Third Session, 41st Parliament (2018)
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Issue No. 113
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The PDF transcript remains the official digital version.
|Orders of the Day|
|Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room|
THURSDAY, APRIL 12, 2018
The House met at 1:32 p.m.
[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
Hon. M. Farnworth: It’s my pleasure, in introductions today, to make acknowledgment of something that I think is really remarkable. Everyone sitting in this House has run for office, but very few of us in this House have actually run a marathon. On Monday, the Clerk-at-the-Table, Kate Ryan-Lloyd, will be running in the Boston Marathon.
An Hon. Member: Again.
Hon. M. Farnworth: Again, and no doubt setting a legislative record time.
I would ask all members of the House to wish her much luck and a very speedy 26 miles on Monday.
Orders of the Day
Hon. M. Farnworth: In this House, I call continued committee stage of Bill 5, and in Committee A, I call continued estimates of the Ministry of Environment.
Committee of the Whole House
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 5; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 1:35 p.m.
On section 2 (continued).
Hon. A. Dix: I just wanted to respond to the second part of the question that the member from Chilliwack-Hope ended with before the lunch break. He expressed concern, I believe, about the length of time information would remain on the website about a particular child care facility or other licensed care facility, whether it be child care or assisted living or long-term care.
I’ll just say that updated information is provided on the website. In other words, the reports posted will include any actions taken by operators in response to the findings of investigations and inspections. Those will be posted as well. If, as the member suggests, there are minor infractions, the immediate response or the strong response of the operator will be posted as well so that families will be able to see that a problem was responded to right away.
While I appreciate his concern, I’d also add that in the case of licensed child care facilities, they’re inspected at least annually, and more frequently than that if there’s a higher level of risk, and a new report gets posted with each new inspection. In other words, it’s both. The information is just the information. It’s not either positive or negative. It’s the information, fully provided, put in context.
We don’t decide if something is major or minor. Instead, we say what a violation might be, should it be a violation. As well, if you’re a provider, it will also show year after year of inspections that are very positive as well.
We don’t pass judgment. This is transparency. It allows people seeking child care to get access to maximum information and to make their own judgments about that information. It also assures that if improvements are made, those improvements are reflected as well.
L. Throness: I’m going to thank the minister for that. I’m going to surrender the floor to my colleague from Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, who has a couple of questions on this same section.
J. Isaacs: My questions are regarding section 15.2, subsections (3) and (4). Subsection (3) says a medical health officer “must promptly remove” information respecting investigations, and subsection (4) says a medical health officer “may remove” information respecting inspections.
I’m wondering what the difference is. Why would one be “must promptly remove,” and why would the other one be “may remove”?
Hon. A. Dix: It’s the distinction between investigations, which must be removed after five years, and inspections, which might provide a longer period, which itself might be advantageous to the operator.
In the case of investigations, we’ve said it’s five years, and then it comes off, which is reasonable. Inspections can be left on for longer, which may be something of benefit to the operator.
J. Isaacs: What would be an example of why an investigation would stay on longer? Does the health officer have the authority to publish and continue to have that information remain on the website? Whose discretion is it to actually keep that for over five years?
Hon. A. Dix: To be clear, an investigation does come off after five years. In the inspection case, it may actually be helpful to an operator — if you had six or seven or eight years of inspections where there were good results — to leave that information off. The discretion is with the medical health officer.
L. Throness: I have something to add to that, Chair. Perhaps — envisioning the worst-case scenario — a provider has a bad relationship with the health authority, and the medical health officer decides on a whim to leave a poor inspection, or an inspection by which they failed, on for more than five years — which could damage that provider in a material way. Should there not be some kind of limit that the government should place on its own powers here?
Hon. A. Dix: In the case of investigation, of course, it is five years. In the case of inspections, there’s a duty on all medical health officers to be administratively fair. So I don’t really think the scenario being envisioned here is one that would come about.
I think the purpose of it, the purpose of not having a limit on inspections, is to show over a period of time that inspections have taken place. That, generally speaking, speaks well of a licensed facility that’s being inspected. That would be the circumstance. Licensed facilities are inspected on an annual or, sometimes, more-than-annual basis.
Really, all that this does is leave it to the discretion of the health officer — the opportunity to do that. In the case of the investigations, though, it’s clear. We’re putting a limit on five years, and then they must come off.
J. Isaacs: The next one is section 15.3(3), where it says: “A medical health officer must promptly remove information that was published under this section if a licence is subsequently issued in respect of the community…facility.”
In other words, I’m reading this as: if an unlicensed daycare operator — who has had an infraction in the past and has been publicly reported on the website as unlicensed — obtains a licence, the infraction that’s been posted on the unlicensed operator is dropped from the website, dropped from scrutiny, dropped from public viewing, and the newly licensed daycare operator — one and the same — begins with a blank slate. Am I reading that correctly?
Hon. A. Dix: Here’s the purpose here. A family child care operator has three or four children. They’re not aware of the limitation. It’s brought to their attention by the health authority. Their infraction is not having a licence. They get a licence. That deals with the issue of the infraction. They didn’t know. They got the licence. So they go through the process of the licence, which has a number of conditions, and then they start afresh.
Someone who was unlicensed and gets a licence, in that case, would not have the fact that they were unlicensed on their website. That’s the purpose of it.
It’s really an issue of fairness to family child care operators who are acting in good faith. Under those circumstances, you wouldn’t want — when they’ve done exactly what the system asks, not just now but before now, over the last decades — to have that linger on their record when the fact of their violation is the lack of a licence.
L. Throness: I want to follow up on that, reminding the minister that a law is not primarily made for a lawful person. It is made for an unlawful person and one who wants to not be reasonable.
Let me set up an absurd situation here. You have an unlawful provider who provides terrible care. A child dies under the care of this provider. You have investigations by the health authority, by the coroner, by the police. There are big reports. There are news items.
The provider says: “I want to make this go away.” So the provider applies for a licence, cleans up the house or wherever they’re providing care in and meets the conditions for a licence, and suddenly, all of that record is wiped away. Isn’t that an absurd situation? It seems to me that previously the law was being too harsh, and now it’s being too lenient.
Hon. A. Dix: Well, it is an absurd situation. Under those circumstances, clearly the person wouldn’t get a licence, so it doesn’t apply, right?
The purpose of that provision — I responded to the member for Coquitlam–Burke Mountain — was in the circumstance where a provider has three or four children. It would be unlikely to be more. If they had that big a facility, I think there’d be a greater expectation that they would understand the law, just in general.
If they had that and they didn’t understand that two was the limit, and then if they move to respond to it by getting a licence — which is what they were required to do in 2015, in 2011, in 2007 and in 2018 — the very fact that they didn’t have a licence and they responded to that would not be on the record. But the circumstances that the member talks about, clearly, would lead to the person not getting a licence.
L. Throness: There are criteria with respect to a licence. I would agree with the minister that, under the happy circumstance where a person who didn’t know about the licensing requirement gets one, that’s great. But does an officer have the discretion not to issue a licence if the applicant meets the criteria set out in the regulation?
Hon. A. Dix: Of course, I disagree with one of the member’s assertions. The law is for everybody. It also allows all of us to understand what the parameters of the law are and function in good faith and with goodwill.
If you’re seeking a licence, you have to be of good character. In this case, that test would not be met. You have to be able to provide mature guidance to children. In the case that he talks about, that would not be met. Of course, you have to have gone through a criminal records check, and the results of that would have consequences.
I think, really, what this provision is…. As he noted, we’re a little bit reversing our discussion of earlier. But in this case, this is just to be fair to a number of family child care providers who are seeking to follow the law and were unaware of it. That’s not a reflection on their character. They were unaware of it.
Then, when they discovered that they were doing so, they moved promptly and quickly to follow the law and become licensed under those circumstances. Given the response, we don’t want the fact that they’ve become licensed, and the fact that they may have acted as an unlicensed child care prior to that — they’ve met all the tests of the licensing — to be held against them. That’s the purpose of it.
L. Throness: I have one other question. Under 15.4(1)(b), “information respecting licensed and unlicensed community care facilities generally,” what information might be published that is not already named in this bill — being name, address, results of inspections, investigations and responses to those? What kind of general information would be published under this section?
Hon. A. Dix: There is nothing envisioned right now. This gives the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council the opportunity to add information should that be deemed necessary in future. To add that by regulation, it would require a regulation by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.
L. Throness: I just have one further question on this bill. Often, regulatory powers are conferred under the act by category, referring to specific issues. I note that there is no regulatory-making power referring to these sections in this bill or in the existing act. Is the minister confident that the government has the power to make regulations that refer to the clauses that are being amended in this bill?
Hon. A. Dix: Just in the interests of time, it’s under section 6, the specific provision we’re talking about. Let me just get it right. It’s sub 6(c.1)(i), which refers to section 15.4(1). This paragraph will allow regulation to be made to prescribe additional pieces of information that must be published about community care facilities and/or assisted-living residences in future as needed. That’s where the provision is.
L. Throness: I have no further questions, Chair. I want to thank the minister.
Sections 2 to 11 inclusive approved.
Hon. A. Dix: With thanks to the critic for his questions and for members who contributed to the debate — my colleague from Coquitlam–Burke Mountain, the seniors critic — I’d like to move that the committee report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 1:52 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 5, Community Care and Assisted Living Amendment Act, 2018, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. A. Dix: I call committee stage on Bill 6.
Committee of the Whole House
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 6; L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 1:56 p.m.
Hon. A. Dix: Perhaps the House could just adjourn for a few minutes while the minister and his staff arrive for the committee stage.
The Chair: Thank you, Minister. This House will stand in recess.
The committee recessed from 1:57 p.m. to 2:13 p.m.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
On section 1.
Hon. H. Bains: Let me introduce my staff here first. Trevor Hughes is my deputy minister, and Michael Tanner is labour policy, on my left here.
I’d like to move an amendment. I move the amendment to section 1 that is in the possession of the Clerk.
[SECTION 1, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the text shown as underlined:
1 Section 50 of the Employment Standards Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 113, is amended
(a) by repealing subsections (1) and (2) and substituting the following:
(1) A pregnant employee who requests leave under this subsection is entitled to up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave, which must be taken during the period that begins
(a) no earlier than 13 weeks before the expected birth date, and
(b) no later than the actual birth date
and ends no later than 17 weeks after the leave begins.
(1.1) An employee who requests leave under this subsection after giving birth to a child is entitled to up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave, which must be taken during the period that begins on the date of the birth and ends no later than 17 weeks after that date.
(2) An employee who requests leave under this subsection after
the termination of
her the employee’s pregnancy
is entitled to up to 6 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave, which must be
taken during the period that begins on the date of the termination of
her the pregnancy and ends no later than 6
weeks after that date. ,
(b) in subsection (3) by adding “who requests leave under this subsection” after “employee”, by striking out “she” and “her” and substituting “the employee” in both places and by striking out “subsection (1)” and substituting “subsection (1), (1.1)”, and
(c) by repealing subsection (5) and submitting the following:
(5) If an employee on leave under subsection (1) or (1.1) proposes to return to work earlier than 6 weeks after giving birth to the child, the employer may require the employee to give the employer a medical practitioner’s or nurse practitioner’s certificate stating the employee is able to resume work.]
On the amendment.
Hon. H. Bains: Madame Chair, we will be recollecting here very quickly.
The reason for this amendment that we’re proposing, an amendment in section 1, is it simply removes the references to “her” and “she” in the pregnancy leave provisions to make the language gender neutral. I want to make sure that the legislation is inclusive and recognizes individuals who may be eligible for this leave but do not identify with gender-specific pronouns.
Section 1 as amended approved.
On section 2.
J. Martin: Just a couple of things for clarification in this section. As a bit of a data geek myself, I’m always kind of curious where numbers come from.
Maybe you could tell the House, Minister, how we move from 35 to 61 in (b): “in subsection…by striking out ‘35 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave…’ and substituting ‘61 consecutive weeks….’” Is there a particular rhyme and reason why we ended up at 61?
E. Foster: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
E. Foster: It’s my great pleasure to introduce a group of grade 5 and 6 students from the Vernon Christian School that are here visiting today to see the Legislature. I was glad they were able to get into the House and actually see what I think is the real meat and potatoes of legislation, which is the committee stage.
As my former colleague from Surrey Dave Hayer would say, they are from one of the best schools in British Columbia. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. H. Bains: Thank you very much for the question. It is to line up with the federal EI benefit changes that the federal government brought in. It used to be 35 weeks, and now a birth mother is entitled to 61 weeks. It’s so they can take full advantage of the federal EI benefits.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
J. Martin: A similar type of inquiry. If we could get some rationale on the move from eight weeks to 27 weeks and, we may as well at the same time, the rationale for doubling 26 weeks to 52 weeks.
Hon. H. Bains: I think, when you look at the entire bill here, what we’re trying to address, Member, is that as the federal government made changes to the EI benefits to the birth mother and to the parents, they have extended EI benefit levels — what they were entitled to before and what they are entitled to today.
What we are doing is making sure that whatever the federal government did to extend the EI benefit for the birth mother and to the parents, we allow them to have a leave corresponding to the benefits that they’re entitled to, so every section that you will see is exactly what we are trying to do here.
How do we come up with those numbers? Again, we just follow the federal EI benefit length of time they are entitled to so that they have leave and enjoy being with their birth child. At the same time, when they decide to go back to work, the job is there for them. The employer is required to give them leave while they’re caring for their child.
J. Martin: We do know that, from time to time, particularly when there’s a change of administration in Ottawa, the eligibility for EI benefits is tinkered with, not so much here but in other parts of the country. Theoretically, it could happen here — a new administration or maybe some type of reworking of the benefit package overall. What would happen if that was to change? Would you have to bring forward amendments to correspond once again to the federal numbers?
Hon. H. Bains: This provincial government will decide when and if we make any changes to the Employment Standards Act. The federal government can make changes, but then it will be up to the provincial government to either comply with what they have done or decide not to do it. These changes were made some time ago, but now is the time that we decided British Columbian parents must be accommodated so that they can take advantage of the benefits that they are entitled to under the EI changes.
So we’ll wait and see. When they make changes, then I think it’s up to us to make a decision whether we make the changes or not.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
M. Hunt: In section 4, we’re dealing with, in the act itself, section 52.3. I want to look at sections (2) and (7) of that. I just want to read them briefly.
It says: “(2) If a child of an employee disappears and it is probable, in the circumstances, that the child’s disappearance is a result of a crime, and the employee requests leave under this section, the employee is entitled to unpaid leave for a period of up to 52 weeks.” And (7) says: “If requested by the employer, the employee must, as soon as practicable, provide to the employer reasonably sufficient proof that the employee’s child has disappeared in circumstances in which it is probable the disappearance is a result of a crime.”
Sounds interesting, but my question comes to the practicality of this. Let me give you two very simple examples. One, of course, a local Victoria one from the 1990s, is Michael Dunahee. How would that apply in his situation?
Or currently we have the situation happening in Montreal, where, on March 17, a ten-year-old boy went off to see his friends and never returned. The police figure that it was a drowning, so for the last month, when the ice conditions are appropriate, they have been searching the St. Lawrence River to see if the child is there. They have now stopped the search of the St. Lawrence River, and the father is saying: “Well, why aren’t you investigating an abduction on this?” They’re saying: “No, this is just a normal disappearance.”
We certainly have members of the House here who are former police officers or members of the RCMP. And certainly these investigations go through a process. Usually it starts as a missing person. Then it might escalate from a missing person across periods of time — this sort of thing.
My question is a very simple one. Often during the process, we don’t know that it’s criminal. We don’t have any of this. So we’re saying that if a child disappears, they have no ability to get leave until, all of a sudden, at some point in time, we can have a probability of a crime. I would like the minister to please explain how this is going to practically work in those types of escalating situations.
Hon. H. Bains: Good question, Member. I’d just say that most employers are very reasonable people. All we’re trying to do through this bill is avoid a situation where a 14-year-old or 15-year-old has a fight with a mom and dad and just walks away. That’s not what we are talking about.
I think what we are talking about is, as most other jurisdictions have in their legislation right now, it provides leave for a similar requirement. The purpose is to provide proof of an employee’s entitlement. It’s not required in every case. It will not be required in every case. What do you go by? You go by, in most cases, a copy, perhaps, of the report to the police or documentation that the police are investigating the disappearance as a possible crime. I think that should be sufficient.
It is not hard evidence that a crime has occurred. The report to the police, the examples that you have used, will fit that. It’s not real hard proof that the police said: “We have evidence that somebody did this.” I think it is just to satisfy the employer. In most cases, the employer will not even ask for this kind of thing. If they do, usually they do have a relationship with the employees, and they know what the circumstances are.
I think it is something that is being practised in every jurisdiction out there. I haven’t seen any big issue coming out of those jurisdictions.
M. Hunt: While I certainly don’t disagree with the minister that most employers are very practical and reasonable, especially in these types of situations, my only concern is that the legality of what we’re creating here says very specifically that this is “as a result of a crime.”
Now, I realize that provincial bureaucrats are very generous people that always interpret things very generously, but I would argue that some of us are in politics because common sense isn’t always applied to the rule of law. What can I say? This is the real world. As soon as you put those words in there, you have given a tool that says to the distraught parents: “You can’t get leave. You have no rights under the Employment Standards Act to get leave in the midst of the trauma that you’re in.”
Now, I do not disagree with the minister in any way, shape or form over the example that he uses, where the parents have a fight with the teenage kid and the teenage kid ups and leaves and that sort of thing. That, to me, is so different.
We must be able to find, in all of the wonderful minds that we have within the ministry, a better way to describe this than tying it to crime, versus the illustration, which I think we all agree with, that there’s a family disruption, the family is having an argument, and the kid stomps off. In those cases, sure enough, they can be gone for years as well. We certainly have lots of cases of that happening. But often in those sorts of situations, again, the police find they don’t want to communicate, but we know the person is alive and well. And it’s left there.
It’s just this piece of it that, to me…. I get very, very concerned that it’s too restrictive in the way that the minister is choosing it to be, and I would ask for the consideration of some other language, rather than directly tying it to crime.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
Hon. H. Bains: Member, I fully understand, because I have been on the other side, where an unreasonable employer can demand unreasonable kinds of requests. But they are very few and far between. I must say that.
Now, if you take a look, it says, though, that the employee’s child has disappeared in circumstances in which it is probable that the disappearance is a result of crime. That’s the language being used. Probable is not must. So I think there is room here that we can rely on. If these circumstances are such that it is probable that there’s a crime…. Either a child is kidnapped or a child may have been in a custody dispute and taken away against the law. Those are probable causes, and that’s what employees are required to do. No more than that.
A. Weaver: I have but one question, dealing with section 4. It’s with respect to 52.4 and the leave respecting death of a child.
First off, please let me commend government for bringing this forward. It’s overdue, and it’s well received. I do appreciate this legislation.
With that said, there are two aspects that I was wondering if the minister has had the time to think about. Number 1 is stillbirths. The bereavement that a family can actually feel from a stillbirth is profound. The question is: does this legislation take into account stillbirths? Number 2 is late-term miscarriages. Again, knowing people who have suffered through late-term miscarriages, a child can be very recognizable, and funerals can happen, and bereavement is very, very real and long-lasting.
My question to the minister is: would this legislation cover compassionate leave for both cases of stillbirth and late-term miscarriages where bereavement leave is sought?
Hon. H. Bains: The stillbirth part of the leave we haven’t changed. It still is under the old act.
What we are dealing with through this act is a child born, dies or disappears. So 52 weeks to 104 weeks. But that part, stillbirth, we haven’t touched and haven’t changed.
A. Weaver: Further, to explore this, then, is there existing legislation that the minister can appeal to that would take into account a request for bereavement leave that falls under the case of late-term miscarriage? Again, let’s suppose a very sad and unfortunate event occurs, and at seven months a miscarriage occurs.
