Second Session, 41st Parliament (2017)
Monday, November 20, 2017
Issue No. 61
The HTML transcript is provided for informational purposes only.
The PDF transcript remains the official digital version.
Office of the Auditor General, An Independent Audit of Grizzly Bear Management, revised report, October 2017
|Orders of the Day|
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2017
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
D. Clovechok: It gives me great pleasure today to stand here and introduce someone from my home community, up there in the gallery — Eden Yesh. He’s a member of our community in Invermere. He’s also an employee of Kootenay Employment Services, and he’s worked incredibly hard with the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce to create a B.C. community economic and development investment program, which enables individuals within B.C. communities to pool their capital together and invest in local entities.
He’s a mover and a shaker, a young guy, a great husband to Lisa and a dad to Liam. I just want to welcome him here. It’s my hope that someday he stands where I sit here today, so please make him welcome.
N. Simons: It gives me a lot of pleasure, on National Child Day, to introduce a couple of folks from the Representative for Children and Youth’s office. I know my colleague from Vancouver–Mount Pleasant will do the third introduction, but it’s a pleasure to introduce Bernard Richard in the House today, along with Dawn Thomas-Wightman, the Deputy Representative for Children and Youth. I know that we will commit to working closely and making sure that we can continually improve the child-serving system here in British Columbia with their help and with all the help of all my fellow colleagues in this House.
Hon. M. Mark: Today is, in fact, National Child Day. It’s a day that we get a chance to recognize the rights of children and youth in this province and throughout the world: the right to play, the right to be heard, the right to participate in the political process and the right to an identity.
As you know, I’m a very, very fond advocate for the rights of children and youth, but today in these chambers, we have a very special guest. Her name is Cheyenne Andy. She’s from the Nuxalk Nation. She is the representative for the day. She is touring along with the Representative for Children and Youth and the deputy representative, Dawn Thomas-Wightman, to learn about the work of the representative’s office. She’s here in the chambers. I understand she had lunch with you, hon. Speaker. She is on tour.
I would like the House to please join me in welcoming this young activist, who is a fierce leader with the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services council. Please join me in welcoming Cheyenne Andy.
EARTHQUAKE IN IRAN
B. Ma: I rise today to inform the House that on November 12, during our week away from the Legislature, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Kermanshah province of Iran. It is the deadliest earthquake of the year, creating tremors that were felt as far away as Pakistan, Lebanon and Turkey. So far, it has claimed more than 500 lives, injured more than 10,000 people and left as many as 100,000 souls homeless as temperatures approach freezing at night.
My heart goes out to the people of Iran during this difficult time. Let us come together in supporting the recovery and those members of our own communities whose families and loved ones have been impacted by this terrible disaster.
bani ādam á-zāyeh yek pey-ká-rand, ke dar ā-fá-ree-nesh ze yek go-ha-rand. It is an old Persian poem, and it says: “Human beings are members of a whole in creation of one essence and soul.” Let us come together.
Hon. R. Fleming: Last week I had the privilege of attending a memorial to remember Reena Virk. I was honoured to speak alongside her father, Manjit, who, along with her mother, Suman, has worked tirelessly across Canada to fight bullying in schools and here in British Columbia.
Twenty years ago Reena’s tragic death, the result of teen violence and bullying, gripped our nation. Those who lived in Victoria at the time remember how the entire community was in shock. The healing and the recovery is ongoing, and it is important that we continue to remember and honour Reena.
From this tragedy, we’ve learned many things. Twenty years ago things were very different in our school system. There was no provincial strategy to prevent bullying. Bullying wasn’t actually challenged. In fact, it was almost seen as a rite of passage and a part of life for students to endure. Reena’s death showed us just how dangerous that can be.
Today we have different discussions about bullying. We give it a name. We call it out for what it is: abuse, intimidation and aggression. Reena’s parents are owed a huge credit for much of this learning in British Columbia.
Sadly, bullying didn’t end with Reena’s passing, but 20 years later, we have a preventative strategy to try to make sure that bright young people like Reena aren’t victimized in B.C. schools. To combat cyberbullying, students can now easily let adults know with an on-line reporting tool. There are specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity in anti-bullying policies at every school in our province.
Mr. Speaker, 16,000 educators, police officers, mental health workers and other community partners have been trained to address bullying. We’re still not perfect, but B.C.’s school system has made significant improvements. It’s critically important that we continue to remember Reena and her life and to commit to make sure that no other young person’s life ends in the tragic way that hers did.
(Standing Order 25B)
CONDUCT IN LEGISLATURE
S. Chandra Herbert: Well, we’ve probably all done it — given speeches about “leading by example” or “being a role model” or “being the change we want to see in the world.” We tell our kids that name-calling is bad. We urge them not to interrupt people who are speaking. Most of us have donned our pink shirts and pledged to end bullying in B.C. We speak about the golden rule, about treating others the way we want to be treated.
As we all know in this House, we can sometimes be like that parent who told their kids: “Do not smoke.” They promise not to smoke ever again, but when caught say: “Do as I say, not as I do.” That’s right. I speak about our behaviour towards each other in this House. And I include myself in this.
Standing Order 40 states: “No Member shall use offensive words against any Member of this House.”
Erskine May: “Good temper and moderation…characteristics of parliamentary language.” We are not to impute false motives, misrepresent another’s language, charge of uttering a deliberate falsehood or use abusive or insulting language likely to create disorder, as we know.
We’re supposed to be role models here. But do we always do that? I don’t know. I’ve been on both sides of this House, and I know that sometimes it’s hard not to get an answer to a question you want or hard not to have your answer heard by the other side, just as in human relationships.
Should we try and shout louder than the other to score a point? Should we drown each other out, interrupt each other, make fun of each other, name-call? No, I don’t think we should. But we do. It happens. Emotions sometimes get the best of us, I know.
But who are we? Who do we want to be? I make this plea to all members here because I want this to be a place where we enjoy coming to work, where those who watch what we do here are proud of us and are proud of what we do in representing our constituents. If we won’t hold ourselves to the highest standard, is it any wonder the public often holds us in disrepute? Let’s make our constituents proud. Let’s do as we say.
L. Throness: The World Health Organization’s comprehensive guidelines on palliative care affirm life and regard dying as a normal process. Palliative care intends neither to hasten nor postpone natural death.
My own father passed away in Cascade Hospice in Chilliwack. Dad was seen each day by a caring physician, his pain was well managed, and he died in dignity. Such invaluable services ease the passage from this life for citizens all over B.C. Those who request the hastening of death have been served in other clinical settings.
Contrary to current practice and WHO guidelines, the Fraser Health Authority plans to announce today that so-called medical assistance in dying will be imposed throughout the region. Palliative care facilities will be required to allow it to take place on their premises. This fundamental change will have far-reaching effects on palliative care in the valley. Since much care depends on private donors who do not agree with this new direction, funding and volunteer recruitment will be adversely affected, and there will be less palliative care available.
Palliative care doctors believe passionately in the value of their work, and for many, respect for life at the end of life is a deeply held matter of conscience. Some will refuse to work where they might be forced to facilitate early termination in some way, so the quality of palliative care will decline with the loss of some professionals.
Fully 95 percent of patients do not want the option of early termination. For them, the knowledge that they can request life-ending drugs will apply subtle pressure upon them to do so. Patients who don’t want that kind of pressure will avoid skilled palliative care and suffer because of it.
My long-term concern is that palliative care will become the ice floe of our modern culture, where people feel obliged to end their lives as a kind of perverse civic duty. So I call upon the government to reconsider this decision and affirm that which is recognized the world over — that palliative care should neither hasten nor postpone natural death.
ESLHA7AN LEARNING CENTRE
B. Ma: On the 300 block of 5th Street West in North Vancouver, on the traditional territories of the Squamish peoples, is an unassuming building that most passersby would not give a second glance. The Squamish Nation Eslha7an Learning Centre, however, is a place where confidence, futures and second chances are born. Here, caring and compassionate staff work with Indigenous youth and adults to overcome adversity and develop the essential skills and knowledge they need to build themselves and their families better lives.
The staff at this facility are acutely aware of the challenges many of their students face, particularly around poverty, mental health and addictions. That’s why reconnecting students to their traditional Indigenous culture and language and providing access to food, counselling and peer support are key components of the programs they offer here.
The most important feature of the Eslha7an Learning Centre is that it offers a safe and caring learning environment, where every learner knows that they matter. And it works. There are many success stories. Sometimes adult students enter the Eslha7an Learning Centre being unable to read and write and leave with their Dogwood diplomas, also with a renewed connection with their heritage and ready to take on the world.
What a beautiful use for this aging building today, especially given that it was originally built to be a residential day school, a place where Indigenous language and culture were systematically taken away. It’s powerful work that’s happening at the Eslha7an Learning Centre, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet those dedicated students and staff in their space and learn about it. Huy chexw a.
SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME
S. Cadieux: Babies. Just saying the word makes me smile. I’ve always loved babies, and it’s a happy moment, always, when one is introduced in this House by a proud parent or grandparent. But sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, sometimes turns that joy to grief.
SIDS is an unexplainable death, where there’s no reason why the baby dies. Their hearts and brains just stop, like a light switch has been turned off. It can happen to children from the ages of zero to 24 months, but babies zero to three months are most susceptible. A sobering thought. In Canada today, one in every 250 babies will die from SIDS.
There are preventative measures that can be taken. For example, those include no bumper pads in the crib, no extra blankets, no stuffed animals, not allowing your child to get too warm, keeping your rooms at a moderate temperature and always, always placing babies on their backs to sleep.
Even after all those precautions, SIDS can still take a child’s life. That happened to Tanya and Rob Gill. On February 19, 2011, they were happily preparing for a family party. But their son, Azaan Singh Gill, a healthy baby boy, passed away during his afternoon nap at the age of six months. His death deeply affected the family, as no one who hasn’t had this happen could even imagine. I certainly can’t imagine that kind of grief.
Now a few years have passed, and they’re moving forward. Tanya and Rob started Steps for SIDS. It’s a family walkathon to help create awareness and find a cure. This inaugural year raised close to $15,000 for the B.C. Children’s Hospital pathology research clinic, and the next event has already been scheduled for next August 19.
At an event for women a few weeks ago, another $3,000 was raised, and I saw Tanya speak at that event in Surrey. Her quote says it all. “We don’t want anyone to go through the pain that we did, and we hope, by creating this awareness and raising funds, we can help at least one family.”
Thank you, Tanya and Rob, for your efforts to raise awareness and to find a cure.
INDIGENOUS PARTICIPATION IN RUGBY
M. Dean: On Friday, November 3, at B.C. Place, Toquaht First Nation member Phil Mack captained Team Canada’s rugby squad in an international match against the Maori All Blacks. The sporting event made history at the gates for Rugby Canada, drawing a record crowd of nearly 30,000.
It was also a proud moment for Aboriginal involvement in rugby. Phil is one of the founders of the Thunder rugby program, an initiative to promote the game of rugby among Aboriginal communities in B.C. and assist similar organizations across Canada. He and Mark Bryant and John Lyall thought it would be cool to give Aboriginal youth another choice in sport.
Thunder is short for thunderbirds. The thunderbird, among Indigenous people, is a powerful, supernatural bird with great speed. If you’ve watched the Thunder play, it’s easy to see the connection.
Many of the Thunder programs are offered at the Songhees Wellness Centre by Songhees First Nation members in my constituency. There are also youth tournaments throughout the year and a senior men’s team. Several Thunder players have gone on to represent their province and their country at their age grade level. The hope is that rugby will soon be added to the North American Indigenous Games.
As John Lyall puts it: “You see the joy that the kids have and the accolades they get, the fun that they’re having, playing the sport and being with other Aboriginal youth.”
Congratulations to all those involved in this program and, especially, to the coaches, players and supporters. Go, Thunder.
J. Martin: It is my absolute pleasure to stand in the House today and inform members about one of Chilliwack’s most recognizable citizens. Gordon Desormeaux, better known as Chef Dez, is a well-known cook, culinary ambassador and author in Chilliwack and beyond.
Just two months ago he released a new book, Parsley is World Peace in Disguise: A Food-Eater’s Guide to Enhancing Life and Relationships, and although it’s not actually a cookbook, it is a book for those who cook. According to the chef, no matter what race, religion or financial status anyone is in, we all begin, end and continue our days with food.
Chef Dez makes a point of, to the greatest extent possible, using local ingredients in his dishes in order to support and promote Chilliwack’s agricultural community at every opportunity. His generosity in lending his time and expertise to local fundraising events, whether he’s cooking, demonstrating or emceeing, is greatly appreciated by everyone.
Chef Dez is also an official representative for the Big Green Egg company, a line of backyard ceramic smokers that has fast become the cooker of choice for the big dogs. Perhaps one of the most glowing tributes I can bestow upon the chef is that he’s one of the few people in British Columbia I’ll take barbecue advice from. That’s high praise indeed.
The chef also hosts culinary tours, with the latest taking place next fall — the Spoons and Tunes Culinary Tour of New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. You can bet the Whip’s going to be getting an application for leave from me to attend that wonderful adventure.
This certified Red Seal chef has a truly inspirational take on life. His values and his love of food come from his mother, who has supported him throughout his career. The chef is an outstanding member of our community. He gives so much.
Will the members of the House please join me in congratulating Chef Dez on his new book and thanking him for his many contributions to the wonderful community I’m so fortunate to live in.
GOVERNMENT POSITION ON
SITE C POWER PROJECT
T. Redies: Today we are in the midst of the largest infrastructure project in our province’s history. The case for building Site C is very compelling: clean, affordable and reliable power that will enable sustainable development for generations to come. Cancelling Site C would mean the largest write-off in our province’s history, higher electricity bills and lower economic growth.
My question. Other than partisan malice and a desire to undo the legacy of a previous government, why on earth is the Minister of Energy still considering what would be a 10 percent increase to people’s hydro bills and writing off $4 billion?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’m sure the member would agree, as all members in this House would agree, that we need a B.C. Hydro that works for British Columbians, that develops clean power in an affordable way for British Columbians. Unfortunately, the B.C. Liberals chose to sidestep the right process for doing just that when they came to the decision-making process for Site C. Rather, they decided that somehow their decision-making was much better than being informed by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
That was the wrong decision. We are righting that decision. We are ensuring that British Columbians’ interests are first and foremost as we right that decision. That’s how you build a better B.C.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Surrey–White Rock on a supplemental.
T. Redies: Frankly, the minister hasn’t articulated a single reason to consider writing off $4 billion, but interestingly, her own deputy has, by painting a very grim picture of an NDP future in British Columbia.
In a letter addressed to the BCUC last week, he asked if the BCUC used the low energy forecast because they are expecting significantly lower economic growth and also the decline of the mining, forestry, commercial and, yes, even, technology sectors, presumably because of NDP economic policies.
Mr. Speaker: Members, if we may hear the question.
T. Redies: A simple question for the Minister of Energy. Can the minister confirm that the only reason to terminate Site C is if the BCUC’s dire economic forecast for our province is accurate?
Hon. M. Mungall: I commend the member opposite for her stellar attempt at quite the spin job there. At the end of the day, if government has questions about the B.C. Utilities Commission report, it’s absolutely appropriate, it’s fair, to ask those questions. That’s our job.
This is a very complex issue. It’s an important decision. It’s a serious decision. It’s one that that government refused to make with information from the B.C. Utilities Commission. That was absolutely wrong.
British Columbians had questions. They deserved answers to those questions, and now they deserve a fair and informed decision.
I know that that’s not the way the B.C. Liberals like to do things, but that’s how we’re going to do things on this side of the House. We’re working for British Columbians.
Mr. Speaker: Surrey–White Rock on a second supplemental.
T. Redies: Since I didn’t get an answer to the question, it would appear that the plan of the NDP is to make B.C. an unattractive place to invest and live in so they can terminate Site C.
The grim picture painted by her deputy and in the BCUC report goes on: “The NDP future under a low energy forecast and a termination of Site C means no climate action, no electrification of our economy or electric vehicles, no economic growth and no population increase.”
Again, to the minister. Is this the future she and her government want for B.C.? Yes or no.
Hon. M. Mungall: British Columbians want a B.C. Hydro that works for them. They want to see a B.C. Hydro that puts its projects through the appropriate process through the B.C. Utilities Commission.
The B.C. Liberals failed to do that, and now they’re mad about the report that came out. No surprise.
This side of the House is committed to working for British Columbians — to make sure that B.C. Hydro works for British Columbians, to make sure that rates are affordable for British Columbians. We’re doing the due diligence to make sure that that happens.
SITE C POWER PROJECT AND
M. Stilwell: I find it outstanding that the minister suggests that the B.C. Liberals didn’t follow due process when she herself has announced a rate freeze without going to the BCUC — sheer hypocrisy.
Hydroelectricity is the cornerstone of British Columbia’s economy, providing ratepayers with some of the lowest-costing electricity in all of North America. By cancelling Site C and replacing it with alternative sources, B.C. Hydro actually estimates that there will be a cost increase of $650 million to $900 million. In other words, a 6 to 8 percent rate increase for people’s hydro bills.
Can the minister confirm for us here today in the House that this 6 to 8 percent increase from the alternatives would be on top of the 10 percent gouge that she has already admitted to?
Hon. M. Mungall: British Columbians want affordability. That was very clear during the election. I knocked on many, many doors, and British Columbians said they wanted to see affordability. They did not want to see tax breaks to the richest 2 percent. Meanwhile, their hydro rates went up. They didn’t want to see that anymore. But that’s what they got over and over again from the B.C. Liberals.
The reality is that there’s a lot of information coming forward when it comes to Site C. The B.C. Utilities Commission brought a lot of information forward that this government is going to be considering, and we’re going to be considering fairly, because that’s the right thing to do. I know that that concept is lost on the B.C. Liberals.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Parksville-Qualicum on a supplemental.
M. Stilwell: This government likes to talk about affordability, but I want to know how that’s going to be affordable when they write off $4 billion when they cancel Site C.
I mean, let’s be clear. Intermittent renewables like wind and solar are not an alternative to the firm, reliable power that will come from Site C. Even worse, this government has rushed a review through the BCUC that did not produce viable alternatives. Instead of a rate freeze, ratepayers will be on the hook for a 16 to 18 percent increase in their hydro bills. Talk about making life more affordable.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members, if we may hear the question, please.
M. Stilwell: Will the minister tell hydro ratepayers today how high their bills will go to pay for the alternatives to Site C?
Hon. M. Mungall: Listening to the member’s question tells me exactly why the B.C. Liberals didn’t want to bother with the B.C. Utilities Commission. I want to remind them that that was the wrong choice, and British Columbians know it.
We decided to go with the B.C. Utilities Commission. Had they actually done their job in the process, the fulsome review that was desperately needed before a shovel went in the ground would have taken place. But British Columbians…. They chose not to do that. That was the wrong choice.
British Columbians still had questions. They deserved answers. We got those answers for them. We’re now making a decision, and we’re doing it to work in the best interests of British Columbians.
SITE C POWER PROJECT AND
JOBS IN ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
S. Furstenau: This is going to be interesting, because every day we actually see more and more evidence that supports cancelling Site C.
While the B.C. Liberals have been stoking fear about the impacts on jobs and the economy from cancelling this project, a new report has just been released from UBC that looks at jobs numbers. This report, based on independent research, shows that cancelling Site C is actually the decision that supports workers and creates jobs. The researchers found — it’s always good to read research — that cancelling Site C and pursuing an alternative portfolio of wind and conservation results in five times as many jobs as continuing.
This is just one more piece….
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members, please, we shall hear the question.
S. Furstenau: Evidence is not something that we’re hearing a lot from the other side, but this is one more piece of evidence that shows cancelling the job is the right thing to do. If the B.C. Liberals were indeed true to their principles and they were actually talking about jobs, they would also support cancelling this project.
My question is to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Why would we continue to push forward on a project that creates fewer jobs than the alternative?
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you to the member for her question.
I really appreciate the point that she brings up, that we need to be doing research. We need to be ensuring that….
Hon. M. Mungall: The member is right. The members opposite, the official opposition, aren’t quite fond of research and evidence.
Mr. Speaker: Minister.
Hon. M. Mungall: The member is correct to point out that evidence and research are what’s required around Site C, and while it has been going on, the fact is that we need to hunker down. We need to sharpen our pencils and make sure that the decision that we are about to make for British Columbia and for British Columbia’s future is the right decision and that it is in the best interests of British Columbians. That’s what we’re committed to doing.
Mr. Speaker: House Leader, Third Party, on a first supplemental.
S. Furstenau: Let’s dive a little deeper into the evidence and the research and what this UBC report tells us about Site C.
First, we’ve learned that cancelling would create five times as many jobs. Second, we learn that the jobs would be permanent. In contrast, Site C jobs are temporary. After construction, Site C would only create 74 permanent jobs. Third, we learn that these jobs would be in communities across B.C., and there will be more jobs in the Peace River region by cancelling. Fourth, we learn that these jobs will be far cheaper to create. So $1 million spent on conservation creates 30 jobs, as opposed to only four jobs at Site C. That’s a lot of data to take in. I’ll let them listen.
We can’t make the case for Site C based on jobs. We also know that Site C is already over budget and behind schedule.
Mr. Speaker: Members. Thank you. We shall hear the question.
S. Furstenau: We know that the alternatives can provide the same energy at the same cost to ratepayers.
My question, again, is to the Minister of Energy and Mines and Petroleum Resources.
S. Furstenau: Data is impartial, but hey….
What rationale is there left for continuing with this project?
Hon. M. Mungall: I think the differing views that we’re hearing this afternoon on the question period floor actually reflect a lot of what we’re seeing out in the public, where you have different experts saying different things. There is not consensus on this very issue.
What there was consensus on in British Columbia was that this should have always gone to the B.C. Utilities Commission. We’ve done that, and we have learned a lot from that process.
Now we’re moving into a decision-making phase where we’re going to be looking at the variety of information that has been accumulated over the years on Site C. The most important aspect of this decision is that we make it in the best interests of British Columbians so that we are keeping rates affordable and we are ensuring that B.C. Hydro works for British Columbians every single day.
SITE C POWER PROJECT
AND AGREEMENTS WITH FIRST NATIONS
D. Ashton: Site C is the largest infrastructure project in B.C. to date, and to make it possible were the extensive consultations that occurred with First Nations.
Six First Nations have signed benefit agreements. One hundred and fifty First Nation individuals are currently employed at the site, and $150 million in work commitments have been made to First Nations companies. This is at risk because of the government and their Green Party partners. To me, this is inherently wrong — to reverse the negotiations and reconciliation that have taken place with the McLeod Lake Indian Band and others.
Does the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation believe that his meetings last week constituted significant engagement to allow the government to break these agreements reached with those First Nations?
Hon. S. Fraser: I thank the member for the question, my first question in this House as minister.
As my colleague opposite knows, as a government, we have committed to the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and the Tsilhqot’in decision.
As part of that relationship, with respect and recognition, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and myself travelled to Fort St. John in the northeast this last week, while we were not sitting, and had extensive conversations and discussions with all First Nations, bringing back all perspectives from First Nations in the region, Treaty 8 First Nations. That will be part of our decision-making process, with respect and with recognition.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Penticton on a supplemental.
D. Ashton: I thank the minister for his answer, but government has been consulting and engaging with Aboriginal groups about advancing Site C since 2007. Years of meaningful consultation were carried out in good faith, and the courts have repeatedly ruled that the duty to consult was met for all impacted First Nations. In contrast, this government has consulted with First Nations for one week on the possibility of the termination of the project. It seems to me that promising greater reconciliation and opportunity with First Nations and doing something completely in the opposite is quite hypocritical.
Again to the minister, can the minister confirm that the $4 billion plus that this government and their Green Party partners seem prepared to throw away on the Site C cancellation includes the hundreds of millions of dollars and, especially, the ongoing benefits negotiated in good faith which these First Nations were going to receive?
Hon. S. Fraser: The member should realize that he was part of a government that refused to have the independent energy watchdog review this project. That should have been done from the very beginning. That process, if it was done properly by this government, would have included full public hearings involving First Nations and non–First Nations communities affected in the region. They refused to do that.
We’re not relying on the….
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the answer.
Hon. S. Fraser: We began these discussions at the leadership gathering in September with cabinet ministers and chiefs and councils. We are continuing to work closely with First Nations. Travelling and visiting with First Nations on issues that affect them and decisions made by the previous government is what this government is all about. It’s about working in respect, in partnership with First Nations, and that government doesn’t seem to understand that concept whatsoever — that previous government.
J. Rustad: We have the largest write-off in B.C.’s history, a $4 billion write-off, significant increases to hydro rates, and now we have excuses or talks around the First Nations. So I want to know something. For Saulteau, for McLeod Lake, for Doig River, for Halfway, for the other nations that have signed agreements with our government, or with this government, B.C.’s government, which constitute thousands of dollars, thousands of people impacted positively in terms of lifting them out of poverty, dealing with their rights….
What I really want to know is: when the minister went up this past week and met with those nations, did the minister explain to these nations that their agreements would be ripped up when government cancels Site C?
Hon. S. Fraser: I didn’t explain anything to First Nations except that we have a government-to-government relationship based on respect and recognition. All of the perspectives that were put forward…. We met with every Treaty 8 nation in the region. The respect that they got from the minister and I….
Mr. Speaker: Members, could we hear the response.
Hon. S. Fraser: They know that their perspectives on what the future of Site C will be…. Whether it continues, whether it doesn’t continue, their perspectives will figure into our deliberations in this very difficult decision.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Nechako Lakes on a supplemental.
J. Rustad: I can take it from the minister’s answer that he did not explain what it would mean in terms of cancelling Site C, but I can tell you this. McLeod Lake Indian Band — which, of course, is one of the six bands with an agreement-in-place — has clearly told government that this would set back the relationship with the Crown, impair reconciliation and create an obligation for reparations. I can tell you that certainly doesn’t, to me, sound like respecting the United Nations rights of Indigenous people or First Nations rights and title under the constitution.
