The committee met at 8:33 a.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): Good morning, everyone. My name is Janet Routledge, and I'm the MLA for Burnaby North and the Chair of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, a committee of the Legislative Assembly that includes MLAs from the government and opposition parties.
I would like to acknowledge that I'm joining today's meeting from the legislative precinct here in Victoria, which is located on the traditional territories of the Lək̓ʷəŋin̓əŋ-speaking people, now known as the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
On behalf of the committee, I would also like to take a few moments to acknowledge all those who have been impacted by the wildfires this summer. We extend our sincere gratitude to those on the front lines who are working tirelessly to keep our communities safe and to all the volunteers and organizations who have stepped up to support British Columbians through this very difficult time.
I would also like to welcome everyone who is listening to and participating in today's meeting on the Budget 2022 consultation. Our committee is currently seeking input on priorities for the next provincial budget and is holding several public hearings over the next few weeks.
British Columbians can also share their views by making written comments or by filling out the online survey. Details are available on our website at bcleg.ca/fgsbudget. The deadline for all input is 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 30, 2021.
We will carefully consider all input and make recommendations to the Legislative Assembly on what should be included in Budget 2022. The committee intends to release its report in November.
The public hearings this week are being held virtually, with most presenters organized into small panels based on theme, and others making individual presentations. We'll be starting things off today with general presentations on a wide range of topics, as well as presentations related to natural resources, transportation and transit.
Each presenter has five minutes for their presentation. To assist presenters, there is a timer available when in gallery view. Following presentations from the panel or following an individual presentation, there will be time for questions from committee members. At that time, I ask members to raise their hand to indicate they have a question, and we will keep a speakers list. I also ask that everyone please put themselves on mute and wait until you are recognized before speaking.
All audio from our meetings is broadcast live on our website, and a complete transcript will also be posted.
I'll now ask members of the committee to introduce themselves. I'll start with the vice-Chair.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Chair.
My name is Ben Stewart. I'm the MLA for Kelowna West. This is my first time on this particular committee. I look forward to your presentations today and hearing from you as our first panellists. Thanks very much.
L. Doerkson: Thank you, Madam Chair. I, too, am a first-timer on this committee, but looking forward to, certainly, the presentations today. My name is Lorne Doerkson. I'm the MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin.
G. Kyllo: Good morning. My name is Greg Kyllo. I'm the MLA for Shuswap.
I live in the traditional territory of the Secwepemctsin-speaking peoples.
M. Dykeman: Hello. My name is Megan Dykeman. I'm the MLA for Langley East. I'm looking forward to your presentations today. It's a privilege to be on this committee.
H. Sandhu: Hello, everyone. This is Harwinder Sandhu, MLA for Vernon-Monashee.
It is located on the unceded and traditional territory of the Okanagan Indian Nations.
Like many of my colleagues, this is my first time on this committee as well. I look forward to your presentations.
P. Alexis: Good morning. My name is Pam Alexis. I'm the MLA for Abbotsford-Mission.
I come to you from the unceded and ancestral territory of the Stó:lō people.
I look forward to the presentations as well. Thank you so much.
M. Starchuk: Good morning. I'm Mike Starchuk, the MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale.
It is located on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish people, which include the Kwantlen, Katzie and Semiahmoo First Nations.
I look forward to what comes forward.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, everyone.
I'd also like to introduce those who are assisting the committee today. That's Jennifer Arril and Jesse Gordon from the Parliamentary Committees Office and Amanda Heffelfinger from Hansard Services.
Now we can proceed with our first panel. I'd ask that the panel introduce all presenters on the panel before calling on the….
J. Routledge (Chair): Oh, okay. Sorry. I'll be introducing you.
For our first panel, I'll introduce each panellist, and each panellist will speak for five minutes, followed by an equivalent amount of questions for the entire panel from members of the committee. I would ask you to please mute when you're not speaking. Please keep your presentation to five minutes, and wait to be recognized before unmuting and speaking.
Our first panel is Lori Mathison, representing the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia; Fiona Famulak from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce; Christine Hoechsmann, Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce.
With that, I will ask Lori to begin.
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 1 – General
ACCOUNTANTS OF B.C.
L. Mathison: Thank you and good morning. Thank you for having me at the 2022 budget consultation. As mentioned, I'm Lori Mathison. I'm the president and CEO of the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia.
I'd like to acknowledge the traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples, in particular the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, on whose traditional territory the CPABC offices are located.
CPABC is the training, governing and regulatory body for over 38,000 CPA members and 5,500 CPA students and candidates. Our primary mission is to protect the public by enforcing the highest professional and ethical standards. We also contribute to the province by advancing responsible public policies that provide long-term benefits for British Columbians.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, CPAs have been providing essential services. They've helped businesses access emergency support programs and navigate through one of the most challenging times in recent history.
There is no question that the provincial government fiscal support programs were vital for many displaced and struggling workers and businesses. They were needed. However, now, B.C.'s debt, as a percentage of GDP, is expected to reach 27 percent over the next three years, about 12 percentage points above the pre-pandemic level. That translates to an additional $9,000 per resident of B.C. This has led, as we know, to two credit-rating agencies lowering B.C.'s rating. While our ratings do remain relatively strong, the downgrades will put upward pressure on debt servicing costs.
For these reasons, CPABC strongly supports the B.C. government's objective to return to a balanced budget. We would also like to see the government create a plan to reduce debt over the longer term.
Now shifting to other issues, and recognizing, of course, there is very limited fiscal room. We have focused on cost-effective policies to enhance economic growth and boost productivity. We truly believe that productivity gains are the most effective way to increase wages, business output and government revenues.
You should know that CPAs work across all industries and organizations and have deep expertise in B.C.'s tax system, as well as the accessibility of the various programs. We surveyed our members recently, and nearly half of CPAs identified the regulatory environment as a major challenge to business success in 2021. That regulatory environment often impedes productivity.
B.C. has shown that it is willing to undertake regulatory reform to improve economic growth, innovation and inclusion. That's so positive. CPABC believes tax and program modernization, which would boost productivity, aligns closely with that objective. We believe that the province should look at tax reform through both a short-term lens as well as a longer-term lens.
In the short term, our detailed written submission will provide some immediate areas where the government can act to improve tax policy as well as the accessibility of the various programs to British Columbians. We also recommend, beyond our own recommendations, that the province engage stakeholders across industries to further identify areas that need attention.
That would include modernizing taxes to reflect emerging industries; leveraging digital solutions for tax and program administration; synchronizing tax policy with other jurisdictions wherever possible, and that will reduce inefficiencies and inadvertent errors for business; and also modernizing and combining government programs and incentives to improve accessibility. We see this potentially happening through an online stakeholder consultation on tax modernization. We need to get input beyond what you're getting from us and others over these consultations.
In the longer term, the province should once again consider moving towards a value-added tax. The PST provides considerable challenges, and its administration was the most consistent tax problem identified by our members.
Major PST reform has also been recommended by three government tax task forces, as well as the business community, over the past decade. From an administrative point of view, the PST has so many unique and unsynchronized rules that negatively impact business investment and the business climate in B.C.
To conclude, we believe that the modernization of our tax policy is a cost-effective way to speed up economic recovery. I'm going to conclude there, and we will submit our final submission by the deadline. I'd be pleased to take any questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Ms. Mathison.
I'll go right on to Fiona.
B.C. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
F. Famulak: Thank you, and good morning. I'm Fiona Famulak, president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the largest and most broadly based business association in the province. We have chambers of commerce and boards of trade, including the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce, in every corner of the province. Our members range from sole proprietors to small and medium businesses with less than 50 employees all the way through to some of the largest companies in B.C.
I'm speaking with you here today from the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. As an immigrant to Canada, I do believe and recognize that Indigenous Peoples have always been here and that we all have a role in reconciliation.
If I can leave you with only one message today, it would be this: that Budget 2022-2023 needs to use the policy levers of government to provide more certainty — more certainty for workers, for businesses and for those looking to invest in British Columbia.
The pandemic has taken an emotional and financial toll on businesses and their employees. Now, in the throes of a fourth wave, we are at a critical juncture. Businesses need certainty to recover and to thrive. Our friends at CFIB shared an interesting stat with me a few days ago — that, on average, businesses believe they will need 23 months before they see their revenues return to pre-pandemic levels. We, therefore, have a long way to go.
One of government's principal foundations is, and I quote from the budget consultation paper: "A strong, sustainable economy that works for everyone." The B.C. Chamber of Commerce agrees. A sustainable economy is multifaceted. It's not simply environmentally sustainable, although that is incredibly important too. It's a sustainable economy that's viable, that's healthy over the long term, that's balanced, that's fair. It's one that creates good-paying jobs, enables businesses and attracts investors.
In the final half of my presentation, let me share what the B.C. Chamber of Commerce sees as the top priorities for government. The priorities fall into three separate but connected buckets — those being inclusivity, innovation and competitiveness.
Government has an important role to play to help ensure that our economy is as inclusive as possible. To the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, that means that a continued focus on Indigenous reconciliation is essential — specifically, ensuring that we have policies that are effective and create positive outcomes for Indigenous People and, therefore, for our economy as a whole. The budget needs to reflect this focus as a priority.
Inclusivity also means ensuring that we have the right people in the right jobs receiving the right training today for the jobs of tomorrow. It also means not just attracting new talent to B.C. but also investing in retaining the talent that we have here on the ground today, which leads me to the second bucket, innovation.
We need to take bold steps to unleash innovation. That means reducing barriers to access government programs for small businesses. It means delivering broadband connectivity. We all know that high-speed Internet connections are not all created equal, especially in rural B.C. It also means that ministries that approve applications, permits or evaluate projects need to be given the resources they need to make the decisions quickly, therefore giving our resource industries like forestry, mining, LNG, aquaculture, agriculture, and emerging economies like cannabis, more certainty.
To be clear, we're not suggesting that government speeds towards an automatic yes — not at all. It's about making informed decisions in a timely manner.
Finally, we want to compete. If inclusivity and innovation are the meat on the bones of a sustainable economy, then competitiveness is its oxygen. Budget '22-23 must continue to recognize that while many businesses have been resilient through this pandemic, it does not mean that they are thriving.
While business's revenues have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, unfortunately their tax burden has. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce therefore strongly recommends that government continue to take measures to alleviate the tax burden on business.
In closing, we understand the need for government to create and generate revenues to pay for critical services. However, if we continue to squeeze our small and medium and even big businesses, they will, over time, shrink and close. And if we're not competitive, we won't be able to attract others to fill the void, which means good-paying jobs will disappear, people will have less discretionary income, and our economy will slow. It's all connected.
With that, I close with one final word: certainty. We need certainty, and we welcome the opportunity to work with you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you.
Now we'll hear from Christine.
CRANBROOK CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
C. Hoechsmann: Hi. Thanks for having me. I'm Christine Hoechsmann from the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce.
I think I'd rather speak from the seat of a small business owner here in the Kootenays, and my colleagues in the Ktunaxa territory, and I am blessed to be a part of their community.
I mirror Fiona's and Lori's extremely articulate presentations. If I could deviate a bit, I love the broader picture that they brought; however, as a boots-on-the-ground business owner, there are a few things that we would like to see that I would like to speak to in our region that are really important to our business community.
I believe child care is definitely a focus in our business community as a barrier. However, I fear that the $10-a-day laser focus is not going to solve our issue. We have a school system that takes every second Friday off, which puts a strain on our child care system and makes it a challenge for mothers like myself to find child care. It's an easy solution. I don't know if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing as far as child care goes.
Homelessness, obviously, in all our regions is an issue. The petty crime that we're experiencing is costing us on a day-to-day basis. Throwing money at it and seeing if something sticks, I think, is not a good strategy. I won't claim to be an expert or to tell anyone how to solve this issue, but it directly affects our businesses.
We also have a physician recruitment problem. British Columbia has the second-lowest-paid physicians in Canada, according to the Canadian Institute for Health. I'm not sure how we can be competitive, especially in a rural market, when we have Alberta right next door. Physicians are commuting from beautiful Invermere and Radium to work in Alberta because we're not competitive. That's a big issue for us.
We also believe that B.C. has put a "closed for business" sign on its doors. Our tax structure is so uncompetitive. I'm not sure how we could possibly be innovative if new business won't come to British Columbia because we are not competitive. Our tax structure is so complicated, and the layering of the taxes has skyrocketed, from the employer health tax to now you're talking about a paid sick leave. Just put the sign on the door.
Here we're trying to move away from a resource sector economy, yet we're closed for business because it's not appealing to have a business here in British Columbia.
I agree with Lori and Fiona that we appreciate all the help that businesses were offered through the pandemic, but it was so complicated that it was a struggle. We needed to work on our business, not apply for all these programs.
And it's just getting worse. Now we're in competition for labour with the government with the continuation of the CERB program. I appreciate it's a federal program, but we shouldn't have to compete for jobs with the government.
I had wanted to speak, but I think Lori is so much more articulate when it comes to the tax structure.
I just got a letter last week for my WCB increases, which was really discerning, after the massive loss that the government had with excess WCB funds. As a business owner, that's a bit hard to swallow. So once again another checkmark in the "we're closed for business" column.
In conclusion, we would love to see efficiencies. The right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing in order to solve some of these issues — the homeless issue, the child care issue. But I do appreciate being here — again, I'm just a humble small business owner. I do appreciate your time.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Christine.
Now I'll ask members of the committee…. We have about 15 minutes, five per, to ask questions of the panel.
Committee members, if you could just raise your hand when you're ready to ask a question.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): I just wanted to go back to Lori's question about the modernization of taxes and the reform in terms of that. I wonder if the CPAs have policy recommendations in that area? Is there something that is available for consideration, or will that be included in your final presentation?
L. Mathison: Yes, great question. We do have some very specific examples that will be included in our written submission. Just by way of an example, we think that it would make sense to have a PST product search function so people can search the application of PST online instead of having to try to figure it out. If there was a database where they could enter the type of good or equipment it is, they could determine the PST status.
We have a lot of very specific examples where we think there could be modernization and improvement, making it a lot easier for British Columbians. And that will be in writing.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks, Lori.
Just a quick question to Fiona. You made a statement about a CFIB survey talking about return to pre-pandemic levels, and I'm assuming that's gross revenue. But the follow-up comment was that taxes are advancing, or there's a greater burden of taxes that seem to be coming. I'm wondering. Where do you see that coming from? Have you got an example?
F. Famulak: Thank you for the question, and it's a good question. In terms of the taxes that we see that are currently a burden, it's the employer health tax. In our policy book 2021-2022, we have a policy specifically asking for the government to raise that payroll threshold to $1.5 million so that small business have the ability to reinvest back into their business, to Christine's point.
Another example would be deferring or reducing the school tax again, just as the government did in 2020 during the pandemic. Let's continue that for another, at least, one year and also defer the payment of the school tax for another year as well.
The government did a really good job at accommodating the tax burden in 2020. We'd like to see those actions continued over 2021-22 at least.
J. Routledge (Chair): Are there any additional questions? It looks like there aren't.
With that, I would like to thank the panel for your presentation. You've given us a lot of food for thought.
I will call a recess.
The committee recessed from 9 a.m. to 9:16 a.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): I'd like to welcome our next panel of presenters: Paul Holden from the Burnaby Board of Trade; Bridgitte Anderson from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade; Bruce Williams, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce; and Anita Huberman, the Surrey Board of Trade.
We'll ask each of you to make your presentation for five minutes, and at the end of all of your presentations, we'll open it up for questions to you from our committee. So with that, I'll ask Paul to begin.
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 2 – General
BURNABY BOARD OF TRADE
P. Holden: Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today and to share some of our thoughts on where the province can focus its investments to support the economic, social and environmental goals of British Columbia.
I'm coming to you today from the traditional territories of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓- and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh-speaking peoples, and I appreciate the opportunity that I have to work on these lands.
I'm here today representing the Burnaby Board of Trade, which is the chamber of commerce, and the Economic Development Office for the city of Burnaby. We represent 1,100 businesses, not-for-profits and organizations from across the city.
The first thing I would like to do is to challenge this committee and the provincial government as a whole to embrace what we have been calling the orientation to yes. Over the past 18 months, we've seen governments at all levels demonstrate the ability to get things done quickly, to learn on the fly, to implement changes where needed and to tackle files long believed to be untouchable. I would challenge you to hold onto this perspective and to use it as the lens through which government approaches problems, challenges, opportunities and ideas. The government has shown that it can move at this speed. Let's not slow down now.
In my time here today, I wanted to highlight just a few actions and priorities which, if adopted, will support the foundational underpinnings of our economy and communities.
I'll choose to start my remarks today with climate change, as I'm very proud of the work the Burnaby Board of Trade has done over the last 15 years to advance the cause of sustainability among the business community, particularly small businesses, through our programming, events and the provision of resources and information.
In Budget 2022, we recommend that the province commit to continued and enhanced efforts to provide for both climate change mitigations and adaptations. We can no longer look to just slow climate change. We must prepare for the inevitable impacts. Budget 2022 should provide funding so that all critical infrastructure can be assessed for climate resiliency, with a special attention paid to our electrical grid, but also specifically including fuel, natural gas, water, wastewater, energy companies, private energy infrastructure and roads and transportation networks.
We also encourage the creation of increased incentives to speed up the uptake of green processes, innovations and climate resiliency in small to medium businesses, recognizing that such investments can be challenging for them to afford but are nevertheless critical to the long-term viability of those business.
In a recent survey of our members, 25 percent reported that they experienced equipment failure during the recent heat dome event. We must support these businesses to prepare for future extreme weather events.
Next, I'd like to touch on a couple of tax policy changes that we recommend to be included in Budget 2022.
Firstly, increase the exemption thresholds for the employer health tax to at least $1 million. Currently employers pay the employer health tax on payrolls over half a million, which is a much lower cutoff than the Ontario model on which this tax was largely based. In that model, it was increased permanently from $490,000 to $1 million last year.
Wages have increased as the minimum wage was raised as well as through broad wage inflation we've seen over the board the past year. This has pushed more small businesses into the taxable range, making labour even more expensive.
We'd also like to talk about continued and ongoing work at the Ministry of Finance to develop changes to the property assessment process to alleviate the impacts of the highest and best use valuation on business owners through the creation of a commercial subclassification for redevelopment potential. I know work is being done at the ministry level on this file, but it's critical that we provide the resources needed to develop and implement a solution to this issue — forcing many of our small businesses out of their neighbourhoods.
Next, I'd like to look at child care and education. On education, I'd like to applaud the work done to keep schools open during most of the pandemic. I believe that the closure of schools due to COVID will emerge as a major determinant of future economic and social success. By having our schools open, B.C. is positioned well for our future. If further investments are needed to ensure schools can continue to operate during whatever the pandemic future is, we would support those investments.
On child care, for over a decade now, the Burnaby Board of Trade has seen child care as an integral building block to a fully functioning and inclusive economy. We would encourage the continuation of the government's work on child care with a focus on providing access to spaces as the priority. Cost is less important if you can't find the spaces.
Continue investing in net new spaces. In doing so, explore funding arrangements with operators for creating child care for off-peak and non-traditional service hours, and continue investments in early care and a learning recruitment and a retention strategy to ensure we recruit, train and retain enough early childhood educators.
I see I'm running out of time here. I'll just touch, for a second, on housing affordability and encourage the government to look at the missing middle, which is the workforce housing component. It sometimes falls through the cracks and is not looked at as much as we believe it should be.
I think that's all the time I have. So I'll hand it over now back to the committee. Thank you very much.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Paul.
Now we will hear from Bridgitte.
GREATER VANCOUVER BOARD OF TRADE
B. Anderson: Good morning, everyone. My name is Bridgitte Anderson, the president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
I'm speaking to you this morning from the traditional territory of the Squamish and Líl̓wat Nations.
On behalf of the board of trade's 5,000-plus members, I would like to express our appreciation for the work of all members of the Legislature to support individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic. That said, significant challenges due to the pandemic remain, and policy needs to set the right conditions for investment and growth to support our economic rebound.
We know that women, youth and racialized populations have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, along with many small businesses across sectors. They need help and support to be integrated into the economy for us to thrive.
As we find ourselves in the midst of the fourth wave, with rising case counts and restrictions being reinstated, it is clear we are not out of the woods yet.
Our members support the concept of a proof-of-vaccination program as a means to improve confidence and safety while avoiding shutdowns; however, there are still substantial concerns about the implementation of this measure and the risk to front-line staff, especially when many businesses are suffering from labour shortages. We also believe that such a program should be interoperable across provinces.
One of the most pressing issues for businesses is whether they can mandate vaccinations for their staff. The government needs to provide clarity and certainty of the rights and responsibilities in those circumstances.
As we have all learned over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has also impacted our mental and emotional well-being. Mental health in the workplace must remain a priority as we continue to navigate uncertainty and stress due to the pandemic.
Now, as B.C.'s economy recovers, employers are facing a skilled labour shortage that has been exacerbated beyond its pre-pandemic levels, which were already problematic for B.C.'s long-term growth.
To develop B.C.'s skilled workforce, we encourage the government, in Budget 2022, to work with post-secondary institutions to focus on training, educating, reskilling and supporting our workforce to ensure it is keeping up with the digital transformation and in tandem with the evolution of the nature of future jobs, including the expansion of micro-credentials. Efforts here could be placed on advancing B.C.'s leadership role in ESG, clean technology and technology-facing roles.
Before the pandemic, 60 percent of businesses in our region reported having trouble recruiting and retaining workers due to the high cost of living in Metro Vancouver. Unfortunately, the situation has only worsened. We encourage the government to take action specifically on some recommendations in the Canada-B.C. expert panel on the future of housing supply and affordability.
Now, B.C. has been fortunate to return to pre-pandemic levels of employment. However, almost all of the recovered employment has been a shift from self-employed and private sector employment to public sector employment. To support those public services, we need a healthy and thriving private sector, and the backbone of our economy is our small and medium enterprises, who continue to need support.
Finance, tax and regulatory reform is needed and must support and encourage economic activity and growth instead of deterring it. Some recommendations for the budget include a renewal of important programs like launch online; review and raise the employer health tax thresholds up to at least $1 million; work with municipalities to explore regionally or provincially coordinated efforts to enable split property tax assessments through a new commercial property subclass.
As well, the government is considering a large number of changes to the employment landscape in B.C., including sick leave, and it is important that all changes be seen in the light of the whole, including the tax and fiscal landscape of the past number of years and the large increase in debt taken on by our small businesses, which some estimates have at nearly $140,000, on average, in B.C. At the same time, our local retailers have been put at a disadvantage, compared to those importing goods into the country, through a mismatch of fees and levies charged on local brick-and-mortar stores but not international online sellers, and this should be rectified.
We're also calling for a redoubling of efforts to make B.C. a top destination for investment. According to our economic scorecard, greater Vancouver has the highest marginal cost for investment compared to all major competitor city regions in the world. The PST rebate on machinery and equipment is due to end in September. It was put in place to help level the playing field and provide an incentive to increase productivity. We urge consideration of making it permanent or extending it for at least three years.
Indigenous reconciliation remains a top priority for the business community, including supporting access to capital for Indigenous communities. We support the government's effort to expand the productivity capacity and anchor IT here in B.C. through the InBC fund. We've seen an unprecedented number of new tech and life science, clean tech and other innovative companies grow at a faster pace than we have before. And while capital is one factor, we believe that a robust, made-in-B.C. data and intangibles plan is required, focused on cultivating and scaling local companies, growing the technology ecosystem, and commercializing data and IT in the province.
This summer's devastating wildfires have shone a light on the urgent need to address climate change. We recommend the government build on efforts through the CleanBC program, making B.C. an area for investment and innovation. We also ask that you work to attract additional federal investment and leverage provincial investment to build an AI institute in B.C.
I know my time is running out, so once again, thank you for all of your support as we work together. This road will be long and difficult, and we believe that we can work together to ensure that greater Vancouver and the province have a strong and prosperous future.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Bridgitte .
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
B. Williams: Good morning from beautiful View Royal, British Columbia.
I'm speaking to you from the ancestral territories of the Lək̓ʷəŋin̓əŋ-speaking Coast Salish Nations, the Songhees and the Esquimalt.
Speaking of that, we have established an Indigenous business reconciliation task force for the purpose of inviting Indigenous-owned businesses and First Nation enterprise to enter into the chamber in order to connect with our 1,400 members. We're doing that by offering them admission, at no charge, and the task force will work on making those connections for them.
Workforce is an issue with us, as my colleagues have stated as well. Skills-training advanced education to support new technologies is crucial, and we need to find a way to ramp that up as quickly as possible. Immigration has been mentioned — that, of course, a primary source of workforce for a long time. But at the same time, immigration being a federal matter is one thing, but the recognition of the credentials of those coming here from other countries is an issue because that's recognized by associations on a provincial level. There is no symmetry there. We need to work on that to make sure that there is a seamless process of streaming immigrants into the workforce.
Thank you for this government's work on COVID, in general, and, in particular, your child care commitments to get affordable child care in place to, again, allow more workers back into the workforce.