Is there legislation that would allow the mother or the father or the parents to actually seek bereavement leave using existing law — that is, that would be changed, like this, to have an extended period of time? Or with the case of stillbirth, it might be slightly different. I recognize that that might be covered by existing law. But if the minister could expand upon these for me, that would be helpful.
Hon. H. Bains: The existing act says this: “An employee is entitled to up to 6 additional consecutive weeks of unpaid leave if, for reasons related to the birth or the termination of the pregnancy, she is unable to return to work when her leave ends under subsection (1) or (2).” So there are certain coverages under the current act. When we were talking about, under this new act, child death or child disappearance, we weren’t dealing with stillbirth or termination.
A. Weaver: I do appreciate that, and I thank the minister for bringing that forth. As we move forward, I recognize — and I hope the minister and the ministry recognize — that this is an issue that I think, frankly, should be treated similarly, that stillbirths and late-term miscarriages are very real children and very real bereavement occurs. If a baby were born and were to die one day after birth, then that baby would be subject to a different length, a period of time, than a baby who happened to be born when they’re stillbirth.
Maybe, as we move forward, the ministry might think about exploring this, because I know many personal cases, and I’m sure members here also know personal cases, where there is very real bereavement. Unpaid leave is taken, but protection for that is important.
Hon. H. Bains: Member, thank you very much for your point — well taken.
As you know, these are the changes, as I said earlier, to match the EI benefit changes that the federal government brought in, so that our parents can take advantage for the period that they are entitled to the EI benefits.
I must tell you that I’m working to look at the larger piece of the Employment Standards Act. There are a number of consultation pieces going on. B.C. Law Institute is one of them that is doing it. They will be looking at a number of different areas to bring our employment standards and employment laws into the modern day and the changing world of today.
I think you can expect a lot more. We will be talking to you and others to make sure that we bring those laws up to date.
J. Martin: Still on section 4, it wasn’t that long ago that the UN convention rights of a child defined a child as below the age of 18. The definition of a child for the purposes of this legislation is a person under 19 years of age. Could the minister please explain why that particular range was selected for the definition of a child?
Hon. H. Bains: We’re taking 19 because that’s the definition of child — a person under 19 years of age. It’s consistent with B.C.’s Age of Majority Act.
J. Martin: Just moving on, in subsection (3). If an employee is charged with a crime that resulted in the disappearance of the employee’s child, they’re not entitled to the leave, or if they’re already on leave, it is cancelled.
One of the realities in our justice system is that often there’s an overzealous rush to stack charges, which very shortly thereafter are thinned out. We have the very real possibility that the charge that the employee is facing is not the charge 30 days later. Would there be any revisitation of this person’s eligibility to be able to take part in the program?
Hon. H. Bains: I think a situation like this, Member, that you brought…. There are different scenarios, and individual situations will differ.
I look at one scenario. Say a child disappears, and there’s a probable cause that it is crime-related. You go to your employer, and the employer approves your leave. I think what the member was asking…. Later on, through investigations, that person is charged. Then, in further investigations, the charges are dropped. What happened to the child, right? I think that’s what the member is asking.
I think in that situation, you could apply for leave, and leave would be approved according to this act. Then the employer can decide to cancel your leave, because now you’re charged. But once the charges are dropped, you could come back and say: “Look, I want my leave back. I still need time.” Then your leave would be approved again.
J. Martin: Would you envision that, Minister, to be a similar outcome if someone who was charged, maybe, on two or three counts arranged for a hasty plea deal, pled guilty to the less serious offences, and the offence that would have been connected directly to the disappearance is gone?
The person has pled guilty to lesser charges, and none of them are relevant to the disappearance of an individual. It’s a typical scenario in this type of situation where there’s an abduction and a weapon is used in it. The abduction, being the more complicated charge, is dropped, and the person would simply take the consequence of being in unlawful use of a firearm.
Hon. H. Bains: I think what we are talking about here is crime — somebody charged with a crime — and the disappearance of that child. If the parents get charged under the Criminal Code for the disappearance of that child, that’s what we are talking about. He or she could be charged for any different reason. That has nothing to do with this.
All we are talking about is if the child has disappeared and one of the parents who is requesting leave is charged relating to that disappearance of that child. If other charges have nothing to do with the disappearance of the child, then they don’t apply here. If they are not charged for the disappearance of the child, then they are entitled to leave under this act.
Hon. S. Simpson: Leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
Hon. S. Simpson: I’m really pleased we’re joined here by a group of students from my constituency, from St. Francis of Assisi School, grade 5s and 7s. We have 29 young people here to learn something about what we do in this place and how we do it. They’re being chaperoned and joined by a group of teachers and parents, including Cathy Sulmona, Josie Pauletto, Nina Sudar, Kirsten Jansen, Catherine Palsari, Yvette Pardisio and Mandy Dio. Will the House please make the students from Francis of Assisi welcome.
J. Martin: Probably far and away, the most fundamental piece of the rule of law is the presumption of innocence. A charge in no way whatsoever equates to guilt. Yet we spoke yesterday about how critical, how important, this leave is going to be for the grieving process, for the ability for someone — for their emotions and their physical health — to get through this.
Yet we are basically seeing a deprivation of an employment right that we’re extending based on a charge, not on a finding of guilt. So there is a little bit of a concern that this does fly in the face of the presumption of innocence. I would ask the minister to share his thoughts on that.
Hon. H. Bains: Hon. Chair, I ask leave to make an introduction first.
Introductions by Members
Hon. H. Bains: In the gallery — I think they are just about to leave — Mr. Saho Deol, a long-term leader of the community, along with Mr. Satnam Sahota and one other guest from India who is visiting us here in Canada. They’re here to visit us and see how the proceedings of this House work. Please help me give them a warm welcome.
Hon. H. Bains: Member, remember that we are using the language that every other jurisdiction in Canada that has this act is using.
I think what you’re trying to avoid is a situation where…. We are trying to accommodate parents who have lost their child or their child has disappeared so that they are accommodated for leave to grieve and to support each other. You don’t want to be in a situation where one or both parents are involved in criminal activity. God forbid. Who does that?
But if the police charge them with the disappearance of that child, I think there would be very strong opposition from the employer’s side. “They are involved in the disappearance,” they would say, “and they’re charged, and now you’re punishing us to give them leave.” That wasn’t the intent of the act.
I think we’re just trying to create a balance here. We followed what the other jurisdictions have done, and it has worked. I’m sure there’s always room for abuse, but that is very minor if something ever happens. I think the intent here is that all those parents, when they lose their child or when the child disappears, have time to grieve.
J. Martin: Thank you for the response. I only have one more question on this section, one more question on the act, in fact.
This leads to what I raised in the House yesterday during second reading. I guess I could have brought this up earlier. If we’re looking at…. The employee is entitled to unpaid leave for a period of up to 104 weeks. What I spoke about yesterday is that in two years, an awful lot can happen in the workplace. A job is eliminated, or the job has morphed into something that the person 24 months later no longer has even remotely the skill set for.
I’m curious about what the provisions would be for training, the funding of that training or the need to recertify this person or to certify him or her in something completely different when they return to a jobsite, 24 months later, that they don’t recognize.
Hon. H. Bains: Member, those types of things happen every day. Whether you are working or on a short-term leave or you’re on vacation, when you come back, the job changes. But I get it that you’re saying that 104 weeks is a long time if they exercise the entire period of 104 weeks. Things change. I get that. But I think even under the act today, this is what the act requires the employer and the employees’ rights are.
It says for all leaves recognized under the Employment Standards Act, the act requires that at the end of the leave, the employer must place the returning employee in the same position that the employee held before taking the leave or in a comparable position. Now, I understand that there could be a whole department shut down. Again, it is the employment law that will dictate what employees’ rights are when they return to work. It happens every day.
I think that whether it is two months’ leave or one month leave, things happen. Jobs disappear, and jobs change. When you applied for leave and leave was granted, there was manual work. By the time you come back…. You bring in some technology, and the job is eliminated or done very, very differently. Either retraining or a comparable job — I think that’s where employer and employee will sit down and work it out.
Sections 4 to 8 inclusive approved.
Hon. H. Bains: Thank you, Members. All good questions. I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The committee rose at 2:55 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
BILL 6 — EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS
AMENDMENT ACT, 2018
Bill 6, Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2018, reported complete with amendment.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. H. Bains: With leave, now.
Mr. Speaker: When shall the bill be read for a third time?
Hon. H. Bains: Now.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 6, Employment Standards Amendment Act, 2018, read a third time and passed.
Hon. D. Eby: I call committee stage of Bill 11, International Commercial Arbitration Amendment Act, 2018.
Committee of the Whole House
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 11; R. Chouhan in the chair.
The committee met at 2:59 p.m.
Hon. D. Eby: Joining me, Richard Fyfe, Deputy Attorney General, and Lauryn Kerr, innovation adviser, Ministry of Attorney General. I look forward to questions from the members.
Sections 1 and 2 approved.
On section 3.
M. Lee: Thank you to the Attorney General’s staff for providing a briefing yesterday at the noon hour. I have some questions to consider on specific sections of this proposed amendment.
To lead off, before dealing with the specific amendment to repeal the definition of “B.C. Arbitration Centre” in 2(1)(c), I just want to ask if the Attorney General would be so kind as to describe the overall consultation process that has taken place to review and provide input to AG ministry staff on the substance of these amendments.
Hon. D. Eby: We’ve been fortunate in the province. I imagine the member is aware that there’s an advisory group that predated our government, which we continued through after transition, and it is quite an esteemed group. We’ve got a member of the B.C. International Commercial Arbitration Centre. We have top arbitrators and counsel who work on international arbitration in the province. We have a bencher from the Law Society. We have the second vice-president of the Law Society.
One of the members on this advisory committee is Henri Alvarez, who was on the initial committee that brought in the first version of this law in British Columbia in the ’80s, the one that we’re updating here today. The co-chairs of the committee were Jonathan Eades, who’s a counsel within the Ministry of Attorney General — he has an extensive international arbitration background personally, and it’s been a pleasure to get to know him and his expertise on this issue — and Angus Gunn, Queen’s Counsel, who is well known here in British Columbia, both nationally and internationally, for his arbitral expertise.
So we’ve been quite fortunate in being advised by leading practitioners in B.C. and people with international experience as well, on this, in coming up with this bill.
M. Lee: Thank you for that overview. I understand that there has been a balance that has been struck here to update this act for the UNCITRAL model law code with the 2006 amendments, as well as to take into account best practices in other jurisdictions. Were there considerations of certain areas of this current act that were not modified to meet the UNCITRAL code?
Hon. D. Eby: Hon. Chair, 12, 13, 16, 19 and 21 all deviate in some way from the UNCITRAL model statute. Just as an example, section 12, which amends section 18 of the International Commercial Arbitration Act, changes a word from the model statute which says that the parties “must be treated with equality and each party must be given a full opportunity to present their case.” It changes it to: each party “must be given a reasonable opportunity to present their case.”
This deviation is based on an innovation that came from Australia in its recently updated legislation, and part of the mischief that is sought to be addressed here is the idea that someone might challenge an award and create a delay in proceedings because they hadn’t had a full opportunity. It was thought that the word “reasonable” might better reflect the intention of the drafters. So it is an evolving statute.
We looked at other jurisdictions in the sections that I mentioned for the member. So there are some deviations, and I hope that assists the member in understanding that we’ve done some work to try to make B.C.’s statute responsive to developments even since the model legislation was introduced.
M. Lee: On section 3, just to ask specifically on the deletion of the reference to the B.C. arbitration centre. I understand that there are other arbitration entities in the province of B.C., and I think that that was a consideration — but if I could ask for the Attorney General’s explanation of that.
Hon. D. Eby: The definition is being repealed to bring the legislation in conformity with the UNCITRAL model law. The definition is problematic to start with. It’s a B.C. arbitration centre. What it intends to refer to is the B.C. International Commercial Arbitration Centre, the BCICAC, which is located in Vancouver. This organization exists, but it is not called the B.C. arbitration centre.
These are some of the challenges of including these names in legislation. Reference to the term is being eliminated through the act in order to ensure compliance with the UNCITRAL model law so that international arbitrators understand what’s going on. Part of the idea here is to ensure ease of understanding for international parties.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
M. Lee: On section 4, the deletion that’s being proposed leaves in the words “an institution” in sub 2(2). Is there a reason to leave those words in? Meaning: are they not already just covered under third party?
Hon. D. Eby: The existing subsection 2(2) that’s proposed to be modified here follows the model law provision, but it has the B.C. arbitration centre inserted into the provision as an example of an institution that can administer an arbitration. There is no such organization as the B.C. arbitration centre. It means to say the B.C. International Commercial Arbitration Centre.
The challenge that’s being addressed here is…. It’s a bit of future-proofing of the legislation. We could change it to the B.C. International Commercial Arbitration Centre, but if that group ceased to exist or changed its name to something else…. It avoids the legislation becoming out of date.
The idea here is that we ensure understanding by international arbitrators, in that it’s consistent with the model law wording. In including an institution, it future-proofs the legislation in the event that the BCICAC might change its name. This amendment is not intended to…. We don’t believe it has any effect on the kinds of bodies that can administer arbitrations.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
M. Lee: On the reference in section 5, it certainly adds to the existing section 6 of the act, in terms of questions concerning matters governed by this act that are not expressly settled in this act are to be settled in conformity with the general principles on which this act is based. In the proposed amendment in this bill, there is no definition of what these general principles are. I would just ask the Attorney General how these general principles are intended to be defined or interpreted by arbitral tribunals or the courts.
Hon. D. Eby: This wording comes expressly out of the model law. We believe that it’s not a defined term in the model law, nor is it a defined term in our proposed legislation in front of the House here.
It’s our understanding that UNCITRAL left it intentionally open for an international audience that is familiar with international arbitration general principles, experts in law on these general principles — to leave it open as a non-closed category of general principles of international arbitration. We’re incorporating this directly from the model law.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
M. Lee: A question just regarding the definition of arbitration agreement that is being proposed here in the bill. As I understand, there are two forms of arbitration agreement under UNCITRAL that might be utilized. This bill utilizes the longer form. I’d just like to ask the Attorney General what the considerations would have been to consider this longer form — using the longer-form definition over the shorter form.
Hon. D. Eby: The member is correct. We chose the lengthier definition.
In 2006, when the model law was drafted, the UNCITRAL drafters looked at the definition from the 1985 model law and proposed two options for updating it — in particular, to have a language that accounts for a more modernized definition. One was really specific, and one was more general.
When we did a scan of jurisdictions that have implemented this model law around the world, we saw that the leading jurisdictions selected the lengthier and more comprehensive definition of arbitration agreement, including arbitration agreements entered into through electronic communications. We also looked to the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, which did a thorough review and recommended, as well, the lengthier definition. The proposed amendment that’s here follows the comprehensive model law option, which the Uniform Law Conference of Canada recommended.
What the effect of this amendment is, is that it will clarify and simplify determinations of when parties have entered into an arbitration agreement. It will clarify the scope of arbitration agreements — namely, that they’re broad. It will bring B.C. into conformity with standard international commercial arbitration practice. Specifically, looking domestically, Ontario adopted the lengthier definition. Internationally, both Australia and Singapore adopted the lengthier definition.
M. Lee: Just staying with this section of the bill, this section, in terms of that definition of “arbitration agreement,” also expands and includes the definition of arbitration agreement in writing to respective oral agreements. Under the current act, the only way that an oral arbitration agreement can exist is if one party alleges that such an oral agreement exists and the other party does not deny the existence of such an oral agreement.
This bill would change that under the definition of an arbitration agreement in writing. I understand that Singapore has similarly expanded this to include oral agreements. I’m asking if the Attorney General can just share the review of that change in this act, given the nature of dealing with oral agreements and the sometimes questionable nature of those considerations.
Hon. D. Eby: Obviously, there are concerns with oral agreements. One of the concerns is certainty that the agreement will be upheld. So the proposed amendment here, subsection (4), has a deeming provision that essentially deems an oral agreement to be equivalent to an agreement in writing, for the purposes of this model legislation or for the purposes of our legislation, if its content is recorded in any form. That’s whether or not the arbitration agreement or contract has been concluded orally, by conduct or by any other means.
The hope here, obviously, is that if the oral agreement is recorded, we can have that goal of certainty and also provide some space to have an oral agreement within the legislation.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
M. Lee: In this particular section of the bill, there is an amendment proposed to section 8, sub (1), of the stay of legal proceedings to provide a more generic reference to litigation proceedings and bring it more in conformity with the model law. I just would like to ask the Attorney General to consider if there’s been any discussion as to this change. I appreciate that in the original act, “service of any pleadings or taking any other step in the proceedings” was very much tied to the B.C. context.
With this change to a more generic form to be more user-friendly internationally, does the Attorney General consider this to be a different meaning, potentially, that could be interpreted even in something that might occur in a B.C. jurisdiction?
Hon. D. Eby: This amendment is intended to remove language which is quite dated, “service of any pleadings or taking any other step in the proceedings,” and replace it with: “submitting the party’s first statement on the substance of the dispute.”
Now, the current language in the law uses terminology that’s very specific to civil procedure rules in British Columbia. However, this act is not intended for a domestic audience. It’s intended for international commercial parties, who are likely not familiar with B.C. civil procedure. The idea here is that changing the language to “submitting the party’s first statement on the substance of the dispute” will be just more easily understandable and will be clearer for commercial parties from around the world.
The new terminology is in conformity with the UNCITRAL model law. It’s important to note that it’s not identical to the model law provision, in that we’re maintaining what was an innovation in B.C. of requiring that the action be done before submitting the party’s first statement, instead of not later than submitting the party’s first statement, which is the model law. We think that it provides greater clarity for parties around timing — the wording of “before submitting the party’s first statement” instead of using the model law wording of “not later than submitting the party’s first statement.”
Sections 7 and 8 approved.
On section 9.
M. Lee: This section 9 of the bill raises the threshold for when there are justifiable doubts as to an arbitrator’s independence or impartiality, in effect amending section 12 of the act. I appreciate that what’s been included here is that justifiable doubts exist only when there is a “real danger of bias.” That is a higher standard that’s being utilized here.
Can the Attorney General share with the House whether this test has been defined in other jurisdictions in common law or any other customary international law which Canada might recognize or turn to for assistance in the interpretation of that test?
Hon. D. Eby: This amendment, on its face, clearly does and is intended to raise the standard needed for a party to challenge an arbitrator’s independence or impartiality. When we did our scan of jurisdictions where international arbitrations take place, it was identified that several jurisdictions, including England and Australia, had raised the bar for these challenges to arbitrator independence or impartiality from “justifiable doubts,” which is a term of art, to the higher standard of “real danger of bias.”
The goal was to curb low-merit, disruptive challenges to the arbitrator. We see some real benefits for an international audience in this, in raising this bar, because there had been problems in international commercial arbitration practice where parties used low-merit challenges to arbitral independence and impartiality as a strategic tool to disrupt the arbitration.
We think this might be an attraction to come to British Columbia to resolve disputes, which is part of the goal of this legislation, if parties can be sure that these low-merit challenges are less likely to take place. The effect of this legislative change to the International Commercial Arbitration Act will be functionally, then, to support arbitration efficiency and to encourage parties to choose B.C. as governing arbitral law.
The amendment follows English common law, which uses this principle of “real danger of bias,” and Australia has also taken this approach in recently revising their international commercial arbitration legislation as well. I note for the member that this is an innovation on the model law, so it’s not contained in the model law.
Section 9 approved.
On section 10.
M. Lee: Just on section 10(b) of this bill, there’s an amendment proposed to section 16 of the act, which is a departure from the model law, but I understand that Singapore and Ontario have both made this similar change.