I’ve got one more simple question to the minister responsible for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. What will the minister say to his cabinet colleagues about the loss of training, the loss of thousands of jobs, the hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits, the thousands of acres of land and the liability cost when this government cancels Site C?
Hon. S. Fraser: This government is changing the way that the Crown and First Nations work together in this province, in partnership, with respect and recognition. It is that model, using the UN declaration as our path, using the TRC calls to action as our path, that will bring certainty and predictability to the land base and to this province for all British Columbians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. We take no lessons from the members opposite.
SITE C POWER PROJECT
AND IMPACT ON PEACE RIVER AREA
D. Davies: Last week the Energy Minister was up in my region, in the Peace region. It’s a region that right now, as we all know, faces some significant challenges with commodity prices and where they are right now. This is a region right now that depends on the construction of Site C, which will contribute over $130 million to our local economies. Local governments will benefit by $40 million in tax revenue. There’s a $20 million fund to increase opportunities for agricultural industry in the Peace River region for years to come. There’s another $2 million in revenue from grants-in-lieu and school taxes.
My question to the Minister of Energy is: what would be the cost to taxpayers to mitigate the local economic damage of cancelling Site C? Or is my region going to be left to fend for its own?
Hon. M. Mungall: I know the member opposite is new to this House, but one thing I can guarantee him, which I didn’t experience as a member in opposition when the B.C. Liberals were in government, is that when we’re in government, we’re still not going to forget your region. We still value the Peace because that’s how we do things in this province on this side of the House.
That said, all the information that has come forward around Site C and all the potential impacts of whether it’s terminated or proceeds will be a part of our deliberations.
Mr. Speaker: The member for Peace River North on a supplemental.
D. Davies: I’m certainly glad that we’re not going to be forgotten about in the future.
As we know, Site C is an extremely important economic contributor to the entire Peace region and for the entire province, for that matter. There are community agreements in place with communities across the entire region — the city of Fort St. John, the district of Taylor, Chetwynd, Hudson’s Hope and others. These agreements include support for non-profit organizations in both South Peace and North Peace. There’s an annual fund of $100,000 per year during construction of the project that will be administered by the United Way to help out non-profits as well.
My question to the Minister of Energy is: what is the cost of winding down these benefit agreements with local governments? Is the minister planning to pull the funding from United Way before Christmas?
Hon. M. Mungall: Let me say to the member that he can be assured that on this side of the House and in this government, we’re taking no lessons from the B.C. Liberals on tearing up contracts.
M. Bernier: I assume by that last answer, then.... That just means that we’re not cancelling Site C. We’re not ripping up contracts. So thank you very much.
The minister also said she values the region. What she doesn’t seem to value, though, are the people who actually work in the region. As the minister knows — because the numbers have just come out — under the NDP government, there are over 2,300 people working at Site C. I really want to thank the local media, who let myself and the member from the North Peace know that the minister actually came up to the region last week, because we weren’t notified. But when the minister came up, I really want to appreciate….
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.
M. Bernier: I guess I hit a sore spot with the members of the government here. Actually, I’d like to just remind the members that it’s amazing how many pictures I have with announcements that have them in the picture with me, but that’s obviously for different….
M. Bernier: To go back to the most important part here, which is around the people and the families that are working on this project, the minister flew over Site C on her way up to the region, up to Fort St. John.
My question to the minister…. Her own numbers show that there are 2,300 people, 2,300 families affected, that are working right now at Site C. During this visit — albeit, she will probably admit, it was a short one, only a day or two — there was lots of time in there for her actually to go down to the site, to see the site and, more importantly, to talk to the 2,300 people who are affected. Did the minister go down to the site and talk to any families at Site C?
Hon. M. Mungall: Well, I’m probably going to do a first here in question period. I want to apologize to the member. It was my understanding that my staff, or someone in my ministry, would have let him know that we were on our way to consult with First Nations. I did not want to repeat the behaviour that I received from B.C. Liberals when they came as ministers to my constituency, including that member.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you very much, hon. Speaker.
I want to say, especially to the people who are working on site, that there isn’t a day that goes by, when we’re looking at the information around Site C, that we’re not thinking of them. That’s precisely why we want to move in an expeditious and a timely manner to make sure that they have certainty in their lives. The fact that they have uncertainty right now is squarely the responsibility of the B.C. Liberals…
Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the response.
Hon. M. Mungall: …who refused to put this project through the B.C. Utilities Commission, as it always should have done. That uncertainty rests with the B.C. Liberals, squarely.
[End of question period.]
M. Hunt: I rise to present a petition. This petition is requesting that the honourable House urge the government of British Columbia to immediately fund Soliris as a choice of patients with atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome and their health care providers in this province, through public funding.
Point of Privilege
(Reservation of Right)
N. Letnick: I rise on a point of privilege.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Kelowna–Lake Country, you have reserved your right.
N. Letnick: Thank you, hon. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have the honour to present the revised report of the Office of the Auditor General, An Independent Audit of Grizzly Bear Management.
Orders of the Day
Motions Without Notice
INVITATION TO HON. JAY INSLEE,
GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON,
TO ADDRESS THE HOUSE
Hon. M. Farnworth: I ask leave of the House to move a motion:
[Be it resolved that the House suspend proceedings on Tuesday, November 21 to invite the Honourable Jay Inslee, Governor of the State of Washington, to address the Legislative Assembly.
Further, that the address and the remarks following the address by the Premier, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and the Leader of the Third Party, or their designates, be printed as an appendix to the Hansard Report of Debates of the Legislative Assembly on that day.]
Hon. M. Farnworth: In this chamber, I call continued debate on the estimates of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. In Committee A, I call estimates for the Ministry of Social Development.
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENERGY,
MINES AND PETROLEUM RESOURCES
The House in Committee of Supply (Section B); R. Chouhan in the chair.
The committee met at 2:35 p.m.
On Vote 21: ministry operations, $95,006,000 (continued).
A. Weaver: I just wanted to start by thanking the minister. The member for Prince George–Valemount and I raised the issue of a permit with respect to Borealis looking for the exploration permit in the Valemount region. I’m very pleased that that permit has gone through cabinet and that they have received it. I wish to thank the minister and put that on record.
S. Bond: Thank you, also, to the leader of the Green Party. I wanted to add our thanks. Borealis is incredibly grateful. We are excited about the possibility of moving that project forward and would really urge the minister to continue to work with B.C. Hydro, as that is one of the important steps in this project. We did want to take a moment just to express our appreciation for moving that permit forward.
Hon. M. Mungall: Really quickly, I just wanted to thank both members. I know that they are both very passionate about that particular issue, and it was great to actually be in a process where all of us wanted to see it go forward. It was just a matter of where it was in the queue.
I know that the member opposite will remember, from when she was a minister, that until it actually receives approval in cabinet, there’s not a whole lot that I can say before that. So I’m also very glad that cabinet approved that permit and that we’re able to go forward and work with Borealis.
T. Shypitka: First of all, welcome back, everybody, from the Remembrance Day break week. I hope everybody had a chance to recharge their batteries, so to speak. In addition to some of the memorial services I attended, I also attended the memorial service of the three men that died at the Fernie ammonia leak. Actually, I hosted the Minister of Labour, showed him around, and it was a really good conversation. It was really good to meet up with him and show him the community of Fernie. They should be commended. It was a very, very well-done service.
We’re going to get into some more questions here today. In light of some of the information that was brought forward a couple of weeks ago, we feel that there’s some clarification that needs to be done. We’re going to start with LNG, the petroleum file, and then we’ll go on to Site C and B.C. Hydro and then maybe finish it up with some mining questions.
I’ll turn it over to my colleague from Skeena.
E. Ross: We’re talking about competitiveness for the LNG industry versus other jurisdictions, like the United States or Australia. So can I ask the minister: what processes has the minister undertaken or propose to undertake to address competitiveness?
Hon. M. Mungall: First off, I’ll just start by saying who we’ve been working with. This government, with the highest-level senior staff — specifically, my deputy minister right here — has been working with First Nations, working with communities, working directly with industry — for example, LNG Canada, Kitimat LNG.
I’m working with industry associations as well, like the LNG Alliance and so on, to engage them in the process of what we need to be doing here in British Columbia in terms of government policy levels to make sure that our jurisdiction is competitive on that global scale. The process has been going on for several months. The report back that I’m getting, especially from industry and First Nations, is that it has been very, very good. They feel very engaged and that their input is being heard.
We’re looking at a variety of policy levers to see what it is that we can do. I don’t want to pre-empt what will ultimately be decided by cabinet, nor do I want to tip off our competitors on exactly what we’re looking at, at this stage, when no decisions have been made. But I want to assure the member that we take this very seriously. We want to see the success of the industry in this province, so we’re working very closely with them.
E. Ross: Thank you to the minister for that. I don’t think we’ll be tipping our card to our competitors, especially when we’re talking about Australia and the United States, who don’t have a carbon tax. B.C. now has a carbon tax that will increase every year.
I was going to ask about specific areas like, possibly, the PST or any types of fees. But I’ll restrict this question to whether or not the carbon tax will be reviewed in terms of competitiveness for the LNG industry.
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of the carbon tax, I would say that in my conversations with the industry, everybody recognizes that it’s here and that it’s going up. That’s part of this government’s policy, but it’s also part of the federal government’s policy. How that is going to impact industry is absolutely a part of the review, so it’s not like we’re trying to pretend it doesn’t exist and it doesn’t have impacts.
At the same time, we want to ensure that it is the incentive to reduce GHG emissions that it is meant to be. We’re looking at it in that scope as well. I’ve got to really hand it to the LNG industry and to the natural gas industry. They have been very forward-thinking when it comes to reducing GHGs. They know they have a lot of responsibility that they need to address in that, and they are actually taking steps to do that. So I really have to say hats off to them.
I’d also add that in the review that this government has asked for, we’re looking at what’s called the EITE — the energy-intensive, trade-exposed — industries. We’re looking at how taxation policies are impacting them in the frame of how we all reduce our carbon emissions.
E. Ross: Thank you, Minister.
Time is of the essence, especially for projects like LNG Canada, who want to announce an FID by 2018. That’s when the next window of opportunity will be coming up for these multi-billion-dollar projects.
Can I ask, in relation to the previous answer, what the expected timelines are relating to these action items, whether it be a type of panel or a TOR or a report? How soon can we act on those competitive measures?
Hon. M. Mungall: As we’ve been saying publicly, we’ll have a decision on the policy levers that we’re going to be implementing to ensure B.C.’s competitiveness by the end of this calendar year.
E. Ross: I’m assuming that will be a public report that will be made. It will be available to everybody, the public.
Hon. M. Mungall: The short answer to that is that it depends. If they involve tax measures or any types of legislative measures, that would be a part of the budget process and released with the budget as well as with the legislative plan for the spring session. So it wouldn’t be something available in January, for example. If our way forward is not either legislative or taxation-based, then our intention would be to inform the public at this time.
E. Ross: Thank you to the minister.
I’ll go back to my original comments. Our competitors don’t have carbon taxes. Initially, what we’re talking about, just for one project, for two trains for one project, is $51 million a year, annually. As the increases come up, that will top out at $85 million per year. Industry is coming to me and asking me about what incentives the government can look at in terms of the carbon tax, not as tax revenue to pay for other services but using part of that carbon tax as an incentive to actually reduce their own carbon footprint.
Is that conversation happening within the government as well as with the industry at the same time?
Hon. M. Mungall: I appreciate the member opposite’s in-depth knowledge about the industry and what’s going on. He’s absolutely correct when he says that we’re the only jurisdiction to date that is paying a carbon tax on LNG. That being said, we’re obviously aware of it.
In looking at the carbon tax…. The intention of the carbon tax, as the member alluded to, is to incentivize industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I would say, in our conversations with industry, they’re very committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. We want to make sure, however we work with the carbon tax, that we are actually ensuring that it delivers on exactly what it’s intended to do.
How that will actually look is yet to be determined, as we’re in the middle of this process with industry, First Nations communities and the associations. I don’t want to pre-empt what, ultimately, will be the collective decision-making there and what they will be coming back to recommend to government.
E. Ross: Competitiveness. I’m glad to hear that you’re working with the federal government to address competitiveness. What I’d like to ask the minister is: what type of formal process is the minister engaging with, with the federal government, to address which processes can address competitiveness for the LNG industry in B.C.?
Hon. M. Mungall: In our discussion with the federal government, we’re looking at, specifically, policy levers that are in the federal jurisdiction, namely, within the Ministry of Finance and Natural Resources Canada — NRCan, as most people will call it. We’re working directly with very senior officials in those two ministries.
I’ll just name some of the policy areas that we’re looking at — the fabricated industrial steel component, so the FISC duties, as well as the capital cost allowance. Those are the two main things and the most immediate, in terms of who’s most immediate to FID, or final investment decision. As the member alluded to, LNG Canada…. That’s definitely, in their case, the situation. We’re also looking at other import duties.
For example, and the member brought this up last time, the floating import duties, as well, for smaller potential LNG developments like Steelhead, which has now been renamed Kwispaa.
E. Ross: Okay. Forgive me. I’m going to assume that means that you’re working with the Minister of Finance, as well as Jim Carr, the Minister of…. I believe it’s Natural Resources. Yeah. I’ve worked closely with Jim Carr in the past as well. It was mentioned that we could work together across this House in places where it can….
If there is a formal process, a formal correspondence, in terms of…. Now, I know you can’t share confidential-type documents or letters. But is there any type of public document that can show the working relationship and the agendas — even at a broad, general level — in terms of what B.C. and Canadian governments are working on?
Hon. M. Mungall: At this stage, our government-to-government talks, as well as our engagement with industry and First Nations communities and non-Indigenous communities as well as associations…. They’re at a confidential stage right now and for the reason I said earlier — that we don’t want to be tipping off our competitors in terms of what we want to be doing here in British Columbia, what needs to be going on here in British Columbia.
I really want to extend an invitation to the member opposite. I truly value his years of experience on the LNG file from a community perspective, as a community leader. If he has anything that he really wants to make sure is in my filing cabinet, in my mind, about what some of the things are that we need to be considering, I would really appreciate it. Either a letter or we can have a formal meeting or even a conversation over coffee in the dining room. I would really appreciate that opportunity.
E. Ross: To the minister, thank you. Maybe I’ll take you up on that.
The reason for my line of questioning is because…. I don’t believe the carbon tax is confidential when we talk about United States and Australia. It’s a big competitive factor that might hinder LNG companies in B.C.
One of the reasons I’d like to know the nature of the discussion is…. What could be left out of the discussion? For example, are First Nations being consulted on the possible consequences of a carbon tax increasing from year to year on LNG companies? It’s that type of information I’d like to learn about, as well as help where I can.
With that, are First Nations being consulted on the carbon tax as it relates to the LNG industry?
Hon. M. Mungall: The short answer is yes. But I would add that First Nations have highlighted a variety of other issues that we need to be talking with them about, and we’ve been doing that as well.
E. Ross: Okay, thank you.
Just a little change of topic here. There is going to be a study or some type of investigation on the extraction of LNG. There’s been a lot of pressure put on this government to actually consider a moratorium. Is a moratorium a valid option when it comes to the extraction of LNG in B.C.?
Hon. M. Mungall: Hydraulic fracturing has been going on in British Columbia since 1950. Today very, very close to 100 percent of all natural gas is derived from what’s called “unconventional wells,” which is hydraulic fracturing.
There have been concerns all over the world, not just in B.C. but all over the world, about the process of hydraulic fracturing, particularly on water quality and water quantity and induced seismicity. Those are fair. Any time we do some type of natural resource extraction and natural resource development, we have a due diligence, as government and as regulators, to ensure that our environment, particularly our water, is protected. You’ll find that in any other jurisdiction as well.
Here in B.C., there have been many studies over the years on this very issue. One of the commitments that we had during the election and that we plan to deliver on is to have a scientific panel on hydraulic fracturing. That panel is going to be looking at science. Now, I know that there’s a lot of conversation, especially on the Internet, about hydraulic fracturing. We want to weed out some of the misinformation that might be out there, whether for or against, and we want to get down to the brass tacks, to the facts of what’s going on.
As I have conversations with industry…. They see this as a learning opportunity on how they can improve their operations to ensure that water is protected and that we have good water quality, good water quantity and that we can reduce induced seismicity. I’ve got to, again, hand it to the industry. I met with — oh, goodness — about seven or nine different companies who are currently active in the Montney region in northeast B.C. Every single one of them recycles their water that they use for hydraulic fracturing. They recycle 90 percent of it, and they’re using it hundreds and hundreds of times, right? So they’re already doing a lot of work to reduce their impact on the water table.
How can we improve? That’s always a fair question, and that’s the type of question that we’re going to be asking with our scientific review panel, once it gets up and running in the new year. We want to be able to deliver information to British Columbia in a way so that we are learning best practices going forward.
E. Ross: Yes, I agree with you. B.C. has got some of the highest standards in North America, if not the world, when it comes fracking. We can always do better, as long as we’re not imposing another hurdle or obstacle that actually doesn’t get our product to Asia. That’s my concern.
The question was, specifically…. I understand the studies. I understand how long we’ve been extracting natural gas — not LNG, as my colleague points out. But what I want to know is: when you’re talking about the panel, or maybe your ministry office’s decision, will a moratorium on fracking be a valid option when it comes to the end of your scientific review?
Hon. M. Mungall: A moratorium. Let’s think about what the consequences of that would be. My home is heated by natural gas. I would be surprised if the home of the member opposite wasn’t heated by natural gas. His is. Most of our homes are heated by natural gas in B.C. That natural gas comes from the northeast, for the most part, and it is pulled up from the ground using hydraulic fracturing. The idea that suddenly in B.C., in a Canadian province, we would turn off the switch to the way in which we heat our homes…. Who would do that, right? Who would do that? No government that wants to get re-elected would ever do that. No government that believes in being responsible and being representative of the public would do that.
We have to think about.... Any type of moratorium. What would the consequences ultimately be? At this stage, my home is heated by natural gas. Your home is heated by natural gas. That’s the vast majority in the same situation, for British Columbians. So if we were going to put a moratorium, we’d better have something that has already been put in place. That’s hugely expensive and a massive, massive type of project that has not been discussed with the public whatsoever. In terms of going forward, the purpose of the hydraulic-fracturing scientific review is so that we can learn best practices, so that we’re protecting our environment.
E. Ross: Thank you, Minister. I didn’t even consider domestic use, for heating our homes, but thank you for that.
My question was more in relation to the potential of the export LNG industry and whether or not fracking would be exposed to a moratorium, based on a panel. But I’ll leave that answer the way it is and just take it as a no. Knock on wood.
I know I’m going to get back to the same question as well, but do you have any timelines of when the scientific panel review will be done — ready for, of course, your review and then available for public review?
Hon. M. Mungall: For the member’s information, we’re just putting the panel together now. We’re talking to potential panel members about their availability, and we anticipate to get the panel started in the new year, in early 2018. Our hope is that we would have their work completed by late fall, maybe early winter, in 2018, in the same calendar year.
E. Ross: To the minister: in terms of pipeline construction, we’re talking about certainty. There’s only, basically, one area in central B.C. where that seems to be an issue in terms of the pipeline construction. If your ministry does not get the consent or the full consultation….
The Chair: Through the Chair, Member.
E. Ross: Sorry.
If the Ministry of Energy and Mines doesn’t get the consent or the consultation and accommodation that it needs to build a pipeline, what will be this government’s next steps?
Hon. M. Mungall: I know the area that the member is talking about, and I know some of the tensions that are happening there around getting the pipeline through. I want him to know that we are working on this issue. We take it very seriously.
I don’t want to pre-empt how those conversations are going and how that engagement is going. I just feel that it would be disrespectful to the communities involved, at this stage, to pre-empt things. But I’m hopeful that through good negotiations, through respectful dialogue, we can ensure that all communities, from well to tidewater, can benefit from this industry.
E. Ross: Thank you, Minister.
I’ve just got one question, but it’s not natural gas–related. It is oil pipeline–related. I’m not sure if you have the right people in the room to answer that question.
E. Ross: Give it a shot? Okay.
The court case that your government has intervened in — if it comes out in favour of Kinder Morgan, what will this government do in terms of that decision? Will it look for another option to stop the project, or will it accept the decision and allow Kinder Morgan to proceed?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’m sure the member probably knows that the Ministry of Environment has been the lead in terms of that high-level decision-making, and there’s been no decision that would directly answer his question at this time. I will let him know that the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources is doing what it is supposed to do, which is working through the permitting process.
M. Bernier: The minister referenced that there have already been lots and lots of reviews done on fracking. Is she now saying that of all the reviews that have been done prior to today, none of them have been scientific?
Hon. M. Mungall: No, I wasn’t saying that at all. In fact, a lot of the work that has been done in British Columbia has been very much scientific-based and science-focused — and not just B.C. but all over North America and Australia, for example. This particular panel will be taking those types of reviews into account as well.
I mean, just very cursory is that some places in the U.S., for example, have done even more studies than what we’ve been able to conduct here in British Columbia. So if there is information there that might be valuable to our situation here in B.C., absolutely, that panel will be looking at that as well.
M. Bernier: The minister, I think, is well aware of the fact that the geological formations around natural gas and exploration are completely different in different areas, which requires different scientific studies.
When we have numerous — I assume the minister has read them, like I have — scientific studies that have already been done here in British Columbia, can she explain, then, why we need to do another one and why we would even consider looking at other jurisdictions when it’s a completely different type of system that they’re working with?
Hon. M. Mungall: The member is quite correct, as he knows, to point out that the geology is different in different places.
What’s going on in northeast B.C. is very different than what might be going on in some of the jurisdictions in the United States and in Australia, where they’re drilling into coal shale, for example. While the geology is different, the technology being used may be the same. In terms of why you would, then, do one if we’ve done it so many times before, it’s that the technology is also regularly changing.
That being the case, we feel that there’s always something to learn, especially keeping in mind that we want to be the best here in B.C. out of anywhere else in the world in terms of our ability to protect our water sources — the member opposite’s water sources, because he comes from that area. Keeping that in mind, we want to make sure that we’re always open to learning new and best practices to protect our water quality, protect our water quantity, reduce induced seismicity and to ensure that people who are living in the area don’t have negative environmental consequences.
M. Bernier: I just wanted to be clear, and I think the minister would agree with this. This is by no means, this line of questioning, taking away from the fact that we already have, I would say, the best globally when we look at our environmental regulations and the process that we have here in B.C.
I also know, because I meet regularly with all of these companies, that they are by no means worried about doing any further reviews, because they know that we have great practices already, through innovation that changes constantly. They’re well aware of it, and they actually do share that information with other companies, even though they’re competitive.
The next question, then, I would have to ask for this is: how many wells are being drilled this year? I know the minister has staff that’ll be able to answer this. Approximately how many wells are being drilled this year in northeast British Columbia? How many have been drilled in the last 40 years?
Hon. M. Mungall: We’re just going to dig that up for the member opposite. We don’t have the number right at the top of our fingertips, but we’re going to grab that for the member opposite right away.
Let me just add, as well, that I agree. I don’t think industry is looking at this as a review, as something to be fearful of. Rather, in their communication with me, they’re very much looking forward to it as an opportunity to learn those best practices. In all the companies I talk to, they want to be the best in the world, and they want to be delivering some of the best product in the world as well. They see this as an opportunity to continue that current practice.
M. Bernier: I don’t need to waste too much of staff’s time. I’ll just say there have been thousands of wells that have been drilled in northeast B.C. In 2017, there are probably going to be around 75 to 100 more — like, 50, depending on which company. We don’t need to get into the details. I can easily find that out.
My question is: over the last 40 or 50 years, then, that we’ve been doing hydraulic fracturing in the province of British Columbia, which the minister acknowledged, with the thousands and thousands of wells that have been drilled in northeast British Columbia specifically and with the tens of thousands of miles of pipeline just in my riding alone...? Of all those thousands of wells, can the minister tell me how many times there’s been a water aquifer contaminated by hydraulic fracturing?
Hon. M. Mungall: A very short answer to the member’s question is zero, and we want to keep it that way.
M. Bernier: Well, I appreciate that it doesn’t take too long to find out the answer is zero, because it is zero. We have never had a water aquifer, a water well, contaminated in the province of British Columbia out of 40-plus years of hydraulic fracturing.
Do we want to keep it at zero? Absolutely. But the whole point is making sure that we get that message out there. As the minister acknowledged right at the beginning, there are way too many misnomers out there. People out there are saying that hydraulic fracturing is bad and that it’s contaminating water, when actually, in British Columbia, because of our strict regulations that we’ve had over the last 40 years, it has never happened.
Again, the main thing that we need, to get the message out — not only to the public but to companies as well, and I’m glad the minister acknowledged this — is that any time you’re doing a review, it brings out people on all spectrums, I will say, with the fear of: does this mean there’s going to be a close-down of hydraulic fracturing?
The minister rightfully acknowledged the fact that that would basically kill 100 percent of the industry. You do not have an industry in the province of British Columbia unless you have hydraulic fracturing, at the present day. But it also brings out people who start thinking that we will be stopping that. I’m glad that the minister has very succinctly said that that is not the case, because that needs to be out there for the public.
Can we always be looking at doing things differently or better? Absolutely. I know the companies, themselves, continue to do that in the area. I’m proud of the record in my riding and in the riding to the north of me.
Now, can we do more to actually enhance the industry? Absolutely, and LNG is a big part of that. Can the minister tell me, since she and her government now seem to be somewhat positively in favour of LNG…? She mentioned, last time we were in here, about five conditions. Can she remind us what those five conditions are?
Hon. M. Mungall: Just to answer the member’s previous question, the number of wells since 2013 is 2,713, and the number of wells in this year alone is 538. We’ll get further back if he likes.
Our four conditions we’ve always seen as a road map, not a roadblock, to the industry. The first one is to ensure that we have training and job opportunities for British Columbians. The second one is to ensure that British Columbia has a fair rate of return for our resources. The third one is meaningful partnerships with First Nations.
