee will recess for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 5:14 p.m. to 5:21 p.m.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
G. Gentner: I have only a few questions. I could go on for quite some time, but for the record, I want it to be known…. Anybody interested in what my position is on South Fraser perimeter road, please check out Hansard in 2005, 2006, 2007, '08, '09, '10, '11 and '12.
I have not supported this project from the get-go. I think it has not been in the public interest. But I know where the government has been going with this, with the bulldozer. They've been ramming this thing through for quite some time.
Very briefly, we talk about the scope changes. We hear about the comparison, about the need to eliminate an overpass in Sunbury in order to encourage a traffic-lighted intersection now, all because the scope has changed in needs for these enhancements for the environment and the agriculture. You know, those enhancements, we would have thought, were a given from the get-go.
Now for the people of North Delta to realize that their quality of life will be infringed upon because a road that was initially built to stop the idling of trucks along their neighbourhood, particularly in the Sunbury area…. It's going to be no different than it is today. In fact, in the Sunbury area we don't even have a traffic light. Now we have a traffic light. We have no traffic lights in North Delta till you get to Elevator Road on the existing River Road.
This was a freeway that was supposed to speed traffic through. We know that once the toll evaders come off the Port Mann bridge, they're going to find their way onto the new parking lot called Nordel Way and Highway 91 — vis-à-vis through, of course, the South Fraser perimeter road.
We talk about the better quality of life. You know, it's interesting — all these enhancements. But the enhancements certainly aren't going to help my community in North Delta.
The enhancements for our farmland. I'm sure the member for Delta South will talk at length about some of the overpasses that are there to supposedly help the enhancement of farmland. We know — I think it is at 46A overpass — it's not an overpass built to enhance the needs of farmers. It's there to enhance the eventual development, of course, of the port.
But having said all that, let me commend Mr. Freer and the good work he has been doing in working with the residents who are left — not all those who have been expropriated or left, but those who hung in there, thinking: "Well, maybe we will get something worthwhile…."
There's been a long, long outstanding issue regarding the alignment of the road in Delta North. We know that with the glacial till and the geotechs, it's not been easy. I hate to say it, but in many ways this is a project that's been working its way….
The member for Surrey-Newton is correct. This is not a project that's been built with an overall plan that was initiated and they stuck to the plan. They have been making shifts. They've been making shifts, according to the
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minister, in order to enhance better asphalt. Yet again, that enhancement isn't going to help the people who are going to wait at a traffic light in Sunbury, all for a savings of $20 million.
Again, we know that the road was supposed to be built. It was told to be moved because of the Burns Bog. It's been told it had to be moved relative in many ways, because of so-called farmland enhancements and because it's an infringement upon archaeological areas, which has now shifted the road quite differently and impacted the residents of North Delta — those who are left.
I want to give a quick example — a quick question, therefore. The ministry has been working in good stead with residents, including Mr. Dale Laurent. I'd like to thank the ministries for trying to accommodate that road. Hopefully, it will be resolved. That's going to be beneficial, the best for the residents of North Delta — those who are left.
Quick questions. One, I want to know: what are the access points from North Delta onto the South Fraser perimeter road, including the access points to the maintenance roads on the easements?
The other question I have is quite simple. Through the surplus and the accumulation of property, what's left up on the North Delta escarpment area…. There are going to be parcels of land left. Would the ministry promise or suggest to me that the ministry will attempt to negotiate the sale of those properties at a very reasonable price to those who have been impacted? I'm not talking about lots. I'm talking about bits and pieces that will enhance their inconvenience created by this road.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The access points for North Delta. There will be two access points: the Tannery Road interchange and the Sunbury intersection. Also, I think the member, obviously, is more closely related to the area than I, but I think it will remove traffic off of River Road with this new one.
Coming on the land issue, we will entertain those discussions, Member. We have actually had some as early as this morning, as well, with the individual you referred to. So as far as those parcels, we will entertain those discussions.
V. Huntington: Question for the minister. I would just like to ask a few quick questions that I expect will be a little more difficult to provide answers to. I have no objection if I receive them via letter from you.
The original agricultural land use assessment for the SFPR estimated 105 hectares of land would be used. At least, I believe that's correct. So I would like to just canvass whether or not that assessment has proved to be correct.