It’s not just a case where a tribunal has ruled that it has jurisdiction but also a case where it has ruled that it doesn’t have jurisdiction. That can be raised with the Supreme Court to decide the matter. With this departure from UNCITRAL model law, I’d just like to ask the Attorney General whether there has been any comment or consideration as to whether that departure would have any detrimental effect, in terms of B.C. being an attractive venue for international commercial arbitration.
Hon. D. Eby: The member refers to subsection (b) in the bill which amends subsection 16(6) in the act. The effect of this amendment — the member is right about Ontario and Singapore — is to allow a party to appeal not only a positive jurisdictional ruling but now also a negative jurisdictional ruling. We do that by removing the language “that it has jurisdiction.”
It does indeed expand the scope of authority for a party to appeal, raised either at the beginning of the case or during the proceedings, when jurisdiction is decided by the arbitral tribunal as a preliminary question. The importance of Ontario and Singapore is that these are recent amendments that they’ve made to their legislation, clearly responding to demand that they’ve identified — Singapore being an international centre for arbitrations that’s very well known, and Ontario trying to be.
Sorry, I might have sounded a little disrespectful. Ontario has a number of international arbitrations as well. We just want to do more here in British Columbia. But there are a number of jurisdictions, in fact, beyond just Ontario and Singapore, with similar provisions — Belgium, England, France, New Zealand and Sweden — to the point where we reasonably believe that an international audience will expect to see something like this in a jurisdiction that they select for an arbitration.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
M. Lee: I appreciate that on section 11 of this bill, it contains the larger section of the bill, in terms of interim measures, and primarily imports from UNCITRAL’s model law, the Interim Measures and Preliminary Orders provisions of that model law.
To the Attorney General: as you’ve done generally, I’d like to ask if you could specifically make comment on any material departures from UNCITRAL’s model law. I recognize, for example, in subsection 17.01(c) that there’s a slight variation there. Perhaps the Attorney General could provide a comment on that departure, and on any other departures of any material nature, for the House.
Hon. D. Eby: The material departures are sub 17(2)(e), which, in its entirety, is an innovation on the model law.
Sub 17.01(1) — in particular, it’s just for completeness that it includes (e) there now, which obviously is not in the model law, because that’s a B.C. innovation there. So it’s immaterial, but it’s just responsive to the amendment in 17.
Then sub 17.01(3), UNCITRAL only includes (d). So the reference to section 17(2)(b) or (d)…. UNCITRAL, the model law, only has (d). We’ve added (b) in there as well.
Then sub 17.10(3), in its entirety, is a departure from the model law.
M. Lee: Thank you for that overview. Any comment on any of the nature of those departures as to, again, the competitive position of this jurisdiction…. Those are intended to be innovations. I wanted to confirm that that’s the case and there’s nothing there that would put us at a disadvantage.
Hon. D. Eby: Our arbitral advisory committee took as the basis for the work that we asked them to do in advising us on this that the model law was the base.
We wanted them not to depart from it, unless the departure was expressly to provide an advantage to British Columbia in, essentially, competing for the business of having international arbitral matters determined in British Columbia. So the member can take some comfort that every departure was considered by and recommended to government by this committee of international arbitrators, who know these matters so well.
There is one specific provision that I wanted to provide a brief comment on, sub 17.10(3), which is an innovation here in British Columbia. “When requested to grant an interim measure, the court may, if it considers it proper, refer the request to an arbitral tribunal.” This is something that is in Ontario’s legislation.
The principle behind it really encourages the courts or provides them with the ability to defer to the arbitration tribunal. One of the things that is very toxic to attracting international arbitrations is the possibility of spending years in judicial review, where courts review the arbitrator’s decision. The reason why international companies choose arbitration is for an expedited process to get resolution and certainty.
[L. Reid in the chair.]
If it goes through multiple court appeals and so on, and there’s uncertainty in that regard, that detracts from our ability to attract that business to British Columbia. So this provision here allows for a court to say: “Although we have authority here, we are going to refer this request back to an arbitral tribunal in order to achieve the goals of the act here, which is an expedited resolution of international commercial disputes.” That is why Ontario adopted this and why we’re adopting it as well.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
M. Lee: On section 12, as the Attorney General mentioned off the top, this is a departure from UNCITRAL’s model law. I appreciate the comment that he just made in the context of any departure is reviewed by the advisory committee. Keeping that in mind, my question, then, would be around the standard of reasonableness with the review that has been underway for these proposed amendments.
As this is a reduction in standard from full opportunity to a reasonable opportunity, what are the parameters under which reasonableness has been defined or considered in other arbitrations in other jurisdictions as to parties coming to a common understanding as to what that reasonable test would look like?
Hon. D. Eby: The member is right. The intention of this amendment is to reduce the possibility of an appeal of an arbitral decision on the basis that someone didn’t have full opportunity to present their case. It reduces full to reasonable opportunity. It’s understood through that amendment that, actually, that’s less opportunity. Any reviewing court would look at that and say that full opportunity might be different than what’s reasonable in the circumstances.
The decision behind doing that is to say that just because you’re unhappy with the decision and the arbitration doesn’t mean you get to go to court and say: “Well, I had a reasonable opportunity to present our case, but it wasn’t a full opportunity.”
The full standard was understood, certainly by Australia, to be too strict and invited too many frustrating challenges to decisions that were good on their face and provided both sides a reasonable opportunity to present their case. The decision was made in Australia and again here, on the advice of our advisory group, to say that each party must be given a reasonable opportunity to present their case, of course, but we don’t want to see a lot of appeals that will frustrate the intent of this act and the intent of parties initially on entering into arbitration — to have a quick and final resolution.
The key here is that this is an innovation that we see in a jurisdiction that does a lot of these — Australia. This is their innovation that we’re following. We believe that one of the reasons that Australia has been able to attract a fair amount of international arbitration is they have an act that is responsive to the needs of the international arbitral community, and we would do well to follow their lead on this particular section.
Sections 12 to 15 inclusive approved.
On section 16.
M. Lee: With respect to section 16 of the bill, I appreciate that it follows the recommendations of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada regarding the enforcement of consolidation agreements and adopts the ULCC’s model law on this aspect of international commercial arbitration.
I would like to ask the Attorney General if he could explain whether the provisions addressing the enforcement of consolidation agreements — this particular set of provisions had been adopted in other jurisdictions — and which jurisdictions they might be and why the ULCC’s model law was ultimately chosen in this respect.
Hon. D. Eby: Businesses’ disputes can sometimes involve several related contracts. The contracts will have similar arbitration clauses, and the parties might all come together — they often do come together — and agree that it would make sense to consolidate several related disputes within one arbitration instead of having several very similar proceedings.
Sometimes in the international context, disputes can arise at the beginning about what was previously agreed to be heard together and whether that should be enforced or not. The courts in B.C., under this section, could be called on to determine the preliminary question before the arbitration proceedings start. The purpose of this amendment isn’t so much for the individual parties, but it’s to provide clarity for the court in British Columbia as to exactly when these kinds of agreements should be enforced.
The existing consolidation provision in the act is quite rudimentary. The effect of this revised amendment is to provide more direction to the courts on the topic of consolidation of arbitral proceedings and the enforcement of consolidation agreements.
There’s a possibility that the judge that hears the matter might be looking for more information about exactly how to consolidate. These are not provisions that the courts will necessarily deal with every day, so the idea is that if we provide more explicit direction to the court on these consolidations, we can enhance the cost effectiveness of the arbitral process because the judge has a better understanding of what needs to be done.
Without this proper direction, the benefits of consolidation can really be lost — if the court doesn’t know what to do on a consolidation. The intention here is to provide the assistance to the court that a judge would need to resolve this. So the new provision says that the court shouldn’t order consolidation unless the parties have agreed in advance to certain fundamental matters, including the place of arbitration, the procedural rules for the arbitration.
As the member notes, it is an innovation from the UNCITRAL model law. It’s recommended from the Uniform Law Conference of Canada to really, I think, recognize the situation of Canadian jurists who would be asked to decide these matters. That’s why Ontario adopted an equivalent consolidation provision in its act as well. And this is: how do Canadian courts and judges understand what the hope is for a matter that comes before them on consolidation if we don’t provide them with a more detailed outline?
The Uniform Law Conference of Canada, in their deliberations on this, concluded that it’s not feasible or advisable to add a court power to order consolidation of arbitrations in cases where all parties have not agreed on these points. But if the parties have agreed, but one or more of the parties refuses to honour the agreement, then in that case, the court should be able to enforce consolidation.
We’ve seen Ontario pick this up. It’s recommended by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, which itself was informed by experts on international arbitration. That went through a review process by our own experts on the advisory panel, it was recommended to government and government has adopted that in the bill, in this section.
Sections 16 to 18 inclusive approved.
On section 19.
M. Lee: Just on section 19 — in fact, in part 8 — I’d like to ask this, prior to asking a specific question around the amendment to section 36.
Under part 8 of the act, “Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards,” was there any consideration by the ministry staff and the advisory group of also imposing a limitation period, in terms of applying for recognition and enforcement of an award, as is the case in Ontario and in other jurisdictions like London and Singapore?
Hon. D. Eby: B.C. has a freestanding Limitation Act that has the same timelines as were being considered here. We did consider including the limitation within this act, but for purposes of legislative consistency, we preferred to leave the limitation period within B.C.’s Limitation Act.
M. Lee: I appreciate the response. I would like to ask a follow-on question related to that. I appreciate that in B.C. we’ve had a very effective stand-alone statute, which is now being modernized under this bill.
A second point in this same area would be…. In Ontario, there is also a provision that deals with enforceability of arbitral awards against the Crown. There is a specific provision that addresses that. Was there any consideration of a specific provision to be incorporated, in this particular bill, for that purpose?
Hon. D. Eby: Madame Chair, we were just having a little discussion about whether it was the Crown Proceeding Act or the Interpretation Act, and it turns out that it’s section 14 of the Interpretation Act that makes all legislation in B.C. binding on governments. Subsection 14(1) says: “Unless it specifically provides otherwise, an enactment is binding on the government.” Because we have that provision in our Interpretation Act already, we did not include it in this act. It’s already of that effect for the government of British Columbia.
M. Lee: Thank you for that response as well. Just to go specifically, then, to the amendment to section 36 regarding third-party funding. To have a specific carve-out that “third party funding for an arbitration is not contrary to public policy” is not in UNCITRAL’s model law. I appreciate that that is also a B.C. innovation, so to speak. I’d just like to inquire of the Attorney General whether there have been other jurisdictions that have employed a similar carve-out like this.
Hon. D. Eby: This amendment is based off of Hong Kong’s legislation. It’s needed in order to provide clarity concerning the acceptability of third-party funding in the international commercial arbitration world. Third-party funding is when a person who is not a party to the arbitration agreement provides funding to a party who is a party to the arbitration agreement in return for a financial benefit if the funded party is successful in the arbitration.
This type of third-party funding is acceptable in international practice because it enhances the possibility of claimants being able to enforce arbitral rights for which they bargained in international contracts. It’s also a common form of risk sharing — access to final dispute resolutions promoted through risk sharing. Similar risk-sharing funding agreements occur in some domestic disputes.
The effect of the amendment will be to signal that British Columbia recognizes the use of third-party funding as a commercial practice in international dispute resolution. It will remove challenges to an arbitral award on the basis that a third party provided funding to a party who was otherwise successful in the arbitration.
Third-party funding is common in international commercial arbitration and in some domestic legislation in British Columbia. Not including a provision which confirms that third-party funding is not contrary…. There’s a double negative there. Including a provision which confirms that third-party funding is in conformity with public policy. Other jurisdictions have a provision like that.
See? I tried to solve the double negative to make it clearer, and I made a mess of it.
If we didn’t have this, it could disfavour British Columbia as a venue for international commercial arbitration because this is a practice that is accepted quite broadly in the international arbitral world.
Sections 19 and 20 approved.
On section 21.
M. Lee: On this particular amendment to include 36.01 as a new section in the act, this amendment enhances the privacy and confidentiality provisions that adds…. It’s a slight variation, I believe, from UNCITRAL’s model law. Besides the UNCITRAL model law provision, what other standards were considered here, whether it’s Australia or in other jurisdictions? Did the adviser group and the ministry staff consider what the impact would be on whether the same level of privacy and confidentiality protection being provided under this particular amendment is the similar protection under laws of other jurisdictions?
Hon. D. Eby: This text is a hybrid of our current privacy provision in section 24(5), the London Court of International Arbitration rules and the domestic ULCC Arbitration Act. Disputes as to the scope of confidentiality obligations in international commercial arbitration are fairly common. These guidelines, we’re hopeful, will limit some of these disputes.
Privacy and confidentiality, obviously, are connected and overlapping concepts. Privacy, obviously, applies to the hearing conducted between the parties, the arbitrator and any staff that need to be present to assist in the arbitration. Confidentiality is much broader and, in the international arbitration world, concerns the need to not disclose information from the arbitral process, including the arbitral award, to the outside world, subject to various provisions in the act.
The existing act already recognizes that international commercial arbitration hearings are held privately. The amendment preserves the concept of privacy and now addresses the related need of confidentiality — that is, the nondisclosure of information and documents from the arbitral proceeding.
The amendment is needed in order to limit disputes regarding the scope of confidentiality as it applies to these types of arbitrations under the act. It’s also needed to clarify obligations in advance so everybody knows what they’re signing up for. This amendment will allow parties to opt out of the confidentiality obligations entirely or in part, by agreement. Further, such obligations do not apply if disclosure of confidential information is required by law to protect or pursue other legal rights or such disclosure as authorized by a court.
The effect of this will be that we’ll be able to maintain flexibility for parties when deciding to what extent they want the proceedings to be confidential. We also hope that this will clarify obligations that parties often assume exist but the parameters of which can be subject to disruptive disputes and, again, a lack of certainty and finality in the arbitration.
Sections 21 to 23 inclusive approved.
Hon. D. Eby: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The committee rose at 3:56 p.m.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 11, International Commercial Arbitration Amendment Act, 2018, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. D. Eby: Hon. Speaker, if you can give us a second here before I call the next matter.
I call estimates for the Ministry of Labour.
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF LABOUR
The House in Committee of Supply (Section B); L. Reid in the chair.
The committee met at 4:02 p.m.
On Vote 34: ministry operations, $12,638,000.
Hon. H. Bains: I must say it is an honour to stand here to speak about the 2018-2019 budget for the Ministry of Labour.
Before I do that, I would like to introduce staff I have with me to help me through this exercise. Trevor Hughes is deputy minister, on my right; Tracy Campbell, assistant deputy minister, management services division, on my left; and John Blakely, from the labour policy and legislation branch of the ministry, right here behind us.
The budget this year, as other years, supports the ministry’s overall responsibility for workers’ health and safety, labour relations stability and to ensure that B.C.’s employment standards reflect the needs of British Columbians.
The budget for the ministry is $12.638 million. This provides an important increase of funding, $3 million over three years, to allow the ministry to do a number of things. The funding will support the employment standards branch, putting them in a better position to respond to recommendations coming from various reviewing bodies — I expect their reports to be in the near future — including the B.C. Law Institute and others.
We’re planning, as we prepare to update the B.C. employment standards, to reflect the changing nature of our workplaces. As we have heard in this House and other places, workplaces are changing. We as government and as elected officials must respond to those changing needs of the workplaces, both from the employer’s side and from the worker’s side.
Our government is focused, as we have said before and I’ve said many times, on people — putting people first, people front and centre, when we develop our policies. As a government and as a ministry, we are consulting widely with British Columbians to get feedback on ways we can make those positive changes. Nowhere is this truer than the workers who make minimum wage.
We created an independent Fair Wages Commission that visited communities around the province and met with all sectors of the economy, met with employers, workers, unions, business groups, academics, economists and individual workers. Also, they looked at the experiences of minimum wage all across different jurisdictions, the history of minimum wage increases in B.C. and the impacts of those increases to both employers and workers.
The commission prepared unanimous recommendations on the path to reaching and surpassing a $15 minimum wage. What I’m really happy about…. That commission, they were…. If you look at the makeup of that panel, we have a very highly regarded economist from the business community. We had a very respectful union leader. We had a very reputable economist, the emeritus professor. They have the capacity to look beyond the rhetoric, take the information, analyze it and come back with recommendations.
The recommendations that they came back to me with were very, very commonsense, predictable: to provide certainty. That’s what employers were looking for. After being appointed as minister, when I met with different organizations representing employers and employers groups, one thing they said was that they were looking for certainty. The report that they gave me provided regular, predictable and commonsense increases over four years to reach over $15 an hour for those who are the lowest-paid workers in the province.
What does that do? They give an increase to those lowest-paid workers, as I said, to make their life more affordable, have a few more dollars in their pockets. As we all know, for those workers who are at that wage rate, every increase, every dollar they receive, they will be spending and investing within their own communities, in the businesses within those communities. Businesses will thrive. The workers will have a few more dollars in their pockets to have a little bit better life. As for the government’s commitment to make life more affordable for British Columbians, it’s on the path to achieve that.
The commission has been looking at how to raise wages for those workers who are paid one of the alternate wages. That report is complete, and we will be making decisions on those in the coming days and weeks — how to deal with those five different alternate groups, such as farmworkers and those that are liquor servers.
Then after that, the commission’s job is to look for ways…. How do we deal with the discrepancies between the minimum wage and the living wage? That’s a very complex area for them to consider. A living wage in Courtenay, for example, will be much different than what it is in Yaletown in Vancouver. You could use different examples. I think it will be a very tough task, but they are up to it. I’m really happy and waiting for them to come back with that report.
The other thing that we are looking for is looking at every area for the opportunity to make improvements that will better support workers and employers. For example, in February, I named a committee of special advisers to review the labour relations code. They are, again, consulting with unions, employers, academics, workers themselves and will prepare recommendations, any recommendations, to the code that will ensure that British Columbia’s unionized workplaces support fair laws for workers and for businesses and ensure that B.C.’s labour code is consistent with the best practices elsewhere in the country.
I was involved, also, in the decision to appoint a new chair for the Labour Relations Board and the Employment Standards Tribunal, following a merit-based process. I must say that I’m really proud that for the first time, a female chair of the Labour Relations Board is appointed. Jacquie de Aguayo is wonderful, very qualified, very highly regarded and with a tremendous amount of experience in labour relations. So I’m really happy.
It just shows the changing world of workplaces. A woman, for the first time in British Columbia, is leading a very, very major portfolio to bring the employers and unionized workers to deal with their issues so that they have confidence. They know that there will be fairness. They know that their issues will be dealt with fairly. I think I’m really, really happy that we are making those changes.
We’re also breathing new life into WorkSafe B.C. In December, I appointed a new chair, along with new members, to the board of directors for WorkSafe B.C. The WorkSafe B.C. board of directors is working to deliver a new vision for B.C. workers compensation system. They are undertaking a review of their area of responsibility for the sake of identifying improvements. We have regulations and policies that have been there for a number of years, and the board is taking it upon themselves to do the review — to, again, reflect what the changes in workplaces are and putting people first.
After all, we are all for people, both sides of the House, to make sure that they are in the centre when they’re developing those policies and regulations. I will soon be looking at reviewing the act itself to see if it reflects, again, these times in workplaces in British Columbia. Again, I think the whole focus will be to make sure that injured workers who need help, who seek support from the Workers Compensation Board, are taken care of and treated with respect, dignity and compassion so that they recover and get back to their workplaces as soon as they are ready to go back.
So there’s a lot of work to be done to better serve workers and employers, while also ensuring sustainable economic growth. With that, I would like to acknowledge the member from the opposition, our critic. I look forward to any questions that he may have.
J. Martin: Thank you to the minister. This is the second opportunity that the new Labour Minister has had through the estimates process. There is an awful lot more material and activity that has taken place than when we were able to go through this process last time. Before we go into anything specific — and I’ll be starting off with the Fair Wages Commission — I just wanted to probe some general areas with the minister about the new reality in the workforce that he has spoken of, and many commentators do.
