2016 Legislative Session: Fifth Session, 40th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Thursday, March 3, 2016
Volume 34, Number 3
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Point of Order (Speaker’s Ruling)
Orders of the Day
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 18 — Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2016
Hon. S. Anton
Bill 3 — Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act, 2016
Hon. Michelle Stilwell
Hon. P. Fassbender
S. Chandra Herbert
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (continued)
Hon. S. Thomson
THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 2016
The House met at 1:32 p.m.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
Point of Order
Madame Speaker: Members, pursuant to a point of order raised before the lunch hour, I would draw all members’ attention to a memo from this Chair dated February 17, 2014, which says: “Unless otherwise permitted, electronic devices must not be used by a member who is in possession of the floor.” I would draw all members’ attention to that item, and should copies be required, please see the Speaker’s office.
Orders of the Day
Hon. T. Stone: In this House, section B, I call second reading of Bill 18, intituled the Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act; and in section A, the continued estimates of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 18 — MISCELLANEOUS STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2016
Hon. S. Anton: I move that Bill 18, the Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2016, now be read a second time.
Bill 18 makes minor corrections and housekeeping amendments to various statutes. They’re all straightforward, non-controversial corrections and all minor in nature. The contents of the bill, when read, reflect that.
[R. Lee in the chair.]
The office of legislative counsel gathers minor corrections as part of the routine statute revision process. The result of that work is what we have in this bill.
The office of legislative counsel takes great pride in the work they do and serves this House very well. The changes in the bill are presented before the Legislature so that this Legislature can approve all changes to statutes, no matter how small or minor they may appear. In other words, there’s a very important principle here that people cannot go in and change statutes. They have to have the approval of the Legislature before any changes may be made.
The changes need to be done with the authority of this House to ensure B.C. statutes are orderly and correct.
L. Krog: This is almost becoming a joyful ritual. It’s like a rite of spring almost, that we bring forth another Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act. I’m delighted to rise and say a few words.
I don’t think any legislation should pass through this chamber without at least some comment, if nothing else to say thank you to the drafters who spent so much time preparing the legislation; and, I suppose, a small thank you to caucus and to cabinet — although more cabinet than caucus, of course; having been on the government side, I understand how the system works — for their work in approving this legislation; and the Legs and Regs committee, as we used to call it, who likewise would have carefully perused this to ensure that when it arrives on the floor of the chamber, it’s an accurate reflection of the wishes of the people through the elected government.
Of course, I suppose on one level, if you think of a school system, the bill in and of itself is an admission of a mistake or two or three or four — or indeed, in this case, mistakes running to 19 pages, actually, all told.
Now, I’ve admitted in this chamber once before, as I admitted to a guest at lunch today, that there was a time in my very important educational career when I used to get 19 and 20 wrong on of a phonics test with 20 points. That hardly represents a glowing academic record. Nevertheless, it does prove that even people of limited ability can arrive in this chamber and get elected, and I think it’s very important that people of limited ability are represented in this place, although not disproportionately so.
Having said that, I do want to reflect on some of the changes, because for those who are listening at home and haven’t taken the opportunity to peruse the legislative website, this is a pretty fascinating piece of legislation.
Firstly, we’re going to strike out “extra-provincial” in the Adoption Act, under section 4 of this legislation, and put in “extraprovincial.” We’re dropping the hyphen from “extra-provincial” and making it “extraprovincial” without a hyphen.
Now, I think this is a wonderful opportunity for all of those members who are getting a little sloppy in their old age and can’t remember what it was like in grades 3, 4 and 5, when we were learning all this stuff, to reflect on the fact that in our system, “extraprovincial” indeed is one word without a hyphen. Unfortunately, that mistake was indeed repeated in the Business Corporations Act, not just the Adoption Act.
Now, there are others that are quite interesting, striking out various sections, substituting another section, obviously correcting “Local Government Act” and substituting the “Municipal Replotting Act.” There’s one I hadn’t looked up.
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I thought, if I had more time, I would have taken the opportunity to reflect and look up the Municipal Replotting Act. I’m not sure. Is that perhaps where a municipal government buries its mistakes, much like the doctors are reputed to do? Exactly how do we arrive at this Municipal Replotting Act? It has nothing to do with plants, I’m sure, even though it’s springtime and the earth is renewing itself, as it always does.
Again, I just think the listening audience of British Columbia will be fascinated to know that we have a Municipal Replotting Act in British Columbia now, as opposed to the Local Government Act.
Then, of course, there are the important changes in the Forest Act and the Foresters Act, where we’re going to substitute “fulfillment” with two l’s in “fillment,” as opposed to one “l.” Who would have known? All these years we’ve been suffering along in British Columbia with one “l” in “fulfilment” in the Forest Act and the Foresters Act, and now we’re moving to two l’s.
Well, I don’t know where this fits with the Red Tape Reduction Day Act, but this might indeed constitute an increase in red tape. We’ve stuck another letter of the alphabet in a statute. I’m just not sure we’re making the kind of progress that we indeed had anticipated when we passed that act after so much debate. The government, much as this bill in and of itself suggests, may be creating — or acknowledging, at least — failure. Failure, hon. Speaker.
We want to move to a school system where everyone is given positive reinforcement. So on another level, I feel almost compelled to say bravo to the government for finding these mistakes and then wishing to correct them. That’s what is called positive reinforcement, I believe they used to call it, way back when my wife taught briefly, for four years. This is positive reinforcement. So I want to say to the government: “Here’s to positive reinforcement. We are in fact recognizing our mistakes and correcting them.”
By the way, if we’re adding an “l” to “fulfilment,” here’s a really shocking thing. Guess what. In the Foresters Act, “enrollment” is dropping an “l,” down to “enrolment” with one “l,” as opposed to two. Who would have known? Enrolment only has one “l.” And “fulfils”? Again, you taketh with one hand, giveth away with the other, much like the bus pass stuff. Over there in the Income Tax Act, “fulfils” will now no longer be spelled “fulfils” but will now be spelled “fulfills.” We’re actually giving, over on this side. We’re picking up an “l.”
Maybe at the end of this day, by the time we finish dealing with this bill, there’ll be a full and complete acknowledgement that we’re no further ahead or further behind. We’re just one “l” here and another “l” there and one less here and one less there. You do the hokey-pokey, you turn yourself about, and that’s what legislation is all about. Well, this goes on for several pages.
Now, I do note, in fairness, that part 21 of the Municipal Replotting Act is repealed, though I’m not sure what that section refers to, and I’m sorry to see the replotting act being shrunk. Perhaps that will be part of the Red Tape Reduction Day approach — and another notch on the gun belt of the gun-toting minister blasting away those regulations, making British Columbia a better place for everybody.
We are all also making a significant…. I suspect that this is a real boo-boo. This one is worthy of specific comment. In section 27, we’re striking out “details of expenditure for it made” and substituting “details of expenditure made for it.” Now, even I, with my limited abilities and education, can see that that’s a real boo-boo. That isn’t just one “l” more or one “l” less. That’s a real boo-boo. When we come to “re-enrollment” in the Pharmaceutical Services Act, “re-enrollment” in fact will now drop its “l” and will just be a one-l “re-enrolment.”
As look through this legislation, I just want to just pay my respects to the government for doing this. The trick is, not having the time and research and budget available to me, I can’t determine whether these mistakes have been made during the course of the Liberal regime or whether in fact they date back to the decade of the ’90s or back to the time of Bill Vander Zalm or Bill Bennett or Dave Barrett or even Wacky Bennett.
Who knows how long some of these errors have been plaguing the statutes of British Columbia? But it is a delight to see the government acknowledging these errors, seeking positive reinforcement from the opposition, and stepping forward and correcting these mistakes.
Particularly, they are striking out, wherever it appears in a schedule of statutes, under section 47, “willful” with two l’s and reducing it to wilful with one “l.” I suppose this may be the government’s new assault on obesity in our society. It’s all about reduction, reduction, reduction — slimming down the statutes one letter at a time.
I do want to point out a couple of things, though. When it comes to vulnerabilities around this legislation — and in pursuit of ensuring we don’t have to spend too much time on next year’s rite of passage, the rite of spring when we bring forth this legislation — I want to point out that there’s a terrible, I think, error by adding a question mark to section 23 of the MDA act where it says: “What if there is insufficient money in the fund?” with a question mark.
I just want to alert the government to that. They’re welcome to contact the opposition, but I think putting a question mark in the context of a bill in a statute may, in fact, be a grievous error that will require again legislative remedy and much debate. It’s just very odd to me that we would be so lax as to be creating an error that even I could pick up with my limited abilities.
It does raise doubts about the ability of government to eliminate — and forgive my American friends for saying this — Yankee spelling, notwithstanding the predominance of Donald Trump in the news media today and the Republican Party in general.
[ Page 11027 ]
Why didn’t it find all of the instances of “willful” or “willfully” in the fall in order to convert them to the proper Canadian equivalent of wilful and wilfully? Where were those diligent people combing through the statutes when you needed them last fall? Were they asleep at the switch? Here we are in the springtime having to engage in this process one more time.
I can safely tell the minister — who I know is excited by this legislation, who can barely contain her glee at reforming British Columbia’s legal system through the correction of various statutes — that we, in fact, in the opposition will indeed be voting, I suspect, unanimously to support the government in this admission of its errors.
Hon. S. Anton: It’s tempting to add some really profound remarks, but I think I will not and simply say thank you to the member for Nanaimo.
I move second reading of Bill 18.
Hon. S. Anton: I move that Bill 18 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting after today.
Bill 18, Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2016, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. T. Stone: I now call second reading of Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act, 2016.
Deputy Speaker: I call a recess for five minutes.
The House recessed from 1:46 p.m. to 1:48 p.m.
[R. Lee in the chair.]
BILL 3 — EMPLOYMENT AND ASSISTANCE
FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2016
Hon. Michelle Stilwell: I move that the bill now be read for a second time.
The proposed amendment to the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act will simplify the application and adjudication process for designation as a person with disabilities under the act for many people. The bill supports individuals with disabilities and their families and makes their access to support a little bit easier.
Amendments to the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act will simplify and improve the application and adjudication process for designation as a person with disabilities under the act. Currently, in order to receive disability assistance, you must have the persons with disabilities designation from the ministry. That can, actually, often involve quite an extensive application process along with many medical assessments.
The process is very thorough, given the criteria that have to be met and the need for confirmation from the health care professionals to diagnose the disability. It can also be, very often, stressful for families who are already dealing with a number of challenges that come when a child with a disability transitions into adulthood or when a family member acquires a disability later in life and is receiving palliative care.
While everyone, I think, here in the House and around the province understands there’s a need for these requirements, people have also asked us to make it a little bit easier where we can. It has become very clear, quickly, that there are provincial and federal programs that have an assessment that is very similar to the one on disability assistance.
With this amendment, people who have already been approved for services through the approved programs will now be able to receive their person with disabilities designation without having to complete that usual process.
Those programs and organizations include the Ministry for Children and Family Development’s At Home program, which helps parents with some of the costs that they have when caring for a child with a very severe disability. Also included is Community Living B.C., which provides supports and services for adults around our province with developmental disabilities; PharmaCare plan P, which is for people in palliative care; and, as well, the federal Canada Pension Plan disability benefits.
Up to 1,000 people with disabilities will benefit from these changes each year. The majority of them will be young people who are transitioning into adult services. While that may not seem like a lot to many people, it means a lot to the families and the individuals who will not have to go through second, maybe third or even fourth assessments sometimes in order to receive the services. It means that there will be less stress and faster access to disability assistance for hundreds of people every year.
This amendment is in response to Accessibility 2024 consultation, when people asked us to make the application process simpler and easier where we could. It also addresses the government’s commitment to red-tape reduction, it eliminates the duplication process that we see, and it helps streamline access to government services for those who truly rely on government for assistance.
It’s a change that makes sense, and I look forward to hearing the comments from members on both sides of this House on this second reading.
[ Page 11028 ]
M. Mungall: I am joining the debate today on Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act. As the minister stated and I’ll just restate now, this act is making some significant changes for 1,000 people who currently and in the future will receive persons-with-disabilities social assistance in this province.
Namely, the press release reads: “When the legislation comes into force, people in the following provincial and federal programs will complete a much simpler PWD application process.” That’s for people who are in Community Living B.C., the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s At Home program, the B.C. PharmaCare plan P palliative care program and the Canada Pension Plan for people with disabilities.
There’s no doubt at all that the current application process for people with disabilities is quite cumbersome. There are not only plenty of stories out there from the 100,000 people in British Columbia who have to go through that application process — what that application process is like for them — but also there have been many reports over the years about the application process and how difficult it is.
That said, of course, we on this side of the House are very pleased to see this legislation come forward and make things easier for about 1,000 people who are receiving PWD assistance. The minister said that she’s heard from people who are saying they would like to see things made a little bit easier for them by this government. When I talk to people around the province who rely on income supports like income assistance and disability, I wouldn’t say that “a little bit” is how I characterize what they’re looking for from this government. They’re looking for things to be a lot easier.
They experience an incredible amount of difficulty that is associated with the poverty they are forced to live in. We know that this is the case. We know that rates in British Columbia are well below any conservative measure of poverty.
The Fraser Institute, which is a well-known right-wing conservative think tank not known for its small-l liberal policies or programs…. When they have a poverty measure that is based on the costs of living at a very, very basic level and our rates don’t even meet that level, it says a lot about what’s going on in British Columbia and the poverty that people with disabilities are living in.
So when I hear the minister say “a little bit easier,” I have to take issue with that on behalf of the many thousands of people that I hear from on a regular basis who rely on income assistance, who rely on PWD, who say they need things to be a lot easier when you consider the struggles they have to go through because of the rates.
I recognize that Bill 3 is not about income assistance rates, that Bill 3 is specifically about the application process. On that score, the words I hear from people are that they also want to see that a lot easier — not a little bit, but a lot.
Currently there is a 28-page application process that requires people to have a family health practitioner, whether it’s a general practitioner or a nurse practitioner. As you know, I would be remiss to not mention nurse practitioners and the great work that they do in this province because my husband’s a nurse practitioner, and he reminds me every day.
He also tells me, on a regular basis, the work that he has to do to help people fill out the current PWD forms. This is not something that he can well integrate into his day-to-day practice, but it’s something that he has to do on top of it because it’s so cumbersome, and it’s so demanding. As a nurse practitioner, he is paid in salary. He’s not on a fee-for-service basis, so he’s able to fit this in during his lunch hour, in the morning before his practice starts or in the late afternoon after his practice starts.
One of the problems that we’re experiencing in the Kootenays — and, in fact, I know is existing right across this province — is that many people who need a GP to fill out their form are struggling to find a GP who’ll be able to do it, because they’re on a fee-for-service model, and they’re not able to be compensated for filling out these extremely long and cumbersome forms and to help their patients with these forms. As a result, we have many people with disabilities who are struggling just to fill out the forms.
I’m very pleased to see that there will be 1,000 people less with this struggle, but I can’t help but remark on the 90,000 people who will still have to go through this burden, go through this struggle. I hope the government opposite recognizes the struggle, that difficulty that 90,000 people are going through, and are going to take that into consideration in moving forward.
Now, I’m by far not the first person to ask them to do that. In fact, that request has been going on for 14 years now.
In 2002, at the early stages of the B.C. Liberal government, drastic changes were made to income assistance supports in this province. It created a lot of red tape in people’s lives. Not only did we see at that time a 30 percent cut in the income assistance rates…. That’s right. We saw a cut to the rates.
Today, right now, somebody receiving PWD gets $906 a month — just a little over $10,000 a year. Well, if we compare that to what people were receiving in 1994 — we’re using the same dollars, comparing apples to apples here — $12,755 was the annual income for a single person with a disability. So people, as costs have gone up…. Obviously, 22 years later, since 1994, costs have risen. We all know this. Rent goes up. Hydro goes up. This government has increased hydro by 28 percent already, another 4 percent this year.
If you’re a person with a disability that requires a car, your insurance has gone up. If you live in Victoria and
[ Page 11029 ]
you need to visit family in the Lower Mainland, ferry fares have gone up. The list goes on.
Bus fares have gone up, and they’re certainly going up under this government again for people with disabilities. If you want to take a little bit of time and enjoy Mother Nature and go camping, you’re paying more too.
Food costs. Well, that’s all gone up, and we all know it. We hear about it every day. The cost of milk and bread keeps going up. We’re not talking about cake. We’re talking about the basics, milk and bread, and that’s gone up.
In the meantime, for people with disabilities, their rates have gone down. Their ability to afford those costs of living has become less — hundreds of dollars less. That’s the reality they’re facing. That was one of the first measures that was taken back in 2002.
But alongside cutting the rates, there were drastic changes to eligibility regulations as well as the application process. In fact, it was so bad back then…. One of the things that the government of the day did was conduct a review of 20,000 people living with disabilities. They were forced to fill out a lengthy questionnaire just to justify their benefits. That’s what happened in 2002. So 20,000 people with disabilities were targeted, told that to be able to get their cheque they had to fill out an extremely long questionnaire, and if they filled it out correctly, they could keep their benefits.
Now, how much did this cost taxpayers? Five million dollars. Incredible hardship was created with this, for 20,000 people with disabilities, many of whom had developmental disabilities — 20,000 people having to fill out this form. It cost the taxpayers $5 million.
Here’s what they found: 0.6 percent of the ministry’s 62,000 disabled clients at the time — 0.6 percent — were ineligible for continued assistance under the new rules. What the Auditor General of the day, who studied this, who reviewed it…. This is what he had to say: “This means the major cost savings the ministry expected the review to gain were not achieved. At the same time, the review created increased anxiety for many of the ministry’s disabled clients.”
So $5 million of taxpayers’ money to target people with disabilities, create undue hardship, undue anxiety, create further difficulties for them, to put their source of income into question, to create that instability in their lives — and $5 million was not saved to taxpayers as a result. It was a mean and cruel fishing expedition that was absolutely unnecessary, but that’s the kind of stuff that was going on in 2002.
Also going on in 2002, as I mentioned, was the change to the application process. That application process became quite lengthy in nature. It’s pretty much what we see today. To the best of my knowledge, not much has changed since 2002, if anything. That process also created new rules that resulted in many people who used to be able to get help now being ineligible for that help.
As a result…. We look at some news articles of the day. When you create a more difficult process for people to apply, a process that is at a grade reading level above what they’re able to access, that is lengthy…. They can’t get a GP, perhaps, and so on and so forth. Well, the news articles of the day were reporting that there was a direct correlation between the new rules that were implemented in 2002 and an increasing number of people who were homeless and living on the streets.
They weren’t able to get the supports they needed to get a roof over their head, so they found roofs in doorways, in alleys, in the streets of our communities. Many of them didn’t have a mental illness before, but they ended up developing a mental illness not long after living the harsh life that is life on the streets. They started to self-medicate. Addictions resulted.
This didn’t have to happen, but because of an ill-thought-out, ideologically driven application process for people with disabilities, we saw our communities suffer, we saw people in our communities suffer, and we saw families suffer. It was unnecessary. It was cruel. It was mean. It was not the right way to go. What do we have here now? Well, we have a very small attempt to start addressing that red tape, those decisions made in 2002.
Now, I’ve mentioned the decrease in supports. I’ve mentioned the application process. But there were a few other changes back in 2002 that contributed to the problems that the Liberals are now trying to fix, starting with this bill.
What we saw back in 2002 was the complete elimination of earnings exemptions for income assistance as well as PWD and persons-with-multiple-barriers recipients. We saw complete earnings exemptions eliminations for them. I’m glad to report that the government has since rectified that draconian measure. That has never, ever, in any jurisdiction, proven to be a best practice to support people to move out of poverty.
The government has seen the light on that and recognized that that was the wrong way to do it. I mean, they could have known that back in 2002. Most people did. There were protests. There were demonstrations. There were letters. There were petitions.
If there had been Facebook and Twitter, there would have been campaigns on social media too. People were speaking out at that time, trying to convince the government to not do that. It took a few years. In fact, it took another ten years before the government acknowledged the error of its ways on the earnings exemptions.
In 2002, they also eliminated the exemption for child support. They started to claw back child support payments from single parents. Well, we’ve had some success since 2003. By 2015, we saw single parents being able to keep 100 percent of their child support.
That was, again, no small task. That was a major campaign, with single parents coming forward and sharing
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their stories. We brought those stories right to the floor of this Legislature, and we saw a change. That was also a step in the right direction, just like this bill is a step in the right direction finally — more than ten years later, after the red tape was created by this government.
Another thing that happened in 2002 that makes this application process difficult today is that the government implemented a three-week waiting period. You go to apply for income assistance, and before they’ll even look at your application, you have to wait three weeks. They call it the work search period. This work search period — the ideal is that you go find a job. Well, that doesn’t happen very often, but never mind. The government has recently decided to increase the work search period to five weeks. It’s five weeks now.
The last time I had a discussion with the minister about this in the budget estimates process, we confirmed it was five weeks. I asked many questions. Well, what happens? Rent is due at the beginning of the month. Months are normally four weeks. You make your application. You have to go search for a job. You don’t find a job.
What happens the next month when you don’t have sufficient funds for rent? Well, I talked about the newspaper articles from 2002. You can imagine that same story is happening now. People end up on the streets, and they end up in worse situations than they did beforehand.
Back in 2002, clients of the ministry were directed to apply through a 1-800 number. Now it’s on line. Hon. Speaker, I cannot begin to tell you the stress and difficulty this has caused for the last 14 years and continues to cause people. The 1-800 line is really a disaster. There is plenty of evidence. You don’t have to take my word for it. You can talk to anybody who is a client who receives PWD, who receives income assistance.
They can tell you about their nightmare stories of calling and waiting on hold, chewing up their talk time on their phone, or of having to get a callback, but they don’t have a phone and are actually at the employment office and have to sit at the employment office for an hour or however long to get a callback, so they can’t go out and do their job search and so on. The chaos this 1-800 number has caused in their lives.
You can imagine. If that’s just the point of contact people need once they get to be clients of the ministry, it was just as difficult just to become that client, to be able to get the supports that they need. Being able to get a face-to-face conversation with someone in the ministry is extremely difficult.
I look at Accessibility 2024, which is the government’s plan to become the most accessible jurisdiction in Canada by 2024. If I look at this document on accessible service delivery — and I would consider any application to be a part of that component — it says: “What we can do now, commit to accessible service delivery — phone, on line and face to face.” Now, I’m not going to deny that having a 1-800 number and having on-line service is helpful. It’s helpful for many people.
It’s not very good right now. It can be better. There needs to be improvement. There’s a lot of room for improvement for the phone and on-line service. As the world moves to more Internet-based on-line services, a lot of people are going in that direction, and they find it handy. But people also want to see more face-to-face time. They want to be able to go into an MSD office and talk with a human being about what’s going on in their lives and the types of supports that they might need or for an application. While 1,000 more people are going to be able to do that in a more easy way, 90,000 people still aren’t.
We’ve got people who are simply not getting the face time they need to be able to apply or to be able to address the needs they have and to get the supports they need. That’s what’s happening right now in service delivery.
Some of the other changes that took place in 2002 impact today. There was a two-year time limit. This new rule applied to those in the expected-to-work category. So clients without children would see their benefits terminated for three years after requiring those supports for two years.
What’s interesting about this is that no other jurisdiction had done something like this prior to British Columbia, to the best of my recollection and reading through all the stacks of paper that we have on this issue of application and the current government’s records around supports for people with disabilities.
This two-year time limit. What it meant is that within a five-year period, after two years, you would be kicked off the supports you need and you’d be left to fend for yourself, often ending up on the streets. Now, perhaps that person just needed to get more supports for a little while longer to get a job. Perhaps no jobs were available.
Whatever it was, when you kick somebody off income assistance and they end up on the streets, as I mentioned earlier, what can happen in that harsh lifestyle is that somebody might develop a mental illness and use illegal drugs to self-medicate, and addiction ensues. Disability can ensue, particularly from the mental illness, and you’re back and applying for PWD now. You’re going through that difficult, cumbersome application process that wasn’t necessary in the first place.
For 1,000 people, again, Bill 3 has stopped that and is making it easier for them — as the minister said, just a little bit easier for them. But there are 90,000 others who also need better access to the supports that they require.
I mentioned earlier that I am by no means the first person to say we need better access for everybody, the full 100,000 people who receive PWD. I mentioned what was happening in 2002 and the changes that took place, the changes that created the red tape in the first place. I mentioned that the Auditor General had a good look at what was happening at that time and didn’t have many nice things to say.
[ Page 11031 ]
Well, in 2014, the Auditor General took a look again. The audit of that day — it was titled An Audit of Program Access, Integrity and Results — looked at the accessibility of PWD, persons with disabilities, assistance.
Here are some of the main findings. That report found that the disability assistance program is not easy to access for clients.
I’m just going to stop for a second, hon. Speaker, because I saw the green light go on. It just reminded me that I will be the designated speaker for our side of the House. The white light’s back on, so I will continue on with my remarks. It’s always amazing how those 30 minutes fly by. You always feel like you’re not going to have enough to say for 30 minutes, and then the green light goes on and: “My goodness. This was a bigger problem than I thought.”
M. Mungall: I don’t think voicing the people’s concerns about what’s going on in the Ministry of Social Development is a waste of time at all, contrary to what I just heard.
As I was saying, this audit by the Auditor General in May 2014 found that the disability assistance program is not easy to access for clients. That’s all 100,000 clients, not just the 1,000 that the government has identified with this legislation but all of them.
It also found that the level of assistance provided is not enough to meet the basic needs of clients. I’ve discussed that already. In 1994, clients were receiving more than they are today.
It also found that the ministry has not defined clear objectives and measurable targets that define what it means to meet the basic needs of clients. So of course the ministry can’t provide decent rates. It doesn’t even know what the basic needs of clients are and how to meet those needs and how to measure those needs. It’s just not doing its due diligence when it comes to monitoring and evaluation. That’s what this report found.
Specific to the disability assistance program and accessing supports, which is what we’re dealing with here today in Bill 3, is…. I’m going to quote from the Auditor General: “We found a number of barriers that are currently reducing the accessibility of the system.” A number of barriers are currently reducing the accessibility of the system.
I mentioned earlier the 1-800 number. It’s not working. It could work; it’s not working very well right now. The on-line system is not working well right now either. It could work; it’s not working very well right now.
We all understand that the application process should require people with disabilities to interact and have a relationship with a GP. Of course, when we have so many orphan patients in the province, not enough physicians…. I’m not going to say that’s entirely this government’s fault. It’s a North American issue right now. But there’s a lot more the government could be doing on that front.
When we have that situation, we have to recognize that getting these forms filled out is going to be more difficult. There are going to be more barriers in place, just as the Auditor General has said: a number of barriers currently reducing the accessibility of the system.
It goes on to say: “The disability assistance system is administratively complex and difficult to navigate.” I hear this all the time. All the time I hear that feedback, people telling me that they don’t understand what the form is saying or what it’s asking of them. It reads at a higher grade level than they’re able to. Being able to just access the Internet can be very difficult for people when they’re living in poverty or if they don’t have the skills to do that.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I hear from my husband all the time, as a nurse practitioner who is filling out many of these forms, that it’s extremely time-consuming for health practitioners. It’s extremely time-consuming. As a result, many of them are not able to fill these forms out in a timely manner for their patients. They don’t want to be put in that situation, but that’s the situation that they’re in.
That’s the reality, and that’s exactly why we see the Auditor General saying that the disability assistance system is administratively complex and difficult to navigate.
I’ve mentioned the on-line and telephone services. Again, I’ve said don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the Auditor General had to say: “Both the on-line and telephone services are not consistently accessible for clients, and there are challenges with the physical accessibility of a small number of service delivery sites.”