I just want to stop there for a second and say that as I’ve been talking with both First Nations and industry, the partnerships that they’ve been able to develop have really been quite astounding. I think that both First Nations communities and the industry have a lot to be proud of in terms of their ability to build those strong, meaningful partnerships.
Then the final one is to ensure that we’re protecting our air, land and water and our commitments to reducing GHG emissions.
Again, I’ll say that when we look at the hydraulic fracturing that is already being done, 90 percent of their water is being recycled already, hundreds and hundreds of times. It shows me that if they haven’t done everything they can, they’re certainly on the right path. The willingness to do everything they can to protect our environment is certainly there.
M. Bernier: Not to go too deep into this, but maybe the minister can explain, then. After she read out those four conditions and we look at the LNG projects that we either have still on the books that are trying to be successful here in B.C. or some that have decided to move to other jurisdictions because of either world markets or a political environment they’re not happy with, would the minister, then, tell us which of the four conditions haven’t been met?
Hon. M. Mungall: We don’t have anything before us that would suggest that they haven’t met those four conditions at this stage. I’m going to give you an example, just in terms of training and job opportunities for British Columbians and some of the things that LNG Canada has been doing.
One of the things that they’re looking to do is to ensure that the barriers to women’s participation in the trades are removed, as much as they possibly can as an employer. One of the things that they can do to get more women’s participation in their own workforce on the ground, in the trades is to ensure that the work camps are safe places. They’re doing a study right now in terms of other best practices at work camps across North America, looking at ways in which they can make a work camp that is safe and welcoming for women so that they can, like I said, remove those barriers to women participating in the workforce.
M. Bernier: Well, I would like to think that there are actually no barriers to stop women from working in the workforce in this industry. In fact, I look at the dual-credit program that’s very successful up in my part of the world. In the last welding program, which 20 students in grade 11 and 12 signed up for, 18 of the 20 were girls or women, knowing that there are opportunities to work out in the industry.
I’m very aware, through my time in government — spending almost two years travelling around the province, working side-by-side with Gordon Wilson for the work that he was doing — of the fact that for not only women but First Nations, all of those opportunities for everybody were out there — making sure that we had, working closely with the company.
I guess I’ll just end with this comment. It’s not really a question to the minister. It’s that we need to be working collectively. We’ve heard from other members of the House this morning that LNG and natural gas is an expectation and maybe a transitional fuel, but recognizing that it could take many, many decades, if not longer, to transition off into other things.
We have 3,000 trillion cubic feet of gas here. We’ve got more gas than we would ever use as a nation, which is why LNG is so important, which is why we need to continue working with our global partners to make sure we have opportunities.
With that, Chair, I’m not sure if the minister wants to have any further comments, but we’re going to switch now to B.C. Hydro, if there’s other staff that she wants to bring in.
M. Bernier: I’m sorry. My apologies.
A. Weaver: I have a number of questions on this subject matter. First off, I am troubled by some of the direction this conversation is going. We’re still trying to double down on the economy of the last century while the rest of the world is moving forward.
With that said, let me ask a couple of issues with respect to the royalties that we’ll get. The first is this. We know that the previous government made a deal with Progress Energy and its partners that would have locked in royalty rates, low rates, for years and would have cost British Columbians millions in lost revenue. One of the key conditions of the deal, however, was that Petronas had to make a final investment decision on Pacific Northwest LNG by June of 2017, and Petronas decided to kill that project in July of this year.
Our government now has the legal right to terminate this bad backroom deal, which literally gave away our resource. My question is: can the minister tell us if the long-term royalty agreement with Progress Energy will be terminated?
[L. Reid in the chair.]
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you to the member for the question. I appreciate that he’s done his homework and he’s looked at the details of this particular project. What I can tell him right now is that the ministry has started looking into it and started to look at some of the legal aspects around that. We’ll be able to have a better idea later on. Apologies for not being able to have a more fulsome answer for him today.
A. Weaver: Can the minister let the House know if any other long-term royalty agreements are being negotiated with other oil and gas companies, in line with using the Progress Energy agreement as the bar by which others will be judged?
Hon. M. Mungall: There’s nothing of that kind at this time.
A. Weaver: If we move now to the deep-well royalty program — a program that has, in my view, surpassed its usefulness, but we’ll come to that. This deep-well royalty program was designed to enable the provincial government to share the costs of drilling in B.C.’s deep gas basins. It has since transformed into a massive subsidy for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
It is my understanding that natural gas companies now receive hundreds of millions of dollars in “deep-well credits,” even for shallow wells, provided their horizontal sections are long enough. So five questions on this topic. One is: can the minister please tell the House what the amassed or outstanding value of these deep-well credits currently is?
Hon. M. Mungall: We’re getting that value of outstanding credits for the member. We don’t have it. We’re trying to find it in these big binders, so we’re getting that for him.
I just wanted to point out that in terms of how the program works…. I’m sorry if I missed it. Perhaps the member already mentioned and he knows. What it is, is credits against royalties owing. So it’s not money going to government. It’s just that we’re collecting less royalties based on a credit program that looks to incentivize industry for doing a particular task that government is hoping it will do.
A. Weaver: Very specifically, then: what is the value of the deep-well credits that were redeemed in 2016-2017?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’ll have to get back to the member on that as soon as possible. We’re just grabbing that for him.
A. Weaver: At the same time, I’d like to get the information as to what was the value of the royalties that the province of British Columbia earned from exploration in 2016 and 2017, and then I’d like to have the difference of those two numbers as well.
Hon. M. Mungall: We do have the first number for the member, and it’s the total of accumulated deep credits at $3.2 billion. That’s the total accumulation of all credits. Those credits are only available, however, to any one company if their well is producing. So if their well isn’t producing — say they earned credits as they did their exploration phase, but they didn’t produce the well — then they wouldn’t be able to access those royalty credits.
A. Weaver: The point I’m trying to get at here — and I really need the second part of those numbers — is the credits we give exploration companies from this deep-well program, these deep-well credits, essentially preclude us earning any money on royalties from the natural gas that is extracted.
Why it’s critical that we get the actual amount of money that we made from royalties for natural gas in 2016-2017 is we only have a cumulative total, $3.2 billion, that is yet to be claimed in the credit program. But we need to know the numbers based on an annual credit-versus-royalty gain to tell British Columbians how much we are actually making from our resource.
The reason why I think this is important — and I hope we can get these numbers before estimates end today — is that frankly, I have no idea why this program is still needed. I ask the minister: why do we still need to have this deep-well credit program in light of the fact that horizontal fracturing is no longer a new technology? In fact, it’s in use all around the world. We had deep-well vertical fracturing, which my friend from Peace River South was referring to earlier, that went back decades.
Horizontal fracturing is not new. We don’t need those credits. So why do we continue to have this program? All this ensures is that we earn nothing from our natural resource here in British Columbia.
Hon. M. Mungall: I’m going to make sure that we get all the correct numbers to the member opposite as soon as we possibly can. If we’re not able to do that today for some odd reason, I’ll be sure to get them to him in the very near future.
On that, I appreciate his points, I think they’re fair points, and I’ll take that into consideration.
A. Weaver: I was so dutifully notified that I was speaking at this microphone over here, where I should be speaking to my…. I’m standing at my desk, but the microphone was not pointed correctly. Corrected now.
The final question on this topic is: does the minister plan to continue this subsidy program? You know, we’ve talked about subsidies to the oil and gas industry in this province. This is a gigantic giveaway. It ensures that we essentially make no money from royalties because of the magnitude of the credit program that it can be claimed against.
In fact, my understanding is we’ve received virtually zero in 2016-2017 in natural gas royalties because of the deep-well credits that were claimed against those royalties. So will the minister continue this subsidy program?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’m terribly sorry. To the member, I didn’t catch the actual question because I got those numbers for him.
The total credits that were earned in 2016-2017 was $229 million, and the net of all royalty credits was $145 million. So we took in $145 million, as government, in 2016-2017.
A. Weaver: And we gave away $229 million in the process. If I might add….
A. Weaver: Yes, because those credits were not claimed, were claimed against royalties. That’s $229 million that could have come into our revenue here, but we’re subsidizing the oil and gas sector to that amount.
Imagine this. If we actually subsidized the renewable energy in British Columbia to the tune of $229 million a year, let alone the generational sellouts embodied in the Progress Energy agreement that we referred to earlier….
My final question is: does the minister plan to continue this program, and if so, why does this industry still need a subsidy?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of reviewing the royalty credit program, there isn’t a plan to do so at this time.
T. Redies: We’d like to move now, if it’s all right with the minister, to the Hydro file.
The Chair: This House will recess for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 3:43 p.m. to 3:52 p.m.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
T. Redies: I’d like to go back to where we were before we had to break about a week and a half ago. Particularly, I’d like to talk about the BCUC and the rate freeze.
On the BCUC website, BCUC describes their responsibilities as: “We are responsible for ensuring you,” the ratepayer, “receive safe, reliable energy…at fair rates from the businesses we regulate. We balance that responsibility with the need to ensure service providers are afforded a reasonable opportunity to earn a fair return on their investments.”
My question to the minister is: given this mandate and that the rate freeze could result in a $150 million shortfall, as confirmed by B.C. Hydro previously, does the minister think that the BCUC may have a challenge approving the rate freeze?
Hon. M. Mungall: I can’t speak for the B.C. Utilities Commission and how they view this request by B.C. Hydro not to increase rates by 3 percent but, rather, by nothing this year. The B.C. Utilities Commission, as the member knows, is an independent body, and I don’t have the ability to speak for them in terms of how they view this particular application.
T. Redies: Given the mandate of BCUC is also to ensure the utility has a fair rate of return, surely the minister must have considered that before she made the announcement that they were going to guarantee a rate freeze as of April 1?
Hon. M. Mungall: As the member, I’m sure, knows — because it was part of the announcement — our commitment to freeze hydro rates is tied to a review of B.C. Hydro. We intend to find savings in that review so that we can deliver it straight back to ratepayers by reducing the overall costs that they have to pay on their B.C. Hydro bill. It’s always been tied to a review of B.C. Hydro. That’s the process that we’re following.
T. Redies: Does the minister believe that they will actually find $150 million in cost savings to offset the $150 million revenue shortfall from a rate freeze?
Hon. M. Mungall: I am not able to preclude what that review would yield. That’s exactly why we’re doing a review. We made a commitment to British Columbians to save them money, to reduce their overall costs in life, as we have an affordability crisis here in this province. I don’t know about the member, but I’ve received many, many letters very grateful that we’re willing to go in this direction. I anticipate we’ll find some very significant cost savings, and we’re passing those right back on to ratepayers.
T. Redies: Well, I think everybody would like to have cheaper hydro and a cheaper cost of living, but the BCUC has a dual responsibility to also ensure that B.C. Hydro is not put into severe financial jeopardy because of decisions made by any government, frankly.
Prior to the end of the last estimates session, I asked the minister a question that I’d like to ask again. That is around the combined impact of a rate freeze and the termination of Site C. Given that the rate freeze will cost Hydro about $150 million — which, I think, suggests that each forgone 1 percent costs B.C. Hydro about $50 million — and that B.C. Hydro had indicated that a termination of Site C would require an almost 10 percent rate hike, it would suggest that a termination scenario, with the cost being amortized over a period of time, could potentially cost Hydro another $450 million a year.
The combination of a rate freeze and a potential termination of Site C could potentially cost the company $400 million to $600 million. Honestly, I would like the minister to explain how she thinks the BCUC could agree to a rate freeze in the situation of a termination, when it would clearly put B.C. Hydro into tremendous financial jeopardy.
Hon. M. Mungall: The first thing I would point out is that a rate freeze would save ratepayers $150 million. That $150 million, which would not be revenue to B.C. Hydro, would not put the company in jeopardy. It would be a huge savings and good affordability for British Columbians. It would not put B.C. Hydro into jeopardy.
In terms of Site C and that $150 million combined with the cost of terminating Site C, there’s been no decision at all on Site C. None. What we are doing is going through the decision-making process and making sure that we do our due diligence. To preclude how that would look would be very premature at this stage. But how the B.C. Utilities Commission might interpret all of this information in its decision-making process and what I think of it.... Again, I don’t think on behalf of the B.C. Utilities Commission, and I certainly am not able to speak on their behalf.
T. Redies: Is the minister aware of how much money Hydro made last year? I think it’s about $600 million.
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you to the member for her patience as we look through these large binders. She’s correct. Around $600 million is what she said. Specifically, it’s $684 million.
T. Redies: So based on that answer, a combination of a rate freeze and the amortization costs associated with the Site C termination would wipe out B.C. Hydro’s profit. Is that correct or not?
Hon. M. Mungall: The short answer is no. It doesn’t wipe out the income. That being said, again, I don’t want to preclude the decision. I’m sure the member appreciates we’re in a decision-making process, and no decision has been made yet.
T. Redies: That’s an interesting answer, as I think $684 million less $600 million doesn’t leave a heck of a lot on the table.
But let’s move on, then — back a bit to this rate freeze. Has the minister or her staff had any discussions with respect to the rate freeze with BCUC prior to making the announcement to freeze rates as of April 1, 2018?
Hon. M. Mungall: The only conversation that was had was between ministry staff and B.C. Utilities Commission, just informing them, very simply, that government was looking at options to live up to its election commitment.
T. Redies: By going out with the rate freeze announcement without having BCUC’s approval prior to making that announcement, does the minister feel that that is circumventing the BCUC’s independence in any way?
Hon. M. Mungall: We canvassed this at considerable length about ten days ago. Our view, this government’s view, is that we wanted to let British Columbians know that we are fulfilling our election promise. We also were up front — it was in our press release, and it was in my conversation with all the media — about what kind of process we have to go through to fulfil that commitment.
I think that’s a good thing to do — to be transparent with the public in terms of what processes exist here in government. That’s what I feel that we…. I know that the members opposite feel very differently about this approach. As I said then, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that.
T. Redies: I know it’s been a week and a half, but the announcement was read into estimates. There was nothing in that announcement, which was read into estimates by my hon. colleague from Oak Bay–Gordon Head, regarding any process that the government had to go through with BCUC.
Minister, you profess to support the independence of the BCUC and the process around which rate decisions are made. Yet the minister arbitrarily announced and committed to British Columbians $150 million in savings, knowing full well that the BCUC has to decide on rate changes for British Columbians. This was before the minister and her government made a decision about Site C, a decision that can have billions of dollars of impact on B.C. Hydro and, indirectly, on the government.
Does the minister not have any concerns that they have improperly put BCUC in a very difficult place by saying publicly that the government is going to deliver a rate freeze?
Hon. M. Mungall: I want to be clear for the record that I have full confidence in the B.C. Utilities Commission as an independent regulator for this province and for ratepayers and that I have full confidence in their ability to behave, always, and do their job, always, in an independent manner. I have no reason to suspect that they wouldn’t. I don’t think that this government has put them in an uncompromising situation. I think that they will do their job — absolutely.
That being said, I also have just reviewed the press release that we sent out. I’m going to have to say that I feel like the member and I just have a different interpretation of how it reads and the facts that are being offered. That’s fair enough, right? Obviously, we’re in two different political parties. We’re not going to agree on everything. They have a different view, and that’s fair. They’re doing their job as opposition members to ask valid questions.
I believe, to answer the member’s question, that the B.C. Utilities Commission will be consistent in its ability to behave in an independent manner.
A. Weaver: I’d just like to follow up briefly on the member for Surrey–White Rock’s comments.
Again, the press release quite clearly said that the B.C. government was freezing hydro rates. That’s what it said. It didn’t say that we’re asking B.C. Hydro to make a submission to the BCUC, along with financial information, to argue why now the rate that had already been approved — the 3 percent rate that BCUC had already approved — based on the financial case that the B.C. Hydro took to them would be overturned. It just didn’t say that.
What I cannot fathom is why we continue to double down to defend the indefensible. The press release said, clearly, B.C. government freezes hydro rates. What was done was the B.C. government asked B.C. Hydro to make a submission to the BCUC to overturn an already decided-upon 3 percent increase.
Now, if the minister truly believes in the independence of BCUC, then BCUC will have to ask B.C. Hydro what has changed in their financials that led them to approve it in the first place. Let me tell you what has changed. The costs of Site C have gone up to $10 billion, from $8 billion at the time. It is simply unfathomable that we continue to double down — on the one hand, having your cake and, on the other hand, eating it too.
To conclude. To the minister, why can’t she just stand up and admit that it was misleading and say: “We’re sorry. What we did is this. We should have been clearer”? And let’s move on, instead of dragging this story into yet another media cycle for another week.
Hon. M. Mungall: I just want to make sure that everybody is clear, especially people who are maybe at home and watching this, that there has been no request to overturn a decision. What happened is that B.C. Hydro, as part of its rate requirements plan, put forward a previous application under the previous government to have a 3 percent increase in rates for this year.
What they have now done is amended that application. I’ll read specifically from the press release that we sent out. “B.C. Hydro applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission for three years of increases, with a 3 percent increase planned for next year” — 2018 — “but will be pulling back its request, consistent with this administration’s commitment to a rate freeze.”
What they’ve done is, essentially, amended their original request for a 3 percent increase to now be actually zero percent.
A. Weaver: The headline of that media release said the B.C. government freezes hydro rates. Every media outlet in the province of British Columbia reported: “B.C. Hydro to freeze rates.”
Even here, if the government truly believes in the independence of the BCUC…. It’s clear you can’t have your cake and eat it too. They clearly are not believing in the independence of BCUC if they’re saying the rate increases are happening. Or they are believing in the independence of the BCUC — in which case, the BCUC must look at the rationale, apart from the mandate of this government, put forward from B.C. Hydro in terms of the financials to justify it. You simply can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Again, what I don’t understand is why the minister can’t just say: “We would have been clearer in the press release. We weren’t clear. We could have been clearer.” We’d be done. We’ve now triple downed on this. I don’t know a single person, actually, who knew that the government had actually asked B.C. Hydro to withdraw its percent increase that was already approved by BCUC. Nobody knew that. Everyone thought the B.C. government had frozen rate increases.
Why doesn’t the minister just admit that the press release was misleading and say: “We won’t do it again”? It’s simple.
Hon. M. Mungall: We’ve spent, probably, around 45 minutes to an hour canvassing this very question. I’m happy to do it for as long as the member likes, but we’re just going to have to conclude. This can go back and forth for as long as the member likes.
I respect his…. He is entitled to have his view, and he is entitled to speak to the media about his view as much as he likes. That’s his job. But we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this particular item. I just don’t see it the way he does, and no matter how many times he brings this up, I’m not going to. I just don’t. So again, respectfully, we’ll have to agree to disagree.
T. Redies: Could the minister confirm that the rates are now frozen?
Hon. M. Mungall: Following the appropriate process, B.C. Hydro has made the application, and it’s before the B.C. Utilities Commission. The member knows this.
T. Redies: I think we’re still confused over here as to what exactly is happening and whether or not there is truly independence with the BCUC process and this government.
In fact, I’d like to raise another somewhat troubling element that we saw in the final BCUC report. In fact, in a number of places within the report, there are references that the BCUC used the low-load forecast at the request of government. I note in the executive summary, on page 3, under the “Future energy needs forecast,” the BCUC refer to being required by the OIC to use the low-load forecast. “The panel finds B.C. Hydro’s mid-load forecast to be excessively optimistic and considers it more appropriate to use the low-load forecast in making our applicable findings as required by the OIC.”
Is there truly independence with this government and BCUC when the government appears to have ordered them to use the low-load forecast?
Hon. M. Mungall: BCUC’s choice to use the low-load forecasting — that was their choice. We did not give them the direction to use low-load forecasting. We did give them the direction to use BCUC’s load forecasting. We canvassed previously that that is very common and that they have historically not used the low end of it but have used the mid end of it and that using the low end of it is actually a very unique situation.
If the member would like, I can read to her the term-of-reference portion where it actually says which forecasting to use, and it’s not low.
T. Redies: I’m just curious as to why the BCUC report, when it came back, in its executive summary, suggested that they were required to use it by the order-in-council. It seemed to be a contradiction. Can the minister confirm that neither she nor her ministry staff has had any conversations with the BCUC with respect to using the low-load forecast?
Hon. M. Mungall: There was no direction to the B.C. Utilities Commission in terms of which end of the overall forecasting…. Just for people who might be watching at home, when B.C. Hydro does its load forecasting, it has what would be a mid-range, which is the most likely amount that we’re going to be meeting, the most likely load that we’re going to be meeting. Then there’s a low end and a high end of the range, right? Because it’s forecasting, at the end of the day. So that people are aware, we only instructed them to use that forecasting. Why they chose to go with the lowest end…. They’ve made note of that in their report, but they were not instructed to do so by anybody — B.C. Hydro or myself or the ministry.
T. Redies: If the BCUC has never used the low-load forecast in the past, and they were instructed to use the B.C. Hydro forecast from June 2016, why would the BCUC use a low-load forecast when even the minister says it is the most likely forecast to occur?
To clarify what I said. The minister has just said that the mid-load forecast is the most likely scenario. She just said that. So if that’s the case and tradition has always been using the low-load forecast, why does the BCUC use the low-load forecast in this case? It doesn’t make any sense.
Hon. M. Mungall: That’s a very good question. I can’t speak for the B.C. Utilities Commission, as the members know. But this government also asked that very question of the B.C. Utilities Commission in a letter that we sent last week.
T. Redies: Did the minister or anyone in her government have conversations with the BCUC staff about the alternative portfolio and how that should be dealt with?
Hon. M. Mungall: Ministry staff and BCUC staff do have regular meetings. However, we’re not aware of the ministry having any involvement whatsoever in BCUC’s choice for their alternative portfolio.
I will say, though, that the BCUC had put forward different alternative energy portfolios. They received feedback on those portfolios in the process of their review of Site C and adjusted their portfolio to now be what we see in their report.
T. Redies: To the minister, can the minister confirm unequivocally that neither her ministry nor any government staff have had any conversations or dialogue or suggestions with the BCUC before or during the process that might have influenced the outcome of the BCUC report?
Hon. M. Mungall: There were no conversations while BCUC was doing its review and putting together its report that were pertinent to that report. As I said, ministry staff and BCUC staff meet on a regular basis, but this was not a part of their meeting topics, to the best of my knowledge. And just for the record, I only met David Morton in person once the report was complete.
T. Redies: The minister mentioned the November 15 letter to the BCUC, so I’d like to just turn to that for a few minutes now. The Deputy Ministers of Energy and Finance wrote this letter asking for clarification about questions, some of which we had asked in the previous week. Can the minister tell me why this happened 14 days after the report was released?
Hon. M. Mungall: As the member will know, it was an extensive report. Staff were in the process of analyzing it and looking at if they needed further information, and going through the appropriate channels within their ministries, in terms of identifying best processes to get that further information. Once the two ministries did, they jointly sent out a letter to acquire that information from the B.C. Utilities Commission.
T. Redies: Did the minister or any member of the executive council or its staff instruct the letter?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of anybody from the executive council instructing ministry staff to do this letter, the answer is no.
The process was that ministry staff were doing their due diligence, doing the analysis of the report, identified some areas of clarification that were required, and then ultimately came to the decision that a letter was needed to acquire that clarification, that information that was required, as is stated in the letter, to assist with government decision-making.
T. Redies: Can the minister explain: to what depth, if any, was the Premier and his chief of staff involved in the writing of the letter?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’m not aware that they had any involvement.
T. Redies: Does the minister believe…? Let me back up here. Why did the minister not seek clarification on these important issues until they were canvassed by members of the opposition?
Hon. M. Mungall: These were issues that were identified through the ministry’s review. I think the fact that members opposite also identified them shows that these are important issues that do require clarity and that perhaps we weren’t the only ones, and our government staff weren’t the only ones, who had these same questions. To be frank, I’m not surprised that we ourselves, our ministry staff, the opposition — and frankly, I’m sure, quite a few members of the public — had some questions that they were hoping to get some clarity around.
T. Redies: Madame Chair, I’d like to move now to a termination scenario with Site C. I think it is very important that we understand what the financial impacts are — British Columbians want to know — if the government terminates Site C. I recognize that a decision hasn’t been made, but I think it’s important that government thinks through the consequences of its decisions very thoroughly, particularly in this regard.
Minister, we know financial accounting can’t be changed to suit the government’s whim. At the end of the day, if you terminate Site C, there are only two avenues that the government has before it. Under one scenario, the termination would result in an immediate write-off of the $2.1 billion sunk cost.
Based on Hydro’s 2016 results, I saw this as potentially triggering a $1.4 billion net loss for Hydro. If you add remediation costs to that, that’s $1.8 billion that would be expensed. Within a matter of a couple of years, B.C. Hydro’s equity, which stands at about $4½ billion, would be substantially depleted. This would have a disastrous impact on B.C. Hydro and the government’s financial position. Can we confirm that this is not a scenario that the government is realistically considering?
Hon. M. Mungall: The question of who will ultimately pay the bill in a termination situation of Site C has not been determined at this stage because we have not made a decision. It is a part of our decision-making process.
T. Redies: We’re very conscious of the fact that the government has not made a decision on Site C. What we’re asking is for her to verify the potential impacts of that decision — which, I think, are fair questions. Any accounting student could think through some of these questions. They’re very basic.
I’m asking: is the government actually considering a scenario where they would take a write-off of $2.1 billion and expense $1.8 billion in remediation costs to the point that they would more or less wipe out B.C. Hydro’s equity?
Hon. M. Mungall: Let me rephrase my answer previously. Part of our decision-making does include who ultimately will pay that bill, how long it’ll take to pay that bill and how we go about paying that bill. So all of that is part of our decision-making process.
T. Redies: I’m actually quite surprised that this is taking longer to answer than it actually should, I would presume. I mean, B.C. Hydro is a utility. It can use deferral accounts, and I would have thought that a $2.1 billion hit to B.C. Hydro’s and the government’s bottom line in one year would be catastrophic.
