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
Monday, May 7, 2012
Volume 37, Number 2
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Hon. R. Coleman
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. McNeil
Introductions by Members
Prostate cancer awareness
Hon. M. de Jong
Introduction and First Reading of Bills
Bill 51 — South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Bill 50 — Athletic Commissioner Act
Hon. I. Chong
Bill 48 — Emergency and Health Services Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. M. de Jong
Bill 49 — Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. T. Lake
Bill 44 — Civil Resolution Tribunal Act
Hon. S. Bond
Bill 52 — Motor Vehicle Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012
Hon. S. Bond
Statements (Standing Order 25B)
Prostate cancer awareness
Child and youth mental health
Child and youth mental health and youth suicide prevention
Bluey Day fundraising campaign in Fort St. John
Cystic fibrosis awareness
Recovery home registration and regulation
Hon. M. de Jong
Payment of legal fees in B.C. Rail court case
Hon. S. Bond
International students and closing of overseas visa offices
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Seismic safety of St. Paul's Hospital
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. M. de Jong
Ferry safety and role of chief engineers
Hon. B. Lekstrom
Orders of the Day
Motions Without Notice
Government apology for Japanese Canadian internment during World War II
Hon. N. Yamamoto
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 41 — Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012 (continued)
S. Chandra Herbert
Hon. S. Bond
Bill 46 — Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2012
Hon. S. Bond
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Education (continued)
Hon. G. Abbott
S. Chandra Herbert
MONDAY, MAY 7, 2012
The House met at 1:34 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. R. Coleman: On Sunday I had the honour to be at a reception at Hastings Park, where a group of people had gathered with about another 8,000 people to watch the Kentucky Derby. The reason we were watching the Kentucky Derby as a group was because a young man from Mexico named Mario Gutierrez was going to be riding a horse named I'll Have Another out of the 19th hole, which is the 19th spot in the race.
Now, I've had the responsibility for gaming for most of the last 12 years — probably about seven of those years. I met Mario Gutierrez when he first came to British Columbia and was taken under the wing of an owner at Hastings Park named Glenn Todd. Glenn pushed Mario to reach his talent, pushed him to go actually race this winter in California and worked with agents to get him on rides so he could show his talent.
So on Sunday, from way back — about six or seven lengths back on the homestretch — Mario rode a horse to win the Kentucky Derby. One of the first things he said as he was riding down…. With the reporter he said, "I want to thank my family in Canada," because he has been the leading jockey for three or four times in the last five years at Hastings Park, and this is where he, in British Columbia, honed his craft.
On behalf of the House, I would like to ask the House to congratulate Mario, who has come from very meagre beginnings in Mexico — to congratulate him on this plus the fact that this young man has never forgotten his family, has always sent money home to help his family and will continue to do so.
As of today, he probably won't be back at Hastings Park because he's now a superstar in horseracing in the world. But to Mario and Glenn and the team of people that worked with him over the years, congratulations on behalf of this House.
Introductions by Members
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I have several guests to introduce today. The Japanese consul general, Hideki Ito, is in the gallery.
Mr. Dick Nakamura, who was interned in southern Alberta during the Second World War is in the gallery. Dr. Midge Ayukawa was interned in Lemon Creek and Ms. Aiko Sutherland in Lemon Creek. Mike Abe is the president of Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society. His father was interned in Lemon Creek and his mother in New Denver. Dr. Henry Shimizu was interned in New Denver and his wife, Mrs. Joan Shimizu.
Tosh and Amy Suzuki — Tosh was relocated to Manitoba, and Amy was relocated to Lemon Creek. Mr. Eiji Tsukijima was relocated to Alberta and Ms. Vivian Wakabayashi to Shuswap. Mr. Roy Katsuyama was relocated to Grand Forks and eventually Ontario. Tsugio Kurushima — his parents were interned — is here with his wife, Mrs. Susan Kurushima. And my father, Dr. Mas Yamamoto, and his family were interned in Lemon Creek.
I also have two of my constituency assistants with me here today, Erin Rennie and Matthew Naylor. Would the House please make them welcome.
S. Simpson: Members will know that May is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month here in the country. We have a number of people joining us in the gallery from Cystic Fibrosis Canada, who are going to be meeting with members and involved. I'd just like to introduce a number of them: Dr. Mark Chilvers, Leona Pinsky, Robert Rée, Gerry Underhill, Steven Way, Ken Chan, Martina Meckova, Karen Kellett and Kelly Gorman. Please make them welcome.
Hon. M. McNeil: Amongst this House today you see a sea of blue, but you also see a few of us that are wearing this green ribbon pin today in recognition of Child and Youth Mental Health Day here in B.C. I'd like to formally acknowledge Keli Anderson, the executive director of FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health. She has been instrumental in creating awareness and change regarding children's mental health here in this province, and I'm extremely grateful to have her as one of our partners.
I was also so pleased to join her yesterday at the opening of her child and youth mental health conference in Vancouver, featuring mental health experts from around the world. Keli was one of the key organizers of this three-day conference. Would the House please join me in thanking Keli Anderson.
Introductions by Members
M. Farnworth: In the gallery today — and I'm glad the previous member mentioned the blue ties and scarves that are being worn in this chamber today — we're being joined by members of Prostate Canada, who are here to raise awareness about prostate cancer and to spread the news on the work that's being done in terms of educa-
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tion and treatments and research into prostate cancer in Canada and British Columbia.
There are a number of them here today in the gallery. I will be mentioning some of them, and my colleague from Surrey–Green Timbers also has others to mention. Would the House please welcome Heather Gardiner, Susan Graham Walker, Len Gross, Eric Huffey, Leah Lariviere, Robb Lucy, Maureen McGrath, Donald McInnes, and Brian MacPherson, whom, I might add, I went to junior high school with in 1972 and '74 in Port Coquitlam. Would the House please make them all welcome.
Hon. I. Chong: Today in the House we have two guests here to witness an introduction of a bill that I will be bringing in shortly. Firstly, Stan "The Steamer" Peterec has an extensive background in competitive boxing, kickboxing and karate, earning several titles.
He was the Canadian super welterweight kickboxing champion in 1986 and the World Kickboxing Association World Junior Middleweight Champion in 1987-88. In addition, he has coached and trained hundreds of boxers and kickboxers and coached Team Canada in a trip to China.
He has coached participants, including professional world champions such as boxer Donny Lalonde and kickboxer Lindsay Ball.
As well, we have in the gallery Darren Owen. Darren, along with his business partner Jason Heit, is the owner of Armageddon Fighting Championship, a mixed martial arts league established in 2007 here in Victoria.
I ask the House to please make them very welcome.
C. Trevena: I'd like to join my colleague from Vancouver-Hastings in welcoming the delegation from Cystic Fibrosis to the gallery. Among them is Chris Black and her husband Bill. Chris is an ardent and articulate advocate for cystic fibrosis. She's from Campbell River. Their daughter Kim has cystic fibrosis, and I think many members in the House will recognize Kim from cystic fibrosis promotion materials, to tell people about it. I know that Chris and Bill are very pleased to be here and to further the cause on cystic fibrosis. I hope the House will make them very welcome.
J. Rustad: We as MLAs often spend a lot of time away from our loved ones, and that's especially true when you come from rural B.C. Through that, you often miss a lot of your significant dates, but I'm very pleased today to have the love of my life, my wife, Kim Royle, here with me. We celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary this weekend, and she's also celebrating her 49th birthday today. So if I could ask the House to please make Kim welcome.
S. Hammell: I'd like to add names to the greetings from the member for Port Coquitlam to those people in the gallery who are raising awareness of prostate cancer. I'd like to add greetings from all of us to Pat and Don Pederson; Jim Perrin; Maureen and Malcolm Reville; Larry Shaw, who is from Surrey; Joycelyn Taitt; Rebecca von Goetz; Leno Zecchel; and Winston Stokes. Would the House please make them all welcome.
J. McIntyre: I would like to add my voice, and our voices from this side of the House, to welcome those from the cystic fibrosis association who are with us today. We are co-hosting a reception this evening. We look forward to that.
I want to add special welcome to Robert Ray, who is a constituent of mine and whose family deals with this very issue on a day-to-day basis.
Will the House make them feel extra welcome today.
Hon. I. Chong: While I know that the Minister of Advanced Education has already acknowledged him, I would like to extend an additional welcome to Mr. Toshio Suzuki. I don't know if he will recall that our paths crossed many, many years ago while I worked as a junior bookkeeper, struggling new accountant at a winery here in Victoria, Mt. St. Michael Wines, in Saanich.
If he's the same Toshio Suzuki, which I'm sure he is, I want to ask the House to please extend an extra-special welcome to him.
D. Hayer: On this very special day, on Prostate Awareness Day, we have many guests here. I also have a very special guest today. He's a community leader. He's a very successful businessman. His name is Ted Carlson, president of Mainland Sand and Gravel. His business is based in my constituency and creates a lot of jobs. Would the House please make him very welcome.
D. Donaldson: I would like the House to acknowledge Ed John from the First Nations Summit. He was just appointed chair of the UN permanent forum on indigenous issues. He's the first North American to receive that honour, and he was born in Tachie on Stuart Lake.
Would the members of the Legislature please acknowledge Ed John for the amazing role he's going to play.
PROSTATE CANCER AWARENESS
Hon. M. de Jong: Each year 3,500 men will receive the diagnosis that they don't want to hear, and members gathered earlier today to pay tribute to the work of Prostate Canada. It is a collaboration that dates back many years between the government of British Columbia and those who dedicate themselves to researching and
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eradicating prostate cancer and now to various attempts at early detection — to give those diagnosed with prostate cancer a better chance at success.
I know all members of the House are grateful, and they have already been thanked by my colleague the opposition Health critic. I'm also obliged to the member for Parksville-Qualicum for his attendance at the event that was held and want to bid welcome to all those who are gathered here today reminding us of the important work left to be done around prostate cancer.
First Reading of Bills
BILL 51 — SOUTH COAST
BRITISH COLUMBIA TRANSPORTATION
AUTHORITY AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. B. Lekstrom presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Mr. Speaker, I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Bill 51 amends the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Act and provides consequential amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act. This bill includes governance amendments to address concerns raised by the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation and the public. These changes aim to strengthen the role of local government in TransLink planning and decision-making processes and ensuring that TransLink is running effectively and efficiently.
Amendments include adding seats to the TransLink board for the Mayors Council chair and vice-chair; periodic performance audits of TransLink; extending the submission date for TransLink's annual base plans from August 1 to November 1, allowing for more consultation between TransLink, the Mayors Council and the public; adding the director of electoral area A to the Mayors Council, enabling people living at UBC, the University Endowment Lands and the rest of the electoral area A to have their elected representative voting at the Mayors Council table.
The bill also includes amendments that will deter people from cheating Metro Vancouver's transit system. People who have been stealing from the transit in Metro Vancouver have been put on notice: the free ride will be over. While most people pay their fares, those that are caught without fares and ticketed will face serious consequences if they do not pay. TransLink will have the authority to set fine amounts, collect the fines and keep the revenues. The Mayors Council will be responsible for making changes to the bylaw as the transit system evolves, including new fare evasion rules to accommodate fare gates and Smartcards.
I would move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 51, South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 50 — ATHLETIC COMMISSIONER ACT
Hon. I. Chong presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Athletic Commissioner Act.
Hon. I. Chong: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill 50 be read for the first time now.
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. I. Chong: This bill would provide for the establishment of a provincial athletic commissioner to regulate and supervise professional boxing, kickboxing and other similar sporting events, including mixed martial arts. Once established, the commissioner's primary focus would be to ensure consistent application of safety rules for participants in professional contests. This approach will replace local government commissions that currently require and regulate these types of events with a centralized regulatory body ensuring consistency across the province.
This legislation would not apply to amateur sporting contests. The duties of the commissioner would be to ensure a consistent standard of qualifications and safety protocols for all participants and officials through a uniform licensing and permitting framework. It would ensure compliance with the proposed act and its regulations through the use of suspension or cancellation of licences and event permits as well as administrative penalties.
The benefit of having a provincial athletic commissioner would be that every professional boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts or similar event would be subject to the same rules and regulations whether it's being held in Vancouver, Nanaimo, Vernon or anywhere else in the province.
Since sports such as kickboxing and mixed martial arts are very popular and are taking place without a consist-
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ent regulatory framework, it makes sense to be proactive about creating this position to increase the safety of athletes and officials as well as to provide certainty for communities and the industry.
I move that the Athletic Commissioner Act be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 50, Athletic Commissioner Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 48 — EMERGENCY AND
HEALTH SERVICES AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. M. de Jong presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Emergency and Health Services Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. M. de Jong: I move that Bill 48 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. M. de Jong: This bill will allow for the enhanced coordination of emergency health services in B.C. Bill 48 follows legislative amendments that were passed in the spring of 2010. At that time, the process of integrating ambulance and emergency health services in B.C. more closely with the broader health care system was started.
The Emergency and Health Services Commission will continue in B.C. as British Columbia emergency health services. It will, by virtue of this legislation, be aligned with the Provincial Health Services Authority and will continue with its core mandate of providing provincial ambulance and emergency health services. This will, as I've mentioned, happen with the support of the PHSA.
The legislation allows for closer cooperation between BCEHS and the health authorities in improving patient safety and quality of care. It also recognizes the role played by paramedics and first responders in overall patient care. It reinforces the fact that ambulance services are often the first point of contact.
I move that Bill 48 be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 48, Emergency and Health Services Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 49 — PROTECTED AREAS OF
BRITISH COLUMBIA AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. T. Lake presented a message from his honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2012.
Hon. T. Lake: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. T. Lake: This bill contains amendments to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act. The majority of these amendments implement previous government commitments made through land use planning processes, including the Haida Gwaii and Atlin–Taku River planning areas. The provisions in this bill will establish ten new conservancies and make additions to Atlin Park, all of which begin the implementation of the Atlin-Taku land use plan.
These amendments will add more than 413,000 hectares to the province's protected areas system. Further, the provisions in this bill include additions of marine foreshore areas totalling more than 166,000 hectares to nine existing conservancies on Haida Gwaii; additions totalling 611 hectares of land to five existing conservancies on Haida Gwaii; addition of land to existing class A parks around the province; and boundary modifications to two class A parks, which will remove land totalling 14.36 hectares, and to two conservancies, which will remove land totalling 62.236 hectares.
I expect two of the boundary modifications to rightfully attract special interest. Specifically, 2.36 hectares are being removed from Stawamus Chief Park. If the Legislature approves this amendment, it is proposed that the lands removed from the park be established as Stawamus Chief protected area under the Environment and Land Use Act. This will allow for the application of a park use permit for facility development associated with the gondola development through what is now the park.
Also, as a result of consultation, a consultation process ordered by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, approximately 62 hectares are being removed from the Dzawadi–Upper Klinaklini River conservancy, enabling an environmental assessment to proceed for a proposed hydroelectric project.
Finally, the bill contains a change of name to two existing class A parks to incorporate a First Nation name alongside the existing names.
On an administrative note, Mr. Speaker, I want to point out to all members that the Office of the Clerk will be provided with copies of the official plans — that's the map boundaries — for their review that depict the boundaries of the new conservancies and most of the
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amended parks and conservancies.
I move that this bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 49, Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 44 — CIVIL RESOLUTION
Hon. S. Bond presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Civil Resolution Tribunal Act.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 44 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. S. Bond: I am very pleased to introduce the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act. This bill sets out the authority to establish a new civil resolution tribunal. The tribunal's job will be to offer an alternative to the courts in resolving strata property disputes and small claims matters.
This bill will allow strata cases and, on a voluntary basis, civil matters to be moved out of traditional adversarial litigation and into the hands of experts who are trained to resolve cases early and collaboratively. This is particularly important for strata disputes, where early resolution is critical to preserving and possibly rebuilding the relationships of people who live in strata communities.
This bill will assist in moving forward our justice reform initiative by taking more cases out of the courts and freeing up judge and court time. This builds capacity into our court system and will allow our system to work more efficiently.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 44, Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
BILL 52 — MOTOR VEHICLE
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 2), 2012
Hon. S. Bond presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Motor Vehicle Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 52 be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. S. Bond: I'm pleased to introduce amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act that will support our justice reform agenda and will result in significant justice sector efficiencies.
Bill 52 supports the October 3, 2011, throne speech commitment to bring forward legislation to create a streamlined process for traffic-fine violations that resolves disputes and frees up court time. This bill reduces the administrative burdens experienced by members of the public who are issued a driving sanction under the Motor Vehicle Act by allowing them to pay or dispute the matter on line.
The current court-based system for traffic ticket disputes is overburdened, with an estimated backlog of 50,000 ticket disputes. Currently it takes seven to 12 months to resolve a dispute. These lengthy delays undermine the deterrence effect of tickets.
These amendments will create an administrative review process that provides efficient and proportional access to justice for drivers. These amendments also allow for electronic ticketing, which will reduce errors and allow information to be shared accurately between justice sector partners.
The challenges of the current court system include slow, inefficient access and costly court processes. It is time for a new approach.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 52, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
(Standing Order 25B)
PROSTATE CANCER AWARENESS
G. Hogg: Today is Prostate Cancer Awareness Day in Canada, and today we wear these distinctive scarves and ties to draw attention to the day. Today we thank Prostate Cancer Canada, their staff and many volunteers for raising awareness of prostate cancer here at the Legislature, across B.C. and across our great country.
One in three British Columbians will develop some sort of cancer during their lifetime. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Our colleagues Wally Oppal and Stan Hagen were so diagnosed.
Of all new cancers diagnosed in men, 30 percent will be prostate cancer. There is a 90 percent survival rate with early detection and treatment.
Some time ago I had the honour of spending time with the founding director of Vancouver Prostate Centre and the driving force behind the Men's Health Initiative, the inimitable Larry Goldenberg. I saw his vision, I heard his plan, and I felt his drive, determination and commitment to defeat prostate cancer and to support the work of Prostate Cancer Canada.
Prostate Cancer Canada reminds men to know their numbers. Know your blood pressure, know your weight, know your cholesterol, and know your PSA. Prostate Cancer Canada, its staff and volunteers have led a national campaign to raise awareness of prostate cancer. Larry Goldenberg, in sync with their vision, said, "By advancing and sustaining our research…we are ensuring that important patient gains in prevention, diagnosis, screening, treatment and survivorship are being made," and that all Canadians will benefit.
I ask this Legislature to recognize, support and praise the work of Prostate Cancer Canada and of so many Canadians who raise our awareness of prostate cancer and raise our prospects for a cancer-free future.
S. Hammell: I have risen in this House before on the topic of prostate cancer, as the disease has presented in two of the men closest to me, my husband and my stepson. The disease in my husband was addressed with brachytherapy, and he is currently cancer-free.
My stepson has not been so lucky. At the age of 47 a very aggressive form of the disease attacked and within a year had escaped from the prostate capsule to 38 locations in his bones. He has, with great support from the medical profession and his partner, kept the disease at bay and lives every moment of his life with gusto and bravery.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer to afflict Canadian men. One in six or seven men will be diagnosed with the disease. Over 90 percent of prostate cancers are curable if detected and treated in their earliest stages. Early detection is key.
Prostate cancer is a far greater threat for those with a family history. Members, if your father, grandfather or brother had prostate cancer, ensure that your family is aware of this.
Once thought of as an old man's disease, prostate cancer is turning up frequently in men in their 40s. So if you're over the age of 40, talk to your doctor about your prostate cancer risk. Ask about the PSA testing, a simple blood test which is the best early detection tool there is.
Prostate Cancer Canada is the only national foundation dedicated to the elimination of the disease through research, education, support and awareness. The striped tie is a symbol for the fight against the disease, and it is hoped that everyone who wears the tie or the scarf will tell at least one person so that we will educate our population about prostate cancer.
CHILD AND YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH
J. Thornthwaite: I rise today in recognition of Child and Youth Mental Health Day, a time to raise awareness of this very serious and far-reaching issue and to recognize the vital importance of supporting children, youth and families who need help with mental health challenges.
Just yesterday I attended the Child and Youth Mental Health Matters conference in Vancouver, organized by my constituent Keli Anderson, the founding director of the Institute of Families for Child and Youth Mental Health.
It is essential to the health and well-being of our youngest citizens that we speak openly about this issue and that we work together to create an environment that is supportive, open and compassionate, where children, youth and their families are comfortable asking for help and have early access to appropriate mental health supports and services.
Dr. Ian Manion, who spoke passionately yesterday about his personal and professional experiences with youth mental health, said: "Talking about this stuff is hard. Not talking about it is a lost opportunity to promote change."
When parents, teachers and other adults involved in the lives of children and youth talk openly about mental health and listen to and support our young people, they contribute significantly to their positive mental health and to development of healthy coping skills. Meaningful, engaged and supported families equal better outcomes.
The government recognizes the importance of mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention as an investment in our future. That's why the province released a comprehensive ten-year plan to address mental health and substance abuse across the life span in B.C. called Healthy Minds, Healthy People. The plan places a strong emphasis on identifying challenges early and intervening appropriately to support healthy development and set the stage for a fulfilling and productive life.
I ask all British Columbians to recognize Child and Youth Mental Health Day and the importance of supporting those with mental health challenges in their families, their schools, their neighbourhoods and their communities.
CHILD AND YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH
AND YOUTH SUICIDE PREVENTION
C. Trevena: A teen suicide rocks a community — the family, the friends, the school, the town. The desperation that young person must have felt must have been appal-
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ling, and everyone immediately asks: "What could we have done to prevent it?"
Every individual will ask themselves whether they could have done more, but in many instances suicide, the worst outcome for a young person with mental health problems, is a sad combination of a series of often slight failures. Young people fall through the cracks, and sadly, there are many cracks.
While everyone knows how important early intervention is on so many issues, child and youth mental health is no less than the others. That too often is not a possibility. Young people living in rural communities often don't have access to mental health supports offered either by the often overstretched teams of the Ministry of Children and Family Development or through the health care system.
How many times have we heard the stories from distraught parents? There wasn't help locally. Their child is in hospital. Their child gets admitted to Ledger House at Queen Alexandra hospital — assessment, support, then back to the community, where they're once again effectively alone. We hear of the desperate cycle. We hear of the suicides.
How many times have we heard from those who work with kids with addictions, the children and youth who are living on the edge, who are street-entrenched, who need a safe place to go — a place where funding is not granted on a year-to-year basis, a place they can count on to be there for them?
This is Child and Youth Mental Health Day. That, of course, means the pronouncements — and we've heard them — but words are not enough. This is a day on which we should recommit ourselves to all our children, all our young people. We should remind ourselves that children and young people are vulnerable. Action is vital everywhere in the province.
BLUEY DAY FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN
IN FORT ST. JOHN
P. Pimm: I thought today would be a great day to talk about Bluey Day. "Be brave and shave." I'm not sure if anybody has noticed that I've been a little tattered around the edges lately, but that's partly due to the fact that this year I've decided to be part of Bluey Day to support cancer patients in Fort St. John.
This year will be the 13th annual Bluey Day event in Fort St. John, and during that time they've raised over $1 million. Bluey Day is the time when participants have their heads shaved to show their support for cancer patients and raise money for equipment and research.
This year Northern Health is using the money that they raise through the fundraising event to purchase a digital mammography machine to be installed in the new Fort St. John Hospital, and their goal is to achieve $100,000 towards their purchase.
Cancer touches us all at one time or another, in one way or another. This year I lost a very dear friend to cancer. I also had some family members that had to go through some very stressful time dealing with cancer of our own.
When someone close to you gets cancer, you're never quite sure what to do or how you're supposed to act. That's why I decided to be part of Bluey Day this year. By shaving my hair, I'm advocating for local patients with cancer. By fundraising, I'm raising awareness in our community. By participating, I'm giving hope to local patients and families who are dealing with cancer.
I want to challenge my community and my colleagues to be part of Bluey Day and donate to this very worthwhile cause and come out and watch me lose my hair, my very precious hair, on May 26 this year.
CYSTIC FIBROSIS AWARENESS
S. Simpson: I have stood in this House in previous years and spoken about my nephew Liam, who suffers from cystic fibrosis. Liam is joined by over 4,000 Canadians who live with this disease.
Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young adults. It is a disease that attacks the lungs, and ultimately, most deaths that are attributed to CF are related to lung disease and failure.
Thankfully, across Canada people are fighting back against CF. Scientists, researchers, families and advocates are working hard to find a cure and to ensure that these young people have a long and healthy life. Public awareness is particularly high in May, which is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month.
Cystic Fibrosis Canada is a national health charity with 51 volunteer chapters. The organization's mandate is to find a cure and to help people and families affected by CF to cope with their daily fight. Since 1960 Cystic Fibrosis Canada has invested more than $140 million in research and care, resulting in one of the world's highest survival rates. Today nearly 60 percent of Canadians with CF are over the age of 18.
Sadly, despite progress, there is no cure, and each week in Canada two children are diagnosed and one person dies from this disease. Only half of all Canadians living with CF are expected to live into their 40s and beyond.
I know from the experience of my sister and her family that CF takes a heavy toll on the individuals affected and on their families. Canadians with CF spend the equivalent of four months of full-time work doing life-sustaining treatments every year.
During May, Cystic Fibrosis Canada and its local chapters are organizing many activities and events to raise awareness and funds to support CF research and care — like the Great Strides walk here in B.C. on May 27. I
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ask all members of this House to join me, Liam and the thousands of Canadians fighting this devastating disease by learning more about CF, by donating and by raising awareness at the grass-roots level.
REGISTRATION AND REGULATION
A. Dix: My question is to the Minister of Health. Media reports this weekend made allegations of a methadone kickback scheme at a Surrey drug recovery home. Residents are alleging that they are being threatened with eviction from the house if they don't get their methadone from the pharmacy owned by the recovery house operator.
Now these allegations need to be investigated after the fact, in part because the government doesn't regulate many drug recovery homes in the province. Can the Health Minister bring the House up to date as to the government's effort to register and regulate currently unregulated drug recovery homes?
Hon. M. de Jong: The allegations are very troubling. They are allegations that, in one form or another, we have seen in the past, which is why a number of things have taken place.
With respect to pharmacists and pharmacies which are implicated in these allegations, investigative work has been taking place. The college has been involved in terms of the ethical requirements of pharmacists, and of course, there is legislation before the House now that would create additional enforcement mechanisms beyond the contractual relationship that exists as part of the PharmaCare program with pharmacists.
Beyond that, of course, there is the work taking place between the two ministries as it relates to the recovery homes and the homes themselves and the need and the desire to have effective registration of those facilities so that these kinds of matters can be identified and pursued.
I rather suspect the opposition leader will have a supplementary question about the second part of my answer.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.
A. Dix: The events related to the pharmacy aspect of this are troubling. The events related to the drug recovery house part of this are also troubling.
The minister will know that in 2006 the previous minister promised action within months on this question. The minister will know that that was repeated in 2009. The minister previous to the previous minister, the now Minister of Education, again promised specifically that there would be action within months, and then no action was taken.
These are significant issues in communities. The minister will know what has happened in Abbotsford in the past. It was calls from communities like Abbotsford and Surrey that prompted these non-action responses from the government. It has been six years since they promised action within months. When are they going to get on with it? When are we going to see changes with respect to drug recovery houses in British Columbia?
Hon. M. de Jong: I hope the Leader of the Opposition does not doubt the seriousness with which the government takes the issue and also has taken steps, and continues to take steps, to ensure that we strike the right balance in working with municipalities, in working between ministries and in working with those agencies that actually apply themselves diligently and professionally to providing the kind of care and support that people with addictions require. That said, the work is ongoing.
The intent is to have a registry up, operating and functioning very, very soon. Coupled with the other legislation that is before the House, we believe that we will have the proper structure in place to prevent the kind of behaviour that is being alleged in these most recent media reports.
Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.
A. Dix: Well, it was "very, very soon" in 2006, and nothing happened. It was "very, very soon" in 2009, and nothing happened. Can the minister possibly explain…?
Just so we understand what's occurred here, I'll just quote from a note that was given to the former Minister of Health, the now Minister of Finance, in 2009. That advice-to-minister note said: "The media and the opposition may argue that the government is ignoring the people seeking and needing treatment. They may point out that in February and March 2009 and previously in 2006 the former Health Minister, now the Minister of Education, publicly committed that registration would commence in several months."
That's what the government itself said three years ago. Why has it taken six years for the government to act in this important area?
Hon. M. de Jong: In case I wasn't clear enough in one of my previous answers, I want to say clearly that kickbacks and/or incentives of the sort being alleged or suggested in these media reports are wrong and will not be tolerated.