All sites should be fully accessible, first and foremost. That requires a little bit of capital investment, but I think it’s a worthwhile capital investment from this government. In fact, I do believe that this type of capital investment is found in Accessibility 2024 — a lovely document, only hoping to be fully realized.
We look at the on-line and telephone services. You hear regular complaints. In fact, a consortium of non-profit organizations last summer — who work day in and day out with people with disabilities — went to the Ombudsperson to have the Ombudsperson look into the poor service level of that 1-800 number. They are continuing to pursue that because they feel it’s desperately important and desperately needed that this government stop denying the problems with that 1-800 number and start fixing that 1-800 number.
The other thing that the Auditor General said in May 2014 was: “While the ministry has done some analysis and consulted with stakeholders, we found that it has not fully assessed the accessibility needs of its clients.”
I only hope that since 2004 the government has taken great, great steps in rectifying this particular issue that
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the Auditor General found in 2014. It’s not just a matter of sitting down for an hour with stakeholders. It’s actually taking the results of those meetings, taking action on what came out of those meetings and identifying the full extent of what clients need to make the system more accessible to them.
Here, with Bill 3, we do see a step in that right direction, where we’re going to be better supporting 1,000 people in this province to access the supports that they need. But when we look at the overall total of 100,000, we need to think about the other 99 percent. We need to take that into consideration, and we need to be taking concrete, real steps to ensure that their needs are also being met.
All in all, when I look at Bill 3, it’s not a bad bill. It’s a good bill. But we also have to think. We have the responsibility to discharge our duties in looking at what might not be in the bill that could have been and what more work needs to be done. For 90,000 other people out there, more work needs to be done. There’s just no denying that.
No one is saying: “Get rid of an application process.” No one is saying that. I wanted to be clear on that. I know sometimes members on the other side like to take things off into a realm that isn’t quite reflective of what’s actually been said on this side. So I wanted to just be clear about that.
What we’re saying is that the current application process is difficult. It is cumbersome. Government has recognized that to be the case, but they’ve only found a solution for 1,000 people. We need a solution for 100,000 people. When that solution comes forward, they can be assured — if it comes before 2017 — that this side of the House will do our due diligence, will take on our responsibility and provide critical analysis to it. That’s our job. That is the job of the official opposition.
I know that members opposite don’t like that there’s an official opposition who has that responsibility. But it’s part of our democracy. It’s what keeps it strong. It’s what keeps it stable.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
We will most certainly provide that critical analysis. If it’s good legislation, you bet we’ll support it. If it’s not, we’ll have something to say about it as well.
On that note, I’m glad that I got the opportunity to take the time I needed — and the time I know my constituents want to see, as this is something that has definitely impacted their lives quite a lot — to address the history and the long-standing issues that have brought us to today and to Bill 3.
V. Huntington: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
V. Huntington: In the gallery during question period were 26 French immersion students from South Park elementary in my riding of Delta South. I didn’t have an opportunity at that moment to introduce these grade 6 students, who were accompanied by six chaperones and by their teacher Ms. Monica Burnett.
I’d like to welcome the South Park students to the Legislature and hope they enjoyed not only the experience of sitting in question period but also the tour of the legislative buildings. We’re certainly proud to know that they care enough about the democratic process to pay us a visit and to learn a little more about how government works.
Will the members please give them a warm welcome to this House.
M. Mungall: I’m always happy to take a water break as well as offer an opportunity for my colleagues to welcome their guests to the House.
I want to just particularly note something that the member for Delta South said now about her guests coming to see democracy in action. That’s kind of where I was leaving off. The debates that occur in this House and the critical analysis that an official opposition provides in our Westminster parliamentary system are integral to our democracy, integral to its stability. I committed that we will always provide, us as an opposition…. Until 2017, we’ll always provide that critical opposition. I’m sure that makes several members of the opposite side quite happy, some maybe not so much.
In closing my remarks, I’ll just say that we appreciate the work that’s being done for the 1,000 people that will be impacted by Bill 3. We want to encourage — along with the Auditor General, along with clients, along with advocacy organizations and non-profits — the government to take the serious steps needed to address the needs of the other 90,000 people who are going through that PWD application.
I think we can do better in this province. I know we can do better in this province, and I look forward to us doing better.
L. Reimer: I am pleased to rise today and provide my comments on Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act.
The primary purpose of this legislation is to reduce barriers for people living with disabilities. Bill 3 is the product of extensive consultation between government, people with disabilities, advocates and social support organizations. It is, in part, a follow-up to our ten-year plan to make B.C. the most inclusive society in the country. It commenced with a public consultation process on
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December 3, 2013, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The consultation process concluded on June 16, 2014, with a final report entitled Accessibility 2024: Making B.C. the Most Progressive Province in Canada for People with Disabilities by 2024. The report sets out a vision for our province where disabilities are no longer a barrier to living full lives and where no British Columbian is ever told that their goals and their dreams are not realistic because of their disability.
The government of British Columbia made this commitment because we support Canada’s ratification of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. As such, our government has a responsibility to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities. It also represents a commitment to promote respect for the inherent dignity of persons with disabilities.
British Columbia is committed to upholding and safeguarding the principles outlined in the UN convention: individual autonomy, including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons; non-discrimination; full and effective participation and inclusion in society; respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity; equal opportunity; accessibility; equality between men and women; respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities; and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.
Based on these principles, the government of British Columbia, together with the disability community and the business community, has brought forward concrete measures and actions to increase accessibility and decrease barriers for persons with disabilities. For example, since that report was issued in 2014, we have delivered on income supports.
For those collecting disability assistance, this government has increased the earnings exemption from $500 to $800 per month. This is important because a person collecting disability assistance can earn a significant amount of income without losing their benefits. As a matter of fact, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to annualize earnings exemptions up to $9,600 a year. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has pointed out, earnings exemptions are a valuable path back into the paid workforce.
Virtually everyone wants to make a better life for their children. That’s why we brought in the single-parent initiative. This program is specially designed to help people make it back into the workforce, with help along the way. It includes an array of benefits, including the opportunity to get 12 months of training for an in-demand occupation, transportation coverage to a training institution and full coverage of daycare expenses throughout the 12-month training period. In addition, anyone collecting income assistance who moves on to a paid job will continue to receive supplemental health coverage for up to one year.
We’ve also made significant changes so that people collecting disability assistance can hold more assets and receive cash gifts without losing benefits. Now a single person collecting disability benefits can hold $100,000 in assets, while continuing to receive disability assistance. That means a person will not lose income support just because they’ve received an inheritance or a cash gift. That’s an increase up from $5,000.
Referring back to our ten-year plan entitled Accessibility 2024, our government has also delivered on a commitment to enact legislation concerning guide dogs and service dogs. The Guide Dog and Service Dog Act makes it clear that discrimination is unacceptable. It gives guide or service dog handlers access rights equal to those enjoyed by all members of the public, including expanding tenancy rights to include strata properties and certified retired dogs residing with their handlers; providing public access rights for certified dogs in training; recognizing service dogs, in addition to guide dogs, and requiring a high training standard; establishing a more robust decision-making process for certification; and strengthening compliance and enforcement.
Guide and service dogs are crucial companions for many British Columbians who live with a disability. For example, they may help individuals who are visually impaired to navigate city streets. They provide assistance with things such as hearing loss, epilepsy, diabetes or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition, retired dogs are included in the changes to tenancy rules. Once a dog is no longer certified as a working animal due to age, injury or disease, it will now be able to be certified as retired and remain in a home with its handler.
That was evidenced this morning by the MLA for Delta North’s two-minute speech on a retired dog who happens to live in my riding of Port Moody–Coquitlam. This is a very important innovation.
Furthermore, handlers seeking certification for guide and service dogs that were not trained by an accredited school will now be able to have them tested by a neutral third party, the Justice Institute of British Columbia. These are just a few examples of the concrete steps that we are taking to live up to our goal of making British Columbia one of the most inclusive societies in Canada and, indeed, the world.
Overall, Bill 3 will reduce barriers for people living with disabilities. The proposed legislation will allow government to prescribe groups of people as persons with disabilities without making them complete a 28-page application form or chase additional assessments by medical practitioners. These proposed changes will not only reduce red tape for people with disabilities and their
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families. It will also cut paperwork for doctors and other health care professionals who need to fill out forms on behalf of their clients.
For all of these reasons, I’m proud to support Bill 3 on behalf of my constituents of Port Moody, Anmore, Belcarra and Coquitlam.
L. Krog: It’s always interesting how things work in this place. Earlier today, I spoke to a bill relating to corrections to a statute, the Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) Amendment Act, 2016, which ran on for 19 pages. After I’d finished, I received a note from one wag in the chamber who suggested, after I’d commented about the l’s, that it didn’t make one “l” of a difference, which I thought was actually extremely amusing.
The effect of that legislation is minimal. It satisfies legal requirements. It needed to be done. I don’t question that. Yet the bill we have in front of us consists of three short sections, including the standard commencement section that says: “This Act comes into force by regulation of the Lieutenant Governor in Council.”
This legislation, this literally half-page of legislation, has a profound impact on thousands and thousands of British Columbians. It’s not complex. It’s not difficult to understand. It amends two sections of the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act to allow the government to directly designate classes of persons as persons with a disability without them having to fill out a rather onerous 28-page application form that requires their input, the input of a physician and the input of the ministry.
I suspect — I think I can almost swear to a moral certainty — that there’s not a member in this chamber who doesn’t have people in their office on a regular basis who are in need of social assistance, people who are already receiving social assistance and people who are desperate and in need in the broadest sense of that term. Many of them suffer from some degree of mental illness. Many of them suffer some degree of addiction. Many of them are from backgrounds that could only be described as abusive. You know, to remember the Hobbes line, their lives are “nasty, brutish and short.”
What we’re finally doing with this is just taking a little dose of reality and acknowledging the stress, the pain and the frustration that has been felt by thousands of British Columbians when, for whatever reason, they have had to make that decision or have been forced to apply for social assistance. Contrary to the beliefs and views of some around the deserving and the undeserving poor, when you apply for social assistance…. The vast majority of folks — for them it is the final straw. You can use any cliché in the book you want.
They’ve, in large measure, most often, sold off what assets they have. They have begged and borrowed from their friends, and in some cases, they’ve stolen. There’s no great desire or interest or ambition to get onto social assistance. There might be for a few folks, just as there’s a desire for many of us to win the lottery and not have to worry about the stressors of work anymore. But it’s not the same thing. The vast majority of British Columbians don’t want to end up on social assistance, but the reality of their lives and their circumstances is such that they do.
Imagine the surprise when they apply for social assistance — and they’re clearly people who are in desperate need and who would qualify and do qualify for persons-with-disabilities status —and they’re told that first they have to apply for regular social assistance, and then they have to go through this other process to satisfy the government that they’re entitled to that munificent sum of about $300 more per month than a person receiving “regular social assistance.”
Why would we make the lives of those who are applying for disability status so much more difficult? In fairness…. The government doesn’t get a lot of compliments from me. I don’t think that’s my job. They sing their own praises so readily in this chamber and off the song sheet and talk about what a good job they’ve done. There’s no need for me to compliment them or say thank you, particularly. But today I do want to pay them a compliment: small as this bill may be, it is absolutely the right thing to do.
Now, I appreciate that the government may wish to take credit for this reduction in red tape, arguably. But it really reflects a recognition, I would hope, on the part of government, that after these 15 years in power, maybe they finally should turn around and look at their list of priorities. Examine it carefully and decide what, I would suggest, the majority of British Columbians, including many people who vote Liberal, have concluded, and concluded some time ago, and that is that what we provide for the poor in British Columbia is not only inadequate; it’s grossly inadequate.
By making it a little easier for people who have already, by circumstance or the decision forced on them by circumstance, because of a lack of ability to support themselves, whatever the case may be…. For those people who have finally come to apply for social assistance, in order for them to get persons-with-disabilities status, the government has actually done a really good thing by making it that much easier. It is to be commended.
But at the same time, it’s like sweet-and-sour candies.
Hon. T. Lake: Don’t ruin it.
L. Krog: The Minister of Health says: “Don’t ruin it.” Well, if the Minister of Health had been listening…. I told him my job wasn’t to compliment the government too much, and he should accept the generosity of spirit I’m extending here today and just be pleased with a tiny amount. Better half a loaf than none.
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J. Darcy: No, that’s their line.
L. Krog: Oh, is that their line? Interesting. The member for New Westminster says that’s their line: better half a loaf than none. Well, that’s a very interesting supposition, because as we all know: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.”
But that aside, I would hope that now we’re moving down the road a little, maybe the government could actually reflect for a moment on what it attempted to do — if it was entirely pure-hearted, congratulations — with the bus pass issue and the $77 increase.
I understand the logic behind trying to equalize treatment across the province. I get it. You know, if you live in an area where a bus pass is of no use to you because there’s no bus service, I get that. So you get the $77. That’s an improvement. Minuscule as it is, you get the improvement. But for those folks who have access to a bus pass, you’ve given the $77, and suddenly you claw back some of it.
No matter how you regard it, no matter how many arguments you make…. The Minister for Advanced Education understands this, because I know he prides himself on mentioning from time to time who the lawyers are in the chamber.
The man — forgive me for using that expression, but that’s the expression we learned in law school: the man on the Clapham omnibus, the reasonable man, the ordinary man — who would look at this would say: “This isn’t fair and reasonable. This doesn’t pass the common-man test.” It doesn’t pass the common-woman test, I can assure you. It doesn’t pass any reasonable test. It looks, and is, nasty. It’s unkind. It is not in accord with our values to give $77 to the most vulnerable and then to claw it back, all in the hopes of arguing for some kind of equality across the board.
Let’s be frank. If I am living in the city of Vancouver, where there may be more subsidized housing available, that’s a grand thing. But the reality is that the cost of housing in the Lower Mainland is much more substantial than it is in Fort St. John, Fort St. James, Nanaimo, Port Hardy, Zeballos, Courtenay, Comox — you name the communities. So when we give a level rate of assistance across the province, that doesn’t take into account the realities of living in poverty.
I remember many, many years ago, when my sister-in-law was starting her career in teaching, there were northern school districts, before provincewide bargaining, that would give, essentially, a bonus or a benefit. There was a recognition that in order to attract people to rural communities — where travelling out of them was much more expensive than hopping on a plane in Vancouver if you live in Richmond or Langley, for instance, or getting access to specialized services in the big city — you had to pay a little more.
There were other expenses as well. Groceries would be more expensive. Fresh produce, I can assure the members, in Stewart, where my sister-in-law first taught, are far more expensive and were far more expensive than they are if you go to any ordinary shopping centre and food store in the Lower Mainland.
So one could argue that paying an equal amount of social assistance across the board every place in the province is not particularly fair, based on the reality of expenses. In the same way this bill recognizes that people on social assistance shouldn’t be forced to work through onerous applications, when this government brought in its policy to increase by $77 and then claw away, it again, I would argue, isn’t recognizing the disparities that already exist.
Let’s take it one step further. In the province of Alberta, and I confirmed this with a former social worker from that province just a couple of weeks ago, a person with disability would receive approximately $1,500 a month. Now, that change and some of those changes were brought in by no less a right-wing, gun-toting, “shoot, shovelling, shut-up” cowboy Premier than Ralph Klein. Ralph Klein recognized that the citizens of his province who were disabled, who had disability status, should in fact receive something more akin to their real costs of living.
After nine years since the last increase, surely this government should be able to recognize that it’s time for a real and substantial increase. When you’re bragging about your third projected surplus budget and you have citizens who are living on $610 a month and you’ve got a surplus and indeed enough of a surplus to fill in a fund that you couldn’t fill in with your liquid natural gas revenue because — poof! — that doesn’t exist…. When you’ve got enough money to set up that fund, surely you could find some more money to give to those whose lives are circumscribed by illness mental or physical, by addiction, by lack of skills, ability, by all the things in life that can hold you back.
For people who live in prisons — some may argue of their own making; I don’t think so, but some do — created by the circumstances in which they live and the difficulties that they face every day, would it be so hard to provide an increase?
I think it’s fair to say, and there’s probably general agreement, that the best investments government can make around return on that investment for tax dollars is to engage in capital construction. I think brighter minds than I have determined the return is, like, 7 to 1. You do that, and it comes back in the form of taxation, increased economic activity, etc. It’s an enormous benefit.
Surely, no one would argue against the proposition that when you’re giving an increase to anyone on social assistance, that money, or the vast majority of it, is going to be spent within a few miles, probably, of where those people reside. They’re going to buy some food. They
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might get some fresh fruit. They might even be able to afford a better class of secondhand pair of shoes. But that money will go back into the economy.
It’s not going into a savings account. It’s not going to be spent on winter holidays that many of us in this chamber can afford to happily take. It’s not going to be spent on a new car. It’s not going to be spent on gifts for your family, probably. It’s going to be spent on the most basic necessities of life. Surely, it is the collective responsibility of us, through government, to ensure that the most vulnerable have some access to some reasonable quality of life.
Today with this bill the government takes a tiny step, for which I am sincerely grateful, in that it makes it a tiny bit easier for people who are eligible to apply for and obtain disability status and, therefore, the increase that comes with that. But sometimes you have to step back and acknowledge that this doesn’t require tinkering.
This isn’t about tinkering. This is about a fulsome recognition that what exists is unfair, that the purchasing power of people on social assistance is not what it was ten and 20 and 30 years ago, that indeed people on assistance are worse off today. People like Jane Dyson, the executive director of Disability Alliance B.C. — folks like her. People who have worked in the field for a long time, economists, can tell you. People with real expertise — statisticians, Stats Canada — can all tell you the reality of what it is to be poor in British Columbia.
It isn’t getting better, and it’s not going to get better, because the members across the way brag about the numbers of jobs created or whether the government is in surplus or whether we’re the best-performing economy in a country that is performing poorly economically. That’s not going to make any difference ultimately, unless, when government revenues are in surplus, you’re actually going to take some of that money and give it back to the people who need it most.
That’s all I’m asking. All I’m asking is that the government open themselves up to the possibility that no one, not even their own supporters, will criticize them if they exercise some genuine compassion in the way that they’ve exercised some compassion and understanding of the issues in this legislation.
I’m certainly going to support this bill. That’s without question, and I would think I wouldn’t even have to state that. That’s pretty obvious. But at the same time, I have to ask, as I say thank you: why not more?
If you’re going to brag that you have the fiscal capacity to create a prosperity fund with surplus money, if you’re going to brag about your forecast allowance and your forecast surplus and how you’re going to give a benefit to public servants because the economy performed well enough that they’ll see a small benefit themselves…. When you can brag about all those things and, at the very same time, the best you can do is give $77 a month to people on disability status…. Surely we can do better.
I’m simply asking the government, as we consider this bill, as we take this tiny step forward, to actually, reasonably, look at this and say: “You know what? We can. We should. It’s the right thing to do.” No one is going to criticize you. Indeed, I undertake to be one of the first members on this side of the House to thank the government if they do.
If the Minister of Health wants a little more sweet, then I’m just going to suggest that perhaps the members on the government side work a little harder, take a little sharper pencil to the budget and find the money. It is the right thing to do. Everyone knows it’s the right thing to do. You’d be popular for doing it. You’d receive gratitude for doing it. Your heads might hit the pillow at night feeling a little cleared in your conscience, better than they were when you woke up. So why not? There’s, ultimately, no excuse.
The lives of people who receive persons-with-disabilities status are not going to improve unless the government is prepared to improve their lives by increasing the allowance appropriately. I could talk all day about those who receive ordinary social assistance, an amount so appallingly low, I can’t imagine how government can continue to hold the line on that one. Just talking today and reflecting on the substance of this bill…. Please, it’s not that hard.
I’m not going to do a C.D. Howe moment, as much as I am tempted to. He is reputed to have said: “What’s a million?” In fact, I’m not even sure he said that, and it doesn’t really matter. In the context of the budget that we have in British Columbia, is it that hard? Is it that hard to throw what amounts to, literally, pennies out of that budget total? Throw a few pennies in the way of the poor — not an unreasonable thing to request.
I’d like to think the government members are actually listening. I believe, in my heart, that they’re good people. They care. They want to see life better for people. For people receiving disability payments, short of a miracle, it’s not going to get better unless the folks on that side of the chamber decide to do so. Or, alternatively, they let the folks on this side of the chamber do their jobs.
Hon. P. Fassbender: I’m delighted to get up and speak to Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act. I always enjoy following the hon. member for Nanaimo, and I always live in anticipation that he actually is going to stop when he says thank you, without transitioning into a then much longer speech about how we’re not doing our job and so on. I appreciate his eloquence. I appreciate a somewhat warped sense of humour that I hear, from time to time, but I do appreciate the fact that he has his perspective.
I will say to the hon. member for Nanaimo…. He said it relates to pennies. Well, in this budget that was just recently tabled in this House, there was an increase of $170 million into the ministry’s budget to do the very
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thing that the member talked about — that is, to provide more support and assistance for the very people that he is concerned about. To me, that’s not pennies. That is a significant investment as a result of fiscal policies that have allowed us to put that money and invest it in the future of British Columbians who need that support.
I know that the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation and the team in her ministry have worked extremely hard to find some innovative and progressive programs that will meet the needs of the people on disabilities and people with disabilities. I know that these steps…. The minister has said it publicly and in this House on a number of occasions. We all wish we could do more. When you see that this ministry has received an increase of $170 million, it is a clear indication that the work that has gone on to find the areas where support is needed is being done.
I know that the minister, her team in the ministry and every member on the government side is committed to helping people with disabilities by making it easier for them to have access to the programs and services they need. That is at the heart of the proposed legislative changes. It will allow us to help those groups, such as people with disabilities, without having them be forced to go through an arduous and long application process. We understand that, and that’s what these proposed changes do.
It will not only reduce red tape; it will also cut the paperwork for the professionals. I might add that as part of what has happened in the ministry and some of the progressive steps they’ve taken, they’ve added other professionals who can help with that application process.
That is going to provide more access for people with disabilities to get that appropriate application and sign-off done. They will help them to fill out those forms, and that is going to be a significant move in the right direction. This bill will help to cut the paperwork, and that respects the work of the professionals that work with these individuals in our province.
When this legislation comes into force, the people in the following provincial and federal programs will complete a much simpler PWD application process. That includes organizations like Community Living B.C., the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s At Home program, the B.C. PharmaCare plan P palliative care program and the Canada Pension Plan disability program. That has been done to ensure, again, that we help individuals get the support they need when they need it and in a timely fashion.
This bill, this legislation, is just one of the many ways that the government has been working to streamline the disability assistance application process. The ministry has also reduced the amount of time it takes to process an application for persons with disabilities designation and created the simplified form for youth transitioning to the CLBC services.
Our government remains committed to working with people with disabilities in order to make their lives easier. Again, the hon. member for Nanaimo and, prior to him, the member for Nelson-Creston talked about the policies of this government that have made it more difficult.
I think history lessons often come up in this House, and there is one. The pure fact is that the only time the rates were cut for people in this category was under the NDP government, not by this government. We’ve continued to increase it, and we will continue to work with them and provide them with the supports that they need.
Hon. P. Fassbender: The only cuts that were made…. I hear the members opposite. They’re talking about cuts. The cuts that were made were for single employables, not PWD individuals, and we created programs that would help them to get work.
Here’s a bit of news for the members opposite: the program has been extremely successful. People who needed jobs and who wanted jobs now have those jobs and are self-sustaining and have the dignity that we, on this side of the House, want to ensure we help them receive. We will continue to do that.
It looks, for most of us…. We look at the feedback we’ve received. The ministry has been working closely with the disability community and the organizations, and we’ve worked to develop the Accessibility 2024 plan.
That ten-year action plan identifies what society can do to reduce barriers for people with disabilities and create more accessible, inclusive communities where people are respected no matter what their circumstance may be.
That is seen across this country as being innovative and progressive, recognizing that we need to respect the people who, because of issues perhaps not even of their own making, because of circumstances beyond their control, have been perhaps not honoured the way they should be in communities. We are committed to ensuring that we work to do that change that needs to happen.
The proposed legislation does reflect the feedback we’ve received from people with disabilities and the organizations, and we know that it is the right step in the right direction and will make their lives that much easier.
Our comprehensive social safety net in this province is in place to provide temporary support to help people find meaningful work. Many times on this side of the House we’ve talked about the fact that our goal is to provide an economy that has access to meaningful jobs and for people to be lifted out of poverty, not by subsidies and handouts but by being given the opportunity to work, and to have the respect that they deserve for who they are and what they bring to our communities.
We continue to refine our income assistance policies in ways that help people increase their household income
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and create better independence. Just a couple of examples. The child support payments are now fully exempt, providing an additional $32 million over the next three years for 3,200 families. Earning exemptions doubled from $200 to $400 per month for all families with children and increased from $300 to $500 per month for families who have a child with a disability.
We’ve also, for people on disability assistance, increased earning exemptions from $500 to $800 a month. In January of 2015, B.C. became the first province to annualize those earning exemptions up to $9,600 a year.
Again, I remind the Member for Nanaimo that those are not pennies. Those are real dollars that are making a real difference in those families’ lives, and they are appreciative of that work.
They can now keep their basic health supplement coverage for a full year when they leave income assistance for employment, so we help them as they transition into the meaningful jobs that I spoke about. We’ve also made significant changes so that people on disability assistance can hold more assets and receive cash gifts, making our policies the most generous in all of Canada.
In the last while, we’ve talked about the bus pass. We’ve heard the opposition trying to suggest that this government has cut, and that is not true. They’ve used words like “clawback.” That is also not correct. What we’ve actually done, as the minister has said every day in this House, is made it fairer, provided more equitability across the province.
They now, today, have more than they had before that was brought in — not less, but more. The people in the community, in the disability community, are beginning to see that when they see the facts, not the misrepresentation of the facts that we hear from the members opposite.
Again, our government is working to provide jobs, a stable economy and opportunities for everyone, no matter where they live, no matter who they are, no matter what their circumstance in life is. We’re doing that because we respect them. We want to see everyone in this province flourish and have great opportunities. I applaud the work of the minister and her department in providing the path to success and to a bright future.
S. Chandra Herbert: I’d say I have great delight in speaking about this bill, but after some of the remarks I’ve heard, I’ve got to say we need to put our heads on, stop patting ourselves on the back and start thinking about the people that we’re actually talking about here — people living with disabilities; people trying to survive in communities across B.C. with ever-increasing housing costs, food costs, hydro costs and so forth; people trying to get by, often on a little over $900 a month, and on and on it goes.
Well, this bill is looking to make it so that — I’ve heard approximately 1,000 — people don’t have to fill out as many application forms, one of which is 28 pages long, so that they can get the assistance they need to live.
Well, where did that 28-page application come from? What is the history of this bill, of this need? What is the history of how we treat people with disabilities in this province? I’ve got to say it’s not that good.
Now, I know the hon. minister, the minister across the way, said: “We’re the most generous in Canada.” I think these were his words. Generosity, the idea of: “Well, I’ll be kind. I’ll give you something extra. I’ll be generous.” Generous helpings generally means bigger helpings.
Generosity quite often seems to denote charity, the idea of: “Well, I’ve got more than you, so I’ll give it to you because I’m nice.” Not because it’s your right, not because of social justice, not because of care, the feeling that we are all humans and have a duty to look out for each other, but a “I have more than you, and maybe I’ll give you a little bit” — not a “We are equals”. It generally seems to denote, sometimes, a one above the other.
For me, I was brought up to believe that we are all equal. We should all be treated equally. Equity. But in that, I’ve also been brought up to understand that some people start off on third base and think they’ve hit a triple. Some people start out at home plate and think they hit a home run. Some people can’t even get to the batting cage. Some people can’t even swing the bat.
