WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 1997
Volume 4, Number 18
[ Page 3165 ]
The House met at 2:05 p.m.
The Speaker: Before calling for introductions, I am going to exercise the prerogative of the Chair and make the first introduction. Joining us this afternoon is a man who will be no stranger to most of you, a former Speaker from this assembly, John Reynolds. Would you please make him welcome.
G. Wilson: It's my pleasure to again extend a warm welcome to Mr. Reynolds, who is with us today. Mr. Reynolds was Speaker at a time when I, as an unelected leader, needed access to these facilities, these buildings. He was the most gracious of Speakers, the most open and most non-partisan, from my perspective, and certainly allowed me the opportunity to have the seats in the gallery reserved and set aside so that I could participate, even from afar, in the proceedings of this House.
Mr. Reynolds is no stranger to the combat of political battle and is now back in combat as a Reform candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast. We welcome him back in Victoria, and I would ask all the House to wish him the best and Godspeed in his endeavours.
B. McKinnon: It gives me great pleasure to introduce another grade 5 class of 27 students and their teacher, Ms. Douglas, from Pacific Academy in Fraser Heights in Surrey-Cloverdale. I would like the House to make them welcome.
G. Plant: I am delighted today to know that John Ratel, who is the director of government affairs for the British Columbia Automobile Association and its almost 700,000 members, is with us in the gallery. I ask the House to make him welcome.
R. Thorpe: It is with pleasure that I introduce some visiting constituents today: Louise and Murray Webb. Murray has recently retired in Penticton. Louise and Murray are visiting here with Louise's mother, Mary Sachs, and she is from Oliver.
Mrs. Sachs has just recently published her own account of her life with her husband, called Determination. It highlights their trip -- leaving from Delisle, Saskatchewan, on October 26, 1939, and travelling across the Prairies in a customized house trailer drawn by two horses. Would the House please make these guests very welcome.
Hon. C. Evans: Joining us today from the Peace to talk about agricultural issues are Jean Leahy and Patrick Michael. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. D. Miller: Visiting the Legislature today is a very important gentleman, the consul general from Spain to Canada. I would ask the House to make welcome Jose Antonio Zorrilla.
C. Clark: In the galleries today we have a very old friend of mine from when I used to participate in this House in Universities Model Parliament. His name is Ken Dickerson, and I hope the House would please make him welcome.
MOTOR VEHICLE AMENDMENT
(SUBSTANCE ABUSER REHABILITATION) ACT
G. Plant presented a bill intituled Motor Vehicle Amendment (Substance Abuser Rehabilitation) Act.
G. Plant: Mr. Speaker, despite the threat of harsh penalties and the continuing efforts of police, the scourge of impaired driving continues to plague British Columbia. In 1995 there were no less than 146 alcohol-related traffic deaths and almost 5,000 alcohol-related crash injuries. The cost of impaired driving in financial terms is staggering -- over $200 million a year -- but the cost in wasted lives and destroyed families is yet more tragic.
Far too many impaired drivers are repeat offenders. Fully 57 percent of those charged with impaired driving have had a similar charge within the last five years. Impaired driving is not just a traffic safety issue, however; it's also a health issue. As many as 85 percent of first offenders have a significant problem with the use of alcohol. It's long past time to deal with these problems.
This bill, if enacted, would give the superintendent of motor vehicles the power to require drivers to submit to assessment and, if necessary, rehabilitation for substance abuse. The bill also prohibits persons convicted of impaired driving and related offences from driving until such time as they have been assessed for substance abuse problems and, if necessary, have undertaken rehabilitation.
My plan would impose no cost on government. Convicted offenders would be required to pay for assessment and counselling. My goal is to make our streets and highways safer for all who use them. Successful substance abuse counselling would result not only in safer streets but in healthier families, as well. It's time for government to take the steps necessary to ensure that drunk drivers not only lose their licences but also are forced to become responsible for their substance abuse problems.
Bill M207 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.
SCHOOL DISTRICT FUNDINGA. Sanders: Hon. Speaker, it seems that the NDP's own members don't believe the government's promises on education. Among these is New Westminster trustee and NDP member James Janzen. He said: "A minister is hired, and an hour later he's an expert. His ignorance is vast; his arrogance is vaster." He went on to say: "This government got caught with their hand in the cookie jar once regarding the budget, and now they want to balance the budget on the backs of children." Can this minister tell me why students and parents should believe him when it's clear that his supporters do not?
Hon. P. Ramsey: This government has set out to protect education, and we are doing so. School boards, including the New Westminster school board, have
[ Page 3166 ]
received the highest per-student funding that any school district in this country has received this year -- bar none. I am pleased to report that all school districts have now submitted their budgets for the next year, and all of them have submitted balanced budgets.
[2:15]A. Sanders: By law, school boards have to submit balanced budgets, something that we would look forward to from this provincial government.
Another NDP trustee, Vasant Saklikar, is urging the board to explore the possibility of suing the provincial government and the Ministry of Education for breach of the School Act. The minister was so fond of Mr. Saklikar that as Minister of Health he appointed this gentleman to the New Westminster board of health in 1994. If the minister was so confident in 1994 with these people's opinions, why three years later is he now ignoring them?
Hon. P. Ramsey: School districts around this province have carried through with the task that I know was not easy for many of them, and that was to take the increase in funding that we have provided this year -- the sixth increase in funding in a row for school districts tabled by this government
I gave them a clear challenge. I said, through the amalgamation process: "We're not going to demand that you do what the Liberals asked for and reduce budgets by $50 million; we're only going to ask that you reduce your budgets by $27 million in non-classroom services." And they have done it -- including New Westminster.
I have talked to the New Westminster press on this issue. I only hope that as the school trustees in New Westminster consider legal options, they don't spend any public money on it. Classrooms are more important.
C. Clark: Clearly the member for New Westminster has taken a beating, trying to defend this government's cuts to education in his own local riding. The NDP school board chair said that the ignorance of that MLA is quite evident. Another NDP trustee has said that it has prompted him to wonder whether his MLA can add and subtract -- which I think is a problem that's endemic on that side of the House.
Will the minister put an end to the member's confusion and tell him, clarify for him, that per-student funding has indeed been cut in the city of New Westminster?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I said before, and I'll say it again: I'm a former teacher, and I wish we had even more money to give school boards. This is a good budget for school boards. It's the best budget for our children of any government in Canada, and we're going to continue to make sure that children and education stay at the top of our priority list. That's where it's going to be.
I keep hearing from the opposition that somehow they've now had a conversion: they want to spend more on education after fighting the entire election on spending less. For them to stand up today, after their leader has said that the federal government should have cut more to transfer payments for health and education, that it didn't go far enough
C. Clark: If this is indeed such a good budget for education, perhaps the minister can explain to this House why in New Westminster, which has among the lowest costs for administration in the province and which is third-highest in terms of spending money in the classroom, is still facing a $900,000 shortfall as a result of this budget. The member for New Westminster has even been forced to concede that there is a problem with the funding formula.
Can the minister tell us if he agrees with his colleague that there is indeed a problem with the funding formula for schools in British Columbia?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Actually, a discussion of the funding formula might better take place during estimates, and I welcome a dialogue with the member during them.
Let me say this. The funding formula
The Speaker: Order, members. Please, let's hear the answer.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Hon. Speaker, we have a funding allocation formula in the K-to-12 education system that takes the $3.5 billion budget for school services and distributes it equitably to 59 school districts. Every year aspects of this formula are reviewed, and where changes are required they are made.
I have invited the New Mestwinster
Hon. P. Ramsey:
M. de Jong: If it's any consolation to the minister, the trustees in New Westminster have the same difficulty pronouncing his name, I'm sure.
The Speaker: Order, members. Let us hear the question.
M. de Jong: Those trustees are frustrated and they're afraid. The question they ask is: who besides them is going to speak up for the students in New Westminster? It won't be the NDP, and it won't be the member for New Westminster. They won't speak up for those students.
Maybe the minister could help us one more time. For those of us who don't understand his new math, explain to us how a $52-per-pupil reduction in funding actually equates with his supposed commitment to improving front-line services.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Parents and students across this province are concerned with making sure that education remains a top priority. That's why we were re-elected last year, hon. Speaker. And that's why in this budget we have preserved every bit of funding for special education, which will go up again this year; every bit of funding for aboriginal education, which will go up again this year; and every bit of the $10 million-a-year technology fund to improve the access of our students to new technology in our schools. Every bit of that money has gone to school districts across the province.
[ Page 3167 ]
Hon. Speaker, they are afraid. What they're afraid of is a Liberal government which would carry out its clear promise to slash education funding.
M. de Jong: The minister's ability to avoid answering the question, Mr. Speaker, maybe qualifies him to write a prospectus for Bre-X. But the fact of the matter is he refuses to address the key issue, which is a $52-per-pupil reduction in funding. He's going to have to answer for that; the member for New Westminster is going to have to answer for that.
Let me ask the minister this: how many more students, how many more school boards are going to have to speak out or threaten legal action against this minister and this government before he stands here and honestly admits that his supposed commitment to education is a scam and a sham and there is no plan?
Hon. P. Ramsey: My word, hon. Speaker. We build 95 new schools, and they say it's not enough. We fund an increase for education in the province for the sixth year in a row at the highest per capita rate, and they say it's not enough. This is the same opposition that, when the federal government cut $400 million out of transfer payments last year and another $300 million this year, drastically threatening our ability to deliver on health and education, requiring us to
The Speaker: Order, members. Order, members on both sides. Let's hear answers and hear questions. Minister, please wrap it up.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Cuts to transfer payments clearly made it difficult and resulted in cuts to virtually every other ministry of government in order to put money into health and education. And what did this opposition say? The cuts weren't deep enough. That's their record on protecting education, and Lord help students if they ever form government.
LEASED VEHICLE FOR
CHAIR OF B.C. TRANSIT
When we last saw Derek Corrigan, he was rolling in some of the $120,000 he received for his work as the part-time chair of B.C. Transit.
An Hon. Member: A part-time job?
D. Symons: Yes, a part-time job. But that's not all. It turns out that the chair of B.C. Transit can't get to and from work by bus or by SkyTrain; he needs a company car.
Can the minister responsible for B.C. Transit tell us why on earth she would allow her part-time chair to lease a Saab 900 at taxpayers' expense?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I'll read a letter into the record that's dated April 29 to Derek Corrigan.
"Yesterday, I was informed that B.C. Transit board policy has allowed for the lease of a 1996 Saab 900 for your use as chair. The lease of this vehicle is inconsistent with the other major Crown corporations provide to chairs. Clearly, the lease of this vehicle contradicts government's policies to get our financial house in order.D. Symons: It's rather interesting that after the Liberal opposition FOIs that information, the minister suddenly puts out a
"I would like this matter brought to the board's attention at the earliest possible time. I expect the board to reconsider its policy of providing the chair with a vehicle
. . . .Also, I would like the board to consider all options in terminating the lease for the 1996 Saab 900 to minimize the cost to the corporation."
Can the minister responsible tell us why she would have given, in the first place, the authority or the ability to lease for $760 per month rather than use a three-zone bus pass?
Hon. J. MacPhail: I would think that this Liberal opposition would quit while they're ahead, but I will answer this question.
Hon. J. MacPhail: Actually, that's true -- quit while they're behind.
The boards of Crown corporations set the policy for remuneration. When it did come to my attention, at the same time that it came to your attention, I acted immediately and took action. The lease will be terminated, and the appropriate policies of B.C. Transit will be followed.
If the hon. member would like to say that there's some good use out of their FOI-ing every single thing in the Legislature, I give them credit for that.
G. Farrell-Collins: I always thought the government was elected to manage the Crown corporations, not the opposition.
It was interesting, because while we were surfing the Net, we came across some comments about the Saab 900. Erik Carlsson, the legendary Saab rally driver, said: "The Saab feeling is all about having full control on the move."
To the minister responsible for B.C. Transit: will she confirm that the real reason she and the NDP-appointed B.C. Transit board allowed Derek Corrigan to choose a Saab 900 is because "AutoWeek" called the turbocharged edition: "A car with attitude and a social conscience to go along with it"?
Hon. J. MacPhail: When it came to my attention
The Speaker: Order, members. I'm sure we all want to hear this answer.
Hon. J. MacPhail: When it came to my attention that the chair had rented a Saab 900, I actually had to find out what a Saab 900 was. But I will say that the minute this issue came to our attention, we took immediate action to put our fiscal house in order throughout all of the Crown corporations.
[ Page 3168 ]
I would expect, with the management of the official opposition's own monetary matters -- such as $1 million mailouts, surfing the Net, etc. -- that they would take the same responsible action and put their fiscal house in order.
The Speaker: The bell terminates question period.
TOURISM BRITISH COLUMBIA ACT
(second reading continued)
T. Nebbeling: Yesterday, when I started to speak on Bill 9, I started to express some of the surprise I experienced when members opposite started to take credit for the major role the tourism industry plays today in job creation and in bringing wealth to this province.
I was really surprised, because as I explained yesterday, many of the good things that tourism developed in the eighties have been undone in the last four or five years. I will not repeat all of the elements that were brought in, but let it suffice to say that the many tools that were used in the past by the tourism industry to sell abroad the product called British Columbia and the beauty of British Columbia abroad have disappeared over the last five, six years, unfortunately. Had that not been the case, I think we would have seen even more spectacular results in bringing tourists here and creating opportunities. Having said that, I think it is important also to recognize at this point with Bill 9 that the role of the tourism industry up to now has been a very major one indeed in contributing to that success. There are a number of players in the tourism industry that can claim credit for the results that we received today.
Tourism Victoria has been an incredible contributor in spreading the word about the beauty of this area, and it has worked the Asian market especially. The Asian market, no doubt, will develop even more in the future into a major contributor to the industry and thereby to wealth creation in this province. I can say the same thing for Tourism Vancouver. The same goes for the Okanagan tourism board and for an organization I've been a member of as well, the Whistler Resort Association.
I mention these four organizations, because these are the four that over the last couple of years have recognized that the money that was coming from this government was totally insufficient to create an infrastructure that would bring the most bang for our buck, if that is the proper expression. The one complaint the industry has always had, of course, is the lack of proper funding.
Considering that we're now looking at Bill 9, which will create a commission -- an advisory group to the government
The point is that there are tremendously talented people in the industry today that want to participate, and they certainly hope they can do that through this special operating agency. The one thing that is immediately clear is that funding has always been lacking to really get the full impact of tourism promotion in this province, and the past funding has been reduced even more. Although $18 million may look like a lot of money, if you see what this $18 million has to do on a global basis, it truly does not in any way give the commission the tools to effectively make tourism a bigger and more contributing industry.
Up to now, there has been a lack of vision by the ministry when it comes to tourism. Like I said before, the results that we see today are definitely because of the industry itself having taken on responsibility -- and with that, often excessive costs. When I speak about this government's lack when it comes to tourism, I'll give you one example. Last year we had a tremendous opportunity to showcase British Columbia throughout the world. As some of you may recall, we had a spectacular event in the Sea to Sky corridor; it was the Eco-Challenge. This was an event where teams from all over the world went into the wilderness for a week and had to basically survive on rations under very difficult conditions. It's an event that very few of us could ever participate in but many of us like to watch on TV.
The Discovery Channel, the American operation, filmed the whole Eco-Challenge, and this televised program goes to 140 countries. It consists of five one-hour programs that have been bought by 140 countries. At the time Discovery was in Whistler partaking in the filming of Eco-Challenge, the offer was made that in every program there could be a vignette: "This was filmed in British Columbia, Canada." This would have been a tremendous tool to promote Tourism B.C. for a very small cost. We are not talking hundreds of thousands of dollars; we are talking less than $100,000. This offer by the Discovery Channel to broadcast the Whistler pictures at that cost is just a phenomenal offer. Unfortunately, the government did not take the Discovery Channel up on the offer. Since that time, I've been in Australia and in a number of countries in Europe. Believe it or not, I've seen these programs from the Discovery Channel in all these countries. So this story is to illustrate why the government is really missing the boat so often when there are opportunities to showcase British Columbia abroad.
To see an agency formed that will indeed help the tourism industry to become even bigger will have my strong support. When we go into committee with this bill, I hope that I and my colleagues will be able to present some amendments that will make the bill more effective and allow the people who will sit on that board to create the biggest bang for the tourism buck that we have available. If we do that as a partnership, this side and the government side can create a bill that will help tourism continue to be one of the major economic pillars and job creators in this province.
H. Giesbrecht: I rise in support of Bill 9, the Tourism British Columbia Act. When I walked into the debate as it was proceeding yesterday, it was certainly a slightly different tone than what I'm hearing at the beginning of today's debate. And that's probably a good thing. But it was fascinating listening to the debate. One expects when an issue like this, which has the unqualified support of the tourism industry, is brought to the
[ Page 3169 ]
floor of this House that the opposition would dispense with the usual negative criticism and endorse it and that we could go on with life. But no, true to form, they tear it apart and criticize and spread misinformation about the state of the tourism industry in B.C. in the hope that if they shout long and loud enough, people will actually believe them.
The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi made the suggestion that just because those on this side of the House actually support a bill that's endorsed by the industry and want to see it proceed, somehow that's equivalent to taking credit for all of the gains in tourism over the past six years. I don't know where one would draw that conclusion from. At least we on this side of the House recognize that there are some actions that government can take that can help. In this case, when it was supported by the industry, it seems strange that they wouldn't also take that position.
Listening to the rhetoric -- I'm specifically referring to the member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain and the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi because I sat through some of their speeches -- I began to wonder if they had attended the same announcement that I attended about a month ago. Tourism B.C.'s John Williams was there and Pat Corbett, the chair of the Council of Tourism Associations of B.C. They all said good things about it. Some of the things they said weren't even included in the news release. They should have been, because they were extremely complimentary about the work that had been done by the Minister of Small Business, Tourism and Culture and the Premier. They were quite optimistic about the results of this particular initiative. So I kept wondering whether or not I was actually in the same room or attended the same function.
But you know, sometimes ideology overrides common sense, and they've been in the critical mode for so long that maybe it's kind of hard to get out of it. Whenever there's some good news, they tend to object to that. Some of them, of course, have admitted that they'll vote in favour of this bill -- and I think that's great -- but it seems strange after they spend all their time speaking and trashing it, and the public must really be wondering about the kind of political game that's being played. It's small wonder that the opposition is sometimes viewed as lacking leadership or focus.
So if the stakeholders are pleased, why wouldn't the opposition be pleased? That's the sort of question I keep asking myself in listening to the debate. I think it's just because they can't stand to see the government getting it right. That's fundamentally what it's all about. So the opposition's position of speaking against and then voting for is somewhat puzzling and, some in my constituency would say, somewhat juvenile.
I want to get back to something the member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain raised in her speech. Apparently she breezed into my constituency one day and talked to a few people and came up with all kinds of pessimistic views of what the tourism industry was going to do. I should assure her that the member for Bulkley Valley-Stikine and I have been working on that for some time, and there will be a resolution. So there is no cause for alarm. But she did say that she had talked to somebody who said that the new fishing fees were going to cost him $100,000 and that he only earned $45,000 off his lodge. I did a quick calculation here. If the new fees were going to cost that much, that meant the individual was probably eligible for around 2,500 rod-days, which sell for something like $400 to $500 a day. Of course, the number that I get in terms of the revenue created is over $1 million, and I keep wondering how this could be. So I think the facts were wrong somehow. What the member didn't do, of course -- and this is critical in terms of getting a sense of the mood of the general population up there -- was
Just to make the point, I thought I would read a portion of what was written in the local paper, in the column "Skeena Angler" by Rob Brown. He apparently got on the Internet and followed some of the debate that the Americans were having around the time that all this news was out there. From an American fisher, this was the comment:
"B.C. should not have to feel like some Third World nation where foreigners come in and extract most of the value of their natural resources. Even with catch and release, we do extract value. Every foreign angler takes up time and space on a stream that, theoretically at least, could have been utilized by a B.C. citizen. We don't have to like it, but we must respect their sovereignty."So if she had talked to some of the local anglers, who have been quite supportive in terms of the new measures -- albeit there were some problems which are being worked out -- I think she would have got a slightly different view.
[2:45]Then, of course, yesterday the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi said:
"We are looking today at a special operating agency for one reason. It's not this government's initiative, not this government's generosity towards the tourism industry -- because up to very recently many members opposite, including the minister, have been making very negative statements about the tourism industry as far as opportunity, jobs and wages are concerned."I remember that on this side of the House we were asking him to quote something from Hansard where that was the case, or to provide some evidence of this. Instead, he got off on some tangent about the member for Skeena and how I had said: "What about terrorists?" Well, hon. Speaker, I never raised the subject of terrorists. What I challenged him to do was to come up with some evidence of that, and he was unable to do so. In other words, it simply wasn't correct.
I have to go back to some of the highlights in terms of what's in this particular act. Now, the highlights aren't secret; there has been lots of documentation presented in terms of what it's expected to do. The information says that it will contribute to revenue and job growth in B.C.'s tourism industry, stimulating 25,000 new jobs by the year 2001; that it provides a secure, permanent funding formula based on a percentage of the existing hotel room tax that will strengthen Tourism B.C.'s ability to develop long-term marketing and development strategies -- that's got to be good; and that it provides increased revenues for Tourism B.C. as the industry grows -- now, that's got to be good. I can't understand why they would object to something like that. It gives Tourism B.C. greater flexibility to capitalize on new opportunities in the competitive world tourism market -- that's got to be good -- and it allows Tourism B.C. to operate closer to the private sector, giving industry greater influence over marketing and promotional activities, the job they know best. And it provides for a 15-member board of directors representing the diverse components of B.C.'s tourism industry -- there's the avenue for consultation that's built into the act.
So, hon. Speaker, I can't see from anything suggested there that any of the opposition would be anything but supportive of this particular initiative. But they've tried to paint a bleak picture of tourism in B.C. Just for the record, since 1991 the number of tourism-related businesses in B.C. has grown from about 10,000 to more than 15,000. Over the past six years tourism revenue has grown from $4 billion to an estimated $7
[ Page 3170 ]
billion, and it's more than $7 billion now. Between 1990 and 1996, B.C. realized a 12 percent annual compounded growth in direct entries from overseas and 3 percent annual compounded growth in U.S. direct entries. Compare that to the 7 percent and the 1 percent for Canada respectively, and you get a sense of how vital and how good the tourism industry is in B.C.
Over half of all visitors to B.C. travel outside Victoria and Vancouver; those are the ones we'd like to attract up to my constituency. Here's an opportunity for Tourism B.C. to undertake some initiatives that would encourage people to go outside the urban areas and the lower mainland. I think there's an excellent opportunity for that to be achieved. It's the fastest-growing industry in B.C. All the gloom and doom from that side of the House is nothing more than a figment of their imagination. Hotel and motel stays are on the increase, which means that B.C. tourism revenue would increase.
Now, there's a valid debate on how much money is enough to promote tourism. If a $100 million investment produces $7 billion in tourism revenue, it doesn't necessarily follow that if you spent $200 million in investment, it would create $14 billion in tourism revenue. There has to be some common sense exercised in where you put that. That's what Tourism B.C. is supposed to do. They're the ones in the business, and they're the ones that will have that expertise. That's what we have said all along, notwithstanding some of the comments made by members opposite.