The work that is taking place in a concerted and focused way is designed to ensure that we have a registration of supportive recovery homes up, functioning and operating. It will be the product of collaborative work
[ Page 11575 ]
with municipalities, will be interministerial and involve the contributions and the input of those dedicated and professional agencies that work in the communities across British Columbia to provide the kind of support that people with addictions require.
S. Hammell: We're aware of at least one death at a Surrey recovery home in late April, and we're aware the Coroners Service is investigating. These kinds of incidents, when combined with a lack of regulation, threaten to sully the vast majority of good recovery homes.
The lack of oversight is a problem. One of the first things this government did in 2001 was to strip away any regulation from drug recovery homes. Will the minister admit that was a serious mistake and commit to bring back regulations to these drug recovery homes?
Hon. M. de Jong: To the hon. member, I agree with most of what she said in the preamble to her question. I do hasten, however, to point out that facilities are fully licensed by the government where they are providing intensive addiction treatment or detoxification services. So whether that involves storing and dispensing medications, management of cash or other resources, professional counselling or nursing care, there is a continuum.
With respect to the other type of facility that I believe she is asking about, that work is taking place. As I've mentioned in my earlier responses, the intention is to strike the right balance to ensure that we have facilities in place across British Columbia that communities can have confidence in and that patients and their families can have confidence in.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
S. Hammell: The houses that provide health services are not the ones we're talking about.
It's Mental Health Week in Canada this week, and addiction services are a key component of mental health services. It should be a time for the government to think seriously about ensuring that the men and women who need these services get adequate treatment. By stripping away regulations and dragging their feet on reinstating them, government has abandoned recovery home residents. Why won't the government simply admit that deregulating recovery homes was a mistake and one that it'll fix immediately?
Hon. M. de Jong: I am oddly obliged to the member for her reference to mental health and addictions work in British Columbia, because when I attended an interprovincial conference not too long ago in Winnipeg, almost without exception provincial officials from across the country pointed to British Columbia and our ten-year plan as leading the way with respect to the treatment and the facilities.
I have not in any way endeavoured to suggest that there is not important work that remains to be done. That work is ongoing. I am anxious to see it completed and, on behalf of the government and my colleague, commit to having that work completed as quickly as possible.
M. Farnworth: Well, the minister says that the government is anxious. Given the flow of legislation being introduced in the House this past week, they don't appear to be too anxious to deal with this issue. We've got legislation dealing with mixed martial arts and regulating that. But for more than six years we have been waiting for regulations to deal with an issue that local government has been raising year after year at the UBCM — something that the government says that they themselves acknowledged.
In 2009 the former Minister of Health, now the Minister of Education, said that registration will commence in several months. It's a lot more than several months that's gone by. The Minister of Social Development says that it's in its final stages. That was last year. Again, we're still waiting.
Now the Minister of Health stands up and says basically: "Just trust us. We're working on it." Well, people are fed up with trusting this government. They want to know why, after six years and countless excuses, we're not getting legislation to deal with the regulation of unregulated group homes in the province of British Columbia.
Hon. M. de Jong: The hon. critic's colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, began this line of questioning by pointing to stories that are in the media, pointing to the fact that there were allegations of kickbacks and incentives being offered by not just recovery homes but by pharmacies.
There is legislation before the House that addresses that issue specifically. We are continuing to work and hope to bring to resolution very, very quickly the task of creating the registry that we believe will strike the appropriate balance and, more importantly than what we believe, will enjoy the support and validation from the partners we work with in communities across British Columbia — the communities themselves, those responsible agencies that provide recovery services.
The objective remains the same — to provide a safe environment that communities can have confidence in and patients, residents and their families can have confidence will provide the kind of support necessary.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Farnworth: We're talking about unregulated recovery houses, which are sprouting up all across the province because of the lack of regulation. Local government has identified this as a key issue that needs to be
[ Page 11576 ]
addressed. The government, in its own wisdom, apparently thinks it's so important to be addressed that they've been working on it since 2006. It doesn't take six years to find balance, unless you're a government that's clearly not balanced.
Will the minister commit to this House a time, a date, anything as to when we can expect to see the regulations that they say they have been so diligently working on for the last six years?
Hon. M. de Jong: Again, I want to ensure that the House and those watching understand that the impression that is, I think, in jeopardy of being created here — that addiction treatment and detox services of the intensive variety are continuing to be provided unregulated — is simply not the case. In the case of the transition homes that the member is, I think, referring to, there is ongoing work.
Yes, it has taken longer than I would have liked. But yes, it is also involving our partners to ensure that we strike a balance that will meet the needs of the communities within which these recovery homes are located and the patients and the families who avail themselves of the services provided there. That has been the objective, remains the objective and will, I believe, result in a registry and regulations that meet the standard very, very quickly.
PAYMENT OF LEGAL FEES
IN B.C. RAIL COURT CASE
L. Krog: In an e-mail to the Vancouver Sun over the weekend the Ministry of Justice said that the order to forgive the $6 million in legal fees for the B.C. Rail corruption trial was made before political insiders Basi and Virk pled guilty and thus was never actually a debt. This suggests there was a deal to modify the indemnity prior to that guilty plea.
Can the Minister of Justice explain to B.C. taxpayers exactly how this arrangement came together prior to the guilty plea and tell us who brought the two sides together to broker this deal?
Hon. S. Bond: At the risk of repeating the same answer, which I know may not be attractive to some, the fact of the matter is that we have canvassed this extensively. We need to be very clear. As I have said on numerous occasions in this House, the Deputy Attorney General and the deputy of Finance made the decision to vary the indemnity. That's exactly what happened. That statement was made public on October 20 by the then Deputy Attorney General. Those are the facts, and they've been clearly laid out.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
L. Krog: The Liberals wrote off $6 million in legal fees for Basi and Virk contrary to the government's own policy — policy that should have prevented the payout. Now the Ministry of Justice is saying that the agreement to remove the repayment conditions was made before Basi and Virk pled guilty. This raises serious questions around how the government handled this deal.
To the minister: if the sign-off on the decision to forgo the $6 million in legal fees was made before the guilty plea was entered, wasn't that in fact an inducement to plead guilty?
Hon. S. Bond: Let's take it from the top of the member opposite's comments. In fact, it was not the B.C. Liberals that made the decision. That is incorrect. The member is wrong.
I will repeat once again. In a public statement made by the Deputy Attorney General, he made it perfectly clear — perfectly clear — that "no one outside the legal services branch, myself and the Deputy Minister of Finance had any knowledge of this or any involvement."
The member is wrong. The facts have clearly been laid out by the Deputy Attorney General, and I have repeated them on numerous occasions in this House, because that is the story.
B. Ralston: There used to be a radio host who used to talk about "the rest of the story," and I think that's what the people of British Columbia are waiting for. The former Liberal Attorney General, Geoff Plant, claimed recently that there was no inducement in the B.C. Rail deal because the two deals, the plea bargain and the indemnity variation, were not connected in law. He said: "The waiver of recovery of fees was not and could not be an inducement to plead guilty."
We know clearly a decision was made to forgive Basi and Virk's legal fees prior to their guilty pleas being entered in court. If the minister agrees with Mr. Plant, will she explain why?
Hon. S. Bond: The case was considered by the Deputy Attorney General. The decision to make the variance to the indemnity…. The advice was then provided to the deputy of Finance. The Deputy Attorney General advised the deputy of Finance, and the decision was made.
It is clearly outlined in the statement of facts from the Deputy Attorney General that there were a number of things considered. The legal services branch referred the matter to me — and it is quoted in his statement — and to the Deputy Minister of Finance. A number of factors were considered. The decision was made on the advice of the Deputy Attorney General.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
B. Ralston: No one believes that the accused agreed to plead guilty before they were certain they weren't going
[ Page 11577 ]
to be stuck with $6 million in legal fees. Does the minister agree that Mr. Plant is wrong? Clearly, the waiver of the recovery of the $6 million induced the guilty pleas.
Hon. S. Bond: As we speak, the Auditor General of British Columbia is reviewing all of the information, all of the documents, and will in due course outline his view of what occurred during this particular set of circumstances.
I can simply repeat that the Deputy Attorney General considered all of the factors that were presented by legal services and made the decision to advise the deputy of Finance about varying the indemnity. That information has been laid out in his statement. In fact, the Auditor General is currently doing the review, and that information and his perspective will be made public when that work is done.
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AND
CLOSING OF OVERSEAS VISA OFFICES
M. Mungall: Well, everywhere you turn these days, the Liberals' cozy relationship with the Harper Conservatives is costing B.C. Now the federal government is closing visa offices overseas, and B.C. is about to lose millions of dollars when international students go to Australia simply because they cannot get a visa at a Canadian office in their country.
Randall Martin, executive director of the B.C. Council for International Education, says this: "Each closure represents huge economic loss to B.C. and to Canada." To the Minister of Advanced Education, given the Liberals' big rhetoric and grand plans for increasing the number of international students here in B.C., what is she doing to get Mr. Harper to reverse his decision to close visa offices overseas?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: International education is very important to B.C. and Canada. International students contribute greatly to our economy but probably just as significantly to the cultural diversity of our province, our campuses and our communities. We will be working closely with our federal counterparts to ensure that any potential issues with respect to these closures do not negatively impact our international students.
Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.
M. Mungall: One of the offices that is being closed is in Japan, despite the fact that Japanese students represent the third-largest number of international students here in B.C. As Mr. Martin notes, when it comes to international education, "Canada realizes more export revenue from Japan alone than it hopes to 'save'…by shutting these offices."
The question is: what is the minister doing? Specifics, Minister. We want specifics. Why hasn't she spoken out against the closure of these visa offices?
Hon. N. Yamamoto: I appreciate that the members opposite also appreciate the great contribution that international students bring to B.C. and Canada. We have a call in to our federal counterparts with respect to this issue, and we will definitely address the concerns that we have with the closures of these offices.
SEISMIC SAFETY OF
ST. PAUL'S HOSPITAL
S. Chandra Herbert: In the last two weeks we've had eight earthquakes off of our coast. We know B.C. stands a 1-in-4 chance that a major earthquake will strike our province in the next few decades. When asked how St. Paul's Hospital would do in an earthquake, Bonnie Maples, director of capital assets at Providence Health Care and the previous president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, said: "This building is only at 10 to 20 percent of current seismic standards. And that's according to the Ministry of Health's own report."
Can the minister tell the people of Vancouver when the Liberals are finally going to act to make our hospital safe?
Hon. M. de Jong: Well, I'm happy to. But the member could have saved himself the trouble, because he's met with me about St. Paul's, and he could tell people himself what I said. We are.…
Mr. Speaker: Continue, Minister.
Hon. M. de Jong: We attach great importance to the redevelopment of the St. Paul's campus. It is an expensive project. In the meantime, though, we have spent tens of millions of dollars ensuring that St. Paul's has the necessary infrastructure to carry them through to that ultimate transition — electrical upgrades that are being worked on right now, other infrastructure upgrades.
If the member wants to come and see me again…. When he does, however, I would urge him to bring along his colleagues who are advocating for the replacement and renewal of the Royal Columbian campus and all of his colleagues who have various projects that they want to see advanced.
We've spent $7 billion — the single largest infrastructure improvement project in the history of British Columbia. So here's the difference. Not only do we get these projects done when we say we're going to do them; we do them. They come in on time, and they come in on budget.
FERRY SAFETY AND
ROLE OF CHIEF ENGINEERS
G. Coons: In 2010 B.C. Ferries was given a timeline allowing them to exclude chief engineers from the ferry workers union and placing them under a contract that would restrict them from publicly raising concerns about significant safety issues related to the fleet. As a result of those concerns for safety, nearly half of the engineers have opted out of the excluded status.
Chief engineers are in a unique position to be able to identify significant safety concerns regarding their fleet. Previously chief engineers were allowed to make important safety decisions while sailing, free of influence from the corporations. Engineers have opted out, and the shortage has already resulted in many delayed and missed sailings.
B.C. management has even resorted to watering down Transport Canada regs for certification, as well as their own regulations, to make room for the inexperienced excluded engineers. It used to be 120 working days as a first engineer to qualify as a chief engineer. Now it is none.
To the Transportation Minister responsible for B.C. Ferries: what are the Liberals doing to ensure there are enough qualified engineers on our ferries so that our ferries are sailing safely? And does the minister support the lowering of qualifications of those at the helm of our ferries?
Hon. B. Lekstrom: Let me assure the member, as well as all British Columbians and the travelling public, that safety is the primary concern for B.C. Ferries and everybody — not only on this side of the House but, I would hope, on the other side of the House as well. It is never compromised by the men and women that work and do their work for B.C. Ferries.
I think what the member is referring to is an article a couple weeks ago in the Tyee that talked about delays and so on. But let me point out something that's very important. The delays that you refer to, Member…. I'm going to encourage you to go back and do some checking. Since the senior officers were moved out of the union, there's been one 20-minute delay in 250,000 sailings, Member — not bad.
[End of question period.]
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Orders of the Day
Hon. R. Coleman: The orders of the day this afternoon will include a motion by the Minister of Advanced Education, responded to by the Leader of the Opposition. We will stay in the House until…. We will actually charge Committee A after the debate of that motion.
In this House, following that, we will then do second reading of Bill 41, intituled Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2); followed by second reading of Bill 46, intituled Motor Vehicle Amendment Act; and then second reading of the Bill 43, intituled FNCIDA Implementation Act. If we get time, we would then get to Bill 45, intituled the Income Tax Amendment Act.
In Section A, when we charge the section shortly, we will continue the estimates of the Minister of Education.
Motions Without Notice
GOVERNMENT APOLOGY FOR
JAPANESE CANADIAN INTERNMENT
DURING WORLD WAR II
Hon. N. Yamamoto: By leave, I move:
[Be it resolved that this House apologizes for the events during the Second World War, when under the authority of the federal War Measures Act, 21,000 Japanese Canadians were incarcerated in internment camps in the interior of British Columbia and had their property seized. The House deeply regrets that these Canadians were discriminated against simply because they were of Japanese descent and believes that all Canadians regardless of their origins should be welcomed and respected.]
Hon. N. Yamamoto: In the Canada of today we are blessed to live in an open, inclusive and multicultural society. In 1941 this was not the case for my father, Mas, a Canadian citizen. While attending Point Grey junior secondary at the age of 14, he loved school and he loved being a cadet. But one day in December of that year Mas was called to the principal's office, along with some of his Japanese-Canadian school buddies who were cadets as well.
The principal informed them that they would have to choose between typing class and basketball as a replacement for cadet training because they were no longer permitted to participate in cadets. My dad was stunned when the principal said: "We are at war with your people, and precautions must be taken." My dad suddenly realized that the word "we" did not include him and that "your people" meant the Japanese. He thought to himself: "The Japanese aren't our people. Our people are Canadians."
They left the principal's office numb. His mother had just sent him to school to buy war stamps to support Canada's war efforts.
A few months later he was one of more than 21,000 Canadians of Japanese descent who were uprooted from B.C.'s west coast and sent to internment camps throughout the province. Like my dad and his brothers and sisters, 14,000 of those interned were born in Canada.
[ Page 11579 ]
The Canadian federal government had issued the internment order under the provisions of the War Measures Act. This order had support from the B.C. government of the day. In fact, a delegation from the B.C. government — including the B.C. Minister of Labour, the Provincial Secretary and the provincial police commissioner — travelled to Ottawa to make the case for internment.
These delegates pledged publicly to press for the suspension of Japanese-Canadian fishing licences, the sale of Japanese-Canadian fishing vessels to non-Japanese and the internment of all male Japanese Canadians of military age. The RCMP and senior officials within Canada's military opposed these recommendations and argued that Japanese Canadians did not pose a threat to national security.
In spite of this, the B.C. delegation insisted upon the removal of all Japanese Canadians from the Pacific coast and threatened non-cooperation if the federal government did not heed their demands.
Baseless allegations of sabotage and espionage triumphed, and on March 24, 1942, my dad, his brothers and sisters and their mother — my grandmother — had just 24 hours to pack up their belongings before being relocated. My dad's father had died in 1939, leaving my grandmother with six children to raise on her own.
This is a historical injustice for which our provincial government of the time was directly responsible. The scope of this betrayal of our core values is illustrated by the experience of the Japanese Canadians. The Canadian government assured the Japanese Canadians that their homes, fishing boats and other assets would be returned upon their release. Instead, they were sold off at auction for cents on the dollar.
Unlike prisoners of war, who are protected by the Geneva Convention, Japanese Canadians had to pay for their own internment in this way. Their movements were restricted, and their mail was censored. Men were separated from their families and forced into work crews, building roads, railroads and harvesting sugar beets. Women and children and seniors were sent inland to internment camps in small towns such as Greenwood, Sandon, Rosebery, New Denver and Slocan in the Kootenays.
My dad's family was interned in Lemon Creek until the end of the war. Now, Lemon Creek is a beautiful part of the province, but the conditions in the camps at the time were very harsh.
During their internment parents lobbied for education for their children, and shacks were converted into classrooms. In New Denver, where my mother's family was detained, the United Church generously set up a high school. Many children walked miles from other internment camps to New Denver just to go to school.
The war ended in 1945, and the abuses continued. Canadians of Japanese descent were ordered to move east of the Rockies or shipped to war-torn Japan. There was a concerted effort to permanently remove all Japanese Canadians from British Columbia.
My dad's family actually managed to stay in the Okanagan. Oyama, then a small Okanagan village, became home for a while. It wasn't until 1949 when Japanese Canadians were legally permitted to return to B.C.'s west coast.
My dad was 22 in 1949, without a high school education, but the year is significant. In 1949 Canadians of Japanese descent gained their right to vote. And 60 years later, in 2009, I was honoured to become the first Canadian of Japanese descent to be elected to B.C.'s Legislative Assembly.
Now, this House has heard me tell the story of the barriers that my dad overcame to complete his high school education by correspondence. He eventually earned a PhD in pharmacology at UBC about 20 years after the end of the war. He did that working full-time and raising kids. He's in the House today at a different time in our history.
This is a story of one small family. The scope and breadth of what was done to so many Canadians by virtue of their ethnicity is difficult to contemplate through the lens of today.
In 1988 the federal government offered a formal apology and a compensation package, which included funding to create the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Although the federal government was ultimately responsible for the actions that took place, they acted on the urgings of many British Columbians.
Some of the interned citizens were decorated veterans from the First World War who had been recognized for their bravery and sacrifice for Canada just a couple of decades earlier. Not a single Japanese Canadian was ever charged with an act of disloyalty.
Despite these injustices, hardships and acts of discrimination, most of the interned chose not to be bitter. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt their lives and their communities once they were allowed to return home. The painful details of these times are generally not shared with their children until many years later because there was too much work to be done.
"We should always remember, wherever we came from," my dad says. But I hope that someday people will forget about being Indo-Canadian, German-Canadian or Japanese-Canadian. There's a time when we have to say: "Above all, we are Canadians."
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the internment, so it is fitting for us to take time to reflect on this moment in our province's history and commit to ensuring that nothing like this ever happens again. I would urge both sides of the House to support this motion, a formal apology to the Japanese-Canadian community, as a reaffirmation of our commitment to be a welcoming society free of discrimination in any form. There are people in this gallery today who deserve this. [Applause.]
A. Dix: Thank you to the minister for her powerful story, her powerful words. I think it is an important occasion
[ Page 11580 ]
and one for us to reflect on our past — which we often do with pride — with some realism.
The policies in question with respect to the internment were disconnected from reality. They were amoral and immoral, and they reflected very much on our province. It's impossible to argue that British Columbia wasn't the most responsible as a province for what occurred, when compared to other jurisdictions in Canada and neighbouring jurisdictions in the United States.
Twenty-one thousand people interned, families initially separated, people sent to barns at Hastings Park and then distributed and sent all over the province and all over the country in fact reflects, I think, a stain on our history — one that our actions, the actions in 1988 of Canada to apologize and the redress that came from that, and the extraordinary efforts and extraordinary story of so many people who fought for that redress at that time may in some ways mitigate but not remove.
I wanted to speak in support of the motion of the minister today and say, as she has noted, that these actions are not disconnected, either, from actions that took place after the war. As the minister has noted, there was significant action in British Columbia after 1945, when people were not allowed to return home — in fact, not allowed to return home, if you can believe it, until April 1, 1949.
It was the law in British Columbia that Japanese Canadians could not go near a hundred miles of the coast until 1949 — by the way, four years after the United States allowed just such a thing.
So 15,000 Japanese Canadians in British Columbia in 1945; 6,000 in 1949; 4,000 sent to Japan, most of them citizens of our country — 1,900 of those children, citizens of our country.
I think one can only appreciate with wonder what people have done subsequent to that — the grace they've shown. And it is grace.
I wanted to pay tribute from our side of the House to Dr. Yamamoto and all of the people — I had the opportunity to meet Tosh and Amy Suzuki today, who had a similar path — who were stuck for a long time on the Prairies, farming sugar beets as children 48 weeks of the year, long after the war was over.
So I think the apology is apt 70 years after the internment started. I think it allows us to reflect on our own history and what has been lost and what has been achieved over that time.
The final thing I'd say is that it is, I think, a message to all of us that human rights are something that all of us have an obligation to defend. There were no political parties in this Legislature in 1941 that have any honour in this — none. This was a stain on this place that we are addressing today, one that I think is important to address. It's one that was a long time coming.
In 1908 — all of us know this — measures were taken to target Japanese Canadians and other Canadians under immigration laws in our country, laws that were on the books until 1967. In 1936 Japanese Canadians from British Columbia went to Ottawa to fight for the franchise, the right to vote, which they did not have.
So this is, in the context of our history, something that we need to ensure remains current, because there are always challenges. There are always people to be targeted. There are always people to blame. We have to stand firm for human rights.
So yes, we apologize. Yes, we apologize. Yes, we honour, because honour is deserved. Yes, we recognize that in the redressment here, all of us benefit. Yes, we know that there may not be a Charter of Rights and Freedoms if it wasn't for the advocacy of Japanese Canadians. Yes, we know that the War Measures Act would never have been changed had it not been for the advocacy of Japanese Canadians.
We say, "We apologize," but we also say: "Thank you for all of your contributions." [Applause.]
Mr. Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the motion is:
"Be it resolved that this House apologizes for the events during the Second World War, when under the authority of the federal War Measures Act, 21,000 Japanese Canadians were incarcerated in internment camps in the interior of British Columbia and had their property seized. The House deeply regrets that these Canadians were discriminated against simply because they were of Japanese descent and believes that all Canadians regardless of their origins should be welcome and respected."
Mr. Speaker: The motion is carried unanimously.
Hon. R. Coleman: In my orders of the day I mentioned that after this vote we'd be moving into the second readings in this House. So we'll start with second reading of Bill 41, then 46, then 43 and then 45. We will move into committee stage in the little House for the Ministry of Education's debates.
Mr. Speaker: Could members hurry off to their other duties so we can get started.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 41 — MISCELLANEOUS STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT (No. 2), 2012
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to come back and continue debate on Bill 41, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. As members will recall, this is a piece of legislation that affects a wide range of legislation.
When we adjourned debate the last time we were here, I had just finished discussing one particular section of this, which was in regard to changes to the Election Act
[ Page 11581 ]
and the gag law that in fact is being proposed here, which would put in place a 40-day restriction on third-party advertising.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
As we all know and as members will recall, it had originally been planned to be 120 days, and the courts overturned that. Then it was going to be 60 days, and the courts overturned that. We now have this exercise of 40 days. Now, I'm essentially pretty close to finished with that section, but I have a couple of other things I want to speak about before I do leave that matter.
When I was making my comments last week, I had made the suggestion at that time that what should happen with this particular section before the legislation is passed is that it should be sent to the courts for their consideration and their comment. I know there were members on the other side who, in their chatter back and forth across the House, suggested that that was not a doable thing and that we couldn't in fact do that.
I was curious as to where the accuracy with that was. We did have some conversation about that with some legal counsel, and it would be our case that cabinet may, by order-in-council under the Constitutional Question Act, refer or make a reference to the Supreme Court of B.C. for its opinion on whether these new provisions in fact meet the test that has been set by the court already.
Section 1 of the act says that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may refer any matter by order-in-council to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court of B.C. for hearing and consideration, and either court must hear and consider it and give the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council its opinion on the matter referred, with reasons, in the manner of a judgment in an ordinary action.
It doesn't say that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may refer all or part of an act. It says "any matter." The argument that I would make is that in fact it would be quite appropriate for the government to refer this section to the courts where the ruling has originally been made and allow the courts to tell us whether in fact this meets their test.
We have the ability to do that, I believe, under the Constitutional Question Act and could do this. That would make much more sense to me than going ahead and passing this legislation and then having to refer the matter post-that and potentially be coming back to go through this exercise again. With that, I'll leave this section.
I have two other sections that I want to speak briefly to, and then I will take my seat. The first is in relation to the Liquor Control and Licensing Act changes. This is a good change that I think makes sense. What this change essentially does is it provides the catering industry with a much broader capacity to be able to move beverages, liquor, if they're doing work, and to be able to set up, with certain conditions and rules, a bar at an event that they are catering and to operate within a set of rules around that.
It makes good sense, I think. When we talk about updating the legislation around liquor and licensing, this in fact is exactly the kind of thing that we should be talking about doing — sections like this. The other thing that it does, and I think quite rightly so, is it does put some limitations around the rules and the parameters of what caterers can do.
It talks about terms and conditions that will limit the type of liquor to be offered for sale. It can designate areas of a site of a catered event where liquor may be sold and served. It limits the days and hours which the site of a catered event is permitted to be open for the sale of liquor and designates areas within the site where minors are permitted or not permitted, where there's going to be alcohol sold.
It provides approvals, prohibitions or restrictions on games and entertainment at the site where alcohol is available and being sold. It sets conditions around reporting and recordkeeping, around signage, and specifies requirements for service of food and non-alcoholic beverages as well as limiting the ability to sell or serve liquor at an event if the number of persons in attendance exceeds the approved number.
Those are all very similar rules that we would expect at other events. I'd like to congratulate the government for making this change. I think it is a change that makes sense and a change that should go forward.
The last section that I want to speak briefly on is this. We know that the government has also made a change under the Local Government Act, as proposed here in this legislation. The government's press release said at the time: "These amendments to the Local Government Act clarify government's authority to incorporate a mountain resort municipality whether or not there are residents in the area at the time of incorporation."
I do find it a bit much to suggest that you can legislate and incorporate a mountain resort municipality where there are no people and then essentially give the authority to create and, presumably by this, have the government be able to appoint directors, who would be able to influence a regional district's decisions as it might affect there.
Those are questions that I think are quite rightly very concerning. They raise questions about democratic process. I would suggest this is a section that really is problematic at this time.
What we know or what we certainly anticipate is that this is a decision that has been made to try to move forward the Jumbo Glacier development. As we know, there is a lot of opposition to that in the region from people who do not feel that the Jumbo development in any way is beneficial or supportive there. This particular change to the Local Government Act potentially will make it
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more challenging for people who have very legitimate concerns, including local governments in the area, to be able to take action.
Hon. Speaker, there are a lot of things in this bill, and I'm sure that other members will speak to other aspects of this. To recap a little bit, on the question of the Elections Act this continues a gag order — in my view, a gag order that is not warranted. It's not warranted to be able to shut down people outside the writ period from being able to make comments. If the government truly wanted to make the kinds of changes that would remove those influences, then we would make changes around union and corporate donations to political parties — make those changes instead and limit funding.
As I had said the other day and will repeat today, and I've referenced this in my conversation around the Constitutional Questions Act, I would hope the government would take this section, refer this section to the courts before it is adopted here and allow the courts to give the government their opinion on whether in fact this meets the test that is reflected in the decisions of the court to throw out the original legislation here.
On the other two matters, again to close, congratulations to the government on the changes around the Liquor Control and Licensing Act as it affects the catering industry. It is an industry. It makes sense, and I think it is a pretty logical decision by the government to allow caterers to in fact do that piece of business — and believe me, everybody who hires a caterer wants them to do it — and to be able to set a regulatory framework for that that will ensure it will done in a proper and responsible manner.
Then on the last point again, the Local Government Act, I find it a bit challenging to suggest that we are going to be incorporating mountain resort municipalities where there are no people. We're going to give the bears and the wildlife a vote, I suppose.
With that, I will take my place and enjoy the rest of the debate.
N. Macdonald: It's my privilege to stand and speak to Bill 41, which is a miscellaneous statutes amendment act. In most sessions we have one or two of these miscellaneous statutes amendment acts. What they do, of course, is they go to existing legislation, and they make changes.