We don’t treat all of them equally and assume that, well, everybody can do exactly the same thing and everybody has the same abilities. Yet many people in this House do. Many people don’t recognize their privileges. When people talk about B.C. — “the greatest place on earth” used to be the catchphrase of the government of the day — what they don’t reflect on is that, for many people, it’s a pretty hard place to live.
I think it’s our duty as legislators, when we represent people, to do our best to try and represent them all. Now, I understand there’s no way that I can speak for everybody, in the sense that I can never understand everything they’ve gone through, to be able to understand the challenges that they’re living every day, but I try my best. I don’t try to pretend that I know what’s best for them. People generally know what’s best for themselves or for their families.
I also don’t try and talk down to them and tell them, “Well, we’re being generous, so you should be happy,” when they can’t afford to eat. But that’s what we hear from this government. There’s no humility in this. This is the people’s money, not their money. This is British Columbia’s money we’re talking about.
I know governments are never humble. I know governments want credit for everything under the sun that’s good and none of the credit for things that go bad. We get it. That’s politics. That’s often humanity’s way of being. We’re all fragile in one point or another. We all have egos. We all believe we’re trying to do the best we can. But hu-
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mility, I think, requires us to understand that we’re not doing the best we can for people living with disabilities.
Bringing in a law that is going to make it easier for a small number is a good thing. To be fair, it’s a good thing, and I will give the government credit for doing that good thing. But there are over 90,000 other people who still have to deal with 28-page forms.
There could be any number of us who become disabled, although to be fair, because of the provisions we’ve given ourselves with benefits and salaries, etc., many of us probably wouldn’t have to go through this process at all. But it could be. It could be a family member, a constituent. Indeed, many constituents have to face this.
We’re not doing anything for those people who we know, as rents increase and costs increase, are still struggling at food banks, if they’re able to get there. They’re still struggling to even fill out a 28-page web-based application form, if they even know how to fill out on a computer or if they can find an advocate who can do it for them — if they’re even able to communicate that.
Let’s go back to how this began. In January 2002, the B.C. Liberals decided to launch one of the most regressive attacks — I would argue a mean-spirited attack — on people with disabilities. They brought in massive application forms. I remember those days.
I wasn’t a member of the House at the time, but I remember talking to people in my community who found that their friends, their loved ones, people who were neighbours that they didn’t know that well, ended up evicted, in some cases ended up homeless, because they were unable to fill out the reams and reams of information this government demanded from them without providing any supports and with really — you could call it poor-bashing; you could call it what you want — a focus on driving people off the list so they could reduce their own budget deficit and, of course, throw these people into personal deficit, personal pain, anguish and struggle.
It was unbelievable to me that a government would act that way, but they did, and that led to a spike in homelessness, a spike in health care costs and legal costs, a spike in personal pain and community conflict as people living with disability, often struggling, were forced onto the streets by this government through their attack, their lack of care, their lack of willingness.
This one piece of legislation is going to allow approximately 1,000 people — maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less — not to have to fill out this 28-page application form. But it’s still required for about 90,000, give or take.
That 28-page application came out of that process, so it’s kind of an echo from those days. Now, 2002 is a long time ago — not so long in the geological scale of time, but a long time for people living in struggle, living in pain. For 14 years, this government has decided to force people through this process, and only now are they saying: “Well, for a small minority of you, we’re going to take that away.”
But they continue to let people struggle, unable to pay their bills, sometimes forced into crime, forced into horrible situations. I’ve met disabled people who’ve been forced, they argue, into sex work and other things to try and pay the bills and be able to feed themselves.
This legislation is not the most generous. This B.C. government is not the most generous. This B.C. government, as the minister said before me: “We all wish we could do more.” That’s what the minister said. Well, they can. They just don’t. Wish — as if somehow the government was unable to decide what went into a budget. “We all wish we could do more,” says the minister, as if somebody else made up the budget and they had no ability to change it.
In fact, they did have an ability to change it, and they do. If we think back in terms of this legislation and its impact on disabilities but also, really, the impact of the lack of care for people living with disabilities….
We didn’t see that same lack of care, that same inability to make changes, when the richest 2 percent of our society — those that can afford yachts, those that can afford trips around the world, those that can afford multiple homes…. We didn’t see that same inability to wish to help those people but be unable to do so. No, this government gave them a $236 million tax cut, each and every year. So in this term of government, it will be over, approximately, $1 billion, give or take.
No, they were not unable to help the richest 2 percent, but they were unable to make a real difference in the lives of people struggling to eat, living on disability; struggling to pay their rent, living on disability. That’s not the most generous. That’s gross. That’s uncaring. That’s making a choice to benefit the wealthiest while making things no better for people who are struggling on disability.
That’s not what I was brought up to accept. My family values, which I was brought up to accept and to be expected to follow, are that if I had a little bit more than the next guy, I tried to make it even. I tried to make sure that that person coming along, who was living a life without anything…. Friends of mine, as I was raised, who lived in a single room, multiple kids sometimes, people who had little resources, maybe a single family — it was our job to try to make things better for them, too, not to say: “Well, sorry, you can’t eat, and I can’t give you anything. You can’t come over to my house for dinner, because I’m going around the world on the Concorde.”
No, that’s not how I was brought up, but that seems to be what we’re seeing here from this government, that kind of approach to dealing with the most vulnerable, and that is not acceptable. That is not acceptable.
The minister is bringing forward a bill which will help some people, and I give her credit for that. I thank her for looking out for that small number of people who don’t have to fill out now, once this bill is passed, more and more paperwork — and have the social workers have to deal with paperwork and the doctors and so on, in that small subset of the population.
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But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we are doing the most we can, that this government is doing the most they can for people living with disabilities. They clearly are not. They clearly decided to prioritize the wealthy, the richest of the rich, over those who, through no fault of their own, are struggling on disability, struggling to live the life that most of us in this chamber — all of us in this chamber — get to enjoy, that many British Columbians get to enjoy.
British Columbians, I think, believe in fairness. I think British Columbians do want better for those who are struggling with disabilities in poverty. They do want better. I hear it all the time in my community. But I also hear it from people who are very wealthy, those that may have got that hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars tax cut. They say to me that they didn’t need the money. In fact, they felt that it was better for the economy and better for our communities if the vulnerable got the support.
They too understand that it’s not just humanly, morally wrong to reward the rich while not doing very much at all for the poor, for those living with disabilities. They understood that, in fact, for the economy and for their own businesses, it made more sense to invest in these people, because they’re not going take the money and plunk it down in a trust fund somewhere else to try and avoid taxes. No, they’re not going to take that money and invest in a yacht in the Caribbean or a vacation property in France. No.
They’re going to invest it right into their own communities, buying food, buying clothes, paying their bills, donating to charities, just like we all would want to be able to do. Going to a show, perhaps. Trying to live a good life. That’s, I think, what British Columbians would want us to do, to recognize that we’re all in it together, or we should be.
I believe we are all in it together, but our society and our government don’t act that way. When we don’t act that way, when we don’t recognize that we are all in it together, whether we like it or not — pain, turmoil, stress, disease, illness — the costs to the person who is struggling in poverty and, indeed, the costs to all of us increase, much more so than if we prepared and supported a good life for people living on disability.
I know the Finance Minister earlier said he’s just making it a little bit less hard, as if somebody living in poverty on a disability payment needed to be stuck in a life of hardness. That doesn’t sound the most generous to me. That sounds like: “Yeah. Life’s really hard for you. We’re going to keep it that way. We’re going to use some sandpaper to try and soften the hard edges that you’re having to deal with that are beating you down. Maybe it’ll be slightly less sharp. Maybe instead of having….” Anyway, hon. Speaker, you get my point. You understand.
I will support this bill. But I will support it because I think it’s one small step, not because it changes everything. Clearly, it doesn’t. I will support it, and I will encourage the minister and this government to do better, us all to do better. We’re all here. We all have an ability to do it. We all have an ability to make the change that we desire, but you actually have to want that change. It’s not wishing for change and doing nothing. It’s making that change.
D. Barnett: Our government is committed to helping people with disabilities by making it easier for them to access the services they need. British Columbia has a wide-ranging system of disability assistance supports for individuals who can’t work or have difficulty working full-time. That support system includes total disability rates and other supports such as earnings exemptions, discounted bus passes, medical supplies, fuel tax rebates and ICBC discounts.
We are investing $170 million over three years to increase disability assistance rates for more than 100,000 people. The increase provides fairness in the system and more choice for people on disability assistance. And 45,000 people who do not currently receive transportation supports will receive a $77 increase to their monthly cheque. People on disability assistance who choose to access the subsidized annual bus pass will receive the bus pass and an increase of $25 per month. Furthermore, a $1,000 home-renovation tax credit is now available to people with disabilities to help increase accessibility at home.
We have introduced significant changes that allow people on disability assistance to live more independent lives while building a more secure financial future and giving their families more peace of mind. For example, a single person with a person-with-disabilities designation can now hold $100,000 in assets while continuing to receive disability assistance, up from $5,000. For a family where two people have persons-with-disabilities designations, the asset limit is $200,000, up from $10,000.
Persons with disabilities can now receive recurring gifts of cash without losing their eligibility for assistance, and people receiving disability assistance will be able to receive more financial help from friends, families or other supporters.
We are simplifying the application process to make it easier for some people applying for disability assistance. Under proposed legislation, people who are already approved for eligible provincial and federal programs will no longer have to complete an application for the persons-with-disabilities designation in order to access assistance.
We have also made important changes to our policies to ensure we’re providing the supports people need to get back into the workforce, while helping to improve the financial picture for B.C.’s most vulnerable people. For example, we have increased earnings exemptions, for individuals receiving disability assistance, to $800 a
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month so those who are able to work are supported and encouraged to find employment without compromising their benefits.
B.C. is the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce a way that these earnings exemptions can be calculated annually, rather than monthly, to provide flexibility for people on disability assistance who can work occasionally during the year.
For those who are able to work, the employment program of B.C. has helped nearly 18,000 people with disabilities reach their employment goals since 2012.
The proposed legislation will allow government to prescribe groups of people as persons with disabilities without them completing a 28-page application or additional assessments by medical practitioners. These proposed changes will not only reduce red tape for people with disabilities and their families; they will also cut paperwork for doctors and other health care professionals who need to fill out forms on behalf of clients.
This bill does two important things. It is making life easier for individuals and their families, and it reduces red tape. We remain committed to working with people with disabilities in order to make their lives easier.
S. Hammell: It pleases me to be able to join the discussion in the House on Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act, 2016. This bill amends the Employment and Assistance Act in two basic sections and allows the government to make it a little bit easier for those people with disabilities. At least for some of the people with disabilities, there’s a little less red tape.
Of course, we have a no-red-tape or fewer-red-tapes day or some kind of day that celebrates less red tape, which everyone is keen to hear about. But it is particularly comforting to know that the government is looking at people with disabilities and trying, in their way, to make life a little bit easier.
The two changes that are coming along are that some people with disabilities — not all but some — will not be required to fill out the 28 pages that the current form requires. Think about it — 28 pages. I think most people would be absolutely delighted to see the back end of 28 pages of anything in terms of a form. I don’t think you fill out 28 pages to get your passport. I don’t think you fill out 28 pages to do many things in life. But of course, if you’re disabled — and particularly some types of disability — to fill out 28 pages would, I think, be nigh on impossible. Though some people….
I find it really interesting to try to contemplate the people that are now being told that they do not have to fill out this form. They are people living in Community Living B.C. I would assume that, to be engaged or allowed into that program, there is plenty of assessment that people have gone through.
Now to not force them to do 28 pages to prove they’re disabled, after they’ve already been accepted into Community Living B.C., just makes common sense. Another program that the government runs…. Community Living B.C. is funded by the provincial government. To connect Community Living B.C. with not having to fill out a 28-page form is certainly good news.
Another program is the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s At Home program. Here we have another ministry program that, again, does not have to fill out a 28-page form dictated by another part of the ministry or another ministry. That is good news, and I think it is absolutely fabulous that this government is bringing forth this legislation.
Another two programs deserve mentioning. I was a little bit surprised at this one. If you are now in the B.C. palliative care plan, if you’re in palliative care, you don’t now have to fill out the 28-page form. I certainly know that some of us, more recently than not, are experiencing people that are moving into palliative care. To think that they had to fill out a 28-page form when they’re dying and can’t work is short of ludicrous. Again, that is excellent news that that form is being set aside in terms of people who are in palliative care.
Then, of course, the last one is the Canada Pension Plan disability. I would assume that there has been some rigour by the federal government in terms of entering the Canada disability program. There is some sense of duplication — that if you’ve been accepted into the Canada disability plan, maybe you don’t need to fill out another 28 pages of forms.
Of course, getting rid of this kind of onerous requirement for people on disabilities…. All the time, we have to remember that we are talking about people with disabilities. That is a wide, wide range of people in our community, ranging from obvious physical disabilities to mental disabilities to, in essence, the inability to cope with some of the challenges of life.
This bill also, in those four categories, says that people will not be required to have additional medical examinations by doctors or nurse practitioners. Again, you have four programs that have some rigour behind them in terms of identifying — and well they should — those people who have disabilities.
What the government is saying through this legislation — and, of course, it should be supported — is that now we not only don’t have to force people to fill in a 28-page form, which, I submit, some of us here in this House might have difficulty doing, but then, to boot, having already been accepted in some other program, we’re not going to require them to have additional medical examinations and pass some kind of additional medical process.
We will get a simpler person-with-disability process for some of the people who are disabled in our community, and we will all celebrate that as good news. There’s lots of
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good cheer going from us to the other side. This is great news for those people who qualify and are participating in these programs.
The amazing fact to ponder is that the Liberal government created the current form. We’re untangling a mess that has been created by the current government — if not the current government, the predecessor in terms of time.
The 28-page-form, I know, is onerous. It’s not only onerous for the people who fill out that 28-page form…. Regardless of whether they’re exempt now, there’s still a number of people who have to fill out that form, and I know it is onerous for doctors and nurse practitioners to assist in filling that form out. This is a complicated process, and we are expecting people to do something that is very, very complicated, and some of the disabilities make that difficult. And when you know that a doctor or a nurse practitioner with either eight or maybe ten years of university has difficulty filling out these forms, you do wonder at the sanity of having something that complicated in the first place.
I remember watching and then speaking with an advocate at one of the non-profits in Vancouver. I watched as they worked through people who were applying for disability. I watched how incredibly difficult the process was, not only for the person who was applying but the person who was assisting — and then a description of how difficult it was to get all of the ancillary forms that were attached to this 28-page form filled out accurately by the doctors that were needed to verify.
So it is good news. I mean, I think that all we have to do is quote from Jane Dyson, the executive director of the Disability Alliance. She says:
“This is great news. Today’s announcement will simplify the process of accessing disability services for hundreds of people with disabilities and their families every year.”
“We understand that people asked for this change during the Accessibility 2024 consultations, and it’s certainly something that we hear people ask about at Disability Alliance B.C. This change in addition to the annualized earning exemption and the higher asset limits for PWD recipients introduced over the last year will all benefit British Columbians with disabilities.”
When you raise a nation, you raise everyone. When you pick people up and you help them move on in life, it’s just plain good news. So I’m glad the government has seen that there is a different way of doing this.
In 2001 — I know that goes back a bit, but we’re all conscious of history — Minister Murray Coell subjected people with disabilities to a wasteful and intimidating review. Almost 20,000 people with disabilities were forced to fill in lengthy questionnaires to justify their benefits. The review cost the taxpayers $3 million, caused enormous hardship and anxiety for thousands of British Columbians and found that the vast majority of people indeed did have disabilities.
The genesis of that 28-page application form comes from a process back in 2001. The government on the other side has said that there have been no cuts to services and programs, but there is a long list of services and programs that will no longer be available to people with disabilities, seniors and people who live on lower incomes — cut on March 4, 2010. In 2010.
We have 2001 and a major review that was the genesis of this 28-page application process that is now being taken away or eliminated for some of the people who are on disability.
Then we have a 2010 review that included cuts of medical equipment and supplies, such as glucometers for diabetics, electrotherapy devices for people suffering joint and muscle pain, orthotics, medication delivery devices and contraceptives. It also made it so that the only way people who could qualify for healthy supplements are those that can demonstrate that in fact they are facing a direct and imminent, life-threatening health need.
They will also eliminate the minimum shelter allowance of $75 for people living with disabilities, make sponsors responsible for funeral costs for new immigrants who cannot afford to pay themselves, and cut people off from medical supplements as they transition from IA to employment or to federal assistance.
There is a history of looking at the disability community and seeing if they are really disabled and how much help they actually need and then putting them through some onerous system of 28 pages to ensure that they are bona fide applicants. It is excellent news to hear of that 28-page application process being eliminated for some, even if it’s only four categories of people, in the disability community. Those four categories have some previous or some concurring system that allows them to assure the government that these are bona fide people with disabilities.
I don’t know where this generosity came from, but I think that it might have been promoted by the Auditor General’s look at the disability system in the recent past. I think it was 2014 when the Auditor General took a look at the ministry’s disability assistance service to see if they were accessible, to determine if the ministry can demonstrate that its eligibility decisions and payments for disability assistance were accurate and timely, and to determine if the ministry can demonstrate whether it contributes to improved outcomes for its disability assistance clients.
That was certainly not our report. It was the Auditor General’s report in May of 2014 — about a year and a half or more ago. The finding was that the disability assistance program is not easy to access. Now, it may have something to do with that 28-page form with all of its complications. “The disability assistance system is administratively complex and difficult to navigate.” We have people with disabilities, and what we’re doing is creating a system that’s complex and difficult to navigate. “Both the on-line and telephone services are not consistently accessible for cli-
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ents, and there are challenges with the physical accessibility of a small number of service delivery sites.”
I have been around the system and had discussions with people in the community on how incredibly difficult the on-line and telephone system services are. We are asking people in our community, some who are fragile and some who need more assistance than normal, to do stuff that is incredibly difficult. What is wrong with our heads?
It is good — it is absolutely great — to ensure that people who apply for disability are genuinely disabled. But to make the system difficult for those people who are disabled to access it is not okay.
One of the things that the Auditor General found is: “While the ministry has done some analysis and consulted with stakeholders, we found that it has not fully assessed the accessibility needs of its clients.” Its job, the ministry’s job…. This is their client. These are the people they serve. They have a responsibility and obligation to make that system accessible.
“The audit found that there is a risk that some individuals may be in receipt of PWD benefits that do not qualify,” which is not good. “In addition, there is a risk that clients whose condition has worsened are not receiving the services” that they need. “The ministry cannot demonstrate that eligibility decisions are timely.”
The whole world of disabilities, and how government interfaces with people that it is committed to and has a responsibility to serve, has a history. We come to this day and to this act.
I think, with all the goodwill that the government is showing and with our will on this side of the House, all of us are pleased to support this bill. We think it’s a small step in the right direction, and we do encourage the minister to continue on this path, with making sure that the people who justly deserve assistance from government, who are disabled in our community, receive the assistance they so deserve.
M. Hunt: I rise to speak in support, also, of Bill 3, which is the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act.
I find it a particular privilege to be able to follow the member for Surrey–Green Timbers in her speaking to this bill because, of course, as you know, Mr. Speaker, she certainly has more experience in this House than I have. She’s had the awesome privilege of being able to be on both sides of the House and has a lot more of the history of how things have gone on and how they have come to where they are today. Certainly, I don’t have that.
As a first-term member of this House, I’m coming in with the conditions as they are. I’m pleased to support this bill because it’s heading, as far as I’m concerned, in the right direction. It’s going in the direction we want to go, of reducing red tape, of making things better for those people with disabilities.
It’s when I’m listening to the two sides go back and forth on this, in the previous discussions that we’ve heard, it’s like an argument over whether the glass is half-full or half-empty. Everybody wants more to be in the glass. I can’t debate how it got to be at the level that it’s at.
I’m pleased that because of the previous balanced budgets that we’ve been able to deliver, we’ve been able to help those who have disabilities. We’ve been able to raise the income exemption, from $500 a month to $800 a month, for those people who are collecting disability benefits but can earn, as well, on their own. If they can, that’s great, and that’s good for everybody. Everybody should benefit from that. For families that are receiving income assistance, the income exemption has been raised from $300 to $500 for those who have children with a disability — again, so that there’s more in the cup, so everybody benefits.
British Columbia has become the first province in Canada to actually annualize the earning exemptions up to $9,600 a year, which provides flexibility for those who earn extra income on their own, especially those for whom that income is a seasonal income. It comes all at once, and then there’s nothing for the rest of the year. Instead of clawing that back, we have it as an annualized return. As the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has pointed out: “Earnings exemptions are a valuable path back into the paid workforce.” I think they’re correct. I think that this is the direction that this government is going, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Then, of course, persons with disabilities can also benefit from the single-parent initiative. It provides up to 12 months of training for in-demand jobs, covering transportation costs to attend that training and also covering daycare costs during that training. I know that I’ve seen the benefit that kind of support has done for single moms that have been friends of mine. They have so benefited from it, and their whole family has benefited. I’m just proud to be part of it.
In addition to the single-parent initiative, the government has now allowed people to continue to receive supplementary health coverage up to a year after they’ve moved from being on assistance into employment. Again, this is helping them with every bit of protection, help that we can give them to help them along the way.
It also brings protections for British Columbians who are unable to work, so a single person collecting disability assistance will no longer lose the benefits if they receive an inheritance, such as a cash gift of up to $100,000 now, where that used to be $5,000. For a family of two people that are collecting disability benefits, that asset limit is raised to $200,000. I think that’s tremendous — that these people, again, can have the security and the basis to build a better life for themselves in the midst of their situation.
In 2014, I also had the privilege of being a part of the workshops that led to the ten-year plan that we have,
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Accessibility 2024, which is targeted to making B.C. the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities. Some people may say: “Oh, that’s a lofty goal. It’s never going to happen.” Well, I’m proud to be a part of it, and the way that we get there is inch by inch, step by step. I believe this is a comprehensive plan that is going to make this the most inclusive province in Canada. I believe that we can do it.
[R. Lee in the chair.]
Of course, Budget 2016 supports that plan in that Budget 2016 provides an additional $170 million over three years to increase assistance rates for 100,000 people on disability assistance. Beginning in September of this year, people who choose not to receive a bus pass will in fact see an increase of $77 per month, but those people who choose to keep the B.C. bus pass will receive a $25 monthly increase in addition to having that subsidized bus pass.
Frankly, I’m disappointed in the way that the debate over this has gone on for the last week, because, in fact, everybody will be getting more. There will be increases for everyone. But the way it gets spun out by some members of the opposition…. I just really find it regrettable.
Overall, Bill 3 will reduce the barriers for people living with disabilities. The proposed legislation will allow government to prescribe groups of persons as “persons with disabilities” and without having to fill this 28-page application form or chase additional resources and assessments from our medical practitioners, who are already busy working on other cases and people in need of immediate medical attention. So these proposed changes will not only reduce red tape for people with disabilities and their families but will also cut the paperwork for the doctors, for the health care professionals.
Again, everybody benefits. The whole system benefits, and I continue to support the direction that this government is going.
D. Eby: It’s a pleasure to rise and speak on this bill. I certainly am glad to see the government taking a step — a small step — to make life a little bit easier for a small group of people eligible to receive disability assistance in the province. I think it’s very important, though, that we recognize that this takes place in a larger context, which is that there is this 28-page form, and it didn’t just come out of nowhere. This red tape that the government says they are eliminating here came from the same government.
It was January 2002 when the Campbell government announced their radical restructuring of income assistance. This was a surprise to everybody because, of course, it wasn’t mentioned during the election. Can you imagine that, hon. Speaker? Something happening after an election that the government hadn’t talked about happening. That did happen in 2002.
It was Minister Murray Coell who led this review — incredibly wasteful and intimidating for people with disabilities. He said: “You need to prove to the province that you have a disability.”
Sure, we need to make sure that people who have disabilities and are claiming disability actually have disabilities. Sure. But a 28-page form, a review that cost $3 million and put everybody who was on disability through the wringer — for political purposes? That’s where this form came from. That is the context of this form that the government is celebrating eliminating for a group of about 1,000 people.
Let’s think about this too. This reform that brought in this form — I use the term “reform” generously; it was just a big cut, an attempt to transfer money from the very weakest and poorest members of our province up to wealthy people in the province, and a successful attempt at that — involved a number of other reforms at the same time.
Under the headline of a press release that said, “Province Protects Services for Low-Income Clients,” there was a list of cuts for people in the province: the elimination of medical equipment and supplies, such as glucometers for diabetics; electrotherapy devices for people suffering joint and muscle pain; orthotics; medication delivery devices; contraceptives. It was made so that the only way people could qualify for health supplements was if they could demonstrate they were facing “a direct and imminent life-threatening health need. “ Does that sound like proactive health care? Does that sound like a forward-looking attempt to keep people out of the emergency room?
These cuts and these new forms and these attacks on the poorest and weakest people in the province came from this same government. When they hold themselves up as “oh, we’re the champions of people on disability, and we’re the champions of people who are impoverished, of people who are homeless” or that “we have the best homeless plan in North America,” let’s keep in mind the realities, of the fact that a lot of the people…. I would say that probably all of the people who are in the shelter in Maple Ridge right now have profound addiction and mental health issues, are not getting the health care they need, have profound disabilities. They’re living in an old mattress store that is closing at the end of the month. That is this government’s record on people with disabilities. That is the best housing program in North America.
I think another important point to make is that this government is well aware that it is incredibly difficult to access disability assistance. The reason I know that is because they have received a report from the Auditor General for British Columbia. That report laid out, in some considerable detail, the challenges and difficulties that people with disabilities have applying for disability assistance. Keep in mind these are people with disabil-
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ities. Instead of making it easier, the government makes it harder.
There were specific points that were made in the Auditor General’s report — very clear. “We found a number of barriers that are currently reducing the accessibility of the system.” “The disability assistance system is administratively complex and difficult to navigate.” “Both the on-line and telephone services are not consistently accessible for clients, and there are challenges with the physical accessibility of a small number of service delivery sites.” “While the ministry has done some analysis and consulted with stakeholders, we found it has not fully assessed the accessibility needs of its clients.”
Well, that’s quite a report. I have to tell you…. In my old job, a number of years ago now, when I was working in the Downtown Eastside, the perspective of people who had disabilities, who should have been on disability and weren’t, was that these barriers were intentional. That was the perspective of these folks, that the barriers were intentional to minimize the number of people who could access disability because that would save the government money. If the government wanted people on disabilities to access these benefits, they would make it easy for them to do that, but in fact they had a 28-page form. It was incredibly difficult to get on. It required the assistance of an advocate for many, many people.
They had to go to an office. They had to make an appointment with someone to sit down to fill out all the forms. Often, as often as not, the forms would come back. They’d be rejected. There’d be something missing. They’d have to go back and do something else. People would fall off.
When they fell off, that meant they didn’t get the disability assistance that they were entitled to. There’s no question these people were disabled. That is how you end up in an old mattress store in Maple Ridge. This system that this government is celebrating got easier for 1,000 people. Well, that’s good news. But boy, we’ve got a long way to go.
When I talk about the advocates who help people fill out these forms…. This government, their cuts, also eliminated the advocates, the funding for the advocates to help people fill out this 28-page form. So here you have a 28-page form that someone with a disability needs help filling out. If you go to the advocates’ office now, if you go in the Lower Mainland, which is incredibly dense with service organizations — at least, it used to be — there are very few advocates. You have to wait for a hugely extended period of time. That doesn’t even speak about the realities of living in rural B.C. with a disability, trying to get on to these services when the advocates aren’t available.