Maybe we’ll move to the deferral accounts then, because I’d like to understand what the thinking is in this particular area. Typically, under this situation, the government would park the $2.1 billion in sunk costs and the remediation costs into a deferral account and amortize it over a period of time. In the last estimates briefing we went round, I think it was intimated by B.C. Hydro that that would be ten years.
Can the minister confirm that the amortization schedule for the write-off of Site C through the deferral accounts would be ten years?
Hon. M. Mungall: The very short yes-or-no answer to the member’s question is no. When B.C. Hydro was meeting with her, and in their submissions, they gave a scenario of a ten-year amortization. BCUC, for example, gave a scenario around a 30-year amortization. In our letter, in the fourth question, we asked for clarification from BCUC in terms of a ten-year, a 30-year or a 70-year scenario — in terms of amortizing those costs, paying that bill, so to speak.
As of yet, there’s been no decision, again, on termination or, if termination did take place, how long that amortization of that bill would be.
T. Redies: Thank you for that answer, Minister. I was also looking at that letter. The specific question seems to suggest that anything other than ten years would fly in the face of “fair and appropriate rate-setting principles for rate-regulated utilities typically aim to avoid causing future generations to pay for investments from which they will derive no benefit.” So how, on that basis, could the government or B.C. Hydro justify anything higher than ten years in terms of amortizing those costs?
Hon. M. Mungall: The situation we have before us is whether it would be a ten-, a 30- or maybe even a 70-year amortization. Ultimately, the B.C. Utilities Commission would be making that decision. We want further clarity on how they view that amortization to take place so that we can include that into our decision-making process, as suggested in the letter.
T. Redies: With respect to past deferral accounts, what has been the typical amortization period used by B.C. Hydro?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of a period for a deferral account, the member was asking what is the typical period. Basically, there really isn’t a typical period. It really depends on the nature of the account.
For example, there are some smaller accounts that are longer than the 15 years that is the demand-side management account, which is a larger account, obviously. There’s no real typical, but for larger accounts, 15 years, in terms of a deferral, I would say, at B.C. Hydro, is considered a higher amount. But that being said, there are accounts that are longer.
T. Redies: Just to confirm what the minister said, there are deferral accounts on B.C. Hydro’s books today that are higher than 15 years? Are any of those assets actually not producing for B.C. Hydro?
Hon. M. Mungall: My understanding is that all of the longer-term deferral accounts are tied to assets that are in use.
T. Redies: It would seem rather unusual for Hydro to amortize a terminated asset for more than, say, 15 years, given the fact that the asset would not be revenue producing.
I’d like to move on from here and talk a little bit about Hydro’s debt position and the impact of Site C. Could the minister confirm what is the outstanding debt associated with Site C that B.C. Hydro has borrowed to date, and what are the terms of that debt?
Hon. M. Mungall: Unfortunately, we’re not able to give the member an exact number, because that debt is not separated out from the overall debt at B.C. Hydro.
T. Redies: To the minister: can the B.C. Hydro staff beside her ballpark how much they have borrowed for Site C?
Hon. M. Mungall: No. It would be inappropriate to ballpark. Sorry about that.
T. Redies: I would suspect, given Hydro’s position, that they have actually borrowed $2 billion, because that’s about the amount of the sunk costs that have gone into this project.
Let’s move on. What about the remediation costs? Will B.C. Hydro have to borrow for the $1.8 billion in remediation costs?
Hon. M. Mungall: Some part of it will have to be borrowed.
T. Redies: Could the minister be more specific?
Hon. M. Mungall: We have come up against the exact same issue that we had in answering the member’s previous question about Site C debt to date. B.C. Hydro does not separate out any one project’s debt. They use a mixture of cash and debt financing for projects, so they would do the same for the remediation.
T. Redies: That seems a bit curious, particularly if they were setting up a deferral account. Wouldn’t they have to know what the total costs were of that remediation, including borrowed debt and interest costs? It seems a little bit odd that they can’t kind of separate that out now. Are they planning to separate it out when they set up the deferral account?
Hon. M. Mungall: The deferral account will account for the total cost. What I understand, in talking to B.C. Hydro’s CFO here, and B.C. Hydro’s president, is that…. Or COO. I give you all kinds of new titles. So sorry about that.
The deferral account will account for total cost but not, ultimately, what will be funded by debt financing because of that very issue that some of that cost will be financed by debt and some of it will be financed by cash payments. Trying to separate it out at this stage is just getting ahead of ourselves.
T. Redies: I don’t know if it’s getting ahead of yourselves. It’s more about trying to think through the consequences of the decision on Hydro from a financial perspective.
Now, Hydro has a debt management strategy in place that would see the Crown work towards a 60-40 debt-to-equity ratio. I’d have to ask Hydro to remind me as to when that was supposed to be achieved.
I guess my question is: does the government plan to continue with that plan? What would happen to the debt-to-equity of the company in the event of a termination? How would that impact the plan to get B.C. Hydro to a 60-40 debt-to-equity ratio?
Hon. M. Mungall: The debt-equity ratio target of 60-40 is still in place. There has been no change on that. How any scenario regarding Site C impacts that is a part of our decision-making process.
T. Redies: The lack of specificity of that answer is quite troubling. Maybe the minister could say…. Does she think a termination scenario might cause a problem for Hydro in terms of meeting its debt-to-equity obligations? It’s a yes-or-no answer.
Hon. M. Mungall: The member knows that there are considerable implications, whatever decision is made around Site C — whether to proceed or whether to terminate. This is one of the issues that we are considering in that decision-making process. I appreciate that the member would like to have some more specifics. I just don’t have those for her at this time, but I do want to reassure her that it is part of our decision-making process.
T. Redies: If it would be helpful, I did the calculation myself. Terminating Site C would actually take B.C. Hydro’s debt to equity to close to 90 to 10, which is not going in the right direction.
All right. Let’s talk a little bit more about the credit-rating implications for B.C. Hydro in the event of a termination. Can the minister confirm what the current credit rating of B.C. Hydro is? What would be the impact of a two- or three-notch fall in B.C. Hydro’s credit rating on B.C. Hydro’s interest costs?
Hon. M. Mungall: Just referring to the member opposite’s previous accounting, her view of the debt-to-equity.... I imagine that she’s made some assumptions in there and so on. I can reassure her that we will not be sending her a letter requesting some clarification or anything. She’s entitled to do math as she likes. However, there are a variety of things that we would have to consider in terms of doing those types of calculations and in making our decision.
In terms of B.C. Hydro’s credit rating, they don’t have their own credit rating. They use the province’s.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
T. Redies: In the deliberations that the government and the minister are currently going through now with respect to Site C, are they looking at the potential for a termination of Site C to impact the province’s credit rating?
Hon. M. Mungall: The member is correct to point out that these are large decisions with serious financial implications. So absolutely, the Ministry of Finance is doing their due diligence and putting their analysis towards this in terms of, if Site C was terminated, what implications there would be for B.C.’s credit rating, if any.
T. Redies: Has the minister or any B.C. Hydro staff discussed the impact of a write-off of Site C with the bondholders of B.C. Hydro debt, and if so, what was the nature of those discussions?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of any conversations with bondholders, that would be the Ministry of Finance. I’m not able to answer on behalf of that minister. I’m not too sure if they have or have not — not to our knowledge.
T. Redies: Has B.C. Hydro had any conversations with their debt holders? Have they been contacted by their debt holders? Have there been any concerns expressed with respect to a termination of Site C by B.C. Hydro debt holders?
Hon. M. Mungall: In short, no. But again, this would be a question better directed to the Ministry of Finance, because the debt holder, or bondholder, for B.C. Hydro is the province, and then the province acts on behalf of them.
T. Redies: Can the minister confirm that cabinet is having discussions with respect to the impact of a Site C termination on B.C.’s provincial credit rating? And what were the nature of those discussions?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I said earlier, that issue is a part of our decision-making process. The member, though, is asking if we’ve already had conversations around that. Not at this stage.
T. Redies: We’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar impact to the province, and the minister…. I’m just clarifying what she just said, that cabinet is not having any discussions about how that might impact the provincial credit rating. That seems a bit surprising, given the impact. Could the minister confirm that that’s the case — that cabinet has not had any discussions about this?
Hon. M. Mungall: Just to be clear, our credit rating and if it should have…. I said earlier that if terminating Site C — or proceeding with it, for that matter — has any impact on our credit rating, absolutely that is part of our decision-making process. But what I hear the member asking is if we’ve already started having discussions about that particular item. To be frank, actually, I’m not at liberty to disclose all that we discuss at cabinet, but we have not started having the discussion on that particular item at this stage. But will we? Yes.
T. Redies: It would be very interesting to find out what other conversations cabinet is having when they’re not having discussions about multi-billion-dollar impacts to the province’s financial position.
Okay, we’ll move on, if I may, to today’s question period. The minister made an interesting comment that they will not be ripping up contracts relating to Site C. I’d just like to clarify what that means. Does that mean that the $2 billion in additional contracts that have already been signed with suppliers will not be ripped up, that they will be honoured? If so, what’s the cost to B.C. taxpayers?
Hon. M. Mungall: Earlier today when I said, in response to a question in question period…. I was specifically speaking to the fact that this side of the House would be taking no lessons, in terms of dealing with contracts, from the B.C. Liberals. That’s very important for this side of the House because, of course, we all recall how they handled contracts when they first came in as a government, in terms of the teachers, in terms of Hospital Employees Union workers, and the list goes on.
What happened back at that time was that the B.C. Liberal government literally did rip up contracts that were fairly and duly negotiated. That is certainly not how we are going to be approaching any of the contracts that B.C. Hydro has with its contractors. Rather, we’ll be approaching those negotiations in a very respectful way, and we’ll be following those contracts. The member will note that in those contracts, there are termination provisions. They are publicly disclosed, available on the Internet, and that’s how we would deal with that in the event of a termination.
T. Redies: I was purely using the minister’s language. You said you would not be ripping up contracts. Again, the question is: what does that mean? Are you going to continue with those contracts? Are they going to be honoured, or is something else happening?
Hon. M. Mungall: We will be applying the contracts, and those contracts have termination provisions. So in the event of a termination of Site C, we will then move to apply the contracts that have those termination provisions and terminate those contracts, as disclosed or as written in those contracts. That is a respectful way of handling our relationships with contractors.
T. Redies: Based on that answer, what would B.C. Hydro be on the hook for, say, for example, with the civil works contract?
Hon. M. Mungall: All contract termination is accounted for in the $1.8 billion that BCUC has identified as the cost of termination.
T. Redies: Does the $1.8 billion cover all potential legal damages that suppliers might seek in the event of a termination?
Hon. M. Mungall: In B.C. Hydro’s submission to the BCUC, they did estimate the cost of termination, including the legal costs, when they submitted that to BCUC. BCUC did use that in its analysis. Deloitte also came up with a similar figure. So my guess, in terms of whether BCUC used that to come to $1.8 billion, would be yes.
M. Bernier: So can I ask the minister, then…? She spent, last week, a couple of days up there, and the Minister of Indigenous Relations confirmed today that they met with the local First Nations. Can the minister confirm how much is committed in contracts to the six local First Nations that we have impact-benefit agreements on? Based on the life of the project, completing the project, how much money is going to be going to First Nations? That’s not just in the short term, through all the work they’re getting. We’re talking about through land and financial costs that will be recouped by them over the life of the project and beyond in their contract.
Hon. M. Mungall: I just want to make sure that I’m getting all the information that the member wants. So he’s looking at land. He’s looking at work contracts, as well as impact-benefit agreements. Is that correct?
M. Bernier: Sure. Maybe we’ll break it down a little bit first to make it a little easier.
There are impact-benefit agreements that have been signed with six of the First Nations in the area. We already know that numerous of them have contracts on site. So what is the financial cost that B.C. Hydro has budgeted as part of the Site C project to, presently, the six First Nations in the entire cost of the Site C project?
Hon. M. Mungall: With the impact-benefit agreements, those agreements and the terms are all confidential, so I’m not able to disclose any of that here. Of course, there are also offers that are still available to other nations. Again, those terms are confidential. But in terms of contracts that already exist, there’s about $170 million in contracts with First Nations businesses. Should Site C terminate, then those contracts also have termination provisions.
With that, if the member wants to ask a follow-up question, and then maybe we could have a five-minute recess.
The Chair: The committee will be recessed for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 5:17 p.m. to 5:27 p.m.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
M. Bernier: The minister might have to remind me. Before we left, she used a $150 million or $160 million number, and I’m just curious about what that was.
I know she says that she will not disclose confidential information on impact-and-benefits agreements with local First Nations. I’m not asking her to disclose individual ones. I’m looking at the global number. That should be able to be disclosed. It’s taxpayers’ dollars. It was built into the budget of B.C. Hydro when they were doing their studies and when they were doing their costing for this project. So can she give me just the global number that they budgeted for local First Nations?
Hon. M. Mungall: For the member, he needed me to repeat the number. It was $170 million for the contracts with First Nations businesses.
In terms of the global number, if we can give it to him, we will. We want to double-check with legal that we’re not contravening any of our agreements with First Nations. If the member wants to ask another question in the meantime, I’ll let him do that. We’re just double-checking.
M. Bernier: The minister is quoted in the House as saying that all of the legal challenges, obviously, that First Nations have put forward have not been successful. She also commented about the fact that B.C. Hydro did a very exemplary job of all of the work leading up to a decision for Site C. We also heard that she was up in the Fort St. John area last week. What was the purpose of those meetings?
Hon. M. Mungall: Myself and the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation were in Fort St. John. I, myself, was only there for November 14. We spent the day doing consultations with all eight of the treaty 8 First Nations who are impacted by Site C.
M. Bernier: She met with all eight. Did she have any B.C. Hydro staff with her for those meetings?
Hon. M. Mungall: No. It wasn’t, I guess, what would have previously been a typical consultation or negotiation. It was an opportunity for the two ministers to hear directly from First Nations leaders what they thought of the B.C. Utilities Commission report, what they thought of Site C, what they thought of the options to proceed or to terminate and what they would like to see in either scenario.
M. Bernier: Maybe the minister can elaborate, then, a little bit further on how those talks went, because it’s my understanding from the Minister of Indigenous Relations that there was no discussion that took place on whether they would actually cancel the projects, cancel contracts or change anything. He was very adamant in question period today that that was not even something that they discussed.
I’m just curious now. The minister is saying that maybe they did. So if they did actually have those discussions — that if they cancel the project, there’d be changes to the contracts — how did that transpire?
Hon. M. Mungall: Let me clarify for the member. So there were no talks or discussions or any type of negotiations. It was merely myself and the other minister listening to what First Nations wanted to tell us. They set the agenda, and we just listened. It wasn’t a back-and-forth. There wasn’t a dialogue. It was very important, for this government, for us to hear with our own ears what First Nations thought of Site C, thought of the report and thought of going forward.
But in terms of a negotiation, in terms of how their impact-benefit agreements would be — what would be the result and so on — that was not what was shared by them.
M. Bernier: I appreciate that the listening exercise is really important. I’m surprised the minister would say that she flew all the way up there and didn’t actually speak or anything on this issue. I’ve had talks since then with local First Nations who have said quite the contrary of some of the comments that were made.
I’m curious, then. From the minister, if she didn’t make any comments, I’m just curious why some of the local First Nations are saying she did.
Hon. M. Mungall: First, to answer the member’s previous question looking for a global amount of the overall IBA and land agreements that B.C. Hydro has with First Nations. This is what our legal has come back and said. First Nations benefit, mandate and agreement amounts have not been made public and cannot be made public because it would compromise B.C. Hydro’s negotiating position overall with other nations.
To answer his question just now…. First off, I want to just say that I wasn’t correct to say eight nations. We met with seven of the Treaty 8 nations. What transpired in those consultation meetings was that I and the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation made some opening comments and some closing comments. But to characterize them as discussions or some type of negotiation or some type of back-and-forth talk would not be accurate.
M. Bernier: I won’t go further on the exact numbers, if she’s been given legal advice to the contrary. I don’t want to put the minister in an awkward position that way.
What I will ask, then, is…. I am very well aware of the millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, that have been committed to this project with local First Nations and the land that has been put aside, which is public knowledge. This is not something that the minister should be shy about talking about. Land has been committed as far as replacement for flood lands from Site C. There are agricultural funds that have been committed. We know about the ones to local governments.
Specifically to First Nations, there are huge impacts, positive impacts — to the local workforce, to the local bands, to the future of them from a financial standpoint as well — that we are well aware of.
I’m just curious, then. The minister said that it was a listening exercise last week. Is she saying that the local First Nations now are not concerned — or did it even come up about the fact that $170 million in contracts plus the tens of millions of dollars further — that if Site C gets cancelled, they will be out that money?
Hon. M. Mungall: I just do not feel comfortable speaking on behalf of First Nations and what they feel around Site C. I can only speak to what I heard. It was a very valuable process. One of the things that they all asked, too, is that we respect the confidentiality of those conversations and of that process, so I’m going to do that, definitely. I’m sure the member can appreciate why I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of any of the nations.
M. Bernier: I do appreciate that, so maybe the minister can speak on behalf of herself and the ministry. Does she feel that it will be a negative impact to local First Nations if their contracts are cancelled and they will be out a whole generation of opportunities?
Hon. M. Mungall: I don’t believe my personal opinion is what’s relevant in this decision-making process.
M. Bernier: Actually, I’d like to challenge the minister on that. Her personal opinion is absolutely important. She’s one of the decision-makers at the cabinet table. She’s one of the people that’s going to be advising the government on whether we should continue. If her personal opinion is not important, why is she going out and listening to people? The whole point of that is to actually go out and listen to people. The minister is supposed to have a personal opinion. That’s the whole point of having a cabinet member and somebody at the cabinet table.
So again, to the minister, in all due respect, her personal opinion is exactly what is important during estimates here on this specific issue. Does she feel that it would be a negative impact to local First Nations if this project is cancelled? Yes or no?
Hon. M. Mungall: This government is doing its due diligence and its analysis of all issues regarding Site C. First Nations’ views, of course, are a very important component of that, and I’m very glad that I got the opportunity to hear with my own ears and see with my own eyes their perspective on this very important issue. That said, the decision is a collective decision at cabinet, not one person’s decision, and that process is something I respect.
M. Bernier: Well, it is a collective decision-making at the cabinet table. I’m well aware of that. But the minister has a lot of credibility as the minister tasked by the Premier with this file, tasked to actually do the research and tasked, hopefully, to come forward with advice and ideas as the minister. This should not be the Premier making this decision. It’s supposed to be the minister, which is why it’s important that she’s actually a voice for the file.
With that voice, I’m curious on what the minister thinks of the McLeod Lake Indian Band’s comments when they said that the work that B.C. Hydro did, which they were very complimentary on, was a watershed moment in their local First Nations history and with the Crown to move forward in a good relationship, positive, building level.
Hon. M. Mungall: There are a range of perspectives amongst First Nations. My view — and clearly, the member wants my view — is that all of their perspectives are important. All of their perspectives will be a part of the decision-making process. That’s not just me and not just the Premier. All cabinet ministers as a whole will be making this decision collectively.
M. Bernier: I’m just curious, though. This government is the one that has put forward the option of proceeding or cancelling. I’m going to assume that before they did that, a whole bunch of analysis was done on the impacts of what’s happening right now.
I know of the uncertainty that I’m hearing, from local First Nations and non–First Nations, around cancelling the project and what that will mean to the communities. I know the local First Nations right now have $170 million worth of contracts. Is the minister saying — or is she going to commit, on behalf of the local First Nations — that if they cancel the project, they will still pay them out? Or is she saying that they will not be paid in full if the project is cancelled?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’ve said before that we’re looking at the big picture, and all the small components to that big picture, when it comes to making this decision on Site C. That includes the agreements made with First Nations communities and with non-Indigenous communities as well. We’re looking at how a termination or a proceeding scenario would impact those communities, and we’re taking that very seriously.
M. Bernier: If the minister is taking it really seriously and making sure they’re going to have the best information possible, obviously they’ve asked B.C. Hydro, then, for the costing of what it would mean. She has been unable, for various reasons, to explain what the impact-and-benefits agreements are for local First Nations, but obviously, there’s going to be a cost to B.C. Hydro for local First Nations.
Absent of communities — we’ll get to that later — for local First Nations, obviously there had to have been some studies done. There had to have been some costing done. What is the cost to B.C. Hydro for local First Nations if Site C is cancelled?
Hon. M. Mungall: All the costs of communities and First Nations are part of the $1.8 billion that is part of the BCUC analysis. They got part of those numbers from B.C. Hydro’s submission to BCUC.
They didn’t break any one contract out. They didn’t break any of the global amount, in terms of First Nations or anything specific. If the member is looking for a total cost to First Nations in a termination scenario, I’m not able to give that to him, because (a) it hasn’t been broken out and (b) I’m not able to give the total cost of the IBAs.
M. Bernier: Is the minister saying, then, that B.C. Hydro released all of this confidential information that she’s talking about to the Utilities Commission? If not, because I see her shaking her head, how can the Utilities Commission actually make an accurate disclosure and actual comment on $1.8 billion if the confidential information wasn’t disclosed to them?
Hon. M. Mungall: Just to clarify, B.C. Hydro didn’t break it down. They submitted a global number of costs of termination to BCUC, but they didn’t itemize that cost.
M. Bernier: So in all fairness, then…. This is not an issue to go after the Utilities Commission. In fact, I respect the Utilities Commission. I’ve worked with them directly and indirectly for over 20 years, so I know their role, but how would they actually make an accurate $1.8 billion number? Where did this number come from if they didn’t have all the accurate information to work with?
Hon. M. Mungall: I’ll share with the member what our understanding is as to how the BCUC came to their conclusion of $1.8 billion. However, if he’s concerned at all with how the BCUC did this, I would direct him to ask directly to them. I’m sure he can appreciate that.
Our understanding is that they based it primarily on two aspects. One was a range of potential costs that they identified, and that range was from $700 million to over $2 billion for a termination scenario.
They also based it out on Deloitte’s analysis. Now, Deloitte had access to all the agreements and all the details within those agreements because Deloitte had signed a confidentiality agreement with B.C. Hydro so that they could have access to that and do that analysis independently of B.C. Hydro and then provide that information to the B.C. Utilities Commission.
That’s my understanding, that those two factors, the Deloitte report and then the broader range of costs, are what brought them to that $1.8 billion.
M. Bernier: My tongue-in-cheek comment to the minister would be: did they use low-, medium- or high-range forecasting when they were actually doing that? But I won’t ask her to comment any further on that one.
One thing I will ask the minister, though, is…. Again, from a local First Nations’ perspective, it’s not about the financial offsets. It’s also about the social impacts that are created when you have a project like this.
I’ve been to many of the graduation ceremonies of local First Nations students and young adults who did not have the skills prior to this, who did not have the education prior to this. Thankfully, because of B.C. Hydro and some of the local unions and contractors…. They actually went and employed many First Nations, who have had an opportunity to help their families be removed from a poverty situation.
If Site C is cancelled, where does that leave them? Where does it leave the next group of youth or young adults — possibly older adults, like me — who will have opportunities for further projects and further contracts to be laid? There are huge social implications for First Nations when we have projects like this.
So before the decision is made to cancel the project, can I assume that the minister and government have done a social impact assessment of what this is going to be for future generations of local First Nations if cancelled?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I said earlier, and it was definitely evident in listening to seven First Nations last week, there are a range of views and perspectives on what the social impacts could be of either terminating or going forward. And they’re not universally held by all nations. That’s for sure.
Will these social impact considerations and a social impact assessment be involved in our decision-making process? Well, first off, I would say that’s one of the major reasons that we wanted to consult with First Nations and hear directly from them. We wanted to hear exactly how they felt this project, whether terminating or going ahead, would impact their communities, not just from a fiscal sense in terms of the agreements that they signed but in terms of their values, their opportunities and their overall quality of life. It was very good to hear from them on that.
I would say that in terms of an overall assessment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, absolutely, that is definitely part of our consideration.
T. Redies: I’d like to go back to some more financial questions around Site C and the impact on B.C. Hydro. Referring to the capital program outside Site C, the minister confirmed a week or so ago in estimates that the government plans to have B.C. Hydro maintain its capital spending program over and above Site C, which is roughly, I think, about $12 billion over ten years.
Could the minister provide insight as to how much B.C. Hydro actually has to borrow in order to fund this capital program?
Hon. M. Mungall: The member may recall this from her days as a member of the B.C. Hydro board’s audit committee. My understanding is that B.C. Hydro doesn’t separate out what it would need to borrow for the capital plan minus Site C or the capital plan minus deferral accounts and so on. They pool it all together for an aggregate total. What that is, at its height, is…. In 2023, it would be $23.761 million.
An Hon. Member: Billion.
Hon. M. Mungall: Billion. That makes way more sense.
I’m sure the member has another question.
T. Redies: Is it possible for the company to continue its aggressive capital program in a termination scenario with Site C, given that the amortization expense will increase to about $400 million a year if the termination costs are actually amortized over ten years?
Hon. M. Mungall: In hearing the member’s question, I find it quite hypothetical. I don’t want to speculate, again, on the outcome of the decision that’s before us — whether to terminate or proceed. But if the member is wondering: does the overall capital plan figure into our decision-making process? Yes, it does.
T. Redies: Minister, I’m not speculating. I’m actually thinking through the consequences of the decisions that you and your government may be making. These are not difficult questions. These are questions that are actually quite basic. I guess what I’m asking….
The minister mentioned my previous time with Hydro, and I do remember some of it. I do remember distinctly that the capital program, the refurbishment program, that Hydro was undertaking was very, very important to its ability to continue to provide power to this province. That’s why I’m asking this question about the ability of Hydro to continue its very significant capital program in the event of a termination, which would have significant financial consequences on Hydro.
Can the minister and her staff confirm that there will be no impact to the capital program outside Site C in the event of a termination of Site C?