While the language is often something that would lead one to believe that it lacks significance, very often some of the most egregious legislation that we see coming from this House goes through in a miscellaneous statutes amendment act. Often the government will try to sneak something through using that.
One of the early experiences that I had…. I think it was back in 2006. We had a fairly innocuous-looking piece of legislation, but most activists that dealt with the private power diversion projects would remember the miscellaneous statutes amendment act that included the Ashlu bill.
I just think it's important for people to remember what that did. It was a purposeful removal of regional districts from making decisions on the privatization of rivers. It was because there was a decision, based on what was happening in the Ashlu river, by the regional district in that area to not allow a privatization to take place on their river.
The government put in place…. I think it was just a sentence or two in a miscellaneous statutes amendment act. They tried to sneak it through. When they didn't, of course, they used their majority and pushed it through. What we've seen subsequent to that…. Despite the fact that the regional district represented people in the area and their interests, that was overridden. The Ashlu river was privatized. There was a river diverted, like I say, over local objections.
Some of the things that people said at the time proved to be correct. There were a whole number of fish that the government said didn't live there that were killed off because, of course, that river diversion was not subjected to any sort of enforcement by the government in any rigorous way. The government asserted that fish that locals knew were there weren't there. The government asserted that fish wouldn't be killed off, but they were. When they were killed off, of course, what the locals knew to be true was proven by the fish that were killed.
What we saw earlier on was when we had a piece of legislation that removed some of that private river diversion initiative…. The piece of legislation recently that dealt with the sustainability piece…. Of course, we remember that that whole private river diversion cost over a billion dollars over the past four years — something that was pointed out again and again at the time that we actually debated this bill.
That's the history of miscellaneous statutes amendment acts. That's why they're important. That's why you have to look in detail to make sure that something is not being slid through.
There are a couple of interesting pieces that we're going to go through in committee stage. There are changes to the Forest Act. There are changes to the Wildfire Act, and then a further change to the Forest Act, section 73, that looks interesting. We will use the committee stage to get information from the minister and to try to understand exactly the implications of those changes.
There are also changes to the Election Act.
Now, I think that courts here in B.C. spend more time throwing out B.C. Liberal laws than any other jurisdiction in Canada. I think in this session alone it's not only here that we are fixing a piece of legislation that was ruled by, I think, the B.C. Court of Appeal…. It ruled that an existing piece of legislation…. The gag law that the government tried to put in place before the last election was ruled as improper and illegal.
I think, earlier on, Bill 22, which was an education bill
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dealing with another piece of B.C. Liberal legislation that the courts ruled was illegal. Of course, later on we have Bill 46, which also went to the courts, and the courts said it was flawed.
That is one session's work. It deals with three pieces of legislation that were thrown out by the courts, so it speaks to an ineptitude and a sloppiness — that's for sure.
The idea is that we make laws that are constitutional. That's the idea. If we can't do it, and in one session we're dealing with three laws that have been thrown out because they're unconstitutional, it speaks to ineptitude.
Here's what speaks to arrogance, with Bill 22 and with this bill. They change a little bit, and with the same bill — pretty well exactly the same — they throw it back out there for the courts to deal with. But the courts will deal with it in years to come. Maybe they're getting them through another election, and that's with this Election Act. Maybe it's the same thing. It got them through 2009 before the courts could deal with it. Maybe before 2013, a very cynical government will attempt to do the same thing with this.
That is an area that I think many of the people who will speak to this legislation will focus on, and it's one that I'll return to if I have the time to do it. There's a section in here, in this Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, that deals more particularly with the area that I represent, the area that is also represented in part by the member for Nelson-Creston. That is section 14.
Section 14 in Bill 41 subverts local government. It subverts local government with changes to the Local Government Act.
As with many members here, I served as a councillor in local government. I served as a mayor, and I represented a part of British Columbia that's well removed from the seat of power here in Victoria. It takes, if I'm flying, approximately eight hours to get here from home. If I was driving, it would take much more time.
People feel disconnected to begin with and feel, quite correctly, that it is often difficult at a distance from Victoria to understand what is going on in an area of the province that is so disconnected. There is an importance in rural areas, in particular, to be represented by people that we feel connected to. So councils, mayors and regional districts play a heightened role in rural areas, such as the communities in Columbia River–Revelstoke.
Fundamentally, I come to this place believing that the ability of those that I represent to make good decisions on a whole host of issues, including land use, is there. I believe that they understand the land and understand the balance that needs to be found between finding employment on our public lands and looking after wildlife, looking after the health of the forest. I think that ability to make those decisions sits in our communities.
I also know that as rural British Columbians, we need to protect our rights to have our voices heard on the public lands and with our rivers and streams.
I can tell you that when the Ashlu bill was introduced, people in my area very successfully and vigorously fought to make sure that our voice was heard on those issues — and, I would say, successfully. It's not the first or the last land use issue where people in the Kootenays have fought to make sure that the local knowledge is respected, that the priorities and things that are important to us are considered when land use decisions are made.
Let's just look at section 14 and understand what it does. It is a particularly ridiculous piece of legislation, and it would be kind of humorous if it were not so destructive. But it is destructive.
What section 14 does is allow a minister to impose an instant municipality in an area with no local support. It's not something that people in the area get to vote for. It's not something that they have any voice in at all. It is imposed by the provincial government, whether the regional district wants it or not, whether the municipalities in the area want it or not, whether the people in the area want it or not. That's the first piece that section 14 imposes, but it goes further than that.
In Bill 41, section 14, it allows the minister to impose an instant municipality even if nobody lives there. It even goes further, even if there is no infrastructure that would hint at a prospective community. All of those things are simply imposed.
Then it goes further. Section 14 allows a minister to appoint a mayor to run this nonexistent community and to appoint a council and to have an election. But in this law it specifically says to have an election whenever, or not at all.
You have permanently put in place a structure for a municipality where nobody lives, and you appoint a mayor and a council for this place with nobody. It is set up there with no election on the horizon until the minister decides when they want to have this election. So it's all pretty ridiculous.
The defence the government will have is: "Well, we've done this for communities before." That's what they'll say. "We did it for Sparwood, and we did it for" — maybe — "Tumbler Ridge."
But the difference is that here it is specifically for a resort municipality, and the communities that they will use as examples are mining towns, where there's an ore body that is known. How long it can be mined is pretty well known, and you are setting up a community for the next 50 to 60 years. You know that there will be residents. You know that people are going to be there, so it is a completely different situation than you would have with setting up a resort municipality. It's a completely different situation. It would be ridiculous as a piece of legislation if it were not so destructive.
Now, just as we would refer to the 2006 Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act that dealt with the privatization
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of rivers…. It was often called the Ashlu bill. This could pretty well be called the Jumbo bill, because it is aimed at the proposed Jumbo Glacier resort proposal, which is essentially a real estate giveaway that has been consistently opposed over the past 20 years by residents for some very, very good reasons.
Let's just take a bit of time so that this House again is clear on exactly what the background of the Jumbo Glacier resort proposal is. It is talked about in media circles and by this government as a $900 million real estate development about 50 kilometres west of Invermere.
Now, the part that's missing is the $900 million — right? There actually is not an investor. What there is, is a proposal. So when the government talks about a $900 million proposal, it still doesn't have the $900 million investor.
I remember that on the websites the government used to have at that time, it was $450 million. They used to put it on the government website as a sign of progress, but it was all, of course, fictitious, just as the community that section 14 proposes to create. There was no money, and there still isn't. Nevertheless, we are talking about legislation that would allow the creation of this fictional municipality, even before we have any money to actually make it happen.
Now, this is an area that is wild. It is about 55 kilometres west of Invermere, and it does have a long history. As members will say in this House, it was proposed 20 years ago. There's no question that people living at a distance thought: "Hey, that sounds like a pretty good idea."
The minister, when I ask him, will talk about Premier Harcourt suggesting it was a great idea. I do know that Premier Glen Clark thought it was a great idea. But what has been consistent is that there have always been local objections. What I can tell people is that there were objections for very good reasons, reasons best known to those that live there.
Regardless of the political party, from a distance it is often difficult to understand what the objections are. But when you live there, it is much easier to understand, which is why you have to listen to the people that actually live in the area. And you have to listen to those that represent them.
My predecessors. Jim Doyle, who represented the NDP, stood against the project. Ms. Wendy McMahon, who represented the area, was very careful. She never said whether she was for it or against it, but she knew in her community — and she was from, I believe, Fairmont, in the area — that there was strong local objection and would have made that clear to Premier Campbell.
I just want to step back and contrast what happens if there is good, strong local support for a project. There will be strong local support if the project makes sense economically, environmentally and if it makes sense socially. The example of a project that works and that actually makes sense would be Kicking Horse.
In Kicking Horse you had the same developer, Oberto Oberti. He came to the community when I was mayor, and he had a proposal for a development, going forward. Now, what we did in our community is we looked at the proposal. We thought that there was merit to the Kicking Horse proposal. We knew that in Invermere there were problems with the Jumbo resort proposal, but we said: "We think this is a project that people will be interested in." This was back in 1996-97.
So we informed the public, mayor, council, the regional district, the MLA. At that time it was a gentleman, Duane Crandall, who was a former Social Credit MLA. We put it to the community, and regardless of the political background that we came from — whether it was a former Social Credit MLA, an NDP MLA or myself as mayor — everyone agreed that the first thing that had to happen was we had to get the assent of those that would be impacted.
So we held a referendum, and in the referendum we had a high turnout, and people voted — over 90 percent — to go forward with the project. With that and with a financial backer, the project went ahead in a couple of years. It was still a complicated process. There were still First Nations obligations to fulfil, but it went ahead, and it was successful. That's an example of what happens when a project has merit.
Secondly, you have the example of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. There again, there was public support. There was no need to go and simply impose a project on a community. They went through a public process. It was clear if you were in that community that people had, basically, support for the development of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. That was absolutely clear. With that, you had, within three years, a successful project.
Now, even with all of those things in place — strong public support, the money behind it — these projects are still exceedingly difficult to push forward. Before you give away Crown land for a proposal, you need to make sure that all the ducks are in a row. In the case of Jumbo Glacier resort, where the government intends to impose a project on an area, you have none of those things in place.
You know, for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, it was money that came from the company that built the Confederation Bridge. For tax reasons, they had to invest their profits in Canada, and they were looking to invest in tourism projects. They had made a decision that they wanted to broaden the type of business they do. This was the Dutch company Ballast Nedam. That money was money that they were looking to invest. They had to invest it in Canada. They'd made a business decision to invest it in tourism, and so they looked to this project. Even then it was a difficult thing to push forward.
With Jumbo resort you have had 20 years, not because it has been held up by processes that others didn't have to follow. Other companies, other businesses had to go
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through environmental assessment. The rules were the same for everyone. What has been consistent in the Jumbo Glacier setup is that there has never been the public support.
So not only does it not have the money behind it; it doesn't have the people in the area that are supportive. As the MLA, I know that's the case.
We have had meeting after meeting, and there are a handful of individuals that will come, and they'll say that there's a silent majority. I say: "Well, write. Just write to me, or organize a meeting, or show me in some way that there is more than this handful of people." I can almost name them for you. They are the same people that come, again and again.
I compare that to the vast majority of people in the area that are opposed to it. There is just no comparison. There was a referendum held in area F — area F includes Jumbo resort — and 73 percent of the people voted against it. So there's been a referendum.
There has been the environmental assessment process, where 90 percent of the people were against it. There have been petitions and e-mails. There is just not support. That's a fact, and that should be respected.
Instead of that, the government comes in with this bill to impose a municipality with no people where they'll appoint a mayor. They will appoint a council. They will, or maybe, in the future…. They don't have to ever have an election.
It's all pretty ridiculous, because what people in the area will know is that there are economic concerns. Those are well documented. There are environmental concerns. Those are well documented.
There are First Nations concerns, and I just want to speak for a minute about the Ktunaxa and Kathryn Teneese. They have come to the Legislature. They've come twice.
I had the opportunity recently of listening to her speak at a welcome she gave to Scott Niedermayer in Cranbrook. Scott was there speaking, and Kathryn Teneese introduced Scott. Just what she said from the Ktunaxa perspective about why it is important to show respect to the area where this real estate development is proposed — it was very moving. I don't want to even paraphrase what she said, because she was able to say it in such a clear, articulate and powerful way.
So you have all of those concerns that have always been there, and now, on top of this, you have democratic concerns. I mean, the idea that the people in the Kootenays are going to sit by and go along with what the B.C. Liberals are doing in the dying days of their regime is simply dreaming. If the B.C. Liberals think that's going to happen…. The people of our area are not just going to sit by and have this imposed on them.
We fought back on the HST successfully. We fought back on IPPs, for the most part successfully, and we are going to fight back on this successfully. This is not going to happen without the assent, the approval, of people who live in the area. I can guarantee you that. It will not happen.
It is wrong environmentally, and it's not just local groups that are saying that, like Jumbo Wild and other community groups and local regional groups. It's the B.C. Wildlife Federation. It's provincial groups. It is people who know the area well.
The fact is that section 14 would be a joke if it weren't so destructive. Essentially, what it's doing is the B.C. Liberals are putting in place a process that is going to be used to avoid the public process on land use planning.
It's Crown land. Even private land gets zoned, but this will be set up so that even the Crown land, as it's being given away, is going to essentially be zoned by the developer.
The regional district's primary function is rural planning. That's the fact of it. That the regional district is removed from this is a farce.
Now I know that the member for Kootenay East — he's busy writing notes — is going to be up next. He's going to talk about the regional district and how they voted to send this to the province. Well, have a vote there again, after the last election. Have a vote there at the regional district now, and see what the people say in the regional district now.
I mean, the member did wonderfully good backroom work getting members in the Elk Valley to vote to impose a resort in the Columbia Valley, but let's not be fooled for a minute that that was anything in any way democratic or a proud moment for the regional district. I would say that if the minister that's responsible for this intends to impose it, take it to the regional district again and see what they say.
You have, then, this section 14. This fake municipality with a fake mayor and a fake council would, presumably, get a seat on the regional district and a vote and would, presumably, be able to borrow from the Municipal Finance Authority instead of having to pay for it like a proponent normally would. Everything about it, as I said, would be a joke if it weren't so destructive.
What I said this morning — and what I would say again with this — is that an election cannot come soon enough. This is a train wreck of a government that imposes one bad decision after another. In a part of this province that is special in so many ways, the government is again showing disrespect to the people of the area and showing disrespect to the people that I represent.
Now, because we've had this discussion so many times — the member for Kootenay East and myself — there's nothing that I have said and nothing that he says that will surprise either of us. We have been talking about this for a long time. I do not fully understand his interest in something that sits far away from him. Nevertheless, he
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seems to be willing to use a tremendous amount of his political capital to deal with the issue.
I would say, though, that when we had a debate here on the Flathead, the member for Kootenay East laid out a set of principles around the ability for people in a local region to make a decision. If those same rules were applied to this decision, that would be a good thing.
We have to, in rural areas, have the ability to control the area that surrounds us. I can say, even coming from Golden, that to think of imposing something on the community of Invermere feels wrong.
I know that when we made a decision on land use in our area, we consulted with the community. We had a referendum. It was only when it was clear that the people of Golden wanted Kicking Horse to go ahead that we proceeded.
It would not have been appropriate, in my mind, to have people from Revelstoke or even from Invermere having strong opinions on this or changing what we wanted to do. Certainly, we need to show the same respect for the people of Invermere.
There's a lot in this bill that's problematic, but for me, in my area, the most egregious part of it is section 14. I know what lies ahead. I've been here seven years. I know that it will be imposed, but I can promise you that in the Kootenays we have been given these sorts of things before — like I say, with the HST or with IPPs — and we have been successful. On this, we will be successful again.
B. Bennett: I'm going to limit my remarks on the miscellaneous statutes bill to the portion of the bill that deals with mountain resort municipalities, which is what the previous speaker spoke about.
I am going to respond to some of the things that the previous speaker said. The member for Columbia River–Revelstoke is certainly correct that we have each stood in the House and spoken about this project and about the process around the project many times.
We obviously don't see it the same way, which is fine. It's a democratic society that we live in. This is the best place, probably, for us to debate this, so I'm happy to take my place here and tell the House what my perspective is on this.
The member for Columbia River–Revelstoke questioned: why am I interested in this? What am I doing standing up in the House? This is not in my riding.
I think the member knows better than that. I think the member knows that all of us have interests around the province that we're passionate about. We don't limit our interests and our passion to the boundaries of our provincial ridings. We become interested in all sorts of things in all parts of the province.
I was very interested, as a private member, in the transmission line in the northwest. That's a long ways from my riding, but I recognized what it was going to do for the province if we could get it built — in terms of good jobs and helping the people that live in the northwest.
I think that if I was going to boil it down and tell the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke why I am interested in this particular project and why I speak about it here and why I involve myself in it outside of this House, it would be on the basis of my belief that a democratically elected government has a responsibility to have a process in place that the public can rely upon.
It seems to me that it's one of the worst offences for government in general to put in place a process and invite proponents into the process and to say: "If you do this, this, this and this, it might take you a few years and it might cost you a few million dollars or more than that, but ultimately, if you provide all the information that you're supposed to and you jump through all of these hoops, you will ultimately get your permit to do what it is that you want to do." Or government says no.
In the case of this particular project, it's been in process now for going on 22 years. That's too long. That's too long for any project.
Hon. Speaker, I think there's a certain amount of — I don't want to use too strong a word — maybe talking out of both sides of their mouths on the opposition side about the people being opposed to this and: why does the B.C. Liberal government want to approve this project?
Well, the NDP government had ten years to deal with this project, and did they say no, we don't want this project? Is that what they said? No, they didn't say that. The former Premier Mike Harcourt was all over this project saying what a great project it was. He gave a speech in Davos, Switzerland, to potential investors, and said: "This is a great project. We hope you'll come over to B.C. and invest your money in this project."
When former Premier Glen Clark was Minister of Economic Development he gave a speech and talked about, you know, what a great project this was and how this could assist the Columbia Valley in terms of the creation of jobs.
The NDP had their opportunity. If they really felt the way they say they feel now, why didn't they say no? They had ten years. They didn't do that.
So the proponent carried on. He's a very self-reliant, determined individual, and he carried on, and eventually that project was granted an environmental certificate in 2004. Typically, when a project achieves an environmental certificate, it's pretty much tacit approval. Certainly if it's a mine, if it gets its environmental certificate, everyone knows that the project is going to happen. Of course, in this case, the opponents have strengthened over the years and just refused to give up.
Then, subsequent to the environmental certificate, there was a master plan developed that the province agreed to. This is a master plan that's developed in conjunction with the proponent. It's between the proponent and the professional public servants who work for the
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government of British Columbia.
I didn't negotiate on the master plan. The ministers didn't negotiate on the master plan. It's a document, a plan that's negotiated with the professional public servants, the proponent and all of the experts and agents that work for the proponent — like the engineers and the environmental technicians and so forth.
Hon. Speaker, I'm having a little bit of difficulty with my voice, but I want to carry on if you can bear with me.
The hon. member for Columbia River–Revelstoke said one thing that I think summarizes a lot of the opposition to this project and, unfortunately, summarizes to some extent the approach that the opposition takes. He said that the vote of the regional district of East Kootenay board that was taken in 2009, where they said they wanted the province to deal with all land use issues, was undemocratic.
Essentially, what the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke is saying is that those 15 directors who sat around that table in 2009 and voted on that resolution either didn't know what they were doing or they were dishonest or…. I'm not sure what all the options are, what all the alternatives are for this.
How could it not be democratic? Fifteen people voted, and they voted to support this resolution. Of course, the province has relied upon that resolution. The NDP didn't get what they wanted. The opponents of this project didn't get what they wanted, but that was a democratic vote. It was taken by 15 people who were duly elected in the regional district of East Kootenay, and I think it's important to say that. I think it's respectful to point that out to those people.
The member has said not just in the House but in other places — and the NDP has said corporately — that there's something weird about this legislation — the creation of a mountain resort municipality not having any people in it, like it's never happened anywhere in British Columbia in our history. That's just wrong, hon. Speaker. The town of Elkford was created in exactly the same way. They created a town where there weren't any people, and they had to appoint an initial council. They had to use legislation very, very similar to this legislation to create that initial council.
The same thing is true and the same process is true of Tumbler Ridge. Tumbler Ridge was the last town created in B.C. using this type of legislation. So this is not weird. This is not like the opposition says: "It's never been used before, and it's never happened before in B.C." Of course it's happened, and I think it's important to point out the distinction between this particular ski resort project and the other ski resort projects that the hon. member referenced in Revelstoke and Golden.
Those are brownfield development sites. There were ski resorts in those areas. There is no ski resort in the Jumbo Valley, and this is what we know, I think, colloquially as a greenfield site.
When you have a greenfield site and there's a proponent that said he or she wants to build a ski resort there and you're trying to figure out what kind of land management and administration you can come up with to guide the development of this project, of course there aren't going to be any people there, because it's a greenfield project. Just like Elkford didn't have any people before the town was created, just like Tumbler Ridge didn't have any people before that municipality was created, Jumbo Glacier resort can be created with this legislation with an appointed council.
Let me diverge for a moment on that point. I don't believe the appointed council should have a seat on the regional district of East Kootenay board until they are elected. Until there is an elected mayor and council, they shouldn't have a seat on the RDEK board. I know that's important to people in the regional districts, so I'm glad I've had this opportunity to say that and get it on the record.
The member — and I'm going to quote him — said this project "has never had public support. A handful of people support it." I think that's wrong. I really think that's wrong. I don't know how many people support it or what the percentage is — whether it's 50-50. When I first got elected, I'm quite sure the majority of people supported the project. I do think it's changed. I don't know what the percentage is.
The poll that the member mentioned, 73 percent in a poll that was done by one of the rural electoral area directors, was a self-selecting Internet poll — 73 percent of what? I don't know how many people from that area voted, but I understand that it was a minimal number of people that actually voted.
In any case, I would flat out disagree that there aren't a large number of people in the Columbia Valley, particularly around Invermere and Radium and down to Canal Flats through Fairmont, who want this project to happen. The reason that I say that is because they've come and talked to me. And it isn't three or four people. It's a lot more than that.
When you go into Invermere, and you see some of the shops that are closing up, when you talk to the hotel owners and to the restaurant owners…. You know, I have, and I'm listening to them because, frankly, the NDP has decided that they're going to stand with the opponents to the project. That's fine. That's their political strategy.
But there are a number of people in the Columbia Valley who want this to happen. They want the jobs. They want their kids to be able to stay in the valley. That's what they say to me — the people who run the hardware stores, the people that run the tourism operations that know that they would benefit from the development of this scale of a ski resort. Even the CEO of the closest ski resort, Panorama, supports this project. Why would he, if this was going to be such a bad thing for the ski industry?
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I'm starting to get that…. I feel like I should be saying "jiggery-pokery" here, the way that my voice is breaking, although I know I couldn't do justice to that phrase like the hon. member from the other side.
I mean, why would the CEO of Panorama Resort support this project if it was going to be such a bad thing for the Columbia Valley and a terrible thing for the ski resort industry? Because he knows that if you bring people who are not currently coming to ski in British Columbia, they're eventually going to ski at his ski resort and golf at his golf course, Greywolf. And they're going to golf in the summer at all the other courses in the area, and eventually they're going make their way to Fernie to the ski resort and to Kimberley to the ski resort. That's the way it works. Tourists, once they come to a jurisdiction, move around.
The member used a phrase that I just had to take note of. He said, you know, before government lets Crown land out in the form of some tenure, "you need to make sure all your ducks are in a row." That's kind of funny, but it's sad at the same time, because we've had 21 years, going on 22 years, to get all of our ducks in a row. The Socreds worked on this. The NDP worked on this. The B.C. Liberals have worked on this. Three different political parties have worked on this, and the member suggests we don't yet have our ducks in a row?
Hon. Speaker, you've got an environmental certificate. I think that the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke may be proposing that we just get rid of that. "To the heck with that. It's a legal document but we'll just put that aside." We've got a master plan that's been agreed to between the Crown — not individual ministers, not politicians…. It's a legal agreement that's been entered into between the Crown, the province of British Columbia and the proponent. I think that the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke is suggesting we should just do away with that as well.
Here's what I would extrapolate from what I've heard, in relation to this project, which I believe tells us something about the NDP: 21 years of process, an environmental certificate, a master plan, a master development plan, and still the ducks are not in a row enough, and we should just say no. Given that that seems to be the way that the NDP approach economic development and new projects struggling to come to life to create jobs for our children in rural British Columbia, I would say that anybody who believes in the future of this province and believes that we need….
Deputy Speaker: Excuse me, Member.
Other members would wish to direct their comments through the Chair.
B. Bennett: I would say that if we care about the future of British Columbia, particularly rural B.C., where we do need jobs for our kids — to give them an opportunity, if they wish, to stay there — and if we care about our reputation internationally and nationally and in this province, if we care about what investors think about B.C, we will watch out for the NDP. Because 21 years…. You still don't have your ducks in a row.
"We should just get rid of all those permits and just say no to the proponent, because we want to." I don't support that, hon. Speaker, and I'm happy to have had the opportunity in my crackly voice today to have expressed myself on it.
S. Chandra Herbert: Well, Bill 41, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. I know that some people have talked about it as a gag act. Maybe that was why the previous speaker was having a hard time getting his words out. There are provisions in this act which make it quite difficult for people to state political points of view in the run-up, in the 60 days before an election.
This is a concern for me. I remember in the last election, the 2009 election, the Liberals had similar legislation. They were trying to protect themselves from free speech. People might have something they might want to say about the government in an organized fashion, and the Liberals didn't like that, so they brought in a version of what they're bringing in here — a gag act. People said that the government didn't want to hear your voice. Be quiet, or you could face fines; you could face penalties.
I remember in my community at the time people coming up to me quite concerned. They were very concerned that if they put up a poster saying, "Come to an all-candidates debate," or if they put up an advertisement in favour of something that they cared about, which wasn't about the election, they might get fined, and they would have to go through the process of becoming an election advertiser, somebody involved in that process, even though that wasn't their intent.
As we know, that legislation was struck down by the courts, arguing around free speech and people's rights to know and rights to be able to organize politically in their own communities. So rather than going to the courts and saying, "Geez, we made a mistake," the government has produced a different piece of legislation to try and do the same thing that they were ruled out of order for by the courts to begin with.
Now, hon. Speaker, sometimes when you make a mistake you often will go to the person that has shown you the error of your ways and ask how you can fix what you've done, how you can right the wrong, so to speak. Well, the government has the opportunity with this section of the bill that they've introduced in Bill 41 to go to the courts to say: "Are we doing the right thing? Will this pass muster with you?" Oh yes, it will or no, it won't, and then go from there.
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Rather than introduce the legislation in this way, ram it through in another 11 days that we've got in this House. Then have people go to the courts after the fact and try and see whether or not it is indeed constitutional. Similar to what happened last election, maybe the government is hoping that's what will happen. They'll go to the courts, and if it's struck down too late, it will be after the election, so they will be unable to actually do their work in the run-up to an election.
Now, maybe we'll find out that the government was indeed wrong. Maybe that will happen before the election. But we'll see. I just think it shows real gall that a government which got elected back in 2001 fighting what they said was a gag law is now such a fan of it. I find that interesting, that a government that was fundamentally opposed — they could never do this — is here in this House trying again.
What they could have done is they could have, if they were so concerned for democracy and ensuring that everybody had an equal stake in an election, brought in legislation that the NDP had proposed, which was to ban corporate and union donations, to say that it's just about citizens.
This is about citizens' power. This isn't about big unions. This isn't about big business. This is about big community. This is about the people who vote for us actually having that opportunity in a much more powerful way than they currently have to influence elections, rather than to have what the government used to refer to as special interests deciding things.
No, I think it would be much better if the legislation introduced today was actually about banning corporate and union donations from elections, not trying to gag citizens from sharing their points of view before an election.
Another aspect of this bill that I find interesting — and this is actually on the positive side — is around catering. It's around liquor licensing and catering. That's the thing with these miscellaneous statutes amendment acts. Quite often they have many different pieces, and once in a while, if you don't look closely enough, you miss something.
But in this case this piece is not something that can be missed, because it's something that the catering industry has been raising with me for a long time and that it has been raising with the government for even longer, hoping for fixes. And that's to say that a caterer can actually now — should this bill pass — bring alcohol, bring wine for a wedding. They don't need a special mobile delivery service hired expressly for the purpose of delivering alcohol to a wedding. They can actually do it themselves now, should this legislation be approved.