No, it’s left to groups like the Law Foundation of British Columbia, the Vancouver Foundation and Vancity to pick up some of the pieces after this government’s cuts, which have made it so difficult for people on disability to access the benefits that they were totally entitled to under the law but that they couldn’t access because the system this government set up was too difficult and because they cut the very advocates that help people negotiate those barriers.
We’re talking a lot about the bus pass and the clawback of the bus pass. There are definitely a lot of issues around this, and I’m glad the government is opening up the conversation, if inadvertently. I’m glad we’re being visited by people with disabilities — to come to this place to tell us about the realities of their lives and the challenges they face. I’m glad this issue is getting the attention from the media that it’s getting.
The Vancouver Province set out very clearly that the government has a lot of work to do on treating people with disabilities with the respect they deserve:
“Let’s be clear about the deceptive shell game the government is playing here. They’re giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
“The budget included a $77-a-month increase in disability benefits, the first in nine years. But the government now is refusing to pay for a disability assistance bus pass, wiping out most of the increase for people who need the pass and used to receive it for free.
“For many disabled British Columbians, it sets up the choice of buying a bus pass or spending the entire $77 on food, rent or other basic needs.”
Faith Bodnar, Inclusion B.C.: “Government, all you did was equalize the poverty for people with disabilities in B.C.”
As for consultation, Jane Dyson, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C.: “We had no consultation at all. This was a big surprise to us. We had no idea this was coming.”
When there’s a rally, out front, of people on disability, it makes it difficult to sit here and hear the government congratulate itself for all its success in treating people with disabilities with respect.
The Times Colonist: “In real terms, taking into account inflation over that period, the rate increase doesn’t compensate adequately for cost-of-living increases over the period. It falls short of what is required to make life more secure, independent and dignified.”
I could go on. I will say that if you vote for this, for 1,000 people, it’s going to make life a little bit easier. But for the government, the challenge remains — for all the people not captured by this bill who are entitled to disability benefits but can’t access them because they can’t find the advocates to support them, or their disability affects their brain, which makes it impossible for them to do it.
These are the people in Maple Ridge. These are the people at the side of the road in Abbotsford. This is the people up by the courthouse. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
S. Gibson: On behalf of my constituents of Abbotsford-Mission, I rise today to speak on Bill 3, the Employment
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and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act. I’m pleased to say that government is committed to helping people with disabilities, to make it easier for them to access the services they need. If we’re able to create the kinds of support for these folks, it will be a great accomplishment.
We want to be able to provide support so people with disabilities can live happy, healthy and independent lives, at least as independent as possible. I might add that I am the parent of a special needs child, now an adult. Alisa is a special person to me, on many levels. I would say that I am my daughter’s best friend, and I have grown to know myself in ways that I would never have experienced if it weren’t for the fact that I had a special needs child.
Although it’s been a challenge, and I might say that the record shows that most parents that have special needs children often split up…. My wife, Joy, and I have had challenges with Alisa, but I’ve grown to love her in a special way, as much, of course, as my older daughter, who has given us three grandchildren. So this is an important issue for me personally, and I’m glad to speak to it today.
This legislation makes things a little bit easier through simple things such as allowing government to prescribe groups of people as persons with disabilities without having to complete that big form. We heard a bit about that from my colleagues today, other speakers — taking away that small burden.
We work closely with provincial and federal programs — Community Living B.C., PharmaCare, Canada Pension Plan disability — trying to streamline the system as much as we can, reduce the time it takes to process an application for the persons-with-disabilities designation. A simplified form, reducing red tape for people with disabilities.
More than 96,000 British Columbians are designated as persons with disabilities, and they receive disability assistance. On average, 8,000 people apply for and receive disability assistance each year. Initially, about 1,000 people each year will benefit from the change, most of which are coming through the transition.
Historically, the disability assistance caseload is increasing at a rate of 4 percent to 5 percent a year, greater than the population growth. This is due to increased life expectancy, an aging population and a growing awareness of mental illness.
This legislation reflects feedback received from people with disabilities and disability organizations during the consultation process on Accessibility 2024. Applicants will still have to qualify for income assistance.
We offer many supports to people with disabilities, and these recent changes I want to highlight: increasing asset levels to $100,000 for a family with one person and $200,000 for families of two people with a designation. People on disability assistance can now be eligible to receive cash gifts with no effect on their eligibility for assistance. There’s no longer an annual cap on payments that people on disability assistance can receive from trusts.
Earnings exemptions for families with a child with a disability who receive income assistance increased from $300 to $500 a month, and child support payments become fully exempt for families receiving income and disability assistance. This includes no charge for MSP and PharmaCare, plus basic dental and optical coverage for children in low-income families through the healthy kids program. Total funding is more than $5 billion a year.
We also provide a wide range of services and supports to help people with disabilities find work. Nearly 17,000 people have successfully reached their employment goal. As well, we have Accessibility 2024, which is the plan to become the most progressive place of all provinces in Canada. In June 2014, we released a governmentwide ten-year action plan, and we’re working hard to achieve that.
There’s so much more I could mention. We’re very excited as a government to be providing strong support for our disabled people in our province. We take it seriously. We value them. We’re all citizens of this great province.
S. Robinson: It is my pleasure to rise in this House and speak to Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act, 2016. I wanted to make sure that I would take my place in this debate.
I think it’s really important that when government presents a bill like this, we understand the historical context of this bill. It’s not enough to just say: “What is this bill about?” “Well, it’s about reducing some of the onerous forms that people who are on disability have to fill out.” It’s more than that. I think we need to really make sure that we understand the context in which this bill is coming into this House.
I think it’s really important that we put this in a context that goes back to 2001, when the B.C. Liberals became government. At the time, they decided that it was important. You know, all governments make choices. It was a choice of this government to say: “We think it’s important that everybody who is on assistance of some kind really demonstrate that they actually need the assistance.”
From my perspective, when people say that, it suggests to me they don’t believe that people who are on assistance really are there because they need it. There’s some sort of suspicion that there are people taking advantage of this program. That’s how I have understood the history of government’s decision to radically change and restructure income assistance back in 2002.
That’s when they announced a budget cut of 30 percent over three years for the many who relied on income assistance. As part of that thinking, the minister of the day, Minister Murray Coell, felt and decided that people with disabilities needed to undertake a review. To me, that suggests that the thinking of the day….
Why would you do that? Why would you spend $3 million doing this review? Well, there must have been some
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sense that people on disabilities were somehow taking advantage, that they couldn’t be trusted. The fact that they were making a claim, going to some office and saying, “I need help because I have this disability….” Somehow there was a lack of truthfulness in their claim. So they instituted, back in the day, this 28-page form.
At the time, I was working in social service. I was working, I remember specifically, for SHARE Family and Community Services at the time. I was a family therapist on contract, and I remember the buzz going through this organization. It’s an organization that serves people in the Tri-Cities, all kinds of people, children with disabilities and CLBC clients as well as families who are going through some difficulties — addictions, mental health concerns — and a food bank.
I remember this decision reverberating through the entire organization, an organization that does receive government funding but also has to fundraise in order to deliver the services that are needed in this community. I remember staff running around pulling their hair out because their clients who had been on disability for years — clients who had brain injuries, clients who had Down syndrome, clients who had mental illnesses that were absolutely debilitating — were now going to have to fill in this 28-page form that left them stressed, fearful for their future and in such agony that it was heartbreaking to watch.
What did that mean for an organization? I was working in an organization that runs on a tight budget. I’ve always said that if you want people to run government lean and mean, then you need to have people who work in social service, people who work in non-profits do it because we know how to do lean and mean.
What it meant was that these workers who were working on a whole range of other issues like housing, counselling, support and life skills were now stopping that important work and becoming advocates and paper-pushers. They now needed to stop what they were doing, stop their important work, and help people fill out these forms. Because you know what? People who have limited capacity, people who have mental illness, people who have addictions, people who have cognitive impairments can’t fill out a 28-page form. It’s difficult to do.
They were coming for appointments to do life skills training. They were coming for counselling appointments to take a look at how anxiety was overtaking their life. What they were doing was they were coming in with a thick application form so that they could continue to get disabilities. That was the work that they were doing. They stopped their plans, and they helped the clients in what they needed to do.
Who caused that? Well, it was this government. This government decided, in its wisdom — a choice that this government made — that we need to make sure that people who say they have disabilities actually have disabilities. And you know what? I don’t think that has really changed a whole lot. I appreciate that there’s this attempt to redefine the application, redo the application form. I think that’s a good direction. But what’s interesting is….
I don’t know if anyone in the House had seen this. There was a Facebook post by Tamara Taggart, whose son has Down syndrome. She posted in her Facebook not too long ago — I want to say it was Christmastime, maybe, or before Christmas — frustration that for her son, who has Down syndrome, she has to prove every year…. I was shocked. I mentioned that to my sister, whose daughter has a permanent hearing impairment. She said: “Well, of course I have to do it every year.” Every year. It’s a permanent disability, but every year they have to get doctors to fill out forms.
Here we have one part of this government that says: “You know, maybe that’s a little bit onerous.” But there’s this other part of government, over in the Ministry of Education, where they have to do that every year.
What does that mean for families? Well, certainly for Tamara Taggart and certainly for my sister Stacy, whose daughter, my niece, has a permanent hearing impairment, it means having to go get the audiologist’s report or having to go get the doctor’s report or having to go get the testing results. These are permanent disabilities. When government says that you need to prove this every year, what it says is that there’s lots of work to do to support these families. There’s lots of work to do to support these people who have disabilities. What it says is that this government hasn’t quite figured out how to do that, because if they’re doing it here, I would fully expect that they’re going do it in the Ministry of Education.
One of the things that I think is important, as we look at the history of how this government has treated people with disabilities — I think my colleague from Point Grey mentioned this — was in 2010. We don’t even have to go that far back. We had this big revamp in 2001-2002. It created all kinds of stress. Then, as recently as six years ago, the Liberal government released an information bulletin that said: “Province protects services for low-income clients.”
Now, when I read that headline, I would imagine that it would protect, meaning save or enhance, maybe. Maybe enhance is too strong but at least list the services that are there to support people with disabilities. Instead, we have a different outcome from that release. In fact, it lists cuts to programs that people with disabilities relied on.
What does that say about a government that says one thing in a headline but, actually, when you take a look through the words — the words that mean something — you find out that, in fact, there are cuts — cuts for things like glucometers for diabetics, electrotherapy devices for people suffering from joint and muscle pain, contraceptives, medication delivery devices? What was interesting was that only those things…. People who qualified for healthy supplements could only now get them if
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they were facing a direct and imminent life-threatening health need.
People with disabilities sometimes have chronic issues. If they’re not addressed and if people don’t take care of themselves, do you know what happens? They wind up in our hospitals. Now, last I checked…. Certainly, the Minister of Health has said that we want to keep people out of hospital, and I completely agree with him. We should be keeping people out of hospital. Hospital is not the place for people. But what does this government do? It takes away the very services and the very supports that keep people with disabilities out of hospital.
I don’t understand how, on the one hand, we want to keep people out of hospital, but on the other hand, we take away those services and those provisions that help people with disabilities stay out of hospital. We take that away from them. It’s really not a consistent message.
Now, the other part I want to mention is this idea of consultation. I heard the member from Port Moody, I think, mention a few things about making sure that people had…. She mentioned this change coming out of a consultation in 2013 and that the focus was to remove any barriers that people with disabilities might have to living a full life. I think she also mentioned making sure that we supported the rights of persons with disabilities.
Those are all really fine words, and I absolutely agree with the member. These are all really important things, but when it talks about consultation, we find out that there really wasn’t any consultation around a whole bunch of things. There was no consultation around that 28-page document, to begin with, back in 2002. There was no consultation with the disabilities community, the service providers. They had no idea it was coming.
I understand, in fact, from some of my colleagues here that it was in those years, and it continues today, that the advocates for people with disabilities — those numbers have been cut over the years. Those are the very people who would help with the 28-page form.
When we think about consultation, I think about meeting with those advocacy groups that support people with disabilities. I imagine meeting with the groups that provide services for people with disabilities and making sure that everyone understands what the needs are and everyone understands what’s coming up, what this government is proposing.
What do we learn? We learn that in this last budget, this government decided to make some very significant changes about how people can access public transportation. There was no consultation about that. People were shocked, dismayed. I don’t understand why there wasn’t any consultation. This is a government that prides itself on being consultative, on making sure that they engage with the people they serve, yet there was no consultation about a very significant change that impacts the lives of thousands of people in this province. There was no consultation.
Members opposite talk about fairness and equity, that the reason they changed this bus pass program was to make it fair. I find that an interesting choice of words, and when I hear those words, I think of the photograph that is often used to talk about fairness and equity. If you can imagine, it’s three people of different heights, and they’re trying to watch a ball game. Each person is standing on the same number of boxes. Now, the shortest person…. Even if you’re standing on two boxes — that’s me — you still can’t see over the top. The person next to me, who has two boxes, can see well over. And the third person, who’s very tall — perhaps it’s the member from Point Grey — also has two boxes, and he can step over the fence.
Now, some would argue that that’s fair because we each have the same thing. We each have two boxes, but I still can’t see over the fence because I need three boxes. Because the member from Point Grey is so generous, he’s going to give me an extra box — thank you very much, Member — and I now will be tall enough to see over the fence. That is equity.
What this government is doing is not equity. They are confused about what the concept is. Different people need different things at different times, and what this government is doing around this bus pass program is not recognizing that. That’s very, very disappointing.
If you really want to think about it, the people who have access to public transit also live in the places with the highest rental accommodation. They live in the places where it is most expensive to pay your rent. I don’t see anything for them in that. They don’t seem to really be paying much attention to that. So from my perspective, I don’t think this government has hit the nail on the head in that respect.
When we think about, again, consultation, I’m disappointed that there wasn’t any around the bus pass. I hope that they did consultation around changing the 28-page form, the one that we’re talking about specifically in this bill.
The member for Port Moody–Coquitlam talked about it coming out of the 2013 consultations that they did in order to make this the most accessible province, but I suspect that a lot of it came from the Auditor General’s report, a pretty damning report. It was a damning report because the Auditor found that the ministry’s disability assistance services were really not accessible. They found a number of barriers that reduce accessibility of the system, and they found that the disability assistance system is administratively complex and difficult to navigate.
Now, I believe very strongly in user-based systems. The user, the end user — they’re the ones who actually have to fill in the form.
When you create a complicated system for people with disabilities…. I’m not necessarily talking about somebody who might have a hearing impairment or someone who might be in a wheelchair or who might need some
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assistive aid of some kind for mobility. I’m talking about someone who has a cognitive impairment. I’m talking about someone who’s overcome with anxiety their entire life or someone who has OCD or someone who has a developmental disability of some kind. To be able to fill in a 28-page form that a government hasn’t thought through to make sure that it’s accessible is very, very problematic.
I understand that these changes only affect about 1,000 people in our province. Apparently, there are thousands and thousands more that won’t be impacted by this change. So I want to put a question to this government: what are you going to do for everybody else? It only affects people with CLBC, the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s At Home program, B.C. PharmaCare plan B, palliative care and the Canada Pension Plan disability. But there are others.
I think there’s more work for this government to do. I think there’s more work for them to make sure they are following what the Auditor General said in terms of making the system easier to access and less complex. There are other things that the Auditor General found. He talked about the on-line and telephone services that were not consistently accessible for clients. There were challenges with the physical accessibility of a small number of service areas.
The other thing I really found very interesting out of this report is that the ministry had not completed a comprehensive evaluation of a disability assistance program, and they were unable to demonstrate that the program is contributing to improving the lives of clients, which is what it says it does. So this program exists to improve clients’ lives, but there’s no definition around what that looks like.
I suggest that it would be different for different people, but here we have this bus pass issue coming up again. What I heard out on the steps this week, talking to people who rely on this bus pass…. What they are saying is that this is not going to improve their lives, the stress that they are experiencing. I know the members opposite keep saying that we’re the ones creating the stress, but we’re hearing this from the advocates. The advocates are contacting us — as, I’m sure, they’re contacting their MLAs on the other side of the House — and all we are doing is asking the questions on behalf of the advocates. It’s how the advocates understand it.
It’s how the clients understand it. They are anxious, and it’s like a repeat of 2002 all over again, when that 28-page form first came into being. It’s a familiar experience. People are stressed about it, and I urge this government to act now on that issue.
I will be supporting this bill because it’s this tiny, tiny little piece of making things better, and I don’t imagine there’s anyone in this House that would dare say not to make things better. But I also want to comment that this government has lots more to do. They are not done, and I encourage them to not rest on their laurels. They have lots to do to fix this issue for people with disabilities in our community.
C. James: I’m glad to rise to speak to second reading of Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act, 2016. As I know others have spoken to, this bill amends two sections of the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act.
These amendments will provide the government with the ability to directly designate persons with disabilities without requiring them to fill out the current 28-page application form or without going through the process again and again. It provides a simpler process, which is important and something positive — a simpler process for people who are in a few of the government programs, including Community Living B.C., Ministry of Children and Families’ At Home program, palliative care and the Canada Pension Plan disabilities.
I would say that this is a positive step, and it’s certainly about time. I think it’s important, as well, to recognize how we got here. If we don’t look at how we got here and why we’re debating this legislation today, we will see once again the same mistakes being made over and over and over again. I think it’s very important to remember that this piece of legislation — and the time and the expertise and the energy that went into preparing it, that went into getting it into the legislative agenda, to bringing it forward, to debating it — is simply fixing a problem that this government created.
We have to remember who brought in that 28-page form. Who brought in the 28-page form that actually required people with disabilities to go through a difficult, onerous process to prove that they had, often, a lifelong disability? Well, it was the government. It was the B.C. Liberals who brought that form in. So while I hear members standing up and saying, “Isn’t it wonderful that we’re doing this? Isn’t it great that we’re making it…? How much easier it’s going to be,” let’s remember they created the problem in the first place.
I find a bit of irony here. In the week that the government is recognizing Red Tape Reduction Day, we are here getting rid of a piece of red tape this this government created. Once again you see words but not action. It would be laughable if there weren’t so many people who were hurt by what this government did and the process that they went through.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about the impact of that 28-page form. I was working in the area of child welfare at the time. I was working in the community social services sector, and I saw, across this province, not-for-profit societies stepping up to the plate, taking on the load and helping the people with the responsibility of trying to navigate what was an absolutely outrageous process and created purposely to be difficult for people to navigate.
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It was very clear, through 2002 till we got to the end of the core review in 2005 and 2006, that the B.C. Liberals were trying to save resources by reducing the number of people collecting support. Now, the horrible thing in all of this is that the government didn’t reduce the number of people with disabilities. The number of people with disabilities didn’t disappear. It just meant that people with disabilities got less support. It meant those people who had been receiving support were no longer able to receive their support, were no longer able to go through the process of trying to navigate the form.
Those people who did go through the process of navigating the form in fact ended up with less support and less services. Their lives were made tougher. The support that they had received was actually cut back.
I want to take a few minutes to go through…. I’ll get to the individual supports. I think it is important to put it on the record, because it was a shameful time in our province’s history under this government. It was a shameful time when the most vulnerable were the ones that this government went after.
The worst part of all that I saw personally from the work that I was doing in communities was the anxiety and the fear that it created. You don’t get that back. That can’t be taken away. That kind of anxiety that people went through, wondering if they were going to have any supports at the end of it or how they were going to even navigate that form — that can’t be taken back.
I’m glad Bill 3 is coming in. I’m glad we’re seeing the change. I think it’s important to remember that the change only impacts about 1,000 people. There are many, many more, whether in the education system or in other government programs that weren’t in the list that I read out, who will still have to face that anxiety of coming forward every year — of getting doctor certificates, of trying to prove that they have a disability that is a lifelong disability.
I’m glad some people are not going to face that difficulty, with this bill coming in, and I’ll certainly be supporting it because of that. But it doesn’t address the anguish that people went through — unnecessary anguish. I don’t use that word lightly.
Being expected to fill out those 28 pages…. I just want to take a minute for people to think about what that’s like for someone who is on disabilities — who doesn’t have access to a computer, who certainly doesn’t have the money to be able to afford the Internet — who now has to navigate a form and then take that form to their physician.
Even if they’re able to find a computer at a library…. It’s often what lots of people with disabilities will do to be able to access a computer. To be able to find the time to stay on a computer to be able to fill out 28 pages, and then to try and find out if you could actually print it off the computer if you’re using it in a public place that may not have printers attached to the computer…. That’s another requirement and another step that people with disabilities were expected to go through just to be able to get basic living supports that they needed to be able to manage.
That wasn’t all. Once they got the form, they had to take it to their physician. They had to get the physician to fill out a number of pages in the form — and not just a straightforward: “Does the person have a disability? Check the box.” Every step had to be recorded on that form — how much support the person needs for everything from eating to bathing, to cleaning, to being able to manage day to day, to being able to be independent or not independent. Down to minutiae.
I can tell you that there were many, many physicians who refused to fill that form out, who said that it took too much time, that they didn’t have the time to be able to fill out that form — leaving again the most vulnerable in even a more difficult situation, trying to find someone who knew them well enough to be able to fill out the form and who didn’t inadvertently cut them off supports that they needed to be able to manage.
That, also, wasn’t the end of it. Once they got the form filled out by the physician, they then had to go to a prescribed professional to complete the assessor report. That had to be a psychologist, a nurse, a therapist, a social worker, a nurse practitioner — again, someone with knowledge of and experience with the applicant. They had to go through the process of filling that in, and then the individual had to take the package, make sure that everything was in the package and mail it away.
Well, I think everyone would agree that that’s daunting for anyone, never mind someone who has diverse abilities, who is worried and doesn’t really understand why they’re required to go through this process and how their supports might be at risk.
I saw firsthand how difficult that was, and I saw firsthand agencies and not-for-profits taking time out of their squeezed budgets. Let’s remember: this was time of the core review when this government was slashing and burning supports for the most vulnerable in our province.
When the government made those changes…. I think that’s, again, important to put on the record that it wasn’t simply bringing in a 28-page form that the government did. The government made some of the most sweeping changes we’ve ever seen for people on income assistance and people with disabilities.
In fact, this isn’t the only one that we saw the government have to reverse. There are, in fact, many other changes that the government made during that time period that they had to take the Legislature’s time, energy and expertise, as I was saying earlier, to correct their mistakes. Anyone in the community had been clear that they were not going to work and were simply cruel to the most vulnerable in our province — 30 percent cuts. By 2005, in this province, 30 percent cuts in the income assistance
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area. That included training. That included job counsellors. That included eligibility, benefit rates, the duration of benefits and exemptions. All of those were cut across the board.
We saw welfare benefits for employable single-parent families cut by $50 a month. We saw benefit rates for people on income assistance between 55 and 64 dropped by $98 a month. Employable couples saw their rates drop between $94 and $145 a month. Shelter allowances for families with two or more children were reduced. There was a 100 percent clawback in earnings. Previously, earnings were able to be kept. This government decided, “No, we’re going to take those back,” and got rid of those earnings exemptions.
That wasn’t all. We saw welfare time limits introduced. We saw employable parents receiving benefits for two of the five years, and then their benefits got cut by 11 percent. I think it’s important to remember, as we go through all of these, that these are people behind these statistics. When we talk about benefits being cut by a percentage, those were families. Those were people who are the most vulnerable, who were facing the most draconian kind of cuts that we could imagine.
Single parents used to be able to stay home until their child entered school. That was cut. Once their child turned three, they then had to go back to work, and they were cut off income assistance, and 15,000 children were affected by that move. Dependent children of individual clients were also required to go to school as part of the challenge. Again, when you think of families who are working out the ability to look after people who need the additional care — another hardship.
Full-time post-secondary students were no longer eligible for welfare if they received government student loans. Young adults were required to be independent for two years after leaving their parents’ home before they could get income assistance. It’s incredible to think of the changes that these made for individual families.
Persons with disabilities — this government, across the way, actually introduced legislation that cut the monthly rates by more than $150. Clients who were no longer defined as disabled lost their extended medical coverage. They lost access to basic dental care. They were no longer entitled to their $300-a-month earnings exemption — again, unbelievable to see the kinds of difficulties this government created for people with disabilities and people on income assistance.
Why would I raise those when I’m standing up and speaking to Bill 3, when the government has decided to bring forward a bill that’s making some changes to make the forms a little bit easier for a certain number of people on disability? I’m raising these cuts because I believe they really show the character of a government. They show the character of a government when cutting supports for people with disabilities and people who are the most vulnerable and people in poverty was a choice that this government made so they could give a tax break to high-income earners in our province.
If that sounds familiar…. It may feel a little bit like Groundhog Day, because here we are again today. This government boasts about increasing support for people with disabilities while at the same time taking away a $45-a-year bus pass to be replaced by $52 a month for people.
Yet, just as they did back in the early 2000s — just as they did in 2004, in 2005, in 2006 — this government found money for a tax break for high-income earners. They did that again last year and again this year. This government found $236 million to give a tax break to the top 2 percent of income earners. Yet what was the choice they made for people with disabilities? “Oh, yes, yes. We’ll give you some money, but by the way, we’re taking it back at the same time.” The most vulnerable at the bottom of the list.
Even when this government says that they’re providing support for people with disabilities, they play the worst kind of politics around by clawing almost all of it back — from a bus pass that used to be subsidized at $45 a year, to say you’re paying $52 a month. I can’t tell you the number of individuals who I’ve talked to over the last couple of weeks who are heartbroken, who are angry, who are upset.
I have to say, when I heard the minister say that the demonstration outside was simply a photo op…. I know those individuals, many of them who I’ve worked with over years in this community, came to speak strongly for themselves. They came to raise their voices. They didn’t come because they were told by anybody to come to this place. It’s not easy for them to come out and express their views. But they did it because they wanted to send a message to this government that it’s long past time to treat people with disabilities with respect in this province.
It was not simply an insult to anyone in this House. It doesn’t matter about us. We can take insults all the time. That’s part of the job when you get involved in politics. But to insult people with disabilities, to say that somehow it’s a game when they come here to express their views is, again, the worst kind of politics around.
Bill 3 says something. Yes, it says that a small change is being made, but it certainly shows the lack of value and support that this government has shown to people with disabilities, to people who are vulnerable in our province. It also shows that even when principles come forward that we say we agree with, which is making life a little bit easier, those principles aren’t followed across government. They’re simply doing it in this one little place.
I use the example of people who are transitioning from the Ministry of Children and Families to Community Living. If you have a young person who is coming up to their 19th birthday, and they’re going to turn 19 and move into the area of Community Living B.C. that then provides the support, they have to go through an incredible process when it comes to reassessments.
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I’ve had parents in our offices — many of us have — who say to us: “What changes when my child goes from 18 to 19?” The disability does not disappear. The challenges and the difficulties the child faces do not disappear with a 19th birthday. Yet that’s often what happens.
Again, a process set up by that government to make it more difficult for people to receive the same supports they were receiving when they were 18 when they turn 19. Supports are reduced. People have to go through a re-evaluation process. They have to go back through all of that difficulty — when a disability, for many people, does not change.
I would take things much more seriously from this government if I saw consistency across the board in supports. Though, whether it’s the bus pass, whether it’s aging out of care, I don’t see that consistency at all.
While I’m glad to see these changes, while I support these changes that are coming through, because anything we can do in this House to provide a little bit of support for people who are struggling, people on disabilities, the most vulnerable…. I just wish for once — I’ve been here since 2005 — that I could see the government do the right thing because it was the right thing to do.
I just wish I could see this government come forward with something because they’ve talked to the community and it makes sense and they’re not fixing something that they made a mistake about earlier, or they’re not doing it because they’ve been caught out, or they’re not doing it because the press becomes a problem for them.