Housing supply is a big deal here, specifically workforce housing and affordable housing. And on the Island, we have areas like the Saanich Peninsula, where there are huge numbers of jobs but not very much housing, so we need to work on trying to prioritize that if we possibly can.
People working from home have changed our transportation and transit enhancement priorities. There is a program here, for example, with B.C. Ferries, to create a West Shore ferry shuttle into downtown — we would very much like to see the province step up and support that more — and also a feasibility study, further, on the rail corridor for transportation on Vancouver Island. All of our members have concerns about the strategy to balance the budget after COVID spending has been taking place.
Another Island-unique factor is food sovereignty and food security. Vancouver Island imports 90 percent of the food that we consume, which, of course, first of all, creates a huge carbon footprint, and secondly, means we are supporting jobs in other jurisdictions. Those jobs could be created here, not only for the planet advantage, but for the food security advantage that it represents. We see that as a great opportunity.
As with my colleagues, climate change is a big deal. It's real. We need to see that both as the environmental problem that it is, but it's an economic driver as we move into clean tech, green tech, innovation with post-secondary and, of course, the blue economy, as we have an ocean cluster plan in place with the greater capital region.
One of the biggest concerns I hear on a daily basis from our members is their concern about mental health. The impact of this pandemic on mental health will be as great, if not greater, than the economic impact. So that means that there are people who are struggling with this. Their productivity is not where it should be. The stability of their family is not what it should be. It creates for a very vulnerable situation.
The province's commitment so far to five complex care pilots is a great step in dealing with the people who are most vulnerable, but we would love to see that ramped up a little bit more and some ongoing general supports from Health to support mental health programs within workplaces so that people can access that to keep themselves healthy.
Public safety. Policing. The vulnerable populations are a challenge to business on the street every single day. This goes back to the complex care facilities that you have addressed earlier. We thank you very much for that.
My colleagues have also talked about diversity. We created something called the committee for the advancement of diversity and inclusion for that very purpose, to create an equitable and inclusive business engagement model for many — the same with the Indigenous model that we have — who feel that they have never really been engaged with the economy in general, in order to fulfill the prosperity and the aspirations they all have.
That committee will be working hard to make things happen there. That involves not only multicultural but persons with disabilities, the history of misogyny that's been a part of our history as well, and engagement with LGBTQ people too.
I also just want to make note that I know that the province very often will engage with organizations like the B.C. Chamber to find out what their perspective is on things going forward as they do their planning for budgets and other things. The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest in the province. We have 1,400 members. We are not a member of the British Columbia Chamber, so if you want to get specific engagement on the capital region — what goes on within business in that model here — we would encourage the province to reach out directly to this chamber to get that perspective.
We certainly have, as I've mentioned here, some very south Island and Vancouver Island-specific issues that we deal with every day. Businesses here are not unique from the rest of the province, but the fact that we do exist in an island economy makes us somewhat unique, so we would appreciate any consideration that could be given to consultation to issues on Vancouver Island.
I will give back my remaining 15 seconds and wait for questions after the presentation. Thank you again for this opportunity and for all the work you're doing for all of us.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Bruce.
Our final member of the panel is Anita Huberman.
Take it away, Anita.
SURREY BOARD OF TRADE
A. Huberman: Good morning. I'm Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade. I'm speaking to you on the ceded territory of the Tsawwassen First Nations and the unceded territory of our Coast Salish people. We recognize, also, that we live and work on the land of the Inuit and Métis.
We are Surrey's city-building business organization, where we support business — bring business into the city. We have 6,000 member contacts, and Surrey is going to be the largest city in British Columbia by 2030.
British Columbia needs an economic well-being budget. We need a reboot of the economy. We need a business-led recovery. The comprehensive presentation that I'll be following up afterwards details a 14-step guide to reimagine government support to bolster economic activity. I'll just reference the 14 points in general to you this morning.
Number 1, health care. We need to manage and contain the virus, but governments can continue to unlock potential in primary care, digital telehealth…. Surrey's health and technology district is key to this.
In the area of education, re-skilling and up-skilling investments need to continue to be a priority. The community workforce response grant, tying industry needs to curriculum development…. We did two on-the-ground, sector-specific training curriculums with job placements, and that really bolstered some of the labour issues that our businesses were facing.
We urge the B.C. government to also invest in those quality early childhood educators that are needed.
We need investments in arts education, and we also need investments in post-secondary education to ensure that our human capital in Surrey and in the South Fraser economic region stays here and that our brain trust stays here as well.
Number 3, international trade and supply chains. Companies will need to make their supply chains more resilient.
Number 4, stimulus. Stimulus needs to work. We need to expand green energy and energy investments.
Number 5, government efficiency. Deliver contactless government digital transformation channels.
Number 6, financial accountability. Manage government balance sheets with an investor mindset.
Number 7, prepare for the next crisis now. Take a look at a plan-ahead crisis unit — for example, for an earthquake.
Number 8, utilize blockchain technology to create those efficiencies. Use data and analytics. We're creating a blockchain centre of excellence in Surrey.
Take a look at your government employees. Is there a smarter way to work?
Number 10, private sector partnerships are essential.
Number 11, transportation investments. Commit to the South Fraser transportation planning table that was announced in February 2020 so that we can look at our existing infrastructure that we have in Surrey and take a look at how we can move people throughout Surrey and the South Fraser region.
Under the area of taxation, we need a full tax reform in British Columbia to ensure bottom-line productivity and competitiveness nationally and internationally.
Public safety. Surrey's public safety transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force will cost British Columbia. I urge this committee to take a look at the cost impacts from the RCMP to a municipal police force.
Finally, under the area of housing, so many opportunities to partner with the not-for-profit sector.
We need a sustainable and bold plan to grow B.C.'s economy. We can't borrow our way to prosperity, nor should we confuse government spending with economic growth.
A more comprehensive presentation, as I mentioned, will follow by the deadline. Thank you for listening to the Surrey Board of Trade.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Anita.
We've now heard from all members of the panel. We now have allotted 20 minutes for members of the committee to ask questions.
L. Doerkson: My question is to Bridgitte. Thank you all for your comprehensive presentations.
Bridgitte, you mentioned Vancouver now being the most expensive city in the world to start a business. I think I heard you quote a reference. I wondered if you could expand on that and, if you did quote a reference, tell me what it was.
B. Anderson: Sure. Thank you very much for the question. I was referring to our economic scorecard that we produced a few years ago. Happy to provide that to the panel if you like.
What I was speaking about, specifically, was in regards to the…. I'm just pulling it up here, because I want to make sure that I'm getting it right. In our economic scorecard, greater Vancouver has the highest marginal cost for investment. That is compared to all our major competitor city regions in the world. This report was done in collaboration with the Conference Board of Canada. I'm happy to provide more information about that from the report if you like.
L. Doerkson: Please, Bridgitte.
B. Anderson: Sorry. Did you have another specific question about…?
L. Doerkson: Just if there was an actual reference to that.
B. Anderson: That comes from our economic scorecard that was produced in 2016 in collaboration with the Conference Board of Canada, which talks about our marginal tax rate.
L. Doerkson: Perfect. Thank you.
P. Alexis: I have a question for Bruce. Can you elaborate a little bit on the program for the Indigenous businesses, please, with respect to membership?
B. Williams: Sure. I'd be happy to.
One of my board members is the economic development CEO for one of our local First Nations. She will be chairing this task force right now. The purpose of it is to gather together Indigenous business owners and listen to them. You know, for a long time we've had that model among diverse-based businesses, which have sort of been in a model of trying to conform to what we want this all to be. The most important thing we can do at this point, I believe, is listen.
We have 14 Indigenous members of our chamber right now. We have issued a free membership to any Indigenous-owned business to join the chamber. We want to engage with them through a process to find out or, I guess in some ways, confirm what their challenges are, the things that have stopped them from achieving their full success and their full prosperity and their full aspirations.
Historically, I think we all know the Indian Act has been a huge barrier to a lot of these people and to their businesses and to the nations, for that matter, as far as the sourcing of capital and just developing a business model that is unique to their culture. It's not the same as the mainstream, colonially created economy. Theirs has individual and unique needs and goals, so we need to listen to them to find out how we can best enable them to do that and give them the opportunity to connect with existing businesses across our current economy.
A long answer. The short version is we're going to listen to them. We're going to find out what it is that they need and want, and we are going to do everything we can to make that possible for them. I hope that answers your question.
P. Alexis: Thank you so much. I'd be interested in some follow-up at some point in how that's rolled out, so if you could possibly…. I don't know how long your task group will be working together, but I expect it will be at least a year of the listening and all of that. But I'd be really interested in what you've learned and how we can, perhaps, share with other chambers of commerce across the province.
B. Williams: Sure. The task force will exist as long as they determine it will exist. Again, we're not imposing anything on anyone. That's entirely up to them.
P. Alexis: Okay. Understood.
J. Routledge (Chair): Any further questions?
G. Kyllo: Anita, good to see you. Thank you for your presentation. Out of the 15 items that you've listed, what would be your top three, as far as concerns expressed by the businesses that you represent in Surrey?
A. Huberman: Tax reform, housing and transportation.
M. Starchuk: To Paul: with regards to climate change and the mitigations and the adaptations that you spoke about, what is specific to Burnaby? Or is it Burnaby-specific?
P. Holden: I'm not sure. It's such a big issue and such an important one for everybody. I'm not certain that there's a Burnaby-specific solution. What we do know is that through the work that we have undertaken over the years, engaging small businesses and enabling them to be ready and resilient to face the impacts of climate change is a massive issue.
We've advocated for a while that, for example, when there have been government programs where investments are available for equipment upgrades, the threshold for those is too high for many small businesses. So we encourage that the provincial government make available investments to small businesses across the board so that they can make those investments in the products and developments that they need to do.
As I mentioned, we've been having programming and events for more than a decade now aimed at helping businesses of all sizes, but particularly small businesses, understand what they can do and get themselves ready to face the challenges ahead.
So I don't think there's anything necessarily Burnaby-specific, but I know that we have some examples — through research we have conducted with members and through the various programs we've had in place — that we think would be relevant on a provincial stage.
M. Starchuk: I have a second question for Anita. Good to see you. You made a comment about "prepare for the next crisis now." Can you expand on that?
A. Huberman: Well, really, we've learned so much from the pandemic. But when we're talking about the earthquake, we have been participating in Metro Vancouver and B.C. Economic Development Association meetings where a COVID crisis or a pandemic crisis or an emergency crisis management team needs to be in place. There is an actual comprehensive strategy that should be implemented, such as in areas in New Zealand — they've implemented it — that we could learn from and prepare for that earthquake.
We're so behind when it comes to preparing for that earthquake. You know, what are our assets to help businesses to ensure economic support? There seems to be a lack of focus on that, especially with the wildfires and the displacement that we're seeing. Many of those evacuees come to the urban centres looking for support, but there's no strategic plan. There's no ready-made plan for these crises.
But the plan is there. The concept is there, Mike, and it just needs to be in place. But it's a partnership between the provincial government and the local government that needs to be in place.
G. Kyllo: Bridgitte, you mentioned a concern about the, I guess, growth of the public sector. I'm just wondering: where is it that you're able to find those numbers? Do you feel that government's been very forthcoming in the growth of the public sector and the actual impact on the provincial budget?
B. Anderson: Sure. The figures are from July of 2021 compared to February of 2020. It's public sector employment up by 62,000 and the private sector up by 9,000, while self-employment is down by 57,000. The point that, really, I was wanting to make is that a public sector is really important for a number of those public services.
But really, in order to ensure that the public services are there, we have to have an economy that is thriving. That really comes from the private sector, particularly small and medium enterprises. They're the backbone of our economy. That was the way that I was framing that — to ensure that there is growth and investment to continue to grow the private sector.
G. Kyllo: Great. Thank you. If I may, was there any magnitude of the actual budget implications, or was it just in sheer job numbers? Or do they actually provide data on the actual cost?
B. Anderson: I was only looking at it in sheer numbers at this point.
G. Kyllo: Great. Thank you very much.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much. You know, it's interesting the similarity or the common thread in a lot of the comments that you've made. You talked about housing or the middle group of housing. Of course, that's something that I know the government has been trying. But I think that solutions are what is important.
Bridgitte, you mentioned about the CMHC or the Canada-B.C. housing report that came out in June. I know the former Finance Minister chaired that. I guess one of the things that I would encourage…. I know, Bruce, you mentioned that you're not a part of the B.C. chamber. I think that one of the things about the issues that we're talking about today is that it's going to require significant heavy lifting by people to rally behind common changes that are needed. Those changes that were proposed in that report are going to require a fair amount of government strength in terms of being able to take on local government and make changes.
I know that we talked earlier about the issue about reclassification of commercial buildings. We've seen a lot of issues around that. I mean, these things are important, but I would like to know from each of you if you would have specific recommendations or, if you've seen that report, which ones you might try and focus in on. I think that, clearly, from a labour point of view, without housing, we don't have the solution for the labour issues. I'm looking for your advice in that area.
I don't know if there's anybody…. Maybe, Bridgitte, because you came up with that comment, do you have any further comments, or would you be putting those recommendations in a further follow-up?
B. Anderson: I will be putting it in a further follow-up, Ben. Thanks for the question.
We also delivered a housing report. I think it was back in 2018, although I'd have to check. I've got a little bit of COVID memory right now, I think. I'm trying to remember the date that we submitted that. The expert panel also came out with some very strong recommendations.
I think what's important to note about housing — my colleagues also mentioned the importance of housing — is the interconnectedness with being able to retain and secure talent, the interconnectedness with transportation and the movement of goods and people.
Housing really is one of those core, central issues that continues to plague our region that must be resolved. More resources must be put towards that, especially for the middle, which I think Paul or maybe Bruce….
One of you mentioned that, which I really think is very important.
B. Williams: Workforce-specific housing, as I mentioned, is an issue geographically in this region. I mean, we are a very expensive place to live, right? The top three in Canada are Greater Vancouver, Toronto and Victoria.
Attracting and retaining those workers is kind of a big deal. What that's going to look like going forward is going to be determined by…. A lot of it is going to be municipal, quite honestly. I think we feel that because of the OCPs and the planning that's being done on the municipal level…. We have 13 municipalities here who all have their own ideas and their own plans on that sort of thing.
There is a regional housing strategy that's in place through the capital regional district, but a larger conversation needs to happen. The chamber would like very much to be a part of that because then we can better understand and, therefore, articulate what the needs are within the workforce, where those people are going to live and what's possible as far as creating housing.
With this area being as it is, land is at a bit of a premium. Densification is something that some municipalities have an appetite for and some don't. But in the bigger picture, with this crisis comes this opportunity. The creation of housing is kind of a big deal, as we've said before.
The complex care facilities, as I mentioned before, too, are a bit of an element of that through what B.C. Housing is doing. The complex care facilities will hopefully not only give a lot of people their lives back but create an additional workforce. People can, then, get their lives back and do what they feel they're most capable of doing. B.C. Housing has some programs in place here, some of which are under construction very soon. We're very pleased to see that investment in this region, and probably more of that needs to happen.
One other small part of that, if I may, is that on-campus housing is not where it could be here. There are a lot of students that are renting housing that could be on the open-housing market, which would probably create a little bit more of an affordability factor when it comes to supply and demand. UVic is not at capacity for student housing. Camosun has none. So that could be a housing factor too.
B. Anderson: Ben, if I could just add two additional points, which I will put in my written submission. It comes from our 2019 housing report.
I think it's important to mention that nearly a quarter of the people that we surveyed — these are businesses — had considered relocating because of the cost of housing and being able to secure and retain talent. And 60 percent of businesses said they have trouble retaining talent, securing talent and attracting talent because of the housing crisis.
This is something…. While the report was done in 2019, it continues to be a problem and is actually growing in size as well.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay. Thank you….
B. Williams: We'll include material in our larger follow-up report, too, by the way. Sorry, I didn't mention that earlier.
P. Holden: If I could just make a quick follow-up point on that. It's in addition to…. Obviously, we'll follow up in our report as well.
In Burnaby, and I know MLA Routledge is familiar with this, there was a considerable amount of work done through our housing task force that was commissioned by the mayor a couple of years ago. I was on that task force representing the voice of business. The whole spectrum of housing requirements was discussed at that particular session, but certainly, we were able to get quite deeply into the workforce housing and that missing middle conversation.
As part of the report that we'll submit, we will extract the relevant points from the report that came out of the mayor's task force.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you to everyone on the panel. We look forward to reading your follow-up briefings. You've given us a lot of food for thought. So thank you again.
With that, I'll call a recess.
The committee recessed from 9:54 a.m. to 10:05 a.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): I'll reconvene the panel. We'll now hear from Alexa Young, representing the B.C. Council of Forest Industries.
Alexa, whenever you're ready.
Budget Consultation Presentations
B.C. COUNCIL OF FOREST INDUSTRIES
A. Young: Thank you, Chair and members of the committee. Good morning.
I'm very happy to be here today, joining you from the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people.
For those of you who don't know COFI, we represent most forest product manufacturers from across B.C., companies big and small making everything from lumber to shakes and shingles to paper packaging.
I don't think your consultations could come at a more interesting time. Like people everywhere, British Columbians are still facing uncertainty because of COVID. Everyone is thinking about what the other side is going to look like and what our economy is going to look like. But if there is anything we do know, it's that forestry has been a bright light during the pandemic. It's kept people working, revenues to government flowing.
Yes, operators' ability to safely get back up and running much faster than consumer-facing industry has certainly played a role, and yes, unprecedented demand for lumber was a big factor. That's not news to you if you were looking to build a deck few months ago. But more fundamentally, it's the depth and breadth of forestry's reach into B.C's economy that has driven continuity.
This is a sector that supports 100,000 good-paying jobs, in Vanderhoof and Campbell River, for sure, but in our big cities too. Half of forestry jobs are in the Lower Mainland in the southwest part of the province — and you wouldn't think about that — where we've got companies making machine parts and high-tech tools and delivering services.
Over $7 billion in local goods and services are sold to forest product companies annually. The sector also represents $13 billion in GDP and more than $2 billion in revenues to the B.C. government each year, helping to pay for things like health care, affordable housing, and so much more.
Why is that important as you are thinking about your job today? It's important because you need these private sector engines to anchor jobs, to enable resilience, to keep the whole economy humming and to do it well, because today the public, the world, expects responsibility. The pandemic hasn't slowed these expectations down. If anything, I'd argue, it has ramped them up.
Here's the good news. B.C.'s forest sector does this really well, and we need to talk about that more. B.C. is a leader in sustainable forest management. Forestry workers are proud to produce low-carbon products. They're proud to be working in partnership with Indigenous People, and they're always looking for new ways to do things better, safer and more sustainably. The future is bright, as consumers everywhere are looking to build with and use products that are a better choice for the planet.
With that, and given that there's a very important dialogue happening on forestry taking place in the province right now, there are a few priorities we'd like you to think about.
One, we need government to champion a balanced dialogue and approach with respect to forest policies. Like I'm sure you all do, we value B.C.'s commitment to conservation, and B.C. is a leader, with 52 percent of the land base here protected or under some form of designation.
We also value B.C. forests for the jobs and benefits they represent, for their recreational and cultural uses — important values that are managed for when decisions are made about harvest levels each year.
As we look at the path forward on forest policy modernization, it's critical that all these values are considered. That's why we need a facts-based approach, and it's why it has got to be informed by an inclusive process with everyone at the table — First Nations, labour, communities, industry — so that the outcomes achieve the things we all care about: healthy forests, climate solutions, strong communities and good jobs for British Columbians.
Priority two, existing producers and new entrants need predictable, secure access to fibre at a reasonable cost. Industry continues to face challenges in accessing timber, for a whole bunch of different reasons — wildfires, beetles and set-asides.
When you combine that with the fact that B.C. is among the highest-cost fibre jurisdictions in the world, it makes us more vulnerable to volatile markets. Making sure there's a clear view as to what the rules to accessing fibre are will help anyone looking to take part in this industry plan and make good investment decisions.
Three, increase revenue-sharing from government to Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities are vital to B.C.'s forest sector as owners, partners and employees. Many want to increase participation, and we're committed to help support these aspirations. But not all nations want direct participation. Some are seeking a greater share of revenues from government for forestry activities taking place on traditional territories. We fully support this.
Finally, four, seize the opportunity. We have the renewable low-carbon resource the world is looking for. We have the people, and we have the know-how to make B.C. the Harvard of green building. The government's mass timber plan is a big step in the right direction, but the value-added opportunities could be so much more. Together, we need to do the work to build demand, and we've got to do the work to ensure that we have a healthy primary sector to support investment and generational opportunity.
In closing, B.C.'s forest sector continues to play an outsized role in supporting British Columbians. The future is bright if we can commit to having a balanced discussion about our sector and what it means to B.C. I'm looking forward to any questions you might have.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Alexa.
We now have about five minutes of opportunity for questions from the panel.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Alexa, for your continued efforts in trying to talk about all the important things about the forest industry.
With the current wildfire situation and the amount of timber that has been devastated, I'm wondering what COFI has actually been advocating. What are their thoughts? This is something that, of course, we're going to have to look at differently. For the forest sector, what does the forest community think needs to be done in the forests to protect the fibre? That's a significant loss. As well, what can we do to be more proactive to make certain that these interface fires, etc., which many of us have faced, are not…? Hopefully, we can mitigate them.
A. Young: For sure. Thanks for that good question. Of course, our thoughts have been with the communities that have been impacted. Our members have been there to support the government in wildfires, while the fire service has been providing tools and resources on the ground and will continue to do so. I think it comes back to this question about forest policy modernization, where we need to go. Of course, it's the right time to be undertaking that process, but the outcome is going to be really important. You do need to refresh and look at these big policy frameworks when they haven't been revamped for some time.
The key thing that needs to be built into our forest management practices is an acknowledgment of the impact of the climate on our forests — actually embedding that as one of the values that we think about when we're looking to make decisions about what we're doing on the land base. As you know, the forests aren't static; they're always changing. So you need to have more flexibility embedded into the system. It's not about just harvesting or just conservation. It's about having that balance and having a framework that allows the flexibility to acknowledge what's actually happening on the land base.
L. Doerkson: Just a quick question with respect to stumpage. Are you folks advocating for different levels for different uses — heating wood and that kind of thing? I have a number of constituents that would like to access piles that we currently burn, unfortunately, to heat homes with. I wondered if anybody has reached out to you on that. If so, are you advocating for that?
A. Young: I think the biggest thing that we could be thinking about when it comes to stumpage is how to make it more reflective of current market conditions. There is currently a lag in B.C., as compared to other jurisdictions. I think one of the things that we've been thinking a lot about and talking to government about is how to make our system more responsive to market forces.
J. Routledge (Chair): Any additional questions?
G. Kyllo: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you, Alexa. With respect to the wildfire season that we've had and the significant amount of fibre that has actually gone up in smoke, how is that impacting the AAC and the ability of forest companies that you represent to actually undertake their harvest for the next number of years? Will they see a reduction in the AAC on account of wildfires, or is there any impact?
A. Young: While those assessments are going to take some time, I suspect that we will see, certainly, some impacts. When you look at several years of significantly reducing the annual allowable cut, that certainly will be another added hit to the industry when it comes to determining what this particular season has had on the working forest.
G. Kyllo: If I may, Madam Chair, just a bit of a follow-up. I guess for those areas that have been impacted by wildfires, is there any value in that fibre? Is there any interest from forest companies in harvesting areas that have actually been subject to wildfires, or is it basically of zero value? Are you familiar with, and can you share with us, what government's plans are with respect to any replanting in the fire-impacted areas?
A. Young: I think the priority at this time is really just on fighting the fires and providing resources where we can. Certainly, as we lift out through this difficult time, we'll be working with government, with communities on the ground, to determine what that looks like and what opportunities there could be. Certainly, the priority right now is just providing support on the ground where we can.
G. Kyllo: On areas that have been impacted by wildfires, there's really not much value in that fibre anymore, or any interest from logging companies to actually do anything to process any of those impacted areas?
A. Young: Well, we'll certainly be looking at the impacted areas. I couldn't tell you right now what that looks like. As I said, there's not a clear view, and people will be taking the time to go into those impacted areas to see what the state of affairs is.
G. Kyllo: Great. Thank you.
P. Alexis: I just want to say that I appreciate your enthusiasm. I come from a community that has a municipal forest, and we depend on it. In fact, we just took $1.5 million out of the reserve from the forest fund to build a seniors centre. There are such benefits to having this, and we're really, really proud and certainly lucky, because I think there are only three communities in British Columbia that have a municipal forest.
I very much appreciate your enthusiasm, and I love the "bright light through COVID." I'm going to keep that line, so thank you for that.
J. Routledge (Chair): With that, Alexa, we'll end this part of the presentation. Thank you again for your perspective on the forestry industry and the insights you've shared with us.
Next we have Jackie Kjos from the North Peace rural roads coalition.