I support that. It never made sense to me that a caterer — whom you would trust to bring your food, who would bring your cutlery, who would establish your whole wedding for you — was not allowed to bring alcohol to that venue. In fact, quite often it would be the bride and groom who would have to pick up the wine and deliver it to the wedding hall in the stress of the wedding. Now, that didn't make a lot of sense. Maybe it was the bride and groom's parents. Maybe it was a family friend. Whatever, it didn't make a lot of sense to me. I couldn't understand why a caterer would somehow not be able to do that.
It seems like a small thing, but it's an important thing. When you look to the tourism industry, quite often we'll have people come in, who fly in for a wedding, fly in for an event, have international event planners — certainly, we saw that during the Olympics as well — and who look at the liquor legislation we've got and shake their heads.
[D. Black in the chair.]
"You're more British than Britain" is something that I had said to me. Then they thought about that phrase and went: "Oh. Well, Britain has actually gone forward a lot quicker than you have." They have a very much freer, less regulated society in that sense, around liquor licensing and liquor distribution, than we have here. So they say: "Maybe you want to catch up with Britain."
Well, no. I think we should catch up with where British Columbians are at. That's what I would argue. Rather than saying, "You're required to have a mobile delivery service for alcohol," I think we should trust caterers to do that. When they're appropriately licensed and they have all the appropriate training, I cannot see how there will be any problem because of this change. I'm just surprised it has taken so long to happen.
You know, it's one of those things. In the tourism industry, when you go and talk to the small business folks who make it run in this province, they say there are just these little, niggling things which they could never quite understand. They raise and raise them with government, and it never quite happens. But it is happening this day, and I'm happy about it.
There are other changes which we could have seen in here. Some of the stories that I've been told include things like a hotel owner setting up a hotel. They've got all their liquor permits for one room, they've got liquor permits in another room, and they're having a ceremony. Maybe it's a wedding ceremony; maybe it's a party. They have an event in one room, and the plan is that that wedding party or that party will then transition over to the other room.
They've learned that it sounds well in theory, but if they wanted to walk from the one room with their glass of wine to the other room with their glass of wine, they had to be stopped at the door, have the wine put on a tray and then have the catering staff person walk the tray across the hallway and place it down in the other room so that they could then take their drink again. That's a rule that we still have in our province.
That's a challenge we still face in the tourism and hospitality sector, where small business folks are trying to
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make the best go of it. Sometimes, despite the government's much ballyhooed regulation-cutting, they still find themselves asking: "Why does this rule exist? How does this exist?"
Another example would be of how florists, as is my understanding, would be able to bring wine to a wedding. They were allowed to deliver wine to a wedding. Caterers were not, but florists were allowed to if it was in a flower basket. You could put the wine in a flower basket, and if it was a pretty flower basket, that was okay by the government. But if you were a caterer, no. That was not okay. I'm glad that this example, which struck me as totally bizarre when I first heard it, is now being addressed here.
The government is now realizing, 11 years on in their term, that caterers should be able to deliver alcohol as well as food. I definitely am supportive of that, and I'll be looking for other changes as we go.
I think there are still a number of issues — on the liquor licensing side and, indeed, in regulations on how we treat our small businesses — that need closer attention.
I'm glad that the minister has heard this call. It was one that has been made for a number of years now. I'm glad that the minister has acted, so I'd like to thank her for that.
There are many other statutes in this bill and many other speakers to go to the specific statutes, so I'll just leave on those two. The gag law — I don't support it. I think that we should instead be ensuring that citizens have full democracy through enacting bans on corporate and union donations. I don't think the gag law before an election is freedom of speech. It certainly is not — and, in fact, goes a long way in the other sense. Of course, you can't be free to speak if you're gagged.
On the catering side, I'm very supportive of this change to allow our small business folks to do their job — jobs which we trust them to do, look for them to do, but until now had thrown up a regulation in the way of common sense. I'm very supportive of that change.
J. Brar: I have some support there, I know, on my left and right.
I'm very pleased to stand up in this House and respond to Bill 41, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2012. As it's clear from the title of the bill, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, this bill proposes amendments to a number of existing acts.
I would like to focus my comments regarding the proposed amendment to sections 80 to 87 of the Election Act. That's where my comments will remain focused. I have seen the election process in other countries. I can say one thing with confidence: we have one of the best systems in this province when it comes to the election process. If there's any area we need to fix, it is that we need to remove the influence of money out of elections to make it a fair, level playing ground.
At this point in time, as we know, the corporations fund this party, the Liberal Party, big-time. The elections run basically on that money, so that is where some actions need to be taken in the future to make the election process more fair and more just.
This Bill 41, when it comes to the Election Act, the press release issued by the government of B.C. states: "These amendments are being introduced to address the B.C. Court of Appeal's ruling that upheld the earlier trial court's decision permitting third parties to spend unlimited sums of money on election advertising outside of the designated 28-day campaign period."
The amendment would shorten the pre-campaign period from 60 days to a maximum of 40 days, during which spending limits would apply. It would also ensure that spending limits do not apply when the House is in session or at least three weeks after it adjourns.
To make it absolutely clear to the people sitting in front of the TV and watching this debate, this government has introduced a bill in this House that will limit third-party spending on advertising during the pre-campaign period, which is 40 days, as per the proposed time limit of this act. At this point in time the election campaign is 28 days, so if this bill becomes the law, 40 days before 28 days the spending limit that is proposed under this act would apply. In other words, the third party will not be able to advertise beyond the prescribed number of dollars in this act during that time.
Who are the third parties? I just want to mention that, as well, for the benefit of the public to know.
The third parties are such as the B.C. Federation of Labour or the British Columbia Teachers Federation, BCTF. It could be any other union or any other group which has some interest in the election process. They want to educate the people of British Columbia, before they go out and cast their ballot, about the issue that is close to their heart.
So during that time they come out and they try their best to educate the public about the issue that is near and dear to them or their membership. That's what third parties do during the pre–election campaign period.
Before we talk about this bill, I think it's very important for us to look at the historic perspective of this bill. This is not the first time. This is not the first time that this government is introducing such a bill to limit third-party spending on advertising during the pre-campaign period. They have tried this before, right in this House, but failed to meet the tests in a court of law. That's what happened.
Just before the last election this government introduced Bill 42, in 2008, to limit the third-party spending on advertising during the pre-campaign period. The pre-campaign period under Bill 42 was initially defined as 120 days.
Subsequently, during the debate in this House — during all the members standing up and speaking about the
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issue and also under the pressure from the other groups outside, the third parties outside…. This government actually reduced the days from 120 days to 60 days, almost half the days, during the debate of the bill.
From a 120-day limit, it comes down to 60 days, just during the debate of the bill. That tells you a lot as to how much homework was done to prepare this piece of legislation, because that's a huge change when it comes to the number of days.
At that time this government ignored the advice of the members of the opposition, particularly the critic of justice. At that time this government ignored the warning of the legal experts, telling them that this law will not stand in the court of law. They didn't care. At that time labour groups attacked the bill as an assault on free speech, and this government didn't listen to anyone at that time — legal experts, media persons, labour groups and the official opposition.
They used their majority to pass Bill 22, making it a law of the land, thinking they can silence, basically, the people of British Columbia. But their dream didn't come true. Their dream didn't come true, because that law, known as Bill 42, introduced in 2008, faced a court challenge from labour groups, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the British Columbia Teachers Federation.
Both the unions took that law to the court, and surprisingly, in 2009 a B.C. Supreme Court judge found the 60-day limit was unconstitutional. That was the finding. That was the decision given by the B.C. Supreme Court in 2009. But this government wouldn't even listen to the B.C. Supreme Court, as they failed to listen to the opposition and other third-party and legal experts — experts they didn't care about. They didn't even listen to the B.C. Supreme Court.
What did they decide? The government appealed that decision, hoping for a positive outcome. But once again, this government was disappointed and embarrassed. Later, last October, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.
Here we are, back to square one again, because the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal both basically said to the government that the 60-day limit on third-party spending is unconstitutional.
We are back again — this government once again trying very hard and introducing a similar piece of legislation in this House. It's a desperate attempt, once again, to pass this law, to silence third parties during the pre–election campaign period.
Clearly, this is an attack on free speech. We as Canadians, as British Columbians, are always proud, when we compare ourselves with some other countries in the global community, that we allow everyone in this country to have their say. But this bill is saying: "During the pre–election campaign period we will not allow you to say what you want to say." That's the intent of the bill. This is an attack on democracy in the province of British Columbia.
The other thing which is very surprising is that this government is saying that if the bill is passed here in this House, the amendment will not be brought into force immediately but will first be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal. It's very surprising for me as a Member of the Legislative Assembly what we are doing here, what this government is trying to do here.
I don't know whether there's any precedent for what this government is trying to do under this bill. I don't know whether there's any similar precedent existing in this House or anywhere else where the government of the day is proposing and subsequently passing a law and then sending it to the Court of Appeal, asking them to tell us whether this is constitutional or not.
This does not make sense to me as a Member of this Legislative Assembly, and I don't think it will make sense to the people of British Columbia out there that you pass the law first and then send it to the Court of Appeal to ask their opinion whether this will meet the test of the courts or not.
I think the best approach would be to send the proposed piece of legislation to the B.C. Court of Appeal first and ask their opinion whether it will meet the test of the courts or not and then, subsequently, introduce the bill in this House. That makes sense, but what the government is proposing does not make any sense to me.
To summarize, it is once again another desperate attempt by this government to silence, basically, the third parties who are going to stand out there during the election time and tell the people of British Columbia what this government did during the last ten years to all the people of British Columbia, how this government failed to represent the interests of the people of British Columbia during the last ten years.
For example, I saw, during the last election or the election before, that the B.C. Teachers Federation put big billboards out there, basically telling the people of British Columbia that this government closed 175 schools in the province of British Columbia. I think people need to know that. People have the right to know that before they go out and cast their ballots, because it's a very important decision people are going to make.
I'm going to conclude by saying this is the desperate attempt by this government to silence third parties during the pre–election campaign period. The best thing would have been for this government to send the amendment to the B.C. Court of Appeal first, and then bring it back to this House and introduce it as a piece of legislation so that all members in that situation could have made a meaningful contribution to the debate knowing that this bill is going to become the law at that time.
That's not the case. I would like to, basically, conclude
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by saying thanks to you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this very important matter.
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the Minister of Justice will close debate.
Hon. S. Bond: We certainly have had over the course of several days the opportunity to hear about a number of sections of this Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. There are strongly held views on both sides of the House about a number of the items contained in it. I know that there will be a continued opportunity as we move forward in the days ahead. I want to say thank you to the members for providing their views and their input.
With that, I move second reading of Bill 41.
Hon. S. Bond: I move that Bill 41 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting after today.
Bill 41, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2012, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. M. Polak: I call second reading debate on Bill 46, intituled Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2012.
BILL 46 — MOTOR VEHICLE
AMENDMENT ACT, 2012
Hon. S. Bond: We are going to continue our work in the Legislature this afternoon talking about an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act. It will be in Bill 46.
This bill creates new provisions in the Motor Vehicle Act to respond to the B.C. Supreme Court's ruling on the sanctions for impaired driving.
Over the last number of months, certainly, as we have been working on the amendments, we have heard from many, many British Columbians the importance of looking at the amendments that are required. We appreciate the ruling that Judge Sigurdson made in the Sivia case, and it laid out a clear path for the government to find a way to make changes to the bill. The amendments that have been tabled reflect those concerns that were expressed in the Sivia decision.
One of the primary concerns was expanding the grounds for administrative review where a roadside prohibition has been ordered. I do need to remind the members of this House that in fact in the ruling the ability for government to use an administrative process was actually upheld in the Sivia case. The judge said that we needed to go back and do some additional work.
Now, anytime you are moving from something that is the status quo or something that has been a practice for a great deal of time — when you are making changes of this magnitude — inevitably there will be or may be challenges to the constitutionality. We recognize that this law has made a difference in British Columbia, a significant difference. We believe it's critical that we respond to the concerns expressed in the Sivia decision and expand the grounds for administrative review.
These amendments also improve the legal protections for drivers at the roadside by making it mandatory for police to advise drivers of their right to have a second breath test on a separate, different device if they dispute the results of the first test.
Currently that is an option, and police officers often make that known to drivers. What we are saying in these amendments is that is no longer an option. It will be mandatory for police officers to advise those drivers about the possibility for a second breath test, and it will be done on a separate device. So that is one of the things that will help enhance the opportunities for the administrative review that is rigorous and robust, which is precisely what the court was looking for us to do.
In addition to the second test on a separate device, there will also be a change to allow for the lower of the two tests to prevail, rather than automatically defaulting to the results of the second test. Again, this is about adding another element, another level of fairness, and that's what the judge and the courts asked us to do. They simply said: "You need to go back. We need you to take a look at how we can make sure that drivers have that kind of rigorous ability to challenge the reliability of the tests."
The court asked us to consider some changes, but in fact, we have gone further than the court suggested, proposing in these amendments that the changes apply to drivers in the warn range as well as the fail range. This will ensure that all drivers can have the utmost confidence in the results of the roadside breath test and any subsequent review.
It will also, which is critical to us, support public confidence in how police officers administer this important law. We have done our work. As I said, British Columbia, with the law, before it was challenged, moved to have the most rigorous and aggressive consequences for impaired driving in the country. In fact, those are the kinds of aggressive initiatives that often face challenge. We are very pleased that we have been able to bring back the kinds of amendments that we believe, based on the best advice of the legal team that exists in the Attorney General's ministry, will meet the test of the courts.
We should be very clear that our paramount goal is to protect and strengthen a law that resulted in a 40 percent drop in alcohol-related deaths on B.C. roads — a 40 percent drop in alcohol-related deaths on B.C. roads. So was it important for us to take the time to follow the court's advice, to go back and bring amendments to the
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floor? Absolutely, it was.
We're not hesitant at all in bringing forward amendments that we believe will protect and strengthen a law that has meant that 40 people, more than 40 people, who would have died under the previous set of circumstances went home to their families. This law will continue to deter people from drinking and driving. It will enable police to get alcohol-impaired drivers off the road immediately. We believe that if you drink and drive in British Columbia, you need to face tough consequences.
I know there are many, I'm sure…. Our time is always valuable here in the House. These changes are essential. They are critical to maintain the life-saving value of our impaired driving laws while also respecting something incredibly important. That is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We believe that a fair, clear and consistent process will have the support of police, the courts as requested and the public.
With those initial comments, I would welcome comments from other members of the House and look forward to the dialogue that will occur.
K. Corrigan: I'm pleased to rise on this bill, Bill 46, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act. We on this side of the House will be supporting these amendments. But I do think this is a lesson and maybe a teaching moment that demonstrates that when legislation is hasty — and I believe the original legislation that is being amended was hasty — it creates problems and ends up getting challenged.
We certainly did highlight some of those problems with the original changes to the Motor Vehicle Act, which provided for roadside suspensions for people who were drinking and driving. I do think there was a case of Liberal mismanagement, certainly mistakes, and I believe it does demonstrate what happens when you drive legislation through this Legislature without having full debate and full hearing and opportunity for everybody to consider the positions.
What these changes are going to do is they are going to correct, according to government…. I still have some questions about it, but the suggestion is that these changes to the Motor Vehicle Act will correct those sections that were found to be inappropriate, that Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled as unconstitutional because the sanctions that drivers were receiving with the roadside suspension when they blew .08 or higher — wherein they received a three-month driving ban, about $5,000 in penalties and then towing and stowage fees and other costs…. Those fees were too serious to have very limited right of appeal or review.
In addition, the process by which somebody was given their roadside suspension was not sufficiently taking into account the rights of the individuals that were affected. The judge found that there needed to be a change and gave the government some time to do that. Now we do have some changes to the act, which presumably should, according to certainly the briefing that I've received, address the court decision on that.
What the act is doing with these changes is it is saying that…. I think probably the thing, one of the major changes, that will make a difference to people is to protect their rights slightly more when they have a roadside suspension. When they blow over .08, the officer who administers the test will be required to tell people that they have a right to have a second test.
Previously, that apparently did not happen in all cases. It was a policy, but it was not in the legislation itself. My understanding from my fairly brief reading — we just got this bill — is that now it will be in the legislation that officers are required to inform people that they have the right to have a second reading. Not only will that second reading provide a second opportunity to get a reading; it will be on a different breathalyzer machine. That's a positive thing.
That was happening in the past in many cases, but it was not consistent. So that will provide another level of protection for the process. This is a fairly serious process. The impacts are very serious.
What the judge said in the case was that when you look at the impacts that it has on people's lives — the amount, the cost, the fact that people lose their licences for months, and then losing their car, having it impounded, the thousands of dollars of costs, with towage and so on….
The judge said that the penalties that are associated with the over .08 portion, the penalties associated when you blew in the fail range — which is over .08, which is equivalent to the criminal justice impaired-driving level — when you blew over that, those penalties were too high and unfair.
The judge also found that the penalties and the impacts on an individual in terms of their licence and so on, in the warn section, which is .05 to .08, aren't serious enough — serious though they are for individuals — to warrant overthrowing or avoiding the legislation.
These changes are going to…. Some of them apply to both the warn section and the fail section, but they're primarily brought in as a response to the decision by Justice Jon Sigurdson that said that it was the over .08 penalties that were unconstitutional.
There are a few changes, one of them being, as I already mentioned, that they will have two chances. The officer must let them know that they have two chances to blow. That's going to have to happen in every case. In addition, you'll have two readings. Previously, if there were two readings, it was the second of the two that was used.
Another feature of this legislation is that with the changes, the amendments in the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, instead of it being the second of the two readings
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with the second breathalyzer, it would be the lower of the two readings, which seems to be a fairer approach. My understanding is the reason that previously it was the second of the two readings, which seems a bit arbitrary…. Particularly if you had higher in your second one, then it seemed unfair that somebody would possibly receive larger penalties if in the second one they just happened to have a different machine.
Of course, part of the reason for this general concern about this is the issue of calibration. There has been some real questioning of whether or not these machines are reliable. We're assured that they are, but I think the calibration has certainly been an issue. If you have two different machines giving two different readings, it does make you wonder.
Now, my understanding is that the issues related to calibration have been largely addressed, but now…. Speaking of calibrations, one of the features of these changes, as well, is that it would require police to provide a calibration and data history for breathalyzer machines. So that is an improvement, as well, and I appreciate those changes. I think there are some small changes.
But I do have to say again that I think that if there had been wider consultation, wider consideration and wider thought going into this bill in the first place, the government would not be in a position of yet again having a piece of legislation that they bring into this House challenged and found to be unconstitutional in a court of law. It is happening surprisingly regularly.
In addition to those main changes, peace officers also, I believe, have to, essentially, swear their statements, which is also a further protection which will assist people and provide a little bit more comfort, I think, to people.
Then the other major change is that there has been a widening of the grounds for review. That, again, was an area of real criticism. The number of areas of review was very limited, and this one…. Now the areas for review are going to be significantly widened. I was going to read some of them. There are several changes that will allow the areas for review to be widened. That, as well, is an improvement.
I'm just trying to find out what they were. Anyways, there is a real widening of the areas that are subject to review. I think that that will mean that people will feel that they're getting more due process as a result of the changes in the bill.
As I said, we are going to support this bill. We are concerned about the fact that so many people…. I was going to say "were inconvenienced," but it went much further than inconvenience. They lost their licences, they had their vehicles impounded, and they went through a process that many, many felt was unfair. I think that every member of the Legislative Assembly probably had those people coming into their office and saying: "I feel like I haven't had due process. I feel like I haven't been treated properly in front of the law."
I know that I had several of those people come to me. I had constituents come to me that felt that the piece of legislation was unfair. I think that it's incumbent upon us as members of the Legislative Assembly, when there is legislation that comes from this assembly, whether it comes from government or not — for the opposition as well — to be able to talk to people and to defend legislation whether or not we agree with it. But that the procedural approach has been fair, that the process has been fair and that whether or not somebody is happy about a law, at least the process is fair….
I don't think that people felt the process was appropriate. They felt that it was very high-handed, many of them. I'm not defending drinking and driving in any way, but what I'm saying is that when we have severe penalties…. It is very serious for people to lose their licences and not be able to drive to work, in some cases not to be able to work because they lose their vehicle, not being able to get around their communities.
Absolutely understandable that we penalize people, but when you're doing something that has such an impact on people's lives, it's absolutely imperative that the process that leads to that seems to be transparent and seems to be fair and that due diligence has been done in that way.
Now, I just noted that I found the section that I was referencing earlier that widens the areas for review under the act. Some of them are: the person was…. You can review if they weren't advised of their right, if they didn't get the second analysis, if they weren't told about the second analysis, or if the form wasn't correct and so on. So there's a whole bunch more procedural protections that are in the act. They can question about the validity of the test itself, so there are all sorts of widened criteria for people to request a review.
I know that certainly was a concern under the old act — that the areas for review were very, very narrow. That was certainly one of the concerns that was mentioned by the judge as well.
So to summarize, on this side of the House we will be supporting the amendments. The amendments are an improvement, amendments that will provide a little bit more procedural fairness for those that come under the act. People will be told that they have a second chance, that they will have a second chance to be tested and that the lower of the two tests will apply. There will be wider grounds for review. Those are the main changes under the act, and we will be supporting this amendment act, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act.
It is very unfortunate that so many people in this province have gone through a lot of stress in their lives in a process which was found to be inappropriate and which was unconstitutional. That was what was found by the judge. I think that's unfortunate, that so many people have had to go through that, including some of my constituents that felt they were not fairly treated under this
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act. Of course, the act itself, the whole roadside suspension — many disagree with it. There are those that think it's inappropriate.
We have certainly supported it, but I do believe that if you're going to have these kinds of prohibitions, if you're going to have a process which does not take you to the courtroom but instead takes you through essentially what is an administrative process, then when you're doing that, when you lower the bar a bit and you don't have a judge involved, what you need to do is make sure that at all steps of the way there is appropriateness in the process and that people's safeguards and their rights and their civil liberties are protected.
With those comments and some small concerns about the bill, we will be supporting it. With that, I am going to conclude my remarks, and I shall take my seat.
C. Trevena: I take my place in the debate on the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act. As my colleague, the critic for Burnaby–Deer Lake said, we would like to be supporting this, but she has raised some of the concerns that I've raised.
As a constituency MLA we all get many people into our offices about certain issues. I have had frequent calls and frequent e-mails about the initial piece of legislation that is now being amended from people not so much questioning whether they were over the limit or not but the fact that they sensed that there wasn't due process in the way they were being treated.
This has caused a lot of concerns from people. In fact, I even had a lawyer come and sit down with me and go through the original piece of legislation, going through it all and talking about both the instrumentation and the process — very, very concerned about the implications.
Obviously, it was challenged. It ended up in the Supreme Court, and Justice Jon Sigurdson ruled last year that the penalties were too serious if you blew over .08, that the penalties were too serious to have an inadequate appeal system. We have the problem now of people who have had this test and been found wanting — they blew over the limit when they had this test — having been fined. We've now got the issue of what's going to happen to them. We're amending this legislation.
I think it really does show — and we're back in the potential, again, at this stage of the legislative calendar — the potential problems and real problems of either legislation that is ill-thought-out, legislation that doesn't really have the time for debate, legislation that is rushed through.
Again, we are heading towards the end of the legislative calendar, and we have many pieces of legislation before us. This piece of legislation was also a problem where we didn't have the full debate. There wasn't the full consideration.
While we supported the original piece of legislation because, like everybody, this side of the House wants to try and rein in on drunk drivers, rein in on people who are driving over the limit, rein in on dangerous drivers, there is really the need to thoroughly examine legislation so that it doesn't have to be challenged in the Supreme Court, so we don't have to go through having the legislation, tabling it and then having people saying that this is unconstitutional, taking it to the Supreme Court, using their time, their resources to take it to the Supreme Court to challenge it.
I mean, it's great to have the Supreme Court there, but we have a duty and a responsibility as legislators to thoroughly examine legislation. This piece of legislation will keep it still as a very tough piece of legislation on drunk driving and driving over the limit, but it will mean that it is now going to be acceptable.
Before the immediate roadside prohibitions were shelved, drivers who blew .08 or higher faced a three-month driving ban and roughly $5,000 in penalties — had to pay for towing and stowage fees and any other costs.
The changes which are being brought in with this will require the police to provide calibration and a data history for the machines and allow suspected drunk drivers to challenge the administrative penalties if the police did not offer them a second roadside test on a different device or if the police did not use the lower of these two results. I think this is significant, but there are a number of significant points here.
One is the machine itself and the calibration, the question of that. I've had questions brought to me in the constituency office and which I've shared with my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake, the critic for the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, about the actual machine that's used, the calibration used and how accurate that is.
What is being brought in here is not so much the change in this — which, I think, actually does need to be examined. I think we do need to be looking at the machinery being used, but there's also the police handling of it and the fact that drivers have the right to know that they can take a second reading and that if it's lower, they're going to be okay.
Apparently, the machine that is being used is exceedingly sensitive. It's so sensitive that even if you wash your mouth with mouthwash…. If you're going out to a party, you brush your teeth, you swill your mouth out with a bit of mouthwash — as, I think, most of us do if we're going out — and you're stopped, apparently the machine is that sensitive that it could pick up that reading, that it could read even mouthwash as a potential trigger.
So we're looking at a very sensitive machine. Obviously, you want to be able to pick up instances when people have been drinking and driving. You want to make sure that people get into the mentality of having, effectively, a zero tolerance of drink-driving and that people shouldn't
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really be drinking at all when they're driving. But if you're going to be picking up on anything, there should be the sensitivity that you can tell the difference between mouthwash and a couple of glasses of wine or a few beers. Really, this can cause problems for people.
People are very concerned when they are pulled over, anyway, by the police. They get their breathalyzer test, and they get worried. You start getting concerned about this. I think there is a question there.
Really, we're here debating the change, and we're going to support the change, but it does show the fact that the previous legislation went through too quickly. It went through without debate. It went through without adequate scrutiny.
Again, I think this shows the position, really the positive benefit, of a good committee system. Where you have a good committee system, you can bring in people who are going to bring their different expertise. They can sit down and talk about it.
Whether they're talking about the machine and its sensitivity, whether they're talking about the question of administrative penalties — and I'm going to get into that in a moment — or whether they're talking about the level of fines, these sorts of things can be discussed if you have a committee system that can bring in these experts. I think this is one of the questions we have.
We have very good critics, I believe, on the Attorney General and Solicitor General, who ask a lot of questions when it does get to committee stage, but two problems we face…. Often, as I mentioned before, legislation is rushed through. We don't get to the formal committee stage of the bill that we have, in the way that our House operates, where it is the critic asking the minister specific questions. It's not bringing in that greater level of expertise. It's asking the minister where she or he has consulted on this. It doesn't allow that expansion, allow that discussion, which, I think, is very unfortunate.
It means that we then have to come back and amend legislation which was only passed a couple years ago. While this is going to be useful to have, and I think it's something that is going to be supported, there's a question as to why. Why didn't we get it sorted out before? Why didn't we get the consultation before? Why didn't we go through this before?
While this is actually being supported by people in law enforcement — police officers and others — as I say, people do want to make sure there are tough penalties and strict laws on drinking and driving. They want to make sure that we are using, whether the machine is exceedingly sensitive or what, a machine that does catch people who are over a certain limit — the limit which is set by consensus within this Legislature.
I think we also have to bear in mind some of the concerns that have been raised by those who are supporting civil liberties, those who are very active on that. We are saying it's important that we make sure that people are not drinking and driving, but we should recognize that the civil liberties organizations are concerned about it because of the power it gives to the police. It is still giving the administrative powers…. They have very strong concerns.
We were talking earlier today very movingly about human rights and dignity and human justice and the responsibility we have to consider every action we take in the light of human rights. I think we have to be aware of civil liberties. We have to be cognizant of it when we are discussing that — and people's rights.
I'd like to just quote from the president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Robert Holmes. He's not supportive of this. He says that the amendment, while necessary, doesn't go far enough because it still gives the police the opportunity to hand out administrative penalties on the roadside without taking it into the courts.
The court system is the pillar of our democracy, and it's something that should be respected. The fact that we're now debating this piece of legislation is thanks to a strong court system, thanks to the fact that somebody could take this to the Supreme Court, question it, and the Supreme Court could come back and say: "Sorry, you've gone too far. Wind back."
Mr. Holmes, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said: "A thousand years after the Magna Carta, we have a government that decides it really doesn't like the idea of having to go through a judicial process with an independent, impartial judge who serves for life and who doesn't form part of the government's bureaucratic machinery making the decisions."