I think people in this province deserve a government that does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because of publicity, not because of bad press, not because they made a mistake earlier.
I’ll support this bill, but let’s remember that it was the government that brought in the legislation that made this bill necessary in the first place.
J. Shin: I’m happy to take my place on behalf of Burnaby-Lougheed for this debate on Bill 3, the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Amendment Act, tabled by the Minister for Social Development and Social Innovation. This bill amends two sections of the EAPD to allow the government to directly designate classes of persons as defined in the regulation, “persons with disabilities,” without requiring them to fill out the current, very onerous 28-page application form or requiring additional assessments by medical practitioners.
When this legislation comes into force, the PWD application process will be much simpler for those in federal and provincial programs like Community Living B.C., the Ministry of Children and Family Development At Home program, the B.C. PharmaCare plan for palliative care and, of course, the Canada Pension Plan for the disabled.
This is very long overdue, but of course, nonetheless, it’s a very welcome step in the right direction. It’s no surprise, of course, that this amendment is supported by stakeholders like Jane Dyson, the executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., and Richard Faucher, the executive director of the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, along with many others who advocated so hard and for such a long time to see exactly these kinds of amendments that we needed.
Richard shared, in the government news release: “Young people and families…told us that the time of transition from children to adult services is very challenging for many reasons” — of course — “including the process to qualify for persons-with-disabilities benefits”
As the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with many of these members of BACI. The hon. Speaker is aware as well. He’s met with several of those families. So I happily support the amendments proposed in Bill 3 on their behalf and on behalf of the 1,000 others whose lives will be benefitted by this particular bill.
I do thank the work that must have gone into undoing this kind of problem, which was, in fact, really created by this government in the first place. But that’s not to dismiss the level of advocacy and the work that really went into the bill that we get to debate on today.
What I do want to point out, of course…. I heard another member talk about: should we look at this glass half-full or half-empty? But it’s our job in opposition to make sure that we continue to press the government to move in the right direction.
I will take the liberty to point out the fact that we have so much more to do on this file. The doctors and the nurse practitioners are still left spending hours upon hours that are ultimately paid and funded for by our tax dollars, filling out the same cumbersome forms for other persons with disabilities. The reality is this is great news for the 1,000-some individuals under this particular classification, but the problem will continue to exist for many, many others.
It can’t be more evident than in the stories that I hear from my constituents directly, so I will take this opportunity to share some of that. Not all of it. I definitely will exhaust my half-hour. But I do want to share some of those stories, and they have asked me to so that I can help better illustrate my point on just exactly why I support amendments like this in Bill 3 and why the government needs to continue taking such steps in the right direction.
This particular constituent — this is taking us back to September of last year — didn’t receive her disability food and rent cheques. The ministry said that they wouldn’t release the cheques until they received information about her eligibility for the CPP recovery program.
The MSDSI required many persons with disabilities to prove that they were or were not eligible for the federal CPPD program. If they were, their provincial disability payments were reduced.
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She did not have this program explained to her well enough, of course. Oftentimes, as is the case, the call-waiting times with Service Canada were too much, stretching into hours in some incidences. For her to obtain the document she needed from Service Canada…. When she got through the long wait times and got through to someone, she was told that it was going to take her another two to four weeks before she could get the necessary documents that she needed.
She contacted my office at the beginning of October to say that if she didn’t receive the money by that Friday, she would be evicted because it had come to that point. She was down to her very last dollars to put food on the table for her children. My staff immediately got in touch with the supervisor and managed to get her cheques released, so she was able to pay rent for that particular month and to get through the rest of the month for her family.
As soon as we put out the most immediate pressing fire, we wanted to bring her back into the office so that we could sit down with her and help her get to know what the process was like so that she’d not only understand the situation better but could be better prepared next time. To our dismay, we found out that our calls weren’t getting through, and she wasn’t able to return our message as her phone got disconnected.
That was last fall. We don’t know if she ever managed to resolve the situation, if her phone was disconnected as a result of her not being able to pay the bill or she ended up getting evicted after all. So for this particular case of my constituent here, this Bill 3 comes a little too late.
I’ll share another story. This particular constituent reached out to us for help because she had been rejected for disability multiple times, and her appeal had been denied also. Now, when we investigated, we found out that she had been actually misdirected to apply for the federal disability program, the CCPD, which is only for those who will have that particular disability for the rest of their life.
She should have been, in fact, eligible for PWD for the past two years. But because she had been misdirected and had had her application fail over and over again for federal disability that she didn’t qualify for and in fact hadn’t been applying for the PWD program here, now the case is considered to be too old. It’s been too many months and years. For the PWD that she could have had, now it’s something that she can no longer be eligible for.
We are talking about months of frustration and struggling, going backwards financially for this particular constituent, for her case to be essentially buried. Her only chance at this point is to seek legal advice and see what her options are in pursuing this in the courts. We all know how intimidating, expensive and cumbersome that process is. Can you imagine the frustration for this particular constituent? And our staff — our hearts went out to this particular case, but there was nothing else that we could do at that point.
Let’s look at another case. This particular constituent needed the approval of her application by January 2016 to ensure that she would keep receiving her disability cheques. But MSDSI wouldn’t give her any indication on the timeline. We contacted them and got the process expedited.
Previous to contacting us, though, my constituent had already gone through a very lengthy process, including hiring a lawyer. She set up a trust fund for her ICBC payment, and she was not getting any response from MSDSI — for months.
We’re not talking about last-minute requests here. We’re talking about a backlog so deep in the ministry that my constituent, whose deadline on the approval of the trust was four months away…. But given that she’d already been waiting for four months previous to that, she was so alarmed that she sought me out in desperation.
We contacted the agency. The application, like I said, was expedited so that my constituent did get her long-awaited resolution to her application, which was, thankfully, approved and not rejected. Our intervention allowed it to happen just in the nick of time, but why does it take an MLA office and a call from me to get this done?
There are so many constituents out there who don’t realize that there are MLA and MP offices that can help them with concerns or issues or challenges. There are so many who just don’t know — myself included. My family had no idea that the politicians of the province…. One of the great aspects of the democracy that we have in Canada is that we have great constituency offices and riding offices that offer help for our constituents. But for a lot of the cultures and our immigrants, it’s a foreign concept.
Can you imagine, if this is the kind of heartbreaking story that manages to come through the doors of my constituency office, how many voices, how many stories, how many families are out there who don’t even see it as an option or don’t even know it exists for them? How many of those stories go untold?
I have to mention another constituent’s story. She was denied PharmaCare coverage for the specific drug that she needed, even though she was covered by PharmaCare as a PWD. She contacted us to ask for assistance, not understanding why she had been turned down, because she qualified for it.
Of course, we contacted the office on her behalf, and the representative told us that it was a very common problem when the medical forms are not filled out in enough detail or to the right protocol that the office expects. So now she has to appeal the decision and go through the whole process again.
You can just imagine that a lot of the forms…. It’s simple enough for us to say that that’s the requirement, that you’ve got to get it done. But at the same time, it doesn’t make it any less challenging for the bulk of the population out there who are in the middle of mental or physical distress, with limited financial means and many of them
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struggling with literacy on a basic level or with a language barrier. These are common challenges that sometimes — not sometimes; I think, frankly, most of the time — are not given special consideration.
With this particular constituent, it’s a current case, so we have no resolution for this particular case yet. This constituent was denied PWD in 2011 because he didn’t have a “severe mental or physical impairment” despite the doctor’s note stating that he required assistance to perform even the most routine tasks, such as laundry.
He has been relying on every help he can find from family and friends to grocery shop and to take care of his apartment, as well as asking people around him for financial help. He does receive CPPD amounting to about $800 total per month, but he continues to struggle to perform the basic daily tasks, and his disability is only getting worse. Even to my staff, it’s very evident that he should be qualified for PWD. So our office will be trying again, will be assisting him to go through the process again to see if he can get a better resolution this time around.
This is something on a different note. We have another constituent who contacted us to ask about getting a hold of the PWD application form. They had been told by the representative at the employment and assistance centre that simply based on how the conversation went, the representative didn’t think she would be eligible and therefore why bother having the form? So she wasn’t even given the form.
After we spoke to our constituent, we weren’t clear as to the explanations that were given to the constituent why her eligibility was so quickly denied at the front desk when she was simply seeking out the forms. Again, we’ll be helping facilitate that to see if we can get her application up to speed.
On the amendments in Bill 3 that we are speaking to, there’s no dismissing the value that it brings to many of the constituents not just in Burnaby-Lougheed but all across the province. The reason I’m sharing these stories, as real as they are, is because we need to highlight just how unfair and how difficult the system is as we have it in B.C. While we welcome these particular improvements and the kind of efforts that went in to lobby for this particular change, if this is the speed of this, I can’t imagine how many more heartbreaking stories will have to go on and continue to go on before they see the light.
One of the things that we are advocating for, certainly, along with many others from this community, is the bus pass clawback. It is just sad. We’ve already got three phone calls from seniors that are concerned that their bus passes are being taken away as a result of the changes to the bus passes. That’s just today, in my office.
Here’s another letter from my constituent. He gave me his consent to share his name, and wanted me to actually read out his letter that he sent me. I will take the liberty to do so. The letter is from Tristan Sonntag. He’s concerned about the outcome of eliminating the transportation subsidies. I’ll quote his letter:
“My name is Tristan. I’m a constituent of your riding. I’m concerned about the effects of eliminating transport subsidies for PWD clients like me and everyone who receives PWD assistance and uses these services in this great province. I receive disability assistance from the provincial government and, therefore, have the red Compass bus pass, the B.C. bus pass.
“The problem that I have — and most certainly others would agree — is that the $77 rate increase is designed from the get-go” — these are not my words; I’m just reading the letter here — “to replace the transportation subsidies that so many disabled British Columbians depend on for things like getting to school, work, day programs or to their doctors for things that are critically important to our lives.
“The $77 rate increase is barely anything when it includes paying for what used to be covered under the transportation subsidy regime. For B.C. bus pass users in Vancouver, it will amount to $25 more. That’s barely anything to help the most vulnerable people in this province, who suffer every day, having to decide whether they can eat or keep the power on.
“After nine years of not raising the income assistance rates, this is a meaningless increase. I hope that the government understands what this change will mean for the thousands of people in this province who will now have to decide whether to go to work or to have food in the house or to keep their transportation options. It is a big slap across the face for every PWD client in this province. Something that they counted on is now gone, and nothing acceptable to replace it.
“I feel sorry for the Premier, but her inexperience really shows on this one.
“Thank you for taking your time to read this. I hope you share it, and I hope that you will help us in having our right to transportation for the disabled British Columbians.
Hon. Speaker and all the Members in the House, as you know, life changes in an instant, and some changes are more painful and become more trying than others. It can be that one missed shoulder check while you’re changing lanes. It can be a notice on the board at work one day of pending mass layoffs, and you’re one of them. It can be a phone call from the family doctor about your test results. I mean, that was the case for me once. It changes your life, and just like that, life as you know it is no longer, no matter how well prepared you think you are for the challenges that life can throw in your way.
While only so many of us have the privilege of having family support or wonderful friends, a network of friends that we can rely on, that’s not the case for so many British Columbians. What makes me so proud as a Canadian is that we live in a country where nobody is left behind. That’s what I believe in. That’s what I want to continue fighting for, because I was one of the people that could have been left behind.
This is a story that I share over and over again. There’s a saying in Korean that says: “We lost this particular family member without even being able to try medicine on the person because we couldn’t afford it.” That’s the reality in so many other countries in the world, but not in Canada because of universal health care.
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My treatment that brought me back to life cost about $150,000 that my family didn’t have. All I had to show for it was my medicare to be back up on my feet. The reason that I’m sharing this story is because I want to make sure that as a country, as a society, we continue to improve the system in a way that we can catch everybody, when the wind blows and we get knocked down — that as a society, we are here to get you back up on your feet.
I really appreciate what this amendment has to offer, in Bill 3, but I plead with the government: we need to do better. There’s so much more to be done. I’m not undermining the efforts by the members on the other side, but this comes too short. It comes a little too late, and I know that British Columbians deserve better. I’ll leave it at that.
B. Ralston: I rise to address Bill 3. Bill 3 is very brief in words, but behind this bill is a long history of the dealings of this government with persons with disabilities and those on what is sometimes called welfare, sometimes called social assistance.
When this government was first elected back in 2001, they had formed a coalition with the Reform Party. They had made some agreements — indeed, promising, I think to placate their new friends in the former Reform Party, a referendum on aboriginal rights. That was promised. It was a referendum, a vote, on minority rights, which was circulated as a paper referendum, rather than one where people went to a ballot box on a specific day.
This particular piece of legislation also has a history. Some of the very things that the minister, the present minister, takes credit for were things that the government, back in 2002, as an act of deliberate political will, I think in part to throw some red meat to their new right-wing friends and perhaps because the Premier sincerely believed these things…. One would expect that if you brought in legislation and regulations of the draconian severity of some of these provisions, there would be some assessment of the evidence and some effort to be fair in the application of these rules.
We hear from the minister on the expansion of the earnings exemption. The minister — I think, in debate and in question period — points to that as a measure of the effectiveness or the accomplishments of this government. But back in 2002, what the government did was exactly the opposite. This piece of legislation seeks to correct another aspect of those backward steps, back in 2002.
Earnings exemptions were eliminated for many people receiving social assistance. At that point, people who earned up to $100 were entitled to keep it. The new rules said that if they earned anything, it would be clawed back — that is, deducted from the cheque that they were getting from the government. That was put in place in 2002.
The very determined campaign of the member, on this side, for Nelson-Creston to eliminate the clawback of the child support exemption…. That was something that was brought in, in 2002, by the members opposite. Previously, a parent on income assistance receiving child maintenance from a former partner could keep $100 per month. All of that maintenance was then clawed back by edict of this government back in 2002. It’s only as a result of a very determined campaign of mobilizing public opinion across the province that, ultimately, this government many years later relented and backed down.
These changes have a history to them. The very things that this government praises itself for were things that they created. It’s ironic indeed in this week when the members opposite have proclaimed Red Tape Reduction Day. They see red tape as something that inhibits, typically, business, and sometimes it does. But these examples that were imposed in 2002 were tying people up in a bureaucratic process in order to make their application process more difficult, their likelihood of success more difficult, and to ultimately, perhaps in consequence, discourage people from even making applications for benefits to which they were legally entitled.
This particular provision comes about as a result of something that happened back in 2002, when then-minister Murray Coell implemented a so-called review of the eligibility of people with disabilities who were receiving government support. About 20,000 people were forced to fill in a very lengthy, 28-page questionnaire, including a medical opinion. That review cost $3 million. Talk about red tape. The result? The vast, vast majority of those receiving those benefits were entitled to them. They’d simply been subjected to a really onerous, exacting and, in many cases, demeaning process, which came back with the same result.
I suppose the ideological view of those members in the right-wing coalition that runs the province was, back then, that there were a whole host of people that had somehow illegally, or through sleight of hand or through fraud, gone through the process and were receiving disability benefits. The review confirmed that that view was totally false. Totally false. Unfortunately, it dragged those 20,000 people through the process and cost millions of dollars in order to prove a point that really didn’t need to be proven.
In addition, in the process of reviewing, one sometimes has experience with physicians. Generally, family physicians in this province are ordinarily, most of them, very, very busy. To get them to set aside the time to complete a complicated medical review and complete documents…. It’s sometimes very, very challenging to even get the physician to (1) agree to an appointment and (2) complete the documents.
I used to practise law, and to get busy family physicians to write a medical-legal report for which they were paid was very, very difficult sometimes just because of the nature of their duties and their inability to find the time to sit down, review the file and compose a fairly complicated letter and chronicle of the injuries and the prognosis.
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That process can be very difficult in those circumstances and even more so here, when it is a matter of, basically, basic support for a person who has disabilities. That process was lengthy and, I think, futile and, in my view, driven by something other than pure motives of eligibility.
There was an ideological dimension to that attack on those people receiving those benefits, which wasn’t borne out by the evidence.
Those changes will now apply, the bill says, to people who are making an application for Community Living B.C., for the Ministry of Children and Family Development At Home program, for PharmaCare plan B, palliative care, and the Canada Pension Plan disability. This is a step forward. But it’s a question with this…. No doubt, the government will applaud itself, as they’ve done with increasing the earnings exemption threshold. This is a case of two steps backwards and then eventually a reluctant shuffle forward with a great deal of back-patting and self-congratulation. This is very typical of how this government operates in dealing with these kinds of issues.
There were other steps that were taken at that time back in 2002, which I think are important for understanding the context in which these debates about disability benefits arise. The debate that we’re having now about the transportation, the bus pass — that issue has to be set in the context where there’s not a great deal of trust, by those receiving the benefits, of the motives of the government.
Some of the other examples of benefit rate cuts back at that time were cuts to single parents of $43 a month; for people between 55 and 65 of $47 to $98 a month; and to shelter allowances for families of three or more, from $55 to $75 a month. That did exclude, to be fair, persons with disabilities or a person with a persistent multiple barrier to employment.
There was a three-week waiting period which was implemented for benefits. Clients were directed — I suppose this is some kind of effort at, I think, what they might call efficiency — to apply by a 1-866 line, thereby making the process more difficult. One can well imagine that there are certain individuals who are not particularly well-suited or particularly adept at making and using those kinds of technologies, however efficient or cost-efficient it may be for government to try to force people to make those applications that way.
That had — one would hope it was — the unintended effect of discouraging people from applying, although the reality of the falldown in application rates may have been something that was not totally a surprise to those devising this system. These changes back in 2002 were part of the great halcyon days of the first term of the Gordon Campbell government, a sainted figure over there on the other side — except for the member for Kootenay East, who seems to take a different approach in interpersonal relations.
What I think that we also owe some credit to for these changes is the Office of the Auditor General. I chaired the Public Accounts Committee, and one can see, on regular occasions, where the kind of serious, analytical, non-ideological, fact-based, evidence-driven study of programs comes up with recommendations that the government sometimes — not always — feels obliged to support.
In the case of some of these particular benefits to persons with disabilities, there was an Auditor General report, a very detailed one. I’m just looking for my notes here. I felt so inspired by some of the speeches by my colleagues that I felt obliged to join this debate at very short notice, so you’ll forgive me if I’m….
B. Ralston: Oh, thank you. My colleagues are excessively generous, as always. That’s the spirit of generosity that inhabits the opposition benches.
It’s a report in May 2014, Disability Assistance: An Audit of Program Access, Integrity and Results. Those are important considerations when you’re looking at a government program. The issue of integrity is the issue of whether people are getting something that they don’t deserve. Access is the issue of the physical application process and some of the forms that were required. Results is the purpose of many of these programs. The disability program, I think, is different in this sense. But there are programs where the goal of government — and I think, in some respects and some cases, this is a legitimate goal — is to help people get the skills to return to employment after being knocked down in life by serious personal difficulties.
Addiction, accidents, dissolution of marriage, mental health problems — all of those kinds of issues can really knock a person back. They may require temporary assistance but then, with help and some guidance, can return to the labour force. At least that’s the theory of it. I think it’s important to make an assessment of that aspect of the program.
What the Auditor General did say was that…. I’m looking at the summary of the recommendations, and I’ve noticed this regularly on the Public Accounts Committee. Typically, when the Auditor General audits a department or a program, it sometimes resolves internal debate within that department about whether the program is effective or whether changes need to be made.
The Auditor General comes in — usually, it’s typically a welcome intervention — and resolves a lot of arguments and gives the government and the department the opportunity to change their policy without appearing to lose any face or any political credibility. The Office of the Auditor General is independent. The selection of audit choices or targets is entirely at the discretion of the Auditor General.
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No member of the Legislature, no cabinet minister, except in a very special circumstance where there would be a vote of the committee…. But the ordinary process in 99 percent of the audits is that that is an independent decision made by the Auditor General. It gives that government department the opportunity to reflect upon the results of the audit and make some changes.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
I want to make sure that the Office of the Auditor General is given some credit for this change. I think, rather than a particularly benevolent change of heart by the government, this is more a response to this report of back in 2014. The summary of the recommendations — I want to talk about some of them — is as follows, on page 9 of the report.
“We recommend that the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation collect additional information on its clients’ needs and use this to address accessibility barriers for vulnerable clients.”
What they were saying was that the ministry put in process application methods that may have created barriers. The ministry wasn’t really looking at those until they were directed to by the Auditor General. So, granted, after this audit, the ministry did accept this recommendation. But it’s striking, in the government that celebrates red-tape reduction, that they would impose barriers on vulnerable clients and not monitor the effect on those vulnerable clients until an independent agency such as the Auditor General pointed it out to them.
The second recommendation would be to “ensure that its on-line information on PWD designation” — that’s persons with disabilities — “eligibility is clear and easy to find.” Well, one would have thought that was axiomatic, straightforward. You want to set up a program. You want to define the eligibility. You would set it out in a clear, concise, accessible way. But here the Auditor General felt obliged in a report to say just that: let’s have a clear definition.
The Auditor General does not make politically charged statements. What it suggests — and if I might be slightly more politically charged, because that’s my job — is that the definition wasn’t clear and easy to find. It was the opposite. That’s why the Auditor General made that recommendation and felt obliged to bring that to the attention of the minister.
Recommendation No. 3 reads as follows: “Review the PWD application process to address the risk that some applicants may not have a family physician and improve the clarity of the PWD application form. This includes developing guidance to help clients, physicians and assessors in completing the application.” That is, again, very neutral language to say that this application was very, very complicated. These people were having real difficulty completing it. They were having difficulty, as I suggested earlier, in finding physicians who would even complete the application, given its complexity and the nature of the assessment that was required.
Here’s the Auditor General saying…. This, I think, is really the genesis of this legislation. It’s not anything that the ministry itself initiated. It’s the ministry reacting to the independent voice of the Auditor General saying that “this application process is just torturous, and it’s causing injustice. It’s causing hardship, it’s hard to follow, and people don’t have access to a family physician that’s essential to complete the application, so here’s what we recommend.” This legislation, I think, finally responds to that.
The report was done in 2014, and we’re in 2016, so it did take a while to be digested and flow through the process over there. I suppose that’s part of red-tape reduction — that it would take two years to come into legislation.
The fourth recommendation is to “ensure that front-line staff training is relevant, current and addresses topics such as client-centred services, accommodation and working with people who have a wide range of barriers and disabilities.” In other words, if you have a program that’s designed to address, remedy and provide assistance to people with barriers and disabilities, you have to build that into the process of assessing their application. In other words, the process has to be accessible, given the target audience or the target citizenry of this particular program.
Five was to “develop and implement additional strategies to ensure timely, accurate and consistent services are provided through the toll-free telephone service.” Again, one can deduce from the recommendation that the toll-free telephone service was neither timely, on occasion, accurate, nor was it consistent. That’s why those words are chosen, in the very polite and neutral language of the Auditor General. There were problems. There were serious problems. Indeed, that’s what the Auditor General discovered during the course of their audit of these services, and that’s why the recommendation was made.
Next recommendation: “Improve the on-line application process to address redundancies and improve the clarity of guidance for applicants.” Well, it’s a version of the first recommendation — that the process be clearer, that it be easier to get through, without sacrificing any financial control. You’d be just to those who are applying. It is possible to reconcile both of those goals. Indeed, I think the ministry has now, with the prodding of the Auditor General, come to the conclusion that this is possible by changing the process.
The next recommendation is No. 7: “Work with trusted third parties and Service B.C. to identify and address physical accessibility…for clients.” Again, it would seem obvious. It would seem even redundant to make the observation. But clearly, the Auditor General felt compelled to make this observation — that the target audience may very well be people who have difficulty with physical ac-
[ Page 11058 ]
cess in an ordinary way, that the program and the application process take that into account and improve the access for clients and potential clients.
Again, these recommendations, I think, suggest that some of the very basic parts, some of the very basic aspects, of this kind of program were missing.
Number 8 was to “develop and implement a risk-based process for reviewing initial and ongoing client eligibility for the PWD designation to better ensure the program is serving only those clients who are eligible for benefits and supports.” What that says, in my interpretation, is that once someone has been designated by a legitimate process, and the process back then was very complicated, there is no need, as is sometimes done by some agencies and some programs, for regular repeated reviews of the eligibility of someone with a disability.
Now, typically, this program is directed to people with permanent disabilities. If there’s an assessment by a physician that a person has a permanent disability, one would think that it would be relatively rare that that person, that their status would change such that they would no longer be eligible for that kind of support.
I think what this Auditor General is saying — again, in very polite, neutral language — is that there’s no need, if you conduct a careful and accurate process at the outset and come to a reasoned conclusion, to repeatedly review that and force that person through the process on repeated occasions.
Number 9 was: “Report on the timeliness of eligibility decisions by measuring and reporting results against the service standards.” I think, again, reading into what’s said, that that wasn’t taking place. That wasn’t taking place. Service standards weren’t being met. There was delay, sometimes considerable delay, and this protracted delay did not serve the interests of justice to the potential or actual clients of the ministry. The Auditor General felt obliged to point that out. Indeed, that is what was done. That is what was recommended.
Finally — and this, I think, is the more broad recommendation, the broadest of the ten: “Develop a comprehensive evaluation framework for the PWD program….”
B. Ralston: I know that the members opposite aren’t interested in these topics, so they want to mumble and grumble. They’ll have their chance to speak, should they choose to take it. None of them have chosen to speak in the last two hours, so maybe they would have the courtesy to listen to someone who is talking about what the Auditor General had to say. It might be salutary for those members opposite.
B. Ralston: Oh, yeah, it’s a laugh. It’s a real hoot, isn’t it? Just a big joke.
You wonder why these people enter public life sometimes, if that’s their approach to persons with disabilities, frankly, Madame Speaker.
Madame Speaker: Member, comments through the Chair, please.
B. Ralston: It says:
“Develop a comprehensive evaluation framework for the PWD program that sets objectives, targets and benchmarks to define what it means to meet clients’ basic needs; sets standard measures to track whether clients can access appropriate shelter, food and other necessities; establishes a baseline and targets to measure employment success for clients; and, in partnership with other agencies, defines, tracks and monitors a range of health and social indicators to assess this broader range of outcomes.”
That, I would think, in social policy design, was very basic. You set up a program. You have certain criteria for those who meet the program. You measure success against the criteria of the program. But once again, the Auditor General, in evaluating this program, felt it necessary to expressly state that that was a good idea and should be followed.
This report, then, I think sets out some reasonable goals. I notice that in the response from the ministry, most of the recommendations are accepted in the manner that I described, as is fairly typical. Indeed, the ministry, apparently, will be developing an evaluation framework.
This is a response from the ministry: “Any evaluation framework developed will need to take into consideration the significant challenges that come with aggregating multiministry client data and the attribution issues inherent in a system of programs and supports delivered by a number of provincial and federal agencies.
Again, the recommendation is accepted. Some of the difficulties are recognized. I expect that, in due course, recommendations will be worked on and perhaps come to the Legislature in another bill at some point in the future.
I think I want to conclude there. It’s impossible to consider this bill without considering it in the context of the history of this government and the approach that they’ve taken since 2002. Many of what they now trumpet as reforms or steps forward were taken, basically, to remedy regressive actions that they themselves took in the past. So it’s not really an occasion to celebrate. It’s just a day of grim reckoning with the dismal conditions that they’ve created in many people’s lives. They’re now, belatedly and finally, coming to recognize that they ought to be remedied, given the prodding by the Auditor General.
With those remarks, I conclude.
L. Popham moved adjournment of debate.
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Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. J. Rustad moved adjournment of the House.