It’s pretty well acknowledged that the days of landing on a career in one’s early years and maintaining a focus in that particular sector for a lifetime are fast coming to an end. It is very common now that highly marketable people with a very diverse, valued skill set are finding themselves working part-time contracts. They’re finding themselves moving around in different, interrelated sectors. And this has really changed the nature and the expectation of what somebody who is going through their training and education may be encountering these days.
I’d like to know what the government and, more specifically, the Labour Ministry are doing to accommodate and respond to this new reality of multiple, short-term positions, multiple careers, through one’s tenure in the workforce.
Hon. H. Bains: I think the member recognized exactly what I have said in my opening — that we are reviewing all the different acts that come under our jurisdiction. We are looking at reviewing the Employment Standards Act. The Fair Wages Commission dealt with just one piece of it.
We also, as I said, have a number of other organizations. There’s an organization of the B.C. Federation of Labour coalition on employment standards. They’ve done some review of the Employment Standards Act. The B.C. Law Institute is going through a review. Their report should be before us, I’m hoping, within a month or two months. Then they will be leaving that out for consultation.
WorkSafe B.C., as I said, will be looking at how we look at what we have today and how workplaces are different today than they were ten years ago or 20 years ago. How do we change those laws, review them, to make sure that we reflect the changing world of workplaces? Then we have the labour code. Our labour code was last reviewed in 2003 — or changed in 2003.
Those are areas that are being looked at — through consultation, though. I don’t think it is the right thing to do for the minister to sit in his office, talk to his staff and some other people and say: “Let’s make some changes here, because I like those changes.” We are going through a real consultative process.
You’ve seen that with the Fair Wages Commission. Now you see the Labour Code review. They’re going through the same thing. It’s an even further, broader consultative process they are engaged in. They will be going into more communities than the Fair Wages Commission went to. They are getting all kinds of submissions from all kinds of different organizations and individuals so that they learn what the changing workplaces are out there. How do we deal with them with our new labour laws?
The world is changing, and we’re changing, and we need to change with it. That’s exactly what we are doing. The part-time jobs versus full-time jobs that used to exist…. I remember when I was working, even at sawmills, we had three generations of people in that operation at that time — the father, his son and his grandson. They were working there because they felt that that was their lifelong job and the job would be there when they retired.
That’s not the case today, as members have identified. There are always different technological changes coming in different areas of the workplace. We are looking at all of that to make sure that at the end of the day, our laws reflect that changing world.
J. Martin: Another change that has been taking place for a number of years and that has greatly enhanced the breadth of the workforce is people are living longer, they’re staying healthier, and they’re working beyond the traditional retirement age. In British Columbia, we have that phenomenon happening at a greater rate than anywhere else in the country.
In a similar vein, can the minister speak to what his government and, more specifically, his ministry are doing to respond to the phenomenon of more workers in their late 60s, their 70s and even beyond, that are still in the workforce and have no intention of taking retirement anytime soon — and what the impact of that might be on the next generation as well as on the various sectors. It’s a phenomenon that most of us thought wasn’t going to happen. It was actually supposed to go in the other direction, with early retirement age, and we haven’t actually seen that take place.
Hon. H. Bains: Another very important area that the member touched on. As you know, laws all across the country, the federal and provincial laws, are changing. They have changed to accommodate exactly what the member has talked about, because we’re living longer. We’re healthier. So they are allowed to work as long as they are capable of working.
I think for our purpose, for our ministry, we want to ensure that their health and safety is protected when they are moving into their latter years. They have very, very valuable experience that no one can actually get from universities. This is their life-long experience. The people coming behind them have a lot to learn from them. They have a lot to pass on to them.
We need to make sure that we accommodate. The ergonomics of their workplaces need to be looked at, and their health and safety. They may not be as quick as they were at one time. But it means that we need to make sure that they are safe when they are doing their job.
They’re better at it because of their experience. The other workers are coming in. They bring different skills. For example, people of my…. I don’t know if I want to bring the critic into this. The technological knowledge isn’t what the young 19-year-old brings to the table today. They’re easily adopting the technological changes at workplaces.
We need to make sure that our workers who are in their last few years who wish to work are accommodated to work but that their health and safety — which I’m really, really concerned about — are protected and that they are given the support they need so that they can work as long as they are capable.
J. Martin: Another area where we’ve seen dramatic change, particularly in health care and the financial sector, is more and more people working from home or working from a travelling, mobile unit. This is something that’s been championed not just for the reduction of wear and tear on the commuter highways and byways, but also in the need for significant office commercial real estate.
Are the government and the Labour Ministry, to any specific extent, moving forward with trying to enhance the amount of sectors and deliver support to those areas where there might be a willingness to put more of the employment, more employees, in a position where they are not traditionally commuting to and from the worksite?
Hon. H. Bains: I firmly believe that the employer and employee working together are the ones who are moving our economy. Employer and employee working together create wealth for us, and them working together on how to make their workplaces efficient and safer is what I am targeting.
My role as Minister of Labour is not to tell them how to do that. It’s to accommodate that cooperation between employer and employees. If they can find a way to have employees sitting at home and doing the work on a computer, it saves the employer, and it saves, as the member has said, a number of other areas as a society. The employee is at home, and the employer doesn’t have to invest in capital to provide them an office.
I think there are a number of opportunities, and many employers are already taking advantage of them. I know some people who are working from home, and they have that relationship with their employer. It depends on what kind of industry you’re involved in. But I think employers and employees are, in my view, way ahead of us.
All I’m doing is making sure that I accommodate that cooperation, that corroboration that they need, wherever I can help, when they ask for that help. I provide them with the laws that reflect those changes. I provide them with the support that they need to create that business environment where they both want to work together to make their workplaces efficient.
At the end of the day, we’re not only competing among ourselves here in British Columbia. Today’s economies are related to the rest of the world. We want to make sure that our employers are able to compete with the rest of the world and that we’re good at it. I think we are already good at it, but we can be better.
J. Martin: Thank you to the minister.
To what extent is the ministry, are we, able to forecast, over the next ten years, the particular sectors that are going to see the most growth in British Columbia? What type of supports and initiatives within government can be most supportive of these emerging sectors?
Hon. H. Bains: I think that question probably should be best put to the Minister of Jobs. Under their mandate, they are looking at the future and long-term solutions in that area, predicting which area and which part of the economy is going to grow faster than the others. What is the new economy that’s emerging? I think that is something that they are looking at. I’m sure when their estimates come, the member is welcome to ask them that question.
I think what we are trying to do here is make sure that our laws in health and safety and in labour reflect the changing world of workplaces and accommodate employers and employees to make sure that we are accommodating their needs of today.
J. Thornthwaite: My question will be different than this. Just one question.
I attended a presentation a few weeks ago put on by Johanna O’Flaherty. She is a personal and professional coach that helps first responders through their critical immediate response for trauma or critical response.
Subsequently I met a fellow named Bruce Ramsey. He’s a certified traumatologist. He does training, counselling and intervention for firefighters. He actually asked me to ask the Minister of Labour whether or not there was any thought of developing a special facility or program specific to first responders. He gave me some stats which you’re probably already familiar with, given the announcement yesterday. But specifically, military veterans, military veterans with combat exposure, police, paramedics, firefighters, etc. all do experience higher levels than the general population of various forms of trauma and PTSD.
His question was: because there’s an increased incidence of addiction and mental illness and suicide, is there any thought…? Has the ministry considered a specific facility or any specific training centre to help first responders with their identification, treatment and recovery?
Hon. H. Bains: This area, as the member knows, is a very, very serious area. I think it crosses all boundaries and workplaces when it comes to mental health. And the first responders are the first ones, because of the nature of their work. That’s why we made that announcement yesterday, and therefore, the bill is before the House.
There’s no facility, as the member asked, but I am open to the member’s suggestion. If you have that name of the person who may have some really good suggestions to move us in a certain direction, I’m open to that. If you could pass that name on, and then my staff will contact them and take that information.
Having said that right now what WorkSafe B.C. has is what they call the First Responders’ Mental Health committee that they’re working on.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
It was formed in 2015 to provide cross-organizational leadership and best practices to promote positive mental health for first responders. It’s called R2MR — Road to Mental Readiness. The mission is actually to promote positive mental health and provide leadership resources, awareness, education, training and support which the first responders, their communities and their leaders might need. So there’s that work going on. Also, to develop a toolkit of best practices or resources for employers, supervisors and workers to support mental health in the workplaces.
The committee also met with the Justice Institute, the primary trainer of the new first responders — recruits — to ensure that the material would be incorporated into new recruit training. I think that work is proactive work — that when you are going for those jobs, recruitment process, that you are given that toolkit. You are given the education and the awareness of what you’re walking into, because at that younger age….
Many of them come at a younger age. They think nothing’s going to happen to them. But when they experience a dramatic experience at their workplaces, we all know what happens. So we are trying to get them the support that they deserve in a timely fashion.
So this is the kind of work that is going on right now through WorkSafe, but I welcome the member’s suggestion that if the person that the member talked about…. If you could speak to them, and if they have some suggestions, then we certainly are open to that.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you very much for that offer. I definitely will pass on the individuals that I referred to.
I did get a brief instruction from him about the WorkSafe B.C. program, which they did commend. But one of the issues that is different than traditional treatment facilities or treatment programs is that, to be effective, it’s actually the peers that have to be part of that immediate critical crisis management. So the program that he’s familiar with…. There’s actually an institution in Massachusetts that does offer this recovery centre for first responders.
One of the keys for long-term recovery — because it can occur — is to make sure that the peers are there. So if you’re talking to firefighters, firefighters from that same area have to be with that critical management team.
In either case, I appreciate the offer. I will get you the information, and you can take it from there.
J. Martin: We’ll turn our focus for a little while and probably revisit it a bit over the duration, specifically on the Fair Wages Commission that you provided an overview of.
So can the minister tell us if the budget for the commission has changed from the original of, I believe, $490,000 over two years? It was $240,000 for ’17-18 and $250,000 for ’18-19. Are we still on track for the same budget?
Hon. H. Bains: Member, no change to that budget.
J. Martin: Can the minister tell us if he accepted all of the recommendations in the report?
Hon. H. Bains: Yes.
J. Martin: Among other things, the report did call for a permanent commission. The minister accepted this recommendation. Can he tell us how much this is going to cost and provide some details around the permanent commission?
Hon. H. Bains: The current budget is until March 31, 2019.
I also want to correct myself when I said I accepted all recommendations. I think one of the recommendations was from the commission to have that commission established for longer terms, and we haven’t made that decision yet.
J. Martin: Can we expect a timeline of when there may be some finality about accepting or rejecting the recommendation for some permanency with the commission?
Hon. H. Bains: As the member knows, the mandate of the Fair Wages Commission was, first, to come up with recommendations to deal with the general minimum wage, and they did that.
The second report is to deal with those alternate wages. The report is sitting on my desk, and we’re considering what to do with it and how to proceed with it.
Then again, their work hasn’t ended yet. The third piece that they have is how to deal with the discrepancies between the minimum wage and the living wage. Each of those reports, I’m sure, will be advising us on the role of the Fair Wages Commission — longevity, whether they should be there on a permanent basis, or they may suggest something different.
We will make those decisions at that time. There’s that important piece of their task, which is to deal with the discrepancies between the fair minimum wage and the living wage. So we still have to wait for that.
J. Martin: The first piece of the increase in minimum wage, to $15 plus — the initial piece of that is scheduled to come in a mere 12 weeks after the release of the report. Does the minister think that that was an ample amount of forewarning for the people that are going to have a significant enhancement to their labour costs in a mere 12 weeks?
Hon. H. Bains: I, as minister, am always concerned about the businesses getting long enough notice so that they could adjust their budgets. But I also depended on the Fair Wages Commission’s recommendations. When they came back with their first report…. As soon as they came down and as soon as I had enough time to analyze and to absorb their recommendations, we were sending out a message of what’s coming. We did as much as we could.
Again, it is what the Fair Wages Commission came back with, with their report. That’s part of their job. That was part of their recommendations. When they came and when the report came, part of their report recommendation was the first increase on June 1. Whatever recommendations came, we considered very seriously.
Remember, it is something that we try not to interfere with. They’re supposed to be independent and depoliticizing that system. I think that was their recommendation. We tried everything that we could to give as much notice to the employer as possible.
J. Martin: So in the Fair Wages Commission report, the justification for their schedule of minimum wage increases is that the current strength of the B.C. economy creates an appropriate environment for these increases to take place with minimal risk to the economy. The report also states that: “If minimum wage increases occur during economic downturns, the likelihood of a negative employment effect is stronger.”
So based on the warnings that an increase in minimum wage during an economic downturn could cause negative effects on employment, can the minister explain if or how the schedule might be adjusted if British Columbia’s economy were to slow in the near future?
Hon. H. Bains: As the member knows, the report is very thorough. They did a lot of research on their own, and they hired experts as well. They came back with recommendations that, going forward, in the next two years, they feel that the economy will continue to grow. That’s why they gave higher increases in the first two years, $1.30 and $1.20. They feel that in the following two years, the economy will also continue to grow, but they didn’t want to predict it that far out. That’s why the increases are lower in the last two years.
They also said in the report that if the economy continues on the way it is today and if the economy can sustain higher increases, they have left a little room so that 15 to 20 cents can be added in the last year. But the Fair Wages Commission will be making that decision at that time.
J. Martin: Given that, isn’t the inverse also true, that things do happen? We’re going through some unprecedented waters right now in this country, and there could be a downturn. Is there an ability to adjust the schedule if we see in the next 12, 18 months that we’ve got some serious economic challenges that were not foreseen when the Fair Wages Commission delivered the report to the minister?
Hon. H. Bains: I’m much more optimistic, Member. And I think as you are…. I follow what the economists said in that report. Ken Peacock is a very, very capable economist with the business community. They wouldn’t have recommended the recommendations that they came back with if they had doubt that the economy could slip, but they have all the confidence that the economy will continue to grow.
Now, we can speculate “what if.” I think, on the other hand, it could be: “What if the economy grows even faster?” But I think that right now what we are dealing with is that — based on the information we have today, based on the research that the Fair Wages Commission did, based on the recommendation of the expert that they hired — those are the recommendations. I’m confident that we’ll go through it, and by June 2021, the minimum wage will be $15.20.
J. Martin: Well, I am, indeed, very much the optimist. However, we have to be cognizant here. Not a single economist predicted 2008, so the economists don’t always get it right, by a long stretch.
The point — and this is the last time I’ll step on this — is that the minister has said that there’s an ability to enhance the scheduled wage increases in a good, glowing next three years of economic growth. I’m just asking if the inverse is true. If things turn down, if things sour, if small businesses are taking a beating that they and no one else saw coming, does the ministry have the ability to do the inverse of what it would do during good times?
Hon. H. Bains: If you look at the report, Member, they did a history of minimum wage increases. They went back to, I believe, 1979, if I’m not mistaken. They looked at different times when the economies were going up and down, but they didn’t find very much relevant to the minimum wage and the economy. So I think we need to be careful. There are times, in the historical changes in the minimum wage, when the minimum wage was frozen and the economy actually went down. The unemployment rate went down. And there are times when the minimum wage went up and the unemployment rate went up.
So I think there are different messages out there. Basically, what they’re trying to do is…. There’s hardly any relevance about the minimum wage and the economy. I think page 44 clearly goes back to 1979. You will see that from 2001 to 2010, when the minimum wage was frozen, there were times when the unemployment rate was at 4.8 percent, 4.3 percent. But it was frozen. But then it went up to 7.7 percent or 7.6 percent in 2009 and 2010. Then, if you look, going a further two years, when the minimum wage was raised by $2.25, within 11, 12 months the unemployment rate actually went down.
I think there are a lot of different factors, Member. I think the government’s role would be to work with those businesses at that time to ensure that they have the business environment and that they have the support of the government to make sure that businesses will continue to thrive and continue to employ those people. There are a number of ways the government can do that, as the member full knows.
J. Martin: The new government has introduced a number of taxes described as needed to cool the housing market. Does the minister take into account the effects of the newly introduced taxes on the overall economy and how this might affect the feasibility of the current schedule of minimum wage increases?
I’m thinking specifically about some operations that had not been captured previously in paying medical service premiums but do have the payroll now that will move them toward the new employer health tax, and they may have in their midst a significant part of their operation employing people at the low end of the minimum-wage scale.
Has this been taken into account — the new taxes that were not known when the minimum wage commission did their work?
Hon. H. Bains: As the member knows, the government initiated a number of tax changes, a number of them that help businesses. The MSP premiums — when they are eliminated, many of the employers who pay the medical premiums will no longer be paying. So there are a number of them who will be benefiting from it.
The PST on electricity. That is cut down 50 percent and then removed going forward. That is another break to businesses.
Small business is getting half a percent tax break, as you know, from 2½ percent to 2 percent. So there are a number of areas where the government has taken initiatives to help businesses when it comes to taxes.
Yes, some may affect where the taxes may go a little higher, but that’s what we have told British Columbians — that some who can afford a little better are asked to pay a little more, such as those in the top 2 percent. We have removed their tax break that they enjoyed previously so that that money can be diverted to those people who are working and so that we can also pay for some of these initiatives that the government has taken.
I haven’t done the analysis, because that’s not part of my ministry. In net gain for every employer, as per the tax changes by this government, many are benefiting and some may be paying more. But overall, I think the minimum wage…. We talk about economists who saw what was going on in the past. Then they did the research in the other jurisdictions, and this is what they came up with.
One of the things that I work with, one notion…. In a modern society, in one of the richest countries, and the province that we live in, I don’t think it is right for people who are working full-time to struggle in poverty. I know that the members on the opposite side don’t agree with that either. I don’t believe those who are working full-time to struggle to pay rent, struggle to put food on the table for them and for their children…. They have been wondering when this economy will benefit them.
I think there are changes being made in the government, and I respect the question. It’s a valid question, but I think the other ministries are looking at how our policies are affecting the business community.
The end goal of this government is to improve and make our economy grow, because if an economy grows, workers are employed, and they are paying taxes, and the taxes will pay for all of the social programs that we all like to enjoy — the roads and the bridges that we like to build, schools and universities.
I think that overall, it’s the approach of the government to make sure we want to make life better for British Columbians and at the same time create a business environment where businesses want to come and invest, with the expectation that there will be a good return on their investment. The government role is to create that business environment, not to get in the way of the businesses.
I think we are taking a very, very balanced approach, and I think you’ll see that’s why, if you look at the last few months, our unemployment rate continues to be the lowest in the country. There are businesses that are coming, and they see British Columbia as an opportunity to invest and get a good return on their investment. I think we are on the right path, and hopefully we will continue to work together, and we’ll have a better, brighter, British Columbia than even today.
J. Martin: Still on the Fair Wages Commission, the minimum wage schedule. Excuse the fairly in-depth preamble, but context matters.
Alberta’s increase in the minimum wage happened at a time when there was a variety of new pressures on small business occurring simultaneously. They had the new carbon tax. There were changes to Alberta’s employment standards. This was also introduced when Alberta was experiencing a very dismal economic climate. Between January and October 2017, they saw 5,500 small businesses close, and in 2016, they saw over 7,000 businesses shut down.
While the increase in minimum wage cannot be pointed to as the reason for the closure of small and local business in Calgary and other areas in Alberta, it certainly was a factor among many, including new taxes and raising the minimum wage during such a significant economic downturn.
With the experience of Alberta in mind, will the minister take into account the possibility of a slowed economy over the next year or two and how the introduction of new taxes will affect small, local businesses in British Columbia that are facing some challenging times?