NORTH PEACE RURAL ROADS COALITION
J. Kjos: Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. My name is Jackie Kjos. I'm a consultant with the North Peace rural roads initiative. The initiative is funded by a coalition of the Peace River regional district, area B, and the municipalities of Hudson's Hope and Taylor. It's directed by a multi-industry task force group representing the agriculture, forestry, energy and small business sectors in all subregions of the North Peace.
Let me start by acknowledging the work of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, or MOTI, in our region this year. They've been aggressively crushing, winter hauling and placing gravel removed from the eventual Site C pondage area. This is incredibly important — to extract that gravel before flooding — as we have a very limited supply of gravel left in the region. Most of it is along the Peace River.
The lack of gravel is one of the main reasons that we continue to push for hard surfacing of key rural roads to ensure the huge investment in gravel is protected for years to come.
We recognize that these are challenging times for the government of B.C., while you face the twin threat of COVID-19 and a destructive and expensive fire season. The economic recovery of B.C. and implementation of CleanBC targets will depend on strong regional economies like ours. Electrification of industry, new technology, adoption of hydrogen fuels and carbon-capture utilization and storage will all rely on this region and our rural roads.
The North Peace rural roads initiative started in 1997 and was one of the most successful B.C. economic development projects of its time, leading to the investment of hundreds of millions in rural road infrastructure to facilitate the upgrade of a key grid of rural roads to 100 percent legal axle loading year-round.
These measures extended industry's ability to work 12 months a year, and the investment in the roads was matched by the investment by industry. Higher private investment created more jobs and created more provincial revenue. That increased revenue, in turn, paid for critical infrastructure all over B.C., including schools, hospitals and transportation projects here and in other regions.
In the years between fiscal 2006-07 and 2017-18, MOTI had a line item between $18 million and $47 million in the budget, specifically to address the continued improvement of roads impacted by natural gas and oil extraction in northeast B.C. During that time, key roads were upgraded to 100 percent legal axle loading, enabling year-round industry activity and mitigating the impact of seasonal load restrictions.
The investments of the early 2000s made a difference. The upgraded roads, combined with new technologies and work methods, such as the use of temporary matting, allowed industry to work all year. Most importantly, the upgraded roads were not damaged, providing residents, Indigenous communities and workers with safe, reliable, fit-for-purpose, year-round roads.
But somewhere between 2006 and 2017, when our initiative was not active, load restrictions came back in on some of those previously upgraded roads. There are now two key corridors and lateral connectors in the northeast that were previously upgraded, that no longer support 100 percent legal axle loading. Combined with the remainder of the grid that was not completed, rural roads are again becoming a barrier to the economy, jobs and provincial revenue.
Many regions of the province have seasonal load restrictions, but nowhere are they as devastating as here in the northeast, and there's a number of reasons for that. The province's deepest frost penetration occurs here. We have frequent freeze-and-thaw cycles throughout the winter, which damage the roads. We have poor and weak soils for road-building.
Many of the roads were not built to the standard for the type and volume of traffic that use them. We have deeply incised, unstable clay river valleys that lead to continual sliding. We have more heavy and extraordinary loads than anywhere else in the province, and there's a heavy reliance on the public road network to support industry roads that start at the end of the public road.
For all of those reasons, the restrictions start earlier, last longer and impact the regional economy and jobs most negatively. The graph in your handout shows the trend of longer load restriction periods over the last four decades.
As you implement CleanBC targets, this region offers many solutions, with ample electricity when Site C comes online; natural gas for hydrogen and export markets, such as LNG; large depleted oil and gas fields for carbon capture, utilization and storage; progressive, diverse farms and ranchers that support B.C. and Canada's food assurance; and a steady, reliable forest industry, including the recently reopened OSB plant.
To be effective, the North Peace requires a safe, reliable, fit-for-purpose road network, capable of supporting 100 percent legal axle loading 365 days a year. That will require the establishment of a dedicated fund in future years to invest in North Peace rural roads.
Thank you, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Jackie.
Any questions from committee members?
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thank you very much for talking about the importance of rural roads in British Columbia.
I guess the question really is: is the work that you've been doing with the Ministry of Transportation ranked and prioritized where the work needs to go, and the presentation is more about continuing investment, or something larger than that?
J. Kjos: We definitely work very closely and very collaboratively with the local ministry, and we've made presentations to Victoria. The challenge is dedicating enough resources to do incremental work so that we can get some of these roads back to 100 percent legal axle loading and support year-round development and industry activity. That's a real loss — the roads where we've lost that capability.
The one program was the $100 million oil and gas initiative. That brought those roads specifically up to 100 percent to allow year-round work, and we've lost some of that. So we need to have a more incremental investment to ensure that we don't lose some of the ground that we've already gained in the past 20 years, and there are still other roads.
A lot of our roads for industry start at the end of the public road. So industry can build a freeway out there, but if they can't get across the public road to use it, they're handicapped during spring breakup, during that road restriction period. We'd need incremental funding to make sure we bring those public roads back up to 100 percent.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Just to follow up on that, if I could, Jackie, is there a specific number that your committee has come up with in consultation with industry and government?
J. Kjos: The number is too big to speak it in public. But I would say that any incremental…. To put this in context, one of our slides…. The Assistant Deputy Minister of Transportation challenged me to say that it will cost $100 million to fix that one slide. If we provide you with $100 million in the region, is that where you want it to go?
Of course, we can't put $100 million into one slide, but an incremental pot of between $18 million and $30 million, like was in the budget for previous years, would make a huge difference if it continued over a longer period of time.
The big picture. It's billions to fix everything, but if there was an incremental dollar amount of the $20 million to $30 million range, that would make a huge difference and would set us up to support some of the CleanBC initiatives.
It was exciting. I just heard Edmonton announce that they're going to put in a diesel plant, basically, that will use blue hydrogen. That's the first new initiative that's really grabbing hold of new technology to combat climate change. Some of that natural gas will naturally come from northeast B.C., because that's where there's a prolific amount of it.
Initiatives like this, moving towards a clean economy…. Our region is going to be heavily impacted as industry gears up to meet that.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Jackie.
J. Kjos: I don't know if I answered your question well.
L. Doerkson: I'm just curious. I know that the problem is very serious throughout rural B.C., particularly in your area and, certainly, Cariboo North. My question is…. Just recently, I think probably last week, our road restrictions came off of Highway 20 west of Williams Lake. Is your period of restriction lengthening?
J. Kjos: It is. There's a graph in the handout that I sent with you. This past year was shorter than usual, quite a bit shorter, because it was a very dry fall and it was a very dry spring, so the road firmed up quickly. But the year before, I think we went 117 or 120 days. I don't have that number in front of me, unfortunately.
Over time, if you look at the trend line, it is increasing. We do have some summer…. We have some restrictions that stay on year-round. We don't argue the need for restrictions, because we don't want industry to destroy the roads for residents, for Indigenous communities and for workers.
But there's a balance that needs to happen where industry can flourish, and that means that there's a certain grid of roads that we need to keep at 100 percent so we don't lose that capability of working year-round. There are spinoff effects in all industries — the service sector, retail, hotels. Everyone depends on that industry activity, and when it shuts down for a period of 2½ to 3½, that has a huge impact on the economy of the region.
L. Doerkson: Thank you very much.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Jackie. Thank you for your presentation and your insight. For some of us urban people, you've opened a window into some of the challenges and realties that you face.
J. Kjos: Thank you. We're always willing to talk about rural roads. Have a great day.
J. Routledge (Chair): You too.
I'm going to suggest that instead of taking a recess, we go right into the next presenter.
The next presenter is Rob Gay from the regional district of East Kootenay.
R. Gay: Good morning, everybody. It's Rob Gay from the regional district of East Kootenay.
J. Routledge (Chair): Hi, Rob. Good morning. Whenever you're ready.
REGIONAL DISTRICT OF EAST KOOTENAY
R. Gay: Thank you very much. Kiʔsuʔk wiǂnam. Good morning.
Vice-Chair Clovechok and I are speaking with you this morning from the homelands of the Shuswap Nation, the Métis Nation of British Columbia and the homelands and traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation.
I'd like to start our brief presentation with a quote from the community safety section of the August 2021 UBCM report entitled Ensuring Local Government Financial Resiliency: Today's Recovery and Tomorrow's New Economy. That's the front end of the report, if you haven't seen it yet.
To quote from the report: "As climate change increasingly impacts B.C.'s environment, emergency management is becoming an even more important and costlier local government responsibility. Local government responsibilities include provincial requirements to prepare an emergency plan and maintain an emergency management organization."
Just to repeat: "Local government responsibilities include provincial requirements to prepare an emergency plan and maintain an emergency management organization."
As a regional government, the regional district of East Kootenay has no objections to these responsibilities. We do see emergency management as a partnership with the province. As partners in service delivery, we recommend a truly collaborative process with UBCM and local government when creating legislation and companion operating guidelines and policies — act, then policy.
The province is currently working to modernize B.C.'s emergency management legislation. We agree that a modernized EMP act is necessary. A new B.C. emergency program act should be the first step, followed by operating policy and alignment with the new act.
As you may glean from our position paper and financial assistance guidelines, our experience over the past five years is far more frequent emergencies and greater cost downloads to local government. In 2020, for example, the regional district spent just short of $1.1 million in staff costs, material and other expenses related to responding to emergencies and disasters within our boundaries. Of this total, about $160,000 was non-redeemable. Rural residents covered these expenditures.
The full continuum of emergency management — mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery — requires stable and ongoing funding to address emergency management responsibilities.
In conclusion, we would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the committee this morning. Your work is very important to local government and to the regional district of East Kootenay. Community safety is important to all British Columbians. We want to work with the province on the development of the local government funding and support framework to address the new and ongoing emergency management costs.
With that, I will say thank you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Rob. I'll now open it for questions from our committee.
M. Starchuk: With regards to the emergency management new costs that are there, could you expand on what those are?
R. Gay: When an emergency happens — we can take a fire or a flood, whatever, generally on Crown land — as I said in my report, we are responsible to have an emergency plan. We have to maintain an emergency management organization, which usually means putting staff into our emergency management operations centre. We also do recruit staff from municipalities, in the local governments, and help.
In the case of a fire, let's just say an evacuation order was needed. We are going to order these people evacuated. RCMP are called out to help, so are search and rescue, and then the volunteers come out to try to arrange, in the case of a late-night evacuation or most evacuations: what do people require, what do their pets require, and can we house them?
Lots of overtime by our staff. This stuff doesn't stop at five o'clock, I think we're all aware. You folks have all been through this. Often in an evacuation, when the fire takes off, it's later in the afternoon when the weather gets warm. We're working until midnight, two o'clock in the morning. A lot of the time, it's our senior emergency staff that are involved with it. To this date, the guidelines do not recognize overtime, where we do within our contract with our employees, so a lot of wages go unaccounted for.
Emergency management B.C. is pretty good on materials that we use, but it has to be approved by them. We go ahead and take the action we need with the knowledge that we don't know if 80, 90 or 100 percent will be approved. It'd be really nice to know beforehand that these are what's eligible and work with the province on determining that.
For us, the $156,000 that we did spend is not something that we can spread across all the users in the regional district. It's only the rural people. We did the math on that, and it turns out to about $10 a home. That keeps going every year.
As I say, it's Crown land that we're protecting. It's all our citizens that we're working for. We would like to partner with the province. We're not shirking our responsibilities, but it's the payment piece that's quite difficult for us and the stability of that funding.
Sorry for the long answer.
M. Starchuk: If I may follow up. Out of the $156,954, is that mainly staff costs?
R. Gay: Yes, it would be.
J. Routledge (Chair): Are there any additional questions?
Okay, Rob, I think we heard you.
R. Gay: Thank you. You did get a copy of my notes, so I don't think anybody has to scribble.
Thank you very much, committee, and thank you for your hard work. We certainly appreciate it.
J. Routledge (Chair): And thank you to you for your hard work.
R. Gay: Have a good day, everybody.
J. Routledge (Chair): Let's take a quick recess.
The committee recessed from 10:37 a.m. to 11:01 a.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): Welcome to our next panel of presenters: Bev Vandersteen of Fort Nelson Chamber of Commerce; Robin Cardew of Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce; and Bernard Fandrich, Lytton and District Chamber of Commerce.
Before turning it over to you, I just want to say, on behalf of the entire committee, how our hearts go out to the people of Lytton and the devastation that you have experienced. We've all been, one way or another, following this whole development, and we're so sorry for what you've been going through.
Now I will turn the meeting over to Bev, from Fort Nelson, to make her presentation.
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 3 – General
FORT NELSON AND DISTRICT
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
B. Vandersteen: Good morning. Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit to you today. As you know, my name is Bev Vandersteen. I'm here on behalf of the Fort Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce. We represent about 200 small and medium-sized businesses in the Northern Rockies regional municipality.
In case you don't know where we are, we are located in northeastern B.C. We encompass about 10 percent of the province, so we're a huge area with few people, but extremely remote and extremely resilient.
I believe you have a copy of my written submission, so I'm not going to go into a bunch of detail on that. It really does detail what the specific items are that we think are important. Overarching that is the need for us to build strong communities, and that is a bigger-picture item. All of these little components certainly help, but we need to build our communities to be sustainable and not on the backs of business. We need to start supporting our business from a provincial perspective.
COVID certainly presented new and unique challenges over the last two years for businesses in the Northern Rockies, as well as, of course, across the country. But prior to that, we were already struggling. We had seen a significant recession hit, and a lot of the businesses were unable to even access the funding and the programs. Because when you're already at rock bottom, you can't drop another 30 percent and survive.
COVID did present some interesting challenges, and I think now is the time that we need to look forward to supporting business and continue to build our economies and open things back up. And on that note, the future of communities that strengthen our provincial economies is really dependent on that diverse community business. I am looking at the committee to review how to do that and how to support our communities.
I'm sorry. I had some notes, which I have totally gone off of, because I do that.
We're at a time now where, due to a lot of the programs, employers are unable to access [audio interrupted] workforce. That's a huge barrier right now to businesses in the Northern Rockies. We need to be able to get people back to work for the health standard of just the employees and workers as well as communities.
The future of our communities has to be built on diversity. We need industry and resources tied to our communities. We need to be able to recruit and retain the workforce. Remote communities need services, connectivity and health care to attract new workers and residents. For instance, in Fort Nelson, a family still cannot have a baby here. It's really difficult to attract families to move to the community and work here when they can't do something as basic as raise a family or have a baby.
Medevac. We have had families stranded because there's no medevac available out of here. We recently had the case where a worker, thankfully, had the resources to charter their own private aircraft to get a family member to the care they needed.
I would call these basic community requirements. The lack of these services is a significant barrier to attracting families to rural and remote communities. We recognize that not everywhere can have everything, but British Columbians need to be able to access equitable health care.
Again, I've provided more detail on the individual items in my written submission but really wanted to take this time to illustrate the connection of building economies in B.C. communities. Diversity, services, health care, stability and sustainability are all necessary building blocks of our community foundations.
With 55 seconds to spare, thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. Happy to try and answer any questions after the next speakers.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Bev.
Let's now hear from Robin.
GREATER VERNON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
R. Cardew: Thank you very much. Robin Cardew here on behalf of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce. I appreciate being here today.
We applaud Premier Horgan for signing on to the $10-a-day daycare initiative and are hopeful that consideration is going to be given to fast-tracking full implementation of the program also with an eye to enhancing it further.
The cost of living in certain areas of B.C. is high. It's important that those interested in improving their situation by re-entering the workforce be able to seek and retain full-time employment with resources to assist that. It's also necessary to be mindful that even middle-income earners are choosing not to re-enter the workforce because of the high cost of child care. Thus, shutting affordable child care off at certain income levels does not have the result of putting those skilled workers back into the workforce. B.C. needs all workers back in the workforce.
In addition, like most of the industries experiencing a workforce shortage, resources are needed to be directed to education, training and recruitment. Skilled labour shortages are an issue in almost all industries and a recurring problem. Thus, resources for training and development offered on a regionally identified basis would help the province and business be competitive in their regions and also when compared to other provinces.
Sick leave. Paid sick leave is an admirable enhancement for employees, employers and society. The cost is, of course, burdensome. In the letter from the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, dated on August 19, to Premier Horgan and others, if the paid sick leave is to continue, it's requested that reimbursement of up to $200 a day also continue past the December 31 date in order to support employees and employers. The cost of this program should not necessarily be borne by business but by all those in the province.
The housing situation in B.C. is well documented to be a difficult situation for renters, buyers and employers. A shortage of housing and rentals in many areas is needing provincial assistance. Presently the reimbursement of the GST is available for certain purchases and new construction. It's felt it would be beneficial for a similar reimbursement to be available through the provincial sales tax.
This would allow for new construction to be more affordable and appealing to new home buyers. Part of the result would show the province is interested in addressing the housing and rental crisis in a new way. Developers might also be incentivized through other tax incentives for their business on a provincial basis to build more affordable housing.
By allocating government spending in this direction, for the provincial government receiving less income from this industry, it would have a positive impact on the pervasive housing problem.
Thank you again, with two minutes left.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Robin.
Now we'll hear from Bernard.
LYTTON AND DISTRICT
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
B. Fandrich: Thank you. As you know, I'm the president of the Lytton Chamber of Commerce and also a businessman locally. I've written a couple of books about the area, and I even spent a decade or so as a college instructor.
As you know, June 30 was a change in life for Lytton. The firestorm — it swept through and out through Indian reserve No. 18, across the Trans-Canada to Indian reserve 17. Then it moved north and destroyed the grocery store and the café and many other things, like Jade Spring's. Then within an hour, it catapulted across the Thompson River, if you can imagine, and roared up Botanie Valley, and it destroyed homes, barns and structures in its path. At the same time, it attacked Kumsheen Rafting Resort, which is five kilometres from Lytton. It was there in less than an hour.
Everywhere it travelled, it left a path of destruction. My family alone: both sons lost their homes; my daughter lost her gourmet coffee café and Indigenous handcraft business; my wife lost her Chinese History Museum, which is described in the Vancouver Sun as one of the best in the world. She lost 1,600 artifacts in that fire. Our family business, which is Kumsheen Rafting Resort, which I started in 1973, suffered major damage, but fortunately, no destruction of buildings.
The fire devastated homes, businesses, public buildings, the bank, health centre, drugstore, RCMP detachment, assisted-living lodge, three restaurants, a hotel, two inns, grocery store, gym, gift shop, and other private businesses were all destroyed. The chamber of commerce office was fully wiped out, along with records that went back to 1949. Critical infrastructure, including power, water, sewer, and so on, was also interrupted or destroyed. Of course, Lytton residents were simply spread throughout the entire province. There's a lot of suffering going on right now with those people.
I have three basic requests that the government consider. One is to establish an 800 phone number and website dedicated to Lytton-related matters. People need information, and unfortunately, there is a strong lack of information that's being provided by the municipal council and staff. It's just not there. People don't know what's going on. They don't know anything about their future. They don't know what's going on, and having an 800 phone number and a website dedicated to the people of Lytton where they can go to different government departments and get information, I think, is really, really important.
The second thing I'd like to see is assistance to ensure that when the time comes, building permits, approvals, inspections can be processed in a timely, efficient and effective manner and that whatever happens, it's not imposed on the people of Lytton. There are a lot of rumours and other things going around where we are going to become the kind of village that nobody in this community wants to see. It's very important that the community be consulted when the time comes.
The third thing is we need assistance with the immediate establishment of health care, ambulance, policing and other provincial services. For example, the Scotiabank just opened a premises here at Kumsheen Rafting Resort. We need all these things to happen right away.
On behalf of all the businesses, homeowners, people of Lytton, I'm respectfully requesting that the provincial government immediately provide support for us, for members and businesses through the rebuilding and recovering of our community, and I am requesting this committee act immediately and forward this information to the ministry without any delay.
I appreciate your time. Thank you very much, and I anticipate some positive results.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Bernard.
Before I open it up to questions from the entire committee to the entire panel, I just want to, on my own behalf and perhaps on behalf of the committee, say how much I appreciate and am affected by your personal perspective on the tragedy of what's happened in Lytton. You've made it very real. You've made it personal, concrete and made it very real to us — the impact on your lives. Your requests are very, very concrete. Thank you for that.
I will open it up to questions from the committee.
H. Sandhu: Thank you to the presenters. First, before I ask my question, I would like to express my heartfelt thoughts with the community of Lytton and surrounding communities, including my own communities in Vernon-Monashee and my colleagues' ridings in the interior of B.C. The devastation that's been caused by these fires — we're still dealing with some of the challenges. So I really appreciate you taking the time and coming to present your thoughts.
My question, Robin…. Welcome, first of all. You mentioned child care and housing and a shortage of workforce and skilled labour. We've heard that previously from other presenters. I'm just thinking: do you know if there was a pause on temporary foreign workers and immigration applications from skilled workers during COVID? How much of a role did that play in this shortage in the workforce? I know in our area, we heavily rely on temporary foreign workers when it comes to the agricultural sector and some other tourism industries.
Do you have any numbers, kind of an idea on how much impact that had on the shortage in the workforce besides other factors that we're hearing from people?
R. Cardew: I unfortunately do not have numbers with relation to that. We have heard from some of our members that there has been a shortage. They were affected by temporary foreign workers not being able to get into the country. It is on the radar. Unfortunately, I don't have some concrete numbers to share with you on those problems.
H. Sandhu: No worries at all. I was just curious.
Also skilled labour — I know we have the pilot program as well. I was hearing from people that there are so many skilled workers we heavily rely on — that their applications were on pause. I'm just trying to get the sense of that. But I appreciate your presentation.
J. Routledge (Chair): Our next question will come from Lorne.
L. Doerkson: Thank you to all the presenters. I have two questions. The first one will be directed at Bernard. I don't even know what to say to all of the folks of Lytton, other than my heartfelt thoughts are with all of you. I was surprised to hear that some of this wasn't already in place. I guess my question would be: can you give us a sense of what the planning looks like right now?
B. Fandrich: There's been a real gap in communication between what is happening with the mayor and council and with the administration staff. It's very, very difficult to understand and know what is happening. That's why I think it's important that there be a multi-ministerial task force of some kind, directed to the needs of the people in Lytton.
I mean, I can give you some idea of what is happening, but I don't know whether it's actual fact or not because nobody seems to know. It's just very frustrating. It's very frustrating for me, as someone who lives here and has lived here a long time, and every person that's been displaced. They need answers. They want to know what the future looks like.
For example, three days after the fire, we did…. At Kumsheen, we have some land that we lease; it's provincial land. We began immediately looking into establishing a temporary village here. Would it be possible on that land? I contacted the mayor and was told no. They were already looking at three other sites, so they were not interested in our sites. I thought it was essential that the village buy into whatever program that we worked on.
Then I found out that at last Wednesday's council meeting, they finally struck a committee looking into temporary housing, almost two months later. That's one example of the kinds of things that are going on and that are so frustrating for people when they're looking for answers.
There are a lot of things that…. I could go on with stories like that, but that's one example of the difficulty of communications. The 800 line and so on, dedicated to what's going on here with knowledgable people, I think is critical so that the people know that they can call that number, and they will get answers.
For example, Scotiabank did that right away. They had a line dedicated to the people of Lytton, so if you had a banking issue, you could phone that number and they dealt with it right away. There were people dedicated to just dealing with the people of Lytton. It's a similar kind of thing, I think, that we need from the province. That has to happen.
L. Doerkson: Thank you very much for that, Bernard. I'm sure your community is grateful for your efforts. I know I certainly am. Thanks for the info. Hopefully that improves soon.
My second question, Madam Chair, if I can, is directed at Robin. Robin, you had mentioned that you have a number of people that are choosing to stay at home because of either the lack of or cost of child care. I know you represent Vernon, but do you have any sense of what that number looks like in your community, how many people?
R. Cardew: That's not information I'd have. We'd need to reach out to some of the daycare providers, the local providers. They might have more of that information. When you're working the numbers, when you're looking at going back into the workforce, if you're spending $1000 or more a month on child care, then it may not make sense to go back to work. If your child has to go home for the sniffles for two or three days a month, then all of a sudden you're in a break-even situation. By the time you're paying for child care or staying at home, sometimes those numbers equal.
By making more spaces available, by making it more cost-effective to go back to work, it's felt that we're going to increase the pool of labour that we have here locally. That will help everyone.
M. Starchuk: Bernard, inside of your letter that's here, you ask about ensuring that building permits, approvals and inspections can be processed in a timely, effective and efficient manner. Can you tell me what would be an expectation for the provincial government when what you're talking about specifically here is local government's business?
B. Fandrich: We have 15 businesses that lost their premises in Lytton and in the area. Overall, we have about 100 businesses of one kind or another. That includes agriculture and whatnot. The challenge is…. I went on a different tangent there, sorry. How funny, I've lost my track. I'm getting old.
M. Starchuk: It's an awesome club to belong to.
B. Fandrich: What has to happen is…. For example, we hear that it's going to be net zero imposed on the entire community — that individuals here are not going to have a say in the future of Lytton, that the whole town is going to be razed with bulldozers and whatnot, and then a net-zero program is going to be installed that has a central hub where the whole community is tapped into this one central hub.