If the minister and his staff would provide me with the answers in due course for how much land has been used or sold that was not assessed during the original environmental assessment review. What is the total acreage or hectares that have been purchased for the SFPR, including overpasses, access roads, preload storage, acreages and any other lands that were necessary for completing the project? And what is the estimated quantity of surplus lands going to be — and whether any of those surplus lands have already been sold and to whom and whether they will be sold — and will the data then be made available?
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Thank you, Member, for the questions. There were a number there. The one, I will answer now, and then the others, we will get to you in writing. As well, I will extend the offer that if you want to come and sit down with staff to have that direct input, we could do that.
You indicated that 105 hectares of ag land would be impacted — you said, originally. I think the original number was 89 hectares, from ourselves. Early indications are that it will come in even less than that. So I think that's positive certainly in the eyes of people that were concerned about the impact on the agricultural land.
The other questions you raised — we will endeavour to get you those as quickly as possible. Again, I extend that invitation. You can just touch base with myself or our office, and we can set up that meeting with staff if you so choose.
V. Huntington: I should say too, Sir, that your staff has been nothing but gracious towards me and provided me almost — almost — everything I have ever wanted to know. Many things that you won't tell me, they won't tell me either.
Technical volume 15 of the environmental assessment application suggested that 170 hectares of land, not including the agricultural land, would be required to facilitate the operation of the SFPR.
I would like to know what exactly that means and whether additional land has been acquired for operational purposes, where that land might be or where it's anticipated to be, how much it cost or will cost and what agency will be using it.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I am going to have to get back to you on this, Member, through the information you've raised here. Hopefully, that is satisfactory. I just want to be clear. It was 170 hectares that you referred to?
V. Huntington: That's my information.
Hon. B. Lekstrom:: Okay. We will, as well, put that information together for you and get you that with the rest.
[ Page 11158 ]
V. Huntington: Thank you very much. I couldn't ask for more.
I'd like now to just jump back to a couple of comments that the critic for the official opposition made on the $50 million in the jobs plan that was to go to B.C. Rail. My understanding is that that was as part of the DTRRIP project and that it would be to add to the rail sidings in the Georgia yard. Is that not the case anymore?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The $50 million, Member, will be for adding existing rail lines — all on B.C. Rail land. So hopefully that answers your question. If not, I'll certainly clarify if you can come back with additional questions.
V. Huntington: That was what my understanding was, but my more specific briefing, I thought, was that it was going to be those sidings on the right-of-way that were going to become part of the fuller Georgia Strait yard. If it's something other than that or if it's because you're reviewing intermodal possibilities, it would certainly be nice to know.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: This is strictly rail track and strictly within our right-of-way.
V. Huntington: Okay, I think I'll ask for another briefing on that. I want to know which rail track and in which right-of-way.
In Budget 2010-11, $173 million was transferred from B.C. Rail to consolidated revenue. We haven't seen the financial statements yet for this year. I would like to know whether we can expect a similar transfer in 2012, or is it going to be left in BCRC and, if so, for what purpose?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: B.C. Rail, as you've indicated, generates revenue through land sales. This year, in the budget we are discussing today through these estimates, it is anticipated…. The number we have put in is $15 million, which will flow to the CRF or consolidated revenue fund.
V. Huntington: Madam Chair, I'm standing here because I had a few other questions for BCR, but I also have questions for the commercial vehicle safety and enforcement branch. Now, those are three or four questions that I consider important to the public safety. I'd like to…. I don't know who to ask. I know the critic is going to be very frustrated if I stay on the floor here, but I'm tempted to just get them out of the way.
H. Bains: We're going to try and talk about that later.
V. Huntington: We're going to talk about that later, and I'm going to jump in later, then? All right.
With that, I'll sit down. The rest of my questions, I think, I can request by mail or phone.
H. Bains: I want to go back to TransLink — a bit more on a couple of areas. I think we talked about this in the House, the other House, but there has also been quite a bit in the media recently about TransLink fines.
The TransLink police would issue tickets to those who failed to produce a ticket. The ticket is fined or levied at, I think, about $173 per ticket. Some reports are that up to $43 million is sitting out there uncollected, if you go back to 1999.
A couple of very interesting observations. One, the previous minister four years ago, 2008, acknowledged that there was a problem. They said, "We know that there is a problem, and we are going to find better ways of collecting these fines" — 2008. The new minister came in, and now this minister.