I think we all go into elementary schools and secondary schools, high schools, to talk about what we do in this Legislature. Coming from England and growing up, part of our history lessons was the Magna Carta. I cite the Magna Carta quite regularly to these kids. They look at me and wonder what I'm talking about. I tell them about out in the Fens, down in the southeast of England, the king and the barons met. The barons ensured that the king wasn't going to have too much say, and we had the Magna Carta, which set boundaries.
It was a thousand years ago. It was a very important basis for what has evolved in our system — our parliamentary system, the separation of the parliament and the executive and the judiciary. Giving any one group too much authority is something that we should be very, very cautious of.
Therefore, giving the police the administrative authority to hand out fines now on the basis of two readings of a machine which some have cited is not an accurate machine…. On that basis, they can take quite severe actions against a driver. It's something that we should be very aware of when we're debating this piece of legislation.
When we're thinking about whether we're going to pass it and how we're going to take it on, the fact that
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we're giving this authority to the police is something that we really should take heed of.
We on this side of the House do want to ensure that we are using whatever means we can to keep people who are drinking off the road. But we should also bear in mind that this is a big step, giving the police this sort of authority. It was a big step when we did it a couple of years ago when this legislation was first passed. I don't think we should forget that.
Now, we hear very regularly the comments that drunk driving has dropped as a result of this piece of legislation. I would like to actually see the evidence that the correlation is specifically that because of this legislation, drunk driving has dropped. It's very possible, because people's awareness was seriously heightened about the possibility of being pulled over, losing your licence — very quick, very strong penalties. That is a deterrent, absolutely a deterrent.
But it would be very interesting to know whether it's that or whether it is part of, now, the growing psyche — that people are learning that it is absolutely irresponsible to get behind the wheel when you've been drinking. Whether it's become part of the psyche — like now you see so few smokers — whereas a number of years ago it was quite commonplace. You'd have a couple of glasses of wine or a few beer; you'd get in the car, and you'd drive. People wouldn't think about it.
Now you talk to young people and say, "I hope you're going to have a designated driver when you go out," and they look as though you're stupid. It's like: "Well, of course I'm going to." You don't do it. So whether it is that it has now become part of the psyche for more and more people just not to drink and drive, to stay over or whatever it is — get that cab, do the car-share — would be very, very interesting to know.
I think that we are faced here, once again, really with a problem of…. I think maybe it's a problem of hubris — the government thinking that they are just so right so often, that we were just going to go and push a piece of legislation forward with this equipment, we're going to use this whole new system, and then finally, when they're taken to court and they're told it isn't right, okay, they'll back down and change it. It really is not the best way of doing government. It's not the best way of ensuring we are having a very rational debate about issues. It's not the best way of making sure that we are acting in the best interests of everyone.
I think I mentioned that when this piece of legislation came in, my office — and, I think, everybody's office — had a lot of calls, a lot of e-mails, and a lot of concern. A lot of people supporting, but a lot of concern about how it was going to come into play, as people have been stopped, as people have been fined, as people have been, basically, hit with the legislation that also got in. What is going to happen now with the backdating, for those who were caught in this in the time between when the legislation was first brought in and today?
That's going to increase. There are going to be a lot of questions there. What are people…? Are they going to get licences back? How quickly? Do they get any fines back? There are going to be a lot of areas, really, of mopping up, of cleaning up and of sorting out to do because the government wanted to push through very quickly what I guess it thought was a flagship piece of legislation that would make it look tough. I think that that is not the best way that we should be moving forward.
I think that, as my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake said, we will be supporting it. I think that we should be cognizant of the comments that my colleague from Nanaimo said when this amendment act was brought in. My colleague from Nanaimo quoted that it was hasty legislation and accused it — because of, basically, Liberal government mismanagement and Liberal mistakes — as an example of what happens when you drive legislation through the B.C. Legislature without full debate and full hearing.
Mistakes and mismanagement — I think that really encapsulates it, really says it all about this government.
I think we've got, once again, mistake and mismanagement. Here we are rectifying it. There are many times we haven't rectified it. There are many times where the people haven't been able to take to it the Supreme Court and have it questioned, or it's just been sort of brushed under the carpet or hidden by cabinet confidentiality, so nobody really knows what is going on or why decisions are being made.
If we had full debate on these issues, if we had a proper committee system where we could be discussing this, I think we would have saved everybody a lot of time.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice has many pieces of legislation before this House at the moment. I think we're now up to 14 pieces of new legislation from the beginning of last week, and just a couple of weeks left to go in the legislative calendar. I know the Minister of Justice has brought in a number of those pieces of legislation. She'll be pretty busy and, in all fairness, I think would not have liked to have had to make this amendment and would like to just be able to focus on other things.
This side of the House will be supporting it. We hope that we don't continue to see that the government's desire for a quick fix to problems through the headlines that it's going to get that night on the evening news, for the support it's going to get from some people….
I hope it's not going to continue to act in that manner and have a more thoughtful approach, although I can't see that that's going to be happening when we are in a position where, as I say, we have suddenly 14 pieces of legislation before us right at the end of the legislative calendar and the desire, I think, just to really try and get
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a few more headlines and a few more little bits of approval wherever it can garner it. I think there's going to be more approval in the rationalization on this than on many other pieces that it's done before.
With that, I will take my place in this debate. I hope that when we get to the committee stage, we actually get the full rationalization of what happened, when it happened, why it happened. It's very good to have the Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson's ruling. I'm sure we're going to be discussing that a bit, as well, in the committee stage. I look forward to hearing from the Minister of Justice, as well as my colleague the member for Burnaby–Deer Lake, at that stage.
H. Lali: I rise to take my place in the debate on the second reading of the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2012. I also stand here alongside my caucus colleagues to offer our support to the amendments that are being made. I'd like to just briefly summarize what it is that the amendment act is actually doing.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson had ruled, on November 30 of this past year, that penalties for a driver who actually blew over .08, under the Liberal government's September 2010 impaired-driving sanctions, were actually too serious not to have an adequate appeal system. There was really no appeal system. They had transferred a fair bit of the power into the hands of the police officer at the roadside, and often folks complained of some police officers being judge, jury and executioner all at one spot because there was no appeal system.
Before the immediate roadside prohibitions were actually shelved, drivers who blew .08 or higher actually faced a three-month driving ban, roughly $5,000 in penalties. There are towing charges, stowage fees and a bunch of other costs that were there.
The changes introduced with the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2012 — what we are debating here — would now require police to actually provide calibration and data history for the breathalyzer machines, and also allow suspected drunk drivers to challenge administrator penalties if, for instance, the police did not offer them a second roadside test on a different device, as was allowed before, or the police didn't use the lower of the two results.
There is a Supreme Court decision, and the Supreme Court found that the penalties were actually way too severe in many of these instances, because there was no recourse for an appeal. So this obviously corrects that.
The police officers have to inform folks who are suspected of being drunk drivers that they actually have two chances to blow into the breathalyzer, that they have to be on two different machines and also that it's actually the lowest of the two readings — as opposed to, in the past, when the police officer had to inform that they had to blow twice and that the second test was actually the one that was going to be used.
Now this amendment act amends that to say that police officers have to inform them that they have the right to do two tests and that it would be the lower of the two that would be used. Failure to do so, obviously, would not be in the best interests of the police officer concerned.
This also allows for the widening of a number of the ground rules for a person suspected of being a drunk driver to actually ask for a review from the superintendent of motor vehicles.
Some of the previous provisions that were there were proved to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. I've already talked about how the fines were very, very excessive. I think that's what originally resulted in the challenge that took place. Not only were the fines excessive, there was also the impoundment fees that the individual would have to pay, the storage fees as well as the towing of the vehicle and, of course, the length of loss of a licence.
At the same time, this doesn't change the penalties. The fact is that the penalties were so severe and without having a recourse of an appeal necessitated the court decision to say that there ought to be an appeal process in place and that folks suspected of being drunk drivers would have certain rights and that the police officers have to inform these individuals of their rights as well — not the least of which was to say that they are allowed to have two breathalyzer tests and that it would be the lower of the two that would actually be used to determine the person's suspected drunkability when they were driving.
So there are also some grounds that would allow an individual to have their case reviewed. First of all, if they are not told of their rights, obviously. Before the second test was chosen, the police officer would have to inform them of their rights and at the same time say that they are allowed to use two tests from different breathalyzers.
They also have to be informed at the time about the validity of the testing device that is going to be used — the history of this breathalyzer device. The individual suspected of drunk driving would have to be informed of the history of the calibration of that particular device by the police officer as well so that their rights are not going to be trampled upon.
It's also key that a person could apply for a review from the superintendent of motor vehicles if they feel that their rights have been trampled upon.
We're here today because…. One of the reasons is that this government has got a terrible record when it comes to democracy and legal consultation.
There are so many bills that are rushed through this House because they haven't given sufficient time for sittings of the session to be able to fully debate all of the matters that are before the House. So they end up rushing the debate. At the same time, it hurts them as well. They have to come back here again when they're being chal-
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lenged in the courts and proven to be wrong, and they have to bring something back here again.
As recently as May 4, our critic for the Attorney General, the member for Nanaimo, has been quoted in the Vancouver Sun. It says: "We're here because of Liberal mismanagement and Liberal mistakes. This is an example of what happens when you drive legislation through the B.C. Legislature without full debate and full hearing and an opportunity for government to consider all positions."
It's not just on this. It happens all the time where the government rushes stuff through. I mean, there were also the changes to the Election Act before the 2009 election. They actually tried to put tight limits on spending by third parties in constituencies and in the province as well as a way to try to change the law so they could have an easier time winning the election. Of course, it was challenged. It was called the gag law at the time. It was challenged — again, similar to this.
What we hear today is the Liberal government trying to push through something in haste without full debate, without full legal consultation. Had they done their homework on this particular bill itself that we're here to amend, then we wouldn't be sitting here — had they done their full legal consultation. It's the same thing as with the Election Act that I talked about earlier.
There are numerous other instances where they tried to just push through bills in this House without full debate. Often the guillotine is brought down — where they end debate and just pass bills no matter what stage those bills are at here.
It just goes to the root of the problem that the Liberals always think they know best. They know better than anybody else — better than anybody else in this House, better than the opposition, better than the legal experts that are out there or the stakeholders, the people that it's going to affect.
Somehow they know all the answers. They know best. Then, when the mistakes are made and they're being challenged in court and the Supreme Court turns around and slaps this government for excessiveness, we're always back in here again. Just like they've put forward amendments to the Election Act again this time around because they didn't get their way the last time, because they didn't do their proper legal consultation — similar to this, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act that we are here discussing right now.
The way that this Liberal government does things is to try to just push things through the Legislature without much thought. I want to add that Robert Holmes, who's the president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, actually said that this legislative fix falls short, as police can still hand out administrative penalties at the roadside.
I just want to quote what he says here: "A thousand years after the Magna Carta we have a government that decides it really doesn't like the idea of having to go through a judicial process with an independent, impartial judge who serves for life and who doesn't form part of the government's bureaucratic machinery making the decisions."
He also added that he is not convinced that the new law had anything to do with the drop in drinking-and-driving deaths either — that it's basically because of the Supreme Court challenge that we're here again. The Liberals were obviously pointed out as being wrong once again in not doing their legal consultation and trying to push through legislation without full consultation and without thinking it through.
I've put my views on the table here and on the record. I just want to say that we do support this bill, but the same time, when it gets to committee stage, we'll be asking all the pertinent questions to make sure that the public interest is not going to be run roughshod by this Liberal government, as they so often have done.
J. Horgan: I'm pleased to stand in my place as the member for the electoral area of Juan de Fuca and speak to amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act today.
I recall quite vividly our initial discussion and debate in this place around this legislation. I remember all of us on both sides of the House wanting to try and strike the balance that is appropriate in a civil society, where behaviour that can lead to tragedy is curtailed in a way that allows us to freely move around in our communities — whether by foot, by bike, by motorcycle, by car — without fear that one of our fellow citizens will be impaired to the extent where damage and, in too many instances, tragedy will follow.
I said at the time of the first debate on this bill that my son and I had been hit by a drunk driver not that long ago, and the impact it had on both of us was profound not just physically but emotionally as well. Many members will know that I'm not a drinker at all, and if I was to have a drink it would be when I was firmly situated in front of a hockey game, miles away from an automobile. That's just me.
There are other people in my constituency who have come to me since the prohibitions, the roadside suspensions and the various envelope of options for law enforcement were passed by this place, many of them having had too many to drink and having been captured in that net, and they're unhappy. They're unhappy for a whole bunch of reasons — I think probably their own stupidity for becoming inebriated and getting behind the wheel but also with a sense that perhaps the penalties were too harsh. Perhaps the lack of redress to the courts was inappropriate.
When we had the initial debate on this bill, members on this side of House — I certainly know my colleague the member for Nanaimo — raised concerns. Did we strike the right balance here? We were unanimous, I believe, as a Legislature wanting to put down a marker for
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our fellow citizens that this behaviour was inappropriate and that there would be consequences for actions. We all agreed on that.
At the time I remember quite vividly many of us saying: "But I think we might have overstepped here. We'll have to see." No one voted against the bill, if I recall. So for us to stand here, as some of my colleagues have done and how I am tempted to do, and say, "This is another oops moment, and perhaps if we had done the extra work we wouldn't have had to be here," is a debatable point. I think we can either accept it or disregard it.
The fact of the matter is that we are here again. I believe that it is incumbent upon us now, with a couple of years behind us, to make sure that when we proceed with legislation of this nature, where there are issues around civil liberties, where there are issues around fundamental rights to access to due process, that we take our time and that we do it correctly. I am not the critic for this area. I don't dabble in areas that are not my knitting, as they say. But I do believe that all members of this House have an obligation to understand what we are doing.
One of the challenges we have, and it was magnified today with the tabling of six new pieces of legislation…. As House Leader, I work with the Government House Leader to try and manage material through this place. We want to do it in a way that allows everyone who has something to say, to say it on behalf of their constituents. We want to make sure that the lawmakers — the executive council; leg. counsel, who drafts the material; all of the staff that work on this; law enforcement, who bring forward ideas…. We want to make sure that we've found the right balance. I'm not confident that we've done that today. I know I'm looking forward to the debate at committee stage, where the Attorney, with her staff at her side, will be able to assist all of us in understanding what the implications of what we're doing today really are.
It is understanding those implications, I think, that is the challenge for us when we come to something that is so profound in our minds. We don't want inebriated drivers on our roadways. We don't want to read about deaths in our community because someone had too much to drink — someone abused alcohol or abused something else. We don't want to see that.
It's so easy for us to rush to judgment and to say: "This is the way we've got to go. We have to proceed. We have to come down hard." As a victim of a drunk driver, I appreciate that point of view, and I support it. I supported it then; I support it now.
I am concerned that if we take too much action and put too much balance in the hands of law enforcement officers, who see horrific behaviour and activity every day in their work lives…. For them to act as judge on occasion is something that we have to guard against diligently. The member for North Vancouver–Lonsdale had a very moving statement today about the importance of not rushing to judgment. As legislators we have to be mindful of that.
I'm grateful that we have an opportunity to revisit this issue, and I'm confident that the Attorney and her staff have done their level best to ensure that the constitutionality of this legislation will pass muster when it is next brought before the courts, because it most inevitably will.
What we need to do from this point on, after we register our point of view at second reading, how we stand up for our personal convictions on this matter, for the convictions of our constituents — who I believe, in the overwhelming majority, would support tough action like this…. In those instances where roadside justice is a burden we are putting on our law enforcement officers, we really should be mindful of not just those who are being potentially victimized by the heavy hand of justice but those wielding that heavy hand as well.
Our law enforcement officers, as I said, see some terrible things in a day, in a week, in a month, in a year. I am very mindful of that and have the utmost respect for the work they do. But adding the extra burden of justice is something that we need to be careful of.
I know at committee stage my colleague from Nanaimo and my colleague from Burnaby–Deer Lake will be working with the Attorney to make sure we get this right this time. As satisfying as it is for an opposition party to say, "Boy, you didn't get it right," we knew, and I think government knew at the time as well, that we were walking a fine line. We were going to see how this went.
Well, we've stepped a little bit off the straight and narrow, if I could call it that, and this is an attempt to get back on track. I support it. I know that quite often at second reading we indulge ourselves and we meander down a road, but in this case….
I mean, again, I have that personal experience and know people who have been affected for a lifetime by the actions of someone who didn't mean harm. But because of their behaviour, because of what they did, there need to be consequences. I support harsh consequences for that activity. I think the issues around a second device and the issues around ensuring there are two tests — those are steps that are taking us in the right direction.
I'll leave it to those who take issues such as this to higher courts to decide whether or not they proceed in that direction, but I'd like to think that all of us today are acting with the best of intentions. We don't get to say that every day. I think we're inspired by the work of our friend from North Vancouver–Lonsdale today and that spirit of: "Let's be absolutely sure that what we are doing is not just in our interest but in the public interest."
I am hopeful this bill meets that test, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to say a few words today.
N. Macdonald: The House Leader is going to be more gracious than I am. I think the fact is that there is a pattern here. There is a pattern of legislation that's coming forward that has not been properly thought through.
[ Page 11601 ]
This is incredibly important piece of legislation because of what it deals with and the balance. That's what we're talking about here. Finding the right balance is an incredibly challenging thing to do, which means the onus is on this House to make sure that we get the balance right.
I want to remind members of the House what we have seen in the past month, the legislation that we've seen here in the House in the past month. I think it's important that the government reflect on some of what has been going on here.
We have a couple of different types of fixes that are going on. One of the fixes that we saw not that long ago was around the so-called self-sufficiency rules for B.C. Hydro that cost $1.25 billion. That was a mistake that was made. It caused B.C. Hydro rates to go through the roof, and we had a piece of legislation that came in here to fix that political problem.
We also have a pattern of legislation that is coming in here to fix constitutional problems. In just the last couple of weeks we have had legislation that was pushed through by this government — in some cases with support, in other cases without support.
Nevertheless, it was crafted by this government. It went unchanged, sometimes with a process that was altered to speed it through. That went through and was found unconstitutional.
Like I say, in the past month not only are we fixing political problems that came from past legislation that was poorly thought through; we're also here fixing pieces of legislation that were found unconstitutional.
If you go back to Bill 22, that was an education bill that was unconstitutional. We were in here just weeks ago fixing it. Earlier in the day we were talking about legislation that was unconstitutional — Bill 41, the gag law, changes to the election laws that were found unconstitutional.
Now we're back in here with another B.C. Liberal piece of legislation that was found by the courts to be unconstitutional. It deals with an incredibly serious issue. Nobody on either side of the House doubts that, but that means there is a special onus on us as lawmakers to make a law that will stand up in the courts.
I think it was about a month or a month and a half ago that I attended, with many members here, a very moving gathering on the legislative steps — a mother who had lost her child and has gone on to be a wonderful advocate for making sure that our roads are safe. If one is impaired and drives, it can be horrific. The damage done is irreversible. Anybody who is impacted just sees how completely unfair what has happened to the victims is.
There is no question that the government has to act strongly, and I believe that punitive measures influence behaviour. There is no question. When I lived in Africa, there was nobody checking on impaired driving. People drove impaired a lot.
I know that stiff penalties change behaviour. There's no question about that. But the government needs to get legislation right. The government has incredible resources to get legislation right. They have the lawyers.
To have a B.C. Liberal law repealed because it wasted taxpayers' money is one thing. But to have three B.C. Liberal laws being amended here in the past month because they were thrown out — at least, elements of the laws were thrown out — by the courts is beyond belief. It really is beyond belief.
It seems to me that writing a piece of legislation that is actually constitutional should not be that difficult of a bar to cross. It seems to me that that should be a minimum. I mean, the Canadian constitution…. I'm not a lawyer, but I would imagine that's not an obscure legal document. I mean, surely there are resources that can be applied to the writing of laws that mean we get a piece of legislation that will withstand a court challenge. It just seems to me that that is the obvious test of competence.
If this was a one-off, I might be more generous, like the House Leader. I might be more generous and say: "Well, that was just one." But it is three bills that have been here in the past month that deal with acts of this B.C. Liberal government that were found to be unconstitutional. It just seems to me that is one oops after another. It speaks to, in my mind, a fundamental lack of competence. It questions whether the government is able to put together sound legislation at all.
We're not even finished with the oops legislation. The Minister of Finance has told us that we're going to get legislation to repeal the HST. I guess that was one of the biggest errors of all, but that's the court of public opinion that passed judgment on that one, not the court of British Columbia saying that it's unconstitutional.
We're here on a day with half a dozen bills dropped, and we have about 2½ weeks left. We probably have three estimates in the big House. You look at the legislation and wonder: is the government putting in front of this House legislation that is thought through? Is it legislation that, given a year or half a year, we're going to be back here trying to fix? Is the government able to put together pieces of legislation that will withstand what seems to me as a layman, not a lawyer…. It seems to me that the most base test is that it be constitutional.
In this case, with this Bill 46, we're here fixing one more B.C. Liberal mistake. We all voted for it. We all said that we want this to work. There's nobody in this House that doesn't think it's a serious issue, an issue that needs to be dealt with properly. But for goodness' sake, the government should be able to produce legislation that the courts of British Columbia find constitutional.
With that, I take my seat and thank the House for the opportunity to speak.
R. Fleming: I appreciate the chance to speak to Bill 46 this afternoon, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act,
[ Page 11602 ]
2012, to raise some of the points that I think my colleagues have, some of the things that perhaps were not adequately debated two years ago when the House pursued and passed legislation to implement new criminal sanctions against drinking and driving offences in British Columbia.
We're essentially doing, upon the review of the court, a fix on legislation that will allow and make legal the additional penalties that became the ability of law enforcement officers to apply at roadside when a suspect was pulled over and tested and found to fail on a hand-held breathalyzer device. That is something that, I think my colleagues on this side of the House have said in debate this afternoon, was predicted by those involved in the criminal justice system — that there would be court challenges inevitably. Indeed, there was.
That's what brings us here this afternoon: to try and preserve and maintain the additional sanctions that raised the seriousness in law and the penalties to offenders for drinking and driving in the province of British Columbia.
If you look at recent years, across Canada a number of provinces have made efforts to strengthen legislation and charges that would apply to those who drink and drive. There has been a national campaign to accomplish some of this with a national law that would pass through the House of Commons, but that has not been a successful campaign. We have a patchwork of laws, which we have provincially across Canada, in place today.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
I think that both the Attorney General and members of this House obviously want to get to the same goal, which is to be able to impose new sanctions and penalties against those who are found guilty of drinking and driving where there is evidence and where that person can immediately be suspended and their car withheld. It is really a discussion about the competence in the implementation of those sanctions.
The court, of course, has found that certain rights of the accused have to be satisfied in order for the law from a couple of years ago to survive. That's what we're discussing this afternoon. There is apparently in Bill 46 a remedy for the shortcomings — which were found and challenged by the courts in British Columbia in the ruling from November 2011 — which would allow for, among other things, the upholding of evidence if there were two comparable hand-held breathalyzer tests, of which the lowest would prevail.
That was something that the courts insisted needed to be provided so that the reliability and the successful challenge of those devices, where there is some variability about how well calibrated they are, can survive appeal. There was also an admission that there have to be some avenues of appeal for those that are charged under this law.
I think what is regrettable is that while the original legislation was successfully challenged, since November a number of persons who were formerly charged under the law have now filed appeals of their driving suspensions. This is going to, of course, consume court resources, and I am sure that the lawyers for the appellants are going to quote at length the justice's decision about those sections of the bill which were struck down.
That possibly means that we will have to look at the spectacle in the news of those who committed offences — for which evidence was gathered against under the previous law or the sections of that law — and who may actually walk free of these offences.
The price of not getting the law right in the first place is that now there are those who likely were guilty of the offences for which police officers arrested them and imposed suspensions and fines and penalties — and, in some cases, jail time — and those could be overturned because of the limbo which was resolved by the courts over the contested areas. That's not going to be pleasant to watch, if that comes to pass.
We know that there are a number of people who can afford expensive legal counsel who are coming forward to challenge that as we speak, and that's going to have a cost to all of us because, as I said, it will consume court time. I think the estimates in many provinces are that cases like this consume anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent of a court's time, if you can believe it. So the intent of this law is a good one, which is to reduce that and to be able, by administrative law, to crack down and penalize drinking and driving.
My other colleagues have, I think, motivated well as to why this legislation is in the interests of society and, indeed, why it has enjoyed the support of people in this House, regardless of what their party is and which side of the House they sit on. It is because this law is intended to make more serious the repercussions of committing a crime where you get behind the wheel of an automobile, having consumed a quantity of alcohol, and where a person is putting the lives of others at risk by having their reflexes and their judgment seriously compromised.
This is exactly what causes the tragic carnage that we see on our roads every year across Canada. I can't remember exactly the numbers for average fatalities in Canada, but I believe it is in the thousands annually. There are tens and tens of thousands of Canadians who lose the well-being in their lives from accidents because of drinking and driving. That is well understood.
We have organizations that have advocated for that. We have literally seen a sea change in the culture of our country over the past number of decades in regards to not just the criminal sanctions but, I think, the moral sanctions that society hands those who commit the crime
[ Page 11603 ]
of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That is something that is very powerful to help turn the situation around, where there was, I think, a culture of disregard that was prevalent in British Columbia and in Canada for years before.
That's why for governments it's not enough to express the sentiment to be able to look at legal tools which may indeed save lives and to support education efforts that are aimed at doing that, although that is incredibly important. The important thing is to be able to back up what you say as a government and to have legislation that will stand the test of the inevitable appeals and court time that will argue the constitutionality of the sanctions that are being sought here.
Now, the fix that is being offered here today, which will clarify the law that the government brought into effect a couple of years ago, will have to widen the grounds of appeal. There's no question about that. Those accused — under Bill 46, should it become law, when it becomes law — will have a number of avenues, which had been sought to be closed, available to them to appeal in the future. The police will have additional obligations on them to warn those that they pull over at roadside of what exactly is being asked of them. And it must be explained more clearly how the roadside testing regime will be based and evaluated.
That is probably something that…. I can't imagine that, within the Attorney General's ministry, given the stakeholder feedback that was given to government a couple of years ago, that wasn't originally contemplated. For whatever reasons, it was a mistake that did not make it into the legislation, but it is now going to be part of the legal regime in British Columbia when Bill 46 becomes law.
On the second roadside test, on a different device, I don't know what the cost to law enforcement agencies will be in this regard, but it will be a legal fix that will allow police to essentially pursue the original law and to put criminal sanctions onto those that they have pulled over and found to be above the legal limit of the impaired driving law.
I think we have to be satisfied at this point in time — because the court has explored this quite thoroughly — that the second test and police being obligated to rely on the lower of the two test results will make administrative appeals less successful.
I think we have to accept that as a good fix, because what we have seen since the law was under question, and since parts of it were struck down, is some anecdotal evidence by police departments that there is a reluctance to enforce under the old law and that there was a grey area that was of concern to law enforcement officers. We need the fixes that are offered in Bill 46 to be able to pursue roadside safety programs on drinking and driving the way that we should in British Columbia.
It is important, I think, at second reading to speak to the remedies that are proposed to the original deficiencies in the law. That is the main one, and I think it's one that the court has examined and that has been found to be satisfying the constitutional challenges that were originally raised. Therefore, I as a legislator, in the position that I'm in, take that as a proper fix.
Now, aside from the additional requirements to inform the person of his or her right to a second roadside screening device, there are a couple of additional things, as I understand it, that this bill will require procedurally to make sure that convictions are upheld.
It is about how the reports of the peace officer making the arrest are sworn. There is now a requirement, I believe, that the superintendent of motor vehicles…. Those reports, which can be written statements or the officer's report at the scene or oral hearings, have to be conducted and considered in the event of an appeal.
That seems like common sense. I'm having a hard time believing that the courts found that wasn't being performed previously, but that's the other thing that Bill 46 corrects. I think that is also, if not an elegant solution, one that is serviceable to the findings of the court. Again, no argument from myself, as an MLA on this side of the House, if that is truly going to be what can help this law withstand further challenge.
It was really not long after the B.C. Legislature passed the previous motor vehicle amendments in this place a couple of years ago that the arguments were on their way to being heard before the B.C. Supreme Court. I think it's important, as the Attorney General mentioned, that the bulk of the legislation was upheld by the courts.
I think that my colleague from Columbia River–Revelstoke made some very good points about the importance of legislation being well considered, well drafted, properly advised and not rushed through the chambers of the Legislative Assembly.
There are consequences, as we see in the backdrop to debate on Bill 46 here, of not getting it right. There is a tendency that I think we've seen — and maybe are seeing right now better than other examples — of government to use closure, for example, on legislation before all stages of the debate can be heard and before full and proper scrutiny of legislation can occur.