Hon. M. Mungall: We, of course, are very mindful of Hydro’s responsibilities to maintain their existing infrastructure and the capital requirements to maintain that infrastructure. I hear that the member is looking for a kind of guarantee, and I’m just not able to give that to her, regardless of what the scenario is, whether it’s to proceed or terminate. That is part of a broader decision-making process.
T. Redies: It would be extremely disturbing that the cancellation of Site C prevented B.C. Hydro from continuing its capital refurbishment program. I think that would cause the company a lot of grief in future years.
I’d like to ask the minister now, with respect to the deferral account reduction strategy and a termination scenario…. A week and a half ago, the minister indicated that the government’s plan is to maintain the current deferral account strategy, which would peak in 2019 and, thereby, reduce from there. In the event of a termination scenario of Site C, how could the deferral accounts strategy still be maintained?
Hon. M. Mungall: I just want to clarify that when we last spoke about the deferral accounts and the date by which they’d start being paid down and so on, I believe we were (a) just talking about the rate-smoothing account, and (b) I think what I was saying is that at this time, there is no plan in change.
We are planning to do a review of B.C. Hydro. That review may yield a change in terms of how soon we are able to pay down those deferral accounts. Of course, knowing that we’re going to be doing this review and that there are deferral accounts to take a look at…. That’s a result of years of increasing those deferral accounts under the previous government.
We want to be able to take a broad look at that as part of our Hydro review in terms of reducing our overall…. Sorry, I shouldn’t say reducing. Wow, it’s getting late in the day. It’s in terms of whether we can speed up or how we’re going to be able to deal with the payment strategy for those deferral accounts.
T. Redies: I recognize the whole subject of deferral accounts is quite complicated. But if I recollect correctly, we were talking about the total deferral account strategy, which was to peak in 2019, at about $5.9 billion, and start reducing from there. It was not about the rate smoothing. It was about the total deferral account strategy.
So my question to the minister: regardless of a review of B.C. Hydro, how could that deferral strategy be maintained if Site C is terminated? Would that not create a $4 billion deferral account, potentially, that would have to be amortized over some period of time? I’m just asking that question.
Hon. M. Mungall: The review that we’re going to be doing that looks at deferral accounts, looks at B.C. Hydro as a whole, will start, following the decision on Site C. Speculating, in terms of how much deferral accounts would be increasing as a result of a termination scenario on Site C, is premature.
That being said, I appreciate that the member wants to know: are we thinking about that? Is that a part of our decision-making? Absolutely. In a termination scenario, though, how government is going to deal with the finances is part of that broader decision. Therefore, I’m not able to say what will or will not happen as part of the decision-making process. Obviously, I can’t preclude what the collective decision amongst cabinet is going to be — whether or not it’s termination or proceeding with Site C, and then, if it’s termination, how we would deal with the finances.
I do want to reassure the member opposite. Are we considering the overall potential impact to deferral accounts? Should that be how government chooses to pay the bill, so to speak, in a termination scenario? Absolutely. That’s a part of all the things that we’re thinking of.
T. Redies: I know we are talking about hypothetical situations at this stage because the government has not made a decision on Site C. However, if the decision is made to terminate Site C, the government either has to take a complete write-off of the sunk cost in that year, which is coming up as of March 31, 2018, or they have to park those costs into a deferral account. If they park the costs into the deferral account, that means the deferral accounts are going to go up in total. This means that the deferral account management strategy that is currently in place — which the minister indicated the government would continue — can’t be maintained. It’s either one or the other.
All right. I will move on to something else. If Site C is terminated, that is obviously going to result in Hydro having to look for alternative sources of energy to meet capacity and energy needs. In the BCUC report, these alternative energy costs range from $3.2 billion to $5 billion. Of course, these costs would be on top of the termination costs that had been incurred by Hydro.
Hydro also indicated, I believe, in their report that those alternative energy costs might range as high as $7 billion. Is that correct? Could the minister and her staff provide some indication as to the differences and why there is such a range?
Hon. M. Mungall: Clearly, the costs of alternatives are being analyzed. BCUC provided a range. Deloitte provided a range. B.C. Hydro provided a range. There are some differing perspectives on this, so absolutely, this government is doing some further analysis on that very issue, and it will be part of the decision-making process, obviously.
Ultimately, what would B.C. Hydro do going forward in terms of termination scenario? As the member knows from her past days as a board member on B.C. Hydro, they have a very well-developed planning process and would start beginning a planning process to be looking into alternative energy sources other than Site C.
T. Redies: Could the minister confirm what type of process these alternative energy sources would have to go through? Would it include environmental reviews? Would it include feasibility studies? Could they give us some indication of how long it might take to get those alternative scenarios in place? And could they confirm, as far as B.C. Hydro is concerned, as to whether or not the energy — the alternative energy — would be in place at a time when B.C. Hydro believes it needs, from the perspective of energy and capacity?
Hon. M. Mungall: What I’m hearing from the member is kind of a question asking if, in a termination scenario, we went with alternative energies, would we be able to get them on line at the same time, in a seven-year time frame. So therefore, would they all have to go through environmental assessments, procurement process and all that kind of stuff?
With an environmental assessment process, it would depend. It depends on the size of the project. If it’s a large project, then, yes, it would have to go through an environmental assessment process. If it’s a small project, like the Nelson solar garden, for example, which has been done by Nelson Hydro, it wouldn’t have to go through an environmental assessment process. It’s dependent on size.
Then, in terms of going through the procurement process — perhaps a call for power or a standing offer program and so on — at very first blush, it probably could. Yes, she heard the right word — probably. That being said, we still have not completed our overall analysis of whether that would be possible. We are sharpening our pencils and getting down to that so that we can determine whether or not, definitively, we would be able to make sure that we had enough power on line for when it was needed.
With that, noting the hour, I’d like to say to everybody: “Good work.” This has been a long afternoon. Especially to staff, thank you for all your help.
I move that the committee rise and report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:23 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Committee of Supply (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported resolution, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. M. Farnworth moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
The House adjourned at 6:25 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF SOCIAL
DEVELOPMENT AND POVERTY REDUCTION
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.
The committee met at 2:33 p.m.
On Vote 40: ministry operations, $3,105,460,000.
The Chair: Minister, did you have an opening statement?
Hon. S. Simpson: I’ll do this. I’ll be very brief about this. I know we have a limited amount of time, and I want to be sure that my friends across the way have as much opportunity as possible to ask questions, so we will be quite brief about this.
I really want to start with introducing the staff that are here with me to support these efforts — my deputy, Sheila Taylor; the following assistant deputy ministers: Molly Harrington, Michael Lord, Chris Brown, Debi Upton and Rob Byers; and also the CEO of CLBC, Seonag Macrae.
All I really want to say is that everybody knows this ministry. We have gone through changes since the new government has been put in place. These changes included significant changes around the initiatives to come from this ministry.
They started with a change of the name of the ministry from Social Development and Social Innovation to Social Development and Poverty Reduction. That really highlighted a focus and an emphasis for this ministry moving forward to work on dealing with questions of inequality and poverty reduction in the province of British Columbia.
We had six items in the mandate letter that the Premier presented to me. Three of those items have been accomplished: an increase of $100 across the board in terms of assistance rates and disability benefits; an increase in the earning exemptions for persons on social assistance and disability benefits; and the resolution of a transportation supplement, which will implement on January 1.
Obviously, there’s a lot of work still to be done on the other matters, which include the poverty reduction strategy, the basic income pilot and a homelessness action plan and homelessness count for the province of British Columbia.
What I’ll do is with that, I’ll just leave it and let the member get to his questions.
M. Hunt: First, I want to begin by congratulating the minister on his appointment. I think the article in the Sun on the weekend is very indicative of how you have come around full circle to where you are. I hope and trust that that bodes well for the changes that the minister is wanting to bring in the ministry and the accomplishments that we hope to see under his direction in the ministry.
I want to start with some general questions. I’ll come back to things that you also referred to in your opening comments. Just to start generally — that is, let’s start with the issue of the budget itself. What is the budget for this year? What is the change from last year? And is there any change in that budget between the February budget and the September update?
Hon. S. Simpson: The budget for this year is $3.11 billion. That was an increase of $367 million over the last budget and an increase up from February of $124 million.
M. Hunt: Can the minister tell me how many staff are in his office and where they’re actually located?
Hon. S. Simpson: I have in my office, the total of my political staff, all the staff in my office…. I have five staff people. Four of them are located here in Victoria at the Legislature, and one works out of my constituency office in Vancouver.
M. Hunt: How many employees are there in the ministry? How many of those would be social workers? What kinds of vacancies and turnover rate do we have within the ministry?
Hon. S. Simpson: We have 1,900 FTEs in the ministry. About 1,460 of those are in direct service delivery. We don’t have any social workers in the ministry. They’re all employment and assistance workers. They are not social workers. The attrition rate is about 19 percent.
M. Hunt: Help me with my vocabulary. You just used a different word that I’m not…. I should have scribbled it down while you were doing it. You said that there are no social workers. There are…
M. Hunt: …employment and assistance workers. Now, are those through contract under employment services and the appointment and services side of things, or is this directly within the ministry itself?
Hon. S. Simpson: These are direct ministry employees. Of the 1,900 or so FTEs who are direct employees of the ministry, they are direct employees of the ministry. They deliver the direct line services to our clients.
M. Hunt: There are also contract workers. There are a number of contracts that you have with service providers. I’m wondering how many contracts you have within the ministry, how many contract workers and what the value is of the contracts that you have. And is this separate and distinct from the 1,400 number that you just used?
Hon. S. Simpson: As the member says, we do have contracted services. Mostly those are related to Work B.C. and Work B.C. contracts and the employment contracts there. We currently have 73 contractors. We have 84 service centres around the province that deliver contracted services. We contract with them. Those service providers determine their own staff complements and don’t report the specific numbers over and above the contract values.
M. Hunt: Then, within the ministry itself — to make sure that I’m understanding this correctly — we have employment contracts. We also have program delivery contracts and program delivery services. You’re frowning. Correct, incorrect? Have I got it wrong? How do we also deliver programs within the ministry?
Hon. S. Simpson: Maybe just to clarify for the member. In terms of the services delivered, all of the services we deliver to the clients, whether they be temporary or social assistance clients or persons with disabilities, are delivered by our employees directly. That’s the 1,460 employees I talked about before, among the 1,900 FTEs.
We deliver those all directly. They’re identified as employment and assistance workers, but they, essentially, are the jobs that, in the past, might have been done by financial aid workers and social workers under a different regime back years ago, before it was restructured. So all of those workers are the people who deal day to day with clients of the ministry.
The only contractual arrangements we have of any significance are, of course, those that are delivered through the Work B.C. programs and the employment programs in the 84 employment centres and those that are delivered by Community Living B.C. through the contracted agencies that they have that deliver services to their clients. Other than that, most everybody that we work with, their services are delivered by direct employees of the ministry.
M. Hunt: I have a larger question mark, then, because we have groups such as…. I’ll simply refer to ones I know of in Surrey. We have groups like Sources. We have Options, Lookout — different ones that are delivering various services within our communities.
Can you explain to me how they fit and where they come within the ministry?
Hon. S. Simpson: With those organizations, we believe, they deliver programs — many of those are multiservice organizations in the community — that are either contracted with Community Living B.C., if they’re delivering support services to the clientele of Community Living B.C., or they could be delivering employment B.C. programs, which would make them part of those 84 centres — the 73 contracts.
Other than that, it’s possible that they hold contracts with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which also contracts with those agencies. So there are a number of agencies across the province that have come together with others and bid the contracts to be able to deliver employment B.C. programs. They do that on an ongoing basis, or they become service providers that are supported under CLBC.
M. Hunt: That’s a whole piece I obviously need to work on discovering. Thank you for that.
Persons with disabilities. I’m given to understand that they have to report monthly on their situation and these sorts of things. Many people with disabilities have trouble filling out the various reports that are needed. My question is: what is the ministry doing to streamline these reports?
Hon. S. Simpson: For persons with disabilities, they have no regular monthly reporting requirements. What they are required to do is they’re required to report if they have a change of address. They’re required to report any earned income.
You’ll know that there is an earning exemption here, which is up to $12,000 a year of annual earning exemption. So if they’ve earned money in a monthly period, they need to report that money. They would report a change of address, those kinds of things. Other than that, there is no obligation for reporting.
A small number of annual reviews are done of persons with disabilities, but it’s a very small number that are done, and it’s very periodic and would certainly not be an annual event for persons with disabilities.
M. Hunt: The next question is: how many classes of disabilities are there for persons with disabilities, and how are they clearly defined?
Hon. S. Simpson: Currently within the ministry, we have three classes that receive any and all assistance from us. We have persons on temporary assistance. We have persons with persistent multiple barriers, and we have persons with disabilities. There are no other categories.
M. Hunt: Okay. Thank you for that.
When it comes to the issue of income and reporting of income and the exemptions to which you referred, one of the questions that has been raised with me concerns ICBC and claims that a recipient may get from ICBC. The question is simply: what is and what is not income? And where is there a list of what is considered to be income? Or where can it clearly be found what is income?
Hon. S. Simpson: Let’s deal with the question of the ICBC issue, because it’s one that we can get to. First of all, I would say that there are income and asset tests in the ministry across the board to determine people’s income and what assets they have.
In the case where somebody had a settlement…. Just to be hypothetical here, let’s say that somebody had an accident and received a $10,000 settlement from ICBC for that incident. That would be deemed, in that month following the month that they received it, or the month following, to have been an asset there. It would impact their income for that month, but that would be the end of it at that point.
In the case where people have had catastrophic issues and received very large settlements, often those get structured, in fact, by people into trust accounts and things that fall outside of the exemption model and would be protected.
M. Hunt: I have two examples of that from two different people, so two completely different situations, one of which was a person who had a vehicle. The vehicle got involved in an accident. The vehicle was written off. A payment was made for the vehicle. The recipient then went out and bought themselves a new vehicle. Then, all of a sudden, they were getting their income reduced because they got a settlement from ICBC, which was simply replacing a vehicle with a vehicle.
In the net, they should not have gained anything. They have simply replaced an old vehicle with a new vehicle because of an accident outside of their control, and now they’re being hit for it. That becomes question No. 1.
Question No. 2, then, is someone who is riding on a bus. The bus is involved in an accident. They receive injuries. They go and get their injuries taken care of. They are given compensation for their pain, their suffering. They have been out emotionally, mentally and physically because of this whole trauma that they have gone through. They have been given compensation for it, and as a result, they lose their income for a month. The question is the question of fairness and equity.
Would the minister explain both of those situations?
[B. Ma in the chair.]
Hon. S. Simpson: Hon. Chair, welcome to the chair.
As I would reflect for the member opposite, of course, we are still operating under the system put in place by the previous government, and all of these are challenges that I’ll be happy to look at. Having said that, there’s a correction to be made here.
In the case where you have an exempted asset — i.e., you’re on PWD and you own a vehicle that has been exempted…. You have that vehicle, and you’re fine. If that vehicle then is involved in an accident, and what you do is replace the vehicle, then that shouldn’t be deducted. If the member wants to provide details about the individual to my staff, we’ll look into it, because if that was the circumstance, they shouldn’t have been deducted.
In the second case, it is the situation that, as I pointed out, in the case where there are significant dollars coming in, there are exemption processes through trust funds and such. But we do exempt based on income and assets, and there are clawbacks of that, essentially, when in fact those are in place and you receive significant resources.
M. Hunt: Yes, to the minister, I recognize he hasn’t been there long enough to change everything, but these are simply the realities that these people live through. I just want to make sure that the minister is aware of them so that we can — and I will — check with the individuals involved.
Now, shifting subjects, it’s my understanding that people who receive disabilities will now be able to choose between receiving a bus pass or receiving $52 in additional assistance on their next cheque. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Simpson: The member will know…. Certainly, he was a member here, and he will know the challenges and the frustrations that people in the disability community felt around the previous move around bus passes, where there was concern that bus passes were being removed or that there were additional costs being put in place for those.
What we’ve done to deal with this is put in place a transportation supplement that’s available to everybody, all persons with disabilities. That’s a supplement of $52 a month. We are making that available for people to use as they see fit for their transportation purposes.
That includes…. If they want an annual bus pass, they can, and numbers of people have signed up for that, asked for that to be the way that they use their supplement. In that case, people will be getting annual bus passes for that $52 starting January 1 and moving on. Other people will take the $52 because they buy bus tickets. Other people might take the $52, who live in communities without bus service, and use that money in different ways.
I’ve often used an example…. Say there may be people in outlying communities. Their neighbour drives them to the market once a week to do some shopping, and they give their neighbour a few dollars for gasoline once in a while to cover that. If that’s their transportation alternative, then that’s a reasonable alternative.
What we have said with this is: “You have a $52 supplement, and it will be your responsibility to determine how you use that to meet transportation needs. It will appear on your cheque notifications as a clear line item, as a transportation supplement valued at $52, separate from your benefit payment.”
M. Hunt: I’m sure the minister was fully aware of the reality that I would bring this up here, in the midst of estimates. I would like to read a government news release. It said: “Beginning September 1, people with disabilities will receive a $52 transportation support allowance. They will have the choice of receiving the transportation support allowance on their assistance cheque or in the form of a B.C. bus pass.” That was, of course, from the former B.C. Liberal government last year. Sounds very familiar and very similar to the program that the minister has created.
Could the minister please explain to me the difference?
Hon. S. Simpson: I think the difference is very clear. We have provided everybody on PWD an additional $52 that was not available under the previous government. That is different money. It is new money that has been provided to everybody to, in fact, pay for that supplement.
Under the program that the member talks about, in fact, that $52 would have been taken out of what was their benefit payment, if they chose the bus pass. We have added $52 to the cheque. So people are getting $52 over and above their basic benefit.
M. Hunt: Well, I’m sure that the previous minister would argue that, in fact, it was an addition of $52. I think the addition, actually, was something like $75 totally, but there was a $52 bus pass that was in there. We’re calling them supplements, allowances, but it all seems to be exactly the same — that you have the choice of either $52 or a bus pass.
To quote the Minister of Energy and Mines, speaking about giving that choice, she said: “The minister says that it’s about freedom of choice. Just what kind of choice does the minister imagine people receiving disability have? Is it a choice between bus passes and limousines, walking or hitchhiking? Or is it a choice between going out or being homebound? What choice do they actually have?”
What would this minister say to someone who has to choose between the bus pass and the $52?
Hon. S. Simpson: What I would say is that the member and I can debate this back and forth.
I guess the thing that provides me the most comfort that we got this right is that the same people who were standing on the steps of the Legislature with a petition signed by 3,000 people — for the program of the previous government that the member had talked about — calling it a clawback and saying it was creating unfair choices for people, were the same people who sat at the table with me when I announced this, to say that this was the best solution possible to the transportation issue. The people who complained about the previous government were the people who were consulted fully in this process. They said this was the model that they believed was the best model moving forward.
I would suggest, for the member, that part of the challenge that the previous government had is that they spoke to nobody about what they were doing. None of the organizations that represent the interests of persons with disabilities were consulted about the previous model. We sat down and talked extensively. In fact, some of the criticism that I got was that it was taking too long.
We took our time because it is an important challenge. It is a challenge and a question of fairness, that you treat everybody across the province fairly. How do you do that? How do you make sure that people who live in an area that doesn’t have public transit receive a fair treatment to the people who are enjoying TransLink services.
That was what we did. We sat down with all of those organizations. We met with them until we found a model that we thought made sense and was an efficient model for us to deliver — and to deliver it simply and with as much choice as possible for people to decide how they wanted to use that money. I’m pretty happy about it, since it’s a model that was embraced and accepted by those people in the disability community who had raised the concerns about the model of the previous government.
M. Hunt: I would thank the minister for that very frank answer, because I think communications is totally….
One other question on this before I leave, and that is the mandate letter. Your mandate letter said, if I have it correctly here, to restore the bus pass. That is not what has happened here. It is, instead, a transportation allowance, just like had been previously proposed.
I’ll just leave that there. I ask: where, then, is the money coming from for this allowance?
Hon. S. Simpson: The cost of this for a full year is approximately $70 million, and that money will be in the next budget. In terms of the time between January 1 and the end of March, the end of this year, we went to Treasury Board and received a funding allocation out of the contingency reserves in order to be able to put the transportation supplement in place for January 1 leading through to the end of the fiscal year.
I would also note, on the comment about the bus pass: it’s correct, as the member says, that in the mandate letter, it talks about a bus pass. What I would say is that once we started to do the work on this, we realized that a bus pass wasn’t going to get us where we wanted to go.
There were a lot of people where…. Well, the majority of people, certainly, live in an area where a bus pass can be used, whether it’s a bus in Kamloops or a bus in Surrey, but for some people, it’s not there. So when we started to say, “How do we make this fair?” we shifted the conversation to a transportation supplement. It took some time to work that through with people in the community, to understand how it was achieving similar objectives.
It was a slightly different approach, because it was a more fair approach, we believe, that captured everybody on PWD. So we moved to that language from bus pass language that was in the mandate letter. The Premier told me that was okay. I’ll get a pass that that was okay.
M. Hunt: Thank you to the minister for that explanation. I believe the process of rationalizing it was exactly the challenge the previous minister had.
Now, simply to clarify, I would like to clarify the numbers. If the minister could please tell me what persons with disabilities received before the B.C. Liberal transportation support allowance was announced, after that transportation allowance and all that was involved there, and what they will receive once the NDP’s transportation supplement is included.
Hon. S. Simpson: I’m going to work through the math. My understanding here is prior to…. Under the previous government, a person with disabilities received $906 a month prior to the $77 that was provided. That was a $25 increase plus $52 for transportation purposes, taking somebody to $983. We then increased the amount that a person receives with the $100 increase that was provided. We took people to $1,133, and we have now added $52 to that, as the transportation supplement, to $1,185.
The difference between what somebody would have been receiving would have been $983 versus $1,185, effective January 1.
M. Hunt: Thank you to the minister for that. It’s good to have the math worked through so I can work on that later.
Social innovation. “Social Innovation” was removed from your title as minister. My question is: what changes have been made to the key responsibilities in this division of the ministry?
Hon. S. Simpson: The member is correct. We changed the name of the ministry from Social Development and Social Innovation to Social Development and Poverty Reduction. That did indicate a focus of attention on the issues of inequality and poverty reduction.
As to the initiatives around social innovation, none of those have changed — those conversations, those moves forward, the things we can accomplish there. There is still work being done on that, and the staff who were working on that continue to work on those projects today.
M. Hunt: The next logical question that flows from that is, then: what is the budget for social innovation? Are there any changes from last year, and how many actual employees are involved?
Hon. S. Simpson: There’s been no change. Under the previous government, when it was the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, there were two FTEs and about $200,000 allocated annually to that particular file. There continue to be two FTEs and about $200,000 allocated to that file. So nothing has changed on both sides of July 18.
M. Hunt: My understanding is that the director of social innovation has left the ministry. My question is: has he been replaced?
Hon. S. Simpson: Yes.
M. Hunt: Short and sweet and to the point. Then, the question is: with the $200,000 that’s being involved in this, what projects are the two FTEs working on?
Hon. S. Simpson: As has happened in the past, a portion of that is going to look at social procurement options and how to do that and engaging discussions with the federal government around social innovation that the federal government has expressed some interest in.
In this discussion, because social innovation is an area that I’m keenly interested in, I’m really pleased that I’ve had very significant discussions with the B.C. Business Council, with the United Way, which are partnering on social innovation issues. They’re doing work together.
I’ve been talking to the leadership in both organizations and to others about social innovation and how we embrace that as part of a poverty reduction initiative, knowing that the ability, whether it’s around social entrepreneurship, social investments…. How do we bring that in and make that part of a successful poverty reduction strategy? One of the cornerstones of a poverty reduction strategy will be creating opportunities for people to move forward and fulfil their dreams. Social innovation may well afford us a tool and a vehicle to help do that.
We’re talking to major and significant organizations in the business community and in the non-profit sector that are focused on this. We’ll be looking at how we draw that into the broader poverty reduction initiative moving forward.
I expect the interest in social innovation as a tool, as one of the tools we use for poverty reduction, to potentially grow as we look at what those look like, as we explore the models for getting us where we want to go on poverty reduction.
M. Hunt: Let me use that, and we’ll just slide over to poverty reduction, because it works logically at this moment in time. Obviously, it’s been added to the title of the minister. So what is the budget for poverty reduction, and where did the money come from?
Hon. S. Simpson: We have allocated, through the end of this fiscal year, $1.2 million to poverty reduction. That’s money for planned development, moving forward. We will be going forward to Treasury Board to talk about the allocation for next year — in the next budget, of course, as we move forward.
We have $1.2 million between now and the end of the fiscal year. That pays for a consultation process. The member may know that it’s paying the expenses of the advisory forum that has been put in place to assist me. It’s paid for us — expenses only, I would note — to bring in other advice around that. And it also pays for three FTEs in the ministry who are dedicated to the poverty reduction initiative. So there are three FTEs paid out of that as well.
M. Hunt: Where the money comes from. I didn’t quite catch the answer, if it was in the budget itself, or is this something that, again, has been pulled from contingencies?
Hon. S. Simpson: We approached Treasury Board. There had been some money that was allocated to the ministry, that was allocated for potential caseload increases and that, which wasn’t used. So Treasury Board approved this allocation of $1.2 million. It was a ministry request that I brought forward to Treasury Board in order to be able to support the process of developing the strategy.
M. Hunt: Obviously, social innovation at $200,000 and two FTEs. Poverty reduction, $1.2 million — obvious why that should be changed in the title; it’s obviously more significant — and three FTEs.
But if we just do the quick math. That’s got about $900,000, if I just do a quick, rough comparison between the two. Saying the two FTEs, spending $100,000 each, in social innovation and taking the three…. That’s $300,000 I take out of that, just for the sake of argument. That’s got about $900,000 for consultation in two months. That’s an awful lot of money, Mr. Minister.
Hon. S. Simpson: The consultation involves a number of pieces right now. We have put in place the advisory forum to the minister, which has 27 people on it. It covers their expenses.