Also, during this time Mr. Kelsey from TransLink is quoted in the media. In fact, I talked to him and confirmed that he's been asking this government for years to give TransLink the authority to collect those fines. Yet when it was brought to this minister, the minister said that this was the first he had heard of it.
My question to the minister is this. There's the failure of the previous two ministers not doing anything when they knew there was a problem. They acknowledged there was a problem, and then they failed to notify you or pass that information to you. Isn't that a letdown by your predecessors of not giving you the entire information on that file? First, they didn't do anything. Second, they didn't pass that information to you.
Would you agree that it can be characterized as mismanagement, failing to do their duty, and at the same time, failing to pass that information and letting you down?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, Mr. Kelsey and I have not spoken about this, so I'm not sure. Maybe he was referring to somebody else, and I would leave it at that.
When it was brought to my attention — again, I'm not going to point the finger at anybody, whether it's the opposition or my colleagues that I work with on my side of the House — I shared the concerns of the people out there.
As you indicated, I think the initial bringing in of this was in 1999. I don't blame the previous government. I don't blame our government or my predecessors in this ministry.
When it was brought to my attention, I concurred. There is no sense in allowing for the writing of a ticket with no mechanism to collect it. I made a commitment that I will fix it. I can assure the member that you will not be asking that same question in next year's estimates because we're moving forward right now. I hope to have a solution in the very, very near future that I think the member will think will resolve this problem in everybody's best interest.
[ Page 11159 ]
H. Bains: I fully expect that this minister will come through and put a system in place where those fines are collected.
I think the fact remains that the two previous ministers failed in their duty and failed to understand that it was a serious issue. It was not just pocket change. In today's terms I think you're talking about $7 million, $8 million per year. Going back and looking at all those tickets that were issued, times $173 or whatever the fines were at that time, there is some calculation of $43 million accumulated in uncollected fines.
I think there has to be an acknowledgment that there was a failure of duty by the previous two ministers — not only that they failed to do the work that they were responsible for and people expected them to carry through but that they failed to pass the file to you or pass that information to the current minister.
I think it cannot be a worse case or example of neglect of one's responsibility, especially when the ministers are given that kind of responsibility — to be the custodians of not only the assets on behalf of the public, that the public's assets are there, but also to manage those assets in a prudent manner — and especially at a time when we have a $30 million shortage and we have a number of those projects put on hold.
Here is $43 million. You don't need to go through another review to find that $30 million. That money was there — plus some.
I think that had those two ministers done their job, especially the first one, who acknowledged…. He's quoted in the media saying that he understands that there is a problem and that they will find a better way of collecting those fines. He failed to do that and failed to pass that information to the current minister. So I think there has to be an acknowledgment of neglect of duty and responsibility.
Then, from there I guess the minister could explain whether the system that the minister is looking at is going to only correct this problem going forward. Or are we going to go retroactively and collect all those fines? Do you even have legal authority to go retroactively? If that is the case, then the public needs to know that.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, the one thing…. We see many things in similar lights. I don't see this as a failure of my previous colleagues. I think we could go back to 1999. I don't see it as a failure of your previous government in the 1990s.
There are obviously some concerns here. They were brought to myself. I won't speak for previous ministers or previous governments. Who I will speak for is myself, as the minister responsible for this issue today. I made a commitment to fix it.
It is my intent to look back, as well, and to not leave the fines that are due to the people of British Columbia out there. We will do our best. I'm working on the solution right now, and we will do that.
I do want to touch on the issue of my colleague, the previous colleague you've referred to. The issue of supporting of fare gates is really dealing with this issue as well. I think we all want to avoid fare evasion. I think the member would concur. For every person that doesn't pay their fare, it costs a law-abiding, fare-paying citizen more money.
We are going to go, and we are going to collect the fines. We are going to put in a process that allows the collection of these tickets to take place. As I work through this, it is my intent to look back, as well, to recover that money that is owed to the people of British Columbia.
So for, as we've said earlier, the hundreds of thousands of people that are glued to their televisions watching our debates here today, if they have outstanding fines, I encourage them to walk forward and pay them today.