I think that is something that obviously doesn't serve taxpayers and citizens of British Columbia well at all. It does seem to be a key part of the background to why at this point, in May 2012, we are fixing a law that was drafted only a couple of years ago.
I think that is really the major part, at second stage reading of debate, that I wish to dwell upon at this point in time. I thank you for the opportunity to speak this afternoon.
V. Huntington: I would like to take a few minutes to speak to Bill 46, the Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, and just perhaps comment, firstly, on the House Leader for
[ Page 11604 ]
the official opposition's comment that this House unanimously put down, as he said, the marker of what behaviour we wanted to tolerate on the roads with regard to drinking and driving.
However, many of us — and I'm assuming on that side of the House there must have been some misgivings; certainly on this side of the House there were misgivings — spoke to our concerns that while we supported the bill and its intentions, we were very concerned that some of the provisions went outside the normal course of justice as we were used to it.
I think what I learned as I went home and realized the magnitude of what I felt that I had done in supporting the bill was the understanding that even when we're faced with the issues of the highest social importance, such as the tragedies that result from drinking and driving, those social issues, in my mind, should not trump civil liberties, our access to justice or our civil rights.
As time went on, I began to feel very definitely that this bill, the original bill, was in fact doing that — that there were citizens of this province that were being denied what all of us understood was our common right and access to justice.
Much of what this bill involved was not only the search for a way in which we can protect the public safety; it was also a search for a way in which we could reform our justice system and relieve it of the burden of alcohol-related cases that clog up our courts and cost so much money for the system. In doing so, I don't think that the government, nor perhaps this side of the House, thought clearly enough on what we were substituting our normal access to justice with.
Even now I look at the appeals to the superintendent of motor vehicles. I'm sure that, like I have in my office, almost every other member in this chamber has had individuals coming to them and saying: "Look, this penalty for a warning or for a fail is so severe that I cannot maintain my employment. I have no way of practising my craft." I felt that the appeal process in no way could accommodate that particular concern.
I feel that the superintendent of motor vehicles is not an unbiased office, to begin with. It is not an administrative law tribunal. It has not studied judicial review. I don't even know the extent to which the staff, let alone the superintendent, have had training in administrative law.
Really, what they're being asked to do here is not to listen to an appeal from an individual. They're being asked to review whether the police documentation is proper and adequate.
So what is the right of the individual, beyond the desire to have an administrative appeal or a review? Really, that's what it is. It's an administrative review. I find that there is practically no right of the individual. The individual can't go to the superintendent's office and argue that the documentation is incorrect or wasn't complete, that it left out salient factors as the suspensions were taking place.
I think that this entire process would be strengthened if the driver had a right to appeal on very specific issues. If he had the right to appeal the loss of his job and employment, for instance, and whether the system could accommodate….
I was speaking to one of the police officers that helped craft the original legislation. Perhaps the system could accommodate by creating some sort of rigid curfew for that individual. "You go right to work. You do your work. You come right home. You may not drive for any social purpose. You may not drive even to the hospital to visit a relative. You may drive for purposes of your employment." To me, that would enable the driver a manner in which he could continue to act as a breadwinner for the family or maintain his employment.
I don't know if other members in this House have had this situation, but I have had individuals from my riding in my office who have lost their jobs because of administrative penalties so severe that they could no longer cope with them in their employment life.
I think that the appeal process here is strictly one that enables the superintendent of motor vehicles to look at documentation. It does not enable a driver to appeal how in fact these severe penalties are actually impacting his daily life and his family.
I think that is a flaw in what we're trying to do in terms of creating a new type of justice reform — reforming our justice system.
We've forgotten the individual and that individual's civil liberties in terms of his right to access justice. I feel that now, in many respects, I have regretted voting for this bill in the first instance. And believe me, motherhood will not colour my judgment of whether or not we are trumping our civil rights in the future.
I'm very concerned. I'll add that I am going to support this bill. It makes better what I think was severely impaired.
What I think the bill really is doing is refining — regulating, if you will — roadside justice. We've spent a thousand years developing common law in an effort to do away with roadside justice in this country of ours and in the English Parliament, and here we are moving back to it, forgetting that if we're going to do that, we have to protect the right of the individual to an access to a fair hearing. This does not do it.
This protects the right of the individual to have a motor vehicle superintendent or his staff look at a bunch of papers. That's not the right to a fair hearing, especially when impacts cause such distress in the family.
So I don't want to do away with the ability to handle these types of impaired driving situations, but I also don't want to do away, as we have, I believe, with the rights of an individual to a fair hearing. We've struggled
[ Page 11605 ]
too long in the history of the development of common law to throw these things away easily because we haven't thought of them carefully enough.
I won't say too much more. I do believe that the committee stage will be quite interesting, although the act itself is fairly straightforward.
I think it does strengthen, at least, the rights of the individual on the ground as he's subjected to roadside justice, and it does give the superintendent of motor vehicles the right to review that documentation in a more significant manner. But if the superintendent and his office don't behave in a more congenial fashion toward the driver who is making the appeal than I've been hearing, then I don't think we've done much justice to our system at all.
So while I support the bill, I do think we're still looking at some significant flaws that are impacting our common understanding of what the right to justice is.
M. Mungall: It's very interesting to be in the House and listening to the debate that's going on around this bill, Bill 46. I think there have been many meaningful comments on this bill and the bigger picture around the issue that this bill is dealing with. That, of course, is impaired driving — drinking and driving, mainly.
There's no disagreement in this House around the need to do everything we can to combat impaired driving. As other members have said, it's no surprise that this issue has unanimous support in this House and that we need to find every way that we can to deal with drinking and driving and to combat it and put a stop to it.
I know that anybody who has heard from a mother who has lost a child because of impaired driving…. Of course, the organization Mothers against Drunk Driving is very vocal, and they offer very powerful stories. These stories are impossible to ignore. The sadness and the loss they experience is tremendous, and it's preventable — absolutely preventable.
It could be as simple as saying to a friend, "Hey, give me your keys," at the end of the night on the way out of the bar, insisting that you drive them home if you're the one who hasn't been drinking. It can be as simple as making sure that when all of your friends go out, at the beginning of the night someone is appointed as the designated driver. It could be as simple as calling a taxicab, getting on a bus or on the SkyTrain.
In my area we don't have a bus at 2 a. m. We don't have a SkyTrain. Although, boy, we would love to have something like that, that's just not quite possible in a small community, and most people can walk home anyhow. But some people can't. They live 45 minutes at 100 kilometres an hour down the highway. If they choose to drink and don't have a way home through public transportation or a taxicab or a friend, many people get behind the wheel. The better option would have been to go check in at the hotel.
So drinking and driving persists. It's horrendous, and the stories of people who have lost loved ones to drinking and driving are incredibly moving, incredibly powerful and incredibly sad.
I know that as a high school student I heard many of these stories, especially around our graduation year. I graduated in 1996, and back then there were students against drinking and driving. We had a very active group at my high school, and they did a tremendous job in educating people about impaired driving and how it needed to come to an end and what we all could do. I mentioned many of those already, Madam Speaker.
But this world is not black and white. It's filled with shades of grey. I saw another side to this story when a mother came into my constituency office. Her son had been charged on the roadside and his licence revoked. He was faced with a three-month driving ban and several thousands of dollars' worth of penalties.
She wasn't denying that what he did was wrong. What she was there to tell me was that he deserved the right to appeal. He deserved the right to a fair process, because how this impacted her son's life…. He couldn't get to work. He lost his job. He lost his place of residence because he couldn't pay the rent, and he certainly couldn't pay the fines. He went into deep poverty and a deep depression as a result.
She did not condone his choice to drink and drive, but at the same time she felt that he deserved some type of appeal, some type of second chance. He wasn't getting it. That story, too, was sad. It's sad to hear that anybody falls into a depression. It's sad to hear that anybody's entire life is basically destroyed. He wanted a second chance.
I think the member for Delta South brought up some excellent points about how we need to have a fair process. That process is typically conducted through the courts so that we don't have roadside justice. There's a reason for that, and there's a long history around that. But she's also right to say that we need to be flexible in that history and tradition to identify other ways in which we can address important issues like this one. That's combatting drinking and driving.
I'm happy to support this bill. I think it does the right thing. We came to this point because of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson. We came to this piece of legislation because of his decision, his ruling on November 30 when he ruled that penalties for a driver who blew over the .08 limit were too serious to not have an adequate appeal system. That is what this piece of legislation is correcting, and I'm very pleased to see that. I'm glad that the government has chosen to move in this direction and move in a relatively timely manner.
With that, I thank you for allowing me to take my place in the debate, and I look forward to hearing other comments.
[ Page 11606 ]
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to just take a few minutes here to make my contribution to this debate in regard to this piece of legislation.
The Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2012, is essentially a piece of legislation that addresses matters that were dealt with by the Supreme Court in November of last year, when the court chose to essentially throw out the law as it was. That was done because of a number of issues that I'll speak to in a minute.
I guess the first thing I want to say is that I don't think there's any question…. I don't think there's a member in this House who wouldn't agree that we need to have as comprehensive and as effective drunk-driving, impaired-driving, laws as we can that will both provide education and awareness and encouragement for people to not get behind the wheel when they've been drinking and then, should they choose to do that, to have laws in place that will get them off the road in as expeditious a manner as possible if in fact they are found to be impaired by police.
I'm sure that every member in this House would be supportive of that and looks for that to be successful.
We had the previous legislation that was set aside by the courts. That's why this legislation, being back here now…. I suspect you'll find that most, if not everybody, in this House will be supportive of this bill, because it is our hope that it will accomplish what was not accomplished in the first go-round.
When we look at the legislation that was turned over by Supreme Court Justice Jon Sigurdson, it was because he had made the determination that the penalties that were put in place were simply too severe to be in place as a roadside procedure without an effective appeal process being put in place that would allow somebody who was found to be impaired through this process to be able to appeal.
It was expensive, both in terms of time that people would lose their vehicle as well as in terms of costs. You lose your car for maybe three months; maybe upwards of $5,000 of costs related to that — all of this without the due process of court but being decisions essentially made by a police officer on the side of the road.
It can be argued — and there was conversation about this at the time that the first piece of legislation came through — that maybe part of the challenge was that it was rushed. Maybe the challenge was that not enough time was taken. Maybe the challenge was that we didn't pay as much attention and have the due diligence that was necessary to cross the t's and dot the i's and ensure that in fact it was legislation that was sound and would survive a court challenge.
We know that with these kinds of pieces of legislation that provide these sorts of penalties, it is almost inevitable they will end up in the court at some point. I'm sure that this piece of legislation, once it's enacted and becomes the law, will end up in the courts as well. Hopefully, it will be more successful than its predecessor. So what we can we can do is hope that that will in fact occur.
I think for that to occur…. A big piece of this conversation will come up soon in terms of the committee stage. What we know is that there are a number of pieces. I think there are a number of places for conversation in committee stage — more clarification around some of the initiatives that are envisioned in this legislation, which will hopefully be found to be satisfactory by the courts whenever this ends up back in front of a judge.
That includes requirements around the equipment — around calibration of the equipment, around data history. It includes a sense of the opportunity for the second roadside test so that people in fact get an opportunity for that second test, to make sure that there's some consistency, and then are afforded the right to have the lower of the two tests recorded. The role of the superintendent and the role the superintendent plays.
I think we need to have a conversation about whether there's more need around appeal process here, but that discussion will go on. I think that the member for Delta South made some important comments about that. Those are comments that I would hope…. And I hope that the member for Delta South will have the opportunity in committee stage to raise some of those questions as they come forward.
The challenge for that…. The first time this legislation came through, it was rushed. We now are in a situation where, I must say, I do have some concern about this particular bill and how it will proceed.
Members will know we have a significant number of pieces of legislation that are in play right now. We had another half-dozen pieces introduced today. There's some indication that there may be more additional legislation introduced tomorrow, and we have, oh, 11 days left here in this place. We're going to have a large number of bills that we'll be moving through, in addition to estimates.
So I think the opportunity to get this piece of legislation into committee stage — to be able to have a full discussion in committee stage; to be able to have the questions that will be raised by the critic, by the member for Delta South, by other members; and to have the minister be able to explain to us so that we fully understand the scope of those issues — is pretty important.
My biggest concern at this point for this legislation is that we not make the mistake that I believe we made in the first piece, the first time this came around, which was not to have the due diligence that was necessary as we moved that legislation forward and whether in fact we will have an adequate amount of committee stage time, considering the legislative agenda right now, with the bills piling up and not many days — to be able to get at that. I hope that we will be able to do that.
We will be supporting the bill, but I do hope we take the time to be able to do that properly. With that, I will sit down and take my place.
[ Page 11607 ]
Deputy Speaker: Seeing no further speakers, the minister closes debate.
Hon. S. Bond: I certainly, as always, appreciate the comments that are made by members who bring their views and their passions to this place. That's the job that they are supposed to do.
I actually would like to say that I appreciated most this afternoon the comments made by the Opposition House Leader. He and I often have animated debates, and have had over our relationship, in terms of critic and minister over the years.
But you know, I think there comes a time in the Legislature where occasionally both sides of the House need to take a look back and ask themselves what role every member of this House had to play in the original bill. It is really unfortunate that many of the comments today talked about this bill being rushed originally. That's not the case. It had a full committee stage debate. Not one amendment — other than one by the minister who introduced this bill, who was not me — was actually brought to the floor of this House.
In fact, every member in this House grappled with this bill for the same reason articulated by the Opposition House Leader: the fact that we were trying to find a balance. And there are no guarantees.
I listened to the comments of some members opposite, and perhaps the view is that ministers sit in their offices with a pencil and an iPad and write legislation, cross their fingers and hope it works.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
It doesn't work that way. We have exceptional legal minds who work for the province of British Columbia, no matter which side of the House you sit on. They're exceptional, and we go to them as a group and we say, "Help us make sure that we can change the law in British Columbia," and in this case about something profoundly important to us — about people who consciously choose to get in their vehicles while they are impaired and put their lives at risk, and other individuals.
So this afternoon we sit and listen to speaker after speaker talk about how this is another "oops" moment on behalf of the government. No, what this is, is an attempt by a government to be bold enough to stand up and say it's time to do something differently in British Columbia. It's time to lead the country.
When we do that, there is an inherent risk that maybe we don't get it quite right the first time, and yes, that comes with consequences. But today we are here, with the best advice that our legal team has, to say that the court asked us to make some adjustments.
I do want to make this point. Let's be clear. In the ruling by Justice Sigurdson, he largely upheld the constitutionality of British Columbia's immediate roadside prohibition program. He upheld the constitutionality of the majority of this system. What he said was that in some areas, over .08, you need to make some changes. That's exactly why we are in the House today.
But we grappled in this chamber about this bill, initially. There was unanimity about its importance, and there was passionate commentary about if we found the proper balance.
Whenever a government says, "We're going to make big changes," of course it comes with risk. But I can only say to this House this afternoon that working with the excellent legal team we have, they have given us the best advice they possibly can about whether or not this meets the test of Judge Sigurdson and the courts of British Columbia.
I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, we have done our very best to meet that test.
So with those comments and the opportunity for us to move forward, I move second reading of Bill 46.
Hon. S. Bond: I move the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 46, Motor Vehicle Amendment Act, 2012, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolution, 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 6:22 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. Thornthwaite in the chair.
[ Page 11608 ]
The committee met at 3:05 p.m.
On Vote 18: ministry operations, $5,308,638,000 (continued).
J. Brar: I would like to ask a few questions with regard to the Surrey school district. My understanding is that the Surrey school district received $3.2 million in vulnerable student funding for the year 2012 into 2013. So I would like to ask: can the minister explain how the minister arrived at the figure of $3.2 million for this high school district?
Hon. G. Abbott: To the member's question for school district 36, Surrey — the 2012-2013 allocation for vulnerable student supplement, that is, over and above the 2012-13 community link allocation…. The latter figure, the allocation is $3,825,564, and the vulnerable student supplement is $3,295,640, for a total funding for vulnerable students for the Surrey school district in 2012-13 of $7,121,204.
The vulnerable student supplement is a product of some extensive efforts that we undertook at the ministry to try to put CommunityLINK funding on a fair and sustainable basis. As I'm certain all members of the House will recall — on both sides of the House — there had long been concern for districts like Surrey that had both grown in the number of students and also, arguably, at least in portions of the district, in the number of vulnerable students. What we attempted to do with the supplement was to put CommunityLINK funding on a fair and sustainable basis.
So in 2012-2013, funding for vulnerable students will be increased by 22 percent to $62.3 million overall in the province — up from the, I think, historical $51 million that has been going to CommunityLINK and was the figure in 2011-2012.
The supplement addresses concerns over the equity of CommunityLINK's funding formula. The supplement will go to 25 school districts experiencing significant growth in vulnerable student populations, and Surrey is one of those. The supplement is based on census and provincial government data measuring vulnerability, including economic conditions, social conditions and educational attainment.
I would also note, because others may be interested in this particular file, that we effectively red-circled those districts that, utilizing the same data, might arguably be over-funded but which we didn't feel it was appropriate to adjust in those cases.
J. Brar: Thanks to the minister for the answer. If I understand correctly…. I know there have been discussions in the past, and we have canvassed this issue in the past year in the estimates and also in the Legislature. There were huge gaps when we talked about the CommunityLINK program. The supplement — what you call the vulnerable student funding supplement is to basically address that gap which exists in the CommunityLINK program. That's my understanding.
Based on that, I would like to ask the minister: is this the final fix to the CommunityLINK program, or is there still some work going on? Because these are still two stand-alone programs, as I see it, whereas the CommunityLINK program is one program, and there should be one fix to that. I would like to ask the minister if there is any ongoing work to fix the program.
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his question. The work that has been done has been built around the tool, the early learning indicators. We have looked at that. We have tried to build a funding formula that is fair and sustainable into the future. Again, one should never conclude that there may not be a change again in the future, but we believe that in the current funding, it is now on a fair and appropriate basis.
I would note that the Surrey school district, who I have spoken to with respect to this, is very pleased. They're very gratified that at long last Surrey is appropriately recognized and appropriately compensated for the challenge that they have with respect to their vulnerable students. So yes, I believe that this correction is one that will last.
J. Brar: My understanding is that the vulnerable student funding program will apply to basically the same program which was being made available under the CommunityLINK program. If that's the case…. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes.
J. Brar: So at this point in time, just to finish this piece of my question, there will be two programs — you know, stand-alone programs — working for the same thing. One is the CommunityLINK program, which is there. The second program is the vulnerable student funding program. They will go hand in hand. That's my understanding of what the minister told us just a few seconds ago. If there's any answer to that, I would like to ask the minister to clarify that.
Hon. G. Abbott: No, there's just the one program, CommunityLINK. The supplement is the mechanism that we have used to address what is arguably a shortfall, historically, in the funding of Surrey and 24 other districts which — by our reckoning, utilizing the EDI as the measurement tool — have been undercompensated in the CommunityLINK program. It's all one CommunityLINK program. The supplement is just one
[ Page 11609 ]
piece to correct what has been an historical anomaly in the funding mechanism.
J. Brar: As per the existing formula, each district gets certain dollars for each student. Is the minister going to address that formula, or will that stay the way it is? That's where the confusion is. That's why I want to make it absolutely clear whether the minister is going to actually address, as such, the formula which is there. You know, there's a table of different school districts getting different kinds of funding. Can the minister clarify that?
Hon. G. Abbott: The object of the extensive work that has been undertaken since last year's estimates, when I think this hon. member and others, quite rightly, raised the issue of the inequity of funding — that work has all been done in order to put it on what is arguably a fair, equitable and sustainable basis. The EDI data is our opportunity to look at each school district — and in fact portions of each school district — and measure the vulnerability of the students there.
Yes, we believe that the work that has been undertaken and, I think, successfully completed…. In fact, I have not heard, to my knowledge, a note of criticism with respect to this adjustment. It has been broadly, perhaps universally, accepted by the school districts.
J. Brar: The last question on this topic. And then I'll move on to another question. I remember the minister making comments in the beginning about some of the districts receiving more funding than other school districts in that situation. What I know is that even after the vulnerable student funding supplement, Surrey gets — just for argument's sake — less funding than another school district which is of equal size, Vancouver.
Can the minister clarify whether Surrey is getting their fair share in that situation? Surrey school district is the biggest school district in the province at this point in time, as far as the number of students is concerned. I would like the minister to clarify that, as to why Surrey is getting less than another district which has less students.
Hon. G. Abbott: Size is just one factor in terms of what the allocation for a district may be. As the member knows, we have 60 school districts in the province of British Columbia. There is considerable variation among those school districts on how they are doing on social and economic challenges. Some large districts may be very challenged, some small districts may not, and vice versa.
Here's how we measure it. We look at all of the EDI factors but break those out into subcomponents. Economic conditions, 65 percent. We look at folks on income assistance, those in deep poverty, those in moderate poverty. We look at the demographic vulnerability — that's 12½ percent of the overall. We look at the aboriginal population in a district, single parents in a district, recent immigrants in a district.
We look at social conditions, again, as 12½ percent of the overall funding. Are there children in care? Is there serious crime evident? Is the suicide-homicide rate higher? We look at educational attainment, a weighting of 10 percent, looking at adults without high school graduation.
All of these things will help inform the early development indicators on what the appropriate level of funding should be. Again, it's not only the size of the districts, but it's the composition of the district in terms of social and economic vulnerability.
J. Brar: Keeping in mind the time, I will move on to my next question.
This year the Surrey school district has to pay $497,000 in carbon offsets. I've been told by the school district that the primary cause of the cost is portables, due to the overcrowding of the school district. I would like to ask the minister: what plans does the ministry have to mitigate the cost of overcrowding to the Surrey school district?
Hon. G. Abbott: For the dollars that will be coming from Surrey school district and, indeed, coming from 59 other school districts, as per a recent announcement by the Pacific Carbon Trust, those dollars from school districts will be going into a separate fund. Then those funds will be utilized by school districts to undertake projects which will improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases.
J. Brar: My question was basically with regard to the overcrowding. What are the plans to fix the overcrowding in the Surrey school district? I just want to probably provide a brief summary. I don't have much time to ask questions. But in Surrey schools, as the minister knows very well, we have about 7,300 students receiving education through portables — they don't see a real classroom — which is roughly about 10 percent of the total population.
I know that the minister and the government made the announcement last October to build, I think, a couple of new schools, and then there were some projections to build more. At this point in time I don't see any action going on, unless the action is going on in different files. That's a possibility.
My question was…. The Surrey school district is paying a huge amount of money just for carbon offsets because we have a lot of students in portables.
I would like to ask the minister about the updates, if the minister can provide, on building new schools, as to where we are and when we can actually expect the new schools built — the two schools and, also, the updates on the four, I think, or six other schools where the government was looking for a new piece of land.
[ Page 11610 ]
Hon. G. Abbott: Just so we're clear, I wanted to make sure that we understand the member's question. The member is not suggesting that the carbon offset dollars are used for new school construction, I presume. Is he asking question…? You've exhausted your interest in carbon offset funding?
J. Brar: My interest for that is…. Because of overcrowding and because of 7,300 students in portables, the Surrey school district ended up paying a huge amount of money for portables. So my question remains on the overcrowding of the school districts. I want to ask what steps this minister is taking to fix the overcrowding of the school district, which is 7,300 students. That's my question.
The carbon offset was the cost because of overcrowding of the school district. That's what my question was. Am I clear or…?
Hon. G. Abbott: Oh yeah, really good. I thank the member for his question.
Just to put the issue into perspective, in 1998 — a time I know the member recalls with great affection — 363 portables were in use in the Surrey school district. Today that number is 209. With construction underway for full-day kindergarten classes, that number will shortly be down to 190.
As the member may also know, back on October 31 of 2011 eight new projects were announced for Surrey. It was a major capital announcement on the part of the province in Surrey and elsewhere, but I know the member is particularly interested in Surrey.
The funding included two additions at Fraser Heights Secondary and Panorama Ridge Secondary; two new elementary schools at South Newton and East Clayton; and four acquisitions for future schools — two elementary schools in the Clayton and Grandview Heights neighbourhoods, and two secondary schools in the Clayton and Grandview Heights neighbourhoods to accommodate growth at Earl Marriott Secondary and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary.
I know that the capital division at the Ministry of Education has been working very hard with the leadership at Surrey school district. I know that progress is evident in respect of the planning and, I hope in the relatively near future, in the launch of construction. Of course, there needs to be work done around the planning of a school before one starts to drive nails into boards.
M. Elmore: Thanks to the minister for the opportunity to pose some questions. I'm interested in the area of early learning and the programs that are within the scope of the Education Ministry. I'm wondering what the plans are, if the current programs and budget will be maintained for the programs — and also plans for the future.
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer to the question is that the principal instruments in terms of early learning initiatives that have been undertaken by government…. One is the full-day kindergarten, as opposed to what had previously been a part-day kindergarten. That involved an operational investment of about $350 million additionally per year, plus an initial capital investment of about another $150 million.
Full-day kindergarten has been an enormous success to date. Some of the trepidation that had been expressed by parents about their kids engaging in full-day versus part-day K was quickly overcome. Thanks to superintendents, principals, vice-principals and teachers, the launch of full-day kindergarten has been entirely successful and, clearly, will be maintained.
The other area that has furthered a recent investment and has been very successful is StrongStart. StrongStart are centres — there are well over 300 of them now, by the way — that are generally appended to elementary schools and are under the supervision of an early childhood educator. When I first arrived at the ministry, more than a year and a half ago now, it was felt that StrongStart had pretty much been maxed out. But since then, I think what we have seen is a great growth in terms of parental interest in StrongStart.
We see kids not only three or four years olds enjoying StrongStart, but kids as young as a few months old are now attending a StrongStart. There is an enormous interest and, in some cases, overcapacity in terms of the demand. That's a wonderful thing.
The other area where I think StrongStart has proven to be very successful is that it has not only been a place for children learning through play-based learning, but it has also been a great opportunity for parents to learn some parenting and learning skills themselves. In both cases we feel that these have been very successful.
We're looking forward to them continuing to be successful, and we hope that in the years ahead there will be some expansion on StrongStart. We're thinking our way through what would be the optimal strategy for early identification of challenges for children that could be identified at StrongStart centres.
M. Elmore: To the minister of the programs, I was just curious about the status of Ready, Set, Learn and also the early learning framework.
Hon. G. Abbott: Ready, Set, Learn continues as it has for the past number of years.
M. Elmore: Thanks to the minister. Certainly, the programs of full-day kindergarten, StrongStart B.C. and Ready, Set, Learn are important in terms of supporting children and families in that very critical stage when children often experience the most development on a num-
[ Page 11611 ]
ber of different levels and scales.
In terms of full-day kindergarten, are there plans to expand or look at all-day kindergarten for four-year-olds? Are there any pilot projects underway or plans around that?
Hon. G. Abbott: I think the fairest way to answer that question is that it is still something that we're discussing, that we're debating. We're looking at the national and international precedents around that. We're also looking very closely at the relationship between what we can do at StrongStart, which, of course, utilizes play-based learning, and what occurs in full-day kindergarten, which, of course, is dominantly play-based learning as well.
I don't think the evidence is clear at this point on whether a greater formalization of four-year-old kindergarten would be a step in the right direction. The most successful jurisdiction internationally that one might look at to emulate is Finland, and Finland doesn't really get kids into a formal structured environment until they're six or seven years old.
I'd say we want to really explore the enhancement of what have proven to be some quite remarkable benefits of StrongStart before we further pursue the concept of a more formalized early kindergarten organization.
M. Elmore: Certainly, the evidence has been, I think, quite comprehensive in terms of just the benefits of having a play-based program for young children, particularly under the age of six.
In previous estimates there was mention of, basically, a pilot program in a number of schools to look at implementing…. What does that mean practically? What kind of program would that involve in terms of looking at a play-based curriculum for four-year-olds? I'm just wondering if there's any status update on that.
Hon. G. Abbott: Just to be clear, there have not been — at least to this point — any formal pilot projects with respect to four-year-old kindergarten. What we are monitoring is the earliest phase of Ontario's introduction of a more formalized four-year-old kindergarten.
Again, I guess it goes to the issue of play-based learning and what's the best direction to go in. With the expansion to full-day kindergarten, it's really an expansion to more play-based learning, because that's proven to be the most effective in terms of early learning for young children.
We have also been working with Dr. Stuart Shanker and others around the kinds of things we can and should be doing in StrongStart, which, as I mentioned, can take children as young as a few months and children as old as four, who are pre-kindergarten, and see them growing and hopefully flourishing through play-based learning.