I would note that for the large majority of those people, we’re not paying them to be on that forum. It covers the cost that we have contracted with the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. to do a consultation in 20 communities around the province on this so that we’re able to reach into communities and make sure we’re talking to people in communities — people who are living the experience of poverty — and agencies and organizations and local governments who are struggling with dealing with the issues of poverty in their community. So they will be going around.
They will be doing this work, preparing reports related to those consultations and feeding that back in to me, as well as to the advisory forum, as we evolve these ideas on this. Also, we put in place a website that has received thousands of hits, seeking advice also on poverty reduction.
One of the things that we believe is that we need to engage people. Poverty reduction will not be successful because this one ministry is taking the task on. It will be successful because we have engaged and built community support around the need to do that, and we have engaged other ministries, obviously, as well, in their support. It will be a multiministry effect.
It’s part of that process of going out and engaging people. It’s included in our contract for consultation, the work of the forum. We will be getting some technical advice on measurements, moving forward, and we’ll be moving that forward. I expect that will cost us, expense-wise, some dollars and the website.
M. Hunt: As we start going down this road of poverty reduction and all the process that is obviously going to be involved with that, my first question in this process is: what is the working definition of “poverty” that the minister is going to be using?
Hon. S. Simpson: We’re using the market basket measure. The member may know that there are three measurements that are used by different groups in the country around low-income cutoffs — the market basket measure, those….
The best advice we have is that market basket measure is the best measurement. That’s, essentially, looking at a basket of goods and services, determining what the cost of that would be in a given community and then evaluating people’s ability to buy that basket of goods and services — food, housing, transportation, etc. — to measure those who are in poverty and also to help to measure the depth of poverty, which is equally as important a question.
That’s the measurement we’re using at this time. That’s the same measurement the federal government uses, primarily, for measurement as well. We’re looking at that. I will say that we’re having conversations with some of the academics who specialize in these areas and in measurement about how we should use that, moving forward, and about whether any adjustment to that to deal with the specifics of costs in British Columbia…. I think of things like housing costs, which may be more challenging than in some other communities in the country — whether we need to look at adjustment to that.
The measurement we’re using, which is widely accepted, is the market basket.
M. Hunt: You actually anticipated the next question beautifully, so thank you very much.
What is the current rate of poverty? As we begin this process, you sort of need those baselines to be able to know where we are, as we move forward. So my question on that is going to be: what is the current rate of poverty in B.C.? And what is the current rate of child poverty in British Columbia?
Hon. S. Simpson: Just a little under 700,000 people living in poverty, about 689,000 people. That’s 14.8 percent of our population. Child poverty — 14½ percent of children live in poverty.
We know that over 40 percent of those people living in poverty are working poor. They’ve got a paycheque coming into the house, and they can’t make ends meet. For persons with disabilities and in the Indigenous community, the rate is double what it is with the rest of the population.
M. Hunt: As we look at the poverty rates…. There was recently a report that came out on that. We ended up with interesting anomalies that happen when we look at these reports. My question is going to be concerning a particular anomaly, and that is: how does the minister account for the high rate of poverty in Richmond?
Hon. S. Simpson: I think that’s a pretty good question. I can’t give you an answer for why Richmond would be in one place and other communities in another. We have looked through, and we’ve looked at communities across the province. That’s part of the task of both that investment of that $1.2 million and other dollars that allow us to dig more deeply with that.
We will use those resources to help us to figure that out and also to figure out why some communities seem to be more hard hit. And are there unique aspects of what’s in those communities that are different?
The member will know.... I anticipate, because I know the member takes his work seriously, that he’s been looking at what organizations talk about when they talk about poverty reduction and the initiatives that are talked about by different groups. The challenge we have, really, is to say all of those are smart ideas. They are ideas that have merit. But really how we move forward, how we apply a strategy, where we set the priorities, how we identify what impacts poverty in Metro Vancouver — and maybe separately in subsections of Metro Vancouver versus what happens in Quesnel, Cranbrook or in Williams Lake.… They are different, and there are different factors.
We’re looking pretty hard at why those factors…. Why are they different in different places? What are the things that compel those factors? And then being able, hopefully, to develop a strategy that allows us to be nimble enough to be able to emphasize certain initiatives in certain communities where the best information we have says we are, in fact, tackling the issues that are most prevalent in those communities.
The question about Richmond is a good one. I will assure the member that as soon as we find out why Richmond is different than Burnaby, we’ll let him know.
M. Hunt: I appreciate that answer. But I have a challenge mentally with the use of the word “nimble” when we deal with large government bureaucracies — a massive challenge for you, Mr. Minister. We know it’s just going to be a challenge to work through — and that nimbleness, a great ideal.
My thought is that possibly the reason why we’re seeing a higher rate of poverty in Richmond might actually be because of international students living in community, and my question is going to be to the minister: how do we…? Because here in British Columbia we have a very attractive educational system to the rest of the world. We have a tremendous number of students in our…. Right from kindergarten to grade 12, as well as in post-secondary, who are in fact international students, many of whom do not have incomes in Canada…. They’re here taking advantage of our educational system and by the way, paying for it, and that’s perfectly fine. I have no problem with that.
How is the minister going to deal with those types of things, as we deal with…? Again, the minister has said, “Well, we’re going to try and look at community” — community, I guess, in the real sense. I’m drawing to his attention that there are those types of things. I think he’s already answered my question in the fact that he’s going to attempt to try to look at the differences of communities and those sorts of things as we work along.
One of the mandates that the minister has in the issue of poverty reduction…. He has a mandate to set targets and timelines. So the question is: how will the minister set those targets and timelines, and what is he looking at in terms of setting targets and timelines?
Hon. S. Simpson: I thank the member for the question. The issue of targets and timelines, and how we identify those, is exactly the work that’s going on right now. That’s why we are engaging these processes that we’re in, why we’re having significant conversations with the academic and expert advisers that we have — to help us with determining how to set the measurements, the targets and timelines.
The first question that I’ve really put to the advisory forum is to talk about the issue of targets and timelines, to look at how other jurisdictions have addressed those issues and give me the best advice they can on how we do that and how we incorporate targets and timelines into legislation and into the plan itself — the two pieces, both the legislation and the plan. That work is exactly what’s going on right now as we head for next year. It will look mostly, I would say, at those broader issues.
The anomalies of why a Richmond is here or is it foreign students or that will be considerations, but we certainly are looking at the broader questions when we look at targets and timelines. But it’s one of the significant questions that’s on the table as to how to establish those in a credible way and in a way that we’re able to measure moving forward, hopefully, to be able to meet them.
M. Hunt: The obvious question that goes right on the end of that one: recognizing the challenge that that is. Which is why I raised the question.
As we look at the other poverty reduction strategies across this country, we see very clearly that those have failed. They have failed particularly in holding themselves accountable and actually continuing that process on. So my question to the minister is: while you are setting the targets and timelines, how is the ministry going to hold itself accountable — a year, two years, three years, four years — as we continue down the continuum of time?
Hon. S. Simpson: I think that’s a really good question. I’ve had a look at some of the other plans across the country, and we are digging more deeply into those plans to see what worked, what didn’t work, why it did work and why it didn’t work.
The member is quite right. Many of those plans did not meet their objectives. Some of them got lost along the way, I think. Some of them — I’m not sure that their objectives were what they should have been. Some of them ran out of gas along the way. Some of them had political champions who maybe aren’t there anymore.
There are a variety of reasons. That’s why we’re trying to learn from that. Maybe that’s the advantage of having every other province in the country have poverty reduction strategies and B.C. not have one. We at least get to learn from what did and didn’t go before.
We’re going to legislate. The first thing is…. As the member may know, every other province has a poverty reduction strategy. About half of them are legislative and about half of them are programs. We’re going to legislate this so it becomes the law of the land that we are going to attack the issue of poverty. We are going to put a commitment around targets and timelines into there. We are going to put a reporting process into that legislation that will ensure that, on a regular basis, there is reporting, so people can see how initiatives are moving forward, what’s working and what’s not working. All of those will be issues to make it successful.
As the member knows, the other thing that will be absolutely critical will be that we have a government in place in the province that commits to this, moves forward and continues to make it a priority. That’s a question of who’s sitting on the government side of the House.
M. Hunt: And/or who the actual members are that are sitting in that government and which side of the House they are.
Thank you to the minister. I recognize they are not easy questions to answer, and I didn’t really expect answers. Rather, I simply wanted to raise the issues because I think they are critically important, walking through this — and that we don’t walk in with illusions of grandeur. I know that.... From the member’s background, I have absolutely no question of his sincerity in what he’s doing. That is absolute.
The minister also mentioned the issue of homelessness. Normally, when we think of homelessness, we immediately cop that out to the Housing Ministry, and we let them work on that. But there’s so much more that’s involved within that whole side of things.
My question is: how will the ministry work at reducing homelessness outside of the Ministry of Housing?
Hon. S. Simpson: Well, as the member may know, the issue of homelessness is both in my mandate letter and in the mandate letter of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. We have the same obligation in both of our letters, and that is for a provincial homelessness plan and a provincial count.
We’ve been working together on this, to do the work moving forward. We have engaged and pulled into this the new Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, because there are connections, as I’m sure the member is fully aware. Many of the people who are struggling with homelessness often are facing other challenges in the area of mental health and addictions. So we brought the three ministries together.
We have taken first steps around modular housing and the announcement around 2,000 units of modular housing, along with operating dollars to support those units. Those units are now being allocated out. I believe, I think, seven municipalities, local governments, have now received and approved locally to have modular housing, and the units, I think, are going out into those communities now.
We are doing the work now on what a provincial count might look like and what a plan might look like moving forward. There’s still a lot of work to be done on that, because the complexities probably are in building the partnerships with local governments. We know in some communities that will be a greater challenge than others — and making sure that all of the players who have to be there are there in the partnership. That work is going on now, and the member should expect some announcements around that in the next calendar year, as we put in place the steps for both the provincial count, which is part of my mandate obligation, and a homelessness action plan moving forward.
M. Hunt: That raises the question: which ministry is responsible for the homelessness action plan?
Hon. S. Simpson: It is a joint responsibility. Obviously, the bricks and mortar side of this comes from Municipal Affairs and Housing. B.C. Housing is part of that ministry, and obviously, B.C. Housing is the vehicle for delivering the bricks and mortar and putting together many of those arrangements. Some of the broader planning issues…. Again, the three ministries are working very closely, but this ministry will be taking the bulk of the lead responsibility around helping to evolve that plan and the count — the strategy for the count.
M. Hunt: Shifting subjects to supportive recovery houses, my question is: what is the current social assistance rate for persons residing in registered recovery houses?
Hon. S. Simpson: For registered recovery houses — and they’re required to be registered through the Ministry of Health — the payment is…. There is $30.90 a day that’s paid to the recovery house for individuals who are there. For people who are staying at the recovery house, they receive $95 a month as a comfort allowance, and the house receives $30.90 a day for the time they’re there.
M. Hunt: Thank you, Minister. There’s recently been increased support to those on income support, those that are disability rates of $100 a month. My question is: why would those people who reside in registered recovery houses not receive that increase?
Hon. S. Simpson: Thanks to the member for the question. As I’m told now, effective December 1, the comfort allowance for people will be $222.
M. Hunt: Mr. Minister, that wasn’t the question that I had asked. My question is simply…. Currently the recovery houses are receiving $30.90 per day. If you multiply that by 30 days, that comes to the $900 that persons…. I’ll just use the example of persons with disabilities since you gave us the math for that previously. That comes out to $900 a month. You have increased those good people to $1,185 or will be when your transportation supplement comes in.
If you divide that by 30 — just to put it into a per diem — that comes to $39 approximately, give or take a few cents. But that’s not what is being given to recovery houses. That is my question. Why is the number not being increased for those who are residing in recovery houses?
Hon. S. Simpson: Well, I haven’t done the math off the top of my head, but I would suggest that if you take the $30.90 a day and multiply it by 30 days and then add into that the amount of comfort allowance that goes to the individual staying in the recovery house, you get to about the number you’re talking about.
M. Hunt: Well, the interesting thing on this is that the recovery house gets the $30. They don’t get the $200 or whatever the comfort allowance is that the individual gets. As a matter of fact, the recovery house also doesn’t get…. If that person receives, because the person happens to be diabetic…. They don’t receive any money for the extra food or the change in diet that they have to deal with, with someone who is a diabetic. That money is now stripped away, and they stay at the $30.90.
It’s very difficult for those who are running and operating registered recovery homes. We’re not talking about flophouses. We’re talking about registered recovery homes. It is very difficult for them to be dealing with the transitions of costs when they’re still getting paid the $30.90 per diem.
They’re also providing transportation. They’re also providing all these different things for these individuals, and they are receiving absolutely no increase whatsoever. In fact, the ministry is stripping, as I said, dietary supplements from them.
My question is: why is there not an increase to the recovery homes for the individuals that are residing with them?
Hon. S. Simpson: The member makes a good point. There has been no increase probably for a decade on those houses. There has been no increase on home shares and no increase for foster parents and no increase in a wide range of areas, where costs have continued to grow and grow and grow, and the government has not supported those costs for service providers.
This is a very real issue that the member raises. What I want to assure the member is that I’ve met with recovery house operators, as I’ve met with some of those other groups that are delivering those services. They have all come…. Believe me. They came very quickly after July 18 to talk about the resources and how they struggle to deliver services.
The issues that the member raises are not insignificant issues. They are issues that this government takes very seriously. As the member, I’m sure, will appreciate, we’ve had about a decade of no increases at all for a whole range of residential service providers of different kinds. Those will all be matters for consideration as we move forward, but I think that the member raises a good point that they probably should have kept up over the years.
M. Hunt: The last thing on earth I would do is blame this ministry for what has been described as “the 16 years.” I’m not at all raising that. I am simply raising the issue of the decisions that this minister has made. This minister made the decision to increase all recipients by $100 a month and has neglected those who are operating the recovery houses on behalf of those who are the recipients of those dollars. I leave that with the minister because that is the process of his decision.
I’ll bring another issue to his attention, which I’m sure they brought to his attention as well. I’ll just raise it once again. That is that often clients are released from the court system to recovery houses. The client immediately becomes the responsibility of the home, and there is no funding for that client until they are accepted for receiving social assistance. Since the client is simply moving from the Ministry of Justice, corrections…. I believe that’s the current title. I could have the title wrong. You understand who I’m talking about anyhow. He’s moving from the ministry responsible for corrections — we’ll say it that way — to the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction.
Why must the recovery house pay for the transition from the expense of one ministry to another ministry?
Hon. S. Simpson: We do have a system of intake procedures that is integrated with health care, with hospitals, with prisons. People are in those facilities, either they’re incarcerated in a corrections facility or they’re long term in a hospital, and they’re being released. Those systems…. We do work on an intake process with them so that if they’re released, they should transition immediately over to our system.
If the member has cases where he knows that hasn’t occurred, I would invite him, if it’s possible, if the people are agreeable, to make that information available to us. We’ll see where there are challenges with the system.
M. Hunt: Thank you to the minister for that offer. I certainly will get that to him.
Concerning registered recovery facilities, a question from the general public is: how are these facilities monitored for quality of care and for value of the programs that they produce? How are these monitored?
Hon. S. Simpson: They’re registered and administered through the assisted living registry in the Ministry of Health. The ministry, through that registry, has the obligation for oversight of those houses — first of all to register them and then to provide the oversight. That’s provided through the Ministry of Health. I believe the health authorities are the actual vehicle for going out and doing that work.
M. Hunt: The simple question, then, is…. The Ministry of Social Development provides the money, the per diem, but it is the Ministry of Health that regulates them.
Hon. S. Simpson: The recovery homes fall under the Ministry of Health in terms of registering them for oversight and quality of service and all of those things. Then we provide support to people who come into the recovery houses who are our clients. That’s why that support is only provided to those houses that are registered with the Ministry of Health.
M. Hunt: Good recovery homes provide good programs that cost money that is in addition to the $30.90 that the ministry is currently providing to them, hopefully bringing good results that, in fact, save taxpayers money in many different ministries.
The question is: does the ministry support — in any way, shape or form — these costly programs at recovery homes?
Hon. S. Simpson: The extent of the support that this ministry provides is the $30.90 per day for people who are resident in the recovery houses who are on our caseloads. I am not aware, at this point, of who else would provide program dollars. I suspect that they probably don’t get other program dollars there. I know that it’s a live conversation. As I said…. Clearly, the member has been talking to people in recovery houses, as have I. I’m sure it will be a live conversation, moving forward, as we try to improve.
What the member will know is the recovery house initiative, when it first emerged, was a bit of a mixed bag between those where the most sincere of efforts were made and good practices were adopted…. Those houses have added value in terms of supporting people with challenges. We know that there were others that were less so the case. Some were dubious, at best. So the registration process has been very helpful in ensuring that we’re focused on and supporting those that are actually out there trying to support people and help people to improve their lives and get their lives back together again.
I think it’s a fair question as to how we support them. Our support comes through the amount that we pay for people to be resident in those houses. I know, in fact, that many of those operators, probably in a collective fashion, are talking to myself and my colleagues at the cabinet table about whether there are other opportunities there. We’ll look at those in the coming year.
M. Hunt: I think this is another example, as we talked earlier about the homelessness thing, where that’s an interministry thing that works together to create the action plan. We’ll see how that one does.
This is a situation where, again, we see multiple ministries involved in something. I would suggest that there are some gaps that are created by the ministries and that possibly the ministries should be getting together and working on including Mental Health and Addictions, Health and this ministry. They all have a piece of the stake and a piece of the puzzle that’s there — all hopefully having the same end but having the difficulties of multiple ministries being involved in it and, therefore, gaps because of multiple ministries. I’ll just leave that as a comment rather than getting something back.
Shifting subjects once again, truth and reconciliation. How has the ministry responded to the call to action of truth and reconciliation?
Hon. S. Simpson: The question that the member has just put is an important question. The member will know that every mandate letter for every minister included the issues of UNDRIP and the TRC and the calls to action. Every minister was obliged and told that we are to create a lens that we ensure we see our programs and our initiatives through as we move forward.
That’s why, with the discussion, for example, around poverty reduction, we have engaged a significant discussion with First Nations. We have five or six people, Indigenous folks, including representatives from the summit and the friendship centres and the Métis Nation, on the advisory forum to the minister. They’re there.
We’re also engaged in a significant discussion about how we move forward around making sure we’re providing supports, particularly for the urban Aboriginal community. As the member will know, on reserve is primarily a federal responsibility. Off reserve is a provincial responsibility. So we’re quite engaged in those discussions moving forward.
The other thing is we’re in constant contact with the Ministry of Indigenous Relations, which carries the file for making sure that…. They keep an eye on these relationships, moving forward, in a wide range of areas. We’ve been seeking their advice, as well, to make sure that as we move forward, we are, in fact, engaging and talking to the people we need to be talking to and making sure that the points of conversation are the ones that need to be done.
I just want to move back here to the comment that the member made about the silos. We all know about silos, and we all know about different ministries. I think those are very fair comments.
The member may know, if he looked at how the Premier structured cabinet, that he created a new cabinet committee, the social initiatives committee of cabinet. It’s a significant committee. About half the cabinet, maybe a little more, sit on that committee. It’s a committee of cabinet that I chair, and that’s the place where many of these discussions come to. We have the ministers at that table. That table also, of course, triggers a deputies committee, so the deputies are having these conversations at the same time.
We have also created a number of cabinet working groups, which the member may be aware of when he looks at the cabinet structure, including for mental health and for housing and for other initiatives — for child care. So there are those committees that have been created, as well, involving people who kind of are attuned to these conversations.
That’s not to say that solves the problem of siloing in government. We know that’s a problem that probably every government anywhere of any stripe has struggled with. But we’re trying to get at that and make sure that on a regular and continuing basis, the conversations around these critical issues — which are more than a single ministry initiative to be successful — are had at one table and that they’re an ongoing conversation, not just one-offs.
M. Hunt: Continuing on with the call to action for truth and reconciliation, at this point in time, then, if I’m hearing the minister correctly, you’re basically putting this into the poverty reduction side of things, and that is where the initiatives are going to come from. Are there other areas or other programs that the minister is looking for — for example, training for staff, those sorts of things — or different issues that came out of the calls to action on truth and reconciliation?
Hon. S. Simpson: Clearly, the area, because of the focus right now and it being a relatively new initiative, is poverty reduction at the moment. Many of the things the ministry does will be weaved into that, moving forward.
I think the question is a fair one. That’s what we have been tasked with, as ministers, across the government — how to engage that relationship with First Nations as it affects the government’s operations. How do you determine self-determination, which is the compelling issue in many cases, around UNDRIP and much of the TRC?
As we move forward on these issues, that becomes the conversation. My ministry, like many others, is engaging that process by talking to the leadership council, by engaging First Nations and Indigenous service providers — like the health council, like the friendship centres — and talking about these issues as we move forward and building a relationship where we can support capacity-building on that side and make sure that we’re sensitive in terms of how we move forward with services that will either be delivered predominantly or in some large portion to the urban Aboriginal community, which is our primary focus.
I think it really is a work in progress. I don’t think embracing UNDRIP and the TRC is kind of a check on the box. It’s going to be about building a relationship between parties who have to learn to partner together in ways that have not happened very well in the past.
It is a learning exercise for us, and that will be reflected in a number of ways, including how people get hired, how services get delivered, who delivers those services, how you make sure that services have cultural sensitivity when they move forward. I think this is going to be quite a work in progress for some period of time, moving forward.
The challenge here is to make sure that it stays in the forefront of conversations, I think, and to make sure that we’re building on the strong base foundation that came out of the gathering with the chiefs that happened a couple of months ago, where I know I had, I think, a dozen or 15 bands that came and met with me at that time and identified issues that were important to them, in terms of their work.
Other groups have come to me in the urban communities and have identified issues, and the challenge will be to make sure that we’re working with them in the partnership moving forward, rather than in some paternalistic fashion.
The Chair: At this time, this committee will enter a nine-minute recess. It is currently 4:11. We will recommence at 4:20.
The committee recessed from 4:11 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.
[B. Ma in the chair.]
M. Hunt: Shifting to employment services, what is the budget for employment services?
Hon. S. Simpson: About $299 million comes from the federal government, through their share, and about $29 million of provincial money. So that would be $327.9 million total for this ministry.
M. Hunt: Since there’s a federal and a provincial number, am I to assume, then, that all of the money from the federal government goes directly into services and none of that is taken by the ministry for administration?
Hon. S. Simpson: Of the federal share of money, the $298.9 million, $20.5 million is the administrative cost, to administer it, that the province spends. We take $20.5 million for administrative costs.
M. Hunt: Are there any changes planned for the procurement of these programs?
Hon. S. Simpson: There has been a bilateral negotiation going on between the province and the federal government over that federal pot of money and around the conditions and the stipulations that the federal government puts on that money. We are very close to what we hope is a successful conclusion of that in the next couple of months.
That will be followed by discussions with the current service providers and people in the sector, ultimately leading to a series of requests for qualifications and requests for proposals. The new contracts will be let effective April of 2019. This next year will be the period of RFPs out there, allowing people to make their applications. That will be resolved over the next year, along with, of course, allowing enough time…. It’ll be a fairly quick process moving forward in some ways. We’ll want to make sure that if there any changes in service providers, obviously, there’s time for transition from one to the other and still have consistent services.
M. Hunt: Obviously, continuous improvement is the general concept that we want to have. My question is: how does the minister plan to ensure that vulnerable youth and persons with disabilities achieve better employment and career outcomes?
Hon. S. Simpson: I think that’s a great question. That really leads, I think, to part of the challenge that we see in front of us to be successful around poverty reduction and a reducing-inequality initiative.
One of the things that I’ve said through that process is that there are two main tracks to that, I believe. One is the affordability issue that we ran on in the election, and it’s very important. We’re going to achieve affordability either by reducing costs for essential services for people who don’t have much money, people on these programs, or improving their resources, and probably some combination of the two.
The second piece is around creating opportunity. We want to break the cycle of poverty. We need to create opportunities for people. We’ve seen that in some of the government initiatives that have come forward from other ministries, like eliminating fees for adult basic education and English language learning, the support for kids aging out of care in terms of paying for post-secondary education. Those are a couple of initiatives. We believe that we’ll see that with the increased minimum wage, once the Fair Wages Commission comes back and reports out its recommendations to get to $15 an hour as the minimum wage.
The employment programs are part of that too. The member may know that the program that was put in place by the previous government was structured into what were called four tiers. Tiers 1 and 2 were largely people who were relatively job-ready. Then structures 3 and 4 were people with more complex issues, including some of the people that the member talks about in his question. We’re looking at that and ways to increase flexibility to ensure that those service providers are able to provide the services necessary to have the outcomes that we want moving forward.
One of the criticisms of the program up to this point has been that it seemed to have spent too much time on output and not outcomes; i.e., it was checking the box of how many people came through the door, many of them relatively job-ready people who maybe needed some help with a resume, maybe needed a little bit of job search skills, access to a computer, somebody to photocopy their resumes, those kinds of things, and then they were pretty well together to go out and pursue employment on their own. There are other groups of people, a significant group that require more help than that if they’re going to be successful.
My hope is that, depending on the negotiation with the federal government, because they have expectations for the almost $300 million that they give us to provide these services, if we can increase the flexibility there, we’ll be able to enhance those services to people with PWD, to kids who have aged out of care and are maybe looking now for what they do. That is very much what I hope we’ll see, moving forward, when we see some of the efforts, depending on once we can hopefully get this exercise with the federal government resolved in a positive way. We’re feeling good about the negotiations, so I’m hopeful about that.
M. Hunt: Some would argue that raising the minimum wage to $15 is going to, in fact, decrease the employability of some of these individuals.
[R. Glumac in the chair.]
My question is going to be: how are the minister and the ministry going to work at dealing with that gap between affordability or — I’m trying to think of the words for it — the skills that the individual has versus the dollars that are having to be paid for those skills and that gap between the two, with these? How are you going to work at addressing that?