H. Bains: Can the minister tell this House who would have the authority to collect these fines? Is that authority to be provided to TransLink to collect their own fines, or is it going to be through ICBC, or is it going to be some other entity created to collect those fines? If the minister will answer that question.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: That's the work I'm working on right now. I hope to have those answers for you and the population of British Columbia very soon. Whether it would take regulatory issues or legislative change — I'm looking at all options right now and hope to have a solution presented very soon.
H. Bains: Perhaps the minister could tell us, of the fines that are collected…. Many of the folks have paid voluntarily. I believe that out of 63,000 tickets that were written last year, 7,500 paid voluntarily. I say thank you to them. Had they known they didn't have to and no one's going to come after them…. I think it says a lot about their character. I want to thank them.
Where does that money go — the 7,500 of those who paid those fines? Did it remain with TransLink or come to the general revenue? I think a further question would be: once this procedure or process is in place to collect those fines, where will that money go? Will that go to TransLink, or will that come to the general revenue?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: For the fines that were collected…. I too want to thank the people that paid their fines. The vast majority of us are law-abiding citizens and do the right thing. It went to the general revenue of the provincial government.
Your question is part of the work I'm doing right now. In the future where will that revenue that's collected go? Will it come to the provincial government? Will it go to
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TransLink? All of that is in the work that I'm looking at right now.
H. Bains: I want to talk about…. I think there was another issue that came up. When there is a shortage of funds to provide services, projects are put on hold. Then the news came out that TransLink executives will be paid bonuses.
My question, on behalf of all those folks who are interested in…. The top ten highest-paid TransLink employees are between $221,000, in my understanding, and $552,722. Two make over $500,000, three over $300,000 and five over $200,000. The CEO is listed as $275,000.
My question is: will those bonuses be paid this year?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: You mentioned some numbers, Member, on the number of people that would earn X amount. I think you did indicate — maybe I misheard you — that somebody was earning $552,000. Then you quoted that the CEO was making $275,000. I just encourage the member to check those numbers. I would encourage you to speak to the board on that. I think there may be some confusion there on the numbers.
The bonuses. I share your concern with that. I share the public's concern. When that became evident, I contacted the chair and spoke with the chair. They have indicated to me that they are looking at that issue right now. As well, our internal audit that is going to be undertaken will look at that issue.
H. Bains: I think the minister and the Premier are on record saying that they don't agree with those bonuses being paid. So my question to the minister is: will they be paid this year? If the minister is going to do anything…. Is any action being taken to make sure that those bonuses are not paid?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: You are correct. Both the Premier and myself have said that we are extremely concerned about that. As I indicated, I have spoken to the chair of the board, who has indicated they are looking at that right now. We are going to monitor that. Our internal review will also address that issue, so I want to wait until the findings come back.
Do I share the concerns of the member and the public when they have raised it? Yes, I do.
H. Bains: The issue isn't whether we are concerned or not. We are all concerned, yes. But what are we going to do? The buck stops with the minister. If the minister says, and the Premier of the province says, that those bonuses shouldn't be paid, then where is the action behind those words? I think that's what people are looking for — leadership from this minister.
What concrete steps are you taking that those bonuses will not be paid this year, and what concrete action will the minister be taking so that the bonuses will not be there for the coming years? If the minister is saying that there is nothing he could do to stop these bonuses this year, I think people need to hear that.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Obviously, again, I think we all agree that there's concern out there. I'm somewhat surprised. I would have to believe the member is, I guess, asking to break contracts, something I thought the member and your party was opposed to. This is a contractual obligation that they've entered into.
I do want to tell the member is that we have made a commitment. We share your concern. The internal audit is going to look at that. I'm looking forward to those findings. We've talked on this part of what's taking place with that audit before. It will be completed by the end of the summer, at which time, on the go-forward basis, we will look at what those findings are.
As I indicated, I also raised this with the chair immediately following the information that came forward, that these bonuses were being paid. Again, I'm not a supporter of breaking contracts, Member — I'm sure just like yourself.
We are going to look at what options we have on a go-forward basis. I think a lot of that will come not only from the work that the chair and the board are doing on this but from the internal audit that will take place.
H. Bains: I guess the answer the public would be looking for is…. If the answer is that there is a contractual obligation and that under those contracts those bonuses will be paid this year, that's what they'd like to hear. If that's the case, then I think that's what people like to hear — that this year, because of contract obligations, those bonuses will be paid, but going forward, action will be taken to make sure that those bonus clauses are not in future contracts.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I was just clarifying with my staff something. When the member is referring to this year…. The bonuses that came to the attention of the public were paid for last year, I believe.