One of the things that we know from Dr. Shanker is that the ability of a child to self-regulate — that is, to be able to understand and manage their own emotions in their interrelationships with other children — is a key to early learning success. That appears to be the core of the success of StrongStart.
My grandson is one of these. At one year old, he's now a veteran of StrongStart for, I guess, about seven months. His ability to relate to other children and understand what is going on in a play-based setting with other children is quite remarkable.
We really, I would say, are much more absorbed with trying to understand how we can enhance the potential of StrongStart as a mechanism for all children, including children who may come with some cognitive or other impairment. That's really what, with the guidance of Dr. Shanker and others, we are thinking about.
In terms of the potential of the four-year-old kindergarten, we will be monitoring Ontario. I think it's fair to say that the results to date have been mixed out of Ontario. So we'll be following that closely.
M. Elmore: Just following on the comments from the minister in terms of the advantages of the StrongStart program and looking to expand that.
Certainly, it is a very positive program for parents or caregivers who are able to accompany their children and attend the program. One of the challenges is that the children have to be accompanied by a caregiver — and the challenges the minister mentioned in terms of looking forward and trying to include all children in such a program.
I'm wondering if the minister has had discussions with the Ministry of Children and Family Development around provision of adequate child care and the provision of accessible, affordable child care to allow children the ability to access the programs and possibly for the role of an educator to support those programs and support children in such a program.
Hon. G. Abbott: The first thing to note is that — and I'm sure the member knows this, but just for clarity — StrongStart is not a child care program. It's an educational program. The fact that parents, grandparents, caregivers — whoever it may be with the child…. We believe that to be a very positive thing — that they are a part of the StrongStart environment. As I think I may have intimated or noted earlier, the parents, grandparents and caregivers also pick up language, social and other skills as a consequence of participating there.
They learn about play-based learning for their children. Hopefully, they continue that reading and other play-based learning outside of StrongStart, and we see much more of it in the home.
Yes, the broader issue, which the member references, of child care is something that we do discuss with our colleagues. I'm certain that if the estimates haven't occurred
[ Page 11612 ]
yet for Children and Family Development, that will be an object of discussion there. Yes, we do discuss these issues.
Also, I guess, as a final note, when we construct a new school now, one of the provisions we make as part of new school construction is an area for a neighbourhood learning centre. In many instances, particularly where it's an elementary school, a daycare will become part of the neighbourhood learning centre area, and that is of some assistance to parents and others.
M. Elmore: Just noting that the StrongStart programs are very positive programs that have a very positive impact. But it's often working parents and also parents who don't necessarily have the family supports, who are unable to avail the program. That's just one of the challenges.
My next question is specifically around the early learning framework — just the status of that and also plans for the framework for the future.
Hon. G. Abbott: The early learning framework has been completed and implemented. It's in place. It has been very well received by the teaching and learning community. It revolves around principles, one which we've discussed — play-based learning — and the other of personalized learning. It is doing very well.
M. Elmore: Just to confirm that it has been implemented and is continuing and will also be further referenced in the future. Are there any specific cuts to any of the early learning programs in the Education Ministry?
Hon. G. Abbott: No, there are none, and I'm pleased to report that.
M. Elmore: Thank you very much for the answers. That concludes my questions.
R. Fleming: I want to ask the minister some issues relating to school district 61, greater Victoria schools, around playground replacement funding. It has had sort of a sporadic history, I think, over the last decade or so, where funds have been announced, used, disappeared and then reannounced.
We're in a period where there was one reannounced last September. Of course, this is always enthusiastically taken up by PACs and school districts and private sector donors who are approached to donate to efforts to replace, in many cases, very, very outdated and even dangerous playground equipment that is scheduled to be phased out. That is true of one school in particular in my constituency, which I wanted to ask the minister about this afternoon, and that is Cloverdale Elementary.
If the minister will bear with me, as he probably knows this inside and out, many playground replacement projects are done in several phases. This equipment can be expensive, up to a quarter million dollars or more, so fundraising efforts are staged over several years. That's exactly what happened at Cloverdale Elementary.
In this case there was a first phase of equipment that was done just before the cut-off date of the new fund was announced. This is going to hurt the parent advisory committee's fundraising abilities for the next phases, which may or may not be eligible for the new funding.
I was wondering whether the minister — I know he has been written directly by school district 61 about what they feel is an arbitrary cut-off date for the new playground funding — has had a chance to respond and whether that date of January 1, 2011 when if projects had broken ground before that date, they would be disallowed…. Has he had time to reconsider that cut-off date and choose one that might be more suitable for schools like Cloverdale and others?
Hon. G. Abbott: As the member knows, on September 2, 2011, government committed $8 million over two years for school playground equipment. The first batch of announcements were 44 public elementary and middle schools that were identified as having no playground equipment. Each of those schools received $50,000 for funding of playground equipment. That's about $2 million there.
The ministry also asked school districts to identify public elementary and middle schools that purchased playground equipment between January 1, 2011, and September 2, 2011, using funds raised by parent advisory councils. On December 7, 2011, government announced that the PACs of 102 elementary and middle schools across 31 school districts would receive $2.4 million in reimbursement for recently purchased playground equipment, based on PAC contribution amounts of up to $50,000.
I think the member's question was: what about Cloverdale School? I don't know what the date was for the Cloverdale school equipment. If it is close to January 1, 2011, the member could write me a letter and make the case, and we will consider — if it's close to the line — whether we could assist. But not knowing those details, I would have to invite the member to either provide further detail now or perhaps just write me a letter, and we would give consideration if they are close to the line.
R. Fleming: I appreciate the minister's response and his offer. I'm aware of another school, in the member for Victoria–Beacon Hill's riding, that is in the same category — very close to the line of the cut-off date. Perhaps you will get a letter from both of us in this regard.
The letter of response perhaps should go to the school districts, because I think there's probably a tranche of schools that have playground equipment that fall between the two groups he's just described and that really
[ Page 11613 ]
should be considered — as the minister said he would — for the money.
They're basically projects that are the same as the other group. Parent advisory committees have raised that money. They're at various stages of completion and ready to go forward if they can confirm a reimbursement for the earlier costs. So I appreciate his response. I think I'll probably write him shortly with the details of their circumstances.
I wonder if I could ask the minister about the Pacific Carbon Trust in the school districts. The recent announcement that school districts can now…. There's a different definition of what carbon-neutral government is in education. It's of interest to me as the Environment critic because I think it's a positive announcement, but I'll await the details. It's one certainly, though, that the opposition has been calling for across the public sector.
It's interesting that government — having reviewed almost constantly the Pacific Carbon Trust and carbon-neutral government ever since it was announced — has now got about three different working definitions of it. School districts are a new category.
The announcement was that the money that would otherwise be transferred to private sector organizations through the Pacific Carbon Trust for the mandatory purchase of offsets by school districts will now be retained in a fund where school districts can essentially bid back and use that money for energy efficiency projects that lower the carbon emissions of schools themselves. I think that's a positive direction that has been announced by government.
I wonder if the minister could highlight how the administration of this new process — which is quite different than the one that health authorities and universities and colleges, public sector organizations, have to labour under…. But this new conception of how the fund will be accessed….
I wonder if the minister could just describe how it will work when school districts have projects lined up, how they'll get in the queue and who has the approval for that. Is it a B.C. School Trustees Association–controlled fund, or is it still within the ministry with sign-off from various different ministries? Perhaps you could describe some of those administrative questions.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
Hon. G. Abbott: There is still some policy work being done around exactly what this will look like, but generally speaking, the dollars which are generated in each school district in terms of carbon offsets will go into a fund which will be modelled on the public sector energy conservation agreement model.
Basically, it means a partnership between the capital division of the Ministry of Education working with, generally speaking, secretary-treasurers in school districts, developing proposals based on greenhouse gas reductions and those kinds of objectives. How exactly the evaluation process and awards will be made is still a matter of the structural work that is being undertaken between the ministry and others.
R. Fleming: I realize that this is a change that applies to this fiscal year going forward and it doesn't reach back to what has happened, although there is a large surplus in the Pacific Carbon Trust of the moneys that were paid by school districts that have not sourced private sector offset projects yet. So there is, in a sense, a case for the school districts to recover some of that money to address a certain backlog in energy efficiency projects in their sector. But that wasn't in the announcement, so I'll take that as the last word in that regard.
In regards to proprietary software that the province of B.C. owns — and I believe it's owned by the Ministry of Labour — called SmartTool, which was used…. Again, part of this mandatory program where school districts had to pay annually to use SmartTool software…. Even though there are freeware equivalent pieces of software available on the market, government wanted the one owned by the Ministry of Labour to be the measurement software and data collection device.
It cost a lot of money. Going forward, I know that schools, but not the other organizations in the public sector, will no longer have to pay fees for that. I think it was about $50,000 a year for the Vancouver school board. They have paid to use this before. It's now considered free across government.
I'm just wondering whether the minister has been approached and has considered whether previous fees paid for SmartTool, to use that software — to gather baseline data, for example — will be reimbursed to those school districts.
Hon. G. Abbott: We've never been approached in that regard.
R. Fleming: I'm quite sure that the ministry has been approached by at least the Vancouver school board, and I think it is quite likely that it came up in the negotiations with B.C. School Trustees Association in this regard. But the minister doesn't recall a specific request being made in that regard.
With the change that was announced just recently, can the minister tell this committee this afternoon whether there will be time to sort of set up the administration — along the PSECA guidelines, for example, which the minister suggested — that will enable districts to count on and plan projects that sometimes are done in the summer months so that some of those moneys can begin to be immediately bid on?
I know the announcement was to take effect in this
[ Page 11614 ]
current fiscal year, but there is concern there might be lag time on many of the details. Nobody really wants to break ground on an energy retrofit project before they have some kind of certainty that the money will be there.
Can the minister give an estimate and an assurance to districts that those questions that are still unanswered are going to be reliably answered so that we won't have to miss the construction window that's coming up this summer?
Hon. G. Abbott: The first thing to note is the potential convergence of the carbon offset dollars and annual facilities grants. The ministry announced the AFG grants of $110 million early this year — in fact, the earliest that it has ever been announced. What we'll be inviting districts to do — as we extend a request this month to districts to submit us their projects — would be to look at, potentially, some of the carbon offset dollars being used to supplement AFG projects.
Having had the recent announcement about the restructuring of the Pacific Carbon dollars, the ministry is moving as quickly as we can, in partnership with the districts, to get this program underway, to hopefully see some of the results from it generated later this year, Whether it's going to be possible in the summer months, I guess, remains to be seen. We suspect that with some strategic supplementing of the offset dollars with AFG funds that we will get some utilization of those dollars later this year.
R. Fleming: I just have one last question on this topic for the minister. The government is doing a provincewide review of the carbon tax. The mandatory offsets in the public sector have always been a feature in lieu of carbon taxes and have therefore….
Increases to the carbon tax have been aligned with increases to the carbon offset payments. School districts now are in a separate category than other public sector organizations that are under the old legislation governing carbon-neutral government. There's a provincewide review underway by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Environment on the carbon tax that private citizens and businesses pay in B.C.
I'm just wondering if the outcome of that review and whatever recommendations will have any impact on the price per tonne that school districts are contributing to this new fund. In other words, there is, I believe, one last scheduled increase to the carbon tax — to go from $25 a tonne to $30 a tonne, on July 1, 2012, so in another few months — and I'm wondering whether the school districts, with the new system that's being set up, is congruent with what's happening in the rest of government and in the rest of the economy.
Hon. G. Abbott: I should note to the member that the carbon tax from the school districts is paid for wholly and entirely by the Ministry of Education, not by the school districts themselves. We pay that. The cost has gone from $1 million four years ago to $4 million this year.
Beyond that, the review is, I think, under the purview of the Minister of Finance, so we'd only be speculating around any of the other questions the member raised. They'd probably be more appropriately directed to the Minister of Finance in his estimates, which, I believe, follow these ones.
C. Trevena: I have a couple of questions for the minister, noting it's Child and Youth Mental Health Day. There was a sad case of a teenager from my constituency who committed suicide about a year ago. The verdict at the inquest had some specific recommendations for the Ministry of Education, as well as for other ministries. I wondered if the minister could tell me whether these have been fulfilled.
The first two recommendations were specifically for the Ministry of Education:
"1. That middle school and high school counsellors provincewide will have ongoing, up-to-date, suicide awareness training. Further, that documentation be completed if suicide risk factors are identified.
"2. That the Ministry of Education provide a provincial standard of risk assessment and mental status examinations for school boards across British Columbia to ensure that there is consistent practice, assessment and tools for school counsellors when working with children and youth at risk."
I wondered what the minister had been able to do with these recommendations.
Hon. G. Abbott: The issues around risk assessment, bullying and so on have been the product of much effort in the ministry over the past year. We have an assistant deputy minister who is leading that work. We are hoping to build on some of the existing efforts that have been undertaken, both broadly in the province, like Roots of Empathy, or district-specific. For example, Surrey has an excellent safe schools initiative, which we're learning from.
The strategy looks at consistency across school districts, training for teachers and educators and more resources for students and parents to assist. Among the things that we are looking at in our strategy would be a five-year multilevel training regime for educators and staff, focusing on both anti-bullying and risk assessment.
We're also looking at an anonymous on-line reporting tool for students that would be accessible through a smart-phone app. We're looking at establishing a safe schools coordinator for every school district, and we're considering — we haven't made a decision yet — designating one of the six provincial teacher professional development days to anti-bullying.
We know that the issue of bullying continues to exist.
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We know that we need to continue our efforts to understand and to mitigate those challenges. Those are the principal initiatives that are being considered or have been undertaken.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that. This wasn't a case of bullying, and oftentimes suicide isn't a case of bullying. I know there are times when there are.
I just wanted a bit more clarification about what training is going specifically to school counsellors for awareness of when students might be showing signs of whatever it is that is pushing them towards self-harm. Oftentimes, as we all know in instances, the first place where students are caught — whether it's, to be honest, child abuse or anything else — is in school. The teachers in the school have got a very close relationship.
What, specifically, is the ministry doing with that approach to self-harm — particularly with the recommendation with the standard of risk assessment, which the minister has mentioned, and mental status examinations for school boards — to ensure there's consistent practice on this?
Hon. G. Abbott: When we use the term "risk assessment," that is precisely what we're referring to, which is the risk of harm to self or others by an individual. It goes to underlining the critical need for training among educators, particularly, but also students, parents, administrators — across the board — and having our best-possible understanding of when such a risk might present itself.
C. Trevena: A further recommendation from this inquest…. The inquest was held in December of last year — I guess, in government terms, quite recently, for implementing these recommendations.
There was a recommendation to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Ministry of Health that there be "an interministerial liaison…to assist families in navigating the mental health system in British Columbia." I wondered whether that is something that the minister has addressed with his colleagues, and if it's something that will be pursued.
Hon. G. Abbott: Again, we think the interministerial cooperation is something that is central to effective management of risk. We are, in partnership with colleague ministries, developing protocols which will be put in place in every community with a school that would look at the issues of what triggers a response, who has direct-line responsibility, who's informed — the where, when and why of it.
The protocols will be jointly developed by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Law enforcement agencies — either through the Solicitor General or potentially, I guess, through the Attorney General — might be involved. The Ministry of Health, as well, of course, is a key partner in this, because mental health issues tend to reside within that ministry.
C. Trevena: The way that this will work, having the protocols, is great. I know communities that have worked very hard in developing suicide protocols. In the work on the protocols, will there be that point person so that the family — or the young person, if they are on their own — can navigate the system? I think that's one of the things — people get lost in the swamp.
Hon. G. Abbott: The point person would be the safe schools coordinator, who we intend to have in every school.
D. Thorne: I'm following on with some of the questions that MLA Austin was asking on Thursday. I'd like to move on and ask about the changes made to the funding formula back in the fall. I'd like the minister…. I wonder if he could tell me in general what is meant to be accomplished by the changes to the funding formula.
Hon. G. Abbott: I'll perhaps give the member more of an answer here than she ever dreamed of, but of course, I'm sure she'd welcome that — having a comprehensive understanding of the world that I live in and why it is so enjoyable to live there. The issue of the funding formula has been a forever issue.
In response to some of the concerns that I was hearing, now over a year ago, from school districts, I invited the B.C. School Trustees Association to put together a group of school district officials to look at the funding formula and to bring recommendations to the ministry about how the BCSTA believes that the funding formula could be improved. There was actually very good participation in that process. My recollection is that 54 of the 60 school districts in the province actually made submissions to the BCSTA committee. That was very good.
The committee, I think it's fair to say, laboured long and hard to try to find the easy changes to the funding formula which would satisfy school districts as large as Surrey, with their now close to 70,000 students, and districts as small as Stikine, with their now about 200 students scattered over an area the size of a small European country — four schools, 16 teachers and less than, I think, 200 students today.
In short, I think the BCSTA committee found it very challenging to generate a consensus report. But they did come up with some what they termed theme areas, including the issue of the sustainability of funding protection. It was generally agreed that funding protection at
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100 percent level was not sustainable in the longer term.
They believed that there needed to be additional recognition of the challenges of small rural schools. They believed that for the 15 smallest school districts in the province, there was an anomaly in the funding formula that should be corrected. They wanted to see a different approach to transportation funding, and as we discussed earlier today, they were looking for what, for some districts, was a kind of redress around the funding through the CommunityLINK program.
So we did have that broad, if not very specific, direction from the BCSTA committee, and we set to work to try to resolve those issues. What we put in place with the changes to the funding formula was sustaining funding protection at the 98.5 percent level. That is, if a district declined in school population, they could not decline further than 98.5 percent of what they had been in the previous year.
We made the changes to the CommunityLINK program through the vulnerable student supplement, which we canvassed in the context of Surrey earlier in the debates today.
We provided some additional funding for rural schools. We did correct the anomaly in the funding formula around the 15 smallest districts, and we made important changes to the formula in relation to transportation.
It has been interesting since the announcement of those changes, which I think I made in early November of 2011 and which were consummated in the announcement of funding earlier this year. The changes have…. In the world of our funding formula and the world of generational complaints about whether it's quite right, the reception has been very positive. We have not heard many concerns about the revised funding formula. We're very pleased by that, and we hope that it continues.
D. Thorne: I think, actually, my next question…. I think that I'll just confirm that you…. You just confirmed, basically, that any changes to the funding formula reflect no net increase of money, but rather a shifting of moneys out of the base operating grant and into earmarked portions of the annual operating grant. I may have worded it a little differently, but I think that's what you did just confirm.
By looking at the breakdown of increases and reductions, there are actually offsetting reductions grants that amount to more than the total increase for these funding factors, slightly more.
That's a different question. But I guess it's not really a different question — right? I guess I will rephrase it again and say: can you confirm that the funding formula doesn't reflect a net increase? I mean, it's a new way of doing it but, really, no net increase.
The Chair: I'll remind the member that the Chair isn't in a position to confirm or not to confirm, but I'm certain the minister will.
Hon. G. Abbott: We think we understand the member's question, which is: was there a reduction year over year? The answer is no. There was not. The operating grant this year is $4.725 billion. That is an increase from $4 million over last year. So it pretty much stayed exactly as it was, with a very, very modest increase.
D. Thorne: Sorry about the way I asked that question. Obviously, I'm talking about the money that's reflected in the changes in the funding formula, not the overall, whole budget — right? In thinking that way, I felt that you had confirmed my question, so I didn't need to ask it. Now you have definitely answered it.
I'll just ask one more question in this area, and then my colleague from Surrey wants to ask some questions. I wonder if you could explain what the functional difference is in providing funding earmarked for the B.C. education plan as opposed to keeping that money in general operating funds; i.e., would there be any restrictions placed on the money as a result of it being placed into the B.C. education plan pool? I think you have maybe half answered that already.
Hon. G. Abbott: Again, I hope I can address the member's question. Of course, I'd welcome a supplemental question from her if I don't address what she was concerned with.
The B.C. ed plan dollars are relatively modest — $10.7 million. All of that $10.7 million will be going out to the 60 school districts in small grants, to each of the school districts.
The dollars this year, we believe, should be focused on early learning and literacy. We want to support, particularly, reading programs at the kindergarten-to-grade-4 level, because again, all of the brain science work, all the work of Fraser Mustard, Stuart Shanker and others in this area point to the remarkable ability of young children to remediate shortfalls in reading, writing and numeracy by a more intensive reading effort.
We're really inviting districts to provide us with imaginative programs that will aid in this. We know that there are already a number of school districts around the province that have really outstanding early reading programs, and we want to support and sustain those kinds of programs.
The other area — this is the area where there are new dollars. The new dollars are in the learning improvement fund. The learning improvement fund, as the member knows from the debate around Bill 22, was in response to the Supreme Court of B.C. decision on Bills 27 and 28.
The learning improvement fund was advanced by the province at the table with the B.C. Teachers Federation
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back in September or October, I think. At that time the learning improvement fund was set to be $165 million. Now, because of savings garnered through the three-day strike which occurred earlier in the year, the fund is now $195 million — $60 million this year, $60 million next year and $75 million the year after that. Those dollars are aimed at improving classroom management of special needs challenges in the classroom.
H. Bains: I have a few questions on the capital funding announcement made some time ago. The minister knows full well that the ad hoc committee that was put together involving teachers, parents, students, Surrey Board of Trade recognized…. They did some studies that they need, as we sit today, about ten new schools to accommodate all those students to be in real classrooms.
Thanks to the minister and the government, an announcement came. I think it was to the tune of over $300 million provincewide. Can the minister confirm how much of that was for the Surrey board of education?
Hon. G. Abbott: We discussed this a little bit earlier with another member from Surrey. Just to repeat, of the over $300 million capital announcement, over $100 million was for Surrey school district. We will get that exact figure sent in to us here, and I can provide it to the member in a few moments.
The two additions were at Fraser Heights Secondary and Panorama Ridge Secondary; two new elementary schools at South Newton and East Clayton; four site acquisitions for future schools — two elementary schools in Clayton, two in Grandview Heights neighbourhoods; and two secondary schools in the Clayton and Grandview Heights neighbourhoods to accommodate growth at Earl Marriott Secondary and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary.
I would say about one-third of the overall capital announcement was for Surrey. Again, if the member is looking for a more precise figure, we will have that provided to us momentarily.
H. Bains: I would appreciate what the exact amount would be.
The older projects that the minister listed off…. Is the minister saying that the announcement or the portion that is allocated to Surrey — over $100 million, the minister says, and the exact number we will know soon — is sufficient to pay for all of the projects the minister has just mentioned?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes, it is sufficient.
H. Bains: I'm sure it was brought to the minister's attention through the ad hoc committee. I believe the minister — I may have got it wrong — said that he received some submissions from the ad hoc committee and from the Surrey board of education. The capital requirement for the needs of the students that are in portables today…. They have recognized that close to $273 million is what they need in order to have those students in real classrooms.
This will go, perhaps, a little over one-third of what they have recognized. The ad hoc committee has set ten new schools that they need in order to accommodate all those students, which would be a combination of elementary and high schools.
Also to the minister, I have heard from the Surrey board of education and the ad hoc committee again, and the teachers and the parents, that this is a little less than half of what they actually need, when you look at $273 million and a little over $100 million is allocated. It goes quite a ways, but I think to look at the current needs and the future growth, they are saying that it is not even close to what we need.
My question to the minister would be: what is the plan to come up with the remainder of the request that the Surrey board of education has for the minister?
Hon. G. Abbott: First, to note that yes, I have had the opportunity to meet with the Surrey school district. Their board does an excellent job. They're a very capable and thoughtful board, and I've very much enjoyed working with them.
We've had some excellent discussions with respect to the growth issues which Surrey school district has. They are not only our largest school district in the province now, at close to 70,000 students, but they're also the fastest-growing school district and have been over the past decade.
There are advantages that come with growth, and there are challenges that come with growth. Both are there in Surrey, without a doubt.
Just to put this into perspective, though. The issue the member references of utilization of portables is not necessarily a new problem. We estimate the current number of portables in use at 209 — that is, for regular classroom purposes. That is down from 363 in 1998 — a year I'm sure the member remembers with great fondness. While there are more portables being utilized than we might like, the number is still down from where it was in 1998.
I should also note that there's been a good deal of construction to meet the demands of full-day kindergarten, and that will bring the number further down again, to about 190. The over $100 million investment that's being made in Surrey school district over the next couple years will reduce that number again.
To the member's question, though. No single capital announcement will take account of Surrey's growth over the next decade or decades. We're happy to note, though, that site acquisition was part of the announcement that was made. As things come together at the school district,
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in terms of utilization of those sites, there will be future capital announcements — not only for Surrey, though.
Surrey is the fastest growing — there's no doubt about that — but portions of Langley, the Central Okanagan and portions of southern Vancouver Island also are growing rapidly. They enjoyed capital announcements back on October 31 of 2011 as well.
Yes, it was a good announcement. I think we will see positive growth in terms of the school facilities that are available in Surrey. But it will not be the last capital announcement that will be made for that large and progressive school district.
H. Bains: I didn't want to make a political statement here. I think the reality is that the minister may want to go there, but it's no comfort to the parents and the students who are in the portables today that, yes, there are perhaps fewer than ten years ago or 12 years ago. That's not the issue. The issue is the fact that the students are studying in portables today.
The school board, the parents, the students, the teachers and Surrey Board of Trade are all united on this thing. As the fastest-growing school district — and future forecast for growth continues — they're looking for some definitive end to this portable situation that we have.
I guess if the minister has some timelines — that by a certain time he would have sufficient funding available — so that if not all of them, most of the students will be in real classrooms…. I think that's the question.
If the minister doesn't have any timelines, then the minister should tell us so that the parents will know where the minister's intentions and this government's intentions are. If there are some timelines and those portables can be eliminated in the next coming years, at least — that's the question that the parents would like to ask.
Hon. G. Abbott: These kinds of challenges don't necessarily get resolved overnight. As I noted, 363 portables were in operation back in 1998 in Surrey school district. In fact, it was said back in that day that just the portables alone would still see Surrey being the largest school district in the province. So this is a big issue.
Of course, we would much prefer that every student was in a conventional classroom versus a portable, although the portables can and do provide appropriate places for learning as well. But overall, we would like to continue to reduce the number.
Again, that is why we've made the huge commitment, capital and operating, around full-day kindergarten. As that comes together, we'll see further reduction in the number of portables being utilized as the approximately $100 million investment flows through and we see the planning process completed and some capital construction getting underway, we hope this summer, in Surrey. That will be of assistance as well.
This is not a process that starts and stops. This is a continuous process where our capital division works with the capital managers at Surrey school district and other school districts. We are always looking at the future. We're always identifying where the best opportunities are, trying to look at ways in which we can facilitate further construction.
If the member's question is when the last portable will disappear from Surrey, that's a good question. As I say, there were 363 in 1998, so we've cut that almost in half. I guess we've made good progress. We'll continue, I'm sure, to make good progress with the judicious investments that we're making.
H. Bains: The question isn't getting answered. There was $273 million — the need to address the issue today — and the minister said the announcement was a little over $100 million. There is a $173 million gap from the need that is demonstrated by the Surrey school district based on the number of students they have today and based on the future growth in students to continue.
I think the question is: when will that $173 million gap be completed, and is there a plan at least, going forward, to provide them with the capital that they need in order to put students in real classrooms?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'm fascinated by the question, hon. Chair. Is the member saying, then, that $273 million of the capital plan announced on October 31 should have gone to Surrey alone? I'm fascinated that he is saying that our needs today and what we will require for future growth is $273 million, and somehow the announcement that was made on October 31 is for….
The number is $101 million, by the way. The $101 million only goes partway there. I hope the member understands that Surrey is one of 60 school districts in the province. It is certainly the largest district, but it is not the only district with capital needs.
When government makes a funding announcement, they look at the pool of dollars that they have, and they go: "Where is the greatest need?" As it turns out, about a third of that anticipated need was in the Surrey school district. But there were also needs in Central Okanagan, on southern Vancouver Island. I know the member for Juan de Fuca was constantly pulling on my coat about replacement of Belmont. I hope that this member is not wanting to take that school away from others.
You know, it's fascinating, Member, that you say the need is $273 million when you take account of future growth. But of course, it's going to take account of…. We've got to take account of future growth across the province.
So we make an announcement. Is that the last announcement that's going to be made? No, it isn't. Does it fill the priority capital needs of the Surrey school district? Yes, it does.
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Surrey school district was just delighted with the announcement, as they should have been. Is it going to take account of every capital need that they're going to need through the 21st century? No, but that's why it is possible for future governments to make future announcements.