Hon. H. Bains: As the member knows, Alberta’s economy is completely different than ours. They are largely dependent on oil and gas, and we are a very, very diverse economy. Our customer bases are different. We sell our products to different parts of the world. As we know, their economy was going down largely because of oil prices — oil and gas prices. No one has any control over them.
People can make political statements over there. That’s fine with them. But the reality is that it was because of oil prices. That government tried everything that they could to sustain their economic activities and support business as much as they could. But soon, the oil prices started to go up, as you know. The economy started to grow, because everything is related to the production of oil and transportation of oil in that province. All of the related businesses started to come back again, and people started to work.
I think for us in British Columbia…. Our Fair Wages Commission — the economists with their research — looked at what we do and who we are as far as the economic activities in British Columbia are concerned and what our future looks like in the next two years and four years overall. They came back with these recommendations. They looked at all of that. They looked at the historical changes. They looked at other jurisdictions, how it affected their economic growth when it comes to minimum wage.
Our ministries that are dealing with those areas are cognizant of the fact that we’ve got to be always alert. You can’t be complacent, because when economic activities and the economies of the world change, we change. We are, relatively speaking, a very small economy. When the United States moves one way or the other, it affects us. When Japan and the Asian economy go one way or the other, it affects us. I think we are at a better place, and that’s why, when Alberta was suffering due to a downturn in their economy, we continued to grow. Our economy continued to grow, and the unemployment rate continued to stay below the national.
We have set ourselves in a pretty good place around the world as far as the economic activities are concerned. We can sustain a downturn in one area of our market, compared to some of the other provinces. I think in the ’70s and ’80s, we probably weren’t in this situation. We were largely dependent on the United States. Now we are diverse. I think it’s the right thing to do.
The previous government took a lot of initiatives. Our forest industry, for example — 75 percent was in the United States. Now China has emerged as one of the emerging economies for our lumber. India is coming up as well, and Korea. I think we are diversifying so that we don’t have to depend on one customer base, for those reasons I mentioned.
D. Barnett: Work B.C., I understand, is under your ministry, correct?
Hon. H. Bains: Member, you may be confused. Work B.C. is not under our ministry. WorkSafe is.
D. Barnett: So the Work B.C. employment funding is not under your ministry. I got some information that it was.
I have a question for you anyway, to do with WorkSafe. WorkSafe is a very difficult organization. We have in our constituency offices…. Some of the saddest, hardest cases come from people dealing with WorkSafe B.C. Do you have intentions to overhaul WorkSafe in your mandate?
Hon. H. Bains: Member, I share your concern. I dealt with many of those people. They came to my office. They are some of the most difficult cases, and I brought those cases to the previous Minister of Labour’s attention.
I will agree with the member that we need to make changes, and I have already started that. I started with the leadership. Not that I blame the previous leadership for anything, but I think a new vision and a new culture are needed. A new approach is needed. That’s why I said earlier on that it has to be people-oriented. The policies should be developed around people.
Changes are happening. We have changed the board members, including the board chair. I asked them, “Review your policies and regulations,” and they’re doing that. I think that report should be coming soon, on what changes are being recommended. Then I’m looking at changing the act, as I said earlier. Maybe the member wasn’t here at that time. The act needs to be reviewed, and I am going to do that.
The whole purpose of WorkSafe B.C., as you know, or the Workers Compensation Act and workers compensation. Going back to 1917 in British Columbia and 1913 in Canada and other places, in the great compromise, as they called it, the workers gave up their right to sue, and the employers agreed to look after those workers when they were injured at that workplace. Both of them had that commitment to each other.
Sometimes though, I’m sure, the workers that come to your office, Member, and that came to our offices don’t feel that their side of the contract has been lived up to. WorkSafe will tell you of the 82 percent satisfaction rate that they have. My answer back to them was: “I’m more interested in those 18 percent who are not satisfied. Why are they not satisfied? What changes do we need? What kind of cultural changes do we need?” Cultural changes are happening as we speak, and I’m getting some reports that they are changing.
They’re hiring more staff in different areas so that they can reply and respond to those workers’ inquiries in a timely fashion and the workers get the support and the benefits in a timely fashion. The most difficult part for the workers is that when they’re not getting the income, they can’t go to work, and they get frustrated by the complexities of navigation through the WorkSafe rules and policies. Once the case is denied, as you know, the whole system gets in gear, and it takes a long time for them to get the benefits that they’re entitled to.
It’s not only just the benefit side but also the treatment side, the care that they need. The goal should be — that’s exactly what I relayed to the board: when a worker is injured, you treat them with respect and dignity and then give them the support and care that they deserve to help them get back to their pre-injury job, if that’s at all possible.
I want to go back even a few steps earlier, before that, which means prevention. I’m saying to them: “You must have a strong preventative and enforcement regime so that we can cut down on those injuries and deaths in those workplaces.” I believe firmly that the workers who go to work must come back to their families in the same shape that they went in, in the morning or in the afternoon, before their shift. That’s my goal. I am working on this, Member, and I want to thank you for bringing that up with me.
D. Barnett: Will there be some public engagement or sector engagement as you move forward with new policies with WorkSafe B.C.?
Hon. H. Bains: Of course. As I have canvassed here earlier about other changes — labour code changes, employment standards changes — and now WorkSafe, of course there will be consultation with employers, with workers, with their representatives, with the activists in that community.
I want to make sure that we hear from all of them, especially the workers. What is their experience with WorkSafe? What are the changes that they think should be made so that — God forbid that they get injured or get ill at a workplace — they are treated with respect and also, at the same time, that their claim is dealt with in a timely fashion.
I’m concentrating — and I’m going to ask them — on that 18 percent who are not satisfied. Why aren’t they satisfied? What can we do to make sure that their claims are dealt with in a respectful and in an expeditious way.
D. Barnett: Thank you, Minister. Will this be posted on the website? How will employers and employees, people that have been affected, know where to go and how to give input?
Hon. H. Bains: Yes, it’s just like what we did with the Fair Wages Commission. There was a website. They made advertisements in those communities where they were going and also had a press release. My expectation would be, when we do the review of the act, that that type of consultation take place and that kind of notice go out so that people would have an opportunity to do their input.
D. Barnett: One more question or comment, Minister. The issue in Williams Lake and Quesnel around the physiotherapists has got nowhere. We still do not have the rate schedule satisfied. Therefore, some of our workers are not receiving physiotherapy as they should be under the WorkSafe program.
Hon. H. Bains: Member, you might be reading my mind, because this morning I inquired about this. My ministry staff got a hold of the WorkSafe B.C. CEO and asked what the update is. What they have told us is that they have agreement with 95 percent of the physiotherapists that they cover, through their association, but there are gaps. So 5 percent of areas are not covered, and I am pushing them to have that thing settled as quickly as possible.
But my end goal would be to make sure that those who need those services aren’t inconvenienced and are not denied that service, because it is in the best interests not only for the workers to get back to work through the physiotherapy that they’re entitled to but for the employer and for WorkSafe and for everybody concerned. So I’m on it, Member, and I will give you updates as soon as I get an update from WorkSafe.
J. Martin: Thank you once again, Minister, for the responses.
Still staying with the Fair Wages Commission, but I’d like to zero in for the next little bit on the use of a permanent indicator to, basically, create predictable future increases on the minimum wage and to be able to forecast appropriately.
First off, the Fair Wages Commission report does not specifically recommend the use of the consumer price index as an indicator for the minimum wage. But the CPI is referred to throughout the report. For example, recommendation No. 3 states: “The permanent commission should establish predictable indicators to…the minimum wage, such as the CPI, or some other relationship, such as between the minimum wage and the poverty level or…wage levels.” To what extent is the consumer price index being considered as a possible predictable indicator for present and future increases and enhancements to the minimum wage?
Hon. H. Bains: If you look at their recommendation, the first task was to show us the pathway to $15 an hour, and they did. They gave us reasonable, predictable rates to $15.20 by June 1, 2021. They also recommended here…. If you read exactly what, Member, you are referring to, they’re saying: “The permanent commission should establish predictable indicators to guide future increases to the minimum wage, such as the CPI, or some other relationship, such as between the minimum wage and the poverty level or average wage levels.”
It is after we reach $15 — that’s what they are talking about. Now that they have given a pathway to $15, they are recommending that, rather than government making decisions when that time comes, there may be some permanency if some permanent method is established so that the minimum wage will rise based on either the CPI or some other mechanism, which could be the difference between the minimum wage and the poverty level or the average wage level — whatever. So they haven’t recommended anything yet.
I think this is some work that they may come back with, because they will be looking at a final report, which is what we do with the discrepancies between the minimum wage and the living wage. They may come back with a recommendation for the future, after 2021 is completed.
J. Martin: Is it possible that inflation may be taken into account as a predictable indicator for future enhancements to the minimum wage?
Hon. H. Bains: I leave that to the Fair Wages Commission. I don’t want to dictate to them. They may come back with that, or they may come back…. Like you said, there are a couple other ideas that they have floated here.
It could be anything. I will leave that with the Fair Wages Commission. I’ll wait for that third report.
J. Martin: That was a real nice segue, Minister. I’ve got a question here about that third report.
So we’re scheduled for release March 2019, I believe. But the understanding…. Using, again, a quote from the report: “To advise the government on ways to begin to address the discrepancy between the minimum wage and a living wage in our province,” as you’ve spoken about, and how that varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Again, this is obviously going to be somewhat speculative. I appreciate that. But can the minister speak to how this third report might change the proposed permanent indicators for minimum wage used in the first report?
Hon. H. Bains: I agree. It is a speculative question.
I will wait for that report, because they are the ones who will have the tools. They will do their research, and they will consult with economists and others and come back with their recommendations. If they come back with a method on how we deal with the gap between minimum wage and living wage or how we deal with future increases…. I think I’ll wait for that. I won’t speculate on what they will come back with.
J. Martin: The third report that we’ll all look forward to…. Obviously there’ll be comparisons made to the first report and any changes in measurement and modelling that have taken place in the interim.
What possibility do we have that a permanent, stable, predictable indicator is established, agreed upon by the ministry and the commission and we’re fixed on this…? What would the need be, then, for an ongoing commission? Why would we even need to entertain that?
Hon. H. Bains: I think we canvassed this a little earlier. The Fair Wages Commission did recommend, in their first report, about some permanency to that body. We haven’t made that decision yet on that because they still have work to do, and I’m going to let them do that work.
They have produced the second report, and now I expect them to come back with the third report. They may come back with some recommendations about their future, and we’ll make that decision when I receive that report. Or they may come back with some permanent solutions to minimum wage increases, as they have mentioned in their report.
I think they have a huge task ahead of them.
Part of their terms of reference was that they would “review the issue of what constitutes a ‘living wage’ and the elements that make up determining a ‘living wage,’ including a jurisdictional scan of the issue in B.C. and across Canada. Recognizing rapid changes occurring in the economy, the commission will make recommendations regarding strategies to address the discrepancies between the minimum wage and a ‘living wage.’”
Those are the parameters, and those are the kinds of guidelines we have given them that they will be working with. I will wait for that report, and we’ll make that decision at that time.
J. Martin: Regarding the commission, what assurances does the minister have that we’ll be able to keep the same panel in place throughout this entire exercise, as there’s going to be a lot of carryover tasking from one report to the other?
Hon. H. Bains: Member, I appointed them for the duration, and I expect them to deliver on the terms that I have given them. Those are the three reports I’m looking at. They have produced two, and the third one is coming. So I expect them to continue on until that task is done.
J. Martin: Thank you. I always like continuity in these ongoing exercises.
I’ll shift the line of inquiry for the time being, probably, to that demographic that is most affected by the Fair Wages Commission’s initial report, that being youth and, more specifically, youth employment.
There is a discrepancy in the report about the negative impact of minimum-wage increases on youth employment. In one section, the report discusses the issue of low-wage jobs for youth and how this can cause larger problems for families and create long-term debt issues for youth. This is because, as the report describes, in many situations where youth are working in low-wage jobs, they are both supporting their families and taking on student debt simultaneously.
The report argues that protection of youth and teenagers should not be minimized because “working students are often part of families where adults are making very low wages.” However, in another section, the report substantially diminishes the fact that the minimum-wage increase will have a negative impact on youth employment. The report states: “The effects of an increase in minimum wages on total employment would typically be small…. Any effects that occur are usually confined to a decrease in employment levels for teenagers.” That’s back on page 25.
Is the minister concerned, to any extent, that as stated in the Fair Wages Commission report, youth employment will be negatively impacted by the negative wage increase?
Hon. H. Bains: I wouldn’t quarrel with the Fair Wages Commission and how they arrived at their report. They’re very, very capable individuals, as you know, with a long history of delving into our economic situations. If you look at the footnote, it says…. Although they said that, they also said that the other research indicates that the effect on youth employment is variable and, when it occurs, can be the result of some other policy issues such as poor timing. So there are different reports.
I just want to say that this panel did a very thorough job, and they looked at everything. So that’s clear, what the member is saying. They looked at different areas. If there were some discrepancies between different reports that they were searching through…. They came back with a report that it has a minimal effect on youth employment. As a result, they came back with the recommendations that they did, and we adopted them, when it comes to the minimum-wage increase.
J. Martin: How does the minister expect this predicted impact on youth employment from the minimum-wage increase to play out over time? I’m talking specifically in regards to situations, outlined in the report, of increased debt as youth support their families while taking on more student debt. Is there an opportunity to comment on that?
Hon. H. Bains: As I think the report indicated and touched on, there are reasons why there is student debt. I think the average that I’ve heard is anywhere from $30,000, $34,000. University undergraduates leave universities and colleges with that kind of debt in British Columbia. I think that is a larger issue we need to look at.
I believe, when you consider that all government data says that all future jobs — about 82 percent of future jobs — will require some kind of post-secondary education, a diploma or degree, that means that we must support these students. Raising the minimum wage is just one area where we’re helping them.
But on the other hand, I think other ministries — post-secondary education, the Ministry of Finance — are all looking at how we support our youth. I think there are larger issues that you touched on. The minimum wage is one piece. But I believe that giving them a few extra dollars will help them navigate through their difficult times and getting an education.
J. Martin: The report specifically describes youth employment as highly elastic “because they have no or few accumulated skills and can easily be replaced by more experienced workers or capital.” Well, this elasticity could be extended far beyond youth. We could talk, in similar terms, to include populations that have minimal skill sets requiring new training, such as newly arrived people to the province that on top of everything else, may have language barriers.
Engagement with employers has reflected this. It’s nothing new. With the report stating that the employers often talked about the problems of training new entrants to the labour market and how a higher minimum wage would be a disincentive to hire these workers….
Well, a study from just down south, University of Washington, draws on the experience of minimum-wage increases in Seattle. It finds that the hardest-hit population for minimum-wage increases are teens and immigrants who are trying to break their way into the job market, because employers are looking for people with experience who can do the job on day one.
With all of this information available and from what we know from cross-checking other jurisdictions, how will the minister support populations such as youth and new Canadians as the minimum wage increases?
Hon. H. Bains: Thank you, Member. I think it is a very good question. When I met with a number of business organizations — and I continue to meet with them today — one of the concerns that they had was not so much about minimum wage. They had that issue with the minimum wage. What they’re looking for is certainty, predictability, which this report does give them.
Their biggest challenge right now, Member, is being unable to find workers. So that luxury they once had — that they want to replace minimum-wage workers who are teens and youth and who may not have as much experience as some of the more experienced people that are coming and standing at the door to replace them…. They don’t have that luxury right now in most parts of the province.
Yes, there are some pockets in the province where the unemployment rate is higher. But even there, the challenge is to recruit workers and retain them. I think this will help, by raising the minimum wage, in retaining those workers.
That’s one thing that I think that we can do to help those employers, because right now there’s a huge challenge. Never mind skilled workers. They can’t find those low-skilled workers to do the work. That is the biggest challenge right now.
I think we are going through a time…. I don’t think we need to worry about that concern. Not that it’s not a concern — it is a concern, and I respect that. But I think that the challenges are different today for the employer. It is about recruiting and retaining the workers, even at the low-skill jobs.
J. Martin: The report mentions that employers find that the heightened cost of training low-skilled employees could lead to the mechanization of low-skilled jobs. This, in turn, could heavily affect those groups with the low accumulation of skills or experience or recognized formal training.
To what extent can the ministry or the government, in the bigger picture, take on some of the financial burden to support training for workers that are at that level with low skill sets and still have access to opportunities for employment?
Hon. H. Bains: As the member knows, our government is very, very serious about training and retraining workforces — not only the low-skilled workers, but the skilled workers as well. That’s why our Ministry of Advanced Education is really putting an emphasis on our apprenticeship and skills training. Overall, when you are looking at K-to-12 education, we’re investing heavily in K-to-12 so that our children and youth have tools they need when they leave school, that they have skills to work and support themselves.
It’s across ministry and across government — the overall approaches to train and to help employers to train their workers. As the new recruits come in, the new workforces emerge from schools and universities, we help them — provide them incentives rather than disincentives. Right now, there’s a disincentive for anybody to take post-secondary education because of the high debt load that they come out with and hardly any certainty that they will actually get a job in their field and pay down that debt to start with, never mind starting their life to own a home or build their family nest.
I think the overall approach of the government is to help workers — the students, our youth — to get the training and the skills that they need. My ministry, as you know, deals with the labour laws that govern those areas. We are doing the reviews to reflect the changing world of the workplaces and the different needs of the employers and workers. That’s where I’m concentrating. I know a lot of work is going on in different ministries to deal with the issue that the member had mentioned.
J. Martin: Clearly, I appreciate that the minister appreciates the financial burdens and the risks that some businesses would need to take on to hire and train workers. It is a very awkward time for them to do that, particularly with the intent of still paying them at the proposed increased minimum wages.
I’m just wondering. With the conversations that the minister may be having with his colleagues on jobs and higher education and other areas, what conversations are taking place to align ministerial efforts to gather up and to be able to deliver some supports, some assistance, that will ease this burden, this challenge and reluctance, to go down that road of hiring and training people with minimum skill sets right now?
Hon. H. Bains: Different ministries — the Ministry of Advanced Education, the Ministry of Jobs and the ministry for Child Care — are all dealing with different issues. As you know, with the announcement of child care, there will be thousands of professionals trained in that field. So there are opportunities there.
The Ministry of Jobs. They just finished a trade mission to Asia. They have a number of different ideas about how we help our workers to acquire the skills that they need.
The Ministry of Advanced Education. As I mentioned before, they are looking at different ways of engaging different communities that haven’t been engaged before, like First Nations and visible minorities. They are drawing on the expertise that rest within those groups — underutilized groups, I would suggest.
As you know, there are so many people that we have invited to Canada through immigration, with the promise and with the requirement that we need their skills — when they are utilizing those skills in their home countries. When they come here, land in Vancouver and Toronto, as you know, they get a very rude awakening that their credentials are no longer recognized here. We need to deal with that issue as well.
There are so many underutilized skills on the Lower Mainland. We need to capture and make sure that we utilize those skills so they can utilize them to the best of their potential and realize the best of their potential, and then the province can benefit from those skills. I think there are a lot of challenges that government has, but it is something that we have recognized. It is something that we said we will look at — how we accommodate that change — because we want to make sure that the employer gets the skills and the workers that they need, and the workers get the support that they need as far as acquiring those skills, so that they’re ready to go to work.
I think that there’s a lot of work being done in the government. There’s no kind of overnight cure to all of that, but it’s something that we are thinking about. It’s on our radar, and different ministries are dealing with it. I am helping accommodate and make sure, through our changes to the labour laws, that our labour laws reflect today’s workplace and changing workplaces.
We have invited so many temporary foreign workers to this country. If they weren’t here, the challenges that employers have today would probably be three-, four-, fivefold. They wouldn’t be able to hire any workers. But we also have a responsibility to those workers to make sure that they are treated with respect and dignity and that their rights are protected and their health and safety are protected. We are going to move in that area.