H. Bains: For that period.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: For that period.
On the go-forward basis, that is the work that the chair is looking at right now with the board, as well our internal audit. I hope to have a solution to that.
Again, to be clear, there hasn't been a bonus paid for this year that we're in. We're discussing the estimates right now for this year. The bonus that was referred to was a year-end, at the end of their year contract. The go-forward basis — that's being looked at by the chair and
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board. Our internal audit will also look at that.
H. Bains: I think I will stop at that. I do have some questions on the directors' pay, but the member for Port Coquitlam has a question.
M. Farnworth: In the 1990s, just shortly after the Mary Hill Bypass was complete.... At that time it was a big improvement, but it is a banked stretch of road that has a curve in it. There were some really horrific head-on collisions and fatalities. After those happened, a barricade, a divider was put down the middle of the Mary Hill Bypass and the number of fatalities and, in fact, accidents literally just dropped right off the map.
Under the current work that's taking place around the Port Mann bridge and the roadworks that are taking place, a chunk of that barrier on the curve has been removed. It's been replaced with yellow lines on the road and some orange divider posts.
What I want to ask the minister is that when this is completed, the ministry put back that section of the divider that has been removed, because the history on that particular stretch of road before that divider was in was very tragic. Since it was put in, it's been a vast improvement. I would hate to see that short stretch of divider not be there and that we go back to some of the terrible accidents that existed before it was in place.
That's what I'm asking the minister to look into and to do something about.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Yes, we will reinstall those, Member.
M. Farnworth: I also want to let the minister know that I had a very positive meeting with the regional manager for the area, and I raised the issue of the left-hand turn light on Broadway and the Mary Hill Bypass. They extended it. I just want to tell him that we are very happy and pleased with the response we had from him and his department members in doing that.
K. Conroy: I have a couple of questions for the minister. Before I do, I just want to acknowledge the excellent working relationship we do have with the ministry staff in the Kootenay region and how great they are and how very, very receptive they are to issues that come up with our office. They're wonderful at all times of the year. They're just really great.
Every year, I think, I've asked these questions, and every year I come back and I wait for some answers. I'm going to start with Highway 33. There has been some work done on Highway 33, but the worst part of the road hasn't been fixed. The road just outside of…. You get past Joe Rich, just before Big White. That stretch of the road is a two-lane highway, very windy. If you get stuck behind big trucks going up that road, it can take quite a long time to get up.
There have been numerous accidents on that road this winter. It's frustrating for people. People from the Kootenays go over because the regional hospital, the tertiary hospital for the Kootenays, is in Kelowna. So a lot of people travel over there for medical reasons. I was back and forth a lot this fall and got behind numerous big trucks. It's incredibly frustrating.
We keep asking when Highway 33 is going to get some upgrades. I know that the members from the Kelowna area ask too. There have been some upgrades, but they were all down in the lower part of Highway 33, where all the big subdivisions were built, not up near the top where it was really needed.
I'm wondering if there are any plans to get some work done on Highway 33 in the very near future.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, we will do rehabilitation work, obviously, on what's needed. We don't at the present time have any plans to add capacity on Highway 33. Certainly, I would believe you're on it far more than I. I've had the opportunity to be on it numerous times, riding my motorcycle. I wouldn't disagree, whether it's Highway 33 or Highway 97 up north, that if you get behind a number of trucks, it can be frustrating. But we always encourage people to drive safely.
What I will point out, and I think the member would be aware of this is that in your constituency we have invested $75 million in roads over the last ten years. We'll always continue to improve safety where we can, and prioritize it and do the best we can.
K. Conroy: You'll notice I'm actually not asking for improvements within my constituency, but they're roads that many people from my constituency use.
The other road that numerous people from my constituency use is Highway 3. You really should try to ride your motorcycle on that. You'll do it with difficulty. Last weekend I was just out there — last week. The potholes are incredible on the Hope-Princeton. They really need to be fixed. There are problems there. I can't believe there haven't been more accidents. The entire Highway 3 definitely needs some work.