H. Bains: So the minister can't help but continue to be political manoeuvring here. But the issue here is that the $273 million need is today, not based on the future growth. It's today. That's what the school board has recognized. That's what the parents and the ad hoc committee have recognized — that that's what we need today as far as our capital plan is concerned.
The minister talks about how Surrey's not the only district. But if you really want to know, Surrey is in the situation where it is because of the neglect by this minister and the previous minister and the government for the last seven years now.
Since 2005-2006, the Surrey board of education will tell you, not a single dollar on capital was approved by this government. Any schools that were built were announced and approved previously. That's what their document will tell you — that since the 2005-2006 year, not a single dollar in capital approval was given to Surrey school district.
So it's neglect by your government. The minister would know. For those seven years, Surrey schools were neglected, at a time when we had 1,000 to 1,100 new students coming in every year. Since that time, 2005-2006, 2,600 new students have entered Surrey schools, and all of them ended up being in portables.
So I think the question was a pretty legit question. There is a need that is there today, demonstrated by the students that we have today and based on the classroom capacity we have. Obviously, I've got the answer. The minister is saying that there's not any more money coming to the Surrey school district, and the parents and the Surrey school board can take that as an answer. If that's the answer, then I guess that's what we got.
But the fact remains that there is a $173 million gap — what we need today and what was announced. So the only question is: when can they expect to have the remaining capital that they have requested come to Surrey district?
Hon. G. Abbott: It's interesting that the member talks of neglect. I guess, given that he represents the government that was in power in 1998, perhaps he has some expertise on neglect in Surrey school district. Given that there were 363 portables in use in Surrey school district in 1998, clearly, the member has some expertise on neglect.
The other thing I think I should note is that there have been remarkable investments in Surrey schools in recent years. I know that I had the good fortune, as an Education Minister in 2011, to open up Adams Road Elementary — a beautiful new school, value $11 million. Back in 2010, Woodward Hill Elementary, southwest Newton.
I guess the member is maybe taking credit for schools completed in 2010 and 2011. I'm not sure. I know that in this member's world good things only happen under NDP governments, never under any other kind of government.
Yes, he's nodding his head in his invariably non-partisan way, which is ever a delight to me.
In 2009. He'll probably want to take credit for these ones as well. Site acquisition at Clayton Village northeast area elementary. There was a second one, actually, at Clayton — versus Clayton Village.
Hazelgrove Elementary opened up with new elementary school capacity — a $13 million project. Again, I'm certain the member would want to take credit for that one.
In 2008. I'm certain the member would want to take credit for Rosemary Heights Elementary, even though his government had been out of power at that point for seven years. I'm certain he'd still want to take credit for Rosemary Heights Elementary and its $11 million project.
In 2006. There were several: Cambridge Elementary, Panorama Ridge Secondary, Pacific Heights Elementary, Chimney Hill Elementary, White Rock Elementary, South Newton east area elementary, Grandview Heights northwest area elementary, Douglas area elementary.
It goes on and on, back to 2001-2002.
You know, I'm certain that the member would want to take credit for all good things. I know that the division is always very clear for this member and some who share his non-partisan view of the world, which is that all good things must be credited to the NDP government between 1991 and 2001. All bad things, whether they occurred in that period or they've occurred in a period since, always are the consequence of the B.C. Liberal government.
I hope that helps to refute the member's outrageous assertion that somehow investments were not made in Surrey in the period from 2001 to 2011.
S. Chandra Herbert: That was a fascinating to and fro between the member for Surrey-Newton and the Minister of Education. I think I heard the Minister of Education say that all good things that happened in education happened because of the member for Surrey-Newton.
S. Chandra Herbert: "That's exactly right," the minister says. Well, I'm glad that the member can….
S. Chandra Herbert: All the good things that happened in the world. Wow. That's a large case to be made,
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Minister. In your answer maybe you'll explain that.
I go to Vancouver. Things happen in B.C. outside of Surrey. I know they've been saying that it's…. Greater Surrey, I think, is what they were trying to rename the GVRD — Metro Surrey, at another meeting I was at.
S. Chandra Herbert: The member says that that's good. Well, maybe the members will allow me to have some small time for a small community known as Vancouver — in particular, International Village.
I'm curious if the minister can share when we can finally see the elementary school brought in for International Village.
Hon. G. Abbott: The good news on International Village is that it was part of the capital announcement of October 31, 2011. The project is approved in that perspective. The site has been acquired through agreement with the city of Vancouver.
That project has been involved in procurement screening to see what the best way to proceed with it is. I'm advised that procurement screening is near completion, so that should be done very soon. Post that will be, of course, the planning, architecture, etc. around it — hopefully, seeing shovels in the ground, at latest, the summer of 2013.
S. Chandra Herbert: Certainly, the folks down in Yaletown will be happy for that, as will the folks in an area they now call Crosstown, or Tinseltown. There are all sorts of names for that area as well. I will certainly pass that on.
I remember one of my first things that I did as an MLA was go and hang out in a lineup while it was snowing at Elsie Roy Elementary School in Yaletown. They were waiting, I believe, to get into the school. There were some parents there. There were child care issues. The crowding was so high that they waded through a snowstorm to get into that school. They certainly will look forward to a new elementary school there.
An issue that I've raised a number of times and the minister is well aware of is bullying in our schools — homophobic bullying, transphobic bullying. Of course, there's racism and sexism and all sorts of different kinds of bullying that we see in our school systems.
I wondered if the minister could share how many districts have taken action to ensure that their codes of conduct are in line with the provincial direction. My understanding is that it's about 17 that specifically have codes of conduct in relation to homophobia. Is it more than 17 now? Where are we on the list to get to every school district fighting homophobia in our school system?
Hon. G. Abbott: All 60 school districts in the province, as I think the member knows, have codes of conduct. Seventeen of those districts, within their codes of conduct, have explicit reference to homophobia. Others do not. The ministry has not obliged all of the school districts to have explicit reference to that. That is an issue for the boards to resolve.
Where we will be demanding enhanced codes of conduct will be a requirement that districts must reference the B.C. Human Rights Code and the provisions contained within that code. Among the issues contained within the code, there's a variety of areas, including sexuality.
S. Chandra Herbert: Could the minister share the actions that his ministry is now taking to ensure that we know how big bullying is in schools and have plans in place to fight it?
Hon. G. Abbott: The member may wish to reference, as well, a discussion that occurred just a little earlier in estimates with the member for North Island. I don't want to repeat too much of what I said there around risk assessment and anti-bullying initiatives, but there are certainly some things that we can add to the record here.
This has been a big initiative for the ministry in the past year. We have an assistant deputy minister who is very much focused on this and working with school districts across the province to improve our anti-bullying programs and opportunities and our risk and threat assessment opportunities as well.
Two people from each school will be part of a team that will work on a districtwide basis to review how the district is progressing in terms of anti-bullying and risk and threat assessment. There is going to be — and I mentioned this earlier — a five-year multilevel training regime for educators and staff that will be focused on both anti-bullying and threat assessment.
There will be, I'm advised, a specific anti-homophobia component to that training. Of course, bullying is unacceptable for any reason, but we know that homophobia can be a very challenging issue in some schools. We need to have the training regime that's built to meet that.
I talked earlier about the anonymous on-line reporting tool for students that'll be accessible through a smartphone app. We're also providing…. I didn't note this earlier. We're going to have an enhanced provincial website that is multimedia-based that parents…. I suppose students can do it as well, but it's particularly designed for parents to access when they see indications that their child has been bullied.
We're going to be putting in provincial guidelines for safe schools for all the districts — the threat risk assessment which we discussed earlier in the discussion with the member for North Island. There's going to be a safe
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schools coordinator designated in every school district in the province.
We are examining…. We have not yet formed the conclusion that we will designate one of the six provincial teacher professional development days to anti-bullying. We think that may be a good step ahead, but we've not finalized that yet.
S. Chandra Herbert: Thank you to the minister for that answer.
In Ontario they've introduced legislation. For a while there was a duelling battle of bills. Two different parties had their education bills, particularly around safe schools and bullying. I'm curious if the minister will be introducing or feels that there do need to be any legislative changes in order to ensure our schools are safe for our kids.
Hon. G. Abbott: While we certainly don't claim to be experts on Ontario, it is the view of those advising me that Ontario is rather less advanced in terms of its policy framework than British Columbia. In short, we have some pieces in place already that they had to put in place through statute.
In reference to the several items which I mentioned to the member in my previous answer, we believe that we do have all the necessary authorities, all the statutory basis, in place now to do all of the items which I referenced in my previous answer. But of course, if an issue came up that required a legislative response, we'd certainly be prepared to do that. We don't believe at this point that that should be necessary.
S. Chandra Herbert: Can the minister explain how this program that he's laid out will apply to independent schools or private schools?
Hon. G. Abbott: In answer to the member's question, the independent school sector will be encouraged to participate in all of the initiatives that I've outlined. For example, they will be welcome to attend the training programs and processes free of charge. They can't be obliged, though, to do that. We hope that we will see their voluntary participation in all of this, but it will be a matter of encouraging and supporting rather than requiring.
B. Routley: I've got just a couple of questions. Back in 2008 the Cowichan Valley — school district 79 — purchased some property and capitalized this property for a new high school. The figure now stands at over $8 million. The school district has repeatedly requested that the province take over the loan as a gesture of the commitment to the project. Obviously, the province has the ability to have much lower interest rates than the school district is capable of receiving.
The school district, as I understand it, has one of the largest debt burdens of this sort in the province. Even the auditors from the province, I'm told, when they came in to review the school district situation, found it somewhat alarming — this high level of debts.
Maybe a two-part question. First of all, is it correct that this is one of the largest debt burdens held by a school district? In any case, will the minister consider some kind of plan for the province to take over the debts? Ultimately, it is the taxpayers, one way or the other, that are going to pay the bill. So I guess my question is: why wouldn't the minister want to work with the school district to find the lowest-cost option rather than have this higher-cost situation that seems to be imposed on the school district?
[D. Hayer in the chair.]
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the member's question, and the officials who are with me are familiar with the site and with the project and so on. The advice is, first of all, yes, the ministry would be prepared to consider a request along the lines outlined by the member in respect of that $8 million property. The suggestion from the officials is that the school district should bring forward a capital plan for their immediate years, and the ministry will give consideration to that request.
B. Routley: Thank you. That sounds like something that I will certainly pass along. I appreciate the response. Maybe we'll have success with this next question.
The situation, as I understand it…. I have been reading carefully some of what's been going on in the school district. As the minister, I'm sure, is aware, since 2009 districts such as school district 79 have endured, I'm told, $10.5 million in funding cuts. They have been forced to eliminate all kind of items that they feel are not dispensable, that are critical to the…. It's more than just needs.
As the minister, I'm sure, is also aware, it's been the pattern of trustees to put in what's referred to as a compliance budget and then a needs budget. I understand that the school district group that was committed to education, committed to ensuring that it was working towards a budget that reflected the needs of the children and the community, has been working diligently and has come up with what it is categorizing as a restoration budget.
Obviously, the numbers that I'm reading don't really restore anywhere close to the $10.5 million. They're talking about a gap of $2.5 million just to remain status quo. They're talking about the impact from the provincial issues and initiatives, some of them labour settlement costs, salary differentials, downloaded provincial initiatives, the real cost of delivering services to special needs students, fixed costs for maintenance, transportation and custodial, obviously fuel cost and all of those kind of things that affect busing and transportation.
Inflationary costs are almost 20 percent of their costs over the past decade. Unfortunately, the government has not seen fit to properly fund a lot of those issues. Now they've also got a list of items to restore some of what they feel is desperately needed in their community. They have a communication plan.
I guess my question to the minister is…. These seem like extremes that people are being pushed to as a result of responding to all of these cuts — year and years of cuts. Sadly, we see parents and school boards dealing with these matters and feeling that there is a bit of a crisis in education. Given that the minister is aware that there is additional funding available, what — if any — plan does he have for school district 79 to help restore some of what, as they've been talking about, is necessary?
The minister may or may not be aware of all the items they're talking about, but I'm told that with the information that they're at, at this stage it's $3.7 million, which they believe is necessary to have a restoration budget. I would like to hear from the minister directly: does he have any plans at all to help these school boards like school district 79, or are they abandoned once again to the cuts?
The ministry has, over and over, just taken for granted that school trustees will try to find a way and essentially be turned into the whipping boys. They're whipping men and women, I guess. They get forced into these school districts to do the nasty work for the minister. Really, it's not appropriate that you've got government coming up with a plan that doesn't even address the inflationary measures.
He offered some hope on the other area. Maybe he can offer some kind of hope to us on something to restore good education in the Cowichan Valley in school district 79.
Hon. G. Abbott: I couldn't more strongly disagree with virtually everything the member has said. I think it's unfortunate. We have these discussions about school district funding. The member should reference his own campaign platform from the 2009 election, because in fact the real-world spending of the ministry since 2009 is in excess of what the New Democratic Party committed in 2009 for education funding.
I'm glad the member thinks that somehow there is some magic pot of money and that, should his party be fortunate enough to form a government in 2013, suddenly all will be well and there will be a great money tree that his government would be able to shake and throw all kinds of money at school districts. It just ain't so. It is not the way the world works, and I think the member knows well that it is not the way the world works.
Let's look at the facts in respect of school district 79. The core of the challenge for school district 79 has been that their enrolment has been steadily falling over the decade from, in 2000-2001, 10,384 full-time-equivalent students to 7,866 full-time-equivalent students today. There has been a substantial decline in the number of students in the Cowichan Valley school district.
Notwithstanding that very dramatic drop in the number of students, we have seen, over that same decade, an increase in the operating dollars. The number of students has been falling every year. Every year the funding to the district has been going up. In 2000-2001, $64,690,754 in operating funding to the district; in 2012-2013 — and this is after a near 3,000 decline in the number of students — the funding today is $69,766,193.
Again, the funding is up over $5 million, despite a remarkable loss of numbers of students. Further, the per-pupil funding in 2000-2001 was at $6,230 per pupil in school district 79. Today it's $8,729 — again, a substantial increase in the per-pupil funding.
The member can talk about needs budgets and all of the rhetoric that accompanied that, but the school district has a responsibility to deliver a balanced budget. We have heard, actually, from Cowichan Valley that they might want to do that. We believe they're the only district in the province that is embarked on that particular journey, and the School Act is very clear about what will occur if they're not providing a balanced budget. I expect they will provide a balanced budget consistent with what they've done in the past.
B. Simpson: I won't jump into the debate going back and forth there. But I think it's fair to say that I think the minister also knows, because his ministry is looking into it, that there are some issues with the funding formula. It's not just straight enrolment versus the money that's being allocated. They still have physical plants, and so on, that have to be kept open, etc. So it's a bigger debate than that. But I, too, will be interested to see, if there's a change of government, how the money-pit issue is resolved. It's not an easy one, given where we're at these days.
I have two areas I'd like to canvass. One, I'm sure the minister won't be surprised, is the Pacific Carbon Trust, a little bit. I did watch the exchange, and I have some questions that I'd like to wrap around that exchange just for clarity. But the first one I want to start with — and it does go to policy that the government has around new capital projects — is in the Quesnel school district.
We have sort of a longstanding ask for what would be now a new junior secondary school. I actually taught, when I first moved up to Quesnel 27 years ago or so, in the very end of that building. It's a concrete-block building, and we used to use duct tape back then to seal the gaps in between. I'm sure the minister is aware that the building does need to be replaced. There are some plans in place, but it goes to the policy again of not full use of some of the physical plant we've got.
My question to the minister is whether or not that's being looked at for some school districts and some locations.
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We have a very distributed population. We've got schools that will never come up to capacity to meet that capacity threshold, but we desperately need to replace this school, where we have a very large population of middle school students. I wonder if the minister could just speak to what the government's thinking is around those kinds of dilemmas.
Hon. G. Abbott: I thank the member for his question. We were actually trying to ascertain whether duct tape had been invented 27 years ago, when you were teaching.
B. Simpson: Yep. Not the colours, though.
Hon. G. Abbott: Oh, it didn't have the range of colours. Okay. That's good.
There are a few different issues that can drive a capital commitment by the province. We discussed earlier the situation in Surrey and how their quite spectacular enrolment growth has led to a school commitment.
I see the member for Juan de Fuca here. The Belmont replacement is another example of where it's driven by enrolment growth. Plus the condition of the school, in that case, was a small part of it. But the area is growing.
There's some school replacement that's driven by seismic, but I don't think that comes into any bearing in the Quesnel school district.
We are providing grants. The annual facility grant of $110 million, announced earlier this year, will be helpful in terms of keeping schools going. We would acknowledge, as the member has suggested, that the old Quesnel Secondary, now a middle school, is one that would certainly be justified for replacement, based on condition.
We've done enough assessment work in conjunction with the school district facilities audit, as I think it is described, to say — in response to the member's question — that replacement of the old Quesnel Secondary, now a middle school, would be a high priority for replacement both for the province and for the school district, based on the long-in-the-tooth condition of the school.
B. Simpson: Thanks to the minister. I don't want to necessarily put the minister on the spot, but what does that mean time-wise? I know they got the submission in, but there was that one allocation recently of significant capital. Is there a time frame associated with the next round or when this school may end up being of a high enough priority that it actually gets replaced?
Hon. G. Abbott: I'll only note that the announcements of October 31, 2011, were all entirely driven by enrolment growth as opposed to facility condition. We would hope, based on the condition of this particular school, that when the opportunity presents itself, it will be a high priority both for the district and for government.
Every year the province looks at how much capital room they have available, based on economic growth and other indicators. Of course, Treasury Board has to look not only at the priorities of education, but they also have health priorities, and they have transportation priorities, etc.
All of that has to be weighed in terms of priorities. It is not possible for me to give the member a definitive date but only to confirm that we certainly have no disagreement that this is a school that merits replacement.
B. Simpson: Thank you to the minister. I'll pass that on. I had a meeting with the school trustees and asked if there was a single priority I could bring forward for them. I'm sure the minister understands why.
Just for the minister's edification, in the last census the population in that area came up 7.5 percent. There are a lot of babies around now. I was in Wells for a town hall meeting, and we had this kind of esoteric, all-over-the-place meeting. Two young women were in with their babies, and a young woman put her hand up at the end of it and said: "Could I just ground this a little bit? We have 17 new babies in Wells." So they were looking for things like StrongStart and so on.
B. Simpson: Yeah. Maybe we've got something on the go there, but it's heartening to know. I think the school district…. I'm sure it has been communicated to them, but just a re-enforcement that it is there, that it is known and that when money is available, it could be the priority.
I will wrap around some of the questions I have about Pacific Carbon Trust. I did listen to the exchange with the Environment critic for the opposition. I just want to clarify that under the change that has occurred, school districts are not going to have to pay for the tool now. But they will still calculate their GHG emissions above their zero baseline, and they will still write a cheque to the Pacific Carbon Trust equivalent to $25 a tonne for that emissions calculation.
They're still going to individually, as school districts, write a cheque to the Pacific Carbon Trust each year for their so-called offset fee. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes, we believe that to be correct. I just wanted to note that I had the pleasure of visiting Quesnel school district a few weeks ago, and I was very much impressed by what I saw there. I, too, observed a number of babies, which gives me great hope for the education system and the demand for education. So I appreciate the member's comment.
B. Simpson: Yeah. I'm not sure if it's the water or something else that's on the go, as the member has indicated.
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Just to be clear, the money that is now going to be in a special fund…. I listened as the minister indicated there's still some policy work being done and distribution of that fund, etc. But is there any guarantee, as the minister understands it to date, that the money will flow back, if you will, on a quid pro quo basis? You give $50,000 to Pacific Carbon Trust to buy your offsets, and you're going to see $50,000 come back to you. So it nets out, and therefore, that offset burden on your operating funds is netted out somehow.
Hon. G. Abbott: I appreciate the member's important question. In terms of the flow of dollars in and out, every year the dollars into the fund will be equivalent to the dollars out of the fund at the sector level but not necessarily at the school district level. Projects will be approved on a priority basis.
For example, the Quesnel school district this year comes up with a great project. They may get more than their — let's say, hypothetically — $50,000 in that year when their project gets approved. Another year they may get less. Over time the aim is going to be to see those funds distributed equitably. Obviously, we'll be keeping score along the way to try to make sure that there is equitable disbursement of the dollars.
The other thing we're looking at…. I think this is a very important piece to look at as well. Every year, as the member knows, we provide annual facilities grants for the maintenance and, in some cases, replacement of boilers and those kinds of equipment purchases. That's $110 million. So what we're looking at is how we might partner the new fund with the existing AFG.
Quesnel might, for example, come with a proposal that said: "We want to put a boiler in, and it's a little bit more than what we get in AFG." We'd like to, because it's consistent with the goals of the carbon offset funds…. That's the kind of strategy we're looking at developing around this.
B. Simpson: That's helpful. I don't have the time to canvass this. My understanding is that the minister's leadership really kind of made this adjustment happen. That's what I've been told — that the minister did go to bat over this. I think, unfortunately, it's a bolt-on. We've had this conversation in the last estimates, etc. There's still money coming from operating funds to the Pacific Carbon Trust and flowing back as, potentially, additional capital funds or towards, as the minister indicated, special projects, etc.
Both school districts 27 and 28, I have been led to understand, were not able to take advantage of PSECA because of course they're maintaining buildings. If they don't have the ability to do a funky, interesting additional project, then they don't put themselves in the position to get that.
It's also interesting, I think, that this effectively negates the claim of carbon neutrality for school districts now, because they're not buying offsets with the money. They're flowing it back to the school districts, and of course, the whole principle behind offsets is to leverage money in another sector somewhere and contribute 5 percent towards the project. So I think it's a bolt-on solution. It's not an ultimate solution to some of the problems with the Pacific Carbon Trust.
But if I could just wrap two together so that I'm clear. Is the Pacific Carbon Trust at all involved in the disbursement of the money? My understanding is that they'll give a shareholder dividend or something to government. The shareholder is the Minister of Finance, so he gets a dividend. That dividend is going to be targeted to a specific account. But is the Pacific Carbon Trust in any way going to hold on to a role in the disbursement?
And the second: is this a permanent change? Going forward, will this be a permanent change to the structure of the trust?
Hon. G. Abbott: The answer. Is it a permanent change? Our understanding is yes.
Is the Pacific Carbon Trust involved in allocation decisions? We understand the answer there to be no. They will be disbursing the funds to the Ministry of Education, and we will be working with our partners in the school districts to appropriately disburse those funds — again, along the lines that we discussed in your previous question.
J. Horgan: I'm delighted to participate once again, yet another year, in the Education estimates with the minister and his capable staff.
I want at the outset to thank the staff for the good work that they do, particularly on capital projects. I know it's a challenge with so many districts all wanting improvements in their capital stock — whether it be new schools or renovations; whether it be, in the case of the Sooke district, to meet the growing demand; or whether it be just because they're archaic buildings.
So my thumbs-up to the staff and the minister for coming through for school district 62. My question leads from that. That is: when can we see the cheque, Minister?
Hon. G. Abbott: I hope I can provide a little bit of information here to assist the member. The capital division of the Ministry of Education is very appreciative of the capital folks from Sooke school district. They are working very hard to make this a success. As the member knows, there are some complexities around sites and so on, but we believe that the school district is working very hard to make this successful.
They are working with Partnerships B.C. through the procurement review. That is close to completion or near
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completion. We expect that prior to the end of the school year, sometime in the next few weeks, the procurement review will be completed.
The district will then be moving to try to secure its project agreement. Again, we think that if all goes well, we should have that in place by the fall. The object, of course, is to get those two schools in the ground as quickly as we can.
J. Horgan: I thank the minister for a comprehensive update. I do know that the district staff are working very closely with ministry staff, and this will move as fast as possible within the confines of policy and practicality.
But it does raise another question, and that's around the configuration issues in the south Island. Staff and the minister will know the three school districts in the capital regional district, and they have different configurations. In fact, within the Sooke district, the Milnes Landing section has a different configuration to the Belmont zone.
I think, perhaps, the advent of the two new high schools will provide an opportunity to take some pressure off the K-to-5 or K-to-6 groupings, but there are still existing challenges.
I'm wondering if the staff and the minister have had any time to contemplate how we're going to manage. I mean, we heard from the member for Cariboo North that there are 17 babies in Wells. Well, there are a whole lot more than that in Langford. Regrettably, after we solve the high school issue we're going to have to focus our attention on the elementary schools.
I'm wondering if the minister has any thoughts on that, for my last question.
Hon. G. Abbott: The member comes from such a complex area. It's difficult to distil it in a short answer, but we'll do our best.
The overall interesting thing that's happening in the education system is that after a decade of demographically driven declines in the numbers of students, it's flattened out, and the number is starting to rise again. It is in the most rapidly growing places — like Surrey, portions of Langley, Central Okanagan, southern Vancouver Island — that we're seeing the strongest indicators of that.
That does present challenges for boards like Sooke. The school board, again to their credit, in partnership with the superintendent and other officials, have done some very good logistical planning around how they're going to manage all of this.
My understanding — based on the discussion, again, with our capital division, also known as Keith Miller — is that as they put those two high schools in place with grades 9 to 12, that will allow them some logistical flexibility on the other schools. They do have a plan to deal with this — because yes, we will see that demographic shift first bring the greatest pressure at the elementary level.
D. Thorne: I'll finish up with a last few questions. I wanted to go back for a moment to the supplement for the education plan. On page 15 it says that it's not confirmed for future years. I'd like to ask the minister if he could confirm that if the supplement is cancelled in future years, that the money will stay within the overall operating grant and that such a cancellation would not cause an absolute reduction in funding.
Hon. G. Abbott: Yes, it's in the base.
D. Thorne: One other question in this area. Many of the districts that will lose money as a result of the shift to the student location factor include the rural districts Cariboo-Chilcotin, losing $800,000 by the third year, and Peace River South, $750,000 by the third year. Can the minister explain why the calculation that seems to be trying to help rural districts actually removes funding?
Hon. G. Abbott: Further to the discussion we had earlier around the funding formula and how the B.C. School Trustees Association…. In their committee's analysis of the funding formula one thing that came through very clearly was the suggestion that the 100 percent funding protection was not going to be sustainable into the future. Of course, if you sustain declining districts at 100 percent over a long period of time, it ends up eating into the ability of growing school districts to get appropriate funding for their students.
Consistent with that advice from the B.C. School Trustees Association, we put in funding protection at the 98.5 percent level. As an example, even if a school district, let's say, declined 2 percent or 3 percent or 5 percent year over year, under a 98.5 percent funding protection their funding would not decline more than 1½ percent. That's why the numbers work out the way they do in the districts that the member cited.
I have had the opportunity to meet with those districts. They are, in fact, supportive of this change. They recognize that the number of students they are serving is falling. As a consequence, I think they feel that this funding protection at 98.5 percent is appropriate and sound and sustainable, from their perspective.
D. Thorne: Thank you to the minister. I did have a couple of other areas, just a couple of questions. I understand from Mr. Chair that we want to wrap it up. I'm wondering if I can just read them in, and we can get the answers sent to us.
In the distributed learning area I would like to know how many students were enrolled in DL courses in the previous school year, or the most recent year with available data; what the completion rates for those courses were; and if the completion rates have been increasing, decreasing or staying the same.
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I would also like to know the results from the satisfaction survey, which are not available on line, for distributed learning. Would we be able to get this data, or could it be made available publicly?
The last area I had a couple of questions on is international students. I know that the overall target for new international students is, I think, 47,000, or at least very close to that. I'm wondering what the specific target for the K-to-12 education system is and what the ministry is currently doing to try and bring about this kind of growth, or the growth that we're hoping for. I guess that's basically it for now.
I'd like to thank the minister and the staff. It's always a pleasure. I just ask that the next time I'm involved in estimates that the chairs and tables be real-people-size rather than so small, because I find it very difficult sitting for four hours in these little tiny chairs at the little tiny desks. Other than that, it's been great.
On Vote 18: ministry operations, $5,308,638,000 — approved.
Hon. G. Abbott: In conclusion, I want to thank the opposition Education critic and the members for their very thoughtful questions during the course of Education estimates. We will endeavour to provide, as quickly as we can, answers to the final questions, which were put on the record. We'll get answers to those as quickly as we can.
I will personally, hon. Member, take leadership in trying to get us all desks the size of the committee chairs so that we can recline much more comfortably the next time we meet here.
D. Thorne: Just higher.
Hon. G. Abbott: Just higher, okay. Higher would be good.
With that, hon. Chair, I move the committee rise, report completion of the estimates of the Ministry of Education, and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:17 p.m.
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