As the Minister of Labour, I am, within my jurisdiction, moving in areas that we need to move in to make sure that we are adopting the changes to accommodate the changing workplace and the changing economy. Different ministries are doing it. That’s how I’m supporting different ministries. They’re all working together.
J. Martin: Still on the sub-topic about the transition that businesses are going to have to be gearing up for, there’s a variety of policy tools and mechanisms discussed in the report that could potentially aid employers in the transition to a $15-plus-an-hour minimum wage. These are itemized quite succinctly on page 19, and they include things like income tax credits, training subsidies for hiring young entrants and the reintroduction of a lower minimum wage for new entrants to specific parts of the labour market.
None of these tools show up in the formal recommendations, though. They were left out. Will the minister consider some of these mechanisms, to ease the burden of a minimum wage increase on employers, or have they been altogether ruled out?
Hon. H. Bains: What the member is reading from, as you know, are the recommendations from the employers. The Fair Wages Commission considered all of that, along with many other recommendations that came from other groups.
They came back after analyzing all the recommendations and through their own research on whether those recommendations would work or not work. It was their decision to, first of all, take and absorb all that information that was passed on to them by the employers, by the activists, by workers and by trade unionists. Then they analyzed all of that and came back with the recommendations.
The recommendations they came back with are before us. They are recommending that this is the route to go past the $15. The route that they have recommended is that by June 1, 2021, the minimum wage would be $15.20. I’m just relying on their expertise, on their skills that they…. I wasn’t there. They listened to all those recommendations. They did their own research. They absorbed all of that, and then they came back, through the analytical powers that they have — which I don’t claim to have — with those recommendations. Then I looked at them, as I should, and I adopted their recommendations.
J. Martin: One area where the report was quite vague was on what many people call the ripple effect of what an employer is going to do with someone who is currently making $15, $16, $17 an hour when, in the next little while, people that are coming in with much less experience and a particular skill set are going to, by statute, be encroaching on that person’s pay range.
I don’t have to belabour this, but clearly, there’s a ripple effect that goes far beyond what a simple calculation would be of doing the arithmetic to find out how much more of a payroll someone would have to meet to pay the minimum wage. It’s going to result in something, not necessarily across the entire board, but certainly, across anyone making $20, $22 and down. They’re going to be looking for some enhancement as well.
I found that the sort of lack of commentary and discussion around this in the report was one of the weaker pieces of it. I’m sure the minister has likely heard from others, as I know I have, and from employers who are concerned about this overall burden that goes far beyond the actual minimum wage and what disincentives that might provide to hiring and training.
Hon. H. Bains: Member, you’re right. The wages in the non-union sector, which is what we are talking about, get affected by both sides. Any time a major union signs a collective agreement, especially in the private sector, it affects them. Now the expectation of these workers, people in the private sector doing a similar job, is: “Their wages are higher. Therefore, our wages should be higher.”
The same thing happens on the minimum-wage side when the minimum wage goes up. Largely speaking, for the middle managers or the people higher up from the start-up, their wages are linked to the minimum wage. How much difference is there — $1 difference or 5 percent more? They all get affected, and of course, the overall payroll goes up. But that’s how, I think, our free market economy works.
I’m cognizant of that fact. That is how the wages get set. But remember, also, that there are all kinds of different reports on what the effect of minimum wage is on jobs and on businesses. As the member probably knows, last year, in May-June, 50 economists, all across the country — including seven from our leading university in British Columbia — came back and wrote a letter. They signed a letter together saying that not only are low wages bad for the workers but they’re bad for businesses as well.
These are the economists. They’re the leading economists in the country. Of course, you will see some reports that will find us some economy where, they say, the minimum wage had affected it negatively. But these economists don’t believe that it affects jobs or affects any businesses negatively. I think we’re not doing anything differently than the rest of the world is doing and what the economists are telling us. That’s the answer to that.
I want to back to your previous question about the mechanization — that maybe higher wages will bring more mechanization. Mechanization is going to happen. Automation is going to happen, regardless of the wages, because every employer is looking at how to become more efficient, how to be better than their competitors. I think that as the technology comes, they all take advantage of that. That’s going to happen.
It happened in the forest industry, you know, where we used to have 600 working in one mill and producing X amount of lumber. When the new technology came, the workforce was cut to one-third, actually, under 200, and the production, actually, was doubled or tripled.
I think these are the opportunities that the employers are looking at. They will look at that, and I encourage them to look at that. As we evolve through our economies and the different jobs, people know how to adjust with change, and I think we will do fine.
Mr. Chair, noting the hour, I move the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:46 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 progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. H. Bains moved adjournment of the House.
Mr. Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Monday, April 16.
The House adjourned at 5:48 p.m.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT
AND CLIMATE CHANGE STRATEGY
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.
The committee met at 1:42 p.m.
On Vote 22: ministry operations, $133,949,000 (continued).
The Chair: Member for Kelowna-Mission, welcome back.
S. Thomson: Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you to my colleague for the opportunity to just ask a couple of questions here that are quite specific to my riding and to the region in the Central Okanagan.
The first one I think the minister is quite familiar with, and I was really looking for a status report or an update that might be able to be provided. This relates to a piece of property, an inholding in Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park — a stranded piece of property that doesn’t have access — where there is significant interest from the Friends of the South Slopes and the Okanagan Naturalists’ Club about getting this property, 16.4 hectares, added to the Myra-Bellevue park.
It has very, very significant environmental values and benefits within that parcel. It’s, essentially, currently used as access to the park trail network through it, which the current landowner allows or doesn’t prevent from being utilized for that purpose, but there’s been quite a long-term interest in finding a way or a method of having that private property added to the park. I know there have been discussions with the landowner, engagement with the Friends of the South Slopes and the naturalist clubs that are all interested in this.
I know some work is being done on it, and I was wondering if the minister might be able to provide an update on the status of those discussions.
Hon. G. Heyman: We’re aware of the issue and the interest, and we’re working on it.
S. Thomson: I know it’s being worked on. But can I ask if there is any sort of estimate or thoughts around timelines as to when some of the options might crystallize or the opportunities might be provided — or not?
I know it gets sensitive because it does involve negotiations with a private land owner and lots of interests in the organizations, but I know this has been worked on for quite a while. It was a file that I had some involvement in when I was a minister. I know the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations had a potential role in some of the options, but I know the file is now being led by the Ministry of Environment and through the parks division or parks branch.
Any estimates or thoughts around when an option might crystallize and be able to be moved forward?
Hon. G. Heyman: As the member will appreciate, the problem with giving an estimate is that things happen all the time to throw things off schedule. Don’t want to do anything until there’s certainty, but I’ll just simply say we’re optimistic.
S. Thomson: I appreciate those comments and that sense of optimism. I think that’s a sentiment that…. I know that the groups — the naturalist groups and all the people who value the environmental values that are in that specific piece of property — are hopeful that there is some optimism around finding a solution. I think that will be welcomed and will be well received by the whole community — not just the constituents in my riding, although many of them are in my riding, but by the community in general.
I’ll move on to one other area that’s important to our region. I know there has been some canvassing on this already in estimates, and I read the exchange on it when my colleague from Kelowna–Lake Country raised the issue. This was around the invasive zebra and quagga mussel issue, or threat, to the area — a critical issue for the province and very critical for the Okanagan. I think we all understand, and I know the minister understands, the potential negative impacts if zebra or quagga invasive mussels were ever to breach the protection that’s in place on the perimeters and come into the Okanagan.
I know the question was around dedicated funding within the ministry budget on it and the minister’s response around now having the dollars. I think the number that was provided was $1 million in dedicated funding within the base funding in the ministry’s budget. He also said in those comments that that wasn’t all. That was the amount in the budget.
I wonder if the minister would be able to provide the information on the total amount of funding committed to the protection or to the overall set of initiatives that help provide that defence for us.
Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the member for raising this very important issue.
I believe the member has probably read everything that we said in estimates a number of weeks ago with respect to this. We recognize the importance of defending British Columbia’s waters against a quagga or zebra mussel invasion. We have been successful so far. We have done a lot of work. At the last Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, I had a number of meetings with local government officials and delegations who wanted to talk specifically about doing more to prevent a mussel invasion.
The funding that’s available is $1 million dedicated funding in the budget, about another $750,000 internally from the conservation officer service and $2 million additional from partners, for a total of $3.75 million.
We also are looking at…. As I mentioned in estimates, we do a re-evaluation after every season. We noted, for instance, that we had stations open longer than they needed to be when there was snow on the ground. So when we don’t spend money unnecessarily, we have more money to spend in effective ways.
The bottom line for us is we are committed to effective monitoring. If there is any report of a serious mussel threat, adjacent to us or attempting to cross the border into British Columbia, and we don’t have the resources to deal with it, you can count on us seeking those resources.
S. Thomson: Certainly, thanks for the update on the number and also the understanding and the commitment to the importance of this program.
Your comments were a good segue into the next question I had, which was really around the effectiveness review. I understand the importance of doing that review, obviously. We want to ensure that the resources are being used most effectively and targeted to the elements of the program that are most important.
I looked, and I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was just because I couldn’t find it or it is still in process. Has the effectiveness review for the last season been completed, and what form is the review? Is it in a document or a report or anything like that that would be publicly available, as to the changes that were made in the program or emphasis on certain elements of the program through that effectiveness review?
Hon. G. Heyman: The most recent report based on the period September 28 to December 12 is entitled: B.C. Invasive Mussel Defence Program 2017, season-end final status report. It was shared with partners and is public, and we’d be happy to provide a copy to the member.
S. Thomson: Thank you. I appreciate that. Or if you could just send me the link as to where I might be able to access it. For some reason, I just didn’t…. It may be because I was just not quite looking in the right place at the time, in terms of finding that.
The other question I might have, then, is other than the…. I know the minister commented in the estimates, when this was raised before, around one of the specific changes that was made, which was around timing of how long a specific inspection station stayed open. They found that they were covering that inspection station for a time period when there wasn’t any traffic. Those are things — obviously, those kind of changes.
I wonder if the minister might be able to provide a few comments, out of that report, on any of the more significant changes or adjustments in the program that came out as a result of the effectiveness review.
[D. Routley in the chair.]
Hon. G. Heyman: First of all, the member asked for a link, but we haven’t actually posted the report on line, although we have shared it with interested partners. It’s a good reminder that we should post it on line, so we’ll do that as well as provide a copy to the member.
Some of the recommendations that came out of the review were: certain stations should end their season two weeks earlier because they’re not needed to run that late — an example of that would be Golden; that northern stations open later; some locations be open dawn to dusk. We’ve now implemented conservation officer service oversight of the program and the stations, and there’s a 20 percent increase in the number of stations in 2018 to 12 stations.
S. Thomson: Thank you, Minister, for those references. I look forward to reading the report. I thought the answer might just come out and would be: “You can go and read the report and see what it said.” But I will take a good look at the report.
I appreciate the earlier comments. It is a critically important program. I think we all understand the risks to the economy, to jobs, to sectors, to tourism, all of those areas if that protection is ever breached. Thankfully that has not been the case. I think it’s a testament not just to the program but also to the broader work that’s being done through organizations like PNWER and others and cooperation between provinces and states in making sure, with the early detection and rapid response initiatives that are in place.
There’s one other element to the program I just wanted to ask about. One critical piece of it is the education component of the program — creating the public awareness in the program, what has been tagged under the “Clean, drain, dry” program and the invasive species count that is run through local governments and some other organizations.
In the budget dollars that the minister referenced within the Ministry of Environment budget on this, are any of those dollars specifically targeted to the education program and to the invasive species organizations, the Invasive Species Council? I know the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations had a component of funding invasive species councils, organizations and groups throughout the province, including the B.C. Invasive Species Council. But within the Ministry of Environment, is there any specific dollars that go towards the education program?
Hon. G. Heyman: Within the budget, there’s $150,000 for outreach, research, partner groups, support and the K-9 program.
The education program is definitely part of outreach. But in addition to that, we get other resources by having the conservation officer service oversee the program. They build the educational part into all of their opportunities to interact with the public, to attend Union of B.C. Municipalities conventions and talk to people. They go to trade shows. They go to boat shows. So this change will help leverage education considerably.
S. Thomson: Thank you, Minister, for that clarification, or that update.
Yes, we’ve certainly seen them out in the community in that role. On the weekend, I had the annual sportsmen’s show at the Capital News Centre in Kelowna. There was both the CO Service…. The educational program was all there — a very strong attendance at that event and a lot of good opportunity to continue to communicate that message.
It is a critical part of all of the work. You can put all of the inspection stations and perimeter defences in place and everything, but if you don’t have the continuing effort on public awareness and education, it doesn’t help all of the other initiatives that are within the program — so appreciate the continued support for that.
I know the Invasive Species Council and the programming support they get from Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has a strong element of education in that area as well — not just on invasive mussels but, more generally, around invasive plants and species.
Thank you for the opportunity to ask a few questions. Thank you, to my colleague, for allowing me to step in and have just a bit of time here.
We will certainly wait, hopefully, for some positive news around the Myra-Bellevue piece of property. I think that would be something that would be, as I said, very well-received.
I’ll just get a little bit personal here on that particular piece of property. My mother was a very strong member and advocate within the Friends of the South Slopes. It’s something she fought for, for years. It would be a great piece for her…. She’s passed, but it would be something that she would have been really pleased to see. That’s why I sort of take a personal interest in that particular initiative and hope we can see it through at some point.
R. Sultan: I would like to thank the minister for submitting to some further small extensions of a question that I already posed, previously, with respect to very local issues concerning the parks system over the North Shore of the Vancouver area.
As the minister is well aware, we really have three MLAs. The representative from North Vancouver–Seymour, within whose riding Mount Seymour Park resides…. Cypress, or — for persons of my vintage — the Hollyburn area, is really shared between myself and the member for West Vancouver–Sea to Sky. Of course, his domain extends all the way up to very extensive park areas in Whistler and beyond.
These parks — and, in particular, Cypress — are, I believe, the most heavily used in the entire provincial parks system. A million visitors a year is a number tossed around, including skiers. The pressures, as we discussed at this earlier exchange, imposed on the ecological preservation of this semi-alpine area — the traffic problems, the commerce issues of trying to run a commercial ski area in the middle of a provincial park with much broader objectives than just allowing people to ski down the hill safely and get back up again on some lift system….
This is a complicated system going far beyond the ecosystem. Looking down the road, we can only see these issues multiplying.
It would be very illuminating, I think, for our constituents on the North Shore to be able to share the minister’s vision of where this complex is headed in the long term. If we looked out ten or even 15 or 25 years, what is the North Shore park system and mountain system going to look like? Are there issues in particular that, in a constructive way, perhaps, he could point us in the right direction in addressing?
Hon. G. Heyman: First of all, thank you to the member for the question. We acknowledge the issues that you raised. They’re challenging, and they’re complex. B.C. Parks has begun a consultation process with a variety of groups around how to create a long-term plan. Included in that is what the plan outlook should be, how many years.
We also are collaborating with Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations on land use and different options to deal with some of the issues. I would be happy, if the member would like, for the member to sit down with one of the regional parks staff and get briefed about just exactly what’s happened so far and what we’re looking at in the future.
To date, there’s not been any open public consultation, but that may be a feature of consultation going forward. So the member, I think, would have an interest in learning how we’re proceeding. The member could arrange that briefing through my office.
R. Sultan: Well, I’d be delighted to take the minister up on that invitation. I appreciate the response to the minister, and I should have acknowledged earlier the prompt and very detailed reply to written requests raising similar issues that I have submitted to his office. We’ve had quite fulsome written responses, which I appreciate.
The issues are, indeed, so big and complex and involve so many dimensions, I think it would be helpful to have a chance to talk further with staff.
The other big issue — well, among many big issues — we face on the North Shore pertaining to the parks system and beyond is the role and the destiny of our group of very dedicated and talented, physically able volunteers in North Shore Rescue, who are called out virtually every weekend to rescue some wayward skier who has ignored all of the out-of-bounds signs and ends up in some very dangerous gully. I suggested some of them should be marked with skull and crossbones because they are almost lethal once you enter these gullies.
As I’m sure the minister knows, the Talon helicopters are used extensively to extract hikers and skiers — and the rescuers, frequently — sometimes under very dangerous slide and terrain conditions.
My first question is: how much are we spending of provincial money on these rescue operations, and particularly the helicopter operation? I can appreciate that helicopters don’t come cheap.
Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you for the acknowledgment of the response. Again, I think staff in the ministry are happy to brief any MLA on issues affecting their constituency.
We do not spend any money from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy on search and rescue or helicopters. If there is something within a park boundary, park staff and rangers may be called on to assist, but they are not first responders.
R. Sultan: I thank the minister. Do I hear correctly that there are no provincial funds involved at all from any ministry?
Hon. G. Heyman: No, what I said is there are no funds from this ministry. There may be from somewhere else, like emergency management B.C., but we’re just not aware of it.
R. Sultan: So we should probably ask somebody else that same question.
Again, in the sense of a longer-term view of where we’re headed, it’s my sense, having watched these robust men and women on North Shore Rescue for many, many years now…. I get the sense that to carry out the assignment successfully is a little bit harder every year in terms of finding the dedicated people who are willing to be on call. Frequently, they are first responders in some other assignment, in some of our other agencies, willing to do this work.
The sheer volume of assignments and time away from family in what is normally, for most of us, downtime, is astonishing — that they’re willing to make this commitment and do it on a volunteer basis.
Again, looking at the trend lines in terms of growing volumes, which I assume will translate into growing need for rescue operations…. Quite apart from who pays for it, does the ministry have any sense or any strategy or even any speculations about where this is headed in the next ten or 15 years or longer?
Hon. G. Heyman: As part of the park management planning process, we regularly try to forecast future growth in use and demand and plan around that, including the risks that associate with that. That is part of the process.
Part of what we do, as well, as part of general public outreach and education is make people aware of other areas where they can recreate and spread the demand out across the whole system.
R. Sultan: Final question, moving away from the park domain: water.
The government, which I was pleased to support until we somehow encountered an accident last May, was very proud of having been the first jurisdiction, in British Columbia, to actually license the use of water. Now it appears we have the beginnings of a database on how the demands upon our freshwater resources accumulate and by whom and where and when — the timing. From that, I guess we can start forecasting the future.
Again, I would just be interested in learning a little bit more about the philosophy of the minister concerning the demand for water and how this public asset receives some sort of compensation for use of what I think many of us have regarded as sort of a free good. I suspect that in the world of the future, water isn’t going to be quite as freely abundant as we have grown used to.
Hon. G. Heyman: First of all, we do a lot of this work jointly with Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. We have now — through the Water Sustainability Act introduced in 2016, as the member mentioned — the ability to license water use, groundwater use, which requires reporting which enables us to learn much more about where water is available and how it’s used.
We take the necessity to protect water very seriously. Part of the reporting will allow us to map. We’ll also map with other tools and for other reasons.
I think we also need to know more about water in general, so we do water quality monitoring. We think it’s important to look at all the things that impact watersheds, and one of the ways we will be able to do that is through land use planning.
We sign water management agreements with groups — for instance, First Nations. We’ve done the Hullcar aquifer pollution review. As one of the results of that, we’ve signed an agreement with the Splatsin First Nation to do a pilot project on a co-governance model.
Climate adaptation is also something that we’ll be working on through the climate strategy plan that we will be announcing in the fall. It’ll be a responsibility that’s ongoing with the climate action secretariat and our climate solutions council. Part of that is in response to the Auditor General. Part of that is just in response to common sense and being prepared for the future and for the future needs and use of water by British Columbians.
R. Sultan: Thank you, Minister. That concludes my questions.
J. Sturdy: Thank you to my colleague for introducing the issue of water. It’s certainly one of interest to all British Columbians. There was a pricing review for the water licences and the use and sale of water. I wonder if the minister could give us the status of that pricing review and whether any changes are contemplated to the schedule.