This new independent agency will be responsible for marketing B.C. as a tourism destination. They have the expertise to make the best use of tourism investment dollars. In fact the tourism industry, unlike many, has an awful lot of volunteers that assist in providing activities and attractions for tourists coming into this province. It's one of those industries that is worthy of that kind of support and that kind of consistent funding. So I'm pleased that the minister and the Premier undertook this initiative. I speak in favour, and I'll also vote in favour. That's the only principled position to take in this particular case.
V. Anderson: I rise to speak to Bill 9, Tourism British Columbia Act. In doing so, I would like to respond to the member for Skeena, because he asked why we had some questions about it when the stakeholders were pleased with this development -- and when we had commented on many good aspects of it, as well. In response to that, hon. member, the questions are asked
There are some reasons for concern. The member for Skeena just talked about it being an independent body, but at best it's semi-independent because out of the 15 directors, only ten of the 15 can be recommended to come from the constituency. The other five are appointed by the government itself. And even those ten
The member for Skeena was commenting about questions that he had put to the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, but the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi assures me that there had been no conversation between them and that there were no questions either asked or answered. So we have a concern about things that are stated that have actually not taken place.
I come to the purpose of this act because that's the essence of the undertaking, and I would like to read it: "The purpose of the corporation is to promote development and growth in the tourism industry to increase revenue and employment in that industry throughout British Columbia and to increase the economic benefits generated by the industry." They're all very good and proper undertakings that we've also discussed with members of the tourism industry.
But one item is not mentioned, except in one word in passing -- that is, the "diversity" of our population. One of the realities of our country that we're very proud of and pleased with is the diversity of our population and the multicultural heritage of our people from coast to coast, north to south. That's a heritage which reaches around the world and has been getting increasing recognition and attention. I would like to mention and recommend that the minister, when she has the opportunity, give us some suggestion as to how she sees the diversity of our country -- its cultural heritage, the opportunity to share with other countries around the world our strengths and our lessons -- being reflected in this new body they have created, this tourism council.
I think that's a very important part of the opportunity we have. Tourists may come here not because they have money to spend, not just because they create jobs -- both of which are important -- but because they're able to come here and share their culture with our culture and our culture with their culture. We are living in a world where the multicultural reality is more important than ever. We need to learn to share together with one another in ever more increasing and effective ways -- to understand each other.
To understand each other even in the way we do business or the way that we serve people who come here from around the world, there needs to be a continual development of our appreciation of the cultures and customs of the people with whom we associate. We need to understand that the way we do business is not necessarily the way they are used to doing business, and we need to make some favourable adjustments for that.
They come here to learn not just about the scenery and the country and not just to go skiing and fishing but also to learn about our culture and our history and our method of being able to live together in harmony one with the other without taking away from the validity of each of our particular cultures. So I think there's a very important element that needs to be stressed here and highlighted in the activities in which we are engaged.
That's a point I hope the minister will deal with when she responds. I ask the minister: what opportunities do they have in mind when we come -- and we'll discuss this more in committee stage -- to give special training in multicultural approaches and understanding to those people who are employed in the tourist industry who can share our culture and our history with them? It's not only a one-way street,
[ Page 3171 ]
because the sharing of culture as people come into our communities
I was recently at a festival put on by the Vietnamese people, and I have not been to any better celebration or festival than I was on that particular day. They may not be large in numbers, but they are great in warmth and in cultural history. It was a real privilege to be able to attend their event, which began at 12 noon and went until almost 5 o'clock in the afternoon. There was one presentation after another of their heritage and their culture, with no repetition, by young people of early school years up to senior adults -- the whole range of their population.
In the planning for tourism, I'm asking the minister how they take into account the many ethnic community associations that are able to share their culture and their history. Have they taken into account the kinds of festivals that go on throughout the year that these people may be able to participate in and contribute to as they share in our country?
Tourism is not just about making money, although that's important for those who are employed by it. It's not only about providing entertainment for people who come, but it's also about providing cultural interaction and cultural exchange. Because in the world in which we live, that cultural exchange is extremely important.
[3:00]I've mentioned before and I highlight in this particular discussion the illustration which impressed me a number of years ago when the United States and China did not have open relationships with each other. There had been diplomatic attempts to try and establish something, but the breakthrough was the international ping-pong tournament, when the ping-pong players of the United States went to China and took part in that tournament. They had the opportunity to interact, and the doors began to be open. At one of the award nights of our Sport B.C. I had the privilege to sit beside the person who had been coaching the Chinese team in that particular event, who is now living in Burnaby, I believe, and is coaching here in Canada. That intercultural interaction is of fundamental importance, and I trust it will be highlighted in what we're presenting here in our undertaking.
It's very important that we have the privilege to ask the minister if she will highlight for us what opportunities and responsibilities she sees being available in the whole development of this undertaking in this act. I think it's a good move. The association -- those involved in tourism -- are excited about the privilege. I trust that they will have the opportunity to continue independently to be able to do the things they need to do and that the minister will support them. I particularly trust that the minister will support them with the multicultural support that they will need most in this undertaking.
R. Neufeld: I rise to reply to Bill 9, the Tourism British Columbia Act. To put on the record from the start, I support the act. I will be voting in favour of it, although coming from the north, I do have a few concerns about what could happen to the tourist industry in the north if any minister that is in charge of Tourism B.C. is not careful about how they select the folks that will represent the different regions of British Columbia.
At the present time, we in the northeast -- in fact, a good part of British Columbia -- are represented by the Peace River Alaska Highway Tourist Association. I believe it's one of 28 organizations across the province that make up COTA. We have been fairly successful in supporting tourism and encouraging more tourism in the northeast. Many of you will know that the northeast part of British Columbia -- the Alaska Highway -- has a great historical record. It's well known around the world. It's one of the wonders of the world, I always say -- the construction of it and the reason for it. Along that corridor there is some of the greatest scenery and wildlife in North America. In fact, the area just north of Fort St. John and west of Fort Nelson is called the Serengeti of the North. It is country that covers a great part of the province. It encompasses all kinds of things other than economic activity in the oil and gas industry and forestry -- that being tourism.
The Peace River Alaska Highway Tourist Association has been very successful in encouraging people from Europe, specifically Germany, to come to that part of the province -- and not always just for hunting and fishing. Many of them come just to look at our great, vast country and take pictures and go home and talk about it. So we want to try and encourage that type of tourism in the north. The Guide-Outfitters Association brings people from all over the world -- and has, ever since we've had guide and outfitters in the north. People from all over the world come to the region that I represent. They hunt and fish and do all those things that they are not able to do at home because they don't have the wonderful real estate that we do.
Having said that, and having kind of laid out some of what we have in the north, I am rather surprised that the member for Skeena or the member for Bulkley Valley-Stikine are not as concerned as I am about what can happen with the creation of five or nine super-regions across British Columbia. What happens so often -- in fact, happens all the time -- is that we just go north of Vancouver a little way, and we kind of cut it off and say: "That's all of British Columbia -- and that's the rest."
All too often the north comprises British Columbia from 100 Mile House or Williams Lake north and thus gets funded less, thus gets less exposure, thus gets less representation on all the boards. It's consistent. On the B.C. Rail board, for instance
People in the north, people from the Peace River Alaska Highway Tourist Association and communities up and down the Alaska Highway all rely heavily on tourism traffic as much as businesses in Victoria on Government Street do in the summertime. Their shops are open late at night. It's no different on the Alaska Highway, except there are not quite as many tourists. That will come, because there are 250-some million U.S. citizens south of us that all want to visit the last frontier, that being Alaska. And they have to travel mostly through my area of the province or else Bulkley Valley-Stikine to get there, unless they go by water.
So it's with a bit of sadness that I've learned that of the nine tourist regions, the one that I live in will encompass
[ Page 3172 ]
about 50 percent of the land mass of the province. Unless I'm badly misinformed, I find it hard to believe that that would even be considered, especially knowing full well what has taken place in the past, with the representation of the Peace River Alaska Highway Tourist Association representing just the northeast and on up that corridor.
Now to all of a sudden say that 50 percent of the province -- I'll use that for a round figure; I'm not going to argue over 1 percent -- will be represented by one person on this board of 15 is unfair. I read the legislation, and part of it says that the public interest and the diversity of the population of British Columbia must be honoured. Rural, urban and regional interests must be honoured.
I have a copy of a clipping out of the Alaska Highway News, where the minister has been quoted. I want to thank her for coming to the north on some of her journeys around the province. She is on record as saying that the north will be fairly represented on the board of a newly created Tourism British Columbia independent agency. I appreciate that. When I read the newspaper, I was lulled into thinking, well, yes, the minister has said this, and that is what's going to happen.
Since that time, unfortunately, I've been given some information that the northern person may be someone from the region of the member for Skeena, or something to that effect. That is a very important and distinct part of British Columbia, and I'm not saying that a person from there wouldn't be welcome. What I am saying is that for marketing, the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Alaska Highway are two totally distinct and different regions of the province. Each has its own distinctiveness, and each has its vast area that has to be represented fairly on this board.
Those are the major concerns that I, as a representative of Peace River North, have with the legislation in total. Like I said when I started my remarks, I support the bill, and I think it's a move in the right direction. I guess I should probably qualify that. I have a bit of concern -- and this doesn't come from my area so much, but from myself -- that when the government, in all its wisdom, puts forward these Crown corporations, whether it's FRBC, Tourism B.C. or the new fisheries Crown corporation, there is always specific funding put in place for them. But what has happened in the past is that the funding is reduced or minimized to a certain degree after everything is in place.
I don't want to sound like a broken record, but the Local Government Grants Act is a very good example of that. When people, having once been, shall I say, suckered into the fact that there's a piece of the pie, and that's what they've got to live with, find out just a few years later, "I'm sorry, folks, we're not even going to consult with you; we're just going to cut a good part of it out," they become a bit suspicious of what could happen in the future.
Everybody understands -- I do -- that if things get really bad financially in the province, if there's a real recession or anything like that, then everybody would obviously suck in their belts and work a little harder with a bit less money. But we haven't seen that. We have the government telling us they're creating the most jobs of any province in Canada. On one hand, they are telling us that they have the best economy of any province in Canada, and so on and so forth, and B.C. is so wonderful. Then on the other hand, they're saying: "We have to take this money away, because we can't afford it anymore."
One begins to wonder just where all the money is going to and into what pot, and where it's being spent. Obviously people in British Columbia are not seeing a reduction in the personal taxes or the corporation taxes, or in all the hundreds and hundreds of fees that have been put in place or doubled or tripled or increased by a thousand percent over the last four or five years. Those are real concerns of the people I represent, and I think they're legitimate, genuine concerns.
I again say to the minister that we hope, and I hope, that after supporting the idea of having the Crown corporation administer this
The biggest concern I have is the fact that we in the north -- out of the Peace River country, the Alaska Highway -- will end up being lumped in with half of the province or even a third of the province. It's just far too large, too diverse, too different just to have one person. I know that out of the Peace River Alaska Highway Tourist Association recommendations have been made to the minister of three individuals, I believe, who would be acceptable to everyone in the region. I would hope that the minister
I hope that by saying those words to the minister, she will look closely at how the board is formed and where those people come from. It's not just my region of the province that she has to be very careful about. The northwest is distinct unto itself. Although it has some things in common with us in tourism, there are some things that are not in common with us -- how they promote tourism and how they derive their livelihood out of tourism.
With those few words, I hope that the minister will look carefully at the northeast and look favourably at the members who have been recommended by the Peace River Alaska Highway Tourist Association to be one of the board members of the 15-member board. With that, I will take my place.
[3:15]A. Sanders: I rise today to address the issue of tourism under the bill under discussion. Specifically, the member for Skeena, who has now had his turn, was concerned that tourism was growing and that the opposition was not in favour of this. Make no mistake, hon. Chair, we are very much in favour of it. I would have to say that the tourism industry is growing despite NDP policies, and it is arrogant of us in this House to take credit for our beautiful province as the reason our tourism industry has grown. It is not government. It has grown in spite of government and will continue to do so.
I come from a part of the province where tourism is vital. Overall, it is B.C.'s second-largest industry, contributing $7 billion annually to our economy. What we're looking at, however, in the Okanagan especially, is that since 1986 and Expo, we've had a yearly incremental increase in the Okanagan in tourism. The momentum is continuous.
What's very important in the Okanagan is that a tourism dollar is a virtual profit. When a tourist spends money in our communities, there is no implied demand on that cash. There are no hospitals and schools that need to be built for the cash
[ Page 3173 ]
given. There is straight cash going to jobs, profit and expansion within the community. In my specific instance, that is Vernon. Seventy percent of our tourism dollars are coming from British Columbia residents, about 5 percent from Asian residents and 10 percent from the U.S.A. We certainly get our share of all three of those groups in the Okanagan. It is the fastest-growing job sector in the province. Youth depend vitally on this industry for their entry-level jobs. Students require tourist jobs for their tuition funds. It is no use making places at universities for students if there are not jobs in the tourist industry for them to earn their tuition.
Recently there has been some concern that the government has tampered with the success of tourism programs. With its promise to create jobs and its desire for investment, tourism must be a primary focus in my area, yet there has been a drop in the funding that was to be set aside for tourism. Originally, in December 1996, the Minister of Transportation's budget was $25 million. Then a $10 million cut was vowed. Finally, there was enough fuss that an $18 million final figure was arrived at. No matter how it's delivered, a cut is still a cut, and the ministry is $7 million short. We are seeing that effect in Vernon, where this year, for the first time since I have been there, we will experience the closure of our Vernon tourism office.
Not only do the cuts plague the industry, but fees are critically important to the industry, as well. With a tour operator booking 8,000 people for trips that include a ferry pass, for example, a present $1 increase is an $8,000 hit to that operator. They must cover that or find another way to raise the income. Our industry is a growing one, and these small incremental changes can have huge impacts on people who have had to buy licences for their tours at this time. That money has come directly out of their pockets.
Presently, tourism funding is administered by the special operating agency, an independent board whose members are appointed by government. This SOA is a very useful tool, but many in the industry feel it could be less bureaucratic and more streamlined, with funds being channelled directly between the agency and the community.
As well, the opposition would prefer to see an independent board of directors. Speaker after speaker has made that point. We would prefer that to the existing system of appointed individuals, which is a common practice in the NDP government. From looking at the community health councils, hospital boards, etc., I do not feel that it has worked as well as it could. In fact, I think it skews the distribution of opinion quite considerably in favour of the present government, and that does not, in all cases, reflect community value systems.
Most ministry funds are distributed through the special operating agency under Partners in Tourism grants. Dollar for dollar, the government matches the money with community and projects. This is important for us locally in Vernon. On a hot summer day in Vernon, sizzling in traffic, it's hard to remember that tourists are an essential part of the economy of the area from which I come.
However, many of our tourists simply pass through the area on their way between the coast and the mountains, and we need to increase the number of individuals who stay. Our recent North Okanagan Council for Economic Development report suggested that much more could be done. We have not yet received our full designation as a tourist destination. We have beaches in Vernon, but they are not the same as the south Okanagan or Kelowna, in terms of access. Vernon is not situated directly on the lake, and other forms of recreation, such as hiking, must fill in the gap. Projects such as camping, fishing and hiking facilities are well suited to the area and offer alternatives to beach frontage. They are essential to our economy in the area of Okanagan-Vernon.
We have a number of wonderful facilities, from Silver Star all the way to the golf courses, which are certainly Canada-renowned and, in some places, North Americarenowned. We have agritourism, which is an area in Vernon I'm becoming very, very interested in. Many farming community members are using their lives and their farms as a form of tourism, offering tours to people in the Okanagan who are there as tourists.
We are trying to become a tourist destination market, but funding cuts from the ministry do not help. We've seen the impact of budget cuts in Vernon with the closure of the south office. This is important, because this means that people coming from that direction have nowhere to stop for information. To me that is counterintuitive if you're trying to increase -- or boasting about the increase of -- tourism dollars in B.C. This is a direct problem in terms of actually getting those people to stop in your community.
Since the majority of tourism funds from the ministry are dispensed by the SOA through Partners in Tourism, and since they're matched dollar for dollar, how are we going to be sure that we get our share in Vernon? It's easier for larger operators to raise funds than it is for the smaller towns. What we're hoping to do is look into pooling resources -- with smaller centres coming together in a regional tourism option -- in order to increase our funding. While tourism supplies jobs, labour implications reduce the number of people employed. Employment standards, WCB, etc., have reduced the number of people in our tourism employee categories. With forestry becoming less and less an engine in our area of the province, we are hoping, and trying to see if we can get -- in places like Lumby, for example -- an increase in tourism dollars through recreational development and local tourism initiatives.
One of the things that's come under recent legislation that is concerning the tourism industry in Vernon is the red tape that restricts access to tourism development. In the region called Keefer Lake, one of my constituents has a lodge there and has been trying to work to expand his fishing camp. He wants to make it into a year-round resort and has cabins and camping; and he does have a dream. Unfortunately, to expand his facilities to include mountain biking trails and winter recreation -- cross-country skiing, etc. -- he would have to develop a way to deal with the red tape and the lack of cooperation he finds in terms of the Ministry of Tourism. I think this is an area that we need to look at, and I will ask this minister to see if we aren't actually impeding the development of year-round tourism facilities in many of our areas.
As an engine for the provincial economy, forestry is decreasing in the Vernon area, tourism is increasing and the parameters are changing. We would very much like to see tourism become part of the sustainable growth that's essential for our area. On my behalf, I would like to have cooperation with our chambers, councils and regions. But I am looking to this government to really exercise the interest that they need to in the imposition of increased fees and licenses, such as the angling licence -- and what impact this will have on losing competitive edge for many of the facilities in my area. Through the SOA, I would also like to see a move towards more independence. I'm hoping that this minister will consider these things when she looks at the future of her ministry.
[ Page 3174 ]
J. van Dongen: I'm pleased to participate in this second reading debate of Bill 9, the Tourism British Columbia Act. I want to make a few comments from my perspective as critic for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I speak in support of the bill. I think that my comments probably relate to the issue of appointment of directors and the purpose and mandate of the bill, particularly the issues under the mandate that talk about the responsibilities of the corporation, the marketing of B.C. as a tourist destination, and also under section 4(1)(e) where the bill talks about "encouraging and facilitating the creation of jobs in the tourism industry."
As I travel British Columbia in my critic role, I'm always very struck by the natural beauty of the province, and I always wonder whether or not we are capitalizing on that natural beauty and those many opportunities throughout rural British Columbia for tourism -- whether it's fishing, hunting, sightseeing or any other form of passive or active recreation. I'm not very familiar with the tourism industry specifically, but as I said, I continue to wonder if we take full advantage of it. There's a fair bit of effort by the industry and by government to preserve the natural beauty of British Columbia, to maintain forest land for purposes other than just logging. We have a lot of parks; we have a lot of lakes. We try and be responsible environmentally. Again I say: I wonder if we are taking full advantage of that from a tourism point of view.
If I look at some of the aspects of tourism that intersect with the ministry I am involved in, I look at things like agritourism. There's certainly been some initiatives within the ministry and other ministries in government to promote, enhance and develop the agritourism sector. We've had initiatives, for example, working with the wine industry in the Okanagan. I just checked with my colleague from Okanagan-Penticton. Some of the initiatives that were started a year or a year and a half ago to try and take advantage of tourism opportunities through our wine industry in the Okanagan
Ecotourism is kind of a loaded description, and it's a very broad term. But, again, I don't think we are taking advantage and maximizing our opportunities in that area. I hope that in the course of establishing this Crown corporation -- establishing the board and working through its mandate -- that it does make the effort to specifically address the whole broad area of ecotourism to see what can be done to maximize economic activity, maximize jobs and maximize revenue to the province.
[3:30]The sports fishing sector, both the saltwater sector
The first one I want to mention has certainly had a fair bit of discussion, but given the implications of it, I think it warrants raising again. That is the whole issue of freshwater angling fees. There are really two issues there. One is having the necessary consultation, but also the necessary lead time for the industry when those types of announcements are made. In response to one of the comments by the member for Skeena, I know that there's a number of different aspects to the announcement on freshwater angling fees, but I think the one in particular that concerns the industry is a 400 percent increase in non-resident licence fees. This involves tourism dollars from outside the province; it doesn't directly involve people within the province.
But tourism dollars from outside the province
The other area that I want to mention with respect to the freshwater sector
The concern is that there have been massive increases, for various reasons, in the assessed values of a lot of these properties. While it's certainly in the interest -- and the rightful interest -- of the province to try and get a reasonable return on a public resource, some of the massive increases that we've seen in the past three or four years warrant a very serious and considered look by the government. The kinds of increases that have been brought forward are simply not realistic in terms of the economics of those operations.
These operations generate a lot of economic activity. They provide jobs, very often in rural areas where there are not a lot of jobs. They generate significant revenue to the province in terms of various types of taxes.
I understand that a lot of those operators are simply not paying the increases. A lot of them have said: "We will increase our lease payment to the province by 10 percent a year." So they're going further and further into arrears. I think that the government should take a good, honest look at this and see if this whole area can't be revisited and some new formula developed which is sustainable in terms of the business activity that these operations are in.
I think it's particularly important. From the perspective of rural British Columbia, again, a lot of the people who are involved in the tourism industry are restaurant and hotel
[ Page 3175 ]
operators. A lot of them are larger operators, but rural British Columbia really depends on these small businesses that are involved in the freshwater fishing area -- guiding, etc. So I would urge the Minister of Tourism to consult with her colleague in cabinet to see if it isn't warranted to do a review in that area.
I want to sum up, Mr. Speaker, by reiterating what I think a lot of the operators in the tourism sector require, and that is consistency, certainty, predictability, stability and an ongoing steady, predictable partnership with government. I think that's very critical. We've seen some examples in the last two years -- some of them involving the federal government in terms of the saltwater sport fishing sector last year, and some of them involving the provincial government this year -- that I think have been very damaging to the sector and to ongoing progress for all of us as British Columbians. So I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak to this bill, and I will be supporting the bill when it comes to a vote.
S. Hawkins: I would like to rise and speak to this bill. We heard from other speakers and we all recognize that the tourism industry is one of the largest industries in the province -- it happens to be one of the lifebloods of my constituency, located in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. We all know and recognize that it's one of the fastest-growing industries in B.C. Certainly this industry has many positive spinoffs in the way of economic growth and job creation. I heard the member for Skeena saying that the bill is supported by representatives of the tourism industry. That's very true. But it's also true that this industry has some very real concerns about this bill and the way the government might implement this bill. I'd like to raise some of these concerns.
The first issue I'd like to raise is the one of funding certainty over the next three years. In estimates last year I believe that $23 million was budgeted for this kind of agency. Over the course of the year, I understand, that $23 million dropped down to $18 million -- a 25 percent cut. They promised $23 million and they promised certainty, yet less than a year later we see a 25 percent cut in the funding that was promised. So this is a very real concern for the industry, because they do worry about certainty. And I'll tell you: we've seen the government promising certainty to other areas of the industry and to other groups.