I know there has been some work done. I think it was in the constituency of the member for Kootenay East that the most recent work was done. I'm just bringing it up that there really needs to be some roadwork done on Highway 3, especially the Hope-Princeton — which is not in my constituency, but many members from my constituency use it, as do many people from the southern part of B.C. It's in really abysmal shape.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, just a couple of things. Certainly, in my last answer it wouldn't be…. I know
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you're clearly focused not just on your constituency, like all of us in this Legislature. We work on behalf of our constituents, but we work for a better province, and I recognize that.
Also, I will say thank you for your comments about the staff within the ministry. I work in an incredible ministry, and it is that way because of the people that I get to work with as well. I thank you for your comments, and I will make sure that I pass those on to all of the staff.
Highway 3. Since 2001 we have invested $190 million in Highway 3. We will continue to invest…. So $85 million in new expansion, which would include 18 kilometres of new passing lanes along there, and $105 million in rehabilitation work.
I will commit that the potholes will be looked at immediately. I smile. I have a bit of a smile. I live in the north part of the province. Potholes are a challenge due to the weather conditions we face, and this time of year they're obviously much worse due to coming out of the winter season. But I will commit to having those looked after.
We prioritize the projects along Highway 3 based on the work that we do with the mayors and chairs along that corridor. I'm grateful for their input. They have indicated the Hope-Princeton portion is certainly a key area for them as well, and we will continue to do work on that highway.
K. Conroy: I just want to thank the minister for that. I know that the mayors that I've spoken to that are involved with that committee will be very grateful to hear that. I know that they are working work hard with the ministry to ensure that that part gets done sooner than later, so thank you for that.
V. Huntington: Again, I'd like to go to the commercial vehicle safety and enforcement questions that I did have, recalling that the minister earlier said that "everything we do in transport is through the lens of safety" or "through the safety lens." Well, I'm concerned about a number of things that have happened recently within the ministry, and I'd like to just canvass some of those, if I can.
CVSE had advised last year that they would be issuing an RFP to study vehicle dynamics and trailer weight reductions. The RFP was issued, I understand, but then postponed. Could the minister tell us why the minister has decided not to proceed with that study?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Member, this has not been cancelled. I want to assure the member. We actually put out an RFP. We didn't get suitable responses to that RFP. We have since put out another RFP. We have an engineering consultant already. The work is underway on this project. We hope to have it complete by September.
V. Huntington: Well, I'm very pleased to hear that. I know that a number of companies had applied and had been told that the RFP was being pulled back. If there is one subsequently that I don't know about, I'm very pleased to hear that.
Minister, as you would no doubt know, B.C. is a signatory to the Transportation Association of Canada's MOU on performance criteria. Obviously, the objective of using those performance standards is to prevent putting the public in danger. CVSE has a process for evaluating requests from industries against those performance safety measures.
You may not believe I know what I'm talking about here, but I do. I have to read it, because it is a little more technical than I'm used to. "Among the performance criteria is a limit to hitch offsets for trucks to 1.8 metres and loads on full trailers to 31,000 kilograms." So the performance safety standards under the MOU that B.C. is a signatory to is 1.8-metre hitch offsets on full trailers at 31,000 kilograms.
The CVSE has recently allowed tri-drive trucks with pintle hitch offsets of up to three metres to operate on public highways. Can the minister provide me with the engineering evaluation results that justify increasing the hitch offset on trucks equipped with pintle hitches to three metres?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I can concur that I do know the member knows of what she speaks. We've had the opportunity to speak, and it is something that, without being able to read it….
We don't have the technical analysis with us here. I will commit to get you that. If you would like, we can do it in the form of just giving you the information or both giving it to you as well as a briefing with our staff at the same time on what we went through to do that, if that's acceptable to the member.
V. Huntington: That's acceptable, Minister, obviously. I think this was done mostly at the request of the logging truck industry. It was done, I believe, without evaluations. If the evaluations are underway, I would be interested in seeing those.
My next question had to do with the recent notice on December 6, 2011, the notice of postponement of the scheduled trailer weight reductions. Does that refer back to the evaluation, the RFP that's presently underway? This does allow the 34,000 kilograms with the 1.8-metre hitch offset to operate on public roads.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The member is correct. It has been delayed — the implementation of this. It goes back to be part of the study that we talked about earlier that you thought had been cancelled. I want to be clear that it isn't an RFP that's out now. The RFP has closed. We have hired somebody. That work is underway, and we hope to have
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it completed this fall.