Madame Speaker: This House, at its rising, stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 5:52 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
FORESTS, LANDS AND
NATURAL RESOURCE OPERATIONS
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); D. Plecas in the chair.
The committee met at 1:36 p.m.
On Vote 27: ministry operations, $426,148,000 (continued).
H. Bains: Before we get into this new area, I would like to ask the minister…. There are a couple of pieces of information the minister was to provide to us today. Is that available now?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, we had undertaken to provide some information. We will be able to provide it this afternoon, as we move forward here. Just getting it completed.
There was some from this morning, as well, that was asked for — around some numbers that we indicated would be challenging to get. There was a request around the current job numbers broken down between coast and Interior, with some breakdown between the sectors within that with respect to logging and support activities, manufacturing, paper manufacturing. What I can do is just provide…. It was asked for in historical numbers as well, over a period of time. I don’t have all of that, but we can undertake to provide it.
Just to give a current number. In 2014, on the B.C. coast: 29,200 jobs. These are the direct jobs: 9,200 in forest, logging and support activities; 13,400 in wood product manufacturing; 6,600 in paper manufacturing.
In the Interior: 31,500 jobs. Ten thousand in forest and logging support activities; 15,900 in wood product manufacturing; 5,600 in paper manufacturing, to give a total of 60,700 jobs; 19,200 in the forest and logging support activities; wood product manufacturing, 29,300 jobs; and paper manufacturing, 12,200 jobs.
We will undertake to provide some further breakdown on that — as was requested in the question from this morning — over a period of time, because the member who posed the question talked about some of the other sectors in terms of tree-planting operations, and all of those kinds of things, some of which is direct and indirect jobs that result from it.
We will undertake, as we committed this morning, to provide further information. I told him it may be a bit challenging. We’ve got some, but we will provide further information.
J. Rice: I have one question today for the minister. It’s in regards to a letter I know he received. Well, he received lots of letters on this issue — because I did as well, copied — on the area for the Mount Moresby Adventure Camp, the area adjacent to it that was slated to be logged by Teal-Jones on behalf of TimberWest.
This area — 1,300 students from school district 50, from Haida Gwaii, utilize this area. Many generations have used this important area. It’s an area that’s parallel to what urban schools would benefit from, in the sense that an urban school has museums and galleries and centres that they can visit.
In the remote communities, such as Haida Gwaii, this forest area is “an integral part” of the curriculum. That’s a quote from the school district superintendent Angus Wilson. It’s an integral part of the school curriculum.
I understand that TimberWest has halted its plans to log the area for now. But I wanted to know if the minister had any ideas or solutions to maintain this important area to the children of Haida Gwaii, as well as satisfying the needs of the forestry companies. I’m wondering if he’s proposed an alternate area for this.
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you to the member opposite for posing the question.
Certainly, it’s a file I’m familiar with. I acknowledge and recognize the importance of this camp to the community.
As she noted, the licensee, TimberWest, has deferred and has stood down from logging activity there while we work to find a solution. I don’t have the solution. What we are committed to do is to continue to work with all of them just to find a solution.
It needs to be recognized — and I’m sure the member opposite knows — that Haida Gwaii is a very sensitive area. This is part of the timber-harvesting land base. We work with the Haida and other licensees. There’s, in terms
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of finding alternate area for this, a real challenge because of the constrained nature of the land base there. If it’s removed…. It’s part of the timber-harvesting land base, so if you don’t find the alternate area, then it means a reduction in harvest, which is jobs and economic activity.
It’s about trying to find that solution. But I think, for now, the immediate situation has been addressed in terms of the company having agreed to defer while we all work to try to find an alternative or a solution, and I’m committed to continue to work with the groups to try to find one. I don’t have that solution, but we are trying to find one, in a challenging circumstance. It’s all about the balance of jobs and maintaining what I recognize is an important asset to the community. It provides that education and awareness, as was pointed out. We’ll continue to work to try and find one. I don’t have the answer today, but certainly aware of it.
Thank you for raising it.
The Chair: Member, Skeena. Sorry, Member, Stikine.
D. Donaldson: Thank you. Those s’s sometimes roll off the tongue quite easily.
The Chair: I just moved you.
D. Donaldson: Thank you to the spokesperson for allowing me to have a few minutes of time to ask a question of the minister and his ministry. It has to do with a referral process and, actually, a decision that was made out of that.
The Prince Rupert gas transmission project is planning on putting a large camp in an area in the Kispiox Valley off the Pope Main, between approximately kilometres 3 and 4 on the Pope Main. I visited the area this winter, and I’ve seen the layout survey sticks and flagging tape.
The issue that’s been brought to my attention is that this camp is to be located in the middle of a plantation. And this area was logged in 1987 and has been replanted. Obviously, I didn’t get the exact date of the replanting, but by looking at the trees, they’re probably 15 to 20 years old. Considerable investment has occurred on that site, and those trees, obviously, will be worth harvesting in another few decades and something that the people in the logging industry will count on.
From the information I’ve gathered, the Ministry of Forests got a referral from the Oil and Gas Commission regarding a letter of interest from the company in order to place the camp on this site. My question to the minister would be, under these budget estimates, why his ministry would approve of, in this referral, a camp being set on a plantation — clearcutting a plantation, basically, to put a camp in — when all that investment has occurred, when that means future revenue for the province and future jobs. Will this kind of practice, under these budget estimates, continue — I presume under the resource stewardship or the tenures, competitiveness and innovation sections — in this ministry?
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you to the member opposite for the question. In these processes, in order to support the economic development, the jobs that come with these projects, which are very, very important…. From our perspective, what we do is work to encourage the siting of these locations in previously disturbed areas.
Now, I know the member opposite will say this has had some investment in it, but we attempt to not site these in areas where there is old growth, would be wildlife impacts and things — so in previously disturbed areas.
In this case, this was the area that, while there is some impact, was determined to have the least impact when the referral came to us and ultimately was approved.
H. Bains: I would now like to turn to the issue that we talked about earlier, right in the beginning, about the information that was sent to the minister’s office. This was follow-up to a 2014 question that was written by the member from Revelstoke-Columbia. There was a response letter by the minister, and then we’ve done some critiques — some folks on my behalf.
The questions will be about wood density, biomass conversion equations, individual tree biomass equations, stand-level volume-to-biomass conversion equations, biomass data, communication between the ministry and Canadian Forest Services, site index, AAC determination for the Boundary TSA. The minister has that information, and I would like to ask some questions in those areas.
The first. I just want to say for the record that during the 2014 estimates debate for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource, my colleague from Columbia River–Revelstoke asked a number of questions related to the site index and biomass that might result in overestimation of AAC harvest levels and of forest carbons.
During 2014 debate, again, it was pointed out that implications of overestimation of timber volume and forest biomass could include:
(1) Incorrect carbon accounting will lead to a loss of confidence in the forest carbon and biomass market. An incorrect increase would lead to nonexistent carbon. For example, forest carbon offsets purchased by the B.C. provincial government with taxpayers’ money to achieve carbon neutrality may be, in part, fictional.
(2) Misleading opportunities for the bioenergy sector.
(3) Increase in the potential amount of NSR, not satisfactorily restocked, forest land that the ministry determines to be feasible and economical to replant.
(4) Increased harvest levels in the long- and possible mid-term, and the consequent ratcheting up for the rate of cut, AAC, would become inflated and fictional.
All those four implications would affect forest revenue to the Crown and provincial forest economy, not to mention putting adverse pressure on other forest values such as wildlife habitat, salmon fishery and community watersheds.
All of that is in the background. We talked about this debate about overestimation of AAC harvest levels and forest biomass. They’re all part of Hansard of 2014.
In response to those questions, the minister replied with a written response. With that, I would like to talk about the information that was provided to us, our critique — our critique then forwarded over to the minister, the minister’s office.
My question, then, would be…. We’ll go one at a time, each area. First, let’s talk about biomass. If the minister could kindly refer to the section of his response dealing with wood density, which is highlighted. I think it was orange. It was colour-coded. The critique is part of that.
On this section, the minister’s response: “The conclusion I reach is that, for whatever reason, it could be….” I will leave it up to the minister to just tell us what could be the reason. It could be shortage of staff, insufficient expertise, inadequate inventory funding. It appears that the ministry had used incorrect data and incorrectly compiled the data, such as the ministry overestimating biomass for some species and underestimating for others.
My question, then, is: what confidence can the public have in the ministry’s estimation of biomass? How confident is the minister in asserting that the B.C. provincial government is not overpaying the taxpayers’ money for forest carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality — that is, some would say, buying hot air?
Hon. S. Thomson: Firstly, I probably should just comment. Again, the member opposite provided…. This is a highly, highly, highly technical argument — a lot of technical information in the three-inch-thick, or so, binder that was provided with all of this information and the critique. It was just provided less than 48 hours ago. We have a great staff and professionals who will work through this and provide a more technical response to all of it.
What we do is work with the science, with the best information available, with the information that our inventory provides at a forest inventory level, not down to a specific stand level. We work with experts and scientists within the federal government, within Natural Resources Canada, in doing the modelling. We continue to refine it.
The federal government has invested a significant amount of time and effort in developing the national volume-to-biomass equations, which we utilize. We’ve capitalized on that work in taking the national equations and recalibrating it into B.C. data, using those equations to add into those biomass estimates that are in our provincial….
I’m confident, with the professionals and the work that we do, that we have the best information and that we’re making the best calculations in the process. It is an emerging area. We continue to work with it.
Scientists often have differing approaches and preferences when they’re modelling the data. We take an approach that is different than that from the author. It doesn’t necessarily mean the approach is incorrect. There is lots of debate and diversity around all of that.
We take a rigorous approach to it, using all the data and information that is available in doing the calculations. I’m confident that, with the level of work, we can have confidence in the calculations and the numbers provided.
H. Bains: Yes, I acknowledge — and I probably should have mentioned right in the beginning — that these questions are highly technical, and the time that we have available to us today and Monday will not allow us to engage in going into back-and-forth debate over what the minister’s response is to our critique.
A lot of people with a great deal of expertise did a lot of work on this, and the whole purpose behind all of this is…. We are talking about 95 million hectares that the ministry is managing. A small mistake, small error or wrong science being used will leave huge consequences for generations to come.
As a result, our purpose here is to draw to your attention that the consequences could be dire if you don’t have a proper methodology, proper science, proper equations to measure — based on what we make our decisions on ASCs and future decisions on forestry, everything around forestry.
I think our purpose here also is that, whatever methodology and whatever science is being used, or whatever expertise is applied, there has to be some place to measure that against, some credible measurement that you can check — that yes, we have done our best, and yes, we have measured against other credible data available, and we are correct. I think that’s the whole purpose here.
I’ll go through the questions on different areas and see what answers the minister gives. I agree. If the minister…. Probably it would be better that you give us a response in writing after we finish here today, and then we could look at that and see how we go.
The next one would be the individual tree biomass equations. On this one, our conclusion is that the ministry is, perhaps, incorrect in stating that it did not use individual tree biomass equations that were derived in the mid-1990s for the 2010 vegetation resource inventories — the VDYP 7, variable density yield projection version 7, volume-to-biomass conversion equation. That’s our conclusion.
My question to the minister would be, again: if the credibility of the response is undermined by some error, then, by extension, is not the credibility of the ministry’s estimation of biomass also undermined?
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, on the member’s opening comments. You know, we probably disagree on a number of things, but I do agree with the member on the initial point he made around this being technical. We also want, in this process, to ensure that we use the best science and formulas for our estimates. There would be no reason for us not to base our information on the best available science.
The critique and the technical response to that work need to be looked at. What we haven’t been able to do in terms of the specific formula…. The professional who utilized that is away, so we haven’t been able to verify around the specific circumstances of the formula. I’m not necessarily agreeing that it wasn’t the appropriate formula, but if…. It does not necessarily mean that you can draw a direct parallel — that the information resulted in an incorrect calculation or incorrect assessment of biomass or not.
It’s also important to point out that the conversion from the biomass is not directly correlated to the timber supply calculations that result in the AAC determinations. There are lots of linkages, but it’s not a direct correlation. Again, we’ll need to look at the technical critique with the technical experts who developed the initial calculations and respond. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the calculations are incorrect. By assertion, it doesn’t mean that the incorrect and the latest information was used.
We haven’t been able to check with the person, so I’m not agreeing with the member opposite’s initial assertion that there is a formula or calculation here that was incorrect. We have the technical critique, and we will certainly look at it and respond.
H. Bains: If that is going to be the theme of the minister’s answers — that a technical person was not available, and therefore you will not be able to provide us a technical answer to our technical questions — perhaps, what I suggest, is that I will read all these questions. Then you will have it in Hansard, and then you provide us the answer to that in writing.
Hon. S. Thomson: Yeah, I think if the member opposite wants to put the questions on record and read them into the record, I’ll listen carefully, make notes, and I’ll reserve the right to make a general response, potentially, at the end of all the questions, given the nature of…. I’m not sure exactly what he’s going to read in.
Again, it is a very, very highly technical argument. I can remember the debate when we went through it with the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke. It got into a very, very technical debate. I am not a technician and a professional forester. I have responsibility for all of this. I want to make sure that our staff use…. I have confidence in our staff and professionals in the ministry using the best information and the best available science. We will respond on a technical basis.
If the member wants to read that in, we’ll listen carefully and then respond appropriately.
H. Bains: All I’m asking is if the minister agrees. You can give a verbal response, if you can remember all the questions, if I read through them. You could…. I’ll provide you a copy of the questions. It will be in Hansard anyway. If you are willing, give us your response here verbally and follow it up with a written response later.
Hon. S. Thomson: Yeah, we’re going to do both, potentially. Certainly, I’ve committed that we will respond formally, in writing, to the questions, but I just wanted to have the opportunity, depending on the nature of the questions, to make a response. I may just stand up and say thank you and that we’ll respond. I didn’t want to not have the opportunity if it warranted it.
H. Bains: I will read those, and yes, the minister said that he would give a response both verbally here and formally by letter. That’s fine.
The next one is on stand-level volume-to-biomass conversion equations. On this one, the minister’s response and our conclusion on the minister’s response is that there’s confusion, we believe, between Canadian Forest Service and the ministry around responsibilities for derivation and maintenance of volume-to-biomass conversion equations.
These are some of the questions that come out of that. Although the minister claimed that there are not two sets of volume-to-biomass conversion equations, there are clearly three different biomass estimation procedures supported by various ministries in British Columbia.
These are: (1) 2010 vegetation resource inventory, VRI, variable density yield projection, version 7 equations — which we can assume are approved by the forest analysis and inventory branch; (2) the 2014 carbon budget model of the Canadian forest sector equations, which are preapproved for use in the B.C. forest carbon offset protocol, and as such, are approved by the B.C. Ministry of Environment; and (3) the biomass estimate in the tree and stand simulation, TASS, the table interpolation program for stand yield growth models, which we can presume the forest analysis and inventory branch has also approved.
My question on this one is: would the minister correct the record and confirm that his statement — that there are not two sets of volumes to biomass conversion equation — is wrong? So that would be on these stand levels.
The next one is biomass data. Again, on this one, our conclusion is — on the minister’s response to our letter — that the minister does not appear to understand the data his ministry is using. His rationale for fitting new equa-
[ Page 11063 ]
tions, new biomass data, we, again, maintain is incorrect.
My question on this one. I first want to emphasize that my intent in this line of questioning has not been to embarrass anybody here but simply to point out that the ministry’s work and credibility on the estimation of biomass does not withstand professional scrutiny.
As I have pointed out, the implications of loss of credibility were directly upon the forest carbon offset purchase by the B.C. provincial government with taxpayers’ money to achieve carbon neutrality.
My question to the minister would be: would the minister undertake to investigate what appears to be a very serious problem with the ministry’s work on biomass?
Then I go on to the communication between the ministry and the Canadian Forest Service, which is another critique that was done. On this, our conclusion is that the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and the Canadian Forest Service are not communicating well.
What is particularly alarming about the minister’s response is that the minister is incorrectly defining non-marketable trees. That’s again based on what the minister’s response is to our question.
Again, my question will be to the minister. Will the minister undertake to improve communication and coordination between his ministry and the Canadian Forest Service?
Then we move on to another section, which was preapproval of CFS CBM-CFS3 and UBC’s Forecast. That’s also another area of critique. On this one, we say that the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the Canadian Forest Service and the provincial Ministry of Environment may not be communicating well.
The Ministry of Environment is responsible for the preapproval of the Canadian Forest Service’s carbon budget model and the University of British Columbia’s Forecast forest ecosystem model.
However, the minister should note that they give completely different estimates of biomass for the same area. From an auditor’s perspective, this presents a problem. By preapproving both CBM-CFS3 and the forecast, the B.C. provincial government accepts two different biomass conversions and, by default, must reject the ministry’s own VDYP7/VRI and TASS/TIPSY biomass convergence.
The question on this one would be dealing with the standard biomass conversion, as was a previous question. Will the minister undertake to work with the Minister of Environment and the Canadian Forest Service to achieve one set of biomass conversion equations for the province?
Now I want to move to the site index. The site index is used to measure productivity of forest stands and is the main driver for the ministry’s forest growth models used in a determination of AAC cuts.
Mr. Chair, you will appreciate that the accuracy in the way in which the ministry estimates site index will determine whether AACs are over- or underestimated. Here overestimation is the concern because of its far-reaching implications for the forest sector, the provincial economy, the forest industry, the environment, forest-dependent communities and — perhaps most importantly — the jobs of forest workers throughout the province.
The concern here is that with the forest inventory being underfunded — by $7 million, according to the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals — inevitably, data collection, data management and modelling integrity will be compromised. This holds true for the ministry’s management and site index, the key driver of timber harvest in AACs.
I appreciate what the minister had to say about uncertainty in his letter of June 10, 2014, and would agree that under conditions of global warming — what we know about climate change and its implications for insect infestation and tree disease in British Columbia — very little about our future forest is certain. The minister’s point is well taken in respect of estimating site index under conditions of climate change.
Also, I would like to take the opportunity to commend the minister’s staff. I think Gordon Nigh is the person who did a lot of work on this, excellent work to validate the provincial site productivity layer and assist the member for Columbia River–Revelstoke’s question on site index during the 2014 estimate debates.
Upon reading the minister’s written response and the technical critique of this response, our conclusion is that the minister avoided dealing with the growth intercept method for the estimation of the site index and the fact that ministry staff have not validated the method. This raises, again, the same concerns put forth in the 2014 estimates by my colleague.
Number 1 is the serious economic implication of overestimation or underestimation of the site index using the growth intercept method for the timber, carbon and energy sector, especially as it relates to AAC determinations under the Forest Act.
Number 2 is financial implication of the government and the forest industry misspending public funds on silviculture investments, and a failure of the ministry to act in the best financial interests of the Crown.
Number 3 is the ecological implications of an increased rate of harvesting and road building for the sustainable forest management of all other forest values under the Forest and Range Practices Act.
My question on this one is: why is it that every province with a forest sector is able to make validations of their timber growth models publicly available on their respective websites, yet British Columbia cannot do this?
Then I want to go to another question on the same thing. Was the chief forester informed of the differences in volume estimation and predictions between VDYP 7
[ Page 11064 ]
in FIPSTART and VRISTART models? If so, was it considered in the AAC determinations?
The next question is about the overestimation of the Boundary AAC. We believe that the AAC artificially inflates the allocation of timber, to B.C. Timber Sales, which is the logging arm of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
[G. Kyllo in the chair.]
Would the minister agree that by adjusting downward the BCTS allocation of timber in the Boundary, the government would be able to compensate for a 20 percent overestimation in the AAC, which would take pressure off the endangered Kettle-Grandby grizzly bear by reducing road density in its habitat and by protecting the few remaining unroaded areas close to Gladstone Provincial Park.
On this, our question would be….
We talked about the view of outdated inventory data, about mismanagement of inventory data, about the problem of no or wrong validation and compilation of inventory data, and about the use of wrong inventory data.
In the case of AAC determination for Boundary TSA, we’re also talking about the omission of information that potentially might have a devastating effect on the local community within five years. This omission results in overestimates of the current AAC by as much as 20 percent. That means, down the road, people of Grand Forks and rural residents will be facing an unnecessarily large collapse in timber supply and loss of jobs because this government is mismanaging the forest without regard for environmental sustainability and socioeconomic sustainability.
[S. Sullivan in the chair.]
It seems to me that the people of British Columbia might be better served if the ministry’s inventory data, growth models and AAC determination were subject to an independent third-party audit in the same way as carbon accounting is. Would the minister consider his suggestions on this?
Those are my questions. I’d welcome if the minister would like to answer all of those verbally. I think I agree with the minister that he could respond generally but that the technical response, I suggest, should come formally by a written response.
Hon. S. Thomson: I appreciate the questions. As I indicated, we will respond in writing with a fulsome response to all of the questions. As pointed out, it was a very, very technical submission.
I just want to say, firstly, though, that I have every confidence in the branch, in the staff, in the professionals. They do rigorous work and take all available information into account. We have a solid relationship with Canadian Forest Service and the Ministry of Environment in doing all of this work.
I know that when we go through those processes, for as many detractors as there may be around some of the information or some of the conclusions, we have as many validators who point to the strength of the process and the work that’s being done.
I stand by my letter of 2014. In an initial review of it, in terms of the critique, I think there have been some misinterpretations of some of what we have provided. An initial review, a cursory review, because it’s very technical…. There are assumptions and assertions in the critique that we don’t agree with and won’t agree with, but we will respond to provide all of the rationale for that.
Our branch is always happy to receive scrutiny. That’s part of the process. In fact, the transparency in providing all of the information around the decisions and the input used is what has allowed this critique to come forward.
The member opposite’s assertion that this is not in some form of rigorous process and that the information isn’t public and isn’t scrutinized is not correct. We have great professionals within the ministry that do this work. I have confidence in the work that they do. We look forward to providing a response to the questions. We accept that people will scrutinize the work and provide their perspective on that, and we will respond.
Again, the professionals, the people working in all of the branches that contribute into these processes…. The relationships we have with Canadian Forest Service, MOE, other scientific information…. We have good solid relationships. I have confidence and look forward to being able to provide a written response to the questions posed.
H. Bains: I want to make this clear. My intention here was not to question anyone’s ability — how they do their work, how they come up with calculations, what methodology is used. It’s just to provide a critique to the letter that was provided to us about a number of questions that were posed by my colleague in 2014.
We also know that the staff is working under constraints going back the last 15 years. I have said that before, and I’ll say that again today. There have been so many cutbacks and a lack of resources that the staff has to work with. When that happens, mistakes sometimes can be made. Therefore, I’m not questioning anybody’s ability or integrity here. I think they are doing a superb job.
We simply happen to have some experts looking over the responses that were given to us, and that’s the response we received. I think the intent here is to make sure there is a double-check of the work we are doing so that we know the work we are doing is correct.
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Like I said, it’s a huge file. A small mistake in the formula could lead us to catastrophic results for future generations to come — not only there but even today. If it’s underestimation, in some cases, it means a number of jobs that should be there aren’t there. If it’s overestimation, then it will affect us going forward for generations to come. I think that’s all our intention here was.
I thank the minister and the staff, who haven’t had, I know, enough time to look through the critique that we provided. Hopefully, once you have enough time, we will receive a technical response to our technical questions.
With that, I will move on to a different section.
B. Routley: In principle, would the minister agree that, as a public asset, one of the chief values that should be derived from the forests of British Columbia would be jobs for British Columbians?
Hon. S. Thomson: The answer is yes. Certainly it is. In undertaking our role, it is also about ensuring protection of the environment. It’s also ensuring that we protect other values. On the land base, on the resource, it’s ensuring that we have a balance of protected areas and a balance of jobs — doing all of this in an environmentally sustainable manner — and that we get jobs and economic activity, a contribution to the province from the resource.
B. Routley: With jobs in mind, can the minister explain why none of the ten performance measures outlined in his ministry’s service plan deal with the creation of jobs or with ensuring that the amount of jobs per thousand cubic metres from our industry actually grows? If you’re not measuring our performance, how can you tell if you’re actually achieving any results?
The minister just agreed that we should be managing our forests for jobs, along with other things, and creating jobs. If it’s one of the priorities of government, why is it not a prominent performance measure?
Hon. S. Thomson: As part of our service plan, which works within the overall objectives of government and links in with the jobs plan, it is about creating the competitive environment that lets and helps the private sector create those jobs.
That’s why, in the forest sector, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in jobs since 2009 — up over 61,000 jobs. That’s why we’ve had export value increase in the sector up over 68 percent since 2009 — 35 percent of B.C.’s exports.
Our work in the service plan that helps lead to that competitiveness objective…. It’s the one that helps build those jobs and helps stimulate that investment. As I said earlier, it’s done in a way that ensures that we continue to protect the environment at the same time.
B. Routley: Interesting that you should say that. I do want to add that I started out in the forest industry back in 1970 working in the Youbou sawmill. I was 21 years young, and my wife and I moved to that small milling community. I’ve seen a lot of change since 1970, but I’ve definitely seen dramatic change since 2001 and since this government has come into power in British Columbia.
I know you’ve heard me say this before, but I think it’s worth restating that we’ve lost more than 35,000 jobs — starting in 2000-2001, 35,000 jobs lost. More than 200 manufacturing plants have closed. We’ve seen a significant loss in the value-added industry, in the remanning industry. Pulp mills have closed as well. We’ve seen dramatic reductions in employment.
I do applaud that there has been some increase in employment since 2009, but it doesn’t make up for the thousands of forest workers that I know and run into just about every day that have lost their jobs in the forest industry here in British Columbia, many of whom have bitter memories of an industry that was up and down and then really crashed badly, as you would know. We lost entire communities.
It’s still going on today in British Columbia. We’re now faced with log supply issues in the Interior. In fact, I was part of a committee that went around the province and looked at fibre supply.
With that introduction, I do want to say once again that I’m very concerned about the growing log exports that we’ve seen from the early 2000s to today. I don’t know whether it’s a 600 percent increase, but it’s a dramatic increase in the export of logs out of British Columbia. We know that those raw logs being exported are a loss of manufacturing jobs, because somebody somewhere in the world is taking our B.C. logs and creating a value-added product, something more out of it than we’re getting.
With that introduction, what was the final figure for raw log exports in 2015? Can the minister break that down between the coast and the Interior, and can he give those numbers as a percentage of the overall harvest levels in both the coast and the Interior?
Hon. S. Thomson: This is an area of discussion that we’ve had many times with the member opposite. The government’s preference would be for all logs to remain in British Columbia to be remanufactured. That’s why we require all logs to be offered for domestic sale first before being considered surplus to B.C.’s manufacturing needs. That’s known as the surplus test in the provisions.
We’ve had the arguments in debate around the reality that if there were very, very significant restrictions — increased taxes, further restrictions — that that would actually result in job curtailment in communities, particularly in coastal communities. It would have a har-
[ Page 11066 ]
vest impact that would actually reduce jobs in British Columbia. The provision to be able to export those that are surplus to manufacturing needs is something that has been in place since 1912. It has always had the surplus test in place in the provisions.
Just in terms of the specific numbers the member asked for: total export — and this is 2015 — for the coast, 5.2 million cubic metres, which is down from six million cubic metres in 2014; and for the Interior, 692 million cubic metres, essentially consistent with the previous year, 2014. The total for the province: 5.916 million cubic metres — 9 percent of the total provincial harvest. The logs available for domestic mills in 2015: 61.8 million cubic metres, up from 59.7 million cubic metres in 2014.
B. Routley: We know that because of this government’s policies, we now have some companies that argue it makes more economic sense to ship raw logs out of some regions of the province than to process them here in B.C. But we know that export levels are many times what they were when the Liberal government took office.