This is a bylaw that was presented at council two weeks ago. It's a 94-page document. Included in there are such items as: if you want to have a building permit, you have to sign a release of liability, absolving the village of any responsibility if something goes wrong in the future. If you don't sign that release of liability, they will not issue you a building permit. If you, for example, do not sign on to this, there is the potential for three months in jail and a $10,000 fine if you don't agree to this.
I'm not sure exactly…. We were not told who developed this bylaw, but it was a 94-page bylaw that was presented to the council meeting, like I said, 2½ weeks ago now. There are some horrendous things in there. I haven't talked to one person in Lytton that finds this an attractive alternative for re-establishing our community.
Lytton now subcontracts housing, for example, to the regional district. The building inspector comes down every two weeks or whatever and does what's necessary. Of course there has been almost no development here for a long time, so there's no big need. But all of a sudden, we have $100 million of development that has to take place, both in infrastructure and buildings.
So the whole picture changes. It has to be, I think, reflective of what the people of Lytton want as well, because there are going to be so many buildings going up. There has to be a group that's dedicated, again, to ensuring that this moves forward in a timely way, that houses and businesses are built in a manner that is practical and what the owners need and want, as well as incorporating some of the features of net zero or whatever it might be. Does that kind of answer your question?
M. Starchuk: Yes, it does. It sheds a big light as to the hurdles that you're up against. Thank you very much, Bernard.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks to all of you as presenters. I had a few questions, but I know that time is running out.
A quick question to Bev. You mentioned at the start about your community already being down and then being asked to kind of take a step down. I know that Fort Nelson, from the visits that I've made to your community, has been up and down, etc. I guess the point about it is: was there a reduction in services, during that time prior to the point where you're talking about, of how your community doesn't have things like even the ability for people to go to the hospital and maybe have a baby delivered?
B. Vandersteen: Yes, that's been going on for quite a few years and has been something that we have discussed with this committee and with many others over the last ten years: the ability to have those kinds of basic services and to have equitable health care across the province.
Medevac is also a huge issue. It means we can't attract and retain families to the community. We're a young community, and if you have a family that's looking to have babies, they're going to have to go out for two months or a month prior to giving birth and house themselves. There's no help with any of those costs, and families are separated because a spouse may have to stay here and work.
Then on the medevac side, if you can't get a medevac when your spouse has had a stroke or your father has had a heart attack, and you're having to charter your own aircraft to get those family members out to medical care, it's not reasonable to think that we're going to be able to attract and retain families to the community.
The other flip side of medevac in the province is that if you do get medevacked out, you kind of go with the shirt on your back, and then when you're done, they kick you out of the hospital wherever you are, and it's up to you to find your way home. That's not reasonable for people that are living in remote communities. I think if we're going to have strong communities, we have to have those basics first. Just to speak to…. All of Robin's points I totally agree with.
And Bernard, if I can express my condolences as well. Your situation in Lytton really kind of puts the rest of this…. It's less important. But I'm thinking about you guys.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Bernie, it's good to see you — not under these circumstances.
I've got a question, because I've got the current White Rock Lake fire burning at one end of my riding that's wiped out almost 100 structures. And of course, there has been a lot of disconnect in communication between EMBC and the local government, just as you described, in terms of: what's the process? I'm not certain that they actually know, because I don't know if they're prepared. And we heard that in an earlier presentation.
But one thing I did see the other day is that the government, with people that have insurance, are being asked to get their insurance company to take over the responsibility of their accommodation and things like that — their living expenses or their out expenses. What's the percentage of people that are in the village and the surrounding area that had insurance that would qualify for that? And what's the gap?
B. Fandrich: Again, it's really hard to put a number on that. I've heard…. The number that seems to be most commonly bantered around is that 50 percent of the residents, of the taxpayers, did not have insurance, or they were underinsured. I think that almost everyone was underinsured, given some of the…. Again, the net-zero concept, which is at least 20 percent reconstruction above normal construction.
So I think that 50 percent might…. Again, it's a difficult figure. As a chamber, what we are just in the process of doing is forming the steering committee and contacting every one of the businesses to find out whether they have insurance, whether they are underinsured and whether they are having difficulty with their insurance company. Just even based on our family, we are finding that even though we have some really good insurance companies, their mandate is to give us as little money as they possibly can.
So the steering committee that we're in the process of establishing hopefully will represent the businesses and be able to deal directly with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, for example, and get some hard answers — or some answers — to some of these questions and the difficulties that businesses are encountering. The principle would be the same for residences as well.
I'm not sure if that helps.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Yeah. The last thing I was just thinking…. But do we have time for another question?
J. Routledge (Chair): Yes, we do.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): I can see why you need a kind of Marshall plan approach on something like this where you kind of pull the resources in, and you're going to need to do something different because local government isn't equipped to deal with this type of crisis. There needs to be something in the background.
What's the plan for the students, the population that was attending school or should be attending school in a couple of weeks? Where are they at, and what type of support are families getting on that?
B. Fandrich: : Okay. Well, we have two schools. One is the Stein School, which is run by the Lytton Indian Band. So it will be opening, I think, within a week. And then I haven't heard a definitive answer about the community school, called Kumsheen secondary and primary. It's now amalgamated in one school.
I haven't heard whether or not they are planning to open or not or whether the students will be directed to Stein, because most of the population is not here right now. They are somewhere else. So I'm not sure they're going to need two schools in order to meet the need that exists.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Okay. Thank you, Bernie.
J. Routledge (Chair): I think we have time for one quick question from Harwinder before we invite in the next panel.
H. Sandhu: Thank you once again, presenters. This question is for Bev.
Bev, you highlighted a need a for medically trained professionals and the ongoing gap in rural communities. Having to live in a northern community in the early 2000s, I remember driving to Prince George in a snowstorm to deliver my older daughter.
I know what I noticed in those communities. Now, if I'm not wrong, there is specialty training funding. There are retention bonuses. What we've seen…. I come from a health care background. Even my own colleagues from the Okanagan, they go to Fort Nelson, Fort St. John to get this training, whether it's ICU or other related training. When it's two years — because it's two years they have to sign, and that's how I went to northern B.C. It was two years, but I ended up staying longer.
So they come back. When I talk to them, whether it's weather or not enough to raise a young family…. I think that's almost unfair to the health authority there, or even communities, spending that money. It's great that we have those trained professionals for those two years.
Have you talked to other stakeholders, or even the health authority, to come forward with concrete solutions where we can retain these health care professionals for longer than two years, or were there any other recommendations provided?
I know ongoing efforts have been there. I can tell that it's specialty training, which is all free. Then retention bonuses and other allowances, as well, are available, but there is a two-year thing. I've heard it repeatedly, that people do two years, and then they move back. So thank you.
I don't know if there are any other recommendations that we can look at.
B. Vandersteen: Thank you. Yes, we have worked quite closely with our health authority. We're just that little bit more remote. What you're talking about — those programs do happen more in the Fort St. John, a little bit south of us, areas. We don't have them here. We are fine for family doctors. We have five, currently, family doctors. That piece is okay. It's those specialized services.
I think, while everybody tries hard, it is a bit of a failing of the centralized health authority system that we have. Northern Health, for instance — huge, right? Huge area. Their resources, understandably, have to go to their major facilities like Prince George, like Dawson Creek.
Their priority isn't necessarily finding and recruiting for a community like Fort Nelson when they have bigger fish to fry, so to speak. So I think making some move back to more community health boards would go a long way that way, because then we could provide some of our own solutions.
H. Sandhu: Thank you so much. I appreciate you highlighting the challenge, because it is scary, and it's risky when people are driving how many hours in a snowstorm, with labour pains. I really appreciate…. I was just trying to find if there are any other ways, and we're open to hearing from you any other recommendations you may put forward.
I appreciate your thoughts.
B. Vandersteen: Thank you. Yes, I do have that detailed in my written submission.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you to the panel. We're going to say goodbye to you now. Thank you again. We have another presenter waiting in the wings to make a presentation.
I'd like to welcome Corinne McKay, who is going to make a presentation on behalf of the Gingolx Village Government.
Take it away, Corinne.
Budget Consultation Presentations
VILLAGE OF GINGOLX
C. McKay: Amaa hiihlukw. Good morning to you, to the members of the Finance Committee.
I'm the chief administrative officer for the community of Gingolx — or the former name of the community. Thank you for the opportunity to present the issues on behalf of Gingolx Village Government.
We are aware of the many demands and obligations of the provincial government. Therefore, we will present issues for your information and consideration of support in decision-making opportunities.
Under B.C. Gaming revenues, First Nations Gaming revenues, Gingolx Village Government has provided a copy of the motion approving an application to become members of the B.C. Gaming Revenue Sharing LP for funding totalling $2.5 million. We seek your support to finalize this transfer of funding.
The establishment of the B.C. Gaming Revenue Sharing LP had not contemplated that some of the [inaudible recording]. We are aware that there [inaudible recording] and we hope for a positive outcome.
J. Routledge (Chair): Excuse me, Corinne. We're having trouble hearing you. We're picking up the noise of paper shuffling.
C. McKay: Okay. Can you hear me now?
J. Routledge (Chair): Yes.
C. McKay: My apologies.
We have a challenge with housing. There's pent-up demand for housing and inadequate funding, and it has placed our community members in dire situations with mouldy homes, overcrowding and homes becoming structurally unsafe. The lack of housing contributes to homelessness and a number of young people migrating to cities with no place to call home, and we've lost several to the overdose crisis. With adequate and affordable housing, we can keep many of our young people in the community and provide support for the programs that are available.
We raise the issue of hydro. We've provided an example of hydro costs for a home that my son lives in, in Prince Rupert, which is heated by natural gas, and a home that I live in, in Laxgalts'ap, which is heated with wood heat.
We raise the issue of concern for many of our community members who are on fixed or limited incomes. We are aware that we have aging hydro infrastructure and experience many power surges and power outages. We seek support in addressing the high rates, for continued energy conservation programs and just consideration of the infrastructure required.
Harbour upgrade. There is a proposed Ksi Lisims LNG project with 12 million tonnes per year of liquefied natural gas that will be built near our community. We bring this forward to seek support for the department of Infrastructure Canada disaster mitigation and adaptation fund.
As well, we have a seawall, and with the rising sea levels…. We're located at the mouth of the Nass River, and it's at risk of rising sea levels. We seek support to extend that seawall to protect our pumphouse when we are in flooding situations.
We have Highway 113, the Nisga'a Highway, that runs to our community. We have serious challenges with erosion, especially when there is lots of rain and flooding. The roads are subject to erosion. We'd like to see the single-lane bridges converted to two-lane bridges.
We do have a need for support for tourism, and we have an increasing population of visitors. We'd like to support them with an investment in RV parks and development of our campground.
I thank you for the opportunity to present these issues for your consideration and appreciate the time that you've provided to us.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Corrine.
I'll open it up. We have about five minutes for questions from the committee.
M. Starchuk: Thank you for the presentation. Just specific to the seawall, are we talking about adding to the height or adding to the length, to protect the pumphouse?
C. McKay: We're talking about adding to the length. We have the seawall that extends along the river that feeds into the sea, but there is a creek that runs behind the village. When the sea level rises, that creek gets pushed back as well. We're optimistic that we can find the resources to extend the seawall, so that when the rising sea level affects the flooding in the village, the pumphouse won't have to be sandbagged in future.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay, I don't see other questions.
I want to thank you for taking the time to present to us, and also for taking the time to give us a picture of what day-to-day life is like in your community — what some of your challenges are, and the concrete things that you would require in order to improve the quality of life. Thank you very much.
We'll proceed to our next presenter, Winona McCann, of the Two Rivers Community Service Society.
TWO RIVERS COMMUNITY
W. McCann: I am Nonie McCann, and today I'm speaking as the president of the Two Rivers Community Service Society, serving the village of Lytton. I have been a resident of the West Fraser community, across the Fraser River from Lytton, for the past 46 years.
On June 30, as you know, a wildfire swept through the core of our village and of IR18, in the Lytton First Nation. It destroyed homes, businesses and public buildings — the bank, the health centre, the drugstore, the RCMP detachment. I could go on and on. I'm thinking that perhaps my friend Bernie has spoken to you already today and given you a complete list of some of the things that we have lost in our village.
On behalf of myself and the Two Rivers Community Service Society, I'm respectfully requesting that the provincial government provide support to Lytton community members, businesses and services through the rebuilding and recovery of our community. While this task will be enormous, and it is daunting, there are some areas that we have identified that would be immediately helpful.
One, the establishment of a 1-800 phone number and a website for the provincial government to address all things Lytton-related. This would be a one-stop information portal to help answer questions that will most likely span several ministries — or to figure out which ministry, in some cases. It would not be unlike the COVID line, but in this case, a Lytton rebuilding and recovery line.
Two, assistance to ensure that building permits, approvals and inspections can be [audio interrupted] timely, efficient and effective manner. This will likely require additional and/or dedicated planning and inspection staff to support applicants and to handle the volume of applications. Consideration should be given to offering these services in a temporary structure on site in Lytton.
Three, assistance with the immediate re-establishment of health care, ambulance, policing and other provincial services, as well as municipal services for the village of Lytton. This may include the provision of temporary housing for staff, as [audio interrupted] services to be delivered from. [Audio interrupted] who were not impacted by fires. As well, residents whose homes did not burn and who have already returned to the community will — and do — need these services right now.
In addition, the village is proposing to provide temporary housing for residents whose homes burned while they are rebuilding. They will also be returning to the community, and these services are essential. The surrounding community has already gone for two months without these critical services and this requires immediate action. I don't know if your committee can do anything about that, but we might as well ask for it.
Four, assistance for critical infrastructure changes that will be required to rebuild a net-zero community. This support needs to be guaranteed by the province regardless of which political party is in power. This assistance includes the costs associated with temporary housing installation and needs to be in place immediately to allow rebuild planning to start. The residents of Lytton who have suffered throughout this traumatic event deserve the financial support promised by the province to aid them in timely recovery.
Thank you for your consideration on behalf of the Two Rivers Community Service Society.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Nonie. You're right; Bernie did make a presentation. You've certainly elaborated a lot.
There were questions, but I will invite members of the committee — we have about five minutes — to ask you further questions.
Ben looks like he's getting ready to ask a question.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Nonie, for your description. The start…. I just wanted to clarify. I take it that you're across the river from the village. Is that correct?
W. McCann: Yes, that's correct. That's where I live.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Right. Okay, so that side was unimpacted in the sense that the fire didn't affect them other than the services that they receive from the village of Lytton.
W. McCann: Yes. There was a small fire, but it was about seven miles up the river.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Okay. So I guess the thing about it is how you put this in perspective about what the order is with the building permits. I mean, people coming back in temporary housing, trying to visualize what the future is going forward.
What do we need to help set the stage right for the residents for their continuation there and opportunities for their businesses, other work, as such, in the neighborhood, etc.? I've been through many times, and I kind of still…. I can't imagine what it must be like.
Anyway, what do you think is the important part, that first step, besides the services that you've requested? What do we need for the rebuilding of homes and people that have to come back there?
W. McCann: I think we need, first of all, to get people home, so to provide temporary housing and to provide enough infrastructure in temporary buildings.
The reason that First Nations people aren't coming back is because they're waiting for those services to be in place. They're waiting for emergency services, even temporary, to be in our community before they will allow their members to come home. They're encouraging people to stay away until such time as those services are in place.
So I would say it's pretty important, now that we've had two months already to talk about where they could be and what we could do and how we could do it, to kind of move along into the action part of things and start getting things temporarily in place so that people can come home.
Once people are home, we need to allow opportunities for discussion and input, and we need to facilitate those conversations so that it doesn't have to take a meeting once a month to have a discussion about what needs to happen in Lytton. It's got to be sped up. It can't be the typical bureaucratic: "Well, we'll meet this month and we'll come again next month, then we'll get on with it, you know, a year or two from now."
People that need to rebuild have a two-year limit on their insurance. They are [audio interrupted] of that two years waiting. They haven't even been allowed to go in and see their property yet.
They're wondering how on earth could they build a new building in this community with all of the grandiose plans that we have for net zero and for making things better. We know that in order to make things better, you have to take the time and figure it out ahead of time so it's a good plan. Then you can go ahead with your actions and see: "All right. What's going to make sense for these people? How can we work with them and get what they need to see done so that they can move on with their lives?"
That's just my opinion, but that's what I see needing to happen.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thank you. I can understand, with the lack of clarity, how difficult it is to plan the future. That's for everybody, including where you live. Thanks for your presentation.
W. McCann: You're welcome. Thank you for taking the time.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Nonie, on behalf of the committee, and thank you for your clarity on what you're experiencing and what you need. With that, we'll wrap up your presentation and invite our next speaker.
Our next presenter is Ken Veldman from the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
PRINCE RUPERT PORT AUTHORITY
K. Veldman: Good morning. My name is Ken Veldman. I'm the vice-president of public affairs and sustainability for the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
Greetings from the traditional territory of the Tsimshian people on the north coast of B.C.
PRPA is the Canadian port authority with a mandate under the federal Canada Marine Act to support the growth, diversification and competitiveness of Canadian trade.
Our current portfolio includes six terminals that move containerized dry bulk and liquid bulk imports and exports between North America and global markets, in addition to a small but dynamic passenger cruise business. Those terminals currently ship over 30 million tonnes annually, representing over $60 billion worth of trade, positioning Prince Rupert as the third-largest port in Canada.
The growth of this industry in northern B.C. has been a major success story. In addition to playing a vital role in the global trade of nearly $20 billion of northern B.C. exports, over 3,700 men and women are employed in terminals, rail, trucking, marine services and other businesses, businesses which created over $1½ billion worth of economic activity in the north last year.
In Prince Rupert, we're also proud to note the critical role that Indigenous People are playing in this industry, including the ownership and operation of several major port-related businesses, the construction of port infrastructure and making up over 35 percent of the port's workforce.
Our sustainable approach to development has ensured not just a wide dispersion of economic benefits but a strong environmental approach to planning and execution of port development. As a result, the port's ability to deliver major trade infrastructure projects has been and will continue to be a significant advantage for Canada and B.C.
Looking forward the port currently has over $2½ billion worth of capital investments in its development portfolio associated with advanced projects, and we forecast cargo volumes to exceed 50 million tonnes in the next decade.
In the context of the port's critical role in both providing competitiveness and added value to B.C.'s export growth agenda, and the economic impact of sustainable growth of services in the trade and transportation industry itself in northern B.C., we would provide the following recommendations for the B.C. budget.
One, recognizing the critical importance of growing trade volumes through the northern B.C. corridor to and from Prince Rupert, that capital investment be dedicated to strategically aligning infrastructure investment in roads, rail and communities throughout the corridor to ensure safety, fluidity, environmental values and quality of life are proactively addressed in cooperation with other levels of government and private industry.
Strategically developing a sustainable innovative trade corridor through northern B.C. will ensure the ability to unlock private sector investments in both export industries and trade infrastructure and ensure that local communities throughout the corridor continue to be comfortable with and supportive of its continued growth. The continue growth of the northern B.C. trade gateway represents not just economic value in the north but should also be a critical mitigation factor for ongoing congestion issues in the Lower Mainland.
Two, recognizing the creation of InBC and the $500 million strategic investment fund that goes with it, that trade and exports continue to be recognized as a foundational element of B.C.'s economy, and InBC's strategic focus and investments reflect that.
Exports and natural resources continue to be a critical element of B.C.'s future success, and we must ensure we're making the right investments and policy moves to continue to maintain their competitiveness in a sustainable manner.
Three, given the devastating impacts that the pandemic has had on tourism throughout the province, and recognizing the role that ports play in bringing millions of international visitors to the province by cruise ship, that tourism marketing investment be significantly increased to re-establish B.C. tourism, including its cruise sector as a strategic economic asset.
PRPA believes that cruise continues to have an extremely bright future on the west coast, including in Prince Rupert, and this is an extremely important time to signal that to the marketplace.
Thank you for your time today. PRPA will be providing a budget submission that provides further commentary on these notes. I look forward to any questions that you may have.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Ken. We have a few minutes for questions. Questions from the committee?
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thank you for that update in terms of what's happening with the Prince Rupert Port Authority. What's happening in terms of 20-foot-equivalents in terms of the amount of product that you're moving? How is that increasing over…? Hopefully not just the COVID time frame, but let's talk about what it's been like over the last five years. Is the port still requiring further capital investment?
I know that the rail link, the changes there, and the roads, etc., are critical to that. Has that continued to increase volume? You mentioned you were the third busiest port in Canada.
K. Veldman: Yeah, we continue to see significant growth on the intermodal front. In fact, this year we, again, expect another strong year, well over a million TEUs. DP World is currently engaged in its second expansion of the Fairview Terminal. That's a construction project that is ongoing as we speak, and it's expected to be completed next spring. That will certainly bring additional capacity to the terminal.
It's also important to note that we are also seeing significant growth in logistics, transloading, complementary services here within the port complex, and we'll continue to see that going forward. So it's not just about terminal capacity. It's also about adding value and seeing complementary services as we grow as a port. We're quite confident in not just providing that capacity but really providing innovative ways that, quite frankly, are going to be game-changers for intermodal transportation within North America and certainly here on the west coast.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): I don't know how long your relationship with the port authority has been, but you mentioned about the First Nations that are working there. Can you give us some sort of context as to how much that may have changed the surrounding communities, not just Prince Rupert but all the surrounding communities of First Nations and other people that are working there and the skills that they have?
K. Veldman: We have a number of Tsimshian First Nations that we're engaged with on an ongoing basis. In the intermodal perspective, we signed a number of benefit agreements with those communities shortly after the establishment of the container terminal here. Those benefit agreements have been extremely successful as they've been executed over the last decade — providing revenue-sharing, providing significant inroads in terms of contracting. Literally, we're seeing the First Nations joint venture build the infrastructure of the port.
I also noted, certainly, the employment pieces that have developed, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of capacity and capabilities as well. That continues to grow, not just in the intermodal front but in the bulk front as well.
Perhaps the most noticeable element to this is that it hasn't just been the execution of those benefit agreements that have been the heart of this. We're seeing that First Nations businesses, both wholly owned and joint ventures, have become major parts of the port and are competing on a competitive basis and established themselves as really key elements.
A great example of that is our single-largest trucking company here in Prince Rupert that deals with moving containers from transloads to the terminal, Gat Leedm transportation. Gat Leedm is wholly owned by the Metlakatla Development Corp.
Those are really good examples of entrenching the economic benefit of our local First Nations partners in the success of the port as we've gone forward.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Ken, and we look forward to reading more from your presentation.
We will now have a recess and have lunch.
The committee recessed from 12:05 p.m. to 1:18 p.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is reconvened.
Our next panel is Jeff Brownlee, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada; Avery Bruenjes, the Retail Council of Canada; and Isabel Kolic, the Heights Merchants Association.
Welcome, everybody. Each presenter has five minutes, and then we will ask you some questions.
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 4 – General
COUNCIL OF CANADA
J. Brownlee: Perfect, thank you. Good afternoon. I'm Jeff Brownlee, VP of communications and stakeholder relations for the Convenience Industry Council of Canada. As the chief advocate for the convenience industry in the nation, we represent more than 25,000 stores across the country, including 2,300 right here in B.C. We employ more than 20,000 in the province.
We are proud that we exemplify where convenience and communities come together, especially in times of need.
Today's presentation is very timely, as it coincides with the kickoff of our National Convenience Week celebrations across the country. Some of your colleagues will be visiting stores in their ridings this week, and I encourage each of you to participate in this important initiative.
We'll briefly discuss three broad issues, but first I want to talk a little bit about some trends in the industry. Over the past few years, sales in convenience stores in Canada have remained essentially flat while there has been a decline in the number of stores across the country. This is a disturbing trend that started before the pandemic, yet undoubtedly has been amplified as a result of it.
In B.C. in particular, we have seen a sharp decline in the number of convenience stores without gas, a reduction of 566 stores or 33 percent in just three short years. Obviously, this is concerning, as convenience stores continue to be community hubs and, in some cases, the only stores serving residents in rural and remote communities.
Our importance serving communities and the work of our front-line heroes have been on display during the ongoing battle with this year's forest fires. While we are still awaiting updated data for 2020, unfortunately, we expect this downward trend to continue. Simply put, business as usual is no longer an option for the convenience industry moving forward.
The first issue I want to touch on is revenue. As I mentioned earlier, sales have flatlined in the past few years. However, the revenue generated from convenience stores continues to be invaluable to the province — specifically lottery sales earned for the B.C. Lottery Corp., which topped almost $565 million in 2019.
The bottom line, however, is that we need to innovate in an effort to meet the ever-changing consumer demands. That means introducing new products, like beverage alcohol, and giving consumers convenience and choice while expanding revenues for provincial coffers. We already have a proven track record selling age-restricted products, and we know that we can sell beverage alcohol safely. It's what consumers want. It's what our stores need, and it's about time.