Hon. G. Heyman: Ministry staff reviewed the water rates and prepared an interim report in December 2016. The report notes that as the Water Sustainability Act is implemented, the Ministries of Environment and Climate Change Strategy and Forests, Lands and Natural Resources will monitor the costs of delivery, further review water fees and rentals and make adjustments accordingly to address pricing principles as appropriate, including cost recovery.
We did introduce some fees with respect to groundwater licences. In terms of understanding the costs of implementing the Water Sustainability Act, as well as actual water revenues related to groundwater use, by 2019 we should have enough data for further analysis and help inform any future setting of water rates.
J. Sturdy: Okay. If I hear the minister correctly then, in 2019, there will be, potentially, some revisions to the rates. This is with regard to all the various classifications, I take it, because there’s quite a selection or a collection of different rates for different usages.
What are we expecting in…? With regard to licensing and the application, are there…? Sorry. I’m trying to collect myself here. How are we collecting…? How are those applications coming in, especially on the agricultural side? I understand there has been a slow uptake on people making application for licences. There have been some concerns around the complexity of those applications, and there’s been an extension in an opportunity to put forward applications.
Perhaps the minister could give us a sense of where that is coming, where that is at this stage, whether there’s any expectation of additional extensions — and of what number of applications have come in, versus what has been forecast to come in.
Hon. G. Heyman: The member is correct. It’s all classes of non-domestic water, in terms of rates. The deadline for application was March 2019. That was the second extension.
We’ve worked to streamline and adjust the permitting process to encourage more people to apply. We’ve worked with the Agriculture Council, the B.C. Ag Council, to help encourage their members to apply and do public education and outreach around applications.
The actual reception and processing of the applications is in Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, so the member would have to go to that ministry for that information.
J. Sturdy: Where did the revenues go from water resources, for water licensing? Is that a FLNRO budget, or is this an MOE budget?
Hon. G. Heyman: The fees are meant to support administration through staff. The money goes to FLNRO and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. To give you an idea of the breakdown, I think there are 86 FTEs; 80 of them are in FLNRO, and six are in our ministry.
J. Sturdy: Could the minister tell us how many licences were forecast for agriculture and how many have actually been applied for?
Hon. G. Heyman: We know that there are about 100,000 wells in the province, and about 80 percent of those are for domestic use. That would leave about 20,000 for which a licence should be sought. But as I’ve previously stated, the actual applications are received and granted through FLNRO, so, again, the member would have to go to that ministry for that information.
J. Sturdy: I understand, though, that surface water licences are also required, not just wells. So there are additional numbers outside of that 20,000 of non-domestic use. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Heyman: Surface water licences have always been required. There’s nothing new there.
J. Sturdy: The revenues associated with these water licences, to some extent, were expected to go back into understanding aquifers and understanding drainages. I wonder if any money has gone back into these assessments. If so, how much?
Hon. G. Heyman: As I mentioned to the member, 80 of the 86 FTEs are in FLNRO. But having said that, revenues are still ramping up, and as they do, we will have more money to do more things. But the money that has come in has been dedicated to the activities the member mentioned. If he wants an exact number, we’d have to go and find that out. We can do that, or we can let the member know by letter.
J. Sturdy: I’ll be pleased to receive the information by letter. I guess I’m also interested, though, in terms of what the philosophy is here: if there is, from the ministry’s perspective, a priority list of aquifers; if there are aquifers that have been identified — other than Hullcar, of course — as at risk or as in need of a priority assessment; and if such a list or such a list of priorities exists, how that would be generated.
[R. Kahlon in the chair.]
Hon. G. Heyman: We’ve currently mapped about 1,200 aquifers. As the money becomes available through the fees, we will begin work on the ones that have been identified as high risk. The member has correctly identified Hullcar as one of them, but other unconfined aquifers would also be on that list.
J. Sturdy: In terms of the definition of “at risk,” how is that defined?
Hon. G. Heyman: “At risk” would generally be defined as at risk of water quantity or at risk of water quality or at risk of both.
J. Sturdy: I am particularly interested in the “at risk” in terms of quantity. Is there a list available? Of those 1,200 aquifers that have been mapped, which ones would be at risk for quantity, or how is that defined?
I guess that does actually remind me. Of the 1,200 that have been mapped, how many, as a percentage…? What percentage is that of the aquifers that are out there that would ultimately need to be identified and mapped?
Hon. G. Heyman: We were having a long discussion about the various factors. They’re complex; they’re many. We work on them with other ministries, agencies and organizations.
Of course, we’ll actually be applying the criteria as we have the funds to do so, but we would be happy to offer a technical briefing to the member with ministry staff, on all things aquifer. If there are particular aquifers in which the member has an interest, having that information in advance would be good.
Might I suggest a recess?
The Chair: Members will take a five-minute recess.
The committee recessed from 3 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.
[R. Kahlon in the chair.]
Hon. G. Heyman: I’d like to, at this point, give an answer that I promised yesterday to questions from the member for Cariboo North — who is not here at the moment, but she will have access to Hansard. The question was: “Can you please identify how many staff that you have out of the Williams Lake office that are currently available and doing regular, daily water testing of Quesnel Lake?”
The answer is: there are presently seven regional operations staff in Williams Lake. Given our regional model, please note that there are eight people with specific assignments connected to the Mount Polley discharge — three in compliance, who manage the aspect of compliance for the permit and order and do planned inspections; two environmental impact assessment staff on the mining team; two authorizations staff; and one statutory decision–maker.
There is regular monitoring of Quesnel Lake, which is the responsibility of the permittee. Mount Polley Mining Corp. collects water quality data in Quesnel Lake as part of their permit requirements. This data is submitted quarterly to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, and that, of course, is under the professional reliance model that was put in place by the previous government.
The public can access the data here at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/environment/research-monitoring-reporting/monitoring/environmental-monitoring-databases/surface-water-monitoring-sites.
In addition, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy assisted with some sampling in Quesnel Lake during August 2017 and two sampling events in Hazeltine Creek in the fall of 2017 and more recently in March 2018, which were around compliance sampling.
There has also been some ministry testing at the Likely bridge, downstream of the affected area, as there is now a federal-provincial site at the Likely bridge. Normal frequency at that federal-provincial site is monthly by a contractor, and the ministry audits the contractor.
Quesnel Lake was added to the provincial lakes network in 2018. This means that Quesnel Lake would be sampled in the spring and summer of 2018. Environment staff are engaged in conducting a water quality assessment of Quesnel Lake. Phase 1 of this assessment is collecting all available data and identifying any data gaps. This is currently underway and will be completed by fall of 2018.
The second question was: “Could the minister provide me with an update or an estimate on the engagement and perhaps the support that the ministry is providing to the First Nations of Xatśūll and Williams Lake Indian Band, in recognition of the incredible work that they have done to ensure, again, the rehabilitation of Quesnel Lake and the area?”
The answer is — and my apologies if I’m mispronouncing the name of the First Nation — we are working with Xatśūll and Williams Lake Indian Band on a government-to-government work plan for fiscal year 2019 with help from the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation has been approached about funding for that work. Last year the two First Nations provided a cost estimate that was used to determine an amount for a transfer — $10,000 each — to cover the extraordinary costs. Both receive ECDA funding to support routine engagement. It is expected that there will be less work this year, as the only outstanding item for the order is the conceptual remediation plan, and most of the outstanding items related to the permit have already been consulted on.
Nothing has been committed this year for extraordinary funding, and the ECDA funding depends on mineral tax revenue. We would have to defer to the Ministries of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources for the specific amounts.
J. Sturdy: To go back to our last topic, I certainly will take the minister up on the opportunity to have a more fulsome briefing on aquifers.
However, I do have a couple more questions, one of which I’ll just restate. It was identified that 1,200 aquifers had been identified — or mapped, I should say. The question was: how many have not been mapped? So 1,200 — what percentage of it is the total that will require to be mapped? Do we have a sense of that at all?
I suppose the second part of that…. Might as well, while we’re at it. What does mapping entail? Is that simply a polygon of the height of land sort of thing, or is there more to it than that? Where does volume and quality come into that assessment?
Hon. G. Heyman: As I mentioned, approximately 1,200 aquifers have been mapped. That accounts for 50 percent of registered wells and over 30,000 square kilometres.
The specific questions that the member asked, the rest of them, are complex. That’s why we offered a technical briefing, and they can be covered in the briefing.
J. Sturdy: The reason I ask is that, clearly, communities that are drawing from these aquifers have concerns about quality and about volume. Additional information, to these communities, is important. How would communities access the information around the aquifers that are relevant to the communities?
Hon. G. Heyman: What we do have available is a link to information coming from a network, a provincial observation well chemistry network, of over 192 wells. It was established in 1961 to monitor groundwater quantity and quality in areas of high human use.
The website is https://governmentofbc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html. It’s available on the open data licence site.
We will be, as part of our work of mapping and analyzing aquifers and high-risk aquifers, looking to implement new forums for the public to access the information. And your ideas, as well as how we’re looking at doing that, will be part of the technical briefing.
J. Sturdy: Thanks to the minister. I don’t know that I caught that website, but I’m sure we’ll be able to figure it out.
If what the minister says is accurate, then some 30 percent of the province’s aquifers have been mapped. I’m not sure that…. It’ll be interesting to look at those wells and see whether they do provide the information that communities need in terms of an access to a water supply for a variety of different reasons.
I will certainly look forward to that briefing and being able to share that with my communities, a number of whom have significant water supply and quality issues. That’s common throughout the province.
Will the opportunity come up to expand that? I take it the opportunity will arise to map more of these aquifers. Are there any targets and objectives in terms of what the ministry is trying to achieve and when we’re trying to achieve it, recognizing that water is an emerging concern for many communities and industries around the province? The better we understand it, the better we can make use of the resource and conserve the resource.
Does the ministry have any targets in this regard in terms of understanding the aquifers around the province?
Hon. G. Heyman: We work with FLNRO and do mapping of aquifers based upon the following factors: lithology, or soil composition; well logs; geophysical data.
We tend to map the most important aquifers to communities based on their community needs first. The observations are that about 70 percent of groundwater wells are stable or increasing in water levels, 13 percent of observable wells are showing a moderate decline and the remaining 9 percent are showing a large decline.
J. Sturdy: Thanks to the minister for that. That is quite interesting. One of the communities in my region that doesn’t at all have any confidence in their aquifer is the community of Lions Bay. I know that they have been seeking assistance, through students at UBC, to help them better understand that aquifer.
I wondered if there was an opportunity here for them to connect with the Ministry of Environment, or through the Ministry of Environment, to help them better understand their aquifer. They have a very high-altitude aquifer that has essentially dried up on them on a number of occasions, and they have significant concerns as the effects of climate change are felt. In fact, they are currently looking at even a desalination option because they are concerned about both potable water supplies and fire flows.
Does the minister have any recommendations for how I could guide that community in terms of better understanding and helping them understand the issues that they face with regard to water supply?
Hon. G. Heyman: The staff in FLNRO’S south coast region would be most familiar with this area. I’m sure if the constituents contacted that ministry, a local office, they would be more than happy to work with them.
J. Sturdy: They have, in fact, done that, and the mapping aspect of it is where the need is. It was deemed more appropriate within the Ministry of Environment. Perhaps I can have them check again. I know that FLNRO has provided some assistance over time, but ultimately the mapping is what the community needs.
Hon. G. Heyman: If the member would like to contact Lynn Kriwoken, the executive director of the water sustainability branch, and arrange both a briefing and further information, I’m sure she’d be happy to help.
J. Sturdy: Is the river forecast centre part of the Ministry of Environment, or is it FLNRO?
Hon. G. Heyman: It’s situated in FLNRO’s flood hazard management group.
J. Sturdy: One last question about water, specific to a community. I understand that Chapman Lake and Tetrahedron Park, within the Sunshine Coast regional district, have long been trying to resolve an outstanding water issue on the coast. They’ve been in stage 4 on numerous occasions in the last number of years.
I understand a letter has been issued to the board of the SCRD that suggested some consultation will take place but, ultimately, provided two options. I wonder if the minister could clarify whether one of those two options will be the outcome of this consultation or whether there are other options to be considered.
Hon. G. Heyman: The answer to the member is that those were two examples that were offered to start the consultation, and others may arise as a result of the consultation.
J. Sturdy: Would one of those options be that additional waters would not be allowed to be drawn down from Chapman Lake? In other words, the communities would not have access to that water.
Hon. G. Heyman: The decision about how to meet the communities’ water needs ultimately resides with the regional district, the communities and the people of the area. But obviously, if one of the solutions involves an area that’s designated as park, then it involves us as well, which is why we’ve responded, why we’ve met and why we’re having consultations and offering examples.
The goal of the community, and our goal as well, is to ensure that the community can meet its water needs in an adequate and acceptable manner.
J. Sturdy: Well, the letter that has been provided to the SCRD says:
“B.C. Parks has explored options to implement the direction of the management plan. Two options identified are: (1) cancelling the class A park designation under the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act and re-establishing the lands as a protected area under the Environment and Land Use Act and the necessary powers to authorize community water supply infrastructure upgrades, or (2) deleting the area totally, approximately 130 hectares containing Chapman and Edwards Lakes, from Tetrahedron Park and re-establishing those lands as a protected area under the Environment and Land Use Act with the necessary powers to authorize community water supply infrastructure upgrades. Both options will require an act of the Legislature.”
My sense is that the regional district is under the impression that these two options are on the table, and this is what the regional district has been seeking for many years now. I think it’s important that they understand whether…. They may find that neither of those options become available to them. When you read this letter, you get the distinct impression that these two options are being considered, and we’ll consult, and we’ll have a recommendation for the minister this summer on one of the two options.
I think it’s important that they understand. The recommendation to the minister may be that neither of these options will be recommended, and they can go find some other water supply. I think it’s important that they are given a better sense of what may be the outcome of this process.
Hon. G. Heyman: I want to stress for the member again that it is, in fact, the regional district who’s the decision-maker here. They made a request of us. We said we’d initiate a discussion. We put a couple of options on the table.
We’ve been talking to the regional district, as well as to the MLA for the area, frequently, about a number of things. The regional district is certainly aware that there’s a number of possibilities to resolve the issue, and we’ll continue to talk to the MLA representing the region as well as to the regional district.
J. Sturdy: Okay. Well, I will relate back to constituents that I have that may or may not reside on the Sunshine Coast but have an interest in the area and have properties in the area and are very concerned about this.
What I’m taking away from this dialogue is that these are two options that are being presented, and a third option may be that: “No, you can’t access water from Chapman Creek.” Is that accurate?
Hon. G. Heyman: It’s neither accurate nor does it bear any reflection to anything that I’ve said in this set of questions, Chair. The member, I suppose, could say that. I can’t control what the member reports back, but the member might want to be accurate when he reports back to his constituents.
We’ll continue, as will the regional district, to work toward a solution that ensures that residents of the area have an adequate and acceptable supply of water. That’s what I’ve said.
J. Sturdy: Well, I’m trying to be accurate, Minister. I am trying to understand if one of these two options may be approved or will be approved, or whether the third option is that neither of those two options will be approved and they’ll need to find water from some other source. It’s not like this is a new issue. It certainly is suggested in the letter: “Here are two options. We’ll consult on them, and we’ll put forward a recommendation for one of them.” But I take it that that may or may not be the case.
I’m just trying to help the community and my constituents understand what the outcome is here. We’re going into another summer, we’re going to be another year into this, and I guess we’ll just have to see what the recommendation is. I don’t think it provides any certainty to the community whatsoever. Now, I understand I’m not going to get an answer, so I’ll move on.
We’re at parks. My colleague had talked about search and rescue in parks. North Shore Rescue is one of the organizations that responds in my region, along with Lions Bay Search and Rescue, Squamish Search and Rescue, Whistler Search and Rescue and Pemberton District Search and Rescue. All of those are response areas within my riding. Does B.C. Parks track search and rescue calls in B.C. parks?
Hon. G. Heyman: I think it’s important — in response to the first part of the member’s question, which was actually a statement — that I just reiterate and put on the record that of course we take seriously the need for assurance of a water supply for residents of the area, whether they’re permanent residents or they’re occasional residents.
The regional district has the responsibility, but both the regional district and the ministry share the goal of ensuring that there’s an adequate and acceptable supply of water that meets people’s needs. I think that’s clear. That was my answer. We respond to requests from the regional district. I’ve met with them; staff have met with them. I’ve met with delegations. I’ve had conversations with the MLA for the area, and we’ll continue to work with them to meet that.
To the second part, the member’s actual question, if there is a call to B.C. Parks that is an emergency or is a search and rescue situation, we would log that. But most of the calls would be to search and rescue, and they would log those.
J. Sturdy: So B.C. Parks does not know how many search and rescue responses take place in B.C. Parks on an annual basis. Is that correct?
Hon. G. Heyman: The member’s initial question was about calls. Calls may come to parks, and we, of course, log those. If there’s an incident in a park, that would be recorded by front-line staff who were involved in any way in the incident. We have that information.
Statistics regarding calls or, for instance, the ordering of a helicopter would be handled through emergency management B.C. If we needed or wanted those statistics or records or numbers, we would go to emergency management B.C. and access them. If the member wants them, that’s where the member would get them.
J. Sturdy: I think it’s important that B.C. Parks understands what the response numbers are or what the number of incidents requiring search and rescue, volunteer search and rescue, within B.C. Parks is. I think it’s important that the ministry understand that.
I think it’s important to understand what the trend is. Are we seeing additional responses required in B.C. Parks? What does that look like? Is this the future of emergency response? Are we going to see increasing numbers? I think it’s inevitable that we are. I’m surprised that there’s not a tracking system there.
I guess my question for the minister is: does the minister feel that it’s appropriate for a reliance on a volunteer organization to provide emergency response within B.C. Parks?
Hon. G. Heyman: I’m a little astounded at the member’s question, because we’ve been in government here for about eight months, and the member’s party was in government for 16 years during which these systems that the member thinks are important could have been instituted, because somebody else was in charge of the ministry and B.C. Parks at that point.
In fact, the record of government over those 16 years was to consistently reduce staff and resources to the ministry, while increasing the burden on public users of the park. That’s my preface to the answer to the question in terms of what I perceive to be a little bit of outrage by the member that we weren’t able to design a system that the member thinks is necessary. But I can tell the member what we are doing and have been doing for quite some time.
The member asked if we tracked information, and my answer was: “No, we don’t.” Although, if there’s an incident in a park involving staff, we log that. Other agencies track the information, like emergency management B.C. When we need the information, we access it, because it’s publicly available, as part of our park management plans, which are reviewed regularly and updated in terms of projected demands, projected usage.
We also look at projected risks as well as existing risks that need a different response. When we need data to inform that, we access the data that’s already gathered by another agency, so we don’t need to do it. If we have some data, we use that as well. We put the data together, and we make the kind of assessment that the member thinks we should be making.
Of course, it would be easier to do that and do that more frequently with greater resources, and we, hopefully, are in the process of seeing some change to that. We have added some staff to parks. We have instituted programs that help with funding of parks.
Obviously, we want to make parks safe; a good experience for people; and filled with new features, like greater interpretive centres, greater emphasis on Indigenous history, knowledge, tradition and culture. We want to ensure that there are more real people to talk to people in parks about those experiences — not simply kiosks and interactive displays, although those have their place as well.
All of that, in addition to safety of parks, is very much on our mind, but we don’t feel the need to undertake activities that are already undertaken and which we can access.
J. Sturdy: The issue of understanding where incidents take place and the number of incidents in parks, and throughout the back country, is important. It’s certainly something that parks and the Ministry of Environment should be paying close attention to.
Clearly, if for no other reason than if it’s identified that there are areas of a high number of extractions or a high number of responses, then other management strategies may want to be put into place so that we can avoid some of these incidences in the future. Hence, the question about tracking responses in parks — how we create a better experience and a safer experience for people.
Again, sorry. That was a bit of a statement. But, you know, I think it’s important that this be considered. Hence, the question: does the ministry track — and perhaps I should have said map, as well — where these responses are so the ministry can better respond to public safety issues?
Okay, so the second part of that question was: does the minister feel that this is the best approach, in terms of relying on volunteer search-and-rescue organizations to respond within the park — or parks, in general?
Hon. G. Heyman: As I’ve said, as part of park management planning and risk assessment, we are constantly looking at things that can be done to make parks safer.
As to the second part of the question, which the member repeated, park rangers and other staff cooperate and participate in search-and-rescue operations as needed. Funding and oversight of volunteer search-and-rescue operations is in emergency management B.C. That’s where it’s situated. That’s where the member should take those questions. There is not a lot of point, when we have one part of government undertaking an activity, to replicate it.
J. Sturdy: Actually, one part of government does not undertake that activity. It’s undertaken by volunteer organizations.
The question to the minister was: does the minister feel it’s appropriate that volunteer organizations are responding to emergency situations in B.C. parks? Is that the model that the minister sees moving forward?
Other jurisdictions, other organizations…. The Canadian park service, for example, is responsible for emergency response and rescue within national parks. Is this something that the minister would consider in provincial parks?
The Chair: Members. Members.
Hon. G. Heyman: What doesn’t make sense to me is that we would have one search and rescue organization in the back country outside of parks, adjacent to a park boundary, but inside a park boundary we would have another search and rescue operation run by B.C. Parks.
The appropriate place to take the question about what the right model for emergency search and rescue would be emergency management B.C., where oversight of that program is situated.
J. Sturdy: I take it by that, then, that the minister is suggesting that it’s not appropriate that there be a search and rescue organization adjacent to a national park, because that’s exactly what we’re talking about. We’re talking about emergency response in a national park undertaken by the national park service, and then, outside of that, it’s taken by a volunteer organization, which is often overtaxed.
I can tell the minister that in the Sea to Sky, clearly, the volunteer search and rescue organizations are having difficulty responding to the increasing frequency of responses, which may or may not be — but quite often are — either in the park or adjacent to a park.
One of the situations that has been raised and concern expressed by search and rescue organizations is the implementation of the Spearhead hut system in Garibaldi park, where it’s forecasted — currently, we’re seeing one or two or half a dozen people on the traverse in any given day — that we’ll see up to 50 people per night in each hut. There are three huts, so it just makes sense that there is more than a sevenfold increase in people on that traverse.
This is going to put significant pressures on that volunteer organization in, frankly, a small community — in a community of 12,000 people, in terms of Whistler. I wonder what those forecast response numbers look like and whether the ministry has any sense of that and if there are ways that the ministry could support that organization.
Within a volunteer search and rescue organization, people need to work. People need to go to their jobs, and people are not available all the time, whereas with Destination B.C. and the province of British Columbia and B.C. Parks, we are encouraging more and more people to enter into these situations or to create these opportunities for these experiences. This is important, but it does have implications for these volunteers. Has the minister given that any consideration?
[R. Leonard in the chair.]
Hon. G. Heyman: You know, I appreciate the member’s concern for risks, as well as the concern for people who give of their own time to volunteer search and rescue.
I want to take the opportunity to express tremendous appreciation for everybody involved in search and rescue, whether it’s part of their job, whether they work for B.C. Parks or another agency, but especially for the volunteers. They take this on because they love the back country, because they have skills, because they want to give back to the community. I both appreciate the work they do, as all British Columbians do, and also obviously want to minimize any risk to them.
Having said that, it’s not my responsibility to comment on a model in the federal park. That’s the responsibility of the federal minister. And it’s not my responsibility to talk about a program that’s administered by one of my colleagues in a different ministry — emergency management B.C. There is, on the emergency management B.C. website, a whole section on search and rescue. It is their oversight and their responsibility.
Having said that, as I’ve said, we assess risk as part of the park management plans. If we see a growth in potential risk — whether it’s brought on by use or a number of incidents or others, based on the incidents that are reported by park staff or that we’re able to glean through the emergency management B.C. call logs or other records — we would certainly raise with emergency management B.C. the need to discuss anything that we can do jointly to improve safety.
If emergency management B.C. wanted to have discussions with our ministry, either me as a minister or with ministry staff, about a different model of search and rescue, we’re very open to that. But at the moment it resides in emergency management B.C. I think that’s the appropriate place for any further questions about search and rescue.
I hope I’ve answered the member’s question about what my own beliefs are, my appreciation of the work for volunteer search and rescue staff and the mechanisms we take within B.C. Parks to assess risks to the public. That includes the capacity of the existing search and rescue system to respond.
I’ll reiterate that we’re always open to conversation, and in fact, we would have that as a part of our risk assessment process and protocols. Should issues be raised, by emergency management B.C. or the minister responsible, with respect to adding capacity or a different model, I’d be happy to discuss that.
With that, Chair, may I suggest a recess?
The Chair: Certainly. We’ll recess for ten minutes.
The committee recessed from 4:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
[R. Leonard in the chair.]
J. Sturdy: One last question for the minister with regard to search and rescue. Can the ministry provide me with the number of search and rescue responses required in Garibaldi Park in 2016, 2017 and any kind of forecast in 2018 or beyond?
Hon. G. Heyman: It will take a bit of time to pull that together, but the answer is yes, and we’ll send it along.
J. Sturdy: Thank you very much.
P. Milobar: A couple more questions — follow up. Three weeks ago or so, I had a couple of quick questions about the environmental protection section of the appropriations, but I just wanted to get into a little more detail with the minister, if that’s all right.
I’m wondering if there has been an increase or a decrease within that overall, larger global budget of environmental protection specifically to do with monitoring or reporting on ambient air and water quality — if that particular subsection of the appropriation has seen an increase, a decrease or stayed the same from previous years.
Hon. G. Heyman: Well, we’ve already talked about the role of the licence fees in terms of aquifer monitoring. The permit fees are up to $2.7 million a year. We’re still determining what all the priorities for use will be, but we have hired additional staff with that money, to date, for compliance and authorizations.
P. Milobar: Thank you for that. I think I didn’t make myself clear, maybe, in the question.
I was more interested in the expenditure. The overall expenditure is $11.8 million this year for environmental protection, as a global dollar figure. I’m wondering, within that — the expenditures for monitoring and reporting on ambient air and water quality for this year, compared to previous years — whether that dollar figure is higher or lower, and how much the dollar figure actually is.
Hon. G. Heyman: That figure would be within the regional operations branch, but we would have to take some time to break out the specifics that the member is requesting. Again, we’ll pass it on to him when we have it.
P. Milobar: Am I correct in assuming, then — I was going to go through a couple other subsections within that — that that would be the same for finding out on the actions and the expenditures as they relate to reducing and removing contaminating toxins and waste and managing pesticide use?
Hon. G. Heyman: Yes.
P. Milobar: Thank you for that. Since we’ll undoubtedly be back here Monday, maybe if I list off the various sections — in case I’ve misread, based on where the comma is, where the operations actually are broken out for budgetary reasons….
What I’m looking for are the amounts to be expended in this year’s makeup of that $11.8 million within the environmental protection area, specifically the amount that will be expended monitoring and reporting on ambient air and water quality. That’s one section. Reducing and removing contaminants containing toxins and waste. Managing pesticide use is a separate area. Administration of industry stewardship programs. Then finally, as a separate area, responding to high-risk environmental emergencies.
I would be seeking out what each of those will be expending this year within that $11. 8 million and what they had comparative to last year’s expenditures. I’m hoping that’s a clear set for the minister and the staff. I’ll just double-check.
Hon. G. Heyman: Yep.
P. Milobar: Okay, thanks for that, then.
Another question. I guess I’ll have a whole bunch of other follow-ups, but I would need those numbers to make those questions somewhat relevant.
I will bump over to page 88, I guess, on the sustainable environment fund in the book. Again, we touched on these briefly a few weeks ago, but I’m starting to look for a little more detail into some of these. I noticed that the revenue is up $4.5 million, and I’m just wondering overall what has created the new revenue.
Hon. G. Heyman: The answer is $2.7 million comes from the increases that were announced in the Environmental Management Act fees, and another $2 million were fees that were being collected but going to general revenue and which we are now allowed to spend through the sustainable environment fund.
P. Milobar: That’s in line with what was answered earlier when I first started to look into these numbers. I guess, the more I was re-reading and looking back and forth in the book….
My previous question…. The minister referenced the $2.7 million in the environmental protection, and then he’s referenced the $2.7 million in the sustainable environment fund. Previously, the minister mentioned that environmental protection is predominantly funded from the sustainable environment fund. Is that $2.7 million that’s been referenced twice today the same $2.7 million or is there a different…? Are they both separate revenue items?
Hon. G. Heyman: We’ve been here for so many days now, I can’t even remember what questions I’ve answered. But the answer to the member’s question — whether it’s the same $2.7 million — is yes.
P. Milobar: I’m not trying to trip the minister up on that, I just wanted to make sure I was understanding the flow. I’m trying to understand the flow.
The sustainable environment fund, if I’m reading this book correctly, then, would be the one that is funding the environmental protection. There’s a transfer of $2.7 million coming over. So I can understand that would show up within the expense line item of the sustainable environment fund.
Again, I’m just trying to better understand this book. I’ll be able to have some fun reading for the weekend, to come back on Monday, if I better understand how the number flow here is going.
However, when I go to page 82, if you look at the overall operating expenses, you have the gross, you have external recoveries, and then you have the net. When you look at the descriptions, on page 83, around where there are recoveries from special accounts, ministries and other transfers from within government, I can understand that as well.
Typically, and when somebody from the general public would be looking at this, then…. When I see “External recoveries” for environmental protection, the only area that you see a revenue coming to environmental protection, it says $200,000. Yet it sounds like there’s a $2.7 million transfer coming. How does that get accounted for among gross, external recoveries, and net within the environmental protection area?
Hon. G. Heyman: The $2.7 million is internal recovery, when it comes from SEF. Obviously, when the fees come in, it’s external — into SEF. We think the $200,000 is spill-recovery costs, but we will confirm that and let the member know.
P. Milobar: Further to that, then…. Hopefully, the minister and staff can understand where it gets a little confusing trying to track the transfers in, on amounts of that size.
Without it showing up as an internal transfer, it almost looks like it’s a double expenditure. There was $2.7 million in one fund, another $2.7 million of expenditures — one would assume from taxation dollars, general revenue dollars — that have been appropriated over to the Ministry of Environment, but in fact, it’s actually just a $2.7 million transfer.
I guess the question is: is the gross truly $12 million for environmental protection? Or is it actually $14.7 million, and then the internal transfer just doesn’t get shown?
Hon. G. Heyman: No, it’s not included. It’s an additional $2.7 million.
P. Milobar: According to the minister: “No, it’s not included. It’s an additional $2.7 million.” Could I get some context around that?
Hon. G. Heyman: The member asked, if I remember correctly, if the $2.7 million was in addition to the figure that he gave, which was $12 million. The answer is yes. It’s another $2.7 million, so it’s $14.7 million.
P. Milobar: Okay, thank you. That’ll lead to some other questions, I guess, on Monday when we come back with some of those environmental protection breakdowns.
In terms of the sustainable environment fund, though, I noticed that the revenue is estimated to increase by almost $5 million this year. I’m wondering: is that an increase because of usage of whatever is being levied with fees and charges, or is it because there have been additional fees and charges created for anybody?
Hon. G. Heyman: The $2 million were existing fees that were collected under the Environmental Management Act but which we were not able to access until Treasury Board released them for the sustainable environment fund, for our use, and $2.7 million represents the revenue from the recent increase in EMA fees for everybody, seeing as EMA fees had not been raised since 2006. The increase in the fees represented the accumulated cost of living since the last time the fees were raised.
P. Milobar: Can I get a little more detail on what those fees are — sorry, I’m not familiar with the acronym — and if it was a scheduled increase for this year or if it has been a decision with the change in government?
Hon. G. Heyman: EMA stands for the Environmental Management Act, and the fees were increased in the following manner.
First of all, the fees are for waste discharge, permit application and amendment fees. There are annual fees for air effluent, refuse and storage permits. Then there are tonnage-based discharge fees for the substances for which the permits are granted.
The annual fees will increase from $100 to $200. The application fees and amendment fees will double from $200 to $400. The annual fees are, as I said, annual, and the application fees and amendment fees are when they occur.
The discharge fees, the tonnage-based fees, will increase by approximately 21 percent. That reflects the rate of inflation since 2006 — in other words, a 12-year period, the last time they were raised.
To give an example, under the municipal wastewater regulation, annual fees will increase from $100 to $200, and a discharge fee that was $100 will now be $121 per tonne.
Those fee increases were the subject of consultation and advance notice to people who discharge, and they’re based on the polluter-pay principle.
P. Milobar: Thank you for that.
So there was consultation, and it’s based on the principle, but was this a scheduled rate announcement that was in place and people knew it was coming ahead of the election, or has this been developed post the change of government?
Hon. G. Heyman: While there was some discussion internal to the ministry with the previous government around fee increases, there was nothing scheduled. As I mentioned, after 12 years, I’d say the increases were long overdue.
As I said, under the waste discharge regulation, there is no schedule set out for fee increases, but they were, in fact, overdue, because the alternative to applying the polluter-pay principle is that the taxpayer pays for the pollution caused by people creating the pollution. That’s the whole concept of the waste discharge regulation, the permit fees, the application fees, the amendment fees and the tonnage discharge fees. Somebody pays. The question is who.
P. Milobar: Thank you, Minister. Yes, someone does always pay. There is no free lunch out there.
I’m hoping to ascertain, through these next series of questions, where — and where the need for — the increased spend was and to make sure that that increased fee schedule that hadn’t been prearranged or in place ahead of time with the previous government is, in fact, achieving its goals.
In terms of the $2 million that was previously collected prior to this year, I believe the minister mentioned that it used to stay in general revenue, rather than being returned to the ministry for operations or actually enhancing the speed of permit approvals. So I’m just wondering if the minister can update us on if permit approvals have been sped up over the last several months.
Hon. G. Heyman: The increased fees have been in place for 12 days. It’s a little early to measure permit application speed.
P. Milobar: Thank you for that.
Then, if I can ask what the target…? Is there an internal target for moving the bar on the speed of permit approvals? Which permits, specifically, are being targeted to be sped up?
[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]
Hon. G. Heyman: Regional operations branch is making assessments and prioritizing based on backlogs. There were substantial backlogs. The backlogs, of course, that were traded under the previous government were impinging on the ability of industrial operations to actually proceed with the permits they need to take their place in the economy and employ people productively.
We know that we are taking some measures for simple applications, like name changes, to put in place new methods that will speed them up, processes that will speed them up. In the case of significantly large operations, like mines or pulp mills that are a bit more complex, we’re looking at ways we can speed those up. They’re obviously priorities, because a lot hinges on their ability to conduct business.
P. Milobar: So there’s…. I can’t remember the number now. I believe it was about $9 million in new salary expenditures. Are there any FTEs or new hires anticipated to the permitting process departments, the various areas, that may aid in speeding permitting along?
Hon. G. Heyman: As I mentioned, with starved resources — because the permit and the discharge fees had been frozen for so long, and the costs of living went up — there are considerable backlogs.
We are in the process of hiring ten new FTEs for permitting and two new FTEs for compliance.
P. Milobar: Thank you for that. Is there a timeline that the ten new hires are expected to be in? I recognize we just started the fiscal, but things can get away on timelines. I’m just wondering what the workplan hire scheduling is for those ten new people.
Hon. G. Heyman: The short answer is: as quickly as possible. We have hired some new staff already, and there are other postings. We’d anticipate that within a couple of months, we’ll have the boots on the ground.
P. Milobar: If I heard the minister correctly, there were going to be several changes to a lot of the forms or documents that would be required to try to move permits along, but there’s also a backlog.
Is the intention that the backlog gets handled under the one set of forms and the new applications get handled with the new set of forms, or is it that it will just be seamless, and what has now been deemed to be irrelevant information and not needed to streamline forms will just be quickly crossed off by staff, and they’ll get to the new points that a new form would have?
Hon. G. Heyman: There’s a lot we could say about this, but I’ll say a bit of it.
We are giving advice to applicants about how to improve their application quality, which will in turn improve the approval process. In terms of the backlogs, we are working as quickly as we can to resolve them and triaging them with new staff. We hope to clear things up as quickly as possible.
There’s a lot more detail we could give, and my staff would be happy to spend all of Monday morning with the member and walk him through it. In fact, we could spend Monday afternoon with the member, as well, if he wishes.
P. Milobar: Well, I think I might take you up on that Monday afternoon on this and on a wide variety of topics.
One or two other quick questions on this part, just so it’s fresh in my mind. Is the intention, then, of the streamlining, of finding more efficiencies with the paperwork, which I support…. I think that’s always a good thing, to always be looking and reviewing and trying to move things along. Is the intention, though, to basically see a lower level of at least initial information coming in and maybe due diligence on a permit so it gets preliminary approval or it gets a faster rejection? I know that a lot of times people get frustrated waiting for the rejection that takes a long time to come.
So is that the intention here, to try to pre-vet, basically have phase 1, and if you’re good enough in that preliminary information, then you move on to phase 2? Or is it just to reduce the volume of information and the due diligence required by an applicant while they’re applying to speed it along?
Hon. G. Heyman: Well, much like the passport office, if you don’t have a complete application, you’re sent away to do it right and have to go back to the end of the line. We’re focusing on helping people create quality applications. If the application is incomplete or lacking adequate information, it is rejected, and people are given instructions about how to ensure that it’s appropriately filled out so it will speed up the eventual consideration process when it’s submitted, and staff move on to ones that are complete.
P. Milobar: Thank you for that. We’ve apparently spent quite a bit of time together because that analogy I can work with, with the passport office. Coming from the Interior, you don’t have full-on passport offices, but in Kamloops what we have is a Service Canada location that will pre-look at your passport application to make sure it’s filled out properly, and then you can either drive it to Kelowna, or you can put it in the mail — to make sure it doesn’t get rejected. That was in keeping with the same line of thinking I was going down in terms of that pre-vet, in terms of making sure things are moving forward.
The last question I have on this topic is: does any of this change around trying to speed up permitting, trying to streamline permitting, move things along? Will any of it be held up waiting for the finalization of the professional reliance review?
Hon. G. Heyman: We haven’t received the final report from the review yet, but none of us can imagine any situation where we would be holding things up waiting for that report. Work is going on.
P. Milobar: I’ll take that, then, to mean that there are also no concerns, that the review…. You’ll finish a change, and then the review will indicate there may be further changes needed and back to square one.
Moving on with the sustainable environment fund, another question around the expenditures. I’m wondering. It looks, again, like there’s about $4½ million more of expenditures. Has there been any increase for local governments for contaminated site cleanups in this current budget?
Hon. G. Heyman: We don’t fund local government for contaminated sites cleanup.
P. Milobar: Well, thank you for that answer.
The description would indicate that there is. It says: “…and transfers to local governments, other organizations and individuals to assist in waste management, cleanup of contaminated sites and to support various environmental protection initiatives.”
That’s the description for the appropriation. But you’re saying, despite the description, there are no programs, there’s no way for local governments to access contaminated site cleanup funds.
Hon. G. Heyman: While the enabling legislation allows transfers to local governments, which may be for remediating contaminated sites, we can’t actually think of a recent situation where that’s happened. The only reason it would happen would be if we were giving consideration to an orphan site where there was no responsible party, but there’s no recent memory of actually doing that.
Noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:44 p.m.
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