Hon. S. Simpson: I think that’s a great question. I don’t believe and I have seen no evidence to suggest that an across-the-board increase over time, in a thoughtful way, to a $15 minimum wage in fact will impact employment opportunity. We need to create opportunities in other ways to make sure that people are there.
I think the point that the member makes, which is a good point — and that’s part of the key to this — is improving people’s skills.
I’d heard and I think I read the member’s comments in the article that was written on Sunday. I don’t agree entirely with him, but I do agree with something that the member said, which is that education is the key component here to success, and I think it’s a big part of the key to poverty reduction.
I remember when I brought legislation, as an opposition member, around a poverty reduction strategy, often the previous Premier and the previous minister made the case that the best poverty reduction strategy was a job. I would argue that if you want to break the cycle, it’s probably an education. It’s probably giving people the skills that they need to go out and have the confidence and the skill set to approach employers. I think that becomes a very big piece, and that’s why Advanced Education, Skills and Training is such an important part of a poverty reduction initiative moving forward. That ministry is engaged fully in our conversations about how we go about doing that.
We’ve also had significant conversations. I’ve met, in the last month or so, with the leadership of the B.C. Business Council and the leadership of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. We have a representative of the chamber of commerce who sits on my advisory forum — appointed, essentially, named by the chamber.
We’ve had conversations about how they can support poverty reduction and about how they can support the kinds of things they can do to encourage employment opportunities, primarily for persons with disabilities. But they’re also very open — and the conversations are very positive — to how we create those opportunities for other people who face challenges to be able to get into the workforce and make their lives better.
I was very encouraged by that, and I’m hoping that as we move those conversations forward about how we can work together in a collaborative way, business will be there, educational opportunities will be there, key parts of the non-profit sector will be there, the ministry and other ministries will be there, and that together we can make some progress that maybe has eluded us for a period of time.
M. Hunt: I have no illusions on the challenge that the minister is facing on this. I simply give two simple examples of it. One, a young man with disabilities that used to flip hamburgers at Burger King. As minimum wage rose, technology took his job away, simply because now, today, nobody flips hamburgers at any of the burger joints. It’s all done by technology and machines. So technology becomes one of those unintended consequences.
You also have ones where…. I remember a Christmas party where this young man was excited, looking forward to actually meeting his boss, because he did piecework. He took the components of bifold doors, loaded them into a plastic bag and then sealed it. He did piecework, and that was employment that he had.
For both of these individuals, great dignity in having a job, great dignity in having paycheques. But by the same token, the challenge of minimum wage simply made them unaffordable, and technology has taken over.
My question to the minister, again, is: how are we going to deal with these types of challenges, particularly the illustrations you’ve given? I would agree with you and argue that it is still in those two top categories. Those are the people that are easily employable. The other categories of those who are not as easily employable — how are we going to work with them?
Hon. S. Simpson: It’s a good conversation and an important one. We have some resources to support that, and we have some validation to support that. The member may know that, established under the B.C. Liberal government, particularly around supporting persons with disabilities, was the presidents group. The presidents group is a group co-chaired by the CEO of Vancity and the CEO of the airport authority.
It’s been in place for a while. It’s a number of senior people in government. They have been providing advice, and I’m very grateful for them. I’ve had a chance to meet with them once. They’ve been providing advice on how we create those opportunities to bring people into the workforce who have faced particular challenges. In that case, it’s really around persons with disabilities. So there are some people there who are pretty committed.
The interesting thing…. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a number of employers who have employed persons with disabilities. Without exception, they have said to me: “You know, our challenge was how to make the fit work, and once we sorted out how to make the fit work, we got an employee who is incredibly dedicated, who is good at what they do, who is diligent, who never misses work, who is enthusiastic about their job, and we couldn’t be happier. That’s not because we met a social responsibility, but we added a real asset to our success as a business.”
The trick for us is to get that word out to business leaders. We are not asking you for some level of charity here. We’re asking you to understand there are hundreds of thousands of people out there in British Columbia — over 300,000 at the last guess — with disabilities. Many of them have an incredible amount to offer. How do we help you? And together, how do we create that fit so we can start to give some of those people an opportunity that isn’t just you doing the right thing. It’s you getting an employee who makes your business more valuable. I think that’s a doable thing. Not easy — it will take some work, be a challenge, but I think that opportunity is there.
I think, increasingly, we’re seeing business leaders understand that. I’m heartened by the business leaders that I talk to who say they know their success and the success of the economy isn’t a simple bottom line on the dollar number. It involves more than that. They get it — that the world is a changing place and that we need to view things differently.
I think we’re getting there. It will not be easy. It will be a challenge. But, hey, none of this stuff is easy. I’m hoping we can get there. I’m counting on the member opposite to stay on my case over the years to come to help us get there.
M. Hunt: I’m always up for a good challenge like that one. Let me use an example from the recycling industry, where the recycling industry obviously is a challenging industry because we’re competing with other countries in the world that don’t have the wages that we have. Their wages are astronomically lower than ours.
Yet by the same token, I can give you an example of an employer I will not name. I’ll not name them, whether the employer or even the portion of the industry, so as to not identify them. But they, in fact, hire…. They look for those who are mentally challenged because they are able to take boring repetition and handle it. Where you and I would just get frustrated at the job, they don’t get frustrated. They work through it. They love it. They have a great ability doing it. But again, they’re in these international markets and the challenges of the minimum wage and everything that goes with that becomes a financial challenge and makes things unaffordable.
I don’t know how to ask the question, except to say: is the minister looking at ways and means that those who are in the lower categories of employability can find a way to work with employers to be able to create good, meaningful employment for these men and women who have tremendous disadvantages compared to you and I?
Hon. S. Simpson: I think that comes back, and we’ll come back to the employment programs of B.C. that we talked about before when I talked about the negotiation with the federal government and our efforts to increase flexibility and increase the ability for innovation. That requires the federal government to concur with that in a number of areas, and the conversations are positive.
If we do that…. We talked about getting to those people who have more complex issues. If we’re in a position to be able to enhance case management around that, then in fact those agencies — those Work B.C. centres, those employment centres, people who are working around that in other areas — then have the tool to go and work with employers to find that fit.
I’ll go back and reiterate that employers I’ve talked to, when they’ve hired people with disabilities, what they’ve said is the biggest challenge was finding the fit. That became a responsibility both of the employer, in terms of identifying their needs; of the potential applicant and their desire and what their confidence was moving forward; and people who are supporting that applicant, who can help and say: “We can support in, maybe, a variety of ways, with specific training. We can help with, maybe, some on-the-job supports.”
Again, it’s the innovation of people who work in that field who are way smarter about that stuff, certainly, than I am, about how to get at and support that. What we need to do is give them better tools to be able to do that and the mandate that says: “Our expectation is this is going to be a priority part of your work moving forward: supporting people to be able to realize their dreams about employment.”
We see it everywhere. I talk to people with disabilities, from very complex disabilities and to people who are less so. Almost without exception, when you talk to these folks, right high on their list is that they say: “I want a job.” They want a job because they have value as people. They want to be valued, and a job is part of that.
We know that sometimes shortly after “What’s your name?” people get asked: “What do you do?” We need to create an opportunity for people to be proud and excited about answering that question. I feel confident that we can make some significant gains with this. It won’t be easy. But it would be tragic for us not to make the effort to try to do that.
Reducing poverty is about breaking the cycle. That doesn’t mean just giving people more money so that they can live a more affordable life, as important as that is. But it’s getting them out of that cycle and the opportunity to do other things and take their lives in different directions. That’s the piece that excites me the most about a poverty reduction strategy. That’s an important piece moving forward.
M. Hunt: I thank the minister for those comments. He used the word earlier called “nimble.” I would suggest that in this area, in particular, the word might be “creative.”
M. Hunt: Precisely. I’m happy with both. All of the above because I think that’s really what’s going to be needed. I think we’ve got to be very, very careful walking through that in that kind of innovation.
Specifically, now, let’s shift. We’ve dealt with the disabled piece of that. Let’s deal with Indigenous youth, particularly — Indigenous people, Indigenous youth in particular. Do we have special thoughts and plans concerning Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous youth?
Hon. S. Simpson: That’s an important question. It’s an important question, as I mentioned earlier, when we were talking about poverty numbers. Persons with disabilities and Indigenous people are twice as likely to be poor as other people, so it becomes a big issue. With Indigenous youth, it’s particularly a big issue.
The approach that we’re taking to that, again, as we’ve involved a number of people in the conversation…. But I think the most important parts of that conversation moving forward are the people that we’re hoping will help us with this.
As I said, we’ve engaged the friendship centres across the province. There are 25 friendship centres across British Columbia, aboriginal friendship centres. In many communities, like a Prince George, they are the biggest social service agency in the city. They deliver more services. They have more assets. They’re important. In the Cariboo — the same thing.
We’re working closely with them. We’re working closely also in Vancouver, where we have the friendship centre. We also have Urban Native Youth, an organization we’re working with, which focuses on aboriginal youth in the city of Vancouver, where there are very complex challenges. They would work, I know, with young people in the member’s community of Surrey as well.
We’re working with those organizations to help us decide what that strategy looks like moving forward. As we move to the kind of specific content around program development or that looks at employment opportunities and opportunities to deal with what is often an array of issues that people have, I think we’re going to rely on being able to partner with those organizations that are credible service providers in the Indigenous community across the province to help us to evolve and deliver the programs that make sense.
That’s a work in progress. It’s a piece that we have to get farther on. It’s part of that parallel track. I talked about the poverty reduction strategy and about the fact that we know for the Indigenous community, some kind of urban strategy is going to be necessary as well.
They are going to have a lot of crossover. There’s no desire to separate them entirely in the Indigenous community, so they’re going to blend together. But there are going to be aspects that are going to require particular treatment and particular insight. We’re counting on those organizations, over the coming months, to help us to evolve that, as we put these plans more specifically in place.
M. Hunt: Continuum of employment. How is that being considered in supporting both people in the employment program as well as the income program? I guess I can expand on that by saying this. Marginalized people often get precarious employment. They’re short-term, casual, part-time. Vulnerable people are often only able to participate in the workforce on a casual basis because of their disability, their health, whatever else.
How does the minister intend to ensure that these people are fully supported and have that ability to work along with their skills and abilities, over time, to be able to contribute, to be engaged and, ultimately, contribute to society in the context of all of the programs that you’re responsible for?
Hon. S. Simpson: Two pieces I’d like to reference. First of all, the member will know that we increased the earning exemptions. For somebody on PWD, it had been $9,600 a year as an annual exemption. We’ve increased that to $12,000 now, to allow people to earn up to $12,000 before they lose any of their benefit.
That’s a first step, and that’s a pretty important step. I mean, we know that at the point when we increased this — I think it was October 1 — we had about 1,500 people, I think, that were getting right up against it in terms of their earnings. You know, not a major number, but an important number. They now have more room. So we’ve increased that to allow people on PWD to, on average, be able to earn upwards of $1,000 a month before they face any loss of their income. Of course, they continue to maintain and keep their benefit packages — medical, other benefits — through all that. That helps there.
The other thing…. I’ll go back to the conversation we had about employment B.C. and about the work that we’re doing. The current practice is around outputs. So what that does when it measures outputs…. The way that works is that those agencies put in a bill for having delivered some very specific services for an individual.
These would be things like resumé preparation, job search, employment counselling, interview preparation, financial needs assessments — some of those things. You can put the list together, and I think the member would understand that here’s the variety of services.
Well, our conversation now is to move away from that model somewhat to an outcomes model, to say: “Okay, in the conversation with John or Jane Doe, the person we’re working with, what is it that we’re looking to accomplish here?” What do they want to accomplish? What’s the goal here that the service provider and the individual client, consumer of services, agree is an achievable objective? What is it we’re trying to achieve here — employment, whatever that is? Work towards that outcome.
That obviously means more than you got a job, you hung onto it for two months, and then you’re back where you started again. That’s the work we need to do. There’s design work around that, as we try to make the employment B.C. and the Work B.C. programs respond in a more innovative way, in a more accountable way, to meeting the needs of the people who probably need those services the most. Those are the kinds of steps that we’re looking to take at this point to, hopefully, be able to get at some of those issues there.
I’d just like to reference back. I had to take the opportunity…. I should have commented about this before. The member spoke about technology and what’s happening in technology and automation and robotics and artificial intelligence. We all know that this is not something exclusive for people with complex needs looking at their employment futures.
This is a time like we went through in the industrial revolution. We are in a different place and a different time. We need, obviously, to be sensitive to that and think that through. The role of government is to provide protections and supports, where necessary, to people as we move through what’s a fast-changing, uncertain future around those issues. I think we’re going to have to do that with everybody.
The member is absolutely correct. For people who face those challenges, who have additional challenges over and above what the member and I might have, we’re going to need to stay aware of that. But I think that challenge of automation and robotics and artificial intelligence is one that we will be struggling with for everybody in this province, not just for the handful of people who receive support from my ministry.
M. Hunt: Well, all we have to do is look at the automotive industry. We can see what that did to the horse industry. Those are the realities of technology. Fortunately, new jobs are created from that.
Shifting gears again — the single-parent employment initiative. Could the minister please tell me: what is the current number of clients participating in the single-parent employment initiative program?
Hon. S. Simpson: We’re going to get, potentially, some more information, but I’ll give the member some information as of right now. As of May 14, 2017, about 4,877 single parents have participated in the initiatives. To put that in some context, as of March of 2017, there are about 18,400 single-parent families on income and disability assistance in the province. The total who have received support is about 4,877.
M. Hunt: Now, the numbers that the minister gave were from May 14. Did I catch that correctly?
M. Hunt: May 14 of this year. Then, the minister hasn’t been tracking the last several months. This is now November, and I’m just wondering the transition from May to the present.
Hon. S. Simpson: The current number, I’m told, is 5,657 families.
M. Hunt: The B.C. Liberal government regularly released those numbers publicly. Is it the minister’s intention to continue not to release those numbers?
Hon. S. Simpson: I understand that they were released. They haven’t been released in the last couple of months. I certainly have no problem with releasing them, and we’ll release them.
M. Hunt: Does the minister anticipate any changes to this program in the future?
Hon. S. Simpson: As the member will know, it’s been about two years or so since the program was put in place. There is an evaluation going on right now. It’s just a standard practice: “It’s been a couple of years. Let’s look at how it has worked. Has it achieved what we wanted? What’s it doing?” I’m looking forward to results of that.
Also, one of the things that we will do as part of…. Single moms and poverty have got a lot in common. We will also be feeding the information about those programs — as we will with a variety of things — into the poverty reduction process, into the advisory forum and seeking the advice from people who have the lived experience, who are advocates in the area, who work in health, and others who make up the forum. I’ll be seeking advice from them, too, as to whether they may have some insights in the ways that we can enhance that program that make more sense for creating better opportunities for single parents.
We’re in the middle of an evaluation right now that is kind of standard, two years out — evaluation from the commencement of the program.
M. Hunt: Would the minister, then, say in his general evaluation at two years, recognizing that he hasn’t got all the details from his staff…? Would the minister characterize this as being a relatively successful program?
Hon. S. Simpson: The member may know of the 5,500 to 5,600 families who’ve received support. About 1,400 have received employment under the program there. Now, there are issues about how well that employment has been sustained, and we spoke about that earlier. There have been some issues. Those are the things that are part of what we’re looking at, at this point.
I’m reserving judgment. I think the question becomes not that…. The 1,400, I think, is a pretty good number. It could be better, but it’s not a bad number. I want to understand better how that is working longer term, and it comes back to that outputs and outcomes conversation that I was having before about how we get there.
I haven’t had a chance to look at it closely enough myself. I think it’s a program that offers some possibilities and opportunities. I’m keen about that. We’ll look at whether there may be ways to enhance it so that maybe a few more people are getting success out of it or maybe we’re seeing that success be sustained for a longer period of time. I would hope maybe we’ll come back to next year’s estimates and be able to be more definitive about the answer about the success of the program.
J. Thornthwaite: My question to the minister is about handyDART. I don’t know whether or not you need any warning about that. This is on behalf of a constituent of mine who has a disabled daughter. I’ll quote what she wrote to me:
“The disabled patrons were all sent letters instructing them to purchase a Compass card and that the regular bus passes and FareSaver tickets would become invalid. The first problem was the $5 fee that is charged for the empty plastic card.
“The next problem was that the disabled patrons have to charge the card up with money. The locations where the empty Compass cards are purchased — at SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express, the airport, ferry terminals and some London Drugs — aren’t the same places where you buy your time and load your card. The cards are sold in machines with nobody to help. Disabled patrons have to go to these random locations or go on line and use a credit card. This is extremely difficult, as many handicapped people don’t have a credit card or the ability to make on-line purchases.
“Letters went out to the disabled people with instructions to buy Compass cards and get them charged up because the old bus passes and FareSaver coupons would no longer be accepted. Most people complied, as they didn’t have a choice. The handyDART booking agents were apologizing over the phone and instructing people to go back to buying the books of FareSavers from the drivers. Most of us had already bought the card and paid to charge it. There’s no way to obtain a refund. It’s a mess.
“If you look at TransLink’s website, it doesn’t provide clear instructions on how to pay for handyDART. It only specifies that an adult fare is required. I know that it’s only cash or FareSaver tickets. The drivers don’t carry change either.”
My question is for the minister. Will the ministry consider expanding the B.C. bus pass program to include handyDART trips as well?
Hon. S. Simpson: Maybe the member could confirm, but the word we’re getting is that letter didn’t come from our ministry. It may have come from TransLink, not from our ministry. I’m sure…. As the member knows, TransLink is with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and I would urge that issue to come up.
For us, absolutely. Part of the reason that we went to the model that we did, with the transportation supplement, the $52, is to give people a little bit more flexibility at least around how they can use that pot of money. I know people who have come to me who say: “I don’t use the bus all the time, so I don’t want an annual bus pass. I buy a book of bus tickets because I only use the bus a few times, and I’m using the other money, the $52, for something else.”
I would urge the member to have that conversation — we’re always talking to TransLink — with TransLink about this letter and how this, in fact, played out.
J. Thornthwaite: Sorry. It’s a follow-up. We were told that it was a handyDART issue. I guess my question is: can we get the handyDART and the TransLink people on the same page so that one card fits all?
Hon. S. Simpson: HandyDART is part of TransLink. They’re run by TransLink. They answer to TransLink; they don’t answer to us. So handyDART is part of the TransLink system, and TransLink has oversight over handyDART.
J. Thornthwaite: So direct it to TransLink. Okay.
M. Hunt: Shifting to Community Living B.C., this is one I’m still trying to understand.
M. Hunt: Okay. No problem. I’ll take a moment asking the question.
Does the minister have any plans to change the governance or the service delivery structure of Community Living B.C.?
Hon. S. Simpson: The challenges that CLBC has…. I’ll tell the member that when I accepted this portfolio, I was excited about it, and it has got all of the different pieces. One of the most complex ones is CLBC, and it’s complex because of the nature of the structure. It’s essentially a Crown that delivers funding and oversight to a range of service providers. So I’ve been getting my head around understanding that component of the ministry.
I think there are couple of things here. One is on the governance side. At this point…. And the member may know that one of his ex-colleagues…. I don’t think the member was here. Tom Christensen, who was a minister in the previous government, is the chair of CLBC, and he was the chair when we became government. I asked Tom to stay and fulfil his term, and he has agreed to do that. I’m thankful for that, because I think he brings a lot of insight, and he’s very sincere in his commitment to this organization. So I’m really pleased that he has chosen to stay at least until the completion of his term.
We’ve talked about it. One of the governance issues I am looking at, and the member may know that previously…. I can’t recall back. It might have been 2014, 2013. The previous government changed the board structure of CLBC. What they did is they removed designated advocates — both self-advocates and people who advocated — and removed them as a requirement of the board. Now, there are people on the board who certainly fill that bill, but they were removed as a requirement to be there.
I am thinking about returning that, because I’ve heard from lots of people who say: “Those are voices that you need to ensure are on the board.” That should be part of the structure — to ensure that those voices remain on the board. There are people who certainly fill that position now, but that’s a minister’s choice. They didn’t have an obligation to make sure those seats were filled. I am considering that. No decision has been made, but I am considering that.
The other issue that is always a complex one for CLBC is that demands for services of Community Living B.C. continue to grow, and they grow as we see more and more people who move up and transition from youth and become consumers of CLBC services.
We are seeing people — and this is a good thing — who have developmental disabilities who are living longer lives. There was a time when lives, sadly, were too short for people who had developmental disabilities. Because of improvements in health care, people are having longer lives and more complete lives. It is growing in terms of….
Of course, the costs of services continue to grow as the costs of all services continue to grow. So there’s a cost pressure issue. It’s balancing those cost pressure issues, which CLBC does a pretty good job with — and also with engaging people in the community.
Anybody who has had anything to do with CLBC, the agencies and providers, will know that they may be the most passionate people in the world. Moms, dads, brothers and sisters of people with a developmental disability — there is nobody more passionate when it comes to looking after their loved ones. They want to have a role. They aren’t trusting anybody blindly to look after the people they love. So they need to be engaged. Service providers, too.
We are always looking, and we’re certainly looking now, at ways to improve that engagement of CLBC as the agency, the Crown, that delivers this, the service providers, the home-share people who deliver much of the residential care and the advocates and the self-advocates. The message I’ve got is that those communications need to be better. People are somewhat frustrated with that, at some point, and they need to get better.
I know CLBC is committed to that. I’m encouraging CLBC to move down that road, and I’m encouraging all of those other participants to come to that table in a way that we can move forward and all work together to improve the services in an incremental way as we move forward.
In a long, roundabout way, we’re looking at those things, but we’re not talking about major change. We’re talking about how to make this a better conversation between all the people who want to be part of that conversation about services for the developmental disability community.
M. Hunt: I appreciate the long, roundabout answer. I think it was a good roundabout answer. The next question is….
M. Hunt: No, it is a compliment, and you covered a lot in it. I appreciate what you covered in it. That’s what I’m trying to say. I’m not always as good with words as I wish I was.
Are there any plans to change the budget allocations to community-based service providers?
Hon. S. Simpson: Maybe if I could just get a clarification. Is the member talking about in relation to CLBC or more broadly?
Hon. S. Simpson: In relation to CLBC.
What we will see at this point…. Obviously, there may be adjustments to the budget. Those adjustments will largely be driven by caseload.
M. Hunt: Are there any adjustments planned for the funding arrangements for service providers that would promote innovation and creativity to achieve better quality of life outcomes for persons with development disabilities?
Hon. S. Simpson: As the member will know, the primary responsibility of CLBC is direct service and making sure those services are supported. We all know that there are always cost pressures on CLBC, so that happens.
What has occurred is that when service providers have come to CLBC and talked about innovative ideas and said, “Maybe we can deliver inclusion programs differently; maybe there are other approaches we can take,” those have, in instances, been supported by CLBC. I certainly would encourage them to look at ways, when service providers come forward and say: “We have a different idea about how this might work. Can we talk about it?”
That also reflects back to my last answer, which is…. As we look to bring all of those players who are all committed to improving services from CLBC right to the families, the service providers and the advocates, how do we find ways to improve those services?
I’m a big fan of innovation and looking at that. CLBC, I know, has supported those innovations when it looked like they had good prospect for success. I certainly would encourage them. I know it would be their intention, if other opportunities come forward, to look at those seriously as well.
M. Hunt: Recognizing that innovative piece, we also have, from time to time, challenges where we can consider service providers to be relatively overlapping. I’ll pick on the Downtown Eastside, hypothetically, for a minute.
Say this service provider is delivering services to 400 people, but the same 400 people are over at this service provider receiving services and over at this one. So we can sort of get overlaps. That’s a hypothetical. I don’t have any real piece that I’m accusing anybody of, okay? But then also, we know we have gaps.
My question is: what is the minister doing to work at looking for overlaps and gaps and rationalizing those? Even the service providers themselves getting together and saying: “Hey, here’s where things need to be. You can do this. We do this.” That community rationalization of services to our needy clients.
Hon. S. Simpson: First of all, I think that was a broader question than a CLBC question. In regards to CLBC, that’s not an issue, in that once a service provider is identified for an individual, they essentially have responsibility to deliver the whole envelope of services for that person, unless they have a particular, unique need that can’t be met by that service provider. Then that has to be identified and provided in addition. With CLBC, that’s less of an issue.
Now, there are questions. The question that the member asked has a broader context, and I think it’s a legitimate one. We see that sometimes around housing services. We see that around services with the health authorities, potentially, and other service providers that provide a range of services. Some of it is questions of coordination and that.
Again, what I would tell the member is that I talked about the establishment of the cabinet committee on social initiatives, where all of those ministers are at that table. It affords us the opportunity to have significant conversations around issues where that is a potential. I certainly can think of a couple of times in a very short period of time where the direction was for ministers and deputies and that to go back and think about how to make sure that these things were coordinated in a fashion that reduced those possibilities as much as possible.
I think we do have some issues with what the member has talked about, and I think they’ve been an issue for a long period of time. I think it’s a challenge that governments of any stripe face. You can probably go to any jurisdiction in the country and make the case for overlap when there may be a way to do it that reduces that.
I think the question is a good one. It’s certainly one that I’m aware of. If we can find ways in some of those cases to reduce administrative costs and improve front-line services or do a variety of things that make that more efficient, that’s probably a good thing.
In the case of CLBC, that’s not an issue because of the way that CLBC funds individuals and agencies to provide direct service and capture the envelope of services for any given individual.
M. Stilwell: Thank you to the minister, and welcome to all the staff. It’s nice to see all the faces again. I used to sit on that side with all of you, so it’s a pleasure to be here to ask a couple of questions on behalf of a constituent in my riding of Parksville-Qualicum.
It’s specifically in regards to the disability health supplement program. I believe the ministry has received a letter on behalf of a constituent in regards to it. I’m just really looking for an update on what might be happening with the health supplement program.