An example comes to mind very quickly, and that is Bill 2, which we debated earlier. This government promised certainty, predictability and stability to local governments, to municipalities, for municipal grants. And what did we see? We saw them legislate it; we saw them promise it; we saw speaker after speaker on that side of the House get up and talk about how wonderful this government was and how the municipalities were going to get certainty, predictability and stability. And less than two years later -- just earlier -- we saw them vote to repeal the section that promised certainty, predictability and stability to local governments for grants, and now they've got nothing. They've got instability, they've got uncertainty, and they've got a government that they can predict will say one thing and do another. So that is a very real concern for the tourism industry in ensuring that there is some kind of funding certainty for this agency that's being set up.
Another concern I'd like to raise -- and certainly I'm hearing it from representatives of the tourism industry in my riding -- is about the independence of the new board. We really, truly hope, along with the tourism industry, that this board will be autonomous, that the stakeholders will have a real say in who gets appointed to this board and that this government is not going to stack this board with their friends and insiders who will do their bidding -- so if, for some reason, there happens to be a larger amount of money in the fund that's supposed to fund this agency, this government won't then say to their friends and insiders: "Hey, we're having a little bit of a problem with our budgeting. Pass that money off to us."
We've seen it happen. We saw it happen under FRBC, hon. Speaker. The tourism industry is very concerned about the independence of the board, and they hope that they have a real voice in who gets appointed to this board. It just sets a really bad example because, again, they say that this will be an independent board. Well, we'll certainly wait and see, won't we?
Another concern I raise -- again on behalf of my constituents -- is that, hopefully, this agency will be encouraged to market and promote all of B.C. We certainly heard speakers from this side of the House raise those kinds of issues. We saw speakers from this side of the House talk about promotion and marketing for all of B.C. and not just Victoria and the lower mainland, because there is country outside of Victoria and the lower mainland. Certainly, there's more to B.C. than just promoting the lower mainland and Victoria, and certainly there's more to B.C. than just promoting the lower mainland.
We heard the member for Peace River North talk about his riding, and I'll speak up for mine, because the people that work in tourism value individual enterprise. They're out there. They're putting their lives on the line; they're putting their livelihood on the line for these kinds of jobs.
[J. Doyle in the chair.]
If you're going to set up an agency like this, hopefully the government won't be just targeting the lower mainland. Hopefully, people from all over B.C. will be represented, and we hope that the marketing strategies and programs flowing from this agency will be fair and will promote the rest of B.C.
I heard the member for Skeena saying that all we do is criticize, that we're always negative. Well, we are supporting this bill. This side of the House is going to support this bill, because we do support the tourism industry, and we've talked to the representatives. But I think we also have to be responsible. Where there are shortfalls in this bill, where we need to raise some issues, where we need to raise concerns, we will do that. I think what we've heard from this side of the House are some very constructive concerns about the independence of the board and about certainty in funding, because that's what that side of the House is providing -- or saying they're promising.
We've seen over and over again that they've broken those kinds of promises. They say one thing and do another, so we're just raising that here, because that's what the industry is worried about. Twenty-three million dollars was budgeted last year. We've seen a 25 percent cut in their funding, down to $18 million. We're just raising that concern. That's what people in British Columbia expect us to do. It's been said over and over again, and not just from this side of the House. If you have been listening to people in the tourism industry, it is hard to trust this government when they set examples like that, when they break their promises, when they say they're going to do one thing and they do another. So we're raising those concerns.
[ Page 3176 ]
[3:45]Like I said, we will be supporting this bill, but I also want to say that this side of the House is going to be very vigilant. We'll be watching. We've seen agencies like this set up before, and we've seen them ripped off. We will be watching, and we'll make sure that we raise the issues for industry when they come up. We'll raise the issues and hold the government to account if they fall short of their commitments in this bill.
M. Coell: I'd like to offer a few comments on the Tourism British Columbia Act that we're debating today. I will be supporting this act because I think the intention of the act is sound. But I have one area of concern that I wish to address, and that is of the board that will be appointed to oversee the tourism act.
This government does not have a good reputation for appointing boards that are representative of the community. It has a reputation of appointing friends and insiders to boards, and I want to ensure that this board will represent the tourism community and the people of British Columbia as a whole.
Over the last 20 years, tourism has developed into a significant and world-class industry in this province. It's done that without a lot of government intervention and without a lot of centralized control of the industry. I hope that the government will recognize the history of tourism in this province, where it came from, and that where it's going will not become a bureaucratic and centralized control by the NDP government.
They have a reputation for wanting everything to be under their control, and I can assure you that tourism will be a disaster if it becomes part of this government's controlling mechanism. So I want to see that this board is independent of this government's manipulation and this government's continual desire to control everything in its grasp. Tourism is a success because of the men and women who work in that industry; it's not a success because of government manipulation and control. This board has to be independent, and it shouldn't be full of party hacks and insiders. It's got to be the people in this industry controlling this board, or it will be a failure. We'll be watching to make sure that this board is a success, but we'll be watching to make sure that it's not a way for this government to manipulate the industry and manipulate the people in the industry.
The intention of this act is sound. But as in many things this government does, the implementation won't be. That's where we are going to be watching very closely to make sure that this board acts in the best interests of tourism and employment, not of ideology and philosophy.
Hon. L. Boone: It gives me great pleasure to stand in support of this bill -- a bill that I want to give credit to the hon. member for bringing forward.
I can't help but mention and comment on the comments of the last speaker with regard to the boards that are out there. We have worked very hard in this province to get a cross-section of British Columbians to sit on all boards. When we came into power in 1991 those boards were represented very, very vastly by white, male individuals. There were very few females on those boards; there were very few aboriginals; there were very few people from the regions. We have worked extremely hard to make sure that there is representation on these boards from all sectors: women, aboriginal communities, visible minorities and multicultural organizations from the regions. That is what we have tried to do. For members to stand there and talk in such terms as the previous member did about people who often give their time and effort with no money whatsoever -- who put their time and effort into service to communities and service to the province -- I think is an absolute shame.
I can't help but be a little amazed when I hear some of the people saying: "We are very concerned about the cuts that have come in this ministry." Yes, I'm concerned about the cuts that have come in this ministry, as I'm concerned about the cuts that have come in my ministry. Just earlier, they were standing in this House complaining, because they were saying they weren't having enough money spent in education. We have made incredible cuts in every other area of this government in order to keep funding up for health and education -- incredible cuts everywhere. They're not ones that we want to make, but they're ones that are necessary for us to make sure that we can put the dollars where the province believes they are the most important: into education, into health care, into the services that are very important for everybody out there.
So yes, there have been cuts, and there have been cuts throughout this whole province in every other jurisdiction. But you can't have it both ways. You can't say: "Bring in a balanced budget
Hon. L. Boone: Hon. Speaker, the previous member
I believe it's time that the opposition over there really got their act together. Do they really want us to spend more money in everything? Is that what they want? Do they want the deficit increased? Do they want the debt increased? Or are they concerned, and they want us to realistically cut costs, bring in some reductions so that we can save those areas that we consider most important: health and education? You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say "Don't cut" in every other area, condemn those things and then demand more money at every opportunity, which is what this opposition does.
This is a good bill. This is a bill that will give tourism what they have been looking for and is one that I think will be good for all British Columbians.
G. Wilson: You know, I think only in this House will you get an argument and heckling and debate between two sides that both support the same thing. I find that quite interesting.
So let me enter into this debate and say that while the member for Okanagan West may speak for the Liberal side of this House, the Progressive Democratic Alliance does not support this bill. We don't support it, because we believe it to be poorly drafted legislation. We believe it to be, in principle, the wrong thing to be doing in the province at this time. It also requires that the government enact this bill and invoke retroactivity for law that is passed in May to make it retroactive to April 1, which, in principle, we cannot support at any time, because we believe it to be poor practice and poor public policy.
Let me speak to the reasons why. I know -- having been around this business long enough -- that the spin, of course, will go out to certain sectors of the tourist industry that we don't support tourism in British Columbia because we don't support this bill. That, of course, is absolute rubbish.
[ Page 3177 ]
What does this bill do? I think it's important as we speak in principle to this bill to talk about what it does. What this bill does is establish yet one more Crown corporation with a maximum of 15 directors -- all of whom will be appointed by this government -- who are going to hire a new chief executive officer who will no doubt be a representative of the principles and policies of this government. It says throughout this bill that the board must act in accordance with government policy. Throughout the whole bill, it talks about acting in response to government policy.
Hon. Speaker, I don't think that the tourist industry in British Columbia has been built on the basis of government policy. What is the government policy? Well, one of the government policies was to invoke a hotel tax, the very tax that now is going to be taken to finance this new Crown corporation. You want to promote tourism? Get rid of the hotel tax. Make it cheaper for people to come into this province and to live within this province and to travel within this province and to stay in the hotels of this province. Don't take as a source of revenue for your brand-new government Crown corporation a percentage of a portion of a tax that is in itself an impediment to tourism spending. The very funding base -- which was alluded to by one of the members in the Liberal Party, saying that security of funding is something that is going to have to be looked at -- is going to have to be addressed.
I can point to
G. Wilson: The minister says 11 percent. Well, certainly, depending on how you want to look at those numbers
This Crown corporation, the one we are debating here -- which the Minister of Transportation is becoming so focused on as I tend to diverge into comments on FRBC, and I'll stick to the point -- has exactly the same kind of financing scheme. If you read the back of this bill, what it says is that they're going to take a percentage of the 8 percent tax, which is essentially the hotel room tax. What that's going to do is it's going to take a percentage of that -- 1.65 percent -- and it's going to direct it into this Crown corporation. So it's one more opportunity for a government-appointed bureaucracy to take money out of the tax stream, put it into that bureaucracy and feed that bureaucracy in the name of promoting tourism.
Philosophically, in any direction, it's the wrong way to go. Tourism happens at the community level. Tourism happens with people who are predominantly small business operators, who are trying to put up services, whether it's in the fishing industry, where this government has just jacked up the fees on licences -- another impediment to tourism
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Do you want to promote tourism? Get rid of the increase in licence fees. That's the way to do it. Don't create a new Crown corporation, a new bureaucracy. Get rid of those licence fees. Make it more accessible for all British Columbians and people who travel to this province to be able to benefit from our tourism, whether they're involved in the hunting regulations, coming in for hunting, as part of an overall experience in British Columbia
[4:00]Hon. Speaker, we could go on and on and on. With respect to provincial campgrounds, look at the costs associated with camping in this province. If you want to look at just the general costs for people who come in from outside the province to spend money here, you will see that they are hit time and time and time again with taxes that this government has introduced.
Even the tourism industry -- yes, indeed, the tourism industry -- is affected by the corporation capital tax, not just the big banks. It's not just the big corporate banks. Even the poor ma-and-pa operators in the tourism industry are affected by the corporation capital tax.
G. Wilson: I see the minister is saying no. Well, clearly the minister needs to check it out. In fact, they are affected, and they pass those costs on to people who require their services in the form of tourism.
We have to look at what's being intended here. I'll tell you that any time you have the establishment of a new government-appointed Crown corporation, a new bureaucracy, that has as a source of funding a tax on the very industry that they're trying to support, you've really got to question whether or not this is a wise and sensible way to proceed.
Now, hon. Speaker, just to give support to what I'm saying, look at section 8 -- and I know we're not in committee stage, but we'll get there. Take a look at what it says under section 8(3): "The chief executive officer
[ Page 3178 ]
We've got job creation, new government job creation. We will now be hiring people out of the very revenues that should be going back to the communities, should be going back into the tourism industry, to feed this new system.
G. Wilson: I hear the minister over there saying: "No, no, that's wrong."
Hon. Speaker, when we looked at the establishment of the Crown corporation agencies, of FRBC, of ICBC -- and you can go through a whole host of them -- we warned -- this party, the PDA, anyway -- that if you establish those corporations, those corporations will grow because their whole raison d'�tre will require that additional expansion of revenue supply. So quite clearly what we are doing in this bill is creating a new Crown agency, a new Crown bureaucracy, that is going to be fed off the very revenues that are taken out of a tax on the very industry that we're trying to support. It simply is the wrong way to go.
So what should we be doing here? What are the alternatives here? Many members have already spoken -- at least members of the Liberal and Reform opposition have spoken, and I think quite correctly so -- about the need, the necessity, to make sure that we have a viable tourism industry, because quite clearly, tourism becomes the lifeblood of many small communities that are dependent upon it. One of the ways that the government ought to be acting is by providing assistance at the community level through core funding associated with community-based organizations and operators who can pull together -- whether it's through tourism associations, chambers of commerce or other community-based tourism-supported agencies -- to promote their communities. And you do it at the community level.
Notwithstanding the fact that section 4(2), under the mandate of this Crown corporation agency, doesn't say "must have" and it doesn't say "will have
What does that mean? Does it mean that the community is going to have access to those funds? Does it mean that at the community level they will be able to do on-the-ground tourism promotion where it's needed, which is at the community level? The answer is no. It will not happen that way. On that basis, we cannot support what they're attempting to do in this particular bill, because all regions will not be promoted. It clearly hasn't happened in the past, and notwithstanding the good intentions of this minister -- and I believe this minister is well-intentioned in respect of the delivery of tourism service -- I don't believe it's going to happen under this model, this proposal, this new Crown corporation, which is going to live off the taxes taken off the very industry that it's trying to support. So the bill is flawed in its philosophy.
Let me speak for a moment and suggest that the bill is extremely poorly drafted. When I'm given the opportunity to get up and speak to the document in committee stage, it will be demonstrated how this bill is contradictory in a number of sections and extremely vague in others. It provides no comfort whatsoever to those of us who are concerned about the degree to which government appointees will simply appoint more representatives of the same. It provides no comfort whatsoever with respect to the degree to which the British Columbia special operating agency or advisory board will have its involvement beyond the initial stages.
There is some real concern about the language and text and the manner in which this bill is drafted. Also, as I alluded to earlier on, this bill does what I believe no bill should do. Under the commencement section, section 25, it says that this bill essentially will, with the exception of the hotel room tax side of it -- and I want to talk to that in a moment -- be deemed to have been in effect since April 1, 1997. It will retroactively create a corporation. That is extremely poor public policy. Whether it's to go back on a promise to municipalities, whether it's to bring in government-appointed hospital boards when the act says we should have elected hospital boards, or whether it's to create a new agency -- a new Crown corporation in tourism -- you don't bring in bills in a retroactive manner. It's bad public policy. It's poor precedent. It's not something that we should be establishing as a general means of practice in this House.
One other area that I'm extremely concerned with in respect to the provisions in the text of this bill has to do with the section that deals primarily with the conflict regulations of those people that sit on the board and the question of disclosure of interest levels. This says that as long as a director who sits on the Crown corporation discloses that they have a pecuniary interest in a decision being taken, they can profit from it. That's what this says. It doesn't say that they are exempted from profit, it doesn't say that they must be excluded from it, it doesn't say that they even have to absent themselves from the vote, necessarily. It says that as long as they say, "If we make this decision, if this new Crown corporation passes this, I stand to financially gain
I don't think for one second
That's bad, bad legislation. I don't know who drafted it for the minister, and I'm hoping whoever did draft it might be following this debate so that they might read those sections, because when they do, I think they will see what I'm referring to. Perhaps by the time we get to committee stage the government may bring in some amendments to this language so that those two sections can be amended to make it much more clear that an individual who sits on that board cannot benefit by virtue of their attendance on the board if they have a direct conflict, or even an indirect conflict, with respect to their corporate holdings.
It seems to me that if the government was really serious about helping tourism in this province, it would establish a mechanism to be able to take revenue from government in
[ Page 3179 ]
terms of assistance and put it straight into the community-based organizations where there are community-based tourism associations, chambers of commerce and other social service organizations that are involved in the development of arts and the artistic communities. All over the province people have writers' festivals. They have artistic festivals. They have all kinds of various activities which enhance the community and expand arts in the community. It expands the tourism potential in the community. All of them could benefit by direct funding in a core funding program for community-based tourism promotion. Because that is the way that that money will most effectively and most properly be used -- not putting it into another huge government Crown corporation that is going to expand into one more bureaucracy that is simply going to cost us a huge sum of money. If we were to go to community-based tourism development, if we were in fact going to trust the people of the province with their own money, allow the people of the province to have enough release from this government's onerous tax burden which it puts on the small business operator, it puts on the tourist operator, it taxes the hotel owner, and continually puts on those who seek to have new and more innovative ways of taking the public out to enjoy our great wilderness, whether it's by increasing fishing or hunting licences or the other fees that they've put on the parks and so on around the province
If the government were serious, it would start to remove those financial impediments. It would take dollars and put them right on deposit in the community and trust British Columbians with their own money to do the best they can within their community for themselves. That reduces the size of government, it stops the intrusive form of government, and it stops the creation of government-appointed and government-run Crown corporations that live off the tax funds they get from the very industry they're trying to support.
For all of those reasons we believe there's a much better way to promote tourism in British Columbia. When I hear members opposite say, "Well, people in the industry are all supporting this," the question is: did they have any choices? Were there any options ever given to them? Did you ever talk about going to community-based activities? Did you talk about some opportunities and various aspects of changes that might be made for the people of British Columbia and the people in the tourism industry? My guess is that they had no choices at all. My guess is that the government said: "This is what we intend to do. It's government policy. It's a new Crown corporation. We control it because we appoint the members to it. We fund it because we generate the tax revenue from the hotel tax to support it. Therefore this keeps tourism firmly in our control" -- the control of the New Democratic government, not in the hands of the people of British Columbia. It doesn't trust the people with their own money.
For all of those reasons, I say that this is the wrong way to go. This is poor public policy; it creates retroactivity, which is completely unacceptable for the members of this party. Furthermore, it is an extremely poorly drafted bill. The wording and drafting of this bill is bad. It's vague, it's contradictory, and it should not go into law in this form. I hope those who are drafting it are paying attention in particular to the conflict regulations with respect to sections 16 and 17.
With that, I will take my seat and say that I, as the representative of my party, will not be supporting this bill in second stage.
T. Stevenson: I seek leave to make an introduction.
T. Stevenson: I see in the gallery a councillor from the city of Vancouver, George Puil. I would like all members to make him welcome.
T. Nebbeling: From this side, I would also like to recognize the chairman role that Mr. Puil is playing for the GVRD. We welcome him with both titles.
B. Penner: I also seek leave to make an introduction.
B. Penner: It is my honour and privilege today to introduce to the House a former elementary school teacher of mine -- I believe he was my grade 7 teacher -- Mr. Adrian Stoutjesdyk. He is now the principal of Mount Cheam Christian School in Chilliwack. He has brought with him today 14 grade 12 students who have had a busy schedule, as I understand it, in the capital region so far today. Earlier today they visited Esquimalt and toured the naval base there, and they've just completed a tour of the legislative building. In fact, Mr. Speaker, you may recall that we just bumped into you in the hallway a few moments ago as I was sneaking them into the Legislative Library.
With that, I would ask all members of this House to please extend a warm welcome to the students visiting here today from Chilliwack.
[4:15]B. Goodacre: I am also pleased to rise to support this legislation. The tourism industry in Bulkley Valley-Stikine is a very rapidly growing industry. I'm sure everybody is aware that both ecotourism and tourism in wilderness areas are probably the fastest-growing segments of the tourism industry throughout the world, and we're getting a very good portion of that traffic up through my riding.
Leading up to this bill, I was talking to people involved with the industry in my area, and I was getting some very positive comments. One of the most encouraging comments was the assurance they were given that the northern part of the province was going to be properly represented on the board that was going to be created, and it was one of the fine things that the people in my area put forward as a reason why they're supporting this initiative. The other big one was that getting government to change its role in promoting tourism in British Columbia was something they saw as quite positive. Doing a partnership with the private sector in promoting what is essentially a multibillion-dollar business throughout the world is something that is seen as a very positive move in the direction of making this a healthier industry in the future.
So I'm very pleased to add my voice to the support of this bill. I'm looking forward to its being put in place and to the benefits coming to my part of the world when this thing is up and running.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I must say thank you to the opposition, or to most of the opposition -- I understand that one member is going to vote against. But the rest have made it very clear that they will be voting for this legislation, and I appreciate that support.
[ Page 3180 ]
However, over the few hours that we've debated this legislation, I have been listening with great interest to the opposition Liberals talk about absolutely everything under the sun except this legislation. We've talked about fish, we've talked about intercultural relations, we've talked about sport and Crown land leases. We've even heard about one member's travels around the world, and another one brought up ping-pong.
This has been a most amazing debate, and I can only assume that the reason they're all over the map is because they really don't want to say that this is fabulous legislation, that the tourism industry is nothing short of ecstatic about it, that they've wanted it for decades, that the former free enterprise coalition would never deliver to the tourism industry what we are in fact delivering here. So I guess that's the only reason I can come up with as to why the members opposite in the Liberal Party are talking about everything from ping-pong to fish. In any case, I'm very pleased that despite all their negative comments they are in fact going to be supporting the legislation, and that's good.
I want to address a couple of the concerns and a number of the comments that I have heard throughout this debate. For instance, the member for Okanagan-Penticton said that this is a promise that industry has had many, many times. I want to be clear on the record that unless it was from the free enterprise coalition before the one that is currently in opposition, that is simply not true.
Similarly, the member from Oak Bay talked about the industry signing an agreement with government and saying that we had violated it. That too is not correct; industry did not sign an agreement with government.
The member for Parksville-Qualicum made it clear that he expected some sort of legislation would happen last year with respect to the special operating agreement between my ministry and the Ministry of Finance -- the signatories to it -- and that somehow by not bringing in legislation last year, we had violated a commitment. That is not true. An SOA -- a special operating agreement -- is an agreement between a ministry and the Ministry of Finance, and that is what we have had. We made a commitment to the industry that we would provide stable, long-term funding, and in this legislation we are moving a significant, historic step forward along that road.
Rather than selling out, as the members opposite are trying to pretend is happening -- with incorrect information and wrong statements -- in fact we are strengthening our commitment. We are moving further along the road; we are creating a mechanism that as far as we can find in our rather extensive search, doesn't exist anywhere else. And the tourism industry is ecstatic.
John Williams, the current chair of the SOA advisory board, says this is a real high-water mark for tourism, and he said: "I want to thank you, Mr. Premier, for getting it right." The tourism industry is absolutely delighted to have this legislation, because they've wanted it for a long, long time. And this government is delivering on something that the free enterprise coalition had 20 years to deliver on and didn't. They wouldn't do it.
The other compliment we had at that same celebration of this legislation was that it was this government that provided tourism with a legislated voice in land use decisions. They were ecstatic about that. That was Pat Corbett, who, in congratulating the government for this step, said that we have done two very significant things. One is that we provided a legislated voice for tourism in land use decisions. Mr. Corbett said: "You have to understand the historic significance of this agreement. This package is world-leading. We've been advocating this for so many years." Those are his words -- not solicited, freely spoken.
Mr. Speaker, that completely puts the run on what the members opposite are trying to say, which is that this was their idea. The words that they've used are
I want to more seriously address the concerns of the member for Powell River. I appreciate his thoughtful comments. I want to explain that the hotel room tax is a tax that was asked for by industry some years ago. It was imposed by the free enterprise coalition of the day, the Social Credit one. They asked for that tax, and the Socred government introduced it.