We believe the additional revenues generated from beverage alcohol in convenience stores will be invaluable to the provincial government and the local economies as we begin to shift into economic recovery. We want to work with local businesses. We want to promote and be part of a B.C.-made economic strategy post-COVID-19.
The second thing is increasing costs in small business. Since the onset of COVID-19, convenience stores have been deemed essential and have remained open. Our employees, while adhering to WorkSafeBC guidelines, have faced the risk of exposure on a daily basis. As an essential service provider, many of our stores are open 24-7, 365, and really proud to serve first responders and front-line health care workers. However, despite our stores' strict adherence to health and safety protocols, some have registered positive cases and have closed accordingly for sanitization and cleaning. While this is obviously necessary, it is also very disruptive and very costly.
Overall, our B.C. members have seen costs increase during COVID. At the onset of the pandemic, each store had to invest $1,100 up front for protective equipment. That's on top of paying an additional 800 bucks a month to comply with sanitary protocols. Add in an average 4 percent increase in labour, and adhering to public health guidelines totals approximately $11,000 in additional costs per year, per store. Now, these are costs that are not accounted for and are likely here to stay.
Labour issues. Against the backdrop of COVID expenses, our sector is also concerned about the upcoming permanent provincial paid sick leave policy. While we support the need for workers who are exposed to COVID-19 to isolate and recover and the need for workers who have symptoms and have tested positive to self-isolate, we believe that any future proposed legislation regarding paid sick leave should be funded by the provincial government through general revenues, because we know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the retail sector are still unknown.
We appreciate the government is about to begin an extensive consultation process on the issue, and we look forward to being part of that process and sitting at the table.
COVID-19 has definitely altered our lives and the way we will conduct business well into the future. Our industry is doing its best to weather the storm, and we are gearing up for the post-pandemic recovery. But you know what? We can't do it alone. We need to work with governments to ensure that we remain an essential part of communities across the province and give our customers what they want and deserve — convenience and choice.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm happy to answer any questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Jeff.
Next we'll hear from Avery.
RETAIL COUNCIL OF CANADA
A. Bruenjes: Hello. My name is Avery Bruenjes. I'm the senior manager of government relations and regulatory affairs for the Retail Council of Canada. Thank you so much for the opportunity to present.
Retail is British Columbia's largest private sector employer. Over 308,000 British Columbians worked in our industry before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our sector annually generates over $11 billion in wages and employee benefits for British Columbians.
Retail has been strong in B.C. during the past decade. In many years, B.C. has led the country in retail sales growth. However, our industry has been badly damaged by impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and our asks for Budget '22 are focused on how government can support retail throughout a period of sustained recovery.
Our first recommendation is a focus on recovery through refundable tax credits for businesses impacted by the pandemic. Many businesses have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have seen various initiatives, such as the small and medium-sized business recovery grant program and increased employment tax credit, introduced in the past year and a half. While these have helped some retailers, many more were not eligible or had needs that were not met by these programs.
While government has been willing to work collaboratively with the business community to ensure that retail businesses, among others, have been able to operate safely throughout much of the pandemic, which we are very grateful for, the fact remains that even businesses that remain open are negatively impacted when COVID-19 numbers rise. Facing a fourth and fifth wave in the coming weeks and months, we expect retail sales to again decline as British Columbians stick closer to home and visits from those outside our province tail off.
Much to our disappointment, Budget 2021 did not take into account the many retailers that are highly dependent on tourism, both interprovincial and international. We encourage future aids from government to be flexible in their nature and help businesses such as smaller retail stores and tourism-focused businesses that have been disproportionately impacted and that these tools take the form of refundable tax credits rather than tax deductions so as to allow struggling businesses more immediate relief. Tax credits could also be made available to encourage businesses to continue to commit to the extremely strong safety practices they have kept up through the pandemic.
It's an unfortunate likelihood that the colder fall and winter months will again bring a decrease in foot traffic to retail stores and thus to retail sales. This is why it's more important than ever for government to take an action that we have been urging for some time — to stop conferring financial advantages on businesses that are not resident in B.C. at the expense of our own retailers and employees.
Our second recommendation is for the enhanced collection of PST and eco-fees from non-resident entities selling into British Columbia. For the past several years, we have noted the increase of online sales and the impact this has had on B.C. business. This increase has been sharply ramped up by the pandemic — e-commerce has increased by 58.5 percent from March 2020 to March 2021 — and is likely to become a permanent facet of retail culture for a much greater swath of British Columbians than before.
As we brought to government's attention in June 2020, when the pandemic was in what we now know to be its early and least destructive phase, increased online sales significantly benefit non-resident retailers. B.C. businesses are asking for a level playing field. E-commerce businesses are often located not only outside of B.C. but outside of Canada, where they are likely to have lower property and labour costs. These businesses also largely do not contribute to the employment of British Columbians who would, in turn, stoke the provincial economy.
Some non-resident e-commerce entities sell into British Columbia without charging or remitting the PST. Many often charge and pay no eco-fees, yet the packaging for their shipments and products, as well as the products themselves at end of life, are discarded into our recycling system. Not only do we have to pay for the management of the packaging and products we sell, but rather egregiously, brick-and-mortar retailers also must subsidize e-commerce by paying the cost of managing their packaging and products as well. Both government, from sales taxes, and our recycling system, from eco-fees, could use the additional revenue.
Government again has the opportunity to position itself as the champion of fairness while fighting for B.C. businesses during a period of extreme difficulty. Retail urges government to take the opportunity this year to level the playing field and correct this imbalance between B.C. businesses and e-commerce entities based outside of Canada.
We thank the members of the committee for their interests in the views of British Columbians owning and operating retail businesses and working in the retail industry. We urge government to advocate for our homegrown brick-and-mortar businesses as they continue to navigate our changed world and to ensure that the permanent increase in e-commerce hastened by the pandemic not leave our retail stores, and the British Columbians employed by them, behind.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Avery.
Our next presenter is Isabel Kolic.
HEIGHTS MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION
I. Kolic: Good afternoon and thank you very much for welcoming me here today. I really appreciate it.
I'm the executive director of the Heights Merchants Association in North Burnaby. We represent almost 350 businesses, which create approximately 2,000 jobs in a wide pay range, located in a very central, very easily accessible part of the Lower Mainland.
We've been a BIA, a business improvement area, since 1994. For the uninitiated, I'll just mention that a BIA is a designated commercial zone, whose commercial members pay an extra levy to aid in economic development initiatives for our area.
Our biggest challenges in 2021, to draw you a picture. The first one, obviously, is COVID-19. Businesses are continually asked to adapt to changing rules and requirements to play our part in lessening the spread and the impact of COVID-19, even while many businesses remain impacted directly and indirectly in numerous ways. These constant changes, while they're necessary, do cost time and money on top of their usual burdens.
Some of those burdens…. For starters, commercial property taxes are an enormous one. Unsustainable and unpredictable rising property tax rates are untenable for small businesses. Commercial properties — the taxes are artificially and unsustainably high because properties are assessed at the highest and best use, not at current use.
This means that small businesses are expected to not only provide jobs across the province, but to do so while being taxed for non-existent residential properties that are being tax-pressured to be developed or taxed a speculation tax simply because these residential units don't exist yet. This tax has been passed down to the small business operators in underdeveloped buildings. These businesses provide great economic and social benefit to communities and to the province, and their work needs to be supported, not hindered.
I want to make a special note that regulation of triple-net leases will not help the situation. This would not only be divisive, but property owners will find other ways to offload their cost. The only thing that will help are tax policies that ease the burden on small businesses, whether that means intelligent split assessments, removal of school tax from commercial taxes, a new mill rate for interim and small business use and/or a mix of complementary policies. Bringing back the commercial vote would also be helpful.
As the previous speaker noted, online competition is brutal and increasing. Constant and growing competition from online giants like Amazon is a major problem. Ironically, players like Amazon, which consolidate their locations in regional centres, are not affected by property taxes in the same proportion to their profit margins as B.C. small businesses are. Giants like Amazon can, therefore, keep their product prices at predatory levels without feeling similar pain from the commercial tax burden, while local businesses bleed customers.
On a related note, unfair and unequitable commercial property taxes disproportionately assist large operators, international companies that can afford these larger rents and online giants at the detriment of small and mid-sized B.C.-based companies that can't compete like that. Higher rents also discourage new and innovative businesses from setting up shop or incubating until they're successful.
Another burden right now is finding or hiring employees at lower wage levels. Some merchants tell us anecdotally that there would be employees, but they're not as interested in working at this time, because CERB provides them with enough to get by on at this time without needing to work.
It's also costly to train and hire. Something that might help is providing grants to assist in the first few months of hiring, so that will offset the high cost of training and onboarding. Once new employees become trained, employees could become longer term or permanent employees.
Another thing that will help attract employees at lower wage levels is increasing the $10-a-day child care spaces. More affordable and plentiful daycare will allow more women to re-enter the workforce, especially at the lower wage levels.
Lastly, homelessness and drug use is ramping up in our district. These problems are not new, but they are getting very bad now.
In addition to dealing with the pandemic, merchants are also burdened with picking up discarded clothing and debris, washing out feces and urine daily and dealing with discarded drug paraphernalia. This is a lot to expect from small businesses, so more support for homeless people regionally to help them recover from their addictions would help us all.
These are just some of the challenges, but they're the main ones I wanted to bring to your attention. Thank you very much for your time and this opportunity to present today.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Isabel. Now we have about 15 minutes for the committee to ask questions of any of the last three presenters.
M. Starchuk: To Jeff, with regards to retail alcohol in convenience stores, how much dialogue has there been with local governments to amend their zoning laws so that there's a permitted use for those convenience stores?
J. Brownlee: It has started. This is something that we're looking at, to be quite honest with you, across the country. We got down the road to the path that we probably need to be, not necessarily right now, but we definitely are looking at doing that or sort of fast-tracking that.
This is, like I said in my opening statement, something that we really need to do, or the convenience industry really needs to do, in order to expand its product mix and really provide convenience and choice. This is what the residents are demanding. So we've started, but we haven't really gone down the garden path that far yet.
G. Kyllo: The question's kind of posed both to, I guess, Jeff and Avery. With respect to the paid sick leave, we currently have a temporary paid sick leave program in place, and there is some opportunity for businesses to get reimbursed from the provincial government for businesses that currently do not have a paid sick leave program.
I know when this legislation came through earlier this year, I'd raised one of the concerns that had been brought to my attention. That was that for many small retailers, many of them do have a paid sick leave program for their permanent, full-time employees, but not for their seasonal or part-time employees.
The new legislation that came forward this year indicates that reimbursement would not be made available for any businesses that already had some form of a paid sick leave program. The example that was shared with me was a small clothier that, I think, had two full-time employees and seven part-time employees. The paid sick leave provision would actually now have to be extended to those part-time seasonal employees, without the ability for the business to be provided with any reimbursement.
Is that something you guys are seeing the concerns of currently? Has there been a direct impact on businesses that you guys represent? What has been your opportunity to provide any input into the permanent paid sick leave program that government has announced they're bringing forth on January 1 of this coming year?
A. Bruenjes: I guess I will begin there. Thank you for the question. It's definitely something that the Retail Council has taken a keen interest in. We have spoken with government and sent letters to that effect, to your point that nearly every retailer does already provide employer-paid sick leave for longer-serving, full-time employees. We don't want to disincentivize these programs that are already in place.
We're eager to be more involved in the consultation process. We are asking government to include all new or increased employer-paid COVID-19 leave in 2021, resulting from Bill 13, in the reimbursement program and then also asking government to create a similar reimbursement program for 2022 and beyond, so that we can ensure that businesses are able to continue to provide these important programs beyond the pandemic.
G. Kyllo: If I may, just a quick follow-up. As a follow-up to that, have you guys been directly contacted by the provincial government to actually participate in this broader consultation that we understand is going to be underway this fall? How do you feel or what's your perspective on the inclusion of your organizations in that conversation?
A. Bruenjes: Yes, we have been contacted. More consultation is always better. This is an extremely impactful program and will impact all levels of retail stores, all employers. We are hopeful that the consultation process is a meaningful one, but we are satisfied that we have been involved so far.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you.
Any other questions?
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): I wanted to understand…. Avery, you mentioned refundable tax credits rather than tax reductions. I wanted to make certain I understood that. Could you just explain what the Retail Council of Canada…? What are they advocating for? Could you just, the difference…?
A. Bruenjes: Sure. So refundable tax credits. In terms of…. When the pandemic first began, there was a refundable tax credit offered for personal protective equipment. It was available…. I'm not a tax expert, so I would have to double-check the fine details of it. My understanding is that this is offered to businesses as a tax credit up front rather than them having to wait until the fiscal year is over, and they apply for deductions on their taxes at that time.
It's a more immediate tool to help businesses that are currently struggling. They might have to wait. It might not be immediate, but it's a matter of weeks or months rather than waiting, in some cases, almost a year to get this relief.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Your second point was about the e-commerce. You mentioned that the businesses that are operating outside of British Columbia or even outside of Canada are not collecting PST in all cases or some cases — and also the eco-fees. I'm sure that there may be others.
Is that true? In the sense that businesses like, say, Amazon, which does have British Columbia operations…. Are they not obligated to collect provincial sales tax, or is there an exemption, a workaround, that they're not using?
A. Bruenjes: In many cases, they are obligated, but it's not enforced in the same way that it is for B.C.-based businesses.
We have done our own research, anecdotal research. If you go on a website such as Amazon and purchase an item that might be available in a B.C. store, sometimes the proper fees are collected. Sometimes they're not. There are a lot of these companies that also utilize third-party entities, and that seems to be some sort of a loophole in which…. Their systems just aren't set up to properly collect these fees, particularly eco-fees.
We've seen this a lot. If you're going online and purchasing, say, a tire or a refrigerator or something that does have quite a hefty eco-fee attached to it if you're purchasing it from a B.C. or a Canadian business…. They can be up to $100 for these items. When these eco-fees aren't being charged for online purchases…. This, first of all, impacts the consumer, who's more likely to purchase from an international business rather than a B.C. or a Canadian business.
Also, at the end of life of these products, when your fridge conks out after ten, 15 years or what have you…. Because of the way our recycling systems are set up in B.C., it is the obligation of B.C. businesses to take care of the end of life of these products and to ensure that they're incorporated into our recycling system in the proper way. It's an extremely costly system.
Our ask is that these eco-fees be mandated for all products sold to British Columbians, regardless of the point of origin.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Okay. Sorry, I want to go back to Jeff Brownlee of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada. I just wondered if you could….
I know that Quebec has a model with dépanneurs which allows them to sell alcohol, which they've had for some time. Are there other jurisdictions that have it? What's different about the convenience store industry that is selling alcohol, like the dépanneurs in Quebec, versus British Columbia convenience stores? Are they growing? Dépanneurs have been around for 20 or more years. I know that there's a list of products or a category they can sell, but they can't sell other ones that the SAQ sells, for instance.
I just want to be clear. What I'm wondering about is: what's the benefit to British Columbia? Besides the convenience part, what does it do for the convenience industry? What is it doing in these other markets, and what other markets have been added since Quebec?
J. Brownlee: A great question. Thank you for that.
Basically, we were trying to figure out how long it's been in Quebec. It goes back more than anybody can really remember. It's been institutionalized there from almost day one.
The only other area or jurisdiction that it is sold is in Newfoundland right now. Obviously, in Ontario, in remote and in some rural communities, they have a different model, which has been on the onset of the pandemic.
Really what it comes down to for convenience stores…. I'm just going to give you an example. If you wanted to go get a bottle of liquor, you wanted to go get a bag of chips and you wanted to get some groceries, in essence, you're making three stops. During the pandemic, during the lockdown orders, it would be nice, if you wanted to get all of that, if you could make one stop, right? One-stop shopping is kind of what we're looking at.
What it means to the convenience industry…. Every time, it seems, that we turn around, there's a new regulation on some of the products that we're selling, which is fine. We get that.
Consumer demand is changing, and that's why we're seeing the sales flatline a little bit. We have to keep up and change with consumer demand and sell products that they actually want to buy. Having beverage alcohol, regardless of where you are, in a store is convenient for the customer but also really brings that foot traffic, which has really been hit during the pandemic — the commuter traffic — back in. When they are there, they can get a bag of chips, or they can do what have you.
It kind of kills two birds with one stone. What you're really looking at is providing convenience but also helping the convenience stores expand that product mix or innovate in doing that.
Now, I was talking about 2020 data. We've seen some preliminary data from Newfoundland and Quebec. During the pandemic, or during the past year, beer and wine have actually been top in Quebec and No. 2 in Newfoundland and Labrador, in terms of the products that have been selling the most volume, just to let you know.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Okay. Thank you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you to the panel. We'll let you go.
Our next panel is mining, oil and gas. They are all here and coming online.
Our first panellist is Kendra Johnston from the Association for Mineral Exploration.
K. Johnston: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here with all of you today.
Am I good to go?
J. Routledge (Chair): Yes, you're good to go.
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 5 – Mining, Oil and Gas
ASSOCIATION FOR MINERAL EXPLORATION
K. Johnston: Great. Thank you so much.
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and committee members. I am Kendra Johnston, the president and CEO for the Association for Mineral Exploration or AME.
I'd like to recognize that I am on the unceded, traditional territory of the Sechelt Nation this afternoon.
On behalf of AME's corporate and individual members, we are pleased to have this opportunity to present our recommendations.
Mineral exploration is the search for minerals and metals that are essential for everyday life. They go into vitamins, keeping us healthy, into our phones and our computers, keeping us connected, and into electric cars and solar panels, creating our low-carbon future.
Mineral exploration is the search for very rare deposits, one in 10,000, that can be extracted both economically and in an environmentally sensitive manner. It is a globally competitive industry providing high-paying jobs in all regions of B.C., particularly remote areas such as the northwest. In 2020, $422 million was spent on mineral exploration, providing an essential industry during the COVID pandemic.
As our members are active all over the province, I would like to preface our submission by recognizing the foundational services that are vital to our well-being and thank government for prioritizing and investing in our public health these past two years. I'd also like to thank our front-line workers for their incredible dedication and the B.C. Wildfire Service for its efforts in containing and extinguishing wildfires.
In regard to our industry, we thank government for its support this past year in our request for additional resources for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation to expedite and review the issuance of mineral exploration permits. As a result, our members have been able to proceed with their plans for this summer, creating hundreds of additional jobs and contributing millions of additional dollars to local economies.
We look forward to continuing to help lead the way in our post-COVID economic recovery. However, given that it often takes many, many years to successfully find a mineable deposit, and given the ability of our members to explore in well over 100 countries around the world, B.C. needs to remain competitive. This means providing and resourcing timely and effective policies and regulations, supporting public geoscience and creating incentives to maintain our reputation as a centre of excellence and a tier 1 mining jurisdiction.
Our first recommendation today is additional funding, totalling $30 million over three years, for the regional mines offices within the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, to further enhance the permitting of mineral exploration projects. This includes proper and fulsome consultation with local First Nations and other stakeholders, an in-depth review of permit applications, committing to transparent timelines, increasing inspections, and much-needed upgrades to basic internal computer systems and technology.
This funding will increase public trust and will allow our members to get out into the field and explore in a timely manner. Making these timelines more predictable will also make it easier for our members to hire local people from local communities.
Our second recommendation relates to increased funding for foundational public geoscience. This will provide mineral explorers with the basic information on where to find rare and hidden mineral deposits, as well as play a vital role in modernizing land use decisions. Understanding the potential economic value of the land and the resources that are hidden beneath it, and keeping land open for exploration, is a critical consideration, alongside the environmental and spiritual value of the land. The B.C. geological survey has fulfilled these roles for more than 125 years, but it is significantly underfunded to serve its external as well as its internal government clients.
Finally, AME recommends that government implement two outstanding actions outlined by the Mining Jobs Task Force in its report in 2018. To compete with jurisdictions such as Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec, B.C. requires first-in-class tax credits that are better than these other provinces. We recommend that government increase the existing B.C. mining exploration tax credit, or METC, for companies from 20 percent to 30 percent.
For the past 14 years, this credit has actually already been at 30 percent in 85 percent of the province — that piece of the province that has been affected by pine beetle. Today we advocate for extending this tax credit to the small portion of the province not currently covered.
Furthermore, we request that government increase the existing B.C. mining flow-through share tax credit for B.C. investors from 20 to 35. This would place B.C. as the most competitive jurisdiction in Canada. As mentioned last year, the Mining Jobs Task Force recommended increasing these rates for a three-year trial period. AME, however, is recommending permanent increases in Budget 2022 to support multi-year investments in mineral exploration and allow companies to plan longer term.
Thank you for your time this afternoon. We will be submitting a formal paper that expands on these recommendations. I very much look forward to your questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Kendra.
Our next speaker is Geoffrey Morrison from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
OF PETROLEUM PRODUCERS
G. Morrison: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for having me here. I want to say thank you for the opportunity. I hope we have a chance to meet in person in the future.
I'm joining you from the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in Victoria, where I live and work.
I've provided a presentation that includes a few illustrations and graphs, and I'll refer to them as I'm speaking. As many of you know, B.C.'s natural resource industries account for more than half of the economic base and over 70 percent of B.C.'s exports. B.C.'s natural gas industry is one of the cornerstones of our resource economy, and its development remains an intrinsic part of our economy and our recovery following COVID-19.
Natural resource industries tend to pay higher-than-average wages and generate higher-than-average direct government revenues per employee. The oil and gas industry directly employs 12,000 people in British Columbia, and in 2019, we were the third-largest private investor in B.C., investing $3.74 billion and producing natural gas valued at $2.76 billion. These numbers do not include the impacts of the emerging LNG industry. That is to say that our industry is a cornerstone of B.C.'s economy. It is important for B.C. to continue to attract investment needed to maintain this industry and to build on the low-carbon advantage of our commodities.
As background, I included an energy consumption and energy production infographic. On the left side is energy consumption; on the right is energy production. The first point I'd like you to take from this chart is that B.C. is a net exporter of energy. The bulk of that energy comes from natural gas. This is important because B.C. generates a lot of economic activity and government revenues from exporting commodities, including natural gas.
The second point I'd like to outline is the current role of transportation fuels and natural gas in meeting our energy demand today: that's 75 percent. Decarbonizing B.C.'s energy demand will take time, innovation, investment and collaboration with industry to achieve the government's goals while also maintaining economic growth and energy affordability. CAPP is participating in the Clean Energy B.C. road map consultations, and we look forward to the release of the government's plan, which is anticipated this fall.
Making reference to slide 3, we'll see an illustrated chart that shows that for every hour worked by an oil and gas worker, B.C. generates $1,104 in real GDP, which is 17 times greater than the contribution to GDP of the typical B.C. business sector. Overall, that is $64, which is about the rate of the construction industry, for comparison.
The oil and gas industry provides jobs that are well-paying and community-building. These jobs are typically outside the Lower Mainland and often create opportunities for Indigenous communities, advancing reconciliation through economic development. Reconciliation is a journey we are on together, and we're learning more still needs to be done as we come to terms with historic wrongs.
This is also illustrated by the recent ruling of Justice Burke. This is an important and significant ruling which is having an immediate impact on all resource development in northeastern B.C. and, no doubt, on how the resource will be developed in the future. We acknowledge that these are early days following that decision, and there is a need for time and space for the government and Indigenous People of northeastern B.C. to have a respectful dialogue to determine a way forward.
Timely communication with industry is also vitally important as companies consider multi-year investment plans to develop B.C.'s resources, which will sustain and create more well-paying jobs now and in the future.
In slide 4, you will see the relationship between natural gas prices and royalties. The natural gas regime is designed to maximize royalties and taxes for the Crown and encourage long-term investment in all market conditions. The point to be made here is that every well drilled in B.C. pays royalties to the government. Wells pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually — tens of millions of dollars monthly.
Natural gas prices have been strong over the past year, after a sustained period of low prices back to 2014. As a result, the most recent provincial budget forecast a 49.7 percent increase in royalty revenues for natural gas this year coming forward.
B.C.'s low-carbon natural gas is an important part of solving our shared challenges of lowering global emissions. Our natural gas development and LNG exports are part of the global solution. We are working with government to find ways to further reduce and maintain competitiveness. The CIIP program is a good first step, but more needs to be done to develop more initiatives. We are modelling ways to show that we can do more by EIT policies than tax alone.
I'm a little bit out of time, so I'm just going to conclude. In closing, I would like to encourage government actions which will reduce policy and regulatory uncertainty, as uncertainty can make it difficult to choose to invest in B.C. I look forward to your questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you very much.
Next we'll hear from Stewart Muir of the Resource Work Society.
RESOURCE WORKS SOCIETY
S. Muir: Thank you and good afternoon. I'm honoured to appear before the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Thank you for granting me this time. My name is Stewart Muir. I’m the executive director of Resource Works. I'm speaking to you today from Victoria, where I live and work.
Our mission at Resource Works is to show how responsible development of B.C.'s natural resources creates jobs and incomes through the province, both directly and indirectly, while maintaining a clean and healthy environment.