For example, in this particular case, I had an individual on PWD who broke her foot and went to hospital and was prescribed an air cast for the break. The minister just said that he’s all about innovation, and the way we treat breaks has changed over the years. It’s not necessarily something that they use a fibreglass cast for anymore. The air cast is the way to go. When you’re working with people with disabilities, sometimes a fibreglass cast wouldn’t even work for the person’s particular disability.
Anyway, in this case, an air cast was prescribed. It was not covered under the health supplement program, so a PWD client was then required to pay for it. Then, on top of that, because of her disability, they needed to rent a wheelchair to help the individual. This all happened on a weekend. When it came down to it, the wheelchair rental did not get prior approval from the ministry, so it was not covered as well.
I sat on that side. I see it’s problematic on many levels for somebody who is trying to get the best possible care moving forward to not be covered for the things that they need to then carry on through their day-to-day life because of their physical disability and to be out of pocket for those expenses, even though a doctor prescribed them.
I’m just wondering what the ministry is thinking or considering when it comes to updating what is eligible for health supplements and apparatuses or devices on that list and if the ministry is considering anything when it comes to the pre-approval process for an individual on a weekend — how complex that could be — in order to get what they need.
Hon. S. Simpson: As the member will know, because the member sat in this chair, there really has been no review of the health supplement program since 2002. So for about 16 years, nobody has reviewed health supplements.
I think the member makes a very good point. The member is correct. Air casts are not covered by the program. We know that health supplements…. I had the dietitians in my office the other day, talking about nutrition supplements, which also haven’t been reviewed since about 2002. I’m glad that the member has raised the issue, because I think she’s right.
We do have the letter and should be responding to it. I don’t know that the response has been prepared yet, but the questions are good ones.
My commitment to the member is that the review of those supplements will happen sooner rather than later. We will have a conversation about that because I think the member raises a good point, that times are different. Costs of supplements are different. The technologies are different. What made sense in 2002 does not necessarily make sense in 2017-2018 in terms of how we move forward. I am pleased that the member raised the issue because it just reinforces for me that it’s probably time for that review to happen.
M. Stilwell: I thank the minister for taking that initiative to look into the health supplement program and do that review. I’m wondering if he could provide me a timeline on when he thinks that review will take place and when we might see changes come into effect.
Hon. S. Simpson: What I would say is that I don’t, since this conversation, have a specific time. But what I would say is that I would anticipate that we’ll probably look at those questions in the next calendar year.
What that means in terms of specifics…. The member knows, as well as I do, the hoops of cabinet and Treasury Board and all the other ones that we have to jump through. But I will commit that there will be a review. The results of that review I’ll be happy to talk to the member about somewhere down the road.
M. Stilwell: Perfect. I acknowledge that whatever the review comes from, there will be costs associated with that review, because obviously, costs are going up and equipment costs money. There will be, obviously, something that…. The minister will have to go to Treasury Board to get that approval, should there be any changes made to the program.
It is something that, as minister when I was sitting on that side, was on my radar. So I am pleased to hear that you are willing and committed to exploring it further. So thank you.
M. Hunt: Change of subject again. One of the things, in doing my homework to come and do these estimates, is I looked over the estimates over the last number of years and the processes and the questions that were asked.
One of the questions that surprised me that came up — so I thought I should continue the tradition — was: what are the current average call times on the ministry’s phone line?
Hon. S. Simpson: The averages run, over the period of a month, between about 20 to 30 minutes. That is the time as has been noted to me. That changes depending on whether it’s cheque issue time. Mondays and Fridays tend to be busier than Tuesdays through Thursdays. So there is some change around that.
It is a question that I’m interested in — those times. A regular report comes across my desk of how we’re doing with those things every month. So I get pretty regular reports as we look at how responsive we are and at ways to improve that response for people. But the currents are about 20 to 30 minutes.
M. Hunt: Well, it does seem as though this is a tradition, so that’s why you most likely got that ahead of this. They were anticipating this.
Of course, the next one is: what day had the longest average call times last month, and what was that average wait time? I know, this is like Jeopardy, right?
Hon. S. Simpson: It will be, I’m told, cheque issue day. Now, the specifics for last…. We’re just checking what that number is for cheque issue day last month. We’re trying to get you that number right now. I would invite the member to move on to the next questions, and I’ll get back and give him that answer as soon as we’ve got it.
M. Hunt: Well, Mr. Minister, this is Jeopardy — okay? So if you’re sending it off to who you’re calling, here are the rest of them, just so that they get into the record, because for some reason, this seems to be a tradition. It is: what are the average call times for the months of July, August, September and October, and how do the call times compare to this time last year and the year before?
Those seem to be traditional questions that have got asked every year. We put them on the record. Again, someone’s obviously logging time in, and they want that. So I submit that to you, and I will assume that your answer back is that you’ll get me the answer.
Then I’d like to turn it over to the member from Cariboo.
D. Barnett: Thank you, Minister, for having us here today. I read your article on the airplane yesterday, and it was very interesting and a great story. See. Some people do read.
I have a couple of questions. One question, I understand, has already been asked, but I was not here. Just to clarify, the bus pass. In rural British Columbia, we have many, many areas that have no buses. So does this increase that your government has given the handicapped individuals recently include rural British Columbia, whether or not they have access to transportation?
Hon. S. Simpson: Yes. Thank you for the question. It includes every person with disability in the province. It’s a transportation supplement of $52. Everybody receives that. If you’re in an area that has bus service — in Vancouver, for example — you can choose, and everybody makes their own choice. We’re not going to make the choice for them. They can choose to say, “I want an annual bus pass,” and that $52 will be applied and they will have an annual bus pass.
In the communities…. The member is absolutely correct. I’ve used this example a few times. There are places in this province where there are people with disabilities where their transportation initiative may be that their neighbour drives them to the market once a week so they can get groceries, and they give their neighbour a few bucks for gas every once in a while. That’s their transportation strategy, and that’s perfectly fine with me. They can used that $52 to do that, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m not going to tell people how to meet their transportation needs. I’m guessing most people in this province will spend more than $52 to meet their transportation needs a month.
D. Barnett: In essence, it’s the same as the program when we gave the $77 last year, the year before. People can utilize it for whatever they wish.
Hon. S. Simpson: The fundamental difference here is that everybody got an additional $52 that they did not get under the past program. Under the past program there, people received $77, and that became the increase for people, essentially. Then the $52 came out.
What we did was to add a further amount of money to this so that everybody then could make that choice. The fundamental difference, largely, here is that we created a transportation supplement of additional dollars. We didn’t carve it out of the $77 that everybody received. We created an additional $52, which has cost us, as I noted earlier with the question. It’s about $70 million a year of additional costs to the government to underwrite that.
Everybody got an extra $52, which they get to choose how they use, to meet transportation needs, and it’s identified as such on their cheque.
D. Barnett: Thank you, Minister. In your mandate letter, it says: “Develop a basic income pilot to test whether giving people a basic income is an effective way to reduce poverty, improve health, housing and employment.”
My question to the minister is: will there be a pilot project? Where will the pilot project be? Or will there be two pilot projects, one for urban British Columbia and one for small-town, rural British Columbia?
Hon. S. Simpson: What I would say to the member is that it’s pretty early days in this conversation.
The member may know that this issue of basic income probably started in Canada in the ’70s in Dauphin, Manitoba. They put the Mincome program in place there, and they did it in Dauphin. It had mixed results and never went farther than the pilot, essentially.
Ontario is in the middle of a pilot right now, or early on. They’re about six months into a pilot program that they’re applying in three different communities there. There are some challenges with that, and we’ve looked at it closely. We’re also looking at Oakland. It’s doing this. Glasgow is doing it. Finland is doing it. The European Union has three cities in Europe that they’re doing it with.
I’ve met with and brought together an academic panel of experts — including having had conversations with the person who’s considered kind of the smartest person about the Dauphin model and people who worked on the model in Ontario — to talk about what we need to do with an income pilot so that it has value as we move forward.
It really is about identifying what questions we need to answer. For me, those are questions about: does a basic income make sense to reduce poverty? There were also questions out there, quite honestly, about whether it becomes a tool to deal with automation, as we all look at a transitioning economy. Will automation remove jobs, and how does that affect people, and how do people transition?
There’s a bunch of pieces. We have not landed on what exactly the questions are that we need to answer. And more importantly, how do we measure this? How long does it have to be? The Ontario model is a three-year pilot, moving forward. Involving about 4,000 people is what their objective is. They haven’t got there, but it’s about 4,000 people.
We’re looking at all of these and have not landed on how best to do this in a way that will give us insights about whether a model, a program, like that has value down the road, what questions we have to answer and also: how do we structure this in a way so that we’re being as cost-effective as we can with the price of a pilot, moving forward?
That includes decisions about: can you do it in two communities? Do you need three communities? I think the thing that we do know is that it’s probably going to have to be some mix. I’m guessing — though I’m kind of speculating here, and I’m probably walking out on a limb that I shouldn’t — that it’s the suburbs and it’s rural B.C.
D. Barnett: Minister, as you’ve started on this project, naturally, this poverty reduction plan, what funding is in this budget for the plan?
Hon. S. Simpson: Yup, and we answered those questions earlier. So $1.2 billion has been allocated in this current year to support the preparation for the plan. That pays for a consultation process around the province that the Social Planning and Research Council of B.C. is doing in 20 communities.
It pays the expenses of the Minister’s Advisory Forum, and it pays for the website. We have got thousands and thousands of responses. I’m told we are second only to the cannabis responses in terms of enthusiasm to want to advise and give us information about that. And it supports the expense side of some of the research that we’re doing to answer questions.
It will help us, in this period of time, to look at how we measure poverty — the measurements are a question — and support us with some advice around the targets and timelines questions moving forward that will be incorporated in the legislation and in the plan moving forward. It’s $1.2 million we’ll be needing to get an allocation to move forward in the next budget.
D. Barnett: I think probably I just have maybe one more question. My question is….
I hear you say 20 communities will have input. That concerns me, Mr. Minister, because in rural British Columbia, we have so many small communities that do not get consultation many times and have not for many years because of the distance.
Will you be going to outreach to some of these small communities that basically have lost their main employer over the years because of environmentalists or because of this or because of that? Will you being going out there to have discussions with these people?
Hon. S. Simpson: I guess a couple of things. First of all, when we put the forum in place, we were very conscious to make sure that we had people who were not from downtown Vancouver and downtown Victoria there. We have nine or ten people who come from dispersed communities around the province, including the co-chair, who’s a professor at UNBC, and others from a variety of communities. I’m very sensitive to the point that the member makes, and I think it’s a good point. We will be in those 20 communities.
In addition to that work, and that’s SPARC that’s doing that, it is my plan to travel and be in a variety of communities, as will my parliamentary secretary be doing some travelling and doing some round tables in those communities. We’re reaching out across the province to the organizations that are participating. We’re talking to the Union of B.C. Municipalities. I met with their healthy communities committee the other day, and we talked about small communities particularly and about how to make those connections with local governments.
That holds true both around poverty reduction and around the work we’re doing on homelessness as well. We’re looking at a homelessness count and how we capture as much as we can and how, in the those communities where counts maybe don’t happen, it may be that you can go to the communities and talk to the local council or to the service provider in the community.
They’ll be able to tell you: “Well, we know that there are 12 people in our community who are living homeless, because we know everybody in the community and we pretty much know what’s up.” We’ll be drawing those numbers as well. I’m very keen to make sure that we find the avenue in for those conversations and how to broaden that discussion out.
At this point, we have the forum. We have the outreach being done by SPARC. We have the website that we’re encouraging. We will have my travel in mostly January and February, and the parliamentary secretary, who will be covering some of the communities I can’t get to, to make sure that we’re talking to as many people as we can.
I would welcome the member…. If she has ideas or suggestions about how to contact or talk to some of those communities and involve them in some fashion, I’d be happy to hear the advice of the member on how she thinks we might do that.
D. Barnett: Thank you, Minister. My concern is the people who need the help. I’m very connected with my communities. I’ve been there for a long time. I find that we talk to councillors, we talk to this, we talk to that, but we don’t talk to those people. That is where I’m coming from. We need to have this conversation, in my opinion, expanded to bring these people in that we’re talking about, that need the help. So my concern is: how are we going to engage those people?
We need to hear from them. I think the only way that we’re going to help reduce this poverty is to listen to the people that, basically, in my opinion, need the help.
Hon. S. Simpson: I couldn’t agree more with the member. That’s why when we put together the forum, we went out and we invited a wide range of organizations to nominate people to the forum. We specifically asked for people with lived experience. So a significant contingent of the people, I think…. Probably half the people or more who are on the forum have lived experienced, and probably six or seven of those people are living today in poverty. They’re on PWD. They’re single moms. They have developmental disabilities.
I have put them on the forum and invited them to be full participants. We’re working hard to make sure we give them the opportunity to participate fully. The challenges for them to participate are different than they are for somebody from an agency who goes back to their office and has staff and has all that. We’re very cognizant of that, and we are providing additional supports to that small group of people on the forum to make sure they can participate in the ways that work for them.
I couldn’t agree more: those voices are really critical to the conversation. We have reached out. I have met directly with most of the…. I don’t think I’ve said no to a meeting with a group that is a self-advocate poverty group in the province that we’ve been able to get to, and I will be continuing to do that. I couldn’t agree more with the member that if we’re going to get at this, we’re not going to succeed unless the voices of people who live every day with these issues are an integral part of that conversation. It’s my commitment that they will be, and it won’t just be the thinkers and the academics and the politicians who are making decisions about how we move forward.
D. Barnett: Thank you, Minister, for that. I’m more than willing to help in any way I can.
One more question is about staffing. I find that in my riding, maybe not in so many others in rural British Columbia, we have a lot of problems retaining staff in Social Development. I think one of the reasons is because they’re trained in urban centres, and we ship them off to this beautiful rural B.C., which isn’t the same type of life.
My question is: will you be doing a review of the staffing in the province of British Columbia — in particular, in rural B.C. — and what the needs are?
Hon. S. Simpson: A couple of points in regard to this. First of all, the hiring goes on in regions. There isn’t central hiring. The hiring is done regionally. In fact, when you look at what happens with attrition right now, there is less attrition happening in outlying communities because people can afford to live in those communities better than they can afford to live in Vancouver. We are facing the challenge of housing costs and those things.
When people leave, what we’re finding as we start to track this, because there is an attrition rate…. Employment and assistance workers, which is where a lot of people come into our ministry to provide services, are not the highest-paying jobs in government. When people are leaving, what we’re finding as we track that is that they are staying within the public service and going to higher-paid jobs within the public service that they’ve now accumulated enough time and seniority to be able to bid.
People are bidding up to jobs that have a better paycheque than the one that they can get as an employment and assistance worker for us. That’s part of the challenge. These are not the highest-paid jobs by any means in government, and that’s part of our challenge.
We have a continual hiring practice going on now. Some of it is catch-up, because, as you know, we don’t get an allocation of people. We get a budget, then we figure out how to turn that into FTEs. The budget has been relatively flat for a number of years, so while there’s been some hiring in the last couple of years to try to catch some of that up, it has been flat previously, and that’s the challenge we have.
I don’t want to be telling anybody that we should be paying people more money, but the reality is that that’s what we face — people who have relatively modest incomes working for us in the public service looking for a better paycheque doing something else in the public service. And they are hired locally. They’re not hired out of Vancouver and Victoria.
M. Hunt: Moving over to the basic income pilot, which, again, is part of your mandate letter. The question is: is there any money in this year’s budget for funding of the pilot?
Hon. S. Simpson: So $350,000 has been allocated just to do some feasibility work to be able to begin to grasp some of those initial things that I talked to the member’s colleague, the previous member, about — to bring forward that expert panel in again. We covered their expenses to come together. Nobody got paid to be there. So it’s $350,000 simply to be able to do the preliminary evaluation to try to figure out how we move forward here.
M. Hunt: How much does the minister anticipate will be needed in order to fund an actual pilot?
Hon. S. Simpson: I don’t have an answer to that question. Part of what we’re trying to determine is what we need to find out. Much of that will be determined by things like: how many people do you need in a sample size in order for it to be valid and to be able to get information? How long does the pilot have to be? Some people say we can do it in two years. Some people say it takes three years to be able to get the data to move forward.
How many communities will it take to do that? What will the value of the basic income be? In Ontario, they’re doing a basic income that I think is $1,700 a month. That’s what they’re talking about for people. In Finland, it’s about $600 or $700 a month. So what are you talking about in terms of an amount of money?
Those are all questions that haven’t been answered at this point, but those, among other things, will determine what this pot of money looks like moving forward and when it starts. We still have some work to do before I could give the member an answer with any confidence to that question.
M. Hunt: So then am I to assume that the minister is putting this initiative under the poverty reduction plan, and the same process is happening there, and this will be one of the outcomes of that process?
Hon. S. Simpson: Not entirely. It has, obviously, a connection to the poverty reduction initiative and will be looked at in that context.
It is an initiative unto itself as well, so we are looking at that separately from the work that’s being done with the poverty reduction initiative. At some point, it will fold in, much like the homelessness work. There aren’t a lot of people out there who are homeless who probably wouldn’t fit the bill of being poor. We have responsibilities to do that and to see how we fold those together as we move forward. I anticipate we’ll make those connections, those links, more directly in the coming months.
Right now we’re trying to do the due diligence necessary to answer the questions that the member is asking, and more, about: what do we want to know here? What’s the target group that we’re looking at to support? Is this a universal plan? Is it a plan that’s targeted at people who are living in poverty? Is it a plan that’s targeted in some other way?
There are different jurisdictions doing different things around the world on that — what questions we need to answer and what we have to do, in terms of the content of a pilot, in order to be able to get credible answers that, down the road, government can make an informed decision about whether this is an initiative that should move past the pilot stage and be looked at as a legitimate program alternative for how government should support people.
M. Hunt: How long would the minister anticipate that this process is going to take? Again, there are a lot of questions that are to be asked.
You also have the Ontario situation as an example. Are you going to wait till we hear back from the Ontario pilot? Are you going to take interim reports from them as part of your feedback? How long do you see this process happening until we actually have something physically happening on the ground in a pilot?
Hon. S. Simpson: We are. Ontario is being very helpful. They are giving us information. We’re in pretty regular contact with the province of Ontario. They’re being quite forthcoming with what they’re learning as they move forward — both the aspects of their program that they’re very happy with, in terms of how it’s working and where it’s being successful, and some of the aspects of their program that have more challenges. They’re being very good about that, and I much appreciate the support and the insights. It helps us to do the work that we’re doing.
We’re also, as I said, talking to people in other jurisdictions as well. Oakland has a very different approach that they’re taking around a feasibility initiative. We’re talking to the people in Oakland about what they’re doing and how they’re doing things that are quite different, in terms of their approach, than Ontario. We’re trying to understand the difference in those and whether one makes more sense for us than the other.
My hope would be that over the next few months, couple of months, we will be clear enough about what the path forward looks like that we’ll be able to make some announcements about how we’re going to proceed, moving forward with the pilot, and what that looks like — what the timeline looks like, how we will engage both individuals and communities, how much of the pre-feasibility work, which is the emphasis of Oakland, versus jumping right in with both feet to the pilot, which is Ontario’s approach, without too much feasibility at the front end.
That has complications, having not done that, which they’re sorting through now. The other one takes more time. So that’s a bit of the kind of six of one, half a dozen of the other that we’re having to deal with.
I hope that in the next few months, we will be able to be much more definitive and will be releasing information about the pilot. It is my intention that once we land on that, and we kind of know what the path forward looks like, we’ll be making that public.
M. Hunt: The word “sustainability” also comes into many of these discussions on this — obviously, down the road considerably. But is that also a piece of the puzzle that the minister is looking at? Is this program being a sustainable program, in and of itself?
Hon. S. Simpson: Absolutely. I think government, probably whenever it looks at programs, has to look at the ongoing sustainability of programs, and this wouldn’t be any different.
M. Hunt: Okay. I’ll accept that answer.
When we were talking about recovery homes, you also raised the issue of home-share providers and the situation for home-share providers and the funding pressures that are, of course, on them — those sorts of things.
[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]
Could you give me an update as to how things are doing there? Are increases being anticipated? Are we making plans? Do we have wait-lists? What are our plans, going forward, with the home-share providers?
Hon. S. Simpson: With home-share providers…. The member may know that home-share providers haven’t seen an increase, I think, since 2009. It was the last time they had an increase. Many of them are feeling the pressure of not having seen new resources. There’s also the discussion about how they relate to service providers in CLBC and where they come in that continuum of care.
We know that they’re a valuable resource. We know that for most people who are receiving CLBC support now who need residential supports, home-share is the model that’s being used — both because it can be a very effective model, in many cases, and it’s pretty cost-efficient versus some of the staffed residential care options.
There’s no question I have been approached by home-share providers who have raised issues with me about their funding. Like everything else, it will come as no surprise to the member that I have had a variety of different entities and organizations and people who have come and talked to me about funding and about the fact that they haven’t seen a lot of lifts or support in terms of new dollars for the last ten years or so.
I’m hearing from all of them, and what I would assure the member is that, like all those other requests, we’re in the budget process now for February. We’re figuring out how to set priorities and where supports may be able to be given and where they aren’t feasible. And we’ll include all of that in the budget in February.
M. Hunt: The budget of February is going to be one of the most interesting and highly anticipated events of the year, I am sure.
Having said that, accessibility legislation…. From time to time, discussion has come on accessibility legislation. Has the minister any plans, and could we get an update from the minister as to what his thoughts are?
Hon. S. Simpson: There’s been a lot of work done around this. The member may know that the federal government is bringing in legislation in the next few months around accessibility and inclusion, disability access legislation. There was consultation with the provinces around that previously. I’m pretty excited to see what that legislation looks like when the federal legislation arrives.
I’ve been talking to the organizations in British Columbia, whether it be representatives of the CNIB or Barrier-Free B.C. or Disability Alliance or Inclusion B.C., who are interested in those issues. My commitment to them is that once we see the federal legislation and we know where the federal government has taken us, we’ll open a conversation at that point with some of those groups around what things we need to do to complement the federal legislation to improve the situation around access and inclusion moving forward.
Also, I’ve had preliminary discussions around that with some people in the business community. They will obviously be affected by some of this, potentially, in terms of what they do and how they operate. And we’ll be looking for a collaborative way to make sure they’re part of that conversation too. But at this point, we’re simply waiting for the federal legislation, which I think is coming in the spring, if not sooner. Then we’ll be looking at that and moving pretty quickly to start a conversation about how we take what the feds have done and build on that in British Columbia.
M. Hunt: Monthly satisfaction reports. The ministry has monthly satisfaction reports that they work on. Can the minister please tell me what the current trends are and how the minister is going to make use of these in future decisions?
Hon. S. Simpson: I’ve just had it confirmed that we don’t do monthly satisfaction reports.
Hon. S. Simpson: I’m not sure, but we don’t do that. And I’m reasonably happy.
M. Hunt: Well, it is always good when the minister is happy. That’s always a good thing. I want to comment that the minister has been very quick in responding to questions that I have given him, as both of us…. This is our first experience at this on either side of this.
Many times I have watched very slow and laborious processes between the Chair saying “Minister” and “Member” that were very…. Lots of silence in between those two. I want to thank the minister for his candid and thorough and quick responses. I think, from my perspective, I have enjoyed the day, and I have enjoyed the answers that the minister has given. I’ve been very satisfied with the answers that the minister has given. So I compliment him as I give him the last question, okay? It looks like we actually might end up early, so you might want to really stall the answer to this one.
There are a lot of different strategic plans in the ministry, and I certainly was given a lot of reading material on that. Obviously, these are strategic plans for this year that were created for the previous government, not for your government. My question is: now, under the new government, as we come forward into the next year and the new set of strat plans, what changes does the minister anticipate that we might see in the midst of these strategic plans?
Hon. S. Simpson: We’re just kind of thinking about what strategic plans, outside of service plans, might be. But I guess what I want to do is assure the member of this. The initiatives that commenced under the previous government in this ministry, whether they were around social innovation, whether they were around Accessibility 2024, around other areas…. I have no interest in setting them aside because they weren’t ours. That’s not how I work.
We’re looking at all of those things and trying to say: “Let’s find the best pieces of these and make them work and figure out, as will happen with all governments, what’s substantive and what’s rhetorical.” Let’s find the substantive pieces that will make people’s lives better, that will improve how we deliver service, that will ensure that the people who need the service are getting responded to, and figure out how we improve and make those things better.
I really don’t care where those ideas come from. If they come and they’re solid ideas and they’re ideas that we can make work, then I’m good with saying: “Let’s look hard at these and figure out how to make them work.” If they need additional government support and they merit that support, then I’m happy to go forward through the processes of cabinet and Treasury Board to have those discussions with my colleagues moving forward.
We’re kind of seeing them every day. Sometimes they’re initiatives. Whether they’re around service delivery, they come up as one-offs, often, and they will come up because of questions that were raised, like the member for Parksville-Qualicum talking about health supplements today. Well, that triggered something for me, and we’ll be looking at those things.
That’s about somebody who brings forward a legitimate and credible issue and says: “I don’t think we’re doing this well enough.” For the member, who was the previous minister…. I guess I could’ve taken the easy shot there, but I appreciate the fact that she raised something I think is important. She’s not alone. This member has raised things — other members, other people in the community. So we’ll work on those things as we move forward around these things.
The other comment I would make to the member is that we’ve had a very short period of time. I’ve appreciated the time. I’ve appreciated the questions, and I think they’ve been important questions that deserve answers. I’ve appreciated that.
And to let the member know that if there are things that he or his colleagues have not been able to get to, I’d be happy to receive those in writing. I will assure that the member gets a response in writing to questions that he may not have had the time to or just may not have been on his priority list to try and get out here in our exchange today. We’ll be happy to answer those questions in writing moving forward.
Vote 40: ministry operations, $3,105,460,000 — approved.
Hon. S. Simpson: I move that the committee rise, report resolution of Vote 40 of the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 6:11 p.m.
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