What we're doing here is simply taking the existing CEO, the existing staff and the existing funding and moving them into a vehicle that the tourism industry has wanted for years: that is, the vehicle of an agency of the Crown so that they can have the marriage of two things. One is public funding that is fully accountable through this Legislature. As the Opposition House Leader said earlier today, government is elected to manage Crown corporations, and we should maintain that responsibility and that connection. I agree.
An Hon. Member: Not control.
Hon. J. Pullinger: Manage, control: it's the same thing; I'm sorry.
The hon. members seem to think that a sector -- some people -- should magically rise out of the community, make the appointments and have the control of $18 million-plus of taxpayers' money in a completely unaccountable way. The Liberals want to do that with no controls, no democratic process. I find it absolutely amazing that they don't want the democratic process of the elected people and the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council -- i.e., the cabinet -- properly making the appointments. They don't want that to happen. They want to self-select by a special interest group out in the community, and that's reprehensible.
But we are taking existing staff who have been cut. They're moving over into this new agency. We're taking an existing chunk of the tax that we've negotiated with the industry and moving it over to fund it. That is something that they have wanted. The member may still disagree, but that in fact is what has happened.
I want to thank some of the members for their comments
Hon. J. Pullinger: Hon. Speaker, I'm having a little trouble speaking over the loud voices of the men in the opposition.
[ Page 3181 ]
The member for Peace River North, a Reform Party member: I very much appreciated his comments in arguing that there should be northern representation on the board. I absolutely agree. The current self-selected board from industry is concentrated in Victoria and Vancouver. It is not balanced in terms of gender representation, nor is there anyone
T. Nebbeling: Nonsense. There are board members from the interior, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House. That is not
The Speaker: Member, I hope I don't have to continue to interrupt. We really must do a little better job in this House -- on both sides -- of allowing people to be heard. The constant noise level, quite frankly, is really not appropriate. So I'd ask all members to please take that caution.
Hon. J. Pullinger: Thank you.
The member for Peace River North argued that we should have northern representation, and I absolutely agree. As I was saying, the current, mostly self-selected board, is concentrated in
So I very much appreciate the members for Vancouver-Langara, Okanagan West and West Vancouver-Garibaldi, who have just said that we all agree that there should be diversity on the board. I will expect strong support from every member of the opposition when I ensure that there are men and women, there is representation from groups such as first nations and there is a diversity on the board from the regions of British Columbia. I thank them for that support. I will certainly pass onto the industry -- as we talk about the board and sign a memorandum of understanding -- that the opposition is united in demanding diversity on the board. I congratulate them for that. That's good. Good for you.
I want to address some other comments that the opposition argued. Some of them stood up and argued that the policies of this government are hindering tourism, that tourism is a disaster in British Columbia, and we're driving the economy into the ground because of our policies. They argued passionately to drive down the minimum wage -- they'd love a differential wage for youth that's lower. They argue that we should get rid of regulations. We all know they want to mine and log in the parks; they've argued that for years. They've argued, in effect, to roll back employment standards, to bring back the Socreds' Bill 19, which was branded by the ILO of the United Nations as unfair and oppressive to workers.
We know that they want to do all of those things, and they have made those commitments again and again and again. But the only problem with their argument is that the evidence doesn't support it. Since 1991 we have created 250 parks, we have begun to manage our forests on a sustainable basis, we have been building the infrastructure of British Columbia, and we have been working with communities for regional economic development around the province. All of these things, from growth management to Forest Renewal B.C. -- which is repairing the damage of the past and employing workers while they do it -- to the new Fisheries Renewal B.C., which will do a similar kind of thing in the fisheries
I find it difficult to believe that the members opposite would even attempt to argue what they're arguing about this industry. Let's not forget that since 1991, when we first became government, this industry has virtually doubled. For all of the years when the free enterprise coalition was in office and had a low-wage strategy and had unfair labour legislation and had outdated laws of every kind and who allowed the big international corporations to own and destroy our forests -- all of that time -- we were the laughingstock of the world for environment.
Now we've gone from the back of the pack to the front. We've created 250 parks, which they objected to and voted against, and Forest Renewal B.C., which is repairing our watersheds and which they argued against and voted against. All of those things they voted against and argued against. Now they're trying to pretend that somehow what our government has done is stood in the way
[4:30]T. Nebbeling: Point of order.
The Speaker: I'm sorry. Excuse me, minister. The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi.
T. Nebbeling: I've been patiently waiting for the minister to speak on the bill. The minister keeps going into the forest industry. She keeps going into the fishery industry. I would really like her to get on the bill.
The Speaker: Thank you, member. I think you well know that that is not really a point of order. If we invoked that rule, we wouldn't have allowed about 70 percent of what we've heard thus far in the debate. But I thank you for the caution.
The Speaker: I'm referring to yesterday as well as today, member.
Minister, please carry on.
Hon. J. Pullinger: The fact is that because we have taken on the issues of land and resource use management seriously, because we are building the infrastructure in B.C. -- which the free enterprise coalition wouldn't do in the 1980s -- because we have decent employment standards, because we've got a decent minimum wage
We have virtually doubled the tourism dollars in British Columbia since 1991. That's 23,000 new jobs, 5,000 new small businesses -- most of them small, small businesses. The members opposite are simply distorting the truth when they say otherwise. It is not so. The fact remains that B.C. has led the way in job creation for six years -- the best job creation record in the country -- has the lowest per capita debt and the highest credit rating, and they don't want to acknowledge that.
[ Page 3182 ]
This legislation shows once again that this government is committed to tourism, that we are committed to seeing this industry develop and that we are committed to keeping our leading-edge position in tourism as it becomes more competitive.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I truly regret that the opposition has called this
The member for Okanagan-Penticton said that this was the scraps when in fact it's the leading edge. This is innovative. It doesn't exist anywhere else. Pat Corbett and John Williams and others in the tourism industry stood up and said: "You did it right -- congratulations." I have worked with the tourism industry to get us this far, as have my ministry and excellent staff, and I will continue to work with the tourism industry to see that the promise of this legislation is fulfilled.
I deeply regret that the Liberals couldn't find it in themselves to stand up and say: "This is wonderful legislation. Good on you." They couldn't do that. Instead, they cry about everything from fish to ping-pong. They complain about the fact that we've had to reduce funding, and I don't like that either. I'd like to point out, however, that it's about a fifth of what they promised to cut out of government.
I'd like to point out that the governments that they emulate in Ontario and Alberta have virtually gutted tourism funding. They have virtually wiped out their tourism marketing in Ontario and Alberta. We're going the other way; we're making it more secure. I regret that they have done that. The tourism industry in this province appreciates the fact that we've maintained our commitment to small business, to tourism and to job creation and that we're moving along that way.
Hon. J. Pullinger: I would suggest to the opposition that they would do much better, rather than name-calling and making things up, to simply acknowledge that this is a wonderful piece of legislation and that the tourism industry isn't complaining about the things you're complaining about. The tourism industry is delighted. They think this is the right way to go, and I am very, very pleased to be the minister to bring this legislation forward. It's something I talked to the tourism industry about years ago. We could never get the Socreds to move on it, but we are.
This unique partnership between business and government is a major milestone in the history of tourism in our province. It builds on and strengthens our commitment to tourism, our commitment to small business and our commitment to job creation in this province.
I want to acknowledge people like Pat Corbett, the chair of COTA, who I have worked very closely with; and John Williams, who's one of the co-chairs of our current special operating advisory board; and the other people in the tourism industry that we've worked with, who have bargained hard and worked hard with us to bring this legislation about. We've worked together to get this far, and together we will build on British Columbia's position as one of the premiere tourism destinations in the world. I look forward to the support of all the members opposite, and I thank everyone for their remarks.
Second reading of Bill 9 approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 64|
|NAYS -- 1|
Hon. C. Evans: I call second reading of Bill 12.
MILK INDUSTRY AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Hon. C. Evans: I rise to move second reading of the bill. The bill amending the Milk Industry Act seeks to do four specific things: (1) ensure the continued safety of our milk; (2) decrease government costs; (3) increase government efficiency; and (4) increase industry self-reliance.
[4:45]The present Milk Industry Act involves both the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Health in joint roles of ensuring milk safety. Safe milk is a fundamental expectation in the minds of consumers. As one of the basic foods, we rightly expect milk to be safe and pure. The entire milk industry, from dairy producers through to retailers, prides itself in providing a safe, high-quality product. Public confidence in the safety of milk is the highest priority with the industry. Public trust in the industry is well placed. The quality of milk produced in British Columbia is reputed to be the highest in Canada.
The proposed legislative changes in no way compromise the safety of our milk. Instead, the amendments seek to clarify and streamline the roles of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Health in the inspection of milk to increase efficiencies and decrease cost to government. The amendments clarify inspection responsibilities and change the way in which existing programs are administered.
Specifically, the Ministry of Agriculture is maintaining targeted on-farm inspection services to the dairy industry but
[ Page 3183 ]
withdrawing from routine on-farm inspections, thereby reducing its dairy farm inspection staff. This change responds to the budgetary reductions and the restructuring of this ministry. The ministry will maintain a system of licensing, sampling, testing and administrative enforcement tools.
My ministry will continue to maintain licensing of farms and milk receivers, assume oversight authority over inspections of new farms and the qualification of milk receivers, and follow up on farm problems resulting from infractions of milk standards. The Ministry of Health will take over responsibility for setting standards for raw milk going into processing plants and will continue to be responsible for all matters related to safety at processing plants and beyond.
Dairy producers will continue, as they have historically, to assume the greater responsibility for ongoing maintenance of farm standards and production of high-quality milk. Milk will still be evaluated on-farm by trained, licensed tank-truck drivers when milk is picked up. Processors will continue to check milk when it is delivered to the processing plant. Industry will continue the current role of taking samples required by government to ensure that milk is meeting government-set standards.
In a nutshell, while the milk is still on the farm, it is the responsibility of dairy producers, subject to regulations by the Ministry of Health, to ensure its safety. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food supports these regulations with a licensing and enforcement program. Once it leaves the farm, the processing plant has the responsibility, with regulation by the Ministry of Health. This completes the transition of primary responsibility for all milk safety standards from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Ministry of Health, as directed by cabinet in 1988.
Government will continue, with enforcement and penalties for non-compliance, to back up all standards. Government will continue to ensure records are kept and deal with on-farm follow-up of infractions in legislated milk standards.
These changes refocus my ministry's resources. They recast the Milk Industry Act as purely a milk safety statute, removing all provisions which concern non-safety-related matters. These changes build on improvements within the industry. They support the ministry and government's policy objective of encouraging industry to become more involved and to take greater responsibility for industry matters generally.
During this process of reshaping the Milk Industry Act, both my ministry and the Ministry of Health have consulted with an industry representative committee. The ministry and the agriculture industry have evolved considerably over the last 100 years. Some pieces of legislation, such as the Milk Industry Act, are in need of updating to reflect the new realities of industry development, market demands and government resources.
Mr. Speaker, our goal is to work with industry to continue to provide safe, wholesome milk to consumers. I believe this amended legislation will benefit industry and government by providing efficient and effective delivery of services to a competent industry.
J. van Dongen: I am pleased to respond in this second reading debate to the minister's statement on Bill 12, the Milk Industry Amendment Act. The milk industry has a very interesting and long history, and I thought that it might be useful to provide a little bit of historical context. I did it partly out of my own interest but partly, I think, to illustrate where we've come from in terms of milk industry regulation, and also to illustrate the serious public responsibility that the government has in terms of maintaining milk quality.
The document that I want to refer to is a British Columbia royal commission on milk which was done in 1954-55 by the Hon. J. V. Clyne, a very well-respected individual. The document he produced as a result of that royal commission makes for very interesting reading in terms of the disease issues of the day in British Columbia with respect to the animal population, quality of milk issues, economic issues on farms and that sort of thing.
In the early fifties, conditions on farms were not very good. Milk quality wasn't very good, and there was a lot of disease among animals. The interesting thing is that there were about 3,500 dairy farms in the Fraser Valley alone and hundreds of milk processors. Forty years later, we have some of the highest-quality milk anywhere in North America -- anywhere in the world -- and I think that's a fact.
There are now hundreds of farmers in British Columbia, not thousands, and there has been a lot of rationalization in the industry. There are only about three major processors left, plus some smaller ones, but the ongoing rationalization that's taking place within the industry is very significant. I think we're also entering a time where conditions for farmers are getting more difficult. Certainly, we're seeing some new waves of farmers going to other low-cost areas of production, such as Alberta.
I want to open my comments with some fairly extensive quotations from the royal commission report. I think there are some very interesting comments made by the judge in that report, and when you hear the comments, they will illustrate some of the significance of what we're talking about. I'm reading from his executive summary at the beginning of the report. This is J.V. Clyne, and he says:
"The subject of health and sanitary considerations is discussed at length in the report, and the evidence as to the actual conditions of sanitation on farms in the Vancouver area is reviewed. In order that the public should receive a safe, clean supply of milk for fluid consumption, there should be adequate inspection of farms where the milk is produced, there should be bacteriological inspection at the receiving plant, the milk should be pasteurized and there should be frequent inspections of the plants themselves."Further on, he goes on to say:
"There is no doubt that the system of farm inspection in the Fraser Valley has broken down entirely and is practically useless at the present time. It is a matter of grave concern that the provisions of the Milk Act have not been obeyed or enforced in this area for a number of years
"There has been a similar disregard for the provisions of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act insofar as brucellosis is concerned
"The machinery exists under the act to stamp out the disease, and it is difficult to understand the lethargy which appears to have surrounded the enforcement of this statute in the Fraser Valley for a number of years, especially when active steps toward eradication have been or are being taken in every other important milk-producing area in the province. Fraser Valley farmers have lost a market for the sale of fresh milk to Alaska owing to herds not being certified as free from brucellosis."
[ Page 3184 ]Further along, J.V. Clyne makes a few comments with respect to the statute. This is based on his recommendations in 1956 for a milk industry act:
"Provisions dealing with milk are presently found in seven different provincial acts. A complete codification in one statute of all provincial legislation relating to the milk industry is desirableI want to include in this rendition of the royal commission just a few more direct comments, some of which are quotes from witnesses to the royal commission. In this case, I'm reading again from the text of the royal commission report, where he says:
. . . .The present provisions in the statutes dealing with safeguards to health should be incorporated in the new statute, and the regulations dealing with farm inspection, quality of milk and diseases in animals should be revised and brought up to date."
"Dr. Kidd, the assistant livestock commissioner and assistant chief veterinary inspector, gave evidence as to the unsavoury condition of some of the farms in the Fraser ValleySo the question was: "Here is one in which you say, 'This place is truly grim, ungraded and has no milk-house and stable and does not meet requirements.' " And the commissioner asks: "What grade did you give that?"
. . . .He says that he frequently found milk-houses used not only for their proper purposes but also for keeping meat, preserves and spare machinery parts. It is, of course, quite impossible to preserve proper conditions of cleanliness in the milk under such circumstances. He referred to one barn which had only been whitewashed once in 30 years, and that was when it was whitewashed free of charge after the Fraser floods in 1948. Commission counsel referred Dr. Kidd to grading records which I had requested the department to produce, and the witness had this to say . . . ."
Mr. Norris, counsel to the commissioner, said: "My lord, that is ungraded." And the commissioner said: "That is ungraded." The answer of the witness, Dr. Kidd, was:
"I was at that place about three weeks ago. I was driving up the Fraser Valley and I dropped into that place about three weeks ago, and I will say that in the last four years that is possibly my fourth visit there. The stable was completely surrounded with manure, there were nine cows and three were milking, and one of the milk cows had mastitis. And I walked around to the front, there was a pen in which there were two pigs, and over in the far corner there was a wire screen up and there were chickens behind that, and over in the corner there was a cow that had slipped its calf the night before and the afterbirth was hanging."Question by the commissioner: "How many, just roughly, Dr. Kidd
Answer by Dr. Kidd:
"There are many others; according to the figures I gave last time I was on the stand, I said that there were approximately 25 percent of the premises in the Fraser Valley that were ungraded. And half of that 25 percent, I would say, were like that. Incidentally, the husband works for the school board in that municipality and he is never home to do anything."
[5:00]Then I also wanted to take a further quote out of the commissioner's report that dealt with the issue of disease. It dealt in particular with animals in Squamish. He states here:
"There were approximately 450 animals in Squamish, and there had been 11 people with undulant fever, and one man had died, and it was the public health department who had requested that our department go in there and clean up the area. I blood-tested approximately 450 animals, and there were approximately 100 reactors, and I had all those removed to Vancouver for slaughter, and then I went back and did subsequent retests until I had two complete negative tests on all the animals in Squamish."Question: "And I think you spoke of the Gulf Islands, and is the milk there consumed locally, the milk that is produced?"
"It is all consumed locally. They had the same thing there on Galiano Island, the big dairyman was running short of milk and he phoned over to Saltspring Island for two cows to increase his production, and these two cows were sent to his herd, and about four months later he started to have complete abortions right through his herd. The public health department heard of this. They got in and investigated, they contacted our department, and Dr. Gunn gave me instructions to go out to Galiano Island to see what the score was and, if possible, start to clear it up. I got out there and I found that the man on Galiano Island was ready for a nervous breakdown, and his wife was ready for a nervous breakdown. There were two people going to sue him, blaming him for undulant fever in their families because of drinking their milk. They were ready for a disease-free area, so they signed up completely the petition that is required by our department, and I went back in and blood-tested every animal on all the Gulf Islands. On this one farm I am particularly telling you about, he had 26 milk cows, and before I was through I had taken 22 of them because of brucellosis."I realize that those were some lengthy quotes, but I thought it was interesting and useful to raise them in terms of this discussion. I think it shows how far we've come in the province in terms of the production of quality milk, but it also shows that we can't make assumptions about things like sanitation, quality control, disease control and that sort of thing.
Bill 12, I think, was mainly triggered by the budget announcement in November of 1996. It seems to be part of an effort to reduce staffing in the ministry. Staffing levels, as I understand it, will decline in the dairy branch from the current complement of nine to four. This saving of five full-time-equivalents includes Earl Jenstad, who has been the leader of that branch and a leader in dairy regulation for many years. I had the privilege of working under Earl for four months in the summer of 1971 as an assistant dairy farm inspector. It was interesting to work with him at that time and observe him as the years progressed and I got into farming myself. At first, I thought Earl was an individual who wasn't always tough enough to be a regulator, but as the years went by, I realized that he was probably a more effective regulator because of it. The approach that he took was very human but very firm, and he always got the job done.
The key mandate established by this bill is to regulate milk safety rather than milk quality. I think that's a very important distinction -- and one that those of us with a long history in the industry will have to think through to make that distinction. There's an easy way to explain the difference. I explain it this way: if you have water added to milk, either intentionally or otherwise, that is not a milk safety issue. Water in milk is not a public health problem, but it is a milk quality issue. There is no public health risk with that situation. On the other hand, if there is a residual antibiotic present in milk that is shipped to a milk plant, then that is a safety issue. This act is intended to provide the legislative authority to deal with that effectively.
I think it is absolutely fundamental that the government retains its role as the third-party watchdog on milk and milk-product safety on behalf of the public. Farmers also expect some ongoing involvement by the government on issues between farmers and processors, if for no other reason than to keep the processors honest about things such as milk grades, butterfat tests, etc. This bill moves the on-farm regulatory system for milk safety from a prescriptive approach to an outcome-based approach. That concept is certainly something
[ Page 3185 ]
that we on this side of the House have given considerable thought to, and we support the effort in that direction. There are lots of examples of regulations where we need to try and apply the principles that the government is trying to apply here.
Having said that, I think that the sudden wind-down of that branch does pose some concerns and some problems. I think there was a lot of good program work done by that branch in the area of service, in the area of education, in the area of milk-equipment testing and with some proactive, incentive-type programs to encourage better milk quality.
The ministry's plan is for four people in all of B.C. to regulate farm-milk safety and to track milk safety records. I feel that this is a bare-bones operation. While we currently have the benefit of years of a strong program, we will lose its presence over time with the staff reductions.
I am satisfied that through this legislation, the minister does retain the proper authority to ensure public safety with respect to milk and milk products. There is no doubt, as I said, that the public expects this, nor is there any doubt that it is one of the roles of government to ensure food safety.
While the act will retain sufficient legislative power for the government to regulate, the final results as we go down the road will depend on conscious and ongoing commitments by the government to fund the necessary staff and resources to accomplish the act's intent. The results will be dependent upon a minimum investment of critical resources. In my view, at the present time the staffing is certainly being cut to a minimum.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that we will be supporting the bill, but we will be looking for assurances from the minister that the government understands and accepts its responsibility to protect the public interest with regard to food safety and that it will maintain the necessary resources to carry out this critical task effectively. We will also be looking for other assurances that this legislation will not in any way jeopardize export opportunities -- and I think it does that. We will also seek some comment from the minister on the relationship between B.C.'s proposed regulatory regime under this bill and the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which started operations on April 1, 1997. We'll also be looking for assurances that the sections dealing with imitation milk products not be repealed until the appropriate regulations are drafted under the Agricultural Produce Grading Act.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to express my support for this bill. I look forward to working with the minister to discuss it further and, hopefully, to implement it as we go down the road.
F. Gingell: I was going to speak to the Minister of Forests through the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Mr. Speaker, here is an occasion where this government, I think, is beginning to think about the issues of how regulation should be done. I have said two or three times in this House -- and I take the opportunity to repeat it -- that I believe that government will work more effectively and more efficiently when they focus their regulations on descriptive rather than prescriptive methodology; instead of telling people what they should do, they identify what it is they should accomplish. Perhaps for the first time, with this particular bill and these particular amendments, I see a move in that direction and I welcome it.
I think we're going in the right direction. The reason I was hoping the Minister of Forests would be here to listen to it
Not coming from the dairy farming industry, I really have little to offer on the other issues in this bill. Dairy farming is a big business in Delta South, and I haven't heard any words from Delta farmers contrary to the intent of this bill. So I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the government in deciding to move regulation and the regulatory process into the modern day.
Hon. C. Evans: Thank you for your contributions, hon. members. It makes for quick business. I hardly know what to say. I hope the people at home don't see me moving a bill supported by you guys. It might make it hard to get elected. Having said that, I move second reading of the bill.
Bill 12, Milk Industry Amendment Act, 1997, 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. U. Dosanjh: I call second reading of Bill 8.
BRITISH COLUMBIA NEUROTRAUMA FUND
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I wish to describe to the House some of the background and important features of this bill. The purpose of the British Columbia Neurotrauma Fund Contribution Act is to provide a regular contribution to that fund to assist in the research, rehabilitation and prevention of brain and spinal cord injuries. This contribution will come from the special account established in the Victims of Crime Act, which contains moneys from surcharges on provincial fines. The contribution to the British Columbia neurotrauma fund is made in recognition of the brain and spinal cord injuries which are caused by specific offences. The relevant offences are speeding, impaired driving, driving without due care and attention, failure to wear a seatbelt and riding a motorcycle or bicycle without a helmet.