In 2019, 50 percent of Canada's goods and services exports were natural resource-based. Natural resource-based industries — forestry, oil and gas, mining, agriculture — account for more than half of British Columbia's base economy. As Geoff Morrison said, they may not always be seen as glamorous, yet these resource industries pay workers very well, and they allow governments to pay for the things we need.
In 2012, Stats Canada looked at the income implications of Canadians' reliance on their natural resource industries. Between 1870 and 2010, they concluded — and this is in a paper by Don Wright, the former head of the British Columbia civil service — that Canadians were 18 percent better off in 2010 than they would have been in the absence of their natural resource industries. That's what we're talking about.
Direct GDP calculations, if you just go by those, don't always reflect that, which is why I think resources are sometimes dismissed, wrongly, as industries of the past. Yet the future of the world is not no natural resources. If anything, we're looking at a more materials-intensive future on a global basis. Look at those rising middle classes all around the world.
To do this successfully, environmental and social expectations at home must be met. We do have the brainpower here to make it so.
The purpose of my presentation is not to speak for industry. My fellow presenters from industry associations are ample evidence and are bringing up ample evidence that industry is very good at doing this. I'm more concerned about local communities. This is who I talk to: workers, First Nations, all of whom benefit significantly when natural resources are a successful contributor to the economy.
That's who we're thinking about at Resource Works. We went to the pollsters at Ipsos recently to find out whether B.C. residents support the resource economy. We learned that 83 percent of people agreed that natural resources create opportunities and hope for British Columbia's future. That's a pretty good number.
There are a few things I think government should be thinking about to get to the win-win outcomes we need. We have seen industry make tremendous strides through innovation and investing in technology and R and D. Mining, forestry, oil and gas are foundational industries in B.C., and they want to be the industries of the future.
I'm encountering, in the industry people I speak to — take the example of oil and gas; same with the others too — that net zero by 2050 is possible. That's what I'm hearing from people in industry. CEOs of oil and gas companies based in Alberta are saying this. They're committing to it. I believe it's true. I think you should too.
Forest communities need a hand up to ensure that investors aren't driven away, taking jobs with them. The benefits of responsible mineral exploration — very well described by Kendra previously, mining that follows from good, successful exploration — obviously creates benefits too.
First Nations reconciliation is tightly tied to natural resource success. It's obvious to me this is because most First Nations are located not in heavily diversified urban economies but in rural regions where resources come from. That's where their opportunities lie.
I think the B.C. government can ensure there's a model that values emissions reduction and environmental improvements for the base industries. Industry is showing it's willing to step up to cover a lot of those costs, but there are going to be gaps. Governments should be prepared to cover those gaps in order to preserve our standard of living and for communities to have that certainty. Investors need certainty. I cannot emphasize the importance of this when I talk to international investors, which I do as often as I can.
If we get this right, all of it, the long-term well-being and environmental success, working together, is possible. B.C. residents are ready for it. They do support it. And you, as legislators, can be proud of taking your role in building a future where the high quality of life we have is available to all residents and the environment is protected.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I'd be more than happy to elaborate on any of these points I have made today or in the future.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Stewart.
Our next speaker is Gavin Dirom from Geoscience B.C.
G. Dirom: Good afternoon, Chair, Deputy Chair and committee members. My name is Gavin Dirom. I'm the president and CEO of Geoscience B.C.
I'm connecting with you today from the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh. Thank you for this opportunity to present our recommendations for Budget 2022.
The progression to a lower carbon economy is forecast to increase demand for B.C.'s natural resources and with it the need for quality geoscience for people to make well-informed decisions about our mineral, energy and water resources.
We recommend that the province of British Columbia work with Geoscience B.C. and the government of Canada to continue funding of critical earth science that helps achieve net-zero emission targets, attracts investment, creates jobs and builds partnerships by investing $5 million annually in Geoscience B.C. and assisting Geoscience B.C. to establish a sustainable, long-term funding model.
For your background, Geoscience B.C. is an independent, not-for-profit society that generates, promotes and supports practical geoscience research. Since 2005, we've collaborated with over 75 partners and completed 202 projects. Currently, Geoscience B.C. has 33 projects underway.
We collaborate with resource sectors, academia, communities, Indigenous groups and governments to develop and share unbiased, peer-reviewed earth science that attracts investment and supports evidence-based decision-making. An important Geoscience B.C. objective is to be aligned with industry and complement the work of the British Columbia geological survey and the Geological Survey of Canada.
Based on 16 years of operating, Geoscience B.C.'s average annual expenditure is $5.1 million. In a typical year, Geoscience B.C. allocates 80 percent of its budget directly into project research and 20 percent towards governance, community engagement and public access to research results. This cost-effective and efficient operating model provides a strong economic, environmental and social return on investment. For example, Geoscience B.C. has completed 140 mineral-focused projects since 2005 and has 16 projects currently underway.
A recent study of our minerals project shows that for every one dollar invested by Geoscience B.C., there is a corresponding $6.60 of investment in mineral exploration. In the critical areas of energy and water research, Geoscience B.C. has completed 62 projects since 2008 and has 17 projects currently underway.
These projects support environmental, social and governance –– ESG –– commitments and have earned the trust of communities, Indigenous groups, governments and industry alike. Such public support is demonstrated by our resolutions passed by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the North Central Local Government Association and UBCM calling for continued funding of Geoscience B.C.
Our energy research also delivers tangible returns on investment. For instance, the energy sector has invested more than $15 million on water treatment facilities, based on Geoscience B.C.'s research on brown water in northeastern B.C. since 2008, thereby reducing surface water use in the region.
Note that Geoscience B.C. leverages the core funding it receives by investing in research that attracts significant direct and indirect partner contributions. In fact, since 2005, every $1 spent on Geoscience B.C. projects has resulted in $1.72 of research through co-funding partnerships.
The new core funding that we are requesting would support future earth science research in the following six areas: (1) enabling the discovery of new critical mineral deposits by helping explorers find ore-grade deposits of key metals like copper, which is needed for electrification; (2) reducing and capturing emissions by identifying favourable geological carbon capture and storage and sequestration options; (3) catalyzing low- and zero-emission energy by supporting research on low-carbon-intensity natural gas and emerging zero-emission geothermal energy in hydrogen production; (4) understanding water resources and facilitating water stewardship in areas of natural resource development and incorporating traditional Indigenous knowledge of water on a regional scale; (5) building capacity, partnerships and advancing reconciliation through undertaking collaborative earth science research in partnership with Indigenous groups; (6) developing made-in-B.C. innovations, such as advancing the practical application of new greenhouse gas emissions measurement technology.
This concludes my presentation. Thank you very much for your time and consideration of our recommendations.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Gavin.
Our next and final presenter in this section is Greg Moffatt of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.
ASSOCIATION OF CANADA
G. Moffatt: Thank you, Madam Chair. I'm pleased to be with you on behalf of Canada's chemistry and plastics manufacturers. Our combined chemistry and plastic sector in Canada generates nearly $80 billion per year in economic activity, making us the third-largest manufacturing sector in the country. We serve all major North American sectors, including forestry, mining, construction, energy, automotive, agriculture and agrifood. That being said, chemistry is largely an invisible sector.
But if you look around, nearly everything you can touch involves the business and products of chemistry. Close to 95 percent of all finished goods involve the use of chemical and plastic inputs, delivering more sustainable outcomes in terms of clean air, clean water, clean energy, clean transportation and safe, nutritious and abundant food.
In B.C., chemistry is dominated by inorganics and electrochemistry and considerably smaller than the other three major chemical-producing provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. The opportunity exists, though, to leverage off the province's low-carbon and natural gas value chain and nearly zero-carbon-emission electricity system and add value to natural gas and natural gas liquids before they leave the province. Adding value to resources in B.C. creates new capital investments, new high-paying jobs and new incremental revenues for all levels of government.
Chemistry in Canada today represents the lowest carbon pathway to produce industrial chemicals and plastics. GHG emissions from low-carbon natural gas are orders of magnitude lower than from crude-based feedstock and almost eight times lower than coal-based chemistries dominant in China today. Canada's and B.C.'s contribution to lower global GHG emissions should include more resource value-added manufacturing of chemistry and plastics, including hydrogen.
Plastics in B.C. is a significant economic contributor, and it could be even more significant under the right conditions. While plastics play an essential role in our society, plastic waste does not belong in landfills or the environment. It belongs in the economy. Industry is committed to 100 percent of plastics packaging being recyclable or recoverable by 2030 and 100 percent of plastics packing being reused, recycled or recovered by 2040.
B.C. is a leader in extended producer responsibility, with over 50 percent of plastics introduced to the economy collected and recycled. Other provinces are just now starting to follow B.C.'s lead. Continuing in this leadership position amongst Canadian provinces, a significant opportunity exists to establish B.C. as a leading jurisdiction, deploying advanced plastics sortation technology and advanced mechanical- and chemical-recycling technology.
A recent economic study on plastics in Canada included a high-level assessment of the infrastructure needed to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030. That study estimated that close to 170 new waste diversion facilities would be required across Canada, representing a potential new investment of $4.6 billion to $6.5 billion. In B.C., that translated to approximately 15 new facilities, including sortation and advanced mechanical and chemical slaking, worth close to $720 million. Demand for recycled content is growing, and B.C. is uniquely positioned to secure first-mover advantages in developing and deploying these new, innovative technologies.
In developing and passing Budget 2022, we would ask the government and Legislature to consider the following. Consider the value-added resource manufacturing sectors of chemistry and plastics as a strategic supply chain sector for the province. We can and should be doing more low-carbon chemistry, including plastics, in B.C., as part of B.C.'s economic recovery plan. As carbon pricing frameworks become more stringent in terms of price and emission reductions, provide the policy stability and investment supports necessary for industry to build new, low-carbon and zero-carbon facilities, where possible, and/or deploy emission reduction technologies in their existing plant and equipment.
B.C. has set the gold standard for EPR in Canada, if not North America. B.C. could lead again by looking at plastics through an economic lens and leading Canada in new investments in advanced sortation technology and advanced mechanical- and chemical-recycling technology and facilities.
In closing, there absolutely exists an opportunity for future investment growth in our sector that creates new opportunities for British Columbians, builds on B.C.'s world-leader status in clean and renewable technology and reaffirms the province's commitment to being a responsible, low-carbon producer of natural resources and manufactured goods. Our sector has a well-established history of innovation to solve society's most pressing needs. Our products are the nexus of all solutions to a green recovery, including energy efficiency, net-zero emissions and a circular economy.
We look forward to working with you to grow the chemistry and plastics sector of British Columbia. I look forward to your questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Greg.
Now I will open it up to members of the committee to ask questions.
We'll start with Lorne, then Pam.
L. Doerkson: My questions are for Kendra, and I apologize if they're too vague in their nature. I can appreciate there are different types of mines, but you touched on permitting four mines and the timelines. I guess I'm wondering a couple of things.
What does that permitting timeline look like for a new mine today, and how many new mines in British Columbia are in that permitting process right now?
K. Johnston: That is an excellent question. We do make the distinction between exploration projects and mining projects, and we do have an Association for Mineral Exploration and a mining association here in B.C. We do look at those as very different things. However, they are all permits under the Mines Act.
For an exploration project, in many places, it takes anywhere around 30 days to get an exploration project permitted. Here in British Columbia, it's taking upwards of 120 days. Our goal, realistically, is to get it down to 90 days. That would allow enough time to have fulsome conversations with local First Nations and stakeholders, including such things as wildlife proponents and hunters, for example. There are approximately 300 projects a year that are actively worked in British Columbia at an exploration phase.
I know the Mining Association is going to come and speak with you folks late in September — on September 21, I believe. There are currently 14 operating mines in the province, and they take upwards of a year or more — a year and a half or two years — to go through that whole permitting process. That's the environmental assessment process, though. That's a much longer and more robust permitting process.
P. Alexis: My question is for Greg. We hear that the supply chain is a major issue for our businesses in British Columbia. How quickly can businesses under your association pivot to new items, which might be normally shipped, say, from China or whatever, to help our local businesses with supply? Can you explain that to me? I may be off base here with the question but would love a response.
G. Moffatt: No, no, a great question, thank you very much. One thing I'm not able to do and convey in five minutes is the complex nature of the chemicals sector in Canada. What's unique about Canada is industrial chemical manufacturers. These are the kind of foundational chemicals that go into the production of other intermediary products that show up in finished goods.
A great example, to answer that question, would be polypropylene. Right now, there is no polypropylene manufactured in Canada. It's all imported. A great example, given the pandemic experience we've gone through: we started to realize that our trading partners, in times of need, didn't really want to trade with us. So we had challenges securing PPE. Right now, there's a facility being constructed in Edmonton. It is using propane. It's a propane value chain investment. That propane is being converted into propylene and then polypropylene in chemical reactions.
That polypropylene would then find its way to manufacturers for use in other products like the N95 masks that Canada and other countries were scrambling for. The industrial chemical sector produces large-quantity chemicals, and they're widely traded, but that example of propane to polypropylene is a great example of how Canada could be doing more to shore up and reshore critical manufacturing that, we realized, there were significant gaps in the last 18 months.
P. Alexis: Thanks so much for the answer. I'll have to look all of this stuff up now and really understand it.
J. Routledge (Chair): Do we have another question?
H. Sandhu: My question is for Greg. It's regarding the plastics. We know the common conversation around people moving away from plastic materials. I wonder if industry has seen a direct hit when plastic is seen as the biggest culprit to pollute the planet Earth. Yes, there are recycling options, as you mentioned, but we still can't recycle all sorts of plastic. Are there any conversations about making it more sustainable?
You mentioned that there are conversations happening to have all sorts of plastics to be recycled. But then a question remains. Consumers are a little bit skeptical when they see that our recycled materials containers and containers end up in other countries, and then they get shipped back. What are the concrete measures that industry is taking?
Many municipalities have shifted away from plastic bags or plastic materials. Has the industry seen its impact — people moving away from this? I know we can't move 100 percent. Everything, as you look around, is made of plastic. I just wanted to get the sense of it.
G. Moffatt: Great question. We could take an hour to answer that question and unpack it, and I'll absolutely try not to do that.
There are a number of ways to answer your question. First and foremost, chemistry growth on an annual basis, globally, since World War II, has traditionally been around one-and-a-half to two times the global GDP rate. So demand for chemistries, including plastics, continues to grow around the world.
I would absolutely 100 percent agree with you that plastics unequivocally don't belong in the environment, but they don't belong in the landfills either, which is really what's happening in a Canadian context, plastics going into the waste stream and being landfilled due to lack of solutions.
I guess what I would say to you is that industry absolutely has taken this issue very, very seriously, bringing in our own recycled content ambitions to make plastic packaging more recyclable. When you go and buy your rice in the grocery store, that's a multi-laminate plastic pouch, and as soon as you start adding different types of plastic into a pouch, you almost contaminate that plastic package. So given the current ways to recycle plastic, it's unrecyclable.
So what are the solutions? I think, as society is thinking about how we address plastic, as we emotionally move away from plastic bags, let's think about the alternatives that we're using to replace that plastic.
Alternatives to plastics are anywhere from two to eight times more energy intensive. The lifecycle cost of managing the alternatives, whether it's a paper bag, whether it's glass, whether it's metal — substantially more expensive. There's a reason why plastic has become so ubiquitous in society. It requires very little energy to manufacture, and it has amazing attributes in terms of performance and quality and strength.
The way I would kind of wrap up my comment would be around this whole notion of investments in sortation technology and investments in advanced mechanical and chemical recycling…. Just about every piece of plastic we have in society today is recyclable. The only reason it's not recyclable in practice is because we still have waste management systems that are based on the consumptive habits of society back in 1950, when this infrastructure was put in place.
As a society — that's industry; that's government; that's individuals — we need to do a better job of managing our post–consumer use products. In an ideal world…. Industry's already there. We would love it if government was there. Let's stop thinking about this post–consumer use product as a waste. Let's think about it as a feed stock.
There's Btu in that plastic bag that we're landfilling, and there's absolutely no reason why we can't make investments in the right technology to be able to sort that material when it gets collected and to be able to move down an advanced mechanical recycling or an advanced chemical recycling path.
H. Sandhu: Thank you. I appreciate your answer, even though you didn't take an hour. You really nailed it.
G. Moffatt: I could have got close.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): I just wanted to thank you all for your presentations. It covers a big, wide swath of an area that I think has got a lot of misconceptions.
I guess, as groups…. I know how some of you work together, but I guess you all face the same kind of challenge in terms of public sentiment. It's a little bit like Harwinder just said, in the sense that there's these mountains of plastic.
Being in the business of using a lot of glass, I know that cullet, for instance, was something that used to be processed here in Alberta, at the glass plants. They've since been relocated, and I don't know what the market for cullet is like.
I guess there are two questions. One is: can you work together, or can you come together with a very specific, targeted kind of approach to government to help the government and the people achieve the goal that they want? They want to see the utilization.
Secondly, identify where the gaps are in terms of product that, like glass cullet or other things like that. I know that a lot of the rare minerals, etc., are going to back to Trail. But what are the gaps and what are the opportunities for government to invest in so that we can take ownership of what we have or even take back some of the things that were being shipped offshore?
I don't want to put you all on the spot. I guess it's more of a broad statement rather than…. I think of CAPP's education program that Geoff has come up with. They go around to the schools. They help educate young people about what they're doing and how these products…. The problem is that's not what the public is getting through social media, some of the things.
You talk about the need for minerals. But getting the message to the new, younger generation and how we're doing it properly, with clean energy and reutilization of materials that are recycled…. I think that's kind of the environment we want to work in so that people that don't understand are supportive of what it is that you're trying to do. If there is a way….
Maybe, Stewart, you're the possible solution there. But anyways, I'll leave it with you for consideration.
S. Muir: I'm happy to jump in if it's wished.
J. Routledge (Chair): Sure.
S. Muir: Thanks for the cue there. I mean, there is a cultural and social dimension to this as well as a physical one. It's almost, in some ways, the more important one, because in our system of government, everyone has got a say. Lots of people utilize the say, and not everyone is saying the same thing. So how does the average person know what to believe?
People are voters. They're consumers. They're many other things. They're workers. They're savers. All of their own pursuits that they identify themselves in are important to them. All of these things rely on having a material life that comes…. As Greg said, people don't see the chemicals in their lives, yet everything they do is reliant upon that. It's the same with energy. It's the same with minerals and metals. If we want this quality of life, how do we ensure that it is culturally and socially coherent for people?
This is an ongoing challenge for those in industry, in any area that sees the benefits from the industry. Communicating broadly and authentically…. I think it's very difficult to be seen for what one is if you're out there trying to do work in education. It's all too easy to fall into the polarizations and sometimes the clashes of ideas that can be a distraction from the ultimate success for citizens.
It requires, I think, a commitment. It needs people from all walks of life. I really feel, through Resource Works, in the last 8 years since we started our work, I'm right in thick of it. It feels like we need to be ten times as busy and produce ten times as many reports so that the right amount of information….
We're talking about values as well, and that's a nuanced thing. It's very familiar to those in elected office. You are connecting with values on the doorstep, on the phone. In every sense, that's the essence of what you do. I think having an understanding of this could help organizations like mine to do more things that are relevant to the needs of government to allow these investments. If we don't make investments in the bridge technologies, whether it's carbon capture, hydrogen…. Every sector has got things going on.
If I may, I'll give you a little anecdote. I spoke to the general manager and CEO of a small forest manufacturing operation, a mill on the Island, the other day. I learned that this mill owner is successfully de-carbonizing their operation through investment in some unusual technology sourced from a part of the world that wouldn't normally be where they get that type of equipment.
They're reducing the emissions footprint of this forest products manufacturing site in a very significant way because they made that investment. But they also know that they are going to rely on decisions by government to ensure that the fibre supply, which in this case is second growth, is continuing into the future. Otherwise, how can they pay for that new equipment, and others like it?
This is all so nuanced, but it's terribly important. I appreciate that question, MLA Stewart. I would be happy to work with the committee or any area of government to further this.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much, Stewart. I just think that it's important that we get the right message out there and we make the right investments from the government's point of view. They have resources, and that's what we're here to discuss — what resources are needed.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you. We have two more questions, and I think that's probably all we have time for.
M. Starchuk: It wasn’t that long ago that we saw a picture of a very unfortunate turtle and a straw, and the earth changed instantaneously, and you couldn't get a plastic straw at Starbucks any longer.
My question, then, is to Greg. Why is it going to take nine more years to get rid of that plastic that's not really recyclable, when you said it was to 2030?
G. Moffatt: The fact of the matter is that the straw is recyclable. It's just not recyclable given the current infrastructure.
Not to be dismissive of the example that you used, but I've got a couple of teenage boys, and when we go and play a hockey game in a certain part of the city, we stop at a drive-through and grab a burger and a milkshake, and they switched to paper straws. You know, my son gets the shake. He gets the straw, but he asks for four more. I said: "Why did you do that?" And he said: "Well, I can't consume my shake with one paper straw," because they break down and they're not very good, right? So he's using four of one thing to replace one of the other.
I'm not in any way, shape or form trying to be dismissive of the optics of plastics interfering with wildlife. Unequivocally, this stuff doesn't belong in the environment, and in Canada, that is predominantly landfills. It does find its way into rivers and streams and lakes and the ocean. But predominantly, the leakage out of the system is into landfills.
In a province like British Columbia where you have gold-standard extended producer responsibility, where 50 percent of the plastic that is introduced to the economy is captured…. The national average is less than seven. So B.C. is there.
The way you deal with plastic bags in the waste stream or the way you deal with straws in the waste stream is investing in sortation technology so that those plastic items can be detected and removed. It could be the Internet of things. It could be robotics. These are all technologies that are being deployed in other places but not on a wide scale in Canada.
If we can deploy the sortation technology properly and we can sort it into quality bales as opposed to mixed bales that were getting to Asia for processing, if we can create these quality feedstock sources, then that plastic is completely, 100 percent recyclable. It could find its way back into the economy either as another straw or as something else.
Without question, the optics of plastic are appalling, but the solution isn't as simple as banning something, because in essence, at just the real highest level, you're stealing value out of the blue box, because that value can be recycled. There's no reason why it can't. The problem is that we don't have the infrastructure to be able to manage the waste streams that are being created today.
M. Starchuk: Thank you. If I may, it matches up with your tenth slide absolutely perfectly in the sense of where we are in recycling.
My point was that we did something to change something very quickly, and I know that it's a societal thing, but we need to provide those kinds of answers. We always see the pictures of the shorelines and what's coming in. People are making a good thing at it…. But I'm very pleased to see that 50 percent. When compared to a different number, the 50 percent needs to be closer to 100 percent.
G. Moffatt: Without question. And you know what? Frankly, the question that you've asked and the answer that I've tried to offer really does relate to MLA Stewart as well, in that this is an emotional issue. And it's very, very difficult to respond to an emotional issue with science or: "Well, let's talk about a life-cycle analysis of paper versus plastic." Or: "Let's talk about the avoided emissions through product use of plastics and the lightweighting of vehicles."
It's impossible to have a fact-based conversation when the root of the issue is so emotional. All parties — industry, civil society, government…. We need to find a way to come together and have conversations that kind of keep the emotion on the side of the table. We all have a role to play, without question.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you. We have one more question. Megan.
M. Dykeman: It's okay. Through the last two answers given, I was able to get my question answered. So we're good. Thank you so much.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you.
P. Alexis: I just want to understand why there is opposition or there are issues with building those sorting facilities — I think they're called MRFs or something; I can't remember the acronym — in Canada. What are the barriers there? I don't get it.
G. Moffatt: In British Columbia, again, you have 100-percent-paid-for producer-managed extended producer responsibility — right? — so the producer is responsible for managing the life cycle of the products they put into the economy.
In British Columbia, to be honest with you, I think what we need to…. There was a Conference Board of Canada study. Please feel free to follow up by email, and I'm happy to do it with you directly. The Conference Board of Canada talked about introducing ESG and petrochemicals. At the end of that paper, they talked about the infrastructure requirement in Canada from a sortation perspective and from an advanced mechanical and chemical recycling.
In British Columbia, it's likely less about the economics and it's more about permitting the actual facility. Instead of looking at plastic waste — post–consumer use products — as feedstock, they're permitted under waste-permitting legislation. It's extremely difficult to permit a waste facility, but if I'm permitting a manufacturing facility and that post–consumer use product is a feedstock, it's imminently easier to permit those facilities. So you're seeing U.S. governments start to pass circular economy legislation that deals with advanced sortation technologies and advanced mechanical and chemical recycling technologies.
We have not had a Canadian jurisdiction move forward on that basis. We are aware of a chemical recycling facility that was permitted in New Brunswick, and there were some tweaks made to the permitting legislation to allow that facility to more easily be permitted. But if Canada is serious about a circular economy for plastics and we'd like to manage better — you know, go from 50 to 100 percent collected materials in the economy — we need to figure out a way to permit these facilities easier than they are.
We'd really love to see stand-alone circular economy legislation. It'd be great if British Columbia was the first province to move forward with that legislation.