Given that the minister agrees that the creation of jobs from our natural resources should be a key value for forestry, can he tell us what specific plans are in place to get the highest number of jobs from the forests of British Columbia while ensuring that the maximum amount of logs are processed here in B.C. and not bound for export?
Hon. S. Thomson: Before I respond to that question, I’d better just correct, for the record…. Staff advised me that in reading out the export numbers, I overstated, significantly, the exports out of the Interior. I don’t know whether you caught that when I did it or not. I think when I said….
Hon. S. Thomson: Oh good. Total for the Interior — I’d better get it corrected in the record — is 692,000 cubic metres, not 692 million as I stated. Somebody would be having a heart attack somewhere if that was the case, so I just want to correct that for the record.
Just in terms of the work that we’re doing with the industry…. As you know, we’re focused on a forest sector competitiveness strategy, working closely with all parts of the industry in enhancing and working to ensure the competitiveness of the sector. There are many challenges facing the sector.
With respect to specifics on the log export, as you know, we’re currently in a process of discussions around the softwood lumber agreement, of which this plays a significant part. So I prefer not to comment specifically now — as we’re doing that on aspects of that — because that is in the discussion.
But again, we work to ensure the competitiveness in the industry. We compete in a global market. We need to make sure that our industry is as competitive as possible so they can continue to make the investments and continue to create those important jobs in our communities. We work very, very closely with them.
I need to restate that we, again, recognize that a percentage or a portion of log exports…. While we would prefer to have it all manufactured here, we recognize that this is an element of the economic equation that endures and continues to keep harvest levels increasing in our areas so that we continue to make that fibre available to the mills —and, in increasing numbers, to domestic mills.
B. Routley: I am aware that log exports are an extremely difficult issue, and they’re an international issue. But I’m also aware that, in some cases, other countries are subsidizing log exports in their own ways — sometimes very unique ways. I’ll just use the example that I learned of firsthand in Japan.
When I went to Japan I saw, myself, logs from the Cowichan Valley region in one of the many mills just outside of Tokyo and that those logs were being turned into milled products. When we asked the question about the value, what they actually sold for from that end….
I don’t see the reason why I shouldn’t name the small mill at the time; it was the little Tanaka Mill. They told us, over a cup of green tea, that they sold that timber — roughly a 12-by-12, 24 feet long — for the equivalent of $5,000 U.S.
I happened to be there with, at the time, a MacMillan Bloedel executive who said the best we could get for that same piece of wood was $1,000. So there was a five times multiplication for simply producing a made-in-Japan product, if you like.
I don’t know how you deal with that kind of thing. Yes, it was wrapped up very nicely and I’m sure the minister has seen, himself, the nice ribbons that they put on the lumber for presentation to be sold.
I’ve heard that the Japanese have paid more for our logs than they need to pay. They could actually buy our lumber cheaper and ship it all the way. By the time you ship the lumber over there….
Think about it. You’ve got all these round logs, cylinders, so there’s a lot of air space around them. Even if you get gun barrels and pack them in there tightly, you’ve got a round product that you want to turn into something square. I know that coming out of a mill, there’s a lot of waste out of a log when you’re cutting it that way.
I asked the question of one of the sellers of logs. I said: “Isn’t it true that you could actually…? They could buy the equivalent lumber cheaper than they’re buying our logs.” The answer was — they’ve got it figured out — that they need to provide jobs.
In some ways, their country is actually subsidizing the purchase of logs to create jobs in China. In fact, the last I heard, there are 85 fishing villages on the coast of China
[ Page 11067 ]
that have been turned into small mills. I emphasize very small mills. But they’re manufacturing logs from British Columbia, and it’s creating jobs for the Chinese.
Do I think that’s a bad thing that they’re trying to create jobs? No. But there’s something wrong if there’s a subsidy that works against B.C. workers having employment opportunity.
I guess my question to the minister: are you aware of all of these trade barriers that are used against us, like what I’ve just mentioned? And I’d like the minister to comment on the fact that the Americans have a log export ban on raw logs from their country off of their public land.
Now, isn’t that the case? I’d just like to hear you, for the record, state that it’s true that the Americans have a ban on raw log exports from their public lands. Now, isn’t that correct?
Hon. S. Thomson: The first part of the question first. I’ve been over a number of times into those same areas and same mills and looked at the situation over there as well. First of all, we’re not Japan, and we’re not China. We have a different regime here where we are looking to access the markets. They are net importers, so trade laws apply differently in those circumstances than when you’re a net exporter.
We don’t subsidize the individual businesses. They have an objective there, as the member pointed out, around those jobs. Again, because the trade laws apply differently, if we looked at that approach, then we would be subject to a different set of trade oversight than they would.
In terms of the U.S., the member is correct that off of state and federal lands, there isn’t the ability to export logs. Private lands in the U.S. have no restriction — in the Pacific Northwest in particular, which is the area that is of most interest to us — and it is the greatest majority. The greatest percentage of the land in those areas is the private lands that have no restrictions in their ability to export logs. Here we have restrictions— the surplus test, the provisions that apply to both private and public lands— in the current regime that is in place.
H. Bains: The minister, asked a question earlier by my colleague, answered that, yes, jobs are the number one priority in using our logs. He pointed out to you that the service plan, if you go through it, has ten different performance measures — ten. Not a single one — not a one — mentions jobs or the number of jobs as the performance measure to judge your success. Clearly, I think it’s a lot of talk but not real action, as this government has said before.
In the same vein, let’s talk about if the government actually even measures jobs per cubic metre of logs that would be harvested. Do you have a measurement? Do you even measure that?
Hon. S. Thomson: We don’t measure that specifically by cubic metre. The calculation could be done. But you have to recognize that, when you look across the sector, when you’re looking into pulp mills or into pellet manufacturers, they don’t measure those requirements by cubic metre. We don’t do that as a specific measure.
What we do in terms of the jobs accountability, as part of the jobs plan…. We’re measured in terms of the increase in jobs, which is, as I pointed out earlier, a 20 percent increase since 2009 — 61,000 direct jobs, 150,000 indirect jobs in the sector. In reference to our service plan, these are measures that are internal, around many of the objectives within the ministry, but all contribute towards meeting our objectives as part of the B.C. jobs plan.
For example, the measure around streamlined authorization processes and reducing the turnaround times and backlogs, which we have been very, very successful in, in the permitting process — that all contributes to jobs and economic activity. Our performance measures are all designed around the steps we take internally that help contribute to an overall economic climate and competitive climate in British Columbia that helps continue to grow jobs in the sector.
I wonder if I might ask for a very, very short recess, just for five minutes. One is for a personal reason. The other one is just that I think it would provide us the opportunity to make sure we can gather a bit of the information that we committed to earlier on for the members opposite and make sure that I’ve got that handy so that we can provide some of what we committed to earlier.
If we could have a very short recess.
The Chair: We’ll have a five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 3:18 p.m. to 3:27 p.m.
[G. Kyllo in the chair.]
Hon. S. Thomson: There were a number of items that the member asked for yesterday that we said we would provide clarification and some further information on. I just wanted to start that process because there is some information we have, and there are others where we’re continuing to make sure we get the information. Some wanted quite a bit of work done.
One of the questions was with respect to the resource stewardship branch and wanted a breakdown within the branch, a breakdown within the areas of responsibility within the branch, and was there a breakdown between the overall staff numbers for the resource stewardship division and a breakdown within each of the different ones — tree improvement, resource practices branch, etc. I’ll just provide this information for the member opposite.
Total in the resource stewardship branch: 221 employees. The breakdown in that respect: ADM’s office, 12; fish
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and wildlife branch, 32; forest analysis and inventory branch, 59; resource management objectives branch, 15; resource practices branch, 31; tree improvement branch, 48; and the water management branch, 24, for a total of 221. That is for 2016.
The question also asked for those numbers for 2015. So for 2015: in the ADM’s office, ten; fish and wildlife branch, 34; forest analysis and inventory branch, 59; resource management objectives branch, 13; resource practices branch, 30; tree improvement branch, 48; and the water management branch, 28, for a total of 222.
There was also a request for some clarification around the revenue numbers yesterday because we were comparing a table as part of the fiscal plan from the Ministry of Finance. What that table does is describe the revenue by source, not by ministry. That table is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance. I just wanted to provide the clarification.
The “Forests” line shows $812 million in ’16-17. This is made up of $667 million from the ministry and $45 million from the Ministry of Finance for the logging tax, equalling the $812 million. The $767 million is comprised of: timber tenures, $448 million; B.C. Timber Sales, $277 million; other forest revenue, $19 million; and recoveries of $23 million.
The “Other natural resources” line shows $502 million in ’16-17. This is made up of: water, $430 million; water recoveries, $30 million; fish and wildlife, $11 million; and recoveries, $11 million.
Not included in those two line items from that table, but included in the ministry revenue, and shown in the table above, under “Other revenue” — which would be other fees, other licences and areas within that overall table source of revenue — is $121 million in Crown land revenue, and land registry fees of $32 million.
Our ministry numbers, as stated yesterday, are comprised by adding the $767 million forestry revenue, the $502 million other natural resource revenue, the $121 million in Crown land revenue, and $32 million land registry fees, and we get the ministry revenue number of $1.422 billion.
That’s the numbers. We’re consistent with how we portrayed them last year, and I think it reflects back to the number that…. While it took us a little bit of time to get to it yesterday, was the…? When the member opposite was asking the specific revenue numbers that we consider for our ministry, the $1.422 billion….
Hopefully that clears up some of the difference in numbers from the one table to what I stated as our ministry revenue for our purposes.
H. Bains: Thank you for that information. It would’ve been a lot easier and faster to have those numbers available. I thought that would be a very simple question because we are debating, after all, budget numbers. You would think that those would be clearly listed here someplace in these books. Anyway, thank you very much.
Coming back to my first question and the minister’s answer. Clearly, the minister’s answer is that we are becoming a “we cannot do” province. Clearly, we don’t measure how many jobs, or cubic metres of timber that we harvest. We don’t measure that. The minister’s answer that pulp and other places don’t use cubic metres….
We know how many trees that we cut. We know our total AAC. We know what our total harvesting level is. From there, it goes down to the sawmills, and to the pulp mills, into other…. All places. We know the number of jobs that we have, directly related to the timber that we harvest, in all those different places.
Clearly, it would be easier to come up with the number of jobs directly related to the number of trees and the volume of trees that we cut. I don’t understand how difficult that would be. It is because that’s not where the emphasis is, and that clearly is demonstrated in the service plan. Ten performance measures — not one of them is about jobs. Not one. Other jurisdictions, I’m sure, have similar measures — other different countries, and within Canada, perhaps.
Maybe the minister could answer, if he’s aware, if other major forestry jurisdictions have these calculations and measures of jobs per cubic metre that their jurisdictions are able to achieve.
Hon. S. Thomson: The member is right. The calculation can be done. It’s not the measure that we work towards.
The measure that we work towards is creating a competitive environment for the industry. It’s focusing on the competitive position that they have in global markets, ensuring that they have that base and that they’re the ones — they’re the private sector businesses — that determine, within their operations, the employment base, the number of people they need, where they want to invest in their operations in terms of technology and efficiency to ensure that they can remain competitive, to ensure that they can build jobs.
Comparing this to other jurisdictions that have a different competitive framework, different markets, different systems on the land base, different fibre mix — all of those are factors that are in places in other provinces. What we focus on here is ensuring that we have a competitive environment, that we allow the private sector to make the investments to build the labour force and the base that they need to manage their operations efficiently. We do the same with our B.C. Timber Sales operations, so we will continue to focus on building that.
Our service plan. All of these service plan items are designed to talk about how we manage our ministry operations, all leading towards helping build that competitiveness framework. Performance measures like
[ Page 11069 ]
permitting and authorization and turnaround times, performance measures like focusing on the revenue side of it for economic benefits and the B.C. Timber Sales portions of that, are all part of our service plan that help us drive towards that overall objective as part of the B.C. jobs plan.
H. Bains: Clearly, the minister confirms what I said in my opening yesterday, that we have no leadership, no vision, from this government when it comes to forestry. No vision. The minister here clearly confirmed that with this answer — that they allow the private sector, the industry, to determine where they want to invest, how they want to invest, how many jobs and where those jobs are.
The minister forgets that they are, largely speaking, depending on public forests that the minister is custodian of on behalf of the public. Clearly, there should be some leadership and some direction given as far as some sort of social contract that that industry has with the government. Clearly, what they are doing is….
That’s why the government’s lack of leadership is clearly indicated here. You don’t require them to say that we need maximum jobs with the wood that we are providing you, that we are allowing you to harvest from public land. Clearly, that is not one of the requirements. Other jurisdictions, perhaps, have the leadership, have the vision, and they require their industry to have one of the measures.
No wonder Ontario and Quebec have more jobs per cubic metre than we have in B.C. Oregon has more jobs. Other jurisdictions have more jobs. I think that’s how we are failing British Columbians, and we’re failing our forest industry by not being in the forefront and being leaders and providing the leadership. No wonder the industry is leaving B.C. Our British Columbian companies are investing in the United States. They’re not investing here, despite all of the benefits that they have here.
My question to the minister would be: isn’t it the minister’s responsibility that perhaps he should look into whether they are using our public timber holdings as collateral, as assets, to secure finances to invest in United States? I mean, should that be allowed, if that’s what is happening? I think that’s what I would like to have the minister…. Does the government even look at that?
We are providing timber, on behalf of the public, so they could harvest it and process it here. As we know, there’s no requirement for them to process all that timber here. But then, on top of that, they’re not even investing in B.C. to create jobs in B.C.
Sure enough, you can allow them to make their own decisions, but one of the requirements should be that those jobs should be here in B.C., not in Oregon, not in Georgia, not in the eastern United States, as is the case that we have seen with three major B.C. companies investing there. Two mills, perhaps, in 2001, in the United States, between all three of them; now we have over 40. In the meantime, they’re shutting down mills here, and they’re still holding on to our timber licences.
It’s mind-boggling, on behalf of the public, and they expect better from this government. Perhaps the minister could say…. I think it is high time that this government take the position that we should try to create more jobs than what we have for the timber that we harvest. Is that going to become one of your priorities or not?
Hon. S. Thomson: There is a vision for this industry, a vision that was developed through the round table that had all of the participants in the industry as part of that round table — the vision that British Columbia has a vibrant, sustainable and globally competitive forest industry that provides benefits for current and future generations and for strong communities.
That is the vision that guides all the work we do. That is why it has led to the work of the forest sector strategy. That’s why it has led to the work on the competitive strategy. That is why we worked with the value-added sector on a set of strategies to support and enhance opportunities in the value-added sector.
All of it is looking to build the opportunity around, and climate for, investment in British Columbia. Investment is taking place. The forest sector has made significant investments in the industry here.
Western BioEnergy — $470 million investment in Fort St. James and Merritt. Canfor — $50 million at the Elko sawmill, $38 million at the Bear Lake and Fort St. John sawmills, $58 million at its pellet plants in Chetwynd and Fort St. John.
Western Forest Products — $28 million investment in Duke Point. Tolko and Pinnacle Renewable Energy — $47 million investment in a new Lavington pellet mill. Interfor — $50 million at its Castlegar sawmill. Catalyst’s pulp and paper mill, with a new green power generator which is projected to save $4.7 million in hydro expenses.
All of these investments are being made in British Columbia because we are creating a competitive environment for the industry so that they can continue to make the investments. By comparison, in Ontario and Quebec, when you look at…. They have less overall jobs. Mills are closing there as the industry consolidates. Quebec, in terms of constraining overall fibre supply….
We are working here to continue to build a competitive environment. We’ll allow the industry to remain competitive, build new markets, open those new markets and become less reliant on a single market. That’s why we’ve been so successful in doing that, in partnership with the industry and with the federal government. That is allowing the investments to continue to occur here in British Columbia by British Columbia companies.
H. Bains: While the minister was at it, he could have easily listed all of the companies’ investment in the United States. I know it is probably oversight. He neg-
[ Page 11070 ]
lected to mention that — each of the mills and each of the companies that has invested in the United States. How many millions? Canfor, Interfor, West Fraser and others. Clearly, the industry isn’t seriously looking at B.C. as a future. They are looking at the United States. That’s the fact.
On the other hand, you talk about creating new markets. Yes, we need to create new markets. India, China, Korea and many other areas of the world perhaps need our lumber. But not our raw logs.
Look at China — mainland China in 2005. What they had was 113,000 raw logs exported to China from B.C. in 2005. In 2015, three million cubic metres. And then you take a look at South Korea — 300,000 in 2005; over 900,000, almost a million. Three times.
Clearly, the markets should be created. We should be looking for new markets and have our presence there. But it should be for our processed lumber, and that’s not where most of the emphasis is. That’s where the problem is.
Clearly, the minister’s answer was, as his predecessors said…. I know that this minister…. I have worked with and I have a lot more respect for the previous minister or two ministers previous to this minister. He said that — that we are the spectators as a government. And we can’t do anything. It’s the industry. They’re doing whatever they want to do.
The answer the minister gave is kind of similar — that we let the industry make all those decisions. But I think government is there for leadership, and we don’t see that. It’s consistent, I think, over the years.
No wonder, as I said in my opening, since 2001 we have 30,000 fewer workers working in the forest industry than when this government took over — 150 mills, according to the government’s own numbers. We have fewer mills. But the industry is investing in the United States. That’s a clear direction that we see here.
I think we want to move on to the next area, Minister, if that’s okay with you, in compliance and enforcement. Maybe my colleague will start those questions.
B. Routley: Actually, just before we get into compliance and enforcement, I do want to follow up because we did hear a theme there. The theme is that jobs are not a priority. I would hasten to add that communities aren’t a priority under this government. The woodworkers and forest workers of British Columbia are not a priority — what we just heard from the minister.
I think it’s absolutely factual. There’s a partnership with industry. I think those words were very telling. I hope everybody that was here underlines in their notebook that there’s a partnership with industry, but there is no such talk of a partnership with communities. There’s no talk about a partnership with forest workers.
I just wanted to drill down for a minute on exactly how this partnership is working out for British Columbia and, in fact, for this budget. This is just one example of the high-grading and the low value that the province of British Columbia is charging for our valuable forest products. In fact, I would suggest this example of high-grading shows a potential giveaway of the forests of British Columbia. Yet, we’re here — this minister is here — to provide value for the people of British Columbia.
The scenario I want to lay out for you is East Creek logging, in that context. We have a concern over the stumpage rates paid by LeMare Lions Gate in the East Creek watershed lying north of Brooks Peninsula Provincial Park. We’re concerned about this high-grading, as has been demonstrated by the profile of species that were logged. I’m told that LeMare paid, according to stumpage rates, from 27 cents a cubic metre to $1.11 a cubic metre on 138,000 cubic metres of wood. Again, I’m told the trees are $19 million in value, and the company allegedly paid only $153,000 in stumpage.
First of all, I want to know if you can confirm these as the facts. If I’ve misstated them in any way, I certainly want to be corrected. The cedar was the most profitable compared to the hem-bal. They logged about 100,000 cubic metres of cedar — cedar and yellow cedar — versus just 38,000 of hem-bal.
My question to the minister. Is this kind of high-grading acceptable to this minister? Does he agree this is unacceptable return for the good people of British Columbia, and will he take action and look at finding ways to get a better return for British Columbians?
Hon. S. Thomson: With respect to the specifics on this situation, I don’t have the verification or the specific information here. I’ll take that information and provide a response. I know that this is in the area. I do know that it has some sensitivities with respect to the area. What they would have paid is under the market pricing system that’s in place. But we will respond specifically.
I just wanted to comment on the member opposite’s comments around that as part of the process, that we don’t care about communities, don’t care about other partnerships, and the assertion that this is just about a partnership with the licensees. If you look at communities across British Columbia, when we came in: one community forest. We now have 55 community forests in British Columbia. That is working directly with communities, providing opportunities for them to participate on the land base, to put those communities back and put those investments back into the communities.
Partnerships with First Nations — 15 percent of the annual allowable cut in the province now in partnership with First Nations, providing important opportunities for those communities. We continue to build on those opportunities. We continue to look at more First Nations woodland licences and opportunities, providing revenue-sharing to those communities. We are working directly with those communities.
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I’d look back at an example, one that I’m quite proud of, in terms of where you care about communities. It’s the work that we did in terms of working with the land base, providing a community forest, working with First Nations in order to allow for a rebuild of a mill in Burns Lake — the Hampton mill. That was all about community. That was preserving jobs in those communities.
That was not an easy process. I got pretty beat up by a few within the industry about the steps that we had to take to make sure that we could provide the opportunity for that community to have those jobs rebuilt. To assert that I don’t care about communities and to assert that I don’t care about the people in those communities is completely wrong. We work with the communities. We work to try to make sure that we can provide those benefits back into the communities, and we’ll continue to do that.
That’s why we’ve put a $75 million rural dividend into this budget. We know communities are going to face some transition coming out of mountain pine beetle. We need to address that. We know that that has been coming. We’ve been working through with salvage harvest for that. The transition is coming. We have to work with those communities on a variety of measures.
That’s why we’ve put $85 million in this budget into a forest enhancement society to look at further protection for communities and working on the land base. We do care about communities. We are working with communities.
I really reject the member’s assertion that, as minister responsible for this, I don’t care about communities and I don’t care about people in those communities. We are working to ensure that they can keep working in those communities. We work to ensure that we build as competitive an environment as possible for the companies that are currently there so that they can maintain while they’re competing in a globally competitive market and while they’re facing challenges of declining timber supply in areas, which is a reality that we all have to work through.
To have companies look for opportunities where they can strengthen their base so that they can stay invested in British Columbia is an important step. I hope the member opposite is not saying that we shouldn’t have companies that look to take opportunities where they can strengthen their financial base and their financial performance so that they can to continue to make the investments in British Columbia that I talked about.
Just getting back to the specific question around the operation that you talked about, I will look into the specifics there and get back to the member opposite.
B. Routley: I just want to respond. Let’s put that in the context of: this is the government that did away with appurtenancy clauses throughout British Columbia and allowed, in community after community — including my communities in the Cowichan Valley, like Youbou — the mill to be closed and there to be no security in the future. When you look at what’s happened there…. Your government took the next step and shut down appurtenancy for every community in British Columbia.
The raw log exports show a priority to the industry and their focus. Are there crumbs from the table for communities and for workers? There hasn’t been a…. This government has no transition plan for the thousands of forest workers that have lost their jobs. Yet I’ve seen this government give handouts to the industry to put together a video to try and attract back the very people that have been laid off in parts of the industry.
It rings pretty hollow to me, if you’re trying to lecture me on the benefits to communities and to First Nations. Those are crumbs from the table.
We’ve seen corporate consolidation. Let’s talk about the giveaways to forest companies of the private land portion of their tree farm licences. Talk about a huge gift. I could go on and on. All of the gifts, and who…?
What percentage of the forest policy was developed by First Nations and by forest workers? I would say probably next to none. Most of it was developed…. You ripped the heart out of it and created professional reliance, for who? The industry. So let’s not kid ourselves.
Now, if you want to give me another lecture about how much you care about communities, go ahead. But I think that it’s unacceptable that we’re getting that kind of money for the province of British Columbia. I hope that you’re going to look into it. I hope that you’ll commit today that if those are the basement-level rates that we’re getting for our trees, it’s not good enough. I hope the government will commit to do something about it to get a fair share for British Columbia and for our community.
Hon. S. Thomson: It wasn’t meant to be a lecture. I don’t take the member opposite’s response as a lecture either.
What I wanted to convey was that the sense I got in the assertion — and you know, directed at me — was that I don’t care about communities and I don’t care about the people in those communities.
I wanted to respond to that. I wanted to say that we work with the industry. We work with communities. We look for all of those opportunities. I’ve been in the communities where we have been able to provide community forests. I have been talking to the Lake Cowichan Community Forest Co-operative and the Pacheedaht about a community forest opportunity for them. I hope we’re going to be able to find the way to do it in a very constrained land base and area.
We look for all of those opportunities. I continue to do that every day during the work. It wasn’t meant to be a lecture. I don’t take your comments as a lecture. It’s a debate about the overall policy and overall direction. I just felt I needed to respond.
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V. Huntington: I didn’t realize I’d be speaking today. I thank the critic. I therefore have very limited notes in front of me.
Just so the minister and his staff know, I’d like to ask questions on the issues in south Delta — dikes, dredging, water lots and agricultural land owned by the Crown.
Perhaps I’ll start with the dredging, because it’s an issue that’s been ongoing for a long time, for a number of years. The province has now been involved, which I was very pleased to be part of.
The agreement with the Port of Vancouver that the province participated in — to the tune of $3 million, I think, with the corporation of Delta and Richmond, but for a very specific extent — is running out. There’s only $1½ million in this dredging pie that applies to Delta, at any rate, that’s remaining.
Once that fund is gone, the whole issue of dredging turns over to the minister’s department. It leaves Transportation, and it goes over to the minister’s department because of your administration of the water lots.
I need to know — and the Ladner Sediment Group needs to know — what the ministry is looking at in terms of working with the Port of Vancouver, the municipalities and the Ladner Sediment Group for a long-term, sustainable dredging program on the Lower Fraser River.
Hon. S. Thomson: I appreciate the question from the member.
Certainly, we acknowledge the issue. That’s why there has been a process before and why resources were committed. I understand that that has a finite time…. It is a very complex process because it’s multi-jurisdictional. There is the port, there is the federal government with respect to navigation, there are the communities, and there is also engagement and consultation that is required with First Nations through all of that.
We do have a cross-ministry working group, a cross-ministry team, that is working on this —looking to, knowing or with the objective of developing the longer-term plan for this. I know they are working with the local government, with Delta, with the port, with the federal government, with emergency management B.C. as well, all as part of it. I acknowledge the issue and can indicate that there is a team working on it.
Is there a long-term plan in place currently? No, but we know we need to work towards that objective.
V. Huntington: Just one last question on this. Thank you for the answer.
The Ministry of Transportation was very responsive to the issue, once I finally understood. I thought there was a role they had to play. First the deputy came out to tour the river with us at low tide. He assigned a director to come out and tour the river with us, who took the issue forward from there with the port and the municipalities.
I’m wondering if the minister would allow us to meet with somebody from the working group, just so that we can get a sense of who and what we’re dealing with and who to stay in touch with in terms of the Ladner Sediment Group so that they feel confident this transfer from one ministry to the other is working from their point of view. Is it possible for us to arrange a meeting with the group and the ministry?
Hon. S. Thomson: Certainly, we’ll undertake to get that organized.
V. Huntington: Thank you very much.
Thusly, we move on to the dikes. Obviously, there’s a lot of thinking going on with the Fraser Basin Council and their work on the floodplain management, in this ministry and Environment, and on looking at the infrastructure surrounding the sea and river, especially pursuant to the sea level rise and the need to improve the diking in the Lower Mainland and especially in my community. What we’re finding is that, as the process of trying to figure out what to do with this infrastructure problem that we have as a region and a province…. There are no answers out there that are being coordinated effectively between the different jurisdictions.
The funding issue is becoming extreme, and I can’t find anywhere where there is a long-term plan on how to handle this issue. Meanwhile, people who are living on the dike and industries who are operating on the dike are being absolutely stymied. All of these new requirements for height and width are being laid at their doorsteps, if they want to do anything, and they can’t possibly afford to do what is being asked of them.
Can the minister and his staff tell me how they see this issue with diking going forward in a logical and logically funded manner and how they will refrain from expecting individuals, who have been on the dike for lifetimes and have homes or businesses or marinas or industries on the dikes, to have to independently do what government should be doing with this infrastructure with no assistance and no funding? It’s impossible. These people are being stymied everywhere they go because there is a lack of process and funding throughout the system.