V. Huntington: My last question also relates to what I consider to be an issue of significant public safety. I would encourage the minister to really review some of these issues. You know, the objective of the TAC performance criteria is to protect the public.
Until December of 2011 the Vehicle Inspection Manual said that all vehicles over 10,000 pounds must be equipped with anti-lock braking systems if manufactured after April of 2000. So ABS had to be on the vehicles over 10,000 pounds. That's the Canadian standard.
On December 31 of this year CVSE put out a notice that says that CVSE has become aware that some vehicles operating primarily — not only, but primarily — on industrial and/or forest service roads may have issues with the proper operation of anti-lock brakes due to adverse roadbed conditions.
"These vehicles may be licensed to operate on highway and require a commercial vehicle inspection. For the purpose of this notice, 'industrial road' and/or 'forest service road' means 'a road on Crown or private land used primarily for transportation by motor vehicle of natural resources, whether raw, processed or manufactured, or machinery, materials or personnel, and includes all bridges, wharves, log dumps and works forming a part of that road.'"
The notice says that the requirement for inspection criteria is amended so that vehicles equipped with anti-lock brake components that may not meet inspection criteria or that do not function as OEM and that operate primarily — not only — on industrial forest roads, as described above, may pass a provincial inspection.
Here we're allowing these…. You know what those trucks are like. Most of us who've been in resource areas, or up in the Peace, know what those trucks are doing and know what it's like to face a logging truck coming head-on on a resource road. Yet we're exempting them not only from the weight restrictions; we've increased the hitch offset. And here we're allowing them to forgo the anti-braking systems.
Maybe there's an explanation, and perhaps the minister can give it. I guess my questions are really saying that I think something needs to be reviewed here.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I'm going to ask for some clarification. Member, you're referring to the brake system. Are you talking about the automatic slack adjusters versus manual slack adjusters or anti-lock brakes?
V. Huntington: Anti-lock brakes.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Do you have a memo to that effect on anti-lock brakes versus…? There are a couple of things that we have been working on.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Okay. Give me one moment, Member.
Member, I'm going to have to get you that information. We have committed to a number of other items you have raised. Obviously, you have some very technical questions. I appreciate those, and I do go back.
Safety is of utmost importance. I live and work in it all of my life up there — as you have, with your experience. I will get you the answer on that, and we will get it to you as quickly as possible.
H. Bains: I would go, considering the time that we have today and tomorrow, to a few questions on the Port Mann bridge. First, I would ask the question: could the minister tell us what the total cost is of the Port Mann bridge as of today?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: You asked about the Port Mann bridge. I'll give you a number on the Port Mann/Highway 1 project, and $3.319 billion is the number.
H. Bains: How does that compare to the original forecast of the total project cost?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: That number is the number that was approved by Treasury Board, the $3.319 billion.
H. Bains: Has any part of the project or the scope of the project changed, or are we anticipating any change in the scope in the coming year until the completion?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The overall scope of this project has not changed.
H. Bains: What is the completion date? I guess we could go through it quickly before we complete today on some of these easy questions. Then I have some other questions on the Port Mann.
If the minister could give us the completion date, whether that completion date is only part of the bridge completion date or it is the entire completion. If you could give us the completion dates, whether they're partial or complete, and for the entire Highway 1 project as well, as we move forward.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: The bridge — eight lanes of the bridge will open in December of this year, 2012. It is a ten-lane bridge. The reason for eight lanes is that we have to decommission the old bridge in order to access the two additional lanes of the bridge. The full work on that, the full ten lanes, will be by the end of 2013, and the entire project in 2014 will be complete. That's the Highway 1 improvements as well.
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H. Bains: Last question. We understand the dates for the bridge itself. The eight lanes by December this year, and the remaining two lanes and the entire bridge will be open by December next year. Is that what the minister said? Okay. Then the entire project is 2014.
What portion of this project will not be completed beyond the end of next year?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: I will give the member the answer to this and then move that we rise.
The components following 2013 that we'll still need, if I understood the question properly…. Moving into 2014 some components of Cape Horn will still be required to be finished in 2014. A section in the Vancouver-Burnaby area is part of that, and then landscaping and cleanup. The very important part of this is that none of this will affect traffic flow, which I think, for the commuter out there, is a key issue as well.
Having said that, I would move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:49 p.m.
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