P. Alexis: Okay. Thank you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay. Interesting discussion. I think we have a lot of new ideas to think about.
Thank you very much for your time. We will now take a recess, and we will bid you goodbye. Thanks again.
G. Moffatt: Take care, folks. Thanks very much for your time today.
The committee recessed from 2:39 p.m. to 2:49 p.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): We're now ready for our next presenter, who is Joy Thorkelson.
Joy, I see you are on the screen, so when you are ready, you can make your presentation, and then we'll ask questions.
Budget Consultation Presentations
UNITED FISHERMEN AND ALLIED
WORKERS UNION, NORTHERN OFFICE
J. Thorkelson: I'm the northern representative for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, and I'd like to address you about two things. One is the processing of fish in British Columbia, and the second is the state of the salmon fishery.
The processing of B.C. fish caught in B.C. is extremely important to the coastal economy. Increasingly, B.C.-caught fish are being sent by B.C. buyers to be processed offshore, either in Alaska, Washington, Oregon or even in Asia. Increasingly, fish processed in other countries are also being reimported back into Canada by Canadian companies. Some of the same companies that exported fish for processing originally are reimporting it for sale.
Unlike forestry, we don't have a government that's interested in controlling this bleeding. In 2015, Canadian Fishing Co. closed the last production cannery in British Columbia. All canned salmon on grocery store shelves now is sourced from elsewhere.
Last year, in 2020, 80 percent of Canadian fish caught, pink salmon, was exported for processing, mostly to China and to Alaska for canning. This year 100 percent was exported to Alaska for processing. That left Canadian Fish shoreworkers in Prince Rupert with no salmon to process at all.
What can the province do? In 2016, we made a presentation to the Finance Committee, who consequently asked us to submit a comprehensive report on what actions the provincial government should take. We did so, but no action was taken.
In 2018, the province set up a committee to develop a province wild salmon strategy report. This report had a series of recommendations, as well, to address the issue of processing B.C. fish in British Columbia. Unfortunately, a letter was sent to the committee by Don Wright, saying the report's recommendations were accepted, except for 2.4, which was protecting present processing and increasing the processing of fish in British Columbia.
The report to the Finance Committee was to a Liberal government. The wild salmon strategy recommendations were to an NDP government. We are horrified to say that neither party, nor government, thought that it was important enough to even work on trying to keep processing of B.C. fish in B.C.
The second thing that I'd like to talk to you about is about the federal government's PSSI program. The federal government, without notice, at the end of June…. After fishermen had already paid all of the expenses to prepare themselves for fishing, which reached into the thousands of dollars, and after many fishermen had left port to sail to the fishing grounds in anticipated and scheduled openings, the federal minister announced a series of salmon closures. She didn't even contact her fish managers and local biologists to see if they were necessary.
PSSI, which is a Pacific salmon strategy initiative, is a restructuring of the commercial salmon industry in British Columbia. We all know that it is needed. The union, with other fishing organizations, held a conference in January, where fishermen came up with a series of recommendations, which were put into a report that was released in May of this year. This report is about what is needed to do to fix the commercial salmon fishery.
The report makes recommendations on a number of issues that probably aren't within the provincial jurisdiction. But the report makes recommendations on habitat and calls for massive investments to protect the habitat, especially water quality and quantity. The province, of course, is involved in BCSRIF, and we applaud that. Unfortunately, the funding going into BCSRIF is not enough to protect salmon stocks.
The funds need to be increased, but we are specifically asking the provincial government for support in two areas.
First of all, it's regarding pinnipeds. Seals and sea lions have increased in population tenfold since the 1970s. Leading scientists from the province, from DFO and from the academic community have written numerous peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals showing that salmon are disappearing due to pinniped predation. Seals and sea lions each eat the larger juveniles — so that's the chinook, coho, sockeye and steelhead smolt — especially out of the Fraser system as they head into the Gulf of Georgia.
J. Routledge (Chair): Excuse me, Joy. You're just about out of time. Actually, you are out of time. If you could just wrap it up, so we have time for questions.
J. Thorkelson: Okay, certainly.
The second thing that we're asking the province to support us on is enhancement and hatchery production. Alaska is very successful in doing this. What they've done is they've redirected their fleets from wild salmon to hatchery-produced salmon, thereby keeping their coastal economies with lots of fish to catch and process but ensuring that their wild stocks remain protected.
What we're asking is that the provincial government take the fishing industry seriously. Many parts of it are part of their provincial responsibility, such as fish processing; steelhead, which are being munched on by pinnipeds to the point where they're almost extirpated; and then also trying to increase hatchery production so your coastal communities remain viable.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you.
Now I'll ask members of the committee if you have any questions, anything you want clarified.
B. Stewart (Deputy Chair): Thank you, Joy. You probably think I don't know anything about fishing, but actually, I am a fisherman, and I just got back from Naden Harbour. And I can tell you that I saw exactly what you just said about your first point — the ferocity of not only the seals but the sea lions. Even the guides were telling me that for a recreational salmon catch, it takes about nine salmon brought to the boat, and only one survives because of that. Frankly, they are really out there, and I know that we've seen that in the past.
At a time when I was Minister of Agriculture, we directed the fees from the provincial…. It's not a federal licence, but we directed the fees — I forget the name of the enhancement fee — into the industry, which had a huge amount of uptick for the recreational fishery.
Probably that's something federally that has to be coordinated with the province and the feds. I mean, how many coasts are there in Canada? We really have to take ownership of trying to get them to take an interest in this. The commercial fishery was on active, and I heard some of the stories about what their catch was like. Frankly, it's not sustainable unless we do something about that.
J. Thorkelson: Just to that, scientists think that, depending on the species, between 50 and 80 percent of the juveniles leaving the Fraser River are eaten by pinnipeds. You can't have a successful salmon population if that kind of reduction in juveniles is occurring. Even if 100 percent of the adults were not caught, the stock is going to go down.
P. Alexis: My question was around the same thing. I'm just wondering if there's a recommendation with respect to how to deal with the sea lions and the seal population. I just would like some conversation, Joy, about that.
J. Thorkelson: There's been lots of discussion, but as far as we know, it's not done at the governmental level.
Because it's such a huge impediment to the growth of salmon stocks, it's been discussed, certainly, within the scientific community. Whether it is sterilization or the use of birth control — which has been tried in some elk population, I think, and some deer population — or whether it is a First Nations harvest or whether it is a commercial harvest…. Seal products, particularly, are excellent sources of protein. It's just that they look so cute that people think that trying to do any kind of a harvest on them would not be publicly supported.
Really, we're getting to the point of whether the public wants salmon or whether the public wants seals. If you want cute little seals, you're not going to have any salmon.
M. Dykeman: Thank you for your presentation. I may have missed it, but what do you think is contributing to the large increase in the population of these animals?
J. Thorkelson: At one time — up to the 1970s, actually — there was a pinniped harvest that was controlled by government. People were paid to harvest pinnipeds. That practice stopped in the 1970s. Since then they've been under — I can't remember what the act is called — the protection of mammals act, in which they cannot be hunted for any reason other than, I suppose, perhaps in food fisheries for First Nations. But we will never, in food fisheries for First Nations, reduce the pinniped population to what is necessary to protect salmon.
Your own biologists in the province have said there needs to be a 50 percent reduction in pinnipeds in order for steelhead to survive. Even with the whole commercial fleet shut down and the whole recreational fleet shut down and the whole First Nations fishery shut down, we will not be able to rehabilitate the steelhead stocks in the Thompson and Chilcotin rivers unless the pinnipeds are reduced by 50 percent.
That is what a DFO report that has been…. DFO, provincial government, with an independent scientist, made that report, and that report has been suppressed. B.C. Wildlife Federation had to do an FOI to get access to that report.
M. Dykeman: Just in follow up, if that's okay, Chair.
Is there a natural predator to them?
J. Thorkelson: Well, there are transient killer whales that predate on seals and sea lions, and probably some sharks, but I don't think we have too many great white sharks running around in this area yet. Really, the population used to be controlled, scientists postulate, by First Nation harvests. Certainly the harvest that was done in general as a commercial harvest, which was done up to the 1970s, was also a manner of reducing pinniped impacts.
Part of climate change is that we're now getting more and more California sea lions up here now, and they are much larger than our natural Steller's sea lions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Greg and then Lorne, and then I think we have to wrap it up because we have another presenter waiting.
J. Thorkelson: I'm very impressed that you are so on time.
G. Kyllo: Thank you, Joy. That report that you indicated that was put out by federal Fisheries and Oceans that was suppressed — is that something you have access to? Are you able to share it with the committee?
J. Thorkelson: I have a copy of it, but I'm always reluctant to share such things. It's because they are supposed to be top secret. So yes, I have a copy of it. And yes, if somebody can assure me that there will be no legal action taken against me, I will certainly share it with you.
G. Kyllo: I guess maybe a question would be is that you said that the report was provided under a freedom-of-information request.
J. Thorkelson: I believe that the B.C. federation has got that. I got that through another source. But the B.C. Wildlife Federation FOI'd it. I believe it was one of the documents that they FOI'd. I'm pretty sure it is, but I haven't gone through.
They released hundreds and hundreds of documents within their FOI, and I haven't been through all of them. But I imagine that's the report they were trying to get at, because we'd all heard about it.
G. Kyllo: Okay. Well, I'll leave it with you, Joy, if you feel comfortable in sharing it, but I'd certainly be interested in having a look at it.
J. Thorkelson: Sure. There's a public report that's on the site. What the public report says is that if productivity was increased, if productivity was doubled, that would save the steelhead. That's what that report says. What it is missing is: what does that mean if productivity is doubled?
What that means is if the pinnipeds…. The scientific report that they've repressed says that if pinnipeds are cut in half, that would double the productivity of steelhead. The public report says if productivity is doubled…. The report that's been suppressed tells you how the productivity is to be doubled.
L. Doerkson: Thank you, Joy, for your presentation. I guess the first thing I wanted to say is that we've changed a lot in B.C. over the years with respect to how we fish inland, certainly for salmon. I know that I've been in conversations with at least one Chief throughout my riding that is very concerned about this. It would be a shame, going forward, to try to protect something that we are allowing predators to ruin. I think predator control not just with salmon but with other species in our province is definitely a concern for sure.
My question, I guess, Joy — if I got you right — is that I think you could be quoted as saying that 80 percent of the fish caught commercially went out of province for processing last year and 100 percent this year. Why is that?
J. Thorkelson: That's from Canadian…. Those figures are from…. I don't have what they are provincially yet. But those are the figures from Canadian Fish in Prince Rupert. Canadian Fish probably caught 75 percent of the production. They are the largest company in British Columbia.
They sent 100 percent of their salmon to Alaska. We were in negotiations this year, so it was an issue that could have become a strike issue. The company said they didn't care what happened; they were going to be sending that fish to Alaska. They closed their cannery in Prince Rupert. Now they have decided that they want to can that fish, so it went to Alaska.
The year prior to that, some of it went to Alaska for canning, and some of it goes to China. Then they reimport it. Next time you go look at a fillet, a frozen salmon fillet in a store, have a look at where it was processed. You will find the majority of that salmon…. Unless it's fresh, you will find the majority of frozen salmon on the shelves in Pattison's stores and in Sobeys stores are B.C. salmon processed in China, packaged in China.
L. Doerkson: Thanks for that, Joy. My question was why. Is it that much cheaper to send a salmon to be processed all the way to China and then to bring it back? What is the motivation for this?
J. Thorkelson: Some of the motivation is cost. Well, all of the motivation is certainly cost. The number of salmon that Canadian Fish was reliably able to harvest — on the north coast, in particular, but anywhere in British Columbia — was going down, so there was no reliable year-after-year harvest, as there was in past years. They found themselves one year with a large amount of production that they were unable to handle without exporting some of it. That, we feel, is fair.
The other thing is that they closed many of their…. Many plants have closed because in the poor years, there was no production to put through them. We are going to be increasingly faced with that problem as salmon stocks continue to decline, particularly if there's no way to…. If the government is opposed to increasing hatchery production, the commercial fleet will be finished.
We have a lack of salmon. That's one problem, or too much one year and not enough another year so that there's no steady supply for processing.
Another reason is cost. If you send your fish to China to be popped — your herring roe to China to be popped — they will pop it at a cheaper price than what shoreworkers can do in Canada.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Joy. You've given us a lot to think about and have further discussions about. We're going to have to say goodbye to you at this point, because we have a lot of other people yet to make presentations this afternoon, but thank you so much taking the time and enlightening us about this.
Our next presenter is Christina Burridge of the B.C. Seafood Alliance.
Christina, you can proceed with your presentation.
B.C. SEAFOOD ALLIANCE
C. Burridge: Thank you very much, everyone — committee members, Chair. I'm really glad to be here. I know you've seen my notes, so I won't go too much into…. I represent the B.C. Seafood Alliance, which is, indeed, an alliance of some 30 members, who are a mix of fish harvesting associations, pretty much every major fishery on the west coast and most of the major processors in B.C. Certainly, the most representative commercial fishing organization on the west coast.
I'm very glad to be here today. I'm here because I want to talk to you about the threat that the draft scenario two for the northern shelf bioregion and marine protected area network poses for the coastal economy in B.C. B.C., the government, is a partner in this northern shelf bioregion process, along with the federal government and 17 First Nations.
If we go back to 2019…. I actually think I spoke to this committee in pretty much this time, up in Prince Rupert in 2019. The government's partners — so feds, province, 17 First Nations — released a draft zoning plan that would have reduced commercial fishing access by 40 percent in the north. That's pretty much three-quarters, up from the top of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. That's about 80 percent of what we harvest in terms of value of wild seafood in B.C.
A study undertaken by the provincial government showed that that would have taken about $125 million annually out of the coastal economy. The government's partners then asked us to develop an alternative scenario that would meet the conservation targets but reduce the economic impacts. So in February 2020, my marine planning team did exactly that.
We engaged with 27 commercial fisheries that operate there, and we were able to reduce the losses by about $100 million annually, reduce the job losses from 545 to 100 and lost labour income from $55 million to $15 million annually. At the same time, we met or exceeded the conservation targets. This seemed, to us, to be like a win-win thing.
In June of this year, 2021, the government's partners released a second draft scenario. This scenario ignored our advice. It reduced commercial fishing access even further, and this is because the fundamental premise has changed. This is not really about conservation anymore. It is about reconciliation. It's about zone by zone, territory by territory, First Nations, so we will massively overshoot the conservation targets but with even greater economic impacts.
This will certainly have devastating consequences for the coastal economy. It's not just loss of fishing operations; it is loss of infrastructure. So fuel docks, ice plants, processing, off-loading stations — all those kinds of things. I think it also conflicts with the goals of the blue economy, which is to grow the value of seafood in B.C. I think it ultimately conflicts with the goals of reconciliation as well. We are going to give First Nations — quite possibly, correctly — more access, but if you don't have the infrastructure to get it to market, it's not going to mean very much.
So this is not about conservation. We've already conserved and protected 25 percent of B.C.'s coastline, including 16 percent of the northern shelf. That will be 35 percent later this year — far more than Atlantic Canada at nine percent. We are definitely meeting the conservation goals and the marine conservation targets.
What I really want to ask from you in terms of recommendations is we've been told by the province and the feds that there is a hard deadline of June 2022. Everything has been reverse-engineered to meet that deadline, so there is no time to do further socioeconomic analysis or consult. We're asking you to recommend that the province make the case that we need to do this properly, take the time to do it, understand the implications and decide what to do. If indeed the intent is to take 40 percent of access out of commercial fisheries….
J. Routledge (Chair): Excuse me, Christina. You are out of time, so if you could just wrap up your recommendations.
C. Burridge: The recommendation is to take the time to do this properly, not go for a hard deadline of June 2022, and to work with the feds on a transition plan for commercial fishing.
J. Routledge (Chair): Great. Thank you. I'll now open it up to questions for you from the committee. If there are other things that you wanted to say, you could probably fit them into the answers to the questions.
C. Burridge: I'll do my best.
G. Kyllo: Thank you very much for your presentation. This June 2022 deadline that you are referencing, is that a self-imposed deadline by the federal government? How was that decision of identifying that date…? How did that come into play?
C. Burridge: It's imposed by the governance partners, including the province. We have been told by the federal government that everything has been — in terms of consultation, consideration of socioeconomic analysis, further consultation with industry — reverse-engineered to make sure that the governance partners can meet that 2022 June deadline.
G. Kyllo: Okay, but that's a self-imposed deadline. That's something that the feds have come up with, or was it the feds and province jointly?
C. Burridge: And the province.
G. Kyllo: Okay. All right, thank you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Are there any other questions?
Okay, then on behalf of the committee, I'll say thank you to you for your presentation. We will read your submission carefully and take it into consideration.
C. Burridge: Thank you very much, Chair and committee members. I appreciate it.
J. Routledge (Chair): In the interest of time, I think we should go straight to the next panel, which is transportation and transit.
Our first presenter is Ray Straatsma.
Budget Consultation Presentations
Panel 6 – Transportation and Transit
B.C. CYCLING COALITION
R. Straatsma: Good afternoon. My name is Ray Straatsma. I'm currently the advocacy coordinator with the B.C. Cycling Coalition. I'm pleased to be here today. I would like to kick off my remarks by talking about Scotland. I know — surprise. But please bear with me.
Two weeks ago, the new government of Scotland announced that they would significantly boost Transport Scotland's budget for active travel projects. By 2024, active travel initiatives, as they call them, will receive an annual allocation of £320 million, or 10 percent of Scotland's total transport budget. In Canadian dollars, that's $555 million budgeted to active travel per year, or $105 per person, per year.
Similarly, in Ireland, a recent program for government commits to an allocation of 10 percent its total transport capital budget to cycling projects and a further 10 percent for pedestrian infrastructure. Their budget for this year, the 2021 fiscal, will total £360 million per year for walking and cycling. That's $625 million Canadian.
Are these countries…? You know, "Oh, it's Europe." Are they just different places than British Columbia? No, not at all. Their populations are almost the same. There are five million people in Ireland, 5.5 million in Scotland and 5.1 million people living here in B.C., as you know. In Scotland, 70 percent of the population live in what they call the Central Belt — Glasgow, Edinburgh and the neighbouring cities, the urban parts of Scotland. In B.C., two-thirds of our population live in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley and south Vancouver Island.
Scotland's mode share, the percentage of people riding bikes, is also very similar to B.C. — historically, less than 2 percent but rising in recent years. Most of the big increases are coming in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, the larger cities — just as we've seen here with big increases in bicycle riding and active transportation in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and other communities.
Where are we with B.C.'s budget? The annual capital budget at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure rounds out at around $2 billion. For the last 25 years, the B.C. government's main contribution to bicycle investments in our communities has been through the Bike B.C. program, recently expanded and renamed active transportation infrastructure grants.
This cost-share program has been very welcome, and it funds bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in B.C. communities across the province. In 2021, it was funded at $9 million. The new AT grants program now has wider eligibility. It funds pedestrian facilities and planning efforts — they now qualify — and there are more allocations to smaller and Indigenous communities.
That's all good, but the budget for this program, for the AT funding in B.C., has hardly grown at all. Moreover, funding has never met the demand. Year after year, this program has been oversubscribed. Multiple eligible projects and applicants are squeezed out, having to wait till next year. In 2020, out of 132 applications from 114 communities, 44 grants were provided.
Over a typical five-year period, the Bike B.C. program contributed about $30 million in funding to B.C. communities. By comparison, Scotland will now invest 15 times that much annually on active transportation. Putting it in a different way, Scotland and Ireland are both prepared to spend over $100 per capita on active transportation capital projects and programs. B.C. currently spends less than $3 per capita — probably closer to $2 per person, per year — and that's where Ireland and Scotland actually were just a few years ago.
This summer we wrote to Environment Minister George Heyman and his CleanBC staff after being asked to provide input on their CleanBC revisions that are coming this fall. We suggested that the AT infrastructure program needs annual funding of up to $50 million. We're underlining that request here, and I'll share that letter with this committee.
It's not the first time we and other groups have made the case for a major boost in active transportation investments here in B.C. It's a level of funding that's needed now to make walking and biking more attractive, convenient and safer in communities across B.C. It's both feasible and necessary, and by looking at other jurisdictions, you can see and realize that it can be done, and it's needed now more than ever.
The climate emergency is here and has to be tackled. Personal motor vehicles are a very big chunk of overall transport emissions, so we need to shift modes. Most motor vehicle trips in North America are very short trips. Fifty percent of trips are less than five kilometres long, and it's those kinds of trips, those short trips, in our cities and our towns that can be shifted and moved to other modes of transportation, other new forms of mobility –– biking and walking and scootering and bike-share. We need to make these changes now. They provide many other co-benefits, including affordability, equity, livability –– all marquee objectives and goals of this province.
Thank you very much for your time. I hope that this committee can connect the dots and can contribute and show that active transportation investments provide big dividends for communities across B.C.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Ray.
And now we'll hear from Corey.
C. Burger: Good afternoon, committee. My name is Corey Burger. My pronouns are he, him and his. I am the policy and infrastructure chair for Capital Bike, which is the merger of the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition. I'm here today to expand a little bit on Ray's remarks and talk a little bit more about our local circumstances.
As Ray mentioned, the province has goals, CleanBC goals, that we have to tackle with the oncoming climate crisis. We have goals to increase the economic viability of this province. We have goals to make B.C.'ers healthier overall. Many of those goals can be met with biking and also walking and transit, but many of those goals are also being hampered by lack of investment.
Really, what we have and where we've arrived at today is a tale of two B.C.s. The first B.C. is one in which the province has played an absolutely integral role in funding biking initiatives throughout this province, and without that, those initiatives would not happen. The second story, which is identical to the first, really, is that that amount of funding hasn't kept up with demand and with need.
Ray talked a little bit about infrastructure. He talks about the challenges therein. I really want to emphasize that the real challenge is not the big municipalities that are challenged with infrastructure, although they are too. What happens is that because these grant programs don't hand out to most people, small municipalities get chased off. They're not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars building up a grant just to not have to do it, so they sometimes don't even bother applying. What happens is that the small municipalities, the rural municipalities in this province, lack the infrastructure and lack the ability to even build it.
The second piece is GoByBike Weeks, which, as you know, the province has been integral in since it was called Bike to Work Week in the mid-'90s, a project that started here in Victoria with the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society –– actually, the GVCC, originally –– and then moved to the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society and now with Capital Bike. That program now runs in over 100 communities across this province, getting something close to 56,000 people on their bikes in 2019. That's a huge number of people. It's up from 500 early on and from 12,000 in 2012. But that project has not had an increase in funding in years at the provincial level, even as the number of communities has increased. So there's been no increase in dollars to deal with the influx of new communities from an administration perspective, no influx of dollars to help get more people on their bikes across those communities. So, really, as a project, that is hamstrung by that lack of dollars.
The second big project that we work on here at Capital Bike, along with our colleagues at HUB, is something called ERG 4-5, which is Everyone Rides Grade 4-5 –– which is exactly that. We want to educate every B.C. child in grades 4 and 5 about how to bike.
Currently, this year, we're going to reach, by the end of the year, about 2,000 kids in the five school districts that we work in: the four in the capital regional district, the Gulf Islands school district and also the Cowichan Valley. However, there are approximately 7,000 kids in grades 4 and 5, so we're only reaching a little over a quarter of those kids. Imagine if we could reach all of those kids. Every kid in B.C. gets trained in how to ride.
The last piece relates to e-bikes. One of the biggest things we've seen in the last year is this massive increase in biking, massive increase in e-biking. One of the great things the province did was remove PST on e-bikes. In fact, I ordered my own e-bike the next day after that was removed. But I'm lucky. I was able to afford the full cost of my e–cargo bike. Many people aren't in that position.
The province provides direct incentives to people to buy e-cars. If I went out and bought a Tesla, you'd hand me $5,000 to $6,000, no questions asked. For my e-bike, I got PST removed but not much else. The province could do work here, create direct incentives for people to purchase e-bikes, especially e–cargo bikes for things like last-mile delivery. It's a big challenge within our cities that they are congested, that they are noisy. E-bikes can help with that.
I wanted to emphasize, just to complete this, that without the province, all the biking success would not have happened. But also, without the province stepping up now to meet its goals with CleanBC to make B.C. healthier — all the many, many plans that all of the ministries have — we won't be able to meet all of those goals. One of the best ways to do that is to shift some of that MOTI capital budget out of building highways, out of building those, into more equitable modes, more sustainable modes so we can meet them.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Corey.
To wrap up this panel, we'll now hear from Eric.
BETTER TRANSIT ALLIANCE
OF GREATER VICTORIA
E. Doherty: Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Eric Doherty. I'm representing the Better Transit Alliance of Greater Victoria.
The climate emergency is turning lives upside down in B.C. this summer. Towns have burned. Hundreds of heatwave deaths. Many businesses have closed, and many jobs have been lost. The climate emergency translates into a budget emergency for government and for families.