The British Columbia neurotrauma fund has been established by Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Foundation in honour of the tenth anniversary of the Man in Motion World Tour. Mr. Hansen's incredible journey around the world ended in May of 1987 in his home province of British Columbia. His foundation has since accomplished a great deal for victims of neurotraumatic injury, and this fund will enable the foundation to continue this good work.
[5:15]The province's contribution to the fund will come from those individuals whose actions may have a direct impact on neurotraumatic injuries. In contributing to this new fund, British Columbians will have an ongoing role in working towards a cure for these injuries, in improving the quality of life for neurotrauma survivors and in reducing the cost for their care. The contribution could be as large as $1.6 million in 1997-98 and as large as $2 million in subsequent years.
[ Page 3186 ]
Hon. Speaker, British Columbia has taken a leadership role in Canada with the development of this legislation. The British Columbia Neurotrauma Fund Contribution Act is the first of its kind in this country. We encourage other provinces to follow British Columbia's lead and support this worthy initiative.
G. Plant: I am pleased to rise and have this opportunity to speak to Bill 8, the British Columbia Neurotrauma Fund Contribution Act. I want to express on behalf of the official opposition our support for the objectives of the bill. Members of the party of which I am a member are happy to support the effort to assist Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Foundation to raise awareness of the need to help victims of neurotraumatic injury and to fund projects that will assist in that purpose.
There are some unusual provisions in this bill in terms of how the government proposes to fund what is, after all, a private society. It's a society constituted under the Society Act and an important and well-recognized foundation, but nonetheless it will have a fairly high degree of autonomy in terms of how it chooses to spend the funds which the government is committing to it by virtue of this bill. I think that some of those issues can be canvassed in the committee stage debate of the bill when we come to that.
In this context, I perhaps ought to say one other thing. The bill does more than simply require or authorize the contribution of certain moneys to Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Foundation. It also seeks to authorize those contributions by means of an amendment to the Victims of Crime Act. The amendment to the Victims of Crime Act, as I understand it, is one that is necessary in order to ensure that contributions from the victim surcharge levy are possible for this purpose -- the purpose being the contributions which government will then make to Rick Hansen's foundation. Without the amendment to the Victims of Crime Act, my understanding is that there would be some doubt about whether or not the contribution to the neurotrauma fund would be possible.
In making that amendment to the Victims of Crime Act, I think there are questions that will need to be asked about whether or not the government has perhaps gone farther than it needs to in order to authorize the projects that are now going to be authorized under the Victims of Crime Act if this bill passes. Again, that is probably a technical issue that will come up in the context of the committee stage debate when we get to it.
I think no one in British Columbia needs to be reminded of the carnage and the horror that occur all too often on the roads and in other places of British Columbia and of the tremendous cost to our society financially and to the lives of individuals and families when people are injured or otherwise sustain neurotraumatic disorders and problems. I think that everything we can do as individuals in our communities and in our private lives to move towards a society and a world in which it becomes less necessary for foundations like this to exist and do their work is a good thing. In the meantime, though, the reality is that these injuries take place, this damage is caused, and I commend the government for taking the move it's taking here to ensure that there is a steady stream of funding on an ongoing basis to this highly respected foundation for the purpose of ensuring that it can do the very important work that it is doing.
Without any further ado, I simply conclude by expressing the support of the opposition for this bill, and those are all my remarks.
B. Penner: Hon. Speaker, I'll keep my remarks brief, but I just chose at this time to make the following comments on second reading of this important bill.
I echo the comments of my colleague from Richmond-Steveston, and his comment that serious head or spinal injuries can occur at any time and a person's life can be dramatically changed
All of us need to remember that at any time, any one of us or our friends or family members could fall victim to a serious injury that would make us unable to look after ourselves or get ourselves around, in terms of mobility, as easily as we've become accustomed to. It's very easy for all of us to take for granted our means of physical mobility. It's an opportune time, during second reading of this bill, to pause and reflect on the blessing that we all have here in this House in terms of our physical ability to get around as we desire without the need to count on somebody else to help us in that endeavour.
With that I'll sit down. I look forward to the comments from the Attorney General.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I thank the hon. members for their remarks and their support of the bill. I move that the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House
The Speaker: I'm sorry, minister. We have to have the motion on second reading first.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes, hon. Speaker. I move second reading.
Bill 8, British Columbia Neurotrauma Fund Contribution Act, 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. U. Dosanjh: I call second reading of Bill 7.
OFFENCE AMENDMENT ACT, 1997
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I wish to describe to the House some of the background and features of this bill as well. The Offence Amendment Act was drafted in order to facilitate the proclamation of section 8.1 of the Victims of Crime Act, which passed in June 1995 and was proclaimed -- with the exception of section 8.1 -- on July 1, 1996. Section 8.1 introduces a victim surcharge levy on fines for provincial offences to be set at 15 percent. The surcharge money is to be placed in a special account that will fund obligations under the Victims of Crime Act and other victim initiatives. It will also provide funding to the British Columbia neurotrauma fund.
Most provincial offences proceed by way of a violation ticket. When the surcharge comes into force, it is intended that
[ Page 3187 ]
the enforcement officers will simply include it with the fine on violation tickets. To make this possible, the Offence Act will have to be amended. Section 14 of the Offence Act, which authorizes enforcement officers to complete the violation tickets, does not currently mention the surcharge levy.
British Columbia will be the ninth jurisdiction in Canada to introduce a provincial victim surcharge levy. Six other provinces and both territories already collect a provincial surcharge. We have learned from the experience in these jurisdictions that having enforcement officers write the surcharge on the ticket is the simplest and most effective means of implementing it and ensuring payment.
The Offence Amendment Act will create a newly defined ticketed amount, which is the combination of the fine and the surcharge. This amount will be calculated and set out in regulations, and enforcement officers will simply write only one figure on the ticket. We will amend the violation ticket fine regulations to include this new ticketed amount. We will also amend the violation ticket form regulation so that all offenders will understand that they are required to pay the surcharge.
The bill substitutes the newly defined phrase "ticketed amount" for "fine" wherever it is appropriate. It also separates the fine from the surcharge where it is appropriate. For example, an offender may dispute the fine, but she or he may not dispute the surcharge. If an offender's fine is reduced or waived due to hardship, however, the surcharge will also be reduced or waived accordingly. If an offender is found not guilty, then there is no fine and no surcharge. In light of these provisions, the hardship provision in the Victims of Crime Act is hereby repealed as unnecessary.
The bill also removes an unintended inequity. The provision that exempted young persons from paying surcharges on court-ordered fines is repealed, so that all young persons are treated equally whether they receive a fine on a violation ticket or in court. Adults are treated in the same way, and the surcharge applies to fines on both violation tickets and those ordered in court.
Hon. Speaker, I'm confident that this bill will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the victim surcharge levy and impose it in the simplest and most universal manner possible. Funding can then be provided for improved services to victims of crime and the British Columbia neurotrauma fund.
G. Plant: The bill that has been introduced here seeks to give effect to a way of collecting the victim surcharge levy. I think all motorists and all those who receive tickets for provincial offences will now need to read the ticket they receive carefully, to be sure that the bill and its administration are in fact effective and to ensure that the amount that the alleged offender owes is clearly stated.
The minister himself and those who work in his ministry will need to be assiduous -- perhaps more assiduous than they are from time to time -- in collecting both the fine and the surcharge. Those two amounts will now collectively be known by a new term as the "ticketed amount." I'm sure all British Columbians will learn to use that phrase in their day-to-day business after the government proceeds with these amendments.
With that, hon. Speaker, I have no further comments on this most useful and interesting piece of legislation at the second reading stage.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I thank the hon. member for his remarks in support of the bill. I move second reading.
G. Plant: I didn't support it.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, let the record stand corrected. The hon. member didn't support it. He was simply cautioning everyone to appropriately follow the act.
Bill 7, Offence Amendment Act, 1997, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
The Speaker: Government House Leader, I note that we are apparently missing some people, so I would just declare a very brief recess for five minutes or so.
The House recessed from 5:30 p.m. to 5:36 p.m.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I call second reading of Bill 17.
CAPITAL REGION WATER SUPPLY
AND SOOKE HILLS PROTECTION ACT
Hon. A. Petter: I'm happy to present the Capital Region Water Supply and Sooke Hills Protection Act for second reading. This is a very important bill in terms of the future of water supply in southern Vancouver Island and in the capital regional district. It's a bill that is the culmination of much cooperative work that has involved municipalities, many local groups and the provincial government in resolving some particularly thorny issues regarding the future of that water supply in terms of water governance, as well as in terms of the protection of some critical areas in the greater Victoria area.
The bill builds on the extensive consultation process that was undertaken last year by the Special Commission on the Greater Victoria Water Supply. In doing so, it achieves a number of important goals. One of those goals is the creation of a new regional park in the Sooke Hills area. When this bill becomes law, the Sooke Hills will be protected forever. This legislation sets aside 4,900 hectares of non-catchment land currently held by the greater Victoria water district and enables the creation of the Sooke Hills Regional Park, a park that we manage through the CRD.
The new park will further protect the area's unique coastal ecosystems, which include Douglas fir, Garry oak and many rare plant and animal species. Incidentally, that is an ecosystem that has been underrepresented, because so much of the east coast of Vancouver Island has been subject to development or at least has been subject to private land ownership. So this is an opportunity to protect an underrepresented ecosystem, albeit through a regional, not a provincial, park.
The park will itself be larger than the municipalities of Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Victoria combined and will more than double the amount of protected parkland in the capital region. The park is a major component of this bill and, as I say, builds on consultation and will give way to further consultation at the local level as the capital regional district pursues a new park management plan for this area, in consultation with the community. It's an announcement which has been very
[ Page 3188 ]
well received. I want to congratulate all of those who were involved in this process: the commissioner, David Perry; the local councils and their representatives who were involved; many of the local advocacy groups and environmental groups; as well as the local MLAs, who worked very hard to bring about this result.
As well, the bill provides a brand-new framework for managing the regional water supply and is the result of extensive consultation with local governments in the capital region. Some of that consultation took place by David Perry as part of the commission. Since the Perry commission report, that consultation has been undertaken by the member for Victoria-Beacon Hill on behalf of the government.
The bill will provide for the greater Victoria water district, the current governing body in respect of water in this region, to be dissolved -- its assets, rights, property and obligations are to be transferred to the capital regional district -- and under the aegis of the capital regional district, for the creation of a new regional water commission, which will enjoy representation from all of the municipalities who draw water from the local water supply. That will in turn resolve an anomaly that has resulted as new municipalities have been created in this region but have not been represented on the governance body that oversees water in this area.
The water and the associated land affected by this bill are public resources. They have long been so, and they will continue to be. This bill ensures that this public resource is protected -- in terms of the land, through the park; in terms of the water, through the new creation of this water commission -- and ensures that all of those who live in this region will have a say, through the new water commission, in managing that public resource. For that reason it is a tremendous step forward in enhancing accountability, in enhancing participation and involvement by municipalities and the residents of those municipalities in the critical issue of providing for clean water and pure water for our future.
The legislation requires the capital regional district to establish the commission. The commission will then take on the responsibility of ensuring the distribution of high-quality water, while encouraging water conservation. Local governance will be simplified and enhanced, without increasing the overall administrative cost of government.
I might also say that although not in the legislation itself but associated with it are a number of initiatives that will enhance the long-term purity of our water supply in the greater Victoria area, including negotiations to try to limit access that currently comes very close to the water supply through a highway that runs right next to the existing reservoir. The intention is to close that highway.
The intention is to do some land exchanges -- to take some of the private land ownership that is currently within the most active catchment areas and remove that, and through exchange, provide the opportunity for the commission to control critical lands that are essential to the future purity of the water supply -- and also to look at realignments of rights-of-way to facilitate bicycle trails that will not compromise the water supply but will provide for opportunities for the extension of current bicycle networks. The park management plan that the CRD will be creating as part of a wilderness park will certainly provide for recreation. But it will also respect the need to provide a buffer between the catchment areas that form the critical crucible of our water supply and population.
From all respects, this bill provides the framework for what I think is a tremendous step forward for greater Victoria in terms of the management of our water supply and in terms of the protection of critical green space. I believe that the future of a community depends upon its commitment to maintaining a balance between green space and built-up areas and maintaining its commitment to the purity of its critical water supply.
This bill is visionary. It builds on the input from the community. In turn, it turns the issue and responsibility back to the community, but within a framework that will ensure that these issues can be addressed effectively not only in the next few years but well into the next millennium. As such, it's a step forward towards meeting the challenges of rapid population growth on southern Vancouver Island and, more importantly, confirms this government's commitment to a sustainable, livable future.
For all those reasons -- and so many more that I could recite, but I'll leave that for others to do -- I am delighted to move that Bill 17 be read a second time now.
M. Coell: I'm pleased to stand and offer some kind words of support for Bill 17. I -- as well as the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin and the member for Victoria-Beacon Hill, I'm sure -- am in support of this motion.
I had the distinct pleasure -- as I know the member for Victoria-Beacon Hill had as mayor of Victoria -- as mayor of Saanich, of sitting on the capital regional district board and also on the Victoria water district board, and for many years trying to find a way to accomplish a number of the things that this bill does accomplish -- the parkland being one.
The access directly in front of the water reservoir itself -- which, I might add, the logging trucks and the commercial vehicles are still using today
[5:45]I believe that the spillover of excess water in this reservoir is going to be needed for farmland on the peninsula and in Metchosin in the future. I hope this new body under the capital regional district can deal with that in the few years ahead of us.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the people of greater Victoria are generally in support of this bill. I think the governance is a vast improvement over what we had. You now have areas -- the electoral areas, the peninsula, the Western Communities -- having a direct say in the water they use. I think that will be a benefit for cooperation throughout the region.
As I said, having sat on the water board and the CRD and having been an owner of that water district -- being the mayor of Saanich -- along with Victoria, Esquimalt and Oak Bay, and now sitting as MLA, this is a welcome bill. I am pleased to support it.
M. Sihota: I just want to say a few things about this bill. First of all, we have heard much in this chamber for the last few days about the word "consultation" and criticism from the opposition that this is a government that does not consult adequately with other levels of government, be it federal or municipal. I guess it's always easy to make those kinds of criticisms in the absence of knowledge of situations where
[ Page 3189 ]
government has indeed engaged in meaningful consultation. This is a classic example of where a government engaged in meaningful consultation and put an end to the significant confrontation, I would say, that was occurring in the greater Victoria area. I think it puts a lie to those who would try to make a suggestion that we on this side of the House don't value, believe in or engage in consultation.
There was a time here in the greater Victoria area when just about every day you could pick up the local newspaper and read a story about environmentalists and members of the water board going after one another over a number of environmental, water and logging issues -- to the point where it was not constructive, really. In the time that I have had the privilege of representing Esquimalt-Metchosin in the Legislature, time and time again constituents have come to me concerned about the fact that they are paying increased rates for water without any representation on the water district board. The water district board, as all members acknowledge, was made up of the four core municipalities without any representation from the growing component of the greater Victoria area, be it out on the Saanich Peninsula or in the Western Communities -- Colwood, Langford, View Royal, Metchosin and the like.
In my view it was wrong that we had a situation in this province -- and I remember raising this in opposition, actually -- where there was taxation without representation. I think we, as a government, felt that it was fundamental to solve that problem and to make sure that with regard to the setting of rates for water and the like, it must be done through a representative body. We've solved that through placing this in the hands of the CRD.
Secondly, we felt that by placing the management within the CRD, we were putting an end to an era of confrontation at water district meetings. I'm being optimistic, but I do think that the flavour of the meetings of the CRD are somewhat different, and I don't think we're going to see that type of confrontation. One of the reasons -- if I get to admit it -- is the creation of the park that's part and parcel of this legislation.
What this means is that Victorians will continue to have very high-quality water to drink, and that's essential in terms of the provision of water for future generations. We had a small scare a few years ago where cats and automobiles found themselves involved -- one way or the other -- with water in the greater Victoria area, and it caused some questions to arise with regards to the quality of our water.
I believe that this legislation will serve, in part, to ensure that those quality-related issues do not arise in the future and that Victoria will continue to be known as a place where one can drink clean, high-quality water. And I think that's important, because when you travel around the world -- anywhere else outside of Canada, essentially -- you begin to find that most of the world now does not drink their water from a tap but from a bottle that they buy at a grocery store.
I think that says something about the way in which we as a country and we as a province have invested in our infrastructure so as to maintain the integrity of water, versus other nations and other jurisdictions that have not had that kind of foresight. In many ways, this bill is a little bit about our vision, on this part of the House and of Victoria, and about what we see Victoria looking like in the years ahead. We as a government believe fundamentally that it is essential that if we are to maintain the quality of life that we have, the high standard of living that we have, we must have a strong environmental infrastructure -- as I call it -- in place. Here in the greater Victoria area, through the combination of the legislation we brought forward in terms of clean air, this legislation, which is designed to protect clean water, and the parks that we've established in this region that will now encircle the greater Victoria area: the Sooke Hills park in this piece of legislation, combined with the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail and the Commonwealth Nature Legacy, which is found in places like Panama Hill, Finlayson Arm, Tod Inlet, Glencoe Cove and the like
What that will do is it will continue to make Victoria a place of choice for families and others to move here and live, and for businesses to invest. I think that we here in the greater Victoria area are laying out this vision. We will have built an environmental infrastructure that will begin to attract investment in British Columbia because of the quality of life that we can offer to people, the quality of our environment.
All too often people think -- and they make the argument -- that somehow economic growth and environmental protection cannot go hand in hand. What we're seeking to demonstrate here in British Columbia, particularly in Victoria and throughout the lower mainland, is that you can have your cake and eat it too. In the context of this legislation we can have our cake and eat it too here in the greater Victoria area, one of the best environments for people to live in and by virtue of that, a great place to invest in. As I said the other day, if these trend lines continue, the future in Victoria will lie not so much -- and I'll be speaking more about this later on -- in white-collar or blue-collar jobs but in what I call green-collar jobs.
This would not have been possible
M. Sihota: You'll hear more about it, hon. members. I know the Minister of Employment and Investment is highly supportive of this. In fact, if he had his way I'd go on for another half-hour.
In coming close to the conclusion of my remarks, I want to take the opportunity to thank David Perry, who we appointed to try to solve this situation for us. In my view, David did an exemplary job of working through the intricacies of this matter and allowing us to have placed before this House a bill which all members of this House will, I'm sure, be supporting.
G. Brewin: I can't resist saying a few words in support of this bill. I've been working on it as a result of being asked by the Minister of Finance to participate in it. It's been my pleasure to do that.
Off the top I want I want to say a thank-you to the member for Esquimalt-Metchosin for in fact setting this up when he had another job a little earlier in this parliament. That was a very important role -- initiating, as it happened, an investigation, a study, that David Perry did and completed so ably to set us on this path to produce this legislation.
It does indeed produce a vision for this community. In fact, it produces a vision that the whole of British Columbia can appreciate, because this is the capital city. As the capital city is enhanced, it can provide for the whole of this province the kind of centre that it should be and that the whole community of the province can be proud of.
So we're going to have an absolutely first-rate water supply system here. We're going to have an incredible parks
[ Page 3190 ]
set-up and linkages from sea to sea, a greenbelt that's going to be absolutely quite outstanding. As well, coming from local government, as I and the member for Saanich North and the Islands do
The consultation process, as has been mentioned, was and still is extensive. Earlier this week we produced the regulations. They are currently in circulation, so we will get feedback from the communities as to the kinds of regulations that should be in place.
One of the reasons that all this has been necessary is that too much of it was put in a piece of legislation. And for the last 50 years -- particularly getting a head of steam in the last 15 -- changes needed to take place, and that required a piece of legislation. This will now make a major difference in how this happens.
So this is a most laudable piece of work, and I want to congratulate everybody who has been part of it -- particularly the community, who have said: "This is very important. Get on with it." So, as I sit down, I am sure every member of this House is going to be supporting it.
Hon. A. Petter: Given the hour, I'll simply say how pleased I am that this bill is receiving support from all sides of the House and again give my thanks and appreciation to all those who helped to bring us to this point. I look forward to the bill passing and taking the next steps in respect to ensuring our water supply and protecting our land here in greater Victoria.
With that, I again move second reading.
Bill 17, Capital Region Water Supply and Sooke Hills Protection Act, 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 A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. P. Ramsey moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:58 p.m.
The committee met at 2:39 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF LABOUR
Hon. J. Cashore: There are a few items here that I would just like to get on the record, and I'll pass some documents over to the opposition.
The first is that we said we'd get back with regard to some questions about the Skills Development and Fair Wage Act and the task force to enforce that act. The mandate is to ensure all tendering agencies, contractors and subcontractors on projects covered by the act are formally advised of their obligations under the act; secondly, to liaise with the construction industry, building trade unions and other interested parties to address any concerns of compliance; thirdly, to coordinate and conduct random audits and investigations throughout the province to ensure projects are in compliance with the act; fourthly, to maintain a comprehensive data bank and tracking system of all projects covered under the act; and finally, to use the enforcement measures in the act and the Employment Standards Act to increase the level of compliance.
The task force will consist of four industrial relations officers assigned halftime -- that's two full-time employees and two law co-op students. Additional associated costs are salaries and benefits, $38,000; travel, $5,000; office, $500 -- for a total of $43,500.
Also, there was a question with regard to the time for closing an employment standards branch file. According to the director, there are no official statistics on this. The average length of time to get an ESB complaint resolved from intake to determination is six months -- on average, three months on our wait-list and three months to resolve. If a determination is made and the employer does not comply voluntarily, it could take one to three months longer.
I have some items I would like to send across the floor. One is a current list of temporary Employment Standards Act exclusions. That's on a bit of a table here; there's an alphabetical listing of exclusions in another table form. Secondly, so we can send it all at once, is the official final report on governments with regard to the ITAC, because I'm not sure that you do have the actual final report.
I'm sorry, but I do have another item here. It's the tape of the "Learning a Living" event that was on last night. I don't know if the opposition caucus had an event on last night, but if they did, I hope it was helpful to be able to have that taped.
Also, the caucus may wish to convey to two of their colleagues that my exercise colleagues from the Liberal caucus failed to show up this morning, and I just thought I'd mention that. I always hear from them when I don't show up.
I don't know that I've introduced all of the people that have been here. Today we have Terrance Bogyo from the Workers Compensation Board, who's with us to assist me in these matters.
L. Reid: I'm pleased to be entering into this debate to talk about the future of the workers compensation system. I do believe there are a number of policy issues that need to be addressed, and certainly I will be addressing them throughout my remarks this afternoon.
Specifically, I want to put an issue on the record that alarmed me greatly last August, September, October. When I went to have a variety of meetings at the workers compensation system and indicated that I had still not been in receipt of materials that had been requested during last year's estimates, the impression I was left with was, oh no, in fact I certainly had received those materials, and I was somehow misleading the members of the Workers Compensation Board staff.
[ Page 3191 ]
This past November I received a letter. I am going to enter it into the record, because I know I will request materials from this particular session, and I am not prepared to have the same lack of efficiency come forward. It's addressed to me.
"Please find enclosed material from the Workers Compensation Board in response to issues you raised during estimates debate this past summer. Due to administrative errors, this material was never forwarded to you. I apologize for this very lengthy delay."The material was requested in July and August; I received it on November 21, 1996.
[2:45]You were kind enough to introduce Mr. Bogyo to me. Those were meetings that I had with him where he was convinced that this material was in my possession. It was not. I accept that I now have the material, for the most part. But I raise it not just on my behalf but on behalf of individuals, constituents and claimants across this province who say: "No, no, no, you have my material. Why is it you won't respond to my question?" These kinds of administrative errors, if you will, are problematic for the organization.
That's where I want to start my remarks today, when I talk about accountability and measurement in the organization, because it doesn't just affect a lone MLA asking for that level of information. It affects every single claimant who has difficulty securing that information from the board.
I know, as you know, that recently
We should have some ongoing discussions -- not just today but over the course of this term of office -- so that when people come to the board, which is the only agency at their disposal
I want to spend a few minutes talking about the grid, the matrix, that the auditor general has put forward, because in my questioning I wish to discover whether or not the workers compensation system is going down this same road. I know I'm constantly receiving annual reports that say, "It's in hand," but I have now been told the same response pattern, if you will, for six years. If it were you or I who had a claim before the workers compensation system, six years would be an incredible length of time, let alone six months or six weeks, if we were waiting for a paycheque.
I believe this is a reasonable place for us to start today. Frankly, it's one of the places that I go to no matter what ministry I critique, because the public sector is changing in terms of its accountability. The public is demanding more and more, and these agencies need to be more responsive. I don't think that's an issue that any colleague, any member of this Legislature, would disagree with.
In terms of enhancing accountability performance, the auditor general recommended a shift away from traditional input-based management and reporting to a focus on results to clearly identify program objectives and measure performance against these objectives. We support that. But what alarms me is that we continue to talk a good line in this Legislature, but when it comes to actually demonstrating results for individuals who have difficulties with the board
And these are not the first-time, single-time claimants that go before the board. My understanding is that for the most part, roughly 80 to 85 percent of individuals who have contact with the board have no difficulty with that contact. I applaud that. My concern is for the 15 to 20 percent who have ongoing difficulty with the board. Is there a way to improve that level of contact? I believe the answer to the question is yes, but I believe we need to report to the public at large that progress is being made on any of those fronts.
The auditor general's report talks about "operational
"Financial." Are the financial objectives sound? And are they being met? I appreciate receiving the financial documents of the organization. Yes, this year, based on a new accounting framework, it looks relatively good. What alarms me is that it doesn't impact directly on constituents and claimants around this province, who now have pension pay-outs of somewhere in the neighbourhood of $21 or $28 a month. I mean, there has to be some relevancy to reporting tremendous surpluses and then comparing that to people's lives and livelihoods, because there are some problems.
"Legal compliance and fairness, equity and probity." Is the program conducted in a manner that complies with legislation and expected standards of conduct? Certainly I would suggest that, with some exceptions around policy issues, for the most part the legislation does provide a framework for complainants to come before the system. The expected standards of conduct is an issue that I take very seriously, because I -- and again many colleagues in this Legislature -- have had lots of difficulties, lots of issues around how people are treated in that organization.
My remarks last August when we debated this very issue were all about whether or not the organization demonstrated any level of humanity when it came to how they dealt with individual claimants. There have been improvements at the board. Again, I would be the first one to suggest that there have been some decent decisions taken to treat people with a little more respect and a little more regard when they come through the front doors of that organization.
I was delighted when Cynthia Morton changed the sign that said "Security" and now says "Information," because it's a very small thing to most of us, who walk into a million public buildings in our lives, but for your very first contact with what should be a public agency, it's off-putting. It's intimidating to lots of individuals. So the organization is starting to humanize some of its approaches. I think that's a very good thing.
In terms of comparing claimant X and claimant Y and realizing that they each had dramatically different treatment by the board for what we and they perceive to be very similar complaints -- a significant issue -- no one responds to that.
[ Page 3192 ]
No one apologizes for some of that level of conduct, and no one does anything to make up for it. From the position of both workers and employers, when mistakes are made
I attempted to make the case very strongly last year that to me, this is a public agency, it's pretty much a closed-door operation at the present time, and it would benefit dramatically from a public open house every once in a while so that people could actually go in the front doors and find out how the organization operates. It hasn't tended to do that; it's tended to draw in more and more resources and not interact effectively with the public.
I think it would be an easy thing for this minister to stand up and suggest that the agency does have some accountability to the public at large. It is funded by employers in this province, but it impacts so dramatically on families. They too have to deal with these injured workers and these employers who come home totally frustrated with the board. If they had a sense of how that organization could work and should work, that would be a very good thing from the perspective of the official opposition.
So when I talk about expectation, I talk about accountability; I talk about evaluation. That's the framework for this afternoon's discussion. I would like to know, when I pose a variety of questions, how those results were achieved, why those decisions were made and how the successes will be evaluated, because all of that says to me that the organization is vital and active and is making some headway. Lots of the presentations currently before the royal commission say that not very much has changed since 1917. I think a great deal has changed; I think the world has changed.
But I think the organization could be tremendously responsive to the public and, frankly, is today missing a very good opportunity. Certainly my dealings with the board, my visits to the board -- and I've been there many times
I have a number of questions later on, as we go through the new survey documents that are in place from the board. But could I have the minister respond from an accountability perspective? Does he share my concern? Are there some plans in place on behalf of the ministry to ensure that the board rises to that expectation?
Hon. J. Cashore: I'd like to thank the hon. member for her well-thought-out remarks. Obviously, the issue of accountability must be addressed. We had chatted outside the committee room about the fact that the royal commission is underway and to what extent that would impact on the debate. I'm not mentioning the royal commission to use that as a means of avoiding this discussion, but I think that is the best forum that's available to me right now, to hear that comment and, indeed, other comments in the whole area of how accountability should be addressed, ensured and evaluated.
In the meantime, the fact is that government has appointed a panel of administrators, and it reports to government on behalf of the WCB. So there is an expectation with regard to accountability and their responsibility for that. I do meet with them from time to time, and in doing so I think it is very clear that that is the expectation. I believe that in the way they are going about carrying out their activities, they do take that seriously.
Now, I know it's possible to point to issues and concerns that are ongoing, that, as the member has acknowledged, are going to happen from time to time in such a large organization as the Workers Compensation Board. But be that as it may, we have to be very diligent about making sure it's the best system we can possibly have.
I want to say with regard to the point that was made about the information that was promised in the last set of estimates that I take that very seriously. I apologize for the lateness of receiving that information, and I want to make a commitment that I will ensure that those materials that are committed to as a result of this debate are in the hon. member's hands by September 1 of this year. If they are not -- if there's any concern about that or any problem with it -- I would encourage her to call me directly, and I will certainly return that call and find out what's happening. So I think that's all I'd want to say at this particular point.
L. Reid: I thank the minister most sincerely for his commitment.
In terms of whether or not this issue is dealt with by the royal commission, I have no way of knowing that. So from my perspective, I'd very much like to enter into the record three or four more points that I trust will be considered. I can only hope that transpires. Again, I'm referring to the auditor general's report "Enhancing Accountability for Performance."
To be effective, this auditor general recommends a so-called performance management system that includes: clearly established objectives for programs; effective strategies; program design; policy development planning to meet the objectives; aligning resources; budget information systems; people and controls to implement the strategies; performance measures to facilitate accountability; and a system of relevant and timely reporting.
[3:00]Real consequences associated with not meeting performance measures. That's the one that leapt off the page at me, in terms of both employers and workers in the province who are promised a piece of information by a certain time, and it doesn't come. There's no consequence to not receiving that information, and there's no ability to motivate, to move, the workers compensation system quickly. I'm convinced that the same response that is given to workers and employers is the response I received, which is: "Look, the file's on somebody's desk. If you want me to get it back to answer your question, that will take two weeks." I mean, government doesn't have the luxury to operate that slowly in urgent cases, and I don't believe that that's a luxury that should be afforded to the workers compensation system.
To finalize the last comment from the auditor general -- because it speaks directly to this process we're engaged in at
[ Page 3193 ]
the present time -- we need to learn the extent to which the summary information presented in the estimates is sufficient vis-à-vis the detailed business plans and effective in providing performance information. I appreciate receiving the annual report of the workers compensation system, but I would be happier receiving information that details what the business plan is for each of the new initiatives that comes forward.
Oftentimes, at the end of the study or at the end of the intervention there's a report; people report out. But they don't set the stage, or they simply don't share that information with the public in terms of how best to structure those kinds of evaluations. We hear at the end of the day whether or not it was successful, but we don't learn the criteria for how they evaluated whether or not it was successful. That's a significant issue.
Whether the major goals or objectives of the programs are congruent with their business purpose. When the business plan is not shared with you, it's very difficult to determine whether or not the outcomes are valid -- indeed whether those outcomes are even desired. Were they a consequence of any specific intervention that the board undertook? Or was it just something that happened? Any of us who have been engaged in any kind of university studies, research studies know that you have to establish very clearly what the baseline is so you indeed know what you're measuring. A number of the studies that go forward from the board are unclear as to what the desired outcome is.
Whether the performance measures chosen are appropriate in measuring the results of the program, and the extent to which the objectives have been met. That's my ongoing concern, because we are not clear if the objectives have been met. Many times the report has been deferred; it hasn't been made available.
How the program is done in terms of meeting its performance measures. "Enhancing Accountability for Performance: A Framework and an Implementation Plan," the accountability information matrix, is a useful tool. I know that it's probably not something that the board has incorporated into their discussions in the past, but I would welcome that. I would dearly love to sit down with Mr. Bogyo in my next meeting with the board and have him respond to me based on a matrix such as this.
These are the resources that employers in this province are providing. What are they getting for that level of resource? That discussion shifts continuously. It's a discussion of shifting sands, but the people who fund the system have every right, I believe, and every obligation, every responsibility, to understand how those dollars are being spent. And the individuals who benefit from those programs, should they be injured on the job, need to know that those dollars are being spent in some kind of cost-effective manner. The number of cases that I know I've shared directly with the minister's office in the past have typically been around whether or not resources have been allocated appropriately. If I had to select a particular theme, that would be a very significant theme. People can't reach conclusions unless they know the criteria under which those programs were established -- again, a significant issue.
So I don't know if the board is going to look at a matrix such as this, but I would certainly encourage them to do so. It talks about the three areas I mentioned previously: operational, financial and compliance. How do we get to the point where we can say definitively whether or not a program was followed with any kind of effectiveness? And how do we report out to the public so that they understand that? If we could go anywhere down that road in the next ten or 12 months, I would be delighted. I would be the first one to stand up and commend the workers compensation system for having reported to the public in a much more transparent way.
Most folks cannot glean, from the level of correspondence they receive, anything about how the organization operates. If there are ways to make that organization more straightforward, I would again welcome that. Frankly, the government should welcome that, because even though you can make the case that it's a hands-off agency of government, the public doesn't see it that way. They see this government -- this Legislature -- as having spawned the workers compensation system by legislation in 1917. They see some responsibility; they see this government having some responsibility for the workers compensation system.
So is the government achieving what it set out to achieve? Is there a reasonable insurance program in place? Do we agree that the workers compensation system in British Columbia is an insurance program for workers unfortunately injured or workers who receive some kind of occupational disease on the job? Do we agree that it's an insurance program? I'm hoping that yes, we do. Do we believe it's the best it can be? I don't believe it is. I believe there are some changes that could make it more effective, to make it more responsive to people.
When you talk about buying house insurance, about buying car insurance you certainly get a much improved level of service from those brokers, if you will. These individuals have the ability to broker people's lives -- which is much more significant -- and, from an employer's perspective, have the ability to cripple new business enterprise unless the support mechanisms are in place, the prevention discussions have been held and there's a shared partnership underway.
I mean, this is a package, and all of us are players in the package, whether you're an employer, whether you're an injured worker in the province, whether you're a family member, whether you're the Deputy Minister of Labour. Everyone has some responsibility for how well this organization functions and how well it reports to the public. I believe that.
I would ask the minister to comment.
Hon. J. Cashore: There was a point that the hon. member made in her earlier comment about accountability and the role of the public in that accountability. I certainly think that's a major factor and one that needs to be recognized and respected. I also think that the hon. member makes several very, very good points.
Perhaps there's one experience that all MLAs have, regardless of what side of the House they sit on: the number of concerns with regard to this area that, by definition, do address human suffering. Those are difficult, challenging and upsetting circumstances that do affect people's lives.
It is true that when you look at the annual report, you can see some trend lines that do have some positive aspects related to them, but it is
I'm not trying to duck that by saying that's why we have the royal commission, because obviously these are very valid questions. WCB has a mandate, government has a mandate, and we have our working relationship through the panel of administrators. So all of that is ongoing.
But I think there is also respect for the opportunity we have now with regard to the fact that a lot of people will be
[ Page 3194 ]
out there telling their stories. We have to put that together with the kinds of comments that are coming in from those members of the public who contact members of the opposition and government MLAs with their stories. And obviously that has to be respected in this forum as well.
Now I'd like to make a few suggestions, which I jotted down as I was listening to the hon. member. The first is that I want to advise her that -- I will wait to do this until the House rises, assuming it rises at some orderly and reasonable time -- I will personally meet again with the panel of the administrators primarily with regard to two items on the agenda. One will be the annual report and the issues that the member raises with regard to accountability -- and also the issues that are raised in the Morfitt report with regard to accountability.
Secondly, I want to assure the hon. member that I will monitor the feedback which is coming to us from whatever source -- whether it's within the scope of the royal commission or from the other ways that we receive information -- and seek to ensure that that information is part of something that we are sensitively aware of.
Thirdly, I will send copies of the Hansard of this discussion and also of the Morfitt report to the royal commission, and I will copy the hon. member with a covering letter when that is done. I would also like to offer to the hon. member the opportunity to meet with the panel of administrators to also discuss some of these issues first hand. Mr. Bogyo would also be very glad to meet with the hon. member.
I would just point out that the way the system is functioning now, the WCB has a five-year plan, and then within the context of a five-year plan there's an annual plan. One of the things that I know the panel of administrators would be glad to share with the hon. member would be points coming out of discussions around that with regard to the definition of a five-year and annual plan and how it's being evaluated.
L. Reid: I certainly thank the minister, because I do believe that he and I will work well together in the coming year.
Just to close on this report
"In the first phase of this initiative, government is focusing on better planning and monitoring information to help improve program performance and resource allocation. Ministries are being encouraged to use business plans for internal planning and program design. Treasury board's funding decisions in future will reflect an increasing use of performance information in the budget allocation process." And where are we today? "As part of their business plans, 15 to 20 percent of government programs are already using performance measures. This is targeted to rise to 50 percent by 1998."So it seems to me that by the next time we do this estimate, there will be enough examples within government ministries to suggest whether or not this matrix is fruitful. What I'm hoping is that this minister will indeed suggest, however delicately, to the workers compensation system that they, too, pilot such a matrix, so that by the end of 1998 there can be some comparisons between the levels of service that individuals receive within government ministries and within arm's-length agencies such as the Workers Compensation Board or different types of Crown corporations.
"All ministries have outlined plans and a timetable for developing performance measures for all of their programs over the next three years. Performance measures are also being included in Crown corporation business plans, and Crown corporations will regularly revert the performance results to government."Most folks will not appreciate how welcome this is, but this is the culmination of many, many years of work on the Public Accounts Committee, and it's not unique to British Columbia; it's not unique to Canada. It's the benchmarking discussion that's being held in many, many Commonwealth countries. So if this minister can see fit to extend this type of thinking to the workers compensation system, I would truly welcome that.
In terms of accountability within the ministry, I simply want to take a minute to commend the workers adviser office and the employers adviser office. My dealings with Blake Williams and Ray Bozzer have been exemplary. Both of them have done their absolute best to ensure that their level of accountability to the individuals who come forward to them is first-rate. I certainly commend that.
All of this comes to a resource discussion. In terms of where they go from here, it's certainly my understanding, and the minister can probably confirm this, that the workers adviser office currently has 40 full-time-equivalents, and the employers adviser office currently has 20 full-time-equivalents. It seems to me that the level of funding perhaps needs to be evaluated in terms of the caseloads that each of those offices carries. I'm not convinced that the employer concerns are that much lower in number to allow for a 50 percent reduction in staffing over the workers office.
It seems to me that the level of sophistication of inquiry is growing at an amazing pace and that as new policy binders come forward from the workers compensation system, the sophistication of the inquiry is only going to grow. People are not asking simple, straightforward questions of both those offices any longer. They're asking very complex questions in terms of the appeal process or in terms of how assessment rates were set, which all require fairly lengthy responses. Has the minister folded that into his thinking in terms of what the staff in those offices will look like by the end of 1997?
[3:15]Hon. J. Cashore: The workers advisers and the employers advisers have put forth business plans that incorporate the recommendations to expand. We are taking that into consideration, and we will not be making a final decision on it until we have some input from the royal commission. We will be looking at that.
L. Reid: I'm in possession of the Semmens and Adams report, March 31, 1995, "The Management Review of the Compensation Advisory Services." It was prepared for Mr. Gary Martin, assistant deputy minister, Ministry of Skills, Training and Labour. My question specifically to the minister is on the recommendations from this report, which I don't see as being part of the royal commission. I see this as being a separately commissioned report that makes some recommendations. In that it was dated March 31, 1995, I'm happy to be fairly specific with the minister, but I would be intrigued to learn where these recommendations have gone, because I can't imagine that the response to a report that's more than a year old now is that we're going to put it on hold for the commission. It seems to me that the commission is not going to handle all the issues that everyone is somehow suggesting should be moved over into their bailiwick.
Just to give some background to the minister on the changes in workload, the offices have experienced -- and made -- many compelling changes over the past five years: "The 1990 report predicted that workload would grow by roughly 200 percent at both offices between the period 1988-89
[ Page 3195 ]
and 1994-95." That indeed has happened at the workers adviser office, which has experienced a 137 percent increase in duty advice activities and a 217 percent increase in its annual number of new and reopened files. The growth in workload at the employers adviser office has been much greater. The level of duty-advice grew by 651 percent, and its number of new and reopened files grew by 288 percent.
With every respect to this minister, that's not an issue that can wait until the end of 1998-99, when the royal commission brings forward its report. We both know that the royal commission time line has been extended, so by the time we're actually looking at concrete recommendations from that document, it will be 1999. This observation was made in 1995, and I believe it deserves some recognition, if not resolution, today.
Hon. J. Cashore: Yes, there has been an increase in resources at the employers adviser office, and I understand that that has come about as a result of recommendations within the report. Some of those recommendations have already been implemented. We don't have that information with us, but we will send it to the hon. member.
L. Reid: Again I thank the minister for his comment. If indeed he is sending information, I will put into the record three or four points that I would specifically be interested in.
One of the recommendations says: "Invest in superb and ongoing training of employers, union representatives and employer associations." It seems to me that if the employers adviser office and workers adviser office are the centres of expertise, then, indeed, to share that expertise more widely and have people make fewer demands on the offices is probably a good thing. Certainly, to have people have that information at their immediate disposal in their particular job site is also a very good thing.
When the minister is able to provide that information, could he perhaps comment on whether any new training programs have been put in place? Again, for some kind of accountability framework around that, how many people were trained and how did it change their performance on the job site? Speaking as a past teacher, I think in-service is a very good thing, but only if it has measured some kind of return.
Chapter 1 in this document refers to the office's current effectiveness; that is, to what extent each office has the required attributes of an effective organization. That was going to be forthcoming, and I would trust that the minister will send that information on.
The last review of the compensation advisory services was completed in early 1990. I too would agree that there have been a number of significant changes in expectation and in response, but, again, a status report on how that's unfolding to date
There are a number of references to the new Workers Compensation Act proclaimed in 1991. It represented a new governance structure of the WCB, introduced a new appeals division and reduced the statutory time limit for appealing to the board and providing submissions. Some of that is no longer valid, but I would appreciate some feedback in terms of whether those other recommendations, particularly around the statutory time limit, have made any difference to the work of the board, and whether those little legislative changes have indeed resulted in a different type of appeal or a different sophistication of appeal, if you will.
One of the things that I found very interesting about this report is that the new employer groups registered that Bill 63 has added up to 20,000 new employers. That point I raise only in concert with my first point about superb training -- that if these are indeed 20,000 new employers in the province, they need some training on how best to implement the Workers Compensation policies with their employees on their job sites. It seems to me that it probably hasn't happened, which has only increased the level of contact individuals have had with the workers compensation system itself.
Certainly, it makes reference to the WCB recognizing and adding 50 new industrial diseases, including repetitive strain injuries. Again, without appropriate in-service on the job, people are going to have extreme difficulty in understanding how best to share that information with their employees. The employers who come to meet with me in my constituency office have some serious concerns about the volume of material that they are expected to fold into their everyday job practice, and they often don't feel they're supported. I know that that's always a resource question. How many people do we have training the individuals to deliver that level of expertise?
On page 39 of the report is the recommendation that the employers adviser office and workers adviser office directors work with the ADM to prepare a persuasive proposal and business case for taking on this training mandate. It goes on to say that their plan should cover the role of these offices -- the employers adviser and the workers adviser -- as well as WCB staff in developing training materials, the target groups to be trained, their needs, the appropriate and approximate number of persons to be trained, strategy for delivering that training and the associated resource requirements such as FTEs, travel funds, resources to develop and update the needed materials, etc.
It's a fairly lengthy section, but my question is simply going to be whether any of that has happened. If the minister is able at a future point to come back and provide that information, that would be very useful.
Page 40 of the report again speaks to my first comment about an investment in training. "The value of equipping others besides the EAO and WAO to provide advisory services must be stressed." So they basically are
"We believe that the first priority should be to invest in effective training focused on the groups and individuals where the greatest leverage and return is possible. Indeed, we recommend that both offices submit a joint proposal to the ADM concerning how much training ought to be conducted, by whom, to whom, with what outcomes and with what level of resources. Such a proposal ought to be submitted even if there is no assurance that the required resources will be available."So again, my question, based on where I started this debate, is: has that happened? Indeed, will that be shared with us at some point? I appreciate that the minister is not able to answer that at the present time, and I will wait with bated breath for that material.
Chapter 6, "Action Plan" -- which is the last two pages of this report, which I'm sure will please the minister, pages 42 and 43 -- talks about the responsibilities and the partnerships that need to be formed with the assistant deputy minister to complete these tasks and the need for additional training of employees, employer associations and unions. It raises one last comment; it suggests that because these two offices exist, unions are somehow reducing their level of involvement. The actual quote here is: "The threat of more case-dumping by unions."
My concern is to question whether or not these offices are truly overworked because the unions are shifting that work-
[ Page 3196 ]
load onto these existing offices, and if it's possible to ensure that unions continue to share equally in this partnership. Indeed, I do believe they have a responsibility to their workers. If this suggestion is in fact true, is there any way for this minister to suggest that perhaps the hundreds-of-percent increases in workload on both those offices is a result of people shifting the work to the particular office here? The WCB-office interface -- what happens with that in accordance with the five principles and priorities recommended in section 5.5?
So I leave that for the minister's future response. I certainly have no problem with that information not being made available today, because I know that whenever a new partnership is in the offing, there are lots of difficulties around territory and transition and all of those issues that are prone to large organizations. If the minister can assure me that it's forthcoming, as he has, I'm perfectly willing to accept that. Does the minister wish to comment?
Hon. J. Cashore: Yes, I want to thank the hon. member for outlining the scope of the information she is looking for in responding to that report. That will be very helpful in preparing it.
Just with regard to a couple of points, the issue about the concern that unions might be off-loading some of this responsibility with regard to the support that they provide to workers, there have been meetings with the unions on this very issue. The assessment I have received from officials is that it is not in fact taking place, that the level of capacity of the work they are doing has been maintained.
There has also been a proposal put forward with regard to the study that has to do with increased training capacity, and that's under consideration. I think the points that the hon. member makes about education are very good, for obvious reasons. Again, I think we will learn something from the findings of the royal commission where, again, we all agree that one of the major structures undergirding prevention is education. So we will be hearing more about that.
There have been business plans coming from workers advisers and employers advisers, as I said before. With regard to workers advisers training seminars, there have been, in 1996-97, 26 seminars, with approximately 328 participants in that training. It's estimated that there will be 31 such seminars in the current fiscal year, with an estimate of 400 receiving that training. That was the workers advisers.
Now, in terms of employers advisers, there have been 130 seminars in 1996-97, and 140 are projected for 1997-98. But we will seek to get a more comprehensive review of the kinds of information the hon. member was asking for.
L. Reid: If I might, I just rise and make a comment based on how effective I do believe some of the brochures and the pamphlets have been that are currently in use by the workers adviser office and the employers adviser office. Many of you will know that I represent Richmond East and that it's a multilingual, multiethnic riding. I would simply like to commend both offices for producing their material in upwards of four languages. I think it's a very good thing; it's a decent overture. There's no point having a ton of information if it's not accessible to the majority of the population. I would simply like to go on record as saying I think it's a very good direction. I trust that more information will be available in a number of different languages.
I want to have a little bit of background information on the panel of administrators in terms of the current appointments to the panel, if you will. I don't know if Cynthia Morton has been replaced. I know it's a discussion that I've asked to have many times. I do know that Vince Collins is the current chair of the panel of administrators. Could the minister provide some background information as to the other panelists?
[3:30]Hon. J. Cashore: Cynthia Morton is still there, but that replacement will be happening quite soon, as will be
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comment. It was my understanding that Cynthia had left and was no longer attending any meetings and that her new role as the children's commissioner had indeed taken up all her time. She left many months ago.
Is there any suggestion of a particular time line? I know that so many of the concerns that I raised directly with the panel of administrators
Hon. J. Cashore: I think I misspoke myself. The hon. member is right; she is not there. I expect that this replacement, both with regard to her appointment and the one or two more that will be made, will be within a month.
L. Reid: I appreciate the clarification by the minister. My concern is also surrounding Doug Kerley, because I believe he is the job protection commissioner for the province, too. Indeed, his time is heavily constrained, based on his other responsibilities.
So at the outset it would appear that Vince Collins and Wolfgang Zimmermann are carrying the load for the panel of administrators. I think that's probably valid today, but I think it diminishes the commitment they can make to the organization and certainly reduces the volume of work they can take on, simply because their numbers have been reduced by 50 percent. The minister assures me that will be resolved within a month. I believe it will be a good decision if the minister is indeed able to replace those individuals within a month and have the panel of administrators up to speed.
In terms of the time line for this level of appointment, the original documentation refers to these being one-year appointments, with an option to renew for a second year. But some discussion was ongoing around what the future governance model for the workers compensation system should be. If the minister would be so kind to advise me: is the panel in place to the end of 1998? Is that a decision that's being left with the royal commission? Or have there been discussions that suggest what the governance structure should be for fiscal '97 and fiscal '98?
Hon. J. Cashore: They have been extended for one year. When and if that time comes up again, there will be a further extension of that time. Doug Kerley does carry a full load. We do recognize that he has other responsibilities, and that's why it's imperative that we make those additional appointments I referred to very soon.
L. Reid: Let there be no doubt that I think Doug Kerley does a superb job. When I have called him on job protection
[ Page 3197 ]
issues in the province, he has responded immediately. So indeed, I know that he is carrying his load -- probably in both places -- very effectively. But I think the expectation that he continue to do that is somewhat suspect.
In terms of criteria, what are the criteria to be appointed as a panelist on the panel of administrators? I appreciate that Cynthia Morton's background is labour law, Doug Kerley's is job protection, Vince Collins's
What's the searching process going to be in terms of who the next appointees might be? And how is that process undertaken? Is it an order-in-council process? Is it a ministerial appointment? Is it a list of individuals that would be recommended by the board and then accepted by the minister? I would be very interested to learn what the process is.
Hon. J. Cashore: These appointees are order-in-council appointees. We try to look at a variety of aspects in making these appointments: people who can represent a knowledge consistent with what it is to be an employer and what it is to be in business, consistent with what it is to be a worker, and consistent with what it is to be able to have the ability to understand the law and understand the full mandate of WCB. We expect to find people who are able to carry out their duties in a way that is cooperative, working together in that context. So I think that there are a variety of abilities and experiences that need to be put together in making those appointments.
I don't think there's any one set of criteria that says: "This must be a person who is a lawyer, or it must be a university professor, or it must be a blue-collar worker." I think we try to find -- recognizing that each individual is very unique and brings with herself or himself a wide variety of attributes
L. Reid: What I didn't hear the minister say is that this new appointee to the panel of administrators should possess any kind of expertise in compensation services.
L. Reid: And I'm a little bit concerned about the glibness of the minister at this point.
We both appreciate that this is a hugely complex system to get a handle on, and I certainly respect the minister when he says they need to be a quick study. The bottom line is: if this is a one-year appointment, there's going to be a huge learning curve, and indeed they may not achieve any kind of effectiveness before their term is up. If I can, I offer to the record that, yes, some expertise in how compensation systems could work, should work, need to work would be a very good thing. I'm not asking the minister to appoint a particular person today, but I trust that
If the minister wishes to respond
Hon. J. Cashore: Again, I think that when I said it has to be
Having said that, yes, we are looking for an individual, and we're indeed talking to an individual who does have this kind of background. We think it would be helpful if that could be resident within at least one of the appointees. We don't think it has to be more than that.
One of the factors that we do sometimes run into -- and it makes the job a little bit more difficult -- is the issue of conflict of interest. Sometimes you can find somebody who would be an excellent, wonderful appointee were it not for the fact that that person would be in a conflict. So those are all things that
L. Reid: If I could just have the minister confirm
Hon. J. Cashore: Definitely five, possibly six.
L. Reid: Could the minister tell me what the start date is for that new one-year appointment and when it expires.
Hon. J. Cashore: Within a month.
L. Reid: From the minister's remarks, the existing members of the panel have recently been appointed for a full year. What was the date of that appointment, and when does it expire?
Hon. J. Cashore: They've been renewed for a year, and they come up again in July. Assuming that they're available for renewal, they'll be renewed again at that time.
L. Reid: Just for my clarification: July of 1997, carrying forward to July of 1998, with the possible option to renew -- which is still before the royal commission is due to report out, which is at the end of 1998. So it's quite possible that these appointments could be in place for upwards of two years.
The minister is nodding. Thank you very much.
Hon. J. Cashore: Not nodding off.
L. Reid: No, I didn't
In terms of the future, I would trust that somewhere in the documentation I'm about to receive there will be some kind of business plan for the fact that the board has gone from possibly three appointees and will by the end of this year have six appointees.
Hon. J. Cashore: Possibly.
L. Reid: Possibly six appointees.
I'd be interested in terms of how that level of responsibility is parcelled: who has responsibility for which aspect of the organization or, if there is indeed a different organizational structure in place, what that structure might look like.
[ Page 3198 ]
Hon. J. Cashore: This panel of administrators operates under the same structure with regard to governance that existed under the prior structure. When they came in, that structure of governance continued. So the way in which that was laid out is the way in which it is laid out for the current panel.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's clarification. I would commit to the record that indeed what the state of the organization in year one of the panel of administrators, which was 1995
The original mandate was to steward the organization for what was perceived to be a very short space of time. When the original governance structure, the employer-governor and worker-governor board, disintegrated, it was in fact regarded as a failure in the transition document "The Workers Compensation System of British Columbia: Still in Transition." I mean, the quote is very telling. It is that the structure has failed: "It can be regarded as an utter failure."
At the time, this was discussed as an interim measure with myself as a member of the opposition. It was a panel of administrators -- a public trustee process, if you will -- to govern the organization until a new structure could be achieved or adopted. It seems that what was then an interim measure, which most of us could perceive to be somewhere between 12 and 18 months, is now going to extend well beyond four years. That's a different process. It probably has a different objective and a different level of evaluation. I would ask the minister to comment.
[3:45]Hon. J. Cashore: I just want to clarify that we did not delete the governance section of the act. That is still the section under which the governance issue is operated; therefore, when the hon. member asks that I share a copy of a business plan, that's really not the correct term that addresses the issue of governance. I believe it is addressed in an appropriate manner under the bylaws and agendas, and we will make those available to the hon. member.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comment.
If I take the minister back to the auditor general's report, he is looking to see business plans in place. If it's a question of semantics, I will absolutely be fairly flexible on this. But for me it's a direction; it's a vision. The auditor general has said that by the end of 1998, yes, 50 percent of ministries in this province should reflect a business plan with an evaluation tool attached. If the minister accepted my earlier remarks that, yes, I have the same expectation for the workers compensation system, my asking for business plans around the level of governance is not off the mark. If the minister is suggesting that he's going to call them bylaws and agendas but that they'll provide me with the same information, I don't have any problem with that.
In terms of the governance structure of the organization, what I'm hearing the minister say is that the board of governors structure is now being carried by the panel of administrators in a trusteeship role, if you will, but in fact the government has stood in and appointed public trustees. Indeed, Vince Collins and Doug Kerley operate as trustees of the organization. If I can have the same expectation of those panellists because they are required to administer the organization under the existing governance structure, I'm absolutely fine with that.
What I'm suggesting to the minister is that that was not the message they conveyed to me. No, they were operating in a stewardship role only, and the questions I had about governance were issues that they were not there to resolve. They were there to steward the organization in the interim. One of those is probably the correct scenario. I would simply like to know which one.
Hon. J. Cashore: I agree with the hon. member that it sounds a bit like semantics, but I think it could be argued in this general discussion about semantics that it is a form of trusteeship. So I think that is right.
With regard to whether the agendas and the bylaws and what one would find there would be tantamount to a business plan, I think various people would have different definitions of what they mean by that. I think the hon. member would have to judge for herself when she sees it whether it fits into that category.
L. Reid: I thank the minister, and I will evaluate the material upon receipt. An issue I want to spend a few minutes on this afternoon
The issue I want to move to is the training of adjudicators. One of the most alarming concerns that people bring forward to me, both from the worker perspective and from the employer perspective, is that they are not able to inquire of those individuals as to their level of training. The adjudicators simply do not provide that; they are unwilling to provide that. From the perspective of both groups, whether it's an employer or a worker, they know that significant decisions will be taken by that individual, whether it's the future livelihood of their business or the future livelihood of their family. They believe they have every right to ask about that person's training and expertise to deliver the decisions they deliver.
I too share that. I would not open a public school in this province if I wasn't able to employ qualified teachers. You don't open a social work office in this province unless you have people who have appropriate credentials to offer the service of social work. So when people come to my office and suggest to me that that information is not provided to them, it raises a red flag. It suggests to me: why in the world would they not readily share that information? What are the training expectations or requirements around adjudicators? Who in this province can be employed as an adjudicator? Let's perhaps start there.
Hon. J. Cashore: There are two aspects of the answer to this question. The first is that people are hired on the basis of their capability. They are people who are believed to be capable of doing that job. Second, there's a training process to make sure that they have all the knowledge, skills and abilities to carry out the job. In other words, when people are recruited into the job, they are recruited on the basis of being people who are capable of successfully acquiring those skills and abilities that they need to have to be able to carry it out.
There is a formalized training program related to that. I think we should bear in mind that these people generally come from a sphere where they do have some background that would make them good candidates for this. I think that's
[ Page 3199 ]
based more on logic than anything else, but we'd be glad to make the information about the formalized training program available. I know the hon. member does have strong respect for the role of education and is an educator. Of course, I'd be very interested in her evaluative comments on that program.
L. Reid: The minister began his remarks by saying that only capable people are hired. Okay, but how is that capability demonstrated?
Hon. J. Cashore: I think it's demonstrated in two ways. One is by how well they do their job, and I think there is probably a variety of opinions with regard to how well they do their job. That may indeed be something that needs to be subject to further scrutiny and examination under various processes that are now underway. The fact is that they do take a training program that has in it very specific learning objectives. Have they learned the material in the program? Given that they learn that material, then I think that is the information they need to have in order to carry out the job.
L. Reid: The minister's comments continue to raise a number of concerns for me, because I can now appreciate that when the claimant or the employer puts the question, there really isn't an answer. I think this is probably one of the reasons why they become so frustrated.
Perhaps I can ask the minister to comment on whether there is a particular work experience subset that's required. Is there a particular post-secondary degree that's required? Is there a way for this minister to suggest to me that X number of adjudicators employed by the workers compensation system in British Columbia have X credentials? Is there any way to quantify the skill set of adjudicators?
Hon. J. Cashore: Yes, we do have a profile of the skills that are needed when people are recruited, and we can also make available a job description.
With regard to the question, which was asked a very particular way -- are there very specific attributes that absolutely must be fulfilled in order to even have a crack at the job? -- the answer is no. I mean, I'm not going to beat around the bush about that. I'm not troubled by that. I think what is needed is the knowledge that these people are being recruited, their credentials are looked at in terms of what they put in their own résumé, and they're not brought into this process if they're not deemed to be capable of fulfilling it. Just like in anything else, there will be some that will do better than others. But they do go through a very specific training program, and we'll make that information available.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's comment; however, it doesn't satisfy my level of concern. I will only suggest to the minister that the credibility of the decision that's made is tied to the credibility of the individual making the decision. When I started out my remarks around accountability this afternoon
I trust that the terms of reference for the job, in terms of what the expectation is, that the minister has offered to provide will take us a little bit further down the road. But it doesn't answer the question in terms of the credibility of the decision. Perhaps it's an issue that we can continue to discuss, because the minister obviously doesn't agree that this is a significant issue for people who seek information from the board, and my concern is that these are often hugely significant decisions.
None of us would accept a decision without understanding the skill set, the rationale, the expertise or the training of the individual making that decision. We would question that. What alarms me is that when claimants or employers question that today, they are shut down immediately. I think it's a good question. I'm pleased that they have asked it in the past. I will continue to ask it, because it alarms me that it's not considered a huge shortcoming of the organization that there's no way to suggest that this skill set is critical to achieving credible decisions.
I know I've raised the question in the past in terms of the number of people who would commit suicide at the Workers Compensation Board -- who have committed suicide. The numbers have been alarming in one sense. In the other sense, I've been told that the organization doesn't track that -- that they couldn't tell you how many people on an active WCB claim had actually committed suicide.
The reason I come back to the training question is because I'm terribly concerned that the first contact that individuals have with the board is often the adjudicator. I need to know whether or not that training program involves any kind of risk assessment -- whether or not those individuals truly look at claimants to see if they're at risk.
I've done a fair bit of work with the Justice Institute in terms of discovering how they train firefighters, police officers -- people who the public expect to have some skill set around risk assessment. I want adjudicators in the workers compensation system to have access to that same level of training. I don't want individuals who are obviously at risk to come through that, through all kinds of evaluative tools and measures. They move through the organization, and no one responds to that level of need.
[4:00]The minister may not agree with me on how important this adjudicator-training issue is, but I believe it's vitally important. I believe that people's true needs are often missed by the board and that they don't respond. Their response to me has been: "Well, we don't have that training." My response has always been: "Well, what training do you possess?" And the door is closed; there is no further discussion beyond that.
This training program that the minister refers to has been suggested to me as being two weeks in duration during the first year of employment. If that's true, again I'm alarmed and concerned. We would not seek the advice of individuals who had that kind of power and control over our lives, based on a two-week or two-month training program. We wouldn't put our child in a school system with a teacher who had two weeks of education. So it seems to me that if these are trust issues -- and they are -- we are trusting those people to have the credentials to make reasonable decisions that are believable and credible.
More information needs to be forthcoming. If the minister is not able to provide it today, I will accept that it is forthcoming. But the minister needs to appreciate that this is a hugely significant issue, when it comes to whether or not information flowing from this organization is believable and credible. I will await the minister's comment.
Hon. J. Cashore: I point out that these individuals are mentored for at least a year before they qualify to become an adjudicator.
[ Page 3200 ]
I would appreciate it if the hon. member wouldn't make the statement that I don't view it as seriously as she does. I don't believe that's a fair statement to make. I'm very interested in hearing from the hon. member with regard to the comments that she would make with regard to the training program that we committed to send over to her. We would very genuinely appreciate her evaluation of that. We are also going to be taking very seriously recommendations that come from other processes that are underway at the present time. So we do take this seriously.
I think I want to say at this time also -- with a little bit of risk, perhaps, of treading into an area that is somewhat risky in my position -- that I value those people who are in these positions of adjudicators. I think that because of the nature of the hurt that is experienced by those who come to seek services from them, they too are people that are dealing with some very difficult and stressful situations. I think that for the most part, they handle those circumstances in a very professional way.
L. Reid: I will certainly concur with the minister. My interest in this area is to ensure that those very adjudicators he speaks of are well equipped and well prepared to deal with the level of hurt and anxiety that is presented every day through the doors of the workers compensation system. Again, I'm not convinced that this is currently the case.
One of the courses that I would put on the record for this afternoon's discussion is offered by the Justice Institute of B.C. I have a particular concern with the number of people who do believe that they are missed by the board. The course is entitled "Suicide Assessment and Intervention." The background and purpose of the course are:
"Suicide threats or attempts raise the anxiety level of even the most experienced practitioner. To respond effectively to these concerns, practitioners require knowledge and skills in identification and appropriate intervention responses. This course is for counsellors, therapists, social workers, mental health staff and other practitioners who wish to develop skills in identification, assessment and appropriate intervention with this client group."This course has not been taken by Workers Compensation Board staff. This is a course that receives wide acclaim from all kinds of individuals -- whether they be firefighters, police officers -- who require a certain level of expertise to do their job. By raising this today, I hope this can be folded into the discussion about what is appropriate training for adjudicators. And I hope that next time I pick up a course outline, it says it's for workers compensation adjudicators, workers compensation front-line staff, because there are oftentimes no more urgent or anxiety-producing moments for people in their lives than their dealings with the workers compensation system. That's when their lives begin to disintegrate. They've had employment, they've had income, and they've been able to run a reasonable business. Something happens that dramatically changes that, and I believe that these folks are truly at risk.
I've had this conversation with Mr. Bogyo over time, and I know that members of the board share that concern about individuals whose claims come to an abrupt halt because they have committed suicide. It seems to me that we can move down the education road a little further and put in place some expectation that practitioners be well equipped to deal with individuals who we all know are finding this to be one of the most anxious times in their lives.
So that is my comment to the minister. I believe it's valid, and if this is about humanizing the board, if this is about increasing some accountability of the board, this is not a bad place to start. This could do some good things around training.
The minister suggests that he's going to send me over the job description, the terms of reference, for an adjudicator, and I appreciate that. Could the minister also send over a profile of a current adjudicator position at the board -- how many there are, how many have post-secondary training, how many are in a mentoring situation with another employee of the board? Perhaps that information will assuage my alarm over the fact that there has not been to date, after six years of asking, a reasonable sense of the skill set possessed by adjudicators in the system.
Hon. J. Cashore: Yes, we will do that. It might take a little longer because we don't have that information collated, but we can get that information with regard to the categories the hon. member mentions.
I appreciate her suggestion about the Justice Institute training. I think that's a suggestion that certainly can be looked at in the context of upgrading the training program that is already in existence. But I do want to really emphasize that the record should clearly state that it's not a two-week training program; it's a program that goes on for at least a year in a mentored capacity prior to one being considered an adjudicator. Having said that, I think that with the materials we have indicated we would send, both the job descriptions and the data with regard to the curriculum of that training program
L. Reid: I thank the minister, and perhaps he would be so kind as to include in that package of materials validation of that two-week training program. I was specifically told that it is a two-week training program that happens in eastern Canada. If that is not true, I would be very intrigued to know that.
In terms of the next item I wish to cover when I talk about service delivery and humanizing the organization, I had a glorious conversation with someone at the board about client surveys, which I think are a good thing. The issue I specifically want to raise today is a copy of a letter regarding an Angus Reid Workers Compensation Board poll. It's dated February 6, 1997, and it is written by Karie Hay of the Rory Support Group. She raises a number of concerns in here, and I will ask the minister to kindly respond:
"It has been brought to our attention by members of our support group in KelownaI will put the questions into the record because I too would appreciate the answers, and these individuals have not received an answer to date:
. . .that certain individuals, including members of our association, have been contacted by Angus Reid and questioned concerning aspects of their claims with the board. Information gained by us thus far suggests that the Workers Compensation Board has commissioned the survey. We have concerns over this. As such, we would appreciate answers to our following questions."
"One, has the Workers Compensation Board in fact commissioned Angus Reid to conduct a poll? Two, what is the intended purpose of this poll? Three, should certain individuals not wish to participate in answering the questions posed to them, are they being given assurances by the pollsters that such refusal will not in any way impact negatively upon their claim with the board?The questions are valid, and I certainly would welcome answers to the questions, if the minister could kindly respond.
"Four, (a) how is Angus Reid selecting the sample, i.e. does Angus Reid have free access to the board's records and, in turn, are they making the determination as to which clients to contact; (b) if the board is selecting the sample, could this not lead to a perception that by the board choosing the sample, the results of the poll may be skewed; (c) would not Angus Reid's
[ Page 3201 ]
access to a worker's name, claim number and telephone number, in combination with any information obtained from the worker, particularly if the worker feels he or she is compelled or under an obligation to cooperate with the pollster, be contrary to the provisions of section 95 of the Workers Compensation Act?
"Five, as a royal commission has been appointed to investigate and report on the operations of the board, is this poll not an academic process at this time, given the presumably high cost of conducting same?
"We look forward to your reply in the very near future.
Rory Support Group"
Hon. J. Cashore: Hon. Chair, I regret the delay, but I'm sure you'll appreciate that it was quite an extensive list of questions. I tried to get it down. It would facilitate answering such questions if we
R. Neufeld: You can't write that fast?
Hon. J. Cashore: I don't take shorthand.
But it would facilitate if we could get a list of those kinds of questions in advance. We could come up with more erudite answers. Of course, that would make the minister look better, which would fit in with my goals.
Anyway, on the first question; has the board commissioned Angus Reid? Yes. Secondly, the intent: client satisfaction. Thirdly, assurance that there's no negative impact: Yes. The Angus Reid
The issue of: can it be skewed, or is that the intent? Absolutely not. Again, on the question of section 95: no, it's not a violation because of the way in which it is set up. I think we would expect that Angus Reid would go about this in a professional way -- as would the board.
[4:15]Is it an academic exercise? No, it's not, because it's part of the business plan -- if we can use that term. It's part of the way in which it conducts its business. Accountability is an issue that the hon. member opposite referred to earlier, and therefore I think this is one methodology of accountability. It's not going to cover the full spectrum of accountability needs, but it is an accountability mechanism.
I think the hon. member and I have both discussed the fact that the Workers Compensation Board does have an ongoing mandate even though the royal commission is underway. Given that it does have that mandate, I have a responsibility to respond to questions, and the board has a responsibility to continue to carry out its mandate. In order to do that, they need to be carrying out evaluative activities.
The reason for this survey is stated here in this document, the annual report: the goal is to raise injured workers' service satisfaction levels. So that's what it's meant to do.
L. Reid: One part of the minister's response warmed my heart. He actually referenced a business plan. So now I do know that one exists, and I'll expect a receipt.
In terms of the concern reflected in the letter, I believe the concern is solely around confidentiality aspects, whether or not these claims are being compromised. If the minister is saying that these are only completed claims, then these individuals' claims have been handled and are resolved by the board. That's one response. If indeed these are claims in process, I think that is where the concern arises. The writer has certainly indicated that people worry about the outcome of their claims. So it would seem to me that the claims have not been finalized.
My question, specifically, is: who at the board is responsible for providing the lists of these claimants to Angus Reid?
Hon. J. Cashore: The responsibility is with the compensation services division. I would point out that the surveyor from Angus Reid does not have access to the claim number. Confidentiality is not violated.
L. Reid: Noting the hour, does the minister wish to activate his request?
Hon. J. Cashore: I was so intrigued with the discussion that I completely lost track of time. But I would like to move that we now take a short break.
The committee recessed from 4:19 p.m. to 4:50 p.m.
[S. Orcherton in the chair.]
L. Reid: We left, moments ago, with discussion of the Angus Reid survey, and certainly I appreciate the minister's response. I know, in addition to this survey ongoing
In terms of my other set of questions
Hon. J. Cashore: With regard to the Angus Reid poll, the main objective is to try to reach a 90 percent satisfaction level by the year 2000. It is an ongoing survey, and it's reported out quarterly. The activity of the survey carries on on a more frequent basis than quarterly, but it reports out quarterly.
With regard to the blue survey cards -- a very informal, anonymous process that has not been collated and analyzed -- it applies to ongoing cases. And yes, it is anecdotal, so it is an indicator, but it's not an indicator that goes into some kind of formal analytical process.
[ Page 3202 ]
L. Reid: In terms of the minister's first response -- 90 percent satisfaction by the year 2000, pertaining to the Angus Reid survey -- am I to understand, then, that Angus Reid is basically employed by Workers Compensation for a period of upwards of four years and will report out quarterly?
Hon. J. Cashore: The process will continue as an evaluation measurement process, and, of course, the contractor may or may not continue to be Angus Reid.
L. Reid: In response to the minister's second part of that first question, where I was asking about the blue survey cards, I fully appreciate that it's anecdotal. There was an entire board of them when I was there, and as I was reading through them, there were a number of suggestions people made as to things that they'd like to see happen differently. From the minister's comment, I'm wondering if indeed those are responded to in any way. Is any of that incorporated into the operation of the board? I appreciate that the minister said they weren't being quantified in any particular way; I accept that. But is somebody actually reading them to ensure that the very best suggestions are carried forward into practice?
Hon. J. Cashore: The managers of every service delivery unit read them, and therefore that becomes part of their cumulative awareness of issues that are being raised. Therefore, again in an informal way, it forms the views that they're expressing with regard to how the system can be improved.
L. Reid: For my clarification: am I to understand, then, that the blue client-survey cards -- I assume that's the correct determination -- are something that's now policy? Will that carry forward from this day forward, if you will? Or will that process at some point cease to exist?
Hon. J. Cashore: In some form. It may not be exactly the same, but yes, there will be that continuing access to that kind of opportunity for feedback.
L. Reid: I would commend the workers compensation system on that initiative, because for so many individuals it's really vitally important that their opinion be sought -- that someone asks them about their service delivery level. It happens in all kinds of public institutions and all kinds of private enterprises, as the minister knows. Whether you're shopping at Sears or going to a restaurant, there's a client satisfaction card, and people are asked to give their opinions on the service they've received. It's a very good thing, I believe, that the board is asking the question, and I trust that that will be ongoing.
We talk a great deal about the number of claims that are processed satisfactorily by the board and certainly about the number of first-time claims. And indeed, the goal is, I think, to have them processed within 17 days and to have the pay-out happen at that point. My understanding of the current annual report is that it's closer to 27 days on average. Again, I'll come back and discuss that in more detail.
What I'm particularly interested in is the percentage of claimants with a second claim in progress -- not the folks who have one contact with the board and move on with their lives, but the percentage of claims that come in that are reflective of the people who have a second, third or fourth claim, whatever it happens to be -- who have a second contact with the board. I'd be very interested to learn what percentage of the existing claims are currently in that category.
Hon. J. Cashore: We don't have that data with us, but it is available and we will get it to the hon. member. I just made a ballpark guess -- I want to emphasize that it's ballpark -- on the second, third and fourth claims, and it would be less than a quarter in total, I believe. But we will get that data.
L. Reid: I appreciate the minister's offer to provide the information, because my concern
The people who come to MLA offices across the province, whether they're government offices or opposition offices, have the same concern: it takes such a vast amount of time to work through the process. In the grand scheme of things, 27 days is probably ten days longer than the goal, but it in no way compares to the two, three or four years that most of the individuals who MLAs would deal with have been in process in some way. So if that information can be provided as well -- how many claims truly are in the system that remain unresolved for more than a year -- that would assist me in my comments for future discussions. I don't necessarily need that information at this very moment.
I'll just wrap up my remarks in the next couple of minutes. I came into this discussion this afternoon talking about accountability and credibility. The timing issue is a big part of that. For lots of individuals whose lives are on hold, they often don't understand why the process is so excruciatingly slow. And, frankly, there are many days that we as MLAs don't understand that, either. So if there can be some sense of how many folks are directly impacted by a second contact with the board that has a process unfolding for more than a year, that would be good information. I'd be more than pleased to receive that tomorrow.
[5:00]I'll turn over the floor to my colleagues, and I will see you tomorrow.
[W. Hartley in the chair.]
V. Anderson: I want to bring one concern at the moment, which has come from Kelowna, and share a report that has been prepared by Michelle Urbanovitch on her experience as a woman trying to get into the workforce as a welder. Let me read part of her letter, because I think it has some lessons that are relevant to others as well as to her own particular case:
"This letter is not an easy one to write. It is the result of much pain, humiliation and financial hardship, with the strength of hope and faith in accepting the challenge of being disabled.Then she goes on to say how she was welding with a sandbelt which was on four legs, and as she welded, it tipped against her hip, damaged her hip over that three months and bruised her hip:
"This letter is for everyone. It must be written for the women who are considering leaving their low-risk job of being a sales consultant, a waitress or an office person for a traditional man's career. Don't. The risk is too high -- and I will tell you why -- even if a government agency is willing to put you through job retraining, education included.
"I had retraining and became a welder, with on-the-job training. The education part was completed at the workplace. I was under contract with the government for a period of six months, from July 3, 1994, to December 3, 1994. I became a welder with a Canadian Welders Bureau certificate. We could challenge the actual C certificate for welding anytime after the training was completed.
"There was a total of three women and three men in this first class. There was a second class following us of four women and four men. Out of the total of seven women, six were injured. Every one of us women did not even know the proper way to use a hammer. We knew nothing of this man's world of welding. You have to be able to put out the equivalent of a man's work when you're doing production welding. There were three women welders in a shop of more than 100 men, and
[ Page 3203 ]
we had to prove we could do it
. . . .We were not told that women were only to lift so much weight, and we didn't find out we had been lifting too much weight till months later, when our contract was completed. You do the same job a man does; equal pay, you know. Women don't have upper-body strength like a man has, especially a rookie."
"Over the next three months, my bruise began getting progressively worse, my walking became slower and sharp pains occurred in my right hip area. It wasn't an everyday occurrence. I went to see the new first-aid attendant, and he informed me it was probably a pulled muscle. This was twice I went to first aid and didn't know it was not recorded in the first-aid accident book. My employer handed out a letter at our afternoon shift meeting that if you had more than two write-ups in the accident book within a two- to three-month assessment period, then you would not be eligible for your next level raise. I question how many injuries were not recorded in the first-aid book for fear of no reassessment advancement. Is this not a violation of human rights? Being student trainees, we had no idea that we were even to sign the first-aid accident book. Finally, in January of '95, I went to first aid again. I made sure it was recorded in the first-aid accident book, and I also made a doctor's appointment to have it checked outShe then goes on to talk about the increase in pain and the medicine she took, and the opportunity for relief that she got from the wheelchair, which she was able to use.
. . . .I'd get pain in my right hip.
"I ended up getting a piece of metal in my eye, and I left work to have it taken out. At the same time, I mentioned my right-hip problem to the walk-in-clinic doctor. He said he could only look at one WCB injury per day per person. They will only get paid for one. As I had my appointment for my own doctor the next day about my right hip, I chose my eye to have medical attention immediately. Little did I know it was my last day of work: the day before, on February 2, 1995.
"On February 3, at my right-hip examination, my doctor moved my right leg all around and up and down. I was in excruciating pain in my right hip, constantly from then on. I couldn't walk. I was in so much pain from my hip I couldn't even crawl on the floor to get around my home. I dragged my body using my hand, elbows and left leg. I lived alone."
"The Workers Compensation Board has never accepted my claim; they have turned me down from day one. I have never personally met anyone from WCB. I have never been examined by any of their medical doctors. Once you are disabled, life is an appeal. It could take years. Unless you have short- and long-term disability through your employer -- or so I thought. I found out that if you have a work injury, you are not entitled to disability benefits through your employer because the injury happened on the job. If you were injured off of the job, then you should be entitled to benefits. Both WCB and disability benefits you pay for automatically; it comes off your cheque."When I talked to her today, she explained that she had an insurance policy for disability, but it only applied if she got hurt while she was off work. If she was at work, it didn't cover it. Presumably, the WCB was to cover it.
This is her summary, and this is why she wanted this message shared.
"The following is very important, but at the same time, it's ridiculous that the following has to even be considered.And she concludes:
"1. Male or female, when you accept new employment -- any job and every job, even a retraining program -- you should get a complete medical first, to protect yourself.
"2. Women, get a complete medical, including a gynecological exam and tests to make sure you have never had any female problems in your life. This will make sure that nothing physical, including female problems, could be thrown back in your face. My example: 16 years ago, I had borderline cancer cells in my female area. Upon further examination, the doctor found the beginnings of endometriosis and zapped it away. A laparoscopy was done. I have never had a problem with endometriosis since -- or even had it, to speak of. I didn't know that by being honest about it, 16 years later it would be thrown in my face by my welding employer.
"3. Every time you get a bruise at work, if you are not comfortable showing the first-aid attendant your bruise, go and show and tell your doctor. My employer questioned why I didn't go to the doctor every time I got a bruise at work. I replied to this that I worked in a solid steel fabrication shop, and you didn't know you had a bruise until you get home and take your clothes off. You must go to the doctor every time you get a bruise."
"If I would have known I would end up disabled, using a wheelchair, and if I would have known I was going to end up destitute, in financial poverty, having to be on social services and that my life would never be the same as I knew it when I was physically fit, I would never have become a welder. It was too risky.I talked to her today, and she's in good spirits. But she did want this letter shared, because she was concerned that the programs are not taking into account the needs of the people who are going in for retraining or giving them the kind of instructions, guidance and support they need to adapt. I'd be interested in the minister's comment.
"The doctor knows I've accepted being disabled. It has been two years and five months since my work injury. God doesn't give me any more than I can handle. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.
"PS: Don't ever take walking for granted."
Hon. J. Cashore: I'd like to thank the hon. member. I think this puts a very human face on some of the painful experiences that people are having out there. We would need to ask a few follow-up questions in order to really identify some of the details with regard to this circumstance, in order to try to get at some of the categories in which answers are obviously needed.
I assume from the comments of the hon. member that this individual was on an industrial adjustment training program or something of that nature. If that were the case, it's my understanding that that would be covered by workers comp. Then there is the issue that comes in about the procedure within the worksite with regard to recording these incidents and this sort of thing. I would like to ask the hon. member to make that document available to us, if possible. We will try to respond to that with a copy to the hon. member.
Hon. J. Cashore: It will take a little while, because of the need to do some investigation.
I just want to mention that in any WCB situation, there is no paycheque deduction for workers to cover the costs of WCB. In every case, that is covered by the employer. I just want to clarify that. There was one part of that statement that indicated otherwise. But I do appreciate the hon. member making this available for the record.
[S. Orcherton in the chair.]
V. Anderson: I'm delighted to make a copy of the letter available to you. I'll pass it across. You can have it. I'll be delighted to have you follow up on it.
There were two parts of this. One is her own case, of course, and getting it resolved. But the other part, which she was even more concerned about, because
[ Page 3204 ]
But the other part of it -- and I appreciate the minister's comment -- was that the welding training program in this case apparently did not have the proper kind of supervision that was to be involved. This person was put in just like an able-bodied man of 400 pounds and treated that way.
One illustration, for instance, is that they had no work gloves, which you need when you're welding. The only thing they had were men's work gloves. For the first four months, she was using welding gloves that were too large and therefore made it difficult to work on the job. There was not the equipment; there was not the direction; there was not the supervision. There was not the support that this individual needed because she didn't fit in as the typical male person who was coming into this job, for whom the program was made.
It's that concern she had, as well as the concern that because of being a woman you had to take extra medical precautions ahead of time, because the WC program didn't take these into account and could use them against you. I'd appreciate comments in those two areas.
Hon. J. Cashore: Yes, I think that point is well taken. As a matter of fact, as all MLAs know, probably the majority of the WCB people who contact their MLAs say at some point: "It's not my own case. It's that I don't want this to happen to somebody else." So I do recognize that.
One of the things that perhaps the hon. member could help us with is whether this was a training program under, say, a college or some kind of a system where there would automatically be WCB coverage. Or was it a private program, where we would need to identify the worksite and follow up on that? Even though I understand that this individual wants to ensure that this doesn't happen to others, obviously, now that this is in the record, I do think that we would like the opportunity to be able to do some research with regard to further aspects of these circumstances. So I would appreciate that.
V. Anderson: It's my understanding that this was a UI program, a private retraining program. She comments that she was involved in that and was under government contract for the time that she was there. I will provide the letter to you and thank you for following it up. I will turn, then, after we've completed this, to my colleague here.
Hon. J. Cashore: Again, I think that we're
Also, on the gender issue that the hon. member referenced in his comments, I just want to mention that I'm interested in that aspect of it, too. I think we have to be sensitive to that issue; it's very important.
[5:15][W. Hartley in the chair.]
R. Neufeld: I have just a few brief questions on WCB, and then I would like to go over to employment standards for a few questions around that -- just so the staff people that you have with you know.
I want to start by saying that in my office, to the credit of the WCB, I have had less inquiries from employees -- although I've had some -- over the last year than I have had for quite a while. So obviously some of the things that are happening at WCB are positive. Some of the questions I'm going to ask here may not tend to lead that way, but I want the minister to know that inquiries into my office have dropped some. I think that bodes well for all of us it doesn't matter who you are, whether you're an employer or an employee.
One of the complaints that has increased -- and I don't know if it's in direct correlation -- is the number of fines that have been levied on companies in the northeast, and the in-your-face attitude, shall I say, from a number of the employees that work for WCB. By that I mean that it seems -- and I'm again going by some employers that are talking to me; I'm not out there to see what happens -- that the ticket book is about the first thing that comes out of the pocket. There's not a working-together attitude between people that are on the ground for WCB and employers.
I'm reminded of one in particular, which was B.C. Hydro. It is different for someone from B.C. Hydro, a Crown corporation, to complain to an MLA about WCB. But it was an issue surrounding where their trucks were parked on the road when they were doing some work on the hydro lines. That person said that the attitude of the gentleman who was on the scene for WCB was less than cooperative and probably more antagonistic than anything. That person felt that the person arrived on the scene and that the first thing that came out was the book to start charging people for whatever they could find wrong. I think we all know that when you go onto a worksite, you're going to be able to find some things wrong. I think all of us have been in the workforce at one time or another, and that is in fact true.
I think that working with companies to try and alleviate some of those things, unless they are chronic, is probably a better way for WCB to work. I use B.C. Hydro as an example because it is a Crown corporation, although there a lot of smaller companies that have also complained to me. I guess it's in part backed up by an article I read in the newspaper in the north. The northeast was the heaviest-fined area in British Columbia for one quarter. Again, it's a newspaper article, so I had no way of finding out just how that person found out that information.
But I would like to know from the minister if there is something in the WCB financial reports that could indicate the severity of the fines and how many fines are coming out of different areas around the province -- or through the WCB regions. Maybe the minister could tell me where I could find those numbers.
Hon. J. Cashore: It's not delineated along those lines in the annual report, but we would be willing to prepare a report along those lines, where the hon. member would be able to delineate -- I believe from a list -- those events that took place in perhaps the North and South Peace or just whatever the particular regions were. We would be glad to do that; it will take a little while.
R. Neufeld: I appreciate that. I wasn't sure whether there was some place that I had to go within the financial documents of WCB to find that information, but if you will provide me with that, I would appreciate that very much. I will provide you with the information that I have, so that your folks know where to look.
One part that I forgot to say in relation to that is that when I read through the Employment Standards Tribunal submissions, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors said in their submission that safety issues, with
[ Page 3205 ]
WCB stats, show that the oil and gas subclasses have an injury rate of 50 percent less for all industries in B.C. over a five-year period.
If that information is correct, what it says to me is that the injury rate is down -- I shouldn't really say down, but it is less than most industries in British Columbia. Yet on the other hand, I see the fines going up tremendously -- or I'm under that impression. I just wonder what the correlation is and whether it's actually a good workplace to have employers working with people on the ground in that area, with that kind of antagonistic feeling between both employers and the WCB.
Hon. J. Cashore: It's not our perspective that the fines are going up. But again, it's a little difficult to
On a preliminary look at it, we don't believe that the assumption about fines is correct -- that they're going up. We find the comment that the number of actual incidents is going down interesting, so we'll try to pull some of that together.
R. Neufeld: Just a couple more questions on WCB. When the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors met with me and the member for Peace River South earlier in the session, they of course had some concerns, and some of those concerns were around WCB and implementation of safety measures. They felt that in some cases the time frames were a bit unfair as to how quickly they had to comply with some of the things. They weren't advocating that they didn't believe safety was important to them; they certainly weren't trying to let us think that. But they gave me an example of what was being put on the industry.
It has to do with what WCB terms -- again, I'm going by what they told me -- a non-mechanical arrest system for heights over ten metres. The difficulty, I guess, that they're having with that is trying to find engineering firms across Canada that can make this kind of apparatus work on a drilling rig. Their fear is that WCB will come and say it has to be in by such and such a time, not taking into account all the work in engineering, building and constructing -- and in putting them into place on the drilling rigs. It's not just a matter of walking around the backyard and putting them on. It takes quite a while.
Along with that, they asked: how is WCB going to
So they wonder if they're being kind of singled out or discriminated against when there are many areas in the workforce that are higher than the ten metres that probably should require the same thing. It doesn't make a lot of sense when they look back at their records to see why.
I guess that's the commonsense part of it: why? If there are some real demonstrated reasons why it should happen, then okay. I, having been fairly familiar with drilling rigs through my life, know that there are safety cables from the monkey board -- as it's termed in the industry -- to get from the monkey board back down to the ground in as quick a fashion as possible if something's gone wrong. But now all of a sudden we come up with some other kind of system that WCB wants to put in place or institute. So the discrimination part comes in here and also the commonsense part -- the rationale for why we would do that.
Hon. J. Cashore: In 1996 there were 7,000 injuries from falls recorded. This translates into an enormous cost in terms of human pain and suffering and also in terms of economic loss and cost to treat. This standard comes under the category of fall protection, and it is an increased standard which is reflective of the fact that this is a very costly and potentially dangerous activity when work is carried out at that height, and therefore it is applied across the board. No industry has been singled out, and no segment of the province has been singled out. This fall-protection standard is being applied throughout, and I guess most of the applications would be in the construction industry and in industries that use heavy machinery and oil rigs and that sort of thing. Wherever workers are required to work above a certain height, these standards apply.
If the engineers for these companies are having difficulties in terms of trying to find out how to make these standards function effectively, WCB is willing and prepared to work with them. We would be glad to help the hon. member in advising his constituents on how to go about that.
R. Neufeld: The 7,000 falls in 1996 are from what height? Are we talking about falls that were all over 30 feet -- 7,000 falls -- or is that just a generic term?
Hon. J. Cashore: They're classified as falls from elevation. They're not necessarily falls from any particular great height, but anything that would be categorized as an elevation. The standard has been set with the intention of mitigating the pain and suffering that comes as a result of these kinds of falls. In that sense, I think it is appropriate. This standard was developed -- I think it's important -- by the WCB in consultations involving both employers and representatives of employees.
[5:30]R. Neufeld: I have some problem with accepting that we have to have a non-mechanical arrest system for everyone because there were 7,000 falls. I realize there is pain and suffering; I don't dispute that at all. But this could be 6,000 falls off a stairway -- off one step, as the minister explained it to me -- and just a few off tall buildings or something like that. If the WCB has it broken down a little bit further, I'd appreciate knowing those numbers. But to say that just because of 7,000 falls, we're now going to look at the whole industry and that we're going to try to institute something here that could be almost impossible to put into place in some cases
In many cases, we take issues such as this -- and they are serious; I don't disagree one bit, but a lot of them could be falls that weren't very far -- and then we try to say to the whole industry: "This is what's going to happen."
[ Page 3206 ]
We have good information from our sister province, Alberta. That province, at any given time, probably has 50 times more drilling rigs working than we would in the province of British Columbia. Yet they don't experience that same problem over there. I don't know whether workers in Alberta just work more carefully or what. I doubt it. I don't think it's any different, because many of the same people work from province to province. I just wonder how, unless I'm badly misinformed
Hon. J. Cashore: I will just point out that out of that list, there were 20 falls in oil and gas in British Columbia. That might not seem like very many, but each one of those cases is important. The fact that those are 7,000 lost-time injuries means that we would take those falls very, very seriously. It does behoove that a standard be set with the intent of mitigating the incidence of these kinds of injuries. I just want to point out that the statistical work done on this does refer to lost-time falls from the same elevation and lost-time falls from elevations above the ground. I think the fact that this is done in order to seek to mitigate the incidence of these injuries, which are very serious when they happen, is at least the point on the other side of the coin to the point that the hon. member is making.
With that, hon. Chair, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:34 p.m.