I wonder if the minister can give me some sense or idea where the ministry is going in this direction and what people out there can anticipate.
Hon. S. Thomson: Thanks to the member opposite for the question. Again, just as in the previous question, I acknowledge that this is a complex matter and, as the member opposite knows, potentially very, very costly in terms of the response.
We are working on…. There are a number of initiatives. The Lower Mainland regional flood strategy, working
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with Fraser Basin Council, as was mentioned.
The flood protection program, which is administered by emergency management B.C. They’re currently negotiating with the federal government for renewal of the program. That is a cost-shared dike construction, cost-shared with local government.
There is a new federal national disaster mitigation program. The province is currently working with the federal government on that new program, primarily aimed at projects and further assessments — floodplain mapping and those sorts of things.
We know we have lots of kilometres of dikes. The sea level rise, the changes to the Fraser River itself. We have the issues of the increase of development along the dikes. The dikes are owned in the greatest amount by the local governments. Collectively — and I very much mean the collective — we, across all of those jurisdictions, need to acknowledge the multi-jurisdictional approach to it and need to develop the plan. There are a number of initiatives underway.
I think what would be beneficial here before the member opposite asks the question, which I’m sure she might, “Could we have a direct discussion on it…?” Certainly, we can organize that as well as a follow-up to this response.
It is ongoing work that will require a collective response across all of those multi-jurisdictions and longer-term identification of resources that can support it. It will have to be on a longer-term cost-shared basis.
V. Huntington: That was going to be a question: could I please arrange with your department a discussion with some of the people that are more intimately involved? What’s happening is it’s the business on the ground that’s being caught in the middle.
I think these different jurisdictions are going to have to come up with some solution about what to do in the interim, because these people can’t afford to raise a dike and widen a dike and reposition a road. And what’s the point if it’s just going to be one person at a time as they do something with their business?
I would very much appreciate perhaps arranging a meeting with a few people and a specialist in what is going on. I think they would be very grateful too. Thank you.
The other issue. Just briefly, I’d like to go over the whole issue of water lots. They are being transferred, or have been already transferred, to your ministry. When the transfer first took place, people were extremely pleased. The Port of Vancouver was not a good landlord or an easy landlord. Very pleased with the assistance and the transfer. However, incredibly disappointed when the leases were finally received and they were only for two-year durations. We’d all been told they would be for approximately 20.
At that time, it was an issue of negotiations being stymied at the First Nations consultation level. Can the minister tell me what the status of those negotiations or consultations is now? And can these leaseholders expect something more stable in the near future?
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you to the member opposite for the question. Certainly, I appreciate the comments around the fact that people were pleased when the administration did move to our ministry, and we put a lot of additional resources into dealing with it as we received the transfer back to our administration.
It is a process, as she correctly pointed out, around consultation with First Nations, including the Cowichan Tribes, the Cowichan Nation Alliance, the Musqueam and other First Nations to complete all of that consultation. We did issue the two-year tenures so we could complete that consultation ourselves.
MARR, the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, is working very, very hard to move those forward and to provide the longer-term tenure for the tenure holders. We made significant progress on a number of them. We’ve got some challenging ones in some of that. But our objective is to continue to complete the consultation and get the longer-term tenures issued as quickly as we can.
It is a high priority file, but we also need to make sure that we complete the consultation in a way that will stand up to potential challenges that may come when the statutory decision–maker makes the decision to award the longer-term tenure. A very active file for us. We understand the anxiety, I guess, of the tenure holders who have just the two-year tenures currently. But we are working diligently to provide them with that longer-term security.
V. Huntington: I can’t urge the ministry strongly enough that this should receive extremely high priority. This has been going on for years, not from your ministry but from the port.
[J. Yap in the chair.]
My understanding, the last time I was briefed, was there was one band left that was the problem or hadn’t reached some sort of consultation agreement with the ministry. These people, especially the businesses, are in complete financial limbo.
It is extremely difficult to operate without long-term certainty. When treaty negotiations and consultations began so many years ago, interests in land were not part of a discussion. That has changed over the years. You now have many, many interests — people with interests in land over the long, long term that are completely up in the air and extremely concerned about their future, financially and otherwise. It is a very serious issue.
My last question is on agricultural land issues. Your ministry touches almost every major issue in my muni-
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cipality, fortunately or unfortunately. I’m not quite sure which.
Two issues. My constant referral to you of the need for yourself and the Minister of Agriculture to lobby your colleagues and consider not having the sale of agricultural land, especially in areas like the Lower Mainland, at market value. They should be at an average agricultural value. It is the only way farmers in my jurisdiction can access land now. You and your staff know that there have been huge difficulties in that regard.
I’m wondering if the minister has given any serious thought to how he can handle sales of agricultural land in a way that benefits farmers — not speculators and developers. Those are the only people who can afford it in the Lower Mainland anymore.
The Chair: Minister.
Hon. S. Thomson: Thank you, Chair. Welcome to the chair.
The process, with our policy, requires the Crown to sell the land at fair market value. It is appraised as land within the ALR, with consideration given to the ALR status in determining the market value — and comparable sales, used by the appraiser, with other ALR lands with similar characteristics as the subject.
I know some of this specifically references agriculture land at Brunswick Point. Within the ALR, it would be appraised on that value, and it remains within the ALR. Again, policies and procedures require us to sell it at a fair market appraised value.
V. Huntington: I understand that, and I have been arguing against that specific policy for a number of years now. I don’t care if the Crown land is in the ALR and being sold at ALR prices, whatever that is, in my municipality. But I can tell you that the farmers in my municipality, farmers who need that land because they have future generations wanting to live on the farm and farm that land into the future….They cannot afford to buy it.
They can’t afford to buy it. You’re going to have speculators buying this land, or you’re going to have the very wealthiest farmers in the province buying this land. It’s simply and only because of a policy that your ministry will not fight against.
If you’re going to believe in agricultural land and if you’re going to hope that farmers use it and if you are going to hope that it remains productive, then you’ve got to make it accessible. It’s not accessible, and there has to be something done about it.
You own quite a bit of land in my municipality. It’s been tied up for years with consultations and court cases, and…. I don’t know. All I know is that I think there’s something wrong here. I think that people in my riding have been abused by process here, and it’s time, at least, to look at a process and a new policy that will enable legitimate farmers to access the land they need in order to continue farming.
I’ll leave it there. I know I get the same answer every time. But I am saying you’ve got a problem. And nobody wants to solve this problem.
The last one I want to talk about the minister will know. This is a heritage home — the Rawlins home that was lived in by the Hoar family for years and years and years. It was renovated by Joan Hoar, who died waiting for this ministry to sell her this land. This land is not part of treaty settlement lands. It is not part of the Brunswick Point lands. Now that home is boarded up and deteriorating faster than anybody can imagine.
I would like to know…. I’ve contacted the municipality about it. The municipality has now contacted the ministry about it. I want to know what is going to happen to this heritage home in Delta.
Hon. S. Thomson: I am certainly aware of this particular property. What I am advised is…. Staff are in discussions with the city of Delta and the Tsawwassen First Nations around a couple of potential options for that property, the Rawlins residence.
There’s a level of confidentiality associated with this, so I don’t want to talk about the specifics of what those options might be, but we are looking actively at finding a solution to this that would maintain the heritage value that the local government has placed on that property.
B. Routley: Turning now to compliance and enforcement, the minister will be aware that there was dramatic change in the compliance and enforcement first reported back in 2004. Ben Parfitt actually talked about…. I guess it was in 2010 that he referred to the loss of 22 compliance and enforcement positions — eliminated, roughly one in every ten jobs.
Since that time, compliance and enforcement has kind of morphed into a lot more than just what used to be the Ministry of Forests. We now have multiple tasks for compliance and enforcement.
My question is: how many compliance and enforcement staff does your newly…? I guess it’s not newly configured anymore. It’s a long time since we’ve been just the Ministry of Forests. After their reconfiguration — and now they’re all things to do with the land base — how has compliance and enforcement changed? Do you have a number of people that are focused primarily on forests?
Again, what I am trying to get at here is how you manage your compliance and enforcement people. How many are specific to dealing with forestry issues? Or are they all kind of multi-tasking combined jobs? Are there other focuses? For example, I know there are some people that must be doing wildlife or hunting, because that comes under your bailiwick. There’s fishing and other water issues.
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I just would like a clearer picture of exactly what all of your compliance and enforcement officers are doing now. Are they divided into a number of regions and areas as well? If you can give us a bit of a picture of the number of compliance and enforcement officers and their areas of responsibility. Are there people focused on forestry, for example? Or what other areas are they focused on?
Hon. S. Thomson: I think the member opposite asked how many natural resource officers we have — 178 natural resource officers. Of those, 22 licensed science officers, 12 specialists and the balance as natural resource officers.
We do measure where they focus their presence and their activities. Resourcing is focused on our high-priority functions, with the top six resource-focused being forests, out of all of that, at 28 percent; lands, 17 percent; roads, 13 percent; wildfire, 12 percent, recreation, 12 percent; and water, 8 percent, and that’s based on their presence and on their operations.
High-priority focus is based on the compliance percent for these functions: forests, 61 percent; lands, 44 percent; roads, 69 percent; wildfire, 44 percent; recreation, 70 percent; and water, 62 percent.
We continue to focus the broad approach across all of their responsibilities. They work cooperatively across and during, because we broaden their responsibilities so that they can look across the broad section of compliance activities that need to be undertaken. That does outline the priority focuses of the natural resource officers.
B. Routley: Thank you for those percentages, but I would like, at some point, at least, a little more clarity on what you mean when you say something like land. That’s pretty broad. That could be almost anything, I guess. The water, I think, I get, like the various focuses. But land — if you could explain a little more about what that means.
Let’s move on to my next question. You can think about both of these maybe. We see that as of now, we don’t have the 2014-15 compliance and enforcement annual report. It has yet to be published, at least as far as I know.
Could the minister provide us with the number of inspections, the enforcement actions, the stop-work orders, the seizure orders and compliance actions that took place? Additionally, could the minister describe the number and amount of fines that were levied?
Of course, not to be forgotten is the number of people that have been jailed. I still remember Gordon Campbell telling us about how we were going to have such tremendous compliance and enforcement — million-dollar fines. People would go to jail. I’m not sure that we’re on top of many people going to jail, but it would be interesting. Maybe there is one. Maybe I’m missing out.
Hon. S. Thomson: The member referenced the annual report. I’m advised that that report is in final stages of publication and will be published by the end of March. So that information will be available.
Just in terms of the number of inspections, the member asked for…. This is for three-quarters of the year, so this is up to the end of January 2016 — 5,599 inspections. There were, from those, 812 compliance notices, 227 warning tickets and 55 violations.
B. Routley: Wow. This is confirming my view that things are going from bad to worse. We had inspections — 7,976 from 2013-2014. When we look back at that, the monetary penalties were between zero and $99,999. That’s not even the million dollars. Remember? We were promised, the good people of B.C. were promised million-dollar fines, and people would go to jail.
What we’ve seen instead is a professional reliance model, sympathetic administration. We’ve got, basically, out of the 75 monetary penalties…. There were 85 companies that got monetary penalties. Out of the 85, 75 were less than 500 bucks — really. So I expect that that’s the kind of record we’re going to continue to see.
This is alarming. We’re seeing the good people of British Columbia go from a time where there was good compliance and enforcement in the province of British Columbia to…. Now we’ve got a situation where there’s this sympathetic professional reliance model. There’s sympathetic administration and almost nothing in terms of penalties.
The minister’s briefing notes for last year’s estimates note that a key indicator for compliance and enforcement is now presence. This one I can’t wait to hear. What prompted the ministry to re-evaluate how it measures success in compliance and enforcement? And what measure does the ministry use to evaluate presence?
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, the approach here does not operate with a sympathetic approach to administration in the field. These are officers, professional staff that take their responsibility very, very seriously and certainly do not take a sympathetic approach to it.
The member opposite asked about the presence. This is a new performance measure that’s been put in place. It has actually been scientifically proven, through police studies and others, to be a better measure of activity in the field. Presence, being out there, is a performance measure that we want to utilize with the service. It is the amount of time that the natural resource officer is out in the field representing the C and E. It’s proven that the field time…. The more that you’re out there generates a stronger compliance because they know the officers are out there in the field.
That’s why we’ve brought in this measure. That’s why we’ve brought in efficiencies on the administration side of
[ Page 11076 ]
it — to provide a greater amount of field time. We measure the performance of the branch or the operation by the amount of time that they’re out in the field. A strict measure of having numbers of infractions is not the best measure in determining whether they’re being effective out there. It’s the amount of presence and time in the field.
That’s why we track that now. We do monitor it by the number of hours and by function — the hours and the function related to the different areas, whether it’s forest management, recreation management, water — to determine the field presence that they have and the area and function of their responsibilities, which is measured against those numbers of hours in the field.
H. Bains: I think this demonstrates, clearly, that…. The minister said that he cares about communities, that he cares about forestry, and I believe him. But the actions, when you look at what the ministry has done over the years, speak something different.
You take a look at the independent watchdog, the Forest Practices Board, and the Auditor General. Report after report after report gave you failing marks — a damning report by the Auditor General, many reports under the Forest Practices Board. One says the B.C. forestry watchdog finds timber companies have too much power. Another one says: Forest Stewardship Plans: Are They Meeting Expectations? No.
I don’t know how the minister can stand here…. I understand he cares about forestry and he cares about…. I mean, he’s really sincere about his job, and he wants to do a good job. I give that to the minister. The minister’s staff here also care about our forest industry. But the direction that comes from this government, higher up, clearly takes us to wrong conclusions, due to their actions.
Let me ask you this question about the forest stewardship plan, a report that came out. It’s about our compliance and enforcement. The report clearly…. I mean, I don’t know how damning it can be. I don’t know what…. Minister after minister — why don’t they care about our forests? You stand up here and say: “Yeah, we care.” Yes, you care, but look at your actions.
“It has been nine years since the board reported on the initial set of forest stewardship plans, prepared under the Forest and Range Practices Act. Several problems were identified in that original report.” And here it is: “It is truly disappointing to have to report now that the situation has not improved.”
How do you justify that? How do you justify standing here and saying that you actually care? This is under your watch, Minister.
Then you take a look at another report. It says that the forest companies have too much power. The local forest managers don’t have enough say. Who is actually looking after our forests? It is the duty of the minister, under the law, to get the best and the most out of the forest industry and take care of our forest industry.
There’s a reason why we have the Forest Practices Board, an independent body, an independent watchdog, looking at our practices. Are we meeting our goals? Are we meeting our objectives? No. He goes on to say this:
“Many forest tenures in the province are certified to international forestry standards which require the forest company to prepare a sustainable forest management plan. The detail and level of commitment provided in those plans is often superior to the contents of the forest stewardship plan for the same tenure.
“Forest stewardship plans were intended to foster innovation by licensees in the achievement of government’s objectives. Such innovations are rare, as licensees do not commit to innovative approaches, preferring instead to follow government’s default practices.
“Professional reliance, a cornerstone of the Forest and Range Practices Act, failed to solve the systemic forest stewardship plan problems of consistency and measurability because license holders are under no obligation to accept the advice of these resource professionals.”
How do you justify that, Minister, and what have you done since these reports came out?
The Chair: Member, I remind you: through the Chair, please.
H. Bains: Through the Chair.
Hon. S. Thomson: Again, the model of professional reliance is one that’s based on continuous improvement. As the member opposite knows, in British Columbia, we’ve got the highest percentage of certified forests that are certified to national certification standards.
The Forest Practices Board work. When they do specific audits — they have an audit program of licensees — they have found a high degree of compliance in those specific audits. So we have a sector that has world-leading standards, as evidenced by the certification and by the high degree of compliance.
The report around forest stewardship is something that we take seriously. We are in a period now where there is an opportunity, because there are a significant number of forest stewardship plans coming for renewal. I’ve been working with the chief forester. The chief forester and I will be shortly issuing guidance around expected improvements in the forest stewardship process and providing provisions.
The direction will be that the new plans will have to have all of the full-approval provisions of FRPA, including public review and comment upon the entire plan. We will be providing that direction, providing the training and the information to decision-makers in the process around the expected improvements. We will be providing that direction, both myself and the chief forester.
H. Bains: I know our time is running out, and we have other areas to cover. But this is very, very important. Forest stewardship plans, as it’s indicated in that re-
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port, a report that came out in August 2015, are the only operational plans that must be made available for public review and comment and are the only operational plans that require government approval.
Nothing else, the only one — and they’re not even doing that. It’s been nine years, and nothing changed. Forty-three of the licensees that they examined, out of 290 in the province — all of them failed. What does that say about the government’s compliance and enforcement policy? Clearly, we’re failing.
There’s another one, a December 2015 report, by the Forest Practices Board, District Managers’ Authority over Forest Operations. Again, clearly, it shows that district managers don’t have enough authority and that the industry has more authority. Industry has too much power.
What have you done to fix that? What are the timelines to fix both of these issues? Have you looked at these plans — I’m sure you have — those two reports? Have you put some directions in place, with timelines, so that both of those areas are fixed?
Hon. S. Thomson: First of all, the members, in the way that they posed the question, create the assertion that all of the forest stewardship plans are failing and not working. That’s certainly not the case. In fact, the board noted that the current system is effective most of the time, as licensees are generally diligent when planning operations and district managers are usually able to establish expectations of the licensees and facilitate resolution of conflicts.
But the board report did say that there was room for improvement. As I indicated, in working with the chief forester, we will be providing direction in that regard around expected improvements in the forest stewardship planning process as we move into the renewals of the plans.
We’re also working with district managers to further investigate the current suite of authorities and the challenges they face. Any shortcomings that the ministry identifies will be addressed as part of our ongoing improvements of the Forest and Range Practices Act.
We are responding to the report, direction being provided by myself and the chief forester, in further discussions in those ways — again, recognizing that the board noted that the current system is effective most of the time. But it did point out some deficiencies, and as a result, we have taken that recommendation or that advice seriously and are responding.
H. Bains: I was just quoting what the report says. It says, “All 43 sampled FSPs were signed and sealed by professional foresters and approved by the government decision-makers yet had more than one result, strategy or measure that was not measurable or verifiable.” They have an issue with all 43.
That’s the wording of the Forest Practices Board. Also, the other report was that the industry has too much power over the district managers.
My question was: how are you going to fix that? Are you going to comply with the request or the recommendations of the Forest Practices Board in those two reports? If the answer is yes, what are the timelines?
Hon. S. Thomson: Just, again, to respond — and the member opposite quoted from the report. The Forest Practices Board identified deficiencies in the ones they looked at. They didn’t say that they were failing. It was a part of it, and they noted the need for improvement, and we have taken that seriously.
As I just indicated in my response, in cooperation with the chief forester working with us, we are working immediately and very, very quickly to provide that direction and guidance around the needed and the expected improvements. That communication and that advice will be going out very, very shortly to the decision-makers and to the industry.
I’ve also said that we’re working with the district managers to investigate their current suite of authorities and the challenges that they face in those, which was also part of identification in the report. We are going to be working to look at what steps need to be taken to do that. So we are responding. The direction and guidance around the expected improvements….
A Voice: Any timelines?
Hon. S. Thomson: The timeline is: imminently. The advice and guidance has been prepared. It will be going out shortly, addressing that part of it. We’ll continue to work with district managers with that guidance and with the suite of authorities to ensure that we look at the improvements in the forest stewardship plans going forward that the board has asked us to respond to. We take it seriously.
H. Bains: Then again, I want to just remind the minister, again quoting the report. It says clearly that it’s nine years since the board reported on the initial set of forest stewardship plans — nine years. Then it went on to say: “It is truly disappointing to have to report now that the situation has not improved.” I mean, how clearly can someone put it? You’re trying to convince everybody that things aren’t that bad.
I’ll move on. We could spend a lot of time because it is important part here. I get your answer. But I would like to move to the wildfires, if we can move on to that one. Do you need a change of staff?
The question to the minister is just confirming some of the baseline numbers here. Again, in this budget, the wildfire management total budget is $63.1 million. Is that correct?
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Hon. S. Thomson: Correct, $63.165 million.
H. Bains: What was actually spent on wildfire management to fight fires in the 2015 fire season?
Hon. S. Thomson: As the member opposite knows, it was a very challenging season last year. Total direct fire control costs, $278 million.
H. Bains: What does that put as the average for wildfire suppression over…? The ten-year average — what would that do?
Hon. S. Thomson: The ten-year average direct fire control cost, which would be ’05-06 to ’14-15, is 159 million.
H. Bains: So that’s the average over ten years, and we know we spend more — close to 159, and sometimes under. There are a couple or three years that you spent a little under 159. I don’t think there’s any year…. Let me see here.
You have 63 million this year, 63 last year, and I think 63 in the last number of years that I could remember. You know that every year, over the ten years, the average is, as you put it, 159 million. So how do you arrive at $63 million?
Hon. S. Thomson: As the member opposite knows — and we’ve discussed this before; we have entered this question publicly as well — the approach to the budget is to put a direct fire allocation in.
As you know, we have statutory access to funding to address whatever the season brings forth. That’s evidenced by the fact that we have always had the resources available to address the nature of the season — ranging in numbers as high as 382 million in ’09-10, and in ’11-12, 53 million.
The approach in protecting communities — protecting assets, fighting the fires — is to have access to the dollars that are required. The approach then means that we’re not stranding or holding dollars in a direct fire budget that you may not necessarily need and that could be used for other purposes.
[P. Pimm in the chair.]
We budget that standard number, and that’s been the consistent approach since 2011-12 — to take that approach to it. The public and the citizens of the province need to know, or do know, that we have whatever resources are needed. We have a world-class wildfire service, and they do a great job in responding to whatever the season brings toward them.
H. Bains: The minister knows that this is a phony number. He knows that the average for the last ten years is $159 million. They just pick numbers from the air. It’s a political decision. We canvassed this during the last estimates, so I probably won’t go there more because of time.
My next question is…. The Filmon report in 2004, after the big Kelowna fire, identified 1.7 million hectares of land that required treatment to prevent a repeat of the wildfire catastrophe like we saw in Kelowna in 2003. How much of that took place in 2015? What is the estimate on how much of that will be done in 2016? So 1.7 million hectares were identified — the need to be fixed up. Out of that, 685,000 were considered high risk. Perhaps the minister can explain, in both of those areas, how many hectares actually have been worked on and the areas have been cleaned.
Hon. S. Thomson: Firstly, the number that the member referred to is not a phony number. We’ve been very transparent about the approach to how we manage the direct fire suppression — a number allocated in the budget and then statutory access to the dollars that are required to respond, depending on the season. There’s nothing phony. It’s fully transparent. We’ve explained the process.
I know that people don’t always understand why you would not put a whole bunch of money aside and strand that money for, potentially, other purposes when it may not be needed. But they also know that we have access to those statutory appropriations when we need it.
In terms of the interface program, we’ve invested over $78 million now, which has been provided to the strategic wildfire prevention initiative since 2004, to help communities and First Nations reduce wildfire risk. We’ve added $10 million to that this year.
We’ve also, in Budget 2016, provided 85 million in additional dollars, which will be, largely, directed to community wildfire protection on a broader landscape basis. The SWPI program will continue to focus on those high-risk areas in communities. It is a shared responsibility, working with local governments, working with homeowners, with private land owners and working with First Nations communities.
We’ve completed 288 wildfire protection plans by local governments and First Nations — another 50 in progress — and completed fuel treatments and wildfire risk reduction over 80,000 hectares in and around communities that face significant wildfire risk, those high-risk areas.
Additionally, the B.C. government and the UBCM municipalities also provided an additional $500,000 through a community grant program to encourage local communities in their FireSmart program and FireSmart principles.
H. Bains: If I hear correctly from the minister, 80,000 of the 685,000 high-risk area that was identified is treated. Is that correct?
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Hon. S. Thomson: It’s important to recognize…. If you look back on the history of the Filmon report, when it came out, it was recognized at that time that this would be a long-term program, long-term response, requiring the cooperation of all the parties. The government has invested significant resources — as I said, $78 million into the program through the interface program and an additional $85 million largely directed toward that this year.
We will continue to work in partnership with the local governments and local communities in addressing those high-risk areas. If I look at communities…. For example, the community of West Kelowna and the community near where I live have taken very, very important opportunities in this program in their communities, but they’ve also made significant investments on their own in working with their local communities. I look at Logan Lake, which has received FireSmart designation and recognition.
Long-term investment — we continue to make significant investments. Again this year we have added significant dollars into the Forest Enhancement Society program to focus at the landscape level and at a broader level than the SWPI program — complementary work. Government will continue to invest in those opportunities, and we will continue to ensure that we have the dollars available to respond to the fire season as it comes to us every year, with that world-leading Wildfire Service that we have.
H. Bains: My question was: how many hectares — 80,000; is that correct? — have been treated, out of the 685,000 that were considered high risk? Are those the numbers?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes. Sorry, I thought I’d already provided that in my previous answer — 80,000 hectares.
H. Bains: So 80,000 out of 685,000, and we are talking about since 2004. You’re looking at 12 years to treat 8 percent — rough and dirty — of what was considered to be high risk by the Filmon report.
When you compare that to Alberta, with their big fire at Slave Lake, they committed $1 billion over ten years. They committed that. We are going year by year, and 12 years later, we’re still sitting at 8 percent. If you go at this rate, you’re looking at 100 years to fix this. I mean, that’s the reality.
Yes, you talked about long term, and I get that. But at this rate…. Especially, I’m talking about the 685,000 that are considered to be high risk, not 1.7 million. You’d probably take a couple centuries to do that, if you continue on with this pace. Clearly, the commitment isn’t there.
I think the communities should be worried, because we are talking about areas around those communities. Kelowna, all those surrounding communities went through that. The whole purpose of that report was so that we don’t go through that catastrophe again in any other community.
I think it is very, very dangerous for government to continue to ignore or do very little to fix the problem and treat the area that was considered high risk. Obviously, government isn’t taking that very seriously.
I would have more questions on the $85 million. Perhaps we’ll do that on Monday, because I’m looking at the clock, and pretty soon we’ll see the Speaker saying “noting the hour.”
My question is: if this is the rate we are going to treat those areas that were considered high risk, why isn’t the minister taking this thing seriously and treating that area — enhancing and speeding up treating at least those areas?
Hon. S. Thomson: Let’s look at the numbers: $78 million spent; $10 million added this year to the program; $85 million into the new forest enhancement program, with the primary focus around wildfire management. We do take it seriously. We’re continuing to invest in addressing those significant risk areas, and 288 communities have got protection plans in place.
What needs to be recognized is that in many of those communities, there are activities taking place that aren’t necessarily captured directly in the program. I know that communities work through protecting their own communities, and our Wildfire Service supports that in those communities. When they’re not busy, they will assist those communities in controlled burns and in other activities that are not necessarily part of the program. There continue to be additional resources provided there. We know it’s long term. We know it is expensive. As the fiscal situation provides, we’ll continue to invest.
I could be wrong. The member opposite mentioned Alberta. I would need to check, but Alberta now has a very significant number and then had to scale back that number. They pulled back on their commitment because of their fiscal situation. They will find it very challenging, given their budget, the significant deficit that they’re going into.
We’re maintaining a balanced budget — four balanced budgets in a row, a triple-A credit rating. We will continue, as our fiscal plan allows, to invest in these areas. It would cost $595 million to do all of those high-risk hectares. We will continue to provide the investments where we can. That’s why we’ve established the forest enhancement program in order to provide a vehicle to do that, to look where they can leverage additional resources to focus on that.
Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:45 p.m.
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