According to B.C. government data, transportation is B.C.'s largest and fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas pollution. We call on you to fully implement your commitment in the pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change to shift investments from higher- to lower-emitting types of transportation. Specifically, we call for an end to all highway expansion projects in and near urban areas.
Increasing road capacity in urban areas leads to more traffic, greenhouse gas pollution and local air pollution. Infrastructure funds must go to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas pollution from transportation and creating healthy, livable communities. We need to fund improved public transit with affordable fares and dedicated lanes as well as safe facilities for walking, rolling and riding bicycles. The whole province desperately needs affordable highway bus service between communities, particularly to Indigenous communities.
Last year, when I presented to this committee, Greater Victoria municipalities were divided on transportation priorities. But in July, the capital regional district unanimously approved the transportation priorities implementation strategies report. The CRD will now be prioritizing projects based on mode shift, climate action, congestion, safety and affordability.
The CRD's approach to dealing with congestion favours improving public transit and active transportation rather than increasing highway capacities for cars, with wider highways or new interchanges or flyovers. This policy puts rapid bus, general transit improvements and active transportation at the very top of their regional priority list.
Greater Victoria desperately needs a new transit depot to accommodate an expanded bus fleet and charge electric buses, capital to create a great rapid bus network and operating funds to run an expanded fleet. Highway capacity increases are not a regional priority anymore. Public funds must not be used to stimulate more traffic and greenhouse gas pollution, especially not in the CRD.
Thank you. I welcome any questions.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Eric.
Because you're presenting as a panel, we'll ask questions to all of you, or any of you.
I will now open it up to questions from the committee.
P. Alexis: This is for the B.C. cycling association, with respect to grant rollout. You said that there were 42 or 44 successful applicants. Is that correct? Out of how many that were received, applications?
R. Straatsma: The number that I've seen on MOTI's website was for the previous year, 2020 — 132 applications, and 44 grants provided. There were 132 applications from 114 communities, from the report that I read, direct from the program administrators. A few communities applied for multiple projects.
I would just add that's reflective of numbers we've seen before and in conversations that we've had with staff at the Ministry of Transportation where they've acknowledged that for years, the program has been, in their words, oversubscribed. The demand for it is very high. There's great interest in communities small and large across B.C. to invest in bicycle infrastructure. Now in the expanded program for…. Many communities don't have, of course, the funds on their own. They have limited revenues from property tax.
As Corey pointed out, the program is very valuable and is generally cost-shared at 50-50, but there's more demand and more applications coming in than the current funding is able to meet. I'd say even a significant increase, two or three times the current funding, still maybe wouldn't quite meet the demand.
P. Alexis: Thank you for elaborating further. Appreciate it.
H. Sandhu: My question is to Ray, or any of you can jump in. Listening to you regarding Switzerland and their investment and Ireland — which is great; it's very promising when we try to tackle the climate emergency — I was thinking about B.C. being geographically large, and then some communities with a big, vast urban sprawl. How do you see that will be challenging, compared to Europe, the size? And any other ideas that you can share.
How can we address that when we're implementing or thinking to implement such investments in all areas by leaving no communities, whether rural or communities with vast urban sprawl and such? How can we address those?
R. Straatsma: Quickly, this is why…. Certainly, B.C. geographically and in square area is bigger than many other countries or jurisdictions. The European countries are smaller. But what's really important is where the population lives. That's why I emphasized in B.C. that two-thirds of our population live hugging the U.S. border. Two-thirds are living in southern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. The vast majority of our population — two-thirds, almost 70 percent — is urban and actually lives in relatively small areas. You can add Kelowna and Kamloops in these areas.
We don't need to build bicycle infrastructure far away from where people are living, where the greatest demand is and where the greatest uptake will come. It will be where the population is living. The same is the case, for comparison, in Scotland. Scotland also has very remote, rural, mountainous areas, inaccessible, but most of their population, 70 percent, are living in those urban areas.
The same is true in Ireland, where the population are in Dublin and others. It's easy to just look at the square kilometres or the area of B.C., but really the focus for active transportation is where people are living and providing those opportunities for bicycle travel, for everyday transportation — just to get to shops and services and destinations, schools, etc. — in places where people are living. It's those short trips.
Again, something I emphasize is that we think transportation is a challenge and that people need cars to travel long distances and things, and that's true. No one is suggesting everyone needs to stop driving. But there are many, many of our trips…. Over 50 percent of our trips, as I said, are under five kilometres long, and many of them are even shorter than that. Those are the kinds of trips where mode shifts really come into play, and they are very replaceable by walking and by bike.
But they won't happen unless that kind of travel is made feasible, is made convenient, is made safe, is made enjoyable. That's where the investments from the B.C. government come in — to help fund attractive bicycle facilities, as they have done, in recent years. But we need to see more of it.
Some of the larger cities like Corey was talking about — Vancouver, Victoria and others — are able to leverage some of their own revenues, or they've used federal monies in some cases to build these things. But we could get a lot further a lot faster if the B.C. government as well would step up in the way that other jurisdictions have.
C. Burger: I just wanted to mention that in the rural parts of the province, one of the biggest opportunities we have is with bike tourism in those areas. Tourism does generate a large number of greenhouse gases, so if we can reduce the impact of that.
In eastern Oregon, for example, there is a program run by the Oregon Parks department that creates bikeways along rural roads, essentially, to get people out into eastern Oregon. So when you're talking about the rural areas, this is pulling money out of the urban areas and into the rural areas.
The second thing is you really have to pair walking, biking and transit together. It may be that you might have…. In a rural area, you might have a ride to a long-distance bus route, or in a sprawl area, you might be riding to the regional rail network. It's really important that we look at it as a cohesive whole and that we fund it as a cohesive full. That's really the challenging piece we haven't done here in B.C.
H. Sandhu: A quick follow-up, Chair, if I may.
The reason I asked the question is there is interest from people. They want to be active. From the government point of view and from elected representatives, I think, to be fair to all people, whether they're in rural communities…. How can we support? That's why I was asking if there are any ideas that you can share with us, not to exclude those people.
Oftentimes what we hear from rural communities is all the investments and announcements are focused in Metro cities, and then those communities feel left out. They want to participate. That's why I was asking. There is interest.
It will also promote a healthy lifestyle and active lifestyle, equally, among every British Columbian. That's why I was asking if there were any ideas you could share so everybody gets some kind of support moving forward.
C. Burger: One comment, just to follow up. One of the challenges a lot of rural municipalities have is that a lot of their infrastructure, they don't own. If you go to downtown Victoria or downtown Vancouver, they own the road that you get onto, whereas if you get out of a store, say, in Smithers, etc., you might be on a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure road. So there's a different set of policy levers that are needed for them, because obviously they can't apply for an active transportation grant for a piece of infrastructure they don't own.
Similarly a lot of the long-distance routes in between them might be owned by FLNRORD or MOTI or the Parks department. Internally within the province, there can be a lot of…. You can shift around policies and monies very quickly and easily to help those rural areas without even needing to go through a whole granting process, because the municipalities themselves may not have the ability to do that.
H. Sandhu: Thank you.
E. Doherty: I'd also like to mention that the crisis of public transit in rural areas of B.C. is really acute. I have family in Lone Butte, B.C., close to 100 Mile House. A few years ago, 100 Mile House had three Greyhound buses a day to and from Vancouver. Now there are two or three buses a week. I live in Victoria. In order to get from 100 Mile House to Victoria on that bus, it requires a stay overnight in Vancouver. You can't make the last ferry.
The Better Transit Alliance is based in Victoria, but we're very aware that people also have to travel between communities. One of the main reasons that people who live in urban areas end up owning cars is that they can't get to the smaller communities to vacation, to visit their families, because our highway bus network was shut down by First Bus, by FirstGroup, and nothing has replaced it in a systematic way. What we've been left with is a very expensive and inadequate patchwork.
J. Routledge (Chair): I'd like to thank the panel. We do have some other speakers yet to hear from this afternoon. On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank you for your commitment and your passion for this topic. The way you interacted with each other, as well, I think was very impressive.
I was just going to wrap it up, but I see someone, one of the committee members, who really wants to make a statement. But we are running a bit behind time.
M. Starchuk: I'll be very quick. Thank you, Chair.
As a person who rides a Trek Rumblefish and an Orbea Orca, since the pandemic I've put about 5,500 kilometres on that bike, and I have not been tapped once.
But I have a question. When you — I can't remember who it was; I think it was Ray — talked about whatever the amount of money was that was being spent in Ireland and Scotland, is that all the money? I think it was Corey that said a lot of the infrastructure is done at the local level. Is that combined money, or is that federal government money?
R. Straatsma: In the stuff that I read recently about Ireland and Scotland, this is new national funding coming from the national governments and funding projects across the country in addition to moneys that some of their cities or urban areas, the Edinburghs and Aberdeens, are already spending. So their contributions to bicycle infrastructure happening in those cities in many cases, yes, would be cost-shared the same way that our program, the B.C. bike program, has worked historically.
So it's often these things, as in Canada, where municipalities across the country have built bicycle lanes and local infrastructure but often with the help of senior governments.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay.
Pam, did I see you…?
P. Alexis: No, I'm good. Thank you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay. Again, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about this and for your enthusiasm and your knowledge of the topic. I wish we had more time to actually engage in a conversation about it. Hopefully, that time will come again soon.
Thank you again. With that, we'll say goodbye.
We're going to take a short recess.
The committee recessed from 3:49 p.m. to 3:57 p.m.
[J. Routledge in the chair.]
J. Routledge (Chair): I see our next presenter is ready to go. Hi, Alex.
Budget Consultation Presentations
CANADIAN CENTRE FOR
A. Hemingway: Thanks very much to the committee for hearing from me today. My name is Alex Hemingway. I'm a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The most important observation I want to leave with you today is that as a province, and when it comes to the provincial budget, our long-term, planned levels of public spending are substantially too low. They're too low to meet the urgent and extraordinary challenges we face as a society, whether that's scarce and unaffordable housing, climate crisis, unaffordable child care, poverty, opioids and many others.
When we don't invest adequately in these areas, that comes not only at a steep social and human cost, but also at a significant economic cost. Outside of the extraordinary situation of the pandemic, provincial operating spending has declined substantially over the past two decades as a share of our total economic pie or GDP. It returns to those lower levels over the three-year budget and fiscal plan set out in Budget 2021.
In other words, thinking over the two decades, as the economy has grown and the province has become wealthier, we've been dedicating a smaller share of our societal resources to acting together through our public institutions, even as various social crises have deepened and demanded this type of collective action.
Let me relate to you one particularly relevant number related to this. Consider Budget 2023-24, which is the last year in the current fiscal plan, and the closest year to a post-pandemic normal laid out in that plan. Now, assume that all of the contingency funds, caseload contingencies, general contingencies, forecast allowances in that budget were fully spent. Assume, further, that the highly conservative estimates of economic growth built into the plan are correct.
Even then, provincial operating spending as a share of GDP — in other words, as a share of our economic capacity — will be $5 billion to $7 billion lower than it would have been if public spending returned to the levels seen 20 years ago.
Now, the fact that inadequate levels of public investment come at an economic cost is increasingly well understood in a whole range of areas. In the case of public universal child care, there is increasing recognition of its economic benefits. In fact, this type of program can, in large part, pay for itself as a result of the increase in labour force participation and income tax revenues that come with it.
The housing crisis is another area in which public investment can have large economic productivity payoffs. We know that high housing prices make it more difficult for businesses to find workers. They squeeze household budgets and spending and create longer commutes, all of which are imposing economic costs.
Another issue. We know that rapidly reducing greenhouse gas pollution is not only a moral imperative, but each year of delay or slowdown in climate action comes at a significant long-term economic cost. This is uncontroversial.
More broadly, there is an increasing body of research across the advanced economies, including from IMF researchers and academic meta-analyses, showing the substantial economic benefits to public investment, including — I'm quoting now from one of these papers — raising output in both the short- and long term, crowding in private investment, rather than crowding it out, and reducing unemployment.
Of course, I'll be happy to share more details of our research and analysis on these issues, as part of our written submission, before the end of the consultation period next month.
I'll just conclude by noting that what we have here is the urgent need to increase public spending to meet the crises of our time. We have the economic capacity as a wealthy province to do so and to raise revenue from the wealthiest few to meet those revenue needs. I'm happy to speak to that side of the equation as well.
I think, in some ways, the most striking element here, though, is that underinvesting in our public sector hurts our long-term economic productivity and growth. Therefore, we need to break out of a budgetary framework that has been focused on constraining public spending, and that's including, as reflected in the budget consultation document, survey questions which direct people towards ways of constraining public spending.
I'll stop there. Thanks very much.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Alex.
Now we will open it up to questions from the committee.
Well, I have a question. I guess it's a two-part question. Do you have concrete examples of jurisdictions in the world that have actually done what you're suggesting, and what have the results been? The second part of the question is…. For many of us, popular wisdom for most of our lifetime has been that government spending has to be kept as low as possible. How do we break out of that?
A. Hemingway: Yeah. That has been the common wisdom. Beginning to question that is so important right now.
In terms of other jurisdictions, one piece of context that I wasn't able to get to here is that when you look at Canada as a whole and British Columbia, in particular, and you look at the overall levels of public spending as a share of GDP, they're substantially lower than many countries in Europe and, in particular, in Scandinavia, where we know…. We see much higher levels of public investment and business investment environments that are considered very competitive.
There are certainly different tracks we can be on. This connects up, as well, with a parallel growing body of research on economic inequality. Similarly, relatively conservative institutions like the IMF and the OECD show that the increase in inequality that we've seen in countries like Canada is itself another drag on economic growth. So that's one of the benefits to increasing social investment that I wasn't able to get to — simultaneously addressing that inequality, which can have that negative economic impact as well.
J. Routledge (Chair): Any other questions? I can't be asking all the questions.
Well, we look forward to reading your submission when it comes. Thanks so much for your time.
A. Hemingway: Thanks very much for having me. Good luck with the rest of your hearings.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay. Our next presenter is David Fairey with the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition.
David, whenever you're ready, we're ready to hear your presentation.
B.C. EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS COALITION
D. Fairey: Okay, yes. Thank you very much. Good afternoon. My name is David Fairey. I'm one of the co-chairs of the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition on whose behalf I make this presentation. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee.
The B.C. Employment Standards Coalition campaigns for decent wages, working conditions and respect and dignity in the workplace. The coalition is comprised of individual members, representatives from worker and community legal advocacy organizations, public policy researchers, labour lawyers and volunteer advocates.
This presentation will focus on our call to increase the budget for the employment standards branch and our rationale for this call, including the practical need for more staff, an alignment with the current government objectives and the unacceptable and untimely resolution of complaints. The focus of our submission is a call for the 2022 provincial budget that will fund a significant improvement in the services of the employment standards branch. At $14 million, the current employment standards branch budget is just 0.02 percent of the total provincial budget of $64.4 billion.
The branch, within the Ministry of Labour, has the statutory responsibility of enforcing the employment rights of workers as contained in the Employment Standards Act and the Employment Standards Regulation. An increase in the budget to this branch to effectively carry out its mandate to administer and enforce these statutes is in alignment with one of the government's stated budgeting principles of putting people first in a just and equitable recovery.
For over a decade and a half, the employment standards branch failed to effectively carry out its responsibilities under the act. This failure began in 2001 with the closure of eight regional offices; a significant 51 percent reduction in enforcement staff; significant administrative barriers related to the filing of complaints by workers, especially the requirement that employees complete a self-help step before a complaint is accepted; and the absence of proactive investigation and enforcement.
We note, however, there was a significant 49.1 percent increase in the branch budget in 2019. That partially made up for the years of cuts and neglect at the branch from 2001 to 2017. Despite this, however, inadequacies still exist.
Our rationale for our submission is as follows. Firstly, we know that prior to 2018, there had been no branch budget increases for at least seven years, even though between 2001 and 2017, the number of establishments with employees had increased by 25 percent, and the number of people employed in the province had increased by 23 percent.
However, over the past two budget cycles, the average increase in the branch budget has dropped to 3.7 percent, which barely covers staff salary increases. While the branch has increased staff over the past three years, total current branch staff, at 158, is still less than the 162 staff that were employed in 2000. Many of the recent additions have been in administrative support, not front-line investigational staff.
Secondly, it is evident that the branch does not have the staff and budget needed to keep up with current changes that are inevitably generating an increasing volume of complaints — in particular, the continued growth in the number of employees and employers in the province and the expansion of rights and benefits under the act in recent years, including the recent new permanent employer paid sick leave provision to come into effect on January 1.
Thirdly, we know that the Minister of Labour's current mandate requires the development of a precarious work strategy that includes the development of employment standards targeted to precarious and gig workers. These standards are not in existence yet, but when they are, they will place additional demands on the under-resourced employment standards branch.
Additionally, the ministry's most recent published goals and objectives include maintaining "a proactive enforcement unit within the employment standards branch that will focus on industries and sectors with high complaint volumes." To meet this and other ministry objectives, a budget increase will be needed, primarily for the branch's ability to expand its enforcement activities to include proactive investigation.
Fourthly, we are aware of many ESA violation complaints involving significant amounts of unpaid wages, improper terminations and misclassification of employees as independent contractors that have not been acted on for more than a year. This is confirmed through the Ministry of Labour's annual service plan reports, beginning in 2018, that document that the branch's performance measure relating to the proportion of complaints resolved within 180 days — that is, six months — has declined from 92 percent in 2018 to 63 percent in 2020. Those many complaints that the branch has been unable to resolve expeditiously means that the rights of many workers have been denied by the inactivity of the branch because it is widely recognized that justice delayed is justice denied.
As you know, "justice delayed is justice denied" is a well-known legal maxim. It means that if legal redress or equitable relief to an injured party is available but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no remedy at all. We submit that only a significant increase to the employment standards branch budget can begin to address this injustice.
I have more, but I'm out of time, I think.
J. Routledge (Chair): Yes. Let's now move on to questions from the committee. Hopefully some of the other things you want to talk about you can work into the answers.
D. Fairey: Sure, okay. Thank you.
J. Routledge (Chair): Questions from the committee.
M. Starchuk: David, have you noticed any change with the types of complaints that come in after WorkSafe initiated their bullying and harassment policies a number of years ago?
D. Fairey: No. Those are WorkSafe issues, and they are not within the scope of the Employment Standards Act. The Employment Standards Act and the employment standards branch have no responsibility and no mandate to investigate bullying and harassment.
M. Starchuk: If I may, maybe I'll just rephrase it in a different way. Yes, they are WCB issues or WorkSafe issues, but sometimes it overlaps to what somebody's benefits could or could not be, how they're being paid. They become performance issues. I'm just wondering if that has changed anything that's there, or where somebody may come to your organization and say, "This is what I have," and then somebody says: "No, you have to use this angle."
D. Fairey: Yeah, there are a couple of avenues where people can file complaints. I mean, with WorkSafe, for example. But also, there is the human rights element as well, and there have been a number of human rights complaints that relate to harassment and discrimination in the workplace. But I'm not aware…. I certainly haven't encountered cases where there's been this overlap.
I am aware of one case of overlap between a WorkSafe issue and an employment standards issue. That involves, actually, a very significant complaint on behalf of 185 temporary foreign workers that were employed by a blueberry farm in Pitt Meadows. It involved 185 migrant workers, 150 of whom were women. Unfortunately, that complaint was filed three years ago and is still unresolved for 52 members of those workers. It's been three years, and there still remains an outstanding complaint relating to 52 of those workers.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you. We have time for one more question.
G. Kyllo: Thank you, David, for your presentation.
Do you know what the current backlog is within the employment standards branch?
D. Fairey: We have made a request for that data. It's not easily available. I'm expecting to hear back from the branch soon. We will, in our written submission, be providing that kind of information. I was hoping to have it today, but the branch is still working on our request for those kinds of numbers.
G. Kyllo: Just a bit of a follow up. Is that a standard performance matrix or item that the ministry or the employment standards branch would typically report on? Is that something that they've changed their process on not providing that data?
D. Fairey: That's been their performance measure for a number of years. However, I understand that for this current year, they are changing their performance standard. But I don't know what the performance standards are going to be. The standard I've cited is the only performance standard that the ministry cites in its report so far.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, David, for taking the time to make this presentation, and we look forward to reading and considering your written report and recommendations.
We will now hear from our final speaker — final presenter for the day — and that is Brynn Bourke, with the B.C. Building Trades. Brynn, are you there?
B. Bourke: I am here.
J. Routledge (Chair): Okay. Take it away.
B.C. BUILDING TRADES
B. Bourke: All right. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me. I know it's probably been a long day and a lot of speed dating so far for the committee.
My name is Brynn Bourke. I'm the interim executive director for the B.C. Building Trades Council. We represent over 40,000 unionized construction workers across B.C.
I submitted in writing a quick briefing so that the committee could fully digest some of the recommendations that I'm going to touch on in the next four minutes and 35 seconds, but you can certainly read that at your leisure.
I really wanted to start with the most important priority for our organization, and that's to increase core funding for trades training. Back in 2001, training providers had their funding cut by 20 percent, and that funding has never been increased in the last 20 years. There's been no adjustment for inflation. There's been no adjustment to deal with escalating costs for training equipment or expansion of training facilities. It's really key. This is something that many of our unions….
We have over a dozen training schools across our unions. Many of the programs that we offer, we are the only training provider for trades like refrigeration mechanic, glazier, tile setter, bricklayer. The only place to go is a union training school, and they've been self-funding by over $31 million a year, sort of underfunding, or topping up the core funding we would get from the Industry Training Authority. So that was my first point.
My second point was to flag for you, with the introduction of the skilled trades certification program, the business case from the Ministry of Advanced Education indicates that you'll see a 7 percent increase in the number of seats that are in demand from these trades that you are restoring. The Industry Training Authority absolutely needs additional core funding to fund these seats if we're going to make sure that there are places for students to return to technical training to receive their red seal.
In addition to that funding for seats, the Industry Training Authority also needs funding for enforcement, and we have also put in a request to support tutoring services for apprentices. This is something that is supported and funded through the public post-secondary system but is not extended to union trainers. It will be a key tool in helping these apprentices with numeracy and literacy.
Training is a key first step, but I do want the committee to know that the construction industry has really gone without oversight for a very long time. Some of the tools that we've put into our submission that would really help to bring some fairness to the industry would be to provide the Ministry of Labour the resources to run enforcement teams to monitor employee classification in the construction industry to make sure that everyone who is a worker is classified as such and that their employer is paying WorkSafeBC premiums, that their employer is paying employment insurance premiums so that if they're injured on the job or they lose their job, they have the access to the rights and benefits of a worker in British Columbia.
We've also asked for the Labour Relations Board to receive the resources to fulfil their mandate. Several years ago, the section 3 review panel made many recommendations to improve the servicing of the board, and there's been almost no additional dollars to actually give the board the tools to respond fulsomely to those recommendations and to provide timely servicing.
Finally, I'm not just here representing 40,000 unionized workers. I do think of ourselves as a voice for workers across the construction industry. We're calling for an increase in funding to employment standards, to make sure that those workers who are not yet represented by a labour union still have access to information on their rights and timely representation at the employment standards branch.
That's my submission.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you, Brynn.
The first question is from Megan.
M. Dykeman: Thank you for the presentation, Brynn. I was just wondering if you can provide a little bit of clarification. I'm not familiar with the tutoring services. You talked about…. The province can better support apprentices attending union training schools by covering the costs for tutoring, and that the costs are covered already in public, post-secondary institutions.
Is that tutoring for the trades? Or how does that work, and what does that look like? I'm just not familiar with it.
B. Bourke: Sure. One of the reasons folks may be drawn towards the trades is that they may struggle with numeracy or literacy, but they're still incredibly talented individuals who will be great tradespeople.
Over 20 years ago, we created a non-profit called SkillPlan, which provides tutoring services. So they take in every trade — electrical, iron work — and they've broken down all of the competencies that are required to do that trade successfully, and then they can assist apprentices and identify where they're having trouble.
Where are they struggling? Is it in calculus? Is it in blueprint reading? They can really work with them one-on-one to deal with those areas where they might be struggling, to make them successful, because they will need to write several tests over the course of their apprenticeship. Finally, the ultimate test, which is the red seal test, is an interprovincial test that's standard across the country. It just gives them that extra level of wraparound support so that they have everything they need to be successful.
M. Dykeman: Wonderful. Thank you so much. That's really interesting.
J. Routledge (Chair): Any other questions?
Well, I guess you made everything very clear, Brynn.
B. Bourke: I'm the last one of the day. Well, I thank you all for your time. I appreciate it. If you have any questions privately, feel free. I'd be happy to chat with any of you and have one-on-one meetings. As I say, we have provided a written submission that you can take a look at, to get more detail on those key requests that I flagged today.
J. Routledge (Chair): Thank you so much.
Do I have a motion to adjourn?
The committee adjourned at 4:23 p.m.
NOTICE: This is a DRAFT transcript of proceedings in one meeting of a committee of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the proceedings as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
Copyright © 2021: British Columbia Hansard Services, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada